Austin Horn - KET

Former director of investigative & depth reporting Austin Horn

In the summer of 2017, I interviewed someone who changed my life. 

A homeless man told me his life’s story — how his attitude as a young man hurt those around him and himself, what his hobbies used to be and what he could still see himself getting out to do, the shame he carries around members of his family, and more.

There is no proof of this interview, aside from a sophomoric indie song I wrote, because the subject of it did not allow for it. Instead, I spoke with other very helpful people about the homeless population in Frankfort, their lived experience and the undercounting of our homeless neighbors. 

As the man told me his story, I got the sense that I carried a serious, weighty responsibility for getting this man’s story right. I also recognized that this man’s honesty, the act of telling his story, was healing for him. 

The interview made me decide that journalism was the career for me. I want to be a part of that transformative telling, a kind that can change the course of people and communities’ futures.

I share this to illustrate how much I owe The State Journal and Frankfort. It’s the place where I first got paid to do the work I love; the place where I’ve grown more than any other as a reporter and thinker; the place I call home.

Just three months ago, I wrote about these good feelings and the unique benefits of being a young person in a place that isn’t exactly full of them.

Now, a bit of an abrupt change has come. I’m leaving The State Journal after about 15 months to become a political reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader starting next week.

I’ve told several folks already that the craziness of local Frankfort and Franklin County politics has prepared me well for the statehouse just up the road. So thanks for that, politicians. But in all seriousness, you’ve been great to work with and generally communicative even when it might not have been easy.

Thanks is also in order for our readers, who have kept us honest, given us great stories and kept aflame the Fourth Estate in Frankfort with their loyalty. The State Journal, like every other local newspaper in the country, is not what it was in the early 2000s. But The State Journal still makes a difference, and without an outlet like it you simply would not know much of what you know about your community.

To the folks who let me tell their stories — law enforcement and local officials who waxed honest about the need to diversify their staff, people frustrated with the conditions of their loved ones’ final resting places, strangers who took the time to share their reason for voting — thank you.

Sadly, there are a lot of stories that I left on the table. Most of them are the more complicated, community trend stories that Frankfort deserves. I wasn’t able to make it happen, and I apologize to those whom I’ve interviewed but never got to publish. Likewise, my work inevitably fell short of fully exposing the truth or being 100% fair to all involved. Journalism is an art, and we're all working to get better at it.

To everyone in The State Journal office — particularly my editors past and present in Chanda Veno, Steve Stewart and David Brock — thank you. Thanks also to fellow leadership team members Sheri Bunker and Meri Latek. To Hannah Brown and Linda Younkin, I have never come across a more supportive and helpful office family. Dylan and Jim, you rule.

This place, all of the above-mentioned folks, and several others have shaped me. I hope that I returned the favor by helping our readers better understand Frankfort, and steering the local conversation in a positive direction.

Some other personal news: Though I’m leaving this newspaper, I am not leaving Frankfort. You’re not quite rid of me yet.

If you ever want to send me a note or drop a hot tip on state government, I can be reached at johnaustinhorn@gmail.com.

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