By Zeena Saifi, Brittany Stephanis, Ji Seo and Logan Ratick SYRACUSE (NCC News) — Jim Kenyon summed up his tenure as an investigative reporter in Central New York with a scene from the movie, Rocky Balboa, in which Rocky says, “If you live in one place long enough, you are that place.”
“I am Syracuse,” Kenyon said, as he reflected on his 44-year career.
Kenyon, 65, began his career at WSYR-TV (formerly WNYS-TV) in 1970, which was followed by a brief stint in Columbus, Ohio. He returned home to work at WSTM-TV in 1976, where he attained success by finding his journalistic niche as an investigative reporter.
At the age of six, Kenyon and his family moved from Wilmington, Del. to Syracuse. He graduated from Henninger High School, where his teachers encouraged him to pursue a career in journalism upon noticing his flair for writing.
SUNY Morrisville was just starting up a journalism program at the time, and Kenyon was in the very first class. There, Kenyon said he determined that reporting was basically about documenting everyday life events and that each day would hold a different story.
After 44 years in television, including 38 at WSTM-TV, Kenyon’s last day on the job will be December 23.
CNY Central News Director Rae Fulkerson said it’s going to be extremely hard to find a replacement for him.
“Jim just wants to come in and right a wrong,” she said. “I think his drive to always find the truth and his drive to help people are the biggest impacts he’s made.”
Strangers Become Best Friends
Kenyon’s ethical approach toward covering stories caught the attention of his current best friend, George W. Smith.
At the beginning of his career, Kenyon covered a residential fire for WSTM-TV in the early 1980’s, and Smith happened to be at the scene. Little did they know their encounter would lead to a life-long friendship.
As firefighters brought out the perished bodies, other stations kept their cameras rolling. According to Smith, Kenyon was the only one to direct his crew to shut the cameras off.
When Smith saw what Kenyon did, he said, “Wow, this guy is really compassionate.”
From then on, whenever Smith knew of a story that needed to be covered, he turned to Kenyon, knowing he would provide an honest portrayal.
In 1991, Kenyon reported about fraud in the trash hauling industry, giving him prominence in the community. What people didn’t know is he had been investigating the issue two years prior, but he refrained from publishing anything at the time.
Having already formed a friendship with Smith, Kenyon suspected that Smith had been working undercover for the FBI on the case. After Smith indirectly confirmed those suspicions, he asked for Kenyon’s confidence until Smith’s position became public knowledge. Remaining loyal to his friend, Kenyon waited two years before using the information.
His series of stories on the matter won a national award in 1992 from Investigative Reporters and Editors, which is the professional organization for investigative reporters.
A Challenge Becomes a Slump in Kenyon’s Life
Winning the award gave Kenyon a reputation in the community, so WSTM-TV decided to put him on the anchor desk. However, Kenyon said the general manager didn’t think he was anchor material, so he was sent back to reporting. Kenyon said he thought it was the end of his career at Channel 3.
“I was very hurt and disappointed,” he said. “I thought I was a pretty good anchor.”
When Kenyon returned to reporting, he said he lost himself in what he was most passionate about. This enabled him to regain confidence and continue on the path he started.
Even Kenyon’s competitors value his skill and affinity for reporting. Bill Carey, a reporter for Time Warner Cable News, said that Kenyon is both a competitor and a friend. He said he is happy he has someone of Kenyon’s caliber as a competitor, because it pushes him to want to work harder.
“When Jim gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t let go until he’s flushed the story out,” said Carey. “I just think his only weakness is his physicality. He’s at a retirement age and I think it’s time for him to settle down.”
Kenyon Decides To Retire
Kenyon said a part of his decision to retire stems from numerous health problems he’s dealt with over the past few years. He said he’s gotten to the point where he wants to slow down to get rid of some of the stress in his life.
In 2004, Kenyon was covering a story at the New York State Capitol in Albany when he realized he was having a minor heart attack on live television. After the chest pain passed, he returned to the station and suggested that a videographer accompany him to his doctors’ appointments so he could do a piece on heart awareness.
Shortly after tests showed Kenyon’s condition was worse than expected, he was admitted to the hospital for an emergency triple bypass surgery. After the operation, Kenyon called in a camera-person and did a story from his hospital bed.
“There was an anchorman, Ron Curtis, who was a local broadcasting icon for Channel 5,” Kenyon said. “He worked until the age of 73, retired, and died within a year. I don’t want to be another Ron Curtis.”
The Impressions Kenyon Left On People
Despite these physical ailments that could have ended his career prematurely, Kenyon persevered and along the way, managed to make an impact on the people around him. He especially has influenced those who spend the most time with him.
To live up to Kenyon’s high standards, Andy Wolf, Kenyon’s videographer for the last 16 years, makes an effort to raise the bar for himself.
“You always try your best, but when you’re with Jim you always try to give a little bit more, because he’s so passionate about the stories he’s telling,” Wolf said.
However, nobody knows Kenyon more than his wife Janice, who he says knows all of his secrets after 41 years of marriage.
“Right away, I knew she was the one,” he said. “Six weeks after we met, we were married.”
Janice Kenyon said the thing she likes most about her husband is his integrity.
“What people don’t know about Jim is that even though he is demanding in his professional life, he isn’t in his personal life and that sometimes works to my disadvantage,” she said.
She referenced when they need to get their car fixed, for example, Kenyon doesn’t urge the people at the repair shop to get it done quickly. According to her, if Kenyon were covering a story, he would push every person involved to make sure he got what he needed done right away.
Kenyon Finalizes His Career
Kenyon is currently working on a story about an illegal immigrant, Jairon Estevez Ramirez, who has lived in the shadows of Syracuse for years. Ramirez has a wife and an American-born son, but has been separated from them and put in a detention center where he was set to be deported to Guatemala.
Holding back tears, Kenyon said with a clouded voice that although the story had a lot to do with breaching the laws of immigration, it’s mostly about a 4-year-old boy being separated from his dad, who came to this country simply to escape poverty and poor living conditions.
With the help of Kenyon’s story and President Obama’s actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, the man was finally reunited with his family, after months of separation.
“This is what I’ll miss the most about my career,” he said. “The feeling that I managed to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Smith said that Kenyon’s tenacity and drive for justice make him not only a better journalist, but also a better person.
“I think him retiring is going to be a sigh of relief for the bad guys,” he said. “He’s like a pitbull when he gets his nose in a story. He won’t stop until he gets the truth. His retirement is going to be a great loss for the community, not just the media.”
What the Future Holds for Kenyon
Kenyon said that although he is very passionate about journalism, he admits that there are so many demands about social media now. That has played a role in his decision to retire.
“I’ll be honest with you, the business has changed, and frankly I’m a dinosaur,” he said. “I’m an old-school journalist and there’s so much going on now that I can’t keep up with.”
Kenyon said he’s looking forward to fishing and riding his motorcycle after he retires. In addition to unleashing his adventurous side, at some point he said he wants to get involved in some sort of charity or cause that is important to him.
“I can’t stand hunger, so I might get involved with the Food Bank,” he said. “I also have a voice I could use for reading books to the blind.”
When Kenyon was asked to sum up his career in one word, he said “satisfaction.”
“I feel that my career has given me satisfaction in my life, and that I’ve made a difference,” he said. “What more could you ask for?”
Even after over 40 years of reporting, Jim Kenyon still does at least three takes on his live shots. Here’s a look at the final take for Kenyon’s current story on an undocumented immigrant.