Mutiny is brewing among fledgling journalists at Middle Tennessee State University, where the new faculty advisor to the student newspaper Sidelines
abruptly discontinued the paper’s entertainment insert “Flash” recently.
Like students tend to do, they were experimenting with the inserted tab, venturing into satirical territory, writing about sex and clumsily feeling their way toward creating an alternative publication inside their traditional student newspaper. Advertisers weren’t complaining, readers weren’t unhappy and things were going along swimmingly…until the faculty advisor began meddling.
Fern Greenbank, who replaced advisor Sonny Rawls (briefly the author of this media column before getting a lofty gig as an investigative editor and taking a leave from MTSU), met with campus muckety-mucks recently to tell them her plans to can the inserted publication, then wrote an email to Sidelines
editor Matt Anderson flatly giving him the news. “They are in agreement that Sidelines
cease publication of Flash at least for the remainder of this semester,” Greenbank, herself a former editor of Sidelines, wrote Anderson abruptly one day. “From a legal, ethical and financial standpoint, the Flash in its current form does not comply with standard advertising, journalism and financial practices or
university policies related to the Sidelines
Greenbank insists that it wasn’t the content she was reacting to, but rather the idea that it was being billed as an “entertainment” insert though it wasn’t exactly shaking out that way. “If it had been a content issue, I’m sure I would be out of a job,” she says. “This supplement tab thing was just becoming a nightmare from legal, ethical points of view and, you know, I made the big-girl decision that nobody liked.”
Anderson says he knew that Greenbank didn’t like the content of the publication but that he had no idea she was moving to kill it until he got her email. “Before I got that, where I left it with Fern is we were trying to come up with a plan to make Flash work,” he says. “I was totally blindsided.”
Greenbank admits she objected to the content. “I told them I didn’t like it, and I told them why I didn’t like their content. If you’re trying satire, if you’re trying to be edgy, you still have to do it ethically.” Basically, she says, “we were weekly lying to advertisers.”
Still—and Greenbank concedes this—no client of the newspaper ever once complained. “It’s a learning environment,” she retorts. “I’m supposed to be teaching them what could happen.”
Yeah, and the best way to do that is to let them experiment, make mistakes and guide them only when asked. Greenbank has since called the Scene
to invite staffers here to conduct a workshop for interested MTSU students about publishing an alternative newspaper. Happy to, but the best training is just doing it.
We should just start calling 1100 Broadway The Titanic.
Reporters have been steadily jumping ship at The Tennessean
since editor E.J. Mitchell arrived late last year—either the inevitable byproduct of change or evidence of widespread discontent in the newsroom, or, most likely, some combination of the two. The latest defector is business reporter Richard Lawson, who, until Mitchell arrived, had a regular column, and who has a franchise on local real estate coverage.
Lawson, one of the few reporters at the paper who’s still concerned with building sources in the community, says he’s proud of the work he’s done during his tenure there, including pieces on wayward financial planner Larry Cherry and about the Clark Family Experience filing bankruptcy to get out of its recording contract with Mike Curb.
“I have two solid options,” Lawson says coyly about his next move. “As for why I’m leaving the paper after six years, it’s just time.”
Correction of the week
From last Wednesday’s Tennessean
: “The name of Tennessean
Chairman Emeritus John Seigenthaler was misspelled on Page 8A in some editions yesterday in a story about the death of Rosa Parks.” How many decades was he at the morning daily, again?
Last week here, in a piece about an effective buyout of the Scene
and its sister papers, Desperately wrote that “the only arguable hint of corporatization” on the part of New Times, the company that will take control of the paper, “is its quota, or ‘productivity,’ system for writers.” We were on deadline for a 152-page paper, so allow an elaboration: there is also the one-size-fits-all Web template for all of New Times’ 11 papers, and it’s so far unclear whether that will be applied to the Scene
and the other five Village Voice papers the bigger company has acquired. As well, there’s the matter of unfortunate font choices in New Times papers, which look a bit like what Tony Alamo used for those crazy tracts he put on the front windshields of Nashville cars. But we’re still keeping an open mind.
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