Nashville Scene editor Bruce Dobie's surprise resignation this week can't help but refuel speculation about whether he's angling to become the next editor of The Tennessean. On the surface, a Dobie candidacy seems ludicrous. Why would The Tennessean hire the editor and founder of a weekly that has antagonized the local daily for 15 years? And why would Gannett, The Tennessean's safe and predictable parent company, recruit an alt-weekly veteran to run one of the largest papers in the chain?
And yet a few of Nashville's more upstanding citizens have tossed around Dobie's name for the job. At least one Gannett insider talks fondly of Dobie, and some sources say that Dobie and Tennessean publisher Leslie Giallombardo have casually discussed the possibility, though both are mysteriously tight-lipped. A few weeks ago, Dobie said he wasn't interested in the job. Now, when asked if he's interviewed with The Tennessean, he responds with a very curious "no comment." And what does Giallombardo say about it? Another "no comment."
Obviously, it's still hard to make the argument that Dobie is a serious candidate, but there's a scenariohowever unlikelyin which it could happen. Giallombardo most likely considers this decision the most important one of her career. So far, she's talked with a series of uninspiring Gannett lifers who know nothing about Nashville. Dobie, by contrast, is not like any of them. He's ambitious, but not corporate; smart, but not safe. And he knows Nashvilleits leaders and recent history, what it lacks and what it doesn't. In addition, he's the only person in townor among the Gannett candidatesto create a very successful paper out of scratch, a skill that would definitely come into play if he took the reins at 1100 Broadway.
If Giallombardo makes a safe choice and selects a veteran Gannett editor, the Tennessean will more or less remain a profitable, if unimpressive, paper. She won't lose her job if the paper remains what it is, but if the paper stagnates, so will her career.
If, however, she selects Dobie, one of two things would happen. He'd shake up the daily, shed its dead wood, refocus its resources on investigative reporting, demand sharper commentary and basically reinvent the modern daily as a relevant, exciting and crusading agent of change. Tim Chavez and Brad Schmitt would be out of a job. Dwight Lewis too. Meanwhile, Giallombardo, who would have garnered national attention for tapping the editor of a pesky alt-weekly, would be regarded as the architect of the paper's transformationthe brave, smart publisher who took a colossal risk and watched it pay off handsomely. (By the way, I have no reason to kiss up to Dobie since he's not my boss anymore or even in the building, but for what it's worth, my new editor Liz Garrigan is very talented, and these days, especially, is looking particularly slender. She must work out a lot.)
The second thing that could happen if Dobie became editor of The Tennessean is that he could fall flat on his face and flop more miserably than a movie teaming Ben Affleck and Steve Guttenberg. After editing a scrappy weekly for 15 years, Dobie might flail inside the corporate, bureaucratic confines of a major Gannett daily or find meaningful change impossible to deliver within those constraints. He might not garner the support needed to revamp the staff or upend the way The Tennessean covers the city. Does he have the drive to put in the long days needed to remake the paper, or the patience to deal with the inevitable stumbles along the way? Who knows if he even has the attention span to deal with the drudgery of editing a daily paper, which even in the best of circumstances is a beast. Then there's the whole Belle Meade Country Club thing that doesn't exactly predispose him to cover wealthy and powerful people aggressively.
And, of course, if Dobie flops, that would reflect poorly on Giallombardo. It's not likely she'd get blamed if she selected a safe Gannett hand, like Idaho Statesman editor Carolyn Washburnand that didn't work out. But if she gambles on Dobie and he pulls a Michael Ovitz, Giallombardo's résumé would be winding its way to every public relations and consulting office in town. Then there's the question about whether Gannett would even allow Giallombardo to hire Dobie, who has irritated the company since 1989. We're guessing the answer's no.
On the topic of The Tennessean's editor search, Desperately has learned that Henry Freeman, editor of the Journal News, in Westchester, New York, will be interviewing with Giallombardo next week. We'll report more on him next week.... On a somewhat related note, The Tennessean has delayed its redesign, once planned for this fall, until September 2005. Hey guys, every day matters.
E-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.