Monthly Archives: July 2008

Is paper overdoing coverage of church shooting?

Some comments have begun to appear on saying the News Sentinel is overdoing its coverage of the TVUUC tragedy:
“Friends we are sad, we are upset, we want this POWELL NUTTER to get the injection as soon as possible. We also want to quietly help in any way we can those who will NEVER get over this. That said, the story is now over. Sorry but the paper is like a VAMPIRE sucking on an EMPTY body.”
“The facts are in on this story and now all that is left is back story or in the case of
the paper, agenda-driven reporting.To see your story … daily splashed all over the printed page in an obvious attempt to sell papers should cause you to be both mad and sad.”
There can be a tendency by the media to overdo coverage of a major news story, basing new stories on small, incremental developments while endlessly repeating old information. But I don’t believe the newspaper is anywhere near that point yet.
Cutting off or sharply reducing coverage now would be highly disrespectful to the efforts being made in the community to begin the healing process. We also owe it to the survivors to let the public know the struggles they continue to face, and we owe the citizenry a thorough report on the judicial process, which will be a long one. Finally, we should be prepared to examine any issues raised by this tragedy about which our society might learn important lessons, or at least advance important debates.
I realize that the ongoing coverage will weary some people. But others, including many quite close to the story, will expect the newspaper to treat the shooting as an event of historic significance, which, in the annals of East Tennessee, it may well be.
Some commenters on Knoxnews have agreed that the story still has a ways to run:
“There is STILL news evolving in this story. As someone who is helping those who were there when all this happened, it is not a bad thing that it is still in being covered. We are being kept informed of what is going on. If someone asks me what I know about all this, I can point them towards the news outlets for info. I don’t have to say anything more – and right now that’s a God send.”
And this from Taylor Bessette, whose foster father died in the attack:
“Why would anyone believe that it’s pointless to report on this story anymore? Especially considering what’s being reported now. Is everyone just interested in the tragedy and events that led to my foster father’s death and don’t care how such a loving community stands so strong and passionately against it? I am proud that the media is showing my community band together, becoming more interfaith and intergenerational. These are the kinds of moments the world needs to be exposed to more, not the death, tragedy, and pain shown on the news so often.”

Patriot Guard obstructs funeral coverage

Covering military funerals has always been a sensitive matter. The newspaper wants to respect the needs of the families while also giving the soldiers the recognition they deserve. There’s a delicate balance to be struck. We don’t want to intrude into the family’s privacy, but we do want the public to feel the emotional impact of the loss.
For years we’ve worked closely with funeral directors and family representatives to establish ground rules, such as where photographers should stand. Usually there are no problems, and the powerful images that emerge are among the most moviing we publish. Here, for instance is the reaction of one reader to photographer Kohl Threlkeld’s picture from the funeral of Cpl. Jason Hovater yesterday:
“The front page photo today is one of the finest I have ever seen published in the local paper. He perfectly captured the moment, and the composition and foreground soft focus are remarkable, not to mention the evident fortitude of the subject. This image most definitely should be widely disseminated …”
In recent years, however, newspapers have had to deal with a new factor, a group called the Patriot Guard, which believes it has a mission to protect veterans’ families during funerals. During the Hovater funeral, for instance, the Patriot Guard used flags to try to obstruct media camera angles. Threlkeld had to work around the obstructions to come up with a strong photo.
I believe the Patriot Guard is well-meaning, but I don’t believe its members really understand how a community pays respect to its war dead in this era of mass media. A gripping A1 photo, in my opinion, brings home the sacrifice of the soldier and his family like nothing else can, and thousands more join in the mourning as a result.
Think, for a moment, how disrespectful it would be for the hometown newspaper to ignore the funeral of someone whose life was sacrificed on behalf of the entire community.

The state of the American newspaper

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has issued a new report on newspaper journalism in 2008. The study notes trends such as smaller pages, fewer TV listings, leaner staffs and less room for national and international news. It also mentions that newspapers are reaching larger audiences than ever before and placing more emphasis on local reporting, even though revenue is falling.
Changes at the News Sentinel have reflected these trends, though we’ve bucked one or two others. Most newspapers have reduced their Business coverage in recent years. We haven’t. We consider business news an important niche that we are committed to filling through our daily and Sunday Business sections as well as the monthly Business Journal and our new website,
The study also points out that most editors feel the future is uncertain and are hesitant to predict what their papers will look like in five years. I’ll echo that sentiment, though I remain very optimistic about the longterm value of local news and professional journalism. The means of delivering the news are bound to evolve. But people will continue to place value on serious reporting about their communities.

Article on Isaacs mansion ‘offensive’

A reader offered this comment on our spread on attorney Greg Isaacs’ house:
“I wanted to say how offensive I found the article on the multi-million dollar mansion of Greg Issacs that you had in the Friday paper. Why this was considered “news” is beyond me. I’m sure the 310 people recently laid off at the Sea Ray plant were impressed by Mr. Issacs offensive lifestyle – not to mention his lack of socks. The economy is in serious trouble and most families are having a hard time making ends meet. Millions of people can’t even afford health insurance but you felt it necessary to showcase someone who takes delight in throwing his money up in our faces. I’m sure all his clients who are working to pay for his mansion enjoyed the article.”
In our Home & Garden section, we often feature some of the more unique and spectacular homes in Knoxville. The content is popular, and interesting. Many people are fascinated by other peoples’ homes, and successful magazines and television shows have been built around this fascination.
Is the Isaacs home ostentatious? Some readers may think so. But that’s a judgment for them to make.

