Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A rural journalist who roared and his small-town paper that screamed

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about Tom Gish, a small-town Kentucky newspaper owner whose newspaper was once burned to the ground cause he pissed off a local cop who was mad cause Gish and his wife editorialized about the authorities harassing teen-agers.

Gish has passed away but he left quite an impression.

Tom and Pat wrote some of the first stories about the poverty that came with the post-war depression in the coalfields. Other reporters followed the Eagle’s reporting. They would read a story in the Whitesburg paper and then trek down to Eastern Kentucky to see things for themselves. Invariably they’d wind up in Whitesburg and following Tom on a personally guided tour of the region. The War on Poverty began with stories coming from Eastern Kentucky. In reality, Lyndon Johnson’s attention to the nation’s poorest people was directed by reporting done by Tom and Pat Gish.

This pattern continued on through the years. The Eagle would publish stories about the destruction caused by coal strip mining, on unsafe mining practices, on hungry families and the failures of federal programs. Reporters at the big city press would read the Eagle and then book their trips to Eastern Kentucky.

-- DailyYonder.com

At one point, boycotts kept the paper down to four tabloid pages. Sometimes, the whole family pitched in, five kids and all, to get the paper out.

In 1969, CBS News reporter Charles Kuralt asked Gish why he simply didn't leave the threats and boycotts behind, and get out of Whitesburg. Gish chuckled at the question and said this: "That would amount to a kind of surrendering that I just can't do."

On Monday, with the patriarch gone and Pat retired, the couple's son Ben runs The Mountain Eagle. The Gish name remains on the masthead. And Tom Gish leaves behind a little newspaper that still screams.

-- NPR.org


Baytown Bert said...

Thanks for shining honor on this fellow Banjo.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting..Thanks Banjo!