Community Journalism

Ideas and resources for localizing important stories

The Rural Blog has had a big basket of interesting and useful stories recently. Let’s see how many we can cram into one column.

How much does a renter need to earn in your county to afford a two-bedroom apartment there? The national average is $20.30 an hour. The Washington Post broke it down by county (well, for most counties) and you can find your county here.

What are critical access hospitals? Where are they? Which ones have closed? North Carolina Health News reported on a study of them and published a map showing their 1,284 locations. The Daily Yonder picked it up and added a map showing those that had closed. You can find Texas closures here.

Is your county among the 220 in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems most at risk of an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis from IV drug use? The Wall Street Journal did a map.

One of our health advisers says that if a problem is in a community, so is the solution. Clinton County, Kentucky, is an example of a place that is tackling child obesity head-on. Kentucky Educational Television did a story.

The biggest health problem in America is smoking, but few people on Medicaid take advantage of smoking-cessation programs, especially in the South. States have county-by-county figures on this so you can localize the story. You can find those figures here.

For urban Americans, the most common image of rural America is agriculture. But the number of counties dependent on farming dropped 13 percent in the last decade, and the number dependent on energy production rose by 60 percent. The Agriculture Department produced maps showing the changes and what counties are dependent on farming, energy, manufacturing and recreation.

USDA also reported that rural areas received only 6 to 7 percent of private foundation grants awarded from 2005 to 2010, prompting renewed calls for more rural philanthropy. Read about it here.

Also from USDA came a report that the population loss in rural and small-town America appears to be ending, as confidence in the economy improves and rural people have more children. Here’s the report.

However, the “digital divide” between rural and urban America’s internet service persists, as the standard for broadband gets faster. Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University wrote about it for USA Today.

In the Upper Midwest, an area where many counties have lost population, the University of Nebraska has a program to help communities better market themselves online. Read about it here.

Only a third of U.S. public railroad crossings have flashing lights, and they are especially scarce in rural areas, where some crossings don’t have arms and drivers are pretty much on their own. Stateline did the story and we picked it up here.

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to discourage its adherents to not display the Confederate battle flag. It makes you wonder how many SBC churches will tell their members about it, and how many local newspapers will report it. Our story is here.

The Rural Blog usually relies on traditional media sources, not those that advocate, but every now and then an advocacy publication does a good reporting job on an issue that needs explaining. Such was the case with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State about continued politicking from the pulpit, in defiance of a 1954 law that denies charitable tax exemptions to such churches. We added a link to the other side of the story.

Much of our recent coverage has been about newspapers and their role in democracy.

Editor and Publisher examined how some rural newspapers have remained successful and relevant:

The Press-Sentinel of Jesup, Georgia, is leading a crusade to stop a local landfill from being expanded to accept coal ash:

The Lebanon (Ky.) Enterprise published the names of people who signed a petition opposing a new school tax, and defended its move in an editorial:

Far out on Long Island, the “tough-minded but fair” East Hampton Star perseveres in the face of online raiders who “slow dance” with advertisers:

Each week, The Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire, runs a feature obituary of someone with local ties:

Longtime editor and reporter Steve Buttry, now at Louisiana State University, offered advice on how to get local stories from national stories:

Our best-read story about newspapers recently was on the essay contest that our friend Ross Connelly, publisher of The Hardwick (Vt.) Gazette, is using to sell the weekly newspaper after failing to find a buyer: We wish him well.



By Al Cross

Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky. See

A print-only version of this blogpost ran originally in Publisher’s Auxiliary. It is used by permission of Pub Aux and the National Newspaper Association.