2023 National Summit on Journalism in Rural America


8 a.m. Continental breakfast, Bluegrass Ballroom (location for all events)

9:00 Welcome: Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

9:10 The state of rural newspapers and the rise of ghost newspapers: Zachary Metzger, Northwestern University
The senior researcher and database manager for the State of Local News Project, which is preparing its annual report, will discuss its latest data, including the lack of digital news sites in rural areas; discuss examples of ghost newspapers; and discuss ways that the term can be defined. (To be presented remotely)

9:35 Rural publishers’ and readers’ views of alternate-revenue models: Nick Mathews, University of Missouri
Mathews and two other researchers surveyed publishers and readers of rural newspapers in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma about their willingness to consider alternative revenue sources for newspapers. He will report on that, with major attention to focus groups conducted with rural publishers.

10:00 Being the guinea pig in an alternate-revenue research experiment: Joey Young, Kansas Publishing Ventures
As part of the above research, the owner of three weekly newspapers in south-central Kansas agreed to test alternate forms of revenue. He will report on the results.

10:25 What rural publishers think about the future: Ross McDuffie, National Trust for Local News
With the help of the Institute for Rural Journalism, the National Trust recently completed an online survey of rural publishers. The Trust’s chief portfolio officer will give the first public report of the results.

10:50 Finding alternative-revenue success at a twice-weekly: David Woronoff, The Pilot, Southern Pines, N.C.
Nationally recognized as an innovative publisher and entrepreneur, David Woronoff will tell the story of the transformation of his twice-weekly newspaper in central North Carolina into a media conglomerate.

11:15 Finding alternative-revenue success at a small daily: Jack Rooney, The Keene Sentinel, Keene, N.H.
The Sentinel, which made a presentation at last year’s Summit, continues to expand its alternate-revenue sources and journalism that build audience and community. The paper’s managing editor for audience development will report on one of New England’s best newspapers has bene doing lately.

11:40 Reviving Gannett ghosts: Jeremy Gulban, CEO, CherryRoad Media
Gulban was a tech entrepreneur who saw an opportunity in the newspaper industry and has become one of its leading publishers in about three years, mainly through purchase of Gannett Co. papers. Now he says Gannett ran them so far into the ground that he is experimenting with ways to revive them.

12:00 LUNCH buffet, with greetings from Dr. Jennifer Greer, dean, University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information

12:30 Rural narratives: Bonita Robertson-Hardy, co-executive director, Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group
Accurate rural narratives, driven partly by high-quality journalism, present an opportunity to help build trust and new relationships across geography. Boosting local media also gives rural and Indigenous people more timely and credible information about their community. Advancement on these fronts can increase understanding and trust among diverse communities and regions, advancing equitable rural prosperity. (To be presented remotely)

12:50 Philanthropy for local news: Duc Luu, Knight Foundation; Richard Young, CivicLex; and Lillian Ruiz, Ci-X Strategies
Philanthropy is an important part of alternative-revenue schemes for local news. This panel has a journalism officer from the leading philanthropic foundation supporting journalism, the head of a local start-up that has tapped philanthropic funding, and a social entrepreneur for information, social impact and civic infrastructure.

1:20 Broader rural news: Tim Marema, Daily Yonder, and Alana Rocha, Inst. For Nonprofit News’ Rural News Network
More attention to rural journalism has spawned national news outlets to cover rural news. The Daily Yonder was founded more than 15 years ago and has assembled a stable of funders and contributors that make it strong; the Rural News Network was founded recently by the Institute for Nonprofit News, a resource hub for more than 425 nonprofit newsrooms dedicated to producing journalism as a public service.

1:50 Solutions journalism: Mary Steurer, Casper Star-Tribune, and Melissa Cassutt, Solutions Journalism Network
The SJN helps local reporters do reporting projects that lead to solutions for local and social problems. A local-government reporter and SJN’s rural-media manager will discuss how to do solutions journalism in rural areas: finding sources, planning coverage and building trust in rural communities.

2:15 Turning readers into correspondents and reporters: Lindsey Young, Kansas Publishing Ventures
Young developed "Earn Your Press Pass,” a program to help newsrooms broaden whom they recruit to and hopefully make it easier to fill positions. The program is being implemented in 18 states.

