Welcome to West Virginia Watch: An independent daily newsroom holding those in power accountable 

July 11, 2023 5:00 am
Four women, journalists Caity Coyne, Amelia Ferrell Knisely, Lori Kersey and Leann Ray, stand in front of a mural made up of different shades of green.

Journalists (from left) Caity Coyne, Amelia Ferrell Knisely, Lori Kersey and Leann Ray are the team at West Virginia Watch. (Justin Murphy | West Virginia Watch)

I grew up in a house that watched and read the news daily. We were a Charleston Daily Mail house — not because my family preferred the right-leaning editorial page, but because it was the afternoon paper, and my dad thought that meant it published the latest news.

On Sundays, I would grab the comics and the ad inserts, ordering them in a stack from my least favorite to most favorite store. I didn’t really look at any actual news pages.

That is, until I started to notice a small monthly newspaper that was delivered to my high school. FlipSide, a publication by the Charleston Gazette at the time, was written for teens, by teens. My journalism career began when I became a contributor during my junior year at Poca High School. 

When my FlipSide column complaining about legislators sleeping on the job during a school field trip to the state capital ran in the Saturday Gazette, our neighbor, a Gazette subscriber, had to tell us. 

Wow, it’s already been 20 years of scrutinizing West Virginia’s legislature. Time flies.

Eventually, Charleston became a one-newspaper town when the Gazette and Daily Mail merged on the day their joint operating agreement expired. The next summer we called “the purge” because there was an exodus of talent from the paper when a consultant was hired to find ways to save money — some left for fear of being fired, while others were fired after the consultant suggested it.

Then there was the Pulitzer.

Then there was the bankruptcy.

And then the paper was bought by a local company.

Working in legacy journalism is rough between the uncertain future of print, lack of job security and low pay, and you have to love what you’re doing and have supportive co-workers in the newsroom.

For years, I thought I would sink with the ship. Sometimes I would joke with a co-worker that I would die at my desk, probably while copy editing a 40-inch story. 

But it wasn’t until December 2022 that I became scared for the state of journalism in West Virginia.

Three of my co-workers had just lost their jobs for speaking out on Twitter against an interview with former coal executive Don Blankenship that was posted on the newspaper’s website.

A few weeks later, it came to light that a former colleague at another media outlet had also been fired for — let me check my notes — doing her job

I don’t know how to describe how I felt other than desperate. Was it crazy to email the directors of States Newsroom, a nonprofit network of news outlets, to ask if they had any interest in opening a newsroom in West Virginia? An independent daily news outlet was sorely needed. I offered to do anything I could to help.

And now, six months after we first talked, we’ve launched West Virginia Watch. The 35th state becomes the 35th outlet in the national network.

The number of reporters covering the statehouse is not what it used to be. Politicians and government agencies in West Virginia need to be watched and reported on, and we will do that without fear of retribution. 

West Virginia has so many problems that need attention — poverty, access to clean water, access to broadband, drug addiction, the foster care system, overcrowded and understaffed prisons, deteriorating bridges and roads. Oh, and let’s not forget about the investigation into all of the alleged wrongdoing within the West Virginia State Police. 

The Mountain State has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, according to the U.S. Census. 

There are 6,456 children in the foster care system, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

The Infrastructure Report Card gave West Virginia a D grade for bridges, dams, roads, wastewater and drinking water. 

But instead of doing anything to address any real issues, the legislature passed the Campus Self-Defense Act, a bill to allow people to carry concealed firearms on college campuses, despite dozens of people speaking against it. 

Legislative session after legislative session, we see lawmakers go after women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people with bills to ban abortion and gender-affirming care for people under 18, for instance.

We’re West Virginians writing for West Virginians.

We will report on what’s being done in the dark. We will follow the things government officials and lawmakers think no one is paying attention to. We will file public record requests for things they don’t want anyone to see. 

We have to make sure our state legislators aren’t sleeping on the job, because we sure won’t be.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Leann Ray
Leann Ray

Leann Ray is a lifelong West Virginian. Her work at the Daily Athenaeum and Charleston Gazette-Mail has won numerous awards. She is a graduate of West Virginia University.