Kentucky

A note to Gov. Bevin: What we mean by #ReadLocal. And why we’ll keep asking questions.

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Gov. Matt Bevin, who’s made a habit of calling journalists names during his time as governor, recently pointed his Twitter finger in the Herald-Leader’s direction.

Over the last few weeks, the governor took issue with two articles: one about the state of economic progress under the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative in Eastern Kentucky; the second about a report on the state’s economic progress in general.

Gov. Bevin is never shy about sharing his opinions. But I wanted to address a few of his statements about the Herald-Leader and especially its Kentucky-based journalists.

First, in a video posted to social media, Gov. Bevin claimed that the Herald-Leader “rarely ventures” into Eastern Kentucky, other than to “poo-poo” things that are happening there.

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Peter Baniak, Herald-Leader editor and general manager File

How often do Herald-Leader journalists really venture into Eastern Kentucky?

Well, one of them is there every day. He co-wrote the article the governor was criticizing. Reporter Will Wright (a University of Kentucky graduate) is based in Pikeville, which, at last check, has not moved out of Eastern Kentucky.

The Herald-Leader’s Pikeville bureau is a partnership between our newsroom and a project called Report for America, which has the goal of placing journalists on the ground in communities throughout America. The Pikeville bureau opened last January as one of the first big steps for this promising nationwide journalism initiative.

In his time in Pikeville, Will has been all over Eastern Kentucky, covering all manner of news and important community stories, such as the water crisis in Martin County.

The other reporter on that article, Bill Estep, is based in Somerset, in Southern Kentucky. In his more than 30 years as a Herald-Leader journalist, Bill has spent countless hours in Eastern Kentucky. He’s covered many of the biggest news stories that region has seen in those three-plus decades, and produced award-winning watchdog journalism about Appalachia, its triumphs and challenges. He was in Pikeville this year to cover the SOAR summit, as he has been every year since the initiative began.

That SOAR summit also produced promising economic news for the region, millions in grants for a water project and a factory, which the Herald-Leader covered.

Bill was a co-writer of the second article with which the governor quibbled on social media, an article about job and wage growth in the state as a whole.

Along with Bill, the other reporter on that article was Jack Brammer, who has been a journalist in Kentucky for more than 40 years, covered nine governors and was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame just this year.

The data and conclusions in that article were all drawn from a report released by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. I’m not going to recount all of those conclusions here. But I will note that the article includes data directly from that Chamber report, and links to the full report. Just as the first article the governor disliked contained interviews, data and links to information about the economy of Eastern Kentucky.

Why do we include these data points, names of sources and links to detailed source material? Because we believe you, our readers, are intelligent, engaged citizens. You can read the story, follow the links, see where the information we used came from, read the full study behind the story if desired — and draw your own informed conclusions.

In two Tweets about the most recent story, the governor first referred to the “KY-hating losers” at the Herald-Leader, then followed up with a swipe at McClatchy, the Herald-Leader’s parent company, focused in part on the fact that McClatchy is based in California.

Just to be clear: The Herald-Leader’s decisions about news coverage are made in Kentucky.

They’re made by editors like John Stamper, a Kentucky native and Western Kentucky University graduate who edited both of the stories in question.

Ultimately, I’m the person responsible for news decisions here. I’ve been the Herald-Leader’s editor for more than nine years now. Starting Monday, I’ll also be the Herald-Leader’s general manager. I live and work in Lexington, as I have for 23 years. I’ve made my home in Kentucky since 1995, after falling in love with this place during an internship in the early 90s. Like the governor, I wasn’t born in Kentucky. But I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else (after a military-brat childhood that involved moving often).

For me, Kentucky is home, and I’m heavily invested in wanting to see it succeed. But I also recognize the state has many challenges. As journalists, we write about those challenges in a clear-eyed way, and we ask tough questions of our leaders and institutions to hold them accountable for how things are going.

An example: Just over 5 years ago, multiple Herald-Leader reporters spent two years reporting and writing a series of stories on the 50th anniversary of Harry Caudill’s landmark book “Night Comes to the Cumberlands.” That Herald-Leader series, “50 Years of Night,” explored in depth the progress made in Eastern Kentucky on a host of social, economic and other issues, and the persistent lack of progress on many others.

Immediately after that series was published, SOAR was launched as an effort to spur more progress in the mountains. I’m proud of the positive influence that in-depth reporting by Herald-Leader journalists had.

The article the governor disliked included a series of interviews and data points about how the SOAR effort is going. The short answer: Much work remains to be done. We plan to keep reporting on that work. And we plan to keep asking questions.

Gov. Bevin is fond of using the hashtag #WeAreKY on his social media posts.

Well, we are Kentucky, too. We live here. We work here. We’re part of the community. We care passionately about this place and its people. We celebrate the many successes of our neighbors.

No one at the Herald-Leader celebrates when Kentucky falls short, but we also won’t look away when it comes to reporting on the state’s problems, and potential solutions. We remain committed to producing local journalism that explores important, sometimes uncomfortable, questions about the state we call home.

We have another hashtag we often use for our news coverage: #ReadLocal.

We are Kentuckians. We fight for Kentuckians. Every day.

We invite you to join us by subscribing to the work produced by our local journalists.

Peter Baniak is the editor and general manager of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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