3 WVa reporters who condemned interview of ex-coal CEO fired

Dec 13, 2022, 2:52 PM | Updated: 2:57 pm
FILE - Former coal executive Don Blankenship waits outside the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday, ...

FILE - Former coal executive Don Blankenship waits outside the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, after the Capitol was evacuated due to a fire alarm in Charleston, W.Va. Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia have been fired after publicly criticizing a now-removed video interview posted on their parent company's website with a former coal executive who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades. (AP Photo/John Raby, File)

(AP Photo/John Raby, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia say they have been fired after publicly criticizing an interview conducted by their company president with a former coal executive who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades.

Charleston Gazette-Mail reporters Caity Coyne, Lacie Pierson and Ryan Quinn said Tuesday that they were fired due to their comments on Twitter about the video interview, now removed from the paper’s website, with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

Quinn said no specific policy was cited. “The person who fired me said it was because I had publicly hurt the company on social media,” he said.

Pierson said she was told “it was insubordination that we committed on social media” and “that was something they couldn’t accept.”

In separate interviews, the three reporters said they did not receive invitations to a staff meeting with other reporters and editors Monday, several days after the interview was posted. Instead, they said they were diverted to an upstairs conference room, where they were fired one-by-one behind closed doors.

HD Media President Doug Skaff, who hosted the interview with Blankenship, did not return a telephone message or an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The “Outside The Echo Chamber” feature is posted regularly on the Gazette-Mail’s website and hosted by Skaff, who also is a Democratic member of the state House of Delegates and the chamber’s minority leader.

Last week the newspaper posted the interview with Blankenship, whose former company owned the Upper Big Branch mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 men in southern West Virginia. Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor for conspiring to violate mine safety laws and was sentenced to one year in federal prison.

In 2018, Blankenship ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Joe Manchin, portraying himself during the campaign as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship lost in the Republican primary, and Manchin eventually won re-election.

In the interview, Skaff is joined by a former television reporter in asking Blankenship about the Republican-dominated legislature, the coal industry, the mine explosion and the 2018 and 2024 elections.

In response to a question about the dwindling coal industry, Blankenship calls climate change “an absolute hoax.” The comment goes unrebutted, even though scientists say their confidence in the fact that global temperatures are rising and that the increase is caused by human activity is equivalent to the scientific certainty that cigarette smoking is deadly.

Blankenship also is asked to promote his 2020 book about the mine disaster, in which he repeats his claims of innocence and blames the administration of then-President Barack Obama.

Investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.

In concluding the interview, Skaff tells Blankenship: “Thanks for what you did for the community down there. I know your heart’s in the right place. And you want to see southern West Virginia built back to the best that they can.”

It’s unclear why the interview was removed from the website.

Quinn first fired out a series of tweets Dec. 8 that Pierson and Coyne supported in protest of giving Blankenship a podium without the chance for journalists to ask follow-up questions.

“Today I’m announcing my candidacy for any job in the world,” Pierson, the newspaper’s Statehouse and politics reporter, wrote on Twitter after her firing. “I’m joining Caity and Ryan as having spoken our principles and living to tell the tale after being fired for our tweets.”

“We understand the need to draw eyes to the website on the business end of news,” Pierson also wrote, “but stunts like this erode the integrity and credibility of the whole Gazette-Mail.

“This choice mostly hurts staff writers, who had no say in this decision, or a lot of decisions for that matter.”

In April 2017, then-Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on the opioid crisis. HD Media bought the paper at a bankruptcy auction in 2018, and Eyre no longer works there.

In addition to the opioid crisis, the Gazette-Mail extensively covered the mine explosion, its aftermath and the federal government’s prosecution of Blankenship.

“I don’t have the words for how screwed up this is,” Coyne, the paper’s now-former health reporter, said of the interview. “I’ve met families whose loved ones died in UBB. I’ve watched them cry as they remember their relatives and their fight for answers after the disaster. Who cares where Blankenship’s heart lies. What a slap in the face to them.”

Coyne had previously announced she was leaving the paper for a new job in January.

Quinn, who was the newspaper’s education reporter, had told management last month that he was planning to leave. Instead, he said, he was offered a raise to be an investigative reporter.

Then the Blankenship interview happened.

“I’m all for giving everyone a say etc. but there was no news value to this,” Quinn wrote. “Embarrassing.”

Kayla Young, another Democrat in the state House of Delegates, said Tuesday on Twitter that she doesn’t support giving Blankenship a chance to air his opinions. She also said there’s a conflict of interest for Skaff hosting a news media show and that she has spoken to him about her feelings.

“Something’s got to give,” Young said. “We as a community are worse off to lose reporters who sincerely care about their work and we will be less informed as a result.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 photo, W.Va. Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, is seen in chambers in Charleston, W.Va. Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia have been fired after publicly criticizing a now-removed video interview posted on their parent company's website with a former coal executive who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades.   (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)
            
              FILE - Former coal executive Don Blankenship waits outside the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, after the Capitol was evacuated due to a fire alarm in Charleston, W.Va. Three reporters from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in West Virginia have been fired after publicly criticizing a now-removed video interview posted on their parent company's website with a former coal executive who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades.    (AP Photo/John Raby, File)

AP

Associated Press

Iran reports drone attack on defense facility

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s Defense Ministry says one of its factories was attacked by drones in the central city of Isfahan. A statement carried by the state-run IRNA news agency says the attack occurred late Saturday and caused minor damage to a rooftop. The report says three drones were shot down by […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

N. Carolina church says it lost nearly $800K in email scam

ELKIN, N.C. (AP) — Leaders of a northwestern North Carolina church say cybercriminals stole nearly $800,000 that the congregation spent years raising to build a new sanctuary that’s supposed to be completed in a few months. It happened in November when Elkin Valley Baptist Church received an email that mimicked another message from the sanctuary […]
22 hours ago
A migrant from Michoacan, Mexico, uses the CBPOne app Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Tijuana, Mexico. A...
Associated Press

Online system to seek asylum in US is quickly overwhelmed

A mobile app for migrants to seek asylum in the United States has been overwhelmed since it was introduced this month.
22 hours ago
Associated Press

TV anchors T.J. Holmes, Amy Robach leave ABC amid romance

NEW YORK (AP) — T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, anchors at the afternoon extension of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” are leaving the network after their romance was reported in November. The pair were taken off the air and placed on temporary hiatus after photos surfaced of them holding hands and spending time together. Both were […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Delaware Gov. John Carney tests positive for COVID-19

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware Gov. John Carney has tested positive for COVID-19, the governor’s office announced on Saturday. Carney tested positive late Friday using an at-home antigen test after experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release. Carney, 66, said he’s “feeling fine” and is isolating himself — following U.S. Centers for Disease Control […]
22 hours ago
FILE - FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court on Jan. 3, 2023, in New York, a...
Associated Press

FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, DOJ tussle over his communications

Federal prosecutors are trying to prohibit FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried from privately contacting current and former employees of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange to prevent potential witness tampering in a criminal case accusing him of bilking investors and customers. The request, made in a letter filed late Friday by U.S. Justice Department lawyers, prompted an indignant […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
3 WVa reporters who condemned interview of ex-coal CEO fired