A stranger than fiction story line that’s true

I go out of town for a couple of days and return to the surreal. Liberal Randy Neal and conservative Brian Hornback united in defending a blogger for the News Sentinel, a media company neither has been shy about calling out when they’ve felt moved to do so.

And that happens with some regularity. (Hornback likes to call the newspaper’s building “the Big Metal Shed on the Hill.”)

They and others, however, decried a bare-knuckled attempt by county mayoral aide Susanne Dupes to silence Scott McNutt, who writes a political satire blog for the News Sentinel called Snark Bites.

But Neal, Hornback and News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy united on an issue? Why that’s right out of McNutt’s fictional Snark Bites.

Here’s what they and others have been saying.

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A tool for creating clear understanding and agreement

Shaketool.com, a new site from a veteran group of Knoxville online entreprenuers, is going into wider beta testing.

What is Shaketool? It’s a Web-driven system for reaching agreement and, along the way, increasing mutual understanding.

Is it for you? Beats me. Give it a try and find out.

It’s the latest project of the group led by Danny McCall that also developed Talentsphere and its forerunner Digital Discoveries for human resource management in the workplace.

McCall said in an email “make sure you take this tool for a test drive with anyone, and in any personal or professional situation, ….wherever you wish to avoid. assumptions, misunderstanding, confusion or shirking of respective accountability.  We’ve worked real hard to make it VERY simple without compromising the power.”

It may sound kind of out there and it probably is. It wouldn’t be the first time McCall has seen concrete business opportunities where others have struggled to grasp his vision. That’s what visionary people do, right?

Who thought 140 character public postings would become a communications platform? I’m not predicting the next Twitter, but it bears watching.

Good luck, guys!

Tennessee journalist honored with lifetime achievement award

SPJ news release from this morning:

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor pioneering Tennessee journalist Robert Churchwell with the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. Churchwell, who died Feb. 1, 2009, was the first black journalist to work as a full-time reporter for a Southern general interest newspaper.

The Helen Thomas Award is presented to an individual or individuals for a lifetime of contribution and service to the journalism profession. The award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years. Thomas received the inaugural award in 2000.

In 1950, the Nashville Banner, a conservative daily paper, hired Churchwell after his graduation from Fisk University, where he’d studied English after a four-year tour in the Army. The white-owned paper didn’t hire the World War II veteran to show its racial integration agenda, but rather as a business decision to attract black readers.

Though he spent most of his career with the Banner, Churchwell’s early treatment – even by his employer and colleagues – was anything but pleasant. Initially he wasn’t assigned a desk in the newsroom and worked from home, dropping off stories to an editor. Some fellow journalists ignored his presence and routinely directed derogatory epithets toward him. He was also barred from staff meetings during his early years at the Banner.

Eventually Churchwell garnered the respect he deserved – from the community and his colleagues – being named to the education beat and holding the post for 20 years until his retirement in 1981. Among many awards for community activities and journalism is a 1994 induction into the regional hall of fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. In 1996 he earned a presidential citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

Aside from his monumental first in a white-dominated newsroom, Churchwell also made strides within the professional journalism association community. In 1965, he became the first black member of Sigma Delta Chi’s Middle Tennessee Professional Chapter. He served as chapter vice president in 1969. Sigma Delta Chi later became the Society of Professional Journalists.

Churchwell will be recognized Saturday, Aug. 29 during a dinner at the 2009 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Indianapolis.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

A push-start for three innovative media ideas

In case you missed this from earlier in the week, the McCormick Foundation funded three proposals from new media women entrepreneurs at $10,000 each so they can launch within a year.

Here are the three plans::

ChickRx – Harvard MBA student Stacey Borden and partner Meghan Muntean will lead a team of women in launching an “edgy, approachable, engaging” online health resource uniquely targeted to women, ages 18 to 27. It will have content and Q&As, updated daily, from medical, family and nutrition experts, addressing such questions as: “Can drinking too much Diet Coke increase my risk of getting cancer?” “Can I lose five pounds in week without starving myself?” “Why am I unhappy, even though I know I shouldn’t be?” Borden is the former campus relations director of 85 Broads, a national professional women’s group.
Women’s Community News Franchise – Former MytopiaCafe.com editor Michelle Ferrier will develop a complete infrastructure, to be franchised, for those who want to launch hyperlocal news sites. A demo site will launch later this year in West Volusia County, Florida, piloting services that will include a Web platform, software development, market analysis, some content, and legal and marketing assistance. Such an infrastructure, says Ferrier, will permit citizen journalists and community members to “focus on what they are most passionate about – building their community conversation through good local information and networking.”
The Good Food Fight – Three media-savvy Seattle women will connect consumers interested in food with larger public policy issues that affect food choices, security, safety, health and sustainability. Partners Kristin Hyde, Jen Lamson and Amy Pennington will use their deep experience in policy, marketing, journalism and digital campaigns “to leverage the growing concern and interest in food with a call to arms.” They plan to use a business-to-business model as well as their own outreach to leverage support from subscribers, sponsors, donors and foundations.

Respite from the media dog days of summer

Just when the summer sultry heat convinces you the future of media is the bleakest of deserts along comes something or someone that says otherwise.

There’s Michael Van Popel, who at 17 started the Twitter breaking news service Breaking News Online. Now a mere 20, he’s built a media franchise and is coming out in August with an iPhone app with a monthly subscription charge.

Then there’s controversial 55-year-old former newspaper reporter Nikki Finke.who sold her Deadline Hollywood Blog to Mail.com Media Corp. last month for what the L.A. Times said was a  “low seven-figure sum” or, as others suggested, somewhere near $15 million. With her newfound cash and a long-term employment deal, she plans to add a a second reporter, one on the East Coast.

On different ends of the journalism career age spectrum and in vastly different ways, they are proving there’s a there there for digital journalism.

More effort needs to be put into innovating and finding what works than in doomed media protectionist schemes. Finding the new models will do more to get us through these dog days.