Monthly Archives: December 2010

University of Tennessee fans react to GVX247 idea

Our announcement of a new subscription website for more in-depth Vols football and basketball news quickly drew some negative comments. The reaction is not surprising, given our past history with a paid sports site, but it also reflects a misunderstanding of our latest plan. launches tomorrow as the latest site in the 247Sports network of subscription college sites. The guys who created the network then sold it to Yahoo! are looking to duplicate their success and do even better with They are building a new national network of premium sites that already includes some two dozen stretching from Arizona to Wisconsin to Florida. They are adding sites almost every week and will have dozens more by the end of next year.
Naturally, the University of Tennessee was a must for the network, and 247Sports was going to create a subscription Vols site whether or not the News Sentinel was involved. But they liked the idea of building on the GoVolsXtra brand, and we liked the idea of partnering rather than competing with the new site.
The venture gives us a chance to build a new revenue stream. We are, after all, a business, and we produce a product to make money. As the news industry’s business model changes, it’s important to explore new opportunities. Also, the partnership guarantees more content for our print subscribers and advertisers, the folks who still are paying the bills for the bulk of our reporting. The arrangement has the effect of adding two sports writers to our print staff, and that’s a deal most editors would snatch in an instant.
Readers are concerned that we plan to gut the free site to force fans to subscribe to the new paid site. That’s not the plan. We tried that once and we abandoned it.
When we launched as a subscription site a few years ago, we moved almost all of our exclusive content — columns, videos, scoops, special reports — behind the pay wall. All that was left on were wire stories and other generic content. The strategy made the pay site profitable, but it also annoyed loyal print subscribers who wanted to go online, too, and it limited our overall reach in the market. We ultimately decided it would be better business to make all that online content free, and that judgment hasn’t changed. Our exclusive commentary, multimedia, breaking news and feature stories will stay on the free site.
So why would anyone subscribe to For the same reason that people are subscribing to 247sports sites in other cities: because they get access to a national network that features extremely focused news, information and discussion, especially about recruiting, an area of content that a national network can cover better than any standalone site.
We think real fans will continue to flock to the extensive free content we’ve got on But we also think that some especially intense fans will subscribe to, too, to get even more of the Vols. How many will that be? One post on today’s announcement story argued that “99 percent” of the comments were adverse to the new site. But since the News Sentinel has substantially more than a million unique web visitors each month, if 1 percent opted to subscribe, the site would be hugely successful.
That may take a while, but in the meantime, our print readers will benefit from more content, our regular online readers will enjoy the same content they have for the past few years, and fanatics who want even more Vols news will have a place to go for a strong, new line of content.

Paula Deen helps needy girl who wants to be chef

Mary Elizabeth Hatt, known as “Marybelle” to her friends, wants to be a chef. This Christmas the 6-year-old will be cooking with some special help.
Marybelllesf1e_t607.jpgPaula Deen.jpgThe girl was featured in one of Fred Brown’s stories profiling the folks who are being helped by the News Sentinel’s Emptry Stocking Fund. She told how she idolized Paula Deen and hoped, someday, to be a famous chef, too.
Marybelle’s family is having a tough year, so they will be one of the recipients of an ESF food basket just before Christmas. It will include lots for the aspiring cook to prepare. But Deen was touched by the story, so the Food Network diva is pitching in, too.
Her office contacted the newsroom today to find out how to send a special package to the girl and her mom. We put her in contact with the Community Action Committee program coordinator to arrange for the special Christmas delivery.
The address to send donations to the Empty Stocking Fund is 2332 News Sentinel Drive, Knoxville, TN 37921-5761. Folks can donate online, too. To volunteer call 865-342-6871

Anonymous comments embroil Scripps papers

Scripps editors have had some heated debate in recent months over allowing anonymous comments on stories. Some editors believe they are destroying the newspapers’ credibility. Others insist that comments are essential to the papers’ long-term relevance.
I fall in the second camp. I’ve defended anonymous commenting repeatedly, though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that vigorous monitoring is crucial to keeping them elevated.
CROMEENS__t160.jpgOne of my allies is Barton Cromeens, editor of the Abilene Reporter-News. He just wrote a column defending anonymous commenting:
“Rather than come up with a solution that allows for it – many times using the excuse of dwindling or nonexistent resources (both of which are very real in today’s market) – media companies are disallowing anonymous speech, relegating it to hidden corners and wrongly and shamefully taking stances regarding the value of pseudonymous conversation when compared to speech that comes from an identified source.
“Pseudonymous commentary and anonymous speech are not the problem. Media companies are.”
Cromeens goes on to outline his plans to keep anonymity alive, by training all 24 members of his staff to monitor comments, by encouraging reporters to engage in the dialog and by enforcing strict rules against obnoxious behavior.
I salute the sentiment and the commitment.

