|In the 21st Century, with expanding technology and social media outlets, America's hard copy newspapers are in decline, additionally being assaulted for publishing "fake news." The First Amendment is under attack like never before in US History.|
West Virginia's weekly newspapers are also struggling, with a few remaining vital outlets in their communities, many being purchased by conglomerates to be run on a shoe-string, staying afloat with tax money from county governments for legal ads.
Thousands of USA newspapers have closed their doors since 2000.
The decline is the loss of pillars of American Democracy and free speech.
In my lifetime, the Charleston Gazette has been the leader among state newspapers to undercover corruption and wrongdoing in the Mountain State, seldom unnerved by political threats and the loss of advertising revenue.
Now four or five corporations own must of the USA media.
Not good for the free press, and local and regional expression.
Many paper had columnists, who were among the best writers I have ever encountered. Now, they're dime a dozen, few to be found.
The paper's future is uncertain. - Bob Weaver
James A. Haught: The Crusading Charleston Gazette
A newspaper is a living thing — and it’s tragic for The Charleston Gazette-Mail to fall victim to ruthless economic troubles that are ravaging print journalism.
I’ve been here 67 years, chiefly at the Gazette, while the paper waged endless struggles to keep government clean and improve life for West Virginians.
During the corrupt Barron administration, the paper revealed that Barron insiders created a network of phony corporations — merely mailboxes — in several states. Federal prosecutors proved that the maildrops received bribes for state contracts.
During the corrupt Moore administration, the Gazette revealed an array of shady dealings. Gov. Arch Moore went to prison, like Gov. W.W. Barron.
After fiery W.E. “Ned” Chilton III became publisher, he hammered what he called “sustained outrage” to achieve reforms. Back in the 1960s, he championed racial integration to wipe out Jim Crow segregation. He pushed hard, upsetting the white supremacy culture that had prevailed for a century.
The Gazette fought constant battles. For example, when a 14-year-old boy took a pistol to Hayes Junior High School in St. Albans and killed a classmate, state law forbade anyone to reveal the juvenile killer’s name. Chilton defied the law and printed it, on grounds that the public needs to know such information. The county prosecutor, a petty politico who had been exposed by the Gazette, indicted Chilton and two staffers. But the newspaper fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won the right to name juvenile murderers.
In the past, the old “commissioner of accounts” system let well-connected lawyers take cuts from estates of dead people. Chilton fought for years until the “ghoul system” was abolished.
He decided that the Kanawha Valley needed a 911 emergency calling center for fast dispatch of police, firefighters and ambulances. He pounded the plan so often that reporters in the newsroom chanted “9-1-1.” He won, and today’s Kanawha County call center is named for him.
After a shady county clerk took the Fifth Amendment in an election probe, Chilton’s protests prevented the Kanawha commission from paying her $200,000 legal bill.
The Gazette filed lawsuits that forced the State Bar to reveal ethics complaints against lawyers — and the state Board of Medicine to disclose malpractice complaints against doctors — and all public agencies to reveal lawsuit settlements caused by officeholder wrongdoing.
Chilton sent reporters to dig into abuses by stock promoters, charity executives, evangelists, roofers, termite exterminators, house siding salesmen, insurers and car dealers. The latter temporarily canceled $100,000 worth of newspaper ads in retaliation.
Chilton denounced “the insipid press” — other West Virginia newspapers that wouldn’t hold politicians accountable. He clamored against cigarettes, which kill multitudes, and drunken drivers, who kill many. He sent reporters to examine a dubious polling business run by Senate President Dan Tonkovich — and Tonkovich also went to prison.
When baseless libel suits were filed against the Gazette, Chilton countersued the lawyers bringing the suits, forcing them to pay the newspaper’s costs.
After Chilton died in 1987, the paper continued his hard-driving strategy — winning many national awards until Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize last year for exposing outrageous flooding of West Virginia with deadly opioids by pharmaceutical firms.
Chilton’s wife, Betty, and their daughter, Susan, struggled intensely to keep the Gazette-Mail’s quality high and keep the paper solvent as ad revenue disappeared — but in the end, it wasn’t possible. The entire industry is suffering.
I began in 1951 as a teenage apprentice printer at the Daily Mail. I volunteered to work without pay in the newsroom on my days off to learn the news biz. In 1953, the Gazette offered me a reporter job, and I’ve been here ever since, except briefly in 1959 when I was press aide to Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
The Chilton family has owned the Gazette for more than a century. It’s a shame to see their long, long tenure coming to an end. Everyone in the newsroom hopes that new owners will keep the Gazette-Mail a hard-fighting paper to improve life in West Virginia.
- James A. Haught, the Gazette-Mail’s editor emeritus, can be reached at 304-348-5199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.