Dale Moss · 2017
For more than 25 years, Dale Moss’s unofficial job title at the (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal was “The Indiana Guy.” His responsibilities: Three or four days a week he served as the eyes, ears, heart and voice of Southern Indiana for the newspaper’s Hoosier edition.
The Courier-Journal likely could not have picked a better person for the position. A fifth-generation, lifelong resident of Indiana, Moss once was described by his C-J managing editor, Jean Porter, as “a Hoosier who does not know any better and cannot imagine there can be any better.”
In some 3,500 columns and hundreds of news and feature stories, Moss created and strengthened community bonds in more than a dozen Indiana counties, in cities from Corydon to Clarksville, Marengo to Madison, Sellersburg to Seymour. Although he admits to “throwing a few bombs over the years” via investigative pieces and hard-hitting columns critical of powerful entities, his stock-in-trade always has been in telling the stories of ordinary people to whom attention should be paid.
“I never wanted to be in the White House Press Corps or be Woodward and Bernstein,” Moss reflected recently. “A lot of the people I wrote about were stunned that I wanted to talk to them. They didn’t think they were worthy of a spotlight. Lots of times, though, they were more worthy than the people already in the spotlight.”
Typical of those folks was a woman who had taught Sunday school for 75 years, never missing a single Sunday. “She literally thought I’d dialed the wrong number when I called to talk to her,” Moss said.
He had heard about the teacher through her fellow church members, the sort of tipsters Moss relied on throughout his career as the C-J’s Indiana Guy. Readers eagerly provided him with leads and suggestions. As a consequence, “I never ran out of ideas, never panicked over a deadline,” he said. “People trusted me to tell stories about their neighbors and loved ones, and I was honored to do that.”
Column fodder abounded for Moss because he is also an inveterate hang-around kind of journalist, happiest when he’s out and about, ultra-observant and curious. His credo: “Everything is a potential column.”
Grace Schneider, a former C-J colleague, described Moss as “a throwback, a rarity when many metro daily readers feel their local newspapers are abandoning their mission.” In her Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame nominating letter, Schneider recalled the readers’ alarm and dismay when their Indiana Guy was temporarily sidelined by a medical emergency. The paper was “deluged with calls” about the writer they had come to view as “an institution.”
Dale Moss was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and lives there still, with his wife of 41 years in the house in which he grew up. (His great-great-grandfather built it in 1861.) By the time he was a freshman at Indiana University, majoring in political science, but also taking journalism courses, he was writing for his hometown paper.
“All the good jobs at the Daily Student were taken by the time I got there,” he said, “but I had a lot more beer money with the Jeffersonville job than the IDS staff did.”
One of Moss’s longtime Jeffersonville and Courier-Journal pals is Mike King, whose 30-year career at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution included a long stint as metro editor. Said King: “I would have given two specialty reporters, a copy editor and a news clerk to be named later if I could have found a metro columnist like Dale Moss for our newspaper. Didn’t happen. They don’t just come along. They are born to it, like Dale.”
The breadth and diversity of Moss’s column subjects are considerable. His straightforward, conversational style is equally effective, whether he is gently arguing for compassion for a teenage murderer or describing an ad hoc group of citizen-activists who fight easements and eminent domain in their commitment to keep Floyd County as rural as they can.
No matter the topic, Moss’s Courier-Journal columns rarely prompt a “not interested” turn of the page. For example, “The Hibernia Coon Supper is back,” is just the kind of lead sentence that compels readers to keep on going. For their effort, Moss delivers the delightful story of 86-year-old La Veran Lorenz, who came out of retirement with her 10 black cast-iron skillets to resurrect the wildly popular (and much missed) raccoon fry of Clark County.
When the subject is serious, Moss treats it with respect and, often, tenderness, as he did in a C-J column about a boy with cerebral palsy who died at age 9 and, two years later, had an $80,000 playground named after him:
“Spencer Avery Sapp could neither talk nor walk. He needed help most of the time. Still, he came to Greenville Elementary School to learn. Through smiles and cries, though, with inspiring perseverance, Spencer mostly taught. His special needs offered special lessons.”
In 2012, with the Courier-Journal’s Indiana edition shrunken to an afterthought, Dale Moss took a buyout. But The Indiana Guy hasn’t run out of stories. His occasional columns appear in a variety of venues, including the Jeffersonville News and Tribune, Southern Indiana Living magazine and a compilation of Moss’s “greatest hits” from the Louisville paper.
Moss, 63, and his wife, Jean, live near their two grown children and two grandkids and stay engaged with their longtime community through nonprofit volunteer work. Moss currently serves on the boards of a library, a school, a cemetery and a park – at least three great places for column material. Moss’ aim, whenever he writes a story or column, is the same as it has been throughout his career.
“I’ve always looked at what I do as just visiting people and having conversations, “ he said. “I’ve always gotten a kick out of it and found myself not just interested but inspired by the people I write about. I know my columns are optional for readers. I want them to feel I was worth their time.”
By Stephanie Salter