|1841 (as The Appeal)
|495 Union Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee, 38103
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 2016 purchase by Gannett of Journal Media Group (Scripps' direct successor) effectively gave it control of the two major papers in western and central Tennessee, uniting the Commercial Appeal with Nashville's The Tennessean.
The Commercial Appeal is a seven-day morning paper. It is distributed primarily in Greater Memphis, including Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton counties in Tennessee; DeSoto, Tate, and Tunica counties in Mississippi; and in Crittenden County in Arkansas. These are the contiguous counties to the city of Memphis.
The Commercial Appeal won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its opposition of the Ku Klux Klan's operations in the region. In 1994, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning by Michael Ramirez.
The paper's name comes from a 19th-century merger between two predecessors, the Memphis Commercial and the Appeal.
The Commercial Appeal traces its heritage to the 1839 publication, The Western World & Memphis Banner of the Constitution. Bought by Col. Henry Van Pelt in 1840, it was renamed The Memphis Appeal. During the American Civil War the Appeal was one of the major newspapers serving the Southern cause. On June 6, 1862, the presses and plates were loaded into a boxcar and published from Grenada, Mississippi. The Appeal later journeyed on to Jackson, Mississippi, Meridian, Mississippi, Atlanta, Georgia, Montgomery, Alabama and finally Columbus, Georgia, where the plates were destroyed on April 16, 1865, temporarily halting publication days before the Confederate surrender. The press was hidden and saved, and publication resumed in Memphis, using it, on November 5, 1865.
Another early paper, The Avalanche, was incorporated in 1894, publishing as The Appeal-Avalanche until an 1894 merger created The Commercial Appeal. The name 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. From the late 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century, The Commercial Appeal was led by editor C. P. J. Mooney, "tireless, combative and a devoutly Catholic teetotaler".
In 1932, the newspaper moved into a disused Ford Motor Company assembly plant at 495 Union Avenue, where it stayed until 1977, when a new building was completed adjacent.
In 1936, The Commercial Appeal was purchased by the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, and later by the Gannett Company. In 2017, Gannett closed the Commercial Appeal's Memphis printing plant, laying off 19 full-time employees, and consolidated printing with its newspaper in Jackson, Tennessee.
In April 2018 The Commercial Appeal sold its longtime offices and plant at 495 Union Avenue in Memphis for $3.8 million, indicating plans to move to another Memphis site. At the time of sale, the property, comprised a 125,000-square-foot office building, a 150,000-square-foot printing and production plant, and adjacent real estate. A New York-based real estate company, Twenty Lake Holdings LLC, bought the 6.5 acres with the five-story office building and attached printing/production building. Twenty Lake Holdings is a division of a hedge fund that has been accused of a "mercenary strategy" of buying newspapers, slashing jobs, and selling the buildings and other assets.
The paper in the 1940s had a well known columnist named Paul Flowers who wrote "The Greenhouse" column.
Lydel Sims was a columnist for the Commercial Appeal from 1949 until his death in 1995.
The Commercial Appeal has had a mixed record on civil rights. In 1868, it published an article by former confederate general Albert Pike that was critical of the methods of the Ku Klux Klan, but lauded their aims of white supremacy. In 1917, the paper published the scheduled time and place for the upcoming Lynching of Ell Persons.
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.
During the Civil Rights Movement, the paper generally avoided coverage of the topic. It did take a stance against pro-segregation rioters during the Ole Miss riot of 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.
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 (COINTELPRO) against black nationalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
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.
At the end of 2008, The Commercial Appeal posted a controversial database listing Tennessee residents with permits to carry handguns. 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. 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."
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."
Despite many black protests about it, the Commercial Appeal published Hambone's Meditations throughout the rising tide of civil rights and Black Power movements. Mass-media racism symbolized, Hooks said, that most whites were either blind or hostile to the plight of blacks and that a failure of communication and community existed in Memphis. Yet white editors thought they were at the forefront of change.
Like Memphis itself, the editors at the Commercial Appeal and Press-Scimitar felt they had kept their heads largely above the fray during the civil rights battles across the South in the early to mid-1960s, particularly in comparison to the blatantly racist and rabble-rousing histrionics in the two majors newspapers of Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger and the Jackson Daily News. [...] Yet the sanitation strike of 1968 and Martin Luther King's involvement proved to many black Memphians that the newspapers weren't that different from their sister papers in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South. Blacks picked both newspapers within a week after the end of the sanitation strike to protest the coverage.