Thursday, October 04, 2018

Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail wins a MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant' of $625,000

Ken Ward Jr.
Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, for years the leading reporter on extractive industries in Appalachia, is among this year's 25 winners of fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowship, generally known as “the genius grant,” carries a stipend of $625,000 over five years, with no strings attached, to give fellows "maximum freedom ... to follow their creative vision, whether it is moving forward with their current activities, expanding the scope of their work, or embarking in entirely new directions," the foundation says.

MacArthur looks for exceptional creativity; promise for important future advances based on a record of significant accomplishments; and potential that the fellowship will spur further creative work. It said Ward was chosen because he excels at “revealing the human and environmental toll of natural-resource extraction in West Virginia and spurring greater accountability among public and private stakeholders.”

Ward sees the fellowship as "an indication that the reporting done here is valuable," the Gazette-Mail reports, quoting him: “This shows the importance and value of the kind of journalism I believe in, and that most of us have been trying to do for decades here. This incredible honor from the MacArthur Foundation is a strong vote of confidence in local journalism, and more to the point in local journalism that doesn’t just parrot the official line, but questions and holds accountable powerful people, industries, governments and other institutions that might not be acting in the public interest.”

"Ward, 50, is the only journalist in the group of 25 fellows announced today, a group that includes scientists, artists, authors, scholars and advocates," the paper notes. "Ward is the first person to be living in West Virginia at the time he received his MacArthur grant; the previous three had moved away." One was Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who was in the first class of fellows, in 1981. "He and Gates share a hometown, the small town of Piedmont in Mineral County. As a boy, Ward and his family moved to nearby Keyser." He graduated from West Virginia University in 1990 and joined The Charleston Gazette in 1991. For the past year, he's been in ProPublica's new Local Reporting Network, "working on longer-term stories on the natural-gas industry," the paper reports.

Ward told the Gazette-Mail that he plans to continue working there, "but that the MacArthur fellowship gives his family a safety net -- and challenges him to perhaps explore some new ways to ensure local news reporting remains strong." He said, “It's great to have some financial security. It's great to have this recognition, but … it seems very clear that this is not a lifetime achievement award. This is supposed to help you do more to realize some potential. I feel a lot of responsibility and pressure to figure out things to do to live up to that. What is it that these people saw in me that they think I can somehow go and do to make life better for people in West Virginia? I gotta figure out what that is and go do it.”

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