WVPB Staff Published

WVPB Newsies Offer Their Favorite Stories From 2023

USS West Virginia Bell on display at the state capitol
The West Virginia capitol is featured in many stories reported by WVPB. What happens there affects everyone in the state.
Perry Bennett/ WV Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Public Broadcasting News Department has told hundreds of stories this year with one thing in mind: Telling West Virginia’s Story. 

Because we cover the entire state, we focus on issues and rather than events. Even if a story has a local angle, we make sure it is relevant to the entire state. It can be a story in Wheeling, Matewan or Martinsburg but we hope people on the opposite side of the state say, “Wow, I never knew that” or “Hey, that’s a great idea. I can do here in my part of West Virginia as well.”

Out of those hundreds of stories, our reporters picked out their personal favorites. We hope you enjoy this look back. 

Chris Schulz

I was truly alarmed at just how mild the 2022-2023 winter was, excluding a deep cold snap around Christmas. With more extreme and severe weather dominating the headlines, I was curious to find out what – if any – impact the more gradual transformations of climate change are having on our food production systems. The answer is: not much yet, but things are undeniably changing. When reporting on such dire topics, it doesn’t hurt to spend an afternoon in an orchard of fruit trees in full bloom, and I appreciated the rare chance for a radio reporter to capture some beautiful images. 

It did not come as a surprise to most who keep an eye on the dealings of the state’s flagship university that West Virginia University was facing financial hardship this year. But the path charted by university leadership to steer clear of money issues – including the complete dissolution of the world languages department – has caused international shock and dismay. I followed this story from the start, and will continue to do so as cuts to staff and programming come to fruition this coming spring. The three hours given over to community members to express their deep concerns ahead of the university Board of Governors’ deciding September vote stands out for its moments of raw frustration and passion.

Trey Kay

In 2023, the Us & Them podcast team focused on West Virginia’s incarceration system. Overcrowding and understaffing have pushed the Mountain State’s prisons and jails to what many believe is a crisis point.  Over the last twelve months, our team heard stories from people who’ve been caught up in the state’s pre-trial detention and bail system. We learned how race and poverty are key in determining who finds themselves behind bars. We also focused on inmate access to healthcare and specifically, mental healthcare while serving time. People serving time in West Virginia’s  jails and prisons can face significant challenges accessing treatment for  physical and  mental illnesses.  After release from incarceration, there are layers of challenges while people  transition back into society. We found that often re-entry  is like navigating a high stakes obstacle course that seems impossible for many. It left us asking ourselves: Shouldn’t punishment end after one serves their time?

Us & Them: Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars In West Virginia

Us & Them: Re-Entry

Briana Heaney 

I recently moved to West Virginia and have worked on topics that are totally new to me, having only lived in large metropolitan areas. One thing unfortunately that was not new to me was the opioid crisis. My family has been heavily affected and my life completely changed when my 17-year-old brother overdosed in 2015. As communities are working to recover from the epidemic, they are innovating resource-based approaches for individuals battling addiction. Here’s a story I worked on that highlighted the Quick Response Team in Boone County and the work they are doing to help individuals not only get sober, but to have a better life on the other side of addiction. 

This program has the opportunity to grow with the influx of funds Boone County is slated to receive as part of the opioid settlement funds. 

Randy Yohe

From the beginning of the year, I heard the pleas from first responders – Police, Fire, EMS – on what many call an internal mental health crisis, to heart.  These are the people that get immersed in traumatic situations on a regular basis, and in many cases, little if anything was being done to help them cope with their own feelings.  With a dire need across the state to recruit and retain first responders, coping with mental health issues plays heavily into maintaining that workforce.

As WVPB’s government reporter, I did a series of stories to shine a journalistic light on the challenges and solutions in getting help to those who help us all.    

EMS Mental Health

Curtis Tate

I reported on a head-spinning case involving one of Gov. Jim Justice’s companies, a helicopter, an offshore investment firm and the U.S. Marshals. Bluestone Resources, a company Justice owns, owes millions of dollars to the offshore firm, which has ties to a Russian oligarch. The firm sought to take possession of a company helicopter to settle part of that debt. It asked a federal court in Virginia to order the U.S. Marshals to seize the helicopter, then the helicopter was moved to another state. The parties went back and forth in court before a judge put the whole thing on hold. It’s one of the many cases that will be in the spotlight as Justice seeks the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year.

