Press Talk: Of Big John and dialogue

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Back in the mid-’80s, when John Branton first joined The Columbian, he ran into a larger-than-life, bellowing city editor by the name of Gregg Herrington.

“He scared me,” John candidly admitted to a gathering in the newsroom this week.

Well, if Herrington really did scare him, I suspect it was the only thing that did in his stellar 26-year career as a Columbian reporter.

John has retired.

For much of John’s tenure here, he was the night cops reporter. For many, this would be a thankless job.

He would be just beginning his shift when most reporters were wrapping up. And he’d be befriending pimps and prostitutes while other reporters were hanging with politicians. (Wait a second, not sure this contrast is working.)

Still, every day John worked his magic.

It was noted that John probably could have slid by with just covering those two-bit criminals. Endless police briefs. After all, he was virtually alone in the newsroom late at night.

But then, on a pretty regular basis, a major Sunday piece would surface. And I’d think, “Where did that come from???”

Well, it came from the fingertips and brain of John Branton. Always a meticulous reporter, John would methodically — almost painfully slowly to those who were on the other end of the phone — work his sources. And because his late-night hours were strange, that meant those with whom he spoke would have to keep strange hours, as well.

What resulted was great copy. Copy that had fewer errors than almost any other reporter around.

Just magic. Did I already say that? So what! It was worth saying again.

As for most of us toiling in the private sector, there is no fancy pension waiting for John at the end of his working career.

But he made an honest living at an honest job. He’ll take a few bucks into his retirement days and the knowledge that he did something that mattered. Really mattered.

It also was great to see so many law enforcement types attend the little gathering we had for John a few days ago. As one of them said, “I didn’t always like to read what John wrote, but I always thought he was fair.”

I had a little fun with what John meant to us.

“He was the creator of crime stories, the master of ceremonies for misdemeanors, the Fellini of felonies. He is … John Branton!”

We shall miss you, my friend. We shall miss you.

o o o

I attended a little gathering today under this heading: Building a Culture of Dialogue.

It’s a bunch of journalists, law enforcement officers, judges and attorneys getting together to talk about sensitive issues. Issues, as you might imagine, often crop up during high-profile crimes and court cases. And when that happens, ethical questions arise.

In the end — my view here — all of the professions believe there is a greater good that they deliver to the community.

Of course, for me, the free flow of information is always the most important thing. Let it all hang out, then let the public decide.

I’m just saying.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, or

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