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.
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."
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.
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.
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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