Institute for Rural
Journalism and Community Issues seeks funds to continue
Entering its second year with a strong track record, the
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
has started another groundbreaking series of programs
while stepping up the fund-raising needed to keep it going.
The institute, based in the University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, had what amounted
to its national rollout in June, with a five-day national
conference on rural issues at the Knight Center for Specialized
Journalism at the University of Maryland.
More than 30 journalists from all over the nation, from
news outlets of all sizes, gave rave reviews after hearing
from experts on rural issues. “Every session turned
on a light in my head,” Paul Hammel of the Omaha
World-Herald said at week’s end.
Returning to their newsrooms, reporters turned out stories
as direct results of the seminar. Leon Alligood of The
(Nashville) Tennessean wrote front-page
stories about the definition of “rural” and
one of the Institute’s favorite issues, rural access
to high-speed Internet service.
The seminar, “Rural America, Community Issues,”
marked the first time that the 17-year-old Knight Center
had turned over an entire week of programming to an outside
Like the Knight Center, the Institute is more of a public-policy
institute for journalists -- one that offers reliable information
and ideas about issues -- than a program about reporting,
writing, editing, presentation, production or management.
Its first seminar, in February at the UK Center
for Rural Health in Hazard, was on covering health
and health care in Central Appalachia, the Institute’s
initial focus region. A similar, smaller-scale workshop
is planned for London, Ky., in January.
The National Rural Health Association
picked up on the conference by inviting the directors of
the Institute and the Center, one of the reporters who attended,
and a former NRHA president who attended to make a presentation
at the national NRHA convention next spring on how journalism
can help improve rural health.
In September, at Somerset, the Institute co-sponsored
“Carrying the Capitals to Your Community,”
a two-day conference on how news organizations can cover
state and federal governments and officeholders without
having bureau reporters in the capitals.
The seminar attracted 22 journalists from seven states,
including three broadcasters, one from Nevada. Half of those
who attended were from weekly newspapers in Kentucky, Tennessee,
Virginia and West Virginia. That indicated support for the
Institute’s position that smaller newspapers are obliged
to tackle such government and political coverage because
most Americans do not read a daily newspaper, and many metropolitan
papers have reduced their regional and state-capital coverage.
The conference was co-sponsored by the National
Press Foundation, which provided a day of programming
on using the Internet to cover the federal government. The
Institute programmed a day on state coverage. The event
was coordinated by the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs
Journalism at The Ohio State University,
headed by Somerset native Debra Jasper.
Soon after her appointment last year, Jasper told Institute
Director Al Cross, “I always said if I got a job like
this, I’d like to do something for Appalachian journalists.”
Cross replied, “You’re talking to the right
Central Appalachia’s greatest asset and greatest
liability has been its vast coal deposits and the mining
of them, but many smaller news organizations are reluctant
to cover the industry because it can be controversial.
To help such organizations, and even larger ones, report
and comment on the industry, the Institute will hold a “Covering
Coal” seminar at the South Charleston, W.Va.,
campus of Marshall University on Nov. 18.
Marshall is one of the Institute’s academic partners;
another, West Virginia University, will
help with the event.
On April 7, the Institute will offer a one-day program
on covering and guiding economic development, as part of
the spring meeting of the Western Kentucky Press
Association at Murray State University.
Organizers hope to make the conference a regional event,
with attendance from Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.
The Institute’s most public face is The Rural Blog,
a digest of events, trends, issues and journalism in rural
America, published Monday through Friday at www.ruraljournalism.org.
The list-serve for blog notices has more than 385 members
from all over the nation, and countless others have bookmarked
it. The Web site’s name indicates that no one else
in the world is doing what the Institute is doing.
The Institute is operating on a two-year, $250,000 grant
from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,
which expires next summer, and a $50,000 grant
from the Ford Foundation, which expires
next spring. The Institute is raising money for an endowment
to give it a permanent home at UK, and the Knight Foundation
has invited it to apply for a challenge grant that would
match private fund-raising for the endowment. With matching
of those monies by the state Research Challenge Trust Fund,
known as “Bucks for Brains,” the Institute’s
fund-raising goal of $750,000, if achieved, would create
a $3 million endowment – enough to hire more full-time,
professional staff and make it a truly national program.
While the Institute was created mainly to serve professionals,
it is linked to the academic program through the director’s
teaching of one class each semester. Last spring, students
did a reporting project on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent
communities and the spending of tobacco-settlement money.
Stories have been published in several Kentucky newspapers
and on the Institute Web site; pending completion of work
by the Institute’s partner at the University
of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, stories will be
published about the use of tobacco-settlement money in Kentucky
and North Carolina, the two leading tobacco states.
Next spring’s special-topics course will be on rural
politics, tied to the elections that will fill every partisan
and judicial office at the local level in Kentucky in 2006.
The Institute continues to present a three-hour seminar,
“Editorial Leadership in Community Newspapers,”
at traveling campuses of the Southern Newspaper
The SNPA presenters have been Cross, a former rural editor
and Courier-Journal political writer who became Institute
director in May after nine months as interim director; and
former rural publisher Al Smith, chairman of the Institute’s
steering committee. The chairman of the Institute’s
national advisory board is Rudy Abramson, former Washington
correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.
The Institute recently added academic partners at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri
State University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows
at the University of Alabama. Original partners were Appalachian
State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern
Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee
at Knoxville, Washington and Lee University and West Virginia
University. We welcome more.