Getting Snippy 

Local media largely disappoints in the Y2K

Local media largely disappoints in the Y2K

What kind of year was it for local media? The city’s two top-rated television stations, WSMV-Channel 4 and WTVF-Channel 5, both thought that in-depth accounts of prostitutes who specialize in servicing truck drivers had news value. The Tennessean dispatched pop music writer Peter Cooper, who is not a major-league anything, to cover the final days of the Bush campaign. And WLAC-1510 AM cancelled a long-running, local sports radio show in favor of a talk show hosted by syndicated conservative host Michael Savage. He’s the guy who recently joked that Al Gore’s election loss would plunge his wife Tipper into another state of depression.

But while there were no Pulitzers, it wasn’t an altogether fruitless year. The Tennessean’s yearbook, after all, included in-depth coverage of both the Titans’ Super Bowl appearance and Florida’s post-election debacle. General assignment reporter Monica Whitaker wrote a substantive story about the prominent Levine family snaring custody of Perry March’s children during a surprise trip to Mexico. And this summer, while The Tennessean coped with massive turnover, workhorse Kirk Loggins excelled on everything from a thorough account of the legendary Fate Thomas’ funeral to sharp coverage of the media lawsuit against the General Assembly’s secret meetings.

Local TV journalists also had some resúmé-building moments. Channel 5’s Phil Williams was one of the first reporters in the country to observe that election-night projections of a Bush win in Florida were premature. Channel 4’s Nancy Amons exposed unseemly fundraising practices of the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police. And WKRN-Channel 2’s news director, Matthew Zelkind, earned a four-year contract extension as a just reward for his station’s steady climb in the ratings.

Overall, however, this was not a banner year for the local media. Last year, local reporters produced substantive investigative pieces on institutions ranging from the Catholic Church to the Metro Police Department to local charities. But nobody offered a blockbuster in the year 2000. The Tennessean’s efforts were particularly discouraging. Once renowned for investigative reporting that exposed—in all its sundry details—everything from voter fraud to the Ku Klux Klan, The Tennessean stooped to writing a ridiculous report—masquerading as serious—about the cleanliness of the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The story reported that the heavily used Arena suffered from cracked tiles, a few leaks, and floors described as “movie theater sticky.”

We did have a proliferation of media voices this year, but most of them were content to be meek and quiet. From the debut of original reporting on the local Fox affiliate to the launching of the underwhelming City Paper, the new start-ups seemed happy just to supplement the news that was already out there—sort of a media version of a B-12 vitamin.

Gannett debuted a new entertainment pamphlet called The Rage. Designed to fit inside a leather jacket, the slim Rage can also be used as a coaster. That may be its most salient attribute.

Closer to my desk, Scene editor and publisher Bruce Dobie, long the voice of left-leaning causes, angled to join the exclusive and well-heeled Belle Meade Country Club. Outside of taking a legislative job years ago with Louisiana GOP congressman Tom DeLay, Dobie could not have done a better job of dimming his progressive credentials.

Not to get too snippy, but overall, the local press displayed a lack of initiative and savvy while also exhibiting a curious lack of judgment. People complain all the time of the media’s left-leaning bias, or increasingly, right-wing bias and the homogenizing effects of corporate media. But biases tend to cancel themselves out (i.e. CNN with Fox News), and major media organizations can—and often do—provide the best aggressive investigative reporting of the rich and powerful. In the end, reporters, no matter what their stripe or corporate affiliation, have only themselves to blame when they merely waddle along. Hopefully, next year we’ll all be a little more major league.

Posting up

Nashville Post’s Bill Carey will be leaving the business news Web site that he co-founded. As first reported in the Nashville City Paper, Carey will be joining WPLN, the local NPR affiliate, early next year.

While there were rumors of friendly disagreements between Carey and fellow co-founder David Fox, Carey says that he is leaving to spend more time with his family. With his wife expecting a child early next year, Carey probably figured that the 70-hour weeks he was logging at the Post would be harder to maintain with a new baby in the mix.

At WPLN, Carey primarily will be covering the state Legislature, the Metro Council, and the local business community. “It will be the same stories I’ve always covered, but it will be a new venue for me,” Carey says. “I’m sick of print. I’ve been doing it for eight years.”

As for the Nashville Post, which has managed to break a number of important stories in its debut year, Fox says they are looking for another reporter.

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