SMPA and West Virginia University Announce Journalism Project

The two will launch the Atlantic Coast Pipeline reporting partnership as part of an effort to burst media bubbles.

March 23, 2018


Jonathan Ebinger, lecturer at SMPA and ACP project faculty advisor.

Students and faculty from the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and the West Virginia University Reed College of Media are teaming up for an in-depth reporting project to assess the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s impact in West Virginia.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a large, 42-inch diameter, natural gas pipeline that will originate in Harrison County, W. Va., and travel through Virginia before reaching North Carolina and decreasing in size. The pipeline was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in fall 2017 and construction will continue into 2019.

The GW-WVU team will take a deep dive into the West Virginia natural gas industry from several perspectives. In Washington, D.C., students will report on the politics and policy around the natural gas pipeline, meeting with energy and environmental advocates, policymakers and regulators. This experience will inform their field reporting in West Virginia where students will meet with business leaders, policymakers and people who live in communities near t­he pipeline.

The project, which culminates with a four-week intensive collaboration, is funded by Scott Widmeyer, who has played a senior role over the past three decades in strengthening public affairs communications and supporting a wide range of journalistic endeavors.

The founder of Washington-based Widmeyer Communications, Mr. Widmeyer’s firm is part of Finn Partners, a growing global communications firm where he serves as founding managing partner and chief strategy officer in Washington, D.C.

In addition to providing coverage of an important and timely issue affecting these constituencies, the project will also provide a cross-university exchange for students who represent two very different geographic and cultural perspectives. WVU is a public university located in rural Appalachia, and GW is a private university situated in urban Washington, D.C.

“We talk a lot these days about red states and blue states, and how the East Coast and West Coast media may be to blame for not getting out of their bubbles. This partnership between up-and-coming journalists from WVU and GW will go a long way in showing how we actually can bring folks from different backgrounds together to work smartly and create content that reflects all points of view,” Mr. Widmeyer said.

Mr. Widmeyer currently chairs the GW National Council for SMPA. He has held a similar role with the WVU College of Media from where he graduated.

The project will delve into economic, environmental and regulatory issues. Research topics under consideration include the impact the natural gas industry has on job creation and the economy of the region; how the pipeline construction will affect water quality of wells, streams and rivers; and environmental and safety deregulation.

“This collaboration gives students the freedom to experiment with different mediums, tell underreported stories and break down borders by covering stories from both D.C. and West Virginia,” said Jonathan Ebinger, SMPA lecturer and one of the faculty advisors on the project.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline project will incorporate several different forms of media to explore and share information. Stories will be published to a dedicated website and through social media, in addition to distribution through select media outlets including 100 Days in Appalachia, and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.