Thursday, March 23, 2017

Monthly muckraker marks 25 years in Va. county that seems well served by its local news media

Rockbridge County, Virginia, seems well served by local news media. It has a fine weekly newspaper, The News-Gazette, published by the president of the National Newspaper Association; the Rockbridge Report, an online news outlet with coverage from journalism students at Washington and Lee University, and The Rockbridge Advocate, which for 25 years has offered "an unvarnished version of events in Lexington and Rockbridge County," reports Laurance Hammack of The Roanoke Times.

Doug Harwood delivers copies of his paper in Lexington, Va.
(Photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times)
The Advocate's motto is "Independent as a hog on ice," the ethos of its publisher, Doug Harwood. "Respected by many and reviled by some, Harwood is as much an institution in this town as the newsmakers he covers," Hammack reports. "Harwood, 64, has defied two conventional rules of survival in the journalism world. He seeks out the scandals that many small-town newspapers avoid. And he avoids the use of online news, social media and the like."

Hamamck writes, "Harwood breaks stories that otherwise might never be told. He reported on a local social services agency that ignored cases of child abuse; revealed financial problems at the Natural Bridge attraction; investigated the mysterious death of a young man at a psychiatric hospital; and chronicled misconduct by a county prosecutor and countless other public figures."

W&L communications professor Doug Cumming told Hammack, “If you could clone Doug Harwood and scatter him across the land, it would do so much good for democracy.” Cumming successfully nominated Harwood to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

The News-Gazette is a more traditional paper, but it "takes courageous positions for a publication with readers in a blue city and red county," said W&L communications professor Pam Luecke. A recent example was an editorial saying Republicans needed to remove the prohibition of Planned Parenthood funding from their health-care bill.

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