Ken Denney has retired from the Times-Georgian, and I’ll miss my fellow columnist. When I saw his byline, I anticipated a good read. I wasn’t disappointed.

Forty-two years is an enviable career in any profession. Denney has served his time, and, he has a record. Not a criminal rap sheet with arrests and convictions. His record comes from the countless column inches of words he crafted onto the page. Words that introduced us to colorful characters, ferreted out history, educated readers and swept us back in time.

When it came to Denney’s articles in Southern Spice, he aced the first rule for writers — be interesting.

In his farewell column, he said working in the press is not a glorious occupation. That depends on how you measure success. Like any job, writing is routine. It’s grinding out research and getting the details right. But, a journalist’s impact of is far-reaching and immeasurable. Denney doesn’t know how many people he touched, and how.

Marvin Enderle, then-Times-Georgian publisher, accepted the League of Women Voters Citizenship Award in April 2018. The LWV’s Robin Collins commended the newspaper for sending a reporter to every candidate forum. Even when they were not well-attended, the newspaper reported what happened. That’s like a pebble dropped into a pool that creates ripples.

The purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.

When I read Denney’s headline, “Bidding Farewell To Newspapers”, I held my breath. I feared he had insider information about the demise of what has been called the “dead tree” edition of the news.” The end of newspapers has long been predicted.

Denney’s farewell noted that his business has changed. The Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill produced a report on the state of local news that said, in only a few months, the pandemic and ensuing recession have greatly accelerated the loss of local news, that has been occurring over the past two decades.

The report stated that newspapers in this country are equal parts business enterprises and civic institutions with special constitutional protections. With each generation of newspaper owner, there has been debate about how to prioritize obligations to the public versus those to major shareholders.

The newest generation of media barons—the investment portfolio managers—are not journalists, nor do they share journalism’s traditional civic mission. Their priority is maximizing return on the assets in their diverse portfolios. Therefore, their rapid ascent raises new and pressing concerns about the responsibilities of newspaper owners.

Denney might be right that he’s among the last of his kind. His industry’s business model is now about bucks, instead of commitment to journalistic principles. The old way of gathering and presenting the news is fading.

Shoe leather reporting is labor-intensive and expensive. Today, people grab news from the first low-hanging source they can reach, like social media. They take information from the internet as gospel, or trust whoever has the biggest megaphone and makes the loudest noise.

Denney has banked a lifetime of memories of people he met and places he lived. He has ink in his veins and will always have a pen at the ready to take notes. When thunder roars during a storm, he will remember the shudder of the presses.

I wonder what he will do next. After toiling four decades mining his creativity and meeting deadlines, he’s entitled to do nothing. But, I won’t be surprised if he writes a book, or few. A newspaperman who spent most of his life observing people’s best and worse, who’s seen a corpse pulled from a canal, and who talked to four presidents has tales to tell and stories to write.

About Denney’s record: I charge him with doing a bang-up job entertaining readers, and I sentence him to enjoy his retirement from newspapers. It’s ironic that one of his last columns is about a famous con man, because Denney is the real deal.

Trending Videos