The Nashville Scene is a yuppie, white-bread newspaper that takes few risks and generally reflects the city’s prevailing social and political consensus, according to Michael Lenehan, executive editor of the Chicago Reader, one of the nation’s largest and most successful alternative newspapers.
Sitting in a conference room at the Reader’s Chicago offices, Lenehan talked while Scene editor Bruce Dobie and 12 staffers fidgeted quietly. You could have heard a pin drop.
At Dobie’s request, Lenehan had read “five or six” recent issues of Nashville’s alternative paper. “I’m going to describe the city viewed solely through the eyes of the Scene,” Lenehan began. “See if you recognize it.”
♦ Demographically. Most people are over 30, own a car and a house. The city is largely free of nuts, eccentrics, and homeless people.
♦ Culturally. There’s country music, adult rock, and a little classical music. There are no kids with spiked hair singing in garages and trying to change the world. There’s no dance, no theater.
♦ Socially. Nashville is a remarkably polite city. No one raises his voice. No one is desperate, wretched, or angry. There’s a pervasive establishment, a big inclusive club in which everyone is known by his first name, goes to the same parties, eats at the same restaurants, and vacations at the same beaches. The Scene is the club’s newsletter.
“Alternative papers have a license to be rude,” Lenehan said. “People will read the paper for the entertainment listings, and it almost doesn’t matter what you write in the rest of the paper. You might as well take some risks. The readers won’t notice.”
Lenehan is wrong. Many of the Scene’s newsracks downtown are empty within hoursnot because of the entertainment listings, but because what’s in the Scene is important to people who care about politics, music, urban planning, and even journalism. These people are well-educated; they vote; they follow the news and live in the better parts of town. They help shape the quality of life in Nashville.
Because they read the Scene, the paper makes a differenceand it sells ads. The Scene may be the club newspaper, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
A just published collection of entries in the “international worst boss contest” includes one profile of an anonymous “female-harassing, mid-life crisis, self-idolizing man” who, some publicists believe, is intended to describe Nashville public relations guru Hal Kennedy.
James Miller’s book, titled Best Boss/Worst Boss, includes an entry submitted by an unnamed “successful account executive.” She describes her former boss as a man who believed answering the phone “was woman’s work,” wore a gold pendant “shaped like a woman’s lower private part,” showed pictures of his visits to a nudist colony, and refused to give one woman her Christmas bonus because she “was giving birth and couldn’t be at the office” to receive the money in person.
“I’m 90 percent sure it’s him,” said one former Kennedy employee. “Either that or he has a best friend somewhere who shares all the same characteristics.” Others said the portrayal of Kennedy is “somewhat descriptive” but doesn’t reflect his better side. Most said the contest entry was, on the whole, an unfair and one-sided caricature.
“There are some striking similarities,” acknowledged Kennedy, who now runs a small firm in Murfreesboro but who was once the city’s most influential public relations executive. “But there are also some gross misrepresentations.” He did, in fact, insist that only female receptionists be allowed to answer the phone because it “makes the business seem more successful.” He also gave cash Christmas gifts only to employees who showed up for the office party but doesn’t remember that anyone was giving birth at the time.
Kennedy wears a gold pendant, but it’s only a turtle, he says, which reminds him of the tortoise-and-hare story. He thinks the reference to a nudist photo may relate to a picture shown around the office of a fill-the-hot-tub contest. “There were no pictures of myself, and I’ve never been to a nudist colony,” Kennedy said
Kennedy says the contest entry might have been written by a former employee who got her facts wrong. “It’s amusing in many ways but it’s also sad that anyone would think as little of me as that.”
Odds and ends
Elsewhere in the public relations world, Roy Vaughn, president of Atkinson Public Relations, is leaving after a year on the job to join Greg Bailey and Aileen Katcher in a new firm called Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Communications. Roger Shirley, longtime editor of the Nashville Business Journal and, more recently, spokesman for both the pro-stadium and pro-Penny White campaigns, starts Monday, Aug. 26, with McNeely Pigott & Fox as an account executive.
Vaughn said his parting is amicable; and Shirley says, in retrospect, that there was probably nothing White could have done to win.
♦ An Associated Press story about white Southern men and their “culture of honor” and violence appeared recently on the front page of The Tennessean and soon spread to radio and television stations. Assigned to gather some local reactions, Tennessean reporter Rochelle Carter asked three men how they would react to insults. One was a tourist from Georgia; another had moved here from West Virginia; the third was from New York. Carter apparently couldn’t find any Nashvillians.
It also seems that she couldn’t find the newspaper’s clip files, where she might have learned that the same story appeared in the Sunday Tennessean three months ago on the first page of the “Perspective” section. Based on a study by professors from Michigan and Illinois, this news item had all the elementsanti-white, anti-male, and anti-Southernthat seem irresistible to editors in The Tennessean’s politically correct newsroom. Watch for another rerun this fall.
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