Joan Barron: Hall of Fame Reporter

in Column/Dave Simpson

The easiest job I ever had in newspapers was editing news stories written by longtime Wyoming capitol reporter Joan Barron.

That was back in the early 1980s, when I was state editor for the Casper Star-Tribune.

Talk about a sweet deal. Not long after I got to work in the morning, Joan (pronounced Jo ANN) would submit a list of stories she would be writing that day. There were always four, maybe five stories, about all kinds of things going on at the state capitol. After lunch, her stories would start arriving, and they would keep arriving all afternoon.

While being state editor involved some heavy duty pick and shovel work for a number of the 25 correspondents spread out all over Wyoming – part-timers with varying levels of writing talent, paid by the inch –  Joan was full-time, and a real professional. Her copy was clean as a whistle.

(Conversely, one of our far-flung correspondents once submitted a story with this lead: “It was an island, completely surrounded by water.”)

If you asked Joan to cover a story late in the day, she never complained, and always got right to work and had something for you on deadline. It usually ended up on the front page. That’s how good she was.

She was the Star-Tribune’s capitol reporter for an amazing 45 years, covering legislative sessions, committee meetings, state government issues, and the administrations of six Wyoming governors. (Ed Herschler called her “Snoopy.”) She retired in 2014 at the age of 85, and continues to write a weekly column for the Star-Tribune. If you want to understand state government issues in Wyoming, read Joan’s Sunday columns.

Simply put, she was the best reporter I ever worked with in over four decades in the newspaper business. And she never editorialized.

So, it’s great news that this weekend, in Casper, Joan is being inducted into the Wyoming Press Association Hall of Fame, at the group’s annual convention. She is the first inductee who worked an entire career as a reporter. The other 28 inductees, named since the Hall of Fame started in 2003, are publishers, editors, advertising executives, an author, and two former directors of the press association.

Joan started out as a part-time correspondent for the Star-Tribune in Rock Springs in 1966, a job that allowed her to take care of her young son and daughter. In 1969, she became a full-time capitol reporter in Cheyenne, and remained in that job for the next 45 years.

While she had opportunities to move into editing positions, “I never wanted to,” she told me. “I was holding my breath that nobody would say I had to.”

When she retired in 2014, she told an interviewer she was perfectly happy to be an observer of the news, and report on it.

“The fly on the wall,” she said. “That’s me.”

For a time in the 1980s, editors and reporters from Casper would come to Cheyenne to help cover the legislative sessions. Joan was busy working on a story one day, so I filled in for her at a news conference held by Gov. Herschler.

I noticed that the governor kept delaying the start of the news conference and looking out at the gathering of reporters. It finally occurred to me that he was looking for Joan, so I raised my hand and said that I would be covering the news conference for the Star-Tribune. I could tell he wasn’t pleased to be dealing with the junior varsity. That’s the kind of trust and respect he had for Joan.

Dan Neal, former editor of the Star-Tribune, said Joan “knew people in offices throughout state government. People trusted and respected her reporting. Those relationships are built over time. The institutional memory she compiled over many, many years is invaluable. We’ll be lucky if we ever see it again in Wyoming.”

Rob Hurless, former publisher of the Star-Tribune, agreed.

“With her long career, I think it is safe to say that she probably has been read by three generations in the same family trees across Wyoming,” Hurless said. “What an amazing contribution, and legacy. Her recognition for literally decades of service is wonderfully deserved.”

The induction ceremony in Casper this week is serving as sort of a reunion for Star-Tribune veterans from over the years. Some are coming from as far away as California, North Carolina and Tennessee to honor Joan. I can’t think of a single Star-Tribune alum who isn’t delighted to see her inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The only question in the minds of many Star-Tribuners:

What took them so long?

Dave Simpson began his journalism career at the Laramie Boomerang in
1973. He has worked as a reporter, editor, publisher and columnist at
newspapers in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska. He lives in
Cheyenne.

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