New Folkways Reporting Corps Is Ready To Shine A Light On Arts And Culture

Apr 23, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Despite social distancing limitations that meant reimagining an in-person training for the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Corps Project, 12 storytellers are now off and running (from a safe distance, of course) to gather and share unique stories of arts and culture from across the Appalachian region.

The Folkways Reporting Corps expands the reach of the Inside Appalachia team to include more stories from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Ohio. Jessica Lilly, director of the program, said this year’s virtual training joined storytellers with trainers as far away as Great Britain.

“It took flexibility and a real investment from the Folkways reporters to make this kind of training work,” Lilly said. “Their passion for Appalachian storytelling was evident in the commitment they gave to the training. It was easy to see just how important sharing stories about arts and culture is during times like these. Now more than ever, people need stories of hope and innovation.

“I expect to learn a lot about Appalachian culture through this new group of storytellers. The more I learn, the more pride I have in this region, and I believe our listeners will feel the same when they hear what we have in store for them,” Lilly added.

The Folkways Reporting Corps includes Mason Adams, Connie Bailey-Kitts, Rachel Greene, Clara Haizlett, Zack Harold, Brian Koscho, Kelley Libby, Trevor McKenzie, Nicole Musgrave, Caitlin Myers, Heather Niday and Rebecca Williams. Some members shared their impressions of the training:

Rebecca Williams

Rebecca Williams of Swannanoa, N.C., said she is honored to be a part of this team and doing this work, especially now. “In these rollercoaster times, I think many of us are looking for something we can hold on to.  I found the training incredibly energizing and inspiring — made more so by the fact that we were discussing our roles as storytellers and reporters in the midst of a global pandemic. Interviewing people about Appalachian folkways and why it is important to pass this knowledge on from one generation to the next, seems more urgent than ever.”

Connie Bailey-Kitts of Bluefield, Va., entered journalism at a time a lot of work was being done remotely and she envied the newsroom environment her older reporter friends had — times when they could talk face-to-face with an editor, bounce things off another reporter, watch the photographer load up, drink bad coffee and smell the ink on a stack of papers.

Connie Bailey-Kitts

“In those early days of Covid-19, we weren’t able to have face-to face-interaction, but we formed a camaraderie in spite of it, and it felt like we nearly created a true newsroom environment,” Bailey-Kitts said. “What made this training like none I’ve ever had before? In part, I think it was the vulnerability my mentors showed as they shared their own mistakes and lessons learned. That kind of transparency is contagious and kills the self-pride that often keeps you from asking questions and learning and growing, not to mention how wonderfully organized, thorough and planned out each session was. Organizing for the benefit of others is such a service to them.

“My wish is that all we’ve learned will channel into our giving back to the wonderful people of Appalachia as we tell their stories. What a gift to live here! The final word of each training day was, ‘We’re here to support each other.’ Perfect ending to the story,” Bailey-Kitts said. 

Rachel Greene

Rachel Greene of Durham, N.C., said, “One thing that stuck out during the training was how everyone is so dedicated to continue reporting — and finding inventive ways to report —on Appalachia so we can tell the stories of our region even during the current crisis.”

Mason Adams of Floyd County, Va., is a returning member of the Corps and had the benefit of attending a live training last year in Pipestem Resort State Park where he said he learned a lot about folklife and audio reporting. “With pandemic protocols in place this year, the training looked and felt different. I streamed the training while juggling parenting and demands of my other jobs but felt a lot of solidarity from and with everyone else, including the Inside Appalachia team and presenters, because I could tell that they were going through the same challenges…

Mason Adams

“I enjoyed hearing those I met as fellow corps members last year—Nicole Musgrave and Caitlin Tan—take it up a notch and become presenters this year. And of course, it’s fascinating to hear the voices behind a podcast I often listen to while doing farm chores become people with whom I’m corresponding and learning from.”

Heather Niday of Green Bank, W.Va., also went through the in-person training last year and returns to the corps for a second round. “I was extremely impressed with all the presenters and how well every one of them adapted their presentations to the online training.  I definitely picked up some really good tips on storytelling, research, presentation, etc., that I'm excited to put into my stories.  And I'm really excited to hear the stories that will come out of this year’s cohort — very passionate storytellers in this group!!

Brian Koscho

Brian Koscho of Athens, Ohio, found the virtual training to be much-needed during this time of isolation and social distancing. “I loved the training. In a time of not being able to leave my house, it was so great to connect with such a great team of storytellers and reporters. I was inspired even more than I already was to begin this program and I am grateful to

Heather Niday

have so many wonderful new colleagues and be able to learn so much from the Inside Appalachia team during my time.”

Kelley Libby of Charlottesville, Va., said: “The training was a balm for distress and uncertainty. While video conferencing was less than ideal, I left the training feeling deeply connected to my fellow reporters and editors throughout the Appalachian region. I also felt a sense of purpose — that I'm doing meaningful work, even if that means interviewing someone about their folk practice over a Skype connection. I really appreciated the time and care that went into our training. The leadership shown by Inside Appalachia's team during this time gives me confidence that we'll manage to make moving, inspiring, sound-rich stories despite our current challenges.”

Learn more about the Inside Appalachia Folkways

Kelley Libby

Reporting Corps Project at wvpublic.org.

To share a Folkways story idea, contact Jessica Lilly at jlilly@wvpublic.org.