Archive for the ‘Newsroom visitors’ Category

WVU chief Gee whizzes by, leaves a couple of presents

Monday, January 19, 2015

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee keeps such a busy schedule that it takes a team to keep him shuttling from appointment to appointment.

He was in town last week for the start of the new legislative session and stopped by the Daily Mail newsroom to take a few questions from reporters.

His time was limited, so it was sports editor Chuck McGill and city/county reporter Matt Murphy who had the chance to bend his ear.

Murphy pressed Gee on the fate of West Virginia University Tech in Montgomery now that WVU had purchased the former Mountain State University property in Beckley. Given that its sudden availability was “like manna from heaven,” Gee was circumspect in his school’s plans for the two campuses.

Think that response was open-ended? Consider the unexploded bombshell he left with McGill when he said of a renewal of playing in-state FBS-school Marshall University in football. Gee said if new WVU athletic director Shane Lyons was open to sitting down with Marshall AD Mike Hamrick to discuss the possibility, “I have no problem with it whatsoever.”

And then, like the Cat in the Hat, he was gone.

Gee’s intelligence, attentiveness, energy and gregariousness lends itself to a rock star-like following among his supporters at the schools he has led. So I was not immune to imposing on him for the chance at a selfie as he was leaving with my alma mater’s popular president.

Indulgences like those, his spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said with a grin and a roll of the eyes, is what makes visits last longer than planned. Still, brief though it was, his presence in the newsroom gifted the paper with a couple of timely stories in the public interest.

Who really makes this city go?

Saturday, November 8, 2014
who makes city

Charleston cityscape and fireworks photo by Tom Hindman of the Charleston Daily Mail

Earlier this week, a question got me thinking.

The question came during an unexpected visit by journalists James and Deb Fallows. James is national correspondent for “The Atlantic” and has written for the magazine since the 1970s.

They were in Charleston as part of an “American Futures” series they’re writing. It has the subhead “Reinvention and Resilience Across the Nation.”

As I understand it, the series is about communities that could go be on their way up … or on their way down. Ours certainly seems like one of those, a city poised for growth, but susceptible to stagnation.

Culturally, politically, economically — by almost any measure you choose — Charleston seems ready for changes.

But will it change? I’m a native West Virginian, and I’ve lived in Charleston for 20 years. Over those two decades, I’d say it’s been about the same. It’s a calm pond ready for a good ripple if someone would toss a stone in.

Smack dab in the middle of West Virginia, our state Capitol just experienced one heck of a shakeup this very week when Republicans took control of the state House of Delegates and then added on the state Senate for good measure.

Charleston is right on the fault line between the struggling coal fields and the booming natural gas wells.

Which way will Charleston go from here?

James and Deb Fallows get together with editor Brad McElhinny and opinions editor Kelly Merritt at the Charleston Daily Mail

James and Deb Fallows get together with editor Brad McElhinny and opinions editor Kelly Merritt at the Charleston Daily Mail’s conference room

That’s what the Fallowses were here in a first effort to find out.

They sat down with me and editorial page editor Kelly Merritt in the Charleston Daily Mail conference room and picked our brains.

They already had visited with locals like Bob Coffield, who is a local health care, technology and business lawyer who blogs, thinks a whole bunch and gets jazzed about groups like “Create West Virginia.”

They also visited Mayor Danny Jones, plus Larry Groce, the Mountain Stage icon who has expanded his role to broaden Charleston’s cultural scene in other ways.

So in talking to us, the Fallowses asked a question that stumped us. “Who are the people who really make this city go?”

I took that to mean, “Who are the change agents?”

If you are that person and I didn’t immediately think of you, I beg your forgiveness right now.

