Saturday, February 21, 2009

ABC follow-up touches on Appalachian solutions; how will the region and its journalists respond?

ABC News made good on its promise to explore solutions for Appalachia in last night's follow-up report on "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," though that exercise was only two minutes of the seven-and-a-half minute report on "20/20." The solutions segment was a blur of ideas (infrastructure and job training, green jobs, computers for every student, expanded health care) with only two methods of turning them into reality: stimulus money and philanthropy, one of the means suggested by this writer and the one that made it onto air.

Still, the reports could help accomplish what Kentucky native Diane Sawyer suggested in her eloquent closing line: "These Kentuckians say the beauty of the mountains is calling to all of us, to restart that conversation that began more than 40 years ago," when the Appalachian Regional Commission was created as part of the War on Poverty and Robert F. Kennedy campaigned in the Eastern Kentucky counties where ABC did its reporting.

While the nation as a whole, and the states involved, should continue to bear responsibility for helping Appalachia, the region's problems are also local problems. However, they are often not seen that way by some in local communities, who would prefer to dismiss the poverty, ignorance and depredation as unsolvable and the adults involved as incorrigible. But Sawyer and her producers showed how children are victimized by the failings of adults, and the fighting sprit the kids show in trying to overcome them. They are inspirations. For a good report from Samantha Swindler of The Times-Tribune in Corbin on football player Shawn Grim heading to Union College in Barbourville, click here.

Last night's final words, also inspiring, came from University of Kentucky professor Ron Eller, the leading historian of modern Appalachia: “There are ways to think about the future in the mountains in different kinds of ways than we’ve thought about them in the past. We just need to be willing to dream.” And Appalachian journalists should seek out those ideas and share the dreams, even if the stories are difficult to tell. Especially if they are. For a more detailed analysis and commentary on ABC's work and Appalachia, click here.

UPDATE, Feb. 23: Eastern Kentucky's sole commercial television station, WYMT-57 in Hazard, is doing a "mountain response" to ABC tonight at 7 p.m. EST. News Director Neil Middleton said in an e-mail that the show will have two Pikeville doctors, the director of a local resource center, a volunteer who started a Backpack Club in London and provides 1,400 bags of food a week, and a local math teacher who posted a video response to ABC on YouTube. "I want to concentrate on what we are doing as a region and what you and I can do to help in this effort," Middleton wrote."We will talk a little about their reaction to the piece, but I don’t want to spend an hour bashing ABC. That doesn’t help anyone."

1 comment:

Evelyn said...

It appears that Diane Sawyer has done us a favor in getting the conversation going about poverty in our region. Please check out www.appalachianresearch.org for UKY student responses to the program.
Its time to think in new ways and be open to innovation. Let's pull together.