One of the great characters I got to work with in my salad days at the Nashville Banner was Bob Battle, whose official title at the time was "senior business editor" but whose real title was "who you go to when you needed a phone number." Bob knew everything and everybody, having spent his entire life in Nashville and his entire career newspapering at the Banner.
Bob passed away Friday, January 22, and I'm grateful that the final time I saw him, at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue event in 2008, I got a warm handshake and a smile. It was an event at which Bob was a fixture as a judge, and he was reveling in the attention he received as the barbecue glitterati (yes, they exist) lined up to greet him.
(By the way...I'm linking to the first-day Tennessean obit, even though it's a touch incomplete. Why? Because the second-day story's headline speaks only of Bob's role as semi-occasional columnist for a Tennessean regional publication, not the near five decades he toiled for the Banner. If it was a young copy editor who wrote that headline, they should be admonished. If it was anybody who's been in this town longer than a decade, they should be beaten soundly with multiple copies of the Banner's final edition. End of rant.)
Another talent cut from that same cloth a half-generation later is Tim Ghianni, who wrote this more realistic tribute to Mr. Battle and his role within the halls of the city's afternoon newspaper. Tim, as per usual, paints a great picture of the man, flaws and all, that makes one wish they could be whisked back to those days of capturing a city's heartbeat via words and pictures on pulped wood and ink.
As someone four decades Mr. Battle's junior, I always felt when I started at the Banner that I was coming in at least one era too late. And I responded to Tim's column this way...
I do not lament for Bob, Eddie, C.B., Mr. Russell and the like, because they got to do the job the way it was meant to be done.
I lament for those of us who got to do the job, for a little or a long while, in the midst of the numbers meaning more than the product.
I also lament for the generation existing in "journalism schools" right now who will never work alongside not only their peers, but talented folks mid-career, much less the "dinosaurs" who have so much to offer because they know where the bodies are buried, not only within the communities they're charged with covering but also within the organizations that cut their checks.
They're going to be caught up in an endless loop of overreacting to an underinformed audience's ignorance, rather than do the job of actually informing that audience. Message boards, search engines and social media crowdsourcing will be their fall back, rather than working the phones or pounding the pavement.
And their "brand managers" or "producers," rather than their editors, will keep track of how much time they spend in their chairs rather than how many stories they break. (Oh, wait...)
I do count myself lucky to have spent my brief time in full-time newspapering with a group of people who never had enough time or enough resources, but spent every day maximizing both, and having the more-than-occasional blast of fun doing it.
And I count myself lucky to have been able to read the always engaging, ever-mystifying-as-to-wher
e-he-found-his-subjects work of one of the greatest feature writers/biographers I've ever met.
It's not your --30-- time yet, sir.
Here's to you, Mr. Battle. And to you, Mr. Ghianni.