Monday, October 19, 2015

Oct. 29 Al Smith Awards Dinner will honor Ky. Book Fair founder and New Mexico newspaper family

Two giants of community journalism will be honored Oct. 29 in Lexington at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Carl West, editor emeritus of The State Journal in Frankfort and founder of the Kentucky Book Fair, is the winner of the 2015 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.

Also at the dinner, the Trapp family of The Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M., will accept the institute’s 2015 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism.

Carl West
Carl West, who still lives in Frankfort, was editor of The State Journal from 1979 to 2012. He came to the paper after winning major awards as an investigative reporter in Washington. He chaired the National Press Club Library Committee, which established a highly successful book fair and authors’ night, and he took the idea to Frankfort, creating and heading the Kentucky Book Fair Committee.

West kept the Book Fair going partly by persuading the newspaper’s owners to cover much of the cost, according to the award nomination by retired journalist Richard Wilson. The vast majority of the time he spent on the fair was voluntary, after long days in the newsroom. The fair has generated thousands of dollars for Kentucky libraries and created a cultural opportunity for Kentuckians that has touched thousands of book lovers.

As editor of the state capital’s daily newspaper, “Carl oversaw numerous improvements,” Wilson wrote, “and frequently became a mentor to young journalists, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in journalism and other endeavors.”

West, a Campbell County native, is a 1966 journalism graduate of the University of Kentucky. He reported for The Kentucky Post in Covington, Frankfort and Washington before joining Scripps Howard News Service as an investigative reporter in 1973. He reported on the Watergate scandal and was named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the capital city’s leading investigative reporters. In 1976 he won the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for exceptionally meritorious Washington-based reporting.

The Al Smith Award is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the driving force for creation of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and headed its national advisory board for many years. He remains active on the board as chairman emeritus and will speak at the dinner.

The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and corrupt politicians and the firebombing of their newspaper office by a Whitesburg policeman. The Eagle, now published by son Ben Gish, and the Rio Grande Sun have exchanged subscriptions for many years, said Sun Publisher Bob Trapp, who will accept the award on behalf of his family. His parents, Robert and Ruth Trapp, died in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Robert, Ruth and Bob Trapp
The Sun, now in its 60th year of Trapp family ownership, is likewise nationally known for fighting “the crooks and the crooked politicians, the declining health and educational systems in one of the poorest counties in the country, and the fight for open records and open meetings in a county where political shenanigans is the rule,” Ben Daitz, producer of “The Sun Never Sets,” a 2012 documentary about the newspaper, wrote in a nomination.

Robert Trapp “did not care what advertisers thought, and neither does his son, and the paper still sells out every week.” The Sun claims the largest paid circulation of any New Mexico weekly. “Its success shows that robust community journalism can be good business,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and an associate extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky.

But a good newspaper often makes enemies. “A geologic feast of rocks, all thrown through the Sun’s windows over almost 60 years, is displayed on shelves around the pressroom,” Daitz wrote. “This April, the Sun was firebombed, but luckily, damage was contained and the presses ran.”

The Al Smith Awards Dinner is an annual fund-raiser for the Institute and the SPJ chapter, which conceived the Smith Award. But it is also “a grand gathering of people who believe in journalism as an essential element of our democratic processes and want it to observe high standards; who recognize the importance of rural America to the rest of the country; and who agree with us that rural Kentucky and rural America deserve good journalism just as much as the rest of the state and nation, to help our democracy work,” Cross said.

For information on the dinner, to be held at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, contact Al Cross at 859-257-3744 or; or SPJ Bluegrass Chapter Treasurer Patti Cross at 502-223-8525 or Online registration and payment is also available at

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