Partial Transcript: What is its editorial policy?
Segment Synopsis: Farrell discusses the paper's editorial policy and how they report community issues.
Keywords: Covington, Kentucky; Kenton County; Political endorsements; The Kentucky Post
Subjects: American newspapers--Ownership Editorials Newspaper editors--United States Newspaper reporting
Title: Interview with Michael FarrellIdentifier: 1980oh097 Date: 1980-04-1 Interviewer: Nora Robinson Project: Kentucky Newspaper Editors Project
The following is an unrehearsed taped interview with Michael Farrell, cityeditor of The Kentucky Post. The interview was conducted in the office of The Kentucky Post April 1, 1980, at 1:30 p.m. The interviewer is Norma Robinson for the Oral History Center of Eastern Kentucky University.
Robinson: Thank you for giving this time rather unexpectedly. Uh...I'd like tobegin by telling me what is your name and when and where you were born?
Farrell: My name is Mike Farrell. And I...
Robinson: Is that F-E-R?
Robinson: OK. Farrell.
Farrell: Right. I was born in Cincinnati in February 1949.
Robinson: Hm-hum. And, uh...Do you live in Cincinnati or do you live here?1:00
Farrell: No. I've lived here most of my life.
Robinson: Uh-huh. What were your parents' names?
Farrell: Robert E. and Mary Farrell.
Robinson: Mary. What was her maiden name?
Farrell: Sowder. S-O-W-D-E-R.
Robinson: Uh-huh. Uh...Do you come from a big family or...?
Farrell: I have a brother and a sister.
Robinson: Hm-hum. What are their names?
Farrell: Robert and Mary Linda.
Robinson: Where were you in the order?
Farrell: I'm the oldest.
Robinson: You're the oldest. OK. Uh...Can you trace for me...tell me where youwent to school and...uh...what your education's been.
Farrell: OK. I graduated from Holmes High School in Covington in 1967. I spenttwo years...um... in what was then known as the University of Kentucky Northern Community College here in Covington. And, then I spent three years at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago where I got my bachelor of art.
Robinson: All right. With an educational background like that how did you endup in the newspaper business?
Farrell: I...um...started working for the newspaper as a junior at Holmes. And,2:00my senior year we had an instructor at Holmes...a teacher who came for the first time, who the next year went to the University of Kentucky Northern Community college, as I did, and she was charged with setting up the newspaper. Well, she knew me from the newspaper, so she recruited me and I ended up being the editor part of my two years at Northern. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, the editor here, at that time Vance Trimble, called her and asked her if she had any students who might make him some cub reporters. So she sent me down and during my sophomore year I worked full time here as a police beat reporter while I was going to school.
Farrell: Then I...uh...went to Moody and graduated, worked on the newspaper upthere for two years and worked for the Moody Press. And then went in the ministry for five years as an assistant pastor at a Baptist church up in Michigan. 3:00
Farrell: And then the church...uh...had problems and the pastor left and a lotof people left with him. And when they called a new pastor, the most expendable item in the budget was the assistant pastor. So, I reassigned and then...uh...started looking for another job. Decided I didn't want to be assistant pastor again for a while and ended up coming back here because Trimble was still editor at that time.
Robinson: So, now, let me ask you this. You are city editor, is that right?
Robinson: Uh...do you still...are you still... Do you still haveministerial...um...responsibilities some place?
Farrell: No. I preach every once in a great while. I'm involved in my localchurch. And, then I'm involved on a Covington board known as the Weekday School of Religion. And we have a release time program for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Covington, Ludlow, and a few other places. 4:00
Robinson: Uh-huh. Uh...Are you...um...what church did you say you preached...?
Robinson: Baptist, uh-huh. So you got into the business...uh...you were alwaysinterested in newspapers...but you...you took your first love and tried it and then you decided to come back to newspapers. Are you pleased?
Farrell: Oh, yes.
Robinson: You like being in the newspaper business?
Farrell: I enjoy it. I expect some day I may go back in the ministry. But I...Ienjoy being involved in what's going on in our community. We're trying to create a new image for our newspaper. We're trying to help our city.
Robinson: When you talk about our city are you talking about Covington?
Farrell: Covington. Covington has come through two bad years. We had someMickey Mouse politicians who ran things the way they were probably run about 1920.
Farrell: And the city got a very black eye. And...and new, aggressive,5:00intelligent leadership. And, we're helping them polish off the city image and the same time change...we have a new editor, we're changing the image of our paper.
Robinson: OK, I want to come back to that.
