VOL. 126 | NO. 158 | Monday, August 15, 2011
Coverage Expansion Critical To TDN Legacy
By Bill Dries
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.
As the paper grew, it began covering real estate and law, giving practitioners in those industries keen insights into the latest trends.
In recent years, however, the local, family-owned newspaper has broadened its scope beyond that foundation to include in-depth coverage of business, politics and the public interest.
The Daily News began venturing into original reporting, often based on the legal notices and business listings, by the 1920s. Today, the business coverage is unlike any offered locally in its depth.
“National and international economic news and analysis is available immediately from hundreds of sources,” said James Overstreet, associate publisher and executive editor of The Daily News. “But useful, relevant and credible information about local businesses and the local economy is hard to find. That’s the void we are filling.”
As The Daily News observes its 125th anniversary, this is the latest in a series of articles on the anniversary and the past, present and future of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.
Though the newspaper no longer uses the three-word mottos that were on the masthead from the 1920s through the 1970s – first, “Trade. Finance. Court.”; and later, “Trade-Finance-Legal” – it remains at the forefront of the city’s most pressing business topics.
The Daily News’ coverage of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, for example, began before its onset as local developments began pointing to a specific economic direction.
In the three years that have followed, the paper has chronicled the devastation of parts of the city where foreclosure rates have been among the highest in the country.
It also has covered the city’s hard-fought efforts to counter that devastation and the recent concerted campaign to bring new manufacturing jobs, in particular, to the city and compete for jobs in a three-state area.
“From the latest small-business opening to the day-to-day news of our Fortune 500 companies, we intend to be the premier source of local business and economic information via several platforms: our daily publication, The Daily News; our weekly publication, The Memphis News; and our website, www.memphisdailynews.com,” Overstreet said.
The Memphis News is the free, weekly sister publication The Daily News Publishing Co. launched in June 2008, giving readers more access to essential business and political news.
“Media outlets that try to be all things to all people necessarily dilute all of their coverage,” Overstreet said. “By narrowing our focus, we can bring all of our resources to bear on a few subjects, namely business, politics and the public interest. That enables us to provide more in-depth, sophisticated and contextual news and information for our readers.”
Political coverage is aimed at a similar attention to detail that defines the newspaper’s business coverage. And it isn’t limited to “horse race” coverage of campaigns and elections that end once the votes are counted.
In recent years, The Daily News’ political coverage has explained the political transformation under way in city and county politics, with detailed stories laying out the deliberations as well as the work of the Metro Charter Commission, and the ongoing story of the consolidation of Memphis City and Shelby County schools systems.
The paper’s business reporters are awarded each year by various journalism societies for their coverage of everything from logistics to health care, financial services to real estate.
And politics and business are not separate areas of coverage, says Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
“There’s such a critical intersection between politics and business,” he said. “At the simplest level, so many people in politics came out of the business world, and so many people from government go into business later. But maybe more importantly, big things – big change, big improvements – don’t usually happen without some sort of partnership between government and business.”
The public interest coverage has included stories without an obvious business or political peg, but which are of broad civic interest.
“Looking at those kinds of bigger questions – the bigger trends and changes and possible changes – are, for me, what we do really well,” Barnes said.
Over several years, a series of lawsuits in Shelby County Circuit Court alleged child sexual abuse by Memphis Catholic priests and negligence by the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in handling the incidents.
In 2009, after the Memphis Diocese and the Dominican religious order settled one of the lawsuits for $2 million, The Daily News filed a motion to intervene in the case for access to depositions and church documents filed as part of the voluminous court file.
The result, the next year, was more than 6,000 pages of documents about how church leaders in Memphis had handled abuse allegations and admissions involving 15 priests over a 50-year period.
“Our interest was not in the horrible details, but in the sense of the widespread abuse – and widespread cover-up – perpetrated by a very powerful entity,” Barnes said. “The public interest also includes the many profiles we’ve done of government officials, civic leaders and business people, many of whom devote a tremendous amount of time and money to a whole host of groups in the city.”
That has included education coverage that has a focus to include private schools as well as the two public school systems in Shelby County. The paper also spotlights Memphis businesses and individuals who make a difference in the city through their commercial and personal contributions.
“We’ve also found that the community has an appetite for a balanced approach to news coverage, not just a constant barrage of negative news,” Overstreet said. “So we are committed to covering positive news with as much vigor as we report negative news. Success is just as worthy of attention as failure, and it’s our obligation to reflect reality accurately, not provide a distorted view of the community.”