When Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, recently agreed to buy a number of small Middle Tennessee papers, including The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, some local political types thought they saw a silver lining behind the giant Gannett cloudthe departure of publisher Gene Washer.
Veterans of two of last year’s statewide campaigns said that the Clarksville publisher had not-so-subtly suggested that the amount of coverage a candidate could expect was directly linked to buying ads in The Leaf-Chronicle. “I wanted to talk about issues,” one angry candidate told an aide after meeting with Washer, “and he kept showing me the rate sheet.”
Meetings between candidates and publishers are a campaign tradition. The parties discuss the issues of the day and perpetuate the illusion that the paper will endorse whoever makes the best presentation. Washer readily acknowledges he uses these meetings to discuss advertising and that he sometimes makes the pitch himself. He vigorously denied any implication that candidates who bought ads would receive more news coverage.
“They misinterpreted what I said,” Washer told the . “You can’t buy our news coverage. Anyone who thought that was wrong.” On the other hand, “We give each candidate a marketing presentation and tell them how we can help get their message out to the community” through advertising.
said they were unaware of any cases where Washer had tried to influence the paper’s election coverage. “He can be pretty aggressive about marketing ads,” one employee said, speaking confidentially. “I guess that’s how some people got the wrong impression. But he’s never told us what stories or candidates to write about.”
Washer could improve The Leaf-Chronicle’s reputation by sticking to political issues during candidate interviews and leaving the heavy-handed salesmanship to his advertising manager.
The publisher declined to comment on any aspect of the Gannett takeover. “All I know,” said another employee, “is that they’ve called and asked for a subscription.”
E. Thomas Wood is leaving The Tennessean effective Sept. 1 to work on a couple of book projects. E. Thomas (not to be confused with Tennessean sports writer Tom Wood) has reported business news for about a year-and-a-half. He’s also done free-lance work for the and written a book, Karski, detailing the efforts of a Polish Holocaust survivor to alert the U.S. during World War II.
One of Wood’s better pieces was his 250-inch investigation of the questionable background, ethics and finances of Nashvillian-for-a-day Richard Osias. Newly arrived from Hawaii, Osias quickly announced his presence by building what he boasted was the city’s largest private home, the one with the fountain on Hillsboro Road just south of Harding Place. Shortly after Wood’s story, Osias sold the house for $2 million less than he was asking and left town.
♦ Another Tennessean reporter, Tini Tran, is now working at the Mercury News in San Jose. A Vietnamese refugee who fled the country with her parents in 1975, Tran returned to Vietnam this spring and wrote a moving series of articles about changes in the country and her own family since the war’s end. The California paper, whose circulation area includes a large Vietnamese community, saw the series and offered Tran a job.
♦ Elizabeth Murray is leaving the Nashville Business Journal to join the three-person staff of Lee Smith’s Tennessee Journal, starting Aug. 28. A former Tennessean staffer, Murray broke the New Jersey Devils story in March and was the first reporter to expose the embarrassing feud between Gov. Don Sundquist and the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission.
♦ Thursday is Sarah Schulte’s last day as a reporter for WSMV-Channel 4. She starts Oct. 9 as a general assignment reporter for WCAU, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia. Schulte turned down an offer from Fox-owned WAGA in Atlanta. A person who takes journalism seriously, she made the right choice.