It’s that time of year. The Nashville Sounds are shaking off those winter cobwebs, the dogwoods are in full bloom, and WTVF-Channel 5 is firing people again. Last month the station dismissed reporter and occasional anchor Dwann Holmes for doing part-time production work for a multimedia company she co-owns.
Interestingly, Holmes’ dismissal comes nearly a year after Channel 5 inexplicably forced Dan MacDonald off the air after The Tennessean reported that he was arrested for driving under the influence. The charges had already been dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Channel 5 General Manager Debbie Turner would not comment on Holmes’ dismissal, but station insiders say she was fired in part due to recent news stories about her business, D&C Productions. The business, which specializes in Web design, video production, and something called ”corporate identity,“ had recently been featured in The Tennessean and in The Urban Journal.
Sources say station officials were concerned that Holmes’ part-time work constituted a clear conflict-of-interest since her company did mostly public-relations work. Indeed, one of Holmes’ bigger clients was Mount Sinai Baptist Church. This past New Year’s Eve, Holmes did live reports from the church as the congregation celebrated. While sources say Holmes was assigned that particular story, another source says she never told the station that the church was one of her clients.
Holmes referred all questions to her attorney, Gail Washington, who couldn’t be reached. Based in Birmingham, Ala., Washington did tell The Urban Journal, however, that while Channel 5 is contending that Holmes breached her contract, her business didn’t conflict with her position at the station. The firing of Holmes, who is black, has apparently drawn the wrath of the easily outraged African American state Sen. Thelma Harper, who has talked with Holmes’ attorney about the matter.
A good reporter who could anchor with ease, Holmes will be missed by the station. Recently her co-workers sent her a letter of support, even though some of them feel that her part-time work could have interfered with her reporting.
It’s not that Holmes kept her company a secretin fact, she was very open about it. But station officials apparently recoiled at all the publicity the company was receiving. They pressured her to limit her part-time work, sources say. But Holmes, who had been at the station for only a year and a half, apparently refused, perhaps because she was drawing considerable income from her company. Holmes was officially let go on April 17, ironically just days after she won an Associated Press award for news writing. Shortly afterward, Channel 5 sent a memo to its staff saying only that Holmes had left to ”pursue other opportunities.“
Even in the age of instant information, mistakes happen. Last week’s In Review had two of them, and blatant ones at that. First, in a fawning cover profile of radio DJ Beth Donahue, writer Venus Envy reported that in 1994, Donahue was asked to entertain the troops in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Actually, Operation Desert Storm began and ended in 1991.
Then, in a Bob Holladay story about James Summerville, a local historian who spots mistaken information on state historical markers, we have the following humdinger: Claiming that a state sign commemorating the death of Abraham Lincoln’s father after an Indian attack in 1814 is wrong, Summerville says the death ”took place 28 years earlier.“ Actually, if Summerville were correct, Abraham Lincoln would have had to have been nearly 75 years old when he became president. (He was actually 51.) Summerville and Holladay probably were talking about Lincoln’s grandfather, the senior Abraham Lincoln, who in 1786 was killed by Indians while planting a cornfield.
Death row follies
Out of all the journalists who were randomly selected to witness last month’s execution of Robert Glen Coe, no one did a better job than WTVF-Channel 5’s Scott Couch at reporting the intricate details of the convicted murderer’s final seconds of life. But since Couch, who was the only local TV journalist among the witnesses, was essentially the eyes and ears for all the newscasts, not just WTVF, it seemed tacky for him to wear his Channel 5 ski jacket when he appeared afterward at a news conference. Couch tells the Scene that he simply was cold that night and had no other jacket, but it looked to others like he was going out of his way to promote his station just minutes after the state’s first execution in 40 years.
Speaking of tacky, observers that night also spotted Tennessean columnist Tim Chavez lighting a candle in an anti-death penalty rally outside the state prison. Although Chavez consistently crusades against the death penalty in his column, his appearance at a protest rally crosses the line, even for an opinion writer. Journalists aren’t activists.
Of course, all that’s nothing compared to the actions of Sherman Novoson, a pseudo radio journalist and ubiquitous member of the Capitol Hill Press Corp. That night, with a man’s life in the balance, Novoson was selling beef stew for two bucks a bowl from the prison parking lot. Apparently, some people can tailgate anywhere..