“You know that local media cater to a different audience than the national media. Local media outlets need to know what their readers are concerned about, and their stories must address those concerns,” Williams wrote. “No reporter was asking Manchin how to protect West Virginia from ‘tree-huggers’ — figuratively or literally — and I believe you know that.”

Williams thanked Ward for posting the complete audio recording of the call, however, which reveals that nobody used the word tree-hugger and that Williams did ask a question about CCS. But many other questions exhibited a distinctive is-he-out-to-get-us tone and, far from advancing an agenda, Ward is heard displaying old-school journalistic grit as the only reporter who actually challenged one of Manchin’s statements. When the governor complained that the Obama administration’s energy policies could “artificially raise the cost of energy,” Ward asked about the “hidden public health costs” of coal mining and burning, which, if taken into account, suggest that the current cost of coal is actually artificially low. Manchin ducked the question, saying that he “just wants to compete in the market.”

Similarly assiduous reporting is also to be found at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where a 2006 headline once proclaimed, “Coal’s economic promise masks [the] high cost of ruination.” Unlike the Charleston paper, however, the Post-Gazette files its content into news sections rather than blogs. The environment section is chock full of watchdog reporting. Recent articles have dug into Pittsburgh’s highest-in-the-nation soot pollution, a massive and mysterious fish kill in a local waterway, and subsidence at a local dam caused by long-wall mining. The Post-Gazette also produces some of the best wildlife coverage in the region, a lot of which if filed under the Hunting & Fishing tab of its Sports section. A recent series of articles about the management of local deer populations was particularly interesting.

But the best in-house general science reporting in the Ohio River Valley undoubtedly comes from the Columbus Dispatch. The paper publishes a weekly science page featuring stories that have nationwide appeal—from solar dynamics to 3-D camera technology—but usually also a connection to Ohio, often via a research project at Ohio State University. The weekly section is notable not only for the quality of the reporting, but also for its graphical elements (which are nicely digitized for Web site), such as those found in recent reports on the physics of curling and hockey injuries.

The Dispatch’s science team—Spencer Hunt and Mark Somerson—also maintains an active Science & Environment blog and the science page aggregates wire stories from around the country. There is also a Going Green section online, which features a lot of good reporting on local energy and pollution issues in addition to clips from the wire. Unlike a lot of other papers in the region, however, the science page overshadows the environment page. That’s not a bad thing, of course. Having two solid news pages is a plus, and a few major metropolitan papers in the Ohio River Valley neither a science nor an environment section.

The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky deserves a special mention for its environment news section, The Greenspot. It is a bit difficult to pick out the locally focused articles amid the sea of wire stories, but The Greenspot beats the larger Indianapolis Star’s Green.Indy page.

Green.Indy is conspicuous and well designed, but it has none of the forceful reporting found at places like KentuckianaGreen. Most of its stories are fluffy, news-you-can-use content pushing readers to green their lifestyles. Moreover, most the articles aren’t written by Star reporters, but rather by the staff of Custom Publications, a division of the Star’s Information Center, which says it produces “a variety of special publications and content features, including a portion of those on green.indy.com.” I’m not sure what that means, but a lot of CustomPubs’ work reeks of thinly veiled advertising for green products.

An even worse environment-news strategy, though, is the one adopted by the Cincinnati Enquirer, which does absolutely nothing—no science section, no environment section … nothing. Pretty much every paper in the Ohio River Valley has gone through cutbacks of some sort, and Enquirer may have been hit harder that most. I don’t know. But Cincinnati is the second-largest metropolitan area in the region behind Pittsburgh, so the paper’s absence on the science and environment front is all the more regrettable. Given the commendable efforts of its competitors, it should be doing more.

The ORV and the Nation

Unfortunately, very few of the stories about the Ohio River Valley ever make it out of that media ecosystem. When the national media do turn their attention toward the valley, they tend to focus on one thing: coal.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.