|Shedding light on "Sunny Cal"|
Publisher/Politician Has A Mission In Calhoun County
Wednesday September 15, 1999
By Greg Stone
HUR - As mission statements go, this one is a bit modest.
"The Herald is a cheap, often unedited, sometimes misspelled epistle with shaky financial backing and poorly defined goals," reads the introduction to The Hur Herald's Web site.
Bob Weaver is the newspaper's founder. A native Calhoun Countian with a background as varied as the content of his newspaper, Weaver pursues both publishing and politics with a cockeyed passion.
The latter career sprang up last November, with the 59-year-old Weaver's election to the Calhoun County Commission. A liberal Democrat, he ran on a platform of "access and disclosure," two commodities he found lacking in one of the state's poorest counties.
"It's remarkably uncommon in this county as well as in many West Virginia counties," he said. "West Virginia has a torturous history of nonreporting of major events. … It creates a real repressive kind of culture."
Weaver and wife Dianne returned four years ago to the house in which he grew up. The Weavers joined about a dozen other people in Hur, a ridgetop village about 12 miles south of Grantsville.
On a lark, he turned out about 30 homemade, stapled-together copies of The Hur Herald, with complete coverage of a fictitious village election.
His friends wanted more of Weaver's laid-back prose, which recalls Jim Comstock's "West Virginia Hillbilly" columns - minus the conservative political tinge. Weaver editorializes against mountaintop-removal mining and pro-coal Gov. Cecil Underwood.
Subsequent editions have included genuine news coverage and historical items, though Weaver still includes some well-written "off-the-wall" fiction. Witness coverage of the impending impeachment of Hur "Mayor" Lewis Slider in the April edition.
Slider's wife, Dottie, Weaver wrote, "caused a stir when she got another taxpayer grant to teach Hurbonics to people who have moved into the area from out of state."
Hurbonics, created by Weaver, is a takeoff of Ebonics, an attempt years ago by an Oakland, Calif., school board to implement the study of an African-American form of English.
When he has the time and money, Weaver prints about 2,000 crude copies of the 8 1/2-by-11-inch Herald. He is much more consistent, however, with the paper's Web version, a relatively impressive site with multiple departments and links.
"A Questionable Publication from Sunny Cal," reads the Web masthead, designed on the Weavers' home computer. "Sunny Cal" is what locals call Calhoun County.
"It's getting about 500 visitors a day," he said. "I find that amazing." (That number has grown to over 10,000 visitors daily)
One might say the same thing about Weaver, a chipper chameleon of a fellow with a neat beard and pot belly. He spent 18 years in his in-laws' central West Virginia funeral home business before alcoholism led him to "crash and burn."
"I don't mind if you print that either," he says.
After recovery, Weaver felt called to help others. He spent the next 20 years helping start rehab centers in Kingwood and Martins Ferry, Ohio.
Weaver also does a decent job reporting business developments, or the lack thereof, in Calhoun. "Babcock Lumber Rejects B.F. Goodrich site," reads one headline in the April hard copy edition.
He might have pursued journalism from the beginning, Weaver says, had the paychecks been a little better. The pay at a Spencer radio station left him a choice: a place to live or a car.
His job as a commissioner is about what he expected - tough.
Poor Calhoun struggles with unfunded state mandates, a low tax base and isolation.
Weaver lays out the county's problems under "Where the Heck is Sunny Cal?" on The Hur Herald Web site:
"Our hills are steep, craggy, rugged and beautiful. They are, in many ways, our curse and our blessing. While they have isolated us from the greater world, slowed progress and created a slow moving life-style, they have protected us from many of the problems that haunt most of America."