Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab explores rural culture, issues and more
March 28, 2017 by Blandin Foundation
In the aftermath of the election, rural America has been thrust into the spotlight of our national narrative. As leaders — national, state and local — look to strengthen American communities, many acknowledge that deeper learning and understanding between urban and rural people needs to occur before we can progress.
News outlets have stepped in to help illuminate opportunities for rural/urban understanding. Last week, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab published an interview featuring Tim Marema, editor of The Daily Yonder, an online news source covering rural life. The interview covers a number of worthwhile topics including rural’s definition, culture, critical issues and more. If you can, spend the time to read the full article. We’ve included highlights below.
Rural and urban are completely interdependent; how urban America does directly affects rural America. I think the opposite is also true, though not always as well understood, that when rural communities do well, cities do better, too. There’s an interrelationship and a back-and-forth.
The first thing that makes rural distinct is the scale of the population. It’s possible to know everybody who lives in your town. It’s possible to have three generations of kids go through the same school and be taught by the same teacher. It’s possible to go to church with the guy who fixes your teeth and the mechanic and the mayor. There are multiple layers of interconnection…
But our reporting on jobs showed over and over again that rural communities were facing a different economic reality than large cities. The current wisdom is that this economic difference had something to do with the election results.
The story about the rural vote is much more complicated than the rural-versus-urban split in American politics. Our argument has been that when candidates figure out how to speak to rural audiences and when they engage with rural voters, parts of the suburbs are [also] going to respond to that. That’s what I mean about rural as a culture: It’s important, culturally, to pay attention, to be perceived as supportive of rural areas and to just engage. To show up.
And if you want rural people to agree, bring up the issue of broadband. It’s a universal agenda item for any rural place I’ve ever been, and so we do a fair amount of reporting on it. We’ve done a lot on broadband. One thing we’ve done there is work with scholars who’ve done research that’s been helpful to rural broadband advocates. We commissioned research on the economic impact of broadband in rural areas, for example, and then helped spread the findings. We’ve profiled innovative internet service providers. We’ve helped people representing rural areas get their concerns to a wider audience, including policy makers.
We’re talking about folks who are living with dialup. Teachers who can’t turn in their grades, students who can’t get their homework done, nonprofits that can’t submit a grant proposal because their network keeps timing out before the application transfers. And we’ve backed up those stories with data, so those individual stories can’t be dismissed as aberrations.
Weekly newspapers are still really important in small towns, as are local radio stations. Practically every county has at least one paper. I don’t have any numbers on how many have gone out of business. I would not be surprised if by some measurements they may be doing better than large regionals, because their market never got beyond the county line. The big metros have sort of retrenched back into their core urban areas and a lot of weeklies never expanded to begin with, so they’re not losing ground in that sense. They’ve got more of a monopoly on the truly local moves, and the pullback by larger media from rural areas makes the local paper more valuable to readers.
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