Monthly Archives: July 2006

Paying for GoVolsXtra

It’s almost football time in Tennessee, and that means more interest in our GoVolsXtra Web site and more complaints such as this one:
“I am writing concerning your sports page section online. Why does every story concerning UT need a subscription to review the story. I am formerly from Knoxville and enjoy reading the News Sentinel. However, I am going to just go to the Tennessean from now on because I can actually read most of the stories. Maybe the News Sentinel should help actual “readers” and make their stories available.”
The News Sentinel is beginning its third year of offering a paid-subscription site dedicated to UT sports, especially football. Going to such a site was quite an experiment. To my knowledge, no other newspaper in the country had tried one dedicated to college sports, although a few — in Green Bay, for example — have had paid sites focused on pro teams.
There still is much debate at the News Sentinel over whether or not this was, and is, the right thing to do. The site has been successful in that it has generated a chunk of revenue, enough to allow us to hire another sports writer — Dave Hooker — whose content benefits the print edition as well as GoVolsXtra. But the traffic on our free Web site certainly would be higher if all of our sports content were available.
The issue is one newspapers and other Web sites have struggled with for a decade: What’s the right business model? Because, in the long run, a Web site has to make money to keep functioning.
I have considerable sympathy for News Sentinel subscribers who want to access content online and can’t without subscribing. To them, we offer free GoVolsXtra subscriptions if they convert their print subscriptions to our EZ Pay program.
I have less sympathy for readers such as the one who sent the note above. The writer notes that his is “formerly from Knoxville.” That means he isn’t a News Sentinel subscriber and he isn’t a Knoxville resident who might patronize the local advertisers on
He’s simply somone who wants to consume our work product without offering any compensation. That kind of one-way trade doesn’t make for a sustainable business model.

Changes at the News Sentinel

Here’s a preview of a story that’s running in tomorrow’s paper:
The News Sentinel has announced a series of promotions and a new hire intended to further the newsroom’s evolution as a multimedia organization and continue its emphasis on business news.
Deputy managing editor Tom Chester, 54, takes on newsroom-wide responsibilities focused on expanding the newspaper’s multimedia capabilities. He also will serve on the News Sentinel’s editorial board.
Business editor David Keim, 38, becomes assistant managing editor for local and business news. He will have direct supervision of the metro staff while retaining oversight of the Business section and the new Greater Knoxville Business Journal.
Assistant business editor Bill Brewer, 44, is promoted to business editor, taking over direction of the business staff.
Former business editor Amy Nolan, 42, returns to the News Sentinel as editor of the Greater Knoxville Business Journal after a stint with the administration of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.
“These promotions reflect the very significant accomplishments of Tom, David and Bill and the tremendous contributions they have made to the newsroom over the past several years,” said editor Jack McElroy.
“The reorganization is crucial to the ongoing evolution of the newsroom, which now is involved in production of blogs, podcasts, online video and audio, a radio show, a magazine and a family of Web sites, as well as the region’s leading daily newspaper.”
Chester has been with the News Sentinel for 19 years, directing local coverage for much of that time. Before that, he was with the Knoxville Journal. This year the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recognized his stature by naming in his honor the scholarships financed by the annual Front Page Follies.
“Tom is one of the state’s most respected journalists,” McElroy said. “In recent years, he has been the driving force in making a round-the-clock source of breaking news. In his new role he will be able to dedicate more time to leading the newsroom into a multimedia future.”
Keim has been with the newspaper 13 years, covering a variety of beats as a reporter before becoming business editor in 2002. In 2003, he created the annual Books of Lists, an authoritative directory ranking Knoxville-area businesses. This year he was instrumental in launching the Greater Knoxville Business Journal, a monthly publication that quickly has become a definitive source of local business news.
“Dave continues to excel in everything he undertakes,” McElroy said. “He will now be bringing his drive and passion to coverage of local news while continuing to oversee what he has accomplished in business coverage.”
Brewer has been with the News Sentinel for 16 years, much of it as a business reporter. He became assistant business editor in 2003.
“The business community knows Bill as a rock-solid business journalist – knowledgeable, reliable and dedicated. He will do a great job as business editor.”
Nolan worked for the newspaper for 18 years in a variety of roles including business editor before joining the city of Knoxville as communications coordinator in 2004.
“We’re thrilled to have Amy back with us,” McElroy said. “The Business Journal is a hugely important initiative for us. In Amy, we know we will have the kind of smart and energetic leadership this publication needs and Knoxville’s business community deserves.”
Although the internal changes are effective immediately, the editors involved will not move into their new duties fulltime until Nolan joins the staff toward the end of August.