Robinson: I want you to talk about the new image and what you're trying to doand how you're going about it and so on. Before I do that, I do want to ask you are you married?
Robinson: What was your wife's name?
Farrell: Her name is Marsha. It was Roesch. R-O-E-S-C-H.
Farrell: I met her in Michigan. She's from Livonia, Michigan. She's aregistered nurse.
Robinson: Uh-huh. Do you have children?
Farrell: I have a son, David, who's four and a half.
Robinson: Uh-huh. Now, coming back to the paper. You say you have a new editorand a new...um... I get the feeling from talking to your school superintendent here that there's a new feeling in the whole community. Uh...can you better characterize that? Um...You mentioned that there's...that there's...you have different kinds of politicians in power now. Um... What other evidence do you see of a difference in attitude in the community? 6:00
Farrell: Well, Covington is like...uh...most other cities of its size. It's anold river town. It's been here for...well, I think almost two hundred years. I think this year we celebrate maybe two hundred years or next year. The...uh... town has suffered urban decay in the last ten years. Our business district has dried up. Our young people moved out to Edgewood and Fort Mitchell and Lakeside Park where everything was new and you didn't have crime on...a couple blocks away.
Robinson: What kind of people did this leave behind, when you say people moved out?
Farrell: Well, you...what you had left behind. You had ...the city has likenine percent black, they were forced to stay. Your senior citizens...
Robinson: Older people.
Farrell: ...couldn't move out. Uh...your blue collar workers were left. And,7:00you had, you know, some...some stayed behind. Some of the middle class.
Farrell: But for the most part, uh...they are out in the section of town whereI live.
Farrell: In the last five years, some of the people have bought up some of theold property. Covington has beautiful old homes.
Farrell: And they gutted the inside and started over. We have an extensiverehabilitation... housing rehab program going on in various areas of the town. So you have new young people coming in with ...uh...sick to their stomachs with the way City Hall was being run. And, as a result of it, in the primary last September, we had...uh... the kind of...of...uh...citizen participation you want. Able, intelligent people with ideas. People who cared ran for office. They 8:00finally got off their duffs and did something.
Farrell: And as a result, we have a city commission who don't represent tenpercent of the people, they represent the vast majority. At the same time we got a new school superintendent who ...uh...is very PR minded.
Robinson: You have lots of new leadership in many areas and a new feeling oflife in the community. I sensed this in talking to your new school superintendent.
Farrell: Well, within one year you...uh...this city got a new mayor, acommission that has...well, one old face on it and three news faces. We got a new bishop of the...of the diocese. Bishop [Richard] Ackerman retired after, I believe, eighteen years.
Robinson: Hm-hum. Long time.
Farrell: We got a new bishop who is a post-Vatican II man who has new ideas.9:00The newspaper here got a new editor after...uh...fifteen years. Again, a new school of journalism. The largest... uh...Protestant ...second-largest Protestant church in town, their pastor retired after twenty years. So they now have a new face. The school superintendent is new. The police chief, and the city manager, and the fire chief are about all that stayed.
Robinson: Ok. If you're ever going to make a change...
Farrell: This is it.
Robinson: ... now would be the time. Right. You said that you have a new editorhere and a new...uh... outlook on the paper. Can you...uh...elaborate on that?
Farrell: Well, we're a lot more conscious of our...uh...responsibility as afamily newspaper....
Robinson: What is your...where do you... Where does your paper go?
Farrell: Well, we... Our former editor created what we call Kentucky Postcountry. It's the twelve...uh... most northern counties in the state.
Farrell: We concentrate on the three, - Boone, Campbell, and Kenton.10:00
Farrell: And then, I'll forget one, but let's try it. We go...we cover Brackenand Pendleton and Mason county on the east. And the...the center...center counties of Harrison and Grant and...um...Carroll. And then there's...um...Gallatin County. And, I've lost a county.
Robinson: That's all right. But, it...generally speaking the northern Kentucky counties.
Farrell: Twelve counties.
Robinson: And, specifically, you concentrate in the three...
Farrell: On these three.
Robinson: ...these three counties. Uh, what is your circulation?
Farrell: Paula can tell you that. For I believe it is somewhere around fifty-four, fifty-five thousand.
Robinson: OK. And you have a staff here of what? Approximately.
Farrell: Approximately thirty-five I think.
Robinson: OK. Now, uh, the paper obviously has increased its circulation in11:00the last few years. It increased its circulation under the old editor...not old but the former editor.
Farrell: Former editor, right.
Robinson: Um...What are... Who are your competitors?
Farrell: Well, locally we compete mainly against the Kentucky Enquirer.
