Empty Handed 

Gannett slights "The Tennessean"

Gannett slights "The Tennessean"

By Matt Pulle

If you think The Tennessean, with its front-page stories on wrestling and Pokémon, has been lacking in hard news lately, well, its parent company agrees with you. Recently, Gannett announced its quarterly awards for its 28 largest newspapers, and our morning daily missed out on all the categories that really matter. While a panel of judges recognized nine different papers for investigative and spot news reporting, including smaller dailies like Boise’s Idaho Statesman and The El Paso Times, The Tennessean came up empty.

Despite being the fourth-largest local paper in the chain, The Tennessean also drew blanks in nearly all the key categories, including feature writing, sports, staff enterprise, public service, and specialty reporting. On the plus side of the ledger, The Tennessean’s Sylvia Slaughter was recognized for her impressive series that chronicled the saga of a heart-transplant patient, while D’Anna Sharon’s redesign of the Sunday front page took first place in the “Packaging and Presentation” category. The paper also won a number of lower-profile awards, including runners-up in informational graphics and headline writing, which cited the slug “www.don’tdothis.com” as particularly imaginative. Maybe it’s the judges who are lame.

Gannett also recognized six different journalists for commentary, none of whom labor at 1100 Broadway. Columnist Tim Chavez might do better next time. He has shined of late with excellent writing on the looming death-penalty cases. But the way Dwight Lewis has been going recently, he’d be lucky to get an award for spelling his byline correctly.

Last Thursday, in a piece on Al Gore’s interview with a panel of left-leaning newspaper columnists, Lewis wrote about how he asked the vice president why he couldn’t win the support of the richest resident in Georgia, Ann Cox Chambers. “Dwight! Dwight!” Gore is quoted as saying, before essentially evading the question. Considering that the rest of the column gave Gore an unchallenged platform to spout liberal platitudes, we can assume only that Lewis’ point was that Gore calls him by his first name. Memo to Lewis: Being familiar with VP doesn’t buy you any credibility — just ask your editor.

Lewis was at it again this past Sunday in a piece on Joe Haynes, a federal judgeship nominee. As if referring to Haynes as an “incredible man” and a “straight-up kind of guy” was not enough puffery for the day, Lewis offered up his own gushing testimony. “I have been lucky to know Joe Haynes for 27 years now, and he’s one of the most decent people one could ever meet.”

And the winner is...

Although it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, Nashville’s TV news stations fared a lot better in a competition among their peers than did the morning rag. Last week, the finalists for regional Emmy’s were announced, and WTVF-Channel 5, which was closing the gap on ratings leader WSMV-Channel 4, trumped not just Nashville but all its area competitors with 26 nominations. Almost as good was WKRN-Channel 2, which came in third overall with 18. Indeed, the station might overtake Channel 5 next year with the emergence of reporter Kate Merrill (her story on indolent state workers, taking 20-minute smoke breaks less than an hour apart, may be the best argument yet for slashing state spending) and the recent hiring of Dan MacDonald, the well-decorated reporter who Channel 5 inexplicably encouraged to depart.

Once respected by their peers, Channel 4 received nine nominations, sadly languishing well behind their local competitors. And to think one of those nominations went to reporter Francene Cucinello’s story “Where’s Janet March?” which included an interview with a psychic. That Channel 4 was so roundly ignored is understandable; that the station is leading the critical November ratings sweeps, however, is not. Despite some aggressive reporting on the police department and Nancy Amons’ promising series on a shady pornographer, the station has dumbfounded literate viewers of TV news with its mind-numbingly low-brow coverage of the state’s tax debate, perhaps the most important story our local media have covered this year.

Deep Throat

The Nashville Scene has a leak, and it’s not some low-level staff writer. Indeed, the sieve is none other than Bruce Dobie, the paper’s chatty editor and co-owner. Recently on the morning radio show Teddy Bart’s Roundtable, Bart noted that News Editor and Capitol Hill reporter Jeff Woods wrote the paper’s editorial on how the state’s Democratic lawmakers failed to push for a state income tax. Like gossip traveling in a high school cafeteria, this bit of information came to Bart from frequent Roundtable guest Forrest Shoaf, who says he found out during a social conversation with Dobie himself.

While Woods insists he’s not miffed at Dobie for giving him up to Shoaf, it would be understandable if he was. In theory at least, Woods was expressing the opinion of the paper—not necessarily his own political views. Dobie should have protected the identity of the writer, who still has some reporting left to do on the tax debate. “Clearly it should have been kept anonymous,” says Dobie who says that he fully agreed with the editorial. “I probably screwed Jeff and I apologize for it.”

Contact Matt at 244-7989, ext. 445, or mpulle@nashvillescene.com.

While Woods insists he’s not miffed at Dobie for giving him up to Shoaf, it would be understandable if he was. In theory at least, Woods was expressing the opinion of the paper—not necessarily his own political views. Dobie should have protected the identity of the writer, who still has some reporting left to do on the tax debate. “Clearly it should have been kept anonymous,” says Dobie who says that he fully agreed with the editorial. “I probably screwed Jeff and I apologize for it.”

Contact Matt at 244-7989, ext. 445, or mpulle@nashvillescene.com.

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