Top in 2007? What?

The Associated Press released their picks for the top ten Kentucky news stories for 2007 a couple days ago.

1. Democrat Steve Beshear defeated Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

2. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Kentucky inmates’ challenge to lethal injection.

3. Investigators determined that pilot error was the main cause of the 2006 Comair crash in Lexington.

If it were up to us, we’d pick something a little more odd like this story where a crazed reader challenges the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth to a duel. Ha.

And in honor of the War on Christmas? Happy Holidays and such.

Herald-Leader Treats Employees Badly

The Lexington Newspaper Guild is making its voice heard over the Herald-Leader’s decision to fight for the right to slash and eliminate health care for part-time workers and cut sick leave for all employees. Mind numbing, isn’t it? The very paper that has editorialized support for universal health care and economic justice for decades is kicking its employees in favor of corporate profits.

The H-L is owned by McClatchy, an organization based in Sacramento, CA, which purchased the paper in mid 2006. McClatchy promptly paid former Knight Ridder execs more than $60 million (the paper’s profits were $23 million in 2005) but can’t find the means to provide their workers with the basics.

The Lexington Newspaper Guild has been in talks with the company over its contract which expired on January 1 of this year (which remains in effect via an evergreen clause) and there are two major obstacles the company is sticking with. What are they? Health care and sick leave. Arguably the state’s most important news organization in the history of the Commonwealth is on the verge of disaster over health care and sick leave. Shameful.

The Guild recently held a demonstration outside the Herald-Leader and has released a video of the event:

UPDATE: Editor & Publisher has a great story on the Guild’s fight for fairness. Publisher Tim Kelly seems to think the truth is damaging. So maybe it’d be a good idea to, you know, provide employees with the basics and stop beating around the bush.

Anne Northup Unloads on Hawpe

You can only imagine how much pleasure former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup must have taken as she wrote a fiery letter to the Courier-Journal this week. She said the proverbial straw that unhinged her was a mention by David Hawpe in a Sunday column professing his fairness to Republican candidates. She must have been considering this rant, though, for some time. Like, for years.

We tend to believe Anne wrote this one herself, with no help from handlers or political advisors. It’s way too emotional to have gone through a thorough political vetting.

But we wonder why she, and other politicians, don’t do more public bitching about the way they’re treated in the media. There’s nothing in Northup’s letter that couldn’t have been said during her time in office or during a campaign. Sure, it would be tough to take on Hawpe and risk alienating voters. But wouldn’t it be interesting to have a winning political candidate open an acceptance speech with a line like this — “I just want to say to David Hawpe – I’m not taking any more of your crap.”

Northup started by calling Hawpe “abusive and dishonest” but it got better – or worse – from there. Her piece wasn’t so much about the unfavorable treatment she got in the paper, but about Hawpe’s out-of-print political activity, like ripping her in speeches and (allegedly) recruiting political opponents. She didn’t like the demanding e-mails he sent, requesting items that took up staff time and yet never became the subject of anything editorial.

Northup makes a convincing case against Hawpe. It will be interesting to see if Hawpe responds. His advantage in this war of words, of course, is that he always gets the last word.

Sidenote: What the hell are “conservative” values? And what politician doesn’t understand that news outlets have demanding deadlines? Jesus.

Basketball Players Get Special Treatment?

Surely you jest! And this time we’re not talking about free Escalades and Lexus SUVs.

Brandon Ortiz lays out a story we haven’t heard much about in a while.

Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael ruled that police were right in concealing the identity of a UK basketball star accused of raping Cynthia Wilson Smithers at Wildcat Lodge. The ruling comes after a 2006 opinion from the Attorney General supporting an open records request by the Herald-Leader in its attempt to cover the investigation.

Judge Ishmael wasn’t down with our sunshine laws, though, and claimed the OAG and H-L were being offensive for, you know, wanting access to public records. He says documents with redacted names are adequate for the purposes of scrutiny. We’re no lawyers but we’re not sure that’s a good argument. Well, not since he claimed UK’s basketball players aren’t public figures.

Aren’t UK’s basketball guys more well-known than Oprah in Kentucky? What on earth is the judge talking about?

Stephen George on Moving Mountains

Very little can get the people of Appalachia fired up like a discussion about coal mining. Likewise, very few “big city” journalists are well-equipped to approach the subject with innate personal passion. Stephen George, Kentucky’s somewhat hidden gem of a journalist, does just that in the winter edition of New Southerner.

George tells the story of Penny Loeb’s Moving Mountains (available from the University Press of Kentucky– BUY IT!) and how it came to be. Loeb’s battle against King Coal for such basics as clean water and a healthy environment is just the tip of the iceberg for most eastern Kentuckians. It’s a story that hits close to home and is hanging in our hearts. You politicos who care about the future of our beautiful Commonwealth should give Stephen’s article (and then the book) a read.

Patricia “Trish” Bragg is a housewife who lives in Pie, West Virginia, a coal-rich hamlet close to the Kentucky border that has been mined, mountaintop-removal style, into a much different place than it was a few decades ago. Water flows differently nowadays. So does money, and so do bloodlines. It’s all because of the coal — cheap, bituminous black. Beating back the rush for it is like trying to stop an avalanche with a ski pole: the mechanics make a little sense, if you bend your mind, but the size of the task alone is so absurd, you may as well shrug it off.

Bragg was the lead plaintiff — by virtue of the alphabetical superiority of her last name — in the most far-reaching lawsuit in the history of mountaintop removal. She held the proverbial ski pole. And for it, she is a hero to some and a villain to others.

Bragg and the lawsuit, Bragg v. Robertson, are the subjects of the new book Moving Mountains by Penny Loeb, an investigative journalist and former senior editor at U.S. News & World Report who spent nine years following the monumental case that would permanently change Appalachia, King Coal and the future of this most destructive, degrading form of mining. Loeb’s account is a superb balance of storytelling with complex, difficult facts — the minutia of federal and state mining regulations is dense if anything — and the seasoned reporter deals it all in stride. She has crafted a coherent story of victory and defeat, of settlements and injunctions, capturing among it all the grand, brazen hope that a bunch of ill-read underdogs can — and did — change a world much bigger than their own.

But first, they needed some drinking water.

Click here to read the rest…

The Plain Truth from John Yarmuth

It’s hard not to like John Yarmuth. A year into his first-term as 3rd District Congressman, it’s obvious that he’s having a good time in Washington, but he’s also taking his job seriously. When he spoke to about 50 folks at Spalding University last night (a mix of journalists and students), he was eager and open in talking about his experiences. It almost felt like a family gathering (Yarmuth seems to get plenty of props from his colleagues for his media experience) where you catch up with the adventurous cousin who’s been away.

Yarmuth tells it like it is in a way that’s unusual in political circles. For one, he can admit mistakes, but he’s also willing to talk about the reasons behind his votes, even if those reasons are political. Before we get all “man-crush” on him, here are some of the topics he discussed:

Federal Shield Law: Yarmuth became a sponsor of the bill after he introduced himself, in a hallway, to Mike Pence (R-IN), who knew of Yarmuth’s publishing past and asked him to get involved. Yarmuth says that while the bill passed the House, it’s hung up in the Senate. The bill provides protections for reporters against being compelled to reveal confidential sources. Yarmuth is not a big fan of the way the Senate operates.

Read moreThe Plain Truth from John Yarmuth

Nickolas Calls it Quits

Mark Nickolas of the Bluegrass Report is calling it quits. After taking in donations from more than 100 people to work for three months, he’s ditching his site in favor of an unnamed project. In a recent post on his site he says he’ll be featuring guest writers to take his place. (Something that’s already happening and to a great extent happens on Page One with numerous contributors). Note that you won’t find us linking to Bluegrass Report, as Mark has made it blatantly obvious– despite our growing relevance– that he’s not fond of mentioning Page One even when we break major stories or are the first to report information.

I’ve cordially corresponded with Nickolas over the past year. Before this site was created and before our new company was official. At one point we were in talks to buy his site but discussion with our financier fell through. I also provided him with several stories throughout the gubernatorial primary. So there’s no ill will. We appreciate his paid-for work throughout the gubernatorial election and thank him for his efforts to create online activity in Kentucky politics.

It is, however, a bit surprising to us that Mark has ignored the growing and very relevant blogosphere in Kentucky. And even more surprising that he’s taken it upon himself to seemingly swipe story ideas from our site, from BlueGrassRoots and others with no mention or attribution. Not to mention his total lack of transparency regarding (potential) influences. Not terrible things, no, but not a great way to operate or keep the peace.

Read moreNickolas Calls it Quits