April 21, 2020

Sustained outrage: a newspaper like no other

If you haven't already, check out "Sustained Outrage," a Reel South program  about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Gazette-Mail. It aired on PBS and temporarily available here.

It's hard to describe to someone outside of West Virginia just what a huge role this paper has played in exposing corruption, greed and various forms of skulduggery over the years. I can't imagine how much worse things would be without it.

The episode features among other things Eric Eyre's epic reporting on the opioid crisis, which snagged the Pulitzer, and MacArthur "genius" award winner Ken Ward, who has covered environmental issues for years. Sadly, neither of them remain at the paper. Eyre's book on his investigations, Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, was released in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, although it has received rave reviews, like this one in the NY Times. And it's a safe bet we'll hear more from Ward.

Like many independent papers, it has had and continues to have challenges. There was a huge scare in 2018 that the paper, then in bankruptcy court, would be sold to the right wing Trump-loving and climate change-denying Ogden chain. At what seemed like the last minute the paper was bought by HD media, which owns the Huntington Herald-Dispatch and other local papers. There a huge collective sigh of relief when that happened.

Hard times persist at the paper. People were laid off. Some pillars of journalism have recently left, voluntarily or otherwise. Still it hangs on, thank God.

In my 31 years at AFSC, I've often worked with reporters and editors there. I have particularly fond memories of barging in with a friend to the office of the late Don Marsh, a legendary editor, and saying "We're on a mission from God." Sometimes, that really seemed to be the case. And I'm very grateful that for an even longer period of time the Gazette has allowed me to be a contributing columnist in its pages. The sense of having a voice, however limited, has made a huge difference in my life.

The first edition of what would become the Gazette came out in 1873. I hope it has another hundred or so years.

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