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Kentucky couple receives SPJ lifetime achievement award


Robert Leger, SPJ President, 417/836-1113 or cell: 417/848-7520, or rleger@spj.org
Al Cross, SPJ Immediate Past President, 502/648-8433 or across@spj.org

FORT WORTH, Texas – Tom and Pat Gish, owners of a crusading weekly newspaper in southeastern Kentucky, received the Helen Thomas Award for lifetime achievement at the Society of Professional Journalists convention last Saturday in Fort Worth.

“The phrase ‘lifetime achievement’ can connote many things. For tonight’s award winners, it means a life consumed – and sometimes put at risk -- by the journalism they have practiced for 45 years in Letcher County, Kentucky,” outgoing SPJ President Al Cross said as he presented the award. “Their careers could make a great book or even a motion picture.”

The award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, a living icon of journalism for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years. Thomas received the first award two years ago.

Since 1957, Tom and Pat Gish have published The Mountain Eagle, a weekly newspaper in Whitesburg, Ky. “They have taken on corrupt politicians, lousy schools and rapacious coal companies, and suffered for it,” said Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal.

In 1974, the newspaper office was firebombed, and a Whitesburg police officer was found guilty of hiring some young men to torch the paper. For some years after that, the Gishes struggled hard to even put out a paper and make ends meet, as advertisers stayed away, their fellow citizens shunned them and their children were harassed at school. But through it all, Tom Gish told the convention crowd, the people of Letcher County stuck with them, and finally the advertisers returned.

The Gishes were presented a glass sculpture and a plaque saying that the award was given “in honor of your lifelong dedication to the core journalistic missions of informing and respecting your readers, setting the public agenda, and holding accountable not only public officials but business interests that affect your readers’ lives. Against daunting odds and many tribulations, you have been an inspiration to generations of American journalists and an example for community journalists worldwide.”

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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