Five staffers at the Times Mirror Tennessee, including the paper’s managing editor and production manager, resigned en masse Monday morning because, as several alleged in resignation letters, they thought the paper’s general manager intended to mislead advertisers.
The Times Mirror, formerly called Metropolitan Times, is a well-known, black-oriented weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 15,000 in the Nashville area. Publisher Sam Latham said the resignations resulted from a ”misunderstanding“ and denied that anything improper had occurred.
When billing advertisers, small papers like the Times Mirror (and the Nashville Scene) send ”tearsheets“ along with their bills. A tearsheet is, literally, a page torn from the newspaper, showing the date of publication and the printed ad.
According to the ex-staffers, general manager Bob Wallace, a long-time friend of Latham’s, ordered staffers last Friday to produce backdated dummy pages to make it appear that the ads had been published last fall. Latham said Wallace ordered the backdated pages produced ”for archive purposes“ only and not to bill advertisers.
According to Latham, Wallace said ”he did not tell anyone“ to send the dummy pages to advertisers. Latham also said Wallace ”would sign an affidavit to that effect.“
None of the ex-staffers said the pages were ever printed, and they say no bills were sent out. Latham said he couldn’t have sent the bills in any event ”because our advertisers have already closed their books for last year.“
Latham admitted that the Times Mirror had ”cash-flow problems“ this month and that, on one occasion, employee paychecks had bounced.
According to Latham, the staffers who quit include Gina Hancock, who moved to Nashville in December to take over news operations at the Times Mirror; production manager Timothy J. Toonen, who this week began working for the Scene on a free-lance basis; reporter Jim Mahanes, who was hired by Hancock and had recently moved his family here; and two other employees. Although Latham said he did not believe race was an issue in this dispute, he pointed out that all five staffers who quit are white.
Latham also said he was disappointed that the five staffers had not discussed the matter with him before quitting, adding that they had left right before deadline, leaving the paper unfinished.
An obit for us all
Nashville without the Bannerit’s the sound of one hand clapping. Not since Old Hickory whipped the British has Nashville been without at least two daily newspapers.
Here’s a scorecard of winners and losers:
Winners: Banner co-owners Irby Simpkins and Brownlee Currey Jr., who made millions off the paper while they owned it and made millions more by selling out to the Gannett newspaper chain, the one buyer who wanted the paper only to shut it down.
Losers: About 100 Banner staffers who lost their jobs with four days’ notice. Thirteen or so, including the paper’s high-profile columnists, now work for The Tennessean. They’ve still lost.
Winner: The Gannett Company. As the owner of the only daily paper in this major media market, the chain can now complete the transformation of The Tennessean into a localized version of USA Today.
Losers: Forty thousand Banner subscribers who wanted longer stories, a more conservative point-of-view, or just a locally owned paper with editors who used judgment rather than corporate formulae to decide what’s news.
Winners: Teachers, unions, state employees, environmentalists, and all those people whom Banner publisher Irby Simpkins and his politically active wife, Peaches, didn’t like. No longer will Bob Corker, Andy Shookhoff, John Nixon, Jimmy Naifeh, Phil Bredesen, Charles Smith, Joe Johnson, and Gary Odom need to take a deep breath before turning to the editorial page.
Losers: Don Sundquist, Baptist Hospital, Corrections Corporation of America, victims’ rights groups, real-estate developers, and dozens of others who could reliably depend on the Banner for favorable publicity whenever it was needed.
Despite all the maudlin eulogies, mostly from journalists, the Banner’s closing is a mixed blessing. From its beginnings as a shill for railroad interests, the Banner, for most of its existence, was a podium for vitriolic, right-wing politics and pro-business economic policies. The paper opposed unions, TVA, metropolitan government, and civil rights for African Americans. It supported Boss Crump, the poll tax, segregated schools, the Vietnam War, and suggested that Watergate might have been a Cuban plot. More recently, under Simpkins’ control, the Banner had bounced right and left like a pinball propelled by the publisher’s idiosyncratic political agenda rather than any principled world view.
The real loss to Nashville, though, isn’t so much the Banner’s closing as the increased power and influence of The Tennessean. Now there’s just one editorial page, one slate of candidates who’ll be recommended to voters, and one list of ”key topics“ that the paper’s marketing experts call news.
What official will risk offending The Tennessean’s political reporters? What public relations firm won’t start recruiting Tennessean staffers? Even the lowliest newsroom intern will now find sources more ingratiating and strangers more intimidated.
Some editors and reporters at the morning paper understand what’s happened and appreciate the responsibility of being Nashville’s only daily. Editor Frank Sutherland is one of them. He’s promised to improve the paper’s local news coverage and has hired some badly needed business writers, but there’s little he can do about the rigid, Gannett-imposed style of journalism or the chain’s constant demand for increased profits. Those are the factors that will ultimately determine both Sutherland’s future with Gannett and the quality of Nashville’s surviving daily.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene, (615) 244-7989, ext. 445, or send an e-mail to email@example.com.