New obit page pleases readers — mostly

The News Sentinel changed its format for obituaries starting last Sunday. The new presentation makes it easier for families to clip and preserve the obits. Mostly the reaction has been great:

News Sentinel's new-look obit page

News Sentinel’s new-look obit page

  • Love the new obits format! Much easier to scan and read.
  • The bigger print in the obits. kind of jumps out at me a little much… but the larger print works well in classified’s. To all at the News Sentinel – good work on this edition!
  • I would like to compliment you on as of March 1,2015, the new print on the obituary column. I really like the new format. It is so much easier to read. And it seems to be in a larger print. Thank you for your awesome job on editing the paper.

But you can’t please everyone. I also got this note:

  • McElroy, please let me express my EXTREME DISPLEASURE with your new obituary format. I find it very offensive and undignified.  I have been in the habit of reading the obituaries every day since the late seventies when I was a pharmacist for the Knox County Clinic at UT Hospital (which predated the Health Department).  Now I cannot even look at the page.  If old people with bad eyesight could not read the obits, they need to get new glasses.  WHY did you do this? My husband has instructions that if you still have this format when I die, he should print my obit in the Morgan County News.

Results of News Sentinel columnist survey

Sam Venable, the News Sentinel’s Local page humorist and observer of human affairs, was No. 1 in every group in the paper’s recent columnist survey.

Sam Venable

Sam Venable

More than 350 readers sent in paper ballots, and 800-plus voted online. Respondents’s birthdays ranged from the 1980s to 1913.

The survey looked at frequency of readership and asked readers to pick favorite columnists in 10 categories. Venable was the top Local page columnist, and he got more total “favorite” votes than anyone else.

Leslie Snow, columnist on the front of the weekly Your News section, received the second largest number of “favorite” votes overall, and she also ranked second among all women readers. Third overall was The Grub Scout. The restaurant critic’s column in the Go Knoxville section came in second among younger male readers.

Here were the columnists getting the most “favorite” votes in each category:

Advice — Amy Dickinson, followed closely by Judith Martin, who was tops among older women, and Billy Graham, who led among older men.
Business — David Moon led among every group.
Daily Features — Sherri Gardner-Howell was tops overall and among women. Dave Ramsey led among men.
Go Knoxville — Grub Scout was the choice of all.
Local — Venob rules.
Op-Ed Page — David Hunter was tops overall and among the oldest female group. Thomas Sowell finished second, but highest among men. Ina Hughs was a close third but led among baby boomer women.
Perspective — Somehow yours truly came out ahead, helped especially by the paper’s oldest readers. Don Ferguson, however, led among baby boomer females, and Tom Humphrey was highest among baby boomer males.
Sports — John Adams led in all groups except baby boomer males, who more often picked Mike Strange as their favorite.
Sunday Life — Rheta Grimsley Johnson was the winner across the board.
Your News — The newspaper’s Snow is loved by all groups, unlike the white stuff Mother Nature served up this past week.

The News Sentinel is not planning any wholesale changes based on the results, but the information will be useful to section editors.

Amy Dickinson back in News Sentinel

Last year, in a budget-tightening move, the News Sentinel pulled Amy Dickinson’s daily advice column and replaced it with another columnist we already were receiving as part of a syndicated features bundled deal.

Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson

As it turned out, not all advice columnists are created equal. Over the next several weeks we continued to get complaints from readers who missed Amy’s insightful, intelligent and highly readable responses to readers’ concerns.

So now “Ask Amy” is back in the paper, prompting this note from a reader:

“Several weeks (months) ago, I contacted you to express my disappointment that the Ask Amy column had been replaced.  I received an email reply stating that editorial content is continually reviewed and that reader reaction is continually under consideration.  I assumed that there would be no hope of restoring the Ask Amy column anytime soon.  It appears I was under false assumption.

“Thank you for listening to the readers (at least this one).  I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read Amy Dickinson’s columns and benefit from her professional, common-sense approach to living in this ever challenging world.”

Cagle becomes weekly News Sentinel columnist

Frank Cagle

Frank Cagle

In case you missed it on Christmas Eve, the News Sentinel had a special gift for readers. Frank Cagle debuted as an op-ed page columnist for the newspaper.

