Monthly Archives: March 2008

Using nicknames in news stories

I get a fairly steady stream of letters questioning our inclusion of politicians’ nicknames in our stories. I particularly enjoyed the latest from John Hundermark:
“I have followed the debate concerning the use of politicians’ nicknames in your newspaper. I am in favor of the practice and find that it endears their exploits to us. To further this end, I would like to see the use of your reporters’ nicknames in their bylines.”
The comment is marvelously tongue-in-cheek, but it raises some legitimate issues, too. How newspapers handle proper names is a matter of style. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have famously stuck with courtesy titles, which other newspapers abandoned decades ago. To me, references to “Mr. Bin Laden” are jarring, but the titles give those publications the tone the editors consider appropriate.
Is the News Sentinel setting the right tone by referring to Scott “Scoobie” Moore and Thomas “Tank” Strickland? The men, after all, do go by those names, and the newspaper does want to be conversational in its approach. In instances of less-exotic nicknames, we dispense entirely with the legal name, seldom, if ever, referring to Michael Ragsdale or William Haslam. It would seem odd to me, however, to refer to Lumpy Lambert without putting quotes around that nickname and indicating that he does have a more conventional handle as well: Greg.
As to using reporters’ nicknames, the suggestion reminded me of when my old friend Doug Frantz ended up at The New York Times and his byline became Douglas Frantz. When he later moved to the Los Angeles Times, he was just plain Doug again.
My legal name is John, but Jack is the nickname I’ve gone by since third grade. So the News Sentinel does, in fact, use nicknames in bylines. We just don’t have anyone as colorfully endowed as Lumpy.

On winning awards

The News Sentinel won a couple of national awards today for its coverage of Knox County government in 2007 and its advocacy of open government.
The first was the Scripps Howard Foundation’s National Journalism Award’s Edward Willis Scripps Award for Service to the First Amendment. Although these awards are presented by the philanthropic arm of the E.W. Scripps Co., this is not an internal contest. Other winners included The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. We’re thrilled to be in that company. The award carries a $10,000 cash prize!
The second was a National Headliner Award. In addition to winning the public service category, the News Sentinel was selected for the Grand Award as the top entry among all the print categories. Again we were in good company. Winners of other categories included the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe.
Awards are nice. But as Ansley Haman, one of the reporters on the story noted, the real reward came when a record number of voters turned out for February’s primary election and showed they cared about the issues.

Charging for newspaper’s TV section

Here’s the column I wrote for the Sunday paper about out plans to start charging for our TV Week section. Not surprisingly, we’re getting a lot of feedback. What’s surprising, perhaps, is that that feedback is all over the board. Some people like the new section; some hate it. Some say they’ll pay to subscribe; some say they’ll cancel their subscriptions.
I do think readers appreciated the honesty of the explanation, though. Simply put, TV Week has been a big money loser for a long time, and in this day and age, we have to do something about it, or find some other, more painful way to cut costs.
The column:
Stop messing with TV Week!
That’s a refrain I’ve heard often since becoming editor of the News Sentinel some six years ago. During that time we’ve changed the format of the magazine twice, and today we are doing it again.
Unfortunately, this is just the first step in a more difficult transition.
The problem is — and has been — that TV Week, while essential to many readers, is ignored by many others and does not draw a large number of advertisers. At the same time, the comprehensive listings require lots of pages of newsprint.
The challenge has grown more severe through the years, as channels have proliferated and TV-watchers have come to rely on channel-surfing or on the scrolling guides the cable companies provide.
The upshot is that TV Week loses a lot of money for the News Sentinel — hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — while fewer and fewer readers use it.
Today we introduce our latest revision of TV Week. I believe most readers will find it to be an improvement. It offers more descriptions of movies, color-coded grids and a larger format.
But the hard step comes in mid-April. At that time, TV Week will no longer be distributed as part of the Sunday newspaper. Instead, it will be delivered on Saturdays and only to home-subscription customers who order it for an additional 25 cents a week.
The idea is to allow readers who want TV Week to continue to get it while eliminating wasteful distribution to readers who never look at it.
This decision wasn’t made lightly.
Frankly, times are challenging for traditional media businesses. Our industry is in a state of transition.
More and more readers are going online to get their news. This is good for the News Sentinel in many ways. We are reaching a larger audience than ever before. Not only has our print readership shown gains lately, but our online readership is growing very rapidly. Between and, our two largest Web sites, we now are the leading local online news and information provider, with about 50 percent of the greater Knoxville market share.
But the shift in advertising revenue is trailing the shift in audience, and there is more competition for the online ad dollar than there has been for print advertising.
The News Sentinel remains a very healthy business, but like any business, it must find ways to manage expenses to keep prices low. Sharply increasing newsprint costs are exacerbating the problem. Changing how we distribute TV Week, so the people who want it pay for it, seems like a reasonable step.
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy step or that we like taking it. We realize that many of our loyal readers will be affected. But, hopefully, the price will seem fair to those who want to continue to receive the magazine.
Readers will be seeing another change in the paper before long, too. This one shouldn’t be painful. In fact, I think most readers will like it.
In May, we will adjust the size of the newspaper, making the pages a little narrower. We won’t change the type size, however, and readers will lose none of the features or sections now found in the paper. The new TV Week is designed so that its content won’t be affected at all.
When we made a similar change a few years ago, many discovered they liked the smaller, handier size. I’m betting the same will be true this time, too.
Of course, we always welcome your feedback at or by calling 342-6195.