John Seigenthaler leaves in his wake a cadre of journalists—working with him, around him and for him over the past 75 years—whom he helped shape to understand that their work required a commitment to a set of standards. It required an aggressive search for facts. Aggressive, he said, “Because they are the facts people make life decisions on.”
His leadership of The (Nashville) Tennessean in the turbulent years of fundamental change in the South made the newspaper a beacon for black people struggling for an equal place in a democratic society. He believed the business of the public should be transparent and officials who wielded public power should be held accountable for their actions. “It’s your job to make it that way,” he would tell us. “That’s what journalism is all about.”
All of this made John a dangerous man to be around if you were interested in journalism. His energy would draw you in his wake. His enthusiasm was infectious. And his sense of purpose was contagious. He could, at times, make work so much fun you would forget about any other obligation you had—even to your own family.
The actor Bill Murray starred in a 1993 movie called “Groundhog Day” in which he woke up every day to the day he had just lived through, over and over and over … If it were to happen that I would be caught in that kind of Groundhog Day, I couldn’t think of a better day to wake to than back in the Tennessean newsroom of the 1960s helping Seigenthaler tell the stories of a changing American South.
Read John Seigenthaler On Ethics, from Nieman Reports Summer 1994
Read The (Nashville) Tennessean’s obituary of John Seigenthaler