Meet the Staff: John Henson

Published 8:52 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

Driving by the Harlan Daily Enterprise offices as a child with his dad is John Henson’s first recollection of wanting to be a journalist.

“We’d pass by the office downtown after a game at Harlan High School or after a movie at the Margie Grand and I remember thinking (former Enterprise sports writers) Chris Jones and Dennis Pollitte had to have the coolest jobs around,” said Henson, who started his journalism career at Cawood High School as a member of the Sword and Shield staff before going on to earn a degree in journalism at Eastern Kentucky University.

His Enterprise journey began in 1985 when he was hired by former editor Ewell Balltrip as a sports reporter.

“It was a great time to be a reporter when I had people like Ewell, Hoss Davis, Ed Gibson and Jeff Phillips to learn from,” Henson said. “Soon after that, Lisa Fee (Lamb) and Mark Bell joined Jeff and I as reporters. We had a tremendous newsroom in those early years and did some very good work.”

Phillips eventually became managing editor, then Lamb and then Henson in 1996, a position he held for 15 years. The Enterprise won multiple Kentucky Press Association honors as the best small daily newspaper in Kentucky during those years and sent several of its best reporters on to larger newspapers or other media organizations.

“I was managing editor for quite a number of years but I never gave up sports writing, even though we had several tremendous sports editors during that time, from Jeff Drummond to O.J. Stapleton to Jarrod Sherman to John Middleton,” Henson said. “Covering sports has always been my favorite part of journalism, but I eventually grew to enjoy writing editorials and news columns and dealing with issues important to Harlan County. Writing a regular column in those years really helped me focus on my priorities and it soon became obvious to me that pushing a Democrat or Republican agenda was never the answer. It always came down to what was best for Harlan County and Harlan Countians.”

When he briefly left the Enterprise in 2011, Henson found a new career in education. He earned a teaching certificate from the Kentucky Department of Education through the exceptional experience program and has worked at Harlan County High School since 2012. He eventually returned to the Enterprise as sports editor, his original job, while continuing to teach.

“It’s been a tremendous and rewarding experience to be able to work with high school students and watch them progress and grow as writers and journalists,” he said.

Henson started a regular student column titled Teen Corner on the editorial page of the Harlan Daily Enterprise, featuring a student’s work each week as part of a creative writing assignment for his classes at HCHS. Students have also written front page and sports stories and produced numerous photographs that have been published in the Enterprise, as well as in Bear Tracks, an online school newspaper at the high school.

Henson and his wife, Kim, live in Teetersville. His oldest daughter, Samantha, 23, graduated from the University of Kentucky last spring and is in the physical therapy program at UK. Madelynn, 19, graduated from Harlan County High School last spring and is scheduled to graduate from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College next month with an associate degree before moving on to Eastern Kentucky University.

While there have been many changes in the newspaper industry since he began, Henson still enjoys his work with the Enterprise.

“I don’t know if everyone likes what they do much as I do. It’s still the coolest job around to me,” he said.