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Local reporter reflects on covering JFK assassination - KOAM TV 7

Local reporter reflects on covering JFK assassination

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Larry Hiatt, along with thousands of other reporters, collectively shared what many in the public needed to know, but didn't want to believe.

It was a usual day by many standards.  President John F. Kennedy was in Dallas for a campaign stop.

"It's not very often that little local newspapers run a national story," says Hiatt.

72-year-old Hiatt, owner of the Columbus News Reporter newspaper, was 22-years-old on November 22, 1963.  He was a reporter for an afternoon newspaper in Derby, Kansas, near Wichita.

The local news for the day had been written and sent to the printer, without one mention of President Kennedy's visit to Dallas.

Then, at around noon, "The AP machine was ringing.  And it never stopped ringing until 3 o'clock.  Usually, five bells was the most cataclysmic thing you could have," remembers Hiatt.

People's feelings across the country, in small towns or not, echoed something was wrong.

"I couldn't believe it.  You just didn't want to believe anything like that," says Glen Callow, a 93-year-old resident of Columbus, KS.

It was just easy to like him, because he just had a way about him," says Eleanor Mae Hall, a 91-year-old Columbus resident.

News of President Kennedy being declared dead reached Hiatt before the 2 o'clock PM deadline to reprint the Derby Daily Reporter.

"It was kind of an eerie silence around the building when it was finished.  And I always kind of thought that was maybe the adrenaline coming down.  The relief that we had gotten out, that we had done our job, and now we had a chance to think about it," says Hiatt.

The death was front page.  The newspaper's circulation increased by 7,000.

"Even in Derby, Kansas, we were part of history because that paper is still there.  You can still go get it, and you can still read those stories and see the work that we did 50 years later," says Hiatt.

Though many years have past, Hiatt believes history itself is still coming to grips with what happened.

Hiatt believes the reason why there are so many conspiracy theories about what happened is because many Americans didn't think one guy could've done it.

"It had just not been something we had dealt with," says Hiatt.

Hiatt points out that many of the documentaries on President Kennedy's assassination are backed by what was reported by journalists.  Click the associated video to hear Hiatt talk about the important role and duty journalists have when covering any type of story.

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