A tree-sit occupied by "Acre" at the Yellow Finch encampment near Elliston, Virginia. Photo by Mason Adams

6 months co-hosting Inside Appalachia (West Virginia Public Broadcasting)

I began co-hosting WVPB’s Inside Appalachia with Caitlin Tan back in November 2020.

It’s been an amazing ride, and a new challenge for me to adapt to radio. It’s weird to hear one’s recorded voice on the computer, much less on my local WVTF/Radio IQ. I really enjoy working on the program. The team behind it is fantastic and it’s a joy to work with them.

Co-hosting Inside Appalachia also has given me the chance to 1) share stories by journalists across the region; 2) interview amazing people; 3) engage with meaningful stories through a regional frame. #3 sounds wonky but it’s a lot of the reason I got into journalism back in 2001.

Here are some of the stories I’ve produce for Inside Appalachia. A lot more to come, y’all!

Below, find a selection of episodes and stories for Inside Appalachia.

I’m excited to continue making these shows and working with such a great team.

How SWVA’s coalfields went from Va’s most Democratic to its most Republican (Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism)

Virginia’s most Republican-voting counties were among its most Democratic-voting just a generation ago. The decline of coal and a cultural realignment in America’s political parties changed its voting patterns, which dramatically accelerated after the 2008 election of Barack Obama and spiked in 2016 with Donald Trump.

For the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism, I reported on how southwestern Virginia’s coal counties, and specifically Buchanan County, went from a Democratic stronghold to an 80% Trump county in the span of a generation. (After this story ran, 84% of Buchanan County voters went for Trump in 2020, even as Joe Biden won Virginia 54% to 44%.)

Read my story at the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism.

Rural America’s role in the 2020 elections (Daily Yonder)

The 2016 presidential election broke in just such a way that rural voters in key states delivered Donald Trump a narrow victory over Hillary Clinton. For the Daily Yonder, I spoke with election experts across the country for a three-story series on how the rural vote factors into 2020’s race for president and control of Congress.

The first story lays out the national landscape in 2020, with focus points on Pennsylvania, Maine and Montana. This story lays out a few different models for how candidates run in rural America.

The second story looks at the Midwest, specifically Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota.

The third story details the divergence of the growth South and the stagnant South — a dichotomy identified by Charles Bullock at the University of Georgia. Examples include Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, with a glance at Texas and South Carolina.

Read the series, which ran in October at the Daily Yonder.

Image of Gatlinburg, TN

The history and future of work in Appalachia (100 Days in Appalachia)

100 Days in Appalachia asked me to think about the “the future of work” and what it looks like here. I considered how these kinds of stories often lean on utopian images of people with a high quality of life and plenty of leisure time — despite repeated historical patterns showing that technological advances like mechanization don’t often benefit workers and their families, which ultimately hurts communities.

Read Disrupted, the 100 Days in Appalachia series on the future of work.

For this series, I focused on three communities that represent a swath of themes and dynamics that repeat in variations across Appalachia.

In Georgia, Gainesville‘s proximity to metro Atlanta and tight-knit ties between public and private sectors make it one of the Appalachian localities best positioned for the future, according to the McKinsey firm. But its reliance on an under-documented, immigrant workforce starkly illustrates the income inequality that often accompanies economic prosperity. The pandemic exposed the cracks in the system even more.

In Tennessee, Sevier County‘s Dollywood, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have become models for other counties looking to emulate their success in attracting visitors. But Sevier County also suffers the ill effects of a global industrialized economy, and even a successful tourism economy relies heavily on part-time seasonal jobs with few benefits.

In Virginia, Dickenson County is emblematic of the challenges faced by coalfield communities across central Appalachia. As the coal industry has spiraled into waves of bankruptcy, historic mining communities face depopulation, struggling healthcare systems and failing infrastructure. Prisons have replaced mines as the most stable employer, but a rising generation of leaders hopes for a brighter future based around adventure tourism and telework.

Gainesville, Georgia, Sevier County, Tennessee, and Dickenson County, Virginia, present a snapshot of three communities on different paths. Collectively, they illustrate what’s at stake in Appalachia, and how we may yet author our own fates.

Read the three-story Disrupted series at 100 Days in Appalachia.

Protests and pandemic: Virginia’s historic 2020 General Assembly session (Virginia Business)

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.

As coronavirus spreads, West Virginia is losing hospitals (Huffington Post)

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.

Why Bernie Sanders won Floyd County (Virginia Mercury)

 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.

Virginia hemp growers face an uncertain 2020 (Virginia Mercury)

Farmers beginning the second year of Virginia’s legalization of commercial hemp are seeing a lot of uncertainty, both in governmental regulation and in dealing with processors.

Lots of hemp farmers jumped into the new market last year, resulting in a bottleneck among processors who turn the raw hemp into cannabidiol (CBD) oil. On top of that, federal regulators are still making changes to how they oversee hemp growth. State regulators are forging ahead on their own in the meantime.

It all adds up to a complicated market and regulatory environment for growers.

Read my story at the Virginia Mercury for more.

As rural Virginia loses young people, schools look hard at consolidation (Virginia Mercury)

This one hit close to home.

I grew up in Alleghany County, Virginia, just outside the then-city limits of Clifton Forge. In 2001, Clifton Forge reverted from city to town status—an important distinction that significantly affects governance, taxes and services. The city had long since consolidated its schools with Alleghany County at that point. The school consolidation happened in 1983, just about the time I was starting elementary school.

Now, Alleghany County and the city of Covington are considering a similar school consolidation. And so are several other localities around Virginia, mostly in areas experiencing population loss. Alleghany County, for example, has seen a 16% and Covington a 22% decline in population from 1990. But consolidation and local identity can be tricky, with decisions involving many more factors than just figures on paper.

Read the full story at the Virginia Mercury.

What Virginia’s off-off-year elections mean for 2020 (New Republic)

Virginia’s 2019 elections saw Democrats win control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s. These new majorities are more diverse and progressive than any legislative body in state history.

How did it happen? In this advancer that ran the week before the elections, I charted the events, individuals, and dynamics at play in Virginia’s historic “off-off-year” elections, in which no statewide or congressional offices were at stake but all 140 seats in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates were up for re-election. Read more in the story at the New Republic.