“Path to the Pulitzer” completes tour with stop in Shepherdstown
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre was surprised when he walked into his newspaper office one day and was handed the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, for his Charleston Gazette-Mail “Painkiller Profiteers” series.
According to a written announcement from the Pulitzer Committee, Eyre received the awarded “(f)or courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.” While writing the series, Eyre faced opposition from both drug companies and the state government.
According to Eyre during the “Path to the Pulitzer: Journalism and the Informed Citizen” Sept. 6 discussion at the Robert C. Byrd Center, that opposition resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which was eventually overturned. Eyre hadn’t imagined his investigative journalism would draw so much attention, and said his intention in writing the series was to raise awareness of the strong grip the opioid epidemic holds in West Virginia.
“I’ve never had that [winning the Pulitzer Prize] as my purpose for writing a story,” Eyre said. “I hope bringing these issues to light will have some effect. We get distracted so easily.”
When Eyre received his Pulitzer, the West Virginia Humanities Council took note. And, soon after, WVHC Program Director Mark Payne contacted Eyre about headlining the now-completed three-stop “Path to the Pulitzer” tour, at Marshall University, West Virginia University and Shepherd University.
“We wanted to present Eric in a series of public forums where he talked about his work,” Payne said, mentioning the series fulfilled this year’s Federation of Humanities Councils’ directive, to feature Pulitzer works and writers.
Each stop featured a moderated panel discussion between Eyre and a second acclaimed journalist, which was followed with a public question-and-answer period. Shepherd University Communications Staff Writer Cecelia Mason, formerly of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, moderated the Byrd Center discussion, featuring Eyre and National Public Radio News’ Giles Snyder, of Martinsburg.
According to Snyder, the event was an opportunity to discuss the importance of local journalism.
“I think local journalism’s important because a lot of stories, they begin as local stories and go national,” Snyder said, mentioning Eyre’s work has encouraged more journalists to discuss the nationwide opioid epidemic. “The opioid crisis is being reported on across the nation.”
Mason agreed with Snyder, and said she hoped the event attendees understood the part they need to play with local journalism.
“I hope that they gain an understanding of how journalism works from this event, and I hope that they gain an understanding of the importance of keeping up with the news in their communities,” Mason said. “People need to be educated, they need to vote, they need to know what’s going on in their communities and they need to get involved. I want people to be understood, and I want people to be engaged. And part of being engaged is being informed.”