Remembering

 

I’m beginning to have the habit, like most people my age, of paying more attention to obituaries. Like other trends of getting older, you never think you are going to be like that until, suddenly, you are.

John Seigenthaler, a Nashville celebrity, recently passed way and I find myself curiously connected to his life. He’s best known for being the editor and publisher of the Tennessean in the glory years of the 1960s and 70s. He leveraged that experience to be the editorial page editor of USA TODAY when it launched, lured by Gannett who had bought the Tennessean a few years earlier.

So how am I connected? Well, with ethereal threads that grow stronger with time and addition.

In many ways, he may be responsible for the job I have right now. Mercury Intermedia received its start in mobile by using Nashville connections, forged by John and unlikely to exist without him, to USA TODAY. We developed the first USA TODAY mobile app and vaulted to the top of app ratings, generating referrals that we are still cultivating today, more than 6 years later.

John, through his son John Jr., left here in Nashville an eponymous PR firm, Seigenthaler, that I have connected with multiple times during my brief two years here in Music City.

He also maintained a vigorous public service life, and Kymberlee and I were privileged to have him make introductions at a Janis Ian concert here in Nashville. He started off with a story about growing up in the area around Vanderbilt, prowling around as a teenager and throwing rocks through a window of the very performance space we were in, the Scarritt-Bennet center. He felt his presence there that night was making up for those youthful indiscretions. I found it interesting that he was friends with Janis, popular for her Grammy winning 60s ballad At Seventeen, as she was definitely part of the counter-culture movement of that time which seldom fit in power circles such as publishing.

But then I find out that he served as US Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s assistant and ended up being clubbed in the head in Alabama while on assignment to help protect the Freedom Riders. It makes more sense now that Janis and he were friends.

The last connection was yet another Nashvillian, Bruce Dobie. I’ve met with Bruce a number of times seeing if there was a way we could work together, both as a new face in Nashville without a job and later as a Mercury employee. He has an event-listing site called eviesays, which is why I figured fate would eventually bring me to my daughter’s namesake. Bruce is a tenured newspaper man, competing with John in the 60s and eventually starting the local weekly, the Nashville Scene. I didn’t know they were connected until I read his incredibly well-written article about John and some powerfully worded statements such as this:

If there was any single era when Seigenthaler had the most impact, it was his long reign as kingmaker at 1100 Broadway. As editor and publisher, at a time when daily newspapers hadn’t abdicated their agendas to focus groups and suffered enormous revenue declines, he fully exploited his position every day to shape the city’s politics, its social concerns, its literary and intellectual life, its vision of itself. The power was immense.

I encourage you to read it, not only for the story of John Seigenthaler, but for the elegant prose of a seasoned reporter from the glory days of print. I dream of being able to write like that.

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