By: John Hawks
Gene and Judy Clabes are married to the newspaper business, as
well as to each other, and they wouldn’t have it any other way sp
THROUGH 30 YEARS of marriage and newspapering, Gene and Judy Clabes have broken the mold for dual-career couples.
“We’re married to the newspaper business, as well as to each other,” Gene says. “We see being married together as a plus. In fact, given the demands of our line of work, how could anyone live with a spouse who’s not involved in journalism?”
Through their careers, the Clabes have redefined the rules for working together.
Today, Judy is editor of the Kentucky Post in Covington, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, Gene is editor and publisher of the Recorder newspapers, three weeklies that cover Kenton, Boone and Campbell counties in Kentucky ? in the same region served by the Post.
As reporters and editors working for the same or competing newspapers, Gene and Judy have changed many minds about the dangers of nepotism.
“Many of these concerns are washed away if both people are capable and competent,” Gene observed. “Everyone thought of us as journalists first and as a couple second.”
“Some couples can handle it, and some can’t,” Judy says. “It’s not a one-way street. When they can’t handle it, it can cause nightmares. In the end, there’s no substitute for competence.”
Though the Clabes grew up in the small town of Henderson, Ky. ? he attended the county high school, while she went to the city high school ? they did not cross paths until they were sophomore journalism students at the University of Kentucky.
“We met in typical Southern fashion, while cruising the Dairy Queen,” Gene recalled.
Married after their junior year, they worked at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald and the Kentucky Kernel, the school newspaper.
“We were out to save the world,” Judy said. “Journalism in the 1960s meant that to us.”
“Our courses at Kentucky gave us a great passion for journalism,” Gene said. “We had lots of ’60s passions. We had the audacity, for example, to write about the low numbers of blacks attending the university during our time. That really shook things up. It was a special time for two kids from Henderson.”
After graduation, Gene began working for the the Evansville (Ind.) Courier as the education reporter.
Unable to find a newspaper job, Judy turned to high school teaching.
“Women at the time were expected to become teachers or nurses, so my dad had insisted that I get my teaching certificate in college,” she said. “On the bright side, while I faced rules against nepotism, I never felt opportunities were denied me as a woman.”
Judy replaced Gene as education reporter for six months while he served in the National Guard.
“I felt like Rosie the Riveter,” she joked. “Kids today talk about career paths. We just sort of lucked along.”
Following the birth of their first son, Joe, in 1970, Judy launched the Newspaper in Education program at the Evansville papers. After teaching school one more year, she joined the Evansville Press, where she worked on the editorial page and in community affairs.
“Now we were breaking ground and turning heads because Gene was then the chief government reporter and they had decided to hire his spouse,” Judy said.
As working journalists married to each other, the Clabes felt the responsibility of setting a professional example.
Judy remembered, “We were on the cutting edge, writing new rules and taking care of the kids” ? Joe and the Clabes’ second son, Jake. “We tried to live by the idea that we couldn’t expect our company to accommodate our personal lives to every extent.”
While Judy soon embraced more editorial assignments than community promotions ? she became associate editor with her own column in the early ’70s ? Gene began to yearn for greener pastures.
“I just got tired of budget hearings,” he recalled.
He resigned as a reporter to establish a horse farm. He dabbled in real estate until 1978, when he returned as a guest columnist. Later, he became city editor.
By that time, Judy had been named editor of the Evansville Sunday Courier & Press, and the question of nepotism arose again.
“Scripps Howard executives told us that both of us would have trouble advancing further,” Gene says.
While Gene opted to return to racing and training horses, Judy won the editor’s job at the Kentucky Post. Later, with the help of investors, Gene purchased the three weeklies.
As newspaper managers, the Clabes believe that their experiences as a dual-career couple in journalism have helped them in dealing with the increasing family demands of their staffers.
“Newsrooms are unlike any other work environment,” Judy observed. “We should always advocate a humane workplace, where creative people can co-exist and reach their goals. That means policies like paid maternity leave and child sick-leave days.
“However, sometimes I have less patience because of my experience in the ways working couples should behave. I don’t like abuses of privilege, because we didn’t rely on them.”
Gene said, “Even at our small weeklies, I try to offer flex time and other family-oriented benefits, and I find that our employees help to moderate against excesses. As my wife likes to say, it’s not men against women ? it’s us against the jerks.”
Judy took their experiences nationwide when she helped to establish the human resources committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In its first meeting, the committee debated the obstacles facing married journalists who work together.
How have their sons been affected by having editors for parents?
“On the one hand, they had to deal with Mom and Dad in very visible jobs,” Judy said. “I even wrote about them in my column.”
But, Gene says, “they benefitted in other ways ? like travel opportunities. For example, Jake went with me to visit the offices of the New York Times when Judy had a meeting there.”
Currently, Joe and Jake aren’t planning to follow in their parents’ footsteps.
While the Clabes may see some issues differently ? their newspapers have been known to endorse opposing political candidates ? they come down squarely on the side of newspapers playing active roles in community development.
“Nothing else does for communities what newspapers do,” Judy declared. “Newspapers create a sense of community. All of us need a reference point for discussion, somewhere to find common ground. The information superhighway won’t do that.”
“Arrogance is the real Achilles’ heel of our business, when we comment but don’t participate,” Gene says. “I should be willing to do what I’m telling others to do.”
Do editors risk conflicts of interest if they become too immersed in community projects?
“I think you can carry conflicts of interest to the extreme,” Judy observed. “Anyone who doesn’t like what I do can come in and talk to me about it. As editors, we have to be ready to look that friend or fellow Rotary member in the eyes and say, ‘I’m sorry ? you’re wrong.’ We cannot be insulated.”
Since their newspapers cross paths, do the Clabes consider themselves competitors?
“We like to beat the Post, and we get mad when they scoop us,” Gene admitted. “But we’ve stayed married for 30 years because we’ve established certain ground rules. While we may discuss current events over dinner at home, we never talk about news operations or personnel.”
Judy says, “Having a lifelong relationship with another person is the most important thing in the world. Our relationship transcends the business. I expect to be married to Gene Clabes long after I’m not editor of the Kentucky Post.”
?( Hawks is a principal in Hawks Communications, Lexington, Ky) [Caption.]
?(We see being married together as a plus. In fact, given the demands of our line of work, how could anyone live with a spouse who’s not involved in journalism?” ) [Caption]
?( -Gene Clabes, pictured above with wife, Judy, in a 1992 photo) [Photo]