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For the 150th: Former sports editor reflects on time at New Era

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chip Hutcheson is a former sports editor for the New Era who went on to be publisher of the Princeton Times Leader, which was also part of the Kentucky New Era Media Group. In celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Kentucky New Era this weekend, Hutcheson shares some of his fondest memories. Other columns from former New Era staff are featured in the special 150th anniversary edition inside this issue.

The idea of working for the Kentucky New Era had never entered my mind. But that changed quickly right after I graduated from the University of Kentucky in May 1970.

My dream was to be a sportswriter for the Courier-Journal, one of the top newspapers in the country at that time. But when I approached the late Earl Cox, sports editor of the C-J, about a job, he quickly dashed those hopes. I had a low lottery number in the military draft, prompting Earl to tell me, "Come see me when you finish your two years in the Army."

I left Lexington and went to my hometown of Princeton, planning to work for my father at the family-owned Princeton Leader until Uncle Sam called.

But Mike Herndon, who was a co-worker at the UK student newspaper and graduated at the same time I did, repeatedly urged me to contact the New Era about the open position of sports editor. I reluctantly agreed to be interviewed for the job, and New Era publisher Bob Carter offered me the job on the spot.

Taking that job in 1970 led to almost a half century affiliation with the New Era as either an employee, customer or member of the paper's board of directors.

During my six years as sports editor of the six-day daily at that time, my life was forever changed.

It was during that time that I met my wife, Karen. It was during that time that the Lord worked on my heart, bringing me to faith in Christ. It was during that time that my ego was tamed under the tutelage of people such as Bob Carter, Joe Dorris and Ken Litchfield. They helped me in ways that continue to this day.

Bob was the best businessman I've ever encountered in the newspaper business. He taught me the value of civic involvement -- that you demonstrate your love for the community and your desire for the betterment of all its citizens -- by being involved in economic development efforts and by being active in organizations that give back to the community.

Bob impressed upon me the vital importance of writing frequent columns. Yes, I was expected to cover sporting events but also to write columns that were personal -- columns that cemented readers' relationships to the writer and the paper.

I recall one instance about a year into my time as sports editor when Bob heard I played golf with Hoptown football coach Fleming Thornton. He stopped by my desk and questioned how I could have spent that much time with the legendary coach but not have written about the experience. Bob opened my eyes to the opportunities to connect with readers and give them an insight into the gracious gentleman that Fleming Thornton was.

Bob understood the value of building relationships with people. The New Era annually hosted a dinner for the area football coaches, and that event became highly anticipated by the coaches as each season approached. And yes, there was always a column about the event.

In the years prior to Bob Carter's death in 2011, I had occasion to thank him for his mentoring and encouragement over many years. I wish I had included my thanks for allowing me opportunities to be at sporting venues where the New Era was probably the smallest paper represented.

While I was the only person in the sports department for several years, it didn't mean sports coverage was a one-man job, especially during football season. Cecil Herndon, Mike Herndon, Roy Wyatt, Mark Withers and others were expected to cover games on Friday night. We'd call on folks like Doug Colburn and George McGee in the advertising department to help us keep statistics.

Not to be overlooked was the high standard of excellence that was demanded of every person in the newsroom.

Joe Dorris served as a role model in column writing, providing tips for me that lasted for decades. Ken Litchfield was a master reporter and editor, and if you made a mistake, you'd get a detailed explanation of what you did wrong and a caution to never make that mistake again. He was a superb teacher and master of the English language.

There were many co-workers who became great friends and inspired me in the newspaper profession -- too many to name, but all are significant in my life.

In the summer of 1976, my father was in declining health, prompting me to leave the New Era and take over operation of the weekly newspaper in Princeton.

In 1992, after 16 years as a newspaper owner, I realized our children were growing up while I was working all the time. I asked Bob Carter if he had an interest in buying my paper. He did, but said it would hinge on being able to buy a competing paper in Princeton. Those owners (Lowell and Louise Hobby) had respect for Bob, and in short time both of us agreed to sell our papers to the New Era.

I was asked to be the publisher for that merged paper, which was converted to a twice-weekly publication. Bob and his successors at the New Era allowed me to run that paper as though it was my own -- quite a blessing and yet quite unusual in today's newspaper world.

I remained as a New Era employee until retiring from the newspaper June 30, 2017.

During my 25 years in that position, New Era management never stopped me from being involved in organizations that were important to me. Taylor Hayes and Chuck Henderson were supportive as I served as president of the Kentucky Press Association (2010), Kentucky Baptist Convention (2013-14) and National Newspaper Association (2015-16).

Few people in the newspaper business today have the freedom to pursue such opportunities as I have had. And none of that would have happened if I'd turned down that job offer almost 50 years ago.

Chip Hutcheson surrendered to ministry in 2016 and now serves as interim managing editor of the Western Recorder, the statewide Kentucky Baptist Convention magazine.

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