2:30 A digital start-up succeeds vs. a Gannett-ghost small daily: Lynne Campbell, Community News Brief, Macomb, Ill.
Hoping to do much the same thing in a smaller town: Nicole DeCriscio Bowe, The Owen News, Spencer, Ind.
Success with a digital start-up against a Paxton daily: Jennifer P. Brown, Hoptown Chronicle, Hopkinsville, Ky.
Ditto the above, plus a free weekly print edition: Debra Tobin, Logan-Hocking Times, Logan, Ohio (remotely)

3:10 BREAK

3:20 Seeking state policies to help local journalism: Anna Brugmann, Rebuild Local News Coalition
Efforts to change public policy to help sustain local newsrooms have shifted to state legislatures, and bills are actually passing. Anna Brugmann will discuss these and other efforts and how they might be replicated.

3:40 Retreating to Facebook: Laurie Ezzell Brown, The Canadian Record (remotely); Ryan Craig, Todd County Standard
Two of the best rural newspapers in America no longer print, for reasons their publishers will discuss – but the key takeaway from this session will be that their news outlets’ expanded use of Facebook has prevented news deserts.

4:00 Bringing students into communities to report local news: Richard Watts, Center for Community News, University of Vermont; Alan Miller, Denison University, Ohio
(both remotely); moderated by Christopher Drew, Louisiana State University
More than 100 higher-education journalism programs are filling gaps in local news coverage. Ttwo of the leading practitioners discuss the phenomenon and the practicalities with Richard Watts, head of a Knight-funded center that tracks them.

4:30 Maintaining and growing print circulation: Patrick Schless, Community Journalism Project, Lewis County Press
This presenter says digital growth isn’t the answer for rural publication, that strengthening community newspapers starts with print first – it is what the staff believe in, what the current subscribers know, and what advertisers understand. His project works with 70 paid rural papers to strengthen print while bridging to a hybrid future.

4:45 Concluding roundtable, moderated by Benjy Hamm, incoming director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Benjy Hamm, who will become director Aug. 16, has held leadership positions for nearly 30 years in news-media organizations including Landmark Media Enterprises, the New York Times Co. and The Associated Press. For the last four years, he has taught journalism at Campbellsville University in Kentucky.

5:30 Cash-bar reception

6:00 Dinner (optional, $50 fee)


Jennifer P. Brown is editor and co-founder of Hoptown Chronicle, a nonprofit, digital news outlet in her hometown, Hopkinsville, Ky. She is a former editor and opinion editor of the Kentucky New Era, the local daily where she worked for 30 years. She received Kentucky’s Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism in 2012 and its James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment in 2013. She has a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing from Goucher College.

Laurie Ezzell Brown is owner of The Canadian Record, a national award-winning weekly newspaper in Canadian, Texas, that stopped printing in March after another potential sale fell through, but is continuing to report the news of Hemphill and adjoining counties on Facebook. Brown and her parents won the 2007 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which cited her investigative reporting and editorial leadership.

Nicole DeCriscio Bowe is founder of The Owen News, a digital startup in Spencer, Ind., and Region 5 coordinator for the Society of Professional Journalists. She was editor of DePauw University’s student paper, an intern for the Salt Lake Tribune, a reporter for The Homeless Voice in Haines City, Fla., a reporter for the Mooresville-Decatur Times in Indiana, a page designer and copy editor for AIM Media Indiana, and a reporter for the Spencer Evening World, against which she now competes.

Anna Brugmann is the director of policy at the Rebuild Local News Coalition, which is seeking ways to develop more financial support for local newsrooms. Before joining Rebuild Local News, Brugmann was a local-government, schools and nonprofits reporter at the Sarasota Observer in Florida, covered heath care for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri, and taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania. She's also researched audience trust and taught media literacy to high-school students.

Lynne Campbell is publisher of the Community News Brief, a thrice-weekly publication in Macomb, Illinois, where she worked for a locally owned paper that was bought by GateHouse Media. She eventually became regional publisher of 26 Illinois papers, but disliked the direction of the company, and bought her own paper and started one. In 2017 she started the Community News Brief, which employs several former employees of the former Gannett/GateHouse paper as correspondents. The paper, once free-circulation, is now for subscribers two days a week and has a free midweek edition.

Melissa Cassutt is the rural-media manager for the Solutions Journalism Network. She works with rural-serving news outlets across the country, building new relationships and supporting solutions-journalism practice. She joined SJN in 2021 after working as a journalist and editor at publications across the Mountain West, most recently in Jackson, Wyoming, where she is based. She was named the 2016 Wyoming Press Association’s Young Journalist of the Year and received the Wyoming Woman of Influence Award in Media and Communications in 2019.

