Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Texas Observer's Rural Reporting Project aims to help readers and journalists understand rural life

A fascinating new piece from the editor of the Texas Observer introduces its Rural Reporting Project, an effort to delve deep into what life is like in rural Texas communities. "Rural America is neither a late-night comedy joke nor a Rockwellian portrait of wholesome values. It’s a diverse community that deserves to be treated with respect," Forrest Wilder writes. And it's more important than ever for journalists to understand that. After Donald Trump was elected, national news media engaged in a season of navel-gazing; journalists wondered how they missed the anger and resentment felt in rural America and vowed to pay more attention and re-engage in rural communities.

But the rural-urban conflict is one that Texas knows. Wilder writes that Texan journalists have long grappled with the state's "peculiar dichotomy": the state trades on its rural, cowboy image, but more than 80 percent of Texans live in urban areas. "Yet Texas also has the largest rural population of any state: 3.8 million people. We contain multitudes — uneasy multitudes increasingly at odds. No wonder our politics is so riven," Wilder writes.

Rural and urban Americans often misunderstand each other, but share many problems such as stagnant wages, income inequality, lack of access to health care, and racial conflicts, Wilder notes. And the urban journalists who get the most bandwidth don't always recognize that, he says. So the Rural Reporting Project will zero in on what life's like out in rural Texas. "Getting a nuanced understanding of rural communities is critical to bridging divides and promoting community understanding," Wilder writes. "We need full portraits, not caricatures. Readers need to better understand how the glorified myth of 'real America' stacks up against the actual plights faced by those in small towns." Stay tuned.

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