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Celebrating Year 7

We are now in June, which means I’m beginning my seventh year as your state government reporter in Charleston. And it continues to be a fun, wild ride.

I remain thankful to Ogden Newspapers and its many daily and weekly newspapers here in West Virginia and bordering states that run my news stories and this weekly column. I’m also thankful for other newspapers in the state that run my articles, including the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram/The State Journal and the Beckley Register-Herald.

The newspaper industry has encountered many challenges over the last 25 years. The internet has led to social media and other websites siphoning off advertisers and subscribers. We’ve seen newspapers close as they struggle for revenue and readers. We’ve seen other newspapers shrink the size of their papers or reduce the number of days they publish.

West Virginia has been largely immune from the national trends, but that has been changing in recent years. Smaller papers, which often struggle to find writers for low pay, are starting to close. Recent examples include newspapers in Welch and Moundsville.

You may not notice many of these changes because unfortunately, you are bombarded by national news. Once upon a time, your exposure to national and international news might have been a quick browse of the morning newspaper, the drive to work via your radio, or the evening news on TV. Thanks to 24-hour cable news, the internet and social media, now you can’t escape it.

Today, college students think they are more in tune with what’s going on in Gaza than what is going on in their local communities and cities. You are forced to have an opinion on multiple issues, and you are forced to take a side. We appear to be more partisan as a culture today, but how much of that is people keeping up appearances to not awaken a social media mob from the left or from the right?

There is nothing wrong obviously with national and international news reporting. And partisan media have been with us in this nation since the first newspapers in the 1700s. But what is missing these days is coverage of local news and even state government news. That hole is being filled by other junk information.

I’m grateful to work for this company and others that care about local and state news, because what happens in your city or town, your county and here under the golden dome of the State Capitol in Charleston has more effect on your life than some clickbait story with some headline designed by an AI to make you rage and click the link.

Being a taxpayer in your local communities and in this state, you actually have more ability to effect change than you might realize. But you can’t do that unless you have the information at your fingertips. That’s what your local reporters do for you every day. We show you the good things going on. Sometimes we pull back the veil to show you the bad things too. Our jobs are to follow the stories wherever they lead.

I don’t want to over-elevate local journalism. We are no heroes. Many of us are underpaid, and whoever planted the lie in the minds of young people entering journalism schools that such a degree would bring them higher pay will have a special place in the underworld. A journalism degree just means you have something additional to place in your cramped cubicle.

But despite low pay and long hours, we take pride in the stories we write, the photos we take, and how the paper looks when you open it in the morning. We are also part of your community and want to see things get better because it benefits all of us.

We reporters also come to the table with our own biases, sometimes formed by politics but often formed by lived experience. We are by no means “experts,” and the moment we think we know it all, that causes problems. Our job is to ask questions and allow the answers to those questions to take us on journeys that are unexpected; not try to force answers to questions to confirm what we may believe.

At the end of the day, we need strong local newspapers with dedicated reporters. We need not be cheerleaders helping to paint over the bad, but we also need not be naysayers painting everything in a bad light. We need to be umpires, calling balls and strikes. That means one day you may get a glowing article, and the next day you may get a critical article.

I remain appreciative of the relationships I’ve built in my role as state government reporter where I can talk with state leaders and lawmakers from both major political parties. People who may get mad at me for one story but are willing to pick up the phone when I call, knowing that I’m honest and fair. That’s all I really can be.

Once again, I’m honored to continue in the role and thankful for your readership since 2018. As long as this company still wants me, I’ll be here in Charleston covering your state government, writing in-depth features and penning this column.


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