Many worried 'Buckwild' will shape opinions
West Virginians may be wringing their hands over the impression they're sure MTV's "Buckwild" will reinforce with the rest of the nation, but it seems most Americans don't have a negative view of the state.
In fact, it seems most of the country has no opinion on West Virginia.
A recent public opinion poll found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed had "no impression" of West Virginia.
Scott Widmeyer, CEO of Widmeyer Communications, which conducted the survey, said this leaves an opening for more West Virginia-friendly groups to paint their own portrait of the state, on their own terms.
"I view that as an opportunity to build on," he said. "You can put new ideas out there."
More than 35 percent of those interviewed said they know "nothing at all" about West Virginia, and another 38 percent "do not know much" about the state.
That's not the best news but could be a relief to officials who are worried about the portrait of the state that is being painted by MTV's newest reality show, which premieres at 10 p.m. today.
The show follows a group of young people from the Sissonville area as they drink, fight and party in and around Charleston and Sissonville.
Alisa Bailey, president and CEO at the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, is less hopeful. She sees the exposure that "Buckwild" is getting - propagated by MTV and then fueled by media coverage of the polarized reaction to the show - and knows that a local convention and visitors bureau can't match it.
Even on a state level, tourism officials are no match for that.
"We certainly do not have the advertising budget that MTV has," she said. "Or the reach."
Over the last decade, more and more people have been coming to the state to vacation, she said, which indicates that those working in tourism are making headway in attracting people to West Virginia based on its merits.
It's important, Bailey said, to remember that some of the things the country associates with West Virginia are true - the terms "natural," "small town" and "friendly" were used by nearly half the people surveyed by Widmeyer - and can work in the state's favor.
"I do believe we should remember that as irritating as the whole premise of this show is, because we believe it sensationalizes stereotypes, it is acting," she said. "They auditioned for this, and we shouldn't think of it as reality just because they call it a reality show."
Of course, there's still a lot of work to do: the survey also found that 16 percent of people weren't sure that West Virginia is an independent state. As many as 8 percent actually identified it as a part of Virginia.
"To comment on that would be commenting on our (national) school system," Bailey said. "I do think it's an opportunity, though, to show people who aren't familiar with us what we're all about."
Widmeyer is a West Virginia native and graduate of WVU. His work on the survey was pro bono, and he presented the findings at the Governor's Conference on Tourism in October.
The Widmeyer survey polled 1,000 adults online between Oct. 2 and 5. It used IP addresses to pinpoint the location of responders and adjusted results to account for differences between the Internet-using population and the general population. The margin of error was 3 percent.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.