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 Schools.
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 nearby states.
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
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
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
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 Press Association.
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 his research.
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 press associations.
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
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 administrative support.
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.