More than just a boss

Dec. 09, 2012 @ 08:12 AM

I have been a reporter for the News-Topic just over a year. Since then, I have waved goodbye to a sports editor, a city editor and a sports reporter, thanks to upward mobility of young, eager journalists wanting to make their mark on a much bigger stage and shrinking newsroom budgets. In just a week, a News-Topic icon will edit his last story after nearly two decades of service to Caldwell County.

I also will be losing a mentor, a task-master and a friend in Nathan Key.

I first met Nathan when I was churning out copy at the Hickory Daily Record years ago. A call came across the police scanner of a residential fire in Granite Falls. When you hear the words “fully engulfed,” your ears perk up and you jump into action. In this case, I jumped into my truck and headed to the scene. It was late in the evening, and the sky was glowing a burnt orange as flames shot up from the childhood home of N.C. Rep. Edgar Starnes.

As I stood stomping my feet in the cold air waiting on an official for information, I saw Nathan, pen and pad in hand, camera around his neck, also in information gathering mode. I introduced myself, and we engaged in the typical newsroom banter whenever two or more journalists are gathered. I was surprised to learn he was an editor, only because rarely do you see a manager type at the scene of breaking news. That’s what reporters were for. But there was Nathan Key, working after hours, covering a story for the News-Topic because he could.

Little did I know I would have the fortune of working for this man years later.

Nathan’s work ethic is contagious, as is his hunger for getting the story, no matter what it takes. The man is meticulous to a fault. If he could budget our stories well into 2013, he would. He does this not to make life easier for himself, but to put less pressure on the newsroom so we can meet our dreaded byline counts. This is the selflessness that embodies his character.

The job of an executive editor is a difficult one. It is a juggling act with five balls in the air. Trying to keep a newsroom of ink-stained wretches happy in a corporate climate of “more with less” is arduous at best. The news never stops, not even for holidays. The show must go on. Nathan is the key to this operation, and in my short tenure, what he does is nothing short of amazing.

I understand his reasons for moving on. As a parent, I understand his desire to be there for his son, who just celebrated his fifth birthday. His new undertaking will allow him to do so, and for that I am happy for him. But I also will miss the man who took me, a cocky, brash, thick-skinned award-winning journalist who thought he knew it all and made me not only a better writer and reporter, but a better person.

Thank you, Nathan Key.


Kim Gilliland is a reporter for the News-Topic. He can be reached at 828-758-7381, ext. 328, or by email at