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Bill Neikirk, pioneer of economics journalism in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky native, dies at 82

William R. “Bill” Neikirk, who was a pioneer in economics journalism in Washington, D.C., and set up a scholarship at the University of Kentucky for journalism students from his native Appalachian Kentucky, died Aug. 27 of Lewy body dementia. He was 82.

Born in Irvine, a railroad and coal-processing town near the East Kentucky Coal Field, Neikirk joined Washington Bureau of The Associated Press in 1969 after having worked for the wire service in Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort.

Bill Neikirk

He moved to the Chicago Tribune’s Washington bureau in 1974, served as the paper’s Washington news editor, and later worked in Chicago as assistant managing editor for financial news. He was a syndicated columnist, and became a frequent guest on CNN and other TV outlets.

He wrote three books: Volcker: Portrait of the Money Man, about the inflation-battling former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker; The Work Revolution (with Gail Garfield Schwartz), which described the impact of the technological revolution on jobs held by low-skilled workers; and The Copperhead Club, a fictional thriller based in Washington and Eastern Kentucky.

“He was among the first journalists to carve out economics as a beat — something routine in journalism now,” said his nephew, Mark Neikirk, now head of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at Northern Kentucky University and a former reporter, columnist and editor at The Kentucky Post.

Bill Neikirk won the Gerald Loeb Award for business writing in 1979, and was a runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize that year for a series on the impact of world trade. In 1995, he won the Merriman Smith Award for presidential reporting, and in 2007 was president of the Gridiron Club, an elite group known for its entertaining but private annual dinner.

He is survived by the former Ruth Ann Clary, his wife of 59 years; two sons, John (Lisa) and Greg (Jeannette), and a daughter, Christa (Kevin Chang); and two grandchildren, Matthew and Isabella (John). A memorial service will be held as soon as feasible at Rock Springs Congregational Church in Arlington, Va., where he lived.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the scholarship fund he created at the University of Kentucky, his alma mater, for journalism students from the state’s Appalachian region, “so that another kid from the mountains will grow up to contribute as Bill did,” his nephew wrote. The address is: William Robert Neikirk Scholarship Fund, UK Gift Receiving Office, 210 Malabu Drive, #200, Lexington KY 40502, or at https://bit.ly/2xwienB.

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