Friday, October 12, 2001

Small-town editors win award

Couple publishes weekly newspaper in spite of threats

By Glenn Adams
The Associated Press

        WATERVILLE, Maine — Owning a small-town newspaper is becoming an impossible dream for ambitious young reporters, and that is a tragedy for American journalism, the couple who publish a Kentucky weekly said Thursday as they were honored by a Maine college.

        Thomas and Pat Gish, owners of the weekly Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., since 1957, were chosen to receive the 49th annual Elijah Parish Lovejoy award given by Colby College.

        The private liberal arts college presents the award each year in memory of Lovejoy, a graduate who was murdered in 1837 for the anti-slavery views he expressed in his Illinois newspaper. A mob attacked and burned his newspaper office the night Lovejoy died.

        In 1974, the Mountain Eagle's offices were burned and its press destroyed after the paper published a detailed account of local opposition to controls on coal-truck weights.

        “We relate all of this to emphasize the simple fact that free speech and freedom of the press is not an absolute,” the publishers said in prepared remarks.

        “It all can vanish tomorrow if society makes the decision that there are some truths too terrible to be told, or too terrible to hear.”

        Since buying the newspaper, the Gishes' work has also drawn boycotts, threats against their children and accusations that they were communists.

        The couple said in their address that as they learned about Lovejoy they were struck by similarities between his experiences and their own.

        “Perhaps the most important thing we share with Mr. Lovejoy is that we each have been editors of small-town newspapers that confronted harsh economic and social issues affecting the community and its residents,” they said in their speech.

        The Gishes said they are troubled by a pattern of takeovers of small, community newspapers by large media corporations.

        “Instead of a nation with countless numbers of voices, we may soon hear nothing but the well-disguised views of a handful of chief corporate executives,” they said.

        “One of the results of all that corporate money on the lookout for newspaper or TV properties to buy is that owning your own small-town newspaper is becoming the impossible dream.”

        Even though their paper covers a poor, rural area that is a long way culturally and geographically from New York and Washington, the people of Kentucky felt deeply concerned about the families of victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, they said.

        Past Lovejoy recipients have included national political columnist David Broder, Katharine Graham of The Washington Post and Murray Kempton of Newsday.


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- Small-town editors win award