Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lexington paper bucks national trend, maintaining regional news bureaus in Appalachian Kentucky

"Hundreds left homeless after devastating storms," read the near-banner headline in this morning's print edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader, over a story mainly about flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Other daily papers in the state ran a story from The Associated Press. Lexington is relatively close to Eastern Kentucky, but the big difference is that the Herald-Leader story was written from the disaster scenes by two reporters based in the state's Appalachian region.

Despite major challenges facing its owner, McClatchy Co., and the rest of the newspaper industry, the Herald-Leader recently filled a vacancy in its easternmost bureau. The office had been in Hazard; now it's in Pikeville, filling a gap left by the retirement about two years ago of a reporter who had been based in Paintsville and the longstanding vacancy at the AP bureau in Pikeville. The other Appalachian bureau is a three-hour drive west-southwest, in Somerset. It has been staffed for years by Bill Estep.

The Herald-Leader filled the Pikeville bureau job with Dori Hjalmarson, left, at a time when many if not most metropolitan papers are closing regional bureaus and eliminating far-flung circulation. Publisher Tim Kelly told us last month that the paper keeps reporters in Eastern Kentucky for journalistic and commercial reasons.

"A substantial amount of our circulation still remains outside of the Bluegrass," and Eastern Kentucky is part of Lexington's retail, service and leisure market, Kelly said in an e-mail. "I think it’s essential that we continue to serve Eastern Kentucky and be a journalistic presence. ... It has become even more essential for us to maintain a reporting presence in the area since first, The Courier-Journal and now The Associated Press have closed their Eastern Kentucky bureaus. Many of the counties in which we circulate receive no daily newspaper other than the Herald-Leader."

Kelly noted that the Pikeville paper, the Appalachian News-Express, which went daily in 2006, recently cut back to three days a week. Pikeville is far afield. It has no direct four-lane highway connection to Lexington, which is two and a half hours away. With the recent rebuilding of US 119, it's less than two hours from Charleston, W.Va. But Lexington is the home of the University of Kentucky, and Wildcat basketball is an article of faith from one end of the state to the other.

Some papers in the region give the Herald-Leader story tips because they consider the stories too hot to handle themselves, former Editor Linda Austin said a year and a half ago. Today Kelly named Peter Baniak to succeed Austin, who recently resigned and is now at Arizona State University.

1 comment:

Kent Flanagan, aka Punster, said...

Unfortunately, AP has backed away from strengthening and maintaining state news reports similar to the retrenchment of metro newspapers with the notable exception of a very few newspapers such as the Lexington Herald-Leader. So, it is unlikely that the Pikeville correspondent post will be filled, but I would love it if AP proved me wrong.