Tough for press to criticize Wikileaks

images.jpg I work for a company whose logo is a lighthouse and whose motto is “Give light and the people will find their own way.” That was called to my attention within days of joining The Albuquerque Tribune in 1977.
logo2.jpgThe Trib was proud because the symbols had originated with that paper and its crusading editor, Carl Magee, who helped expose the Teapot Dome scandal. Besieged by powerful foes, he had put the lighthouse and slogan on his front page in defiance. When Scripps bought the paper in the 1920s, it adopted the logo and motto for all of its properties.
The idea, of course, is that journalists should simply present the truth, and citizens will use that to build a better society. So what to make of WikiLeaks?
The global hack-attacks and the hunt for the lead leaker, Julian Assange, make a great story. But what should journalists think about an organization that’s indiscriminately disclosing the secrets of the world?
We media types have been proudly publishing leaks for years.

Continue reading

Agencies want 911 calls kept secret

The City Paper in Nashville is reporting that Tennessee’s emergency dispatchers are pushing to make 911 calls exempt from the state’s public records law.
“We want to protect folks from hearing the worst phone call they ever made in their life over and over and over,” Lynn Questell, Emergency Communications Board director, told The City Paper. “We’re not trying to protect ourselves,”
The dispatchers say their proposal would not prevent media scrutiny because callers could consent to the release of their 911 calls. The proposal likely will be one of many bills to close government records this coming legislative session.
Compelling arguments often can be offered in favor of secrecy. In this case, it’s easy to sympathize with the people who call 911 at times of emergency and have their desperate voices played on television. But do such instances warrant making an entire category of public records secret?
If so, stories such as these would never be told:
— A 911 dispatcher in Washington, D.C., told a buddy to interrupt a police officer who had pulled over a family member, putting the officer in danger.
— An unnamed caller described the condition on a drunk man who police in Everett, Wash., soon shot and killed.
— The staff of a dialysis center in Washington, D.C., made repeated calls to 911 warning that a patient’s blood pressure was dropping. Assurances from dispatchers that help was on the way kept the dialysis workers from rushing the patient to a hospital. But paramedics didn’t arrive for 90 minutes and the 38-year-old paitent died.
— Los Angeles police asked the public to listen to 911 tapes of a man they wanted to track down in a serial killing investigation. The caller, needless to say, didn’t give his consent.
Here’s an example, too, of a story that wasn’t told because a 911 tape was kept secret: In Virginia Beach, authorities refused to release the call the driver of a garbage truck made after he ran over and killed a man sitting in a chair on the beach. Did the call reveal anything about how the fatal accident happened? The public doesn’t get to know.
Privacy may be nice, but secrecy has its price. The media’s watchdog capabilities are diminished whenever records are closed.

Banned posters demand due process

Maintaining a civic tone in the comments section of our websites is a continual battle. Several editors share the often irksome duty of monitoring and deleting comments. Sometimes they also dispense the ultimate judgment and ban commenters who repeatedly violate our user agreement.
Often those banned commenters come back under new user names, but with all of their old comments wiped out. They start again as “rookie” users under tighter supervision. Other times, banned commenters appeal and ask for explanations of why they were booted. For instance:
“Today I discovered that I have been ‘banned’ from posting on the website and called you regarding that. You asked me to send an email with any details for your review and I am happy to do so.
banned-stamp-clipart.png“Basically, is it at all possible to ask for and receive a reply regarding why that action was taken? I haven’t even posted in several days and this action seems to have been taken for no apparent reason.
“As I mentioned when we spoke, I also notice that another poster ( cjensen#613296 ) was recently banned; but he has now been reinstated much to the chagrin of isthebearcatholic , who seemed quite proud for having him removed. Apparently, there is a review process and I would like to avail myself of it as well with your assistance.”
Typically, we have not provided any explanation or review when commenters have been banned. We have 30,000-40,000 comments a month, and it’s simply too time-consuming to get into debates over such questions. But we have, on occasion, made exceptions if we felt there were extenuating circumstances.
We continue to look for ways to improve our process. One idea is to add “karma” or “status” ratings that would reward commenters for civil behavior. A commenter who, for example, posted 500 times without being banned might move into senior status and be afforded some additional privileges, such as a review and explanation process if a ban subsequently were imposed..
We consider comments to be a very valuable dimension to our website, but one that requires considerable effort to maintain. We have conducted a community roundtable and done other research into how comments can be improved. We welcome suggestions.

