INSTITUTE FOR RURAL JOURNALISM AND COMMUNITY ISSUES
Feisty editor gets in local hall of fame, posthumously
Remarks by Al Cross to Estill Development Alliance, Irvine, Ky., May 4, 2006
A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country. That’s what the carpenter’s son told his fellow Galileans when he returned to his home country, performing mighty works and getting their noses out of joint.
On the wall of the School of Journalism at the University of
Kentucky, there is a plaque certifying to a man who performed
mighty works in his home country – and also got some people’s
noses out of joint.
Now, some people might try to put too fine a point on it and say that Guy wasn’t so much a journalist as he was a publisher – the boss who tells the journalists what to do, and also has to worry about the circulation and advertising that allow the journalists to do their work. After all, he wasn’t trained as a journalist, but as a political scientist.
But I knew Guy for almost his entire career in the newspaper business, and I not only considered him a journalist, but one of the best in rural America. John Nelson, who knew him longer, worked with him more closely, and is here tonight, tells it this way: “From the beginning, he wanted to have the best weekly newspaper in Kentucky, and he wouldn't stop until he could claim that title. He did so over and over in the years to follow.”
Yes, he did, and he did it the hard way – against an established paper, owned by a healthy chain. But he succeeded, I think, because he really knew his home county, from Spout Springs to Locust Branch. He also was a good judge of people, actually liked to ask people for advice, and was a quick study. He mastered the newspaper trade, from printing to postal regulations to photography to laying out a front page.
As Jeff Kerr wrote about his boss after he died, “With a combination of excellent photography, snappy writing and an extensive knowledge, not only of local issues, but local people, the Citizen Voice quickly blew the Times-Herald out of the water.”
He went on to also own newspapers in Clay City and Flemingsburg, and to be a leader in Kentucky journalism. Here’s some of what that plaque says: “Publisher of three strong weekly newspapers . . . Kentucky’s youngest publisher . . . the youngest president of the Kentucky Weekly Newspaper Association, and the only person to head that organization three times . . . as president of the Kentucky Press Association, visited every newspaper in the state . . . most valuable member of KPA . . . winner of 542 awards, some from the National Newspaper Association . . . staunch defender of the First Amendment . . . uncovered many stories of corruption in government and schools.”
Whoops, there he goes, still getting those noses out of joint. But Guy had the courage, talent, tenacity and integrity it took to tell the people what they needed to know to be fully informed citizens. Sometimes, that wasn’t the best thing for the newspaper, or for his pocketbook. H. B. Elkins reminded me that when one of his biggest advertisers got into some big legal trouble, Guy didn't shy away from printing the story. That business still doesn't advertise with the Citizen Voice and Times, but Guy knew that was the price you sometimes had to pay for maintaining your integrity as a journalist.
Doing those essential journalistic things is more difficult in a small community like this one, where today’s neighbor is tomorrow’s story subject. But people in smaller communities should have the same right to journalism that fulfills the promise of the First Amendment. That means you have to make some tough calls that get people's noses out of joint, and sometimes those calls are wrong, or they have repercussions you don't expect. But a good editor is like a watchdog -- you have to out up with a little extraneous barking if the watchdog is doing a good job. Guy Hatfield was committed to the idea of watchdog journalism, and it’s what made him not only a great public servant for Estill County, but a great example for other rural journalists to follow.
But if you’re a community journalist, those necessary confrontations should be tempered with gentle compassion. Guy showed compassion by helping the Boy Scouts and other community groups, and by being there for his employees. H.B. recalled it this way: “It never failed that he'd be out on the back porch when I left work on a Friday after a difficult week. He'd reach into his wallet, pull out a not-insignificant amount of cash, and had it to me, saying that he appreciated my efforts. That was the generous, warm-hearted side of Guy Hatfield that not too many people got to see.”
So, Estill County is a better place because Guy Hatfield lived here. Kentucky journalism is better because he was a journalist here. And I think we are better people for having known him. Those may be the ultimate tributes to any community journalist. Guy certainly deserves them.
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The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program at the University of Alabama. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.
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Last revised May 5, 2006, 1230 a.m. EST