Thursday, December 2, 2021

Independent websites team up to promote rural journalism

NEW YORK (AP). Several independent websites are joining forces to create a rural America news network, hoping to fill the void left in areas hit hard by the shrinking media industry of the past two decades.

The Rural News Network will launch early next year with collaboration on indigenous economic issues and water and justice issues in the western United States.

The network is hosted by the Institute for Nonprofit News, an organization that represents about 350 independent news sites across the country. Participants range from well-known research sites like ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity, to some that focus on specific communities or areas.

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

“Because they are connected to their communities and concerns, these participating news sites have experiences that outsiders usually cannot match,” said Bridget Toreson, editor of INN’s collaboration.

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

The Daily Yonder, a Kentucky-based country news site from a national perspective, will operate the Country News Network in conjunction with Investigate Midwest, a primarily agricultural site based in Champaign, Illinois.

There is no Rural News Network website, although it is pending. Over 60 contributors will use this work on their separate sites, and INN will link to it themselves.

Tim Marema, editor of The Daily Yonder, looks forward to the additional hands that the collaboration can bring.

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“We are a mission-driven organization,” he said. “If you could make a profit doing it, someone else would have done it a long time ago.”

Vast swaths of rural America have been turned into a news desert by the economic collapse of many local newspapers, and some INN members have revived in response. Broadband in America’s rural areas, which is expected to be strengthened by recently passed federal infrastructure legislation, is both a challenge for these sites as they roll out and an opportunity to increase their visibility.

The impact of the pandemic on rural health and the economy, as well as housing, has been issues followed by many independent sites on the web, Marema said. The work-from-home policy pandemic has driven migration to rural areas, so that “everywhere with beautiful scenery, home sales have skyrocketed,” he said.

INN helps channel funding for the foundation to many of its members. A $ 114,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation goes to an Indigenous project, while the California Water Foundation is providing a $ 30,000 grant for water and equity accountability.

Cross said that INN has been in existence for 12 years and the number of its members is growing rapidly.

“We don’t have a timeline,” she said. “But we have good opportunities for organizing cooperation.”

Many independent websites have agreements with more established publications to distribute some of their work. According to Cross, high-profile projects involving many journalists should interest these partners.

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