Remembering a real journalist

    It’s the prize
    season for journalists, that time of the year when deadlines are
    approaching for nominations for excellence in reporting in more
    categories than the Academy Awards. Tens of thousands of dollars are at
    stake and, of course, the right to have “prize winning reporter”
    attached to your name forever, including after taxidermy.

    Like the Academy Awards, the recognition is all very glitzy, somewhat
    crass, often political and frequently short lived. The newspaper
    cemetery is studded with enterprises that have “Pulitzer Prize winner”
    chiseled on their gravestones. So much for the value of that tribute to
    great work. Move over Luise Rainier and dozens of other Oscar winners.

    But now and then longtime journalistic achievement is rewarded in a
    manner that is both tasteful and touching in its simple elegance and
    genuine affection, a memorial that eloquently captures the nature of a
    man and his career. Its worth is enhanced by the fact it is presented
    for no other purpose than to thank another and to make certain those
    following will understand that no matter how humble their beginnings or
    small their venues, the world is out there for them to conquer.

    Forty-five years ago Vance Trimble, an old school reporter and editor
    in the Washington headquarters of the Scripps Howard Newspaper
    Alliance, wrote a series of dramatic exposes about the abuses of
    nepotism on Capitol Hill that ultimately changed the way Congress
    operates. The result was legislation outlawing the practice of putting
    relatives on the public payroll. The series also won a spectacular
    array of prizes for Trimble, including a Pulitzer. His accomplishment
    was particularly impressive because at the time his main assignment was
    as a night editor. He devoted days to the investigative project, before
    working another full shift at night.

    The main support for
    Trimble’s effort came from an already legendary editor-in-chief of
    Scripps Howard Newspapers, Walker Stone, whose roots, like Trimble’s,
    were deep in small-town Oklahoma from where a number of great
    journalists have sprung. When the inevitable pressures came to curtail
    Trimble’s efforts, Stone stood solidly with his reporter, a position
    that was not uncharacteristic of him.

    About the same time, Stone
    had refused to capitulate to direct demands from both President Kennedy
    and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to retract a sensational revelation
    by another Scripps Howard reporter that the Russians were over flying
    U.S. territory with White House knowledge. His stubbornness, born of an
    independence that came from a boyhood on the wind-swept prairie,
    brought about one of the last major antitrust actions against a
    newspaper company as the Kennedy’s followed through on their favorite
    theme: “Don’t get mad; get even.”

    Stone died in 1973. Only two
    years previously he had retired without fanfare and with quiet
    determination, eschewing any farewell recognition. It was the way he
    did everything in a fabulous life. His influence in Washington over
    four decades had been extraordinary. Historians, including the late
    William Manchester, credit an editorial he wrote in 1952 with
    jump-starting Dwight D. Eisenhower’s flagging presidential campaign.

    In typical folksy bluntness echoing his early environs, he wrote that
    Eisenhower in his bid for the presidency was “running like a dry
    creek.” The line, repeated widely, shook up the campaign.

    and his rise to the top of what was at the time the largest of the
    nation’s newspaper groups had all but been forgotten by his hometown of
    Okemah. But certainly not by Trimble, whose respect and affection for
    his mentor never diminished during his own distinguished career as
    editor of The Kentucky Post and biographer of E. W. Scripps and
    Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. So not long ago, at 92, and still looking
    for projects, he decided the community should recognize Stone’s legacy
    and that Okemah youngsters would benefit from a better understanding of
    what is possible for them achieve.

    He raised the money _ some of
    his own and some from the Scripps Howard Foundation and others _ to
    establish a memorial to Stone, a musical clock, that will stand nobly
    in the center of town. The memorial was dedicated the other day in a
    ceremony that was pure Stone in its unassuming simplicity, dignity and
    reticence. Afterwards, town leaders, Stone family members, foundation
    executives, the editor of the Okemah News Leader and, of course,
    Trimble all went off to lunch at a local cafe.

    Walker Stone
    would have loved it for it comes from the heart in the place he loved.
    This is one journalism tribute that will stand the test of time.

    (Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)