May 10, 2023
Rural Americans are among the most impacted by the decline of traditional newspapers. Even where news outlets still exist, their coverage may not reflect the diversity of rural populations today or go deep into the issues that disproportionately affect rural regions, such as climate change, access to health care, and the economics of Indigenous communities.
Thanks to dedicated grants from the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, and generous general operating and series support from other funders, the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) is expanding support for editorial collaborations across rural America through its Rural News Network (RNN).
RNN began as a pilot project in 2021 as INN’s first sustained editorial collaboration consortium. Today, INN is launching RuralNewsNetwork.org, a website featuring RNN’s collaborative series as well as outstanding daily stories pulled from its 68 participating newsrooms operating across 46 states — a subset of the 400+ members of the INN Network.
Together, these newsrooms seek to redefine current mainstream narratives of the lived experiences of the 46 million people who live in rural areas, a quarter of whom identify as people of color. To date, the consortium has produced five collaborative series centering rural voices, hired a dedicated editor, Alana Rocha, invested $300,000 in local newsrooms, and facilitated republication of the series in more than 100 news outlets, including major national publications like The New York Times.
“The MacArthur Foundation has a long history of supporting storytelling told by and for local communities to spark change and deeper understanding,” said Michael Harvey, a program officer at the foundation. “RNN members are critical in the effort to redefine the news ecosystem locally and nationally. This new platform is an important step to shining a light on the nuances of rural communities, adding a vital but often underheard voice to the national discourse through trustworthy and sustained reporting.”
RuralNewsNetwork.org will offer different experiences for different audiences. For news consumers, the website allows them to sort stories by state and topic — such as environment or education — and to find news outlets that address their interests.
For news publishers, the site curates high quality news stories they can reference or, in most cases, republish for free on their own website. The ability to find and republish rural news stories is also provided by Rural Newswire, which INN members Grist and Daily Yonder recently launched alongside RNN.
The benefit of RuralNewsNetwork.org for philanthropists is that it allows them to research nonprofit news outlets covering rural issues, filtering not only by location and topic but by criteria that match their funding priorities, such as coverage area (health or water) and audience size (local or statewide).
Newsrooms participating in RNN include national outlets like ICT (formerly Indian Country Today), Open Campus and Capital B, statewide newsrooms like CalMatters and The Maine Monitor, and local startups including Cardinal News and Door County Knock.
“It’s exciting to be able to bring larger newsrooms together with smaller ones who may have a great story but lack the resources to pursue it,” said Alana Rocha, who oversees RNN collaborations and curates stories on the RuralNewsNetwork.org website. “Through our behind-the-scenes collaboration and, now, with this website, more stories will get written and more people will understand the realities of life in rural America today.”
To get biweekly updates about RNN and a selection of top stories, subscribe to the Rural News Spotlight newsletter. For inquiries on how to partner with or support this initiative or other RNN efforts, please contact Alana Rocha at email@example.com.Back to top