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Nov. 23, 2011, 12:30 p.m.

How a small Kentucky newspaper ended up running a Huffington Post story

It’s not the beginning of a new print partnership agreement for HuffPost, just a gesture of journalistic goodwill.

The Huffington Post is, in the minds of some journalists, the web’s bad guy, a nemesis that subverts the norms of legacy media, soaking up other people’s work in the pursuit of money and the all-powerful pageview.

And maybe it is! But here’s one tiny tale where the content flows in the opposite direction. Readers of The Harlan Daily Enterprise, a small newspaper located in southeast Kentucky, found something strange on the front page a couple months ago — a Huffington Post byline. (There’s no evidence Huffington Post Rural Kentucky is the web giant’s next planned vertical.)

When HuffPo Labor reporter Dave Jamieson wrote a 4,000-word-plus portrait of a miner fighting for safer working conditions, the 6,000-circulation paper in Kentucky reached out to Jamieson to ask if they could reprint the story. The answer: Yes.

The one-off collaboration resulted in bylines for Jamieson and the Huffington Post over a two-day period as the paper ran the story in full. What’s remarkable about the partnership was the single-minded simplicity of it: One side gets a story valuable to readers, the other gets exposure for an enterprise piece and a little goodwill. No need to try to clone the story or wait for AP to do a take, as might have been SOP when it was one newspaper scooping in another’s turf: This was more like a neighbor borrowing a cup of sugar. One editor called another. “I don’t think anyone here would have had much hesitation about a print newspaper wanting to use a story like that,” Jamieson told me.

While writing about mine safety, Jamieson found one name kept appearing repeatedly in his research — Charles Scott Howard, a miner from Harlan County. Jamieson spent two full days with Howard in Kentucky, getting to know the man who’s spent as much time working in mines as he has fighting his bosses. Howard’s been an outspoken advocate for mine safety, often using the mines he’s worked in as examples, which never sits well with his bosses. Through those interviews and piles of court documents, Jamieson crafted a story that opened up the culture of mining and the costs of Howard’s crusade.

“Talking about mining safety is not a very sexy issue,” Jamieson said. “The stories come down to lots of statistics or figures or recent disasters. So thought writing about a miner would be a more interesting way into the issue.”

When the executive editor of the Daily Enterprise asked if it could run the story, they agreed, with the newspaper running only excerpts from the story online, linking to the original piece on No money changed hands.

“We’re a site with really high traffic as its known. You write items here and tons of people like it on Facebook,” Jamieson said. “But I was weirdly excited to have a byline in the Harlan Daily Enterprise.”

On this, the day before Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful that despite all the tension inherent in the news business these days — despite all the wars of words between print and online, between producers and aggregators, between new and old — this little example of cooperation could happen.

Image credit to Arthur Delaney.

POSTED     Nov. 23, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
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