“NASHVILLE — In 1954, a man called the city desk of The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily morning newspaper, to say he planned to take his own life by jumping from the Shelby Avenue Bridge. If the paper wanted the story, he said, they should send a reporter.
At the scene, a young journalist named John Seigenthaler spent 40 minutes talking with the man, who was sitting astride a gas pipe that ran beneath the bridge’s railing. When the man turned to look at the water below, Mr. Seigenthaler, one leg anchored in the bridge’s grillwork, reached down, grabbed him by the collar and held on till nearby police officers could haul him to safety. Today the historic bridge, which spans the Cumberland River, is known as the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in honor of the journalist who risked his life to save another’s — and got a front-page byline in the process.
Mr. Seigenthaler was a journalist with The Tennessean for 43 years. As the paper’s editor, he led its principled coverage of civil rights in spite of vocal white opposition. Nashville was the first major city in the South to desegregate public facilities, and The Tennessean’s fierce support of civil rights is often credited with contributing to the city’s relatively peaceful integration. “If it wasn’t for the newspaper, Nashville could’ve been a nasty, awful place,” said the former Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis.
Mr. Seigenthaler died in 2014, and The Tennessean, like every other local newspaper in the country, is a shadow of its former self — smaller, thinner, slighter, diminished in every measurable way. Even before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy and took advertising revenue with it, The Tennessean had already endured round after round of layoffs as its parent company, Gannett, struggled. Its decline accelerated last year when Gannett merged with GateHouse Media, a company known for “the ransacking of local journalism,” as Boston Magazine put it.
I remind you of all this — the decades-old history of a newspaper known for advancing progressive causes and the recent history of a media company in thrall to corporate investors — to provide some context for an appalling advertisement that ran in The Tennessean on June 21.”