Someone at WTVF-Channel 5 has an autographed football signed by former NFL and SEC great Herschel Walker, and 11-year-old Joseph Norman wants it back.
Talk of the Town co-host Debbie Alan had it last. During a Nov. 7 show, she picked Joseph out of a crowd of children who were on a field trip at Municipal Auditorium and invited him to play catch with Walker. After a few tosses, Alan asked Walker to sign the ball, mentioning that she has three boys of her own, “two who like football.” She then turns to the camera, holds up the ball, and announces with breathless excitement, “We might give this to Joseph or I might fight Joseph for it.”
Apparently Debbie won the fight.
Joseph and his family haven’t seen the ball since, despite numerous calls and e-mails to the station. They think Alan still has it. “The videotape shows she had it last,” says Joseph’s father, Dale Norman, a design engineer at C & C Industrial Sales. “You don’t tell a child you’re going to give something to them and fight them over it. I just want Joseph to have what was promised to him.”
Joseph himself was too shy to ask Alan for the ball before she left that day. Now, he says, he wishes he had asked her for it at the time and feels that she misled him “a little bit.”
Joye Norman, Joseph’s grandmother, is a longtime fan of Talk of the Town. She saw Alan promise the ball to her grandson and says she later asked the Channel 5 host why Joseph never got it. “She told me that she didn’t know where it went and that someone ‘in the back’ must have taken it,” Norman says. “She said that the autographed ball was worth a lot of money, but she couldn’t remember who she gave it to. I don’t really think she was being truthful,” the grandmother says, adding that she sent Alan two subsequent e-mails but received no response.
The station did send the Normans a videotape of the segment with Joseph, Walker, and Alan. But replaying it has only made the family more angry.
“She said she’d give him the ball, and she ought to do it,” Dale Norman says. “You just don’t do that to children.” The autographed ball is worth about $150 to $200, according to local collectors. Whoever has the ball, Alan and Channel 5 should just fork over the money for another one and send it to Joseph.
Alan did not return phone calls.
As expected, WSMV-Channel 4 news director J. T. Thompson quietly resigned last week, telling the staff he had decided the “time had come to take a different road” and enter the “world of business.”
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he wrote in an e-mail to staffers, “and now, finally, I have the right opportunity.” Thompson’s memo didn’t mention his Labor Day drunk driving arrest or the Jan. 17 Desperately Seeking the News column reporting that Metro police had videotaped his arrest, during which the news director told the officer, “You know, I work for Channel 4 News.”
Thompson’s resignation announcement was not released to the staff until Jan. 24, but according to the time and date appearing on the e-mail, it was drafted Jan. 19, just two days after the Scene article appeared.
Thompson, 40, was hired in 1994 as executive producer and named news director in 1998. Respected for his long hours and loyalty to Channel 4, Thompson also happened to be the man in charge when channels 5 and 2 began catching up with Nashville’s longtime ratings leader. Regardless of the DUI arrest, Thompson probably would have left within another year or two, which is the average life span of a news director in most markets.
Despite the videotape, the DUI charge is thin. Even the judge at Thompson’s preliminary hearing advised the District Attorney’s office to “settle” the case for a lesser charge. Thompson’s more serious mistake was identifying himself as a Channel 4 staffer, implying either that the station might retaliate or that the police were out to get him.
None of the local television stations reported his resignation. The Tennessean, which also had ignored the incident, published a short story about Thompson’s announcement. The article mentioned the Scene’s report about the video, but not the news director’s self-destructive comments to the officer.
Thompson’s resignation is effective Feb. 15, in the middle of a hotly contested sweeps period. Station sources say his replacement is likely to be an outsider with substantial experience as a news director in other markets.
Channel 5 consumer reporter Elizabeth Owen has left the station to start a consulting business called Elizabeth Owen Communications. The former director of the state’s Consumer Affairs division, Owen said she’ll consult with businesses on “consumer negotiation strategies” and “media training.”
A station source says Owen and Channel 5 parted ways last year “because she likes to give consumer advice and weigh both sides of the issues, and they wanted her to do more gotcha-style reporting.”
To reach Henry, e-mail him at email@example.com.