Harmon’s column suspended just before big award

We recently suspended a columnist who just won a national award for us.
Mark Harmon landed the Sigma Delta Chi award for general column writing in papers with 100,000 circulation or less. It’s a significant national award, and we’re proud to have published the work.

Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon

But Harmon isn’t writing for us right now. The problem is that he’s running for the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee and one of his opponents, former state Sen. Bill Owen, questioned the fairness of us providing a bully pulpit to one candidate but not another.

In the past, we’ve always terminated columns if the writers became candidates for public office. We figured there was a conflict of interest that would continue even after the election.

In this case, the conflict wasn’t immediately apparent, though it probably should have been . Harmon is an unabashed liberal and a well known Democrat. He also served for a while on the Knox County Commission. We wouldn’t have paid him as a columnist while he was in public office because that would have conflicted with our responsibility to be a government watchdog. But a party office, with no control of government funds or functions, didn’t seem to create the same issue.

Still, Owen had a point. The Democratic Executive Committee spot does appear on the election ballot, and we don’t want to give an unfair edge to any candidate. So we suspended Harmon’s column through the election. If he happens to win, we’ll be transparent about the office holds.

Here are the five columns that made up Harmon’s winning entry:


Future chief justice pops up in integration photo

We have gotten great feedback on Sam Venable’s stories about Charles Moulden, who integrated Knoxville Interscholastic League football then, a few years later, was shot by a racist, who was acquitted in a gross miscarriage of justice that the media ignored.

Charles Moulden, 22, joins in Sevier County High School victory celebration in 1963.

Charles Moulden, No. 22, joins in Sevier County High School victory celebration in 1963.

In researching the story, Venable discovered he actually was on the football field with Moulden when Venable’s Young High School was beaten by Moulden’s Sevier County High School in a memorable game in 1963. A celebratory picture of Sevier County’s team ran on our front page today, featuring Moulden, No. 22.

What we did not realize until later was that directly  behind Moulden was No. 50, a kid named Gary Wade, who today sits as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He sent Venable an email today praising the series and reflecting on the old days.


Google archive is trove of old newspaper editions

Google has redesigned its archive of old newspapers.  It isn’t a complete collection by any means, but there are hundreds of papers. You can select by title, scroll through the months, search within papers or check out specific dates.

News-Sentinel, but not Knoxville's, appears in Google archive, with 1942 edition categorized under 1912.

News-Sentinel, but not Knoxville’s, appears in Google archive, with 1942 edition categorized under 1912.

The “News-Sentinel” is one of the papers included, but it’s not the Knoxville News Sentinel. It’s a News-Sentinel from another city, and I noticed a problem with the archive when I was checking some of its pages. Editions published in the 1940s are archived in the 1910s because the “4” in the date on the nameplate came out looking like a “1” when it was scanned. So World War II is happening 30 years early.

Still, it’s an interesting collection.

The Knoxville News Sentinel’s archives exist on microfilm, and a vendor has scanned those pages. But they haven’t yet been put into a searchable database yet. I’m hopeful that will happen someday soon, and we’ll be able to offer the public easy access to our archives, which date back to the 1800s on the “Sentinel” side of our history.

One old Knoxville paper that is in the Google archive is the Knoxville Chronicle, which is where Adoph Ochs worked before he went on to purchase and run The New York Times.

Should we keep ‘Doonesbury’ in reruns again?

The “Doonesbury” comic strip is going into reruns again as its creator pursues a video project. Garry Trudeau took a leave last summer to work on the “Alpha House” comedy series. The show, produced by Amazon Studios, is about four GOP senators who share a house in Washington. Now Amazon has decided to produce another season, and Trudeau will be too busy to create daily “Doonesbury” strips. He will keep drawing Sunday strips, however.

DoonesburyThe syndicate that distributes the comic has come up with a plan for packaging the reruns. Instead of just selecting random “greatest hits,” Universal Press Syndicate will identify key historical events that have occurred since “Doonesbury” began in the early ‘70s, such as the Watergate break-in, and will distribute sequences of strips reacting to the news. It will be a sort history according to Garry Trudeau.

The change will be effective March 3. It’s uncertain when, or if, Trudeau, will return to daily cartooning. “There’s no way of knowing how many seasons of ‘Alpha House’ lie ahead,” he said. “I could be back drawing ‘Doonesbury’ full-time in the fall. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the forbearance and past support of our longtime newspaper clients, and hope that I’ll still be welcome in their pages when I return.”

So, should the News Sentinel continue with “Doonesbury Flashbacks?” Or should we look for a replacement strip, and if so, which one? “Candorville?” “Prickly City?” Something else?

Megan Venable takes over People and Parties column

The News Sentinel’s new party gal is Megan Venable. She took over the Sunday People & Parties column the first of the year. She’s making the scene at the fundraisers where the city’s movers, shakers and givers gather.

Megan Venable

Megan Venable

Megan is a Knoxville native with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications from the University of Tennessee. Her current full-time gig is as special events coordinator for the UTK libraries. You may also know her as a regular in the Front Page Follies, or maybe even as the daughter of one Sam Venable, an old-timer known to spin a yarn or two in the News Sentinel these many years.

Megan is Tweeting about the society set, too, as @peopleparties.

“To say that I am flattered to follow in the footsteps of Barbara Aston-Wash and Gay Lyons as the News Sentinel’s People & Parties columnist is a tremendous understatement,” she wrote in her first column. “I am honored to continue the Knoxville tradition in chronicling the social activities and goings-on in the Knoxville community.”

So send her your invites. Megan wants to party.

Tom Humphrey is dean of statehouse press corps

The legislature is back in session, and our man in Nashville, Tom Humphrey, is back in action.

