Monthly Archives: November 2010

News Sentinel promoting Madeline Rogero?

It was interesting to see some of the comments on our series about Knoxville’s blighted properties accusing us of touting Madeline Rogero’s mayoral candidacy:
rogero_mc13903_t607.jpg“What is this, advertorial Sunday? This Ad brought to you by the Rogero for Mayor Campaign and the KNS,” wrote one commenter.
“Boy, the KNS is certainly pushing Rogero to be the Mayor aren’t they?” wrote another.
Rogero is the city’s director of community development, so she naturally would figure in a comprehensive report on Knoxville’s fight against trashy property.
There’s no question she is a well-qualified candidate for mayor, too. But there are several. What’s ironic is that when she ran against Bill Haslam in 2003 the News Sentinel endorsed Haslam — but was accused of biased coverage by both sides.

Sea-rescue story made a gripping yarn

rescue4_t607.jpgThe Knoxville News Sentinel doesn’t get many lost-at-sea stories, but the one on Thanksgiving Day about Central High graduate Amanda Thorns’ survival of a disaster that killed her father was a humdinger. The writer, Hayes Hickman, won praise from the woman’s friends and family in Knoxville, who provided the tip on the story.:
“Our sincere thanks for your assignment of this story to Mr. Hickman. He did a magnificant job,” wrote Rick Miller and Stephanie Wayland, Amanda’s mother. “I hope that he will be recognized for a far more complete and human story than those in other papers.”
So here’s recognizing Hayes’ for his fine job.

News Sentinel doing more database journalism

During November, News Sentinel stories employing database journalism will have been featured every Sunday of the month.
On Nov. 7, it was an examination of sex offenders. Working with our colleagues at Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, we analyzed the Marshal’s Service’s efforts to track down the 100,000 convicted offenders who were not reporting their whereabouts as required by law.
On Nov. 14, we looked at how contributions to congressional campaigns correlated with sponsorship of legislation benefitting the alcohol industries.
On Nov. 21, an analysis by Tom Hargrove of our Washington team used FBI computer files to reveal patterns of serial killings that local agencies had overlooked. Authorities in Indiana, Ohio and Nevada opened new investigations as a result.
Steve_Ahillen_2.JPGThis Sunday, Steve Ahillen, our own data guru, is crunching three databases — “311” complaint calls, code citations and delinquent property taxes — to identify the slumlords and negligent owners who are trashing Knoxville by letting their properties go to ruin.
Steve was our longtime executive sports editor until last year, when he jumped to the new challenge of assembling and analyzing our databases, overseeing much of our in-depth reporting and supervising each week’s Sunday edition. He also has posted dozens of new databases on Among them are government salaries, political donations, state pensions, problem gas pumps, restaurant ratings and red light camera violations. The new serial killers database is particularly intriguing, Users can enter their own search criteria, then the application displays maps and graphs to see if there’s a pattern.
Steve also maintains a blog, Data View, , where he shares the latest on our computer-assisted reporting efforts.

Hamilton accuses Sentinel of ‘sensationalization’

Athletic Director Mike Hamilton used Twitter to criticize the News Sentinel’s Sunday story about disagreement within UT over changing plans for a new football weight room.
hamiltonbarknoxville14_mc_t120.jpg “Today’s KNS article about FB training center is a blatant sensationalization of facts. Coach Dooley never asked for $9M in changes.”
The $9 million figure was initially used in our July 28 story about the changes and was attributed to Bill Myers, chief financial officer in the Athletic Department. The original budget for the project, according to a May 7, 2010, UT document, was $39 million “Total State Building Commission Cost.” The revised budget, according to a July 9, 2010, UT document, was $48 million “Total State Building Commission Project Cost.” The revisions included adding square footage, a second floor lobby and “Peyton Manning Room” and an exterior Hall of Fame Plaza. There also were additions for fees and equipment.
Hamilton may have a point in saying that Dooley didn’t specifically ask for $9 million in changes. Dooley asked for changes, and, as the project was re-examined, $9 million was added to the budget. Myers said the university hopes to keep the additional cost below $9 million, but UT wanted that amount approved by the State Building Commission in case expenses ran high.
Regardless of exactly how the increases to the budget came about, I still think the project is a major one worthy of significant coverage. In fact, compared to the coverage we’ve given the debate over a new Carter Elementary School, which would cost a quarter of that amount, I don’t think our stories about the new football weight room have been overblown at all.