“Coal keeps the lights on” isn’t just a slogan. Many West Virginians take it for granted. It turns out that in Winter Storm Elliott last December, when the state’s residents were asked to conserve electricity, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Months later, it emerged that coal units at the state’s largest coal-burning power plants were down during the big freeze. Their reliability couldn’t be counted on because they were not available for reasons the utilities would not explain publicly. Later we learned that Mon Power paid a performance penalty to the grid operator, PJM, for not having its Harrison Unit 2 available during the height of the crisis. This, as the companies are asking the Public Service Commission to increase customers’ monthly rates.

Caroline MacGregor

The most compelling story I worked on in 2023 highlights the efforts of everyday West Virginians to help families living without electricity in war-torn Ukraine.The story centers around the “Epicenter” of New Vision Renewable Energy in Philippi where each day at risk youth and young adults gather in a small workshop to make portable solar light units. Each sponsored unit comes equipped with a cell phone charger and water filter. Once assembled, the units are shipped to Ukraine and handed out to displaced families trying to survive a daily onslaught of rockets and missiles. While working on this story I was struck by the grim reality of the harsh conditions war imposes on our fellow human beings and the people who risk their lives to bring them supplies.. These are people living in basements without power, light or heat. I was also struck by the spirit of goodwill among the many volunteers working to make life a little more bearable for the people of Ukraine. This collective effort now extends to multiple states where sponsors of the units include churches, service clubs and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The power of collaboration was evident at West Virginia International Yeager Airport this fall as animal lovers combined resources to save dogs destined for euthanasia. The Kanawha County Humane Society and Swilled Dog, a woman owned distillery and cidery in Pendleton County enlisted the help of Pilots to the Rescue to fly 16 dogs to a no-kill shelter in Jackson, Michigan where they were placed for immediate adoption. Each year approximately 920,000 shelter animals are euthanized. To see the support of so many people committed to saving the lives of animals through rescue missions like this, for me, was inspiring.

.Eric Douglas

This has been a difficult year as I’ve watched my own mother’s decline. That experience prompted this series of stories — mainly because I know of many friends and co-workers who are dealing with the same problem. They are watching their own parents decline and wondering what to do, how to help and who to turn to. 

I began this series of stories mainly to answer my own questions but I really hope it has helped, and will continue to help, others in the same situation. 

Getting Into Their Reality: Caring for Aging Parents

Many West Virginia adults find themselves in the difficult position of caring for their children and looking after their parents at the same time. Conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s are problems, but so are mobility and safety issues at home. It can be stress-inducing and makes many people wonder if there is any help available — and where to get it.

News Director Eric Douglas is in the same position and wonders the same things. Through this ongoing, occasional interview series, we bring experts into the studio to talk about things people need to know as they get older, or when helping aging parents.

Emily Rice

One of the great things about the Legislative Session is the topics brought to the forefront that are important and impactful to West Virginians. During the 2023 Legislative session, we began to hear from worried West Virginians about the end of the expansion of Medicaid. During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, a hold was placed on all Medicaid enrollment nationwide to avoid anyone losing access to health care. With the end of the Public Health Emergency and the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act on a federal level, Bureaus of Social Services across the country began to “unroll” people who were no longer eligible to receive benefits from their health plans. 

Once the state public health emergency ended, monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits returned to pre-COVID-19 public health emergency level based on the household’s income, assets, household size, and other non-financial factors.

Organizations like Unite Us W.Va. worried the loss of benefits like Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and SNAP would cause food insecurity. After speaking with multiple food banks, I found the effects of the ending of pandemic era benefits had far-reaching repercussions.

Unwinding Medicaid

Liz McCormick

Since becoming WVPB’s Director of Digital, I no longer report for our newsroom, but I’m grateful to be able to contribute from time-to-time. One of the ways I do that is through my fall interviews with the Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence at Shepherd University. This year, West Virginia author Ann Pancake took home the title. She and I sat down together in October to discuss what inspires her writing, what’s next in her career and how Appalachia has evolved since she wrote “Strange as This Weather Has Been.”