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Rural Journalism

National Summit examines the future of rural America and its journalism

"The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, Ky. was the ideal setting for a gathering to discuss rural journalism," writes Mary Jo Shafer, a Knight Community Journalism Fellow at the University of Alabama. "With lambs frisking in the fields nestled among buildings of the historic site, donkeys peering over the fence rails and ducks swimming in a pond, attendees at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America were greeted by an environment that mirrors many of their hometowns — the rural counties where they practice their craft." From left: Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies; John Rosenberg, former director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund; Brian Mann of North Country Radio, Bill Bishop of The Daily Yonder and Courtney Lowery of New West. (Photo by Chrissy Tigas)

In opening remarks, Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said the Summit is aimed at creating a national community of rural journalists and helping them serve their communities. To read his remarks, click here.

Journalists, academics, policy experts and others with an interest in rural journalism were invited to the Summit. "They heard from a wide range of panelists and engaged in a robust discussion about the present state and future of journalism in rural America," Shafer writes. "They talked about the challenges facing rural newspapers, policy and politics that touch their corners of this country, ownership trends, how to adopt digital culture and how to cover rural issues."

Topics included training backgrounds and needs at rural newspapers, the challenges faced by rural news media and rural Amercia, academic centers for rural and community journalism, newspaper chains that provide good journalism on rural issues, and a group strategy session on the future of rural journalism.

The Summit, hosted by the Institute, was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and Farm Foundation. To read Shafer's report, click here.

Following are links to Friday's presentations. Saturday's will be posted later. Research: A Survey of Training Backgrounds and Needs at Rural Newspapers in the United States and Threats Faced by Rural Newspapers (click here for video of both presentations) Issues Facing Rural America: Policy with Brian Dabson and politics with Brian Mann (video)

How three newspaper chains meet the bottom line and provide good journalism on rural issues (video) Covering rural issues and exploring alternative ownership forms with an independent publisher who sold to, and works for, a new kind of chain; and three independent editors and publishers (video). Also: "Thriving in a world of box stores and chain papers," by John Wylie, who was scheduled but couldn't attend. For a report by Indiana University journalism student Ben Weller on the summit, click here.

John Flavell, a photographer for The (Ashland) Independent, and Todd Garvin, editor of the Glasgow Daily Times, were among Kentucky journalists joining attendees from 17 other states.

Survey shows many rural papers lack training, but have a desire for it

A survey of rural newspapers in the United States found that almost half offered no training opportunities to their employees in the last year, and that the most common form of specific training mentioned was in layout and design, not journalism. The survey found that most such newspapers are willing to support mid-career training in journalism, and are more likely to do so if it deals with issues of concern in their coverage areas.

The survey found that state newspaper associations are the most common and important source of training for rural newspapers, followed by on-site training by vendors, company staff or hired presenters. At papers where training was offered, either directly or by allowing employees to attend off-site training sessions, the most common form of specific training mentioned was layout and design. When some unspecified responses were added, journalism training as a whole was a more common response than layout and design. But design “unfortunately, is a news staff issue these days,” one respondent said, because stories are entered into systems such as InDesign, a popular software program mentioned by several newspapers.

“If design is at one end of the newsroom training spectrum, it could be said that training on specific issues is at the other end. If so, the spectrum is skewed,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute and the chief author of the survey report. Only seven of 137 papers responding to the survey reported training for coverage of specific issues or subject areas.

Asked to name three issues in which they would like their news staff to have more background, training, and expertise, most replied with broad topical areas (government, courts, sunshine laws and business were the top four) rather than specific issues. Among specific issues, the leaders were education and agriculture, the latter suggesting that rural papers may not have kept up with changes in agribusiness. Also receiving several mentions were environment, development and land-use planning. To read the survey, click here.

Women rural editors share their experiences and advice at Summit

Two women editors, one who is fiercely independent and another who has kept her spunk after selling to a chain, shared their personal observations about the challenges and joys of doing journalism in a small community at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America on Friday.

"For both, it is a story that is closely intertwined with family, roots, and tradition. Passion and public service play a role, too. A deep understanding of the important role journalism can play in a community also plays a part -- with equal helpings of commitment and stubbornness, kindness and courage," writes Mary Jo Shafer, one of the Knight Community Journalism Fellows at the University of Alabama.

The editors are Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian ( Tex.) Record and Jenay Tate of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va. Brown and her mother, Nan Ezzell, in photo at left, were honored Friday night with the Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, recognizing the crusading attitude established by her late father, Ben Ezzell. Nevertheless, Brown had caution for would-be crusaders. To read Shafer's story, click here. For a column by Carl West of The State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., about the Ezzells and the Gishes, click here. For a more complete report on the award, the Ezzells and the Gishes, click here.

Why is rural journalism important?

Because 21 percent of Americans, some 63 million people, are rural. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan journalists define the public agenda for their communities, and grasp the local impact of broader issues. It interprets rural issues for metro news media, conducts seminars and publishes research and good examples of rural journalism. It helps journalists all over America learn about rural issues, trends and events in areas they’ve never seen but have much in common with their own. It helps rural journalists how to exercise editorial leadership in small markets. At another seminar, journalists from five states learned how to cover state and federal politics without being based in the capitals. Reporters in Central Appalachia saw how they can help improve the region’s health, and published stories with that goal in mind. Others learned about the coal industry and covered it more deeply than before, at a time when more miners were dying and more mountains were being mined. Click here to see video of the Institute's recent seminar on election coverage, and news of upcoming events.

The Institute is based at the University of Kentucky but is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional effort, with academic partners at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of Illinois, the University of North Carolina, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program of the University of Alabama.

The Institute publishes The Rural Blog, a daily digest of events, issues, trends and journalism in rural America, with story ideas and sources. To read it, one of our many reports, or get more information about us, click a button above. To stay updated, join our list-serve, which gets notices of Rural Blog updates. Welcome!---Al Cross, director




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

Last Updated: April 26, 2007