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Editorial Results (free)

1. Midtown Corner Could See Turnaround -

While Midtown as a whole is experiencing a resurgence, two properties at the key intersection of Union Avenue and McLean Boulevard remain vacant, decaying eyesores.

But a real estate agent representing the owner of the vacant office building and hotel at the southwest corner of Union and McLean says both properties are under contract to be sold.

2. Poplar Avenue Portfolio Sells After Foreclosure -

The three commercial real estate parcels that compose the Shops of Chickasaw Gardens along Poplar Avenue have sold for a combined $3.8 million following a foreclosure.

The mixed-use portfolio sold in a May 30 substitute trustee’s deed with 3181 Poplar Avenue Holdings LLC – an affiliate of special servicer CWCapital Asset Management – buying the properties from substitute trustee Robert F. Tom of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.

3. This week in Memphis history: May 2-May 8 -

1950: Among the new privilege licenses listed in The Daily News was one for Martin Stadium, 476 Crump Blvd. The ballpark was the home of the Negro League Memphis Red Sox, named for the owner of the team. The new privilege license was filed three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, although racial segregation off the field remained a fact of life for many years following Robinson’s integration of baseball.

4. Old Venice Pizza Owner Files Loan on Property -

The owner of the Old Venice Pizza Co. at 368 Perkins Road Extended in East Memphis has filed a $1.1 million loan on the property.

5. Broker’s Act to Reflect Commission Changes -

The Broker’s Act has been enhanced by our state legislature and will be signed into law this month.

The Tennessee Association of Realtors Governmental Affairs Committee recommended an important modification to the language of the “Notice of Agreement to Pay Leasing Commission,” and the Metro Memphis CCIM chapter initiated a call to action where members sent emails to state legislators explaining the importance of passing this amendment.

6. Richmond Honan Buys Quince Centre for $10 Million -

An affiliate of Roswell, Ga.-based health care real estate company Richmond Honan Development & Acquisitions LLC has paid $10.4 million for Quince Centre at 6555 Quince Road in East Memphis.

7. Collier Village Apartments Sell for $4.4 Million -

The 100-unit Collier Village Apartments at 365 Center St. in Collierville has sold for $4.4 million.

Collier Village Apartments Utah LLC – an affiliate of Salt Lake City-based Property Asset Management Inc. – bought the townhouse-style multifamily complex in a Feb. 26 special warranty deed from Collier Village Associates LLC.

8. Women Prove Mettle in Tough CRE Industry -

When Rosemarie Fair first entered the world of commercial real estate in the early 1980s, it was still a largely male-dominated profession and she felt the biting sting of disrespect.

“When you’re in property management as a female and you’re developing a Downtown mixed-use project, when you walked into a construction site the contractors and subcontractors just assumed here comes the owner’s wife, or the secretary,” said Fair, owner of One Source Commercial Inc. “The old adage back then was you had to work twice as hard to be thought of half as much and back then it was absolutely true. I had to start below zero and prove myself. And I did, and I was successful.”

9. Makino Named Music Director at Opera Memphis -

Ben Makino has joined Opera Memphis as the company’s music director. The conductor and pianist, who most recently worked with the Long Beach Opera in Long Beach, Calif., previously served as the music director of Opera Memphis’ inaugural 30 Days of Opera in 2012.

10. Five Years in the Life -

Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines has just merged with more than 150 flights a day at Memphis International Airport shifting to the Delta brand. And Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, said Memphis would be an integral hub with more traffic.

11. Beyond the Numbers -

It’s that time of year again when thick budget books dominate life for those in the Memphis and Shelby County governments.

But this year’s budget season on both sides of the Civic Center Plaza is more than line items and bottom lines on paper. The deliberations that ultimately determine how much you will pay in property taxes and at what rate go beyond the plans in the books of estimates, projections and the recurring and one-time revenue sources.

12. Panther Properties Buys Two Cordova Apartments -

Woburn, Mass.-based Panther Properties Investment LLC has bought a pair of Cordova apartment complexes – the Villas at Grays Creek and the Carrington at Houston Levee – for a combined $44.8 million.

13. Coffee, Beer Bar Coming Downtown -

Downtown residents and visitors will soon be able to grab a cup of joe, locally brewed beer and a fresh sandwich or salad in one convenient spot.

Taylor Berger, partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato, and partners Mitch Buckner (of Bella Café in Pink Palace) and Daniel Flanagan (of Chiwawa, the newly opened Southern-inspired eatery near Overton Square) have signed a lease for 2,755 square feet of retail space in the ground floor of Van Vleet Flats, 122 Gayoso Ave.

14. Launching Pad -

Eric Mathews sounded a little emotional in early February as he described what was about to happen to the organization he leads that’s at the vanguard of spurring entrepreneurship and startup activity in Memphis.

15. Breaking the Mold -

When Rosemarie Fair was named Broker of the Year in investment sales at last year’s Pinnacle Awards, she became the first woman ever to do so.

Before Fair founded One Source Commercial Inc. in 1993, she worked with Carlisle Corp. in the early 1980s on Beale Street Landing Downtown. She remembers often what her mentor Gene Carlisle taught her – “Somebody will take care of the big stuff, it’s the nickels and dimes that make the difference.”

16. Hand Family Files Loan on Local Properties -

45 W. E.H. Crump Blvd.
Memphis, TN 38106
Loan Amount: $3.2 million

Loan Date: Feb. 4, 2013
Maturity Date: N/A
Borrower: The Hand Family Realty Co. LLC
Lender: JPMorgan Chase Bank NA
Details: The Hand Family Realty Co. LLC has filed a $3.2 million loan on its Memphis portfolio, including the Anheuser-Busch distribution facility at 45 W. E.H. Crump Blvd. south of Downtown.

17. Owner Files $1.4 Million Loan on U.S. 64 Retail Center -

FairCo 64 LLC has filed a $1.4 million deed of trust through INSOUTH Bank for its strip retail center at 7601 U.S. 64 in Northeast Memphis.

18. Filling the Voids -

Last year was a banner year for adaptive reuse projects in Midtown and Downtown.

Developers announced plans for the Sears Crosstown building, Overton Square, Hotel Chisca, James Lee House and old United Warehouse in the South Main Historic Arts District. Construction began on The Pyramid, turning it into a 220,000-square-foot mega-Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World, and Memphis in May moved into its new headquarters at 56 S. Front St., a 14,600-square-foot building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

19. ABC Supply Pays $1.2 Million for Airways Warehouse -

American Builders & Contractors Supply Co. Inc. has paid $1.2 million for the warehouse at 2900 Airways Blvd. where the company operates a store.

The Beloit, Wis.-based company bought the 33,180-square-foot facility in a Jan. 14 special warranty deed from Hendricks Commercial Properties LLC, which had acquired the property in 2002 for $900.000.

20. Caylor to Lead Home Builders Through Changing Times -

Don Caylor has been in the construction business for more than three decades and has been a member of the Memphis Area Home Builders Association for just as long.

He started Summerset Homes Inc. with his brother Bob Caylor in 1982, back when out-of-the-office messages were relayed through pink “while you were out” notepads and nearby dime-operated payphones were the main source of contact while out on the job.

21. High-Stakes Game -

At week’s end, International Paper Co. appeared ready to move forward with officially applying for a package of tax incentives as part of a plan to expand the company’s headquarters in the city.

22. High-Stakes Game -

At week’s end, International Paper Co. appeared ready to move forward with officially applying for a package of tax incentives as part of a plan to expand the company’s headquarters in the city.

23. Twin Oaks Townhomes Financed for $7.1 Million -

The New York-based owner of Twin Oaks Townhomes on Winchester Road has financed the property for $7.1 million. Highland Pines Townhomes LLC, which secured the multifamily loan through Wells Fargo Bank NA, bought the 253-unit, Class C complex in October 2010 for $4.6 million.

