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Editorial Results (free)

1. Real Estate Experts Look at Impact of North Mississippi -

Six years after the real estate bubble burst nationally, the recovery of the commercial and residential sectors in Memphis is slower than in other parts of the country. But they are recovering on their own new terms, say the incoming president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, the president of the West Tennessee Home Builders Association and a mortgage lender.

2. Fueling Film -

FuelFilm, a nonprofit that wants to serve as a launch pad of sorts for independent filmmakers and to kick the Memphis film industry up a notch, is ready for its close-up.

The organization has already seen a productive 2014 and is moving forward with big plans for the 5-year-old nonprofit. Already, for example, it’s raised more than $40,000 in outside funding and supported the creation of more than two dozen short films and five features, not to mention the 35 workshops, panels and events it has run.

3. Wine Referendums Down to Final Day -

The deadline for signatures to be gathered on the still-forming proposed referendums to allow wine in grocery stores is Thursday, Aug. 21.

The deadline for candidates to file in the set of Bartlett, Germantown, Collierville and Millington municipal elections on the November ballot is at noon the same day.

4. FedEx Could Face $1.6 Billion Fine for Drug Shipments -

Starting around 1998, Internet pharmacies – some of which did not require a doctor’s visit or prescription – began proliferating online, turning a corner of the Web into a black market bazaar for prescription pills.

5. Memphis Bar Judicial Poll Released -

The Memphis Bar Association poll of attorneys on the judicial races on the Aug. 7 ballot shows 16 percent to as high as 38 percent of the attorneys participating have no opinion in many of the judicial races.

6. More ‘Unicorns,’ More Rosenfelt -

When I wrote about the 2014 Little Rock Film Festival, I reviewed, in three paragraphs, “I Believe in Unicorns.” This just in from that film’s director, Leah Myerhoff: “I appreciate your thoughtful response to the film. However, [please] make one correction: the lead actress is Natalia Dyer, not Amy Seimetz.”

7. New Rosenfelt Novel Delivers -

David Rosenfelt has done it again! Kept me in my chair for two whole hours, that is. Once I got to page 100 of “Without Warning,” I had to just go ahead and finish it. You know, to see how it would end.

8. Miller Named Partner at Signature Advertising -

Kevin Miller, creative director at Signature Advertising, has been named a partner at the Memphis-based agency. Miller joined Signature more than 10 years ago as a senior copywriter and has won numerous awards for creative excellence.

9. Jones, Reaves Look to Commission Terms -

For David Reaves and Eddie Jones, the 2014 election year is over.

10. Schools Demerger Reflects Cooperation, Competition -

For now, Shelby County’s seven public school systems are cooperating and competing with one another often at the same time on the way to the demerger of public education in August.

The same dual existence is playing itself out between the Shelby County Schools board and parents of children who have attended schools about to be in the suburban school systems but who live outside the six cities and towns.

11. Shelby County Party Heads Look Ahead to Primaries -

As Shelby County Democrats try to improve on losing every countywide office to Republicans in the 2010 county elections, party leaders are also warning political figures who identify as Democrats not to cross party lines.

12. Oxymoronic and Iconic -

The phrase “civil war” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. And, of course, it’s generally used to refer to open hostilities between factions that occupy a common geographical sphere.

13. This week in Memphis history: February 21-27 -

2013: The Salvation Army Kroc Center opened at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

1974: On the front page of The Daily News, Albertine McCrory developers announced a 1,500-home planned community at Interstate 40 and Whitten Road called Hillshire. The plans called for single-family homes, townhouse condominiums, garden apartments, duplexes and commercial areas as well as an office industrial park for an estimated 12,000 people or a community about the size of Parkway Village at the time.

14. Trustee to Hold Workshops for Delinquent Taxpayers -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir has announced the 2014 schedule for the Project H.O.M.E. (Home Ownership Made Easier) financial literacy workshop series, increasing the number of workshops from 11 to 15.

15. Trustee to Hold Workshops on Delinquent Taxes -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir has announced the 2014 schedule for the Project H.O.M.E. (Home Ownership Made Easier) financial literacy workshop series, increasing the number of workshops from 11 to 15.

16. Judicial Campaign Season Emerges With Different Rules -

Fundraisers and other campaign events for judicial candidates are difficult.

Sometimes there are more candidates for other offices at them than citizens with no direct political interest who are undecided on who to vote for. And more so than in any other field of candidates, judges are limited by ethics in what they can say when trying to persuade someone to vote for them.

17. The Economy in 2013: Naughty and Nice -

Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s dedication to increasing your net worth, 2013 will go down as one of the most prosperous years on file. Stock prices have increased more than 20 percent and U.S. home prices have increased nearly 15 percent. These gains hit national headlines, but the gains for back-page asset classes are equally impressive.

18. Affordable Care Act -

On Oct. 1, a new shopping website will launch in Tennessee.

Much like Amazon.com, it will offer a place where consumers can compare products from different sellers and buy the one that best suits their needs.

19. County Trustee Lenoir Runs for Re-Election -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir’s campaign website and Facebook page went up Thursday, Sept. 12, signaling his intent to seek a second four-year term in the 2014 county elections, starting with the May 6 Republican primaries.

20. County Trustee Lenoir Runs for Re-Election -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir’s campaign website and Facebook page went up Thursday, Sept. 12, signaling his intent to seek a second four-year term in the 2014 county elections, starting with the May 6 Republican primaries.

21. Commission Appoints Avant To School Board, Keeps Shafer As Budget Chair -

Shelby County Commissioners appointed Shante Avant, a mother who has worked for the Women’s Foundation and other local nonprofits for 17 years, as the newest members of the countywide school board.

22. Commission Appoints Avant To School Board, Keeps Shafer As Budget Chair -

Shelby County Commissioners appointed Shante Avant, a mother who has worked for the Women’s Foundation and other local nonprofits for 17 years, as the newest members of the countywide school board.

23. County Commission to Fill School Board Vacancy -

Shelby County Commissioners bring the countywide school board up to its full strength of seven members Monday, Sept. 9, by appointing someone to the open District 6 seat.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

24. US Requires Car Makers to Offer Data About Recalls -

DETROIT (AP) – Starting next summer, U.S. consumers will be able to search a giant database to find out if their cars or motorcycles have been recalled and if the vehicles have been fixed.

25. August 9-15, 2013: This week in Memphis history -

2010: Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. announced Tobey Park would be the site for the city’s first neighborhood skatepark. The $440,000 project was completed and opened in November 2011.

2008: Grays Creek residents and others in Cordova began organizing opposition to plans for a new Walmart Supercenter on the northwest corner of Houston Levee and Macon Roads. The project would later be voted down by the Shelby County Commission.

26. ‘Unleashed’ Delivers -

I’ve written before of David Rosenfelt, whose 10th Andy Carpenter novel, “Unleashed,” has just been unleashed – uh, released. Andy Carpenter is a fictional solo-practitioner in Paterson, N.J. He’s independently wealthy, via inheritance and an early-career jackpot judgment in a civil case.

27. Ady Joins Ballet Memphis as Ballet Master -

James Ady has joined Ballet Memphis as ballet master. In his new role, Ady will teach morning technique classes, assist with community outreach programs, and rehearse and coach dancers for upcoming performances.

28. Events -

ArtsMemphis will present the Stax to the Max music festival Saturday, April 27, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. outside the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore St. Admission to the festival is free; discounted museum tickets are $2 between noon and 5 p.m. Visit staxmuseum.com.

29. The New Beale -

Over the last four years, the next chapter in the development of Beale Street has been a stop-and-go affair. First would come announcements followed by silence from official channels.

Along with that silence, though, was quiet activity on the side, a movement that culminated with the March announcement of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s strategic planning committee’s report, “A Framework for Beale Street.”

30. Haslam School Voucher Bill Dead This Session -

NASHVILLE (AP) – The Republican leader carrying Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to create school vouchers in Tennessee said he's decided to let it die this session because he's tired of the "gamesmanship."

31. Lofty Company -

For creating the overnight package-delivery business four decades ago, and for everything his company has done since, FedEx Corp. founder Fred Smith has been placed among an elite group of chief executives by the business magazine Barron’s.

32. Trustee Releases Slate of Financial Literacy Workshops -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir’s office has worked with almost 800 financially struggling taxpayers since the summer of 2011 to educate them via the trustee’s Project H.O.M.E. financial literacy workshop series.

