The Readers Were an Extended Family of Aunts and Uncles

When reading Ken Tingley’s “The Last American Editor,” it’s almost impossible not to notice its author’s profound love for his profession, one that it’s only rivaled by his appreciation for his family and his community.

The community in question is the city of Glens Falls in upstate New York, where Tingley served as editor of the local newspaper, The Post-Star, for over twenty years.

During this time, Tingley managed a column where he covered almost every aspect of the town and its inhabitants. Everyone was part of his writing, from the sports games and their athletic heroes to the everyday people who kept the city going. 

Similarly, the ramifications of the events that shook and changed the nation were mirrored and detailed through the perspective of Small-Town America in his articles.

But above all of that, he shared his perspective, as a father, husband, and neighbor, on every subject he found interesting or intriguing, inviting his readers as an almost extended family into the joys and tragedies of life. 

After four decades in the industry of Journalism, Tingley retired in 2020 from his position as editor of The Post-Star, and the city proclaimed July 17th of that year as “Ken Tingley Day” to celebrate his work and legacy. 

But Tingey has stayed quite busy in retirement, maintaining a constant stream of three weekly articles published through his newsletter “The Front Page,” calling for establishing a National Newspaper Day and publishing a collection of his best columns with “The Last American Editor.”

Now, as Tingley gears up for the release of his next book, “The Last American Newspaper,” and his piece “Roy McDonald: Profile in Courage” in Something or Other Publishing’s upcoming anthlogy of award-winning stories, we sat down for a conversation via Zoom, which has been slightly edited and condensed for length and readability, to discuss his illustrious career, his thoughts on the state of journalism, his deep love for sports and his upcoming projects.

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MT: I understand you started as a Sports Writer for the Daily Independent in 1979 in Ashland, Kentucky. What drove you to Sports Writing and Journalism? Was it a way to express your love and interest in Sports, Baseball, or were you also interested in Communications?

KT: I think I always wanted to write. I just didn’t know how that would play. Growing up, I was always a newspaper reader, and I never thought about that. Everybody was a newspaper reader in my era so that naturally came to me. When I went to college, I felt everybody would want to be a sports writer in journalism. I couldn’t imagine a better job in the world. I thought I wouldn’t have a chance to be a sports writer, but I went to my college newspaper and volunteered to write some sports. 

That was probably the most exciting thing I could do at that point in my life. So I think we are always looking just to be able to do something we know about and feel we do well. And certainly, in sports, I knew that back and forth.  

MT: It transmits that we are reading from a huge sports fan. Now, I wanted to ask you about your columns. You often write about your family, your wife, and your son. 

Your pieces moved me, “9/11 is Now Personal” and “Yes, We are Living our Lives Again,”  because they showed how knowing someone who died that day changed the face of the tragedy for you. How does knowing someone who is part of the community where you live or someone you know personally influences you when writing about these subjects?

KT: I’ve found over the years in journalism that journalists are thought to be impersonal. Many fellow journalists are very uncomfortable being personal about their thoughts and beliefs. These days, many people have become very uncomfortable with that because they look at it as showing a bias or something like that. When you are an editor in a smaller town and reveal a little about yourself, your family, and what you’re going through, people relate to that. They understand what you are going through.

Many people in my part of the world knew people they lost in 9/11; we are only a three-hour drive from New York City. So when I learned, I knew someone who died, that certainly changed the loss.

I think I got more responses and feedback in my columns about my family than in any other type of writing I did. We all have kids. We all have wives. We all go through those challenges, and we can relate to them. When you are relating to your readers…you know… that’s what we all hope we can do.

MT: That’s wonderful. You wrote in the P.S. for “ Once Upon a Time…” that “I always felt the readers were an extended family of aunts and uncles.” I think that’s beautiful. 

KT: Thank you. 

MT: I wanted to ask you about your perspective on local reporting. I believe your story “Reunion flourishes despite politics” is very interesting because it shows a portrait of a family discussing Trump’s inauguration speech and beginning to feel a bit of a separation because of it, especially since the issue of politics appears to have become more and more divisive in the last decade. How do you feel the topic is handled in local newspapers compared to the national stage?

KT: I think things have changed, and reporters, especially those covering politics in a small town, want to be more careful. They want to prove that they’re being fair and reporting facts. They take that very seriously. That’s part of their credibility as a journalist. If you don’t have credibility, then what do you have?

It’s been going on for a long time. I can remember 20 years ago, and we’re in a very conservative area in upstate New York, and I remember being called, back then, liberal media. Everyone kind of says, “oh, well, if the New York Times is liberal, then everyone’s liberal.” Well, that wasn’t really true at all. Most of the people who worked in my newspaper were probably conservative as well. I was conservative. More moderate, I guess, would be my political viewpoints. So it was unusual to be kind of tagged with that. But we didn’t take it very seriously. We just said, “oh, well, that’s just some politicians saying that.” Well, it kind of grew over, certainly, the last five years. It’s a lot more people saying that. And you do have to take that a lot more seriously, and you have to be very careful.