I didn’t exactly draw blanks. A few names came to mind:

  • Tim Armstead rode the Republican wave into majority leader for the state House of Delegates. But as an Elkview resident, Tim is, proudly, a Hinterlander. He might want to change the state, but I’m not sure Tim’s interested in changing Charleston.
  • Kent Carper is a name that will elicit some groans (hey, I read the VentLine) but I think Kent runs an effective, responsible Kanawha County government. Effective and responsible government equates to high praise.
  • Don Blankenship is a name that might make you spit out your coffee and crumple your paper. No one said the list had to be made up of people you like. At one point, Don was using great wealth to affect politics. He did so while wearing a black hat.
  • Tom Heywood is the solidest of citizens and most recently was the leader behind the successful library levy campaign. He’s a former chief of staff for Gov. Gaston Caperton, current managing partner at the Bowles Rice law firm and serves on a zillion local boards. His superpowers include quiet dignity, intelligence and an air of responsibility.
  • University of Charleston’s Ed Welch and West Virginia State University’s Brian Hemphill are the twin pillars of higher education in the Kanawha Valley. One is established (and very tall!) and the other is a star on the rise.
  • The Rev. Matthew Watts cares deeply about the West Side, a neighborhood that sorely needs an advocate.
  • Mayor Jones should be in the conversation (and, attention VentLine, I like most of what Danny does) but we’d already discussed him. Ditto with Larry Groce, who has expanded his “Mountain Stage” role to many more areas of the local cultural scene.

Influential people and an interesting list of area men of a certain age. But I’m not sure they’re the answers to how I’d phrase the question: Who’s an up and comer? Who is catching lightning in a bottle? Who is going to be the face that people associate with Charleston’s change?

Got a name that I’ll slap my head for not thinking of?

Send me an email to or a tweet @BradMcElhinny. Or comment below:

Grover Norquist talks taxes with the Charleston Daily Mail editorial board

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Grover Norquist, whose name is synonymous with no-tax pledges, visited The Charleston Daily Mail editorial board.

Although taxes were a big part of what Norquist discussed, on the accompanying video he begins with a run-down of his time at Harvard.

4 R UMAX     PL-II            V1.5 [2]There was a lively and humorous discussion prior to the start of the video about Norquist’s visit to Burning Man. But I wasn’t sure if that talk was just pre-meeting chitchat or an actual part of his talk with us, so I didn’t hit record. Too bad.

Norquist was in Charleston to talk with conservative state legislators and to talk to editorial boards like ours. (If you got here from Google and aren’t familiar with the paper, our editorial page is fiscally conservative.)

Present for the discussion were me (Brad McElhinny, the editor), opinions editor Kelly Merritt, business editor Jared Hunt and editorial writer and columnist Don Surber.

Here’s a lively 41-minute discussion:

‘Hollow’ and Thunderdome

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yesterday really was an emotional rollercoaster at the Charleston Daily Mail as our staff reacted to the fates of friends.

We were thrilled to see our former colleague and continuing collaborator Elaine McMillion (now Sheldon) among the winners of the 73rd annual Peabody Awards for her production of ‘Hollow,’ which focuses on life in southern West Virginia.

Elaine McMillion

Elaine McMillion

As we have often said, because we like to claim her, Elaine was twice an intern at the Charleston Daily Mail. She continues to sometimes collaborate with our staff, as she did for coverage of the contamination of the Elk River and the Kanawha Valley’s water supply.

The Peabody is big-time.

As Elaine told the Daily Mail’s Zack Harold, she submitted “Hollow” to the Peabody Awards in January, “thinking my chances were pretty low because most of the people that win are with networks or affiliated with some corporation.

“I never thought we’d be in the same list as ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘House of Cards.’”

Congratulations Elaine!

Meanwhile, we were sorry to get news the same day that some of our friends from Digital First Media are losing their jobs.

Steve Buttry visits the Charleston Daily Mail for a seminar with newsroom staff

Steve Buttry visits the Charleston Daily Mail for a seminar with newsroom staff

DFM, which manages (but does not own), the Charleston Daily Mail, shut down its New York-based centralized newsgathering hub with the audacious name “Thunderdome.”

The move meant that some of our friends, including DFM’s editor-in-chief Jim Brady, Thunderdome managing editor Mandy Jenkins and digital transformation editor Steve Buttry — all recent visitors to the Daily Mail newsroom — will be looking for other jobs.

Their visits and their outlook have influenced much of what we do at the Daily Mail, including an emphasis on community involvement and a belief in serving web and mobile readers as well as traditional newspaper readers.

