Over the last several months, I collaborated with Wyoming reporter Dustin Bleizeffer on a six-part series about transition in coal communities of central Appalachia & Wyoming’s Powder River Basin
The difference between the regions is that central Appalachia has been on this path for decades — the lead anecdote in the final story is a 20something miner talking about the industry’s demise, all the way back in 1956 (via Howard B. Lee’s “Bloodletting in Appalachia”) — while in Wyoming, the decline has arrived much more suddenly, as state officials figured they had 200 more years of coal prosperity.
Read the full series:
Part one: What’s next for coal country?
Part two: Coal country faces a healthcare crisis
Part three: Coal communities increasingly rely on federal health programs
Part four: How lax fiscal policy has left states flat-footed as mining declines
Part five: Coal country envisions paths forward in manufacturing, reclamation and renewables
Part six: Survival is anything but certain for coal country
In July, I visited Marion, Virginia, to cover a Black Lives Matter/LGBTQ+ rally, along with a counterprotest. After a previous Marion BLM rally in June, someone burnt a cross outside the home of 17-year-old organizer Travon Brown. One of his neighbors was subsequently arrested and charged.
Read my story at In These Times.
You can also check out my long livetweet thread from the march & counter-protest on Twitter.
You will likely have unanswered questions after reading my story. I went to the march as an unaffiliated freelance reporter, and the story wound up as a “Dispatch” at ITT, which is fairly brief. As a reporter, I often envision an optimal version of a story that I’d write with better support and more length. Well, Michael Miller at the Washington Post wrote that version of this story, which is pretty humbling. It hits every note I could possibly have hit, and more.
Final note: I wrote my story weeks before John Lewis’ death, which came very, very late in the editorial process. I considered asking to have the reference to him removed, because I knew his “good trouble” quote would be everywhere. We ultimately left it, for numerous reasons, including because it answers a specific phrase used to criticize Brown.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Roanoke Tribune publisher Claudia Whitworth three times in my journalism career.
A good 50% of the reason I bought an audio rig two years ago was because I wanted to capture a long interview with Claudia. West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia gave me an opportunity to report not just on her, but three generations of her family, for a story on the Roanoke Tribune, which has been serving the city’s Black community since 1939. Claudia’s been there since 1945.
Check out my story on the Roanoke Tribune for Inside Appalachia. Although there’s a web story, this piece was intended for radio, so make sure to listen via the widget there. The story runs a little less than 9 minutes long.
A shorter version can be heard at the Roanoke NPR affiliate, WVTF.
The extraordinary 2020 General Assembly session in Richmond memorably demonstrated the extent to which COVID-19 has disrupted Virginia and most of the world. Yet the drama somewhat obscured what had been a momentous 2020 General Assembly session — the first since the 1990s in which Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature. The partisan flip and sweeping changes to Virginia law will be felt across the commonwealth.
I covered what the session meant for labor and commerce, for Virginia Business. Read my story about the 2020 General Assembly session, along with a sidebar on its legislative highlights.
Virginians and West Virginians have been battling the Mountain Valley Pipeline in regulatory and legal arenas since it was announced in 2014, and on the ground since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved it in late 2017. The pipeline passes about 15 minutes from my house, and I’ve been covering it since the beginning.
Most recently, I looked at the long-running Yellow Finch encampment, which has blocked the pipeline in a hollow near Elliston, Virginia, for nearly two years. For Mother Jones, I spent time at Yellow Finch to consider how the site functions as a place where locals spend time with pipeline fighters from around the U.S., and how they all influence each other.
Read my Mother Jones story, “How a “Bunch of Badass Queer Anarchists” Are Teaming Up With Locals to Block a Pipeline Through Appalachia.”
More recently, I reported for the Daily Yonder on how the activists fighting MVP felt about the July cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a similar natural gas transmission project that’s twice as long and a couple of hours north of here.
I asked Red Terry, a landowner who occupied a tree sit on her own land for 34 days, what she’d say to others facing pipeline battles of their own. “These people need to fight it for everything they’re worth,” she told me. “Never give up.”
Read my story for the Daily Yonder.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout March, two communities in West Virginia — a state whose health outcomes rank among the worst in the nation — grappled with the news that Williamson Memorial Hospital, in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, and Fairmont Regional Medical Center, located between the northern and eastern panhandles, were closing. And other hospitals across the state, and rural America, are struggling.
Read my story for Huffington Post, “For West Virginia’s Hospitals, The Financial Crisis Came First.“
Rural America’s healthcare providers, which have struggled to stay financially viable for the last decade, face the loss of further revenue as they freeze non-emergency procedures and prepare for a potential surge in patients as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
The NC Rural Health Research Program at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research lists 168 hospitals that have closed since 2005, and 126 since 2010, not counting one in Fairmont, West Virginia, that closed last week. Of those hospitals, 28 of them, or 17 percent, were in the Appalachian region.
Read more in my story at 100 Days in Appalachia.
Appalachians have been tinkering for cars as long as there have been cars. The art of making moonshine and smuggling it from the mountains led to early stock-car racing and the roots of NASCAR.
Today, the Bennett family is sustaining the automotive tradition another way, by restoring vintage cars into pristine conditions, and sometimes by building them from the frame out. From Jack Bennett and his ownership of Perfection Auto Body, to his son Jeff Bennett restoring custom cars from the ’30s, to grandson Jeremy specializing in VW Beetles, the Bennetts are carrying on a family tradition.
Read and listen to my story on the Bennetts at Inside Appalachia, a program on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Or check out the full episode here.
On a related note, I’m honored to announced that Inside Appalachia has picked me up for a second year as part of its Folkways Reporting Corps, along with a number of talented individuals. Read more about the project and the other members who were selected.
On Super Tuesday, only three Virginia localities voted for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over former Vice President Joe Biden in Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary: Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and Floyd County.
On Wednesday, people were like, yeah, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg are college towns. Younger voters like Sanders, that makes sense. But rural Floyd County?!
As it happens, I reside in Floyd County, and so know a little bit about its peculiar melting pot of politics. A lot of this story is translatable to rural mountain politics writ large, and some of it’s unique to Floyd.
I had a blast reporting and writing this story. Read it at the Virginia Mercury.
Two major natural gas transmission projects—the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline—run through a significant swath of country that qualifies as a news desert. Lyndsey Gilpin wrote about the challenge in a story for Columbia Journalism Review that includes my perspective as a journalist who’s been covering both pipelines since they were announced 2014.
Read the full story at Columbia Journalism Review.
And for a list of selected stories I’ve written about the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, check out this Twitter thread: