This month, Trend gets to know members of the local media.
Read on for profiles of Chloe Morrison, NOOGAtoday.com; LaTriceCurrie, WRCB Channel 3; Gary Poole, The Pulse; and Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press. They'll share about the most impactful news they've covered, why they love Chattanooga and what you need to know about getting your story covered locally and beyond.
Chloe Morrison, Business Editor and Multimedia Journalist at online local news source NOOGAtoday (noogatoday.6amcity.com), has been spotlighting business and cool happenings in our area for eight years. A UTC journalism alum, she teaches a media writing course and has served as an advisor for The Echo, the UTC student newspaper. In her spare time, she plays the ukulele.
Trend: 6AM City recently bought Nooga.com. How's the transition? Do you still have a lot of control over your content?
Morrison: Yes. People who are local in each city pitch the ideas. The only difference is now, I pitch to an editor, more like the process at a newspaper. Before the transition, our team was so small that any conversation was short and very, 'I'm going to go do this.' Now, it's more 'Does anyone have anything to add? Has any other market done something similar?' More feedback from more people.
The main difference with NOOGAtoday, which I think people are still learning, is that the main product is a newsletter as opposed to the website. All the content still goes on the website but our daily task is to build out this newsletter and populate social media. As opposed to posting a breaking news story on Nooga.com, we break news on social instead.
The newsletter is designed to curate cool, expert information on Chattanooga every day, and send it to your mailbox. If you don't want it in your mailbox, you can look at it online. If you don't want to look online, you can just follow us on social. That's been the main change, along with a focus on engagement. As a journalist, you're trained to push out information. But the idea here is to engage through our social media platforms and in person, and to use that feedback to inform our content.
Trend: Nooga content has always seemed positive. Can you speak to that? Is that the intention?
Morrison: Well, we don't have the staff to cover every fire or car wreck. The directive was never all-positive news, but we've tried to do things that weren't being done everywhere else. That just happened to be positive stuff. With NOOGAtoday, it's a little different in that our mission is to support and promote and be proud of the city. Everybody who works at a 6AM City outlet loves the city that they live in and wants to highlight and celebrate how it's thriving.
Trend: What do you think the future of journalism looks like?
Morrison: It's more important now than ever for people to have traditional, basic journalistic skills. Many of the other skills — a lot of young people have already. They intuitively know how to use all social media, but when it's news related you have to apply the same standards of accuracy to anything you post. With all the political discourse and fake news hype, now more than ever, we need people who are dedicated to pointing out the truth.
I don't think newspapers will go away. I think obviously the trend, because of costs, will be toward online. It'll be interesting to see how the industry is monetized. I see advertising continuing with online platforms and more paid content. I think the general population needs more media literacy to understand the difference between news and paid content that may not look like a traditional ad.
Trend: What is the hardest piece you've written or story that you've covered?
Morrison: Covering the fallen five shooting a few years ago, I had nightmares and I didn't even see anything — it was a matter of the subject and having to talk and think about it so much. Reporting on horrible things is the worst. Your job is to get information and you feel a duty to do that while at the same time realizing that people have died. Plus you're trying to deal with what's happening at the same time.
Trend: What about most impactful, something that changed your opinion on a topic?
Morrison: I have enjoyed covering Volkswagen. I never thought I would understand the auto industry. I did a lot of coverage of unions, which I also didn't think I'd find interesting. Learning about the auto industry and covering Volkswagen and its impact on the region has been interesting and fun. It was not only impactful for the community but I learned and grew from it too.
Trend: What are some of the positive ways that you've seen Chattanooga change? What do you think still needs to happen?
Morrison: My gosh, well, I came here to Chattanooga in 2001, for college. There was a vibe. It was the city I wanted to be in. I have no idea how I knew that but I'm glad that I did.
When I left to go to Knoxville, EPB was not downtown. I came back and there was the Gig.
I think people at the Chamber and our mayors and CVB and leaders have honed how to tell the Chattanooga story in a way that's appealing and true. And I've watched it unfold. From growth on MLK to the Southside to downtown in general, new businesses, people moving here — I cannot count the number of times that I've talked to people who say 'I could live anywhere. I choose to live in Chattanooga, because I drove through it,' or, 'My family lived here,' or, 'We were looking around and I read about it and it seemed cool.'
I think there's much to be done as far as including everybody and not becoming too gentrified, which is a challenge everywhere. I don't know the answer to that. Infrastructure will be a challenge as for all cities. Remaining intentional, clear-minded and clear-hearted about what Chattanooga is will make it continue to thrive.
