Daily Yonder: A State With Empty Bureaus

The Herald-Leader is closing its last Eastern Kentucky bureau as the probably profitable paper continues its struggle against the parent company’s debt obligations and the news industry remains in trouble and in transition.

Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder has a great story up now on Dori Hjalmarson, the last bureau reporter, what the news bureaus meant to the region, and what is lost with their closing:

The reporters who worked Eastern Kentucky news bureaus helped change the nation and brought Kentucky together. The last bureau will close this week.

It’s fitting that Dori Hjalmarson’s story Sunday was about the decline in population in Breathitt County, Kentucky, as people abandon that coalfield county in search of work elsewhere because Dori is leaving, too.

Eastern Kentucky once had five major press news bureaus, but they’ve been closing as the business of newspapering has declined. The state’s largest newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, closed its bureau in Hazard years ago. The Associated Press followed, closing its bureau in Pikeville.

At one time the Lexington Herald-Leader had three reporters living in Eastern Kentucky. Dori Hjalmarson was the last. She leaves her Pikeville office Friday and nobody is taking her place.
At one time, every county in Kentucky had daily delivery of the Courier-Journal and the paper had reporters in both Hazard, in the far east, and Paducah, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

It was hard to advance in management at the C-J unless you passed through the bureaus. That was the way you learned about the state — the whole state. Then — before the collapse of the newspaper business — the Courier-Journal saw itself as Kentucky’s newspaper.
The C-J and, later, the Herald-Leader sent their best reporters to rural Kentucky. David Hawpe worked out of the Hazard bureau, and became editor of the Courier-Journal. Frank Langfitt began at the Herald-Leader’s Hazard bureau and is now a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio.

Rural bureau reporters in Kentucky were journalistic cops-on-the-beat in their territories. If a person (or a community) was a victim of injustice, the bureau reporter would get a call.

There’s more, of course, on Dori and on history and on the disappearing counties of coal country — at the Daily Yonder.

And let’s take a moment here to also recall Jim Newberry’s Coal-Funded Media Death Star, formed to challenge the stories and strength of the Herald-Leader… right at the time the great H-L needs it least. Way to go, Jim. Way to go.

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