Sunday, November 06, 2011

Memoir of a remarkable life in rural journalism is inspiring and entertaining, reviewers say

Albert P. Smith Jr., who turned his life around as a rural journalist and co-founded the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, has published a long-awaited autobiography to highly favorable reviews.

"Al Smith and his contemporaries had to constantly balance muckraking reporter and crusading editor with a publisher’s mandates to grow his business and promote the community it served," former big-city editor Jim Squires writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Smith eagerly grasped the role of 'engaged journalist,' which to him entailed doing whatever it took to make good things happen." (H-L photo by Charles Bertram)

Squires is a member of the Institute's advisory board, but his high opinion of the book is shared by four others who have published reviews of it: David Hawpe, former editor of The Courier-Journal; Ronnie Ellis, Kentucky statehouse reporter for Community Newspaper Holdings; and CNHI and Huffington Post contributor Don McNay.

McNay sums up Smith: "His drinking caused him to lose a scholarship to Vanderbilt and many jobs in New Orleans. He stumbled into a small town, Russellville, Ky., as a reporter, found his way to an AA meeting and stopped drinking. He found a wonderful wife, created a blended family, bought a bunch of newspapers that he later sold for millions, was appointed by Jimmy Carter as head of the Appalachian Regional Commission and became one of our greatest Kentuckians." (Read more)

Ellis calls the book "a remarkable story of a remarkable life, lived on a stage larger than journalism or the set of his long-running show on KET, 'Comment on Kentucky,' or the mastheads of his weekly newspapers. It records a brutal struggle through inherited and early alcoholism, lost jobs, lost chances on the way to sobriety, success and stature. Along the way, he encounters an incredible cast of sometimes well-known and always unique people, the kind who, like Smith himself, make life worth living." (Read more)

"It is Smith's victory over alcoholism that provides the book's inspiration," Herald-Leader political reporter Jack Brammer writes in a story about Smith and the book. (Photo: Cover of 1974 Courier-Journal & Times Magazine that made Smith a statewide figure)

"Smith's unrelenting focus on fairness gained him a reputation," Paul Sanders, business book reviewer for Smiley Pete Publishing, a neighborhood-based publication distributed in Lexington, Ky., says. "Evenhanded coverage for friends and foes alike will win a newspaper respect for being unafraid to make enemies in the pursuit of truth," Smith writes. (Read more)

"This book comes at what must be an uncomfortable time for rural chauvinists. They cling to a point of view that is under siege," Hawpe writes for his old Louisville paper, citing the latest census figures that show only 16 percent of the U.S. population is rural. "Smith is an extraordinary man, with an exceptional devotion to the best of the rural values that helped form him." He writes about Smith's rural acolytes, including the undersigned, who will interview Smith on stage at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort Friday night. For details on that event, click here. To order the book, go here; to donate $10 of the cost to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, enter this coupon code: SmithIRJ.

Earlier this month, Smith was awarded the 2011 James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment by the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications. (Read more) To read KyForward's coverage of the event, click here.

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