33. Reardon Cautions Downtowners About Heritage Trail -

The University of Memphis professor spearheading the opposition of demolishing the city’s last remaining public housing project in the Vance Avenue neighborhood says that while the Heritage Trail Community Redevelopment Plan appears to be on “indefinite hold,” it is not dead, and Downtowners should beware.

34. ‘Judge-Sicle’ Murder Mystery Thrills to the End -

How could I not read the latest David Rosenfelt novel, “Airtight?” How could I not?! The author’s very publicist himself sent me an advance reading copy, asking that I do so. That, plus the book starts out with the murder of a judge, and I obviously want that case cracked, right?

35. Court: Obama Appointments are Unconstitutional -

WASHINGTON (AP) – In a setback for President Barack Obama, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that he violated the Constitution in making recess appointments last year, a decision that could severely curtail the president's ability to bypass the Senate to fill administration vacancies.

36. Google Emerges From Federal Probe Relatively Unscathed -

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google has settled a U.S. government probe into its business practices without making any major concessions on how the company runs its Internet search engine, the world's most influential gateway to digital information and commerce.

37. Handbag Enthusiasts Flock to Katie Kalsi’s Creations -

The fan comments on Memphis handbag designer Katie Kalsi’s company Facebook page are effusive, enthusiastic and frequently punctuated with energetic exclamation points.

“I love my bag!!!”

38. Bass Berry Law Firm Honored for Recent Deals -

The law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims PLC has won the mergers and acquisitions “deal of the year” award in the $50 million to $100 million category from M&A Advisors.

The deal for which Bass Berry won the award was announced earlier this year. It involved Luminex Corp. – a health care and life sciences research company – acquiring privately held GenturaDx, a molecular diagnostics company focused on making nucleic acid testing affordable and practical for any lab.

39. Make Sure Your Organization is Mobile -

Part one of a three-part series. Life has gone mobile. For many, life is lived on the move and cell phones and mobile devices are our guides helping with communication, directions, purchases, music, news updates, videos and more. “Mobile” has become the way much of America is using their computer. IPhones, Androids and BlackBerries are replacing laptops and desktop computers. Tablets and mobile phones are replacing the way that people access the information when they are on the road.

40. Commission Takes Applications for School Board -

The Shelby County Commission is about to fill two vacancies on the countywide school board created by the Aug. 2 election results.

David Reaves and David Pickler won school board races for two of the seven district seats that will be the countywide school board after the schools merger begins in August 2013. Both had been members of the old Shelby County Schools board who continue serving with members of the old Memphis City Schools board on the 23-member transition board up to the merger date.

41. Kickstarter Projects Generate Millions of Dollars -

NEW YORK (AP) – A funny thing happens on Kickstarter, the website where people ask for money to finance their projects. Sometimes, they get more money than they ask for.

Sometimes, they get millions more.

42. Airline Bid to Block Consumer Protections Rejected -

WASHINGTON (AP) – The government can require airlines to show consumers a total ticket price that includes taxes and fees in print and online ads, the U.S. Court of Appeals said Tuesday, rejecting an industry challenge to a series of consumer protection regulations.

43. Challenge of Voter ID Law Comes Into Focus -

The way to a court challenge of Tennessee’s voter identification law from Memphis takes a few twists and turns away from the polling place.

And while Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. as well as several attorneys outside City Hall say they are ready to make the challenge, it will depend on who is willing to not have their vote counted in the Aug. 2 elections after they present a Memphis library card as photo ID to election officials.

44. Trustee Conducts Workshop for Taxpayers June 26 -

Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir will conduct a Project H.O.M.E. Workshop Tuesday, June 26, at the Charles Powell-Westwood Community Center at 810 Western Park.

45. Settlement Brings Milestone in Wells Fargo Case -

The announcement that Wells Fargo & Co. has agreed to settle a three-year-old lawsuit filed by Memphis and Shelby County governments over the company’s lending practices – with the settlement including certain local lending commitments on Wells’ part – was certainly a denouement in the case.

46. State Treasurer: Charter Schools Not a Hardship -

For several months, the Tennessee treasurer and comptroller struggled to get and reconcile basic head counts for both of Shelby County’s public school systems to make a decision on whether 17 new charter schools to open in August would be too much of a financial drain on the systems.

47. New Charter Schools Can Open in August -

Add 17 charter schools in Shelby County when the new school year begins in August.

Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard ruled Wednesday, April 4, that the countywide school board was wrong in one of its first major decisions when it denied en masse the applications for the charter schools in November.

48. Mistrial Motion Denied In Petties Drug Org Trial -

Memphis Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays has denied a motion by defense attorneys for a mistrial in the Petties drug organization trial.

The decision by Mays in a 15-page written ruling, clears the way for the defense in the drug conspiracy, racketeering and murder for hire case to begin telling its side of the story Wednesday, March 14.

49. Viewer Faults Columnist For New Habits -

I can’t stop reading “Lio.” Even though it’s the unfunniest funny ever. Today, Lio sees the newspaper boy’s satchel abandoned on the sidewalk. In panel two Lio is visibly shocked, looking at something we can’t see. Panel three shows Lio in the vet’s waiting room with a dragon, whose bloated shape suggests that he’s eaten the newspaper boy.

50. Autonomy Plan Part of Schools Consolidation Proposal Unveiled Thursday -

The schools consolidation transition planning commission will get two recommendations Thursday, Feb. 23, for the structure of a countywide consolidated public school system.

One is a “united” centralized school system leadership structure with what are described in an executive summary as “lean regional offices to support and manage principals.”

51. Author Rosenfelt as Witty as His Novel’s Characters -

In the last two columns, I’ve let it be known that I am reading the novels of David Rosenfelt in order. I’ve provided teaser-type blurbs for the first five: “Open and Shut,” “First Degree,” “Bury the Lead,” “Sudden Death” and “Dead Center.” Since last week’s column, I’ve read No. 6, “Play Dead” (2007), and started “New Tricks” (2009).

52. Quality Check Of 2012 Rally -

Rally Quality Check So far, 2012 has struck a bullish tone. However, we should look beyond the pop indices and examine the supporting evidence to determine the quality of the current rally. This column should make you more qualified to translate the “Market Data” page of the WSJ’s Money and Investing section. Let’s take a quick tour and highlight the quality indicators with context. Once you have completed this, you will have earned your rally inspector merit badge.

53. Trading Hands -

It’s been something of a roller coaster ride for a little more than six months in the drawn-out process by Regions Financial Corp. to sell Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc., its Memphis-based investment unit.

54. Compliance Brings More Accountability -

EuroZone 2.0 Rather than bore you this week with the details of the most recent EU rescue flare, let’s take a look back at the bigger picture. After a 30-year global credit binge, credit is no longer flowing to the irresponsible or over-indebted. Based upon the rules defined in the Maastricht Treaty, entrants into the euro must have a debt-to-GDP ratio below 60 percent and budget deficits below 3 percent of GDP.

55. Recorded History -

It began as a handwritten single piece of paper hand-delivered to 25 people in what was once the city of Memphis.

It was 125 years ago that the publication now called The Daily News was founded.

56. Yahoo, ABC Joining Forces in News Partnership -

NEW YORK (AP) – ABC News and Yahoo Inc. are joining to deliver more online news to their audiences. With the deal, ABC News content will be prominently featured on Yahoo News, the most visited news website in the world. It will also show up on Yahoo's popular front page.

57. First Schools Meeting Addresses Blueprint -

The two groups that will do much of the political and organizational heavy lifting in the consolidation of Shelby County’s two public school systems first will do a lot of listening in the weeks to come.

58. Millington Probe Highlights Volatile Relationship -

The relationship between Millington Mayor Richard Hodges and the police chief he appointed, Ray Douglas, has been brief and volatile.

59. Light of Day -

A Collierville program is making a profound difference in the quality of life for those suffering from memory loss by providing a safe, stimulating, home-away-from-home experience, and by providing caregivers much-needed respite.

60. Cargill Shifts Senior Management Responsibilities -

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Privately held agribusiness conglomerate Cargill Inc. is shifting management responsibilities for its senior executives, with an eye on expansion in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

61. Big Easy Haiku Conference -

NEW ORLEANS – How can I not write about the Haiku Society of America’s South Region annual meeting in New Orleans?

How can I not?!

This event, largely planned by the New Orleans Haiku Society, and its leader, Xavier University English professor David Lanoue, was the focus of a recent road trip.

62. Collection of Puns Entertains -

A few weeks back, I advocated the use of puns. Within days, maybe hours, of that column’s appearance, I received an email from David R. Yale, the “Pundit of Double Entendres,” as he is referred to on the title page of his book.

63. Six-Year Divorce Case Picture of Legal Wrangling -

Shem and Danielle Malmquist arrived at the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Jackson this past October without attorneys. They each represented themselves in an appeal of a Shelby County divorce case that has lasted six years over a marriage that lasted less than five months.

64. White House: Obama to Lay Out Spending Plan -

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama this week will outline a broad plan to reduce the nation's deficit, shifting from immediate budget concerns to the debate over the nation's long-term economic health. Obama is expected to call for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and tax hikes for the wealthy.

65. Roundtable Tackles Trademark Infringement -

The law firm of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC will hold a roundtable discussion Thursday on the topic “Use of Competitor’s Trademark in Keyword Advertising: Infringement or Not?”

The event is part of the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property litigation series.

66. Bearing Joy -

With the help of technology, patients and their families at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis were able to celebrate along with Marlo Thomas and friends in New York, as the hospital announced Monday its new partnership with Build-A-Bear Workshop.

67. Schools Standoff Shows Up in Cyberspace -

The legal opinions on the terms for voting on a consolidated school system are beginning to pile up.

But there are other signs of life away from the law books and centers of government that so far have defined the standoff between Shelby County’s two public school systems.

68. Massive Budget Bill Faces Opposition in Senate -

WASHINGTON (AP) – The fate of House legislation to freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments and fund the war in Afghanistan for another year is now in the hands of the Senate, where it faces uncertain prospects.

69. House Democrats' Bill Freezes Most Agency Budgets -

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats controlling the House are promising to freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments while wrapping Congress' unfinished annual spending bills into a single catchall measure.

70. Palin E-mail Hacker Sentenced to Year in Custody -

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former University of Tennessee student who hacked into Sarah Palin's e-mail account during the 2008 presidential campaign was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in custody, with the judge recommending a halfway house instead of prison.

71. Consensus Seeker -

With a few unscripted remarks in late 2009, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. laid out what could be considered the theme of his just-ended first year in office.

It came while addressing the media last fall about changes he was making to the Memphis Animal Shelter, which Shelby County sheriff’s deputies raided in the early morning hours to investigate allegations of animal cruelty.

72. Even in Liberal Bastions, GOP Sees Election Chance -

HYANNIS PORT, Mass. (AP) — In the congressional district that's home to the Kennedy family compound, a Kennedy public skating rink and a Kennedy museum, the heart of liberalism is beating uneasily.

73. Cut Tuition Could Make Way Back to City Budget -

Memphis City Council members will consider restoring a tuition reimbursement program cut from the city budget this past July when it meets Tuesday.

The resolution on Tuesday’s council agenda would restore $902,211 in funding, which was the level the city funded the program at in the current fiscal year.

74. Taking Care of Business -

A diverse mix of Memphis businesses is defying the odds and finding success spanning multiple family generations. Grant & Co., Champion Awards, Jim’s Place East, Barden Stone and Broadway Pizza are among the Memphis institutions thriving under second- and third-generation ownership and management.

75. Whalum and Webb Draw Challengers In School Board Races -

Memphis school board members Betty Mallott and Martavius Jones were unopposed at Thursday’s filing deadline for the four Memphis school board races on the Nov. 2 ballot. Noon was the deadline for candidates to file their qualifying petitions in the school board races as well as three sets of municipal elections in Bartlett, Collierville and Germantown.

76. Whalum and Webb Draw Opposition At Filing Deadline -

Memphis school board members Betty Mallott and Martavius Jones were unopposed at Thursday’s filing deadline for the four Memphis school board races on the Nov. 2 ballot, according to a list from the Shelby County Election Commission.

77. Renaissance Avenue -

When Larry Schmitt bought a two-story building on the corner of Broad Avenue and Collins Street in 1993, he knew the place needed some TLC.

78. Big Tobacco Cutting Contracts with US Farmers -

CYNTHIANA, Ky. (AP) - After years of faithfully supplying leaf to tobacco giant Philip Morris International, farmer Jess Burrier received a postcard, thanking him for his contributions and telling him his service wasn't needed this year.

79. Commission Races Hinge on Public Issues -

Two issues figure in to the 11 competitive races for the Shelby County Commission – the future of the Regional Medical Center and local government consolidation.

