Monthly Archives: June 2007

Opening up KnoxNews and GoVolsXtra

Here’s a draft of my column for Sunday. As I say, I’m thrilled to be able to announce the expanded access to our sites.
The price is right – free – and it has never been easier to use the News Sentinel’s Web sites.
Last week, we announced that users no longer will be asked to register in order to read stories on At the same time, we dropped the paid subscriptions to, our site dedicated to University of Tennessee sports.
The changes came as we moved our sites to a new “content management system,” the application we use to assemble our Web pages.
Requiring users to register for KnoxNews and pay for GoVolsXtra had been a source of frequent complaints by readers over the past couple of years. Now that we’ve dropped those barriers, you might wonder why we ever erected them in the first place.
The fact is, online newspapering has been an ongoing learning process. In the early days of the Web, the News Sentinel’s site was an experiment by a few enterprising staff members who were able to eke out a few minutes here and there to create something that held promise for the future but offered no immediate economic reward.
In time, advertisers began to experiment with the Internet, too, a trend that was slowed but not stopped by the “dot com bust.

On buying Metro Pulse

The No. 1 most-clicked-on story on yesterday was news that the E.W. Scripps Co. had purchased Metro Pulse. Scripps, of course, owns the News Sentinel, too. So naturally there’s concern about the loss of an independent editorial voice in Knoxville.
I understand the concern. It’s a fact that the two publications now will have the same corporate ownership. But keep in mind that it is in Scripps’ best economic interest to assure that Metro Pulse maintains — and grows — its market niche, and that means maintaining its strong, independent voice.
In recent years, Scripps has worked hard to build market share in metropolitan Knoxville. The company started Blount Today in Blount County, and it purchased the Halls Shopper News in Knox County. Both newspapers have remained scrupulously independent of the News Sentinel. The same, I am sure, will be true with Metro Pulse.
If nothing else, the purchase can be seen as a reflection of Scripps’ commitment to Knoxville. Knoxville now is headquarters to Scripps Networks, hub of the newspaper division’s Interactive Media Department and home of four Scripps newspapers. No other market compares in importance on the Scripps corporate landscape.

Were crop circles a story?

0619circles_f.jpg We had a lively discussion at the news meeting this morning about Tuesday’s story about the Monroe County crop circles.,1406,KNS_347_5591966,00.html The question was whether we gave too much credence to the investigator who determined “this formation was not man-made,”
Surely the patterm was man-made. Such hoaxes are common, and the techniques are well known. But our story played it straight, saying there were “plenty of theories” as to the origins of the “mysterious” circles.
Should we have gone further to debunk the theories? Should we have ignored the story altogether? Or was it just a fun piece to be read for amusement, kind of like the horoscopes?
I’m taking a shot in my Sunday column, a draft of which is posted as an extended entry.

Continue reading

What makes a hate crime a hate crime?

Here’s my column for Sunday’s paper:
Many people I would not label as racists have been calling the newspaper to complain that the deaths of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom are not being treated as hate crimes and receiving the national coverage they deserve.
Putting aside the fact that Tennessee does not have a hate-crime statute, what makes people believe this crime deserves such attention? What makes this a “hate crime”?
Some hate crimes are clear-cut. The dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, in 1998 was indisputable. The killers were avowed racists — one had a tattoo of a black man hanging from a tree — and the crime was solely motivated by racial hatred. It was, simply, a lynching.
But what about the Christian-Newsom case?
No question, the crime is a sickening outrage that defies comprehension. But, sadly, so are many others.
Consider the case of Christa Gail Pike. She and a friend lured a co-worker to a secluded area and attacked her with a meat clever and box cutter before smashing her skull and carving a symbol onto her chest.
Of course, that crime wasn’t interracial. If it had been, would that have changed its nature? Does adding a difference in races turn a horrible killing into a hate crime?
Not necessarily.
A recent example of that combination was the Virginia Tech murders. They clearly are the subject of nationwide debate. But the focus has been on issues of mental health and campus security, not racial animus.
What is it about the Christian-Newsom case that so convinces folks that that it deserves the national spotlight as a racial issue?
I think part of the answer lies in the iconic attributes of the victims and suspects. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were a beautiful couple, one that could symbolize the dreams and ideals of America’s largely white middle class.
The suspects, on the other hand, were young men with street names and long arrest records, stereotypes of a black criminal underclass.
When combined with reports of abuse and torture, those images trigger primal reactions. It’s almost impossible not to visualize racial rage entering into this horrific crime.
Set that against the backdrop of anger over the recent case of the white Duke lacrosse players accused of raping a black stripper and student. That case became a national cause celebre before the athletes were exonerated.
“There are many, like myself, who believe that there is a double standard in the way the overall media handle black/white stories,” one woman wrote me.
Perhaps. But, even if that were the case, is the solution to prematurely assign racial motives to more crimes? That would suit the agenda of those who want to foster racial division in America, but would it be right?
To date, authorities have presented no evidence pointing to race as a factor — much less a prime mover — in this tragic crime. If and when they do, we should, and will, report it.
How the national media react will be up to them.