Why David Hawpe Was One of Kentucky’s Largest Newspaper Publishers

Keith L. Runyon

David Hawpe has often said that he “loves politics above all else”. Over the course of his many years at the Courier Journal, he’s proven it many times.

But he was a man of many loves, starting with his family, then his city and state, his colleagues and friends, Kentucky history and his journal, which he decisively shaped for 40 years.

True, he was one of Courier’s “big five” journalists in the paper’s 153-year history. He belongs to a select group with founding editor Henry Watterson, whose pen was so sharp that he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918 for a fiery editorial call to arms during World War I. And with Mark Ethridge, the Mississippi liberal who made the newspaper a beacon for civil rights and the New Deal in the 1930s and 1960s.

Related:Former Courier Journal reporter and editor David Hawpe has died aged 78

Certainly with Barry Bingham Sr., whose blend of international outlook and love for Kentucky culture and governance has made him a revered national figure in journalism. And with John Ed Pearce, Barry Sr.’s favorite writer whose editorials and columns have made him a household name and a political force to be reckoned with across the Commonwealth.

My hunch is that David, who suddenly passed away Sunday night, at 78, we bristle a bit with the comparison with Pearce, but so be it. They looked so alike, and their career paths were so similar, it’s no wonder they approached like alley cats always on the prowl for a fall.

Yet Hawpe’s career was far superior to that of Pearce, in part because he wielded tremendous influence for more than 30 years as the evening editor of the Louisville Times, where he was editor-in-chief of the town in the 1970s, and to CJ, where he became editor in 1979. He would later become vice president and newspaper editor, the only person from the Bingham era to hold those titles after the sale to Gannett, and his leadership and his own writings have a lot to do with four Pulitzer Prizes, an achievement not even Barry Sr. could claim.

The first time I remember David was in 1971, when I was working as an obituary writer. He burst into our wonderful reference library, decked out in a bold striped shirt and orange waistcoat. The combination was unforgettable. As was his energy researching information for the editorial he was working on. Electricity escaped from his mouth and fingers as he searched the clipping files.

After:He was a new reporter sent to an explosion that killed 38 coal miners. This is what he saw

It was Barry Sr. who hand-wrote the letter (on his personal stationery, baby blue) urging the inclusion of David as a prestigious Nieman Fellow at Harvard. From the memos to our files, it was clear that Bingham Sr. and his son, Barry Jr., viewed David as one of the most promising young journalists at a time when Louisville newspapers were among the top 10 in the world. countries and served as farm teams. for the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek and other national publications. He never let them down.

Indeed, his achievements must have exceeded the expectations of almost everyone. Even though he was sometimes called “just a hillbilly” (his roots were in the Appalachians, and he spent part of his childhood there), he was even more of a product of the very middle class South End of Louisville just after. the Second World War. War.

He loved to recount his first exposure to the Courier Journal & Times Building (now, unfortunately, for sale), as a pre-teen at Berry Boulevard Presbyterian Church, to sing with his choir on the WHAS-TV show “Hayloft Hoedown”. In his youth he also DID news, like the time he joined a picket line to protest the closure of a South End street and found his photo on the front page of CJ!

At the University of Kentucky he became a star as the editor of the student newspaper, and in due course he crossed the St. Petersburg, Fla. Times to Louisville, where he would live, work. and would often make waves as a journalist.

There is no doubt that over the course of his long career David has made many enemies. I won’t make a full list, but they included coal miners, hospital titans, Republican politicians, and road builders. He and his family have received death threats. But he had an adorable tendency that made it difficult for those who knew him well to stay mad at him, even when he provoked him!

Former Courier Journal Editor David Hawpe with Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.

In times of drama or sadness, his news instincts were beyond reproach. Like the night in April 1995 when Mrs. Barry Bingham Sr., then 90, was celebrated at a testimonial dinner and fell dead in the middle of her speech. Even before the ambulance took his body to the morgue, he whispered to me, “SPEAK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” “

So I trotted over to the lectern and grabbed not only the text, but absent-mindedly his reading glasses. So we had the entire speech, in print, on the opinion page the next morning. Mrs Bingham would not have expected less.

David’s end is not so dramatic, but it was a shock to his family and friends, who expected him to rise from the hospital bed and come back to life to fight for the causes. that are close to his heart. Alas, this is not the case. However, we can be truly reassured that he is taking his place in the pantheon of major Kentucky newspapers. And that’s exactly where it belongs.

Keith L. Runyon retired in 2012 as editor and book pages editor of the Courier Journal, where he went to work in 1969. He currently writes a history of Louisville newspapers in the 20th century.


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