24. Senior Sector -

The 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 were said to have remodeled society as they moved through it.

It was the baby boomer generation that drove the cultural shift to consumerism with SUVs and mini-vans. That demographic just turned 65 and real estate developers have taken notice.

25. The State of Green -

There are many shades of green.

And the use of the term “green” to describe public policies, business practices and other decisions designed to improve or sustain natural surroundings and our connection with them touches on so many other considerations.

26. Hillwood Buys Pilot Drive Warehouse -

Hillwood Investment Properties has purchased the 605,000-square-foot warehouse at 4221 Pilot Drive in Southeast Memphis for $7.5 million from Addison, Texas-based MM Industrial Memphis LLC.

27. Aren Buys SE Memphis Warehouse For $1.3M -

Trane U.S. Inc. has sold its parts distribution center in Southeast Memphis for $1.3 million.

Aren Investments LLC of Memphis acquired the 99,375-square-foot distribution warehouse at 4250 Concord Road. The company, which used a 1450 Massey Road address on the Shelby County Register of Deeds, financed the purchase with an $800,000 loan through BancorpSouth Bank. Igal Elfezouaty signed the trust deed as managing member of Aren.

28. Fair Expands One Source With New Broker, Listings -

For 15 years, One Source Commercial Inc. has been comprised of one agent: its founder, Rosemarie Fair.

29. Council Considers Sales Tax Increase -

At their first meeting since approving a city budget and city tax rate for the fiscal year that starts next month, Memphis City Council members have a full agenda Tuesday, June 19. It includes three proposed city charter changes for the Nov. 6 election ballot and lots of land use resolutions.

30. US Factory Orders Fell 0.6 Percent in April -

WASHINGTON (AP) – Companies placed fewer orders to U.S. factories for the second straight month and a key measure that tracks business investment plans fell, adding to evidence that the economy is weakening.

31. Forum Addresses Latest HUD, Real Estate Trends -

People who receive housing counseling before they borrow are much less likely to default. Research shows that 75 percent of at-risk homeowners who meet with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing counselors and attend loss mitigation programs won’t be foreclosed.

32. US Manufacturing Grows at Fastest Pace Since June -

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. manufacturing grew last month at the fastest pace in 10 months. New orders, production and a measure of hiring all rose.

The strength at U.S. factories suggests the economy is healthier than recent data had indicated. That's a hopeful sign ahead of Friday's report on hiring in April.

33. Pera, Lightman, Rainer V Take Top Pinnacle Awards -

The Memphis Area Association of Realtors Commercial Council honored the top performers in commercial real estate for 2011 at the 11th annual Pinnacle Awards gala, held Tuesday, April 24, at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis.

34. Sentinel Buys G'town Apts. for $23.1 Million -

New York-based Sentinel Real Estate Corp., working under the name VA Germantown LLC, has bought The Colonnade at Germantown apartments for $23.1 million from DMARC 2006-CD2 Wyndhurst Place LLC, an entity affiliated with Miami-based special service lender LNR Partners LLC.

35. ServiceMaster Clean Granted Dust Removal Patent -

For 30 years, Tony Loftis had been thinking about how to improve the process for cleaning offices, other commercial spaces and homes.

36. RPAC Keeps Housing On Policymakers’ Minds -

Carol Lott understands that some people have misgivings about giving money to politicians, particularly when budgets are tight.

37. Senate Passes Highway, Transit Programs Overhaul -

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted Wednesday to overhaul transportation programs and keep aid flowing to thousands of construction projects while strengthening highway and auto safety.

38. Jobs Picture Brightens, But Incomes, Spending Weak -

WASHINGTON (AP) – Steady declines in applications for unemployment aid are pointing to another strong month of hiring in February.

A healthy job market normally drives faster growth. But Americans' after-tax income actually fell in January, which led to a fourth straight month of weak consumer spending.

39. Downtown Condos Sell for $1.5M in Foreclosure -

Community Bank, North Mississippi, has bought back nine condominiums and about 2,700 square feet of commercial space at 92 S. Main St. and 96 S. Main St. in One One O’ Six Lofts Condominiums at a foreclosure sale, paying $1.5 million for the properties.

40. Client Satisfaction Key To Linkous’ Success -

Since its grand opening on May 2, 2010, Highland Church of Christ on Houston Levee Road in Cordova has been a special source of inspiration and promise for congregation member Rusty Linkous, owner and director of business development for Linkous Construction Co. Inc.

41. Hedgepeth’s Work Intersects With Council Role -

A Memphian born and raised, Reid Hedgepeth takes great pride in his city’s institutions, whether they be the tangible of medicine and education, or the more intangible of sports and politics.

42. Dogwood Finances Lots in Arlington, Bartlett -

Dogwood Properties has filed a $1.5 million loan through Independent Bank secured by eight lots in Arlington and Bartlett.

43. Natural Gas Fueling Plans May Spur Vehicle Growth -

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The United States has record supplies of natural gas and plenty of reasons to promote natural-gas powered cars, but so consumers, manufacturers and fuel suppliers haven't shown much interest.

44. Whitney Cap. Files Loan for 99 N. Main Apts. -

Memphis 99 Tower LP, an entity affiliated with New York-based Whitney Capital Co. LLC, has filed a $6.7 million trust deed through Oak Grove Commercial Mortgage LLC for The Renaissance Apartments at 99 N. Main St.

45. Green Shoots -

As the local commercial real estate market approaches the end of 2011, experts say it appears to be in line with national fundamentals for secondary and tertiary markets.

Shelby County commercial sales in the third quarter were the highest sales volume since Q3 2007, with $259 million, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

46. Crop and Go -

Take agriculture machinery from the sugar cane and cotton industries.

Add genetics from cotton, corn and soybean seed companies. Mix with some proprietary technology built around what looks like a still and you have the recipe for the rise of sweet sorghum as an element in making biofuels.

47. Agents Moonlight to Cope With Slump -

In tough times, many local real estate agents seek secondary sources of income to compensate for the market’s instability.

J. Tucker Beck has been selling real estate with Crye-Leike Commercial for 18 years. But when the market dried up in the fall of 2007, he turned to an old fraternity brother to help him line up a job at Huey’s.

48. EBay Targets Mobile Users, Hoping to Seem Hip -

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – EBay's name is synonymous with auctions, but that's created an image problem for the online marketplace.

These days, most of the things people purchase on the site aren't sold through auctions; they have fixed prices. And, the majority of items for sale are new –not musty antiques or old collectibles.

49. Coverage Expansion Critical To TDN Legacy -

Since its founding in 1886, The Daily News has been identified as the city’s paper of record, featuring legal notices and business listings that many companies, professionals and citizens have long relied on.

50. Internships Bring Value to ServiceMaster -

The junior communication analyst who called was polite and persistent. There was a decent interval between her initial story pitch to a reporter and her follow-up.

“I hope you are well and enjoying this warm weather,” she began in an initial e-mail.

51. ‘In This Together’ -

For some Memphis consumers, it’s a completely natural impulse to go out of the way to keep from going far away when there’s money to spend. Those particular consumers will run over a TCBY to get to YoLo, shove past a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix at Otherlands, Republic or Cafe Eclectic, hop over an IHOP to stand in line at Brother Juniper’s and dodge Dillard’s to suit up at shops like Oak Hall and James Davis.

52. ‘Ask ABC’ Answers Construction Questions -

The largest commercial and industrial construction association in West Tennessee is leveraging its size, resources and expertise to provide reliable and timely construction-related information to its members and the community.

53. Open Houses Create Leads, Networking Opportunities -

The return on investment of open houses has long been a debated topic among residential real estate agents.

Some seasoned professionals with a large referral base and repeat clientele opt out, while others are avid believers.

