Friday, March 04, 2016

Nonprofit investigative reporting unit in Kentucky fills a gap in rural watchdog reporting

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Fifteen years ago, when I roamed Kentucky as political writer for The Courier-Journal, the Louisville newspaper had reporters in most regions of the state, and in almost every county seat there was someone who knew a C-J reporter to call when a local official was involved in hanky-panky.

Today, like almost all other metropolitan papers, The C-J has a news bureau only in the state capital. That has left a gap in rural watchdog reporting that we have encouraged local newspapers to fill since I became the Institute's first director almost 12 years ago. More recently, a nonprofit investigative unit has helped fill the gap.
Screenshot: KYCIR also investigates state government. For its site, click here.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has done a series of stories about the elected county jailers who have no jails, and are paid to transport inmates; a story about a local police chief who defied a judge's order to take a man for mental-health evaluation and put him on a bus instead; and one titled "How politics, misinformation and money fueled a power plant in coal country," by my former C-J colleague Ralph Dunlop, who worked in the paper's Eastern Kentucky Bureau in Hazard before working as an investigative reporter at the main office.

Brendan McCarthy
The center is a privately funded arm of WFPL, an FM station operated by Louisville Public Media. Its managing editor is Brendan McCarthy, who was interviewed by Alexandra Kanik for a MediaShift story. "Some stories get very little traction in the city but do great in the more rural areas of Kentucky," she writes as part of a series about media audience metrics and data-driven decisions.

"For KYCIR, people are the ultimate metric," Kanik writes. "It isn’t people as a whole that matter, but individuals. Perhaps it comes from taking part in the LPM annual pledge drives, where McCarthy and the KYCIR staff get to interact with people on a more personal basis, rather than just through the normal letters to the editor or comments on a web page. Every tip, every phone call, every letter is recorded and replied to. . . . It’s an approach that seems to be working. By reaching out to individuals — replying to encouraging letters and making sure their content is accessible even to those Kentuckians without Internet access and those who live outside the range of the Louisville Public Media radio station — KYCIR is creating a following of hyper-loyal, extremely concerned citizens."

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