Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame to induct CJ reporter Deborah Yetter
Courier Journal reporter Deborah Yetter sat in a Norton Healthcare waiting room Wednesday morning, ready for a doctor to remove a half-inch splinter from her right middle finger.
“Bored” while waiting, she started scrolling through Twitter. That’s when she saw an announcement from the University of Kentucky stating she was one of eight reporters chosen for 2022 induction into the Journalism Hall of Fame.
Her first thought, she said, was, “What?!”
She read through the announcement to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.
“I had no idea. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated,” said Yetter, who first joined The Louisville Times in April 1984. “I’m not sure who nominated me, but I appreciate it.”
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The University of Louisville and Northwestern graduate is joined by Paducah’s Jerry Brewer, Lexington’s Stuart Warner, Bowling Green’s John B. Gaines and others in the 2022 class of eight. They will be inducted later this year, UK said.
Yetter has covered child welfare, human services, health policy, state government and COVID-19 during her decades-long career.
When asked what coverage she thinks encapsulates her legacy in Kentucky, Yetter pointed to her coverage of child abuse and neglect in the state.
“That really didn’t get a lot of attention in Kentucky and, for one reason, because it was so darn hard to get the information. Everything was confidential,” Yetter said.
Crediting Courier Journal lawyers, she added: “We scored a huge success when we won” a seven-year legal battle that granted her access to the state’s records of children who die or are seriously harmed from abuse or neglect.
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“Aided with that information, I think we were able to plow a lot of ground in that area and bring to light a lot of what was going on in Kentucky.”
2019 coverage told the heart-wrenching stories of Kentucky’s tortured children, pointing out Kentucky’s terrible ranking at the time as the state with the worst rate of child abuse and neglect.
“What Debby presented in that series on child abuse was both tragic and revelatory. It painted a grim picture of what was happening to Kentucky’s children, and it forced people to take notice,” said Courier Journal Senior Local News Editor Rob Byers, Yetter’s direct editor on the project.
“There is no one in Kentucky journalism today who deserves this recognition more than Debby. She is the epitome of journalistic excellence and sets a high bar for anyone covering children’s issues in the state of Kentucky,” said Gannett Midwest Regional Editor and Courier Journal Executive Publisher Mary Irby-Jones. “The Courier is fortunate to have a reporter with Debby’s experience and community advocacy on our staff.”
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Former colleagues praised her for her professionalism and dedication to reporting the truth fearlessly.
Stephenie Hoelscher, a Courier Journal reporter from 2007 to 2011, said it was so valuable as a woman journalist to see Yetter in action.
“When I was covering Frankfort — young, woman, not a lot of us — she was such an inspiration because she wasn’t scared of these guys,” Hoelscher told The Courier Journal. “Ella She just was n’t afraid. Ella She was there to do a job.”
Hoelscher, describing Yetter as a “consummate professional,” said “some of these guys would be really awful…They’d say awful things. And she just, she would just let it roll.”
“She just was focused on the story and would ask the questions and no matter what… mean-spirited comment came at her, she just kept going.”
Tom Loftus, who retired from The Courier Journal in 2019 after a 43-year career, said the honor for his former colleague is “well deserved, even overdue.”
Loftus, who is also in the Hall of Fame and the former Frankfort bureau chief, started the same year as Yetter, but said it was a few years before they really got to know each other.
I have noticed “her interest in covering issues related to needy people,” he said, and she took it upon herself to understand complicated policies surrounding health care, Medicaid, food stamps and more.
There are “no turf issues” with Yetter, Loftus said, praising her for her ability and willingness to work with whomever is needed to get coverage out there for the public.
“She has consistently for decades now made that …health and welfare area her own and is just absolutely first rate at covering it,” said Loftus, adding: “Debby has been just a rock. She’s been … as good a reporter as has worked in Kentucky over the last few decades.”
Reach health reporter Sarah Ladd at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ladd_sarah.