Commission endorsements

Word is, our County Commission endorsements caused a bit of furor over at the courthouse. Incumbents wondered why they were singled out for opposition when some of their colleagues weren’t.
I’ll admit, a first glance, the endorsements seem to be a hodgepodge. Our Editorial Board endorsed challengers, incumbents, term-limited incumbents and even incumbents who have challenged the charter in court. We endorsed Republicans, Democrats and independents. We even endorsed a write-in candidate.
The uncertainty of the situation made it tough to formulate an absolute philosophy. The Supreme Court could rule in favor of the charter and term limits, and incumbents elected in August could find themselves booted from office, allowing the surviving commissioners to pick replacements. Or the charter could be struck down or revised, and the incumbents could serve out their terms, or even seek re-election once again.
What’s a voter, and an Editorial Board, to do?
If there was a guiding a principle it was this: boot the term-limited incumbents if there were good alternatives, but be willing to back a term-limited incumbent with a particularly strong record or an opponent who wasn’t especially strong.
Former commission chairmen David Collins and John Mills got our support on the basis of their contributions in the past, even though they were term-limited. Mills’ opponent also did not schedule an interview with the Editorial Board, so we never met him and don’t know much about him. Incumbent John Schmid, though term-limited himself, has been a voice of sanity throughout the crisis.
Larry Clark’s opponent, Steve McGill, is a good enough guy, but his background is very similar to Clark’s own, less the experience. Also, during his interview with the board McGill noted that he liked Clark so much that he wouldn’t have run if he had known Clark was still going to be on the ballot.
We picked a passel of high-energy upstarts, too, over entrenched incumbents: Nick Della Volpe (a Republican who got on the ballot through a write-in campaign), Amy Broyles (a Democrat running as an independent write-in), Martin Pleasant (a Green running as an independent), Tom Salter and Elaine Davis (Democrats who got on the ballot via write-ins) and Chuck James (a Republican making the jump from school board).
We had tough calls in two races without incumbents. In the battle of the high school teachers, we gave the nod to West HS Republican Tony Norman over Bearden HS Democrat Michael Daugherty, and in a duel of conflicting styles we selected button-downed management consultant Margaret Massey-Cox, a Democrat, over flamboyant car dealer Greg “Lumpy” Lambert. Frankly, all four of these candidates had appeal.
We also went with R. Larry Smith and Phil Ballard, newcomers who survived the primary and have limited opposition in the general. Faith Tapp, a write-in candidate backed by exiting incumbent Mary Lou Horner, is Smith’s only opposition. Ballard’s opponent, James Pirtle, has suspended his campaign.
Some incumbents are not term-limited, and we think they are doing fine: Tank Strickland, Ivan Harmon and Mike Hammond. We backed them.
So, that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.

