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Slayton: Kendall Wild Remembrance

For the past week, newspapers, websites, and the airwaves have had remembrances of a man unfamiliar to many contemporary Vermonters – even many of today’s journalists.

And that’s unfortunate, because that man probably did more to shape Vermont journalism than anyone living today. His name was Kendall Wild, and for more than 40 years he was the vital driving force of the Rutland Herald.

He was managing editor of The Herald in the 60s and 70s, and later was the paper’s editorial page editor. In each of those roles, he raised the standard of journalistic excellence. One writer has said Kendall turned the press corps “from lap dog to attack dog,” and that seems about right.

He did it in the simplest, most direct way possible: he asked tough questions of public officials, dug for the facts, wrote the news without fear or favor of anyone – and he trained a generation of young journalists to do the same.

State House news used to be covered by a single bureau that served both the Rutland Herald and the larger Burlington Free Press. No competition there. But in 1965, Kendall had had enough of that situation and created the Herald’s own three-person bureau, the Vermont Press Bureau. Competition increased, and so did the quality and depth of coverage of State House issues.

He later sent reporters out during the political season to spend the entire day with each of the major state candidates, then ran long stories about what the candidates actually did and said, rather than relying on press releases and set speeches. Sometimes it was overkill, but in the long run, it again raised the level of news coverage, and established the Rutland Herald as the paper of record in Vermont in those days.

I worked for Kendall, along with a score of other, better reporters, and it was exhilarating – fun, and more than a little scary, because you knew that if you filed a second-rate story you’d hear about it from Kendall, and it wouldn’t be pretty. But if you did a good job, he’d usually let you know about that, too. And praise from Kendall would make any young reporter’s day.

Kendall never married, so he had no children. But when he retired, a bunch of the now middle-aged journalists he had trained, threw a party for him and gave him an engraved cup that said: “Kendall Wild, Father of a Generation of Journalists.” The cup was just a token. The real accomplishment was Kendall’s lasting legacy.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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