Farrell: Statewide, of course, we like to think we compete with The Courier- Journal.
Robinson: Um-hum. Now...uh...the Kentucky Enquirer. Doesn't it have a littlebit different...uh...kind of attitude? Is its purpose a little different from yours?
Farrell: Well, the Kentucky Enquirer, first of all, has a much smaller staffthan we do, and they use a good deal of AP copy, which we don't do.
Farrell: And never been as aggressive as...as we are.
Farrell: And...uh... I'd say there's a wide range in philosophy between the two papers.
Robinson: OK. Uh...It isn't or is it...uh...is it the Enquirer moved across the12:00river? Is it or is it not?
Farrell: Well, see, the... The Enquirer is much like the Post. We have TheCincinnati Post...
Farrell: ...which concentrates on Cincinnati, Ohio, national, and international news.
Farrell: Kentucky Post wraps around The Kentucky Post one or two sectionsdaily. The Enquirer is basically the same thing except they lead off with...uh... two, three, sometimes four and five pages of...of Kentucky news.
Robinson: I see. OK. Uh...now...uh...this paper, The Kentucky Post,uh...what...what is...you talk about the way it is set up. Now. What is its editorial policy? What kind of policy do you pursue? Do you endorse candidates? Do you endorse issues? Uh... Do you have a political orientation? Can you fill 13:00me in on that?
Farrell: Well, I think locally the paper has always been...uh...pitted againstthe Enquirer. The Enquirer is the conservative paper of the two. And I guess the Repub...the Enquirer is looked at as Republican and generally the Post has been Democrat. But that's...I don't think that's accurate on our part. The Enquirer certainly is conservative Republican, there's no question about that. Um...You have to quiz Mr. Canoe on...on how we'll proceed in the future. I can tell you how we acted in the past.
Farrell: Last fall we went down the races one by one. We endorsed...um...
Robinson: These races were local?
Farrell: As well as statewide.
Farrell: I think we endorsed...uh...about...uh...four Republicans for14:00either...um...state rep or state senator races. We backed a couple longtime incumbent Democrats including a powerful state senator who subsequently was defeated. We decided...uh...to endorse on, I think, one of the two statewide issues. We endorsed the Republican for governor. We've had a rule that...uh...if you endorse you normally endorse the incumbent unless there is a compelling reason not to.
Robinson: I see.
Farrell: That...That's probably the one thing that stands out in my mind.If...uh...if we don't have enough information or if there's...uh... there's no clear choice, we just do not endorse in the race at all.
Robinson: OK, now as city editor, what are your...what is your function? Whatdo you do?
Farrell: Well, I am, I guess the first line of...uh...supervision over the news15:00staff. It's my job to know what all my reporters are working on. It's my job to assign the stories. It's my job to have each day four or five, six stories that...uh...are worth displaying on page one as...as our best news.
Robinson: Do...does...do endorsements or commentary on issues. Does this comeunder your jurisdiction or does this come under the editors.
Farrell: Well, we...uh...
Robinson: Or do you work together?
Farrell: We have an editorial page...a man who's in charge of the editorial page.
Farrell: He has more...uh...input into that. He and the editor...uh...bounceissues back and forth. And...uh...I would say that he has a lot more input on that simply because I don't have the time to do it. 16:00
Robinson: Um-hum. Uhhuh.
Farrell: But on...uh...I suspect that when fall comes around I don't see usendorsing anything in the May primary. I don't think we have anything but some school board races.
Farrell: And they may not be until September either. Uh, that the managingeditor, and the editor, and the editorial page editor and my assistant and I will sit down and...
Robinson: Make decisions.
Farrell: Make decisions.
Robinson: Um... How do you circulate your paper?
Farrell: We have...um...a group of paid...people who own routes...
Farrell: And, they're responsible for doing it.
Robinson: OK... So this is... So it's delivery then?
Farrell: It's delivery.
Robinson: OK. And you sell it around ...
Farrell: On the newsstands.
Robinson: On the newsstands. Um...Is this paper.... Who owns this paper?17:00
Farrell: E.W. Scripps Co.
Robinson: Uh-huh. Is this part of a chain?
Robinson: Uh-huh. Uh... What kind of chain is this? Is it a large one ormediocre? Or ... I didn't mean mediocre...
Farrell: I know.
Robinson: I meant medium size. [Laughing]
Farrell: I don't...um...I don't think I have the full picture on that. Again,that's something Paula would have.
Farrell: We own...Scripps owns, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood ofthirty papers.
Farrell: They own WCPO television in Cincinnati. They are getting into a numberof weeklies in the state of Kentucky.
