Last Friday, the front of The Tennessean’s “Local News” section said it was still “Thursday.” It’s been that kind of week for Nashville’s morning newspaper, which embarrassed itself daily trying to cover the murder of state Sen. Tommy Burks.
“Layers of dirty gray fog settled in the rolling hills and valleys,” began Leon Alligood’s story last Tuesday, the day after Burks was shot. Although WTVF-Channel 5 had reported the night before that police had an eyewitness, The Tennessean said nothing about it.
“Under a cobalt-blue sky,” Alligood began on Wednesday, describing local reaction to Burks’ murder. The same day, other papers reported that police were searching for Byron Looper, Burks’ opponent, to question him about the murder. The Tennessean didn’t mention Looper as a suspect until Friday.
Monday, police announced that the eyewitness had identified Looper as the shooter. All the local television stations reported the story Monday night. The story made headlines Tuesday morning across the state. Incredibly, there wasn’t a word about it in The Tennessean.
A talented feature writer, Alligood should never have been given the assignment. The real problem is deeper: Burks’ murder is primarily a political story, covered in large part by the Capitol Hill press corps. But Tennessean editors, ruled by focus groups and Gannett corporate formula, don’t believe that readers are interested in politics and no longer hire reporters who know how to cover it.
Not the whole Phil
Former WKRN-Channel 2 reporter Phil Williams resurfaced Monday night on WTVF-Channel 5 despite a non-compete clause in Williams’ old contract that prohibits on-air appearances for 12 months.
Williams’ face never appeared on camera, but anchor Chris Clark introduced the lead story at 6 p.m., as “produced by News Channel 5 investigator Phil Williams.” Viewers heard Williams’ voice on air, questioning a local official. And, at the end of the story, they saw a flashy photo of Williams’ signature spread across the screen.
“We’re pushing it about as far as we can,” a station employee acknowledged. If Channel 2 doesn’t complain, Williams’ signature “appearance” will likely continue until the non-compete clause expires.
Williams, Channel 2’s top investigative reporter for six years, jumped to Channel 5 three weeks ago because of a contract dispute. Williams, however, has been unable to escape a contract provision that prohibits him from appearing on air at a competing station. Sources say that reporters, anchors, and even many photographers at Channel 2 have signed similar non-compete agreements. They say that if WKRN releases Williams, the station could soon be facing more defections.
Channel 2 news director Matthew Zelkind declined comment on whether Williams’ story Monday night violated the non-compete agreement. “That’s up to [general manager] Mike Sechrist,” Zelkind said. Sechrist himself was unavailable.
Zelkind had plenty to say, though, about Williams’ investigative story, which revealed that Dickson County school officials had accepted an all-expense-paid trip to Hilton Head from a local contractor.
“They’re paying him for that?” Zelkind asked. “That’s the kind of stuff Turko does three days a week but with more flair.”
Williams declined to comment on-the-record about Zelkind. Sources say Williams had several loud confrontations with the mercurial news director before quitting.
Not everyone at Channel 5 is happy with Williams either. A station insider said Channel 5 managers seem to have forgotten that Williams isn’t the only “investigator” in the newsroom, and that veteran reporter Larry Brinton first learned of the Dickson County story before passing it on to Williams.
Williams may be glad he’s no longer working for Zelkind, but in the world of television news, there’s an ego behind every desk regardless of the name on the door.
Dollars and sense
Teddy Bart and Karlen Evins, former co-hosts of Teddy Bart’s Round Table, sold station WKDA-AM last summer for $600,000, just three years after buying the station for $325,000.
The Round Table has been off the air since Aug. 8 when WKDA’s new owners junked the news-talk format for urban gospel music.
When Bart and Evins sold the station, they wouldn’t disclose the price even though the sales contract is a public record on file at the Federal Communications Commission. The Scene this week obtained copies of both the 1995 contract when Bart and Evins bought the station and the 1998 sales agreement.
When the Round Table went off the air, Evins predicted that the show would be back “within two or three months” on another station. The pair’s lawyer said Monday that Bart and Evins are still working on a deal but have nothing to announce at this time.
WSMV-Channel 4 morning show host Sharon Puckett, whose 1960s style hasn’t apparently changed since, well, the 1960s, is getting a complete makeover to improve her on-air image.
Puckett is a competent, if somewhat bland, on-air presence, but the show’s ratings have been dismal for years. Managers hope that new clothes and a modern haircut will make her appear more interesting. The new Sharon debuts Thursday morning.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call Henry at 252-2363, or send an e-mail to email@example.com.