The publisher of the Platte County Landmark has been presented a national award for his work.
Ivan Foley, owner and publisher of The Landmark, on Saturday was given the 2016 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. The award is presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, a national program. The Institute is based at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
Foley becomes the ninth winner of the award.
The presentation of the award came at a luncheon held at the 150th Annual Convention of the Missouri Press Association at Chateau on the Lake at Branson.
Foley had been announced as the winner in a press release by the Institute in August.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism, made the drive from Kentucky to present the award. Cross became director of the Institute in 2004 after more than 26 years as a reporter at The Courier-Journal, the last 15½ as the Louisville newspaper's chief political writer. Cross is assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky.
Cross noted that Foley “has made a career out of holding accountable public officials and those who would hold public office.”
Cross added that Foley “has pushed accountability journalism and open government in the face of competition, attempted intimidation and retribution.”
Foley was nominated for the award by Bill Hankins, a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. Hankins is a former writer and photographer for The Landmark. Hankins served in that capacity for the newspaper for 13 years before retiring and still contributes as “photographer emeritus” for the newspaper.
At Saturday’s event, Cross spoke about the Gish Award and gave a PowerPoint presentation highlighting Foley’s work.
In remarks after being handed the plaque, Foley spoke to the crowd. He thanked Cross and others at the Institute for all they do for journalism at all levels, and offered gratitude to the room full of journalists for “what you do for our profession.”
Foley offered words of thanks to Hankins for the nomination, to members of The Landmark staff over the years “whose work played a role in this award” and to his family “for putting up with me during the times I may obsess with covering controversial topics and controversial public figures.”
He drew laughter when he said he also owes a word of thanks “to those public figures whose reckless behavior contributed to this moment.”
“Good journalism gives power to the people. And that’s where it should be,” Foley remarked
He encouraged the room of newspaper professionals to “continue to fight for your readers, fight for their right to know, fight for the values you want to see in government, fight for the values your community deserves to see in its government, and fight for the truth,” adding that “it doesn’t hurt to have some fun along the way.”
In his remarks nominating Foley for the award, Hankins wrote:
“He is the best advocate for the Missouri Sunshine Law of any journalist I know,” both to the public and government officials who often need “re-educating.”
“Because he always holds officials' feet to the fire, especially when it comes to spending tax dollars, Ivan often runs counter to the local pet projects of the powers that be,” wrote Hankins. “He often makes people mad. . .just by holding those projects up to the light to see if they sparkle or not.”
Many Landmark stories have uncovered violations of open-government laws, and Foley's editorial column endorses candidates in local elections, a rarity for weekly newspapers.
“Although conservative by nature and politics, Ivan is red-and-blue color-blind when it comes to critiquing the performances of local politicians,” Hankins wrote.
Landmark stories in 2011-2012 about an ambulance district board chairman getting an insider deal on a land sale resulted in the official's corruption conviction and jail time. Also in 2012, the paper investigated a county commissioner's vote to award a contract to the high bidder and his connections with the bidder. The commissioner didn't seek re-election in 2014.
Earlier, Landmark stories and columns revealed that a high-school athletic director's son was in a group that stole a large carving of the school mascot, an incident the officials tried to cover up; and made county officials delay a raise they had granted themselves. After unconstitutional pay raise articles in 1997, the Platte County Commission in subsequent years repeatedly denied The Landmark's low bid to publish the county's public notices.
After several 1998 stories about questionable behavior by city police officers, a former officer confronted Foley in a threatening manner but the editor “stood his ground,” Hankins wrote.
Early in the next decade, after Foley reported several Sunshine Law violations by the then-Platte City mayor and questioned his plan to use city funds for a motorcycle rally, a friend of the mayor threatened to “punch his lights out.”
Foley's recent columns about local government, politics and issues facing Platte County can be found on The Landmark’s site at plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley.htm.
“Ivan sets a great example for journalism in rural America, where it's usually harder to do good journalism than in metropolitan areas,” said Cross, the director of the Institute. The Institute has 26 academic partners at universities in 18 states.
The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and corrupt politicians, and the firebombing of their office by a Whitesburg policeman.
Past winners of the award have been the Gishes; the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Tex.) Record; publisher Jim Prince and former publisher Stan Dearman of the Neshoba County Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler, columnist for The Oregonian, for her work in Kentucky and Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin for their work in Yancey County, North Carolina; Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; and the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in Española, N.M.