Monthly Archives: January 2011 parody causes confusion

Parody can present problems in newspapers, as the News Sentinel’s new feature shows. is a weekly item in the entertainment guide. It was inspired by The Onion, the highly successful national satirical news site. Freelance writer Kevinnotsville-logo340x120.jpg
Saylor uses the spot to poke fun at local trends by making up a fictional news events. We think the item is sufficiently labelled as parody to avoid confusion. After all, it’s called Notsville, and in print the logo features a Sunsphere winking at readers. Online, the feature carries the message: “ is a parody project that rearranges the truth with eccentric stories you won’t find anywhere else.”
Still, folks seem to take the news seriously. A couple of weeks ago, an item about a man shooting his house when it caught on fire rather than calling 911 was picked up and distributed by websites that deal with firefighting and other emergency actions. More recently, an item about cooties triggered a flood of calls to Knox County Schools. That caused so much confusion that we took the item off the website.
Granted, putting things that are untrue in the newspaper isn’t what we usually do, and maybe in the long run will prove to be a bad idea. But I’d hate to think we can’t experiment with content and, maybe, inject a bit of humor into what can sometimes be a pretty grim run of news.

Coverage of elephant tragedy raises concerns

The Knoxville Zoo is holding a memorial service Saturday for Stephanie James, the zookeeper who was killed in an accident with Edie the elephant. a couple of weeks ago. The family did not want the media to attend, and the zoo contacted us to make sure we would not try to cover the event. We assured officials we would not. It’s strictly our policy to respect family’s wishes in such situations.
james-elephant_t160.jpgThe death was a tragedy, and our coverage drew some criticism. One letter writer felt a follow-up story about the handling of elephants at the zoo was poorly done:
“I am concerned that the reporter would use a quote from Catherine Doyle, elephant campaign director for In Defense of Animals, a California based animal welfare group, concerning Edie. The story quoted her as saying ‘I believe this elephant knew exactly what it was doing, but I don’t believe that should be the focus.’ How does a woman that lives in California, who has never met Edie and definitely was not there during this terrible incident know that Edie did this intentionally?
“Furthermore, has the reporter no respect for Stephanie James’ parents? They place no blame and amidst their grief asked that donations be made to the Knoxville Zoo in her memory. The reporter writes about the elephant not being punished and I ask isn’t the elephant already being punished, she is in captivity. In the second to last paragraph the reporter writes about the death at The Elephant Sanctuary that happened in 2006. The last sentence in that paragraph is “That elephant wasn’t punished.”
“The last paragraph was about the “state’s most notorious elephant-related death that happened in 1916, when a circus elephant, Mary, killed her trainer in Kingsport.” I’m truly unsure why this would be the most notorious, considering that I asked around today and nobody had even heard of it, but most did remember the death at The Elephant Sanctuary. The last sentence ‘Authorities hanged Mary with a chain from a railroad derrick in Erwin, Tenn.’ I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth after reading this article.”
We certainly meant no disrespect to the James family. Through the years, our staff members have had quite a bit of interaction with the zoo and with Stephanie. But a follow-up article asking questions about the procedures for handling elephants at the zoo was a necessary part of our coverage.
As to the hanging of the elephant Mary, the event was widely publicized at the time, and plays and a song have been written about it. A photograph of the hanging received wide circulation, and the occurrence unfortunately contributed to the nation’s image of East Tennessee for many years.

Haslam series begins Sunday

On Sunday, we begin publishing a five-day series examining the Haslam family’s rise to prominence in East Tennessee. Last year was a remarkable year of achievement for the family. Bill Haslam was elected governor and brother Jimmy executed a merger that sealed Pilot’s dominance of its industry and locked in its place as one of America’s largest privately held businesses. Patriarch Jim Haslam ended the year by celebrating his 80th birthday.
0116cynthia02_asb_.JPGThe Haslams gave the News Sentinel considerable access in its reporting, which was led by writer Josh Flory, photographer Amy Smotherman-Burgess and web producer Lauren Spuhler. But the family naturally had no role in the direction of the series.
Because of the great influence the Haslams wield in Knoxville, critics of the News Sentinel sometimes allege that they control the paper’s news content. That, of course, is untrue, and the upcoming series looks at the downs as well as the ups in the family’s history. Nonetheless, I expect there will be criticism simply of the fact that we are devoting so much space to the subject.
I think the project is quite worthwhile, however. The Haslams have been ascending in importance in Tennessee for many years, but last year they reached pinnacles of power in both business and politics. Their rise is a uniquely East Tennessee story, and one well worth telling.

