As a young newspaperman, I met Jack Hill, a news anchor and investigative reporter for KAIT-TV, Channel 8, in Jonesboro. Hill was a fearless journalist who eventually was forced out of his job for reporting on corruption in an east Arkansas sheriff's office. A new management team at KAIT didn't like controversy.

Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas Press released a book titled "Reporting for Arkansas: The Documentary Films of Jack Hill." Authors Dale Carpenter and Robert Cochran point out that what seemed to be a major career setback for Hill turned out to be an opportunity. Hill founded the production company TeleVision for Arkansas and began producing documentaries.

According to the UA Press: "Although Hill brought an abiding interest in education and public health to this work from the beginning, he found his true calling in topics based in Arkansas history. Convinced that a greater acquaintance with the state's most significant historical events would nurture a greater sense of homegrown pride, Hill tirelessly crisscrossed the state to capture the voices of hundreds of Arkansans recalling chapters in the state's history, such as the oil boom in El Dorado and Smackover, the contributions of the Arkansas Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville during World War II, and the role of Rosenwald schools in expanding educational opportunities."

Carpenter understands documentaries. He has taught documentary filmmaking and broadcast journalism on the Fayetteville campus for more than two decades. His documentary films have been broadcast nationally on PBS and have garnered seven regional Emmy Awards. Cochran is a UA professor of English and directs the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. He's the author of several books on Arkansas culture.

"Reporting for Arkansas" is part of a series of books known as the Arkansas Character. The series is sponsored by the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies and the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. UA professor Larry Foley, who like Carpenter is an award-winning documentarian, believes Hill is a fitting subject for a book.

"Always a reporter, constantly driven to expose wrongdoing and relentless in his pursuit of the truth as he saw it, Jack Hill was an Arkansas original," Foley says.

"The book had its origins in a 2014-15 museum exhibit at the Old State House in Little Rock celebrating the state's role in Hollywood films," Cochran says. "Working on a chapter on documentary films for the exhibit catalog, Suzanne McCray and I kept hearing stories about Jack Hill. He had created an independent video production company 25 years earlier and produced close to 70 films over a two-decade period.

"Our most fruitful initial inquiries took place at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where Dale Carpenter and Larry Foley filled us in on Hill's career. Carpenter had been a cameraman--often the only cameraman--for at least half of Hill's films. The immediate result was a paragraph-length thumbnail bio in the exhibition's catalog. But by that time it was clear Hill's work deserved fuller treatment."

Carpenter loaned Cochran VHS copies of Hill's films and then agreed to be part of an effort to redistribute Hill's best work.

"Hill had two decades as an award-winning television journalist under his belt when, exiled from a cherished profession, he turned in midlife to documentary film, where he soon learned to make beautifully executed oral history interviews the core highlights of his productions," Cochran says.

Cochran and Carpenter write: "Jack Edward Hill was from start to finish a serious person, the only child of a war-hero father and a revered schoolteacher mother, raised from birth to mainstream ideals of service and excellence. Born in 1940, he wastes no time doing such parents proud. As a youth he wears many uniforms.

"In high school, he's president of his class, makes the National Honor Society, plays on a state championship basketball team and graduates with most-likely-to-succeed laurels in 1958. He stars in a local-hero-saves-child newspaper story for rescuing a child as a pool lifeguard the summer after his junior year at the University of Arkansas, where he serves as chaplain at his fraternity house and is initiated into the military student honor society in the ROTC program."

Hill, raised in Springdale, served two years in the U.S. Army in Germany. After earning a master's degree from the University of Missouri, he began work as a broadcaster in Denver, Dallas and Jackson, Miss., before being hired at KAIT.

"He's newly married, and he's ready to make a name," the authors write. "This doesn't take long. Hill becomes something of a star, an on-camera anchor with the dogged tenacity and fearlessness of an investigative reporter. Working with ace cameraman Ray Scales, the station's first African American employee, Hill produces pieces on slum housing, railroad crossing safety, corruption in the St. Francis County Sheriff's Office and white supremacist survivalists that win national-level awards.

"It is a glorious time--and people remember it. But then, a decade in, it all ends suddenly and ingloriously. On July 23, 1985, the big winner finds himself out of a job, axed not for insufficient but for excessive devotion to journalistic standards. He's 45 years old. For a decade he has worked for the largest station in a sprawling, mostly rural region's largest town. He's a company man."

Hill soon learns that there's life after broadcast journalism.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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Jack Hill’s journey

5 0 15
05.11.2022

As a young newspaperman, I met Jack Hill, a news anchor and investigative reporter for KAIT-TV, Channel 8, in Jonesboro. Hill was a fearless journalist who eventually was forced out of his job for reporting on corruption in an east Arkansas sheriff's office. A new management team at KAIT didn't like controversy.

Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas Press released a book titled "Reporting for Arkansas: The Documentary Films of Jack Hill." Authors Dale Carpenter and Robert Cochran point out that what seemed to be a major career setback for Hill turned out to be an opportunity. Hill founded the production company TeleVision for Arkansas and began producing documentaries.

According to the UA Press: "Although Hill brought an abiding interest in education and public health to this work from the beginning, he found his true calling in topics based in Arkansas history. Convinced that a greater acquaintance with the state's most significant historical events would nurture a greater sense of homegrown pride, Hill tirelessly crisscrossed the state to capture the voices of hundreds of Arkansans recalling chapters in the state's history, such as the oil boom in El Dorado and Smackover, the contributions of the Arkansas Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville during World War II, and the role of Rosenwald schools in expanding educational opportunities."

Carpenter understands documentaries. He has taught documentary........

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