Ryan Craig is the student media adviser at the University of Kentucky, and publisher of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, Ky., which ceased printing at the end of 2022 but remains active on Facebook. The Standard was judged the best small weekly newspaper in Kentucky for 11 years out of 12, winning the General Excellence award from the Kentucky Press Association. Craig was KPA president, and he and his late uncle Larry Craig won the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians from the Institute for Rural Journalism and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and extension professor in UK's School of Journalism and Media. In that job, he is editor and publisher of The Rural Blog and Kentucky Health News. He was a weekly newspaper editor and manager before working for 26 years as a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the last 15½ as chief political writer. In 2001-02 he was president of the Society of Professional Journalists, which awarded him its Wells Key, the highest award for service to the organization.

Christopher Drew leads the experential-journalism curriculum, including the statehouse bureau, at Louisiana State University, where he is the Fred Jones Greer Jr. endowed chair in journalism. He was an investigative reporter for The New York Times for 22 years, and before that reported for The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He received two awards for national reporting from the White House Correspondents’ Association and won a George Polk Award with other Times journalists and is the author of Blind Man’s Bluff, a best-seller about Cold War submarine spying, and co-author with ocean explorer Robert Ballard of Into the Deep: A Memoir From the Man Who Found Titanic.

Jeremy Gulban
is CEO of CherryRoad Media and its parent firm, CherryRoad Technologies, an enterprise system integrator, internet service provider and FCC-registered telecommunications provider. In 2020, sensing a need for an infusion of technology tools and knowhow into the community newspaper industry, he launched CherryRoad Media, which has newspapers in 70 markets, largely through purchase of former Gannett Co. newspapers. The papers are in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Utah, Idaho and Alabama.

Benjy Hamm
will become director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and associate extension professor in the School of Journalism and Media, part of the College of Communication and Information, on Aug. 16. He has held leadership positions for nearly 30 years in news-media organizations including Landmark Media Enterprises, the New York Times Co. and The Associated Press. He led the news operations of more than 70 newspapers, online sites and college-sports publications for Landmark Community Newspapers, one of the nation’s leading community-news publishers before it was sold two years ago. He was managing editor of The Herald-Journal, then a New York Times paper in Spartanburg, S.C. For the last four years, he has taught journalism at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. 

Duc Luu is a journalism officer at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a longstanding leader in philanthropy for journalism. He is director of sustainability initiatives of the foundation's Journalism Program. He is a business development and operational leader with more than a decade of experience across media and research organizations. Prior to joining Knight, he was publisher and chief revenue officer for Washington City Paper, a local news leader for the Washington, D.C. area. He has also served in business development and new product innovation roles at The Economist and Foreign Policy magazines.
Tim Marema of Norris, Tennessee, is editor of The Daily Yonder and vice president and founding staff member of its parent organization, the Center for Rural Strategies. The Yonder is a nonprofit media platform that produces news, commentary, and analysis about and for rural America, including text and photo features, a weekly commercial radio newscast, occasional video documentaries, and collaborations and co-publishing with nonprofit news sites around the country. Marema began his journalism career at his hometown weekly in Berea, Kentucky, and worked in daily newspapers in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.

Nick Mathews is assistant professor of journalism at the University of Missouri. He has been sports editor of the Houston Chronicle and regional editor for Berkshire Hathaway in Virginia. His research interests focus on local news, rural media environments, rural broadband, news audiences and social media and its role in journalism and society. His research has appeared in top journals. He is co-author of a forthcoming book with Teri Finneman and Patrick Ferrucci, Reviving Rural News: Transforming the Business Model of Community Journalism in the U.S. and Beyond, and is author of another book under consideration, about living with the loss of local news.

Zach Metzger is the senior researcher and database manager for the State of Local News Project at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The project researches the ecosystem and impact of local news organizations, and its data have been widely used. Working with Local News Initiative Director and Senior Associate Dean Tim Franklin, and Professor Penelope Muse Abernathy, Metzger has studied local news and the emergence of news deserts for the past three years. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he first became involved with this research.

Ross McDuffie is chief portfolio officer of the National Trust for Local News, overseeing the titles owned and operated by the Trust through its state-level trusts for local news. He drives national and state-level strategy to ensure the Trust delivers its mission, reaches its desired impact, and meets its commitments to readers, partners, and stakeholders. Before joining the Trust, he was president of Madison Media Partners, a Wisconsin subsidiary of Lee Enterprises, and before that spent over a decade at The McClatchy Co. in a variety of executive leadership roles.

Alan Miller
is a faculty member at Denison University, where he has taught for 24 years and is among the faculty editors of a community news service staffed by students. For seven years, he was executive editor of the Columbus Dispatch and regional editor for the 21 USA Today Network newspapers in Ohio. He has been president of the Associated Press Media Editors association and its foundation, and is on the advisory board of the journalism school at Ohio University, his alma mater. In his spare time, he mends fences, cuts hay and picks apples at his family’s Ohio Amish country farm, which has been in his family for about 200 years.

