EDITOR’S NOTE: Dragline is a new independent media newsletter founded by Kyle Vass of Huntington WV. He describes it this way: “Dragline is accountability reporting at the smallest scale—a mere lean-to in the post-apocalyptic mediascape. I hope to expand to a yurt or even a shack some day. But, for now, it’s a one-man operation that releases stories that speak truth to power on a need-by-need basis.” The following article is reprinted with permission of the author. Vass is a freelance contributor to WestVirginiaVille and an advisor and coach on podcasting and audio recording. To follow his work with Dragline newsletter, visit: dragline.substack.com
Pipeline industry CEO uses his own newspaper to pen pro-pipeline editorial
Doug Reynolds took to his own newspapers to criticize opponents of pipeline construction
Atlantic Coast Pipeline outside Dry Branch Stream, W.Va., July 26, 2020. (Photo/PIPELINE CSI)
By KYLE VASS | Dragline | July 19. 2020
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Dragline) – Doug Reynolds, the son of multi-millionaire entrepreneur Marshall Reynolds, has worn a lot of hats over the last 20 years: CEO of a construction company, member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and founder of HD Media, a company that owns five newspapers in the southwest of his home state.
Reynolds formed HD Media in 2013 with the purpose of buying a newspaper from his father’s company, Champion Industries. Four newspaper acquisitions and a handful of layoffs later, Reynolds has stepped forward to take on a new role: op-ed columnist for his own papers.
Reynolds expanded, buying up four more papers in the area and issuing multiple layoffs. The casualties included veteran editor Rob Byers, who led the Charleston Gazette’s newsroom to a Pulitzer Prize in 2017.
What Reynolds fails to mention is what exactly is losing: his natural gas pipeline construction company.
Between July 7 and July 12, Reynolds and HD Media published a series of op-eds across three of his publications, all touting the benefits of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The controversial pipeline was slated to carry shale gas 600 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia, to eastern North Carolina. However, on July 5, the developers announced that they were no longer moving forward “given the legal uncertainties facing the project.”
In a July 11 op-ed titled, “No one wins in scrapped pipeline project,” Reynolds takes issue with what he sees as a common misconception among environmentalists—the idea that “if oil and natural gas utilities lose, the environment wins.”
“It’s damn easy to figure out what has been lost,” he writes, “but for the life of me I can’t ascertain who won.” What Reynolds fails to mention is what exactly is losing: his natural gas pipeline construction company.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas prices in the US fell two a two decade-low in March. Reynolds currently serves as the president of Energy Services of America, an acquisition company that owns two natural gas pipeline construction firms. He revealed to investors in May: “The first half of fiscal year 2020 has been the most eventful and challenging time that we have faced in my tenure at Energy Services…The loss of $1.9 million for the six months ended March 31, 2020 was much worse than contained in our business plan….We began making layoffs in early March as projects were first delayed for weeks and then months. Our business is completely unsustainable with only $18.1 million of revenue that we achieved in the three months ended March 31, 2020.”
In his op-ed article, Reynolds did not state his role at Energy Services of America. He lamented for every community in West Virginia that has “its own tale of missed opportunities, including promised highways, plants, regional airports and retail centers that never came into being,” while making no mention of his own financial ties in the industry.
He is also the managing owner of HD Media, the company who owns the newspapers that ran his op-ed piece. Since the HD Media acquisition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, one of the newspapers to run his op-ed, layoffs and resignations have become commonplace. Most notably, MacArthur Fellow recipient Ken Ward Jr. quit when Lee Wolverton, an HD Media appointed regional executive editor, fired Ward’s longtime friend and editor Greg Moore.
“Doug’s not the worst, he’s just part of what’s happening to journalism in this country–a death by a thousand cuts.” ~ Brent Cunningham
Responding to a media inquiry, Reynolds denied that his financial interests affect the content of his papers. He says that “Ken Ward’s ProPublica articles he wrote for a year is evidence” against such a claim—a reference to articles Ward published while working for HD Media that were critical of the pipeline industry.
Reynolds added: “My observation is that the editors and reporters have enough backbone to not let my lifetime Democrat affiliation or personal foibles affect their hard work.”
Reynolds also stated that his position as managing owner at HD Media had nothing to do with the company’s decision to run his op-ed article. He quoted Wolverton, who would’ve approved the publication of Reynolds op-ed, as saying: “Being from Huntington, if you would like to run an op-ed saying Doug Reynolds is full of shit, eloquently, we would likely run it.”
Sustained outrage to sustainable profits
Four months after HD Media’s acquisition of the Gazette-Mail, Brent Cunningham wrote an article entitled, “Losing the News,” about Reynolds and his acquisition of the state’s only investigative newspaper. Cunningham wrote that when he asked Reynolds about taking over the Gazette-Mail and immediately firing 11 people, Reynolds responded, “We had to get sustainable with the revenue we got,” adding, “Newspapers are first and foremost a business.”
In an interview with Dragline, Cunningham said looking back one year after writing his article that there was a touch of optimism when he wrote it that now feels misplaced. “Doug’s not the worst, he’s just part of what’s happening to journalism in this country–a death by a thousand cuts. To him it’s a business and needs to turn a profit. If that means you lose a Ken Ward in the process, so be it.” To Cunningham, it’s heartbreaking to have watched the Gazette-Mail go from the days of Ned Chilton to the days of Doug Reynolds.
Ned Chilton, according to Cunningham, was a man who “wielded the Gazette’s editorial page like a cudgel against anyone and anything that ran afoul of his uncompromising sense of right and wrong.” Chilton inherited the Gazette in 1961 and is credited with setting the tone of their award-winning, “take no prisoners” newsroom. He famously gave a speech to a group of newspaper publishers saying, “‘The hallmark of crusading journalism is sustained outrage.” Under Doug Reynolds, the Gazette-Mail’s focus shifted from “sustainable outrage” to “sustainable profits.”
Cunningham said Doug Reynolds emailed him after reading his now prophetic article last year. “I think the only thing the email said was, ‘I appreciate your commitment to great journalism.’ I think Doug Reynolds had an opportunity to show he cared about great journalism. I wish he had a commitment to great journalism.”
DEAR DOUG REYNOLDS: An Open Letter On Your Pro-Pipeline Column: “One would think you might have had serious second thoughts about not revealing some key information in your pro-pipeline column. After all, you were standing in the bully pulpit of a newspaper that prided itself on shedding light into dark corners of conflicts of interest and spotlighting partial truths that mask self-interest.”
DEAR DOUG REYNOLDS: We all let out a sigh of relief in the building when HD Media bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A West Virginia guy with deep pockets, if a middle-of-the-road, non-fire-breathing dragon sort. But still! A sort-of, quasi-liberal new owner, for one of America’s renowned, way-liberal, fire-breathing, storied small newspapers. But… did we get that wrong? | Article from TheStoryIsTheThing.com
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