His column will appear every Wednesday opposite the editorial page, beside long-time columnist Ina Hughs.

As he proclaimed in his first column, Cagle is an avowed libertarian. He also is a former MetroPulse columnist, News Sentinel managing editor and aide to Victor Ashe when he was mayor of Knoxville.

Walter Pulliam, Tennessee journalism icon, dies at 101

Tennessee’s senior journalist has died.

Walter Pulliam was 101 when he passed away Sunday. A graduate of the University of Tennessee and former New Sentinel reporter, he also was a World War II correspondent for Stars and Stripes and an assistant city editor for The Washington Post.

Walter Pulliam during his 100th birthday party last year.

Walter Pulliam during his 100th birthday party last year.

During the 1950s, he returned to East Tennessee and bought the Harriman Record. He went on to be a leader in Tennessee journalism, serving as president of the Tennessee Press Association, which he led  in creating the Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame, which exists today at the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media.

Last year, the East Tennessee chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists held a 100th birthday party for Walter, and he regaled the gathering with his sharp memories of reporting the news in an era long before blogs, or even computers.

He will be missed.

Time running out on Freedom of Information reform

Supporters of open government are on the 1-yard line in an effort to pass reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. But the clock is about to run out.

freedom-of-informationFor the past several months, the FOIA Improvement Act has been in the works, and it cleared the Senate Monday after Sen. Jay Rockefeller dropped his objections. But now the House has to sign off. Last year the lower chamber passed even broader legislation – by unanimous vote. But House leadership has not put this year’s bill on the calendar, and the House could adjourn as early as Thursday. That would mean work would have to start all over again next year.

Key provisions in the bill would spell out the “presumption of openness” inherent in the law and would codify the “foreseeable harm” standard, which says information should be given out unless foreseeable harm would result. The bill also would make it easier to get documents of historical interest and would strengthen the FOIA ombudsman role.

Supporters of the reform should contact the House leadership, by phone if possible, or via Twitter by direct Tweets:  @SpeakerBoehner, @GOPLeader, @NancyPelosi, @WhipHoyer.

Jamie Satterfield launches legal-affairs blog

The News Sentinel’s legal affairs expert, Jamie Satterfield, has started a blog that she’s dubbed “Lady Justice Unmasked.” Here’s how she describes its mission:

Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield

“Have you ever wondered how Cain got away with offing his brother? (Murder wasn’t on the books, er, tablets ala the ten commandments, yet.) Ever read how a guy confessed but walked thanks to a judge’s ruling and wondered what the heck? Gave a politico a mental high-five for proposing one of those take that you filthy (criminal) animal laws and cussed the liberal commies on Tennessee’s high court for striking it down with nary a clue as to why? Enjoyed a dumb criminal story and went to bed assured you’d never be the dude who left his wallet behind at the crime scene?

“Well, then, you are going to love Lady Justice Unmasked because here you are going to find all the legal news, analysis, occasional rants and dumb criminal tales this country girl with a quarter century of legal and crime reporting can dish out.”

Check it out.


News Sentinel to appeal TVA’s denial of info on subsidy

The News Sentinel soon will be appealing TVA’s denial of a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the specifics of a subsidy the agency is giving a South Korean auto parts manufacturer expanding its operations in Clinton.

“Release of these details would cause TVA competitive harm by allowing other utilities, who are competing for the same customers, insight into TVA’s programs and strategies for attracting businesses to the Tennessee Valley,” the federally owned corporation stated in its refusal letter. “Release of the information would also impair the effectiveness of TVA’s economic development program by stifling TVA’s ability to obtain such confidential information from future prospective companies.”

Gov. Bill Haslam shakes hands with Y.K. Woo, president of South Korean auto parts maker SL America after an announcement of expansion of its Anderson County plant. TVA contributed a hidden amount  of incentives to the deal.

Gov. Bill Haslam shakes hands with Y.K. Woo, president of South Korean auto parts maker SL Americam after an announcement of expansion of its Clinton plant. TVA contributed a hidden amount of incentives to the deal.

