Monthly Archives: May 2010

Corporate embarrassment threatens FOI

Our recent tussle with TVA over a Freedom of Information request was a skirmish in a larger war over access.
AT&T presented a novel argument after an FCC investigation determined it was overbilling the government and an FOI request sought the details. The FCC was willing to release documents from the investigation, but AT&T sued, claiming the release would infringe on the company’s “personal privacy.”
Mind you, AT&T wasn’t trying to guard trade secrets; it simply wanted its privacy, just like any other “person,”, human or corporate.
Frighteningly, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals bought AT&T,’s argument that the FOI exemption for “personal privacy” does, indeed, apply to corporate persons such as the blushing phone giant.
So now business behemoths can hide findings of wrongdoing — pollution, hazardous workmanship, health and safety violations and the like — uncovered by government investigations simply because they’re embarrassed..
Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case and reverses it.

Griscom resigns as Chattanooga editor/publisher

Tom Griscom announced today he is resigning as executive editor and publisher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Griscom.jpgIn making the announcement, he said: “The opportunity to build the merged newspaper in this community has been a unique experience. In a changing media world, it has been gratifying that our readers continue to enjoy the printed newspapers as we expand into other digital formats.”
I don’t know if there’s more to the story. Tom’s about 60, so he could be looking forward to an early retirement. He’s a heck of a news man, though, and will be missed to Tennessee journalism.

Snark Bites is moving to print

This weekend, Scott McNutt will begin writing his Snark Bites column for the Sunday paper.
For almost two years, the humorist has been producing fictitious news stories poking fun at local government in his Snark Bites blog on The blog has developed a loyal following, and we’ve decided to give it a shot in print.
072409mcnutt2_t160.jpgFolks may recall that Snark Bites made news of its own last year when an aide in the county mayor’s office complained to McNutt’s employer that he was writing the political satire on work time. McNutt survived the attack and lived to bite back.
Publishing satirical fiction can be risky. Newspapers typically stick to the facts, and some people just don’t get satire. But I think McNutt’s work is so unique and delightful that it should be presented to a broader audience so more readers have a chance to enjoy it.

3-D newspapers?

I’ve been nagging Jack Lail, our digital guru, to organize production of a 3-D news report for our website. YouTube has shown how to do it using paired video cameras.
Today Jack sent me a link to a story about The Philadelphia Inquirer putting together a 3-D edition of the printed paper, with which it will distribute 3-D glasses. Could be an interesting experiment, though I wonder if you can read the paper without the glasses.
The most unusual printing job in which I was involved was years ago when the Final Four was in Albuquerque, N.M. The Albuquerque Tribune printed a backwards page with special ink that could be transferred to cloth. Readers could iron the design onto a T-shirt and create their own Final Four souvenir.
It worked, though I haven’t seen the my Final Four T-shirt for years.

Requests to ‘unpublish’ present ethical challenge

We’ve begun to get requests to “unpublish” material that has appeared in the newspaper and continues to reside on our websites.
The issue is a sticky one. It’s relatively easy to remove something from our Web pages, but the content often lives on, cached elsewhere on the Internet.
Also, there is the ethical dimension. Unpublishing is sort of like rewriting history. What standards should we apply so that our credibility is not jeopardized?
Right now we are in the midst of developing a policy, and feedback is welcome. In the meantime, a panel of senior newsroom managers review any requests for unpublication.
I’ve columnized on the issue for Sunday, and my column is attached as an extended entry.

Continue reading

TVA agrees to release salaries

David Mould, TVA’s senior vice president for communications, said today the federal agency will release the salary information requested by the News Sentinel under the Freedom of Information Act.
The utility early this week had denied the FOI request, which the newspaper made after months of informally requesting a list of TVA employees who make $180,000 a year or more for inclusion in the newspaper’s annual Book of Lists directory.
Mould, to whom the newspaper’s appeal of the ruling would have been directed, said the FOIA is open to interpretation and a good business argument could be made for not releasing the information.
“The withholding would be justified,” he said, but he added, “I don’t want us to go through a proceeding.”
Mould said he was out of town and would deliver the information to the News Sentinel on Monday.

Satterfield has done terrific job on carjack trials

If a jury brings in a verdict tomorrow in the Vanessa Coleman trial and there’s no death penalty phase to follow, Jamie Satterfield will wrap up what has been an outstanding journalistic effort covering all four trials of the suspects in the torture and slaying of Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian.
satterfield2.jpgThe work has been gruelnig, but Jamie has maintained a high standard of excellence while breaking new ground in multimedia reporting for the News Sentinel. Her Twitter reports have been volumious and engaging. Her Web updates have been timely and informative, and her print stories have been highly readable, comprehensive and fair.
But what has really impressed me have been the daily stand-up summaries she has done. Speaking without notes or a teleprompter, Jamie has analyzed each day’s developments concisely and incisively. Only keen observation, depth of knowledge in the judicial process and natural articulateness make that possible.

TVA refuses to release top salaries

TVA today answered our Freedom of Information Act request for the names, titles and compensation packages of all employees making more than $180,000 a year.
It’s response:
Go jump in a lake.
The News Sentinel made the request as part of the gathering of information for its annual Book of Lists. In years past, TVA did provide the information, which was used to compile the “highest paid public officials” list.
In the 2008 book, for instance, TVA claimed 10 of the top 15 spots, with president Tom Kilgore No. 2 on the list, behind then-UT football coach Phil Fulmer, at $1.58 million a year, and Peyton Hairston, senior vice president for corporate responsibility and diversity No. 15, on the list at $317,000 a year.
But that was then, this is now. After TVA balked at providing the same information this year, the News Sentinel requested it under the FOIA. Today we received a response from Denise Smith, TVA FOIA officer:
“We have determined that the compensation information you requested is protected from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 5 and 6. FOIA exemption 5 protects, among other things, information that would place the government at a competitive disadvantage. FOIA exemption 6 protects information that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
It’s a rather astounding argument. Under this line of reasoning, citizens could not find out how much any public employees was being paid.
But then, TVA doesn’t seem to remember that it is owned by the citizenry.
So now, we have to appeal and, I’m guessing, ultimately sue. What a waste of time energy and the public’s money.

Nashville flood getting little national publicity

Compared to the gulf oil spill, the Nashville flood is getting almost no national publicity.
Andrew Romano opines in Newsweek that that’s because “chatter” seems to determine what’s news these days more than impact or significance:
“In a climate where chatter is constant and ubiquitous, newsworthiness now seems to be determined less by what’s most important than by what all those other media outlets are talking about the most. Sheer volume of coverage has become its own qualification for continued coverage. ,,, In that sense, it’s easy to see why the press can’t seem to focus on more than one or two disasters at the same time. Everyone is talking about BP and Faisal Shahzad 24/7, the “thinking” goes. So there must not be anything else that’s as important to talk about. It’s a horrible feedback loop.”
A corollary is that news that happens in and around media centers gets more coverage. That certainly was a factor in the TVA ash spill, which was all but ignored nationally.