Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ala. editor who dealt with owner's long-ago misconduct leaves the paper and the South for High Plains Radio

Bob Davis (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
The Alabama editor-publisher who had to deal with reports of sexual misconduct by the newspaper's owner has quit to become executive director of High Plains Public Radio, comprising stations in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Bob Davis announced his resignation as editor and publisher of The Anniston Star, long considered one of the nation's best small dailies, in Saturday's edition. The paper reported that the new publisher will be Josephine "Josie" Ayers, who became chairman of the family-owned Consolidated Publishing Co. after her husband, H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers, resigned following reports of him spanking female employees in the 1970s. His name did not appear in Saturday's story.

Davis had been at the paper for 15 years; the last was surely his most difficult. When a former Star reporter Joey Kennedy of Alabama Political Reporter wrote in a November column that his wife had been spanked by her employer at her first newspaper job, a Star reporter recognized that was Ayers, and chased the story. Editors told him to wait until they could discuss how to treat "sources who wished to remain anonymous and inquiring into events alleged to have happened more than 40 years ago," Davis wrote in a January column, in which he said he had never heard such allegations in his 14 years at the paper.

Reporter Eddie Burkhalter, who said such talk was "common knowledge" in the newsroom, resigned after admitting that he had continued to pursue the story, and told Kennedy that he thought it was being dropped. Davis wrote that no decision had been made. When APR broke the story with a Dec. 28 column and a Jan. 1 story by Burkhalter, the Star quickly published its own story about Kennedy's wife and mentioned other victims but said it lacked permission to use their names. Ayers said he didn't recall such incidents, but in a later Star story he said that had spanked a female reporter on doctor's orders, claiming that she had been out of work because of a psychological problem.

The Star's new editor will be Anthony Cook, who was a reporter and editor at the paper before moving to The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times, sister papers in the Newhouse family's Advance Publications. "He returned to Consolidated in 2015 as editor of The Daily Home" in nearby Talladega, the Star reports, and will be executive editor of the two dailies and its weeklies, The Cleburne News, The Jacksonville News, The Piedmont Journal and The St. Clair Times.

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