After the 2016 election, the calls and emails rolled into West Virginia, as the press scrambled to make sense of a place that hadn’t occupied this much space on the national political stage since John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary.
“We’re looking for a family in a trailer park.”
“We’re looking for a holler. How do we get there?”
“I need a Trump-supporting son of a coal miner who doesn’t think coal is coming back. Do you know one?”
Even before Donald Trump’s election, Appalachia was treated as a kind of Rosetta stone for deciphering rural white poverty in America. In its aftermath, media inquiries like these confirmed many residents’ deep-seated fear that the national press only shows up when the news is bad, or to make them look like fools or freaks. Instead of inviting input on how to frame their stories, reporters seemed to be looking for people to fit a frame they already had in mind.
As the communications director for the nonprofit West Virginia Community Development Hub, Jake Lynch fielded a lot of these questions, and grew increasingly frustrated with the journalists asking them.
So when he began to prepare for New Story 2017—the organization’s yearly gathering for people trying to drive the story and the future economy of the state—Lynch invited members of the national media for a two-way dialogue about covering the region…