Guide to dealing ethically with the press

This public official’s guide to dealing ethically with the press was forwarded to me by a public figure who shall remain nameless.
His question:”Now, who do we know that isn’t doing real good according to this?”
The four main recommendations are:
Create a culture of accountability.
Tell the truth and tell it right away.
Recognize that a public official’s private life is not always private.
Don’t be stupid. Don’t make your city look stupid.
Easier said than done, perhaps. But still good advice.

Is good not good enough for newspapers?

Is good journalism enough for a newspaper to succeed in these challenging times?
Not necessarily, according to this American Journalism Review article about The Albuquerque Tribune by Tony Davis. The Trib was my first Scripps paper. I worked there 14 years, longer than I’ve worked anywhere else.
Because The Trib was an afternoon paper in a joint operating agreement, it was a unique laboratory. It could do almost anything and the JOA — with the dominant Albuquerque Journal bringing in the ads — would assure that The Trib made about the same amount of money. The result was creativity and risk-taking journalism. The paper won a Pulitzer when reporter Eileen Welsome told how the government had used citizens as unwitting guinea pigs for radioactivity experiments. It also was known for its outstanding photojournalism.
But earlier this year, The Trib closed down. As Davis’ article is entitled, sometime Heart Isn’t Enough.

Region news, reorganization at News Sentinel

Here’s a preview of my column for this coming Sunday announcing some changes:
Knox County government has been big news in, well, Knox County.
As the hometown paper, the News Sentinel has hit the story hard, and readers have responded. Our most recent survey shows daily readership rising from 49.4 percent to 53.1.
But outside of Knox County, folks aren’t necessarily as interested in the goings on at the City-County Building, and as a newspaper serving the entire metropolitan area, we owe them our best efforts, too.
So next week, we’ll take steps to boost coverage outside of Knox, too.
A few weeks ago, one of our veteran editors, Jan Maxwell Avent, moved from assistant editorial page editor to the new job of Region editor. Since then, she’s been rounding up correspondents outside of Knoxville and planning expanded coverage.
Starting Monday, a page in the Local section will be designated each day for Region news. On Thursdays, that will be a wide-open page anchored by columnist Greg Johnson. Greg has been writing for our opinion pages for the past few years, and those columns will continue. But now the Sevier County resident also will be offering his views on happenings in that lively neck of the woods.
As time goes on, we’ll add more space and features to our coverage of the eight counties continguous to Knox, as well as points beyond. If you have news tips or are interested in being a correspondent, contact Jan at
Other changes are in the works at the News Sentinel, though they might not be immediately noticeable.
In recent years, we have been putting more and more effort into our web sites:, and
Many staff members blog daily, and it’s a slow news day when we don’t post at least 20 breaking news updates. We also deliver news through text messages and e-mail alerts. Our Sports staff has a daily radio show, and our Business staff publishes a monthly magazine.
To keep up with this continual flow of news, we’ve reorganized around what we call a Continuous News Desk.
At the center of the desk will be Tom Chester, previously deputy managing editor, who now takes on the title of director of newsroom operations. He’ll be supported by a group of “continuous news editors:” David Keim, local and business; Steve Ahillen, sports; John North, Sunday, features and entertainment; Michael Apuan, presentation, and Jigsha Desai, online.
Their jobs will be to guide the newsroom through the 24/7 publishing cycle that is the reality of a newspaper in 2008.
At the same time, Jack Lail, who has led our online initiatives for more than a decade and a half, will be director of innovation, assuring that we keep on top of new technologies and explore new ways of gathering and delivering news and information.
This Transformation, as we’re calling it, will involve many other internal changes, including an ambitious training schedule to empower our entire staff with multimedia skills.
Through it all, we want to stay focused on what’s important, though. So we came up a single word to remind us of our primary goal. No mater how much we change, we want to stick to the FACTS, F-A-C-T-S.
We want to be First with the news. We want to be Accurate. We want to be Comprehensive, and we want to be Trusted.
We also want to be a little bit Sexy (which is a livelier way of saying interesting, which just didn’t fit the acronym).

New Scripps boss says ‘local’ is the key

The E.W. Scripps Co. divided into two companies today with the Knoxville-based cable networks going their own way as a new company, Scripps Networks Interactive.
Here are the first marching orders from Rich Boehne, CEO of the new E.W. Scripps, which includes the local newspapers and television stations:
What kind of opportunities do you see in these challenging times?
Boehne: Local. The opportunity to be uniquely and passionately local. To be so woven into the fabric of a community that there’s no way we can’t be the information marketmaker of choice.
That opportunity arises because of the incredible advances in media technology that now link the countries, cities and people of this world in a peer-to-peer network that instantly disseminates national and international news. That’s good for information consumers, but it has made national and international news, for our purposes, little more than commodity.
The local market, on the other hand, remains a well-defined and physical place where feet-on-street make all the difference; where we can serve people who not only live and transact in the community, but who also demonstrate an affinity and pride and an emotional investment – all those things that make up a sense of place.
Much of our value going forward will result from our eagerness to ooze into every crack of the markets we serve and build media brands that, because they are so intensely local, are virtually useless in the next town down the road.
This is not a new idea. But the opportunity to prosper locally now – to gain share from other competitors – does arise from both the commodization of national and international content and the development of new media platforms that we can use to expand our audience and ad share in local markets.
Local. Uniquely local.

I can dig it.