By: Wayne Robins
Updated at 1:30 p.m. EST, April 9
The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel took it on the chin from readers when news of Halle Berry and Denzel Washington’s historic African-American sweep of Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars appeared in some editions of the paper but not others. The late running Oscars, of course, are a press run deadline nightmare for all newspapers except those on the Pacific Coast. But critics were quick to shout “racist!”
In fact, such a letter from an irate subscriber found its way to the Online-News discussion group.
Lara Edge, managing editor of the Knoxville paper, said no insult was intended. “We need to be more sensitive about benchmark events in the minority community,” she told E&P. “In past years, we’ve not been able to get all the Oscar results [due to press run deadlines] in all editions, and we’ve lived with that. … But in our planning, we did not take into account the potential reaction from our African-American community if Berry and Washington both won.”
Edge said that in the case of essential sports events in Knoxville — such as the University of Tennessee “Lady Vols” NCAA Final Four game against UConn — contingency plans are discussed, “such as limiting the early run and/or putting extra resources … to handle a later-than-usual run. That kind of discussion did not take place with the Oscars and maybe it should have.”
In summation, Edge called it just right: “We didn’t do anything wrong. But we could have done better. …We do need to find a way to communicate to readers how our newspaper works. After all, we work for them.”
Editor Jack McElroy added, “It caught the tail end of our
press run, about 40,000 papers. Those papers went all over Knoxville. However, one misinformed reader assumed we had zoned the news and that’s where the racism charge originated. She began e-mailing people with the accusation, and it spread.”
The News-Sentinel wasn’t the only paper that had to answer to readers angered by missing coverage of the Berry-Washington sweep. One of the New York City tabloids ran a note to readers later in the week explaining that it too wasn’t able to include their historic Oscar wins due to print deadlines.