Gripers Anonymous 

Web site offers journalists an outlet

Web site offers journalists an outlet

By Henry Walker

Reporters love to gripe, more so even than teachers or cops. Idealistic, but chronically underpaid and frustrated, reporters—even at the best newspapers—complain constantly about greedy owners, timid editors, and morons at the copy desk.

But ordinary bitching hardly explains the caustic barbs apparently written by a current Tennessean staffer and posted recently on “News Mait Writer’s Cooperative,” a popular Internet site for journalists.

News Mait is a sort of underground job fair for journalists. It offers a “job wanted” section for writers and editors, but most readers turn to its “Newspaper Intelligence” page. There, anonymous, ink-stained wretches warn their colleagues about life at the nation’s worst, and most poorly run, newspapers. There are also a few papers where the staffers like their work.

Most of the 150 papers currently described in “Newspaper Intelligence” are small- to medium-sized. That’s where one typically finds the poorest working conditions and the most pandering to local advertisers. Don’t expect to find messages from staffers at The New York Times, The Washington Post, or any of the major Tennessee papers—except The Tennessean.

Here’s the warning one bitter journalist, apparently a woman, gives anyone thinking about applying for a job at 1100 Broadway:

There is some good journalism going on at this newspaper in spite of the fact that it is Gannett-owned, morale is in the toilet, it’s run like a dictatorship from the front office and corporate headquarters in Arlington, Va., and the pay sucks wind. The editor never talks to the staff because he fears them. The reporting staff is worked like dogs, expected to churn out at least one story a day plus weekend copy, and it’s not unheard of for middle managers to be berated in meetings for no good reason. The competition, The Nashville Banner, recently went under and The Tennessean has absorbed much of the staff and is beefing up its coverage of Middle Tennessee. In 1997 six women left the paper in two months time, including the feature editor and a sports editor. Five of them were minorities. All went to bigger papers but pointed to the lack of opportunity and terrible work conditions at the Tennessean as one reason why they decided to work elsewhere. My recommendation: be wary and leave after two years. The place is very disfunctional [sic]. Those of us still at the paper often question why we still come to work.

Other Gannett-owned papers don’t fare much better on this Web site. One writer says, “All the things wrong with Gannett are wrong” at the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Too much focus on contests. Everything (or so it sometimes seems) is driven by focus groups.” At the Fort Myers News-Press, “news coverage is ultra soft, pay is mediocre, and bosses micromanage their departments in the Gannett style. A great place to work if your idea of journalism is fluffy, short stories with locator maps and ‘How to Cope’ boxes.”

To anyone who regularly reads the Tennessean or other papers in the Gannett chain, it all sounds depressingly familiar.

Wannabe Woodsteins should check out newsmait.com on the Internet. It’ll take the ink out of your blood.

Tennessean managing editor Dave Green declined to comment.

Odds and ends

Laurels to Tennessean reporters Trine Tsouderos, Jim East, Jay Hamburg, Charles Searcy, and Dorren Klausnitzer for their well-executed stories harnessing the latest walking-horse scandal. The subject is an old Tennessean favorite. The paper’s first exposé of soring was written some 30 years ago by an aggressive young reporter named Sonny Rawls (see below). The stories haven’t changed, just the number of reporters it takes to write them.

♦ A dart to Julie Bell, The Tennessean’s usually serious healthcare reporter, for an unusually silly Sunday feature depicting the corporate changes at Columbia/HCA as a feud between Thomas Frist Jr.’s “Southern culture of honor” and Rick Scott’s allegedly lower-class, Midwestern farm values.

♦ Apologies to In Review publisher Boyer Barner, whose name was misspelled, once again, in last week’s column. Barner himself takes the gaffes well, but some members of his staff think the Scene is deliberately trying to tweak In Review. We’re not. We just screwed up again.

Curiouser and curiouser

This just in from Scene editor Bruce Dobie:

Knowledgeable sources confirm one of the strangest stories yet to emerge from the Banner’s final days: While secretly arranging the paper’s sale, Banner publisher Irby Simpkins was also negotiating to hire former Tennessean reporter Wendell “Sonny” Rawls to run the afternoon paper’s newsroom.

Sources say Rawls was speaking with Simpkins about becoming nothing less than editor of the paper. Then Rawls learned, when everyone else did, that Simpkins had decided instead to close the paper.

Now living in Brentwood and writing screenplays, Rawls may be the best news reporter in town. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Rawls has worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Three years ago, he won a six-figure consulting contract to study TVA’s opportunities in China.

Rawls is also known for being abrasive, and for calling a spade a spade. Imagine James Carville without the charm. According to one source, Simpkins hoped Rawls would be the kind of tough, hard-nosed editor Simpkins thought the paper needed.

Rawls, to be sure, would have rocked the paper—and the city—for a while. But sooner or later, he would have shot Simpkins. Or maybe it would have been the other way around.

Maybe the Banner’s death wasn’t so untimely after all.

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), or send an e-mail to henry@nashscene.com

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), or send an e-mail to henry@nashscene.com

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