Join the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America on YouTube, June 3-4

Al Cross

May 31, 2022

You can watch it and submit comments and questions at Click here.

I don't remember who said it, but I'll never forget the moment I heard it: "There is no longer any business model for news."

That was alarming to someone who had spent his adult life working for newspapers or helping them. It was at the journalism educators’ convention in August 2007, and the following year, the combination of the Great Recession and the digital-media revolution began doing great violence to newspapers like the metropolitan daily where I had spent most of my career.

The digital hit came later for community newspapers, most of which have relatively little competition for local news, but come it did; then came a pandemic that undermined their retail advertising bases as acutely as the now-chronic effect of digital platforms and online shopping.

We're out of pandemic mode, if not the pandemic, but the digital hit has lasted. You can see it in smaller page and staff counts at rural weeklies and small dailies (many, if not most, of which no longer meet the now-archaic definition of "daily" by printing four or more times a week) and the closure of the last newspaper in some counties, creating news deserts — a term that seems to no longer require quotation marks, but could use some definition, just like the related term “ghost newspapers.”

All this raises a fundamental question, not just for rural newspapers, but for their communities: How do rural communities sustain local journalism that supports local democracy? That is the question we aim to answer, or at least start answering at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, to be livestreamed on YouTube from 1:15 to 5 p.m. Friday, June 3, and 9 a.m. until late afternoon Saturday, June 4. You can watch it and submit comments and questions at

The summit will be held at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues held the first summit 15 years ago. Much has changed; back then, dealing with the digital challenge was a last-minute addition to the program!

This time, two dozen invited speakers and a local audience will try to answer the sustainability question by exploring the current landscape of rural journalism and how rural news media are adapting to it, with revised business models and other innovations.

All sessions will include a period for questions, answers and discussion among participants. Here's the draft program:

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 1:15 p.m. ET

  • The state of America’s community newspapers and their journalism: Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor, Northwestern University, will provide an update on her groundbreaking research.
  • Reports from leaders of the community newspaper industry: National Newspaper Association Executive Director Lynne Lance will join former NNA president Robert Williams Jr. and Tom Silvestri of The Relevance Project of the Newspaper Association Managers.
  • Putting local philanthropy in your business model: Nathan Payne of Kaiser Health News, recently editor of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, will show how community foundations can help; Jody Lawrence-Turner of the Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism, who has spent the past year strategizing approaches to preserve rural journalism; and Dennis Brack of the Rappahannock News, Washington, Virginia, which uses local philanthropy for polling and reporting projects.
  • Converting your newspaper(s) to nonprofit status: Liz and Steve Parker, former owners and still current operators of the New Jersey Hills Media Group, will talk about their recent conversion to the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media.


  • Good journalism is good business, but how do we make people want local news? Editor-Publishers Marshall Helmberger of the Timberjay, Tower, Minnesota; and Sharon Burton of the Adair County Community Voice, Columbia, Kentucky.
  • How two community newspapers are adapting to change: Publishers Bill Horner of the Chatham (North Carolina) News+Record and Terry Williams of the Keene (New Hampshire) Sentinel talk with Buck Ryan, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky.
  • Innovation at other community newspapers: Tony Baranowski, co-publisher of the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen and author of Black and White and Undead All Over: The true story of innovation and perseverance of America’s small newspapers; will discuss his work with Jim Iovino, director of NewStart at West Virginia University, which had Baranowski in its first class of fellows.
  • National funders and supporters on help for rural journalism: A discussion with Jason Alcorn of the American Journalism Project, Jonathan Kealing of the Institute for Nonprofit News and Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro of Columbia University, co-founder of the National Trust for Local News.
  • A university-nonprofit team saves a weekly paper: Over lunch and via Zoom, Dink NeSmith of Community Newspapers Inc. will tell the story of The Oglethorpe Echo, staffed by journalism students of the University of Georgia, an example of the growing role of J-schools in rural papers.
  • New business models for community newspapers, and a plan to test one: Dr. Teri Finneman of the University of Kansas will discuss her research, which has found that many rural newspaper subscribers are willing to buy memberships and e-newsletters to keep their local papers healthy, and will test the model with Harvey County Now in Kansas this summer.
  • What other research is needed to help community journalism? Bill Reader, Ohio University, and Clay Carey, Samford University, author of The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia, will explore opportunities with Dr. Jennifer Greer, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information, which is sponsoring the Summit.
  • Concluding roundtable, open-ended, led by Greer and your humble servant.

Please join us on YouTube and submit your comments and questions. See you at!

Al Cross edited and managed rural newspapers before covering politics for the Louisville Courier Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog at