Sunday, June 07, 2009

Owensboro, Ky., honors brothers who published a great paper and continue to serve the community

At a time when newspapers are having more difficulty than ever fulfilling their public-service role, a Kentucky town took time yesterday to honor two brothers who gave it one of the best small newspapers in the United States and turned the money they got from selling it into philanthropic projects that have continued to advance the community.

John and Larry Hager of Owensboro, population 52,000, sold their interests in the Messenger-Inquirer about 20 years ago. "John Hager would go on to start the Public Life Foundation, which helped spark the We the People group that has had success in encouraging public involvement in government," the paper's Dariush Shafa reports. "Larry Hager Jr. went on to create the Hager Educational Foundation, which has given out more than $1 million in grants since its creation in 1990."

The brothers' interests reflected the editorial position of the newspaper, where John largely handled the editorial side and Larry the business side. "I never saw John make a major editorial decision at the newspaper that was selfish," said David Boeyink of Indiana University, who edited the editorial page for nine years in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when the Messenger-Inquirer was named one of the nation's five best small newspapers. Boeyink said the paper looked out for the marginalized and the vulnerable, and followed "the hard path of changing institutions and culture."

John Hager, right, who bought out his brother about five years before selling the paper (to A.H. Belo Corp., which five years later sold it to Paxton Media Group), said he and his sibling were not on the same track, but they started from the same point: concern for "the vulnerable and the voiceless." Larry Hager, left, told the crowd at RiverPark Center, "Service to your fellow man turns out to be the most satisfying thing you ever do. ... Let's go out tomorrow and keep on doing it." (Read more; subscription required)

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