Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is dedicated to strengthening and
invigorating local newspapers, broadcast stations, and
other media outlets so they can help define the public agenda in their communities and help their readers, viewers and listeners understand how they are affected by regional, state and national issues. It also offers to interpret rural issues for urban news media. The Institute organizes
collaborative research, fosters professional growth and promotes
career development among journalists. In its pilot survey area, Central Appalachia, it emphasizes the regional character of
the major social and economic issues of the region and demonstrates the
importance of vigorous news organizations that can turn challenges into opportunities. To this end, it is developing
a database of media ownership, circulation, staff retention,
and professional training among newsapers in the region. Headquartered at the University
of Kentucky, the Institute and its college and university
partners monitor local and regional news coverage and organize
collaborative projects to examine regional issues such as education, the economy, natural resources and social welfare. Together,
they create settings for professional exchanges between journalists
across the region and provide leadership and resources to
encourage investigative and explanatory journalism. The Institute also plans to stimulate public-service reporting through
fellowships, awards and other forms of public recognition. government, politics, education, social welfare,
natural resources, and the economy.
Remarks of Dr. Michael Nietzel, provost of the University of Kentucky, at rollout announcements of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in Whitesburg, Ky., Oct. 4, 2004 (after introduction by Dr. Beth Barnes)
I am very pleased to be able to represent the University of Kentucky and visit Whitesburg today for this significant event sponsored by the IRJCI. As Beth indicated, there are a number of people to whom we owe a great debt for helping the Institute become a reality on the UK campus. In particular, I want to recognize my colleague, David Johnson, Dean of the College of Communications and Information Studies; Beth Barnes, Director of the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications, who helped plan this excellent event and who has been an ardent supporter of the Institute; Al Cross, a highly respected journalist and the first Director of the Institute; members of partner institutions in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennesee, North Carolina and Virginia; UK faculty colleagues, Ron Eller, Roy Moore, and Terry Birdwhistell; Jan Swauger, with the UK Development Office, who played a key role in helping us gain the foundation support that helped launch the Institute; Rudy Abramson and othr members of the Institute’s Advisory Committee; and finally, Al Smith, for his enthusiastic and insistent advocacy for this Institute.
The idea for this Institute began at a reception that proceeded the annual dinner for the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging in 2001. Al brought the idea to President Lee Todd; Lee told him to talk to me, and Al and I have been talking ever since. For those of you who know Al, you know that once he fastens, he stays attached. Ever since that initial conversation, Al has pushed, pulled, cajoled, and rallied the troops for this effort. Now he can celebrate just a bit.
I also want to tell you how pleased I am that I can be here to meet Tom and Pat Gish and share in the recognition of their outstanding and courageous career in journalism with the presentation to them of the first Tom and Pat Gish Award.
The inspiration for the Institute began in 2001. With annual support from UK, some seed money from other organizations; the assistance of a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation and $50,000 from the Ford Foundation; the hard work of many people; and recently the outstanding leadership of Al Cross, it is now growing near full tilt in 2004.
The Institute is committed to an ambitious set of goals centered around the main objective – to boost the power of rural newsrooms and other forms of media in rural communities. It is based on a premise that all land-grant universities should champion: If you gather and disseminate trustworthy public information, you can start useful conversations about the most vexing economic, cultural and environmental issues facing communities of all sorts. With this process, you should ultimately reap an increase in public knowledge that will grow the capacity and sustain the progress of rural communities.
A quick review of The Rural Blog shows an outstanding array of topics that are being engaged. For example, the Presidential election in rural America; the status of broadband Internet in rural America; the financial struggles of rural hospitals.
Knowledge is the dominant currency of the 21 st century. The obligation for first-rate universities, particularly those with a land-grant mission, is to be the one institution that society can depend on to help its citizens trade in that currency.
The Institute for Rural Journalism was, and is, important to UK because it provides a wonderful vehicle for delivering on that mission. We expect it to be a force – as I expect the University to be a force – to:
1. Democratize society. Knowledge is the great equalizer, and universities must be sure that people have access to the knowledge we accumulate.
2. Incubate new ideas. Universities must be a creative force for change.
3. Help not just Kentucky and Appalachia but all of rural America“imagine its future,” a phrase made memorable by Henry David Thoreau
4. Prepare individuals to understand and create that future.
On behalf of the University, I want to say that we are proud of this Institute. We are grateful for its creation. We look forward to its achievements. And we anticipate it making a difference in the lives and the communities of rural America.