Independent websites team up to boost rural journalism

Several independent websites are joining forces to create a network for news about rural America, hoping to fill a void in areas hit hard by the shrinking media industry of the past two decades

Several independent websites are joining forces to create a network for news about rural America hoping to fill a void created in areas hit hard by the shrinking media industry of the past two decades.

The Rural News Network will begin early next year with collaborations on the economic problems of indigenous communities, and water and equity issues in the western U.S.

The network is being organized by the Institute for Nonprofit News, an organization that represents some 350 independent news sites across the country. Members range from well-known investigative sites like ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity to some that focus on particular communities or neighborhoods.

More than 60 sites cover rural issues or specific rural areas. The institute has seen how many of them are covering similar issues, and thought that by working together, they could produce more powerful, impactful journalism, said Sue Cross, INN executive director and CEO

Because they are wired into their communities and issues, these member news sites have an expertise that outsiders usually can't match, said Bridget Thoreson, INN's collaborations editor.

“This type of work is the antidote to parachute journalism,” Thoreson said.

The Daily Yonder, a Kentucky-based site that covers rural news from a national perspective, will run the Rural News Network together with Investigate Midwest, a site that focuses primarily on agricultural issues and is based in Champaign, Illinois

There's no Rural News Network website, although that is under consideration. The 60-plus members will use the work on their individual sites, and INN will link to it on its own.

Tim Marema, editor of The Daily Yonder, is looking forward to the extra hands that collaborations can bring.

“We're a mission-driven organization,” he said. “If you could make a profit doing this, somebody else would have been doing this a long time ago.”

Vast swaths of rural America have become news “deserts” with the economic failure of many local newspapers, and some of INN's members have sprung to life in response to this. Broadband access in rural America, which is expected to be boosted by the recently-passed federal infrastructure legislation, is both an issue for these sites to cover as it rolls out, and an opportunity to increase their visibility.

The pandemic's impact on rural health care and the economy, along with housing, have been issues that many of the independent sites in the network have been following, Marema said. Pandemic work-at-home policies have led to a migration to rural areas so that “anyplace with beautiful scenery, house sales have gone way up,” he said.

INN helps direct foundation funding to many of its members. A $114,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation is being directed to the indigenous project, while the California-based Water Foundation is providing a $30,000 grant for the water and equity reporting.

INN is in its 12th year, and has seen a rapid increase in its membership, Cross said.

“We don’t have an editing desk,” she said. “But we’re in a good position to organize collaborations.”

Many of the independent websites have agreements with more established publications to distribute some of their work. High profile projects involving many journalists should be of great interest to these partners, Cross said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in