Who picks up the pieces?

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

Bull elk aren’t the only critters bugling this spring.

Today (5/24) at Knox County Commission, you’ll see a battle over ad revenue between Joel Christopher, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, and Steve Hunley, publisher of a free weekly paper, the Focus.

According to a May 22, 2021, article by KNS reporter Tyler Whetstone, the Sentinel has received some $225,000 for legal notices from Knox County since March 2018, while the Focus has received about $8,300.

Today’s vote on first reading would literally prohibit county spending in a subscription newspaper (except for state law mandates like election notices). And the ordinance, supported by Mayor Glenn Jacobs, would require such notices to be published online and in a free paper of general circulation. Read the article here if you can sneak by the paywall.

The fix is in, fellows, and this ordinance will pass. How do we know this?

  • The ordinance was requested by the county mayor and the full commission.
  • The fiscal note projects saving $25,000 annually – a “low end” estimate, says Chris Caldwell, based on not knowing which ads would be posted online only vs. published in a newspaper.
  • Steve Hunley is a bully who would make life miserable for any commissioner who opposes him. They all know this.

But that didn’t stop Christopher from railing against the ordinance – not in an editorial, oddly, but in Whetstone’s story. And why is the editor of the paper handling this anyway? Don’t they have any salespeople left?

Christopher’s points:

  • My circulation is bigger than his.
  • Knox County would be “undercutting the free market if it moves to limit competition.”
  • Hunley could raise his prices dramatically if he’s the only authorized publisher of legal notice ads.
  • “It’s anti-capitalist and damaging to transparency.”

My, my. It’s gotta be hard for a newspaper to keep politicians honest when the newspapers are groveling for legal notice advertising.

Since the 11 commissioners are caught in the middle, so to speak, I’ll dedicate this song to them: 1978, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, “Who Picks Up the Pieces (When Two Fools Collide)”? Enjoy!

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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