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Kent Bush: My first 39 years have been pretty good

Kent Bush

According to normal life expectancy, I'm at the halfway point.

I've taken some grief about being an old man. This is my last year in the 30s and next year, I'll be over the hill.

I never really imagined myself at 39. After today, it won't take much imagination.

I'm not that worried about it. Compared to 19 and 29, things are looking up. I am stronger than ever before. I am far better at golf than I was then. I weigh less and I think I've even gotten a little smarter.

Sure, I remember the days as a 23-year-old when I was hired as the editor of my hometown newspaper.

But life wasn't always easy.

Just a few months after becoming an editor, homegrown terrorists blew a hole in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. Several people from my hometown were injured or killed.

My brother even preached the funeral of one of the toddlers who died in the attack.

In the heat of the moment, I agreed that a reporter should accompany a group of volunteers working to help with the rescue effort. They took her in the wreckage and treated her like a volunteer. I even ran a first-person report that she produced. He flippant attitude and tourist-like excitement in getting to be "on the scene" didn't register with me. We had the story. We were telling it like no one else could.

That's when I learned a lot about the difference between what you can do and what you should do.

The story led to an incredible outcry against the newspaper for running a story that was callus and opportunistic - not to mention exploitive and uncaring.

It was horrible. It is never good when people complain about you and they are right. I questioned myself in the deepest ways. I considered never going back into the office. I had failed because of ignorance.

But I didn't quit. I owned the mistake. But most importantly, I learned the lesson.

In three years, we had gone from one of the worst newspapers around to the best newspaper in the Oklahoma Press Association in our size category two years in a row.

By 25, I was considered a great young editor. By 35, our staff was still winning dozens of awards.

But I wasn't so young anymore.

A couple of years ago I got the chance to become a publisher.

There have been a lot of ups and downs in the past two years. But the overriding joy of managing great people and doing a job I love has certainly helped the good outweigh the bad.

When I got the opportunity to help save a struggling Derby newspaper, I jumped at the chance. I created a new printing schedule. I developed a new workflow based on that schedule. In six months, the newspaper had experienced a turnaround. We were no longer in the red and life was good.

That's when the Sedgwick County administration and commissioners destroyed that newspaper.

The huge legal publication contract was canceled mid-term and given to the Wichita Eagle despite the fact that the Derby newspaper had done a good job for 20 years; offered a huge cost savings to the county during difficult economic times; and had won the support of the staff and even the bid board.

Soon thereafter, the struggling newspaper became a failed newspaper.

I'll never forget the faces of the staff that had worked so hard to turn things around when the announcement was made. I'll never get over the feeling of failure from not finding a way to make it work and save their jobs.

I learned a lot from that too. It changed the way I work. It added a degree of urgency to go along with the dedication required of anyone who works in a small town newspaper. I never want to experience that again.

I lived most of my life in my hometown. I've only been here two years. But I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Life has been anything but perfect, but the first 39 years have been pretty darn good.

If the next 39 are this good, I won't have any complaints.

Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta Gazette in Augusta, Kan. Contact him at publisher@augustagazette.com.