Maintaining the charm while growing will be the biggest challenge.
Trend: What should people know about pitching you for coverage?
Morrison: Businesses should know that the best way is to reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and have a conversation about what makes the most sense for coverage. Especially with our new format, there are different and new ways that we feature people. Tell me what you think your news is and ask if I think it can be covered and how. Shoot me an email or text. If you start a conversation with us and build a relationship, that's important to me. I enjoy building these relationships and knowing business owners. Then when I'm working on a story and I remember you're an expert on the topic, I can call you.
I think sometimes people forget to consider how their news is relevant to more than a small audience. Very niche items don't always connect with our broad audience. One annoying thing that happens less and less is — somebody sends me a press release and then immediately calls me to ask if I got it. Unless it's crucial I see it immediately, give us some time. And what they're not communicating is, 'Do you think you can use it?' which is what they want to know. So ask that.
Trend: Is there anything else you'd like people to know about you or NOOGA?
Morrison: I think people should check out the NOOGAtoday product. Sign up for the newsletter (noogatoday.6amcity.com/#subscribe). If you had been used to Nooga.com before, give a look at what it is now. I love Chattanooga and I love my work. I'm humbled all the time to participate in the community in the way that I do. I feel really thankful and lucky to have been in this field for so long because I enjoy it.
LaTrice Currie, Anchor at WRCB Channel 3, has been delivering Chattanooga news since 1995. She's an active community volunteer passionate about a range of causes, including health, education and trying to make a difference in the community, especially underserved and innercity communities. She is a member of the executive board of the Greater Chattanooga chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc., an organization supporting African-American families.
Trend: What are the best and worst parts of your job? Many people perceive broadcast journalism as glamorous.
Currie: Well, let me just say this, when the red light goes on every day we are ready. When you see us, we are dressed up. We have makeup on. Our hair is done. Or you see us out in the community at events or supporting causes. What you don't see is what goes on behind the scenes. Preparation, helping craft scripts, getting out in the field. I enjoy being in the field for interviews. Successful newscasts require groundwork like lots of phone calls and emails. I don't walk in here every day with my face made up and my hair done. I walk in here ready to get to work. And that's what I do.
Trend: Does someone help you with hair and makeup or do you do it yourself?
Currie: We have consultants who will give us advice, but we do it ourselves.
Trend: Does it ever annoy you that your appearance is part of your job?
Currie: There are some days that I'd love to come into work in jeans, no makeup and a ponytail.
But no matter what kind of day I'm having, when I go on air all that has to disappear. The only thing that I focus on is the newscast and my presentation on air. To make sure that I'm in the moment. You're not just reading the news, you're presenting a newscast. You must think about what you're saying so that you have natural reactions.
Trend: Has that made you more mindful in other areas of your life?
Currie: Certainly when I meet people. I'm a more active listener and that's what we learn in this business — to be really be good at our jobs, to present the news in an impactful and insightful way, we need to be good listeners. When I'm interviewing, I'm not just thinking ahead to the next question but really listening. That sometimes changes the direction and focus of my interview.
Trend: What's the process of planning what news will air each day?
Currie: Well, first and foremost: editorial meetings in the morning and in the afternoon with our news director and producers. They plan the day and what gets covered by whom. They leave the meeting and start making calls. When I come in, the first thing I do is talk with the producer. I might make script suggestions for the show and we may flip things around. Sometimes I'll write something beforehand and say, 'Hey, let's put this in the show.' You also go over the layout. They let you know before you go on if you're standing at the weather kiosk or starting the show on the desk. Anchors are an active participant in the show with the producer.
Trend: What are the most impactful stories that you work on?
Currie: Highlighting groundbreaking procedures or surgeries newly available to people in our area that can save lives, and getting the word out about important health information.
I've partnered with the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women. How am I making sure that women know their numbers? Cholesterol? BMI? Glucose sugar levels? Blood pressure? How can we live more active and healthy lifestyles? Inspirational weight loss stories never get old. Many of us struggle with our weight here and there — 10 or 15 pounds. But can you imagine struggling with 150 pounds?
You see people lose that and it truly is amazing. And then they go on to do something like run a marathon. Those stories make a difference because there's someone sitting out there watching who's on the couch thinking, 'I can't do this. I'm stuck.'
Trend: How has journalism changed in your career?
Currie: There's a more conscious effort now to reach people where they are online and through social media. You'll still have your traditional viewers, but social media is crucial.
