Crafting the column
December 4-10, 2017
The Daily Record’s Jay Edwards looks back on career
By Becca Bona
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~ Thomas Mann | Tell all the truth but tell it slant. ~ Emily Dickinson
Born in Little Rock, Ark., at St. Vincent Hospital like most people in those days, Jay Edwards did not come into the world with pen and ink in hand, although those who know him now might be surprised to hear that.
After nearly a fifteen-year span with the Daily Record, Edwards looks back on a jam-packed career with one word, “Golly.”
Before the newspaper was on his roadmap, Edwards left the Natural State at a young age when his family moved to Sioux City, Iowa. His father acquired an insurance company that prompted the move, which later spurred a second move to Oklahoma City.
“I think my mom finally said, “Take me back to Arkansas or lose me forever,” and so that’s what happened,” Edwards remembered, “I’m glad we came back, if I hadn’t who knows what my life would be … plus, I’d be a Hawkeye, oh my gosh.”
Settling back into the swing of things in North Little Rock didn’t take long. Soon he enrolled at Catholic High School for Boys, and was told that writing might be his calling.
“Father Tribou called me to his office, which scared the heck out of me, because the only time he called me in, I was in trouble,” said Edwards. This time, however, Father wanted to congratulate him on a particularly well-written theme.
“He said it was funny and told me then he thought I ought to look in to writing,” Edwards remembered.
Instead, he chose what seemed to be the practical route after attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “I did not get a degree … I kept changing my major,” he said. Twelve hours short of finishing up and newly engaged, he decided it was time to find a job, degree or not.
Thanks to a connection his father had in the insurance business, Edwards landed a job with Worthen First Mortgage. But the company struggled and there was a large lay-off before he had a chance to get his feet wet.
Thankfully his fiancé, Kathy Althoff, had a connection at T.J. Raney & Sons, which would become his employer for ten years. And, at 23, he was learning valuable lessons on the job.
“You [went] through periods in the bond business where it was easy and then it was suddenly really, really hard. It taught me not to take anything for granted and that anything could change,” he said.
Selling on the telephone wasn’t really his style, but he powered through. “People were buying a lot of bonds back then, and it was such a quality place to work […] it was like stepping back in time. I feel very fortunate to have been able to go through something like that,” he said.
For a change of scenery, he and his growing family moved to Fayetteville. Shortly after, he decided he wanted to go back to school, the idea of getting a doctorate in English dancing in his head. Maybe it was the appeal of having summers off – or the reassurance that it ran in the family, as his grandfather, Dr. Matt Ellis, had been a philosophy professor at Hendrix.
Either way he set out to pursue it, as he said, laughing, “I thought I’d look good in tweed and I figured I could learn to smoke a pipe.”
He didn’t quite get the chance to keep pursuing that particular path, however, as his wife, echoing his mother from years past, grew tired of being away from Little Rock. So the family returned home.
After the move, Edwards found himself in real estate, selling for a few years before realizing that that particular business wasn’t his cup of tea, either. He went back to work for a bank when he stumbled upon an opportunity in the most unlikely of places – his golf game.
“I love to play golf,” he said, “Most of the guys I played with were lawyers back then – I’d been playing golf with Judge Randy Morley since we were ten years old.”
That was when Edwards reconnected with Mark Nichols, one of the co-owners of the Daily Record. Someone was needed to help grow and manage the paper’s affiliates – which included the Little Rock Realtors Association, the Benton/Bryant Realtors Association and the Pulaski County Bar Association, at the time.
As Director of Marketing, he wasn’t initially writing or editing the paper, but instead out and about, working as “the face for the affiliates.”
Shortly after signing on, he was able to help bring the Faulkner County Board of Realtors and North Pulaski Board of Realtors on as an affiliate. Years later, UA Little Rock Alumni Association would sign on, as well. While these big moves took serious planning, good leadership, and perfect timing, it was the slow changes to the editorial side of things about which Edwards likes to reminisce.
“I wanted to write. I thought to myself, this is a newspaper and I’m going to write something and see if they’ll run it,” he remembered. And they did – all 1200 words of the precursor to his later widely read “Are We There Yet,” column.
Before he knew it, he was out interviewing and writing profiles on various affiliate members and eventually the Central Arkansas community at large, something that initially made him extremely nervous.
“The first Realtor I ever profiled was Sarah Sikes. She was the Realtor of the Year for what was back then known as the Benton/Bryant Realtors Association – now known as South Central Arkansas Realtors Association,” he recalled. “Everything I’d ever written before was focused themes or random thoughts, but this was something someone was telling me. I was going to have to make sense of it and make it flow and thankfully it all just came together and worked.”
That marked a pivotal moment for Edwards. Interviews became the norm, and he got to know the different organizations, their leaders, and members at large. “I’ll take away a lot of good friendships […] I enjoyed all the affiliates and the people in their organizations,” he said. And while Edwards has never met a stranger out on the job, writing was what truly stoked him.
Every week he’d come back to his column, often unsure of what to write. Edgy, dark, witty and funny, Edwards continually honed in on a style all his own. Looking back, it was probably one of his favorite parts of the job.
“Nothing jazzed me or put me into the zone as when I was writing something, and it was usually in my column. I would lose track of time, or start out and have no idea what I was going to say and often the process would lead me to something totally different,” he said. It was when he wrote something he knew would move people that he knew he’d nailed it.
Listing the changes that occurred to the paper over the years Edwards was involved could fill its own story. Notably, the Daily Record went from publishing five days a week, to four, to two, and finally down to one. When he started out, there was no color to speak of, and the content was very dry.
Eventually, he would don the title of editor-in-chief of the Daily Record as well as the Hamilton County Herald, the then-sister publication located in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was also able to hire editorial staff to keep things running smoothly.
He credits this growth to the paper’s leadership, as he said, “I was able to write and hire people because this paper was successful. We had leadership that knew how to make money. […] The model they came up with worked, and it allowed the owners to pay people so we were able to improve our quality.”
He’s particularly fond of those hires he made along the way including: Danielle Del Sol, Amber Davis, Rebecca Brockman, Becca Bona, and Molly Rector.
“They had some of the same gifts, but were all different in their own ways. […] They made it a lot of fun for me. I liked being in that role of showing them how to do different things. I think it’s important for young people to be in the community to learn how to conduct themselves,” he said. “I feel very lucky to have had them come into my life and they made it fun for me.”
Over fourteen years, he went from marketing to writing to editing, and eventually to publishing. He is the first to say that the paper’s success has always been a team effort, but he worked hard himself to keep his part of the ship steady.
“The paper consistently began to win awards with the Arkansas Press Association,” he said, “If it happened once or twice I’d say well, we got lucky, but it happened year in and year out, so I know we were putting out a very good product. And there were also national awards. We were fortunate years ago to hire a wonderful designer/pagination person in Karen Dunphy and I think the product now is better than it’s ever been. I love the new redesign – I credit Bobby Burton for a lot of his work on that.”
Saying goodbye is bittersweet, as he said, “There are seasons in life, and this is the right time for all parties.” Changing venues doesn’t change the man, and we will all be hopefully waiting for Edwards’ book to hit the shelves in the future.
Until then keep up with the Daily Record as we continually shape the legacy Jay Edwards graciously molded and left behind.