Meet the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism

Al Cross
AL CROSS is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which helps rural news media define the public agenda in their communities and report on broader issues that have local impact but few local sources. The Institute is based in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Media, where Cross is a full professor in the Extension Title series, meaning that most of his work is directed off campus.

As director, Cross is editor and publisher of Kentucky Health News, which covers health in a state with poor health status; and The Rural Blog, a daily digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, at The Institute’s website is From 2008 to 2022, he was editor and publisher of the Midway Messenger, a mostly online newspaper that he and his Community Journalism students produced for a small town.

Cross helped organize the Institute, which has academic partners at 25 universities in 17 states. He became its director in 2004, after more than 26 years as a reporter at the Courier Journal, the last 15½ as chief political writer. He writes a political column about twice a month for the Louisville newspaper and is a political commentator for Kentucky Educational Television.

His awards include the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame (2010), the James Madison First Amendment Award of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at UK (2015), the media awards of the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation (2006) and the Kentucky Psychological Association (2013), and a share of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize won by The Courier-Journal staff for coverage of the nation’s deadliest bus and drunk-driving crash. He shared an investigative reporting award in the Southern Journalism Awards for a 1987 series on surface mining, including some of the first comprehensive stories on mountaintop-removal mining.

In 2011 he received the Wells Key, the top honor of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s oldest, broadest and largest journalism organization. He was national SPJ president in 2001-02, and has received awards for his work from SPJ’s Louisville Chapter. He is secretary of the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, a non-profit, non-partisan organization.

He is often quoted nationally on Kentucky politics and has appeared on PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” and other television programs. He authored the Kentucky Encyclopedia article on Gov. Wallace Wilkinson, was a major contributor to the second edition of Kentucky’s Governors, and is the author of “Stop Overlooking Us: Missed Intersections of Trump, Media, and Rural America,” in The Trump Presidency, Journalism and Democracy (Routledge, 2018) and "The Trump Effect on Rural Communities and Their Newspapers" in The Future of the Presidency, Journalism and Democracy (Routlegde, 2022). He and his brother David, an Albany attorney, co-authored “Republican Redoubt: The Politics of Kentucky’s Upper Cumberland,” a chapter in People of the Upper Cumberland (University of Tennessee Press, 2015).

Cross is a graduate of Western Kentucky University. He wrote for the Clinton County News and was an announcer at WANY in Albany, starting at age 13. He was editor of The Reporter in Monticello in 1975; assistant managing editor of The Logan Leader and The News-Democrat at Russellville in 1975-77; and editor of the Leitchfield Gazette and the Grayson County News-Gazette in 1977-78. He established the Courier Journal’s Somerset bureau in May 1978, moving with it to Bardstown in 1979, when it became the Central Kentucky Bureau. He covered legislative sessions from 1980 to 2004. In Louisville in 1984-86, he covered education, transportation and politics. He joined The C-J's Frankfort Bureau in 1987 and became political writer in 1989.

He is married to Patti Hodges Cross, a Grayson County native and independent designer/editor of publications. They live in a 1907 home in historic South Frankfort, near the state Capitol, with their West Highland White Terrier, Henry.

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