HuffPost editor: ‘Look to local news’ to understand Appalachia

HuffPost editor: ‘Look to local news’ to understand Appalachia

There’s no singular reason the 2016 presidential election results turned out the way they did. But, within days of the results rolling in, much of the blame was pinned on the media for failing to accurately report the wants and needs of American voters.

Some accused national journalists covering the election of living in a “liberal bubble,” saying that because many are based in New York City and Washington, D.C., they didn’t have an accurate grasp of what those in middle America were looking for in a candidate.

I became quite critical of some national journalists who parachuted into West Virginia to learn more about Trump supporters. I felt some sought out comments and interviews that would back up their pre-conceived notions about “Trump voters,” rather than shaping their stories around the people they met. And while I do know many West Virginians who supported Trump, I know there are plenty of people — both Republican and Democrat — who are nothing like the negative stereotypes.

I didn’t trust myself to tell those stories in a completely genuine way, either. I was born and raised in West Virginia, but I haven’t lived there for six years. While I had a sense of the wants and needs of the people there, I couldn’t speak to what day-to-day life was like in 2016.

I’ve thought long and hard since Nov. 8 about how better to tell the electorate’s stories, how to thoroughly educate readers so that people are presented with a more accurate breakdown of what Americans want out of our new president. While I think some news outlets — like USA Today, which went to every state to talk to and learn about Trump voters — are doing great work, I actually think the solution doesn’t lie with the national media at all.

For the next four years, I plan to look to local news to learn more about what voters want and need — especially those in Appalachia.

Throughout the election I looked to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Herald Dispatch, WV MetroNews and all the Charleston television stations for my hometown take on a national issue, and I always felt more educated for doing so.

West Virginia Living and West Virginia Public Broadcasting highlighted residents’ biggest concerns with their project, “The Struggle To Stay.” Reporters like WVPB’s Ashton Marra, who hosted a gubernatorial debate that touched on both state and national issues, and the statehouse team at the Gazette-Mail helped contrast the hopes of West Virginia candidates with the priorities of the presidential contenders. And I don’t know an environmental reporter in D.C. who doesn’t look to Ken Ward Jr. for news on the coal industry.

The media in West Virginia has always done valuable coverage of local issues with national impact. WCHS’ Kallie Cart not only acted as an incredible watchdog while questioning the president of Freedom Industries about the 2014 chemical spill, but she also helped relay the emotion felt by residents who had no clean water to drink, shower or cook with. And because the floods in West Virginia took place as the rest of the world was watching UK’s Brexit results roll in, I turned to the Register-Herald for updates on the devastation.

So I’d urge anyone looking to gauge the wants and needs of voters in Appalachia — or across America — to look to local news for the next four years and beyond. What better people to tell the stories of voters in middle America than those who live and work among them every day?

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