According to a story circulating at WKRN-Channel 2, news director Matthew Zelkind rushed excitedly into the newsroom one day last month and announced proudly that he had a great idea for a series.
”And it’s only got one segment,“ he explained.
There’s no such thing, of course, as a one-part ”series.“ But the ideaand the cognitive dissonanceis pure Zelkind. (He insists the story isn’t true.)
That’s what it’s like during sweeps month, when news directors are racking their brains to think up ”investigative“ series that will hook viewers on Monday and keep them watching for a day or two. But Zelkind also loves a high story count. That means keeping everything short and shallow, like rabbit punches. A one-part series might have seemed just right.
One segment would have been more than enough for Channel 2’s three-part series, ”Apocalypse Now,“ which aired during the last week of the February sweeps.
”Some are predicting the end of the world as we know it,“ co-anchor Bob Mueller solemnly intoned, promising details at 10.
Reporter Victoria Hansen introduced viewers to a Kentucky minister who says the Rapture is imminent, a local man who said he’s been summoned by aliens, and Nostradamus, the 16th-century fraud who, according to Hansen’s unnamed ”experts,“ foresaw ”revolutions, space travel, even the atomic bomb.“
The station even assembled a ”think tank“ of fuzzy heads with names like ”Dawn Raven“ and ”Day Star“ to discuss alternative realities. In the final episode, viewers learned that two of the best places to be when the end of the world comes are Pueblo, Colo., and Nashville. These sites ”absorb high spiritual values,“ a local psychic explained.
Finally, Hansen herself had to laugh. ”What if the millennium arrives,“ she asked, ”and nothing happens? Then all this will sound...“ As her voice trailed off, the camera cut to a singing cuckoo bird.
Anyone who cared enough about the series to be watching at that point probably didn’t appreciate the joke.
Filling the space
There’s never been a better time to pitch a story to The Tennessean’s ”Business“ section. After hiring several new writers from the Banner, Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland promised readers two extra pages of business news each weekday. The problem is, the reporters, many of whom are inexperienced or new to Nashville, don’t know what to write.
So they’re calling local publicists, asking for story ideas. One flack received three calls in a day. It’s supposed to be the other way round.
While some business writers are begging for suggestions, others are saving energy by recycling. Staffer Mike Davis has written five stories in 14 days about this week’s contract vote at Saturn. The issues haven’t changed, but the headlines have.
First it was, ”Labor shift at Saturn no big deal, analysts say,“ then, ”Labor fight at Saturn accelerates,“ followed by, ”Saturn vote will travel far, Contract decision may affect whole auto industry.“
Sunday, the headline read, ”Saturn workers to weigh past against future.“ Tuesday, it was ”Opinions collide over Saturn contract.“ And they haven’t even voted yet.
Stacey Hartmann must have enjoyed writing her Feb. 27 story about the changes at Shoney’s in Brentwood: ”Shoney’s will test alcohol, new food.“ So on March 4, it was written again: ”Shoney’s takes new twist, Food, decor draw crowd in Brentwood.“
Two weeks ago, Sutherland wrote that the ”most frequent criticisms“ he’d received from readers was that the paper’s business pages ”are too skimpy.“ The readers are right, and so is Sutherland for trying to improve what has become, over the last year, the paper’s worst section.
Odds and ends
Battle Ground Academy’s boys ”have virtually no chance“ against Memphis University School in the Division II basketball tournament, Tennessean sportswriter Jim Wyatt predicted. ”If they’re smart, the [BGA] Wildcats won’t even show up“ for the game in Franklin.
When BGA beat MUS last week, Wyatt was off covering a girls’ tournament in Murfreesboro, leaving another Tennessean reporter to bury the crow Wyatt should have eaten.
♦ Anyone who still doubts that the Banner’s closing had more to do with greed than with declining circulation should read Gary Cunningham’s front-page story in the March 5 issue of the Green Hills News and four other papers published by Cunningham.
A former Gannett corporate insider, Cunningham estimates that Gannett’s decision to buy and close the Banner will increase The Tennessean’s profits by $22 million to $27 million a year. Out of that, the paper will pay off former Banner owners Brownlee Currey and Irby Simpkins. The rest is gravy.
Cunningham said he’s heard nothing from Gannett since the story, adding that sources familiar with the Banner sale told him the estimates were ”on target.“
♦ It’s never easy rounding up reporters for a group pictureit’s sort of like herding catswhich makes it all the more surprising that The Tennessean published one photo last Tuesday of the paper’s local news staff and then took another, different photo that appeared on Friday.
Maybe they reshot the picture because some faces were partially blocked or because not everyone was smiling. Most likely they reshot it because there were no black faces in Tuesday’s photo, which was part of a promotion campaign to attract new subscribers. In Friday’s picture, there were four.
Look it up
None of the women molested by former Judge David Lanier had a case pending before him at the time.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was not a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
You know who you are. Next time, we name names.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.