From Al Cross, Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Each year the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues presents the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, named for the couple who exemplified those qualities as publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for 51 years.
Nominations for the Gish Award may be made at any time, but the deadline to be considered for this year’s award is July 19. To nominate a candidate, send a detailed letter explaining how the nominee shows the kind of courage, tenacity and integrity that Tom and Pat Gish demonstrated at their weekly newspaper in the Central Appalachian coalfield. Documentation does not have to accompany the nomination, but is helpful in choosing finalists, and additional documentation may be requested or required. Send your nominating letter, initial documentation and any questions to Al.Cross@uky.edu.
The Gishes 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, and were the first winners of the award named for them. Tom and Pat died in 2008 and 2014, respectively; their son Ben is the Eagle’s editor and publisher and is on the award selection committee.
The Institute seeks nominations that measure up, at least in major respects, to the records of the Gishes and other previous winners. After the Gishes, winners have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian Record in the Texas panhandle; Jim Prince and Stanley Dearman, current and late publishers of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of The Oregonian for her work at The Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky., and Jacksonville Daily Progress in Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin of the now-defunct Yancey County News in western North Carolina; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Kentucky; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in northern New Mexico; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in western Missouri; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa; Les Zaitz of The Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon; and in 2019, three reporters whose outstanding careers have revealed much about the coal industry in Central Appalachia: Howard Berkes, retired from NPR; Ken Ward Jr., then with the Charleston Gazette-Mail; and his mentor at the Gazette, the late Paul Nyden. Last year’s winner was the late Tim Crews of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, Calif., a longtime crusader for open government.