Monthly Archives: April 2006

The Silence of the Silence

Our thoughts today are with Michael Silence, the News Sentinel’s blog-meister. Michael had bypass surgery yesterday, but only after he posted to his No Silence Here blog from his hospital bed.
All seems to be going well with the man recently named as one of Tennessee’s most influential bloggers. As much as anyone, Michael has been responsible for guiding the News Sentinel into this new form of journalism. We’re confident he’ll soon be back on online. In the meantime, Busy Mom is filling in.

The Steve Hall shooting

The News Sentinel came under criticism earlier this week for underplaying the mysterious firing of gunshots at mayoral candidate Steve Hall.
Wrote Gary Sellers, a Hall supporter and himself a county commission candidate:
“The hyprocrisy of this paper never ceases to amaze me. Steve Hall gets shot at last night and the story gets hidden in the B section of the paper and is not even listed online. The online section does however list Vines article about how Ragsdale has received more money than Steve in the first quarter. If this dosen’t show where the Sentinel’s priorities are nothing will. This is a biased newspaper with a biased editor and I am cancelling my subscription today!”
The thing is, on Sunday night, when we put the story in the Monday paper. We didn’t know Steve Hall had been shot at — no one in the media did. That night, our city editor heard of the shooting on the police scanner and assigned a reporter to check it out. She got the essentials from the police — that shots had been fired outside Hall’s Depot Avenue business — and tried to call Hall. He didn’t answer or call back.
News of gunshots outside a downtown building is a brief item, at best, and that’s how we played it. The next morning, the electronic media read our brief, got ahold of Hall, and criticism of the News Sentinel’s bias was off and running. Hall graciously called a talk-radio show to point out that he hadn’t, in fact, gotten back to the paper.
As soon as we were able to advance the story, we did post an update online, and the news was front page in Tuesday’s editions.,1406,KNS_347_4648066,00.html

I really want to vote

As I’ve noted before, I haven’t been registered in a political party pretty much throughout my journalism career. I haven’t voted in primaries, either.
But I really want to vote in this election just to see what it’s like to use the paper ballot. If I do, though, I’ll leave a record of having cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary, and critics will point to that as documentary evidence that I am a: a) Bleeding-heart liberal or b) Cold-hearted conservative.
Oh well, the heck with them. I think I’ll vote anyway. My daughter is 19 and gets to vote for the first time this year, too. Maybe we’ll go together.
Now I just have to decide: red or blue?

Pitching camps

One of the most popular features we produce each year is our guide to summer camps. This massive section lists hundreds of options for parking Junior while school is out. Working moms — and other involved parents — find it invaluable. When my kids were littler, it was the Bible of summer planning.
Feature writer Amy McRary is our summer camps maven. She performs the Herculean feat of assembling all the data each year.
This year we goofed, though. We told everyone who called that the section would come out April 16. Later we realized that was Easter, a day of low readership when our circulation figures are excluded from our annual reports.
We’ve now opted to move the section to next Sunday, to catch the biggest audience possible.

Journalism ethics

Commenting on my post “Who to endorse,” Janet asked about the ethics of reporters. That’s a large subject worthy of considerable discussion. But I’ll offer a couple of quick observations.
First, there are no universal ethics for reporters. That may sound surprising at first, but keep in mind that anyone in the United States has the right to be a journalist. Our First Amendment freedom of press says so. Asking about the ethics of a reporter is the same as asking about the ethics of someone exercising freedom of speech or freedom of religion. The ethics governing those activities are pretty much the basic ethics that govern all human interaction.
That said, there obviously is a cadre of journalistic professionals who adhere to some widely recognized set of ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is the best known codification. But many organizations have their own versions.
The E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel, has recently produced an updated Code of Ethics, which it now is disseminating. It deals with a wide range of business and professional situations. A few, though, are specific to the journalists working for the company.
For instance, the Scripps code says, in part: “Scripps journalists are prohibited from serving in elected or politically appointed positions. They must not participate in political fund-raising, political organizing or other activities designed to enhance a candidate, political party or political-interest organization. They must not make contributions to political campaigns or engage in other such activity that might associate their names with a political candidate or political cause.”
So if my wife sticks a political bumper sticker on her car, I can’t drive it — as if she’d let me drive her car anyway.

Bringing down the registration wall

Some folks may have noticed that we’ve lowered the registration wall on It’s now possible to see more pages before being asked to register.
We want KnoxNews and our other Web sites to be as successful as possible. Duh. But I don’t know that anyone in the newspaper business knows what the absolute best formula is. No registration means lots of traffic but fewer ways to monetize the traffic and make the site a strong economic entity. Burdensome registration means less traffic but traffic that is more easily sold to advertisers.
I think our new arrangement will come closer to giving us both, which should be good for the longterm viability of the site.

Don’t vote — yet

Is this a great election, or what? With 42 write-in candidates, we’re scrambling to try figure who they all are — and voting already has started.
I’ve written my Sunday column about this, and I’m begging people not to vote yet. With a little luck we’ll have enough information to make endorsements in the commission races by a week from Sunday. But with early voting, the election could be half over by then.
Attached is my column, in case anyone wants an early preview.
In the meantime, don’t vote!

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Free view of Preview

Last Thursday we launched free distribution of our Friday entertainment tab, Preview. We’re putting several thousand copies out in more than 100 racks in restaurants, bars and other businesses in the Old City, Downtown, along The Strip and out Kingston Pike. The idea is to bring greater exposure to the section.
I think Chuck Campbell and his staff do a great job with Preview. the Smack Talk faceoff is often one of the funniest things in the paper. Terry Morrow is able to find an amazing number of Knoxville-connected celebrities for The Insider column. Wayne Bledsoe is as knowledgeable a music writer as you’ll find anywhere. Betsy Pickle — though she’s sometimes the columnist readers love to hate — is truly a smooth writer and insightful critic able to recommend both the low-brow and the high-brow, as long as they are well done. Randall Brown is the unsung hero, cranking out hundreds of up-to-date entertainment listings every week.
Some of them are busy bloggers, too.
But because it is a tabloid, Preview is positioned deep in the paper: inside Home & Garden, which is inside the Classified sections, which are inside the rest fo the paper. Preview needs to get out and about more. So you now can pick it up free in racks stretching from Barley’s Taproom to Farragut.

TV or not TV

Today was spent fielding complaints from readers over our change in the format of the TV Week section of the Sunday paper. We got scores, if not hundreds, of calls, most of them complaints.
It is humbling to talk to person after person whose daily life is affected by a change in the newspaper. The toughest calls were those from senior citizens who rely on television as their primary source of entertainment. By changing the TV Week, we rocked their world.
One woman said she was in a wheelchair and plans her life around the TV. A man said his wife had a stroke and had a hard time reading the new guide. Another said he shared TV Week with his aged mother, clipping out the broadcast section for her because she did not have cable TV. With the new guide, he couldn’t clip that part out any longer.
By going to the smaller format — which actually costs more to produce because of trimming and binding — we thought we would make some people happy. And we did. A few calls have been complimentary. But change is hard. An editor messes with the comics or the TV book at his own risk.