TOM DAVIS: Losing Justin Kenny will hurt News-Sentinel.com, but it’ll hurt me more

A framed photo shows News-Sentinel.com employees Tom Davis (second from left) and Justin Kenny (back row, far right) posing during a photo of the Peru Tribune staff earlier in their careers. The two have worked together for 12 years at three different newspapers and now a web site. Kenny's last day at News-Sentinel.com was Wednesday. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Vietnam and Iraq war veteran Dewey Price discusses his service with News-Sentinel Multimedia Editor Justin Kenny. - For Honor Flight series (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
News-Sentinel.com Multimedia Editor Justin Kenny awards Homestead's Jiya Wright with a plaque for being named the 2017 News- Sentinel Prep Football Player of the Year.
Vietnam and Iraq war veteran Dewey Price discusses his service with News-Sentinel Multimedia Editor Justin Kenny. - For Honor Flight series (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)

“Two days from now, I have no idea who in the Hell I’ll call with this question.”

Those were my first words to fellow News-Sentinel.com employee Justin Kenny when I called him with a journalistic dilemma Tuesday, and they capture my feelings as I deal with the fact that as of today I won’t have Kenny on speed-dial as I have for over a decade.

Kenny announced recently that he was departing News-Sentinel.com for a marketing position with Optimum Performance Sports and Wednesday was his final day as a teammate of mine, which – and this is not hyperbole – is an incredibly distressing day for me both professionally and personally.

In the newspaper industry, fellow employees come and go with some degree of regularity, but in the case of The News-Sentinel, now News-Sentinel.com, a departure is far less frequent than at most.

This business has evolved through time as a place to lay professional roots.

My desk is surrounded by three guys (Kevin Leininger, Reggie Hayes, and Blake Sebring) that possess over a century of professional experience and that is often a comforting situation to find myself in.

In the case of Kenny, however, his leaving my professional world will not be reassuring in any way, not just because I am losing a resource of knowledge and experience, but more so because he and I are paralleled souls, who have endured a truly unique set of professional and personal moments since first meeting and those dizzying moments have forged an unbreakable bond.

Kenny and I first met when, as managing editor of the Peru Tribune, I hired him as a sports reporter fresh out of then-IPFW.

During his time in Peru, Justin did what he has ever since, which is used his great work ethic, coupled with a vast knowledge of sports and an ability to write, to produce tremendous content for the readership, which is precisely why when I later interviewed to lead the newsroom at The Herald-Press in Huntington, I told the publisher “I’m not coming without Justin Kenny as my sports editor.”

The trying time we spent together at The Herald-Press (even his wife, Wendy, got caught into the fray) left us figuratively battered, though not literally beaten. He and I (and Wendy) could live to 100 and we’ll always have the memories of The Herald-Press to reflect on in a head-shaking way.

He and I endured the public tumult of redesigning the paper (I took the American flag off of the masthead!) and the chaos of a massive sports story unfolding (Huntington University icon Steve Platt retired as men’s basketball coach), both of which happened before lunch on our first day.

All the while, the newsroom, filled with bitter, spiteful employees (three internal candidates were passed over for the editor position), fumed with anger at both of us.

Each eventually resigned (some before we arrived, others while we were unpacking, and the rest shortly thereafter), leaving Justin and I (and Wendy) to forge on unwavering in our conviction, which is what we have done with great success to this day.

Kenny earned an internal promotion and left me for awhile, but we reunited a couple of years later with The News-Sentinel and our relationship has morphed from “mentor teaching the pupil” to “pupil guides the mentor,” which is why the aforementioned phone call happens several times each week.

My affinity for Justin isn’t based solely on years passing, but internally I have beamed with pride as I have watched him evolve into an opinionated leader, who thrives with a creative thought process, to the seismic issues that plague our industry.

I smile when I read one of Justin’s (many) columns in which he will take a contrarian perspective, though he knows full well as he is typing the words that he will endure grief because of them.

At times, Kenny has become, whether he’ll admit to such or not, a younger Tom Davis. And because of his insight, at times, whether I’ll admit to such or not, I have become the 51-year-old version of Justin Kenny.

News-Sentinel.com is going to miss the contributions of Kenny to an unfathomable degree. His knowledge and professional network within this community, in terms of prep sports, is unmatched. I’ll miss all of that, as well. But mostly, I’ll just miss having Justin as a daily presence in my world.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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