Monday, April 14, 2014

Pat Gish, surviving partner of a team that crusaded with their newspaper for over half a century, dies

Gishes at rural journalism institute rollout in 2004
Rural journalism lost a champion with Sunday's passing of Pat Gish at the age of 87. She and her husband Tom, who passed away in 2008, published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., together for more than 51 years

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes the Rural Blog, established the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism in honor of the Gishes, who "withstood advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office to give their readers the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas." (Read more)

"Tom Gish was the publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper, but Pat Gish was his inseparable partner in putting out the publication, which bucked entrenched local powers, exposed corruption and was the first newspaper in Eastern Kentucky to seriously challenge the abuses of surface mining," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader's Bill Estep, who briefly worked for the Gishes. "Along the way, the newspaper was recognized as one of the best rural newspapers in the nation."

The Gishes bought the paper in 1956 and published their first issue in January 1957. "At the time, the county fiscal court and school board met in private," Estep writes. "Tom and Pat Gish pried open the meetings, then went on to cover everything from poor education and housing to poverty, corruption and safety and environmental problems in the coal industry, the reigning power in the mountains at the time. The newspaper's tough coverage cost them advertising, and after stories in 1974 about local police mistreating young people, a police officer paid arsonists to throw a kerosene firebomb through a window at the newspaper, destroying the building. It didn't shut down the paper, however." The next week, its motto, "It Screams," was changed to "It Still Screams."

Tom and Pat Gish in the 1970s (Photo by Tom Bethell)
Tom Bethell, who worked at The Mountain Eagle in the 1960s, said at the time Tom Gish died in November 2008, told Estep, "They were breaking new ground — no one had ever seen a weekly newspaper in this part of the world that actually covered the news." Their son Ben has continued their legacy as editor of the paper, and the family won the Eugene Cervi Award for public service from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 2010. (Read more)

Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian Record in Texas, part of a family that won the Gish Award after the first one, which went to the Gishes, said: "We are diminished today by the death of Pat Gish. She and her husband, Tom, were real journalistic warriors of the kind too rarely seen in this age in which news is 'monetized' and valuable reporting resources are allocated according to page clicks. Pat and Tom Gish reported the real news, regardless of whether it was either profitable or popular—and despite considerable risk to both life and livelihood. We need many more just like them." UPDATE: For a nice tribute to Pat, by Daily Yonder Publisher Dee Davis, click here.

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