Desperately Seeking the News 

Thin skins

Thin skins

Politicians get used to bad press; many businessmen just ignore it; but media personalities can’t seem to do either. Journalists “can dish it out but never have to take it,” press critic James Fallows recently stated, charging that journalists sometimes “go crazy” when attacked.

Earlier this month, the publisher of the Gannett-owned Detroit News announced that his paper and its employees will boycott the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) after the chapter agreed to host a speech by Gannett critic Richard McCord, author of The Chain Gang: One Newspaper Versus the Gannett Empire.

McCord’s book, published last year, charges that Gannett, the corporate owner of The Tennessean and 90 other papers, has ruined dozens of once-good publications and has used unethical and illegal business practices to drive out competitors.

In a letter to SPJ national president Steve Geimann, News publisher Robert Giles said SPJ’s Detroit chapter “has surrendered its objectivity” and shown “open hostility” toward Gannett by, among other things, giving McCord a platform “to spread a view of Gannett and The News that is sympathetic” to newspaper workers on strike against Detroit’s two daily papers.

Because of these incidents, Giles said it’s “unlikely” that members of his staff or the News itself “will join or participate in the local chapter anytime soon.”

Geimann, president of the nation’s largest journalism organization, said there have been several similar complaints from Gannett in recent years. “It’s clear to us that this is Gannett’s corporate approach toward dealing with unfavorable publicity,” he said. “If they don’t like what you’ve written, they let you have it with both barrels.”

Geimann said Monday it was “totally appropriate” for the SPJ chapter to invite McCord to speak, even though McCord’s trip to Detroit was paid for by the pro-strike Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. Giles was invited to the SPJ meeting to rebut McCord but declined to appear, according to Geimann. McCord said that Gannett officials have consistently avoided appearing with him at public forums and that no one from The Detroit News attended the SPJ meeting. No review of The Chain Gang has ever appeared in a Gannett-owned newspaper.

The Tennessean has given only minimal coverage to the Detroit strike even though, according to sources at the paper, some Tennessean production workers and reporters have quietly left town to scab for The Detroit News.

♦ Apparently, some television anchors have thin skins too. After the April 21 edition of In Review hit the streets, WSMV-Channel 4 anchor Demetria Kalodimos called the paper’s managing editor, Skip Anderson, to express her displeasure over In Review’s description of a make-believe “cat fight” between Kalodimos and Channel 4 morning host Sharon Puckett. The paper accurately described Kalodimos as “tough but somewhat distant. You wouldn’t jump at the chance to lunch beside her.” The paper also said she “plays second fiddle to big Dan Miller.”

According to In Review sources, Kalodimos sarcastically told Anderson that it wasn’t too smart to mock two successful professional women, implying that the parody was sexist. Kalodimos is a talented anchor who, some of her coworkers admit, is short on people skills. She has made similar angry calls to the Scene over issues that other journalists might have ignored.

Puckett made no complaints to In Review about the parody. Perhaps that’s why the paper reported that Puckett “won a surprise victory [over Kalodimos] by being incredibly comfortable both in the ring and out.”

After the In Review satire appeared, Kalodimos wrote a memo to her fellow Channel 4 staffers, warning that they should “watch who we give bios and other info to. It can show up later as rag fodder.” The memo also stated her concern that biographical information used in In Review might have been gleaned from Channel 4’s own Web site.

Matt Pulle, the In Review assistant editor who wrote the feature, seemed calm in the wake of the incident. “I wish it wouldn’t be taken this seriously,” Pulle said.

Transitions

♦ Longtime Banner political editor Ed Cromer was abruptly fired last Wednesday by publisher Irby Simpkins, just hours after distribution of the April 24 Nashville Scene, which criticized the Banner’s handling of a political story.

In the April 24 Scene, “Desperately Seeking the News” described a minor but revealing newsroom incident in which the paper’s new managing editor, Tonnya Kennedy, overreacted to a critical phone call from Mayor Bredesen’s office. According to sources at the paper, Kennedy ordered last-minute changes in the paper’s second edition to appease the mayor’s office but did not consult Cromer or news editor Tony Kessler. Kennedy told the Scene she had, in fact, discussed the issue with both editors before making the change. Cromer said only that he had “no comment” about the incident. Yet he was fired two hours after copies of the Scene began to circulate.

Cromer said Monday, “By mutual agreement, I am no longer employed at the Banner. I believe the parting was on pretty good terms.” Simpkins did not return calls.

♦ Former Tennessean business reporter Tom Wood starts May 12 as editor of both Business Nashville and Nashville Life, publisher Tom Bainbridge announced Tuesday. Wood replaces Clark Parsons at Nashville Life, and Richard Urban, who was acting editor at Business Nashville. Both magazines are co-owned by Bainbridge and real estate developer Ted Welch.

The magazines have suffered from high turnover, in part because of gripes about interference from Bainbridge. Bainbridge said he has promised Wood “a free hand regarding editorial content.” Wood, talented and hard-headed, is not a compromiser. He’ll produce good magazines—if he lasts. Laurels to Bainbridge for making a smart and surprising choice.

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

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