Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

March 26, 2014

The out-of-town press takes another ‘wrong turn’ in portraying our region

— — I guess it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but I really don’t like it when out-of-town writers who know nothing about our region, our culture and our proud heritage come into town with the specific intention of making us look bad. In other words, they are here to do a story that doesn’t accurately reflect our region. It’s happened too many times in the past, and will undoubtedly happen again in the future.

The most recent example of this unfortunate practice was a story published in The New York Times that inexplicably decided to take a comprehensive look at the very big differences between Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va. The problem with that of course is that most folks in our region don’t associate Fairfax County with McDowell County, and vice versa. The two counties in question are more than 350 miles apart, and in two separate states. And those of us who live along the state line border can attest to the fact that there is a world of difference — sometimes good and sometimes bad — between the states of Virginia and West Virginia. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison would have been Kanawha and McDowell counties. Both are located in West Virginia, and are only separated by an 88-mile toll road. Fairfax County — a prosperous and highly populated locality in Northern Virginia — is simply too far away from the coalfields of southern West Virginia to make any kind of meaningful comparison or connection.

The article was first brought to my attention by Lifestyles Editor Jamie Null, and later Coalwood resident Helen Carson called me to see if I was aware of the article — and what I thought about it. I won’t bother getting into a lot of details, other than to say the story focused more on the bad than the good. And having grown up in McDowell County, I can certainly attest to the fact that a lot of things have changed for the better in recent years, particularly from an economic development standpoint. There has been a lot of growth and job creation in the county over the past couple of years — even if chronic health woes and related concerns remain.

Here are a few facts that should be considered. Yes, our region has a drug problem. And yes it’s a serious drug problem. We classify it here at the Daily Telegraph as an epidemic of a problem. Articles about the region in publications ranging from Time to even Playboy magazine have detailed this rampant drug problem, as well as the recent New York Times piece. But 20 years ago McDowell County didn’t have a Walmart. There was no McDonalds. There was no Advance Auto. There was no three-screen theater in downtown Welch — unless you count the old Pocahontas Theater that was destroyed by fire in the late 1970s. There was no Subway. There was no state prison. There was no federal prison. There was no Hatfield-McCoy Trail. There was no Indian Ridge Industrial Park. There was no county health and fitness center. And most of the schools in the county at that time were rapidly aging and in urgent need of replacement or repair. Such is no longer the case. It is like a world of difference when I travel into the county today when compared to those early childhood and teenage years. Yet these are facts frequently ignored by the out-of-town writers, who often choose to focus entirely on the negative while not acknowledging recent progress. Yet all of the above developments certainly merit a mention in order to create a fair and accurate description of the region.

Two years ago, a television crew from Australia came to town to do a report on McDowell County, and as expected, it wasn’t a very accurate or pleasing portrayal of the region. Yet this is not to say that every out-of-town film crew or journalist who comes to the area does a bad job of portraying our region. Because they don’t. We’ve had several positive articles, television segments, televised documentaries, online initiatives and even major motion pictures that have shed a positive light both on McDowell County and the region as a whole.

 But for every “October Sky” also comes another “Wrong Turn” sequel. In fact, I think those horrendous and now straight-to-DVD horror flicks are up to about number five. We will of course always remember the first “Wrong Turn” for its portrayal of the missing Bluefield State College students, who were presumably captured and killed by the cannibalistic West Virginia mountain men, who also appeared in the four sequels.

But I guess we should be accustomed to taking the bad with the good nowadays when it comes to such publications, television reports and even movies. And while I’m glad to read that Fairfax County, Va., is doing well, I don’t see how we can fairly or logically compare it with McDowell County.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at Follow him @BDTOwens.

Text Only
Charles Owens
Greg Jordan
Bill Archer
AP Video
Former Va. Governor's Corruption Trial Begins Obama Advisor Skips House Hearing Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Senators Push to End Hamas Threat in Cease-Fire House Committee at Odds Over Obama Lawsuit Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails David Perdue Wins Georgia GOP Senate Runoff VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' Raw: Texas Gov. Rick Perry Visits Iowa Obama: Plane Downed by Missile, 1 American Dead Raw: NJ Gov. Chris Christie in Iowa Obama Talks Infrastructure During Delaware Visit Obama: US Working to Get Israel-Hamas Cease-fire Obama Talks Economy, Slams Republicans Obama Talks Economy, Slams Republicans Raw: Obama Shoots Pool in Denver