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A Pulitzer-Winning Journalist's Advice And Why He Does A Monthly Night Shift


Now to a journalist in West Virginia who won a Pulitzer this week. Eric Eyre is a statehouse and investigations reporter with the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He joins us now from West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Charleston, W.Va. Welcome to our program.

ERIC EYRE: Thanks so much.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you won the Pulitzer for your investigation into the state's opioid crisis, but you're a full-time statehouse reporter. How do you balance doing those kinds of investigative projects, which take so much time, and still doing all your daily work?

EYRE: It's very difficult. We're just a 37,000-circulation paper, very small staff, limited resources. But I've been doing projects for many years, so it's not an exact science. You get a lot of interruptions. You get stuck on different stories. But for a paper our size, I think we really do a really good job with the more in-depth stories.

WERTHEIMER: How long did it take you to save enough string to be ready to do this?

EYRE: I started working on this story about three years ago. We knew we had something really big when we got some data from the DEA. And from that point forward, actually, took about three weeks to complete the two-part series. But during that time period, I also was doing daily stories, as well.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, what was the big fact that you got hold of that told you, OK, now we're ready?

EYRE: What we had was the total volume of hydrocodone and OxyContin or oxycodone pills that were shipped to West Virginia over a six-year period. And when we totaled it up, there were upwards of 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. That's about 433 pills per person. And what was even more striking was the number of pills that went to Southern West Virginia. Just, you had really small counties in Southern West Virginia, which is our coal region, had five, six times more pills than a county that was eight times larger in northern West Virginia.

WERTHEIMER: Now, while you are putting all of that together and getting ready to write it, you still have a - have to do your shift with the overnight with the cops, right?

EYRE: Yeah. That's about once a month. And we actually get - I actually get a break when I'm covering the legislative session, which lasts two months. I actually get a break because the younger reporters - they have to pull a night cop shift at least once a week. So I consider myself lucky.

WERTHEIMER: Well, you have worked there for 18 years.

EYRE: Eighteen years. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: I gather that you were not planning to stick around that long, but then you did. Why?

EYRE: Basically, they give you a lot of freedom. They don't get in your way. The editors encourage in-depth investigative work. They like to hold public officials accountable. They're also willing to go to bat if you need legal help, if you're trying to get records or things like that.

WERTHEIMER: So would you advise young reporters to do what you have done and stick with a local news organization for a decent amount of time?

EYRE: Yeah. I think at least a year. Sometimes two years is a good point to kind of reconsider your options. We thought that we were just going to be here for a year, but this paper has a history of crusading investigative reporting, strong local journalism. Our late publisher Ned Chilton coined this phrase called sustained outrage, and that's sort of hammering away at an injustice until it's righted.

WERTHEIMER: People who can manage to stay mad for a long time.

EYRE: One thing that we're very fortunate to have is local ownership. We still are family-owned if you can believe that.

WERTHEIMER: Eric Eyre is a statehouse and investigations reporter with the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He won a Pulitzer this week for his investigation into West Virginia's opioid crisis. He joined us from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Congratulations again, and thank you very much.

EYRE: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.