Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Personal reflection on the 3-0 mark for a real newspaperman, Bob Battle

I wrote this on Jan. 23, 2010.

Another old-time journalist died Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. Bob Battle was a good guy. He loved the Nashville Banner. He went on to write a column for Williamson A.M., the Gannett suburban product, after circumstances killed the city's very good afternoon newspaper.
Anybody who knew and loved Bob remembers the Banner's last day. While others drank and partied about a job lost, Bob wailed and wept, for the Banner was a living, breating entity, squashed by korporate journalism and greed. I helped him to the door. I didn't think he'd make it. A part of Bob Battle died out there where the Gannett reception desk now stands sentry.
Those who still walk the earth who are considered unfit for Korporate journalism lost a treasured alum today. Some of those who used to love newspapers and considered PR a necessary evil rather than a corporate-sanctioned co-collaborator were there on the final day of publication of the Nashville Banner almost 12 years ago. That newspaper -- a truly local newspaper in a world where news increasingly was and is being determined by demographic studies and corporate trend-spotters -- was sold out from under 100 people, most of whom still loved newspapering better than the promised land of public relations. Many of them have bounced well into that sector. Good for them.
But then there are the "mavericks" ... people who cannot by nature succeed in the world of news-gathering as determined by the gods of Rochester or the Space Coast or wherever they may entrench themselves.
Bob Battle was one of those. Yes, he wrote his final column for the Gannett suburban product targeted for the richest county in the state. And I'm sure those columns were as hard to edit at the end as they were if anyone had to edit them back in the old days.
But Bob had soul. And he had institutional knowledge. He knew everyone in Nashville and knew where they drank. He was to the drinking journalist what Eddie Jones was to the smoking journalist: the real deal. The "Hello, Sweetheart, get me rewrite" kinda guy.
If there was a greatest generation for journalists, it would be guys like Bob, Eddie, Jerry Thompson, Fred Russell, John Bibb, Gene Wyatt, Edgar Allen, Jimmy Carnahan, all dead. I'm fortunate to have spent time with each of those men and to have considered them friends.
To these guys the story was the thing, not the spin. Little thought was given to how it would play in Green Hills or Belle Meade or if it would impact sales at mall boutiques negatively.
Yes, Bob had his faults. He sometimes even bragged about them. Yes, he liked his white wine in the bottomless glass after he gave up the harder stuff.
But he also knew when to seek out the opinion of journalists, perhaps a generation or at least a half-generation younger, and ask for advice or even proof-reading of a column or a business story.
When Garth Brooks first began to make a little noise, Bob told everyone that Garth would be as big as Elvis one day soon. And he was right. No surprise. Bob knew his shit.
This rambling comes as I'm sitting in my basement, my own fortress of sorts, which, among other wall-decorations, has the final edition of the Nashville Banner. My farewell column to that newspaper is right above Bob's.
Good company to the end, I figure.
He was a good guy to start the day with during my 10 years at the Banner. He usually was there at 4:30 or 5 when I arrived at work, generally beating not only me but even Tony Kessler, Jane Srygley, Mike McGehee, Left-Hander and C.B. Fletcher.
Sometimes, perhaps, Bob hadn't had a lot of sleep. And perhaps there was that more than faint hint of the night before on his breath. But he kept on going. He was working for a newspaper he loved, a living and breathing dinosaur.
Well, those dinosaurs are extinct now.
In an era when backing down and back-stabbing are the keys to success, not just in journalism but in Amerika, some still are able to keep their dignitiy even in a world where perhaps they are out of step.
I treasure the fact that I could call Bob Battle a friend.
I don't drink much or any at all now. But maybe I can figure out how Bob kept that one glass of wine from ever getting anywhere near empty.
I'll never be able to reallly figure out why the world decided it didn't need journalists like Bob Battle, dedicated to a newspaper and its audience and not bottom line figures. People who didn't back down when they knew they were right.

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