for Rural Journalism & Community Issues: Year One
Reporters in Appalachia contemplated the role
their news outlets can play in improving the region’s
health, and published stories with that goal in mind.
A newspaper in Western Kentucky learned sources of information
for stories about the tobacco buyout and local-government
Journalists at newspapers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia,
North Carolina and Florida learned editorial leadership in
small newspaper markets.
Journalists all over the United States learned about rural
issues, trends and events in areas they have never seen but
have much in common with their own.
And a couple from Eastern Kentucky, who have set a standard
for editorial leadership in rural newspapers, were honored
with a national award named for them.
All this and more happened in the first seven months that
the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues had
a staff, housed in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism
The Institute is operating on a two-year, $250,000 grant from
the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $50,000 from
the Ford Foundation. It is raising money for an endowment
to give it a permanent home at UK.
The Institute partnered with UK’s Center for Rural Health
in Hazard on a conference about covering health care and health
in Central Appalachia, one of America’s poorest and
least healthy regions.
Breathitt County Voice Editor Colleen Hornsby attended the
conference and soon published stories on a cancer survivor
and importance of physical therapy.
Edmund Shelby, editor and general manager of The Beattyville
Enterprise, said, “It is rare for us to hear from just
a few experts, but to be briefed by a series of nationally
recognized health care providers was a treat. I am looking
forward to using some of the information I gleaned in future
Harlan Daily Enterprise Staff Writer Adrienne Steinfeldt said,
“I left energized and ready to dig for better health
care stories, seeing that my coverage can go far beyond the
one-shot story,” she said. “The media can and
should be a driving force behind improved health and health
care in the mountains; the conference pointed to practical
ways to embrace that responsibility.”
Steinfeldt, now at the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, and Institute
Director Al Cross will speak at the National Rural Health
Association convention next May about ways rural media can
promote rural health.
The success of the conference means that the Institute will
hold future seminars on health coverage. Others are being
planned on coverage of economic development, local politics,
education and the environment.
The health seminar, in which five University of Kentucky colleges
participated in some way, illustrated how the Institute seeks
to be a multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary, policy-oriented
center with an initial, regional focus but a national scope.
So does the next conference on its schedule, a joint effort
with the National Press Foundation and the Kiplinger Fellows
Program at The Ohio State University, to help non-metropolitan
media outlets cover issues centered in their state capitals
and Washington. That conference is scheduled for Sept. 9-10
in Somerset, Ky., and reporters and editors from seven states,
as far away as Nevada, plan to attend.
Tentatively planned for Nov. 18 in Charleston, W.Va., is a
conference on how to cover the coal industry, a major force
in Central Appalachia.
On April 7, 2006, at Murray State University, the Institute
will present a day of programs on how to cover and guide economic
development in rural areas.
So far, the Institute’s biggest programming project
has been a national conference on rural issues at the Knight
Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland,
held June 12-17. More than 30 journalists from all over the
nation gave rave reviews after hearing from experts on rural
Like the Knight Center, the Institute is more of a public-policy
institute for journalists, one that offers information about
issues, than a program about reporting, writing, editing and
But the Institute will always include some journalism-craft
elements in its conferences, and it spotlights good examples
of rural journalism – and journalism about rural America
– on The Rural Blog, published Monday through Friday
at www.ruraljournalism.org. The list-serve for blog notices
has more than 360 members from all over the nation, and countless
others have bookmarked it. The Web site’s name indicates
that the program is unique.
The Institute lifts up examples for rural journalists to follow.
At the Hazard conference, the longtime publishers of The Mountain
Eagle in Whitesburg, Tom and Pat Gish, were presented an award
named for them. It will be given to rural journalists who
demonstrate the courage, tenacity and integrity often needed
among to defend the public interest through rural journalism.
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. This 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 newspapers and 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.
The Institute has made three presentations of a three-hour
seminar, “Editorial Leadership in Community Newspapers,”
at traveling campuses of the Southern Newspaper Publishers
Association in Richmond, Va., Lexington, Ky., and Tampa. One
editor who attended said he was inspired.
The SNPA presenters were former rural editor and Courier-Journal
political writer Al Cross, who became director of the Institute
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.
Others on the 32-member advisory board include Alex Jones,
director of the Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy
at Harvard University; James D. Squires, horse breeder and
former editor of the Chicago Tribune; William Greider, national
affairs correspondent for The Nation; Tim Kelly, publisher
of the Lexington Herald-Leader; Virgil Smith, president and
publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times; Noah Adams, national
correspondent for National Public Radio; Bill Bishop, reporter
for the Austin American-Statesman; Nancy Green, vice president
of Lee Enterprises and publisher of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls
Courier; John Mack Carter, former president of Hearst Magazines;
Mike Duncan, general counsel of the Republican National Committee;
and Jim Clinton, director of the Southern Growth Policies
The Institute has academic partners at Appalachian State University,
East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University,
Marshall University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State
University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Washington and Lee
University, West Virginia University and the new master’s
program in community journalism at the University of Alabama.
More are expected in other states in the coming year.