Sunday, January 20, 2008

Brewer calls for more coverage of executions

We had a great turnout last Thursday at Sunset Grill for the Middle Tennessee Pro Chapter’s first program of 2008, a luncheon with guest speaker and SPJ national president Clint Brewer.

The executive editor of The Nashville City Paper and former president of the Middle Tennessee Pro chapter, Brewer touted the important work the Society is doing, called on his fellow Tennessee journalists to provide more coverage of executions in the state prisons, and talked about the expansion, online and otherwise, of The City Paper.

He began by saying he’d just gotten back to Nashville from Fort Worth, where the SPJ chapter traditionally “brands” the new national president, presenting him with a cattle brand with his/her initials on it.

Brewer lauded the progress made in Congress of the proposed federal shield law, which has passed the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee, becoming successful “beyond the wildest dreams of a lot of people.”

“This is not a country where we need to be putting journalists in jail,” Brewer said.

The president also reported that SPJ recently made a $20,000 donation to the Chauncey Bailey Fund, which was created in honor of the Oakland Post editor who was killed by someone he was writing about.

Membership in the society is around the 9,000 mark, Brewer said.

SPJ is also launching a “Citizens’ Journalism Academy,” intended to bridge the gap between citizen journalists/bloggers and those in more traditional media, talking about journalistic principles such as accuracy and fairness. The academy program will include four seminars, in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and Greensboro, N.C.

After talking about SPJ, Brewer talked about The City Paper, and not surprisingly, there were several pointed questions from the attendees in light of Matt Pulle’s column last week in The Nashville Scene, which said The CP planned to go online-only.

The City Paper is “aggressively going toward more online journalism, as is the rest of the world,” Brewer said. Chapter President Milt Capps of the Nashville Post Co. followed up – was there a timeline by which The City Paper intended to drop its print edition and go online only? No, there’s no timeline, Brewer said. The goal is not to do away with the print product, he said.

The publication is becoming less of a newspaper company and become more of a media company, he said, with new blogs and online products, and niche offerings like the Dining Compass.

Brewer said he was proud of the aggressive reporting The City Paper had done, listing major scoops about the MS-13 gang, human trafficking in Nashville, and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.’s possible run for governor. He also said he was proud of having hired and trained strong young journalists

Brewer called on his fellow journalists to make a better showing at the drawings for media witnesses to executions. Spots are going unfilled, he said, and the press has to be there to serve as watchdogs of government action.

“Folks, we need to cover executions in the state of Tennessee,” he said.

Brewer also talked about the proposal in the legislature to weaken the state’s open meetings law. The state’s rural publications are not as organized as the urban ones, while the legislature is led by lawmakers from rural areas, he said.

Brewer also entertained one last question about The City Paper’s most famous staffer, columnist Rex Noseworthy. Brewer said he never can seem to find Noseworthy in the office, and said he’d probably fire him pretty soon.

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