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Friday, March 02, 2007

Dean serves a side of humor with platform

I am interested in hearing more from Karl Dean, but don't interpret that to mean that he's not a likeable fellow. Maybe he's a little less approachable than David Briley, but he has a funny and self-deprecating sense of humor (another Purcell similarity) that made for some good banter today.

Responding to one question, Dean began to answer by saying, "If I'm mayor." He paused and then corrected himself. "Well, I guess I'm supposed to say, 'When I'm mayor, aren't I?"

When one attendee asked about public transportation, Bruce Barry jumped in to urge Dean to build a subway (an intentionally absurd notion, since Nashville rests on layers of formidable limestone). Dean replied, "No, I want a monorail." He may or may not be a Simpsons fan, but I welcomed a little playful verbal sparring from a candidate for public office. I'm pretty sure that's not in the talking points, but it did earn a few chuckles from the rest of the table.

Another blogger referred to the "other four high profile candidates" in the race (meaning Briley, Clement, Dozier and Gentry, presumably) when asking a question. Dean interrupted to say, "You're confident I'm a high profile candidate?" and laughed. He wasn't being combative, in my opinion. He was having fun. That's refreshing, I think.

Lunch with Dean

Mayoral candidate Karl Dean hosted a lunch meeting today for area bloggers. About a dozen folks showed up at the Flying Saucer, among them Bruce Barry, Hutchmo, Ned Williams, Nathan Moore and myself. I have lots of notes to review, but I'll offer this brief post in the meantime.

Dean strikes me as a cross between Bill Purcell and Phil Bredesen. As he noted during lunch, Nashville has been blessed to have 16 years of great mayoral leadership under those two leaders, so that's definitely a compliment. (Since they have reportedly struggled to get along at times in the past, I'm not sure how they'd feel about this comparison, but it rang true for me today.)

Dean sounds a little like Purcell when he talks: He has a lot to say, and he did ramble at times. He carefully and thoughtfully weighed his responses to many questions. There is a deliberateness about Dean that reminds me of Purcell. I left with the impression that Dean would not take any issue affecting the city lightly or make any decision without considering its consequences. That's good leadership.

He reminds me of Bredesen because he comes across as intelligent and highly practical. Sure, he mentioned similar lofty ambitions for his leadership vision the way most other candidates do, but I got a strong sense that Dean would focus most on what he could help the city get done. Discussing his experience as Metro law director and as public defender, he couched himself as a problem solver who seeks to get to the heart of an issue and figure out what to do about it. This approach appears to fit with his emphasis on his experience in the executive (as in to execute, to get things done, to do) branch of government as opposed to the legislative area. Dean was sure to point out that three of his opponents, David Briley, Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier, are current council members and that Bob Clement is known best for his time as a congressman.

Describing Dean in this way, I realize that I'd still like to see and learn more about Dean's own voice and personality. Compared with the other major candidates, he entered the race fairly late (in December) and is arguably a lesser known, though respected, community leader. Until recently, Dean has been fairly quiet on the campaign, apparently focusing (quite successfully) on catching up on fundraising since he announced his candidacy later than everyone else.

It's still awfully early in this race, so there's plenty of time remaining for Dean to raise his public profile, but I generally like what I have seen so far and what I heard today. He is an electable candidate in this race, but in my opinion so are three of the other four candidates. (I'm hoping personally that Clement is not, but that's up for the voters to decide, not just me.)

I'll share more about today's discussion and issues that were raised over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Business Week on Gannett approach to Web

Tennessean senior editor Deborah Fisher used many of Gannett's current buzzwords--such as microzones, pro-am and user-generated content--in her presentation to PRSA Nashville on Tuesday. It should be noted that others are taking note of Gannett's approach to using the Web to adapt and sustain its core newspaper business. Business Week writer Jon Fine had the following to say this week about the company's innovations:

[T]he newspaper chain with the most interesting and coherent approach to rethinking journalism and news-gathering is not the New York Times Co. or the Washington Post Co. ...

