The absence of that jobs data, and of Gilliam’s dollars, is probably the clearest sign of how campaign coverage of coal hasn’t dug deep enough, but a more thorough explanation of what some of those regulations actually do would also be welcome. It would also be good to hear more directly from the people of southwestern Virginia and across the region, some of whom are trying to speak up—and are voicing grievances about regulation but also about politicians’ failure to help diversify the region’s economy.

For inspiration and ideas, Virginia’s reporters only have to look across the state line, where some West Virginian journalists reliably turn in outstanding work on the coal beat—like this story, where The Charleston Gazette’s Ward serves as a one-man PolitiFact for one of those Romney ads. The campaigns have put coal at the forefront. It’s time for the coverage to catch up.

Staff writer Greg Marx contributed to this report.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Tharon Giddens logged more than two decades in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina as a writer and editor. He is now living on an alpaca farm east of Richmond, Virginia.