Fifteen minutes before last week’s deadline, a “very reliable” source telephoned the Westview, a small community paper in Bellevue, with dramatic news. H.G. Hill’s, Nashville’s 100-year-old grocery company, had been sold, the caller said, to Houchens Markets, a chain of supermarkets based in Bowling Green.
“We didn’t have time to check the story out,” Westview editor Paula Winters explained, “so we decided to just stick it in and see what bites.”
Pulling a filler ad from a back page to make room for the story, a Westview staffer quickly wrote an article on the sale. It ran under the headline, “H.G. Hill’s sold?”
“A WKRN-Channel 2 News source tells the Westview that the H.G. Hill’s food stores, a longtime Nashville tradition, has been sold to a Kentucky company,” the story said.
“The Nashville television station was expected to air the story Tuesday night as Westview was going to press,” the story added.
Since then, Winters said, other sources, including Hill’s employees, have confirmed that the rumors are accurate. She said she regretted that the story mentioned Channel 2, which did not run a story on the sale. And she also declined to name her source at the station.
“I may be way off base,” Winters told the Scene Monday, “but my instinct tells me it’s true.”
Winters could be in for a shockand a lawsuit.
“This is a blatant case of irresponsible journalism,” Hill’s president Wentworth Caldwell Jr. wrote to store employees last Friday. “I assure you it is untrue.”
Hill’s attorney, John Lewis, said he had sent Winters a letter Tuesday insisting that the sale story is “absolutely false” and had “damaged [the company’s] relations with customers and employees.”
The paper’s publisher, Evelyn Underwood, had promised to print a retraction in this week’s issue.
But what about Winters’ source at Channel 2?
“It was Turko,” acknowledged WKRN general manager Mike Sechrist. “He told me that he called [Winters] after hearing the rumor. He didn’t know whether it was true or not, and he certainly didn’t know whether we were going to air it in our newscast.”
The reason Channel 2 didn’t run the story was because it made a quick call to Hill’s spokesperson, Ashley Caldwell, who is Wentworth’s daughter. The station then decided there was nothing to it.
Rather than phoning in news tips to newspapers, Turko should have been helping out in his own newsroom. His station could certainly use it.
Last Thursday, just after ABC’s “World News Tonight” had finished describing an attack by U.S. cruise missiles against sites in Afghanistan and Sudan, Channel 2 reported at 6 p.m. that “war planes” had carried out the bombings.
Clutching a handful of notes, Brette Lea pointed vaguely at a world map and said “U.S. troops” had hit Afghanistan and that both Afghanistan and Sudan are “right here in the Middle East.”
Reporting live from Fort Campbell, staffer Jay Korff cited unnamed “military sources” who told him that the “Air Force was used in those strikes.” He then reminded viewers that Fort Campbell was an Army base.
From the Metro airport, Chris Bundgaard assured everyone that “normal security measures remain in place” and that nothing had changed as a result of the missile strikes. He interviewed an airport spokesperson who advised travelers to carry identification and not to accept packages from strangers.
Last, and least, reporter Melissa Penry interviewed random passersby who all said, predictably, that the timing of the strike appeared suspicious but the job probably needed to be done.
By coincidence, sources say, the station’s consultants were in the newsroom last Thursday, watching and giving advice.
Sechrist should ask for a refund.
Stop the Presses
Once every few months, Associated Press state bureau chief Kent Flanagan thinks a news item is so important that he personally calls editors around the state to alert them about an upcoming AP story.
As a result, every morning daily in the stateexcept twocarried last Friday’s story by AP reporter Phil West that some state troopers have been padding their pensions by using outside income to boost their reported government salaries. Gov. Don Sundquist has ordered an investigation.
“I thought it was a hell of a story,” Flanagan said. Other editors apparently agreed.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal, Chattanooga Times, and Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle all ran West’s story on the front page and assigned their own reporters to do follow-ups.
The state’s other morning papers, from Knoxville’s News-Sentinel to the tiny Dyersburg State Gazette, carried the AP story on an inside page. USA Today picked West’s investigation as the most important Tennessee news that day.
At the Maryville Daily Times, a staffer said they didn’t have space to run the story last Friday but were saving it for later. Tennessean political editor Frank Gibson, whom Flanagan had called about the story, declined comment Monday when asked when, if ever, West’s story would appear in the capital city daily. The next day, however, The Tennessean ran the story.
The morning after Clinton publicly admitted an “inappropriate” relationship with Monica Lewinsky, The New York Times managed to include a sympathetic line or two in an otherwise critical review of the president’s confession. “To be sure,” the lead editorial said, “the president’s situation is touching.”
At least, that’s what appeared in some editions.
The same editorial, as it now appears in the paper’s Web site archives, reads, “To be sure, the president’s situation is poignant.”
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