Paper’s deal with Half Off Depot creates bargains

The media biz buzz this week has been over Google’s possible purchase of Groupon for $5.5 billion — give or take a billion. Groupon is a 2-year-old company that sends a deal-of-the-day coupon to some 30 million registered users. The attraction to Google is supposed to be Groupon’s reach into local markets.
But does spending that much really make sense? John Forst, a tech writer for CNBC, suggested that Google just buy Gannett, instead. Gannett is the nation’s largest newspaper company. It owns USA Today, The Tennessean in Nashville, WBIR in Knoxville and dozens of other newspapers and television stations.
Its revenue is $5.5 billion a year, it has vast local sales forces, and its operating margins are around 20 percent. Not bad for a creaky old-media company. Also, its stock is valued at a mere $3.1 billion, so Google could have it for a comparative song.
HOD-knoxville.jpgAt the News Sentinel, we have a business arrangement with another bargain-shopping startup: Half Off Depot. The company is based in Atlanta, but it has Knoxville roots. Its majority shareholder is Brian Conley, owner of Cardinal Enterprises, a local real estate development company, and former publisher of Metro Pulse.
His business model differs somewhat from that of Groupon, a collective-buying site that requires a certain number of people to sign up for the daily deal or it is canceled. Half Off Depot also has a daily deal, but it also has an inventory of other coupons offering 50 to 90 percent discounts.
These discounts are made possible through an arrangement with local newspapers that works like this: The advertiser offering the deal buys an ad in the newspaper, paying for it, in effect, with gift cards, not cash. The newspaper then sells the gift cards at a discount through Half Off Depot.
So the newspaper gets the benefit of selling advertising. The advertiser gets customer traffic, and the consumer gets a bargain.

Should story tips be credited?

An intriguing little discussion cropped up in the comments on our story about Councilman Joe Bailey owning a condemned house.
BLIGHTED02_14160.JPGWrote one commenter: “The newspaper ought to give credit where credit is due by thanking the person in the comments section that called attention to this story. I notice the paper has failed to do this.”
Answered another: “Beg pardon. The News Sentinel actually became aware of this through the Knoxviews blog site. It would be easier to keep track of these things if the newspaper would properly credit and thank its sources but that is highly unlikely to ever happen unless the paper is legally forced.”
NealRandy_jpg.JPGThe second post was referring to a post on by Randy Neal, who owns that blog: Neal said he used a News Sentinel database to spot Bailey’s condemned property, and added: “Maybe the KNS should check their own database and do a follow-up report on whether these ‘major violations’ have been addressed.” The database was posted in conjunction with a series of articles on blighted property by our City Hall reporter Rebecca Ferrar.
Should the News Sentinel have credited Neal with making that catch in a News Sentinel database? Perhaps. But that’s not typically how things are done in the news business. News organizations often have information brought to their attention by competitors, and if a reporter independently confirms the information, then credit is not given to the competitor, or any other story tipster for that matter.
In my early days as a reporter, I would arrive at work at The Albuquerque Tribune at 6 a.m. with a clipping or two from that morning’s Albuquerque Journal waiting on my typewriter. I was expected to make phone calls to match the story in time for The Trib’s first edition, which hit the streets at noon. Copying the story without verification would have been unethical. But confirming information and writing a fresh story was, and is, standard procedure.
In today’s interactive media environment, maybe that standard is changing, however, and more consideration should be given to citing sources of inspiration as well as sources of information.
But now that I think of it, by providing a way to comment on the story, and by publishing those comments, the News Sentinel ultimately did give Neal the attribution he was due. The commenters, however, used pseudonyms, so they didn’t give themselves credit for revealing that we hadn’t given Neal credit, though by revealing that shortcoming, we gave him credit. And now I’m blogging about it.
It wasn’t this complicated at The Trib shopping site gets revamped

jaguar.jpgWe launched a new version of our online automobile site,, Tuesday. The change makes the search a lot more user-friendly. Knoxcars now offers video-on-demand on all vehicle listings, and the left rail lets shoppers expand or condense their search results.
Right now the site is featuring a 2011 Jaguar XJ on the opening page. It’s available in six models, all using six-speed automatic transmission, and includes a Supersport, 510-horsepower version. If only …