BY EMMA PEPPER, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC NETWORK COMMUNICATIONS, THE HUB
Local journalism is the heartbeat of our communities in West Virginia. While we tend to the needs of our daily lives, we depend on our locally-based media to be our eyes and ears.
As I travel the state talking with West Virginians who are invested in making a difference in their communities about how to amplify the stories coming out of their work, one of the main tactics that we focus on together is how to engage with local journalists. When I ask them about who in the room is connected to a journalist – a majority of people in the group always raise their hand. We are a small, but mighty state. Our local journalists attend church with us, they went to high school with us, our children play with their children, they are our neighbors, friends, and family members.
Many of us can remember being at the knees of our own mothers and fathers while they sat with a newspaper in hand. Keeping up with the local news wasn’t just a pastime for them, it was a practice rooted in a value: being a member of this community means bearing witness to what is happening in the lives of our neighbors.
When I reflect on the challenges local media outlets are facing, I lament the potential loss of our chief watchdogs on community matters, but it is the loss of the stories of my neighbors that shoots straight to my heart. The stories coming out of local journalism efforts show us who we are as West Virginians – stories like the war veteran recounting his triumphs on the battlefield; the dreamer who sees a need for her community and opens up a business to fill it; or the volunteer team that is collecting Christmas presents for families in need.
Local journalists shine a light on our shared history. Their stories reflect the needs, values, and progress happening in our communities – they are our collective heartbeat. And, as recent research from Texas A&M, Louisiana State and Colorado State universities shows us, they support us in being a more engaged citizenry, making decisions in the voting booth that reflect our own – and our neighbors – best interests.
This National Newspaper Week, I’m extending my gratitude to West Virginia’s storytellers working alongside us on the ground as we build the path to a bright future for our state.