Telling it like it is in the world of coal — exposing the truth about coalers’ strong-arming and bullying.  This clear specific editorial should be up for an award!  Here it is in its full glory:

J. TODD FOSTER: Newspaper’s Editorial Position Is Not For Sale
Sunday, Mar 16, 2008
BY J. Todd Foster
Bristol VA Herald Courier

Reasonable people can disagree about Dominion Virginia Power’s proposal to build a coal-fired power plant in Wise County.

Reasonable people.

That would not include a few members of a nine-member Wise County delegation that recently visited the Herald Courier to ambush our three-member editorial board for its muted opposition to the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.

I SAY MUTED because we realize that society’s energy needs have outpaced production, and – given our love of Southwest Virginia – we are not unfriendly to Big Coal. We also know this proposed $1.8 billion plant could help a depressed area and would be more environmentally friendly than existing ones.

The problem is the cumulative impact this plant would have when combined with other, existing major polluters. And the plant’s promise to harness new technology for capturing carbon dioxide seems to be more of a pipe dream.

Our past conditional support of this plant changed to opposition late last year when it became clear that the Dominion project could not possibly live up to its press releases.

And so our opinion page editor, Andrea Hopkins, writing on behalf of our editorial board – whose other members are yours truly and Publisher Carl Esposito – has written thoughtful, nuanced editorials against the project.

WE’VE GOTTEN much praise and much condemnation. It comes with the territory.

One legislator even noted that our newspaper was founded more than a century ago by a coal magnate, the implication being that we’re disloyal ingrates. Never mind that knowledge evolves: For example, we now know Earth is not flat and that slavery was barbaric.

Some members of the visiting Wise County delegation (one called us back to apologize for the shameful behavior of some of the others) went way too far in their condemnation, however.

Mark Wooten, chief engineer of A&G Coal Co., noted that his company may have to rethink spending future advertising dollars with our newspaper because of our editorial opposition to the Dominion plant. And he chided us for not printing a story (we were never told about) on his company building a playground in a show of altruism.

WOOTEN NEVER mentioned the real nature of his angst with us – the fact that in 2004, we broke the story of Jeremy Davidson. A&G ultimately paid the toddler’s family $3 million after a boulder from one of A&G’s strip mines rolled down a hillside and killed the little fellow while he slept in his bed.

Regardless, Esposito quickly reminded Wooten that our editorial position is not for sale.

Next came Ronald C. Flanary, executive director of the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission. He defamed Hopkins with a totally baseless allegation that she plagiarized some of her editorials. He was lashing out at us for disclosing that an opinion column penned by his pal, state Sen. Phil Puckett, was actually written and published by others – the real definition of plagiarism.

Esposito, who as publisher runs the entire enterprise known as the Herald Courier, informed Flanary that his allegation was “heinous” and pressed him for proof.

IT’S BEEN a month, and we’re still waiting.

The fact is, there is no proof and never will be. Even so, Flanary repeated the falsity in a Feb. 21 letter to “Mr. Carl Esposito, Editor” and carbon-copied Hopkins and me, although he changed my name to Todd Miller, which might explain why I never got it.

His letter stated in part that some of our editorials were “particularly stinging and do not reflect, in our opinion, that the
newspaper editorial staff has fully apprised itself of all sides of the issue(s) before rendering an opinion.”

Perhaps Flanary is right. It is true that our editorial board has not given equal time – to the opponents of the Wise County plant. (Our three meetings on this matter have included two with Dominion Power and one with Flanary’s delegation from Wise County.)

BUT UNLIKE Flanary, who doesn’t even bother to double-check the titles and names of the very people he’s condemning (even though they’re printed in the newspaper every day), Hopkins does her homework.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

“The writer’s strong opinion is always supported by strong evidence,” wrote the journalism judges who just awarded Hopkins our company’s highest honor for commentary.

Hopkins is the 2007 commentary winner of the D. Tennant Bryan Award, named for the founder of our parent Media General Inc.

HER THREE columns were selected from among entries by 22 newspapers throughout the Southeast.

The Bryan Award judges – three independent journalism experts from outside the company – noted that Hopkins’ reliance on evidence “has the effect of exposing the reader to information he or she may otherwise not encounter. The writer consistently acknowledges others’ opinions but provides a clear point of view written in plain language.”

Hopkins’ award is no fluke: Last night in Roanoke, she picked up two first-place awards, for editorial and column writing, from the Virginia Press Association. They’ll go on a bookshelf next to the same two awards she won last year, and alongside the award from the Tennessee Press Association for the best 2006 editorial in the state against all competition, including Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, The Roanoke Times has reached the same editorial conclusion about the proposed Dominion plant.

IN AN EDITORIAL reaffirming its position Friday, The Roanoke Times opined: “If Dominion Power is granted approval for this plant, the people in and around Wise County will pay the highest price. Already, residents of that area live in what the Harvard School of Public Health terms the ‘cone of death,’ where they are at three to four times higher risk of death from pollution-related causes.”

Note to Flanary, who I hear has since written a letter of apology to the publisher (I haven’t seen it): Reprinting the paragraph above is not plagiarism because I cited the Roanoke paper twice.

J. Todd Foster – not Miller – is managing editor of the Bristol Herald
Courier and can be reached at or (276)A

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