Bonita Robertson-Hardy
is co-executive dirctor of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, a 38-year-old nonprofit committed to equitable prosperity in rural areas, with an interest in high-quality journalism's role as a community builder. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Robertson was director of workforce initiatives and civic leadership for the Greater New Orleans Foundation. A native of New Orleans, she has a law degree and a bachelor's degree in health-care management.

Alana Rocha
leads the Institute for Nonprofit News’s Rural News Network, its most ambitious collaboration to date. As editor, Alana works with 70 member outlets in 46 states to guide and amplify coverage of remote areas. Alana joined INN after 20 years as a news and politics reporter in Florida, Kansas and Texas. Most recently, she worked for The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization based in Austin, directing news partnerships and producing award-winning multimedia journalism in English and in Spanish.

Jack Rooney is managing editor for audience development at The Keene Sentinel. he works at the intersection of the newsroom and the daily's efforts to grow digital audiences and serve more diverse communities. He began his career at The Daily Record in Wooster, Ohio, and came to The Sentinel in May 2020 as an education reporter, rising to become deputy local news editor before taking on his current role in February. His journalism has won awards for community service and audience-building and been recognized by the New England Newspaper & Press Association as among "very best work that New England newspapers produce."

Lillian Ruiz is a social entrepreneur working at the intersection of information, social impact and civic infrastructure. As founder of Ci-X Strategies, she develops and implements business strategies and programs that provide complex stakeholder groups with responsive solutions that improve the lives of their communities. Her work focuses on developing a thriving public square that communicates harmony, resilience and cohesion. Ruiz was co-founder and COO at the National Trust for Local News, Civil Media and Civil Foundation. She is vice chair of the Tiny News Collective and on the advisory board of the Legal Clinic Fund for Local News.

Patrick Schless
is the CEO and chief technical officer of The Community Journalism Project of Lewis County Press, a company that owns community newspapers. He builds simple-to-use newspaper automation solutions which the company says allows local staff to focus on content and community, rather than complicated tools. His focus is on strengthening print products while growing digital engagement and revenue, and has been working in the field since 2015.

Mary Steurer
is a local-government reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune and a partner in the Solutions Journalism Network. A native of St. Louis, she started at the Star-Tribune in the fall of 2021. She began reporting on housing that winter, when surging housing prices and low inventory were hitting many Wyoming communities for the very first time. Her housing reporting earned top honors from the Top of the Rockies competition and the Wyoming Press Association.

Debra Tobin
is publisher of the Logan-Hocking Times in Logan, Ohio, founded at her dining room table during the pandemic. It's a digital startup competing with the local daily, where she worked off and on for many years. It was soon successful, and she has expanded it to include a free weekly print edition for people who don't have or don't want internet service, don't want to subscribe, or just prefer to read their news in print. She worked for newspapers in California in the 1970s, and in the '90s in Idaho, where she started her first newspaper. She also started one in Nevada in the late '90s.

Richard Watts
is director of the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont. He has a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's degree in newspaper journalism and a Ph.D. in natural resource planning. A member of the geography faculty at the university, he saw how students could fill gaps in local news coverage and created a program for it. Now he directs the Center for Community News, a Knight Foundation-funded effort to connect and help other such programs.

David Woronoff
is president and publisher of The Pilot in Southern Pines, N.C., which was named the best community newspaper in the nation in 2002 and 2007 by the Inland Press Association and in 2015, 2016 and 2017 by the National Newspaper Association. It has transformed from a twice-weekly into a statewide media company during David’s 28 years at the helm. It publishes five regional magazines and a telephone directory, and has an advertising agency and a bookstore.He was director of business development for Business North Carolina,and a reporter at the Anniston Star and the Greenville News. His newspaper career began at The News & Observer.
Joey and Lindsey Young
are the majority owners of Kansas Publishing Ventures, which has three weekly newspapers in south-central Kansas. They have been participating in a research study looking at alternative revenue streams using events, e-newsletters, and memberships over the past year. They have called the new venture "Press Club." Meanwhile, they developed a popular training platform, "Earn Your Press Pass," to help publishers open up who they recruit into their newsrooms and hopefully make it easier to fill positions. The program is being implemented in 18 states.

Richard Young
 is the founder and Executive Director of CivicLex, a civic-health and media organization recognized as a solution for rebuilding American Democracy for the 21st Century by the Library of Congress and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He is a longtime steering-committee member and steward for the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, widely recognized as the model place-based framework in the U.S. for bringing together rural and urban communities to understand their interdependence.

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