Harkey purchased the Chronicle-Star in 1949. He immediately began making changes to how the paper wrote about the people who lived in Jackson County, Mississippi. At the time it was newspaper style convention to refer to white men and women with the "Mr." or "Mrs." honorific but this courtesy was never extended to blacks. Harkey eliminated the honorific entirely. He also eliminated what was then common practice in Southern newspapers to identify the subjects of an article, if they were black, with the term "colored". Under Harkey's direction a subject's race was only ever mentioned when it was material to the news, such as a physical description of a fugitive. These were subtle but revolutionary changes which inflamed the local community with scandal and controversy.
During the course of his ownership of the Chronicle-Star, Harkey's home was subject to a burning cross on the lawn of his home, and a shot was fired at the Chronicle-Star office. His autobiographical account of his experience owning the paper, The Smell of Burning Crosses, takes its name from that event.