January 24, 2013

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Channeling Leonard Nimoy, we have been “In Search of ...” former TFP executive editor J. Todd Foster since he resigned in September 2011 “for personal reasons,” an official statement at that time read, after only 15 months on the job. Foster, it turned out, had been dating a staff photographer under his supervision—which violated the newspaper’s ethical and HR policies, we imagine, but it was also a handy excuse for the paper to rid themselves of an editor who didn’t end up fitting the TFP’s Johnny Deadline jacket.

 Foster came to Chattanooga from the Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia (where the paper won a Pulitzer Prize during his tenure) and was a former Free Press reporter from 1985 to ’89. He had an impressive resume, including being part of the Spokane (Wa.) Spokesman-Review’s Pulitzer-finalist team who covered the Ruby Ridge siege in 1992, and the TFP had high hopes (a Pulitzer!), while media-watchers cheered his hiring as a home run for Chattanooga (real journalism!).

But Foster wasted no time ruffling feathers with the establishment and, less substantially, with readers. Foster bumped heads with the police department in particular and upended the direction plowed by former editor Tom Griscom—to mostly positive feedback—but the TFP wasn’t quite ready to make such a dramatic leap, perhaps suffering buyer’s remorse.

Suffice it to say, local police and sheriff’s deputies were no fans of J. Todd. Apparently, he touched a nerve in the upper echelons on 11th Street as well. But he did oversee a refreshing, if tumultuous era at the paper that has since reverted to a more Griscom-like calm.

In the aftermath, the TFP said it would begin a search for a new executive editor and assigned managing editor Alison Gerber to assume Foster’s responsibilities until a new editor was named. That was almost 16 months ago. We now assume that “search” has been suspended or was never seriously pursued.

Given time to lick his wounds, we figured Foster would wind up at a daily or weekly newspaper in another town far, far away. But as the days turned into months, our custom Google News search went cold. J. Todd had gone deep into exile and we’d almost forgotten him—until last weekend, when his smiling visage landed in our mailbox!

If you live in Hixson, you too probably received a copy of Hixson Life, a new glossy community magazine, as well. And chances are you, like us, almost tossed it into the trash with the other detritus that qualifies as Snail Mail these days. But old-timers, suburbanites and even alt-weekly newspaper editors can’t get enough of these types of feel-good publications, with their folksy home tips and bulletin board-style notices.

So we opened up our copy. And there on Page 5 was Foster’s “Message from the Editor” topped by his cheery, cheeky face, exhorting readers to support Hixson Life with (free) submissions, photos and calendar items for his new “compelling and informative” community magazine, using the email address hixson@hibu.com.

We searched for a local street address or website, but found only a King of Prussia, Pa., return address and a cry to readers to visit yellowbook360.com, where readers could submit articles, photos and, perhaps more revealingly, advertising. Curiosity piqued, we dug deeper.

Turns out Hixson Life is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of slick community magazines published by Hibu, the publisher of Yellow Pages competitor Yellowbook and other “products.” Each issue of every Life magazine is a virtual duplicate of the next, with the community name ahead of Life, filled with local “content” and run by would-be publishing titans—and, it seems, ex-daily newspaper editors.

It’s “fur piece” from his former position, but we don’t knock him for wanting to make a buck. And if Hixson actually needs a community magazine, it might as well be run by the likes of Foster, who can at least write. If you were unaware of his past, you’d miss the connection and might not chuckle at the thought of Foster detailing the Super Bowl party offerings of  Buffalo Wild Wings. But, hey, we’ve seen worse lateral moves by former daily newspaper journalists (or alt-weekly journalists, for that matter—hell, we used to work for commies).

We emailed Foster for comment, but did not hear back from him by presstime. Maybe his Hibu email account rejects incoming mail from local newspapers. After all, he’s got to protect his territory.

January 24, 2013

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