Don Ham’s name rarely graced the pages of the Review-Journal, but the longtime editor’s fingerprints left an indelible mark on nearly every story big and small throughout his storied career in Nevada.
Ham, who retired in 2016, will be inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Nevada Press Association’s annual banquet at Palace Station. The ceremony will put a bow on Ham’s 43-year career in newspapers that included 32 years in the Silver State and 21 as an editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“No one worked harder or was more dedicated to the craft of journalism than Don, who, by the way, is also a really nice guy,” said Mary Hynes, who worked alongside Ham on the Review-Journal’s city desk for more than a decade. “The professionalism and high standards he demonstrated day in and day out benefited not only our reporters and editors but also our community of readers.”
Ham was fascinated by everything and tried to encourage that same curiosity in his reporters, Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean said.
“He still sends me news tips about things going on in the community he thinks ought to be in the newspaper,” Brean said.
Ham, 69, began his career in news as a reporter for the Daily Republic in Fairfield, California, followed by stints as an editor throughout Southern California at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, for weeklies in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and at the Lompoc Record.
In 1984, he was named editor of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, where he worked for 11 years. An ardent champion of open government, Ham won numerous awards from the Nevada Press Association during his time with the Appeal for his work advocating for stronger open meeting laws in Nevada.
One such instance that stands out to Ham involved the Douglas County Commission. One of Ham’s reporters discovered that a special committee had submitted a report that the county wanted to be kept secret. The Appeal brought that to the attention of the Nevada attorney general’s office, which challenged the commission in a case that set state precedent on how committees are subject to the state’s open meeting laws.
“Few people are more deserving of a place in the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame than Don Ham,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said. “During his years as editor of the Nevada Appeal, Don was one of the state’s strongest and most influential advocates of open government and access to public records. And during his two decades at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Don had a hand in coordinating and executing coverage of every big news story that broke in Southern Nevada. It was next to impossible to chase him out of the newsroom, no matter how many hours he put in.”
Ham joined the Review-Journal in 1995 as a senior copy editor and left an indelible mark almost immediately. Ever the stickler for details and style,
Ham led the charge in creating and posting on the RJ’s new intranet and then put what the Associated Press said was the first newspaper to put AP’s style book on an intranet.
By 1996, Ham became an assistant city editor. He mentored many a reporter over the next two decades and helped guide coverage on some of the biggest stories in state history, including the O.J. Simpson trial, the Bundy standoff in Bunkerville and the historic presidential elections of 2008 and 2016.
Through the years, Ham never lost the inquisitive nature that drew him to newspapers after he had majored in physics at California State Polytechnic University.
“It was just a lot of fun,” Ham said.
He said his favorite part was working directly with the reporters, analyzing every potential angle and aspect of a story.
Even if it involved feces.
Former Review-Journal reporter Jamie Munks remembers working on a story not long after she was hired in 2016 about the Life is Beautiful music festival in downtown Las Vegas and how the homeless living near Foremaster Lane and Main Street were being pushed out of the festival’s footprint.
Munks said she and Ham had talked several times about the story, and that Ham told her that she was likely to find human feces in streets in her reporting for the story.
“I went up there probably three times during that time period, and I never personally saw any poop in the streets,” Munks said.
So she filed the story on a Friday, sans any references to said fecal matter, only to get a call from Ham later that night wondering what happened to the feces.
“We talked about feces in the streets. Feces,” Munks said she recalls Ham saying during that call.
The feces never made it in the story, Munks said, “but it’s probably one of my favorite Review-Journal stories.”
“Don was so helpful right away. He was such a wealth of knowledge, especially with so many new people coming in at that point,” Munks said. “I learned a lot from him.”
“Some people probably wondered why I came to work with a smile on my face,” Ham said. “That’s the reason. I figured that in some way, I had a positive influence on what reporters wrote.”
And now, with his four-plus decades of nailing down every little detail and fact for stories, Ham is dabbling in a different side of his curiosity.
Since retiring, he’s been working on his first novel, a science-fiction story involving artificial intelligence and otherworldly beings. True to form, though, Ham has been reading books on astrophysics to ensure that, even in fiction, he gets the smallest of details correct.
But he’s also realized there’s a little flexibility when it comes to writing fiction.
“I don’t have to check the facts anymore,” Ham said. “I can make things up!”