Creation of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

The concept of the institute was suggested by Rudy Abramson, author and former White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, now editing an Encyclopedia of Appalachia, a work in progress for East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee Press. He shared his idea with Al Smith, producer of Kentucky Educational Television's "Comment on Kentucky," who owned a small chain of rural weeklies and was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Rregional Commission in the Carter and Reagan administrations. Smith and Al Cross, then political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, advanced the concept in lectures at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia in the summer of 2001 and an article by Smith in The American Editor, the magazine of the Amercian Society of Newspaper Editors. They formed an ad hoc committee and approached the University of Kentucky for support.

In the fall of 2001, UK and the committee received a Sigma Delta Chi Foundation grant of $25,000 and an Applachian Regional Commisison grant of $30,000 for research to gather data on the need for a proposed Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, to be based at UK and work with other institutions in a pilot study area, Central Appalachia. The principal co-investigators were Drs. Roy Moore and Ron Eller, respectively professors of journalism and history at UK. The research project was an activity of the Wendell Ford Center for Governance at UK, directed by Dr. Terry Birdwhistell, a historian and university archivist.

The grants funded quantitative and qualitative research by MDC Inc. and the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is directed by veteran journalist Ferrel Guillory, former political reporter and chief editorial writer for the Raleigh News and Observer, and originator of the annual State of the South Report. The grants also funded four conferences, in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky to collect anecdotal and quantitative information on rural issues and the press. The first conference, at UK, featured a dozen journalists from five states discussing their personal challenges in producing newspaper work in small communities and the major recurring socio-economic issues they confront. Other conferences were held in Charleston, W.Va.; Boone, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn., all in the pilot study area, which also includes southwestern Virginia. With help from a UK graduate assistant, the Institute established a Web site.

In July 2004, UK received the major grant for the Institute, from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant of $250,000 allowed UK to hire a director and two part-time staff members. Under the grant, the Institute will conduct a pilot survey of rural media in Central Applachia, in part to determine topics in which training is needed; convene a conference of rural journalists and national experts; provide a training session for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association; develop and teach a course in rural journalism and post the content on the Institute's Web site; and start a Web log for rural journalists. Al Cross became interim director of the Institute on Aug. 1, 2004.

For more information about the grant from the Knight Foundation, go to: http://www.uky.edu/PR/News/040803_rural_knight.htm

For more information about the appointment of the interim director, click here or: http://www.uky.edu/PR/News/040730_cross_director.htm

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: 03/03/2007