How to Cover Appalachia

As a people, Appalachians have spent decades feeling as if their stories are being extracted from them, told for the benefit of national audiences and not their own communities. That extraction has left our people with complex feelings about journalists, especially those who are not from here. 

Below you’ll find guides that will help you understand the deep, complicated history of this, whether you’re a journalist or editor who wants to do reporting here, a researcher looking for additional resources, or simply curious about Appalachia. Explore our guides of how to cover complicated topics and browse our list of things you should read, watch, or listen to before covering Appalachia.

Ultimately, though, hiring a local is the best way to ensure your story about Appalachia contains the context it deserves. Check out our database of Appalachians for Hire if you’d like to connect with a freelance creative in the region.

Covering Appalachia Guides:
Check out and download our Covering Appalachia guides for written and visual coverage of Appalachia here:

Things You Should Read, Watch or Listen To Before Reporting on Appalachia:

Whether you’ve got a few days to prepare or a few weeks, we’ve selected a handful of resources that can help establish cultural, economic and political context for your storytelling. This guide was created in partnership with the West Virginia Community Development Hub and Mountain Association.

Have a recommendation you’d like to share with us? Reach out at [email protected]!

Short Reads:

Longer Reads: 

“What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia” by Elizabeth Catte, 2018. In this brief book, Catte tackles common misunderstandings about the culture and political leanings of Appalachia before, during and after the 2016 election as she explores the deepened divide between rural and metropolitan voters.

“Talking Appalachian” by Amy D. Clarke and Nancy M. Hayward, 2013. In this anthology, editors Clark and Hayward are joined by prominent voices in Appalachian literature who delve into the historical and cultural significance of dialects and the geography that shaped them. If you’re searching for insight into understanding voiceplace, code switching and dialect in education are covered extensively, this is a great guide. 

  • If you’re looking for an introduction to the early beginnings of Appalachian dialects, read: “The Historical Background and Nature of the Englishes of Appalachia,” by Michael Montgomery, p. 25. 
  • If you’d like to learn about lingual “passing” and the need to conform to be taken seriously in academic or workplace settings, read:  “In My Own Country,” by Silas House, p. 193. 
  • If you’d like to know more about how a voiceplace is formed, read: “Voiceplace,” by George Ella Lyon, p. 185.
  • If you’re searching for information on dialect in the classroom, read: “Dialect and Education in Appalachia,” by Jeffrey Reaser, p. 94 and “Voices in the Appalachian Classroom,” by Amy D. Clark, 110. 

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy” Contemporary perspectives on the portrayal of Appalachia in popular culture. 

Brief Listens: 

Audio/Podcast Series to Check out: 

Inside Appalachia: From West Virginia Public Broadcasting, this weekly podcast delves into various elements of Appalachian culture and identity. Each episode features a few stories centered around a theme that aide insiders and outsiders as they journey audibly through the region. Last year, Inside Appalachia started its Folkways Corps project with 10 contributors from various fields who contribute stories throughout the year. If you’re interested in tangible transfers of intergenerational knowledge, listen for “Folklife” or “Folkways.” 

The Struggle to Stay: For many Appalachians, leaving — or staying — in the region can come at a cost. This series, co-founded by Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, debuted in 2017 as a window into the lives of several Appalachians in various life stages and situations. Two years later, Inside Appalachia checked in with the original guests, updating their stories. 

Short Watches: 

Longer Watches: 

“Heroin(e),” by Elaine McMillion Sheldon on Netflix. This fast-paced documentary shows an unseen side of addiction in Huntington, West Virginia. The story is told through the perspective of three influential women, a fire chief and first responder, a drug court judge and a realtor by day who distributes goods and gospel to sex workers at by night. Together, these women change lives and futures for those battling the disease.

“Cornered: A fighter’s story,” by JD Belcher, 2019. This McDowell County-based documentary about a boxing gym in one of the nation’s poorest counties that’s become a beacon of hope in its community. The story follows one family’s journey through addiction, financial stress, hopelessness in a rural region and the faith it takes to change it all in the ring. If you have Amazon Prime, it’s free to watch. If not, it’s $1.99 to rent or $9.99 to purchase. 

“Hillbilly,” by Sally Rubin & Ashley York, 2018. This film began as a short-term piece  but evolved into a cultural statement from two female directors after the 2016 election. Rubin and York dive into the history of the tired stereotypes of Appalachia and how the culture responds to them. Watch on Amazon Prime or Hulu.

“Born in a Ballroom” directed by Clara Lehmann tells the story of the late Eleanor Fahrner Mailloux, who founded the Hütte, a revered Swiss-American restaurant, and her connection to her beloved town of Helvetia, West Virginia.