(10/10/2008)
State Has Its Media Giants

By Katie Wilson
The Times West Virgian

FAIRMONT - Even a state as small as West Virginia has its own media giants.

As far as state newspapers go, it doesn't get much bigger than Ogden Newspapers Inc. According to the company's Web site, the Wheeling-based, family-owned company owns 11 publications in West Virginia alone.

But on the national scope, Ogden is a rather small company in the media market. The company owns newspapers, magazines and shoppers in 12 states, from upstate New York to Florida and as far west as Hawaii. The company also includes Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania and has interests in the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club. The company has been headquartered in Wheeling since 1890.

Much larger is Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns six West Virginia newspapers, including the Times West Virginian. CNHI is a privately held company based in Birmingham, Ala. Founded in 1997, CNHI owns newspapers, television stations and Web sites in 150 communities nationwide. CNHI retains no editorial control. All editorial decisions are made at the local level by the individual publisher.

Many people have called Bray Cary a West Virginia media giant, and it's easy to see why. Carey's West Virginia Media owns eight television stations, including: the CBS, Fox and ABC affiliates in Wheeling, NBC and ABC affiliates in Clarksburg, CBS and Fox affiliates in Beckley, and a CBS station in Huntington. Cary also owns The State Journal newspaper, a weekly business publication with subscribers all over the state. West Virginia Media is based in Charleston.

To put that into perspective, one out of three television stations in the state is controlled by West Virginia Media, and the stations have a news sharing agreement with The State Journal and its Web site. Carey's weekly news talk show, "Decision Makers," is also broadcast on his eight stations across the state.

With 15 radio stations, West Virginia Radio is the biggest name on the airwaves. West Virginia Radio is part of Greer Industries, which is owned by the Raese family of Morgantown and headed by John Raese.

Four years ago, Raese ran an unsuccessful campaign as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

West Virginia Radio owns four of the top five stations based on recent Arbitron ratings for the Morgantown-Clarksburg-Fairmont market, including No. 1 station WKKW of Morgantown. The companies broadcast range reaches at least 32 counties, according to the company's Web site. It also controls MetroNews, which has 58 affiliate stations that broadcast reports in each of the state's 55 counties and has the capability of reaching up to 1 million West Virginians with news, sports, weather and talk programming, according to www.wvmetronews.com.

The Dominion Post is also part of Greer Industries. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tracks newspaper circulations all over the country, the Dominion Post has an average circulation of 23,041 and an average readership of 57,603.

Repeated requests for an interview for this project were rebuffed by Raese's personal assistant.

West Virginia is a unique media market a state with a relatively small population and few metropolitan areas. And with this kind of limited market comes an environment where just a few media moguls have come into play, bringing the message to their audiences and setting the tone for how stories are reported by the rest of the media statewide.

It's been a busy year for the media in this state. From legislative issues to the economy, reporters in every media discipline have been kept hopping.

Two stories with significance to Marion County and the whole state have been the Heather Bresch scandal and the defection of former West Virginia University head football coach Rich Rodriguez.

The Bresch scandal caused multiple officials at West Virginia University to resign, including former WVU President Mike Garrison, a Marion County native. The Bresch scandal broke late last year when it was discovered the WVU College of Business and Economics had granted a master's degree to Bresch, daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin and an executive with Mylan Pharmaceuticals. Following the scandal, several top officials at WVU resigned, and three positions on the school's board of governors were changed.

Also late last year, WVU head football coach and Marion County native Rich Rodriguez accepted a head coaching position at Michigan. The next weeks were filled with "he said, she said" stories in media all over West Virginia.

Cary said he believes the stories were handled well. He said some people are critical that the Bresch scandal was initially uncovered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette instead of an in-state news organization, but he doesn't see it that way.

"It was a fluky deal it was even uncovered," Cary said. "Most things like that are uncovered accidentally when something gets out that wasn't intended."

After the story broke, Cary said he believes the state's media were quick to climb on board in reporting and with commentaries that called for an independent investigation.

"I thought the media was good not to speculate, and when the facts came out, I thought they did a good job of the events," Cary said. "To be honest, I think the whole scandal involving Bresch and the media was a very important moment for the media in West Virginia. As the facts came out one by one, it wasn't just one but a drumbeat around this state, and it was 'be honest, tell us everything and don't misrepresent anything.'"

From January to June 2008, there were 88 stories, editorials, columns and letters to the editor in the weekly State Journal about both stories. Most of those focused on the Bresch scandal.

The Bresch scandal was a hot topic on talk radio stations for weeks, and in WVU's hometown newspaper The Dominion Post, the stories, editorials, political cartoons and letters to the editor seemed endless.

In the six months spanning December 2007 to July 9, 2008, there were at least 63 front-page articles on different aspects of the Bresch scandal. One of the more memorable was the headline on May 6 that screamed "Mike must go" in large print.

In The State Journal, and its Web site, www.statejournal.com, there were a total of 60 pieces on the Bresch scandal from December 2007 to June 2008, including: 37 news stories, two letters to the editor, and 21 editorials and commentaries.

It's interesting to note during the same time period, December 2007 to June 2008, there were 11 pieces about Rodriguez: nine stories and two editorials.

Robert Nutting, CEO of Ogden Newspapers, said the Bresch scandal and Rodriguez's departure are good examples of stories that have shown the public a view of government and a major public institution in America. Stories like these are the reason America has a free press, Nutting said.

Nutting wouldn't comment on the state media's coverage as a whole. He said people need to look at it on a story-by-story basis.

"Most stories were fair and balanced, and many excellent stories were written," Nutting said.

"There were some that missed the point, but it's hard to give an average grade on so many stories and so many reporters," he said.

Journalism professors at Marshall University and WVU said they believed the reporting on both stories was fair and balanced around the state.

"I think both were handled fairly well," said George Esper, Ogden Visiting Professor at the WVU Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism. "The outcomes of both are unfortunate, but I think West Virginia newspapers did an excellent job. To me, they didn't show any bias in reporting."

Corley Dennison, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University, echoed Esper's thoughts.

He said many different angles and points of view were covered in stories from local and regional newspapers.

"I think they did a pretty good job with the story," he said.

E-mail Katie Wilson at kwilson@timeswv.com

The Times West Virgian


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