The Tennessean goes to hell

Back in the summer of 1994, I moved straight from my apartment at the University of Delaware to Nashville, Tennessee—home of The Tennessean.

This was my first real job. I made $26,000 as the newspaper’s food and fashion writer. I lived downtown, off the Cumberland, in a place called Riverfront Apartments. I believe I paid $425 monthly. My pad faced a mound of sludge located beneath a bridge. Still it was my pad. My first.

I didn’t love my time in Nashville, because I was lonely and sad and unsure of who I was. I came off as excessively cocky when, truth be told, I was an insecure kid attempting to live a dream. Were it not for the patience, kindness and understanding of my myriad co-workers, I easily could be covering crops in Dubuque right now. Easily.

I disgress. This week The Tennessean announced massive newsroom layoffs—20 total (10 percent of the newsroom). Among the dismissed were Joe Biddle a legendary columnist, and Ellen Margulies, a fantastic journalist/lovely woman who worked at the paper when I was there. According to someone I know, The Tennessean might be contemplating the end of Monday and Tuesday newspapers come 2012. “Gannett revenues were down 11% last quarter,” he wrote me, “and that, apparently, is all that matters.”

I hate Gannett. I hated Gannett when I was at The Tennessean, and I hate Gannett even more now. I hate the greed. I hate the corporate mentality. I hate zero—literally, zero—loyalty. Mostly, I hate the way Gannett refused to pursue journalism greatness; the way profit trumped all; the way it took long, beautiful, sweeping features and turned them into 500-word shit farts. The geniuses at Gannett brought the damned nut graph to the world of journalism—a paragraph, high up in the story, that tells the reader why he’s about to read what he’s about to read. The thought behind Gannett’s journalism philosophy: Readers are dumb, and they can’t handle too much information. So let’s spoon feed.

I can’t say newspapers would be better off had Gannett never entered the game. But they are, without any doubt, worse off. The classic newspapers—the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal—are beautiful and meaningful and weighty and impactful. Do they sell like they once did? No. But they remain important and vital, both online and in print. The Tennessean, on the other hand, has become a joke. The place that kicked off the careers of David Halberstam and Al Gore and myriad others still boasts talented staffers, but refuses to use them. It’s not about The Story. It’s about The Profit.


14 thoughts on “The Tennessean goes to hell”

  1. Wanna hate Gannett even more?

    “Belt tightening helped Gannett boost its earnings by 66 percent last year. The performance resulted in a $1.75 million bonus for Gannett CEO Craig Dubow, a 21 percent increase from $1.45 million in 2009.

    “Although cost-cutting has allowed Gannett to remain profitable, it hasn’t prevented a sharp drop in Gannett’s market value. The company’s stock has fallen about 75 percent since the end of 2005. It increased 40 cents to close Tuesday at $14.16.”

    That’s right: While good journalists are looking for work, Dubow can plan his next vacation cruise or big-ticket-item purchase.

  2. I was an Executive Editor of a newspaper. It was losing money and still is, so when I went on maternity leave, they fired me. One of the owners is now running the paper (one of the owners that has loaned the paper his own money). It’s disgusting how many of these papers treat employees. And, now, I have people constantly asking me where they can find my column. Ummm …I guess Facebook for now.

  3. Maybe he lost his fastball, but since I moved to Nashville in 2005 I’ve been appalled by Joe Biddle’s writing. I’m all for experienced local columnists, but the quality of his work was just astoundingly poor.

  4. This is a good time to be a corrupt local official. Local TV covers nothing but auto accidents, local radio news barely exists outside of major markets, and now local newspaper coverage has been cut to the bone.

    In most towns and cities there is no one who can give in depth coverage to what is happening in the community or local government. It’s not just sad, it’s dangerous.

  5. This is VERY sad news to me. I work in the NFL, and I got my break with the Titans thanks in large part to a good word Joe put in for me. He did so because I used to call his radio show, probably annoyingly, every day when I was about 12 years old. I’m forever indebted to him. Few people in know the SEC like Joe. He’s a good man. This sucks.

  6. Same with musicians and record deals…it’s all about $$$$$$.
    There are countless brilliant musicians who write beautiful music yet, if it doesn’t sell like Justin Bieber, then you are not a priority at a record company. It sucks!!!!!!!

  7. I sometimes like what you stand for, and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I thank you for letting me speak my mind. This time, Jeff, I must applaud your stance.
    I kicked some serious ass for a weekly for three years and my reward was a layoff notice. The reporter they kept on made complete asses out of the higher-ups when she announced she was leaving the paper, a week after they laid me off. Loyalty means nothing to some of these worms.
    Thanks for having the guts to speak out, Jeff.

  8. I’ve read the Tennessean, with a few short breaks, since the early ’60’s. I still walk out the drive every morning with a certain amount of anticipation.

    So it’s decline has been similar to watching a friend waste away from an illness. What was once a vital, intelligent paper has become little more than a pamphlet. There’s so much going on daily in town, and the local section is usually a page and a half. And Biddle is another veteran that deserved better. I know the day is coming when the headline will read “Tennessean to halt Publication.”

  9. I don’t understand the hate towards Gannett. Newspaper readership is down and ad revenue is down due to the economy. As far as the CEO getting a bonus, he should have gotten a bonus for doing a good job (keeping his company profitable). I agree with another commenter, Joe used to be great, but his work has gone down in recent years. If you could remove yourself from the situation and look in frm the outside, I think you’d have a better understanding of this decision.

  10. Remember this day and the word “LOYALTY” when your butt is on the chopping block after spending 20+ years with a company. People like you never understand until it’s your turn.

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