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 May 10, 2007 2:20 PM

Tennessean Publisher ‘Baffled’ by Complaints, Anti-Trust Accusations

From Nashville City Paper, May 9, 2007
By Jared Allen

A group of Nashville-area publishers on Tuesday took Nashville’s largest daily newspaper, The Tennessean, to task for engaging in what they described as a bully campaign to strong-arm local weeklies out of business, and for “being unfair to the black community.”

In a hastily called press conference held Tuesday afternoon at the Jefferson Street offices of the Tennessee Tribune — Nashville’s largest African-American weekly newspaper — four publishers of multiple Middle Tennessee weekly newspapers blasted the Gannett Corp. newspaper for trying to monopolize a print media market in which it already owns a majority market share.

The publishers also described a meeting they had last week with U.S. Department of Justice lawyers, who the publishers have asked to investigate possible anti-trust violations by The Tennessean.

“We don’t like The Tennessean targeting our newspapers, and that’s exactly what they’re doing here, and that’s why we were able to get a meeting at the Justice Department,” said Gary Cunningham, publisher of the Green Hills News and the Belle Meade News. “You don’t walk into the Justice Department unless you’ve got a pretty good case.”

Cunningham said the publishers were encouraged by what he described as positive feedback from Justice officials.

“When we first met with them they said, ‘You have 40 minutes… When we started getting into the details and we presented this to the Justice Department, we could see a change in them,” Cunningham said. “They said, ‘We’re going to give you a little more time, we want to hear more.’ So that meeting went for an hour-and-a-half.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday confirmed that the meeting between the local publishers and the department’s anti-trust staff had taken place last week.

“The publishers presented their concerns and we heard them out, and we are now evaluating what they presented to us,” the spokesman said.

Specifically, the local publishers believe that The Tennessean has turned its “zoned editions” into separate publications that unfairly compete with existing community newspapers, such as theirs.

“In 1995, The Tennessean had one publication – The Tennessean, the newspaper,” Jack Soodhalter, publisher of the News Herald in Donelson and the News Beacon in Antioch. “Currently they have 32 publications. They own papers in all of the adjacent counties to Davidson County except for Wilson [County]… [and] they have about a 60 percent share of the market at this time.

“And we question whether or not a daily newspaper can own community newspapers within that community when there are already community newspapers that have been around for years,” Soodhalter said.

Tennessean Publisher Ellen Leifeld said she was unaware of the publishers’ meeting with Justice Department officials, and said she was “baffled” at the animosity shown toward her newspaper.

Leifeld denied that The Tennessean was engaged in any kind of attempt to buy or push smaller publications out of business.

“Obviously, we’re trying to reach a lot of audiences in the community and a lot of readers. We always have and we always will,” Leifeld said. “But we are not targeting any specific publications, as they are suggesting.”

But the fieriest rhetoric from the other publishers was reserved for The Tennessean’s regional coverage and its coverage of the African-American community, which was described as slick, disinterested, disingenuous and slanderous.

“Historically the African-American press has served as the eyes and the ears of the community that was otherwise either ignored or poorly served by the mainstream, or white, press,” said Tennessee Tribune Publisher Rosetta Miller-Perry. “But now many companies, like Gannett and Scripps-Howard would rather try to co-opt the black press or put them out of business. These corporations don’t have any interest in the African-American consumer or readers. They just don’t want our competition.”

Miller-Perry said the closure of Nashville’s only African-American-run newspaper represents “as grave a threat to black economic progress as anything in recent memory.”

“I don’t intend to be shut down by The Tennessean,” she said, adding that she would support a community-wide boycott of The Tennessean. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of The Tennessean.”

Leifeld said she continues to be surprised by the criticism of her newspaper.

“Honestly, I’m a little baffled by it all,” she added. “And as I’ve tried to think about what their possible motivation could be, [business frustration] could be part of it.

“It’s a very difficult time for newspapers of all sizes,” she said.


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 May 10, 2007 2:21 PM

“It’s a very difficult time for newspapers of all sizes,” she said.

This article is from Nashville City Paper. If you found it informative and valuable, we strongly encourage you to visit their Web site and register an account, if necessary, to view all their articles on the Web. Support quality journalism.
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