The following on rural reporting appeared in the October NFCB newsletter.

Earlier in the year, Pew Research investigated the differences in experiences of Americans in urban and rural areas. A stark finding was that nearly two-thirds of those in rural and urban areas (70 percent and 65 percent, respectively) say people who don’t live there don’t understand the types of problems they face. It’s the kind of result that feels very 2018: we have differences and the other side just doesn’t get it. Here, radio stations (for which listenership remains strong) can play a pivotal role in building bridges.

How might your station wade into this sensitive time to examine the real world in rural America?

A few topics and case studies worth exploring on this subject include:

  • Sarah Smarsh recently reflected on how media can improve coverage of rural areas. Her suggestions include avoiding oversimplification of experiences, coming with preconceived notions, and reporting in ways that play to personal biases. Possible topics to explore locally? Food and civic apathy rank high on the list.
  • Also of interest when your station is covering rural communities, according to Education Week, is school desegregation. “[O]ne of the priorities for Obama education officials was highlighting the benefits of integration and the potential harm of racially isolated schools. That was particularly true under U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., whose tenure lasted a little less than a year… In 2016, for example, the Government Accountability Office reported that racial as well as economic isolation in schools was increasing—in effect, the analysis found that a major resegregation of American schools was underway.”
  • Internet access remains a fertile place for your station to report from. Columbia Journalism Review notes this issue is far greater than whether people can watch Netflix or get on Facebook, but is instead one of equal opportunity. “The cost of being disconnected is the highest it’s ever been,” says Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation, mentions. “Connectivity means access to healthcare, education, job creation, and everything. Broadband has to be there to ensure the virility and sustainability of the community. Previously, the vitality of America was based on infrastructure—roads and highways. Now it’s broadband infrastructure. If people can’t access reliable internet in an affordable way, they will be relegated to industries that are stagnating. Or they will move.”
  • Australia is tracking a matter, according to the New York Times, that many American communities may also be experiencing: the move of immigrants out into rural areas. Like U.S. towns, rural Australia is experiencing towns aging and eventually dying out. Immigrants are moving there for affordable housing, as well as to create businesses and job opportunities. Is your state experiencing a growth of immigrant residents in particular counties? This story may be worth looking at where you are.
  • Engaged journalism is a model you may wish to look into. As Gathernotes, connecting with people for more involved discussions on social media and in person can offer strong storytelling and offer solutions. “At a time when our personalized news feeds reinforce narratives of a divided nation — red vs. blue, urban vs. rural — an exercise in parsing traits of large urban papers and small local papers feels unproductive. Engaged journalism’s legacy may ultimately be a needed course-correction from the manufacturing of cheap stories with broad, shallow appeal toward something that more honestly resembles local journalism and beat reporting.”
  • If you are wondering how community media can serve rural areas, take inspiration from community radio in South Africa, which is working with various tech to serve disenfranchised regions. “You can’t bridge mainstream to community media when the community doesn’t have the ability to present their reporting.”
  • Capital Public Radio is using “radical hospitality” to bring neighborhoods together to talk about soaring costs in their city of Sacramento. How expensive? The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was creeping up on $2,000 per month. That is nearly 10 percent higher than the year before. The station uses Story Circles to get people talking. “Story Circles are facilitated discussions that bring people from different backgrounds together to have conversations about specific issues affecting the community. Capital Public Radio held Story Circles in neighborhoods around the city. They aimed for lower income communities. The partner community group invited half of the attendees and the station invited the other half. They also saved a handful for groups that required special outreach, such as youth leaders, developers, or city officials.”

NFCB looks forward to hosting conversations on rural journalism and more at the 2019 Community Media Conference. You can follow us at nfcb.org/conference for updates.