Clarksburg Newspaper’s Independence in Doubt

Newspaper president’s ties to gas industry undermine claims of ‘credibility’

Good ol’ boys down at the bar
Peanuts and politics
They think they know it all
They don’t know much of nothin’
Even if one of ‘em was to read a newspaper, cover-to-cover
That ain’t what’s going on
Journalism dead and gone
– “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture” by the Eagles, © 2007

By Michael M. Barrick

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Readers of “The Independent Voice of North Central West Virginia” – The Exponent Telegram – Clarksburg’s only newspaper, have only a frail grasp on the big picture, at least when it comes to understanding the implications of the natural gas boom in the region. That is because the newspaper’s president, Brian Jarvis, is also the president of Hydrocarbon Well Services, an oil and gas service company with 15 rigs, according to Jarvis’ LinkedIn site.

Also, according to his LinkedIn site, Jarvis is an attorney representing gas and oil interests, work he continues following a stint with Jackson Kelly PLLC, a leading gas industry law firm with five offices in West Virginia – including Clarksburg – as well as five other states and Washington, D.C. Jarvis worked there for more than three years, from September 2008 – January 2012.

According to his LinkedIn site, Jarvis, as president of Clarksburg Publishing, “Oversee(s) publishing The Exponent Telegram, Bridgeport News, Preston News, Preston Journal, NCWV Real Estate, NCWV Life Magazine,, and several other multimedia products.”

Clearly, these business interests of Jarvis call into question the newspaper’s independence when covering the gas industry. Indeed, in late January, approximately 10 environmental leaders met with an official with the newspaper to challenge the newspaper to provide more comprehensive coverage of the gas industry. Ironically, on the day of the visit, a gas line explosion that had occurred the day before in Brooke County, W.Va. got no mention in the newspaper.

This is not surprising though, as the newspaper closed out 2014 with a tribute to the gas industry. In its December 30, 2014 issue, the front page declared, “Marcellus Shale authors statewide success story.” In the article, the newspaper proclaimed, “The Exponent Telegram’s Editorial Board has named the Marcellus Shale development as the Success Story of the Year.” Additionally, in its lead editorial in the same edition, the newspaper uncritically adopted the energy industry’s assertions of its benefits, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the harm to public health and safety, as well as the environment, far outweighs any perceived benefit.

Nowhere in the article or the editorial did the newspaper disclose interests held by Jarvis in the gas and oil business.

Of course, the newspaper also enjoys significant advertising revenues from gas industry giants such as Dominion Resources, Inc.

The newspaper has not remotely attempted to cast a critical eye on the gas industry, despite growing opposition to it within its sphere of influence. In fact, it barely disguises its glee at defeats experienced by those fighting the industry. In a February 10 headline over an AP story about landowners in Virginia battling Dominion over landowner rights, the headline declared, triumphantly, “Foes of proposed pipeline lose fight.”

In addition to not informing readers that its president also has holdings in the gas industry, the newspaper’s Assistant Managing Editor, Matt Harvey, used the February 9 editorial page to – ironically – talk about the newspaper’s credibility. He wrote, “But what never changes about journalism is what’s been the same dating back to the days of Ben Franklin’s ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack,’ and beyond: Credibility.”

He continued, “And if it not only gets facts wrongs (sic) but also twists them to fit its presentation, well, chances are it won’t last long.” He added, “Credibility also means being willing to examine all sides of an issue and dig deep to discover some of the hidden issues.”

One would presume that Harvey is referring to issues such as the hazards associated with the gas industry, such as site development and well pad activity, traffic congestion, water use and contamination, air pollution, waste disposal, public health issues, quality of life issues, misuse of eminent domain in pipeline development, climate change, potential earthquakes, and questionable claims of economic revitalization.

The newspaper has simply not covered those issues at all, let alone dug deep into them.

Harvey concluded his editorial with a bit of a lecture, writing, “But anyone who thinks the Internet has put paid (sic) the old-fashioned basics of journalism should think again. Without who, what, when, where, how and why – and without watchdogs willing to follow the money trail – the freedoms Americans enjoy would be headed for an endangered species list.”

There could not be a more ironic statement from a representative of The Exponent Telegram. Because they are not being the watchdogs they claim to be, West Virginians are headed for the endangered species list.

The reading public deserves better. Jarvis should divest himself of all interests in – and income from – the gas industry. Until and if he does, the newspaper lacks all credibility, despite Harvey’s claims. The Eagles were right. Journalism is dead and gone – at least in print, in Clarksburg.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia.

If you value authentic, independent investigative journalism, please consider supporting our work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project.


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