All it took was a voice-mail message from the mayor’s press secretary to convince Banner editors to re-write the main headline in last Friday’s paper and take some of the sting out of an anti-Bredesen news story.
In the first edition, the headline read, “Frantic call clinched Oilers’ Bellevue deal.” Then Bredesen press secretary Shannon Hunt called Banner editor Eddie Jones, leaving a message that the headline was “inappropriate” and an inaccurate characterization of the mayor’s actions. In the second edition, the headline read, “Quick call clinched Oilers’ Bellevue deal.”
Sources at the paper say Hunt called 20 minutes before the second-edition deadline and that the Banner’s new managing editor, Tonnya Kennedy, ordered the headline changed, without consulting either news editor Tony Kessler or political editor Ed Cromer, both of whom had approved the original headline. Kennedy disputes that account, saying she discussed Hunt’s complaint with both Kessler and Cromer before changing the headline. She says both editors agreed with her decision.
Kessler said he supports Kennedy’s account but “couldn’t remember” if they had talked to Cromer, part of whose job is to approve all headlines for political stories. Cromer declined comment.
Bredesen, according to the Banner story, had called Adams to warn him that, unless the Oilers agreed immediately to locate the team’s practice facilities in Davidson County, Metro Council might not approve a proposed reduction in the Oilers’ stadium rent. Adams got the message, and, within hours, Bredesen announced that the Oilers would be practicing in Bellevuenot, as many had expected, in Williamson County.
Given Bredesen’s flatline personality, it’s unlikely he was “frantic” on the phone. Maybe “urgent” would have been more appropriate. But so what? The story spoke for itself.
It’s not surprising Hunt called to complain. That’s a press agent’s job. What is surprisingand demoralizing to Banner staffersis that Kennedy, a sports editor until two weeks ago, would apparently preempt two veteran editors just to appease a politician’s flack. Kennedy has a pleasant manner, and, reportedly, she has good management skills. What she doesn’t have, yet, is the respect of a skeptical newsroom.
♦ When Kennedy was promoted, former Banner managing editor Pat Embry moved up to “executive editor,” a long-vacant position. Now he appears to be heir apparent to Eddie Jones. Embry has all the skills to run the paper, but staffers will miss Jones, who, as one reporter said, “is the only person around here who occasionally tells [Banner publisher Irby Simpkins] when he’s going too far.”
Someone should have spoken up recently before the Banner published a gushing editorial recounting the achievements of North Carolina State University. There was no apparent reason for the six-paragraph press release except, as an anonymous reader pointed out, that Peaches Simpkins, the publisher’s wife, is an N.C. State graduate and serves on the university’s board.
Two weeks later, the Banner printed a breathless account of a speech by Peaches Simpkins to a local women’s group. The puff piece never mentioned that she is married to the newspaper’s publisher.
Classy publishers take pains to keep themselves and their families out of the news. The Tennessean’s Craig Moon understands that.
Irby Simpkins doesn’t.
♦ But The Tennessean has its morale problems too. Business reporters were dumbfounded last week to learn that Lisa Green, 34, had been named the paper’s business editor. According to coworkers, Green has no experience as a business writer and no apparent connections to the Nashville business community.
Green has been interim editor for several weeks, supervising a staff of writers who are all new to Nashville. Except for some workmanlike health-care stories by Julie Bell, the section’s business reporting has been embarrassing of late.
Three times last weekon April 12, April 16, and April 19the front page of the “Business” section featured stories on Teenie Beanies, the cute toys being given away at McDonald’s. Twice, there were large color photos of kids clutching stuffed animals. During the same week, Green’s section printed nothing about two significant business stories: Nelson Andrews’ appointment as board chairman of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee,and a report from the state’s consumer advocate that local telephone rates should be reduced by $113 million.
Maybe the phone company should give away Teenie Beanies. That, at least, would make the paper.
Nashville socialite Guilford Dudley Jr. is sufficiently old, rich, and eccentric to get away with saying almost anything.
But even Dudley, who’s well known in high society in New York, as well as Nashville, must have cringed at the report on the Swan Ball in Monday’s New York Times. Times reporter Kevin Sack applauded the ball’s organizers for breaking “modest ground” by inviting two-dozen-or-so African Americans to the 900-guest party.
Dudley, though, “questioned the purpose of such calculated integration,” according to Sack. “I’m not exactly sold on it,” Dudley was quoted as saying. “I’m not against it but I just don’t see any particular point in it. With only a few of them here, I would think they would feel they’re at the wrong place. I’d feel out of place at their parties.”
Maybe the former ambassador to Denmark temporarily lost his diplomatic skills. Dudley says now that he was only “trying to tell the Times reporter that I believe in diversity but that 21 black people out of 900 wasn’t much diversity.”
To add insult to injury, The Tennessean reprinted the entire article on Tuesday morning.
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