National media was first, and wrong, in Tucson

I talked to my sister and mom, who live outside of Tucson, for the first time last night. I loved one of their observations about the media. They were watching sports when news of the shooting broke, and they began flipping channels, keeping up with developments. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the shooting took place in the neighborhood where I grew up, so they were especially interested.
Soon they were frustrated with the local media, which seemed to be falling behind on developments. CNN had a picture of the suspect, and NPR was reporting that Rep. Giffords had died. The local reporters had nothing of the sort.
Oops. Turns out the picture, taken from a Facebook page, wasn’t really of Jared Loughner and Giffords, of course, was still alive.
Score a couple for local journalists, who typically are more careful — and caring — when tragic stories hit their communities.

Sports photography a News Sentinel strength

jones_t607.jpgIt’s easy to overlook our sports photography because it is so consistently top notch. But readers notice. I often get messages such as this one praising a particular photo:
“The article in today’s News Sentinel, 1-8-2011, is well written and I enjoy reading your work; to add to the story, the photo is fabulous! Please thank Adam Brimer for the picture showing Jones blocking Pearl. It’s a beautiful emotion-filled shot that practically tells the story by itself. The fact that the ties are still swinging makes it a “hoot.” Please plan to enter it in sports photography competition–it’s a winner! Thanks to all of you for the good work.”
Adam, Michael Patrick and Amy Smotherman Burgess shoot a lot of our sports assignments, and they are all hugely talented. Amy won the Best of Scripps award for her portfolio in the most recent contest period.

Tucson shooting hit close to home

The Tucson shooting was of particular interest to me because it happened in the neighborhood where I grew up, the Casas Adobes area of Northwest Tucson.
congresswomanshot14_t300.jpgA lot has changed since I left Tucson 35 years ago, but the Casas Adobes shopping center, where we bought groceries during my childhood, still exists. I remember monitoring traffic there at the intersection of Ina and Oracle roads while working on my Safety Merit Badge for Boy Scouts. From where I stood I would have been looking across the street directly at the shooting scene.
It has been surprisingly hard to get some information I’d like about the shooting — especially the names of the people wounded in the attack. I’m curious to know if one of the victims might, somehow, be someone I once knew. Apparently, though, those names have not been released.
I Googled “Tucson shooting” on my iPhone as soon as I heard the news. The search immediately produced a link to I was amazed to see that someone had created that domain name so quickly after the attack. But today I dug a little deeper. The website actually was registered in 2002 and is part of a network of gun blogs. In other words, it’s about recreational shooting in Tucson.
The site has posted a video explaining that its server was overwhelmed and crashed shortly after the shooting occurred.

Mila Kunis, Peyton hot Knoxville searches

One metric we glance at each day is what Yahoo! search terms are seeing spikes in the Knoxville area. It’s an indicator of subjects that might be of immediate interest to our readers.
book_of_eli_mila_kunis_poster.jpgThis past week the hot search terms were:
1. Mila Kunis
2. HGTV Dream Home 2011
3. Peyton Manning Divorce Rumors
4. Paula Abdul
5. Mega Millions

New cameras will mean more video

A big box recently arrived in my office. It was full of new Nikon D3S cameras. Each of our photographers will be supplied with one, as will all the other photographers in the E.W. Scripps Co.
nikon2.jpgThe D3S is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment that shoots high-quality video as well as stills. We’re also distributing two types of microphones with the cameras, so our photojournalists will be fully equipped as videographers when they are on assignments.
It will take a while to get everyone trained and comfortable with the equipment, and to smooth out the production workflow. But within a few weeks, we should have quite a bit more video to present on our websites.
It’s another example of how news is changing, and media are converging in the digital world.