Jim Headley

Reporter Jim Headley plays the jaw harp.

After a month on the job, new justice reporter Jim Headley will be taking a couple of days off to attend the North American Jaw Harpist Festival in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

He won’t be covering the two-day event. He will be performing in it.

Jim has played the jaw harp for 45 years. That’s almost as long as he has worked in the newspaper business as a reporter, editor and even a publisher.

“I play mostly bluegrass but sometimes delve into blues, rock and alternative music,” he said.

Jim is a member of the North American Jaw Harpists, the Desert Bluegrass Association and the Old Time Fiddlers Association of Southern Arizona. According to Wikipedia, a jaw harp is a lamellophone instrument, consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame.

The jaw harp is one of those instruments that everyone recognizes when they hear it but have no idea what it is called. Turns out it is called a lot of things, such as Jew’s harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp, juice harp or murchunga.

Aside from being a musician, Jim is an art/landscape photographer, a photographic historian and camera collector. He has worked with movie production companies placing cameras “in a historically correct manner” and written instruction manuals.

“I also have more than 500 cameras in my personal collection but I used to have more,” he said. “I am a photo geek!”

The Nebraska native is also a big University of Nebraska football fan.

But we didn’t hire him for all that. We hired him for the long track record he has in writing in-depth stories about crime and events that shows a knack for following trends and connecting the dots. He is a journalism detective.

“Deep down inside I am the happiest when I write about crime or history. I’ve always been one of the best at boiling down a crime scene into a story,” he said. “I have also been working on a book about a photojournalist in the American Indian Wars in Wyoming.”

Since journalism is the first form of documenting history, Jim has experience as a journalism historian. He worked as an editor for the Casper Star-Tribune when it broke the story about Matthew Shepard, the gay man who was beaten and tortured to death in Wyoming. The 1998 story received worldwide attention and was a watershed moment in changing many attitudes about homosexuals.

Jim began his career as a photographer and then transitioned to reporting, starting out in sports, but gravitating to other news coverage, especially covering crime and the courts.

“My mentor in journalism is this old guy named Kirk Knox,” Jim said. “He was the most obnoxious crime reporter on the planet, but he taught me everything about covering crime.”

Jim’s love of history comes from his family legacy. Both his grandparents were Nebraska pioneers in the 1800s.

“My parents endured the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl of Nebraska. My father was an officer under General Patton in World War II. I look to my ancestors for strength and inspiration.”

Jim ended up in Arizona last year when he was laid off as publisher of an economically distressed weekly newspaper. The award-winning journalist migrated to Arizona when he couldn’t find a job in his home state.

But he has no regrets.

“I looked at Arizona as a place that possessed opportunity and a fresh start after 30 years working for newspapers in Nebraska and Wyoming,” he said. “My choice was solid and I have fallen in love with Arizona over the year I’ve been here. God, I love the desert and I go out photographing it whenever I get the chance.”


Jim Headley can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com. Andy Howell can be reached at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.