Still Ticking 

Clarksville newspaper rises from tornado’s rubble

Clarksville newspaper rises from tornado’s rubble

Using the publisher’s house as a makeshift newsroom, borrowing employees and equipment from other papers, the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle managed to publish a 24 page newspaper within hours after last Friday’s tornado ripped through the paper’s downtown offices.

In the best tradition of journalism, the paper has not missed an issue or even reduced its press run since the tornado, according to a staffer in the circulation department. The paper, however, still cannot be delivered in parts of downtown Clarksville that were demolished by the predawn storm.

This week, the paper’s news staff is headquartered in a small conference room at a hotel. Ad salesmen are working from home, the paper is being printed in nearby Hopkinsville, and a handful of Tennessean staffers are helping edit and produce the Leaf-Chronicle. Both The Tennessean and the Leaf-Chronicle are owned by the Gannett Company.

In the aftermath of disaster, especially in smaller towns, the local newspaper is a precious asset. No other news organization has the resources and knowledge to tell people what has happened to their neighbors, where to go to help and be helped. As it was a century ago, the newspaper again becomes the community’s most recognized voice and a reassurance that better times lie ahead.

”Time to Rebuild,“ read the Leaf-Chronicle’s banner headline the day after the tornado. The Clarksville paper told readers what they wanted and needed to hear in a way that no one else could.

Laurels to the staff of the Leaf-Chronicle for a remarkable recovery, to The Tennessean for sending some of their best people to Clarksville, and to Gannett for making a sizeable financial commitment to insure that the state’s oldest newspaper will continue to publish.

For the Record

Last week’s column noted that The Tennessean has yet to report preliminary findings by federal health officials that children living in the Scarboro community in Oak Ridge are ”generally healthy.“

The paper’s omission was no accident. According to witnesses, Susan Thomas, one of the main authors of the Oak Ridge series, was at the meeting when the results were announced.

The Tennessean also seems to have quietly abandoned its allegation that a ”pattern“ of illnesses afflicts people living near Oak Ridge and other nuclear sites. After two years of stories, the paper has yet to produce any comparative data showing that there are more sick people around nuclear sites than anywhere else. Without that evidence, there’s hardly a story anymore, much less a hundred-part series. In a dozen articles published since last October, the word ”pattern“ has mysteriously disappeared and, with it, a major premise of the newspaper’s investigation.

Regarding Henry

The following is an excerpt from a recent memorandum to newsroom staffers from Tennessean managing editor Dave Green: ”Some background: when Henry Walker, the Scene media critic, has called looking for comment, either Frank or Dave has responded to him. However, much of the time Henry chooses not to include our response in his column. He says he has no obligation to be balanced. When he does include our responses, he often distorts them.

”There are two types of situations we need to address: Questions from Henry before he publishes: These should still be referred to Frank (or Dave, if Frank is not here). We will respond and, in consultation with the staff members involved, decide if there should also be a response from the person he is writing about.

”Reacting afterwards to what he has published: If staff members feel that the Scene has been unfair to them, or inaccurate, they may draft a letter to the Scene and show it to Frank (or me) before sending it.

”There is obviously no guarantee that the Scene will publish such a letter.“

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Joe DiMaggio isn’t dead yet, despite a report Sunday night on Dateline NBC that the baseball legend had died. Twenty minutes later, the network corrected the announcement and later apologized to DiMaggio.

According to news reports, an NBC technician ”pushed the wrong button,“ sending a previously written death notice across the bottom of the screen. DiMaggio, who saw the announcement, was reportedly livid. He still plans to throw out the first ball at the Yankee’s opening game in April.

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 hwalker@bccb.com.

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