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Images of West Virginia A Study Of National Magazines, 1965 - 76 by DAVID L. MARTINSON As megalopolis consumes the East, let there remain the haven of West Virginia, the drama of her natural resources fire the nation's industries and may her people prosper. But may the beauty of her land remain secure to soothe man's soul.l The hearts of many West Virginians must have swelled when they read those final lines of a feature on their state that appeared in National Georgraphic's June, 1976, issue. They may also have wondered if residents of the other 49 states would now ..have a more favorable impression of their state. That question raises a point of contention the author has heard expressed many times. Why, West Virginians often ask, do the national news media so often picture their state in the worst possible light? Why are disasters and poverty the only topics normally covered in the national press? How can the rest of the nation have anything but the most negative image of West Virginia if only the negative is reported? Instead of articles like the National Georgraphic feature cited above, many West Virginians fear coverage of their state in the national media probably parallels the following excerpt from a 1968 New Republic article: West Virginia is low, low, low on the national totem pole. It literally has more coal than there is countryside, and the mines are booming, yet unemployment is rife—and apparently hopeless .... The West Virginians are extraordinarily soft-spoken and wellmannered people, but their politeness masks a shocking inferiority complex. Secretly believing their prognosis to be negative, they resist change with stubborn fatalism. " In order to more precisely examine the image of West Virginia which out-ofstaters are receiving, the author surveyed a variety of major national magazines for an 11-year period from January 1, 1965, to December 31, 1976. Magazines surveyed included Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report, Life, Look, Reader's Digest, Business Week, The New Republic, The Nation, The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, Redbook, Saturday Review, Forbes, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. The indexed listings of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature provided the framework for the survey. The author initially planned to categorize each article relating to West Virginia as reflecting either a positive, neutral, or negative image of the state. That system was obviously very susceptible to impressionistic bias, however, and the results would have been only marginally meaningful. It would be extremely difficult to rate, for example, many of the articles that discussed the political rise of Jay Rockefeller, governor of the state. While an article might have very favorable things to say about Rockefeller, it might also have very unfavorable things to say about another facet of West Virginia. Giving an arbitrary rating to such an article would be difficult to defend. 33 One of the most interesting findings of the study concerned the amount of space given to Jay Rockefeller in the national magazines surveyed. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the governor's politics, it would seem clear that he has brought national media attention to West Virginia. Rockefeller was the major subject of an article in The New Republic as far back as February, 1966. Entitled "Turncoat Rockefeller," ^ the feature discussed Rockefeller 's change of political parties. As previously suggested, articles on Rockefeller were normally complimentary to him, although the same could not always be said of the way West Virginia was pictured. A New York Times Magazine article of October, 1970, stated, for example, that "corruption is a way of life in West Virginia—in a poor state or country, men go into politics because it's one of the few ways to make money." 4 Suggesting that Rockefeller might be a different kind of politician, the article also said: Rockefeller's only real power as Secretary of State is to supervise elections, and public hearings he sponsored last year brought out these facts: 33 of 55 counties had more registered voters than adult residents because there was no legal provision to revise voter rolls when people died or moved. Oakley Hatfield testified under oath that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2692-9287
Print ISSN
2692-9244
Pages
pp. 33-39
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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