Last Wednesday was a big day for The Tennessean’s newsroom staff. No, the Local News section wasn’t suddenly cured of anemia, and yes, widely detested managing editor Dave Green was still on duty in the building.
But new editor Mark Silverman—the drafted successor to E.J. Mitchell, who was unceremoniously reassigned to a Gannett paper a third The Tennessean’s size two weeks ago—did approach hero status with two simple acts reversing decisions by the previous regime. First, he announced in an email to staff that a staggering illustration of corporate-generated busywork instituted in April by the aforementioned Green would immediately be pushing up daisies. Last spring, after several months of embarrassing errors, including misspelling the name of the paper’s new publisher, twice misspelling former publisher John Seigenthaler’s name (“Siegenthaler”), and one occasion when the paper even got the zip code on its own address wrong, the ME had mandated a five-step, time-suck process for fact-checking—which involved highlighting, filing, making copies and innumerable other impractical steps.
Now, Silverman is insisting that Tennessean reporters and editors fact-check copy the same way the rest of the modern journalistic world does.
“Folks, we can never compromise on accuracy,” Silverman wrote in the email. “Our bond of trust with our readers depends on it—from getting names, addresses, phone numbers and basic facts right to correctly interpreting complex data…. Our commitment to accuracy means continuing to check basic facts before stories are submitted. But the elaborate documentation system that includes providing copy editors with hard copy, highlighted printouts of fact-checked stories, while well intentioned, creates paperwork that shouldn’t be necessary. As of now, we will discontinue the highlighted printout approach. That said, our commitment to accuracy and fact-checking remains.”
The same day, Silverman notified his Living staff, who had been complaining for nearly a year about the hackish exclamation points that followed the section’s weekday themes (e.g. “Feeling Great!,” “Family Matters!” and “Pets!”)—another vestige of Mitchell’s leadership—that these grammatical stepchildren would also be killed immediately. Sure enough, the next day, the thematic announcement at the top of the page appeared sans exclamation point (“Smart Shopper”). This was a relatively small act, but the symbolism is noteworthy.
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, staff received notice that celebrity columnist Brad Schmitt, who left the paper a couple of months ago for WKRN-Channel 2, would be replaced by former Banner writer Beverly Keel (who has written occasionally for the Scene). Readers were lucky enough to have four merciful days without this news, but it caught up with them on Sunday, when the paper devoted three separate corners of prime real estate to the announcement: a “Meet Our New Celebrity Columnist” box above the fold on Page One, an inaugural page 3 column entitled “New celebrity columnist dishes on herself first” and, finally, a self-aggrandizing half-page Q&A between reader editor John Gibson and Keel in the Issues section.
SI boundCity Paper sports editor Dominic Bonvissuto, who recently celebrated his five-year anniversary there, is leaving Oct. 20 for Atlanta to take a job as website producer for Sports Illustrated, where he’ll be responsible for handling the night-to-night operations of SI.com. Not bad for a Father Ryan boy whose first job out of college was covering preps as a staff writer for the fledgling City Paper. He was promoted to assistant sports editor two years later and sports editor in 2004.
“After five years, I felt I squeezed The City Paper sponge dry,” Bonvissuto says. “Sports Illustrated is offering me an excellent opportunity to grow within the most respected name in sports journalism. I couldn’t say no.”
Of course, this will mean that Bonvissuto’s wife Danny, lifestyle editor at the paper, will also be leaving for Atlanta, but she will stay until their house sells.
Two more jobs for dispirited Tennessean staffers to apply for.