54. Prescription Drug Data Mining Law Struck Down -

WASHINGTON (AP) – States cannot stop drug manufacturers and data-mining companies from using information about the prescription drugs individual doctors like to prescribe, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

55. DuBois Pioneer In Biz Media -

When Barney DuBois helped spearhead the launch of the Memphis Business Journal in 1979, he had no way of knowing that his efforts would forever change the media landscape in the Mid-South.

56. Memphis Engineers Make Green Progress -

Environmentally speaking, Memphis engineers are making progress. Two years ago, Davis Patrikios Criswell Inc., a Memphis-based engineering firm, was in charge of the construction of the TERRA House, a structure that was built through the cooperative efforts of the University of Memphis and the United States Department of Architecture.

57. Trenarys Buy Goodwyn Condo -

Phil Trenary – who resigns Thursday as president and CEO of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines Corp. – and his wife, Bridget, have bought a condominium in Goodwyn Condominiums at 127 Madison Ave. The purchase price was $457,500, and the sellers were Michael O. Arndt and Elizabeth F. Arndt.

58. Destination King’s Tagg Honored as ‘Rising Star’ -

Mary Catherine Tagg, director of operations for Destination King, has received the “Rising Star” award at the fifth annual Association of Destination Management Executives Achievement Awards.

59. One One O'Six Lofts Face Foreclosure Sale -

Nine condominiums and commercial space in One One O’Six Loft Condominiums, 92-96 S. Main St., are facing a foreclosure sale after their owner defaulted on a loan through Community Bank, North Mississippi, according to a first-run foreclosure notice in today’s Daily News.

60. Grant & Co. to Launch Joint Advertising Initiative -

As companies reduce advertising efforts to cope with the slumping economy, Grant & Co. has created a marketing program with its vendors where they are able to pool their money together for radio advertising.

61. Cordova Strip Center Sells for $800,000 -

Cordova-based Monopoly Properties LLC has bought a strip shopping center at 990 N. Germantown Parkway from U.S. Bank NA, as trustee for Morgan Stanley Capital I Inc. Commercial Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates Series 2005-HQ7, for $800,000.

62. Chamber Preps Red Carpet for Mitsubishi -

The Greater Memphis Chamber has begun sending out invitations to an event Monday at The Peabody hotel at which a significant announcement will be made.

The invitations include the names of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. The invitations, which also suggest Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay will be in attendance, were sent out to public and private sector leaders Tuesday.

63. Methodist Acquires Wolf River Medical Office -

Methodist Healthcare has paid $1.9 million for the 10,118-square-foot medical office building at 7690 Wolf River Circle in Germantown.

64. Girl Scouts Heart of the South Buys White Station Property -

717 S. White Station Road, Units A, B and C
Memphis, TN 38117
Sale Amount: $1.8 Million

65. G.I.C.M. Finances Germantown Site -

A limited liability company named G.I.C.M. FHI has financed property at 2999 Centre Oak Way through First Tennessee Bank. The $1.2 million loan is dated Nov. 8, with a maturity date of Aug. 1, 2021.

66. 'Power of the Dollar' Campaign Stresses Local Spending -

Some great ideas are so simple that they are overlooked until an economic crisis comes along.

But the creators of a new media campaign encouraging businesses to buy from each other locally is ringing loud and clear as Memphis considers its budget woes.

67. Highland Pines Townhomes Buys Highland Pines Complex -

Eagle SPE Multi I Inc. has sold a 251-unit apartment complex built in 1970 to Highland Pines Townhomes LLC for $4.6 million. The deal closed Oct. 21.

68. BJN Finances Units in One One O’Six Lofts -

BJN LLC has financed nine units and commercial space in One One O’Six Lofts Condominiums at 92-96 S. Main St. Downtown with a $1.4 million loan through Community Bank, North Mississippi. The loan matures Oct. 15, 2011.

69. Shops at Rock Creek Sell for $4.4 Million -

The Shops at Rock Creek, a two-building, 61,000-square-foot strip shopping center built on two parcels in 2006, has sold for $4.4 million.

The buyers are Southstar Holdings UNCC LLC, with a 65 percent interest, and RC Memphis LLC, with a 35 percent interest. The seller is Wells Fargo Bank NA, acting as trustee for Morgan Stanley Capital I Inc., commercial mortgage pass-through certificates series 2006-IQ12. The buyers financed the purchase with a $3.4 million loan through First Tennessee Bank NA.

70. Mississippi LLC Buys Acreage West of Hwy. 61 -

Ensley Bottoms Farm LLC has bought seven parcels west of the intersection of Highway 61 from Belz Investco GP for $6.1 million. The purchase was financed with a $4.5 million loan through First Tennessee Bank NA.

71. New Horizon Sells for Second Time in Fortnight -

Two weeks after buying the 933-unit New Horizon Park apartments at 3619 Kingsgate Drive in Whitehaven for $2.7 million, North Star Apartment Communities LLC has sold the property for a combined $7.2 million in an internal transaction.

72. New Horizon Apartments Sell for $2.7 Million -

The 933-unit New Horizon Park apartments at 3619 Kingsgate Drive in Whitehaven sold June 30 for $2.7 million in a special warranty deed after lengthy financial troubles that included a foreclosure. The sale recorded Wednesday.

73. SunTrust Files Permit For Uptown Branch -

SunTrust Banks Inc. has filed a $720,000 permit with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement to build a 2,500-square-foot, full-service branch at 600 A.W. Willis Ave. in Uptown.

74. Trestle Capital Steps Into Downtown -

A new investment management and consulting firm is preparing to set up shop Downtown after considering spaces in Midtown and in East Memphis’ Ridgeway Center.

Trestle Capital Partners, which will specialize in marketing hedge fund investments to high net-worth investors, has signed a letter of intent to enter into a five-year lease for 890 square feet of commercial space in The Washburn, a mixed-use building at 60 S. Main St.

75. Oakhaven Office Building Sells for $341K in Auction -

The office building at 3645 Lamar Ave. in Oakhaven sold for $341,000 in a March absolute auction.

The sale closed April 15 in a special warranty deed. A partnership called 3645 Lamar LLP bought the property from Commerce Center Memphis LLC.

76. Unsung Heroes -

It’s often said that Memphis takes its musical talent for granted.

That certainly wasn’t true Thursday night at Studio on the Square, where an overflow crowd celebrated the Bar-Kays, the Stax back-up band and funkmasters who’ve survived tragedy and setbacks during their 40-year career.

77. Social Media Icons -

It’s been 46 years since Marshall McLuhan declared, “The medium is the message.”

In that time, the visionary media critic’s five-word analysis has been debated and interpreted in ways even he likely couldn’t imagine.

78. New Home Sales Hit a Low; Durable Goods Orders Up -

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sales of new homes fell unexpectedly to their lowest point on record in February, in part because stormy winter weather kept buyers away. The results pointed to the U.S. housing industry's struggle to rebound from the worst slump in decades.

79. AEL Buys Land At Century Center -

American Esoteric Laboratories has formally bought the land where it will build a $14.3 million lab and headquarters for the company’s Mid-South division.

AEL, a regional provider of clinical laboratory services to physicians and hospitals, paid slightly less than $2 million for 10 acres of land at 1701 Century Center Parkway near the junction of Interstate 40 and Whitten Road.

80. The Cost of Progress -

The development of Norfolk Southern Corp.’s $112 million intermodal yard on a former cattle ranch in Fayette County has polarized the community for more than a year.

81. Bank of Bartlett on the Mend, Execs Say -

With the book now closed on a turbulent 2009, Bank of Bartlett finds itself in the same position as countless community banks around the country.

The family-run bank took some bruising blows during the year. But the bank now appears to be off the ropes, a storyline also unfolding in the larger financial industry.

82. Commercial Property Market to Favor Tenants in '10 -

LOS ANGELES - The commercial property market is coming off its worst year in decades, and the woes are expected to deepen before a turnaround takes hold.

Experts anticipate vacancies for office, industrial, retail and apartment properties will continue to rise. Rental rates are expected to fall. And prices, already down 40 percent from the peak of the market in 2007, are projected to decline even further.

