In 1997, Columbia/HCA became ensnared in a messy federal investigation that eventually prompted the ouster of its CEO, Richard Scott. Realizing that this development was both big news locally and nationally, The Tennessean competed head-to-head with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for coverage and even landed its share of breaking stories.
But that drive and verve has faded. Take the ongoing saga involving Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone, which is facing frenzied national scrutiny over the company’s massive tire recall this past year. The Tennessean has virtually ceded all investigative reporting of the story to the national press.
This past Monday, The Washington Post published a front-page analysis showing the Ford Explorer to have a higher rate of tire-related accidents than other sport-utility vehicles. The story suggested that practices from Ford Motor Company and not just defective Firestone tires might be contributing to various accidents. The next day, The Tennessean wisely reprinted the report. But in doing so, the newspaper underscored that it’s either unable or unwilling to dig up stories of national import in its own backyard.
Of course, the most noticeable national story that The Tennessean has failed to cover has been Al Gore’s presidential campaign, the trials and tribulations of which have become the nearly exclusive domain of the national press. The latest example: Back in 1988, when now-Ingram Group partner Mike Kopp served in Al Gore’s first presidential run, he made some comments about his boss’s infamous tendency to remodel the truth. Those comments, which were contained in a memo Kopp wrote to Gore in 1988, have been featured in a variety of national programs, from the PBS show Frontline to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. Not exactly a recluse, Kopp has also appeared with Chris Clark on WTVF-Channel 5 Plus in a more general discussion of the presidential debates.
One would think that with a key source so close to homeKopp’s downtown office can’t be more than a few miles from 1100 Broadwaythe daily would call the one-time Gore aide and flesh out his insights on his former boss. But either not wanting to run a critical story on their favorite son, or simply not having the initiative to report an original story, The Tennessean has yet to quote Kopp in any story I could find.
The Tennessean quite often prefers to write articles about polls. Over the last week, The Tennessean has reported findings from nearly every poll imaginable. They’ve told readers which candidateGore or Bushled before the debates, which one led after, and which candidate is leading in Tennessee. The paper has also produced stories on which candidate has the more popular drug plan, economic plan, and environmental plan. Rather than cultivate important sources and deliver original news, the paper simply rehashes a bunch of figures, most of which say less about the importance of a campaign than album sales do about the quality of a song.
Last Tuesday, after the presidential debate, WTVF-Channel 5 aired only Democratic response due to satellite problems. The next day, the station gamely allowed Chip Saltsman, the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, a chance to talk about the debate. Adding insult to injury, when the station introduced Saltsman, it misspelled his name on the screenä. Last week, Lebanon Police served a warrant at the wrong house and killed an innocent man. The day after, both WKRN-Channel 2 and WTVF-Channel 5 naturally led with that story in their 5 p.m. newscasts. By contrast, WSMV-Channel 4, whose news judgment is typically erratic, led off with a package story onyou guessed ithate crime awareness. Which is kind of like running a story on frostbite the night the Titanic sankä. A.J. Sterling, WTVF-Channel 5 reporter, tells the Scene that she’ll be leaving Nashville to take a reporter/anchor job for a station in Indianapolis. Desperately Seeking the News was never in awe of Sterling’s reporting skills, but she was at least industrious and never reported a story as wretched as colleague Nick Beres’ “Spring Break Tapes.”... Channel 5 Plus, WTVF’s cable companion channel, will debut Urban Outlook, a program that will spotlight African American issues. Former reporter April Eaton, away from the business for the last two years, will host the program. Interestingly, since firing reporter Dwann Holmes on a soft conflict-of-interest charge, Channel 5 has been the only station in town without a prominent black reporter in its newsroomä. Odd quirks from both the Scene and In Review Web sites: A few weeks back, the Scene abruptly stopped its longstanding practice of updating its Web site before it distributed the actual paper. Readers, many of whom had grown accustomed to reading the paper online, were upset and blamed the Scene for following Gannett’s practice of emphasizing circulation and potential profits above all else. That’s probably a tad too harsh. After all, no paper can afford to have its Web page usurp its printed product, but at the very least editor and publisher Bruce Dobie could have taken the time to explain to readers the paper’s change in policy. As far as the problems with In Review’s Web site, well, that’s a lot easier to explain. Due to lack of resources, the paper hasn’t updated its Web page since Aug. 15.
Call Matt directly at 244-7989 ext. 445. Or shoot off an e-mail at MPulle@nashvillescene.com.