Pulitzer winner calls Alabaster home

Published 3:25 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2012

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The first words Alabaster resident Ken Retherford wrote in a newspaper were captions to the photos he had taken as a 17-year-old. A few years later, his work helped bring the paper a Pulitzer Prize.


Retherford, 70, started his career at The Panama City (Fla.) News-Herald after he graduated from high school. He worked his way from staff photographer to police reporter, and then to city and county government reporter.

He held the titles of state editor, city editor and news editor before attending the University of Alabama, where he graduated in 1975 with a journalism degree. After graduation, Retherford returned to the News-Herald to serve as managing editor.

During his time as the paper’s police reporter, Retherford helped his superiors, Duke Newcome and Dave Chandler, uncover a string of corruption among Panama City’s government ranks.

Retherford said the scandal involved everything from government officials getting kickbacks on contracts to illegal prostitution and poker games. The writers’ three-year battle to uncover the corruption earned the paper the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

“I take very little credit for the Pulitzer. Duke was the man. He knew where all the bones were buried,” Retherford said, noting Newcome was a police officer when he came to work for the News-Herald. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Retherford helped the paper earn the Pulitzer Prize before he earned his college degree.

“The biggest thing has been the change in personnel,” Retherford said when asked how the newspaper industry has changed over the years. “One, maybe two people (at the newspaper) had a degree back then. Today, everybody does.”

After his time at the News-Herald, Retherford moved on to several other newspapers, including The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and The Decatur Daily. He has served nearly every role in the newsroom.

After retiring from The Decatur Daily in 2006, Retherford moved to Alabaster to be near family members.

Today, Retherford reminisces on a bygone era when most newspaper reporters “had a fifth of whiskey in their drawers” and when classifieds advertised a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house on a lake for $1,500.

“It was an interesting time in the business,” Retherford said. “I can’t remember a day when I wasn’t anxious to go to the office and reluctant to go home.”