Sometimes you have to leave your hometown to see it clearly. Or, in the case of Carmen Gentile, sometimes you have to spend years in Afghanistan, Brazil, Haiti and other parts of the world to come home and rediscover your native country.
After studying philosophy with a minor in Islamic studies — “I came out of school as employable as an old pair of tennis shoes” -— Gentile followed a professor’s advice and enrolled in an Arabic language program in Cairo. He fell in love with the city, with traveling and living abroad, and spent much of the next decade, on and off, traveling and working as a correspondent. He spent four years in Brazil, covered a coup in Haiti in 2004 and, starting in 2005, would spend months at a time in Afghanistan and Iraq for the next 10 years before returning to the United States.
“I spent 20 years of my career living and working overseas. In coming to know and appreciate and understand other countries, other cultures, other people, but I didn’t know America at all. My understanding of my misunderstanding really became apparent in 2013,” he says. At that time, he took a road trip through the southern states, starting in his hometown of Pittsburgh, through West Virginia, down to Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and through the Carolinas.
“What I inadvertently discovered was a country I knew nothing about that was astonishing to me,” he says. “In rural Appalachia, where the poverty was so bad it was reminiscent of some of the things I’ve seen in Haiti.”
That trip inspired him to start Postindustrial Media, a multi-platform organization that shares the stories of cities trying to reinvent themselves, succeeding and working to make changes happen. Focusing mainly on the Rust Belt cities to the north and Applachaian regions to the south, he and his team produce events in addition to articles, videos and podcasts.
“We don’t like to just look at a problem and then say we’ll produce some poverty porn piece about the worst of West Virginia where there is systemic poverty and joblessness and opioid addiction. We’ll focus on people trying to find solutions to these problems.”
Gentile wants to be clear: Postindustrial is not anti-business or anti-industry.
“A lot of what we seek to dispel is we’re not anti-industry in any way. We’re very much pro any kind of industry that meet three criteria: good paying jobs, they have to be safe and they have to be environmentally friendly. Part of what it means to be post-industrial is trying to invite those types of industries to where there’s plenty of workforce but not enough jobs. Those are the cities we like to cover.”
Postindustrial also covers issues of immigration, featuring writers who tell their own stories about trying to escape oppressive regimes in other countries like Afghanistan and Iran.
“Veterans are also a big issue for us. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart because I spent a lot of time with service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” Gentile says. “So many people from post-industrial America go into the military. We don’t try to focus on the doom and gloom. We did a story on how they relax and unwind to help heal some of those mental wounds from combat, like engaging in outdoor activities like learning to surf. … We’re bleeding hearts, that’s for sure.”
Carmen Gentile, founder and editor at large of Postindustrial, explains how the independent, journalism-first, multimedia news outlet covers the areas in the United States that were once deemed highly industrialized. While some communities continue to struggles, others are finding new ways to thrive.