Ivan Foley of Missouri's Platte County Landmark wins Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity in rural journalism
Ivan Foley, a Missouri editor and publisher who has pushed accountability journalism and open government in the face of competition, intimidation and retribution, is the winner of the 2016 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
At The Platte County Landmark in Platte City, just north of Kansas City, Foley has made a career of holding accountable public officials and those who would hold public office. “He is the best advocate for the Missouri Sunshine Law of any journalist I know,” both to the public and government officials who often need “re-educating,” wrote Bill Hankins, who was a writer and photographer for the Landmark for 13 years, in nominating Foley.
“Because he always holds officials’ feet to the fire, especially when it comes to spending tax dollars, Ivan often runs counter to the local pet projects of the powers that be,” wrote Hankins, a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. “He often makes people mad … just by holding those projects up to the light to see if they sparkle or not. Some examples are when contracts had the taint of sweetheart deals, or when the school board decided to spend $500,000 for artificial turf for the football field.”
Many Landmark stories have reported violations of open-government laws, and Foley’s editorial column endorses candidates in local elections, a rarity for weekly newspapers. “Although conservative by nature and politics, Ivan is red-and-blue color-blind when it comes to critiquing the performances of local politicians,” Hankins wrote.
Landmark stories in 2012 about an ambulance district board chair getting an insider deal on a land sale resulted in the official’s corruption conviction. The same year, the paper investigated a county commissioner’s vote to award a contract to the high bidder, and his connections with the bidder. The commissioner didn’t seek re-election in 2014.
Earlier, Landmark stories and columns revealed that the high-school athletic director’s son was in a group that stole a large carving of the school mascot, an incident the officials tried to cover up; and made county officials delay a raise they had granted themselves. After the pay-raise articles in 1997, the county commission repeatedly denied the Landmark’s low bid to publish the county’s public notices.
After several 1998 stories about questionable behavior by city police officers, a former officer confronted Foley in a threatening manner, but the editor “stood his ground,” Hankins wrote. Early in the next decade, after Foley reported several Sunshine Law violations by the mayor and questioned his plan to use city funds for a motorcycle rally, a friend of the mayor threatened to “punch his lights out.”
Foley’s recent columns about government, politics and issues facing his county can be found at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley.htm.
“Ivan sets a great example for journalism in rural America, where it’s usually harder to do good journalism than in metropolitan areas,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute.
Foley, 53, has worked at the Landmark since 1982, when he began managing it at age 19. His father, Dwayne Foley, had bought the paper in 1979 but died of a heart attack not long afterward. Foley bought the paper from his mother, Ethel Mae Foley, in 2002. The county has two other newspapers, including one in Platte City; the Landmark has the largest circulation.
“He has grown over the years as an editor not because of some great foundation of a university journalism education,” Hankins wrote. “Rather, his editorial education was trial by fire. The fire has produced a steely editor, whose tenacity, courage and integrity help make this county what it is.”
Foley will be honored Sept. 29 at the Institute for Rural Journalism’s annual awards dinner in Lexington, Ky., and receive the award Oct. 1 at his state press association convention in Branson, Mo.
“The Missouri Press Association congratulates Ivan Foley for his determination in presenting the news that is important to his community,” MPA Executive Director Mark Maassen said.
The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and corrupt politicians, and the firebombing of their office by a Whitesburg policeman.
Past winners of the award have been the Gishes; the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Tex.) Record; publisher Jim Prince and former publisher Stan Dearman of the Neshoba County Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler, columnist for The Oregonian, for her work in Kentucky and Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin of the U.S. Virgin Islands for their work in Yancey County, North Carolina; Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; and the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in Española, N.M.
Institute offers fellowships to Rural Computer-Assisted Reporting Boot Camp
Computer-assisted reporting skills are an essential part of a good newsroom, but rural journalists often lack access to such training. The Institute and Investigative Reporters and Editors offer a fellowship to IRE's Computer-Assisted Reporting Boot Camp, a highly rearded five-day course, thanks to gifts from Daniel Gilbert, a Seattle Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Bristol Herald Courier in 2010 with reporting that used skills he gained at an IRE Boot Camp. He donated his $10,000 prize from another contest, the Scripps Howard Awards, The Scripps Howard Foundation matched his gift, and the state of Kentucky matched both gifts. Other gifts have boosted the Fund for Rural Computer-Assisted Reporting. For more on Gilbert, shown at left below with Herald Courier reporter Mike Owens at an IRE-Institute workshop, click here.
