coal folks hash out communication, trust issues
Journalists, coal-company officials and business
associates of the coal industry -- more than a dozen in each
category -- gathered in the booming coal town of Pikeville,
Ky., on April 17, 2006, to talk about the difficulties they
have with each other and try to forge a more mutually beneficial
The Coal-Media Roundtable was sponsored by the
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
and the Appalachian
News-Express, the Pikeville newspaper. News-Express
Publisher Marty Backus, who suggested the roundtable, and Institute
Director Al Cross called the meeting a success, and said it
might be repeated, as often as annually.
"For years, the relationship between the
coal industry and the media has been rocky at best," Neil
Middleton, news anchor for WYMT-TV in Hazard,
said in introducing the station's report on the meeting. Middleton
and co-anchor Danielle Morgan attended the roundtable. "A
journalist's job is to provide information for the public. A
coal miner's job is to provide energy for the nation, but when
those paths cross, it isn't always a pretty meeting," Morgan
told viewers, introducing a video clip of her interview with
Mike Browning, editor of The Logan Banner in
"When we called to get information on one
disaster, we were hung up on six times," Browning said,
expanding on an episode he had related at the roundtable. Coal
executives said that happens, and calls aren't returned to certain
journalists, because of inaccurate or biased reporting. "When
you give them a statement, it will be edited for content, taken
out of context," said Paul Matney of TECO Energy,
which mines in southeastern Kentucky.
Cross urged coal companies to give every journalist
at least one break, and discuss problems they have with stories,
not cut off communication. He also urged reporters to do stories
about the booming coal business, to get to know people in the
industry and develop sources in a less or non-adversarial climate.
The most experienced coal reporter at the table,
Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, said
information about disasters should come from government officials,
who have control over disaster sites and are paid to issue information
to the public -- unlike most coal companies, which lack a spokesperson
and are usually preoccupied by trying to rescue miners and not
disposed to deal with reporters.
Ward told industry representatives that the best
argument they have to make against those who would severely
limit their activities, such as mountaintop-removal mining,
is their essential role in providing electric power for the
nation. Participants on all sides said they knew people who
do not realize that most electricity comes from coal and most
coal is used to make steam used to generate electricity.
Ward also told the coal folks, "My job is
not to tell your story," or write articles that artificially
balance six paragraphs adverse to the industry with six favorable
to it. He said the industry has naturally come under more media
scrutiny since the Sago Mine disaster, in which 12 miners died
and there was a false report that they had survived. "The
media and the coal industry are in a whole new world after Sago,"
The day ended with better feelings on both sides.
"I think this is a good first step," said Bill Caylor,
president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
He called for more such meetings, and tours of mines by journalists.
Just sitting around the same table and talking helps, said David
Gooch, executive director of Pikeville-based Coal Operators
and Associates. "It's a matter of trust,"
he told the roundtable. "Trust comes from association."
To see WYMT's full report, click
here, then click on the story in the Video list.
The roundtable was an outgrowth of "Covering
Coal," an Institute conference that was held in November
at the Graduate College of Marshall University
in South Charleston, W. Va., and attended by Backus and other
journalists. For a report on that conference, click
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