gobbling up the news

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Wednesday, 7 March 2007

The Nashville Scene confirmed today the local rumor that the Tennessean had the Al Gore “Energy Hog” story for more than a month but never ran it. Editor Mark Silverman denies that it had anything to do with favoritism, bias, or wanting to make sure that nothing came between Al and Oscar. Instead, he told the Scene that they were busy “working on other stories.”

So what were those other stories?

Well, Tennessee Titan Adam “Pacman” Jones was involved in another legal altercation . . . again. Talk about dog bites man. And yet his story monopolized the local paper’s coverage these past couple weeks:

Pacman knew shooter
Pac’s publicist says he was beaten, robbed
Little of $81,000 from strip club is Pacman’s, owner says
Pacman just won’t listen, family says
Local agencies could use money Pacman wasted
If Pacman broke law, proving it may be tough
Pacman getting plenty of unwanted attention
Pacman Jones’ Titans career
Sports analysts say Jones’ troubles taint Titans, city
GM leaves door open for Jones’ exit
Pacman jerseys go out of style
Vegas club owner says threats not a concern
Club owner: Jones was at center of events before shooting
Police seize Pacman’s $81,000 cash they say sparked Vegas melee
Help, Bud: Pacman must leave
Pacman Jones fires agent
Lawyer: Pacman is not a suspect
Pacman Jones in trouble: A timeline
NFLPA: Pacman terminates agent
Gail Kerr: Wrong spot never right for Pacman
NFL has policies that could bench Pacman
Pacman’s attorney fears ‘mob mentality’
Vegas manager: Bouncers nice to Pacman before shooting
Titans’ options if Pacman cut
Pacman faces felony charge in Georgia
Pacman’s aide says Jones was victim in club
Little of $81,000 from strip club is Pacman’s, owner says

There was one other Tennessean Pacman story, Pacman on Web draws the hits, which brings up the question: What did all that Pacman coverage do to the Tennessean’s web hits?

Let’s look at Alexa, a traffic ranking directory to see:

That spike in the third week of February was due to the Pacman coverage. The spike in the last week of February came from a combination of Pacman and the one article that the paper wrote about the Al Gore story. Not bad, right?

But look what happened to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s web traffic early last week after it broke the Gore story:


The news was so big that for eight hours “Drew Johnson,” the head of the TCPR, was the most googled name in the universe. In one day, the previously little known group received nearly 50% more web hits than the entire local newspaper received–and nearly three times as many visitors as the Tennessean usually gets. That was exposure that should have been the Tennessean’s. In fact, had they broken the story, the combined hits of both sites on that day would have put the Tennessean in the same league as the Chicago Tribune, which hosts one of the busiest newspaper websites in America.

Since the story’s initial airing last Monday, the Tennessean has been painfully silent, perhaps busy salving its wounds. Meanwhile, two local bloggers, Bill Hobbs and me, have added more details to the Gore story including:

Gore’s neighbors pay significantly less for power
Al Gore buys “carbon credits” from self
Gore wants equal time for self, but silence from opponents
Gore’s green energy firm has polluted past
Defenders’ claims don’t hold up to scrutiny

What good would those followup stories have done the Tennessean? Well, my web traffic has skyrocketed to where in the last seven days I’ve received about one-tenth of the usual number of site visitors as the entire Tennnessean’s website receives. Bill Hobbs has had even more hits.

Between the two of us, we have recorded about a quarter of the Tennessean’s regular web traffic. Not bad for a couple of guys in pajamas–especially when compared with an entire newspaper’s website and its hundreds of articles along with its broad marketing reach.

So, let’s take Mark Silverman at his word that this was not a consciously biased editing decision. Perhaps it was just a business decision to go with PacMan over PowerMan. If so, it was a bad one.

However, it’s not an uncommon news decision. Drew Curtis, the creator of Fark.com, had this to say about the media’s fluffy news recently:

Mass media aren’t intentionally trying to dumb down the news, but there’s no getting around the fact that nonnews types of articles are what drive ad revenue on the Internet. It’s a subtle difference but an important one, because it removes intent as a motivation. Sadly, we still end up with the same result: bunk being passed off as news.

Curtis closes his op-ed about the “farking” of the news by saying that journalists have thrown their principles “out the window in a frantic quest for ratings,” and urges media outlets to decide to, “Either report serious news or give up all pretenses.”

The Tennessean long ago made its decision. That’s why it gives breathless breaking news coverage to any hot young teacher caught with an underage student. Meanwhile, while a real local story was breaking, the major Nashville daily sat on it because as Anne Paine, the Tennessean reporter originally assigned to the Gore news, said, “We weren’t in a great rush because we figured no one else had it.” So not only has the Tennessean opted for fark over news, when it has had real news it apparently hasn’t felt enough competitive pressure to explore it. Which means, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out last week, that it is “left to think tanks and bloggers to investigate and expose all this.”

Well, now we know just how much it cost the Tennessean in terms of lost web traffic–a huge spike in traffic and a 25% increase in visitors for a week–not to mention, the associated loss of advertising revenue. That’s a serious price to pay for the decision to no longer be a serious news source.

There is hope, however, as Sissy Willis noted in an email to Glenn Reynolds, the power of market forces may finally have pushed NBC to get another story that it had been sitting on. Perhaps now the Tennessean will recognize the market forces at play in the news that it isn’t covering.


Finally, one of the more ironic angles to this entire Al Gore story is how the data ended up in the TCPR’s hands. Consumers’ utility records are open public records because of a 1998 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling: Tennessean v. Electric Power Board of Nashville. Talk about adding self-inflicted insult to fiscal injury.

Ed Driscoll compares this story to Drudge’s scooping of Newsweek’s Lewinsky story. While the two stories are of a much different magnitude, there are similarities.

Bill Hobbs notes this comparison he gleaned from Google: “92 different blogs linked to my main post on the Gore story here at BillHobbs.com while another 83 linked to a similar version of the same post which I published at the Ecotality.com blog . . . But only eight blogs linked directly to the Tennessean’s story.”


Glenn Reynolds notes the case of a former Knoxville columnist turned blogger: “What’s interesting is that he will probably wind up reaching more people this way than via the News-Sentinel’s oped page.”

Which brings up a good question: I can tell (sort of) just how many people at least glance at each story I’ve written; how many people actually take a glance at a print newspaper article?


Mickey Kaus wonders:

. . . whether web-based papers can ever hope to generate enough ad revenue to fund the expensive reportorial functions formerly generated by print revenue.

I think Kaus may have it backwards:

I wonder if newspapers can still generate enough reportorial functions to justify their ad revenue . . . whether print or online.

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17 Responses to “gobbling up the news”

  1. Ron Says:

    Just curious, are vehicle ownership records also public? I’m trying to find out what kinds of gas-guzzling vehicles the Gores have owned in the past.

  2. Donna Locke Says:

    Newspaper fluff is not even as good as clothes-dryer lint. There is at least some use for dryer lint, such as bird-nest construction.

  3. Nashville is Talking » Nicks and Chips Says:

    […] “Between the two of us, we have recorded about a quarter of the Tennessean’s regular web traffic. Not bad for a couple of guys in pajamas–especially when compared with an entire newspaper’s website and its hundreds of articles along with its broad marketing reach.” […]

  4. Nile Says:

    It would also be interesting to know how many ‘Dixie Chicks’ stories they ran during the time period they were sitting on the ‘Gore’ expose.

  5. Jilly Says:

    Congrats on your traffic but Alexa isn’t very representative.

  6. bob Says:

    Is there a better site for traffic reports? I’ve found great variation even in specific site meters.

  7. Pacman Gore : Hear ItFrom.Us Says:

    […] Â Bob Krumm on the Tennessean’s scoop reporting tactics. […]

  8. Sadcox Says:

    (PacMan story) – (Gore story) = 0
    Mathematically, it’s a news offset.

  9. bob Says:

    Yeah, I guess you’re right. There’s no way that a newspaper could actually cover two different stories simultaneously.

  10. grandefille Says:

    “We weren’t in a great rush because we figured no one else had it.”

    This, my friends, is what happens in a media monopoly, and is a perfect example of why the Tennessean will never truly be competitive in serious journalism again. They were astoundingly lazy when they had the Banner to beat. Now that there’s nothing else, they “figure no one else had it” and they don’t bother — because they don’t take online journalism seriously. They’ve never come around to realizing that the Internet has changed the way we receive and process information, and I don’t really think they will.

    They don’t even take the Nashville Post seriously, and that is a crying shame, because the Post regularly whips the entire Tennessean’s butt with barely a tenth of the staff.


    […] ‘BREATHLESS UPDATE’ Update: Did a Nashville newspaper sit on the ‘Al Gore=Energy Hog’ story until after the Academy Awards were handed out? […]

  12. Bandit Says:

    Mark silverman’s got a future as the news suppressor/editor at the Boston Globe/WaPo/NYT.

  13. Donna Locke Says:

    “News offsets.” Okay, I think I’m starting to understand it. The Tennessean and assorted others can’t contain too much real news/truth, or the planetary control system would be thrown out of balance and might even disintegrate.

    Still … all that fluff makes me sneeze. So, onward, rash rebels! I’ll even wash your PJs for ya.

  14. BIll Hobbs Says:

    News offsets! That’s how bloggers will make money? Newspapers will pay bloggers to report real news so the papers can run fluff!

    I’m selling “News Offsets!”


  15. BizzyBlog » Couldn’t Help But Notice (031207) Says:

    […] The news about Al Gore the energy hog is big stuff of course, but what is in many ways bigger is the fact that the insufferably liberal Nashville Tennessean had the story for at least a month before the Academy Awards — and sat on it (HT Bob Krumm). This excuse for why the paper didn’t run with the information they had requested and received is one of the all-time howlers: Tennessean editor Mark Silverman says the paper did indeed make the public information request back in January, after Gore’s global warming film was nominated for an Academy Award on Jan. 23. He says the explanation for why the paper didn’t use the information until after the Oscars has nothing to do with a pro-Gore agenda. […]

  16. Bob Krumm » i’m back Says:

    […] Gannett reported that its revenues were down 3%. It certainly didn’t help matters that one particular Gannett paper sat on a remarkable story the entire month of February. […]

  17. Bob Krumm » what will the ‘07 season bring? Says:

    […] I know that I’ve ragged on the Tennessean before for its exhaustive Pacman Jones coverage. But, hey, I want in on the web traffic that any mention of football’s favorite miscreant seems to bring. And besides, this is the first time I’ve covered the story, so give me a break. […]