Compass: New Local News Venture Announced

It’s hard to argue that recent years have been good for media – particularly of a local variety. In Knoxville, just in the 8 years I’ve written this blog, we’ve lost Metro Pulse and the Mercury. We’ve seen the News Sentinel sold twice between large corporations. We’ve seen the number of reporters there reduced repeatedly. The result of all of this is a reduction in local news coverage, very little media oversight for government and the near extinction of long-form or investigative reporting.

And the issue is a national one. Pew Research recently released results showing that while in 2008 broadcast mediums, including newspapers, broadcast and cable television and radio employed 114,000, by 2017, that number was down to 88,000. For newspapers the numbers are worse, with a drop from 71,000 to just 39,000 over the same span. Some major metropolitan areas like my hometown, Mobile, Alabama, no longer has a daily paper, but rather one that is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Despite the national rhetoric to the contrary, media is critical as a watchdog in a democracy. Locally, Jesse Fox Mayshark and Scott Barker have decided that now is a good time for a new venture designed to fill some of that void and they are calling that venture, Compass. Jesse has experience as, “Editor at Metropulse, reporter at the Knoxville News Sentinel and a staff editor at the New York Times,” and Scott Barker, who, “for eighteen years was governmental reporter and editorial page editor for the Knoxville News Sentinel.” You may know Jesse through his more recent stint as Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations with the City of Knoxville.

The two point out that with recent and looming changes at the city and county level – as well as at UT this year and next, coverage will be critical. That belief prompted Mayshark to leave his position with the city at this time. Barker was eliminated by the Knoxville News Sentinel in one of its several employee purges, this one in March of 2017 at a time the editorial staff was reduced by 20%.

“I knew, if I wanted to stay in Knoxville -we’re both (he and his wife) from here – there wasn’t any way to get back into journalism. It wasn’t long after that when the Knox County Public Library offered a symposium featuring Wendell Potter with Barker and Mayshark on the panel discussing the topic of “Fake News,” and other topics, that the two began to consider possibilities. Mayshark said, “One thing that he (Potter) said that stuck with me was that there are news outlets doing well, but it’s niches.” After another round of local cuts, the two realized local news is becoming a niche.

 

Jesse Fox Mayshark and Scott Barker (Photo Courtesy of Casey Fox)

“We started talking about the things that aren’t being done. People are covering sports and entertainment. Local government, politics and business are just not being covered so well. Those are the areas in which we have backgrounds,” Mayshark added.

The two also had to take a look at funding for any such enterprise. They started by pointing out that money has always come from advertising and was never given to support journalism. Simply put, people needed a place to sell things and the newspaper offered the best place for a period in history. Traditionally, newspapers were derived 80% of revenue from ads and 20% from subscriptions.

As they became corporately owned and Wall Street investors wanted a 20% return while ad sales dwindled, the model became untenable. Craigslist obliterated classified ads. Facebook and other social media offered the option of advertising businesses directly and at a much lower cost.

The two made the decision that their project would be web-based and would have both a website and a newsletter, but that they would not sell ads. Their hope is that people will pay for quality local coverage at a reasonable price – $10 per month or slightly less per month for a longer contract. “We’ve got the news. If you find it valuable, pay for it,” said Mayshark.

And that’s who they are targeting: people who are involved, who really value the information they will assimilate and report. They are looking for people who want to know more about government, development and people who are civically engaged – those who always vote, for example. The focus will be local, but with a synthesis of how Knoxville is impacted by national and international news and trends.

Barker summed it up, “We want to reflect the complexity of our area, which is changing, growing and becoming more diverse. I hope that people will find that we reflect the Knoxville they see every day, but we’ll help explore it.” While they plan to steer clear of opinion columns or endorsements, they hope to offer not only the news, but insights and analysis.

 

They want to encourage discussion and development of informed opinions, or as they put it, “create room for informed civic discussion.” The concept will likely evolve as they explore the limitations of two people and one ambitious project and as they get a feel for what their readers want.

“We’re journalists and we came up through that tradition of fairness, accuracy and a willingness to admit mistakes.” They want to earn the trust of their readers and feel they have a head start given their backgrounds both in journalism, but also in local journalism and in being long-term, known members of the community.

Their years in Knoxville, they feel, give them a head start in understanding how this community works that would not be available to someone new to the area. Once started, they plan to publish an article each day with additional short news notes. They hope to have a longer piece once each week. Subscribers will get a daily newsletter with updates.

Subscriptions are available now, but the two will use the rest of this month to begin the work. They plan to publish starting September 4. Check out their website, follow and like them on Facebook and consider subscribing. It’s a way you can directly support quality local journalism.

Inside of Knoxville on the Road: Denver (Arts and Public Spaces)

Daniels and Fisher Tower, 1101 16th Street, Denver, August 2018

(This is the second in a two part series on Denver, Colorado. If you missed it, see part one: Transportation and Retail.)