Robinson: So it's a sizeable...
Robinson: ...concern. Um, one of the questions that I ask and it doesn't fithere at all, that's why I said this was a little different situation, is what do you consider the responsibility of the small town newspaper? This is neither a small town nor a small town newspaper.
Robinson: Uh... But as a paper that obviously goes out to various counties,18:00uh...how...do you have different news? Does the same edition go out to all the counties?
Farrell: We have one edition.
Robinson: Uh...now...how do you...what do you include in your paper to makesure it's going to be interesting to people in Gallatin County and people over in...uh...Grant and so on.
Farrell: Well, first of all, we...we are focusing more and more on some of theissues in our...in our newspaper...on some of the issues that...that are relevant whether you live on a farm in Gallatin County or next to a factory in Covington.
Robinson: Now give me an example of an issue that...
Farrell: Well, we've um...in the last week we've done...uh...we did a storytoday on the splurge in the nursery business. How people are busy buying trees to shade their houses. Uh...Evergreens as a windbreak. How people have less 19:00money to travel so they are investing in their home. We've done stories on...on...just last week we did a series on the economy of Kentucky from one end to the other. We started down with uh...Paducah and came up through Lexington. Took five different cities. Small city. Farm area. That type of thing. We've done a number of stories on credit and how the rise in the prime rate is going to make it difficult.
Robinson: Right. I see what you mean then. So...your... Your stories willinterest people whether they live in a rural situation or in a city. Uh... What...uh...do people who read your paper also probably take a big city paper or do they take your paper instead of a big city paper?
Farrell: They would take our paper instead of a big city paper because we are a20:00big city paper...
Farrell: ...with The Cincinnati Post included.
Robinson: Right. Uh-huh. OK. Uh...In the paper, are all the stories written bypeople the people who work in this building...staff. Or do you have some people who are out in the community?
Farrell: We have...um...we have a man in Frankfort. We have a man inWashington. We have two men who travel those nine lower counties. They're in each county usually once or twice a week now. Most of...uh...we use some wire copy but everything else is written here.
Robinson: Um-hum. Uh...Now, in this county and this city, uh...what are,perhaps, the biggest problems in the next few years that...that this community's going to have to face?
Farrell: We're...uh...we're going to face...um...a crisis with our schools. Thepopulation is shrinking, uh...they closed another one for the fall. That makes 21:00like three schools that have gone down in a decade. And, uh...while they're predicting by '85 it will have leveled off that...that remains to be seen. We are... I say another critical issue is the annexation issue, which has been a long, almost twenty year now fight by the city of Covington to...to pull in, albeit screaming and kicking...some of the territory around the city in order to broaden the city's tax base. I think we're going to have...um...a crisis in city services. They're going off the...the wall with prices and the city is...uh...you know, trying to cut taxes to make it more attractive for people in 22:00Edgewood that they're trying to bring in.
Robinson: Is metro government going to be a question here?
Farrell: Metro government is already a question here. But...um...if metrogovernment is the question, I would, uh...although I'm not a betting man, I would bet a fortune that the answer will be no.
Robinson: Hm-hum. Because of the diversity...uh... in the community, or...?
Farrell: Well, because Covington has a black eye. Because people moved out ofCovington to...uh...get into the wide, wonderful open spaces.
Farrell: Of suburbia. And...uh...I suspect the solution to Covington's problemmay be the gas crisis...
Farrell: ...it's going to force people of...uh...middle income into the citybecause they won't be able to afford to drive to work anymore.
Robinson: Hm-hum. Well I cut you off...you had mentioned three...three problemsthat you're going to have to face in the next years. Is there another one that 23:00you wanted to mention?
Farrell: No, I think probably those are our biggest issues.
Robinson: Hm-hum. Who are the biggest employers in Kenton...or in Covington orin Kenton County?
Farrell: We did a story about a year ago on the area's five largest employers.Um...I can't give them to you in any order, but in Kenton County alone, uh...the Internal Revenue Service with its service center right over there on Fourth Street would be in the top five. The Kenton County Board of Education.
Farrell: Uh...Covington Board of Education.
Farrell: Saint ...uh...Elizabeth Medical Center...
Farrell: ... would also be one. Now in the county I don't know who the biggestone would be. Interlake Steel is in the area, but they're in Newport.
Robinson: Now this is not a really big industrial area, is it?
Robinson: The county itself is not industrial, but there is industry growing around?24:00
Farrell: Well...um...we have industry, small industry growing up in...in BooneCounty, in the southern end of Kenton County...um. But, northern Kentucky has been and continues to be a sleeper community. I would...I forget the figure how many thousands of people cross those bridges every day to...to a job in Cincinnati.