The response ignores the fact that TVA is a public agency and the resources it is providing — to a private company — are public resources.

Incentives for economic development are a matter of public concern. Economists don’t even agree that they work, as the Federal Reserve Bulletin discussed in an article entitled: “Economic Development Incentives: Research Approaches and Current Views.” One issue the article noted was how incentives can lead to bidding wars among communities:

“In 1980, Nissan received an estimated $33 million, or $8,000 per anticipated job, for locating a new facility in Tennessee. The amount of subsequent incentive packages handed out to Mazda, Saturn, DiamondStar, and Toyota, among others, rose over the next few years, and by 1987, Toyota was receiving an estimated $150 million, or $50,000 per anticipated job, for locating a new facility in Kentucky. And the incentive packages were growing again before long.”

All of the other government agencies contributing incentives to the Clinton expansion made public what their subsidies were. But the administrators of TVA have determined that their need for managerial flexibility outweighs the citizenry’s need to evaluate how public resources are being deployed.

It’s worth keeping in mind that TVA’s CEO, Bill Johnson, is the nation’s highest paid federal official, pocketing a compensation package worth $4.6 million in fiscal 2014 and landing a raise last month that will let him earn nearly $1 million more in 2015. The agency also announced last month that it would be awarding $131 million in year-end bonuses to employees, an average of nearly $11,400 each.

In justifying its largess, TVA noted that it helped lure some $8.5 billion of new investment to the Tennessee Valley in the past year, which is supposed to add 60,300 new jobs.

“Economic development is a core component of TVA’s mission to serve and improve the quality of life of the 9 million residents in the Valley,” Johnson said. “It is a credit to the dedicated work of our employees and the strong relationships we have built with our customers and communities that together we had a banner year in 2014.”

What public resources did TVA exchange for that economic investment? That’s a secret the agency says the people have no right to know.

Series on poverty begins Sunday

Some 71,000 people in Knox County live below the federal poverty line. Starting Sunday, the News Sentinel will be profiling a few of them, a task that proved more challenging than we expected when we started the project.

Three News Sentinel journalists — photographers Amy Smotherman Burgess and Michael Patrick and writer Kristi Nelson — determined more than a year ago to focus fresh attention on the plight of the poor in our community. They began spending an hour or two, here and there, shooting photos, collecting stories.

But poverty carries a stigma, and many people did not want their stories told, especially if they had school-aged children who might be taunted. Folks living on the edge also have other things to worry about than getting in the paper. Time and again, the journalists hooked up with someone to profile only to lose track of them. Their phones were disconnected. They moved without notice. They missed appointments for reasons unknown.

Sometimes, too, the journalists had to break off contact if the facts they needed were not forthcoming or the subjects proved deceitful.

Many agencies that interact with the poor were not helpful, either. Protective of the privacy of their clients, they were unable or unwilling to connect the journalists with people who wanted their stories told. One notable exception was the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee.

Ultimately, though, several gutsy individuals agreed to share their stories, and the result was the “Struggling to get by” series that runs Sunday-Wednesday.

The purpose of the timing is twofold.  As we consider our blessings the week of Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate that we also think of those who are less fortunate. On Thanksgiving Day, too, the News Sentinel kicks off its annual Empty Stocking Fund campaign — for the 102nd year. It will be just one of many opportunities that people will have this holiday season to act on behalf of those who are in need.

Motley Fool returns to News Sentinel

Motley Fool“The Motley Fool” is back in the paper. The popular personal-finance feature was discontinued a few weeks ago, after the theme of the News Sentinel’s Monday features section changed from “Dollars & Sense” to “Tech.”

Well, the theme of the Friday section has now changed from “Get Active” to “Home & Garden,” and readers made it known that they missed the Fool feature. It was back today, on Page 6D.

Unfortunately, our personal-finance coverage will take a hit early next year. We received notice from the Wall Street Journal that it is discontinuing its “Wall Street Journal Sunday” pages, which we’ve carried in our Business section for about 12 years. The change won’t happen until February, and we’ll be looking for replacement content between now and then.