Father, son share stories of journalism, First Amendment

Kevin Allen

Nearly every seat in Mass Media and Technology Hall was filled Thursday night as father and son journalism icons presented “Living Journalism: An Evening with the Seigenthalers.”

John Seigenthaler Sr. and John Seigenthaler Jr. discussed their thoughts and experiences in the journalism industry, including the elder Seigenthaler’s experiences covering the Civil Rights Movement and the younger Seigenthaler’s coverage of the Sri Lanka tsunami.

The elder Seigenthaler’s account of trying to protect two Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights Movement especially resonated with Louisville senior Kristin Clements.

“I really enjoyed hearing about civil rights and how he was beaten,” Clements said. “I’d heard about it but I’d never heard him talk about it, and he just has a great sense of humor and way to bring laughter to people.”

The focus on the First Amendment throughout the presentation left an impression on Lauren Lorance, a freshman from Jeffersonville, Ind.

“I think it’s something that really resonates through this building a lot,” Lorance said. “With First Amendment rights, it was really cool for them to incorporate it into their lecture and see that it’s still important in media today.”

The presentation was a conversational format, which consisted of the Seigenthalers posing questions to one another and encouraging each other to tell stories of their experiences.

The elder Seigenthaler spent 43 years as an award-winning journalist for The Tennessean and later became founding editorial director of USA Today.

He left journalism twice, first to serve with Robert Kennedy in the U.S. Justice Department and later to help with Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

The younger Seigenthaler covered events such as 9/11 and terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, in addition to working with NBC Nightly News Weekend Edition for more than 10 years.

Lorance felt the pair’s celebrity status added to the attraction of the event for her.

“I always used to watch NBC as a kid, and I remember seeing Seigenthaler around on Dateline and the Weekend Edition,” Lorance said. “It was so cool; I was kind of star struck.”

Bowling Green freshman Penny Sprigg said the thing that will stay with her was the elder Seigenthaler’s closing remark, a warning on the fragility of the First Amendment.

Sprigg said she’d never thought about how freedom of speech and the press wasn’t an inherent right of people until Seigenthaler told the crowd that just as freedoms can be given, they can also be taken away.