November 23, 2008

Community Journalism loses a hero

Tom Gish, the crusading owner of The Mountain Eagle, in Whitesburg, Ky., died Friday, Nov. 21, 2008, at the age of 82.

Gish and his wife, Pat, were among the heroes of community journalism celebrated in a COMJIG panel at AEJMC's national convention in Chicago last August.

Tom and Pat Gish bought The Mountain Eagle in 1956 and began operating it in 1957. In the Nov. 22, 2008, issue of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reporter Andy Mead wrote this about the Gishes:

"The Mountain Eagle became the first newspaper in Eastern Kentucky to seriously challenge the environmental damage caused by strip mining. The Gishes scrapped the paper's motto: 'A Friendly Non-Partisan Weekly Newspaper Published Every Thursday.' The new motto: 'It Screams.'

"The Gishes pried open the meetings of public agencies and took on corrupt politicians, rapacious coal companies and bad schools.

"They were respected nationally but made plenty of local enemies. In 1974, after the newspaper published stories about local police mistreating young people, an officer paid arsonists to throw a kerosene firebomb through a window at the newspaper, destroying the building. Mr. Gish said he later learned that coal company money was behind the crime.

"The paper came out on schedule the next week, published on the Gishes' front porch. It had a new motto: 'It Still Screams.'" Read more at

The Gishes won numerous awards for their work. In 2004, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues headquartered at the University of Kentucky created the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism. They were the first recipients. Read more at

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gish is survived by his son Ben, who edits the paper, another son, three daughters, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

1 comment:

Doug Fisher said...

Now there's a motto more papers might consider these days instead of the more common "you sorta, kinda, well, you know ..."