100 Days Hiring RFA Reporter to Cover Religion in Appalachia

Caption/Description: John Wesley AME Zion Church was a former stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves coming through Uniontown on their way north to freedom. Today only a few markers outside and the remnants of a tunnel in the basement of the church. Photo: Justin Hayhurst/100 Days in Appalachia
Caption/Description: John Wesley AME Zion Church was a former stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves coming through Uniontown on their way north to freedom. Today only a few markers outside and the remnants of a tunnel in the basement of the church. Photo: Justin Hayhurst/100 Days in Appalachia

Upon 100 Days’ founding nearly five years ago, we created for ourselves a set of verticals that, despite the vastness and diversity of our region, speak to who we are as a people. Among those was religion.

The commonality of deep faith spans organized religions here and often defines our communities. Nearly a third of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened their personal faith, and yet, estimates from Report for America say there are less than two dozen reporters currently working in local newsrooms that cover religion as a beat. There is a desperate need to cover a topic that is so inherent to life in our region. 

That’s why 100 Days in hiring a religion reporter with the support of The GroundTruth Project’s Report for America corps member program. Applications are being accepted until January 31, 2022, for a corps member to report on religion in Appalachia, under the guidance of our award-winning team of editors. You can apply for the position and read more about Report for America here.

Much of Appalachia itself lies in the nation’s Bible Belt. Stories of religion told here are most often told by parachute journalists in the form of reductive narratives – the snake handlers speaking in tongues – that overlook the diversity of faith expressed and practiced.

This region was home to the deadliest attack in history on the American Jewish community in Pittsburgh nearly four years ago. After that attack, it became a place where mosques hired private security or armed community allies to protect their congregations during prayer from threats of violence. More and more, our cultural and political debates are spilling over into our houses of worship, and our corps member will explore these complex intersections in deep, narrative reporting that is firmly footed in the Appalachian experience. 

As an organization that has grown and been recognized nationally for our expertise in reporting on domestic extremism and the recruiting tactics of these groups that target vulnerable Appalachians, we cannot propose the expansion of our religion vertical without acknowledging that this corps member’s work will inevitably intersect with our continuing coverage in this area as well. According to the FBI, hate crimes reported in 2020 reached their highest level in more than a decade, and among the more than 7,700 incidents reported, 13 percent were motivated by religion. We have seen first hand in our local reporting that Appalachians who are members of non-Christian faiths are often the target of the violent rhetoric and actions of domestic extremists. This beat will expand beyond, but certainly cover the convergence of these issues as well.

Our editorial team is spread throughout the Appalachia so while 100 Days is headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia, we are willing to have our reporter based anywhere in our region. We prefer to hire an Appalachian, but will take someone who is willing to learn and invest time in the region.

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