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Program 612

the Mountain Eagle
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Letcher County

For more information:
Mountain Eagle, P.O. Box 808, Whitesburg, KY 41858, (606) 633-2252

Producer: Charlee Heaton

It Screams!

the Mountain Eagle

In some ways, Whitesburg’s Mountain Eagle is a typical small-town newspaper. Anniversaries, new babies, family reunions, and the comings and goings of Letcher Countians are big news. But the Mountain Eagle is also an example of an increasingly rare breed among today’s ever-more-conglomerated media: a truly local newspaper that features in-depth investigations of politics, business, and social issues and isn’t afraid to do a little crusading when its editors believe that something is amiss.

In this special edition of Kentucky Life, produced in 2000, publisher Tom Gish and his wife, Pat, look back on 40 years of putting out the Mountain Eagle.

Journalism graduates of the University of Kentucky, Tom and Pat married and took jobs in Lexington in the early 1950s. But when the Whitesburg newspaper was offered for sale in 1956, Tom, a native of nearby Seco, saw an opportunity to do some good back home.

It was hard times in the mountains. The local mining economy had collapsed, and the Eastern Kentucky mountains were stuck in a depression.

“It was a stupid thing to do to buy a newspaper in a county with massive unemployment,” Tom said. “We were kind of forced more or less immediately to deal with all the hard economic and social conditions that confronted the county and then confronted us every day as a newspaper.”

The Gishes dove into those new responsibilities enthusiastically, giving the paper the motto “It Screams!” But soon they found themselves facing a new and different challenge. Not used to coverage by a newspaper, local officials attempted to keep public meetings private. The Gishes persevered, and they did make some enemies locally. At one point, the newspaper offices were fire-bombed. But eventually they won their battle—along with numerous national awards for both their reporting and their courage.

The Mountain Eagle remains a family affair, with a Gish son as editor. Tom passed away in November 2008.

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