Four decades ago, when the first issue of The Citizen Voice was published, I was an 11-year-old sixth grader in Lee County.
Ten years later, when I had just earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism and was beginning work on my master’s, Guy Hatfield had already bought out the established competitor and the Citizen Voice & Times had earned a reputation as being one of the best weekly newspapers in Kentucky.
Four years after that, I took the chance I was offered to become a part of that legacy when I became editor of the paper. Eight years later, I decided to move on to a career outside journalism, but fate brought me back for a couple more years with the CV&T before other opportunities opened up that I felt I needed to pursue.
The time I spent with the CV&T was great for professional development and accomplishment, and I made a lot of lifetime friends, both among my co-workers and in the community. I have relationships with Estill Countians that I’ll always value.
The newspaper business has changed a lot since 1973 and the CV&T has always been at the forefront of those changes.
At a time when most weekly newspapers were still using phototypesetting equipment, Guy was one of the first to convert to desktop publishing using Macintosh computers. I had to learn desktop publishing on the fly when I joined the staff in 1987. Our most powerful computer had two megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte external hard drive. You read that right. Megabytes, not gigabytes. My iPhone has infinitely more computing power than the computers we used back then, and it costs about 10 percent of what one of those high-end Macintosh Pluses did. (And how do I use that computing power? By shooting birds at pigs!)
When I came back into the Hatfield fold in 2001 to edit the Clay City Times, cut-and-paste layout was giving way to pagination, which is the art of laying out newspaper pages entirely on the computer. That was another learning curve, and was yet another area where the CV&T was ahead of its peers in the Kentucky weekly newspaper world.
The Internet was beginning to become a major player in the world of news delivery and Guy always wondered how to embrace that medium without, as he put it, “giving away our news content for free.”
His death came before Facebook and Twitter rose to prominence and before people started carrying smartphones so they have instant access to the world at their fingertips, but no doubt he’d approve of the way the CV&T is using the Internet to promote itself today.
Just last week, I ran into one of my mentors, Keith Kappes. Now retired from his career in public relations and administration and the teacher of an occasional journalism course at Morehead State University, Keith is currently the publisher of The Morehead News. He said he thoroughly enjoyed the journalism side of the community newspaper business, but wasn’t so keen on the business end of things.
On the other hand, Guy seemed to thrive at both. He enjoyed landing a big advertising account as much as printing a blockbuster news story.
Even back around the turn of the century, and it certainly seems odd to be typing that phrase, Guy realized that the newspaper business was changing. Dailies were already beginning to feel the effects of the proliferation of other news sources, such as 24-hour television news channels and talk radio. He surmised that while dailies might be in trouble, there would always be a market for community newspapers. They provide a service to the public that can’t be obtained anywhere else.
When he started the paper, Guy did a lot of the work himself. His health problems took their toll, especially with his vision, so he began hiring journalists to do the bulk of the writing, photography and layout. That didn’t stop him from penning the occasional column or editorial when he felt strongly about something, but by and large he left the news business to his editors and staffers.
“You concentrate on putting out the best newspaper possible, and I’ll worry about keeping the bills paid,” he often said.
He had a knack for finding and hiring talented journalists. I was first offered the job in 1985, two years prior to when I actually started at the CV&T, but I turned it down because I didn’t think I was ready to take on that much responsibility as a recent college graduate.
When the chance came again in 1987, I jumped at it. I felt I was capable of doing the job and I was ready for a change.
I had big shoes to fill. I was succeeding John Nelson, who was leaving to start a newspaper in Somerset. John had taken the paper’s reputation to a higher plane in news coverage and the paper had the Kentucky Press Association awards to prove it.
It took me about a year to grow into the job, but once I did I feel like the tradition continued. There were a lot of big stories during my tenure, and there were other times when we struggled to fill the front page with local news. Such is life in a small town. In one particularly newsworthy week, when a local businessman was fighting high-profile criminal charges and the fiscal court was embroiled in a controversy over budget and tax issues, Guy cracked, “We need two front pages this week.”
Both times after I left, Guy stayed in touch. Sometimes he’d seek my advice and counsel on things, which was really flattering. I called him the day before he died to see how he was doing, not knowing what was going to happen the next day. He sounded weak and didn’t feel like talking, which was out of character for him, but he thanked me for calling.
I mentioned the talented people who have worked for the CV&T through the years. I could never name them all, and would not want to try for fear of offending someone by leaving them out, but all have made their mark professionally and in my life personally. Many have become great friends. Until Rhonda Smyth broke my record, I held the mark as the longest-serving editor. I still stay in touch with her, along with many others.
Even among community newspapers, independents are becoming a dying breed. More and more are being bought out by chains. That the CV&T and Clay City Times are still independently owned is a testament to Guy Hatfield’s legacy and Teresa Hatfield-Barger’s efforts in continuing the tradition.
The paper is in good hands with its new editor, Whitney Leggett, and her efforts to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the little paper in Ravenna are to be applauded.
In many ways, September 1987 seems like yesterday to me. It doesn’t seem possible that the current editor wasn’t even born when I first came to work there. It also seems odd that in my current job, I’m now on the receiving end of calls from the CV&T seeking information for a story, instead of being the one making those calls.
Happy 40th anniversary to the Citizen Voice & Times. I feel honored to have had a role in a quarter of the paper’s existence.