However, even with the fast pace of that, being correct is part of your credibility. So it's okay if you see someone else push news out first. You shouldn't push that out until you make sure that it's correct and you know what you're talking about. We want to be reliable and be the Tennessee Valley source for news and information.
I like that we engage more with our viewers through social media now. It provides a platform for people to say things they might not if you were face to face. That's the downside, but it's part of social media.
Trend: You've worked in Chattanooga for 20 years. What positive changes have you seen in our area? What do we still need to work on?
Currie: I've seen so much economic development, especially small businesses. The more growth and economic development, the more higher paying jobs you have. The better it is for your community as a whole and for families. I'd love to see us continue to grow in the areas of arts and diversity. I'd like to see us bring more diverse artists, plays and performances, so people don't have to go to Nashville or Atlanta.
Trend: How should businesses pitch you to be covered?
Currie: First, think about why we should put you on the news. What is it that makes this business, this product stand out? How can you tell this story without it being a commercial? Why should anyone besides your business care? How will this impact and help others in our community? When you sell that story, consider what makes compelling video, because television is of course visual media.
Trend: So, once they've thought through all that, how should they share their idea?
Currie: Email or direct message on social media.
If you have a personal relationship, or know whose beat it would fall under, then by all means reach out to that individual.
Trend: What do people do when they pitch you that makes your life harder?
Currie: Leaving out the basic who, what, when, where and how. Or someone sends a story, news release or email and then you say, 'Okay, can we set that up?' And they say, 'Okay, what are we going to be talking about?' Also, know your subject. Know what you're talking about if you requested an interview. Make sure you have all the elements that you need. If we need a patient or someone else on camera, make sure that's available before you reach out to us.
Trend: Have you had any embarrassing on-air moments?
Currie: Once we were trying to do a goodbye for my morning show co-anchor Jed Mescon, and I was responsible for the champagne. I put it in the freezer, we opened it and it just went everywhere. Everyone was like, 'Didn't you know not to put champagne in the freezer for that long?' But you're a person, not a robot. I know I'm doing my job when I'm out and people say, 'Hello, LaTrice.' And I stop and think 'Wait, is this someone I know or a viewer?'
And that's the way it should be. People should feel like they know you. They let you into their homes every day. They trust you with bringing them the news and information that their family needs, and keeping them updated.
Dave Flessner, Business Editor and 39-year veteran of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has covered Chattanooga business news since the '80s. He reports that he "probably works too much," but he spends much of his off time with his seven grandchildren all under age 6.
Trend: How did you end up being a journalist?
Flessner: Well, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but then I determined America had too many lawyers. I started working in radio, then newspapers and fell in love with being able to ask other people questions. Journalism is fun. Not a day goes by that isn't interesting. I've always been intrigued by business, because all good stories include a struggle to overcome. And every business is in a competitive market, so finding out how they succeed, or fail, and the human struggles to make a business survive and thrive can make a compelling story and offer important lessons on life and business for others.
In our work, we enlighten people about the economy and the workplace, and about Chattanooga's opportunities, to help people understand our economy and succeed in it.
Trend: How did you end up in Chattanooga?
Flessner: I came here in 1980 to work for the newspaper about a week after marrying my wife, who was actually willing to marry me though I was technically unemployed the day we got married. I thought I'd stay maybe six months or a year, not 39 years, but I fell in love with Chattanooga. As you know, it was quite different here in the '80s. Lots of automotive and heavy industry, companies had closed. We lost population and jobs. Those were compelling stories, I will say, as people struggled to figure it out.
I had opportunities to go to other markets, but I'm glad that I didn't, because this has been both an interesting place to cover and a great place to work. Chattanooga has a wide range of people. You've got an urban environment, the challenges of inner-city life, but rural areas at the same time.
Trend: What are the biggest changes you've seen in our community?
Flessner: What really united the community in the '80s, even among leadership, was that people's children were moving away. Even if you were successful, your children didn't see the opportunity here at that time. Chattanooga came together in a way that a lot of communities didn't. We have great philanthropic foundations, and people are committed to the community. So we invested in infrastructure like the Riverwalk and the aquarium, making downtown attractive, parks and the like. Later, EPB and becoming Gig City spurred innovation. I remember writing about these developments. When the aquarium opened, the first couple of years, it wasn't this rush of activity. It took time. I remember writing stories the first year or two like, 'Where's the big payoff people predicted?' It's made me more humble as I get older because a lot of times investments don't pay off immediately. Enterprise South, the Tennessee Aquarium, even the Gig didn't pay off for a while. They're long-term investments and that's what Chattanooga has had success with.
