|Uvalde Leader-News Publisher Craig Garnett (OPA photo)|
The award is presented annually by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. Garnett was recognized during an awards dinner hosted by the Institute in Lexington, KY. He was unable to attend in person but provided remarks by video, and he will receive the award at an event in Texas in February.
Garnett owns the twice-weekly newspaper that continues to cover the aftermath of the May 2022 school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers died.
“What happened in Uvalde was crushing,” Garnett said. “It continues to be an enormous weight on many of our shoulders, especially the families of the victims, and we have endeavored to cover every aspect of that shooting.”
Garnett said he was honored to receive an award that’s based on courage, integrity and tenacity. “I don’t know three words that inspire publishers more than those,” he said. “And I can tell you right now that we have courage and we have integrity, and it’s that tenacity that makes the difference between success and failure.”
The award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Kentucky, for more than 50 years. The newspaper was known for its unwavering coverage of corrupt public officials, coal-company abuses, misdeeds of the local police and anti-poverty programs that often missed the mark. As a result, they suffered advertising boycotts, loss of friendships and the even the burning of their newspaper office.
“Tom and Pat Gish set the benchmark for this award,” Garnett said. “I wish I had known them. I think they must have been remarkable people to have created this kind of legacy.”
In nominating Garnett for the award, Managing Editor Meghann Garcia said that he has made a “dogged pursuit to learn how so many things went wrong that day, how every single fail-safe failed.”
|Uvalde County (Wikipedia map)|
He concluded, "There is a final question that no one will ever adequately answer. It came on Thursday in the form of a text message from our reporter, Kimberly Rubio, whose fourth-grader Lexi did not come home that day: 'Why would someone hurt my baby, Craig?'"
In an editorial, Garnett wrote, “No mass school shooting in the United States has ended with such glaring failures in both the law enforcement response and school district security” and called the police response “a rudderless ship cast into a hurricane.”
Garnett also endorsed more gun control, and that stand and his criticism of police didn’t sit well in the town of 15,000 and the county of 25,000.
In the nomination letter, Garcia wrote, “It wasn't the first time our coverage, or Craig's politics, went against the grain. . . . Craig has never been afraid of taking a stand or telling the news, despite how unpopular it might be with subscribers and advertisers, who are also often his friends.”
Garnett’s wife, Melissa, told the award selection committee, “One of his best columns was about our son’s process of recovery from drugs and alcohol. That took courage. He must have hit all the right notes, as the response was great – he had taken the bold step of using his pain of an addicted child to remove the stigma of talking about addiction.”
In addition to the Gish Award, the Institute for Rural Journalism and the Society of Professional Journalists Bluegrass Chapter also presented Ben Gish, son of Pat and Tom Gish, and Mountain Eagle reporter Sam Adams the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians.