Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eight is Enough: The Best Media Moments in Memphis in 2008

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 4:00 AM

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. But for Memphis media, 2008 was mostly the worst of times. Layoffs, lawsuits, and declining ad revenues thrust Memphis' news providers into the headlines, while local bloggers explored the tasteless outer limits of tabloid journalism. Here's a list of eight memorable Memphis media moments from 2008.

1. Talk About Foreshadowing: On January 10, 2008, employees at The Commercial Appeal followed in the somber but fashionable footsteps of Johnny Cash, Hamlet, and the desk clerk at the Heartbreak Hotel by dressing from head to toe in black. Officially, the mourning garb was to protest business practices at the CA and to commemorate the fact that Newspaper Guild members had gone five years without a contract.

Today, as the Guild approaches its sixth year without a contract, last January's "Black Day at the CA" looks like good times. By the end of 2008, Memphis' daily newspaper's pages had been shrunk by an inch; its staff had been shrunk by 9 percent (57 employees); its parent company split into two separate divisions, which both lost value; stockholder dividends were suspended; and in a money-saving measure, home deliveries were stopped for nearly 10,000 households in areas that had been served by the CA for years. Perhaps this year the paper's employees will get with the spirit of the new Depression and wear barrels?

2. Biggest Head on Union Avenue: Will Andy Wise's two-story head still greet eastbound travelers on Union Avenue now that his no-compete clause with former employer, WREG Channel 3, has expired and he can appear on camera at WMC? More important, is the self-styled consumer advocate still on a mission from God (as he claimed to be in 2005, following a report on Mayor Herenton's illegitimate child).

3. Naming Rights: Speaking of illegitimate children, former Commercial Appeal reporter and gadfly "mediaverse" blogger Richard Thompson nailed it when he christened the CA's weekly front chronicling of estimates of Memphis children born to unwed mothers "The Bastard Meter." The BM, which was created and compiled by a substantially-funded, not-for-profit organization called the the Urban Child Institute, estimates that 15,500 babies were born to single parents hereabouts in 2008. Editor Chris Peck recently penned a head-shaking column about the poor bastards, concluding, "Their lives will be tough on them."

4. The Thaddeus Matthews Award for General Ickiness: Unsurprisingly, this year's award goes to blogger and radio provocateur Thaddeus Matthews himself, who used his website to post graphic photographs of a nude victim of the brutal Lester Street slayings. Matthews snapped his candids while touring N.J. Ford and Sons Mortuary. It was just another day on the job for Matthews, who also works as a repo man and operates the social networking site "Sista Big Bone Needs Love Too."

5. Reno 911 Award: This year's Nine-Eleveny goes to the blogger known as Dirk Diggler, and his hilarious foil, Police Director Larry Godwin, for their joint adventures in scurrilous rumor-mongering and expensive overreaction. Sure, Diggler said some scandalous things about Godwin on his blog, but was it really worth an $88,000 lawsuit? "Smart City Memphis" blogger Tom Jones snarkily described Godwin's pursuit of the anonymous blogger as an "obsession with Moby Dick." And that's about the size of it.

6. Merry Christmas, You're Fired: December was a tough month for WMC-TV. The station laid off some of its name-brand talent, including weeknight co-anchor Donna Davis, midday anchor Bill Lunn, and 13 others. WMC's parent company Raycom Media blamed advertising-sales woes.

7. Excellence in Desperate Memo Writing: This note to Commercial Appeal employees from the desk of circulation director Karl Wurzbach speaks for itself: "Subject: HELP!!! Due to the carrier delivery rate revision project we are currently involved with, we are experiencing a significant but not unexpected number of down routes. WE NEED YOUR HELP! We will accept help from any salaried employee that wants to volunteer to help out by throwing routes (one day, many days, WHATEVER!) Also, we will pay friends or family members a "substitute" delivery fee of $10 to deliver the affected routes. Must have a valid driver's license, auto insurance, and a reliable vehicle. We have work available in all towns."

8. Man Against Unnatural Nature: To demonstrate the effects of hurricane-force winds on the human body, WREG weatherman Jim Jaggers threw caution to the wind, put on some chunky looking goggles, and climbed into a Maryland wind tunnel. What followed could have been a satirical segment for The Daily Show if it hadn't been actual reporting. A sample of the dialogue as shouted against the roaring fake elements: "This is pure wind ... It's like I'm hanging outside of my car on the interstate. My pants are flapping against my leg!" One for the ages.

-- Chris Davis

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