Digital First CEO John Paton wrote in his blog that the Thunderdome shutdown means a turnabout to focus on local. Although the Daily Mail is affiliated with Digital First Media, I wouldn’t expect big changes here. The company manages our newsroom but all other functions — like advertising and circulation — are self-contained within Charleston Newspapers. And our focus is local anyway. Always has been.

Nevertheless, we’ll miss our Thunderdome friends, who are always welcome to come visit us anyway. Good luck in the future, guys.



Ethane cracker, the WV economy and Tom Witt

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tom Witt, retired economics professor at West Virginia University, stopped by the Charleston Daily Mail this week to discuss the development potential of an ethane cracker with members of the editorial board.

Tom_Witt_Informal_Head_September_2006Witt is now professor of economics emeritus at WVU and also now owns his own economics consulting business. Witt put together a study estimating the economic impact of a cracker, a big plant that takes the raw natural gas material and breaks it down into secondary components that go on to be used in the chemical industry.

He’s been on a bit of an ethane cracker barnstorming tour the past few days, starting with an appearance in Parkersburg, the potential epicenter of WV ethane cracker development. Witt then told WV legislators a cracker could  create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and a $2 billion impact on the region’s economy in coming years.

The big issue seems to be infrastructure. A big new pipeline would be needed to get natural gas from regional wells to the cracker plant. How the pipeline would be developed remains to be seen. Public-private partnership is one possibility.

Witt sat down with Daily Mail editors including editorial page editor Kelly Merritt, editorial writer/ columnist Don Surber and myself to discuss these issues. His appearance resulted in this editorial, supporting the cracker’s development in Wood County.

Here’s what Professor Witt had to say when he came by:

Pseudoephedrine and the editorial board

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Members of the Charleston Daily Mail editorial board met with community members who want to make it so people suffering from colds would need a prescription for drugs with pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in meth.

The Daily Mail’s editorial page has been reluctant to get behind this prescription-only effort.

Former W.Va. Sen. Dan Foster, a Democrat from Kanawha County who has headed up a drug abuse task force, gently took issue with an editorial that embraced most of the group’s findings — but found exception with its behind-the-counter Sudafed plank.

Foster also referenced a Daily Mail news story based on a poll that found most West Virginians against such prescription-only measures. Foster said the story was misleading with questions meant to steer respondents in that direction.

He came to the Daily Mail office along with Dr. Brad Henry, a physician in Charleston, as well as Detective Clark Green and Lt. Eric Johnson of the Metro Drug Unit.

Only Foster and Henry are in the video frame (the limits of a mounted webcam) but you can hear everybody. Present for the Daily Mail were me (editor Brad McElhinny), editorial page editor Kelly Merritt, editorial writer and columnist Don Surber and capitol reporter Whitney Burdette (Here’s the story Whitney wrote).

Worth noting is that these sessions are not as organized as TV news roundtables. They’re just conversations about the issues — and sometimes wander off track. Here’s the session if you’d like to see it, but beware that it lasted an hour.


A visit from E. Gordon Gee

Thursday, January 9, 2014

E. Gordon Gee, who is president at West Virginia University while the search goes on for a new long-term president, is making the rounds.

gordongeeGee made a big splash earlier this week with a YouTube Top 10 list about his reasons for returning to WVU, where he began many years ago.

Then he appeared at the state Capitol at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State speech.

On Thursday morning, Gee appeared in the Daily Mail newsroom. I meant to livestream the discussion so you could hear Gee right in the moment but I had connectivity issues. I did manage to record the session, though, so it’s posted below.

Present were Gee, WVU board of governors chairman Jim Dailey (he’s the other guy you can see in the video), university spokesman John Bolt, university relations vice president Sharon Martin, myself (I’m the newspaper’s editor), editorial page editor Kelly Merritt, editorial writer and columnist Don Surber (he’s the one who sometimes appears behind Gee and Dailey; he sat close because he has some trouble hearing) and education reporter Shay Maunz.

Usually these newsroom visits are getting-to-know you sessions, so it was a pretty friendly atmosphere. The newspaper’s official, initial editorial opinion of Gee was already favorable.

If you are interested in getting to know Gordon Gee a little better, here he is: