Kate Morgan

2023 Nova Media Fellow

Kate Morgan has been a freelance journalist since 2015. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, Popular Science, Sierra, and many other publications. She is the producer and host of the Roaring Earth Podcast, and has been featured on other popular podcasts and radio shows. She is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. 

Kate lives in the Appalachian foothills of Pennsylvania, where hardwood forest meets the anthracite coal fields, with her husband and toddler. Rural life informs her reporting, and helps her tell the nuanced stories of America’s overlooked places and people. Her work takes a broad view of health and often focuses on the inherent optimism of those working to repair and restore natural ecosystems and human communities.

Media Fellowship Project

The plight and promise of Appalachia

There is no place so impacted by social determinants of health, so plagued by poverty, and so ecologically wrung-out in the name of progress as Appalachia. The region has a radical lack of healthcare resources. Communities struggle with issues of substance abuse, food insecurity, and clean water access. A lack of economic and educational opportunity has created chronic “brain drain,” and an aging population rapidly outpacing the national average. The land suffers, too. The ancient terrain has been pillaged and exploited by fossil fuel extraction. Its waterways have been poisoned, its soil contaminated, and its mighty mountaintops shorn away. 

And yet: the landscape remains one of the most biodiverse and resource-rich ecosystems on the planet and a refuge for flora and fauna species forced into climate migration. Threats loom large, but with critical action, the hills and hollers are healing. So are the people who live in this unique region. Through grassroots efforts, local organizing, and advocacy at state and federal levels, Appalachian communities are working to solve vital problems, rehabilitate health systems, and save lives.

The place and its people are deeply, remarkably resilient, and while the peril is unprecedented, so is the potential. Though it’s long been under-represented and under-reported, the Appalachian story is the American story; and it’s a hopeful one. 

As a Nova Media Fellow, Kate will embark on a year of deep reporting in the region, interrogating the biggest environmental, economic, and cultural issues impacting Appalachia, and bringing much-needed attention to the individuals and organizations working toward solutions.

Education and Training
  • BS, Journalism, St. John’s University, Queens, NY 
  • Transom Workshop (2017), Narrative Radio Reporting, Manhattan, NY
Selected Honors
  • Society of Professional Journalists, Wilson Barto Rookie of the Year, Silver, 2014
  • Outdoor Writers Association of America, Professional Membership
Selected Publications

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.