Public Perceptions of the Role of the Mass Media in Rural Appalachia

Eastern Kentucky University
November 8, 2002




The Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues (IRJCI) Initiative invited individuals from the media, universities, and communities to Eastern Kentucky University to discuss Public Perceptions of the Role of the Mass Media in Rural Appalachia on November 8, 2002. This seminar, held at the EKU Perkins Conference Center, was jointly sponsored by the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University. The twenty-four participants were:

-Dr. Chike Anyaegbunam, UK Professor of Journalism
-Ron Catchen, Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Montgomery Co.
-Robin Cooper, Mayor of the City of Paintsville
-Tom Eblen, Managing Editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader
-Dr. Ron Eller, Professor of History and former Director of the UK Appalachian Center
-Dr. Renee Everett, Chair of the EKU Dept. of Communication
-Dr. Lori Garkovich, UK Professor of Rural Sociology
-Ferrel Guillory, Director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media, & Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
-Dr. Elizabeth Hansen, EKU Professor of Journalism and President of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
-Dr. Gary Hansen, Chair of the UK Dept. of Community and Leadership Development
-Guy Hatfield, Publisher of the Citizen Voice & Times, Irvine
-Steve Hensley, WYMT-TV Anchor
-Lisa Hornung, Editor of the Richmond Register
-Lisa Jones, EKU Graduate
-Jennifer Lavender, Manager of Communications for the Christian Appalachian Project
-Dr. Roy Moore, UK Professor of Journalism and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies
-Mark Mullins, Chair of the Jackson/Breathitt Co. Chamber of Commerce
-John Nelson, Managing Editor of The Advocate Messenger, Danville
-Leonard Press, Founding Director of Kentucky Educational Television
-Al Smith, Veteran Print and Broadcast Journalist and Former Director of the Appalachian Regional Commission
-Ron Smith, WEKU-FM
-Deborah Stigall, IRJCI Graduate Assistant and UK Graduate Student
-Lou Warrix, Breathitt Co. Judge Executive-Elect
-Deborah Witham, UK Professor of Agricultural Communications


The seminar began with a welcome to EKU by Dr. Renee Everett. Al Smith then provided a history of the IRJCI Initiative and the long-range plans of the proposed Institute. Smith discussed how absentee ownership of media has impacted Appalachian communities. The goal of the Initiative is to develop a permanent Institute based at the University of Kentucky. The IRJCI will be responsible for coordinating the resources of several Appalachian universities and colleges to assist media outlets in improving coverage and relationships in their communities. The Institute is currently seeking long-term funding.

Dr. Elizabeth Hansen introduced the facilitator for the morning and afternoon discussion sessions, Dr. Lori Garkovich. Dr. Garkovich prompted all participants to introduce themselves and to discuss a key challenge confronting Appalachia today. A summary of the challenges mentioned include:

-Accepting and adapting to change
-Promoting leadership for change
-Retaining and attracting professionals
-Defining, presenting, and sustaining a positive community identity
-Empowering local people to act for their own interests and future
-Economic development and environmental sustainability
-Recognizing the connectedness between media and the community, but not being overwhelmed by it

The participants then broke up into two groups and discussed their perspectives on the current situation. The groups considered the following questions and offered ideas.

What are the media doing well in providing coverage of events and issues of concern to rural Appalachia as well as the challenges you have just identified? In other words, what are the strengths of the media?

-Regional TV (Continuity)
-Local angle
-Local, local, local (strength for weeklies)
-Youth coverage
-Individuality—local newspapers/media represent the unique interests and qualities of their communities
-Issue support (editorial presence)
-Employing well educated staff
-Chain ownership pays better, retaining better staff
-Cultural coverage
-Local government coverage for dailies
-Political coverage
-Instant response to local situations, issues, concerns
-Competition—some communities support more than one paper
-What are the media doing now that they could do better?
-Local business coverage—more coverage of local businesses to encourage local economic growth
-Editor and publisher spend more time in the community—many are from outside the community and they need to make an effort to become knowledgeable about and involved in the communities
-Encourage diversity of thought, a forum for ideas
-Keep websites up to date, especially for local community papers because they often serve as a gateway to the community for persons and organizations outside the area
-Accentuate the positive aspects of the community—don’t always focus on the negative
-Provide a context for the deliberations and decisions of local government that are reported by the local media
-Journalists should develop their knowledge of government and politics—especially since their understanding of how local governments operate and their relationships with state and federal government
-Defining the role of the media to the community
-Work to gain diverse perspectives on issues
-Put local issues into a regional context
-What needs to be done in providing coverage for rural Appalachia that the media ought to be doing?
-Explain role of a local newspaper—what are the professional responsibilities of a newspaper and how can these play out within the expectations of local people for the media
-Establish working relationships with officials
-Follow-up on stories/issues covered in earlier editions
-Provide more depth/context to the stories covered
-Investigative reporting
-Distinguish between news and editorial content
-Don’t categorize or stereotype politicians/businesses/organizations (labels can be inaccurate)
-Get facts first

o Often don’t have staff or resources for in-depth coverage
o Issues are complex…how can rural newspapers cover them better?

