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Record cited for courage, integrity, tenacity

Eric Meyer and the staff of the Marion County Record last week were announced as winners of the 2024 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity, and tenacity in rural journalism.

The award is presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky.

The institute announced the award this way:

“Meyer and his weekly newspaper have become a touchstone for freedom of the press since August, 2023, when local police raided his office and his home and confiscated computers, reporters’ notes, and cell phones, ostensibly investigating charges of identity theft and illegal use of a computer.

“It didn’t take long for some motives to be apparent: city officials’ desire to punish the newspaper for its investigation of the police chief’s questionable employment background and its reporting on the mayor’s alleged ethics violations and other activities.

“A few weeks later, the chief was suspended, and three days later, he resigned.

“Five days after the raid, the county attorney withdrew the warrants signed by a local judge, saying they were ‘legally insufficient,’ and the confiscated items were returned.

“But in the meantime, Meyer’s 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer, collapsed and died after telling journalists that she was upset and stressed by the raid of her home and the paper where she had worked for 50 years.

“She said, ‘These are Hitler tactics, and something has to be done.’

“The raid, perhaps unprecedented, sparked international outrage at a time when local newspapers are struggling.

“Eric Meyer said soon after the raid, ‘If we don’t fight back, and we don’t win in fighting back, it’s going to silence everybody.’

“Since then, he and his staff have continued to show the courage, tenacity, and integrity often required to deliver good journalism in rural areas.

“The Record ‘is uncommonly aggressive for its size,’ the New York Times reported. ‘Meyer said that the newspaper, which has seven employees, has stoked the ire of some local leaders for its vigorous reporting on Marion County officials.’

“That profile fits those of other Gish Award winners, including the first winners and the award’s namesakes: Tom and Pat Gish, who published the Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Kentucky, for more than 50 years.

“Their son and successor, Ben Gish, is on the award selection committee.

“He said of Meyer, ‘Given today’s political climate, what happened to him in Kansas almost certainly will happen at some other small-town paper when another unfit person wins that county’s sheriff’s race.’

“Meyer’s family bought the Marion County Record in 1998 to keep it from being sold to a chain. His father, editor Bill Meyer, had worked there since 1948 and won the Eugene Cervi Award of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 2002.

“Eric Meyer returned to his hometown to run the paper during the COVID-19 pandemic after working as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal and teaching journalism at the University of Illinois.

“ ‘Eric Meyer and other journalists at the Marion County Record covered their community with courage, tenacity and integrity long before a shocking police raid brought them international attention,’ said Benjy Hamm, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism. ‘But the raid and its aftermath revealed to a much larger audience that the Marion County Record could not be intimidated, denied, or defeated in its pursuit of the truth.’ “

Meyer will receive the award Oct. 10 in Lexington, Kentuckyy., at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the Institute for Rural Journalism.

Last modified May 16, 2024

 

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