Coal Mining in Kentucky, but No Beat Reporters to Cover It

Environmental reporting has been one of the major casualties as newspapers downsize, particularly in places where the in-depth coverage is most needed.

April 2, 2019, 8:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Kentucky Coal Mining[email protected] / Wikimedia Commons

Charles Bethea writes about impacts that cuts in newspaper staff are having on environmental reporting, particularly in parts of the country where coal mining is still prevalent.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Courier-Journal was a nationally recognized paper with 300 employees when Gannett Publications bought it in 1986, but today it has a staff of just 60. James Bruggers, the Courier-Journal’s longtime environmental reporter left last year, and he has not been replaced.

Environmental advocates and journalists say the loss of a full-time beat reporter means that a host of important topics — including the impacts of mining on the environment and workers’ health, air and water quality, logging, and global warming — are not being covered in depth. While general assignment reporters at other papers are picking up some of the slack, they are not able to devote the time and resources needed to stay on top of these stories.

In addition, says Bethea, a shift away from local papers to national coverage is less than ideal. The Courier-Journal was on the radar of other news outlets as well as local and state officials, and Bruggers' coverage led to regulatory and policy changes. But now a lack of bureaus in most parts of Kentucky means that the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the state and those hardest hit by environmental issues are largely overlooked.

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