Any push card for a credible candidate includes either something about how to save The MED or the candidate’s opposition to consolidation – or both.

80. FBI Warns Extremist Letters May Encourage Violence -

WASHINGTON (AP) - The FBI is warning police across the country that an anti-government group's call to remove governors from office could provoke violence by others.

A group that calls itself the Guardians of the free Republics wants to "restore America" by peacefully dismantling parts of the government, according to its Web site.

81. 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.

82. Judicial Nominating Commission Seeks Leader -

The state commission that recommends finalists for judicial vacancies has a vacancy of its own.

Bill Young of Chattanooga is acting chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission following the resignation of former JNC Chairman David Bautista of Johnson City.

83. House of Cards -

It’s a little more than halfway through the first meeting of the state Senate’s Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee in 2009, in a nondescript hearing room in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza.

Four bank executives from around the state are seated at a table in front of a row of senators. A line of questioning is about to put the bankers on the hot seat.

84. Senate Girds for Historic Debate on Health Bill -

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional budget crunchers said Thursday the Democrats' latest health care plan would hold down federal red ink for at least 20 years, an assessment that gave supporters hope as the Senate moved gingerly toward a historic debate.

85. Out of Bounds -

The August report from the NCAA calls him “student-athlete 1.” Everyone but the NCAA and the University of Memphis calls him Derrick Rose.

86. Events -

The Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence will hold a workshop today from 8:30 a.m. to noon at its office, 5100 Poplar Ave., Suite 502. Ken Kimble, director of development and marketing for Boy Scouts of America Chickasaw Council, will speak. Cost is $65 for members and $125 for nonmembers. For more information, call 684-6605 or visit www.npexcellence.org.

87. Schuermann Elected To Design Review Board -

David Schuermann has been elected to the Center City Commission’s Design Review board.

Schuermann is a principal at Architecture Inc. He is active with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and currently serves on the Tennessee Board of Architectural & Engineering Examiners.

88. Northside Manor Apts. Face Foreclosure -

A first-run foreclosure notice appears on Page 31 of today’s paper for Northside Manor Apartments at 1541 Northside Drive. The Frayser apartments are on Northside Drive near the intersection of Thomas (U.S. 51) and North Watkins streets.

89. Plea Deal Reveals New Details About Swindle Case -

HOUSTON (AP) – The former finance chief for jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford said his boss created a business empire where blood oaths were taken to secure loyalty, bribes were paid from a secret Swiss bank account and investor profits were more fiction than financial genius.

90. Compromise 101: Who’s going to fund the schools? -

In the year he’s been head of the Memphis school system, Superintendent Kriner Cash has been virtually unflappable.

Since the Memphis school board hired him in July 2008, Cash has doggedly pitched a detailed plan for the school system’s renewal with dozens of specific goals in a well-traveled PowerPoint presentation.

91. Highland Hip -

The Highland strip is growing a skyline. The Stratum on Highland Street, a five-story apartment complex, was the first new structure west of the University of Memphis to sprout last August on the storied commercial strip itself.

92. Welch Investments’ Retail Center Foreclosed -

The strip center at 2564 Appling Road near Bartlett has been foreclosed and will be sold on the courthouse steps in a substitute trustee’s sale, according to a notice that appears beginning on Page 39 of today’s print edition of The Daily News and also at The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

93. For Kritchevsky, Advocacy Role A Goal Fulfilled -

Barbara Kritchevsky will begin the new school year as the director of advocacy for the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, a position she long has hoped to see created as the competition in that area grows among U.S. law schools.

94. Senate Off to a Rocky Start on Health Care -

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate on Wednesday began writing legislation to revamp the nation's health care system, but its historic first step was overshadowed by partisan anger and cost problems that troubled lawmakers on both sides.

95. Kennedy Health Plan Aids Elders, Young Adults -

WASHINGTON (AP) - Proposals that would help disabled seniors and healthy young adults are among dozens of provisions tucked into sweeping health care legislation that senators will begin considering next week.

96. EPA Urged to Act on Climate, Not Wait for Congress -

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - The Environmental Protection Agency should not wait for Congress before taking steps to control the gases blamed for global warming, supporters of federal greenhouse-gas regulation said Monday.

97. 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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