The Times Mirror Tennessee, a black-oriented, weekly newspaper, is shifting its focus to attract middle-class black readers in all parts of Nashville and has hired a white woman to take over the paper’s news operations, publisher Sam Latham said Monday.
“I’m too poor to be a racist,” said Latham, whose paper was called the Metropolitan Times until he renamed it last summer. “I just looked for the best-qualified person I could find who also believed in our paper’s mission.”
Gina Hancock, 34, has been managing editor of the Murray, Ky., Ledger & Times for the past five years. She starts at the Times Mirror on Jan. 4, replacing Latham’s wife, Adrienne, who is now working at Fisk.
Sam Latham said he is also expanding the paper’s circulation to include the state’s major metropolitan areas and is hiring full-time staffers in Memphis, Jackson, and Chattanooga. By mid-January, he expects to double the paper’s circulation, from 25,000 to 50,000, and will begin distributing papers in areas such as Green Hills, Brentwood, and Hendersonville.
“Our advertisers want a more upscale readership,” he said. “In the past, we’ve focused on all economic segments of the black community. Now we’re going to concentrate on middle-class African Americans and the issues they face, like discrimination in housing and employment.”
Latham said the paper’s mission is to focus on issues from an African-American perspective and to portray black institutions “in a positive light.” He said the paper is currently working on a story about Tennessee State University, partially in response to a critical article that appeared recently in the Scene.
“If we don’t protect these [African-American] institutions, where else do we have our power base?” he said. “It might not seem fair from a journalism standpoint, but that’s what sets us apart from other newspapers. It’s not our job to be objective.”
Hancock said she’s “comfortable” with Latham’s desire to be protective of the local black community. “We’ll be tough when we need to be, but we’ll put it in context,” she said.
“Besides,” she added, “any publisher who tells you he doesn’t [bend the news to protect special interests] is lying. They all do it, but Sam [Latham] is one of the few who’ll admit it.”
It’s no gift
But Latham is not alone. Last week, Nashville Scene publisher Albie Del Favero shocked the paper’s editorial staff with a blistering, 1,000-word memo criticizing last week’s “Holiday Gift Guide” for not promoting the paper’s advertisers. A copy of the memo was faxed anonymously to the paper’s media critic.
“Over the years, we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising because of negative stories,” Del Favero wrote, but “I constantly remind everyone on the business side that the integrity of our editorial product is more important than selling an individual account like Baptist [Hospital] or Mario’s,” both of which have been the targets of negative stories in the Scene.
“But when it comes to plugging local businesses in a Holiday Gift Guide,” he continued, “the concept of editorial integrity is hard to defend.” The publisher complained that of the 45 stores mentioned in the annual gift guide, “only seven have ever advertised” in the Scene. He was particularly incensed that the guide mentioned national chains like Wal-Mart (“five separate times”) instead of local stores like Dury’s.
If even half the stores like Dury’s in Nashville “are run out of business, we no longer have a newspaper, my friends,” the publisher concluded, adding that “if it’s impossible to do these types of features without some empathy for our advertisers and for other small, locally owned businesses, then don’t fucking do them!”
Del Favero said later it was the first time he had written such a memo, adding that he “wanted to make sure the message got through.” Scene editor Bruce Dobie, who co-owns the paper with Del Favero, declined comment.
To Del Favero, the struggle of local stores against national retail chains is no different from the Scene’s own battles with the Gannett-owned Tennessean. That’s why he feels so strongly about promoting small businesses.
But Scene advertisers get exactly what they pay for: a fixed number of inches of ad copy, no more and no less. The “Gift Guide,” on the other hand, is supposed to help readers find interesting or unusual gifts, no matter who sells them. If it’s just an advertising gimmick, then Del Favero’s right: Don’t do it anymore.
One less critic
Nashville attorney and former television news reporter Tom Lee, who has been writing a media column in the Nashville Banner for the past year, is no longer working for the afternoon daily. Lee said he didn’t have the time to continue the weekly column, which has been missing, without explanation, for more than a month.
Although he covered all local media, Lee wrote best when commenting on television news. Occasionally, he even criticized the Banner itself. To the paper’s credit, Lee’s editors never once pulled an item from his column or changed his copy, Lee said. Managing editor Tonnya Kennedy wouldn’t say whether the paper intends to find a replacement.
Figures released last week show the Banner’s reported circulation is down to 41,541, based on a three-month period ending Sept. 28. A year ago, the number was 46,164. Five years ago, it was 59,120.
As weak as The Tennessean is now, it will become worse after the Banner eventually folds. So, this Christmas, instead of dropping your change into one of those red buckets on the corner, stick two quarters in a Banner news rack. But don’t take more than one copy.
Apologies to Channel 5 general manager Lem Lewis, whose first name was misspelled in last week’s column.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (615-244-7989, ext. 445), call him at his office, 615-252-2363, or send an e-mail to email@example.com