Monthly Archives: April 2008

News Sentinel-WBIR bang heads online

The News Sentinel and WBIR have collaborated in a number of ways in recent years. The cooperation has been good for both parties, giving each additional promotion and marketing reach.
But in the online world, where the two meet head-to-head, the competition has grown increasingly fierce and, in the eyes of the News Sentinel, not entirely fair.
Publisher Bruce Hartmann sent out the following memo recently making employees aware of how WBIR is handling data:
“I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you that one of our television competitors, WBIR, is sending out audience data on local Web sites that grossly distorts the accurate picture of our audience for Knoxnews.
“One such report that we have seen is from a provider called comScore Networks. In a nutshell, comScore provides estimates of how many local market users are accessing local Web sites. While comScore has its place as a web measuring tool – particularly on a national level – comScore’s local estimates can be grossly misleading for many reasons:
Small local sample sizes, which impact the validity of the data
“comScore compares apples and oranges by measuring almost all of’s audience although for Knoxnews it leaves out at least two very important parts of our online product, GoVolsXtra and our classified vertical sites. By leaving different parts of our website out (like GVX) would be the equivalent of leaving the weather off of WBIR .com measurement. It doesn’t make sense!!!
“comScore measures extremely narrow time periods, an unreliable way to estimate Web audiences for advertisers, which can be and are seasonal. The data we saw was from the single month February, where typically does well due to winter weather. If you saw a comScore report from last September, for example, you would see a strong Knoxnews advantage.
“Our internal Internet traffic source, Omniture (which WBIR uses, too) paints a compelling picture in showing how distorted the Feb 2008 comScore estimates for Knoxnews are from reality:
“Page Views: comScore claims 2,000,000; true number from Omniture is 11,519,325
“Monthly Unique Users: comScore claims 67,000; true number from Omniture is 1,098,074
Visits: comScore claims 300,000; true number from Omniture is 2,374,157
“Furthermore, we use a comScore competitor called Hitwise to estimate traffic to local media Web sites. Hitwise measures Internet traffic to arrive at its estimates, which differs from the comScore method of using online panels. In Hitwise, GoVolsXtra audience is counted separately from “core” Knoxnews, but those numbers can properly be combined to arrive at a single number, which more accurately illustrates our true audience. For example, data based on the eight months we have had GoVolsXtra measured shows that Knoxnews & GoVolsXtra together have 46.3% local market share, compared to’s share of 33.5%.”
Admittedly, the News Sentinel’s complaints about comScore seem pretty self-serving. But we’re not alone. Recent New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles tell how comScore badly misjudged Google’s click rate, and comScore’s credibility — and stock price — took a real hit as a result.

