A reporter as a fine public servant


By Jim Dady

It was 30 yeas ago and I was just eight months past covering football games, school board meetings and grains sales for an Ohio county daily when my new paper in Covington sent me to Frankfort to work in its bureau there.

Across the Capitol on Shelby Street was the bureau for The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times. Richard Wilson was covering education and Ann Pardue was also there. And there was Livingston Taylor, the gifted reporter who died last month at age 75.

Those were the days when the Courier was ranked among the great American newspapers, ambitious to dominate the competition and set the agenda for Kentucky.

In competitive terms, it was as if a rookie baseball pitcher had been sent to the mound against the mighty New York Yankees. Going head-to-head with Taylor meant getting your head frequently pounded on the pavement.

He beat you again, Dady, became a familiar refrain over the phone from my editor in those days. It was fortunate my newspaper only published six days a week to the Couriers seven. That meant I was given the burden and the benefit of being scooped one less day per week by Taylor.

As Richard Wilson said in a eulogy at Taylors funeral, he wanted to be first in what he reported because he believed Kentuckians deserved his best efforts. Taylor had an unerring eye for the big issue and for what really mattered. His reporting could cut to the quick, but to my mind, it was always fair. He shined his reporters searchlight into secret jackpots. He upset nests of cronyism, patronage and privelege. He unstuffed shirts and made and unmade reputations.

He obviously had the talent for cultivating the best news sources in Frankfort. He also had the capacity to see around corners, read upside down, and know what was coming with just a slight change of the wind

When Taylor was in his prime, the most feared phase in Frankfort was a secretary telling the boss, Commissioner, Livingston Taylor, line one.

But he was no gunslinger nor was he out to make a fast reputation by taking down his betters. The bearing of his prose revealed a reporter who was dug in for the long haul.

And, oh, that prose. It was a marvel of efficiency. He always chose the simple over the complicated, the direct over the circuitous. He refused to set down a line he couldnt prove. His reporting was a model of accuracy and clarity.

He shied from TV panels, believing, I think, that they required opinions and that having opinions, or stating them, was the beginning of the reporter trying to prove them the opposite of the path to facts.

In person, he was mild-mannered, modest, and soft spoken. It was incongruous how a reporter with so big a voice and so much influence could be so gentlemanly. He was serous, but not long faced. His wit could cackle.

In a public hearing in the Senate chamber once, a witness droned on about the injustice of it all. For 50 years, Ive been an honest, hard working. taxpayer, whispered Taylor, stepping on the word the man delivered next.

He was surprised when a pair of demographers predicted at a press conference that Campbell County would soon lose residents. Why do you say that? Taylor asked. Out migration trends beamed one of the experts. Out migration trends, Taylor responded. Why, thats like saying theyre losing people.

One governor used a press conference to berate Taylor in unmistakably personal terms. Go ahead and write your dirty stories, Livingston. Taylor was quoted in a story about the governors complaints, If any of my reporting has been in error, Im sure The Courier-Journal will be happy to run a correction.

Taylor was a devoted gardener and, as noted at this funeral, an excellent tennis player. A tennis ace form Cincinnati told me he felt fortunate to defeat Taylor in a match in regional competition in recent years and that he was one of the 50 best players for his age in the nation.

I have heard Taylor made peace with a number of his adversaries. I sat at the funeral with an older couple and the gentleman told me Taylor had welcomed them warmly when the couple moved to Frankfort from Indiana three years ago. In his retirement, Taylor did volunteer work at a hospice and conducted Bible studies with inmates at the Franklin County Regional Jail.

It can be said that his service to the commonwealth began from the time he arrived here to his passing. In his professional life he was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 1991 and in retirement, Livingston Taylor was a public servant. In a town full of them, he was among the finest it has been my privilege to know.

(Jim Dady formerly worked for The Kentucky Post and is now a practicing attorney in Northern Kentucky.)

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