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What We Do

National Summit on Journalism in Rural America


The Institute’s focus is to help sustain journalism in rural communities, through information, expertise, training, outreach and other programs.

The Institute helps non-metropolitan journalists define the public agenda for their communities and grasp the local impact of broader issues. We interpret rural issues for metro news media, conduct seminars and publish research and good examples of rural journalism.

We help journalists all over America learn about rural issues, trends and events in areas they’ve never seen but have much in common with their own. We help rural journalists to understand how to exercise editorial leadership in small markets.

The Institute is based at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, though our mission is national and transcends state and regional borders.


Benhy Hamm Headshot 23

A letter from Benjy Hamm: On moving forward and the Institute’s evolving purpose

The media world has changed significantly since Al Cross began serving as the first director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in 2004.

But even then, Al and other founders of the Institute understood the critical importance of supporting journalists in rural communities so they could provide quality coverage for readers, listeners and viewers. In many ways, the Institute’s founders were ahead of the times in their commitment to support quality rural journalism.

Since 2004, many rural communities have become news deserts while surviving news organizations have struggled to remain profitable and retain their audiences. The loss of thousands of journalists has been alarming and disheartening.

The financial difficulties and audience changes are not exclusive to newspapers. Cable and satellite TV subscriptions continue to plunge due to cord-cutting. Numerous online news organizations have laid off employees because they can’t make a profit. And almost every form of media is having to respond to an upheaval in a business model that had worked so well for decades.

When any local business declines or cuts staff, it can hurt the community. But the loss of journalists and news coverage in rural areas creates even deeper problems. It can result in less-informed residents, a decline in government transparency and responsiveness, and a void in trusted news that could be replaced by rumors and falsehoods.

That’s why journalists and trusted news organizations are more important now than ever. And that’s also why the Institute’s role in supporting journalism is more important now than even in 2004.

The Institute has a wide reach – as organizer and host for the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, as a resource for journalists across the country needing advice and expertise on a variety of issues, and as publisher of The Rural Blog and Kentucky Health News.

But the Institute is evolving as the needs of the journalists and news organizations it serves change. In a recent column, Al wrote about how the Institute has added to its mission the goal of sustaining rural journalism. As Al described it, “That means not just helping rural newspapers survive, but helping communities sustain local journalism that supports democracy.”

It’s a goal both simply stated and yet extraordinarily complex.

But sustaining local journalism is not only important for journalists and news organizations; it’s crucial to building stronger rural communities and a stronger United States. Often, the local newspaper is the only news organization in rural communities with reporters who cover local government, education or health news.

The mission of sustaining quality journalism is a high calling. At the Institute, we want to help professional and student journalists who are working hard to keep their communities informed about important news and issues.

We’re also exploring ways the Institute can grow and change as it builds on its 20-year foundation.

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