WVPB Newsroom’s Favorite Stories Of 2019
This has been another year of development for the WVPB newsroom. We’ve tackled issues big and small while maintaining and growing important regional and national editorial partnerships.
Ten reporters produced more than 500 original stories across our region in 2019. Each of our reporters has picked their favorite story from this year, with a little explanation about why.
Hopefully, you’ll gain a little insight about what drives us to do what we do each day. We're grateful to our sources who give up their time and privacy so we can bring our audience their stories.
WVPB news director
Making a Difference Locally, Globally: Teacher Leads Student Recycling Program In Wyoming County
I think some of our most meaningful stories at WVPB are the ones that highlight a national problem by spotlighting the way local communities are dealing with it.
A few years ago, teens in an advanced science class in Wyoming County told their teacher they wanted to do something about the litter in local parks and public roadways. They noticed a lot of the trash was recyclable.
In 2017, members of the school’s Friends of the Earth Club began collecting plastics and metals from their neighbors for a recycling program in neighboring Raleigh County. Those students collected more than 17,000 pounds of recyclable metals, plastics and cardboard during the last school year.
Appalachian Mountains: A Story Of Their Own
This story was a challenge on many levels — like squeezing an accurate, compelling, concise story out of a rock. But it turns out that rocks are pretty good recorders of ancient history, if you know anyone good at deciphering their subtle messages. And with some creative license, I was able to bring the relevance into today with music, family, fate and a renewed love of place and storytelling.
But the biggest reason I like this story is because it’s one shaped by our audience. West Virginians come up with the best story ideas and it’s an honor to be working for such smart, curious, and fun people.
Summersville Lake Provides Inland Scuba Destination
This story was important to me because it gave me a chance to share my love of the water, especially what’s below the surface, with others. It was also an interesting challenge to give radio listeners the experience of going diving in a freshwater mountain lake.
Wheeling Organization Takes Hope To The Streets
This story is my favorite of the year, not only because of how eye-opening it was, but also because of how inspiring it was to report. It’s one step to acknowledge that there are people in your community who don’t have access to permanent housing, but it’s another to do something about it. Seeing these doctors and nurses showing up, off the clock, to provide medical care and companionship to a community that desperately needs it was super heartwarming.
Breastfeeding is Natural, but for Many Women, It's Not 'Easy'
Roxy Todd, Glynis Board and I worked on the series about breastfeeding when Roxy was a new mom and I was pregnant. On a personal level, it was probably the best thing I could have done. Because as a new mom, breastfeeding ended up being exceptionally difficult for me.
My kid is about three months old now and is still exclusively breastfed. But for 10 LONG weeks, it was exceedingly painful, despite exploring all possibilities for why that might be. Working on this series gave me access to women who had experienced the same things I ended up experiencing. Things that are often not talked about but are deeply integral to and important stories about early motherhood.
Fallout 76: Turning 'Almost Heaven' Into a Post-Apocalyptic Tourist Destination
There were quite a few stories that I enjoyed working on in 2019, but I think the one that has to be my favorite is this story about the video game Fallout 76. Full disclosure, I love video games, so when Fallout 76 was announced, I was eager to follow it and see the potential impacts it would have on our state.
Fallout 76 takes place entirely in a post-apocalyptic West Virginia. It’s up to the players to reclaim a lost Appalachia and, essentially, bring it back to life. One of the reasons I loved working on this story is because of the collaboration that went into it. This story was produced for both television and radio. I wrote the script, and then videographer Daniel Walker produced a television version, while I produced a radio version. Daniel and I worked together to come up with two different pieces that were fun creative in their own ways.
Hi, How Are You: Remembering Musician, Artist Daniel Johnston
“Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his 1981 collection Palm Sunday. And, he’s right. Read through my reporting on state government, public controversies or breaking news and you’re likely not able to discern much about who I am or what I think. (I hope so, at least.) Like so many other journalists, I’ve been trained to operate as such.
In the case of reporting on — and paying tribute to — musician, artist and one-time West Virginia resident Daniel Johnston, it felt appropriate to do the opposite.
Like legions of others, Johnston’s work is one of those things that has stuck with me since I discovered his weird and sincere songwriting. When I learned of his passing, it only made sense to dig up some tape I had of him from my past life as a music writer. It was an opportunity to tell the reader (and radio listener) a bit about myself, my connection to his music and how his lo-fi punk ethos has ingrained itself in my identity.
Powering Down: Ohio Community Reckons With Coal Plant Closure
Jobs and Risk — Atlantic Coast Pipeline Shutdown Divides W.Va.
There is no shortage of stories to cover on the energy and environment beat. 2019 has been a busy year from a fight in the Legislature about water quality standards to a series of high-profile coal company bankruptcies to the continued rise in the importance of natural gas.
One theme that has emerged is how communities across Appalachia — both that have long relied on fossil fuels and those that are newly so — are dealing with transition. Both stories listed here examined how these changes profoundly affect communities. The first story looked at how one community in Ohio prepared for the closure of a coal-fired plant. The other looked at how a newer industry — natural gas pipeline construction — is dividing communities in West Virginia. In both cases, I am so grateful to those who so generously shared their time and stories to help me better understand.
Luthiery School Taps Eastern Kentucky's Rich Music Tradition As Part Of Opioid Crisis Solution
This story is a favorite of mine because it addresses a serious issue – addiction -- but through the lens of a traditional Appalachian craft. It is a different way of discussing addiction, and one we don’t hear that often.
Additionally, the audio and photo elements are strong and engaging -- each time I listen I feel like I’m back in Hindman, Kentucky. The time I spent reporting in the town was really important to me -- I felt like telling this story was truly important for the greater good.
West Virginia foster parents say they need more support
This is the second story in a two-part series about foster care in West Virginia that I reported for Marketplace. I learned a tremendous number of heartbreaking facts in the course of reporting this story. There are too many children who simply aren’t getting the love and stability that any of us deserve, and there are not enough homes available to take them all.
But I also met some foster parents and social workers who are doing some really important, though difficult, work. If there is one issue I think we need to be paying more attention to in the state, it’s foster care. I was honored to get to tell this story for a national audience, and the editing crew at Marketplace’s The Uncertain Hour taught me a lot in the process of reporting and writing this story. Our newsroom will undoubtedly be following this issue more closely in the coming year.
Without Enough Support, Working Moms Struggle to Make Breastfeeding Work
This episode was a real labor of love, inspired in part by our producer Roxy Todd’s own experience of being a new mom. More than 900 women answered our survey about their experiences, and many shared their stories about their struggles with breastfeeding.
Roxy and Appalachia Health News Coordinator Kara Lofton interviewed more than a dozen women, and a couple of men, about how our society treats women when they become mothers, and the pressures many women face trying to make breastfeeding work. And many mothers we spoke to said they felt guilty about all of this, particularly as they struggle to balance work and parenting. Motherhood is beautiful; but it’s not all rosy. Bottom line, there’s probably a lot our society could do to better support mothers. Even just listening to each other may help.