Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Some local color

It's rare when I comment on local happenings in middle Tennessee and even rarer when it involves papers I've had dealings with. But in this case, I'm making an exception.

A former editor for a local paper started up his own weekly more than a year ago and since that time, The Saturday Independent has been ruffling feathers by actually reporting the truth around here. In fact, he was sacked from his former employer for, well, actually reporting the truth. After he started the Independent, there were lawsuits from the publisher he formerly worked for.

Long story which I have no time to get into here.

Anyhow, the latest story on their site makes some pretty serious slams at the local chain of papers which has held sway in this area for years.
Coffee County Mayor Ray Johnson became belligerent and threatening to some members of the local news media following a Coffee County Commission meeting Tuesday night.
"You know what, piss on you," Johnson told TSI publisher Chip Ramsey when Ramsey confronted him about statements he made during the board meeting regarding a story in last Saturday's edition of The Saturday Independent. The story, and an accompanying editorial blasted the mayor's office and the office of budget and finance for several flags on a preliminary audit from the State of Tennessee.
Though Johnson would not give a reason, his hand-picked budget director, Sybol Latremore, resigned her position Monday -– five days after a meeting with state auditors.
The story goes on to refer to past coverage involving a $259,000 error in the Debt Service Fund estimate. Yet...
Johnson called the state findings "good" and told commissioners that the criticism the audit and budget director received from The Saturday Independent stories and from WMSR 1320 radio a "character assassination."
But the real slam was at the end of the article:
Stories appeared in The Tullahoma Sunday News and the Manchester Times this week quoting Johnson as saying there were no "major" findings in the audit.
Neither paper had representatives at last week's Budget and Finance Committee meeting that focused on the preliminary audit.
Now, neither of these two papers have anything on their websites about this and I haven't seen the print editions, but given my knowledge of the situation around here, I would say that things are about to get quite interesting around here.

The Tullahoma News and the Manchester Times have held a news monopoly here for ages. Things that would upset the local powers-that-be simply did not get reported or were buried on page 16A. Police blotters were edited while other cases involving people who fell into disfavor with the big wigs or the publisher tend to get prominent ink.

Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

So with a second news outlet in the county, the big cheese in these parts can no longer keep things quiet by phoning up the politically compromised publisher.

Like I said...things are about to get quite interesting around here.

UPDATE: Here's the Tullahoma News version, which is quite a bit different...