The Washington Post is just up with an excellent article about the likely sale of the Charleston Gazette-Mail to Ogden Newspapers:
A West Virginia newspaper is in bankruptcy. The powerful coal industry celebrates.
The article by Steven Mufson begins with the coal head mocking G-M reporter Ken Ward that I wrote about two weeks ago. The article explains the animosity:
The Gazette-Mail hasn’t won many friends in coal country, where executives worry more about mining jobs than they do about the 210 jobs in danger at the Charleston newspaper. McLusky said: “I think it’s safe to say that the coal industry as a whole does not view the Gazette as giving them balanced coverage.”
Others see it differently. “It has been the voice of reason in our state,” said Davitt McAteer, a former head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration who led an independent investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. “When you have a one-horse economy as West Virginia is and has been, the fact that there’s one paper willing to not be a lap dog for that industry” is important, he said.
Despite their differences, Mufson argues that the coal industry and the Gazette-Mail are facing similar challenges:
But over the past century, newspapers and coal mining companies have grown rich and now poor together, both victims of new technologies and broader changes in the economy. And both are hoping for survival, if not revival.
The article includes additional news on the future of the Gazette-Mail. I was happy to read in the article that energy reporter Ken Ward will be working for the muckraking ProPublica:
[Ward] has a one-year deal with the independent ProPublica news organization, which is reimbursing the Gazette for Ward’s salary while Ward reports on the decline of coal and rise of natural gas in the state.
I was not happy to read that Robert Nutting is taking the same approach that he brought to employment at the other newspapers he's purchased or the baseball team he owns:
“No coal industry lawyer or anyone else will make decisions for us in the hiring of newsroom staff,” said Robert Nutting, chief executive of Ogden Newspapers. Nutting, great-grandson of the founder of the Wheeling News, said that if the court lets him move ahead with the purchase, he would take “fresh looks” at the paper, but he added that the “tremendously talented newsroom team” was “part of the appeal to us.”
"Fresh looks"? The staff will be cut in half and the talented reporters will be gone by the end of spring.
A petition to the Gazette-Mail bankruptcy judge and others
Here is where you can sign a Google docs petition on the pending sale of the Charleston paper. The petition makes a number of excellent points including:
It is our observation that the Ogden Newspaper-owned publications (Ogden’s Wheeling Newspapers is the current high-bidder for the Charleston Gazette-Mail) have poorly served both sides of the issues important to the West Virginia communities where they are published. In addition, the Ogden-owned papers reportedly do not maintain a well-staffed newsroom. A well-staffed newsroom is critical for robust coverage of public affairs.
We also encourage you to pursue alternative options for future of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, namely an ESOP, an employee stock ownership plan.