As a career newspaperman, I’ve been blessed to know some of the most remarkable people on the planet, including Jackie Robinson and John Seigenthaler.
You may ask what do Jackie Robinson and John Seigenthaler have in common?
Courage is their common denominator: Robinson as the first black athlete to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in the 1940s, and Seigenthaler, who was knocked unconscious trying to save two black student demonstrators from injury in Alabama when he was a field representative to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
A high point of my 45-year-plus news-gathering career came in the 1960s when interviewed Robinson, one of the most intelligent men I’ve spoken with, personally.
Another high point came earlier this year, when I helped create the new Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame at MTSU in the College of Mass Communication.
It was a huge satisfaction when Seigenthaler, the most visible living giant of Tennessee’s current newspapering industry, was selected in the first class of our new Hall of Fame inductees.
If not for newspapering, this former cotton picker from the farming country of southeast Missouri would never have shared life with important people like Robinson and Seigenthaler.
A newspaper career can be impactful.
For example, in newspapering, there’s no shouting that you have to put up with like you have on 24/7 numbed-down national and international TV news. Good, solid localized community newspapers filters out the noise.
If you have a rock-solid idea or news story in the newspaper, the readers will buy into it.
If you don’t believe me, ask two well-known community businessmen, Wade Hays and Jim Demos.
Those generous restaurant owners know the power of newspapering up close through the financial support of readers who helped finance construction of not one, not two, but a whopping 17 Habitat for Humanity homes in Rutherford County.
We called the community-wide benevolent effort “Whittlemania,” which made my wife and mother proud.
Newspaper readers are a powerful force when it comes to building a community.
Ask Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick about the importance of community-building journalism.
A few months ago from a mere suggestion made in one of my columns in The Cannon Courier, the Woodbury community launched an effort to create a Mule Museum to bring new tourism dollars into that economy.
What is important about a Mule Museum?
It was mules that moved the earth and equipment necessary for construction of the original paved Highway 70 that linked Nashville, Smyrna, Murfreesboro and Woodbury into the modern era.
Publishers like Ron Fryar ensure the freedom of the press remains alive because it’s a vital component in our free and open democracy.
If you don’t believe me, go back in history and ask Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson for their opinion about the importance a free press in America.
The Paris Post-Intelligencer is my favorite name for a Tennessee newspaper. However, my favorite newspaper name of all time goes to my native Missouri, where The Unterrified Democrat newspaper is still going strong more than 150 years after it opened.
Rutherford County law enforcement officer Laura Williams has newspaper royalty in her blood. Her great-great-great-grandfather Lebbues Zevely defied a cease publication order from President Abraham Lincoln and kept on publishing The Unterrified Democrat as the War Between The States raged on.
What a great example of a free press.
How does government and a free press work together?
We have some great local examples of that.
During the 26 years that former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon and his chief-of-staff Kent Syler were in office, they had a very effective relationship with area media.
It was largely due to the cooperation of area media and congressional staff that Smyrna Airport was returned from Nashville Airport Authority jurisdiction to the control of the local Rutherford County Airport Authority.
As the media crusaded for two years for the return of Smyrna Airport, former Gordon and Syler were working behind the scenes politically to make it happen.
While state Sen. Andy Womack and former Reps. John Hood and. John Bragg were in the Tennessee General Assembly, they worked well with area media.
With the cooperation of local media, they were instrumental in securing funds that helped MTSU become one of the top universities in the country.
May our free press and open democracy live on forever, and may God continue to bless our country, the most powerful nation in world history.