Independent sites team up to boost rural journalism

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

The Rural News Network will begin early next year with collaborations on economic issues in Indigenous communities, and water and equity issues in the western United States

The network is 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 saw how many of them cover similar issues and thought that by working together they could produce more powerful and impactful journalism, said Sue Cross, INN’s executive director and CEO.

Because they’re connected to their communities and issues, these member news sites have expertise 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 manage the Rural News Network along with Investigate Midwest, a site that focuses primarily on agricultural issues and is based in Champaign, Illinois. ‘Illinois.

There is no Rural News Network website, although this is under consideration. The 60+ members will use the work on their individual sites, and INN will itself link to it.

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

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

Large swathes of rural America have become information “wildernesses” with the economic failure of many local newspapers, and some of INN’s membership has sprung up in response to this. Broadband access in rural America, which is expected to be boosted by 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 impact of the pandemic on rural health care and the economy, as well as housing, has been an issue that many independent sites in the network have been tracking, Marema said. Pandemic work-from-home policies have led to migration to rural areas so “anywhere with beautiful scenery, home sales have increased,” he said.

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

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

“We don’t have an editorial office,” she said. “But we are well placed to organize collaborations.

Many freelance 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.