In preparation for New Story 2017—an annual gathering in Morgantown, West Virginia, focused on the economics, culture and narratives of Appalachia—the West Virginia Community Development Hub invited members of the national media to attend. The event would bring reporters and residents together for a two-day intensive dialogue about covering the region. Rather than succumb to problematic drive-by coverage, the event would guarantee reporters “the names, faces and stories about West Virginia they’d been clamoring for,” writes Catherine Venable Moore.
There was one problem, however: None of the reporters invited would agree to come.
“Even before Donald Trump’s election, Appalachia was treated as a kind of Rosetta stone for deciphering rural white poverty in America,” Moore writes for CJR. After the election, stock media inquries—We’re looking for a family in a trailer park—“confirmed many residents’ deep-seated fear that the national press only shows up when the news is bad, or to make them look like fools or freaks.” One reader wrote in response to Moore’s story, “The national media only cares about Appalachia when it needs poverty porn and prepackaged think pieces.”
Moore attended New Story, where she encountered a number of local and regional startups engaged in crafting narratives that dodge stereotypes and assumptions in favor of sustained and nuanced reporting. Writing about one such project, 100 Days in Appalachia, Moore explains that its members “comb local news for national hooks,” not the other way around.
“Its envisioned readers aren’t people who care about Appalachia,” writes Moore. “They are students of contemporary American politics and culture, particularly the urban-rural divide.”
Ultimately, the issues addressed by startups like 100 Days “aren’t just regional issues, they’re national issues.”
“Appalachian journalists not only have a right to be part of the conversation,” writes Moore. “They have an obligation.” Read her full story at CJR.
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