Monthly Archives: October 2013

New comic ‘WuMo’ starting Monday

The News Sentinel is launching a new comic Monday. It is called “WuMo” after the names of its creators, Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler. These two Danes have been building their strip over the past eight years from an underground following to one of the hottest funnies in Europe. Now it is debuting in the United States.

wumosamples6241You could think of “WuMo” as similar to the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen — if Andersen’s works were filled with malicious beavers, suburban angst and Star Wars characters. In fact, “WuMo” is more in the tradition of “The Far Side,” Gary Larson’s iconic panel, which was discontinued in 1995.
Wulff and Morgenthaler are creative dynamos. They have a comedy website that is the biggest in Scandinavia. Their animated sitcom “The Pandas” has become so popular in three seasons in Denmark that they are in negotiations to bring it to North America. The two even won an award for the best illustrated cookbook at this year’s Gourmand Awards in Paris.
Wulff, the writer for the strip, is a stand-up comic who has done his own TV and radio shows. Morgenthaler, the illustrator, is also a movie director who is now producing a drama called “Petit” starring Kim Basinger.
The strip takes the spot of “Rex Morgan, M.D,” one of the News Sentinel’s long-running comics that have lost popularity in recent years. A soap-opera style strip, “Rex” started in 1948 and has been through a series of creators and artists since then.

Citizens with cell phones perform journalism, too

It has to be tough to be a police officer, and I’m sure that having citizens use their cell phones to video-record what you’re doing doesn’t make the job any easier.
Still, officers in Memphis were way out of line when they arrested two citizens for obstructing sidewalks after they refused to quit shooting video during separate encounters over the past few days.
The incidents point to the rapidly evolving freedom the press. That First Amendment right has raised enough issues over the past 200 years just dealing with a specific industry and profession. But now everyone carries powerful news-gathering and publication tools in their pockets. So who is “the press” anyway?
A possible answer is that it is everyone. But that raises fresh issues. Does that mean that the reporter’s shield law should apply to anyone who wants to protect the identity of a source of information? Or should press credentials be made available to everyone who wants to cover a news events, regardless of security concerns?
In recent years, the Supreme Court has found that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an individual right, not one tied to being part of group, namely a militia.
It’s obvious that freedom of the press is largely an individual right, too. But there probably have to be some laws that provide special protection for legitimate acts of journalism, whether performed by traditional journalists or not.
In any event, shooting pictures of police at a crime scene counts as real journalism regardless of who is capturing the images, and the police have no more business arresting citizens with cell phones than arresting photographers on the staff of the News Sentinel.

Email ruling creates open-government precedent

Judge David Duggan issued his formal ruling today in our lawsuit against Knox County over emails the law director refused to release because he considered them to be “personal.” Strictly personal communication on government computers can be exempt from the state’s Public Records Act. But because of subject lines, attachments and other clues, we suspected that 13 emails the county had withheld from a request last year did involve government business.

News Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester

News Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester

Duggan agreed regarding nine of the 13. Six he said were “clearly connected with the county mayor’s campaign and his statutory duty to make campaign financial disclosures.” Two others involved a federal candidate’s campaign disclosures, and the ninth email involved a grant application and was “obviously connected to the transaction of business with a government agency, viz., the City of Knoxville Community Development Division.”

Three other emails involved a county employee’s personal bank loan, and the last email was just a joke, the judge found.

What was great about the ruling was Duggan’s insistence on a broad interpretation of the Public Records Act and his finding that the business of “any” government agency invoked the law.

It has been more than a year since Tom Chester, the News Sentinel’s managing editor, first made this public records request. County Law Director Bud Armstrong has said he won’t turn the emails over yet. He has 30 days to decide to appeal. I don’t know if a story ever will come from the information. But even if it doesn’t, Duggan’s ruling sets a precedent that will advance government transparency for years to come.

Knoxnews.com launched school ‘Brag Cam’ feature

Brag Cam intro on Knoxnews.com.

Brag Cam intro on Knoxnews.com.

We launched a new digital feature today. “Brag Cam” provides the opportunity for area schools to tell about something good they are doing. In our first Brag Cam, students at Clinton High School talked about being part of the “30 Plus Club,” which recognizes students who have scored a 30 or higher on the ACT college entrance exam.

The first comment posted on the article announcing the new feature: “That is the BEST news story in a very long time. Congratulations to the 30 Plus members and the forward thinking school staff and administration that made it a ‘want-to-get’ award.”

Hear, hear!

 

News Sentinel wins right to see county emails

The News Sentinel won the right today to see most of the emails Knox County had been refusing to release under the Public Records Act because the law director considered them “personal.”
Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan decided that nine of the 13 disputed emails were public records. Three, he said, dealt with a personal legal matter and one was a joke.
The emails will be released to the newspaper after the judge issues a formal ruling in writing.
The issue began more than a year ago, in August 2012, when the News Sentinel requested copies of several emails sent or received by county computers. The county released 50 emails but refused to release 23 others, saying they were exempt from disclosure because of attorney-client privilege, because they contained protected information or because they were “clearly personal” and “not records made or received in connection with the transaction of official business.”
Because of the subject lines or the labels on attached files, the News Sentinel questioned the personal nature of 13 of the emails and filed a petition to seek a review by a neutral party.

Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong

Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong

A long series of delays ensued. First, two chancellors in Knox County recused themselves, and the case had to be assigned to an out-of-county judge. Then, Law Director Bud Armstrong challenged Managing Editor Tom Chester’s standing in the lawsuit, arguing that the law only allows “citizens” to review public records, and Chester was acting as an agent of a corporation. Then Armstrong raised another technicality, saying the mayor’s office, not his office, should have been served with the lawsuit.
The judge dismissed those arguments and ruled today on the actual contents of the emails.
The emails in question were sent to and by county officials between November 2010 and July 2012. Five were sent from Allison Beaver to her then-husband, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. The subject of the emails appears to be tied to the mayor’s 2010 campaign accounts, which contained a series of irregularities and lapses that he attempted to reconcile last fall. Two other emails, between state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and county Chief of Staff Dean Rice, also seemed to involve campaign fund reporting. Three emails were written by Burton Webb during the brief time he served as county finance director before it was revealed he was under indictment in Kentucky. The subject line of all three is “Settlement.” One of the emails is to Commissioner Jeff Ownby and carries the subject line: “Amy Broyles getting her instructions from “Jiminy Jon Lawler,” which seems to accuse Commissioner Broyles of being manipulated by the former homeless project leader. The last email is from Turkey Creek developer John Turley to Mayor Burchett and includes attachments labeled as involving a “facade grant application.”
The judge indicated that the three Burton Webb emails dealt with personal business. He did not say which email was merely a joke, but that would seem to be the one to Commissioner Ownby.

John Adams joins East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame

Our senior sports columnist John Adams is being inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame tonight at the Crowne Plaza. The annual Hall of Fame event benefits the Friends of Literacy, a terrific non-profit organization that helps illiterate adults learn how to read and provides other education services.
adamsjohnclr_John has been stirring things up in Knoxville for more than a quarter of a century, but he’s been in the writing game for quite a bit longer than that. He started writing for a weekly newspaper in Clinton, Louisiana, when he was 15 years old. He graduated from Louisiana State University and since then has been named sports writer of the year in three states: Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, where he has earned the honor six times.
John is entering the hall in the non-fiction category. Other honorees being inducted tonight are:
Quentin Tarantino for Lifetime Achievement – The Knoxville native is a world-renowned film writer and director, having been nominated for 21 Academy Award in various categories. He won Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained.
Mark Schaefer for Social Media – An internationally known marketing consultant, instructor, blogger and author, Schaefer’s book, The Tao of Twitter, is one of the top five business communication books on Amazon. He has been named by Forbes as one of the Top 50 Social Media “Power Influencers” in the world.
Karl Edward Wanger for Fiction — For 15 years Wagner edited DAW Books’ annual anthology, “The Year’s Best Horror Stories.” He won the World Fantasy Award twice, and 19 years after his death he continues to have a worldwide following.
Arthur Stewart for Poetry— A 1997 Tennessee Poetry Prize winner, his poems have been published in anthologies, literary magazines and many scientific magazines. He has won several annual writing competitions and was awarded the 2009 Wilma Dykeman Prize for essay writing.

Context important to presentation of crash photo

Last Thursday’s front-page photo of the terrible I-40 crash prompted a lot of discussion in the newsroom before its publication. The aerial photo grimly portrayed the horrific scene on the interstate after a church bus collided with an SUV and a tractor-trailer rig.

Our photo director, Kevin Martin, this week shared buscrashpagesome of what was discussed with Kenny Irby, the visuals guru at the Poynter Institute for media studies. Among the questions addressed:

“What were two or three of your major concerns about publishing the disturbing photographs that showed bodies?
“For the most part the bodies were covered with blue tarps. That was good and bad. Though they were covered, you could immediately pick out where and how many bodies were strewn across a major interstate. How much carnage do you show readers to illustrate a very significant and tragic news event? In some aerial photographs you can plainly see body parts. In other aerials, farther away, they were much more difficult to discern. In a situation like this, you’re always concerned about how readers will react. You have to weigh the responsibility to inform and educate versus the responsibility to be tasteful and respectful.”

There had been vigorous debate at our afternoon news meeting Wednesday over how the photo should be used. We decided to play it on Page 1 because it powerfully and accurately captured the tragic story. But we also took steps to place it in the context of community sadness by positioning a photo of a grieving woman above the crash picture and focusing the headlines on reaction to the loss.

As a result, there was no negative reaction to the use of the photo.

Press problems delay special Tuesday paper

pinkWe had a lot of press problems last night that delayed distribution of our special edition dedicated to the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The newspaper was printed on unusual pink paper, which was heavier and may have contributed to the series of breakdowns that delayed the press start by several hours. Some carriers who have day jobs had to postpone deliveries until this afternoon.
It’s too bad. The paper was terrific, loaded with many tributes to the courage of women in our community who are fighting breast cancer — and winning.
Incidentally, I learned today that it is just about impossible to use an iPhone to accurately photograph a pink newspaper. The phone’s camera feature, and the other camera apps I tried, auto-correct the color, making the newsprint appear as white as usual.
If you didn’t see the actual paper, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the newsprint was as pink as could be.