Whittle: Will Banner be reborn?

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Can the Nashville Banner be born-again?

As a former feature writer for the old afternoon newspaper published from 1876-1998, I could get spirit-filled about such a re-birth.

Since I worked at the Banner briefly in the 1970s, I've been accused with helping put the Banner out of business.
Admittedly biased, I hold fast to one Dan's opinion, the 1970s were among the best and last "glory years" of the Banner's colorful and impactful history.

By colorful, I mean the gifted, dedicated souls who literally shed blood, sweat and tears to make the Banner into one of the most respected major daily newspapers in America's robust journalistic history.

I mean "colorful" with gifted personalities, such as editorial cartoonist/author Jack Knox, the late father to Woodbury resident Britt Knox, who is wed to Woodbury city councilwoman Faye Northcutt Knox.

Some young whippersnapper media people probably don't know the meaning of an "editorial cartoonist." Jack Knox' work was well-known to the point U.S. Presidents regularly called him for advice about the mood of everyday hard-working Americans.

Colorfully-named Pinkney Keel, was known as a gifted editor. But his biggest claim to fame was when he coined "Elvis the Pelvis" in describing a then unknown singer with gyrating hips down in Mississippi.

Editorial Page Editor Tom Flake was a truly gifted wordsmith, to the point he largely wrote the skits and barbs for Nashville's former popular annual "Gridiron" production that roasted and poked fun at political personalities such as Bill Boner, John J. Hooker and Ray (of sunshine) Blanton.

Democrat John J. Hooker, when he ran for governor of Tennessee in the 1960s, was often "roasted" in the pages of the Republican-slanted Banner, to the point many blamed the Banner with largely causing Mr. Hooker to lose the election. Some of us younger reporters felt the Banner did a hatchet job on Mr. Hooker, but were afraid to voice that opinion.

How conservative was the Banner's editorial board of that era? We were told we'd be fired if we grew facial hair, or caught holding up two fingers for a "V" for peace sign as popularized by protesting American hippies against the Vietnam War of the period. The Banner board was of the opinion anyone against that war, was un-American.
Mr. Hooker may have got some personal revenge satisfaction, however, when he got temporary control of Nashville's afternoon newspaper in the 1980s. When that deal was consummated, the reporter who had led the smear tactics against Hooker, without saying a word, cleared his desk and walked out the Banner's front door never to return.

The late Robert Churchwell not only wrote history, he made history as the Banner's first black reporter ... a man so highly respected that he should be in every journalism hall of fame in the state.

When Mr. Churchwell, the encourager, complimented a feature story I, a rookie reporter, did on Bell Buckle's hog-killing-day legendary laborer Lack Buckingham in 1971, I was pumped to go another 12-hour shift.

Fellow State Desk reporter Harold "Cowboy" Lynch was one of the few reporters I could not out work. Since Harold loved horses and rodeos, it was I who gave him the nickname of "Cowboy."

State Desk Editor Weldon Grimsley, a gifted page layout designer, had two claims of newspapering distinction: One, he discovered country/rock singer Narvel Felts at a Southeast Missouri high school talent contest back in the 1960s. Two was a much-lesser known deed when he hired me to come to the Banner from a small daily newspaper in Missouri.

Weldon and his wife, Thelma Lou, opened their home in helping me make the move from Missouri until I could afford an apartment of my own.

Tom Normand was one of the most gifted obituary writers in Banner history. I always smiled when Tom tried to spell his name to someone on the phone: "It's Normand ... with a 'D.'"

Not many reporters excelled at writing obituaries, but Tom Normand did.

One of the largest personalities to ever grace the hallowed halls of the Banner at 1100 Broad was former publisher James G. (Jimmy) Stahlman.

Mr. Stahlman is credited with making the deal that extended the Banner's success for a few more decades when he talked the morning Tennessean's publishing Evans family into sharing receipts from a third company, Newspaper Printing Corp., within the building at 1100 Broad.

That third company produced the afternoon and morning newspapers, and then shared an advertising revenue formula between the Banner and Tennessean. That deal is credited with extending the life of the Banner for several more decades when most afternoon metropolitan papers had already failed.

And when Mr. Stahlman consummated his deal with Gannett, he left 1100 Broad with a bang.

Before he stepped out the door for the last time, Mr. Stahlman threw a package of lit firecrackers into the newsroom, resulting in government reporter Grady Gallant, a veteran of war, seeking refuge under a newsroom desk.
"I wanted to light a fire under the newsroom one more time," Mr. Stahlman was credited with saying.
Again, stating one Dan's opinion here, the Banner played a vital role in Tennessee society and political theater, by offering a conservative counter-balance to the then liberal Tennessean.

But, can a modern-day Banner survive with the avalanche of instant worldwide digital news distribution at our finger tips or on our wrists? I think so, for successful newspapering has never been rocket science.
Give the readers what they want and need with in-depth reporting, like they can't get with live media sound bites, and the readers will come.

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Dan Whittle
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