JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

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.

Damn.