It’s obvious on the train ride from the airport to downtown Denver that art of various sorts plays an important role in the city. The most striking indication is the seemingly endless murals on what appear to be warehouses well out from the city. Colorful and well-done, they set the tone for the sculpture, splashes of color and celebration of performing arts sprinkled throughout the city.

Mural at Snooze inside Union Station, Denver, August 2108

Murals and Cranes, Denver, August 2018

It’s hard to separate any discussion of art in the city from a discussion of public spaces. Art enhances the public spaces, informs the public spaces and, in some cases actually forms the public space. Many of the installations are designed to encourage engagement and consideration of an otherwise banal spot on the street.

Our first encounter with the phenomenon came on Curtis Street as we walked to our hotel: the street beneath our feet made surprising sounds. We’d never heard of the talking sidewalk and I’m glad. We experienced the surprise at hearing a washing machine under the grates in the sidewalk. A few feet later it was barking dogs. Were there really dogs down there? What lies beneath these grates? Where am I? It became a theme.

Alley Art Installation, Denver, August 2018

Alley Art Installation, Denver, August 2018

Another installation in an alley off 16th featured a neon sign facing downward from about twelve feet in the air. At once, lighted up, the passersby see the word “yours,” and then the “y” is off and the word is “ours.” The brainchild of Joel Swanson, the installation is a part of a city-wide effort, “Between Us: The Downtown Denver Alleyways Project.”

The intention is to, “soften public space and encourage city dwellers to observe the overlooked parts of our urban environment.” The originator of this specific installation says, “This artwork playfully questions how public space is defined through notions of personal property and ownership.”

Buffalo Street Art, 16th Street, Denver, August 2018

Public Spaces, 16th Street Mall, Denver, August 2018

At night, colorful lights emerged in unsuspecting places like the arms of the many cranes dotting the city. The most spectacular downtown sight after dark, however, was the beautiful Daniels and Fisher Tower. Built in 1910 as a part of the Daniels and Fisher Department Store, “it was the tallest between the Mississippi River and the state of California at the time of construction, at a height of 325 feet (99 m).[2] The building was designed by the architect Frederick Sterner and modeled after The Campanile (St. Mark’s Bell Tower) at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy.[3] The 20-floor clock tower has clock faces on all four sides.” (photo at the top)

Of course a merging of art and natural public space was the centerpiece of our trip: the Leon Bridges concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It’s been a dream of mine for decades to see a show there and it did not disappoint. The photographs here don’t do it justice, of course.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

They are from my cell phone, but look up other pictures if you aren’t familiar with the venue. The venue is as much a star as anyone who performs, with giant red rock outcroppings forming the backdrop and the sides and the Denver skyline in the background, it’s spectacular to be there before the first note of music resonates over the rocky hillside. And Leon Bridges wasn’t too shabby. Check his music out if you love old soul music.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Leon Bridges Concert, (just outside) Denver, August 2018

In a testament to arts in the city, we learned that we could have seen Electric Light Orchestra at the Pepsi Center the night before our show and Chris Stapleton the night after. The traveling production of the Broadway play,”Beautiful,” was playing steps from our hotel. The arts permeate the city in every direction.

All along the 16th street mall sculptures, permanently mounted chess boards on tables, tree lined mini-parks with benches, beautiful flowers in every direction in massive pots and lots of inviting mini-spaces. And pianos. Colorfully painted pianos are sprinkled about the boulevard inviting anyone interested to stop and play.

Public Spaces, 16th Street Mall, Denver, August 2018

Public Spaces, 16th Street Mall, Denver, August 2018

Public Spaces, 16th Street Mall, Denver, August 2018

Some of the players may have been homeless. Some were exquisitely skilled and others were forming only rudimentary chords, but all found an audience of one or more. Interestingly, the music was often quiet with an element of wistfulness. No one played for tips that I could see.

That leads to one strange omission to the art scene: we didn’t see buskers. I don’t understand it. I can’t find any information to say they are banned. We saw dozens last summer in boulder. I know they have to be there, but we did not see one in three days. Maybe on the weekend? It’s odd.

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis, August 2018

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis, August 2018

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis, August 2018

Finally, any conversation about the arts and public spaces in Denver has to include the Denver Performing Arts Complex. It covers four blocks, twelve acres, and ten venues with 10,000 seats. Ground was broken in 1974 and it has evolved tremendously since. Broadway and opera performances, private and public events and more keep the complex active year-round. I enjoyed a band playing for an appreciative audience outside one of the venues as happens before every performance.

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis, August 2018

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis, August 2018

Realizing this trip covered only three days and one part of a major city, I have to say that our time in Denver was extremely pleasant and if Denver doesn’t have the right answers to every question, it seems to have identified many of the questions accurately and is earnestly attempting to answer them. It’s well worth a look if you can take the trip.

Inside of Knoxville on the Road: Denver (Transportation and Retail)

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Downtown Knoxville Ten Day Planner (8/12 – 8/21/2018)

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Blackhorse Brewery and Downtown Pub to Open on Gay Street

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