Monday, September 11, 2017

Washington Post media columnist salutes the work of rural journalists

As national media is focusing on national stories that tend to be urban-centric, a column from The Washington Post's media columnist lauds journalists who are doing the hard field work of reporting on crucial rural issues such as wildfires, harmful herbicide spraying, or the lack of rural health care. "Big-city reporting — on politics, government, Wall Street and technology — is indispensable. But so is its oft-neglected rural counterpart," Margaret Sullivan writes. Her news peg is the Texas Observer's new Rural Reporting Project, which aims to send reporters out to get the pulse of rural Texas.

Rural news is more under-reported than ever. As metropolitan dailies have tighten their belts in the last decade, rural bureaus were early casualties, Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky (publisher of The Rural Blog), told Sullivan: "Larger regional papers used to do this as a public service even though there was no advertising base for it."

Now, Sullivan writes, "Rural reporting rarely is seen as the most critical mission. But that leaves huge swaths of the United States without coverage. And the buying up of small papers by chains, more beholden to stockholders than to local concerns, has hollowed out the journalism even more. . . . In many communities, there’s no one to cover government meetings, hold officials accountable, or report on events, large or small."

Tommy Thomason, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism at Texas Christian University, told Sullivan the watchdog journalism done by small community papers is critical. "These are the papers that nobody has heard of, but that do such important work. Some of these small-town officials think they’ve been elected as deities." Thomason tells the journalists who come to his center for professional development that what they're doing is critical: "If you’re not doing it, nobody is doing it."

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