Trend: Thinking back over your career, what have you covered that stands out as impactful?
Flessner: Volkswagen has been a fascinating addition, beyond just jobs and investment. It put us on the international stage. Part of that facility was built on the former Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant that was built to help fight the Germans in World War II. Now it has attracted Germany's biggest car company.
Trend: The future of journalism what do you think it looks like?
Flessner: People have more options to consume news today through technology and social media, which is healthy. The biggest concern I have about the modern consumption of journalism is that people won't be exposed to unbiased news. We try to approach stories as objectively as we can. But I worry that too many people increasingly end up in an echo chamber of opinions they already have. That's the nature of social media, and I hope that we find ways to break apart from that, so people can be informed and at least know the other side.
Trend: So do you think that print journalism will go away?
Flessner: It's likely that you won't get the physical product seven days a week at some point in the future, although I think that is still years away here in Chattanooga. Our audience is as big as it's ever been, but more on the digital side than print. A large share of advertising dollars have shifted to that medium. It's great for businesses; they have more opportunities to advertise. We offer great value, but now we have to ask the reader to pay a bigger share of the cost. But I think people value information and if you give them something they need, want and use, it's worth their expense. If you'd have told me as a child that people would pay $4 for a cup of coffee and they'd pay to watch free television, I'd say you were crazy. But those things have happened.
Trend: Do you moderate comments on social media? What ethical concerns do you deal with in general?
Flessner: We used to allow comments on our online stories. But we quickly determined that within two or three comments, people would gravitate to the negative. And then people would associate biased, negative comments with the story while we strive to be straightforward. On Facebook, there's a limit to what we can monitor. But we check for profanity and libelous statements. One area of concern in general is information about arrests. We have a team that removes dismissed cases from our website. People aren't usually digging out old newspapers the way they might Google someone, and if you've had an incident years ago, it's likely to show up. We're conscious of that.
Some believe you shouldn't write anything until someone has been convicted of a crime. But the wheels of justice turn pretty slowly. I think it's a disservice if readers don't know what's going on. People don't have to tell us anything if they don't want to. We see that as a fun challenge, because you have to go out and convince people to talk to you, or find a way to get information. But we don't go undercover to get information or use anonymous sources. Does that mean we don't get some stories? Perhaps. But hopefully what we do get is authentic and reliable.
Trend: What's a positive way that technology has changed what you do?
Flessner: Helping us target the news people want. This is frankly an area where newspapers haven't done the best job. The sports fanatics, people who love local government, someone who loves sewing and knitting or pop culture and local music – what do they want? Social media and web analytics give us feedback on what stories got people's eyeballs, and that's constructive.
Gary Poole, Managing Editor of The Pulse, a weekly publication covering news, music, art, culture and politics, has spent his career in radio and print journalism. He has headed The Pulse for years and he's also a host on Big 95.3. He's quite the well-rounded guy — a Hawaiian shirt enthusiast who dabbles in art and music, and his other projects include science fiction anthologies and emceeing robot battle competitions.
Trend: Tell me about the Pulse.
Poole: We have broader readership than I think a lot of people realize. Yes, there are a lot of younger people, college age and Gen Z, millennials, but there are just as many Gen Xers and boomers. Before you have kids and after your kids are grown or responsible enough to take care of themselves, you go out. So our readers are on both sides of that — they go to JJ's and they go to the Hunter Museum. We have an active readership. For an arts and entertainment paper, we've also done a lot of hard journalism over the years.
In terms of the kind of businesses that we're looking for ... it's the ones that are helping a cause. We've profiled The Chattery, wonderful people all about education, continuing education and fun. Classes on calligraphy, getting organized, everything you can think of. We wrote recently about Hospice of Chattanooga, an organization made up entirely of angels on earth as far as I'm concerned. I'm a former client with my father and they made an awful, incredibly emotional time more bearable.
Trend: What brought you to Chattanooga?
Poole: I was raised in Atlanta and had been visiting Chattanooga since the '70s. I did a tour in the military. When I got out, I was like 'What am I going to do with my life?' Office life wasn't for me. I knew I liked to write. I knew I liked to talk to people. I was curious about what people do, what makes them tick. I ended up at a local radio station in the Florida Keys for a few years, and I also wrote for the weekly paper. I worked my way up to Tallahassee where I was doing the morning show at a rock station, and then ended up back in Atlanta. The stress of a major market radio station, however, was insane. Program directors with stopwatches going 'That break was supposed to be seven seconds.' And the pressure in sales was worse. When my contract was up, I needed a break, so I helped a friend run a nightclub near Georgia Tech. Another friend had taken over a Chattanooga radio station and he called me. I made the jump here and never regretted it. I have zero intention of ever leaving. I've been in Chattanooga since '96 and I've worked for at least a third of the stations in this town. I can never decide whether radio or print means more to me because I love them both equally. I love being around creative people and I picked the right profession for that.
