Sunday, April 12, 2009

Byron Crawford & Jim Jordan: Whose Going to Fill Their Shoes

aByron Crawford and Jim Jordan: Who’s Going to Fill Their Shoes?

Who's going give their heart and soul
To get to me and you
Lord I wonder, who's going fill their shoes?

-George Jones

This April 14th marks the day when former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Byron Crawford enters the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.

It is also the month that former business editor and columnist Jim Jordan was laid off by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Two of Kentucky’s greatest journalists are no longer published on a regular basis.

Crawford’s and Jordan’s careers were prematurely ended by the collapsing economics of newspapers chains.

Chains have been impacted by technological changes and by how people gather news. Combined with high debt loads and the management slowness to adapt, some papers have made the decision to offer retirement packages and lay off some of their biggest stars.

Crawford and Jordan being two of them.

The papers lost key employees, but Kentucky lost more than that. We lost voices of wisdom and perspective, with a lot of common sense thrown in.

As George Jones says, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

It will be hard to find new journalists with the mindset of Byron and Jim. They stayed at their papers for decades. They are institutions in their respective cities. They knew everyone and every source. They put in incredible hours.

Byron traveled every inch of Kentucky and cranked out three columns a week. Jim did many different things, including stints as Business Editor. He wrote a great column and was a guy you would see covering fires on Thanksgiving so that the rest of the staff could have the day off.

They are two of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Very grounded and down to earth.

Large newspapers have been criticized for employing some “ivory tower” journalists who don’t understand the values and cultures of the cities they live in.
You can’t say that about Byron and Jim. They had their fingers on the pulse of the average Kentuckian in a way that few have, or ever will have, again.

I don’t know how you fill shoes like that.

Byron and Jim could be very tough journalists. When Byron saw wrong, he never hesitated to use his large forum and correct it. When Kentucky Central Insurance, an extremely influential company in Lexington, started to crumble, Jim was the one who told us about it.

Both of them knew how to capture personalities and make those personalities come through in print.

I know first hand about their talents. Jim and Byron wrote feature stories about me.

Jim’s 1989 feature connected on every level. He was able to explain my complicated business and my complicated personality in a way that any reader could understand. Shortly after his feature, I wound up in Forbes, Financial Planning and several other big time magazines. My business became a national business because Jim Jordan could tell my story better than I could.

Byron Crawford wrote a column about my mid-life move back into journalism. He tied it to a column I wrote about two of my high school history teachers. And, in a way, that got me and my column on the map.

There is a great story in every person. Byron Crawford and Jim Jordan understood that.

Like former Comment on Kentucky host, Al Smith, Byron became my mentor. Byron said people on the far extremes of the political spectrum might make the most noise, but don’t represent what Middle America is thinking.

It’s tempting to play to the extremes since they are yelling the loudest. Byron reminded me that they don’t represent common thought.

In days like now, where you have Rush, O’Reilly and Ann Coulter on one side, and Keith Olberman on the other, it’s easy to forget that there is middle. The fastest way to get attention is to make lots of noise. Byron and Jim never operated by that principle.

I’ve always appreciated what Byron, Jim and Al Smith have done to push my career along. The don’t want me to pay them back. They want me to find and mentor the next generation of great journalists.

I’m a big fan of Samantha Swindler, the editor of the Corbin newspaper, and of Stephenie Steitzer at Byron’s old paper, the Courier-Journal. I see the journalistic fire in both and I do what I can to help them.

I’m hoping that when they stop writing, many years in the future, that the first question that comes up will be “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You When The Lottery. You can write to Don at or read his award winning, syndicated column at McNay is Treasurer for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table.