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A 20-Year Foundation

2000: The concept of the Institute was suggested by Rudy Abramson, author and former White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He shared his idea with Al Smith, producer of Kentucky Educational Television's "Comment on Kentucky," who owned a small chain of rural weeklies and was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission in the Carter and Reagan administrations. Smith and Al Cross, then political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier Journal, advanced the concept in lectures at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. They formed an ad hoc committee and approached the University of Kentucky for support.

2001: UK and the committee received a Sigma Delta Chi Foundation grant of $25,000 and an Appalachian Regional Commission grant of $30,000 for research to gather data on the need for a proposed Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, to be based at UK and work with other institutions in a pilot study area, Central Appalachia. 

The grants funded quantitative and qualitative research and supported four conferences, in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky to collect anecdotal and quantitative information on rural issues and the press. 

2004: UK received the major grant for the Institute, from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant of $250,000 allowed UK to hire its first director, Cross, and two part-time staff members.

The Institute began The Rural Blog, which features events trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America.

2005: The Tom and Pat Gish Award was created and awarded to its namesake couple for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism.

The Institute hosted its first conference at UK, which featured a dozen journalists from five states discussing their personal challenges in producing newspapers in small communities and the major recurring socio-economic issues they confront. 

2006: The Institute, the Kentucky Press Association and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence sponsored a workshop on improving local education coverage, attracting reporters from about 15 media outlets.

2007: The Institute held its first National Summit on Journalism in Rural America. The Institute published its first survey of training backgrounds and needs at rural newspapers in the United States.

2008: The Institute and the Society of Environmental Journalists co-sponsored “Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America.” 

2011: The first Al Smith Award for public service through rural or community journalism by a Kentuckian was presented to its namesake, Albert P. Smith Jr. The award was sponsored by the Institute for Rural Journalism and the Bluegrass Chapter (KY) of the Society of Professional Journalists.

2022: The Institute held its second National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, which focused on answering one question: How do rural communities sustain local journalism that supports local democracy?

2023: Benjamin R. “Benjy” Hamm succeeded Cross as the Institute’s director. Cross becomes part-time director emeritus and remains extension professor in the journalism school.

The Institute held its third National Summit on Journalism in Rural America.

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