Coal kingpin faces possible prison sentence after mine explosion (Grist)

I spent much of 2015 tracking the criminal trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship, who was indicted on criminal charges relating to West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine, the site of a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

None of the three felony charges directly accused Blankenship of causing the disaster at Upper Big Branch mine, which happened when a spark from a longwall shearer ignited a fireball that hit accumulated coal dust, triggering a massive explosion.

Yet, the explosion overshadowed and informed every bit of the trial.

On Thursday, Blankenship was convicted of misdemeanor consipiracy to willfully violate mine safety regulations.

Read my story at Grist covering the trial and its outcome.

Developing downtown: As downtown Roanoke’s character has changed, its boundaries have expanded and its population has grown (Roanoke Business)

Nearly a decade after the beginning of a renovation renaissance in downtown Roanoke, the city core has reached a new tipping point. With nearly 2,000 downtown residents and a healthy stock of rehabilitated warehouse apartments, developers are now taking the next step and investing in new construction.

A South Carolina developer is building a Hampton Inn and Suites on top of a city parking garage at the corner of Market Street and Church Avenue. The $17 million, 127-room motel is scheduled to open in January, joining the historic Hotel Roanoke as an option for travelers to stay in downtown Roanoke. Meanwhile, Roanoke-based developer Lucas Thornton is investing $10 million into a new development. Located at a former surface parking lot at Williamson Road and Tazewell Avenue, the project includes 85 residential apartments and nearly 7,000 square feet of commercial space.

This investment in new construction marks a threshold moment in the modern history of downtown Roanoke. For the first time in decades, new buildings are rising up—and more may follow. The decision to build, says Thornton, comes because of steady stream of rehabilitation projects and their demonstration of an apparently insatiable demand for downtown living.

Read the rest of my story about downtown Roanoke in the December issue of Roanoke Business, online or in stands outside regional grocery stores.

How Hip-Hop and Country Music Helped Aung San Suu Kyi Win Myanmar’s Historic Democratic Election (Noisey)

Feeding goats one night, I heard a reporter on a Foreign Policy podcast describe campaign trucks in Burma with boomboxes, dueling up and down roads.

Christian Caryl described the differing approaches between Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) when it came to campaign songs.”All of the parties here have these big trucks with boomboxes mounted on them in bright colors, and they ride back and forth up and down the street and they blast music,” Caryl said. “Sometimes you get these duels of the boomboxes. It’s very funny because the NLD —Aung San Suu Kyi’s party—has rap music. They have these very rollicking Nashville country tunes that celebrates Aung San Suu Kyi, too .”

That launched me down a wormhole of Youtube videos & stories about Burma/Myanmar’s historic elections.

I put what I brought back from that exploration into this story at Noisey.