Reunion, 'Post' movie remind of newspapers' crucial purpose

By Layne Bruce
Posted 4/17/18

Editor's note: This column originally ran on April 11 in Inkblots, Mississippi Press Association's blog.

OLIVE BRANCH - This town used to be known only to me as the "last pit stop before Memphis."

In the '70s, Olive Branch seemed little more …

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Reunion, 'Post' movie remind of newspapers' crucial purpose

Posted

Editor's note: This column originally ran on April 11 in Inkblots, Mississippi Press Association's blog.

OLIVE BRANCH - This town used to be known only to me as the "last pit stop before Memphis."

In the '70s, Olive Branch seemed little more than a couple of gas stations at an exit on U.S. 78 just before you reached the Tennessee line. It wasn't until much later - until I actually lived in the city from 2004-06 - that I learned of its charming downtown and tight-knit community.

Like much of suburbia, the city exploded in growth in the '80s and '90s as city dwellers moved outward. Likely sensing what was coming, Doug Jones opened the DeSoto County Tribune in Olive Branch in 1972 on the cusp of a period of rapid growth. Population in the small town exploded from 1,500 in 1970 to upward of 20,000 just 30 years later. It's estimated 35,000 call Olive Branch home today.

But the town is paperless. The Tribune merged with the DeSoto Times in Hernando 10 years ago.

I don't have to tell anyone reading what the intervening decade has been like for newspapers, but "inhospitable" is one way to put it. It's been particularly rough for papers that don't exactly have their own markets cornered.

That certainly was true for the Tribune, which - at least when I was publisher there - suffered from something of an identity crisis. Was it a small, hometown weekly or more of a suburban alternative to the daily behemoth that was The Commercial Appeal?

We tried both approaches and others. We were a small, dedicated staff that put out a good product. And, by and large, it was valued by the core audience made up of Olive Branch residents who called the town "home" for years.

They miss the paper still.

"I think towns like this deserve their own paper," said former Mayor Sam Rikard, who, along with me, attended an early February reunion of former Tribune staffers. "They're really important to the identity of a town."

I left the gathering that day wistful but happy for having seen some old friends and colleagues with whom I had been out of touch for 12 years or more.

And I treated myself that evening in Memphis with a screening of "The Post," Steven Spielberg's marvelous film about the Pentagon Papers and the rush to report on them in the early 1970s.

When I first read about the movie, I couldn't imagine Tom Hanks being entirely convincing in the role of famed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. I should have known better; he carries it off as he has with so many other roles before this one.

But, without question, Meryl Streep powers this movie with her terrific portrayal of a reticent Katherine Graham, the longtime Post publisher and one of the first women to serve in a role of such consequence in media. She's outstanding.

This is the kind of movie that just about everyone will enjoy, but it's a movie newspaper "people" will adore.

Spielberg has crafted a true love letter to print journalism, and I left the theater feeling invigorated about the newspaper industry and its mission: To speak the truth to its audience.

The movie also deftly serves as a nice bookend to "All the President's Men," Alan Pakula's 1975 film based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which chronicles their daunting mission to report on Watergate and the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

In fact, "The Post" ends exactly where "All the President's Men" begins. So it will be fun to eventually watch them in tandem.

The modern-day Post has been making some headlines of its own lately for being in the crosshairs of another president.

Now owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, the paper has reportedly made a high-profile enemy in that of President Trump. That's not all that surprising.

The president supposedly wants to go after Amazon and some of its favorable government contracts in an effort to put the squeeze on The Post, even though executive editor Marty Baron stated Bezos takes no role in editorial decisions at the paper.

Given the wealth and pulpits of the players, the skirmish is not likely to die down anytime soon.

And I suspect the team at the Post knows that.

An old adage about newspapers is they're supposed to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." That should be true whether in Washington or Jackson or Olive Branch, for that matter.

Layne Bruce is executive director of MPA-MPS. His email address is lbruce@mspress.org. Follow the Association on Twitter @MPAnewspapers.