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 al.cross@uky.edu.

Cullens of Storm Lake Times in Iowa earn Gish Award

Cullen Gish

A northwest Iowa family that has demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity in the face of competition and powerful, entrenched local interests received the 2017 Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the Iowa Newspaper Association convention in Des Moines on Feb. 2, 2018.
The Cullens publish the Storm Lake Times, a twice-weekly newspaper that has focused attention on water-pollution issues in Iowa, often to the dislike of agribusiness interests that are sources of much of the pollution.
“We’ve lost some friends, we’ve lost subscriptions; for a while, lost some ads,” said Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the paper started by his brother John (at left in photo) more than 27 years ago. In 2017 Art Cullen (at right in photo) won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, for a series of columns about pollution in the Raccoon River, which supplies water for Iowa’s capital and largest city, Des Moines. He and his son Tom (center of photo) also wrote many news stories about the issue.
Following their reporting, the Des Moines Water Works sued the drainage districts of Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties for failing to stop the pollution. The Times reveald records showing agribusiness interests were paying for the suit’s defense. Courts ruled the districts couldn’t be sued, but the suit and the Pulitzer focused more attention on the issue. Art Cullen says the amount of farmland in cover crops that prevent pollution doubled.
Cullen’s Pulitzer-winning columns had punch. He wrote in March 2016, "Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion."
The Pulitzer committee said the editorials were “fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests.” Much of that reporting was done by Tom Cullen. Art’s wife, Dolores, also reports and takes photographs for the paper, and John’s wife, Mary, writes a recipe column.
The Times began reporting and editorializing about pollution from farms about a year after it was established in June 1990. It has brought to light other environmental concerns, such as the need to dredge Storm Lake, and issues involving the livestock-processing plants that have brought many immigrants to Buena Vista County, in the heart of conservative northwest Iowa.
Art Cullen wrote in a column, “Many of my ignorant friends conflate people of color with their having lost control of their own destiny; they don’t realize they never had control of it. It’s harder to hate the Chicago Board of Trade than it is a Mexican who doesn’t like American football or can’t speak English. They voted for Barack Obama to take on the Board of Trade and Wall Street. He didn’t,” so they voted for Donald Trump.
“That column is a sterling example of a rural editor speaking hard truths to power and to the people he serves,” Institute Director Al Cross said. “The Storm Lake Times has long been known to those of us who follow rural journalism as a great example to emulate, and Art Cullen’s Pulitzer Prize merely confirmed that. We hope this award to the Cullen family shows they have had high ideals and standards for a very long time.”

China seminar group

Institute hosts Sino-U.S. Community Media Seminar; director leads delegation to return symposium in China

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.

Institute Director Al Cross was the keynote speaker for the third seminar, held in Shanghai in September 2017. Here he shakes hands with Zhou Chen, editor of the 50 community editions of the Xinmin Evening News, the largest newspaper in Shanghai. as Nicole Carroll, editor of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, now editor of USA Today, looks on.

Dennis Lyons, editor of The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pa., joined Carroll and Cross in making panel presentations on their work. The audience included 200 Chinese journalists, community correspondents and business partners.

The symposium at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law included meetings at the Wujiang Daily, west of Shanghai. The Evening News co-sponsored the 2015 seminar with the University of Kentucky Confucius Institute.

The 2015 seminar 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.

JayYouDr. 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. At left, Here, 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.


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 "Colleges of Schools," then "Commnication and Information" and then the "Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Endowed Fund."


Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
School of Journalism and Media, College of Communication and Information
343 S. Martin Luther King Blvd., Room 206, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0012
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168
Al Cross, director and professor al.cross@uky.edu Twitter@ruralj