Hamm to become director of Institute for Rural Journalism Aug. 16 as founding director Cross enters semi-retirement

Jul 1, 2023


The University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is dedicated to helping sustain local journalism in rural America, will have a new director on Aug. 16.

He is Benjamin R. “Benjy” Hamm, who has held leadership positions for nearly 30 years in news-media organizations including Landmark Media Enterprises, the New York Times Co. and The Associated Press. For the last four years, he has taught journalism at Campbellsville University in Kentucky.

Hamm will be associate extension professor in UK’s School of Journalism and Media, part of the College of Communication and Information. He will succeed the Institute’s founding director, Al Cross, who will become part-time director emeritus and remain extension professor in the journalism school.

“I could not think of a better successor than Benjy Hamm,” Cross said. “His career has given him a deep, broad understanding of rural journalism and its challenges, and I look forward to working with him to help rural communities sustain local journalism that serves democracy.”

Hamm led the news operations of more than 70 newspapers, online sites and college-sports publications for Landmark Community Newspapers of Shelbyville, Kentucky, one of the nation’s leading community-news publishers before it was sold two years ago.

Previously, he was managing editor of The Herald-Journal, then a New York Times paper in Spartanburg, South Carolina; editor of the thrice-weekly Lancaster (South Carolina) News, and an AP reporter and editor. He has a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of South Carolina and is also a graduate of Catawba College. He is a native of Salisbury, North Carolina.

Hamm said, “The Institute has long served as an important resource for professional journalists, students and community leaders, and I am excited to help lead the organization as it continues its crucial mission. Al Cross and the founders of the Institute recognized 20 years ago the importance of supporting and sustaining rural journalism in Kentucky and across the country, and that mission is more important now than ever.”

UK created the Institute for Rural Journalism as a research project in 2002. Cross, who reported for 26 years for the Louisville Courier Journal, was hired as director in 2004 with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and additional support from the Ford Foundation.

The Institute conducts research, gives advice, conducts workshops and publishes The Rural Blog, a daily digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America. With support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, it also publishes Kentucky Health News, of which Cross will remain publisher for one year.

“The Institute is integral to the service and outreach missions of our college and UK,” said Jennifer Greer, dean of the College of Communication and Information. “The work that Al Cross and his team do supports local journalists and rural communities throughout the nation at a time when the need for accurate and trusted information is needed more than ever. We are thrilled to have Benjy carry on this important work.”

Dr. Erika Engstrom, director of the School of Journalism and Media, said "Benjy Hamm brings to the Institute vast professional experience researching the news industry and advising rural news outlets on how they can enhance and expand their ability to inform the public and foster an informed electorate, the foundation of democracy. We are fortunate to bring him to UK to join the faculty and lead the Institute as it moves forward with its mission."

The Institute will host the third National Summit on Journalism in Rural America July 7 at The Campbell House in Lexington, and the Al Smith Awards Dinner (named for the Institute’s co-founder, who died in 2021) on Oct. 26 at the Embassy Suites Lexington, with Susan Page of USA Today as the keynote speaker.