Although a WSMV-Channel 4 executive promised the station will “cooperate” as investigators look into whether Metro police unnecessarily beat-up a suspect last week, the station has so far refused to hand over an unedited videotape of the incident.
“All we have been given is the minute or so of tape that was broadcast on the air,” Metro police chief Emmett Turner said. “We want to see the whole tape.”
The police also want to interview Channel 4 cameraman, Jeff Jones, who stood outside the Green Hills post office and watched while two officers apparently kicked and beat a burglary suspect across the street.
Citing “First Amendment issues” and the state’s newsman’s privilege statute, a WSMV official said that the station would not allow Jones to be questioned by police. Channel 4 attorney Rob Harvey said the station typically declines to give police access to material that has not been broadcast. Nor does it permit police to interview its journalists.
Under Tennessee law, the station doesn’t have to cooperate. The law is intended to prevent police from forcing reporters to act as private investigators. Although there’s no danger of that here, station managers are concerned that cooperation in this case could set a bad precedent or unnecessarily involve the station in a lawsuit.
But there’s an easy solution. Channel 4 should just show the whole tape, unedited, and then give Turner a copy of the broadcast. The station would keep its principles, while the police, along with the rest of us, could get a better idea of where the truth lies.
And in this case, that’s the only First Amendment issue that matters.
Gannett strikes out
In a major decision released last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found the Gannett newspaper chain guilty of unfair labor practices in the bitter Detroit newspaper strike. Gannett and Knight-Ridder, another chain, were ordered to reinstate all striking workers and give them back pay, estimated at about $50 million.
In a rare, unanimous ruling, the NLRB said that the two media companies had refused to bargain in good faith with the employees of The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press. The Gannett-owned News was also singled out for its “overall bad faith” in negotiations with the paper’s editorial employees.
According to the NLRB’s findings, Gannett and Knight-Ridder illegally provoked the 1995 strike, fired all the strikers, and now wrongfully refuse to rehire them. Labor experts say these are typical, union-busting tactics, and speculate that the two chains decided that it’s cheaper in the long run to pay millions in fines rather than operate unionized newspapers.
The Tennessean published the first half of a New York Times story describing the decision. The local paper left out the part about The Detroit News, but did mention that Gannett also owns The Tennessean.
That, at least, was better than USA Today, Gannett’s flagship paper, which didn’t report the decision at all.
His eyes bulging with what may have been dollar signs, Nashville Scene editor Bruce Dobie could hardly contain himself. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. “The alternative paper in Lafayette [La.] just sold for $14.9 million.”
The Times of Acadiana, along with two sister papers that publish classified ads, was bought last week by the Thomson Corporation, a Toronto-based newspaper chain that already owns Lafayette’s only daily paper, The Daily Advertiser. Insiders say the paper sold for about 14 times earnings. That may well be the highest multiple ever paid for an alternative weekly. Such papers normally sell for five to six times earnings.
The record price explains why Dobie, part-owner of the Scene, was acting like a lottery winner. He and publisher Albie Del Favero bought the paper a little over two years ago for a reported $2.5 million. If they could sell it today for 14 times earnings, both would be multimillionaires.
Del Favero cautioned that the Lafayette sale was unusual because the alternative paper was successfully competing with the local daily for both classifieds and ads from major retailers. When asked whether he would sell to Gannett for 14 times earnings, Del Favero responded, “I have a three-word answer: never, never, never.”
The Tennessean’s daily “Scoreboard” lists, among other things, the names of local golfers who score hole-in-ones. To weed out bogus reports, the information is supposed to be faxed to the paper by the club pro, along with the names of witnesses.
That sounds fineas long as there’s someone at the paper to read the reports before they’re published. Tuesday’s “Scoreboard,” compiled by Tennessean staffer Lakisha Langster, reported, “Pine Creek [Golf Course]: Brad Farmer aced the 196-yard No. 3 with a 5-iron. Witnesses were Papa Farmer, Ron Milsap and Ray Charles.”
Pine Creek golf pro Chuck Shreve said Farmer reported a hole-in-one three weeks ago and that the golfer’s father was the only witness. Shreve said he had no reason to doubt Farmer’s claim and didn’t know who had sent the fabricated story.
Milsap and Charles are, of course, both blind. Though the two superstars don’t play golf, they might qualify for jobs on The Tennessean copy desk.
Blind copy editors may also find work at the Nashville Business Journal, which last week published a front-page story that a small Brentwood bank has lost $875 million since it opened last September. The same story reported that a new bank in Murfreesboro has lost $421 million since last October.
Reporter Jamie Clary got his zeroes mixed up. He wrote, repeatedly, that the banks had lost hundreds of millions. He meant hundreds of thousands.
This week, the paper ran an unusual, front-page correction. Clary, a normally competent reporter, is now looking for work. But the editors and proofreaders who overlooked the obviously inflated numbers are still on the job.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call him at his office, 252-2363, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.