BY EMMA PEPPER, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC NETWORK COMMUNICATIONS, THE HUB
Some people say things will never change. Some people say it’s not worth dreaming because the challenges are too great.
And, you know, some people just get it plain wrong. This is often the case when it comes to understanding the McDowell County community, where it’s common that the stories we hear about living and working there miss the mark by a mile or more.
It was back in 2018 when we heard that the nearly-100-year-old community institution The Welch News would shutter its doors forever, and then, in one of the greatest West Virginia comeback stories that we’ve witnessed in some time, just days later a local member of the newsroom said that she was stepping up to purchase the paper. Melissa Nester, better known as Missy, became The Welch News publisher. Missy attributes her courage in stepping forward to the support of her teammates in the newsroom and the many members of the McDowell County community who came forward to share that the paper needed to be saved.
The comeback story continued as The Welch News team worked together to bring this guiding star for the community back from the brink.
“This has been a dream that we have had for many years, but we were not allowed to have any online presence [under the previous owners]. Once we took over control of the paper, we wanted to offer our community an online resource. This is a change for the future that we need to make, and that the residents of this community deserve to have,” said Missy.
“Historically, we’ve felt like our community’s voice wasn’t heard. More than anything, this shows that our side of the story matters,” said Derek Tyson, editor for The Welch News.
Since 2018, the team at The Welch News has been working overtime to address challenges, including restructuring their business practices and tending to the historic building that houses their offices and printing press.
“As soon as I acquired the paper, I threw up the white flag,” said Missy.
Local residents, family members, state and local groups, and others came together to help support the paper through this transition. One of those people was Tyler Channell of the WVU Reed College of Media. Tyler went on to be a driving force in supporting the team in taking their paper online.
“We cannot praise Tyler enough,” said Missy. “He has been an amazing resource. The days where I’m saying that’s too much to handle, he encourages us to get us to the next level. He pushed us to get to the place where we can operate this website ourselves.”
Along with this push to take their paper online, The Welch News team is putting new energy into their Facebook presence. During recent floods, the team was offering up-to-the-minute updates, including using Facebook Live in locations throughout the area to report on what was happening.
It’s this kind of coverage, captured by storytellers who are on the ground shoulder-to-shoulder with residents, that makes local journalism an essential part of the well-being of any community.
What’s next for The Welch News team? Derek shared that they are working on getting even more deeply engaged in what’s happening in McDowell County.
Missy said, “Community members are waiting on us, and we don’t want to disappoint our communities. The website is a driving force for us. We want to let the world know how many great things are going on here, and the renewed sense of hope that we feel in McDowell County. It’s our job to tell the wonderful stories that come out of here. We want to commend the people of our home, and we want everyone to know how wonderful they are. Now we have a new vehicle to do that.”