Response to Bar Association criticism

I wrote a column a few weeks ago about the Tennessee Bar Association’s investigation into whether or not the News Sentinel’s coverage of attorney Herb Moncier’s disbarment hearing was unfair.
Well, the conclusion was that our stories by Jamie Satterfield, cartoon by Charlie Daniel, editorial and column by me were “unjust.” Bar association president Marcia Eason posted her condemnation on the association’s web site and sent it to me. I responded with the letter that follows.
Perhaps I’m getting overly defensive. I welcome feedback, as readers of this blog know.
But I continue to feel irked that this organization felt compelled to launch a formal inquiry into whether or not newspaper commentary — including an editorial cartoon — was “unjust.” Anyone with patience enough to wade through all of this is welcome to be the judge.
Marcia M. Eason
Tennessee Bar Association
832 Georgia Ave.
Suite 1000
Chattanooga, TN 37402-2433
Dear Ms. Eason:
I received your letter of March 24, and I am disturbed at the misstatements it contains, especially after the lengthy conference call I and reporter Jamie Satterfield had with the bar association’s general counsel explaining in detail the facts behind our stories.
At the heart of the issue is when and how the hearing of March 5 and 6 became open to the public. Your letter states:
“Shortly before the hearing scheduled for March 5, 2008, the attorney against whom the complaint was filed and his attorney filed a motion to open the proceedings (docket). The motion was granted conditionally by the court (docket). Before the motion to open the proceedings was filed, the attorney had filed twelve motions in the case beginning February 4, 2008 (docket). In addition to filing the motion to open records and unseal the records, the attorney against whom the complaint had been filed was required to file a waiver of confidentiality, which apparently was filed at or before the time for the scheduled hearing (docket).”
According to your chronology, then, the hearing should have been opened to the public on March 5, and its continuation on March 6 certainly should have been on the public docket. It was not, as Ms. Satterfield’s story stated:
“A day-long hearing was held Wednesday at Collier’s direction by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee. However, no notice of that hearing was filed publicly, nor was it included in the daily list of cases to be heard, known as a public docket.”
The story went on to say:
“On Thursday, the News Sentinel contacted Lee’s clerk, who said he could confirm only that a continuance of that hearing was set to begin that morning. Lee later Thursday morning unsealed all documents in the case.”
You state in your letter: “Implying that one of the judges opened a hearing to the public only at the request of the reporter, rather than at the request of the party to the proceedings as required by the rules, is also inaccurate.” But as you can see, the story just states the facts, and they were accurate. Since, according to your letter, you have had no contact with the judge, and neither have we, it is open to speculation whether or not the reporter’s inquiry in any way influenced the timing of the public docketing of the case or the granting of the motion to unseal. All we know is that those results did not directly follow Moncier’s motion on March 3 or waiver on March 5 but did directly follow Ms. Satterfield’s inquiry on March 6.
Regarding your other assertions:
You state: “Implying that the reporter’s reliance on ‘anonymous sources’ prevented the reporter from being thrown in jail was also inaccurate.” Nothing of the sort ever was implied in the News Sentinel. In a column I wrote discussing the need for a federal shield law, I posed a hypothetical case, saying, “(if) Satterfield had reported what was happening based on anonymous sources, she would have run the risk of being thrown in jail if she later refused to reveal her sources.” That is accurate. Without a federal shield law, reporters who refuse to reveal anonymous sources to federal judges run the risk of being thrown in jail. Your letter misconstrues the point entirely.
You state: “The editorial cartoon published by the Knoxville News Sentinel portraying a robed judge, smoking and leaning on the scales of justice posed in front of a federal court in Chattanooga while the public wears a blindfold, in light of the rules governing the court’s actions and the docket entries in this case, was unjust.” In fact, the robed figure represented Justice, not a federal judge. But that is beside the point. The larger issue is your declaring the cartoon “unjust” based on “the rules governing the court’s actions and the docket entries.” The docket entries, as I pointed out above, do not support your position. They reveal, in fact, that a non-public hearing proceeded — on March 5 — despite filings by the attorney involved seeking an open hearing.
Perhaps the underlying question is Rule 83.7, You state: “The rule, to protect the person against whom the complaint was filed, requires that all documents related to the complaint, and the proceedings, be kept confidential, unless a court order is entered (through motion, the party may request waiver of that confidentiality protection).”12 However, it is my understanding that the rule is discretionary. The judge is not compelled by the rule. Regardless, as you point out, the purpose of the rule is to protect the attorney against whom a complaint has been filed. The rule’s purpose is not to protect the general public, which clearly has an interest in knowing of complaints against attorneys. The courts, in drafting the rule, judged the privacy interests of accused attorneys to be more important than the access interests of citizens. That may be a widespread standard and, in the opinion of the bar association and others, entirely justified. But that does not mean that criticism of such a balancing of interests is “unjust.”
Despite your letter, I continue to understand the facts to be that a well known attorney faced federal disbarment in proceedings not open to the public based on a discretionary rule that allows such proceedings to occur from beginning to end without the public’s knowledge. That attorney requested that the proceedings be opened, but they were not until after a reporter made an inquiry.
The News Sentinel has a strong interest in open government. I personally believe that it is a newspaper’s duty to advocate vigorously on behalf of public access, and I find nothing “unjust” about employing humor or hyperbole in opinion pieces written in that cause. I do find it disheartening that the bar association would feel compelled to dedicate its time and prestige to investigation and condemnation of newspaper commentary obviously intended to encourage debate of an issue of public interest and importance.
As you are aware, we have received a condensed version of your letter for publication and will be printing it soon. It notes that your full letter already has been posted on the bar association web site. I will be posting this letter on my blog — — and linking to your letter. I request that you, in turn, link to my response or post it on your web site. If you feel I have misstated facts in this letter, I hope you will contact me to clarify them.
Jack McElroy

Is News Sentinel too local?

A reader offered this comment today:
I am a new subscriber to the News Sentinel. I must say I am surprised. I have never been exposed to a newspaper that is so, well……local. Reading your headlines is like asking a local resident for directions. If you don’t know the local history or rumor behind many of your stories, you are totally lost. Just like if you don’t know where “Old Uncle John’s Barn” used to be down by where Betty used to have her “Dippy Dew” beauty shop, then you need not bother asking directions.”
Well, the News Sentinel shouldn’t be incomprehensible to a newcomer, and if we are, we should do a better job of explaining the context of local news. But our focus on local is deliberate and isn’t likely to change.
I would estimate that 75-80 percent of the stories on our section fronts are local, and much of the news inside the sections is local, too. If anything, I expect the News Sentinel to become more locally focused in the years ahead. The reason: local content is our niche. It’s the only product we can produce that customers can’t get elsewhere.
I heard a speaker this past weekend address this issue at a conference of the Society of Professional Journalists. “News is free,” he said, but “information you have to pay for.” In this Internet age, news is a commodity instantly available from a thousand sources. It is very hard for a local newspaper to deliver national or international information that actually is “news” to anyone. But the local paper still can tell people things they didn’t know about the local scene.
At times I’ve actually thought about the feasibility of an all-local newspaper. But I’m not sure the time is right in a metropolitan area such as Knoxville. Readers still expect the big national and international news to be acknowledged in print, even if they’ve already heard it, and for some folks our wire reports are handy summaries, even if the news is widely available elsewhere. Perhaps we could find ways to package and present national and international news better, but local news is what is going to sell newspapers.