By May 1 Gannett will have rolled out to all its papers initiatives enabling readers to interact with each other and assist its journalists. (These approaches also will be launched at Gannett's TV stations.) To describe these efforts, Michael Maness, vice-president of strategic planning and one of the strategy's architects, is eschewing such clumsy industry terms as "user-generated content," opting instead for the more euphonious "pro-am" (as in, professional-amateur) to underscore the blend of reader contributions and traditional reporting. If this succeeds—and early indicators are good—an unlikely company will lead the industry down an unfamiliar but promising path. "What I like about it is that it's not just about saving money, it's about saving journalism," says a reliably revved-up Jeff Jarvis, proprietor of media blog

Some of what Gannett stresses is the kind of Web 101 that local newspapers should have been doing all along. It will ramp up news-breaking efforts on the Web and rethink the product to deliver whatever to whomever on whichever platforms they desire—a phrase so hideously clichéd that most media observers can recite it robotically. Where things get really interesting, and where Gannett leapfrogs others' efforts, is in its pro-am blend. "The pros do the heavy lifting and build the framework and structure," says Maness. "And the audience can come in and fill in" around it.
The whole article is worth a read. If you make it over there, don't miss the comments, where most readers don't share Fine's optimistic take on Gannett's decision. Here's a sampling:
Nickname: drew216
Review: Our small group of newspapers has been accepting and encouraging "citizen journalism" since mid last year. I guess I am surprised that Gannett took so long to figure this out! Citizen Journalism is low cost cpm that is a fantastic opportunity for all newspapers, large and small. We are now able to re-capture the lost franchise of breaking news and leverage it even further. We can create a greater sense of community in our individual markets by involving our readers. Their "content" makes our products/stories more compelling for our customers! I am surprised by the comments by people who simply do not see this huge opportunity. Time to descend from your ivory tower!
Date reviewed: Feb 28, 2007 9:25 PM

Nickname: GannettInsider
Review: Gannett's new initiative, the Information Center, is all about creating more bureaucracy to feed the beast, or the reading audience. They don't care what the quality of journalism is, hell, they don't even hire reporters as they leave, but they're hunting for someone to fill silly-sounding new positions such as the Data Desk Editor and Community Conversations Editor. It's just more of the same with Gannett.
Date reviewed: Feb 20, 2007 1:48 AM

Review: What you don't know about Gannett's plan: Reporters will be selling news subscriptions and answering delivery complaints while "covering" their communities. That reporters are handing out business cards that solicit reader-submitted photos of dogs and quilts and such to post as "news." That public officials and untrained bloggers are being allowed to post unedited "news" items as daily Web updates. That real reporters' jobs are being cut in favor of Webbies who post this drivel. Ask Fort Myers all about it -- it was all discussed in a company-wide conference call last fall, and is being practiced as we speak. If that's civic journalism, we're all in trouble.
Date reviewed: Feb 19, 2007 7:54 PM

Nickname: posted
Review: Someone has had a sip of the Kool-aid. Gannett does nothing that does not mean the reduction of FTEs (can't even refer to them as people as what is left of their conscience might have a problem with what they do to people's lives.) This time the genius is to supplant paid journalists with unpaid readers. Perhaps the next initiative will be to have businesses sell their ads to themselves or readers deliver their own papers.
Date reviewed: Feb 19, 2007 12:47 PM
Hat tip to Mike P. for pointing me to this article. Thanks, Mike.

Forsberg to stay in Nashville?

This is sheer speculation, but I sure hope ESPN analyst Terry Frei is right:

Q: Might Peter Forsberg return to Philadelphia?

A: Maybe, because he's been there long enough to hear the argument that many locals prefer Jim's to Geno's (order in English only, please) and Pat's. But I'm in the minority: I think he's going to come around to choosing between re-signing with the Predators, if he's healthy enough and they want him, or going home to Sweden … and staying there.
For the record, Frei, who has written for both Denver newspapers as well, has been pretty fair to the Preds over the years, pointing out attendance issues when necessary but noting successes on and off the ice, too.

Preds attendance soaring since All-Star Break

The Preds currently have the best record in the NHL, but Nashville has taken a beating this season among hockey writers and fans for not filling seats to support the team.

