Last week, WTVF-Channel 5’s Phil Williams reported how top police officials frequently eat lunch with Jimmy Lewis, a colorful ex-con who pleaded guilty to a federal gambling charge nearly 10 years ago. It was a widely talked-about story that understandably neglected to mention a related matter: According to Lewis, he has relished many a lunch and dinner with a number of Channel 5 staffers, including Williams’ colleague and rival on the investigative beat, Larry Brinton.
“We’ve been seen at Mario’s, the Bound’ry, South Street,” says Lewis. “One weekend, Larry and I went to Atlanta.”
Brinton didn’t return a Scene call requesting comment, but on his Morning Line show on Channel 5+, the gruff newsman spoke openly about his friendship with Lewis and talked about how they had dinner just last week. And this past Friday, Lewis even called Brinton on air and engaged him in a friendly chat.
Clearly bothered with how Williams highlighted his past behavior, Lewis also tells the Scene that he has dined with other Channel 5 staffers, including Nick Beres, Brinton’s Morning Line co-host, and reporter Scott Couch.
After catching a number of high-level police officers on hidden camera having lunch with Lewis, Williams noted that it’s a violation of police rules for officers to “knowingly associate with persons convicted of felonious criminal offensesäexcept in the performance of duty.” There is no rule of this sort, informal or otherwise, that applies to journalists, of course. In fact, often the best way for journalists to pursue stories is to gain the confidence of people like Lewis, who typically know far more about what makes the city tick than your average flack.
Still, sources say Lewis’ friendship with Channel 5 staffers has fostered tension in the newsroom. In fact, one staffer who has dined with Lewis was openly critical of Williams’ piece. And as for Brinton, well, he and Williams barely talk to each other anymore. And while they never were best friends, Williams’ reporting last week probably won’t land him a lunch with either Lewis or Brinton.
A different 'Nashville Scene'
Targeted specifically at the well-heeled members of Nashville’s African American community, Urban Flavor, a free weekly tabloid, will hit a newsstand near you later this month. A mix of old-fashioned city reporting alongside columns on arts, entertainment, and social issues, the new publication will be more like the Nashville Scene than the city’s other black newspapers, most of which are filled with wire reports and poorly written news stories.
“It will have news for the upwardly mobile African American community,” says co-publisher Morris Tipton, who will be joined by former WTVF-Channel 5 reporter Dwann Holmes. “Urban Flavor will be a paper that speaks to and for a demographic of Nashville that doesn’t have a voice today.”
The first issue, which will run a feature on local African American music, is set for July 27. Afterward, Tipton and Holmes will spend a month retooling for an official September launch. They plan to publish 40,000 copies each week and distribute the paper throughout the county, not just in black neighborhoods.
While launching a weekly these days can be a dicey prospectwitness the protracted struggles of In Review and Nashville Sports WeeklyTipton says he plans to be profitable within a year. Overhead, he says, will be kept low. Both he and Holmes will work out of their homes. And in the beginning at least, they’ll rely exclusively on freelance writers and columnists.
Urban Flavor shouldn’t have trouble finding readers if it’s a timely and well-written publication. Whether advertisers jump on board is a different question.
“We’re offering something that hasn’t been offered before, and we’re seeking to speak to readers who have a disposable income,” Tipton says. “Advertisers are going to want to speak to these people.”
Interestingly, Tipton acknowledges that he’s modeling his paper after the Scene, but that doesn’t prevent him from mocking the paper’s image in an advertising letter. “Just think,” he wrote, “publications like the Nashville Scene openly admit they are an alternative paper targeted toward rich, young white people.”
Said Scene publisher and editor Bruce Dobie, “Where on Earth did Mr. Tipton get this?”
Meanwhile at 1100 Broadway
A final point about Phil Williams’ stories last week: Among many other scoops, the Channel 5 reporter detailed how police investigators are interviewing officers at their homes to determine whether their superiors asked them not to write citations to nightclubs leasing property from Lewis.
There has been no mention of this potentially explosive investigation in The Tennessean, which not only gets beat on virtually every development on the police beat but lags behind in reporting important news that other media outlets break.
Matt Pulle can be reached at 244-7989, ext. 445. Or you can e-mail him at email@example.com.