storyworks veteran banjo photo

Anni Becker/Flickr

UPDATE, Oct. 18, 2013: The deadline for submissions has been extended to Oct. 25, 2013.

If you wrote a song about the hardships today’s veterans face, what would it say? How would you use music to communicate the new battles soldiers encounter after returning home?

The Center for Investigative Reporting and WMMT, community radio station of the Appalshop arts and education center in Kentucky, want to find out. We’re teaming up on a new project to tell local stories about the modern veteran’s experience ­– and we want to do it through song.

If you’re a musician in central Appalachia, we want to enlist your talents to write original compositions that convey the challenges for veterans in your community. The initiative is part of StoryWorks, our ongoing collaboration with Tides Theatre in San Francisco that pairs journalism with the arts to showcase investigative reporting in new, engaging ways. 

To participate, artists should submit a draft recording of a song that follows these guidelines:

  • Songs must involve the story and experiences of one or more real veterans who are dealing with a war-related ailment and have encountered obstacles to receiving proper care.
  • You are welcome and encouraged to use characters and issues covered by CIR’s reporting on veterans. A common theme in our reporting has been pain – the physical and mental tolls brought on by war and compounded by new struggles at home. Visit for our work on this topic.
  • The song should detail some of the specific challenges the veteran faces – whether personal (like dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, family issues or health problems) or institutional (limited access to proper health care, delayed response to disability claims or difficulty finding employment).
  • Bonus points will be awarded for any song that incorporates numbers or context from CIR’s data on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability claims backlog.

To submit your song, email a draft MP3 recording to with “Veterans Soundtrack” in the subject line, or mail a copy to the attention of Brett Ratliff at 91 Madison Ave., Whitesburg, KY 41858. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 25.

Once the submissions are received, a panel of judges from WMMT and CIR will choose the 10 best recordings and invite the artists into the WMMT studio to record the songs. Those chosen each will receive a $200 stipend. The final collection of songs will be released as a compilation through StoryWorks under a Creative Commons license.

If you have questions about the project, email Cole Goins, CIR distribution and engagement manager, at, or Brett Ratliff, WMMT station manager, at In the meantime, you can visit CIR’s website for in-depth reporting on key issues affecting veterans.

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Cole Goins is the director of community engagement for Reveal, where he cultivates partnerships that blend in-depth journalism and creative public engagement. He has built and supported distribution networks, spearheaded arts-based initiatives such as the Off/Page Project, led social media and audience strategy, and facilitated statewide media collaborations. He was a senior fellow in the 2015 USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowships, mentoring five journalists on approaches to community engagement. Previously, Goins was the engagement editor at the Center for Public Integrity, where he led audience development initiatives and multimedia features for award-winning investigative projects. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he worked as music director for WXYC, the student-run radio station. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.