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John Henson: Ewell Balltrip, longtime community journalist, editor, was dedicated to Eastern Kentucky

In its history stretching back well over 100 years, the Harlan Daily Enterprise had been the home of many outstanding journalists. Not many, if any, could compare to Ewell Balltrip, whose long battle with illness ended last week.

Balltrip was a reporter, then editor and then publisher during an Enterprise career that ran from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, where he taught several generations of young reporters the basics of journalism and what it meant to be a professional in that field.

Ewell Balltrip

Chris Jones, a former reporter who still serves as a free-lance photographer, often told the story of Balltrip’s brilliance as a writer and reporter, describing how he composed a story as he traveled back to the Enterprise office with Bill Glenn Fortney and Jones when Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke delivered a speech in Verda in 1975.

“After the lighting of the cross we drove into the night as Ewell composed a story he immediately dictated over the phone to the Associated Press soon after reaching the paper’s office on Central Street,” Jones said.

Balltrip’s columns were a staple of the Enterprise editorial pages throughout the 1970s, dealing with issues important to Harlan countians.

He was undoubtedly one of the best editors in the state during that time. He was especially knowledgeable about the coal industry and was a regular commentator on Kentucky Educational Television as an expert on an industry that was so important to Harlan County and eastern Kentucky during those years.

Even though he eventually moved into the top job at the Enterprise as a publisher during the New York Times era, Balltrip never forgot his editorial roots. He continually produced one of the state’s top small daily newspapers by demanding excellence from his staff and giving them the tools and manpower to accomplish those goals.

Balltrip’s mark on our area and his contributions to the Harlan Daily Enterprise will live on in those who worked with him and remember what he meant to our newspaper and those who called Harlan County home.

John Henson is a reporter and editor at the Harlan Enterprise and was hired by Mr. Balltrip.

(Ewell Ballltrip long-time Kentucky journalist and editor died after a long illness on March 7. His career spanned 50 years in community journalism, public service and as director of a non-profit organization, the National Institue for Homeland Security. He was 69. He will inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame on March 25. He headed the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, was a founding board member of Forward in the Fifth, and was engaged in many other activities focused on economic and community development.)

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