News Worthy

Wednesday, September 22, 1999 - Hemingford, Nebraska - "It has been a privilege," Arnold Kuhn says, of his half-century in newspapers, and of the difficult job of telling the truth. He has been with the Hemingford Ledger - one of thousands of small newspapers in this country - for over five decades. During that time, telling the truth has been his livelihood, and it has also been his passion.

"If all your life, you want to serve, you'll find the newspaper is a good tool to do that."

Though he grew up in a newspaper family (his parents bought the Ledger, a weekly paper, in the early 1930's) Kuhn took a wayward path into journalism. "It chose me more than I chose it," he says. He graduated from high school in 1939, and went searching for a career, working in construction for a while, then printing five-dollar bills for the Bureau of Engraving, in Washington. He joined the Navy, playing baritone trombone for four years, and after the war, he played in combos, taught music, worked in a bank and sold radio air time.
season for
the past 42
years, the Ledger
has published a
"madonna and child"
photograph, of a local
mother and her
He occasionally helped out at the paper through the years, and he slowly grew to love the business. In 1952, he became the paper's editor, and in 1963, its publisher.

Publishing a newspaper is a lot more than ensuring that ad revenues exceed production costs. It is about telling the news; it is about deciding which stories are newsworthy, how worthy they are and how to tell them properly. Publishing a rural newspaper, where you are the only news source, is even more challenging, as you have a lot more freedom, power and responsibility.

First of all, Kuhn points out, a newspaper has a historical duty. "You're a reflection of your community," he says, and you reflect that community by recording routine events, like births, marriages and deaths, but also things that affect your readers' lives, like crimes, accidents and politics. "It's permanent," Kuhn says of the medium. "You put something down in black and white, and it's always there, like history."

Arnold Kuhn remembers when this (now aged) form of page layout was hi-tech.
Second, a newspaper has to lead. "A community has to have a voice," says the elder journalist, and for rural America, that voice still comes from the local newspaper, sounding off when trouble is near, and lauding when success is achieved. "You're a cheerleader for your community," Kuhn says. Through good times and bad, your readers - your neighbors and friends - will look to the paper for information, guidance and support. The way a major storm is reported, for example, can either depress the reader or provide encouragement to continue. "You don't strip away the evil and the bad," says Kuhn. "But you do the best you can to show the good."

No other media influence so many people in the way that small town newspapers do. For millions of people in thousands of towns across our country, the best source of local news is their newspaper. Nearly a century ago, people thought that radio would kill the newspaper. For decades, people have thought that television would kill the newspaper. Even with news web sites, people are still finding their best local news source to be black ink on white paper.

(in 15 words:)

"Listen well, reflect life, use good grammar, keep things simple
and be truthful
and clear."

Kuhn gives his father credit for getting him into journalism, but also for teaching him, and inspiring him to serve his community with respect and a strong sense of duty. "I learned so many things from my dad - he was an incredible man." he says. "We were a father and son team." Kuhn has been without his teammate since his father's death in 1980, but he has become the "father" part of that team, with his own children.

Kuhn officially retired in March of last year, the same month he married his second wife, Doris (His first wife, of 51 years, died from cancer.) He comes in and helps, if he's needed, but generally, he has passed the honor and chore of newspaper publishing to his son, Brian Kuhn, and his daughter, Kathy Kuhn-Gaertig, who is the paper's business manager. This has given him more time to spend with his two other children, his twelve grandchildren and two great, grandchildren.

Allen Beermann, Executive Director of the Nebraska Press Association (of which Kuhn has been a president) explains, by telephone, why Kuhn recently received the association's highest honor; the Master Editor / Publisher award. "Some have called him the epitome of the country editor," Beermann says. "I would agree." Talking about the many projects for which Kuhn volunteered his time, including church, hospital, school band, fire department and VFW fundraisers, Beermann is solidly impressed; "Everything he touched improved," he says.

"A newspaper's biggest role is reflecting the truth - truth is a very difficult taskmaster."

It isn't always easy, being the community's voice, as it also requires that you use yours, in the editorial. "In a small town, if you've got any guts at all," says Kuhn, "you've got to take a stand." He has taken stands on many issues in the past five decades, like school consolidation and a coal-fired power plant, because they were what he believed in. He respects the power he is given in this role, and has kept off of the town board (even though his father once was mayor) to keep his perspective clear.

On the surface, an issue of a newspaper should seem to be a simple outpouring of the truth, but it is always an organized presentation of what only a few people, with limited resources, can perceive as that truth. This presentation is the result of a constant struggle to collect information, organize it clearly and present it effectively, all with unbiased perspective and energy. "You know damn well you'll never be perfect," Kuhn says. "But you try." Arnold Kuhn has undoubtedly tried, and he has succeeded, because he is worthy of the task of delivering the news, and because he understands what a great privilege the vocation is. The community of Hemingford, Nebraska should be proud to have had his voice.

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