The late 1960s was a volatile time in U.S. history--and a perfect breeding ground for journalists. But before William E.N. Hawkins was ready to document this history, he participated in it.
Recently named executive editor at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, Hawkins, 61, was once an Army intelligence officer in Vietnam, where he was involved with base security and gathering information about the whereabouts of enemy troops.
Vietnam was "one of the greatest news events of my lifetime," he says. "We were just witnessing such a huge story that I couldn't imagine being a bystander all my life." So after two years in the military, Hawkins embarked on a journalism career that has lasted more than 35 years.
Hawkins joined the 99,000-circulation Post and Courier in March after 17 years as executive editor at the Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina. Hawkins was among 80 staffers let go in January after Paxton Media Group acquired the paper from family ownership.
The new editor offers few details about what he plans to do in Charleston, saying he wants to concentrate first on getting to know the staff and the community.
Hawkins, whose father was an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, edited his high school newspaper and interned with a newspaper during his summer breaks from Cornell University. After Vietnam, he reported for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and then reported and edited for the now-defunct Evening Sun in Baltimore before taking the helm in Durham.
Hawkins has an "intrinsic sense" of the essence of a story, says David Folkenflik, who worked for Hawkins at the Herald-Sun and now covers the media for National Public Radio. "He really conveyed excitement about journalism. It was something that animated him every day."
Ellen Shearer, assistant dean and professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism's Washington program, says, "I think the thing Bill is probably best known for is an incredible commitment to digging for the truth.. He'd see stories other people would miss." Shearer and Hawkins were rivals covering the Maryland Statehouse about 25 years ago.
Though he's been an editor for years, Hawkins' first love is reporting. Sometimes when his reporters were working on a big story, it seemed as if Hawkins were jealous of them, says Bill Stagg, who was metro editor and then managing editor at the Herald-Sun during Hawkins' stint there.
As for what's ahead for the Post and Courier, "My guess is that he'll bring his same sense of energy and enthusiasm for what journalism is and can be," Folkenflik says. "He just has a kind of metabolism and energy and a competitive sense that I think is good for any paper."