Flanked by a small army of newsroom staffers, Tennessean publisher Ellen Leifeld gave a debut talk at the Downtown Rotary Club earlier this week, reporting that the paper’s readership, web presence and ancillary businesses are healthy. An honest-to-God quote: “Our newspaper is very strong.”
Though her talk was, at its core, a self-aggrandizing public relations gambit—she asked her staffers to stand and be recognized individually, twice asking that Rotary members applaud—she did briefly acknowledge areas in which the paper should improve, most notably its anemic Local News and Business sections.
The latter mention climaxed with a statement that no doubt gave editor E.J. Mitchell, who was sitting in the audience, chills—and not in a good way. “Give E.J. your business card,” Leifeld offered at one point, suggesting that Rotary members feel free to join the ranks of other business leaders who have “volunteered” to offer direction and help improve the section. There’s that. Or, they could just send some reporters out to cover business news.
Leifeld also offered that she’s reluctant to tinker with the newspaper’s design because “the content has to be right first.” She has, however, shrunk the size of the paper recently—by nearly a half-inch in width. Says a 5-foot-7 former newspaper reporter in Nashville: “At least it makes my arms feel longer. Yeah, I feel bigger.”
Back at the newsroom…
…reporters were being asked whether they wanted chicken or roast beef for their Wednesday box lunch with Gannett’s Mark Silverman, in town this week, Scene sources say, to evaluate the paper’s news management. Higher-ranking editors were being asked to meet with Silverman privately. Interestingly enough, Silverman was formerly Tennessean editor E.J. Mitchell’s boss in Detroit.
Sources say that Gannett president Craig Dubow recently visited and told Mitchell he was doing a good job. Whether Silverman’s appearance here is an indication that Leifeld or others have a different view is unclear. More to come….
Is that David Schwimmer in the newsroom?
Former Scene managing editor Jonathan Marx, who left this newspaper in April, lives in Melrose, rides a crappy, beat-up bike he’s had since high school, tends to decorate his office with dried fish snacks and knows every obscure, back-alley international market most of the rest of us have never heard of. He looks a little like Elvis Costello might after fasting for a week. In other words, he’s an interesting contrast to the polished, Belle Meade-residing Alan Bostick, an amiable fellow who left The Tennessean’s arts beat a few months ago to go to work for the Nashville Symphony.
Not since the newspaper plucked former Scene writer Clark Parsons—now an entrepreneur living in Germany—from the alt-weekly talent pool has the daily shown a willingness to employ a (former) member of the alternative media. Marx, an accomplished musician and founding member of Lambchop, starts at 1100 Broadway this week and will be taking over the classical music beat, covering visual arts and editing the book page.
Just a little note to his new colleagues: he doesn’t mind it when you call him a freak, so don’t be shy. Oh, and the Features department just got a lot smarter.
Laurels and darts
Congratulations to NashvillePost.com’s Richard Lawson and E. Thomas Wood for breaking one of the most fascinating business stories of the year: the unraveling of a fractional jet ownership firm FractionAir Inc., whose investors include former Vice President Al Gore, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Vandy medical chief Harry Jacobson, among other high-profile Nashvillians. To read the stories, go to NashvillePost.com (subscription required)…. And City Paper reporter Jared Allen is on fire, keeping us reading most recently with his reporting on serial drunk driver Gustavo Reyes Garcia, whose criminal history is longer than a Bill Purcell history lesson…. Last week’s Scene cover story on the mysterious and woefully underreported murder of Freweini Gebremicael didn’t mention that WSMV-Channel 4’s Mariam Nabizad was pretty much the lone journalist reporting the crime until this newspaper weighed in. The mention was included in Scene writer P.J. Tobia’s first draft, but his editor (me) trimmed it in the editing process for purposes of flow. There was no intention to thumb our nose at a journalist doing good work…. That sound you just heard around the city was a collective “So what?” Tennessean investigative reporter Melvin Claxton’s first major work to date is a three-part series, beginning last Sunday, entitled “The Cost of Murder” and chronicling the financial impact of homicides on taxpayers and victims’ families. Well, duh. The six-month investigation offers no call to action, seems to have little reason to be and, as far as we can tell, has generated little interest among readers. As one local journalist put it, “If you spend six months on something, somebody needs to go to jail.”
May Dean Eberling for mayor
For almost a quarter of a century, WTVF-Channel 5 executive producer May Dean Eberling has been generating goodwill across the city. Desperately can think of no one who doesn’t respect her, which is really annoying. She’s announced to her very long list of friends and colleagues that she’s retiring effective Friday. Interestingly enough, her farewell missive names three different staff members who will be taking over her duties. That sounds about right.
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