After dedicating his life to journalism for 30 years, former Independent reporter Roger Alford has decided to retire from the news world and trade in his recorder for a communications badge for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Alford, who has worked his way through the ranks of weekly and daily papers in Kentucky and Ohio to the one-person staff in Pikeville’s Associated Press bureau, will cap his journalism career on Tuesday and begin his job as communications director in mid-January.
Alford, 56, began working for the AP in 2000 after earning experience at a number of other papers, including the Corbin Times Tribune, the Middlesboro Daily News, The Independent, the Portsmouth Daily Times and the Columbus Dispatch.
Ed Staats, former bureau chief for the AP in Kentucky who hired Alford from The Independent, complimented Alford on his unique reporting style.
“His quiet and methodical professional approach to assignments just gave me confidence he would be able to handle any story that came long,” he said.
Alford has covered many interesting and important news events while working in Kentucky. During his time at The Independent, he covered the 1993 school shootings at East Carter High School, where a gunman shot and killed his teacher and a janitor and held a class hostage.
The trial of the shooter, Gary Scott Pennington, was moved to Johnson County, where Alford recalls spending many nights in the Carriage House hotel while covering the proceedings. Pennington was convicted of murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.
While in Pikeville, Alford was a man of many hats, covering features, politics and government. He was responsible for much of the coal-based coverage around the time of an explosion in Harlan County, which led to state legislation stiffening safety regulations for coal companies in the area.
As the AP faced across-the-board cutbacks, much like the rest of the journalism industry, it was forced to close bureaus and lay off many, leading to the closure of the Pikeville location, which was historically known as the smallest host town in the world for an AP bureau.
He then transitioned into political coverage for AP in Frankfort, his last destination, with some of his best coverage including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s rise from near obscurity to becoming a household name.
But as the end of his news career tapers off, he said he knows he will miss reporting.
“I’m certain that I’ll miss journalism. After 30 years, it’s definitely in the blood, but that said, I’m certain that what I’m doing in my new role will be just as, if not more, fulfilling,” he said.
Alford said he looks forward to advocating his mission as a Christian in promoting God’s word in his new line of work.
Staats said, though it is unfortunate to lose a writer like Alford, it is understandable he would explore a different avenue of work.
“Unfortunately, a lot of journalists over a long period of time have the feeling it’s not a hospitable place to be forever,” he said. “The challenges of deadlines, long hours, working at night and limited compensation have caused them to take their skills, which I think are quite transferrable, and use them in other lines of work.”
Alford said his family is also fully supportive of his retirement decision.
“Here I am, this roughneck who has lived a rough life, who finally got things kind of together,” he said. “To have an opportunity to support Kentucky Baptist churches that are reaching out to a lost and dying world with the gospel of Jesus Christ is just thrilling.”
His daughter, Mary Alford, is a Morehead State University journalism student, and will begin her job as editor of the college newspaper, The Trail Blazer, in January.
Alford said he is honored to have his daughter follow in his footsteps and plans to offer her advice in her journey, regardless of where he works post-retirement.
Now at the end of his journalism career, Alford said he has accomplished what he believes is the most important goal of any good reporter.
“What I thought to do was serve the readers with the best information that I could provide, with the most balanced and fair report. And I feel like that’s something I have been able to achieve,” he said.
As Alford prepares to leave the AP, he assured he maintains a favorable view of the news organization, as he recalled his favorite Mark Twain quote that hangs on the wall in the Frankfort bureau:
“There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe ... the sun in the heavens and The Associated Press down here.”
LANA BELLAMY can be reached at email@example.com or (606)326-2653.