My Tennessean journey (aka: There’s hope for us all)


What with my Nicki Pendleton post, then the tragic passing of Chantay Steptoe-Buford, I’ve been blogging quite a bit about my comically bad Tennessean days. Even though I only worked at the newspaper for slightly less than 2 1/2 years (June 1994 through October 1996), I’m loaded with humiliation from the time period. Here are some beauts …

1. Catherine Mayhew, the features editor, assigned me a piece on a local chef who cooked weird and exotic meats—elk, snake, possum, etc. In the course of our interview, for a reason I’ll never understand, I casually asked the man whether he’d ever cooked human flesh. A few days later Catherine called me into her office and said, “Did you ask someone whether they cooked human flesh?”

2. An editor named Ted Power assigned me to cover a prostitution sting run by the Nashville Police Department. I was an amazing experience—I hid in a cheap motel room bathroom with a handful of cops, then jumped out when a customer arrived with the undercover officer/hooker. When I handed in the story, Ted couldn’t stop laughing. And laughing. And laughing. My lede: “All John Smith wanted was a blow job.”

Oddly, it never made print.

3. In 1995, I was working in The Tennessean features department. I was very close friends with Sheila Jones, our receptionist/office manager. Well, one night I was working late and Sheila had left her computer on. We used to talk shit all the time, so I went on Sheila’s computer and typed EAT SHIT! (or something along those lines) as an IM, and had her send it to herself. The next morning I arrived at work to find everyone in a panic. Turns out Sheila was worried someone was stalking her—especially after she had received a threatening message. Security was called, etc. When I confessed to Sheila, I was sickened. “Do we have to tell Catherine?” I said. We did. Wasn’t pretty.

4. Wrote a feature on a local rock band named Dreaming In English. Huge Sunday piece about a group trying to make it. Lead singer was a charismatic singer named Tyrone Banks. Throughout the entire piece, I IDed him as “Tyrone Brooks.”

5. Maybe my best. Was on the cops beat (as punishment for sloppiness); sent out to the scene of a murder. I arrived at the apartment. Was police tape over the door, absolutely nobody around. I touched the handle, and the door was unlocked. So I called The Tennessean office, where a veteran reporter named Dwight Lewis answered. “Dwight, I’m at the scene, and the apartment is open. Can I open the door and take some notes on the scene?” Dwight told me to wait, and he’d call me back in five minutes. Well, I waited and waited and waited, and finally grew impatient. So I opened the door: Bullet holes in the wall, blood splattered across the couch. I never entered, but I took notes. I close the door to leave, the phone rings. “Jeff,” Dwight says, “whatever you do, don’t open the door. Do not!”

Boy, did I ever get a tongue lashing for that one …

6. Wrote a column for the paper on how private religious schools shouldn’t allow prayers before sporting events. This sorta speaks for itself. The local alt-weekly, The Nashville Scene, called me The Tennessean’s “enfant terrible.” They were right.