|Stanley Nelson at The Concordia Sentinel|
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues presents the award in honor of Tom and Pat Gish, who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years. Tom Gish, who died in 2008, and his wife Pat were the award's first recipients.
Nelson and the Sentinel showed courage and unusual tenacity in investigating an unsolved murder from the era of conflict over civil rights, and in January 2011 named a living suspect in the 1964 killing of African American businessman Frank Morris. A grand jury was convened and continues to investigate. A prosecutor on the case, David Oppeman, told James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, “I told Stanley the other day he is the hub in this and everybody else is just a spoke. He did the work that needed to be done.”
The newspaper showed integrity and courage in the face of reader resistance to its dogged, detailed reporting in more than 150 stories. “The owners of the Concordia Sentinel never hesitated in following the story,” Nelson wrote in the fall edition of Nieman Reports, of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. "While most readers read the stories with interest and outrage over what happened so many years ago, many of the most vocal were those who detested the coverage and who questioned our motives," Nelson told the Institute for Rural Journalism. “We knew some would be angered to read about the parish's ugly racial past,” he wrote for Nieman Reports. “Some canceled subscriptions. We were threatened. Our office was burglarized. One irate reader called to find out my ultimate goal. ‘To solve a murder,’ I said. ‘You can't do that,’ she snapped. ‘You're just a reporter!’ She hung up. We pressed on.”
For much more on Nelson, the Sentinel and the Gish Award, click here.