Monthly Archives: September 2010

Documentary portrays Tea Party movement

tea0509tax-12006_03wp_t300.jpgThree of our talented videographers — Erin Chapin, Lauren Spuhler and Talid Magdy — have a produced a new long-form documentary, this one looking at the Tea Party movement in the region.
“Tea Partiers have various reasons for getting involved in politics, but their most common refrain is that the government is not solving the nation’s problems,” the journalists state in their introduction to the story. “Critics acknowledge that as a movement, the Tea Party is not tasked with creating solutions like the Republican and Democratic parties. Although the future of the Tea Party movement and its lasting impact on the political system is unclear, it has brought many new people into the political process.”
The piece captures the often-angry voices of many who consider themselves part of the Tea Party and explores the question of what lasting impact the movement is likely to have. It’s a thoughtful and well-executed video by the team that did the chilling “Death on Chipman Street” documentary, which won a national Edward R. Murrow award from the Radio Television Digital News Association.

1908 Sentinel was Democratic organ

My daughter recently had cause to examine some 1908 editions of the Knoxville Sentinel, one of the predecessor’s of the News Sentinel.
william-jennings-bryan.jpg The newspaper was a partisan backer of the Democratic party. Leading up to the presidential election, it shamelessly touted William Jennings Bryan (left) and bashed Theodore Roosevelt, who had handpicked William Howard Taft as his Republican successor.
The Sentinel was an afternoon paper in those days, and when the University of Tennessee played North Carolina in football on Oct. 3, the newspaper could only report that a “throng” had gathered for the game. Without a Sunday edition, the Sentinel had to wait until Monday afternoon to disclose that the Vols had downed the Tar Heels 12-0.
Especially interesting to my daughter, though, was a popularity contest the newspaper was running. The ballots were clipped from the paper itself, and the ladies leading the competition were touted each day as the editors urged readers to cast more votes — by buying and clipping more papers.
Now there’s a circulation promotion that hasn’t been tried in a while.

Communications still a good college major

media_emerging_600.jpgMy youngest son is applying to colleges these days and is thinking of studying communications. I’m tempted to cry “Don’t do it!” whenever the subject comes up. Though I’ve loved my career, the changes occurring in the media these days make the future extremely uncertain and the present extremely stressful.
Still, schools of communication keep packing in the students, and apparently for good reason.
A recent study showed that interaction with media has increased, on average, an hour a day the past two years, and people from age 13 to 74 now spend half of their waking hours engaged with media — more time than they spend sleeping or working.
There’s got to be a paying job in there somewhere.

Apology if Yom Kippur analogy was offensive

Some commenters were critical of my referencing Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in my Sunday column about basketball coach Bruce Pearl’s problems and repentance. Wrote one:
“Jack, you lack any fundamental understanding of Yom Kippur AND you are imprudent to draw an analogy between Yom Kippur and any professional decision made by Mr. Pearl. This is not the forum in which to teach you about Yom Kippur, but as an observant Jewish citizen of Knoxville, I do not appreciate your misappropriation of our Holy Day to your commentary. You owe us, and Mr. Pearl, an apology.”
If that is true, I do sincerely apologize. I tried in the column to make clear that I recognized that there were no real comparison between the divine meaning of the holiday and the mundane matter of an NCAA investigation. I was merely struck by the question of atonement arising at the same time in two arenas for Pearl, who has been an important figure in the local Jewish community since his arrival.
In weighing my thinking, I questioned whether I would think it inappropriate to mention the theme of rebirth in connection with a secular matter that happened in coincidence with Easter, and I felt that would be acceptable if presented in a proper manner.
But perhaps, in ignorance, I was wrong. I meant no disrepect to Pearl, his faith or the sanctity of that most important day in Judaism.

Meth series exposes Tennessee nightmare

meth_atb_125_t300.jpgReporter Matt Lakin and photographer Adam Brimer wrapped up their comprehensive and compelling series examining the continuing problem of methamphetamine in Tennessee.
Despite changes in the law, the state is second in the nation in the number of meth labs seized by police. The problem takes an enormous toll, in neglected children, ruined property, law-enforcement resources and addicts’ lives.
The question is what to do about the problem. A couple of states have taken the drastic step of making pseudoephedine — a necessary ingredient of meth — a prescription drug. That would work, but law-abiding citizens who simply need something for their allergies would pay the price in inconvenience.
In the weeks ahead, we will continue to delve into the issue to see if there are ways to address it. Ideas for further coverage are welcome.

News Sentinel looks to mobile future

Like most newspapers these days, the News Sentinel is looking at how it can deliver information to mobile devices, and whether those “apps” should be paid-for or free.
icon_iphone.gifRight now the News Sentinel has two iPhone apps: one draws its feed from the website and the other from the GoVolsXtra website. The Knoxnews app is free. The GVX app costs a one-time charge of $1.99. The newspaper also is developing a feed for the Kindle e-reader.
But the world of mobile information is exploding, new devices are springing up, and we have to determine what other products we should offer, and how we can make them economically sustainable.
Would more specialized apps — such as high school sports, bands and entertainment, fishing and outdoors or information for busy moms — be useful, and if so, how should we charge for them? Should apps be subscription-based, bundled with the print edition, sold for a one-time fee or dished out on a per-use basis? And would a proliferation of revenue-generating mobile products mean a paywall should be erected around our free mobile-Web application, or even around our websites themselves?
These are tricky, strategic questions that have a real bearing on the future of this newspaper and others. Consumers, of course, would like free access to all content from all devices. But would there really be enough of an advertising market to make the products worthwhile, or would that strategy ultimately be self-defeating?
The Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” certainly applies to the news business these days.

