David Thompson is a lucky man.
The 72-year-old executive director of the Kentucky Press Association (KPA) says he has held two dream jobs. For 36 years he has led the KPA, and before that he was editor and later publisher of his hometown newspaper, the Georgetown News & Times, a predecessor to the News-Graphic.
“Working at the News and Times was always my dream job,” Thompson said. When the newspaper owners decided to sell the Georgetown paper along with newspapers in Paris and Hazard, Thompson took a leap of faith and applied for the director’s position with the KPA.
“I didn’t think I stood a chance,” he said. He was hired and found his second dream job. “I honestly can’t imagine a better job,” he said.
But luck has little to do with his latest good fortune — tonight, Thursday, Thompson will receive the annual Al Smith Award for his contributions to community journalism in Kentucky. The award is presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues of the University of Kentucky and the Bluegrass Society of Professional Journalists.
“I was trying to compose myself,” Thompson said recalling his reaction upon learning he had been chosen. “I never, never imagined I would be honored with the Al Smith Award.”
The award is named for Albert R. Smith Jr. who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the driving force for the creation of the institute.
Thompson is the longest serving executive director of a newspaper association in North America, according to the Newspaper Association Managers, which serves groups in the U.S. and Canada.
“The award is for ‘public service through community journalism,’ so giving it to David recognizes his 36 years of work that has helped Kentucky newspapers do that, on both the business side and the journalism side,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “The proximate causes for the award (decided by the Bluegrass Chapter board) are his record tenure in the job, longest in North America, and his successful defense of the Open Meetings Act in the last session of the General Assembly; that law is essential for news media to do public-service journalism.
“KPA and its members often have to fight open-meetings, open-records and public-notice battles with the Kentucky League of Cities and its members, so I think it’s remarkable that KLC Deputy Executive Director J.D. Chaney nominated David for the award. He wrote, ‘KPA and KLC have sometimes been on opposite sides of a legislative issue. Nonetheless, we have great respect for David’s integrity in all areas of his work. He is a fierce and respected advocate for journalism in Kentucky.’ He added, ‘We can think of no one who has shown more journalistic leadership in serving the communities of Kentucky... He has represented Kentucky’s small, local newspapers above all else.’”
Tom Eblen, president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists agreed. In an article on Thompson’s award on “The Rural Blog” written by Cross, Eblen said, “David has been a tireless advocate for good journalism in Kentucky. He has not just supported Kentucky’s newspapers. He has worked hard for their readers to make sure Kentucky’s open-records and open-meetings laws are protected and enforced in the public’s interest.”
The KPA board is composed of 29 members, the largest such board in the U.S., and almost half are women, Thompson said. “I’m very proud of that,” he said. Another fact of which Thompson said he is proud is the KPA’s membership has been steady even though many newspapers are struggling financially.
Under Thompson’s leadership, the KPA has created many services for its members and the public including an open-government hotline for legal advice, a legal defense fund, an internship program for college students, a statewide open records audit, a news bureau and story-sharing service, a website for public notices and he has managed both the 125th and 150th anniversaries of the association.
Thompson lives in Georgetown with his wife, Teresa. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and an Army veteran. He was a sportswriter for the Lexington Herald, where his father, Billy, covered sports.
Thompson was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2006.
Mike Scogin can be reached at email@example.com.