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W.Va. journalist awarded MacArthur fellowship for resource-extraction reporting

West Virginia investigative journalist Ken Ward Jr. was awarded a fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his reporting on the "human and environmental toll of natural resource extraction in West Virginia."

The program offers a $625,000, "no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential." Ward is a staff writer for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail who writes about the coal, chemical and natural gas industries in West Virginia and is well known among those within the industries he covers for his reporting on worker safety, environmental hazards and corporate malfeasance.

"I think part of the job as a journalist, and the kind of journalism I want to do, is to expose those kinds of difficult truths so that people can try to confront them and deal with them," Ward said in a video published by the foundation.

Ward is working with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network to investigate the community and environmental impact of the expanding natural gas industry in West Virginia. The MacArthur Foundation also pointed to his coverage of government inaction around black lung disease and a 2014 spill of chemicals used by coal processing facilities that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people in the Charleston area.

Ward is one of 25 fellows announced Oct. 4 and the only journalist to receive the distinction this year.