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We’re launching a new civic news organization to give West Virginia the information it needs at this moment

The state’s coal-based economy is bottoming out. Drug abuse is ripping families apart. The public trust in government is on the decline. Corruption and partisan bickering reached the point that the entire state Supreme Court was impeached.

But critical decisions are being made about the future of West Virginia’s economy, educational system, crumbling infrastructure, and eroding public health institutions.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, West Virginia was at a crossroads.

Never has an informed citizenry been more important. Never have West Virginians so needed watchdog journalism that holds powerful interests accountable and puts the public interest first.

Enter Mountain State Spotlight.

Today, we officially launch this website, a new home for the work of our civic news organization. 

We’re featuring critical investigative stories about major issues facing our home:  The shameful state of broadband access, just as so many of us need it to work or learn at home; unkept promises that first responders would be adequately rewarded for putting their lives at risk for us during a global pandemic, a foster-care system that’s in crisis, putting our kids at risk.

Before concerns about voting by mail and Trump cutbacks to the U.S. Postal Service, West Virgnians told us they were concerned about their rural post offices, so we’ve included a community-sourced story that examines that issue.

A Note From the Founders

Our reporters and editors have been working since June to not only assemble these stories, but to build the beginnings of a new way of providing West Virginians with the journalism that they want, need and deserve.

Hundreds of you have dug deep into your pockets to provide us with some initial financial support. We have strong backing from the most important national forces that are shaping nonprofit news, Report for America, ProPublica and the American Journalism Project.

More importantly, so many of you have answered our call that this new model of journalism for the Mountain State be built on a foundation of your voices. We know that the people of this state understand what stories need to be told, that journalists must listen before they tell, and that the three most powerful words in journalism are “Help us investigate.”

Our initial stories today, and our coverage of the state in the future, will rely heavily on your help. If you have a story we need to tell, please let us know.

—Greg, Ken, and Eric

How We Plan to Serve West Virginia

Our mission is linked to the journalism philosophy of late Charleston Gazette Publisher W.E. “Ned” Chilton III:  “To help West Virginians improve their state by producing ‘sustained outrage’ journalism that exposes abuses of power by government, business and other institutions.”

We believe, as Chilton did, that a fundamental value for journalism must be not to just write about an abuse of power once, but to return to it again and again, until reforms are made and justice is done.

Our goal is to tell stories of great importance to West Virginians about the issues and challenges facing their communities.

We will also explain complex problems, illustrate how public policy decisions affect real West Virginians and outline solutions that can make all of our communities better, and create shared prosperity for our neighbors.

Mountain State Spotlight will also always lift up the voices of those West Virginians who might not otherwise be heard.

West Virginia’s economic and social fabric has been ripped open even more in the spring of 2020, with record unemployment and growing concerns about a resurgence of the coronavirus.

And we will be working hard to get our stories into the hands of as many West Virginians as we can. While we’re primarily publishing digitally, we are offering our stories, for free, to any newspapers or other media outlets who want to republish them.

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The Team

Some of our names are familiar to you. Our co-founders are Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Eyre, MacArthur Fellow Ken Ward Jr., and their longtime editor, Greg Moore. All three were fixtures for years, with a combined 75 years of experience at The Charleston Gazette.

Erica Peterson is managing editor of Mountain State Spotlight. She has more than a decade of experience as a reporter, editor and newsroom manager in both West Virginia and Kentucky. She started her career as a reporter with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Amelia Ferrell Knisely is a Report for America Corps member who covers poverty. A Rand native, she worked at newspapers in Tennessee before coming home to West Virginia.

Lucas Manfield is a Report for America Corps member covering business and economic development. He’s worked at journalism organizations in Dallas and San Diego and is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School.

Lauren Peace is a Report for America Corps member and covers public health. She grew up in Morgantown and worked at a newspaper in Rochester, NY. She received a Fulbright research grant to produce an interactive documentary project highlighting the stories of women in Kosovo.

Douglas Soule is a Report for America Corps member and watchdog reporter. A Bridgeport native, he was editor of The Daily Athenaeum student newspaper at West Virginia University, interned at The Globe Post, and participated in the 2019 Politico Journalism Institute.

Nothing about you without you

Mountain State Spotlight knows that West Virginians have stories to tell. We know that our neighbors across the state understand the issues that their communities face. And we know that listening to you is critical to our ability to give you the journalism you want, need and deserve.

One of our key founding values is engaging with West Virginians, to ask residents to be our partners in covering the news and producing journalism that helps make our state a better place.

We’ve already begun trying to live up to this value by asking West Virginians to help us understand how you get your information, what issues matter to you, and what stories you need us to tell.

And you responded.

You told us what you love about West Virginia:

  • Its woods and waters and mountains.
  • Its people and culture, stories of overcoming adversity.
  • The fierce care that people in small communities have for one another.

You told us the kind of journalism you want:

  • Journalism that can hold the powerful accountable and that uncovers corruption.
  • Journalism that can cut through divisive politics and burst the news bubbles we live in
  • Journalism that draws on people’s strengths and helps us find solutions.

And you told us some specific stories you would like to read:

  • Energy, coal and natural gas, renewable power
  • Drug addiction and the opioid epidemic
  • Regional economies
  • West Virginia’s outmigration (brain drain, labor and talent shortage)
  • Checking up on how politicians’ promises about economic growth have turned out.
  • Showing how things like addressing poverty and protecting the environment are related to improving the economy.
  • How power and money influence the Mountain State’s political process.

We want to keep the conversation going

We’ve built these ideas into our coverage plans, and we pledge to keep listening. And if we haven’t heard from you yet, please tell us what you think Mountain State Spotlight reporters should dig into next.  You can also hit us up via email, Facebook or Twitter. We know that the three most powerful words in journalism are “help us investigate.”