Trend: How have you seen Chattanooga change?
Poole: Many of our businesses have decided to be participatory in the community and in the world. Chattanooga historically has very dominant foundations doing fantastic work. Now we have small groups of entrepreneurs and business owners doing their own part and it's a richer tapestry. Take Mad Priest Coffee — it's nice to have a good cup of coffee and feel good that part of the money you're spending helps someone else. (For Mad Priest, that's refugees from around the world.) I've seen a lot of changes. When The Pulse started, our first issue was called The Coming Battle for East Main Street. That was 15 years ago, and the Southside has transformed. There's the Tennessee Aquarium and the Walnut Street Bridge. Those changed downtown, but it's spread from there. Coolidge Park transformed the Northshore; now we have West Village, the MLK district.
Trend: What's something we still need to work on?
Poole: Food deserts are a problem. In the downtown area, there's only the NorthShore Publix, Whole Foods or the St. Elmo Food City. There are a few small bodegas, but people living downtown need to be able to easily get groceries.
Trend: What's an impactful story you've worked on?
Poole: We did a story on being Muslim in Chattanooga and we found a young Muslim family that didn't mind being photographed and interviewed in Coolidge Park. We did this wonderful photo shoot and the mother wore colorful traditional Muslim garb. To my great delight as a citizen, several people complimented her on the pattern and the color. And there was no blowback. When we published the article, we were nervous, but people accepted and respected. And that was an article I look back on with great pride.
Trend: What is the future of journalism?
Poole: The demise of radio has been predicted since television. It's never going away, but the way that people consume radio changes. DJs playing records and talking about silly stuff in the morning will be around a long time because people still want entertainment. Radio is in your car, your home, people are used to consuming it. And while there's satellite radio, Pandora, podcasts, etc., you're not going to get local traffic, weather and people.
Print is a different story. Classified advertising has been taken over by the internet. Car dealerships, department stores, things that have kept daily papers in business, are going away. They're finding new sources of revenue. There's always a need for content, but unfortunately a bunch of people think that content should be free. Our competition is the internet. I can pick up my phone right now and go to Google News and find out everything that's going on in the world. What you can't find? Who's playing at JJ's Bohemia tonight and why I should go see them. Local people, local writers, writing about local things. That's us.
Trend: How should people pitch story ideas to The Pulse?
Poole: 80 percent of our stories are pitched by our writers. So step one, if you know somebody who writes for The Pulse, start there, or email me (email@example.com). Keep it short and sweet. If it's interesting, I'll follow up. If you don't hear back, check in by email, but not phone. If you have an event, or your buddy's band is playing somewhere, let us know. Let us know your charity or community event. We want to know everything that's going on in Chattanooga.
Trend: What's frustrating about some pitches you receive?
Poole: Many people don't understand the publications they pitch. If you're promoting someone who got promoted at a law firm, we're not the publication for you. If you're repping a company that has made a commitment to raise money for famine relief in Sudan, you have my attention. Target your approach. And read us. Consume the media you're pitching. It helps to build relationships. You want me to know that when I get an email from you, it's going to be interesting. Also, understand that as a weekly, our editorial planning works more like a magazine than a daily. It might be months before we have space for your story.
Trend: What do you do for fun?
Poole: I started Robot Battles in 1991 (contestants build robots that fight tournament style). I'm the emcee, the one that keeps the crowd entertained in between the robot matches. I've been involved in the science fiction world for 30 years, and I edit science fiction anthologies. "Black Tide Rising" is about a zombie apocalypse, but it isn't about the zombies, it's about people rebuilding civilization. It debuted at No. 1 on Amazon for science fiction anthology. So I got asked to do another one. And that's "Voices of the Fall." It also debuted at No. 1 on the science fiction anthology chart. I've been a musician since I was 8. I've been in plenty of bands. I've released albums, gone on small tours. I like performing, connecting with an audience and expressing what's on my mind through music. I think about early history, and there was always one person in the tribe who told good stories. The shaman. I'm a storyteller. Sometimes I do it in a microphone. Sometimes I do it with a musical instrument. Sometimes I do it with a keyboard.