Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery, a workshop for journalists, explores a difficult topic
"His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person." –Linda Loman, speaking of husband Willy, title character in "Death of A Salesman" by Arthur Miller
Many human beings are suffering terrible things in America today, and not enough attention is paid to them. They are the victims of substance-use disorder, or addiction. Too many of their fellow human beings – their neighbors, even their relatives – don't want to pay attention. "Not my problem," they say. Even when someone dies of an overdose, some say "Better off dead."
Quotes like that were gathered by Jennifer Reynolds and Kristin Mattson of Oak Ridge Associated Universities for their study that showed how the stigma attached to drug use is a big obstacle to addressing the problem in Appalachian communities. It's also an obstacle to news coverage of the issue, so we brought journalists in the region to Ashland, Ky., in November 2019 for a workshop, "Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery."
The presenters include several award winners who have been leaders in covering these topics in Appalachia and adjoining areas: Beth Macy, award-winning author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America, just released in paperback; Terry DeMio and Cara Owsley, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists from The Cincinnati Enquirer; DeMio has been the newspaper’s opioid beat reporter for five years, and Owsley as photo director also worked on the Pulitzer-winning series, "Seven Days of Heroin;" Eric Eyre, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, who revealed opioid distribution patterns in West Virginia; Sharon Burton, editor publisher of the Adair County (Ky.) Community Voice, a national leader in substance-abuse coverage by small newspapers; Deborah Yetter, health reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal; Bishop Nash, a reporter for The Herald Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va. which has been called the epicenter of the opioid epidemic; and Dr. Lyn O'Connell, associate director of the Division of Addiction Sciences at Marshall University in Huntington.
For a report on the workshop, click here.
Reporters on coal industry in Appalachia win 2019 Tom and Pat Gish Awards for courage, tenacity, integrity in rural journalism
Three reporters whose outstanding careers have revealed much about the coal industry in Central Appalachia are the winners of the 2019 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
They are Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail; his mentor, the late Paul J. Nyden of the Charleston Gazette; and Howard Berkes, recently retired from NPR, who nominated Ward for the honor several years ago. (Photos, left to right: Nyden, Ward, Berkes)
“Each in their own way, they overcame adversity in reporting on coal and other topics in rural America, where doing good journalism often requires more courage, tenacity and integrity than in urban areas,” said Al Cross, director of the institute, based at the University of Kentucky, and publisher of The Rural Blog. “Extractive industries do most of their extracting in rural areas.”
Paul Nyden chronicled a reform movement in the United Mine Workers of America, and wrote a dissertation on it that earned him a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1974. After teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, he came to southern West Virginia and reported for the Gulf Times before being hired at the Gazette in 1982 by the late W.E. 'Ned' Chilton III, “whose philosophy of ‘sustained outrage’ journalism Nyden personified,” Ward wrote in Nyden’s obituary in January 2018. "Nyden defended the public’s interests by consistently taking on powerful state businesses and challenging political leaders across West Virginia," Ward wrote. "He exposed deadly safety violations, renegade strip-mining and unscrupulous tax scams in a career that spanned more than three decades.” Nyden retired in 2015 when the Gazette merged with the Charleston Daily Mail.
Ken Ward Jr. graduated from West Virginia University in 1990 and joined the Gazette in 1991. In 2018 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship that was based on his investigative reporting for the newspaper. The foundation said Ward was chosen because he excels at “revealing the human and environmental toll of natural-resource extraction in West Virginia and spurring greater accountability among public and private stakeholders.” Ward said when he received the $625,000 fellowship that it was “a strong vote of confidence in local journalism, and more to the point in local journalism that doesn’t just parrot the official line, but questions and holds accountable powerful people, industries, governments and other institutions that might not be acting in the public interest.” For the last year and a half Ward has been working for the Gazette-Mail as part of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Last year, his focus was the impact on rural West Virginia of the booming natural-gas industry, which has gained much economic and political influence in the state, partly at coal’s expense.
Howard Berkes retired at the end of 2018 after 38 years in public media, much of it reporting from rural America. His reports on the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens for KLCC in Eugene, Oregon, took him to NPR, where he covered the interior West and later became the network’s rural correspondent. After covering the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia in 2010, Berkes began investigating workplace safety, and discovered an epidemic of black-lung disease among coal miners in Central Appalachia that federal regulators had ignored or even denied. His work was the basis for “Coal’s Deadly Dust,” a documentary for “Frontline” on PBS. “Howard spent weeks in rural Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky visiting lung clinics and persuading sick miners to talk with him,” said his editor, Bob Little. “I have plenty of reporters who would not take on an issue like that and choose to put themselves out there in that kind of environment; it does require you to pay a personal price; you have to own your belief in this story. He is inspired by nothing other than wanting to right a wrong.”
The Central Appalachian coalfield also birthed the Tom and Pat Gish Award. It is named for the late couple, right, who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and politicians, and the firebombing of their office by a Whitesburg policeman. Their son, Eagle Editor-Publisher Ben Gish, is on the award selection committee, with other selected members of the rural journalism institute’s national advisory board.
The Gish awards were presented Sept. 26 in Lexington, Ky., at the Al Smith Awards Dinner of the institute and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Their Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian went to Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, the longest-serving executive of a newspaper association in the United States and a winner of many battles for open government. For more information on that award, click here. For a report on the acceptance speeches is Berkes and Ward, click here.
Past winners of the Gish Award have been the Gishes; the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Texas) Record; publisher Jim Prince and former publisher Stan Dearman of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler, columnist for The Oregonian, for her work in rural Kentucky and Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin for their newspaper work in Yancey County, N.C.; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in western Kentucky; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in Espańola, N.M.; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Platte City, Mo.; and the Cullen family of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa; and Lez Zaitz of the Mahleur Enterprise in eastern Oregon.
A story on the Cullens appears below. One on Zaitz is here, and one on his presentation to the 2018 conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, where he received the award, is here. Nominations for the 2019 Gish Award may be emailed at any time to email@example.com.