Paper Trail 

City Paper layoffs don't suggest a happy future

City Paper layoffs don't suggest a happy future

Late last month, after The City Paper laid off three editorial staffers, editor Catherine Mayhew offered this stab at damage control. "We had too many people," she told NashvillePost.com. "We've had more ads and consequently we've needed less staff."

So basically, according to the editor of the free daily, reporters just fill in the space between the ads. The next time City Hall reporter Craig Boerner is pulling his hair out covering a four-hour Metro Council meeting, he'll be well-advised to ignore his editor's proclamation.

In addition to being journalistically sour, Mayhew's spin is also implausible. If the paper were selling more ads, it stands to reason, it would be printing more pages. Since the City Paper layoffs, the daily has slashed its page count. On some days it prints only 24 pages. If the paper were any tinier—or less significant—it would be The Rage.

In addition, if Mayhew's explanation were accurate and the paper were selling more ads, it (probably) would have offered a more generous severance package. Sources tell Desperately that the three editorial staffers who were laid off—reporters Colleen Creamer and Megan Moriarty, along with assistant editor Danny Murphy—received a meager three weeks' severance pay. All three, who had worked at the paper since its inception, had performed well, and they deserved a hefty enough check to cover their utility bills.

Local media chatters love to speculate about just how long the nearly four-year-old paper can survive. But that's not really the point anymore. While under the leadership of Mayhew, a former Gannett hand, The City Paper has never strived to shake up the city, though it has broken some interesting stories and irritated some of the Tennessean's flat-footed reporters. Now, with new publisher Tom Larimer at the helm, it fills its pages with arbitrary coverage of Metro politics and ho-hum news, typically the same sorts of stories readers already skimmed in The Tennessean and its supplement, Davidson A.M.

There are some bright spots, however, amid the mediocrity. The paper's coverage of downtown development is typically strong, and its sports pages have featured lively writing and reporting for years now. The paper is also willing to aggravate advertisers. On Monday, lifestyle editor Danny Solomon penned a belittling (and apt) review of MafiaOza's, warning serious diners to stay away from the place.

Still, nearly four years after its inception, it still suffers from an identity crisis. Is the paper supposed to be a substitute for The Tennessean or a supplement? Because it doesn't seem to know which, it ends up being neither. Interestingly, two of the reporters the paper sent packing, Colleen Creamer and Megan Moriarty, wrote original, fresh-picked stories that hadn't already been reported in The Tennessean. Nothing seemed to happen in East Nashville without Creamer tracking it down, and Moriarty reported several unflattering stories on former Fisk President Carolynn Reid-Wallace that set the tone for her short and controversial tenure. Now they're out of a job while The City Paper is running press-release-generated stories to fill its dwindling news hole.

Kill your television

We all know that local television news is barely relevant, and often embarrassing. But here's the real news: It's hemorrhaging popularity too.

According to the latest May sweeps numbers, local television ratings are plunging faster than Ben Affleck's career. They're down from the same period last year at every station for just about every newscast from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Here's a brief survey of the carnage: At WSMV-Channel 4, which is solid so long as it's not a sweeps month, ratings crashed 19 percent for its 10 p.m. newscast. You almost have to try to lose that many viewers. The news isn't any better at WKRN-Channel 2, where ratings plummeted an astonishing 22 percent at 5 p.m. If Bob Mueller went on the air and told Channel 2's viewers that he nursed a burning sexual crush on John Dwyer, the ratings decline would have been less precipitous. Even Channel 5, which is repulsing local viewers far less than its rivals, dropped in every single one of its newscasts.

There are many mysteries in this world—crop circles, Carrot Top's profitable career—but dwindling television news ratings isn't one of them. With a few notable exceptions, like Phil Williams' blockbuster piece on evidence of bid rigging among state road builders, most local TV stories are forgettable at best. At worst, they insult your intelligence.

Television news directors are still working from decade-old premises about what viewers want, which they think is a brief, cursory look at the news and a voyeuristic, context-free glimpse of murder and mayhem. The problem is that viewers, especially younger ones, are more media savvy than they were when many of today's news directors were in journalism school. Viewers know when they're being manipulated into watching an irrelevant story. They're wise to what television news has become. And they're turned off. Literally.

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