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'Stories of the Ohio' panel shares insights from collaborative reporting project

                                                Photo of the panel members and journalists during their interview.

MORGANTOWN - With 25 million people living within the Ohio River watershed and at least 5 million depending on it for drinking water, seven newsrooms in the region joined together to create Good River: Stories of the Ohio, an initiative covering what is often referred to as one of America’s most polluted waterways despite years of clean-up.

The project’s first phase began last May and ended this month with contributing journalists, nonprofit leads and community members coming together at West Virginia University’s Media Innovation Center to celebrate their work so far, which includes more than 20 multimedia pieces that cover the Ohio River’s environment, economy and culture.

The panel shared their own experiences working and living along the Ohio – the progress they’ve seen in healthy water levels and wildlife growth, how to handle new threats like the impacts of climate change, and redirecting the narrative from warning against the river’s dangers to reinvigorating the region’s tourism.

Njaimeh Njie, a panelist and multimedia producer working on the Good River series, told the audience that her childhood home where her parents still live was one of many struggling with water toxicity. “It was just sobering because it's so easy to look at these issues as ‘over there,’” Njie said. “But it's right here. It's very personal. I think sometimes there's desensitization – some of it's like, well, this is a problem and I don't like it, but what can I do about it? Where can I go?”

In terms of advocacy and activism, “it's a few folks speaking for many,” Njie said. “Which is how it typically goes, but hopefully more can be done to draw more attention to those few and amplify their voices as it does impact us all.”

Panelists at Monday’s event also included Sarah Cayton, project manager of the WV Water Research Institute; Owen Mulkeen, associate director of Friends of the Cheat and Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WV Water Research Institute. Ashton Marra moderated the discussion, teaching assistant professor in the College of Media and 100 Days in Appalachia’s digital managing editor.

The seven newsrooms participating in the Good River initiative are 100 Days in AppalachiaThe Allegheny FrontBelt MagazineEnvironmental Health NewsEye on Ohio, the Ohio Center for Investigative JournalismLouisville Public Media (Ohio Valley ReSource, WFPL, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting) and PublicSource.