UT objected to use of Charlie Anderson e-mail

The University of Tennessee asked the News Sentinel not to use information about Charlie Anderson’s involvement in a dispute over a new $48 million football training facility.
Charlie_Anderson_1.JPGThe UT trustee had sent Athletic Director Mike Hamilton an e-mail revoking an $8 million donation because Hamilton had turned down coach Derek Dooley’s request to add a friend as a consultant on the project. Hamilton forwarded the e-mail to then-UT president Jan Simek and several others inside and outside the university, noting: “This is a major problem.”.
UT released the e-mail to the News Sentinel after we made a public-records request for documents related to Dooley’s desire to change the weight room plans. But later UT contacted the newspaper saying it had goofed — the Anderson e-mail should not have been released. Catherine Mizell, UT’s general counsel, sent a letter saying records of gifts to the university with donors’ names are not open to public inspection. She asked that the News Sentinel “not publish this information released in error.”
We decided to go ahead with publication for several reasons:
* Although the record did reveal information about a donor, the e-mail was not created as a record of a donation. It was a record created as part of a debate over a public construction project.
* Anderson was acting as a UT trustee, as well as a donor, when he wrote the e-mail. He acknowledged that later in an interview, saying, “It’s absolutely essential to what a trustee should do. Even if it’s not a personal gift involved, you should still ask questions and be actively engaged and involved.”
* Although the law says these records “shall not be open for public inspection,” the university often discloses such information, as it did earlier this month at the groundbreaking of the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center. In this case, too, Hamilton already had forwarded the e-mail to people outside the university.
It’s anybody’s guess as to how this argument would have gone in a court of law. But that doesn’t matter. Having obtained the information, we were under no legal obligation to suppress it, and in our journalistic judgment, the direct involvement of a trustee in decision-making on a controversial public construction project was unquestionably a public matter.weight_t607.jpg

Text alerts are quick way to get news

One of the quickest ways to get Knoxville’s latest news is through text alerts. textalerts-9503-87427339a301.gifThe service is free. It takes only a minute or two to sign up, and you can chose the alerts you want from a broad menu that includes breaking news, sports, school closures, Amber alerts, severe weather, lottery numbers and much more. We send about 60-65 alerts each week, but that covers all categories. So you won’t be slammed with text messages if you just sign up for one or two types of alerts.
One thing to remember, though, is that you need to re-register if you change phone service. I recently switched to an iPhone, and re-registering for text alerts reminded me of how easy the process is

Election commissioner’s autopsy sealed

We finally got the report on the autopsy of the Jim Miller, the chairman of the Monroe County election commission, who was found dead in the trunk of his burning car four months ago. At least we got part of the report.
Banner.pngThe district attorney went before a judge and had the original report sealed. A redacted report then was released under the Public Records Act. I assume the judicial authorities are acting in good faith. They just want to do the best they can to preserve the integrity of their investigation. The autopsy must reveal some clues they consider harmful to disclose.
Still, it rankles. The coroner ignored our public-records request for weeks, not even offering a response, which is a violation of state law. Then, when we wrote a front-page story about the stonewalling, the DA went before a judge to have the document sealed without giving us the courtesy of having our attorney present.
We now would have to petition to have the order reversed, a motion we’d likely lose. So we’ll let matters stand as they are. But we’re going to put a note in the tickler file for six months from now. If the investigation is still stalled, we’ll argue that revealing the secrets of the autopsy can only benefit a case that is going nowhere.

Medal of Honor story underplayed?

A letter-writer complained that we ran Prince William’s engagement announcement on the bottom of A1 today but ran the awarding of the Medal of Honor to the first living recipient since Vietnam inside the paper.
medal-of-honor-1149a_grid-6x2.jpg“It is with true disappointment that I write a letter to your paper, you posted a story of a royal engagement on the front page and ran the story of the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since Vietnam on A8. Sad day for all Veterans in your market, that a royal announcement is front page and a living American hero is relegated to A8. The Medal of Honor is the highest award that is given to a member of the armed forces, in years past these men were hailed as hero and recipients of parades in New York and toured the country, today he is a blurb on A8. I had hoped for more out of American news coverage and as a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom I am filled with sadness over our place in society.”
The writer overstates the case a bit. The Medal of Honor story was more than a blurb; It was the centerpiece of our World/Nation page. But his larger point is valid. If I had it to do over, I’d swap those two stories, or find another way to get the Medal of Honor winner on A1.

Nashville bureau chief faces DUI sentence

Tomorrow’s News Sentinel will report that Tom Humphrey, our Nashville bureau chief, will serve a two-week jail term and go through an alcohol rehabilitation program after pleading guilty to a charge of DUI second offense in Rutherford County
We expect Tom to be back at work by the first of the year and to resume his Humphrey on the Hill blog at that time.
We take this issue quite seriously, as we know Tom does, and we are very hopeful there will be no similar problems in the future.. writer cranks out $100K a year

jodijill_130166414190_3183031_n.jpgHere’s a scary example of what’s happening in the information business these days.
A writer for says she is making close to $100,000 a year by cranking out 120 articles a week, while never working more than 35 hours a week.
Jodi Jill may be a fast writer, but I guarantee that, if she is producing a story every 17.6 minutes, she is not doing ANY actual reporting.