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Mtn. Talk: How National Media Misses the Mark on Appalachian Communities

Mtn. Talk: How National Media Misses the Mark on Appalachian Communities

Powell Valley, Virginia. Photo by Rachel Garringer. July 2019.


In this episode we’re exploring Appalachia and rural communities’ complicated ongoing relationship to national media coverage: first, through a conversation amongst Appalshop staff and then through an interview with long-time National Public Radio rural correspondent Howard Berkes.

For 50 years Appalshop has used cultural organizing & place based media, arts, and education to amplify unheard voices of Appalachian people, and to connect their vision and insight with others.  

Countless films, plays, gallery exhibitions, pop-ed curriculums, youth documentaries, and community organizing initiatives have been born out of this organization over the past 50 years.  And yet, still, all these years later, the stories national audiences see most often about this complex southern mountain region – come from outside.  Often flattened into a homogenous and over-simplified space of despair, despondency, and dependency by an outside gaze, those of us in and of this place understand our homes to be complex, contradictory, beautiful and awful – just like any place.


Appalshop’s Ada Smith, Rachel Garringer, Taylor Pratt, and Mimi Pickering talk about Appalachian depictions in national media during a Spring 2019 visit from the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Photo by Alexandra Werner-Winslow.

This spring, WMMT’s Rachel Garringer sat down with several Appalshop employees to chat about how the organization responds to ongoing oversimplified national media coverage of our region.  I was joined in the studio by Mimi Pickering – a long-time film maker and radio producer at Appalshop, Ada Smith the Institutional Development Director, and Taylor Pratt a youth media producer and peer trainer with the Appalachian Media Institute – and All Access EKY – during a Marguerite Casey Foundation visit.  The first half of this episode features that conversation.

Howard Berkes retired in late 2018 after nearly 40 years at NPR. Photo courtesy

In the second half of the show, we’ll hear from Rachel Garringer’s interview with Howard Berkes, who talks about his nearly 40 year career as a reporter for NPR.  Berkes retired in late 2018, but most recently spent 8 years working as an investigative reporter for NPR – focusing primarily on Black Lung in the Central Appalachian coalfields.  In this interview he talks about how technology & public perception around journalism has changed since the early 1980s, and shares a few of his favorite stories from his time as NPR’s Rural Correspondent.

Music on this episode features John Harrod with a tune called Hickory Jack from his 2018 album Johnny Come Along – released on Appalshop’s own June Appal Recordings.




appalachian history,
coal industry,
education in the mountains,
rural media,
rural reporting,
war on poverty,