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VOL. 6 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 22, 2013

Five Years in the Life

The fifth anniversary of The Memphis News

By Bill Dries

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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.

Willie Herenton had been elected to his fifth term as Memphis mayor less than a year earlier. A C Wharton Jr. was Shelby County mayor and Mark Luttrell was Shelby County sheriff.

Marc Iavaroni was coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and Michael Heisley was majority owner of the team.

Morgan Keegan and Raymond James were competitors.

Shelby County had two public school systems although leaders were discussing whether the two school systems should have a single local funding source.

The idea of bicycle lanes seemed unlikely in a city routinely judged as among the most obese in America.

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital had become part of Methodist Healthcare the year before.

All of that and more was changing and about to change. And all of the changes of the last five years have been chronicled in The Memphis News.

The publication you are reading debuted June 18, 2008, with little fanfare.

It contained 36 pages of news and features, including a cover story on suburban Memphis shortly before the political dividing line between urban and suburban would become more pronounced with the schools merger.

The topic wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment choice. It had been chosen as the general topic for some time, even before the story was written and as test runs of the new publication included blocks of test text in Latin.

“White flight is a thing of the past,” Downtown developer Henry Turley said in an op-ed piece in the debut issue.

“We’re going to try to hang tight, but there’s definitely some pressure for services, emergency services particularly,” Fayette County Mayor Rhea “Skip” Taylor said in the story on the pre-recession growth there and elsewhere in suburbia. “The schools, if that starts coming into the picture, that’s going to be something we’re really going to have to work with.”

Without a full-time photographer and with reporters taking many of the photographs that appeared in The Daily News at the time, the cover art was a graphic collage of stock art images.

One of the more challenging covers was the third issue cover story on the emerging Blue CRUSH strategy for fighting the city’s stubborn and historic problem with violent crime.

The original idea was to call the cover “Grand Theft Memphis” (July 2, 2008) after the video game. After some legal advice about how the company that made “Grand Theft Auto” might react, the cover title was changed to “Bluff City Blues” with art that was similar but not an exact match for the familiar Grand Theft Auto logo.

One of the more popular and longer cover stories (April 29, 2009) was about the inner workings of The Commercial Appeal with a battered, graffiti splattered CA news rack on an otherwise white cover.

The group that assembled the weekly’s format decided without much discussion that there would be an editorial page with an editorial. Left open and still open is the question of making endorsements in political campaigns.

Among the revelations in the 260 cover stories over the last five years:

The idea of Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid actually began as a plan by Turley to locate the biggest competitor of the outdoor retailer, Cabela’s, to the space. Turley couldn’t find any investors.

It was at a reception in November 2010 at the National Civil Rights Museum for Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, that Memphis City Schools board members began quietly telling other political leaders that the board was about to consider surrendering its charter and merging with county schools.

It was the day after statewide elections in which Republicans won majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee legislature and some on the school board felt county schools leaders would move quickly to again try to make county schools a special school district this time with more potential votes in Nashville.

Herenton’s first try at resigning the office he held longer than any other mayor in Memphis history was based on the assumption that chief administrative officer Keith McGee would serve as interim mayor until a special election. Over the 2008 Easter weekend, Herenton learned otherwise and withdrew the resignation only to set a new resignation date later of July 30, 2009.

The idea of a free weekly had been pioneered in Memphis as in other major cities with the rise of “alternative” weeklies. Paid business weeklies have also long been a part of the Memphis media market and the national market.

SCHUTT

The Memphis Flyer debuted in the 1990s as part of Contemporary Media that included Memphis magazine.

Meanwhile, Peter Schutt, the president and CEO of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc., was thinking of a different kind of weekly as the company was expanding in other areas.

"With the Flyer and the Memphis Business Journal catering to their own niches, it has been clear to me that the community had room for news of more general interest, covering the gamut from local politics to arts to sports to business.”

– Peter Schutt
President and CEO, The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc.

“With the Flyer and the Memphis Business Journal catering to their own niches, it has been clear to me that the community had room for news of more general interest, covering the gamut from local politics to arts to sports to business,” Schutt said. “So, since its inception, I think The Memphis News has done a good job of fulfilling that mission.”

Schutt began thinking about such a weekly more than 15 years ago, “even to the point of drawing up a basic business plan and interviewing prospects for an editor.”

“Peter had wanted to do a weekly edition many years ago,” said publisher Eric Barnes, noting that the company’s expansion in 2000 included Rapsheets, a criminal background check company Schutt founded.

“It took off and he had to table the idea,” Barnes said. “When I started at The Daily News in 2002, it was a priority to launch a weekly, although it took five years before the timing was right.”

BARNES

The Memphis News would be a free weekly without the alternative. Its six-word motto became and still is “Business, Politics and The Public Interest.” And it would be a partner to The Daily News, the weekday daily paid newspaper that has been the bedrock of The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. since 1886.

“The weekly is a way for us to reach far more people in print than we could with a paid daily paper,” Barnes said. “And because we could reach so many more people, we could dramatically expand our advertising potential. None of which is to say that the weekly is more valuable or somehow better than the daily. Each has unique content. Each has specific advantages.”

The Memphis News has also featured editorial board transcripts of conversations with newsmakers since then-candidate for Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam, sought out such a session during the 2010 Republican primary campaign. The digital version of the transcripts online are a longer version than the more concise transcripts in the printed edition of The Memphis News.

PDFs of all 260 editions of The Memphis News, including this one, are at The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

They include a Nov. 9, 2012, edition featuring a profile of Robert J. Pera, the then-new owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team who talked of his life working for Steve Jobs at Apple.

“I was the last man on the bench," Pera said of the time at Apple that prompted him to strike out on his own and found his own technology company, Ubiquiti. “I knew I couldn’t do a lot and wouldn’t get the opportunity to, but I could do a lot more on my own.”

We’ve tracked in numerous cover stories the impact on Memphis of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“Yes, renters move more often, but our customers want this flexibility,” said Mark Fogelman, president of Fogelman Management Group in a June 18, 2011, cover story. “Many others are now paying a steep price when they have no mobility because they are locked into a mortgage, which is possibly under water.”

The story about homeowners “under water” came a month after back-to-back cover stories on the worst flooding on the Mississippi River at Memphis since the record-setting flood of 1937.

“What we have is octopus-like,” Bob Nations, the county’s director of preparedness, told us in the May 14, 2011, story. “The tentacles are wrapping water around us, but we’re not underwater.”

Less than a year later, we examined the return of soldiers from the war in Iraq as it began to come to an end and found the personification of the jarring transition for some of those new veterans in Robert Littlepage, who was in the second day of his treatment for those problems at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Memphis.

“It’s not like people think it is,” Littlepage said of Iraq in the March 24, 2012, cover story. “It’s not like sand and in the Sahara. It’s like cracked mud, like you are down in the Delta, in Clarksdale or something.”

The future of The Memphis News is in its unique content as well as its function as one of several media platforms whose goal is to reach readers where they are.

“I think we’ll see – and this might seem contradictory – increased print distribution and more digital options,” Barnes said, noting the launch of digital special editions earlier this year in a tablet-friendly format.

“We could potentially do that with the weekly in the future. The point is that the interest in free print papers remains strong and, obviously, interest in digital continues to grow and grow.”

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 57 307 5,073
MORTGAGES 101 483 6,709
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 55 1,534
BUILDING PERMITS 0 720 11,979
BANKRUPTCIES 84 341 5,300
BUSINESS LICENSES 36 125 2,061
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 152 594 7,058
MARRIAGE LICENSES 36 117 1,458

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The Memphis News: Business, politics, and the public interest.