Friday, May 13, 2022

National Summit on Journalism in Rural America June 3-4 will explore how to sustain news that serves democracy

How will rural communities sustain local journalism that serves local democracy?

Answers to that question will be offered and tested at the second National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, June 3-4. The conference of invited professionals, academics and communitarians at Kentucky's Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill will be livestreamed on YouTube starting at 1:15 p.m. Friday, June 3. The next day will have a full schedule of programming.

Robert M. Williams Jr.
The Summit is a project of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which hosted the first Summit 15 years ago. Much has changed since then, in the local news business and in rural America. Community newspapers have seen their profit margins fall into single digits. Newspapers in county-seat towns have closed. Thousands of papers remain healthy, but struggle to adapt their business models to the digital age. Online startups are much less common in rural America, which for the first time ever has fewer people than it did in the previous federal census. Journalism schools are trying to restore local news in places that have become news deserts, and to keep other places from becoming news deserts. But there is relatively little research to guide news publishers as they search for effective business models. And as they focus on the bottom line, people in rural communities wonder about the quality of journalism they are getting.

Penny Abernathy
These facts are the basis for the big question that the Summit seeks to answer. Our invitation list is mainly from the newspaper business, but also includes many academics and communitarians to make sure we keep community support and service in mind as we explore best practices in business and news/editorial. We will get state-of-play reports from Penny Abernathy of Northwestern University and former National Newspaper Association President Robert M. Williams Jr. of Georgia, and hear from newspaper innovators such as Bill Horner of the Chatham News+Record in North Carolina and Terry Williams of the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire. Tony Baranowski of the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen will report on innovations in his part of the country.

Teri Finneman
Dr. Teri Finneman of the University of Kansas will report on her research of alternate business models for rural newspapers, and we will explore how philanthropy can be part of the mix, with Nathan Payne, recently editor of the Traverse City Record-Eagle; Jody Lawrence-Turner, executive director of the Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism; Dennis Brack, publisher of the Rappahannock News in Virginia; Kim Kleman of Report for America; Jonathan Kealing of the Institute for Nonprofit News; and Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro of Columbia University, co-founder of the National Trust for Local News. Liz and Steve Parker, former owners and still operators of the New Jersey Hills Media Group will discuss their recent conversion to a nonprofit. And editor-publishers such as Marshall Helmberger of the Timberjay in northern Minnesota will make the case that good journalism is good business.

Dink NeSmith
Academics with professional experience will discuss how research and service from colleges can rural journalism. They will include Bill Reader of Ohio University and Clay Carey of Samford University, author of The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia. At lunch Saturday, Dink NeSmith of Community Newspapers Inc. will discuss his rescue of The Oglethorpe Echo, staffed by journalism students of the University of Georgia. For the detailed schedule, click here.

The Summit is being made possible by UK's College of Communication and Information and Dean Jennifer Greer. Please put it on your calendar for June 3-4, and think about that big question. Watch The Rural Blog for more information, or email

No comments: