Ruth Chang ’12, Sam Chang ’16, and Logan Sander ’18
Courtesy of Midstory

Ruth Chang ’12, Sam Chang ’16, and Logan Sander ’18 grew up in Toledo, Ohio. When they came to Princeton, connections and career opportunities that felt a world away from the Midwest opened up to them. 

“When you’re from Ohio, and you’ve gone out to Princeton, people tell you ‘stay on the East Coast, that’s where success is. That’s where opportunity is,’” says Sam Chang. “Nobody says to come home.” But, in 2018, the trio returned to Toledo to found Midstory, a nonprofit media think-hub, with Alex Lim, their friend and an MIT graduate. The organization they’ve built uses multimedia storytelling to amplify voices from the Midwest. It’s primarily grant funded but also relies on contributions from individuals.

The overwhelming majority of publishing and news media jobs in the U.S. are based on the coasts. “That means that, although many of those are national publications, their perspective is from a specific point of view or a specific life experience,” says Sander. “We felt there was a need for us to tell stories that were relevant to people across the nation.”

Each member brings a different strength to the team. Sander majored in comparative literature and has written for Time, The Forward, and the Toledo Free Press. Ruth Chang’s background is in architecture and design. Sam Chang studied public policy at Princeton and has a passion for film and media production. The Midstorians have leveraged their varied skillsets to create a platform with three main arms: media production, solutions-oriented research, and programing for young people. 

Midstory has published stories on everything from harmful algae blooms in the Great Lakes and other biodiversity topics of Midwest microclimates to city infrastructure and historical pieces about industry in the region. One video, titled “All Aboard: Toledo in Transit,” features an interview with Robert Seyfang, a Toledo-born architect who led the renovation of that city’s train station
in 1996. 

“We believe that the best way to change some of the perspectives about the Midwest is to engage people, especially young people, in the storytelling process.”

— Sam Chang ’16

Another project features a compilation of stories from Asian American Ohioans. Titled “Asian in Ohio,” it speaks to the complexities of glossed-over narratives of Asian people in America. The project includes an interactive gallery with video interviews, data visualizations mapping Asian American population centers throughout the country, stories about the history of the Asian experience, and present-day examples of Asian Americans making a cultural impact in the region.

“It was a multi-year project that began during the pandemic and the anti-Asian hatred that was brought more into the limelight,” says Ruth Chang, who was the lead writer. “Three of us are Asian American and grew up in the Midwest. We had the personal experience of growing up at that interesting intersection of the American identity.” 

Midstory aims to bridge a critical gap by helping Americans see each other and the unique concerns of the Midwest more clearly. The founders agree that their youth programs are integral to the success of that mission. “We believe that the best way to change some of the perspectives about the Midwest is to engage people, especially young people, in the storytelling process,” says Sam Chang. Most of their interns aren’t from the area. “By the time they leave our program, many of them are saying, ‘I think there’s a future for me here in the Midwest.’ It’s incredible to see that shift in how they see the region.” 

Midstory partners with a range of universities and fellows in the Ohio area to research issues and environments pertinent to the region. They have also engaged more than 100 students for “Think Lab” programs through work opportunities, guest workshops, speaker events, and lectures. Undergraduate, graduate, and postgrad students from schools across the country can also work with Midstory as interns and fellows. 

Sander says she hopes their return to the Midwest inspires others. “We’re hoping that through doing that, we can make that a pathway for young people across the nation to find a home in places like Toledo.”