published Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Griscom: Network blankets the state


by Tom Griscom

Today's front page carries a story on the financial fortunes of the candidates vying to be the Republican nominee for governor in the 2010 elections.

The Democratic contenders will earn their front-page spot next week.

Yes, when the new year breaks, eight months later will be the first round in the effort to succeed Gov. Phil Bredesen. In less than a year a Republican and a Democrat will face off, with the winner inheriting the challenges and opportunities to lead the state over the ensuing four years.

Elections are not new, and neither is the release of financial data for candidates.

But what is new is the combined efforts of the four major newspapers in the state -- in Memphis, Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga -- that we hope will provide voters in Tennessee with comprehensive election coverage.

The Tennessee Newspaper Network consists of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, The Tennessean in Nashville, the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. These newspapers came together earlier in the year to share stories from across the state and to set up an extensive election coverage platform.

In previous elections, candidates received the same request from multiple newspapers seeking similar information. Through the work of the TNN, the four Republican and four Democratic campaigns were contacted one time by a representative for the four newspapers.

The Knoxville News Sentinel took the lead on the financial disclosure project, with an assist from The Tennessean in compiling the data in an electronic format to be placed on the Internet, and a project logo created by Beck Towery of the Times Free Press.

As the election unfolds, a series of issues has been identified, and each newspaper will develop stories supplemented with documents on the position of each candidate. Through this process, voters in, for example, Southeast Tennessee will know if a particular contender takes the same stand on an issue regardless of geographic location. Candidates in the past might have tailored a comment in support of the University of Memphis when in the western part of the state but developed a case of amnesia when asked about that position in the backyard of the University of Tennessee in the eastern part of the state.

TNN plans to provide an issue grid that will be an easy guide for readers to assess candidates' positions, as well as fact checks of claims made in positive and negative campaign ads, polling numbers to measure voter reactions, and possibly a series of debates across the state.

The four TNN newspapers are part of a separate cooperative news-sharing operation that includes The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, The Jackson Sun, The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, the Kingsport Times-News, the Johnson City Press and the Bristol Herald Courier.

With the breadth and strength of journalism across the state, the Tennessee Newspaper Network focuses on accountability, credibility and accessibility so that Tennessee readers and voters are well informed in making decisions that impact the future.

To reach Tom Griscom, call 423-757-6472 or e-mail tgriscom@timesfreepress.com.

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