MT: That’s very interesting. Switching gears a little bit, I wanted to move on to the subject of “Sports,” which covered the first 20 years of your career. I think you are very good at getting into the psychology of the athletes, as you did in pieces such as  “Crosier’s World Turned Upside Down” and “A True Olympian.” I  think this might be because you are a huge fan yourself. What is it about Sports Writing that appeals so much to you? 

KT: Well, I think that, from a very early age, I was always drawn to the columns that kind of spoke of an athlete and their struggle, maybe their psychological makeup. I continue to be drawn to that, not only in sports but in the news. I used to tell some of our news writers that some of the best training in the world was in sports because sports writers have to use their powers of observation. They have to interview people under duress who lost a close game. There’s a winner and a loser, and it’s kind of like life.

When you would stumble upon those stories right before you of an athlete, whether his mother had just died or whether their family is facing an illness or something like that. And yet they have to go out and perform, and they do it anyway. I find that very compelling, and it’s very emotional. I think people are drawn to the emotions of sports. I know I always was, and I think some of my best columns are the ones that address that.

MT: I agree with your mention of great journalists starting in sports. I remember reading in college about Hunter S. Thompson covering the Kentucky Derby. 

KT: John Updike covered Ted Williams’s last game at Fenway Park, where he hit a home run, walked off the field, and retired. He was just a fan and ended up writing a short story about it. And it’s just a terrific story. 

MT: That’s amazing! In your 40-year career, you have seen many changes in the journalism industry. From the arrival of 24-hour news channels to the rise of the internet and, eventually, social media. What are some of the most significant shifts? 

KT: It has been a constant barrage of changes, and, I guess, I was kind of at the forefront of the computer age with guest computers as a sports writer. I think one of the most important things was the portable computer. When I was starting, I was a sports writer and, this is going to make me sound old as Moses here, but we used to cover a game, and if you were on the road, you had to dial a payphone, and you would dictate your story over the phone, sometimes making it up as you went along, and they would fix it on the other end. So when we got to the point of laptop computers, where you could type it all, I mean, that made life so much easier.

I think the news was a bit slower-paced; we always tended to cover things on a nine-to-five cycle and write something. We didn’t have to worry as much about those types of changes. Certainly, the 24-hour news cycle was significant in the later years, and that made it difficult. The leading competitor used to be television, and they would have a six o’clock and an 11 o’clock newscast. And there was nothing we could do to compete with that. Well, later on, when the internet came and we had a webpage, we could compete with it. We could get stuff up and beat them, and we usually beat the TV. So it really even the playing field, as far as the competitive nature of like covering news. We had more reporters than the TV stations, and we could do a better job. 

MT: It’s very curious to see how technology eventually gave you an advantage over TV. What advice would you give to someone starting a career in journalism today? 

KT: The best advice I can give to someone these days is to be willing to do any story, anytime, any place. I think you have to be the type of person who just keeps doing stories. There are a lot of people I hear who say, “oh, I wanna be a writer.” And it’s like, well, you have the opportunity to be a writer. I’m on the Subsstack platform, and I still write three columns a week just cause I love to do it. It’s certainly a smaller audience, but it is an audience that knows me and my style. 

So there’s no excuse for anyone not to be able to write and to find an audience, and you can do that through social media, which is a great thing. I think there are opportunities out there more than ever. That’s the case for freelancing and doing stories that way because the newspapers, especially small newspapers and really all newspapers across the country, have been decimated. We used to have 50 people in our newsroom. There are less than ten there now.

It’s a complicated thing cause it’s much tougher to make a living that way, but it was always the case. Hopefully, that’s going to change in the near future, as people understand that they need to pay for news just like they pay for cable TV and the internet.

MT; You have called for the establishment of a National Newspapers Day. Can you explain why you believe there should be a National Newspaper Day for someone not familiar with the job journalists do or who’s not in love with Newswriting?

KT: I think it’s something that people are gradually learning about with the whole onslaught of fake news, the accusations of bias in the media, and things like that. Probably the question I hear more than anything is, where do I go to get reliable information and factual news? And I almost always say, you must go to a newspaper. I’m sorry, I’m not anti-broadcasting, but if you want the depth and the reporting, it’s all there. You can study it, look at it, and this should be celebrated. And for too many years, and even today, I think newspapers have not been celebrated for their job in our community. 

We had a great community newspaper when I was editor of my newspaper over the last 20 years. And we did a lot of good to help the community and make it a better place to live. And that should be celebrated. I think democracy could be at stake. Things are going to get a lot more corrupt if you don’t support your local newspaper and the journalism it does. 

MT: I understand that you have a second book coming out this year titled “The Last American Newspaper,” can you tell us a bit about it?

KT: It’s already out! “The Last American Newspaper” is about the same theme we’ve been discussing. It’s essentially a love story to my own newspaper and the people who work there. And it’s asking the question, who’s going to do the journalism in the future? And it does that through a series of stories about the great projects we worked on and the great work done by the people at our newspaper that shows you the difference they made in our community.  This is why we need newspapers, and this is what was done. When I went back and looked at it, I was kind of stunned at the great work that we had done and how it all came together.

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Miguel Torrellas is a Journalist and Copywriter Specialist for Something Or Other Publishing. As a graduate of the University of Florida, he has handled everything from social work to local business and city government. He has been published in North Florida’s WUFT News and several other platforms. 

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