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VOL. 43 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 1, 2019

The Tennessean’s move about more than a new address

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In a letter of July 23, 1938, to what was then The Nashville Tennessean, a Mrs. Ann Stewart commended the paper on its new 1100 Broadway digs.

“Amid such comfort and home-like atmosphere as we find in the plant and among its people,” she wrote, “we can understand now how easily minds can function and deliver us the ‘facts’ each day that concern our country, state and city and are of first importance to any loyal citizen.”

Such a pleasant notion that is, loyal citizens thinking of facts as important. Quaint, even.

But that was then, and this is now.

The Tennessean’s final 1100 Broadway press run will be March 3, after which printing will be done in Knoxville. The newspaper staff is decamping for a West End tower, to share an address with a Lasik vision center, a bank and the Consulate-General of Japan, among others.

The newspaper building itself will be demolished.

As an architectural structure, it will not be missed much. Its façade has been transformed over the years into an uninviting expanse of concrete and glass, with all the warmth of a defense contractor’s headquarters.

This is not the Ryman.

But we old-time newspaper types are a sentimental breed, perhaps never more so than now, when the vocation seems perpetually under economic and political fire.

So it was that hundreds of former Tennessean and Banner residents of 1100 Broadway gathered the other evening not so much to pay tribute to a building, but to the public service journalism it has birthed.

And, yes, to our own pasts there.

Some alums whose departures were particularly wrenching and/or involuntary boycotted the event. But I think the majority of those who attended appreciated the opportunity to renew acquaintances and trade tales old and new.

One friend who met his wife there told me he’d proposed to her after work one evening while parked just to the rear of the building. Among journalists, that’s the kind of thing that passes for a romantic moment.

I also met my wife there, so The Tennessean holds a place in my heart not just related to journalism.

But journalism, not matrimony, is its raison d’être, and this is a place that has housed multiple Pulitzer Prize-winners. A place whose reporters and photographers and other staff members have done solid, meaningful work across the decades. Whose late editor and publisher, the revered John Seigenthaler, has a dadgum bridge named for him.

All that’s a legacy worthy of honor. Hats off to the Tennessean brass for recognizing that.

I don’t know many of the current generation of Tennessean staff members. But I do know the business well enough to appreciate that they are constantly challenged to find new and engaging ways to appeal to an often-indifferent – if not hostile – public, while doing so with dwindling resources.

It’s not a situation I envy.

Nor is 1100 Broadway my only brick- and-mortar newspaper home to have outlived its utility. My first newspaper, in Gulfport, Mississippi, recently announced plans to find “modern office space better suited for our digital mission.”

My second, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was basically flooded out of its function by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The news operation, such as it is, now exists in rented space, a shell of its former self.

Even my last full-time employer moved while I was there, to a new Times Square office building designed by a famous architect. So yes, buildings come and go.

What troubles me about this one’s pending demise is the way it perfectly symbolizes what’s happening all over Nashville in the name of, or pursuit of, progress. Houses, businesses, public spaces give way to gleaming new constructions with scarcely a nod to what was supplanted.

Maybe the Historical Commission will erect a plaque on the 1100 Broadway site.

Even then, Nashville will have lost a prominent, visible reminder of the First Amendment in action, to be replaced by yet more offices.

The Gannett corporate vow is that the relocated Tennessean will be “integrated with the heart of Nashville in the way we’ve always been.” The optimist in me hopes that proves true.

The pessimist in me fears “out of sight, out of mind.” And that The Tennessean, once an essential and dominant force in the very fabric of life in Nashville, will slide into invisibility.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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