83. Bloomingold LLC Buys Three East Memphis Lots -

Bloomingold LLC has bought for $2.2 million two parcels on Reese Road and one on Kirby-Whitten Road. The seller was Double A Oil Co. LLC. The sale closed Dec. 29.

84. Whitehaven Clinic Sold, Leased Back by Renal Co. -

RAI II LLC, a local affiliate of Nashville-based Renal Advantage Inc., has sold its recently completed renal clinic at 4185 Pace Road in Whitehaven for $1.5 million to a St. Louis company called BanBan South Memphis LLC. The sale closed Dec. 17.

85. Lending Biz At a Standstill -

Rick Wood, senior vice president for Financial Federal Savings Bank, recently gave a speech about the drastic decline in institutional lending for commercial real estate loans.

86. Shelby County’s Malls Fight Tax Appraisals -

In a sign of the rattled state of commercial property owners amid the lingering downturn, the owners of most of Shelby County’s major shopping malls are contesting their 2009 property appraisals.

The new values, which will determine the properties’ tax bills, were sent out earlier this year as part of the 2009 countywide reappraisal of property. The area’s five most prominent shopping centers – Wolfchase Galleria, The Avenue Carriage Crossing, Oak Court, Raleigh Springs Mall and Southland Mall – all saw their appraisals rise this year.

87. SunShine Car Wash Slated For Poplar and Colonial -

SunShine Carwash Partners LLC has bought the parcel at 4831 Poplar Ave. in East Memphis with plans to build a tunnel wash facility there. The company on Oct. 30 paid $500,000 for the property from BCH Investments LLC and on the same day filed a $1 million loan through Landmark Community Bank.

88. Goodwyn Condos Sold Back to Bank for $4.5M -

The Goodwyn Condominiums at 127 Madison Ave. Downtown has sold back to the lender, First Tennessee Bank NA, following a foreclosure of 21 of the 18-story building’s 24 condo units. First Tennessee paid $4.5 million for the unsold units and neighboring commercial space during an Oct. 21 substitute trustee’s sale on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse.

89. City Mayoral Transition Yields Crowded To-Do List -  

Memphis Mayor-elect A C Wharton Jr. will be appointing a new city attorney once he takes office next week.

Elbert Jefferson, the city attorney Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery tried to fire just minutes after taking the oath of office on July 31, Friday sent a second resignation letter to Lowery. The two met for an hour Sunday evening at City Hall and Lowery accepted Jefferson’s resignation.

Jefferson’s attorney, Ted Hansom, and city Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons were also present. Jefferson turned in his key card, the keys to his city car and his laptop.

“The drama is over,” Lowery said Monday. “For my part, I wish it had never happened.”

Dramatis personae

In a resignation letter last week to Wharton, Jefferson had expressed hope that he would be hired for some position in the new administration. Over the weekend, he used the same text in the new letter but addressed it to Lowery instead. He requested the city pay his legal fees as well.

The resignation letter to Lowery made moot an ouster suit filed by Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons. Criminal Court Judge James Lammey, who was to hear the case, reset a final report to Oct. 27, citing Jefferson’s departure.

“A hearing on the issue of suspension would be an inefficient use of judicial resources, of the state of Tennessee and of the resources of the city of Memphis, and considering (Jefferson’s) current health status, would be an unnecessary tax on (Jefferson’s) well-being and a possible threat to his health,” Lammey wrote in the court order.

Jefferson was scheduled to return to City Hall from sick leave Monday. He apparently believed the new mayor would be in office by the time he returned.

An audit of city financial affairs is standard procedure in a change of administrations. Wharton is naming team members to review the offices of the city attorney, human resources and finance and administration. He was also to name members of his transition team Monday.

Time-, battle-tested

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter and Methodist Healthcare executive Cato Johnson will head the team.

The other members are:

- Herman Morris, attorney and 2007 candidate for Memphis Mayor.

- Tomeka Hart, Memphis Urban League CEO and Memphis school board member.

- Jim Strickland, attorney and Memphis City Council member.

- Rev. Dwight Montgomery, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis chapter President.

- Jose Velasquez, Latino Memphis former executive director.

- Nisha Powers, Powers Hill Design Inc. President.

- Paul Morris, attorney and former chairman Center City Commission.

- Douglas Scarboro, The Leadership Academy vice president.

- Steve Reynolds, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. CEO.

- Diane Rudner, Plough Foundation chairman.

- Darrell Cobbins, Universal Commercial CEO.

Johnson has more experience serving on such task forces and ad hoc committees than any other leader in the city’s corporate community. Most recently, Johnson was one of two business leaders on the ad hoc committee exploring single-source local funding for education. He also served as a leader of the Mid-South Fairgrounds renovation committee and has been involved in similar capacities with every major construction project for a civic use in the past 15 years.

Carpenter’s appointment is certain to fuel speculation that he might be tapped for some role in the new administration. However, Carpenter has already been holding fundraisers in anticipation of a bid for re-election to his commission seat in the 2010 county elections.

Wharton is tentatively scheduled to take the oath of office Oct. 26.

The Shelby County Commission also meets that same day and could receive Wharton’s resignation and declare a vacancy in the county mayor’s office with a vote to appoint Wharton’s successor-to-come in November. Until that vote, County Commission Chairwoman Joyce Avery will serve as interim mayor.

“It will be a day in which I come to work at one place and leave work from another place,” Wharton told The Daily News.

But the Shelby County Election Commission will meet earlier than expected -- Thursday afternoon -- to certify the Oct. 15 election results. Once the results are certified, Wharton is free to resign as Shelby County mayor and take the oath as Memphis mayor.

Cooperative efforts

Meanwhile, Wharton has asked City Council Chairman Harold Collins to consider delaying a council vote today on the five appointees the city mayor is to make to a metro charter commission. The council set today’s vote with the intention of having whomever won the Oct. 15 special election appoint members of the panel.

“I won’t be there on the 20th. … I’m seeing if they are in a position to put it off until I’m actually over there,” Wharton told The Daily News, as he has had attorneys researching if a council vote in November would meet timelines for such an effort set out in state law.

“I believe that they may be able to meet on Nov. 3,” Wharton said.

Wharton has already named the 10 appointees to be made by the Shelby County mayor to the panel. The County Commission approved all 10 earlier this month.

While it appears he will make the other five, Wharton said he will ask the council, through Collins, to effectively pick the five nominees, whom Wharton would then send to the council as his appointees.

“I chose all 10 over here, which I had to do by law. If I could find some way around it that passed legal muster, then I would do that,” he said. “But we’ve researched it and I know of no way in which the city mayor can say … ‘I’m not going to do that.’ You can’t transfer it.”

Wharton and Lowery were to discuss the matter at a meeting Monday afternoon. Lowery told The Daily News he had received no suggested appointees from council members, but would be willing to submit names the council wants on the charter commission.

...

90. Fed Minutes: Officials Saw Recession's End in Aug. -

WASHINGTON (AP) - With the U.S. economy on the mend, Federal Reserve policymakers last month felt comfortable slowing the pace of one of its economic revival programs and not changing any others, according to documents released Wednesday.

91. Commercial Real Estate Pocked by Financial Ruins -

Commercial real estate deals used to be hammered out in boardrooms, but with the rise of foreclosures in that sector, many of them are now being negotiated at the courthouse.

The steps of the Shelby County Courthouse proved to be a hot spot for high-dollar, high-profile commercial deals in June, a month that saw the most lucrative transaction and two of the top three sales occur following foreclosures.

92. CIT Shares Jump as Lender Seeks Rescue Financing -

NEW YORK (AP) - CIT Group Inc.'s shares doubled Friday as the commercial lender held talks with several large banks about securing emergency financing in hopes of avoiding a bankruptcy filing.

93. CIT Won't Get Bailout, Raising Bankruptcy Prospect -

WASHINGTON (AP) - CIT Group Inc. shares tumbled more than 70 percent Thursday as its inability to get emergency government funding raised expectations that the commercial lender will file for bankruptcy protection.

94. Geithner Says Force of Global Recession Receding -

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Tuesday his country had a "special responsibility" to help guide the world through its worst recession in decades, and stressed that while a recovery was ongoing, setbacks were likely.

95. Stricter Labeling Urged for Bottled Water -

Consumers know less about the water they pay dearly for in bottles than what they can drink almost for free from the tap because the two are regulated differently, congressional investigators and nonprofit researchers say in new reports.

96. CCC’s Ramped Up Incentives Target ‘Fragile’ Market -

The name of the game is feet on the street.

New and existing retail businesses Downtown, as well as office tenants who need to make physical improvements, stand to benefit from changes the Center City Commission has made to its grab bag of financial incentives.

97. Reed White Files Permit For G’town Office Building -

Reed White Holdings LLC has filed a $495,000 permit with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement for new construction at 9055 Forest Centre Drive. The permit was applied for this month.

98. Fred Smith Talks Green: Helps the environment and Fedex's bottom line -

Fred Smith is going green. In the case of the FedEx founder, however, it’s a different shade – something like military fatigue green.

99. Need for ‘Greener’ Vehicles Echoes Earliest Innovations -

It’s been more than 100 years since Henry Ford rolled out the first Model T automobile, a mass-produced, gas-powered wonder.

100. Deadline: What it's Really Like Inside the City's Big Daily - EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Dries was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal from June 1997-October 2005. This story is based in part on his experiences there and more recent conversations with other CA staffers.

The fall evening six years ago when Chris Peck became the editor of The Commercial Appeal was treated with utmost secrecy inside the newspaper at 495 Union Ave.

Then-publisher John Wilcox was determined to prevent leaks of that night’s decision to any other media outlets. So not only would the choice be a secret to those outside the building, but inside as well.

Then-Metro editor Charles Bernsen camped out in his small office at one end of the newsroom with the blinds drawn across its large window. He emerged just before the regular 11 p.m. deadline to tell editors on the copy desk he was sending the story, written from home by a trusted reporter.

The article by Tom Charlier in the Oct. 9, 2002, edition described Peck as “a veteran journalist who built a national reputation for innovative leadership and unblinking coverage of difficult topics” as the editor of The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash.

Otis Sanford, the CA’s deputy managing editor and the other finalist for the top job, was promoted to managing editor. It was the first of many changes in the past six years to the newspaper’s masthead, where its top leaders are listed.

New era dawns

Peck arrived in Memphis shortly after the article and, although he would officially take over in January after Angus McEachran’s retirement, there was a great deal of anticipation – and, uncharacteristically for a floor full of reporters – not much background checking on Peck.

Before selecting Peck, executives of the CA’s parent company, the E.W. Scripps Co., had set up a committee of CA employees and solicited their opinions on what they wanted to see in the next editor. Many said they wanted a new direction at the newspaper.

Peck came to Memphis from a short stint as the Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He had served as editor at the Spokane Spokesman-Review just prior to the academic post.

Peck left that paper on the heels of a journalism controversy that got little play outside the Northwest and continued to linger as recently as two years ago. It concerned financing for a large public project involving the newspaper’s owners.

Meanwhile, hopes were high among some CA staff members that Peck would change the dysfunctional management style at the paper. Others believed no creative undertaking the size of a newspaper is possible without some level of dysfunction. And still others were leery about any optimistic assessment for any reason.

Bernsen was among the first to leave the CA after Peck’s hire. Louis Graham, who had been expected to head the Metro desk even if Sanford became the new top editor, replaced Bernsen.

Six years later, departing and current staffers describe the CA’s management style and newsroom atmosphere as “toxic.” They also complain that little has changed in terms of who runs the newspaper on a daily basis despite a frequent shuffling of the management chart.

None would talk with The Memphis News on the record for fear of reprisals. Even past staffers didn’t want their names used because of the prospect of doing freelance work for the newspaper. Those still in the newsroom and on the payroll wouldn’t talk on company phones.

Profits and losses

What ails The Commercial Appeal has a lot to do with what ails the newspaper industry in general these days. But that’s a black-and-white version that misses large colorful splotches unique to the institution.

Decisions made during the past six years to pursue a growth strategy targeting “suburban” readers, as well as longstanding practices for managing talent, have also helped bring the newspaper to where it is today.

Managers at the newspaper, in separate interviews with The Memphis News, insist it is stable, profitable and will remain a seven-day-a-week operation despite recent moves that severely cut the reporting staff, eliminated classified ads from the already thin Monday and Tuesday print editions and an admission that the newspaper probably won’t be covering less urgent topics in the future.

Asked if the demise of classified ad sections in the Monday and Tuesday editions could be a sign that the Monday and Tuesday print editions might vanish entirely, publisher Joe Pepe was unequivocal.

“No. That’s not going to happen, at least under my tenure here,” Pepe said. “A lot of the transactional classified business is done online anyway. Everything that you see in the paper every day of the week is also online. So putting the Monday and Tuesday (classifieds) online was essentially just a way for us to save on some newsprint costs while not taking away from the advertising.”

The CA is profitable, Peck and Pepe insist, although they won’t release any numbers.

“We’ve projected a profit for 2009,” Peck said. “We were profitable in 2008. So, I fully expect we’ll be profitable in 2009.”

Pepe responded, “Absolutely,” when asked if the CA is profitable. When asked if he would be more specific, he replied, “No. Good try.”

Doing less with fewer

The newspaper is not alone in its reluctance to give out specific financial data. Most businesses consider such information to be proprietary.

The optimistic assessment is in contrast to a letter subscribers got this month from Karl D. Wurzbach, vice president of circulation, saying subscription rates would go up by $2 a month effective Nov. 1.

“This is the only way we can continue to deliver to your home every day,” he wrote. “This increase is across the board, for everybody, with no exclusions.”

Wurzbach’s letter also noted that the CA had dropped home delivery to 11,600 subscribers in outlying areas during a five-month period. The weekday newsstand price had already increased from 50 cents to 75 cents.

“It was costing us more money to print and deliver than we earned in revenue,” he said in the letter. “No company can survive using that business model. … Simply put, we are making very difficult decisions to help our business survive.”

Both moves in the appearance and delivery of the paper came in the week after 20 reporters and editors faced the ultimate “difficult decision.”

The newspaper made the decision of whom to fire using a controversial system that ranks reporters in the particular section of the paper they work for. The key to the ranking is not reporting ability or even a byline count; it’s how a reporter gets along with his or her editor. It had already been a key to longevity at the CA before Peck arrived in Memphis and made it a formal part of employee evaluations.

“You have to grieve those who are no longer with us in a genuine way because they were great contributions,” Peck said. “But you really at that point also have to rather quickly turn your attention to the task at hand. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

But the veteran employees “grieved” by management are the same employees management had ranked as the least valuable in their respective departments.

That included Jimmie Covington, the longest-serving reporter at the paper until his dismissal in March after years of being shuffled from one suburban bureau to another. Covington was a veteran of the county government and Memphis City Schools beats.

The layoffs also included Frederic Koeppel and Christopher Blank, who provided much of the newspaper’s arts coverage and who apparently won’t be replaced with full-time reporters.

There’s now no mention of the “master narratives” Peck once included in his “blueprint” for the CA. They included long-form stories on race, the city’s musical heritage, barbecue and the river. It was to be a departure from the newspaper being what Peck referred to as a “news utility,” or all-purpose paper of record.

“What we have to do is prioritize our staff resources,” Peck said just weeks after 20 people in the CA newsroom either resigned or were fired in the latest series of cutbacks – the deepest to date for the editorial staff. “I think where that’s going to lead is making sure that we have the nuts and bolts of hard news coverage. That’s probably police reporting, court reporting, government reporting, school reporting. We want to make sure we’ve got those bases covered.”

