The Nashville Scene “is a very white newspaper” that doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on in the city’s African American community, Village Voice publisher David Schneiderman concluded Friday during an in-house critique on the Scene’s strengths and weaknesses.
Surrounded by 20 Scene staffers and writersall white but oneSchneiderman said, “You’d never know” from reading the last five issues of the paper “that 25 percent of Nashville is African American.” He said the paper’s staff was the place to start making changes.
Challenged by investigative reporter Willy Stern, Scene editor and co-owner Bruce Dobie acknowledged that the paper’s original business plan focused on reaching “affluent, well-educated” West Nashville readers, not the city as a whole.
“If I don’t deliver those readers to the advertisers, I’m not doing my job,” Dobie said. “But once we give [the advertisers and sales staff] what they want, then we can go do the kind of stories we want to do.”
Pressed on why a so-called alternative newspaper runs ads for Rolexes and Mercedes, Dobie joked, “Y’all don’t need to bother yourselves about this shit.”
Dobie and publisher Albie Del Favero co-own the Scene, which is more profitable than most alternative papers in similar markets. Del Favero said that the paper’s gross revenues are “close to” $5 million a year and that the paper’s ad revenue per issue is “substantially higher” than the industry average. Del Favero and Dobie have consistently declined to reveal the paper’s net profits.
Sales director Jackson Vahaly said the paper’s readers are “somewhat” older and richer than readers of other alternative papers, “but the real reason” the paper sells ads to high-end retailers, banks, and department stores is the “non-alternative editorial copy.”
The Scene’s business plan isn’t so different from the goals of other alternative papers, Vahaly said, “but the Scene just does it better.”
Schneiderman, who on the whole was complimentary of the Scene, also criticized aspects of the recent redesign of the paper for taking too much space away from text, and wondered why the Scene did not have a regular book column.
Lines are Out
The hosts haven’t changed. The rotating guest list is pretty much the same. But something’s missing from Teddy Bart’s Round Table, now broadcast on station WAMB-1160 AM.
Nashville’s oldest talk radio show has scrapped the listener call-in lines that brought spontaneity and, occasionally, unexpected conflict to a sometimes too predicable format.
Callers can “dumb down the discussion,” Bart said last week, explaining why he decided not to install call-in lines at the show’s new studio on Church Street. “We’ll be having a knowledgeable debate among experts,” Bart said, “and a caller will start quoting the Bible.”
Bart’s right, but a good producer can screen out the bozos and let through callers like Murray Philip or Thelma Harper whose unexpected interjections provided some of the show’s best moments last year.
Callers also keep the guests in line. At least once a show, someone spouts off some nonsense with little fear of being exposed. For weeks, regular guest Tommy Burnett declared on the air that a proposal to test couples for AIDS won’t work because the virus can lie hidden for years. Last Friday, another guest finally straightened Burnett out.
But who’s going to tell the audience?
The Right Thing
It’s not even a sweeps month, but WKRN-Channel 2 is giving away $7,000 worth of car seats starting next week. The car seat giveaways didn’t help the perennial third-place station during the February ratings period but news director Mathew Zelkind said he’s doing it again “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Don't Wake the Copy Desk
One doesn’t expect The Tennessean’s ever-changing staff of newcomers to know much about Nashville. That’s why the paper gives them bus tours of the city and background lectures on local history and politics.
But when the paper’s political reporter describes Alexander’s famous plaid shirt as “red checked,” the religion reporter covers a visit from the archbishop of Canterbury and gets the name of the church wrong, and an experienced feature writer puts the battle of Chickamauga in the wrong state, it makes one wonder who’s doing the teaching.
Odds and Ends
And if anyone still cares, The Tennessean’s Brad Schmitt picked actress Lynn Redgrave as the worst-dressed woman at the Oscar’s, while marketing director Ed Cassidy, another staffer who covered the awards, pronounced Redgrave the “best dressed,” which explains, sort of, the difference between marketing and news.
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.