Most of the Nashville Tennessean’s top staff, including publisher Craig Moon, editor Frank Sutherland, managing editor Dave Green, and assistant managing editor Catherine Mayhew, all live in Williamson Countysomething to keep in mind the next time the paper supports raising taxes in Nashville. But when it comes to covering the news, it’s what the reporter knows about the area, not his address, that really counts. At least that’s the way things used to be.
Sunday, The Tennessean announced a new section called “Williamson A.M.,” to be delivered five days a week to The Tennessean’s Williamson County subscribers. The section will focus on local news, sports, social, and civic activities. It’s “back-to-the-basics,” according to publisher Moon.
Ted Power, a former sportswriter now on the Gannett fast track, will produce the section, assisted by a surprisingly large staff of 19. The paper announced that the entire bureau, many of whom are young interns and new hires, must live in Williamson County. Power, one of the few Tennessean bosses who doesn’t live there already, is moving too.
The Gannett Company, corporate owner of The Tennessean, already owns many of the small papers in counties north and west of Nashville. Now the nation’s largest newspaper chain is marshaling its resources for a southern invasion, taking direct aim at the Franklin Review Appeal, which is owned by the Morris Newspaper Corporation. The Review Appeal, which publishes three times a week, has about 9,500 subscribers, according to general manager Lee Denmark. He estimates that The Tennessean has about 12,000 daily subscribers in Williamson County. Although “Williamson A.M.” probably won’t have much impact on either paper’s circulation, the new section threatens to drain substantial advertising revenue from the almost 200-year-old Review Appeal.
Because of The Tennessean’s much larger circulation, ad rates in the Nashville daily are much higher than in The Review Appeal. But many Franklin and Brentwood merchants don’t care about reaching readers outside the county. By distributing “Williamson A.M.” only to local subscribers, The Tennessean will be able to slash its ad prices and compete head-to-head with the local papers. Denmark is worried, but he tried to sound confident. “Hopefully, readers will continue to want to get a different voice,” he said, adding that his employees are free to live anywhere.
Seven days in July
Over the course of seven days, Tennesseans first won the right to elect a state Supreme Court justice and later the right to choose three other appellate judges. Then they lost it all in a series of hasty rulings from an inexperienced federal judge in Memphis.
It now seems that Supreme Court Justice Penny White, a 40-year-old Democrat from East Tennesseevery bright, very liberal, and very temperamentalwon’t have to face a Republican opponent in the Aug. 1 election. She can retain her seat simply by winning a yes-or-no referendum, which no Tennessee judge has ever lost.
Although the ruling on White by Memphis Judge Bernice Donald, a protégé of Congressman Harold Ford, is based on a questionable legal theory, state Attorney General Charles Burson has decided not to appeal, drawing criticism that he’s trying to protect White. John King, a Knoxville lawyer nominated by the Republican Party to oppose White, told the press Saturday he won’t appeal either, leaving doubts that he seriously wanted the job in the first place. King, however, may yet change his mind.
Meanwhile, Nashville attorneys John Jay Hooker and Lewis Laska, who started this drama by filing lawsuits seeking the right to run against White, have both been disqualified by rulings of a specially appointed state Supreme Court. Hooker can’t run, the judges said, because he hasn’t kept up his continuing legal education. The special court disqualified Laska because he’s not, like White, a resident of East Tennessee. The judges apparently didn’t realize that White holds an at-large seat on the Supreme Court. The ruling on Laska was so obviously wrong that even the attorney general, who opposed Laska’s suit, tried to persuade the court to change its mind.
Confused? So are most readers. Papers in Knoxville and Memphis reported the news purely as a political battle. The Tennessean went the opposite direction, assigning two court reporters to handle the story. Only the Banner paired a court reporter with a political writer, producing the state’s best coverage but still missing much of what happened.
The solution? The Tennessee Constitution says all state judges “shall be elected.” Until the courts acknowledge that a referendum is not an election, voters should just say “no” to all the judges.
Odds and ends
Saturday night, just as narrator Garrison Keillor reached the climax of a sexually charged news story from mythical Lake Wobegon, Nashville’s public radio station WPLN went off the air, returning two-and-a-half minutes laterafter Keillor had finished. Dozens of angry listeners called the station. At least one Scene reader suspected radio censorship.
“We’d never censor a show once we’d made a commitment to air it,” said station general manager Rob Gordon. “That’s just not our way of thinking.” He said a power outage forced the station off the air and that it took more time than usual for the backup generator to kick in. Officials at Nashville Electric Service confirmed that the Harpeth substation lost power Saturday after a crow collided with the transmitting equipment. The crow died.
♦ Like many other large newspapers, the Sunday Tennessean included a special section on the Olympics. Printed on cheap paper in a tabloid format, the 20-page section contained several large advertisements, a multi-page schedule that left out three days of events, and only six bylined stories. Surprisingly, the section devoted three pages to describing whitewater events on the Ocoee River, advising visitors how to find the river, what to take and wear, and even how to pay for souvenirs. Only at the end did reporter Tom Wood explain that there are no tickets remaining.
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