Whatever is left of a full-time reporting staff will be devoted to issues and institutions such as FedEx, the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team, the Memphis Grizzlies, the economy and the medical center.

“If we run out of people at that point, then we’re going to turn to freelancers and more community-generated content,” Peck said. “I think we’ll be able to fill a lot of holes there if we need to and I think it will work out fine.”

Wanted: free (or reduced) labor

Pepe offered a basic definition of citizen journalism.

“All blogging is citizen journalism,” he told The Memphis News. “In a lot of cases it’s unsubstantiated. It’s not objective. It’s not edited content. It leans more toward opinion and subjectivity. Anytime we have citizen journalism, it’s still going to get edited. It’s still going to get verified. It’s going to get checked for facts before we post it. We apply the same rules to citizen-sponsored journalism as we do to our top line reporter.”

Sanford said citizen journalism “has its place” and has been discussed since the early 1990s. It shows up in the pages he governs in the form of opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Non-newspaper employees also serve on the CA’s editorial board.

“Now, I am a traditional, old-fashioned journalist,” Sanford said. “And I believe that while citizen journalism has its place, I’m not one – and maybe this is an old-fashioned view – but I’m not one to think that citizen journalism can ever take the place of the traditional journalism that I know and love. I just don’t believe that.”

The names of reporters and photographers cut in the most recent round of layoffs are already turning up in CA coverage as freelancers. Instead of a straight name with “The Commercial Appeal” below it, their names now appear with the phrase “special to The Commercial Appeal” and, of course, they receive no health benefits or regular paychecks from the newspaper.

Worldwide wakeup call

Before Peck’s arrival in Memphis, the CA was more than out of touch with the need for an Internet presence. The newspaper was hostile to such a move.

Posting a story on the Web site that was anything more than a teaser paragraph before the actual newspapers rolled of the presses and into delivery trucks was seen as handing the story to the competition.

It was a philosophy that had served the newspaper well in competing with television news, even with the rise of 24-hour cable news channels.

However, there have been consequences for being late to the Internet party, and financial consequences for not taking the Internet seriously.

“Right now all the revenue is generated off advertising,” Pepe said of print journalism’s gradual realization that it needed to be in the Web business as well. “Until search engines are firewalled – until all local media either together or individually start charging for content online – it’s going to continue to be a source of non-revenue in terms of content. That then means that revenue for all Internet ventures will be based on advertising.”

After Peck arrived, the move to unique content for the Web site was still slow in coming.

Editors exerted the same multi-tiered control over copy that might mean a story was not edited for Web or print until later in the day, closer to the print deadline.

Scraps often erupted over how copy was edited after it left the editors and went to the “new media” department. It might be a change in a few words or a new, snappier lead (first sentence), but some editors clearly didn’t like having their work changed as much as they might have imagined reporters liked having their work rearranged.

Reporters are expected to take such changes without protest, and protests are rare even when edits distort meaning. Reporters can always fall back on the excuse that the story got messed up after it was out of their hands.

But that brings into play another rule for newsroom survival – always, always make a hard copy of the story you turn in to your editor.

The anonymity of snark

The comments section on www.commercialappeal.com, where readers may post their thoughts at the bottom of stories, has been wildly successful if you look just at the number of comments some stories generate in a short amount of time.

But success isn’t the word that comes to mind if you start to read the comments on a regular basis.

They routinely crackle with racial tension and even racial slurs. When some staffers complained about the slurs and called for better policing of such comments, Peck reportedly asked for a list of what slurs should be considered cause for removing comments.

Sanford had a different take in March as he spoke at a University of Memphis panel discussion about race and the media.

“Please stop reading those comments,” Sanford told a crowd of 100 people on campus. “You’ve got … anonymous people who go on our stories … and make unbelievably goofy and stupid comments. And then that becomes, unfortunately, the reality. And we have to stop that. We can’t stop the comments because the Web people have told us, ‘Well, that’s how you get people in there.’ But please don’t listen to that.”

To civic groups and even individual citizens who contact the paper with complaints and concerns, Sanford is its face, voice and ears. When the CA participates in media forums, chances are the speaker will be Sanford.

For the past two years, Sanford has been in charge of the paper’s editorial board and Viewpoint section. It’s a position that evolved after editorial page editor David Kushma’s departure, when Kushma’s duties came to be included in Sanford’s.

“That just didn’t work right,” Sanford told The Memphis News. “We had a lot of discussions about this. Corporate was even involved in it. We agreed that the editorial pages, Viewpoint, the editorial board – we would sort of restructure the newsroom operation and the editorial board and the editorial opinions of the paper so that would fall directly under the publisher and I would be running that. I think that was a good thing to do.”

That means that Sanford works for Pepe, not Peck, as he did when he was managing editor.

Gum-popping good times

Peck met with each reporter in his office shortly after he arrived in Memphis. He appeared to be taking notes on a legal pad as he listened to their comments and suggestions.

However, trying to find Peck’s strategy over the years has been no simple matter. There wasn’t much beyond slogans that included “rebuilding the jet while flying it” or “building a 21st century newspaper.” The latter phrase was still being used six years into the new century.

One reporter who tried to get into Peck’s head in terms of management philosophy hit a brick wall with a thud, although he is still employed at the CA.

On that occasion, Peck was in no mood to discuss philosophy despite a casual-sounding e-mail asking if the reporter had a few minutes to talk. Instead of a dialogue, Peck gave the reporter $50 in cash and a list of books he could buy to read. He also sent the reporter back to the night cops beat for objecting to how a story was edited.

The editorial page and op-ed page were the first parts of the paper that changed. Peck wanted more letters to the editor. He also wanted to stop the practice of rigorously fact-checking letters.

This drew dissent from Kushma, who was eventually overruled and left in the first round of buyouts in 2003 that followed Peck’s arrival. Some of the other changes were in the Metro section – the hard news engine of the paper.

Reporters were switched around, which is a normal part of life at the city’s daily newspaper unless you are declared immune from such changes. The six or seven Metro editors were immune for the most part from the changes.

The newspaper’s home office in Cincinnati had long maintained that the paper was top heavy with such editors. Peck talked a lot about change, but didn’t change that.

At one of Peck’s first meetings with the Metro staff, a reporter asked Peck when there would be changes for the editors as well. Peck’s answer was to talk about Dentyne gum and how the company that makes it had allegedly improved its sales figures by repackaging the gum.

The analogy was that the CA was going to undergo a similar repackaging: What was under the wrapper would remain the same.

For weeks after the meeting, fellow reporters left numerous packages of Dentyne on the questioner’s desk.

Before Peck answered the question, some staffers remained hopeful because they saw most of the problems with the new management as a result of Peck having to answer to John Wilcox, the CA’s publisher. It was a key difference in the management structure.

Before Wilcox’s arrival, McEachran had served as editor and president – a title that gave McEachran near absolute power over everything the newspaper did, editorially and otherwise.

The Dentyne story showed that if there was a struggle between Wilcox and Peck, it wasn’t much of a difference of opinion. They essentially agreed on a newsroom strategy that continued to unfold.

Neighborly gestures

Of those at the top of the masthead, only Sanford has seen all of the changes unfold from one regime to the other.

“In terms of news, certainly the newspaper has changed dramatically under Chris,” Sanford told The Memphis News. “There have been significant changes in focus and really in newsroom culture.”

Asked to characterize whether the change has been good, bad or indifferent, Sanford said, “I’m not going to say. I’m going to let others decide that. The readers can determine that.”

Peck’s take on newsroom culture at the CA is almost as neutral.

“The culture is not one where people are necessarily beaming with big smiles every day because it’s a difficult time in the industry,” he told The Memphis News. “I think that I have tried to be very realistic with people with what’s going on in the business – and very realistic about our expectations of what we need from our staff, from my office all the way down to the last person who leaves at night.”

