Nashville Banner

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Nashville_banner.jpg
The front page from a 1974 issue of The Nashville Banner.
The Nashville Banner was a daily newspaper of Nashville, Tennessee which ceased publication in 1998. It was long a voice of conservative and many would say even reactionary views at times, in contrast to its "progressive" morning counterpart, The Tennessean, although these views were greatly moderated in the paper's twilight years.

The Banner began as the Nashville Republican Banner and although it was to drop the first word of the title early in its existence, it never quite did so in its editorial practice. It was begun as a voice for the railroads and other interests in comparison with other area papers of the time which tended to take the viewpoint of workers and unions. It was long controlled by Nashville's influential Stahlman family.

The Banner was an evening paper, which at one time published as many as five editions (first, second, market final, sports final, and sunset final), although these were later consolidated into three editions, and eventually, two. For many years it was in a superior financial condition to its competitors, and in fact, when the rival Tennessean went bankrupt and almost had to cease publication, the Banner assisted in its purchase by the Evans family, who saved it. The Tennesseean and the Banner entered into what was the first joint operating agreement in the U.S. in 1937. Under this agreement, which became a common model for many other cities over the next half-century, the papers maintained editorial independence and remained separate as news-gathering organizations. However, they were printed on the same presses, distributed by a common agent, and had a consolidated classified advertising department. They were fierce competitors in the realm of news and ideas, but no longer business competitors in the truest sense.

This arrangement stood both papers in good stead for many years. However, the Banner began to suffer in the post-World War II era from the slow loss of readership that became common to most U.S. evening papers, which was largely attributed to the rise of television. In the early 1970s the Stahlmans sold the Banner to the Gannett Co. Gannett published it for several years, but in 1979 announced that it was selling the Banner back to local owners and assuming publication of the Tennessean.

Although it took almost twenty years, this was the death knell for the Banner. It was now clearly inferior in resources to its morning counterpart, and its circulation continued to shrink. In the 1980s Gannett insisted on renegotiation of the joint operating agreement to its benefit, and the Banner had little choice but to comply. Another reason for the weakness of the Banner was its lack of a Sunday edition comparable to the Tennessean's, which it had given up in the formation of the joint operating agreement. It had since always published on a six-day schedule, and as weekday papers, especially evening weekday papers, continued to decline, it did not have this profit center to draw upon. The Banner switched its Saturday edition for a while to a single, morning edition in direct competition with the Tennesseean, then announced that it was terminating its Saturday edition entirely.

During this time, the Banner began to take far more moderate postions on issues on its editorial pages, although it generally remained more conservative than the Tennessean in most areas. It was in the contradictory situation of probably becoming more-respected by people, especially those in the journalism community, at the same time that it was becoming less-read. The end occurred when the Gannett Co. made the publishers of the Banner a large offer to terminate the joint operating agreement. The offer was more than any profit that could have probably been made by the continued publication of the Banner, so it ceased to exist, with a small portion of its staff and a few of its most popular features being absorbed by the Tennessean. Interestingly, this was not considered by the Justice Department to be an antitrust violation, but when Gannet attempted to do the same thing with its Honolulu Advertiser and the evening paper in that joint operating agreement, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, only a few months later, it was prosecuted as such, the merger was forestalled, and both papers still operate.

Among the Banner's last big stories was the closing of Opryland USA in late 1997. The Banner's final edition was published on Friday, February 20, 1998.

The archives of the Nashville Banner were donated to the Nashville Public Library. The collection features the entire archive, a vending machine with the final edition still displayed in the window, the many awards the paper won over the years, various trinkets from the paper's offices, and a bronze statue of a paperboy selling the Banner which was originally placed on the plaza in front of the Tennessean/Banner offices. The archive is located at the downtown Nashville Public Library on Church Street and is open to the public.

Notable Contributors to The Nashville Banner:

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