We want to make a deal with The Tennessean's Dave Green, who is serving as the paper's acting editor: this column won't include a single critical word about the paper until 2005 if you stop plastering inane entertainment news on the front page of the paper.
We understand this peace offering is not akin to a worldwide treaty on global warming or an international ban on land mines. This is just a tiny détente between an irritable alt-weekly columnist and the acting editor of one of Gannett's largest papers. Green doesn't have a whole lot to gain by listening to us, but we're hoping to find him in a generous mood or at a point where he can reflect on the importance of editing a daily newspaper.
Let's negotiate a few loopholes for both sides: if Tim Chavez reports more lies about the war in Iraq and generates yet another national media storm, we'd like to be able to write about that. And we plan to continue to chronicle Tennessean publisher Leslie Giallombardo's endless, if unintentionally entertaining, quest to find an editor. On Green's end, if a well-known country music artist sues their record label, dies in a tragic car crash or even wins a major music award, we'd expect those stories to be on page one and certainly wouldn't fault him for his news judgment. We're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on many developments in the world of entertainment. But there are a few stories that have dominated the front page of The Tennessean in recent days that confound any kind of rational expectation of what's newsworthy. Here are just three:
♦ On Friday, The Tennessean dedicated nearly half its front page to Shania Twain's Good Morning America concert in Nashville. Meanwhile, buried on page 3B, the paper flippantly reported that Gov. Bredesen is "leaning toward chucking TennCare," a decision that would cost 400,000 people their health insurance. People's lives are in the balance and yet The Tennessean hypes an already over-hyped concert. This is the worst kind of synergy: a crappy morning show teams up with a crappy singer in a vehicle designed to boast ratings and sell albumsand the local daily leases out its front page as a billboard. Does Green want to become The Tennessean's next editoror would he prefer to land a gig as Twain's next publicist? Maybe he needs to start growing a ponytail.
Meanwhile, The City Paper, to its credit, put the TennCare news on its front page exactly where it belonged.
♦ Do you care whether erstwhile country singer Nanci Griffith plans to follow up on her empty promise to leave the U.S. because of Bush's re-election? Is this front-page news? Well, The Tennessean thinks it is. "She said it because she meant it," began music writer Peter Cooper's laughably earnest lead. Cooper proceeded to report that Griffith was planning to move to a home in Ireland after last Tuesday's elections but "other people called me relentlessly on Wednesday, saying, 'We need your voice.' So I'm going to keep my home in Nashville and split time between here and Ireland."
Griffith also broke her own promise, because, she told Cooper, none other than Brenda Lee pleaded with her to stay. "I'm not going to let you leave. We need you too badly," Griffith recalls Lee telling her. All of this silly self-indulgence from Griffith might have been an entertaining second-to-last column item for Brad Schmitt, but putting Griffith's whining on the front page is celebrity journalism of the lamest kind.
♦ On Monday, Peter Cooper again had a front-page storythis one on how two music industry awards dinners were scheduled for the same night. Don't you hate it when that happens?
On our Web site last Friday, Desperately opined that former Scene editor Bruce Dobie might be the best candidate to shake up The Tennessean, expel its dead wood and refocus its resources on investigative reporting. He'd also demand sharper commentary, help Brad Schmitt move to a career in public relations and reinvent the modern daily as a relevant, exciting and crusading agent of change. Of course, Cindy Smith, editor of Davidson A.M., has a different job in mind for our former boss. Talking to him at a Leadership Nashville function last week, she joked: "Hey, I'm looking for a writer to cover Southeast Davidson County." Well Bruce, maybe you can work your way up. Henry Freeman, editor of Gannett's Journal News in Westchester, N.Y, will be in Nashville this week interviewing for the open editor job at The Tennessean. A member of USA Today's start-up team in 1981, Freeman is at least the third product of Gannett's corporate culture to end up on Leslie Giallombardo's short list of editor candidates. We hear his staffers call him "King Henry," a nod to his arrogance. Maybe that's not a bad thing. A former colleague of Freeman tells Desperately "Henry would kick the Nashville staff into shape pretty quickly if he got the chance." Finally, The Tennessean has delayed its redesign, once planned for this fall, then slated for early next year, until September 2005. The world waits.
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