Desperately Seeking the News 

John Conlon leaves radio-land

John Conlon leaves radio-land

The executive producer of local radio stations Lighting 100-WRLT and Thunder 94-WRLG agreed to resign Monday after fellow staffers learned from an article in USA Today that the producer is also managing a local band.

“Congratulations on your new gig,” read the note to station executive John Conlon from Ned Horton, president of Tuned In Broadcasting, which owns and operates the two stations. Attached to the note in Conlon’s mailbox was a copy of the USA Today story saying Conlon will manage the band Stone Deep. Conlon had not told Horton about the job. After Horton saw the article, he and Conlon agreed that Conlon should leave the stations immediately.

“It’s been obvious for some time his mind was not wholly on the station,” said Horton. “I just didn’t know where it was.” Horton said Conlon’s two jobs created a conflict of interest and that no radio employee should have “his own business on the side that’s a spin-off of what we do regularly.”

Conlon himself said it was “a very friendly” parting and explained he had been trying to talk to Horton for some time about leaving. Conlon said he saw no conflict between working at the radio stations and managing a band. “It’s done on a regular basis,” he said. “Even if I had tried to get them airtime, no one radio station can make or break a band.”

Conlon said that although he supervises Dancin’ in the District concerts and sometimes offers suggestions about what music should be broadcast, he had never tried to book Stone Deep for the downtown live music concerts or tried to get the band on the air.

Having radio employees who also work for bands “can be a problem if it’s done secretly,” said Steve Dickert, longtime general manager at stations WKDF-103.3 and WGFX-104.5. “We have people who work with bands and who also work on the radio,” said Dickert, but he knows who they are and won’t allow them to decide what goes on the air. “To avoid a conflict, station managers need to know who’s working on the side with musicians,” he said.

‘Tennessean’ Lite

Stuck inside the billing envelope, Tennessean subscribers recently found another ad for “World News Extra,” a Saturday supplement subscribers can order for an extra 50 cents a week. Get the story “behind the headlines and the soundbites,” the ad said, promising in-depth coverage of the upcoming presidential election.

The weekly section has always suffered from an identity problem: If it’s really “World News,” why isn’t it in the daily paper? In fact, most articles in the section don’t seem to be news stories at all, but second-rate analytical pieces that aren’t good enough for the regular paper. For example, Saturday’s “World News Extra” led with “Dole at strategy crossroads,” by Peter Brown of the Scripps Howard News Service. The next day’s Tennessean, however, featured an identical but better-written article called “Dole’s Direction,” by Richard Burke, political reporter for The New York Times.

When “World News Extra” tries to attract readers, it implicitly criticizes The Tennessean itself for not offering in-depth reporting. It seems the marketing experts at Gannett, corporate owner of Nashville’s morning daily, have come up with a new way to enhance revenue—reduce The Tennessean to shallow news bites and then offer to sell frustrated subscribers another Gannett product to give them back what they used to find—and ought to find—in the daily paper.

“It’s outrageous,” said a veteran reporter at another paper. It’s also one more indication, and there have been several lately, that The Tennessean’s advertising department has too much regard for revenue streams and too little respect for the newsroom.

Shallowness, by the way, isn’t really the problem. It’s news judgment. Driven by who-knows-what-kind of focus group research, The Tennessean consistently decorates the front of the paper with Oprah topics while hiding real news among the ads in the back pages.

Sunday, after Clinton shocked Washington by embracing Republican welfare reform, the nation’s best newspapers all put the story on Page 1. Papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Commercial Appeal of Memphis made Clinton’s speech the lead story.

The Tennessean did, in fact, print the story. It buried the news on Page 10 of the front section.

“We print just as much political news as we ever did,” said Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland, “but we just don’t feature it as prominently as we used to. Political stories are not as important to our readers as other topics.” Sutherland said that readers who want more can find it in “World News Extra.”

Eat your veggies

Tracy Reiman, 27, first appeared in the local press a year ago when she was arrested trying to dump cow manure on the lawn at the Opryland Hotel. Reiman works for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), a Washington, D.C., group that specializes in attention-grabbing publicity stunts.

Recently, Reiman showed up again, accompanied by a sign-waving friend dressed like a carrot. Winding up a three-city tour, Reiman supposedly sought permission to preach to elementary schoolchildren about the treatment of “little piggies” and “little chickens.” Although school officials told Reiman and her friend to stay on the sidewalk, the demonstrators got what they came for—a large color picture and a favorable story on the front of the “Local News” section in Saturday’s Tennessean. Reporter Dorren Klausnitzer wrote nothing about Reiman’s antics last year at Opryland or PETA’s reputation for publicity stunts.

A dart to The Tennessean and a laurel to Banner police reporter John Cummings, whose straightforward account filled in the gaps The Tennessean missed.

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at The Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call him directly at 252-2363 or send an e-mail to hwalker@bccb.com.

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