Robinson: Um...But...you mentioned the biggest employers in the county, andobviously...uh...the business of education is a big business in northern Kentucky.
Robinson: With...um...I don't know how many separate schools systems and...
Farrell: I think we have like thirty ...
Farrell: ...thirty different school districts.
Robinson: Uh...so...they are big employers and of course what they do affectseverybody either directly or indirectly. Um...How do you see The Kentucky Post 25:00...uh...as a paper in the state? What is your view of it? What is...what are your plans? I mean not yours personally, but the company's plans for it...as far as the state goes?
Farrell: Do you mean in terms of circulation?
Robinson: Hm-hum. Hm-hum.
Farrell: Well, I don't know of any plans to expand it beyond the twelve counties.
Farrell: We would certainly like to beef up our state coverage. Uh... We'vejust come through a legislature and been frustrated by the amount of news we could get in... on it. But, I don't see us competing statewide in Paducah or Bowling Green or...or Ashland.
Robinson: Hm-hum. So you don't...uh...geographically you don't expect toexpand. You hope you do increase your circulation all the time. And you mentioned that the paper was under new leadership and that it had...the philosophy of the paper has to change. What way has to change?
Farrell: Just in...just in re-evaluating our role as a family newspaper.26:00And...um...the kinds of stories we covered. Trying to balance our...our uh...coverage, area wide, concentrating a little less on Covington and Newport and thinking more about, for instance, Fort Thomas, Fort Mitchel, Edgewood, Lakeside Park, those kind of...
Robinson: As city editor, would your responsibilities involve those cities aswell as Covington?
Farrell: Oh, yes.
Robinson: Um...You have good relationship with all of these school systems?
Farrell: With all of them? No. We...um...Erlanger, for example, despises TheKentucky Post. The...uh... George Adkins while he was auditor ran an audit on 27:00the Erlanger books after a, you know, a teacher, former teacher, went to him and complained that things went through that weren't exactly right. John Miles [Erlanger superintendent] hates us to this day. And, uh... But, we have...uh...we have good relation with Dr. Lass in Covington and...uh...I think we've got a good relation with Bert Bennett in Kenton County. We've done well working with...uh...Mr. [C.R.] Norman in Boone County. And Beloit in Campbell County, so I think...
Robinson: Generally, in the county systems...
Farrell: In the county. We have a...we have a good working relationship withDr. [A.D.] Allbright at Northern and Dr. [Robert J.] Giroux at Thomas More.
Robinson: Hm-hum. Uh, does having a...this college...this state college.Uh...Does this have any effect on the newspaper business?
Farrell: Well, I should correct you and tell you we have a state university.
Robinson: State university...OK.
Farrell: Difference in the...in the newspaper. Well, I think we've tried to be28:00conscious and utilize the school in...in whatever way we could. Focus on its events. Focus on its programs. We had big page one story, I don't know, Thursday or Friday of last week. Northern is trying to work some reciprocal programs for...uh...with University of Cincinnati, which is a... established, recognized large university. And, we've also utilized some of their students...we have...
Robinson: Hm-hum. I was going to ask you if you did that.
Farrell: We have a gal who works part time who is a Northern student. Weemployed a teacher one summer.
Farrell: And...uh... for a while on Friday nights we had a couple of thestudents work.
Robinson: Do you cover pretty much news from the university? Uh, is that partof your coverage?
Farrell: Um-hum. We have a man assigned education.29:00
Farrell: The...uh...the university and the college are two of his priorities.
Robinson: What...uh...do...I'm sure you don't have any trouble getting advertising...uh...
Farrell: I can't answer that. I don't have anything to do with that.
Robinson: OK, you don't. Um, do you...do you print court records from just thiscounty or from all these counties?
Farrell: Now, do you mean legal notices or do you mean public records?
Robinson: Yeah, public records.
Farrell: We have what we call Town Crier, which covers the public records ofall twelve counties. We print marriage license, property transfers, district court records...
Farrell: ... police reports for the cities. We print the...um...the new suitsfiled in both district court and circuit court.
Robinson: So you do...
Farrell: We do.
Robinson: ...in all of these. For all these various counties. Uh...I thinkthat I have asked you all the questions that...uh...are pertinent to this paper... 30:00
Robinson: ...since this is not a smalltown paper. Uh, and I thank you very much.
Farrell: You're welcome. You're welcome.
Robinson: I need you to sign something.Farrell: OK. [Tape ends at 30:19]