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A Familiar Story

A Tennessean stringer is fired after lifting copy



Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland apologized to Shelbyville Times-Gazette editor Mark McGee last week, after one of the Nashville daily’s stringers apparently lifted a few paragraphs from a story in the smalltown paper. Sutherland then dismissed the correspondent, Lisa Roose Church, who claims, oddly enough, that she never even reads the Shelbyville paper.

Last Tuesday, The Tennessean ran a six-paragraph item about Bedford County voters approving a one-cent local option sales-tax increase. That story contained almost identical wording to a longer account appearing the Friday before in the Times-Gazette. After the Scene asked Church’s editor, Jennifer Peebles, about it, Peebles investigated the incident. Church is now out of a gig.

Before she was dismissed, the Scene called Church at her Lewisburg home and read her the similar passages. She replied that the “accusation was hurtful and inappropriate.”

We’ll let you decide:

Times-Gazette: Bedford County voters approved a one-cent tax increase on Thursday, with half the proceeds to go towards retiring school debt and half to go to the city or town where the tax is collected.

Tennessean: Bedford County voters have approved a one-cent local option sales tax increase with half the proceeds earmarked for school debt and the other half going to the city or town where the tax is collected.

Times-Gazette: “Obviously, I’m pleased,” said County Executive Jimmy Woodson.

Tennessean: “Obviously, I’m pleased,” County Executive Jimmy Woodson said.

In the first example, the two paragraphs are almost identical. The Tennessean substitutes “earmarked” for “go towards,” for example, and “half” for “other half,” but that literary adjustment is not exactly like going from You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again to Pride and Prejudice.

In the second example, the quotes are exactly the same. Of course, it’s possible that the county executive gave the same nondescript comment to both reporters, right? Actually, Woodson says that neither he nor his employees talked to the Tennessean correspondent about the tax increase or anything else, for that matter.

“I probably haven’t talked to The Tennessean in the two and a half years I have been in office,” he says. Referencing the morning daily’s endless series of stories on the county’s walking horse industry a few years ago, he adds, “The only time they cover Bedford County is when they’re trying to close down the horse show.”

Also, the Times-Gazette story paraphrased comments from Barry Cooper of the Bedford County Board of Education: “...the tax increase was necessary to complete the school building program, by building a new Harris Middle School and expanding Central High School,” the story read.

The Tennessean story substitutes Cooper for “school officials,” then says that “the tax increase was necessary to complete the school building program by building a new Harris Middle School and expanding Central High School.”

Not surprisingly, Cooper says that he never talked to The Tennessean.

Times-Gazette editor Mark McGee was a good sport about The Tennessean’s apparent fondness for his paper’s reporting, saying that Sutherland called to apologize and was “very nice about it.”

Church maintains that she did not copy her story from the Times-Gazette. “I have no idea why it’s the same,” she says indignantly. “I don’t read the Shelbyville paper nor have I ever read the Shelbyville paper.”

Orange crush

Imagine a high-ranking administrator expressing her love for a prominent and very married public official, whose abrupt and mysterious resignation prompts headlines across the state. Then the administrator herself soon resigns amid controversy. That’s a good story, right? Apparently The Tennessean doesn’t think so.

Last week, in what played like an episode of Dawson’s Creek: The Later Years, the University of Tennessee released e-mails from UT administrator Pamela Reed that indicated she loved former UT president J. Wade Gilley and that described their relationship as a “dream come true.” Like Gilley, she too had resigned under scrutiny.

The Tennessean didn’t know quite how to handle Reed’s, um, e-motions. Last Thursday, reporters Michael Cass and Sheila Wissner penned a confusing front-page account saying that Reed resigned because the university was about to fire her for embellishing her résumé. Not until the jump on page 16A did readers learn about Reed’s “love” for Gilley.

By comparison, the Knoxville News-Sentinel ran two Page One stories about the Reed incident. One was a thorough account of her resignation amid a review of her apparently fabricated résumé. The second was a fair and comprehensive story about Reed’s feelings for the UT head.

While sensational on the surface, the story is important: It makes taxpayers wonder if Gilley sped Reed’s previously fast-moving career—and if the university should still consider spending tax dollars to retain Gilley as a consultant, as was planned after his retirement kicked in. Thanks in part to the story going public, those plans are now in doubt.

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