The Neighbors sections were abolished with Peck’s settling in – sections included every Thursday for each zone of the city that also contained honors rolls of all schools in and out of the zone, and other such listings. It had the kind of items that readers might like to cut out and post on their refrigerators. No matter where you lived in Memphis, you got a Neighbors section.

Peck wasted no time in making the refrigerator postings a rallying cry for what was to replace Neighbors. They would be hyper-local sections that would contain only news about that part of the county. Some would be written by a staffer, but most often written by citizens in that area. Often, the citizens were members of a group or organization that was the focus of the piece.

Soon the philosophy began to apply to the news that appeared in other parts of the particular delivery zone.

Not every section of the city got a suburban edition. Vast sections of North and South Memphis as well as Frayser and Raleigh were out of the loop.

Peck first pleaded ignorance to and has since repeatedly denied a central tenet of life in Memphis. Memphians often have family that might live in another part of town. Thus someone Downtown might want to see the honor roll of Tara Oaks Elementary School in Collierville or someone in Bartlett might be interested in what is happening in Arlington.

This often led to readers wondering what they missed in other parts of the city, and being suspicious of only receiving certain news.

New suburban bureaus were opened as full-time postings in Mississippi and Arkansas and state Capitol coverage from Jackson and Little Rock, respectively, was abandoned. Meanwhile, the newspaper’s greatest success in a suburban edition was being changed to make it fit the cookie-cutter mold of the new suburban bureaus.

Escape hatch

The newspaper’s DeSoto County edition opened late in McEachran’s tenure. It was one of the few times McEachran talked about marketing studies as he explained a concept to the newsroom. But it was because the data were clear.

DeSoto County readers wanted a newspaper that covered North Mississippi and did not mention Memphis, at least on the front page. The DeSoto County bureau had a separate sales and management staff. And the CA edition delivered in DeSoto County had its own front page that was DeSoto County-centric. It was even called The DeSoto Appeal. And it was a hit out of the box, with plans to duplicate the model in Tipton County while maintaining a different model within Shelby County because of the differences in attitudes clearly shown in the marketing study.

Peck wasn’t interested in the distinction.

When Pepe arrived as publisher in late 2005, the CA got someone with experience in such suburban editions. Pepe came to Memphis from St. Louis, where he headed the Suburban Journals – a collection of 38 weekly community newspapers.

Pepe said the CA’s suburban business strategy as modified several times over has worked. That strategy is to get advertising from small businesses in the community receiving the directed section – businesses whose reach and revenue can’t sustain a pitch to the paper’s larger audience.

“In St. Louis, they’ve been in place for 50 years,” Pepe said. “So they were humming. Here, we’ve had them in place for three or four years. I would suggest that if we’d not done this, that we would have even greater financial problems, only because the dependency on the larger advertisers would have been even greater than it is.”

“Zoning,” as it’s called, is now a three-day-a-week proposition.

“We still do zoning Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. We have a suburban, urban and a DeSoto zone. I think that’s where we need to be,” Peck said. “What we’re trying to do is balance the best of both worlds. Make sure our readers have the best of what’s going on in greater Memphis, but that we also provide a degree of zone content that is either geared toward the metro area, the suburbs or DeSoto County.”

But the practice has been much different than the theory behind the advertising and the needs of news consumers. As valued as the suburban coverage has been throughout Peck’s tenure, the bureaus have been places where reporters with troublesome attitudes toward editors have been exiled.

It was the next destination for many of those summoned for personal meetings with Peck as the first round of buyouts began in late 2003. In some cases, reporters have welcomed the assignment to be able to get out of the Downtown newsroom.

In the doghouse

The first round of buyouts under Peck in 2003 was brutal – even more ham-handed and graceless than anyone imagined possible. And the CA is not an organization noted for having an optimistic outlook.

All employees who were older than 40 and had been at the company 20 years or more got packets outlining the terms of the buyout. But within that group, Peck singled out about a dozen copy editors, reporters and photographers, including some of the most senior reporters and photographers in the organization. He had already begun discussions with several in the group who had been ill or had surgery.

Each got an e-mail from Peck asking if they had a few minutes to talk in his office. Peck would later quarrel with an assertion that he had threatened those in the group in the one-on-one talks. But he did tell each of them that if they didn’t take the buyout, they would be assigned more onerous duties.

One was told that if he didn’t take the buyout, he would be working nights and weekends. When the employee said he already worked nights and weekends, the meeting ended abruptly. A features reporter and another reporter each were told they would be working the night cops beat if they didn’t accept the buyouts.

The night shift started at 4:30 p.m. and ran until 1 a.m. or so. It involved listening to a police scanner and checking for such news that had to be written on deadline. The night cops reporter is the only news reporter on duty at the paper after 5p.m. unless there’s a late City Council meeting or someone on dayside decides they are on a roll and continues working.

Most papers have the night cops beat, and it is usually where beginning reporters start. It’s a good way to learn the basics of print reporting and determine whether a reporter can hold up under deadline pressure. At the CA, it is a beat assigned to reporters who are out of favor – firmly, decisively and usually terminally out of favor.

Under Peck, even summer interns don’t have to work night cops.

The Newspaper Guild, the union that represents reporters, photographers and copy editors, took the unusual move of passing a resolution that complained about Peck’s singling out employees. The same day the union passed the resolution, Peck called into his office the reporter who had made the proposal. I was that employee.

“I would really like for this not to find its way to Cincinnati,” was his reaction after he quarreled over whether his other talks with employees had amounted to threats.

The guild membership had voted unanimously for the resolution to be sent to Scripps management in Cincinnati. Peck later talked union leaders out of sending it, despite the membership vote.

Some of the squeezed employees took the buyout. Others stayed and were shuffled out to the suburban bureaus the following August, and were among those laid off this past March.

‘Treacherous ground’

The guild’s idea of a protest was to have reporters in the newsroom wear green on certain days of the week. This signaled that contract negotiations weren’t going well or weren’t going at all.

It’s been six years since the last labor contract expired that included guaranteed annual raises. Then the guild went to the idea of wearing green buttons – no words on the buttons, just green buttons that Scripps brass in town would see during their visits to Memphis. The brass never got near the newsroom. Still later, the guild kept the idea of the green color scheme but added the wording “We All Merit A Raise” to protest the company’s proposal of merit pay raises instead of a percentage raise guaranteed in the contract.

At one point, the guild was optimistic that the company was getting the message. So the guild urged members not to file grievances against management to keep the goodwill going.

In October 2007, the most visible sign of dissent in years came outside the framework of the guild and stalled contract talks. As the CA prepared to publish a series of articles on the impact of Memphis businesses around the world, a lead piece about FedEx to be sponsored by FedEx was ordered rewritten and the reporter, Trevor Aaronson, refused. The newspaper had approached FedEx about sponsoring that particular piece. Dozens of staff members, in a rare public move, signed a petition objecting to the practice Peck referred to as “monetizing content.” They felt it crossed the line separating the editorial part of the newspaper from sales. National trade magazines and blogs, which normally overlook the CA, took note of the flap.

Peck retreated, telling Editor & Publisher, a print trade magazine, “I went to our publisher and said, ‘We have probably gone half a step more than we should have gone on this project.’ It is treacherous ground when you start talking about having an advertiser in a section that has them in the reporting.”

Aaronson later left the CA, but has been quoted as saying he enjoyed the freedom he was given to pursue his own interests.

“I don’t care to talk about my experiences there,” Aaronson wrote in an e-mail.

The favored few

The stage for the latest round of layoffs that came in April was set with the release of fourth-quarter figures for Scripps.

Profits were way down. The chain ended the year with its share prices down 51 percent or $22. The chain announced it would freeze the pension plan, cutting 401(k) matching funds from the company. At the CA, the 401(k) match has always only applied to managers.

