Looking back: Journalism fair, accurate, kind

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

I had the best visit Sunday afternoon with Betty Powell in her lovely Hillsboro home.

Betty worked for this newspaper for many years. When I worked with her for a few years before she retired in the mid-1980s, she was a proofreader – a luxury most newspapers no longer employ, as is sometimes all too evident.

In addition to her own contribution to local journalism, Betty was married for nearly 30 years to Harold Powell until his passing in 1977. Harold was the longtime editor of the News Herald and, later, Press Gazette, and a contemporary (and co-worker and friend) of H.E. “Dike” Barnes, the legendary – and in this case I don’t use “legendary” lightly – longtime publisher and editor of this newspaper.

Outside of Moses Carothers, who started this enterprise in 1818, Dike Barnes is probably the most influential journalist this town has seen, if for no other reason than his length of service – 45 years as publisher and editor here from 1928 to 1973, and 60 total years in the business. And Harold Powell was also an influential editor, even though some of his years were spent with the News Herald when it was separately operated.

Betty met Harold when they worked at the newspaper beginning in the late 1940s. She was told some “ex-Marine” was coming to work as a reporter, and after a while they started going out – a local softball game was their first date – and eventually married and started a family. Harold passed away much too young, only 56.

Betty obviously knew Harold well, but she worked with Dike for many years, too. I asked her to describe both men to me.

“Newspapermen,” was her reply. They lived and breathed their jobs, and cared about being fair and accurate. “Fair and accurate” were words that Betty repeated several times when I visited with her Sunday, and she added another word – “kind.” She applied that to both Dike and Harold. They wanted to be accurate, and they reported what needed to be reported, but they did it with kindness. That’s something all of us in this business could remember and apply more often.

Betty had what is called a “proofreader’s eye” – mistakes and typos just jumped off the page at her. I have that to a degree, and I know a lot of people in this business who do, too. Some of you might have it. I never met anyone who had that ability like Betty. She read not just all the news copy, but all advertising, classifieds – any text that went into the newspaper came across her desk first.

Betty had fond recollections of other people she worked with here – typesetters and graphic artists Don McCullough, Bill Lynch, Bob Daughtery, Gisele Kisling, Loretta Anderson and Nola Walker (who still works here part-time), and many, many more.

After Harold passed away, Rick Tuttle became editor, and I followed Rick in that role. Betty was always kind and professional and enjoyable to work with. But Rick and I both knew that Betty never thought we lived up to Harold’s standards. Yes, she was a little biased toward her husband, but she may have been right. Harold – and Dike, too – were old-school newspapermen who had been around a long time and knew what the heck they were doing.

Another very enjoyable conversation I had a couple of days ago by phone was with Jim Hardin, who served as general manager (just another title for basically the publisher’s role) here from 1978-1986. Jim hired me in 1983 as an untested novice reporter, and promoted me to editor in January 1985 when Rick left for the Middletown Journal. I owe him for my professional career (I wouldn’t have worked in journalism or politics if I hadn’t first worked here). But you can blame publisher Pam Stricker for bringing me back here a second time seven years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, this newspaper produced a mammoth 92-page special edition celebrating the paper’s 175th anniversary, and then-editor Liz Johnson, who followed me in that role in 1991, did an amazing job. Much of the information featured on today’s front page story was included in articles presented at that time, and then we picked up the thread with additional interviews.

It’s hard for me to describe the excitement I felt when I was hired by Jim in 1983. It was a door opening for this farm boy and factory worker to a new life, a new career. I have vivid memories of working with many of those mentioned above. My first set of coworkers also included Nina Wharton, Mike Mayhugh (who just recently passed), then Susie Wagoner, then Sharon Hughes (still working here), Jeff Gilliland (hired just a couple of weeks after me and working here now), Daryl Fauber, Vernon and Necia Coss and, later, Phil Roberts, Jeff Wooton, Tina Hill, Rory Ryan, Drew Farron and so many, many more. It was a fun staff, with a lot of love and kindness toward each other.

The local officials in office when I first started were also extremely helpful to me, including a young prosecutor named Rocky Coss and his even younger assistant, Kevin Greer (both still young at heart), Judge Darrell Hottle, Judge Richard Davis, Sheriff Hugh Rogers, Hillsboro Police Chief Doug Trout – I loved court and crime coverage most of all — Mayor Betty Bishop, Safety and Service Director Kelly Shelton, fire Chief Tom Stephens, Hillsboro Supt. John Burton, WSRW’s Herb Day, and the list goes on and on. So many people in the government, business and education fields helped me learn the ropes.

I’m blessed with a great staff today. Whatever path life takes, I will always take immense pride in my association with this newspaper and the dedicated people who have worked here. It is truly amazing that this Hillsboro institution is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Thanks to anyone and everyone who had a hand in making it happen.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @abernathygary.


By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]