Independent websites work as a team to promote rural journalism

Independent websites work as a team to promote rural journalism

New York Several independent websites are joining forces to create a network of news around rural America, hoping to fill the void that has arisen in regions hard hit by the shrinking media industry in the past two decades.

Early next year, the Rural News Network will begin collaborating on the economic problems of indigenous communities, and water and equity issues in the western United States.

The network is organized by the nonprofit News Institute, an organization that represents about 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 specific communities or neighborhoods.

Over 60 websites covering rural issues or specific rural areas. Sue Cross, CEO and CEO of INN, said the institute saw a number of them covering similar issues, and believed that by working together, they could produce more powerful and impactful journalism.

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Connected to their communities and issues, these member news sites have an expertise that outsiders usually can’t match, said Bridget Thorison, Collaboration Editor at INN.

“This kind of work is the antidote to parachute journalism,” Thorison said.

The Daily Yonder, a Kentucky-based site that covers rural news from a national perspective, will run the rural news network with Investigate Midwest, a site primarily focused on agricultural issues headquartered in Champaign, Illinois.

There is no rural news network website, although this is under consideration. Members over the age of 60 will use the work on their individual sites, and INN will link to it on their own.

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

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

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Large swathes of rural America have been transformed into news “deserts” with the economic failure of many local newspapers, and some members of the INN have come to life in response. Broadband access in rural America, which is expected to be boosted by recently passed federal infrastructure legislation, is an issue these sites must cover when they are introduced, and an opportunity to increase their visibility.

Maremma said the impact of the pandemic on rural health care and the economy, along with housing, have been issues that many of the network’s independent sites are pursuing. Epidemiological work-at-home policies have led to migration to rural areas so that “home sales are soaring anywhere with beautiful scenery,” he said.

INN helps direct the Foundation’s funding for many of its members. A $114,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation is directed to the Indigenous Project, while the California-based Water Foundation is providing a $30,000 grant for Water and Equity Reports.

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

“We don’t have an editorial office,” she said. “But we are in a good position to organize the collaborations.”

Many independent websites have agreements with more established publications to distribute some of their work. Cross said that high-profile projects in which many journalists are involved should be of great interest to these partners.

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