Since the All-Star Break in late January, the Preds are averaging 16,122 fans per game and have sold out four of their past eight games. This doesn't put the team on par with the nightly capacity crowds in hockey hotbeds such as Toronto, Detroit and Montreal, but it is a major improvement. Fans are supporting this team, and crowds this season (as usual) have been engaged and vocal when it comes to what is taking place on the ice. This is not front-page news in the hockey world, but I'd like to see some of the Preds' harsher critics from traditional hockey circles at least note that the community is filling seats to cheer on the team instead of continuing to pile on based on attendance numbers from earlier in the season. Here are the Preds' figures since the All-Star break (sellouts designated with an asterisk):

Feb. 3 Ducks: 17,113*
Feb. 8 Leafs: 15,018
Feb. 10 Kings: 17,113*
Feb. 14 Sharks: 13,836
Feb. 17 Wild: 17,113*
Feb. 19 Coyotes: 15,862
Feb. 22 Canadiens: 15,808
Feb. 24: Red Wings 17,113*
I'm curious why there has not been much mention of New Jersey's attendance woes. A perennial playoff team during the past decade that is currently right behind the Preds in the overall standings, the Devils rank below Nashville in attendance in a much larger market (Newark, Exit 16W, Northern New Jersey, whatever you choose to call it). Why is Nashville drawing the ire of reporters and fans who consider themselves insiders while New Jersey, a team that would have relocated to Nashville in 1995 if they had not pulled off a Cinderella run to win the Stanley Cup, is not?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Deborah Fisher on The Tennessean's newsroom

An audience member at Tuesday's PRSA meeting asked Tennessean senior editor Deborah Fisher about how the paper's reporters are responding to all of the changes taking place in print and online. With reporters being asked to post breaking news stories during the day and post blog entries and the paper preparing to shift to an around-the-clock news room and begin training some of its reporters to record video as well as write articles, the workload is changing and increasing quickly for a staff that Fisher acknowledged is not making any major increases to its staff. She also shared her perceptions of how the newsroom is adjusting to what she described as a "somewhat chaotic" process of publishing news both online and in print:

"I don't know that we have gotten a lot of negative responses [from veteran reporters on staff]... When they begin receiving comments and story leads, they see the power of posting online. It helps eliminate the restrictions of the print cycle...

"In terms of breaking news, reporters realize that [online story posting] doesn't take a whole lot away from print reporting. It's also like writing a draft where reporters can crystallize their thoughts. One of the places where we do struggle with online updates is when the reporter is still working a story and needs time to keep following leads and make phone calls to investigate tips. It's more of a distraction than a time issue."
Another attendee asked Fisher about perceptions that few of the paper's reporters either grew up in the city or have a thorough understanding of the local community. Fisher responded:
"Deep community knowledge is really important. We have a lot of staff who have been there a long time. In any market, you're going to have people come in and come out. The Tennessean, in contrast to other papers I've been at, has a large amount of people who have been here a long time...Reporters can come in to a situation and learn the lay of the land. We do a lot to help them know who's who in the community."
The Nashville Scene and others have made an issue in recent years of reporting about increasing frustrations in the newsroom, departures of long-term reporters and a loss of this kind of community knowledge on the paper's staff. It can safely be said, I think, that modern journalism looks very different than it did 10 or 15 years ago, and that the skills required and demands made on reporters are as intense and as varied now perhaps as they have ever been. From what I have witnessed in print and online, it seems that the evolution of The Tennessean is definitely a work-in-progress, but I am hoping that its increasing focus on breaking local news and frequent online updates will ultimately lead to a stronger and more relevant newspaper.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tennessean will be 24/7 within six months

Tennessean Senior Editor Deborah Fisher mentioned during her presentation to the Nashville PRSA chapter yesterday that the paper plans to operate a "24/7 newsroom" within six months that will publish local updates to its Web site around the clock.

Currently, the paper publishes about 100 breaking news updates each day beginning at 6 a.m. Fisher's goal is for the site to be "dynamic and refreshing constantly." "Update, update, update is our mantra," she said.

I'm glad to see this move by the paper. As a media junkie, I say the more news, the better, and it's always encouraging to see additional local content arriving online.