Commentary

Editor’s column: Two years of the Tennessee Lookout

May 23, 2022 12:03 pm
Reporter Dulce Torres Guzman interviews a woman from Afghanistan during a Nashville rally in Sept. 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Reporter Dulce Torres Guzman interviews a woman from Afghanistan during a Nashville rally in Sept. 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In May 2020, America was still coming to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting partisan and political hysteria around it. The country was six months away from the most polarizing presidential election in memory for most of us. 

And the Tennessee Lookout launched. 

The day in March I woke up to start work on the new publication was the day Tennessee governments and businesses shut down due to the pandemic and I wondered how well the launch of a statewide news outlet would go in a time of intense focus on national politics. 

But that is exactly why the Tennessee Lookout was needed. As Tennesseans, we are most affected by local political decisions and the higher up the electoral chain we go, the less impact we can have. The correlation is that more media than ever is focused on national issues, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but sadly, fewer and fewer media outlets have reporters focused on state legislatures and state issues. Tennessee is no exception. 

Two days after launching, Senior Reporter Anita Wadhwani broke the story of how Gov. Bill Lee’s administration okayed the release of private health information of Tennesseans who tested positive for COVID-19 to law enforcement agencies.

Senior Reporter Anita Wadhwani, left, interviews Tommi Stephenson for a story on the struggles families of children with special needs faced with the educational system during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Senior Reporter Anita Wadhwani, left, interviews Tommi Stephenson for a story on the struggles families of children with special needs faced with the educational system during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: John Partipilo)

As trite as it sounds, there’s been no looking back, and you’ve been with us on the fast-paced journey. 

Since May 2020, Wadhwani has continued to regularly report on topics otherwise uncovered, including overreach by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. She broke the story of children in Tennessee Department of Children’s Services  custody sleeping on the floors of state office buildings and when the Tennessee Comptroller sent a press release urging a small town in West Tennessee to give up the town charter, it was Wadhwani and photojournalist extraordinaire John Partipilo who drove to Mason to investigate. 

I am confident that without Wadhwani and Partipilo, the story of the predominantly Black town of  Mason, Tenn., and a financial takeover by the state would not have garnered the national attention it did and now, city leaders and Comptroller officials have negotiated a better deal for the city.

As a reader, you’ve joined us in watching Dulce Torres Guzman grow as a journalist. The Lookout is her first full-time reporting job and she’s already been recognized for her coverage of immigration issues in Tennessee, receiving the Ganas Award in Media and Community from the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2021. She’s also covered vital issues like the siting and ultimate withdrawal of plans for the Byhalia Pipeline, a 44-mile natural gas pipeline that was slated to run through South Memphis, a historically Black community, and she jumped into legislative coverage this year. 

Speaking of legislative coverage: Senior Reporter Sam Stockard joined the Lookout as a freelance writer in November 2020 and became full time a few months later and boy, I don’t know what we would do without him. In the last six months alone, he broke the story about Ford Motor Co. weighing into a special legislative session intended to limit private businesses’ ability to require COVID-19 masks. 

Senior Reporter Sam Stockard interviews State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, in the Tennessee Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Senior Reporter Sam Stockard interviews State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, in the Tennessee Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Stockard reported when a retiring state lawmaker told him he had overheard the offer of an alleged bribe to another legislator from former House Speaker Glen Casada. And his weekly column offers a treasure trove of political tidbits that are sometimes laugh out loud funny.

We’ve been so lucky to publish works by writers like the fierce freelance journalist Jamie Satterfield from East Tennessee and columnists like Bruce Barry, West Tennessee educator Gabe Hart and Knoxville lawyer Loy Waldrop, among others. 

John Partipilo getting the shot. (Photo: Dulce Torres Guzman)
John Partipilo getting the shot by any means necessary. (Photo: Dulce Torres Guzman)

I speak for all of us at the Lookout when I thank you for reading this last two years. You’ve signed up for our daily newsletter, shared our stories, emailed us to compliment stories and sometimes call us out and you’ve donated to us—which, as a nonprofit news outlet, we greatly value and appreciate. 

You may see some photos on social media this week of our staff celebrating with cake, but even as we celebrate, we will continue to report on the Tennessee news that affects all of us and the leaders who represent us. 

Thank you for a great two years. Stick around with us: We think the next two will be even better. 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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