-Pool resources and collaborate with partners in the community and the region to enhance the quality and breadth of coverage

o Use websites to collect/share information
o Combine resources from universities and media (Appalachian sidewalk)

Dr. Roy Moore introduced the keynote speaker for the seminar, Ferrel Guillory. Guillory presented results of the State of the South report he completed for the MDC. The report detailed components of the South’s old economy and the challenges that face the South’s new economy. Success in the new economy requires globalization, a shift from manufacturing, advances in technology, and the encouragement of managerial talent. Guillory showed statistics that demonstrated that the South’s most prospering areas are metro. Rural areas are falling further behind as they lack competitive advantage in the current economy. Guillory discussed the six building blocks of Community Development: Business Development, Workforce Development, Physical Infrastructure, Social Infrastructure, Cultural and Environmental Stewardship, and Civic Infrastructure. He also described the eight recommendation of the MDC panel in confronting challenges in the South. They are:

-Refocus the state agencies responsible for economic development to pursue a broader, more strategic approach. State governments should not measure success simply by the number of new jobs, but also in terms of higher incomes for people and improved competitiveness of regions within the states.
-Modernize tax systems, so that states have the fiscal capacity to provide excellent education, widely accessible job training, necessary infrastructure, and community amenities that enrich the soil for economic advancement.
-Tighten performance criteria for industrial incentives – and encourage associations of Southern governors and legislators to reexamine the one-dimensional, incentives-driven recruitment strategy in favor of a comprehensive economic development strategy.
-Preserve and enhance rural communities by forging regional collaborations and rural/metropolitan linkages to break their isolation and improve their competitiveness.
-Develop a set of metropolitan-focused policies to assure sustained economic and quality-of-life improvements in burgeoning metro areas on which the South has grown increasingly dependent.
-Dramatically expand efforts to erase serious deficits along the entire education continuum in the South, and bolster the education, health, and well being of children from birth to five-years-old as a prelude to greater achievement.
-Draw on the power of the South's universities and community colleges to act as catalysts for state and regional economic advancement.
-Aggressively support universities, community colleges, and nonprofits to prepare public officials to address the region's tough challenges and to raise up a new generation of civic leaders.

Copies of the State of the South 2002: Shadows in the Sunbelt Revisited can be obtained by consulting the MDC website at

The second discussion session of the conference discussed perspectives on the future. The participants considered the ideal situation for the rural media.

What is your vision for media coverage in Rural Appalachia?

-Knowledgeable staff connected to the community
-Build a high level of trust with the community
-Help people to understand the roles of the media within the community
-To have adequate resources to provide coverage that the community needs and wants
-Be open to new ideas, not tied to traditional way of doing business
-Media cooperate with each other where appropriate to improve coverage of issues
-Media see their role as beyond basic news (provide context, explanation, act as a watchdog)
-Effectively communicate with readers/listeners/viewers
-Lots of professionally trained reporters with specialized knowledge to cover everything
-Find ways to use nonprofessionals in the community as resources
-Develop a unified reporting area (regional focus)
-Pay higher salaries for journalists to improve recruitment and retention
-More in-depth reporting
-Help to break down the differences between perceptions vs. reality about Appalachia
-Offer paid internships
-Act as a champion of the community when appropriate
-Report the truth to solve problems
-Help the community develop pride—learn how to win
-Foster a positive attitude of journalists and viewers about the media

What would people say is the role of the media?

-Trust—to establish trust with readers and the community
-Cooperation with others to increase resources—increase coverage
-Clearly define the role of the media
-Have knowledge of and establish a relationship with the community
-Communicate effectively
-Fairness of coverage
-Contribute to community problem-solving

How can the media get to the ideal?

-Always have a quality product
-Create strong messages/interesting messages that are talked about by the people in the community
-Encourage more communication between media and public about roles and expectations
-Continually update training of professionals
-Offer citizens opportunities to be part of the media process
-The Editor in communication with the community—possibly an editorial column
-Use partners to present data on the community that provides a context for understanding the local issues—possibly do this through University and community partnerships
-Provide a place for local government to have its turn on a community issue

What can the community do?

-Be in conversation with the newspaper
-Express its quality standards
-Expect a good quality product
-Support responsible media

Also during the session, Dr. Moore encouraged everyone to be more knowledgeable and involved in the IRJCI by reading the information in the registration packet, visiting the website, and joining the list serv.



Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
College of Communications & Information Studies

106 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Phone 859-257-3744 Fax 859-257-9834

Questions about the web site: Contact Al Cross, interim director,

Last Updated: Nov. 22, 2004