CHARLESTON – The state senator from West Virginia's northeastern panhandle said he was a bit suspicious when first he saw the two ads on the same page of the Journal in Martinsburg earlier this month. ads from the <i>Journal</i> in Martinsburg ads from the Journal in Martinsburg | Photo courtesy Sen. Craig Blair (R - Berkeley)

"I normally read the Journal online," Sen. Craig Blair (R - Berkeley) said during a West Virginia Record interview. "When I opened the print version, I was astonished to see two ads."

The advertisements were placed for, a website run by volunteers, with support from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office, to aid victims of recent floods.

Blair had just announced the launch of his "Report It WV" hotline for state residents to report suspected government waste or fraud, which might have predisposed him to think the worst of the two display ads. He estimated the ads cost about $600.

The Journal in Martinsburg serves an area not much troubled by recent floods in the southern part of the state. "So I thought I had something to call the hotline about," he said.

However, Sen. Blair said he found himself pleasantly surprised when he learned the ads had cost the state's taxpayers nothing and were, in fact, helping tens of thousands effected by the floods.

"These ads were run at no cost through an agreement with the WV Press Association, which offered to share helpful info/resources with those impacted by the flooding," Jessica Tice, director of communications in Gov. Tomblin's office, said during a West Virginia Record interview.

Earlier this summer, floods killed at least two dozen people and destroyed more than 1,200 homes, hitting hardest in Roane, Kanawha and Greenbrier counties, according to published reports and information from the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Connecting flood victims with the correct resources and services is what the volunteers at are striving to do, according to the website.

"By connecting the dots between those donating and those who need to receive the donations, we can help West Virginians affected, rebuild our communities and become stronger than before," the website says.

In addition to support from Tomblin's office, also works with other volunteer organizations, including Volunteer West Virginia and West Virginia Interactive.

The advertisements, such as those Blair spotted, are running in about 40 newspapers statewide though the West Virginia Press Association, which offered the state free advertising related to information for flood survivors, Tice said.

The ads, had they not been free, would have cost $24,000, she said.

"Much like a number of organizations and individuals, the Press Association was eager to help following the flooding," Tice said. "We are extremely grateful for the opportunity they provided to help spread the word about, the state’s official source of flood recovery and donation information."

Print media is too low tech to know for certain how many eyeballs have looked at the advertisements but the website has reached tens of thousands, Tice said.

"The site has been visited nearly 33,000 times by around 25,000 users," she said. "Page views top 89,000, with an average of 2.74 pages viewed each session."

Blair said this is an example of West Virginians working together for a better state and that this is a lesson learned about what to expect in reports to his new hotline. "Great to see the partnership," he said. "An excellent example where there's an appearance of waste yet the truth is just the opposite."

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