July 7, 2004
To: Friends of the Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues
From: Al Cross, director
As it nears completion of its first year with a
staff, the Institute has a strong record of accomplishment, plans
for more progress, and some challenges. We hope this report will
bring you up to speed, refresh your memory and provide food for
thought and advice.
Following a national search, in
May the interim director became the director – and an assistant
professor of journalism in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications
at the University of Kentucky, where the Institute is housed.
The director calls himself “an extension
agent for rural journalists,” and in addition to the Institute’s
public events and publications, he has consulted many individual
reporters about story ideas, sources, reporting techniques and
other facets of rural journalism. For example, a Western Kentucky
newspaper learned sources of information for some of its stories
about the tobacco buyout and a local government ethics question.
The Institute is unique, as indicated by our ability
last fall to obtain the Web address www.ruraljournalism.org. There
are other community-journalism programs in the United States,
but none that focus on issues and have a mission to help rural
media define the public agenda in their communities. We are more
a public-policy institute for journalists than a journalism-craft
institute, though craft is an essential part of our program.
In what amounted to our national rollout, the Institute
programmed a five-day seminar on rural issues for the Knight Center
for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland in June.
This conference, “Rural America, Community Issues,”
featured a wide range of national experts on various issues and
topics important to rural America. The journalists’ evaluations
were favorable, and the Knight Center staff told us that the conference
was one of the best they have held. “Every speaker has put
a light bulb in my head,” said Paul Hammel of the Omaha
World-Herald. Thirty-one journalists attended, from all over the
nation and most types of media. Brief accounts of several sessions
are posted on the Reports section of our Web site.
Our fee for programming the conference will be
used to underwrite our next conference, “Carrying the Capitals
to Your Community,” Sept. 9-10 at the Center for Rural Development
in Somerset, Ky. This seminar will be aimed at media that do not
have reporters in state capitals or Washington but want to cover
government and political news from the capitals. It will be held
in cooperation with the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism
at Ohio State University’s John Glenn Institute, with which
we generated the idea, and the Washington-based National Press
Foundation -- which will be responsible for the second day of
programming, on how to glean information from Washington. We will
be responsible for the first day, on covering state capitals,
and have lined up major presenters.
Two major issues for the Institute are economic
development and the environment. In our initial focus area, Central
Appalachia, coal is a big player in both those issues, and we
hope to have a conference in Charleston, W.Va., in the fall on
“Covering Coal.” Another major issue for us is education,
and we are exploring oppotunities with the Partnership for Successful
The Institute will be the lead programmer for the
spring meeting of the Western Kentucky Press Association at Murray
State University in April, with several sessions on economic development
and how to cover it. We had hoped to conduct this day of programming
this spring, but WKPA wanted to wait a year, with hopes of expanding
the conference beyond its membership to include journalists from
Our first conference, “Covering Health Care
and Health in Mid-Appalachia,” was held in February at the
University of Kentucky’s Center for Rural Health in Hazard.
Appalachia has one of the least healthy populations in America,
and health care another of our major issues. More than 50 journalists
and people in the health field attended, including some reporters
who wrote stories about health issues in their communities. At
the suggestion of a health-education director in the areas, we
plan to replicate this conference on a smaller scale in London,
Ky., in January.
At the Hazard conference, the longtime publishers
of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Tom and Pat Gish, received
the national award named for them. We hope to present The Gish
Award annually to journalists who demonstrate the courage, tenacity
and integrity often needed among rural journalists to defend the
public interest and advance the public agenda in rural areas.
We invite your nominations for the next award.
Pending adequate staff and financial support, we
plan to start a monthly awards program for rural journalists,
probably beginning in Appalachia. Laura Coleman Noeth, editor
of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, has offered to help with
such a program, saying it would give encouragement and support
to rural journalists, who often feel isolated and unrecognized.
Student reporting projects
The director’s Special Topics class in the
spring semester, on Rural Journalism, conducted a reporting project
on the future of tobacco farming and tobacco communities. With
the end of the federal tobacco program, the culture and economics
of tobacco are undergoing the greatest change in more than 65
years. One story in this project, by Philip Stith, revealed how
the changes are leading to an increase in tobacco production in
some parts of Western Kentucky.
Other stories in the project examined the economics
of a tobacco-dependent county, a local couple who are making money
growing mushrooms, a tobacco farmer who is gradually shifting
to flowers and other horticultural products, and the role of the
Extension Service in helping farmers and communities adjust to
the changes. Some of the have been published in local newspapers
and All Around Kentucky, the state Farm Bureau newspaper,
and are posted on the Reports section of our Web site.
Three stories yet to be posted deal with how Kentucky
has spent the tobacco-settlement money that the state legislature
earmarked for agricultural diversification. While our class looked
at Kentucky, students at UNC-Chapel Hill looked at North Carolina.
Our partner there is wrapping up that project, and we plan to
publish our findings this month.
One of the students in the class has an internship
this summer at the Casey County News, which has done
considerable reporting on controversies over use of tobacco-settlement
funds. Because the newspaper has no Web site, and we want to encourage
such reporting by other rural media, we have posted the paper’s
stories on the Reports section of our site.
We plan to make next spring’s Special Topics
class Local Political Reporting, because almost every local office
in Kentucky will be on the ballot next year, offering plenty of
opportunities for real-life reporting under the guidance of the
Institute director, who was chief political writer for The
Courier-Journal for more than 15 years and still writes a
column for the Louisville newspaper twice a month.
