(Political) Decline and Fall of the Tennessee Daily Newspaper


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In its June 10 edition, The Tennessee Journal, the influential statewide weekly on politics and government, has some interesting analysis about the fate of daily newspapers published in the major urban centers of Tennessee. The Journal then relates this state of affairs to newspaper-unfriendly legislation passed or pending in the General Assembly.

As the Journal states, “Thirty years ago, the state’s four biggest cities all had two major daily newspapers. In 1983 the Memphis Press-Scimitar folded, and in 1991 the Knoxville Journal ceased daily publication. The Nashville Banner went out of business in 1998, and The Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press merged into a single publication in 1999.”

The weekday circulation figures of those newspapers since 1971 tell an interesting tale of decline:


Circulation figures for those major state newspapers with Sunday editions are as follows:


The Journal attributes the decline in daily newspaper readership to several factors — including a shift from local management and control to corporate administration; the inroads of electronic and digital communications media; the financially dictated decision by major urban dailies to shrink their circulation areas; and even competition from “alternativwe weeklies like the Memphis Flyer and Nashville Scene.”

The dwindling influence of dailies has resulted, says the Journal, in legislative challenges to Sunshine laws and efforts to shift obligatory legal notices from newspapers to Internet sites

Other legislative responses from the recently concluded 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly included:

•SB 1168/HB1774, a bill, tabled for now,that would have given local governments authority to keep the wraps on economic development information “of a sensitive nature.” The bill was pushed by the city of Memphis and the Memphis/Shelby County Chamber of Commerce in tandem with the formation of EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine).

•SB1665/HB1539, a bill to prohibit publication of records of 911 emergency calls without the consent of the recorded party. This bill is scheduled for House action in the next legislative session.
SB1951/HB1875, imposing charges on preparation of public records for citizen inspection.. The bill is pending.

•SB822/HB424, establishing the confidentiality of law enforcement or government records regarding home burglar alarm systems, enacted into law.

•SB1844/HB1154, authorizing governmental entities facing litigation to petition the court to bar plaintiffs from obtaining records th rough the open records process. The bill did not advance.<.p>

•And several bills that, as mentioned, would shift public-notice responsibility from newspapers to the Internet or direct mail.

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