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From AJR,   September 1992  issue

Clinton's Hometown Editor   


By Toula Vlahou
Toula Vlahou is a New York-based freelancer.     

Newspaper editor John Miller has been so busy telling other reporters about Bill Clinton that he's had to delay his own stories about the Democratic presidential nominee – who happens to be from his hometown.

As managing editor of the Hope Star, a 5,000-circulation daily in Hope, Arkansas, Miller has become one of the chief media sources for reporters visiting the town. He has swapped business cards with print and television reporters from across the United States and Europe seeking details such as who was the first girl Clinton kissed and what kind of trouble he got into as a youngster.

Miller did not have all the answers, even though Clinton's boyhood home is less than a block from the office. So he went digging.

"It's professional courtesy," he says. "This is information I need anyway." Miller now gives visiting journalists a package, complete with quotes from boyhood friends of the Arkansas governor, who left Hope at age seven. But that's not enough for everyone. Recently, Miller took a New York Times reporter on a four-hour tour of Hope.

So one of the more obvious stories for his own paper – the media onslaught of Hope – remains on his assignment sheet. "I kind of have to resign myself to the fact that we can't get everything we want done," Miller says. "We have to focus on what is going on in town."

Stories more pressing than Clinton's campaign include football camp, the opening of a new school and the annual watermelon festival, which draws up to 75,000 people.

"We missed deadlines more often due to other reporters," says the Star's only reporter, Daniel Marsh.

Still, the paper did pull off a coup in July when Clinton, who was visiting relatives in town, gave the Star an exclusive interview at the paper's office.

Miller, 36, has spent half of his 12 years in journalism at the Star, working in various capacities, such as society editor, photographer and sports editor. Since becoming managing editor last year, Marsh says, Miller has told the staff of the five-day-a-week paper that he believes in "rock-'n'-roll journalism" and despite its small size, he wants the paper to "kick ass and take names."

While the Star's five-member editorial staff accommodates every journalist who drops by, Miller says he has concerns about whether the town is prepared for all its new visitors, who bring with them their generalizations about rural Arkansas.

"Some in the media think we're backwoods hicks who don't understand what is going on. That we don't wear shoes, sit in the front porch with shotguns in our hands and a still in the back," he says. "We may be low-key people and we're not in the fast lane, but we're not stupid."

Miller is enjoying Hope's celebrity status but fears for the future. "We've been so ignored by the world for so long, it's fun," he says. "But it's going to get tiresome. Everybody will want to return to their daily life."

That might not be any time soon, however, given Clinton's closing remarks at the Democratic convention. In wrapping up his speech, Clinton invited anyone who wanted to see what he's done in Arkansas to "come on down." Since his remarks, the state's tourism department has been swamped with calls from people all over the country who want to see Clinton's home state. Which locale has attracted the most interest? Hope.