News Sentinel Nashville correspondent Tom Humphrey

News Sentinel Nashville correspondent Tom Humphrey

Tom is the dean of the capitol press corp. A Tennessee native from Columbia, he got into journalism after a stint in the Army and started covering state government in 1980 while working for United Press International. He joined the News Sentinel in 1984.

Tom is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, and he also spent years attending the YMCA Night Law School, now known as the Nashville School of Law. He became a licensed attorney but stuck with journalism as a career.

He’s a father of five, too, and grandfather of eight, with a ninth on the way.

In addition to writing for the News Sentinel and Knoxnews.com, Humphrey maintains a blog called Humphrey on the Hill, which he updates several times a day with all the latest tidbits on state government and politics.

Newspaper coalition broadens access to statehouse coverage

Readers might be noticing a label they haven’t seen in the News Sentinel for a few years. It is the logo of the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a stylized representation of press rollers arranged to signify the locations of four Tennessee cities — Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

Tennessee Newspaper Network logo

Tennessee Newspaper Network logo

The TNN is a consortium of the newspapers in those cities, respectively: The Commercial Appeal, The Tennessean, the Times Free Press and the News Sentinel. We started working together in 2009 to provide our readers with more in-depth coverage of statewide issues.

One major project we did was the surveying of the gubernatorial candidates in 2010. Eight big issues — such as guns, taxes, social issues and the environment — were examined in detail, and a shared website was created where voters could compare candidates head-to-head on any mix of positions. We also conducted statewide polling and cooperated on reporting on campaign finances.

But after the 2010 election other news took precedence, new editors came on board in Memphis, Chattanooga and Nashville, and the TNN’s activity waned.

Late last year, though, the editors and managing editors from the four newspapers met in Nashville to look for ways to rekindle the collaboration. The goal is to do less pack journalism and more enterprise. Last Sunday’s package previewing the legislative session was the first result, and readers can expect more over the next several months.

One change since five years ago is that all four papers now require subscriptions for complete access to their websites. In order to follow coverage of the legislature in all four cities, a reader would have to have subscriptions to all four newspapers.

But as part of the TNN collaboration, the four papers will be posting the full text of stories from all of the members’ capitol bureau reporters. So you now can go to Knoxnews.com to read complete coverage of the Legislature from The Tennessean, The Commercial Appeal and the Times Free Press, as well as from the News Sentinel.

End may be in sight for emails lawsuit

When all is said and done, it might be interesting to know how many tax dollars the Knox County law director has spent trying to prevent the public release of nine lousy emails.

Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong

Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong

Monday, Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan again ordered Law Director Bud Armstrong to turn the records over to the News Sentinel under Tennessee’s Public Records Act. The judge had issued a similar order in October, but Armstrong asked Duggan to amend his order, and the law director kept the emails secret in the meantime. Monday, the judge shot down that motion, commenting from the bench: “These are so clearly public documents.”

Still, Armstrong says he’s considering asking a higher court to intervene, though Duggan has refused to provide him with an easy avenue of appeal.

The case has dragged on for almost a year and a half. The News Sentinel made its initial request for county emails before Armstrong even took office in September 2012. Since assuming the job, the law director has tried every means possible to withhold the information from the public.

Most of the emails were sent in early 2012 and involve Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign disclosures. During the summer of 2012, the News Sentinel ran a series of stories revealing that some $20,000 had been siphoned from the mayor’s campaign account into his personal bank accounts. Burchett blamed his now-ex wife and said he had no knowledge of the problem until the newspaper brought it to his attention in June. We wanted to see if the emails sent between January and April backed that up.

More intriguing to me at this point is an email that John Turley sent to the mayor with attachments labeled “AndersonAve_FacadeGrantApplication.pdf” and similar names. Turley is the Turkey Creek developer who paid Dean Rice some $10,000-$12,000 at the time Rice was working as Burchett’s campaign manager. After Burchett was elected and Rice became his chief of staff, the county fast-tracked a road project near Turkey Creek that benefited Turley.

Why has the law director been arguing for more than a year that an email from a developer to the mayor involving a grant application is not public business? Maybe we’ll soon find out.

Knoxville.com Facebook post reunites family, dog on Christmas

Chuck Campbell, editor of the News Sentinel’s Knoxville.com website, entertainment section and Facebook page, had a chance to perform the perfect Christmas deed — reuniting a family with a Christmas puppy — using social media.

Here’s how Chuck related what happened:

Buddy the dog

Buddy the dog

“This morning I went to post a Christmas-y thing on the Knoxville.com Facebook and saw a notification from a woman who told us their Christmas puppy Buddy had gotten away from them this week and was lost and he meant the world to them, and she attached a photo. I wrote her back to confirm he was still missing and she said he was. So I posted the pup’s photo and said ‘Have you seen Buddy?’ and posted her notice describing him.

“Well, the post started getting hundreds of shares – people adding comments to their shares like ‘Let’s find this family’s dog’” Some guy said he saw the dog on Watt Road, the Young Williams animal center posted information on what to do if you lose your pet, etc.

“And then about six hours later a guy posted that they had found the dog. So I contacted the dog’s owner again and asked if that was true, and she said yes, thanks to our post, and included a picture of Buddy sprawled out on what appeared to be the living room floor.

“Only on Christmas, right?”

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, especially Buddy and family.

Sentinel reporter frozen 60 years? Radio show brings him to life

University of Tennessee prof and former county commissioner Mark Harmon has produced two episodes of an old-time radio drama based on the premise that a New Sentinel reporter harmonwas frozen 60 years ago and has thawed out to marvel at the present.

It’s delightful to hear him observe what has changed — and what hasn’t.

A few Knoxvillians — including yours truly — got to make cameos appearances, if that’s the right term for radio.

Mark is writing a regular column for the paper now, too.