“This is really terrible news.” That’s what I e-mailed my co-workers the morning of January 30 after reading: Gazette-Mail declaring bankruptcy; Wheeling Newspapers is planned buyer.
Yeah, there’s so much terrible news of late I could spend my whole day e-mailing that statement, but this is such particularly bad news for West Virginia. (But there are some actions you can take; we’ll be posting info about that over the next few days. For instance, here’s a sign-on letter.)
That the Gazette-Mail was heading into bankruptcy wasn’t a surprise. We had heard about financial troubles for a while (the case for newspapers across the nation). And, on January 11, we had seen this:Charleston Gazette-Mail is being prepped for sale, documents state. United Bank is calling in its loans to the Gazette-Mail.
The enormity of the situation began to sink in that morning as we heard about the potential buyer. The bankruptcy in and of itself is one terrible thing; the possibility of the Wheeling Newspapers owning the Gazette-Mail takes things to a whole new low-level of bad news.
According to the January 31 article, Judge delays ruling on bidding process for Gazette-Mail, “Wheeling Newspapers was created by Ogden Newspapers for the purpose of buying the Gazette-Mail, the largest newspaper in West Virginia. Ogden owns daily newspapers in Wheeling, Parkersburg, Martinsburg and Elkins, as well as several other publications in West Virginia and dozens of them across the country.”
When I asked my friend Mary Wildfire if she had heard the terrible news, she said yes, and her reaction was “Noooo!”
We’ve both read some of the newspapers published Ogden Newspapers and found them to be terribly one-sided and breathlessly supportive in their coverage of the polluting industries.
I asked Mary to expand a bit upon her observation, so she e-mailed me:
Losing the Charleston Gazette-Mail will be a terrible blow to a state that’s already reeling. The Gazette was the only newspaper to talk about the coal industry, the drilling and fracking industry, or the proposed Appalachian Petrochemical Storage Hub in any terms but praising them to the skies.
Ken Ward’s award-winning journalism is especially noteworthy, but the Gazette has been a lot more than that.
For example, in 1998, I found out about a financial “free trade” pact so secret few even today know about it—the MAI, Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Someone in the Canadian delegation leaked it to a Canadian NGO, which leaked and spread it to others—and the sunlight killed it just like a vampire.
One small piece of that sunlight was an op-ed I wrote for the Gazette. The MAI made the next edition of Sonoma College’s 25 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year, and the Gazette was listed as having one of only four mainstream stories on the MAI. I seriously doubt the current fore-runner of bidding on the Gazette-Mail would publish a similar op-ed.
In a later edition of Sonoma College’s annual book, I saw the Gazette listed again, though I don’t remember anymore what the issue was. In other words, the Gazette actually covered both sides of issues, not just whichever side the money was on. The workers, not just the bosses. Environmentalists and people concerned about health, not just the PR spokespeople for industries. Poor people, not just the well-heeled and well connected. Put simply, West Virginia cannot afford this loss. And perhaps the Gazette will go on, under other ownership, but I doubt it will be the same.
Like Mary, even though I had zero to do with it, I was proud of our state’s largest circulation newspaper. The Chilton family owned the Gazette, and it was one of the few remaining family-owned newspapers in the nation. Such a small city in such a small state with such a fine newspaper with a true commitment to investigative journalism! No media conglomerate corporate ownership here!
When journalists from elsewhere contacted us to learn more about coal and gas issues here, we’d ask if they’d already started into their research by reading the Gazette’s archives.
Until 2015, Charleston, was a two newspaper town, with the Gazette’s editorials leaning left and the Daily Mail’s editorials leaning right. That was another point of pride—so few American cities still had two newspapers.
And now we are here. Potential buyers have until noon on March 6 to submit bids for ownership of the newspaper.
March 8 is the day the Gazette-Mail will be auctioned off.