Lynette Eyb on Jim Keller

He was
bold and brash, and like nothing our conservative country town had seen
before. Jim Kellar was as shrewd and as hungry as any journalist I have
met. And he was a bloody great editor to boot.

I’d arrived in
small town Australia fresh from university, full of nerves but
brandishing a decent degree and a bag full of work experience. Jim knew
me before I knew him – he’d nabbed my CV from the paper down the road
and decided I’d be of better use working for him. He promised me on day
one that this was as good a place as any to learn the trade, and he was
right.

Muswellbrook was, and still is, like a thousand other
country towns, and the Chronicle like a thousand other local papers,
full of local news and sport, and community and council politics.

But
thrown in among the smaller development applications and the noise
complaints were bundles and bundles of environmental impact statements
relating to large-scale mining in the area. Coal had for generations
been the lifeblood of this section of the NSW Hunter Valley, and Jim
was as savvy as anyone to its costs and benefits.

As a cadet in
career week one, a three-volume study running into thousands of pages
was a daunting prospect, but Jim would spend hours trawling through
chapters, digging dirt, picking holes and inviting me to join in the
fun.

His cynicism, along with his insistence that we provide a balanced coverage, were refreshing and inspiring.

He was as passionate about the community as he was about newspapers, and he saw the two as inseparable.

Our
tiny newsroom was not so much a newsroom but the entire editorial,
picture, production and sales departments squeezed into one room on one
floor of a main street building.

Despite the cramped conditions,
though, Jim maintained we were where we belonged: in the middle of town
where readers could wander in off the street and talk to us. Stories
started and ended with the man and the woman on the street.

Jim
Kellar and others like him embody the essence of good journalism. They
are hacks who could make it anywhere and usually have, but choose to
ply their trade at a local level for all sorts of reasons, both
personal and professional.

And they are symbolic of the
importance of local and regional press as a voice for the people and as
a training ground for young journalists.

During his tenure as
editor, a string of good, all-round journalists came out of that
office, all moving on to bigger regionals, nationals and to mass market
magazines. Jim Kellar included.

Lynette Eyb is editor of TNT Magazine

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