Mark Watson, head of the triumvirate of labor unions at the CA, including The Newspaper Guild, broke the news about the layoffs, calling it a “crisi-tunity.” He was among those laid off weeks later.

The weekend after the announcement, Peck in his Sunday column once again lectured about the hard economic times.

From the start, Peck’s quest was to garner favorable attention within the city and in journalism circles across the country by winning awards. At first, he touted every award the paper won, which, for writing and reporting, were usually the monthly Scripps awards from the home office in Cincinnati.

But he later reversed that and said the paper should note only awards of national stature. Photographers regularly won those, but reporters didn’t.

When some reporters complained their work was always excluded from consideration, Peck directed that reporters submit on a monthly basis any work they wanted to be considered for award entries.

Those suggestions were then forwarded to the very editors who had been excluding their work in the first place and who remained in control of contest entries.

Like other newspapers, the CA’s approach to awards is sometimes to deem a story to be eligible for an award, possibly before the first interview is done or the first word is written.

But a contest entry had to have the right byline as well – the right reporter doing a story for a contest was usually not the one covering the beat from which the story arose.

Pamela Perkins, who left the paper voluntary in the November 2008 round of layoffs, along with music writer Bill Ellis, who left in 2005, won a national award in 2004 from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri for their continuing coverage of the return of Stax Records and the surrounding Soulsville neighborhood in South Memphis. Their writing won first place in the arts and entertainment category of the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards.

There was no companywide e-mail congratulating them as there had been for awards in the monthly Scripps competition.

Stephen Price’s work as one of several reporters working on the deadly shooting of a child on Rosamond Avenue in 2002 caught the attention of Florida’s Poynter Institute, a leading journalism think tank. Other reporters deemed more worthy were praised the next day in the inevitable self-congratulatory e-mail in which management separated those it favored from those it didn’t.

Price had blended into the neighborhood crowd as police cleared reporters from the area, came back with the story no one else had and wrote it on deadline.

The Poynter Institute carries a lot of weight in Peck’s newspaper philosophy. Several times, he’s used Poynter fellows to mediate discussions with community leaders about the newspaper’s policies. But when Price’s account of the shooting aftermath in the Rosamond neighborhood was reprinted in Poynter’s annual anthology of the nation’s best journalism of the past year, CA management once again did not acknowledge the accolade.

Curious ideas

As the 2004 presidential season began, Peck revealed an important part of his views on political coverage to an editors’ forum in Washington. It was the same night as the Iowa caucuses.

The remarks to the American Press Institute gathering didn’t get much publicity, even after they showed up on an industry blog. It took a few more months. He never said anything about it to anyone who worked at the CA.

Peck said having reporters cover campaign events was a waste of time and resources. Instead, he said citizen journalists should cover the events – those who were already going to attend the rallies anyway.

“We have to get over the notion that we have to do it all ourselves,” he told Chad Capellman of API as he talked of having editors find volunteers to write summaries of what was said. “It’s not doing the democracy any good to send out a reporter to write down a regurgitation of what a candidate is saying in a staged event.”

Peck also said newspapers should compete with comedy shows such as “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live” as a source of political information. Also, Peck called for focus groups of readers to determine what issues should be discussed.

“Don’t let the candidates drive coverage of the three issues they want to ride to get elected,” he told the API group.

Being the newspaper’s political reporter had been a difficult posting for some time, even before Peck arrived in Memphis. Bernsen had a checkered history of political coverage that turned into a deep distrust and contempt for politics when he became the head of Metro.

Each election season he would dutifully call those assigned to political coverage to his office and haul out a set of his own news clippings, which he said illustrated the kind of reporting he wanted. Under no circumstances, he insisted, would the candidates be setting the agenda for the newspaper’s coverage.

Such tension is normal in the planning of most media coverage of politics. It’s a game candidates, their representatives and the reporters who cover them play constantly.

Bernsen’s decision was not to play the game at all. He did not want coverage of campaign events and rallies. And the end of an election meant the end of political coverage. Any attempt a candidate made to establish or give voice to an issue was uniformly rejected even if it obviously hit a nerve with voters. To him, the whole process was rigged and the newspaper’s view was the only valid one.

There was supposed to be a wall between the reporting that was allowed on the political process and the endorsements of candidates that the CA editorial board made. Most candidates interested in the newspaper’s endorsement never believed there was a wall. If there was, they reasoned, editors not on the board would still find a way to limit or tilt coverage of those who weren’t endorsed.

Prism of perception

The CA began 2009 with a curious 15-part series that recapped the public life of Mayor Willie Herenton.

Herenton has had problems with the newspaper throughout that public life. And similarly, the newspaper’s leadership has had problems seeing straight when the subject was Willie Herenton.

The paper’s until then consistent political coverage was missing in action when Herenton launched a surprisingly strong-willed bid for mayor in 1991. Editorially, the newspaper had strong reservations about the People’s Convention that Herenton took by storm, clearing the first political obstacle in what became a historic campaign.

His willingness to participate in the convention, whose goal was to come up with a consensus black challenger to incumbent Dick Hackett, put off those in the newspaper’s front office. It translated to next to no coverage of a campaign effort that was on the streets every day, while Hackett pursued the local equivalent of a rose garden strategy of speaking to small groups at select backyard parties.

When Herenton won, the ambivalence turned into hostility.

Herenton had a good relationship with several reporters who had covered his tenure as city schools superintendent – even through the sexual harassment lawsuit that came near the end of his tenure there and just before his entry into the 1991 mayor’s race. (The harassment case stemmed from a relationship Herenton had with a teacher.)

Those reporters had to walk a fine line. A favorable comment by Herenton in public that got back to editors could mean that reporter would be perceived as biased toward Herenton. The problem many reporters had with walking the tightrope was editors increasingly viewed a reporter’s duty to the paper as a requirement to shank their sources in print to show where their loyalties lay.

The editors were convinced a 2005 recall petition mounted by radio talk show host and blogger Thaddeus Matthews would succeed. They considered it a foregone conclusion that Matthews would gather more than enough signatures on the petitions and do it well before the deadline to file with the Shelby County Election Commission.

The newspaper’s planned coverage moved past the recall drive itself. The editors ordered up a piece on who was likely to run in the recall election that followed. They approached at least two reporters with the task before the effort flagged just enough for the piece to become an article on who might run for city mayor in 2007.

The fact that politicos across the city were still waiting to see if the 2006 county elections would offer any opportunities didn’t cross their minds. Calls to those politicos were met with widespread laughter and wonderment at the eccentric methods afoot at the CA. The petition drive failed and Matthews backed Herenton’s 2007 bid for re-election.

Distance learning

By this past February, CA management signed off on a content-sharing agreement with fellow Scripps paper The Knoxville News Sentinel, as well as The Tennesseean newspaper in Nashville and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Feb. 5 agreement was already in effect by the time an internal memo from News Sentinel management surfaced in early March in Editor & Publisher.

The CA and the Knoxville newspaper had used such a strategy for years in covering politics. The result was that the CA continued to do without any local political coverage beyond biographical pieces introducing candidates.

Statewide races for governor and the U.S. Senate were covered from Knoxville or by the CA’s Nashville bureau chief, Richard Locker, or in some cases by Bartholomew Sullivan, a former CA reporter who now works for the Scripps News Service’s Washington bureau. That meant candidates for statewide office coming to Memphis were usually covered before they got to the city or after they left.

The agreement was most visible during the 2006 U.S. Senate race between Republican Bob Corker of Chattanooga and Democrat Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis. One of the campaign’s crucial events was a showdown between the two at Memphis International Airport.

Corker had called a press conference there. Ford crashed the event ahead of time and the two faced off in the airport parking lot – a few inches from each other with television cameras and microphones surrounding them.

There was no CA reporter in the press pack. Sullivan covered what became known as the “parking lot debate” from the D.C. bureau.

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