The Commercial Appeal (also known as the Memphis Commercial Appeal) is a daily newspaper of Memphis, Tennessee, and its surrounding metropolitan area. It is owned by the Gannett Company; its former owner, The E.W. Scripps Company, also owned the former afternoon paper, the Memphis Press-Scimitar, which it folded in 1983.

The Commercial Appeal is a seven-day morning paper. It generally takes a liberal point of view regarding editorial positions. It is distributed primarily in Greater Memphis, including Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton counties in Tennessee and DeSoto, Tate, and Tunica counties in Mississippi. These are the contiguous counties to the city of Memphis.

In 1994, The Commercial Appeal won a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning by Michael Ramirez.

History

The paper's name comes from a 19th-century merger between two predecessors, the Memphis Commercial and the Appeal.

The Appeal

The Appeal had an interesting history during the American Civil War. On June 6, 1862, the presses and plates were loaded into a boxcar and moved to Grenada, Mississippi. The Appeal later journeyed to Jackson, Mississippi, Meridian, Mississippi, Atlanta, Georgia, Montgomery, Alabama and finally Columbus, Georgia, where the plates were destroyed on April 16, 1865, only days before the Confederate surrender, halting publication temporarily of what had been one of the major papers serving the Southern cause. The press was hidden and saved, and publication resumed in Memphis, using it, on November 5, 1865. Another early paper, The Avalanche, was incorporated later in the 19th century. The paper is properly The Commercial Appeal and not the Memphis Commercial Appeal as it is often called, although the predecessor Appeal was formally the Memphis Daily Appeal.

The paper in the 1940s had a well known columnist Paul Flowers who wrote the Greenhouse column.[5]

Civil rights

The Commercial Appeal had a mixed record on civil rights. Despite its Confederate background the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for its coverage and editorial opposition to the resurgent Ku Klux Klan.

From 1916 to 1968, the paper published a cartoon called Hambone's Meditations. The cartoon featured a black man, Hambone, that many African Americans came to regard as a racist caricature.

In 1917, the paper published the scheduled time and place for the upcoming Lynching of Ell Persons.[6]

During the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, the paper generally avoided coverage.[7] It did take a stance against pro-segregation rioters in 1962. However, its owner, Scripps-Howard, exerted a generally conservative and anti-union influence.

The paper opposed the Memphis Sanitation Strike, portraying both labor organizers and Martin Luther King, Jr. as outside meddlers.[7]

During the late 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) leaked "information of a derogatory nature regarding the Invaders and other black nationalist militants," some of which may have been fabricated by the FBI itself, to a Commercial Appeal reporter who then used that information to write articles critical of the Invaders. This manipulation of the Commercial Appeal was part of the FBI's counterintelligence program against black nationalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[8]

'Monetizing' controversy

In the fall of 2007, the Appeal touched off a controversial policy that would have linked specific stories and specific advertisers. The proposal was greeted by outrage among media analysts, so the authors of the so-called 'monetization memo'-- the Appeal's editor and its sales manager—quietly withdrew the effort.[9]

Guns Database

At the end of 2008, The Commercial Appeal posted a controversial database listing Tennessee residents with permits to carry handguns.[10] The database is a public record in Tennessee but had not been posted online. After a permit-to-carry holder shot and killed a man in Memphis for parking too close to his SUV and vandalizing it, the gun database suddenly came to the attention of pro-gun groups, including the NRA and the Tennessee Firearms Association. Legislators who supported gun groups quickly drafted a bill to close the permit-to-carry database. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government lobbied to keep the database public and the bill to close the database did not pass in the 2009 legislative session.

In a February 15, 2009 editorial, the newspaper defended publication of the handgun permit list and suggested it could protect permit holders by steering criminals away from armed households.[2] An independent study released in 2011 found "[Memphis] zip codes with the highest concentration of permits experienced roughly 1.7 fewer burglaries per week/per zip code in the 15 weeks following the publicization of the database, and those with the lowest concentration experienced on average 1.5 more burglaries."[2]

The Commercial Appeal website for the database currently notes that on April 25, 2013, a law was signed that classified information contained in handgun carry permit applications as "confidential" available only to the court or to law enforcement. The State Attorney General did not restrict publication of existing copies of the database; the Commercial Appeal has indicated that it will maintain its April 19, 2013 updated database "until the newspaper determines the information is too outdated and no longer serves the public's interests."[10]