To encourage local reporting on use of tobacco-settlement
money, the director conducted a session on the reporting project
at the Kentucky Press Association convention in January. At the
convention in January 2006, we will offer a session on covering
local and legislative elections. We may offer a day of programming
on political coverage at the fall meeting of the Western Kentucky
Our chief presentation so far has been to traveling
campuses of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in Richmond,
Va., and Tampa. These were attended by journalists from Virginia,
North Carolina and Florida. Another is scheduled in Lexington
in late July and is expected to attract journalists from Kentucky.
This three-hour presentation is being made by the director and
the chairman of our Steering Committee, former rural newspaper
publisher Al Smith. We welcome suggestions for points and examples.
We also plan to make presentations at the conventions
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
in San Antonio in August, and this month at a conference of directors
of mid-career training programs funded by the John S. and James
L. Knight Foundation, our major funder.
The director also made presentations at the Institute
at the International Rural Network Conference at Abingdon, Va.,
in June; the Southern Journalists Roundtable at UNC-Chapel Hill
in June; “The Media and Appalachia,” a conference
at East Tennessee State University in April; a panel discussion
on Appalachian stereotypes at the Lexington Public Library in
April; Appalachian Studies Association meeting in March (see below);
a Kentucky Farm Bureau young farmers’ conference in January;
and had a telephone discussion about rural America with a graduate
journalism class at the University of California at Berkeley after
the November election.
Our grant from the Knight Foundation calls for
the Institute to survey newspapers in Central Appalachia about
their training needs. With the help of our academic partners at
Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, the
University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Washington and Lee University
and West Virginia University, we have done that, and also asked
about staff experience and backgrounds, and what sort of training
journalists in the region want and need. Preliminary results of
the survey, along with information gathered in the Institute’s
pilot phase, at the annual Appalachian Studies Conference in March.
In cooperation with the Kentucky Broadcasters Association,
we will survey radio stations in Kentucky to measure the extent
of local radio news coverage and changes in it during the last
five years. After the Kentucky survey is concluded, we may expand
the survey to our other pilot-region states: Tennessee, North
Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Suggestions are welcome.
The director consulted on a rural-issues planning
session held by the Council of State Governments, and helped with
planning and promotion of Growing Kentucky: New Directions for
Our Culture of Land and Food, a multi-disciplinary conference
held in March by the Gaines Center for the Humanities and the
College of Agriculture. Our Web site has a report on one part
of the conference.
We circulated to Kentucky editors a retired journalist’s
request for information about country correspondents in weekly
newspapers in the state, and may assist the retiree in continuing
The Rural Blog
Our Web log of issues, events, trends, ideas and
journalism in rural America continues to expand its audience and
its reach. More than 350 people around the country receive a notice
when the blog is posted daily, and many more have it bookmarked.
It is the Institute’s primary form of outreach, and during
the fall and spring semesters (when graduate assistants work)
we send e-mails notifying reporters that their stories have been
excerpted. Blog items have been reprinted in various publications,
from newspapers to interest-group and government newsletters.
The Rural Blog is not like most blogs, in that
it is usually posted only once a day and is not interactive. The
blog and Web site are being redesigned to make them more graphically
appealing, interactive and searchable.
We’re always looking for blog items, especially from rural
newspapers and broadcast stations. Please remember that, and let
us know about work worth noting.
National and state notice
Last year turned out to be a good time for the
director to move from political journalism to rural journalism.
When James Dao of The New York Times wanted an expert to talk
about vote fraud in Appalachia and the impact of rural voters
on the election, he called the director, who was quoted in Dao’s
story in the Times on Nov. 4. The director was interviewed before
the election by CNN, NPR, USA Today, People magazine and the Philadelphia
Inquirer; made many broadcast and personal appearances; and wrote
a post-election report on Kentucky for a Southern regional newsletter.
The Institute got a favorable mention in Al’s
Morning Meeting, published by the Poynter Institute for Media
Studies. The director and chairman of the national Advisory Board,
Rudy Abramson, were invited to, and attended, the W.K. Kellogg
Foundation’s national conference on rural issues in Washington
in March. Likewise, the director plans to attend a public-policy
conference of the Kettering Foundation in Dayton next week.
The director attended Tennessee Press Association
conventions in February and June, and plans to attend the North
Carolina Press Association convention this month and the West
Virginia Press Association convention next month. The first SNPA
presentation was held at the Virginia Press Association. Kentucky
Press Association editors receive occasional e-mails about the
Institute, and we are a featured link on KPA’s home page.
The Institute joined the National Newspaper Association,
and the director attended the NNA convention in Denver last fall.
He also attended the Associated Press Managing Editors conference
in Louisville and joined the International Society of Weekly Newspaper
Editors. The Institute also received newsletters from many state
We posted on our Web site the speeches made in
April by this year’s inductees to the Kentucky Journalism
Hall of Fame. Three of the six were involved in community journalism.
The Institute is operating on a two-year, $250,000
grant from the Knight Foundation and a $50,000 Ford Foundation
grant that was originally made for one year and has been extended
for another year. At the Knight Foundation’s invitation,
we have applied for operating funds for the third year. Meanwhile,
the University of Kentucky has established a new faculty line
for the director’s academic salary, and continues to provide
The Knight Foundation also has invited us to apply
for a challenge grant that would match our other private fund-raising
for the endowment that has been established to make the Institute
a permanent part of the university. The combined private fund-raising
and Knight match would then be matched by the state Research Challenge
Trust Fund, generating a total of $4 for each $1 in initial contributions.
Our fund-raising goal is $750,000, which if reached
would create an endowment of $3 million, generating about $140,000
a year. With the faculty salary and the university’s administrative
support, that would give us a budget of more than $200,000 a year,
which we think would be adequate to support a program that would
have a national impact and still give special attention to Central
Appalachia and the rest of Kentucky. Anything you can do to help
us get this essential support would be greatly appreciated.