Feds vs Times vs Journal vs Journal

I have to admit I love the drama being played out nationally over the role of the media in time of war. The latest chapter is the Wall Street Journal’s editorial that damned the Times for breaking the bank-transfers story but approved of the Journal’s own publication of the story on the same day.
The editorial’s rationale was that the administration had approved the release of the info to the Journal, admittedly because the Times was about to publish it anyway. The Treasury Department, the editorial asserted, expected that the Journal “would write a straighter story than the Times.”
Of course, it’s standard operating procedure for newsmakers to try to blunt a scoop by releasing the news to competing media, typically on deadline so there is little time to gather any points of view beyond those of the news provider. Some Knoxville-area agencies are so prone to this technique that, whenever we are working on an exclusive story, we don’t call them for comment until after the 6 p.m. news so they won’t instantly dump the story to TV.
The Wall Street Journal’s newsroom is now up-in-arms because the editorial writer didn’t check his facts with the reporter involved and, instead, based the explanation of the Journal’s news process on government sources.
I think the nation could use a good high-profile debate over the role of a free press in wartime. But it really isn’t anything new for America.
As long ago as 1798, the Federalists led by President John Adams passed the Sedition Act outlawing criticism of the government in time of impending war. The U.S. was in the midst of undeclared hostilities with France. Ironically, the Sedition Act became a rallying point for the Jeffersonian Republicans, who took control of the White House and held it for decades.

Blog Central

Is East Tennessee Blog Central? Mike Silence, the News Sentinel’s blogmeister, says it is, at least as far as the Volunteer State is concerned. Others are joining the discussion.
I suppose if you include Instapundit, the mountains can lay claim to being the high point in Tennessee blogging. The pundit, Glenn Reynolds, by the way, was the inspiration for’s vlog, Randomthis.
Speaking of multimedia stuff, if you missed our salute to the Declaration of Independence, I thought it was quite cool. Though, the only comments I got from readers were a few who were deeply offended that we ran a story about a soldier being charged with raping and killing an Iraqi girl on A1 on July 4.

Liberal-media type

I had a good conversation today with someone I really respect. He’s a J-school graduate who worked for a while at the old Knoxville Journal and even taught journalism briefly.
He’s been outspoken in his opposition to the war in Iraq from the start and more recently fought renewal of the Patriot Act, agreeing with the ACLU’s concerns over its infringements on civil liberties. He thinks the threat of terrorism is overstated, and he doesn’t agree with the president’s criticism of The New York Times. The press, he believes, should be allowed to publish just about anything.
A real leftwing media liberal?
Not exactly.
It was U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. during his endorsement interview with our editorial board. The podcast of his interview should be posted soon.,1406,KNS_630,00.html

Dead cats

If the two-word headline on this item grabbed you, you’re not alone. Last week posted its best-read story in quite a while: “Homes hide 33 dead cats.”,1406,KNS_347_4811895,00.html
The piece by Jamie Satterfield was linked by, a weird-news site, driving thousands of page views. The article told how animal control officers found the carcasses — mummified, decomposing and skeletal — in two homes owned by a Knoxville couple.
Clearly this is of high reader interest, and there is more to be told. Is there a way to pursue the story without descending into purely voyeuristic, tabloid journalism? Sure, by seriously trying to answer the fifth and most important of the 5 Ws — why? A legitimate story might explore such angles as mental illness, animal cruelty or even suburban isolation.
In any event, the legal process will continue, so there will be more on the dead-cats story.

Non-profit newspapers

Some of the biggest newspaper companies in the country have been taking a beating in the stock market — and in some cases facing takeovers — as the industry struggles to cope with new competitors and changing advertising strategies. The E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel, has survived fairly well because of its diversification, especially its successful move into cable networks a dcade ago and, more recently, its acquistion of Internet pure-play companies. But other companies have seen their stock tank. As a result, the Knight-Ridder company is no more and the Tribune company has been threatened by a major stockholder, namely the folks that used to own the LA Times.
In this context, The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article about newspapers that are owned by non-profit foundations. The St. Pete Times is the most famous, but there are a few others.
As a journalist, it’s nice to fantasize about working in an environment in which public service, rather than profit, was of utmost concern. But there’s a brutal honesty to the marketplace has to be respected.
Because newspapers have a special responsibility, and special protection in the Constitution, people inside the business and out at times might forget that most papers are first and foremost businesses. Often angry subjects of stories tell us scornfully: “You’re just trying to sell papers.” Well, duh. We’re proud of that. And if the journalism we do isn’t valuable enough for readers to buy, then we probably deserve to fail in the market.