Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whitt, 'redneck journalist' who won Pulitzer, dies

Private funeral services will be held Friday evening in Marietta, Ga., for retired investigative reporter Richard Whitt, who died of an apparent heart attack at his home Monday. Whitt retired from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2006; from 1977 to 1989 he was a reporter for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting on a Kentucky fire that killed 165 people and prompted changes in safety laws. Earlier, he worked at papers in Middlesboro, Ky.; Waterloo, Iowa; and Kingsport, Tenn.

Whitt liked to say that he practiced "redneck journalism." His typical explanation for that was, "It’s the kind of journalism that when you read the paper in the morning you say, ‘Damn, that makes me mad,’ and it makes your neck red. That motivates people to do things.” But it also reflected his poor, rural upbringing, to which he remained connected. And it had another double meaning, that journalism was also for rednecks -- for those who wanted to practice it, and those who can be served by it. He was driven by a sense of social justice for the working class from whence he came, but never saw himself as a crusader and always wanted to enjoy his work. He was a reporter’s reporter, our friend, and a great example to rural journalists who aspire to the top of the craft.

An open house will be held at Whitt's home, 1000 Waverly Court in Marietta, from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Richard Whitt Memorial Fund for Rural Journalists at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications. For more on that and Rich Whitt, click here.

UPDATE: Whitt's family held a private memorial service Sept. 19 to bury his ashes at the family homeplace, reports Mike James of The Independent in Ashland.

1 comment:

Emily Jeffries said...

I was so proud of my father's work. He raised his children, as most journalists do, to be very aware of the social and political injustices in the world.

To all journalist reading this, please keep fighting the good fight.

He was my daddy, my friend, and my mentor.