Tim Horan never expected to end up in the newspaper business, but a near-fatal car accident while still attending Abilene High School changed the trajectory of his life.
“My junior high English teachers would have lost a lot of money wagering on my career choice,” the Abilene native recalled. “I was told many times, ‘You are going to work with your hands.’ Then I broke my back when I was a senior.”
Although he had no real interest in journalism, earlier in school he had heard that the journalism class taught by Jenelle Cowen was an ‘easy A,’ so he signed up.
“To this day I still scratch my head as to why she named me the editor of The Booster (the AHS student newspaper),” Tim said. “I owe a lot to her. Some will recall that (after leaving teaching) she was also the managing editor of the Reflector-Chronicle.”
This Friday, Horan will retire as editor of the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle — a position he has held a little over three years. He returned to the Reflector in December 2017 after spending about four years as a reporter with The Salina Journal.
“We appreciate the last three years of service Tim has given to the Reflector-Chronicle,” said RC General Manager Kim Maguire. “We were happy when Tim was able to rejoin the staff in late 2017 and appreciate his hard work and service to the community.
“We wish him a happy retirement.”
People who want to wish Tim well are invited to send cards to help him celebrate his retirement. Cards may be sent to Tim Horan, Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, 305 N. Cedar St., Abilene, KS 67410.
A writing career
After graduating from Abilene High School in 1974, Tim attended Kansas State University where he was assistant editorial editor for the Kansas State Collegian.
While in college, he also worked for the Manhattan Mercury and went on to work for four other newspapers — the Junction City Daily Union, Baxter Springs Citizen, the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle (for three different stints, the first in the 1980s) and The Salina Journal. His work also has been published in several magazines.
Much of his career was spent with the National Greyhound Association in Abilene, where he spent 25 years serving as editor of “The Greyhound Review.” While there, he wrote a chapter in “The Complete Book of Greyhounds,” published by Ringpress Books Limited in Ireland.
Tim has covered some fascinating stories over the years, but considers the devastating fires that destroyed the Kirby House on Feb. 20-21, 2013, and the Great Plains Theatre on July 23, 2014, at the top of the list.
“They were both ‘stop the presses’ moments,” Tim recalls. “In both cases, the newspapers had already been completed for the day.”
At the time of the Kirby House fire, Horan was working for the Reflector-Chronicle. Due to forecasts of a tremendous snowstorm, the newspaper was “put to bed” early so it could be printed that night and distributed as soon as possible the following day.
“We finished the next day’s newspaper at 6 p.m. Then I got the word about 6:30 that the Kirby House was on fire. Kathy Hageman (composing room supervisor at the time) and I then scrapped page one and rebuilt it with the story and pictures showing the burning building,” Tim said.
In the haste to rebuild the page, there was a page one “jump” on page 6 that had no beginning on page 1 — which of course, readers noticed, he remembered.
Seventeen months later, Tim had changed jobs and was working for The Salina Journal. He was mowing his lawn when he learned the Great Plains Theatre, located in the renovated First Presbyterian Church at Third and Mulberry streets, was going up in flames.
“When I got on scene, the first person I talked to was Gary Houser (with KABI radio) who first saw the fire and phoned it in,” Tim said. “That led to another redo of page 1.”
Another memorable story came along during his first few weeks working at the Salina newspaper.
A fellow reporter heard on the scanner that a bomb had gone off at a school. After placing a call to see if it was a drill, the reporter learned it was not.
“She went to Salina Central and I went to Salina South. I was thinking this was a waste of time, but when I turned onto Magnolia (Street) I saw the police car lights,” Tim remembered.
Students were standing outside and he immediately thought a bomb had gone off; however, it turned out a bomb had detonated in a vehicle in the park east of the school.
“I took some pictures and interviewed a person who saw the explosion that killed a guy. But the person who saw the explosion worked for the city and did not want me to use his name. Thus, there was really no story,” Tim said.
Like every other medium, the newspaper business has seen tremendous change over the 40-some years since Tim started his career.
“We don’t hear the tick-tick-tick of the Associated Press wire anymore. Seriously, it seems that journalists are not reporters anymore but entertainers,” Tim said. “Miss Cowen used to say the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ needs to also include the ‘wow’ of a story — sensationalism sells. I guess she was ahead of her time.
“The days of news reporters like Walter Cronkite who simply reported the news seem to be gone. Today, the reporters want to analyze the news. This goes for print stories as well as news in the video media.”
Technology also has played a big role. When Tim was still in college, the word processor first came out, soon followed by computers.
Digital photography also was a big change.
“No longer did I need to be sure to have plenty of film on hand,” Tim said. “And the internet has given newspapers a whole new medium.”
Future of newspapers
Despite some who have predicted the print and ink product is doomed, Tim feels that’s not the case.
“There is still a segment of the population that enjoys holding and reading a newspaper. So I don’t think they are going anywhere,” he said.
However, he is troubled by the purchase of family-owned newspapers by big media outlets and the resulting consolidations.
As for life after retirement, Tim plans to spend more time with his wife, Kathy, their children and grandchildren and travel a little after the pandemic is over.
“It’ll take awhile to get used to not running out for a photo during bad weather or imagining the front page layout to accommodate a breaking story,” Tim said.
“I would say my life does not revolve around the golf course, but I do plan to spend more time there,” he added with a laugh. “And I look forward to sleeping in.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com .