LEO’s new generation

Nov 18, 2015 at 3:34 pm
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth

What a difference five years can make. In 2010, LEO’s editors asked me to reflect in this space on the publication’s first 20 years. It was an honor I appreciated and an effort I enjoyed. Now my son, Aaron, has afforded me the same privilege, and I am thrilled to try it again on the paper’s 25th birthday.

It’s crazy how life can come full circle, or at least semi-circle. Five years ago, neither Aaron nor I could have remotely considered the idea that he would be at the helm of my other child. But that is reality, and for me the development is both exciting and heartwarming.

I should resist the instinctive urge to make this (another) tribute to the man I have written about so often … but I can’t. While my perspective is about as biased as it could be, LEO’s recent history, present and future, are Aaron’s story, and I can offer observations neither he nor others can.

Sometime early in the summer of 2014, Aaron called me with a news alert that totally shocked me. “Dad,” he said, “I’m thinking about buying LEO.” My internal reaction was a mixture of dread and delirium. I was excited about the paper coming back into the family, and even more pleased it could be locally owned once again. On the other hand, I was fully cognizant of the current state of print media. I was aware, for example, that the Boston Globe had recently been sold for about five percent of what it had been purchased for just a few years earlier. 

So I started asking Aaron questions: Have you checked on this? Have you calculated that? His “due diligence” had been thorough and professional. He had already constructed a business plan to restore LEO’s financial viability, because it had been bleeding money. In short, he had done his homework.

The path forward was anything but smooth. The original plan was for the purchase of LEO and its then-sister publication, Nfocus. The sellers insisted on imposing their own editorial standards on Nfocus, which Aaron justifiably resisted. So he had to redo the business plan, and personnel, to reflect only LEO ownership.

Then stuff hit the fan. Part of his plan required a reduction in staff and a change in editorial leadership. Many will remember how he was vilified in social media and by other local outlets. His reaction to me was calm and logical. “At least they’re talking about the paper,” he said to me. I still am amazed how he handled such public controversy, which was the first he had ever faced.

Above all, I was impressed by how courageous he was in taking on the challenge. It was brave enough to enter a perilous business with no prior background other than growing up in the home of an editor. It was even braver to risk letting his father down. He has already proven himself on both counts.

Finally, it is important to me to stress that Aaron’s voice is his own, and I am so glad he has found it. When I created LEO a quarter century ago, my avowed intention was to make sure Louisville had a locally-owned editorial voice. The Courier-Journal had been sold to Gannett, and this seemed to be important. Now, our daily doesn’t even have an editorial writer, and LEO’s — and especially Aaron’s — voices become that much more critical in stimulating thought and discussion about important public questions. 

I love that Aaron has helped return LEO to its snarky roots. I always thought LEO had to have an “attitude,” because it is always risky in today’s world to take yourself too seriously. So when a recent story on sex education featured a cover illustration with a condom-covered thumbs-up, I smiled at the realization that LEO was in steady hands. I know some in the community were offended. That’s a good thing. 

Back in 1990 I was asked about my goals for LEO. I said that all I wanted was someday far away to be able to say proudly, “I started that.” Thanks to Aaron, 25 years later I am still able to say it, and a new generation will be able to read it.