Covering Quran-burning a challenge

One of the dilemmas of journalism is that some news events occur for the sole purpose of generating news. If the media didn’t cover them, they wouldn’t be news.
Such was the case with Rev. Terry Jones’ plan to burn Qurans. He wanted publicity. Without publicity, there was no reason for him to carry out his plan. Yet, the media have an obligation to report on events of public interest, and it is only by reporting on acts of hate that others can have the opportunity to react and decry the hatred.
vigil1e_t607.jpgHappily, the fringe pastor didn’t follow through with his threat. But to provide context to the story, we planned thorough coverage of a vigil in Oak Ridge to demonstrate support for Muslims. Some 350 people — about seven times as many as in Jones’ entire congregation — turned out for the event.
Unfortunately, we now have our own case: a burned Quran was found in front of the Knoxville mosque in the Fort Sanders neighborhood. The news must be reported. The FBI and Knoxville police are investigating the act. But it also will be important to provide context and coverage that keeps this isolated event in perspective

S&S story touched too close to home

The story of the robbery and killing at the S&S cafeteria ended up having a lot of News Sentinel connections, First, reporter Jim Balloch was on the scene to witness the shooting and have his coat used to cushion the head of the fatally wounded man. Then we learned that a former News Sentinel employee, Michael Chesney, was a suspect.
Finally, as reporters followed the investigation on the police scanner, they were startled to realize that detectives had trailed Chesney to the News Sentinel. He had contacted the newspaper’s credit union, where he still had an account, about making a withdrawal. Although the office was closing, the employees waited so he could get his money. They had no idea they were dealing with a murder suspect.
Cindy Beck, manager of the Knoxville News Sentinel Credit Union, said Chesney “acted a little strange” when he arrived but was polite and nonthreatening. When she later learned he was a suspect in the slaying, she was shocked.
“It really scared us when we found out,” she said.
Police say they didn’t have enough information to arrest Chesney before he walked into the News Sentinel. Still, it’s terrifying to contemplate that this paroled bank robber, already suspected of a deadly armed robbery, had entered our building in search of money.
“I mean, he’d already shot one man,” said Beck. “Why wouldn’t he kill us?”
Thank goodness, he didn’t.
Within a few hours he was dead himself, shot in a gunfight with police.090410cop_shot_07_t607.jpg

Has ‘Peanuts’ run its course?

The Comics Riff blog has reported that, starting in February, the ‘Peanuts’ comic strip no longer will be syndicated by United Features Syndicate, a part of the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News Sentinel.
Instead, sale of strip featuring Charlie Brown and the gang will be handled by rival Universal Syndicate.
This is pretty much of interest only to folks in the business. Readers can barely read the tiny type on comics that says what syndicate handles each strip. But it does mark the end of an era for Scripps. For decades, ‘Peanuts’ has been one of its iconic brands, although the company recently sold the licensing rights to the characters, as well as to its many other comic strips, for a whopping $175 million.
Whether or not our parent company owned the rights to a strip has had little bearing on the News Sentinel’s decision to run it or not. Scripps-employed sales reps make their pitches the same as those from Universal, King Features and other synidicates.
But the news does give me pause to wonder if ‘Peanuts’ has run its course. Charles Schulz, its creator, died in February 2000, and there hasn’t been a new strip since then. That’s a long time to be in re-runs. Maybe it’s time for Snoopy to retire anyway.

University of New Mexico — be proud

As the University of Tennessee Volunteers look ahead to this weekend’s game against the University of Oregon, much is being said about how the Ducks’ 72-0 defeat of the University of New Mexico compares to the Vols’ 50-0 thumping of UT-Martin.
As a former UNM student, all I can say is: “Ouch.”
Granted, New Mexico is a basketball school, at least by Mountain West standards. But it does have a Division I football program that has appeared in a handful of minor bowl games over the past decade.
Khnida_playerpic.jpgAdmittedly, New Mexico football is laid back, especially in comparison to UT football. It bears the honor of having fielded the first women player to score in an NCAA Division 1-A game. Placekicker Katie Hnida did it when she hit two extra points in the Lobos’ 72-8 drubbing of Texas State University in 2003.
We had one great player when I was at New Mexico working on my master’s degree (Arizona’s my original alma mater). Terance Mathis was a brilliant receiver, becoming the first Division I player with more than 250 receptions, 4,000 receiving yards, and 6,000 yards total. He went on to have a fine career with the Jets, Falcons and Steelers and still holds some Atlanta receiving records.
The New Mexico colors are cherry and silver, which may not send the right message for football. But I suspect a more serious problem is its battle cry, which goes: “Everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof.”
Lobos are Mexican wolves, which should be a tough enough mascot. But it’s embarrasing that Ducks could hurt them so bad this year. Still, I’m confident New Mexico could take UT-Martin … at least at home.