|The Mingo County Courthouse|
(Photo by Kyle Lovern, Williamson Daily News)
Citing unnamed sources, the Charleston station ran a story May 22 detailing how federal investigators had traveled to Mingo County to investigate local elected officials, including the county's only judge and a county commissioner. Sources said the investigation centered around election violations and other federal crimes.
The newspaper immediately responded with an editorial entitled "Real journalists don't hide behind anonymous sources." While admitting there were rumors of corruption, it said that was all there was, and that no hard facts existed yet. "The job of a journalist is to find out what really happened," the editorial said. "If there is a story to be told about legitimate allegations against any of our county officials, you can be sure you’ll be able to read the facts in our news pages."
The editorial did not name the station, but it gave a glimpse of how the newspaper practices community journalism: "We understand why it’s easy for television media to jump the gun on a potential big story. They don’t live in our community. They won’t see those that they’ve unjustly attacked at the grocery store or at a youth baseball game. It’s easy to hide behind anonymous sources when you are not invested in the community. But we are the local newspaper and we know we have a responsibility. We would never compromise our integrity just to be able to say we 'broke a story.' We want what’s best for our community and right now, what’s best, is not to perpetuate rumors."
On Thursday the Daily News published its own story about the investigation. Kyle Lovern wrote that the paper "has confirmed that federal investigators and members of the West Virginia State Police have recently been to the Mingo County Courthouse." Though, in a strange twist, the paper couldn't get any officials to go on record to confirm the investigation; its prime source was a local citizen who frequents the courthouse and said he had met a supervisory FBI agent there. (Read more)
The Columbia Journalism Review took note of the controversy here.