Tuesday, April 04, 2017

NPR reporter discusses what it's like to cover the rural-urban divide

Kirk Siegler
The rural-urban divide has drawn national attention since the surprise presidential victory of Donald Trump, fueled by overwhelming support in rural areas. National news outlets have dedicated more resources to covering the divide, including NPR, which named Kirk Siegler its beat reporter for the issue. Siegler talked with Corey Hutchins of Columbia Journalism Review about what it's like to cover the rural-urban divide.

"Mostly, it’s been more of an excuse to get out and spend a lot more time in rural parts of America that we haven’t yet," Siegler said. "You’re probably ... going to be hearing more from the rural areas than the urban areas. But I think [the divide] is sort of a popular political term right now and it’s something that resonates with a lot of people. I think [the election] kind of gives more credence to the beat and why we want to get out there and sort of get at the divide a little bit more. To understand what’s going on out in the rural areas, where the economy has been hit really hard from a number of factors, and where people in a lot of communities feel they’re losing control [of] their lives and their heritage and that kind of thing."

"It’s also just sort of a more relevant, interesting way to frame the narrative than what we used to call 'rural affairs'," Siegler told Hutchins. "There are a lot of similarities, and I think there are probably more similarities in some of these places with some hard hit urban areas, too, than people in both places understand. So that’s what we’re trying to get at: not to report a beat that is warm and fuzzy, and allows people in both places to understand that they have more similarities than they do differences, but to get at what the polarization is like, and what’s behind it, and where we might go from here." 

Siegker lives in Los Angeles but grew up in rural Montana. "It’s sort of weird to cover rural America from the second-largest city in America," he said. "That said, I think it lends kind of an interesting perspective to the rural-urban divide in the country if you live in one place and travel to the other place all the time. If you’re from a rural area and have lived in cities most recently, you can kind of understand the tension and the dynamics. That can inform your reporting. There’s probably two sides to that. If we were to embed in a rural place and follow them along, that would also glean some pretty interesting perspectives. But in the realities of journalism today, we don’t necessarily have the resources or the time to do something like that, so this is the next best bet." (Read more)

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