Last summer the Gallatin News-Examiner was criticized for its unethical use of a staffer’s byline. Now it appears that the News-Examiner has illegally copied another paper’s story without permission.
On Dec. 22, The News-Examiner published a 2,000-word story on municipal annexation issues. Except for two interior paragraphs, the article was copied verbatim from the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The Gallatin version of the story appeared under the bylines “by Steve Rogers, Editor and Richard Locker, The Memphis Commercial Appeal.”
Rogers said he called the Memphis paper in December and obtained verbal permission to reprint the article. He says he can’t remember who he talked to.
But Otis Sanford, deputy managing editor at The Commercial Appeal, said no one recalls speaking to Rogers or giving him permission to reprint the story. “Only three people here are authorized to give that approval,” Sanford said, “the editor, the managing editor, and me. I know [Rogers] didn’t talk to any of them.” Sanford said he also questioned Locker, Locker’s editor, and all the editors’ secretaries. “I am not aware of anyone having given permission to the Gallatin News -Examiner to use that story,” Sanford said.
Sanford said he did not intend to complain to Rogers “over this one incident,” adding that the paper would likely take action “if it continues to happen.”
Rogers insisted he made the call and argued strongly that he would not have printed the story without first calling the Memphis paper.
If Rogers copied the story without permission, “It’s stealing someone else’s work,” said Steve Geiman, chairman of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists.
Even if Rogers did call the paper and talk to a lower-level staffer, the republishing of the article without proper authorization appears to violate federal copyright law. According to Sanford, The Commercial Appeal, like most other newspapers, is protected by copyright. For that reason, Sanford said, the paper normally requires that all requests to reprint stories be made, and granted, in writing.
The News-Examiner, owned by the Gannett Company, is published three times a week. In August, the Gallatin paper published a news release that was written by the editor’s wife but appeared under the byline of a staff reporter who had never seen the release. Rogers apologized to the staffer and said it wouldn’t happen again.
Mike Cutler, the latest news director at WTVF-Channel 5, is the no-nonsense type, “probably one of the most direct people you’ve ever met,” as he described himself.
“My mission is to win,” he said, to beat the other local stations, not just during the sweeps months, but “every month, every day, at every news broadcast.” Interviewed during his third day on the job, Cutler conceded there’s no realistic possibility that Channel 5’s local news will catch Channel 4 in the ratings anytime soon. Viewer habits are hard to change.
“If I grew up in Nashville and my grandmother and my mother watched Channel 4, I’d be watching it too,” he said. “They’ve got a great history and top-line on-air talent.”
Cutler, 46, moved to Channel 5 two-and-a-half years ago. On Jan. 1, he succeeded Bob Stoldal as news director. Unlike Stoldal, Cutler said he plans to “get out in the community.” On his desk was a list of six community and business leaders whom he planned to call that day to introduce himself. Stoldal was rarely seen outside the station and typically ignored calls from other media. Cutler said he’ll be more visible but won’t be joining media organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists. “It’s not part of my mission,” he said.
Apparently, he doesn’t think it’s his mission to admit mistakes either.
It was “absolutely” the right decision to televise the faces of four dead children at an open-casket funeral in Shelbyville, he said, even though the station received “lots of calls” from angry viewers. Cutler said he has no second thoughts about showing the controversial footage during the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news.
Q: “Then why did the station change its mind and not show the same film at 10 p.m.?”
A: “Hmmm...good question.”
WTVF has been running newspaper ads thanking area viewers “for making NewsChannel 5 your number one station for the past five years.” In small print at the bottom of the page, a footnote explains that the station’s claim is based on “sign off to sign on” ratings.
Q: “Those ads imply that NewsChannel 5 is the city’s most watched local news. Don’t you think that’s misleading?”
A: “No. ‘NewsChannel 5’ refers to the whole station, not just the news department.... Besides, I don’t know that an advertisement has ever changed anyone’s mind about what station to watch.”
Q: “Will Channel 5 [which has a history of airing little-green-men stories] continue covering flying saucer sightings?”
A: “If I think that’s what viewers want to see.”
WKRN-Channel 2’s newest reporter, Irv White, was a weeknight anchor for Mobile station WPMI-Channel 15 until a month ago, when White was arrested for assaulting his wife, according to the Mobile Register. He left the station a week later.
Channel 2 news director Matthew Zelkind said White had been “honest and up-front” about the pending charge, which is scheduled to be heard later this month. White expects to be placed “on probation for a short period,” according to Zelkind. White himself declined comment.
* Fiona Soltes, editor of “Shortcuts,” that maddeningly inane feature in The Tennessean’s “Living” section, has left the paper. She’s going to sell cosmetics for Mary Kay. “It’s time for a new challenge,” she said. More likely, it’s the money.