With a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, IRE and the Institute held two mini-boot camps for rural journalists, in 2012 at East Tennessee State University and in 2013 at the University of Kentucky.
Kate Martin of the Skagit Valley Herald in Mt. Vernon, Wash., was the first IRE boot camp fellow. Thanks to it, she wrote, "I am no longer at the mercy of my sources to look up a figure or fact for me. I can have them send me the source file and work with it on my own."
For more testimonials from R-CAR fellows, examples of the work they have done with the new skills, and how to apply for an R-CAR fellowship, click here.
Rural editor wins Al Smith Award for Ky. community service through journalism
Sharon Burton, publisher of Kentucky’s statewide agricultural newspaper and a community weekly in her native Adair County, is the winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.
Burton will receive the award Sept. 29 in Lexington, at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which co-sponsor the award.
For more than 27 years, Burton has published The Farmer’s Pride, a newspaper for Kentucky farmers and other agriculture interests. For more than 14 years, she has published the Adair County Community Voice, a weekly paper that has frequently been cited on the Institute’s Rural Blog as an example of journalism that serves the public.
Burton played an unusual – and probably for most journalists, controversial – role in her community by serving on the board of the local hospital, which mismanagement had driven into bankruptcy. When the new county judge-executive asked her to serve, she had many reservations because journalists are supposed to cover news, not make it. But she agreed "because I could not think of anything more important to do as someone who loves this community and the people who made it great," she wrote, adding that she felt she could make sure the board was more transparent than it had been. She recused herself from reporting or editing any hospital stories, and had an outside professional edit them for publication.
“Sharon’s deep commitment to public service drove her to make a decision that most academically trained journalists like her wouldn’t make,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and associate professor in the UK School of Journalism and Media, where he teaches community journalism. “Public service ought to be the primary thing that drives journalists, and there are times when your role as a member of the community can conflict with your role as a journalist. Sharon did an exemplary job of managing those conflicts, which is a key to success in community journalism.” Cross also cited Burton’s frequent publication of special sections on health, mailed to every local household.
Institute hosts Sino-U.S. Community Media Seminar
Community newspaper people from China and the United States found common ground, despite great differences in their environments, at the Second Sino-U.S. Community Media Seminar hosted by the Institute Jan. 8-9, 2015.
The program revealed that Chinese community papers share with their U.S. counterparts the desire to tell stories of local people in the face of dramatic economic challenges. For a report on the seminar, click here.
The seminar was co-sponsored by the Xinmin Evening News, Shanghai's largest afternoon paper, with many community editions; and the University of Kentucky Confucius Institute. It attracted 25 U.S. newspaper executives and academics, and brought from China 10 newspaper executives and journalists, six local-government officials and a Shanghai University professor, You You. She was a visiting scholar with the Institite in 2012-13, when the first seminar was held in Shanghai, and led arrangements for the second one.
Dr. You discussed her research on rural China at the first Global Mountain Regions Conference, held by the UK Appalachian Center, and focused her research on Clay County, Kentucky, and the community of Oneida. Below, she confers with Jay Nolan of Nolan Newspapers, publisher of The Manchester Enterprise, about a survey that the company mailed to a random sample of Enterprise readers and all residents of Oneida to assist with her research.
The Enterprise also benefited from the work of Mary Austin, a student in Institute Director Al Cross's Community Journalism course. She wrote a front-page lead story for the Enterprise about a local political forum which the paper's editor moderated, and did a story for newspapers in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield about a more favorable attitude toward the coal industry in the region because of changing conditions in the industry, the economy and politics.
More on coal and politics
Those findings were reflected in the 2012 defeat of Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, whose district had been moved eastward to take in counties near the coalfield, and figured in Kentucky's 2014 U.S. Senate race, in which Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell talked often about the Obama administration's "War on Coal."
Cross and Bill Goodman of Kentucky Educational Television taught a course, "Covering the Senate Race," in fall 2014. To read the students' reporting, click here. He and journalist-in-residence John Winn Miller taught "Covering the Governor's Race" in 2015.
SUPPORT RURAL JOURNALISM!
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is supported by the University of Kentucky and donors who support our mission. To make a tax-deductible donation to the endowment, via a secure Web site, click here and select the Institute from the pull-down list of funds; to make a tax-deductible gift to our operating account, choose "Other" and type in "IRJCI operating."