Sunday, January 07, 2018

Paul Nyden, retired investigative reporter with a Ph.D. in sociology and a strong sense of social justice, dies at 72

Nyden (Gazette-Mail photo)
Paul J. Nyden, who revealed abuses of the coal industry and corruption of West Virginia politicians for more than 30 years as a reporter for the Charleston Gazette, died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 72. Funeral arrangements are incomplete. UPDATE, Jan. 11: A funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Kanawha United Presbyterian Church, with receptions to follow at KUPC and The Red Carpet. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Piedmont Elementary and Manna Meal.

"Nyden defended the public’s interests by consistently taking on powerful state businesses and challenging political leaders across West Virginia," his friend, protege and successor, Ken Ward Jr., writes for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "He exposed deadly safety violations, renegade strip-mining and unscrupulous tax scams in a career that spanned more than three decades. Friends, former co-workers, sources and political observers remembered him as a man whose hard-hitting reporting was matched only by his kind personality and his love of entertaining stories and good jokes."

Nyden, a New York native, chronicled the Miners for Democracy movement in the United Mine Workers of America, capping his work with a dissertation that earned him a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University in 1974. After teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, he came to southern West Virginia and reported for the Gulf Times (published in 1977-1984) "prior to being hired at the Gazette [in 1982] by the late W.E. 'Ned' Chilton III, whose philosophy of “sustained outrage” journalism Nyden personified." He retired in 2015 when the Gazette merged with the Charleston Daily Mail.

Nyden was driven by a strong sense of social justice. He was "seemingly fearless in print" but "almost unwaveringly kind in person," Ward writes. His birthday parties for his wife, Sarah Sheets, attracted "sitting governors and even recent targets of Nyden’s investigative reports." Ward cites a Facebook post from retired Gazette reporter and editor Patty Vandergrift Tompkins: “Paul Nyden had an extraordinary talent I’ve never seen in a reporter, before or since. He could excoriate people in print one day and have them as guests at parties the next.”

"That talent was clearly a key to some of Nyden’s most remarkable journalism," Ward writes. "An award-winning series in the early 1990s about unsavory practices of large coal companies trying to hide liabilities through webs of contractors was built largely through discussions with several small coal operators who explained the system to Nyden. And the public learned much about the misdeeds of the late Gov. Arch Moore when Nyden was able to convince Beckley coal operator Paul Kizer to tell the story of his interactions with Moore."

1 comment:

Paul Hays said...

we need his labor like we need air and water