Can journalism be considered an art? Well considering the amount of research, intricate phrasing, and careful editing that goes into every art(icle) work, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes. And sadly, on Oct. 3, 2020, we said goodbye to a master of the art.
Jack Barnes was the president and publisher of Elwood Publishing Company, a small but mighty corporation that owned three local newspapers in a trio of Indiana towns. Jack assumed the role of president and publisher in 1963 and never relinquished it.
It was at one of these papers, the Alexandria Times-Tribune, where I procured my first full-time reporting job at age 23.
Elwood Publishing was the home of the small town, do it yourself newspaper, where every staff member had a hand in writing, editing, designing, and physically pasting up the papers. I often joked that we did everything save for cutting down the trees to make the paper and delivering the finished product at the crack of dawn.
To say that I struggled in this job would be like saying that a halibut just might struggle during their first trip to a dry sauna. Between my morbid fear of paste-up knives to my tendency to blurt out exactly what I thought at any given moment, from my sparse ability to take a non-blurry photo to my acute hogging of the microphone at office karaoke nights, I wasn’t always the most popular employee with some people.
But I had my friends and defenders, including Jack and Judy Barnes and their son Brian, owners of the paper. I never heard a harsh word from Jack, who everyone called “Daddy”–or, as our British receptionist adorably called him, “Dat-ty.” From his words of praise for jobs well done to his taking me aside and ensuring that I knew how to navigate myself home from the Elwood Country Club after the office Christmas party. (He knew I sometimes just plum got lost between the three counties.) Jack was an angel of a man who built a small-town newspaper empire with just the basics. And with any good news story, that’s all you need. During his more than 50 years of service, he navigated Elwood Publishing through some of the toughest times in the journalism business.
Daddy Jack himself went home after a brief illness, at age 85. He never retired from the newspaper business that he loved–and his imprint on the world of community journalism will never die.
Hope you make it home safe and sound, Dat-ty. And thank you.