REPORTING ON RURAL REALITIES
||Think of most of the stories you’ve seen
on television recently about rural America. They probably featured
a farm or a ranch. Let’s face it, when stations set out
to do stories in the rural parts of their ADI, they often focus
on farming or ranching.
There are plenty of good stories in those areas, of course, from
the transition to sustainable agriculture to "agritourism."
But there’s also rich vein of rural stories yet to be mined.
This tip sheet offers some suggestions, plus a guide to Internet
resources on covering rural issues.
Focus on Change
- Rural America is becoming more diverse. Increasing diversity
means increasing need for services in other languages, including
education. It may also mean tension between groups that are struggling
to adapt to new realities. Find strong characters in different
communities and tell their stories by seeking places where their
- Rural America is aging. More people are retiring in place,
while city dwellers are looking to retire to "the simple
life." There are compelling stories to be told about health
care delivery and demand for other services. Tell the story through
the eyes of someone who is facing the challenges.
- One powerful, visual strategy to show change over time is to
use aerial photographs, family photo albums, or town records,
comparing what was to what is. You can also demonstrate change
with animated graphics, making stores or schools disappear.
Follow the Money
- The economy is a major story in rural America—not just
the farm economy. What is the effect of mega-store operations
on Main Street businesses, for instance? As a storytelling device,
you might track two neighbors or relatives with different shopping
habits who feel differently about the arrival of "big box"
- Farms aren’t the only source of income in farming communities.
And "off-farm" income doesn’t just mean the farmer’s
wife getting a job in town. In some areas, for example, people
are assembling auto-parts in unused barns. Surprise viewers with
what’s really happening behind the barn doors.
- How do you start a new business when there’s no access
to capital? Look at what’s happened to banking in rural
areas your station serves, and the effect that has on the overall
economy. Compare that to the steps a city or suburban resident
goes through to get a loan by finding two people with similar
plans in the city and outlying county.
Educate Your Viewers
- As rural populations shrink, school districts often consolidate.
That’s not just an education story, it’s a story of
social change, affecting the entire community. Ride a rural school
bus route and see how many kids get picked up, compared to a few
years ago, and how far they have to ride. Compare that to a city
route—the two areas may have more in common than viewers
- Rural schools are under-funded and under-equipped. How do these
schools attract and keep teachers? What do students learn in these
schools? What opportunities exist for them if they want to stay
in the area? You could tell multiple stories with different angles
throughout the school year by focusing on the next graduating
- Rural areas lag behind urban areas when it comes to access
to the Internet and technology. What does that mean for the future
of kids growing up in rural America? Look for programs designed
to narrow the gap. 4-H, for instance, has added technology programs,
and in some areas, youngsters are helping elderly people learn
to use the Internet.
Compare and Contrast
- Connect rural stories to city viewers by comparing two situations,
rather than doing rural stories in isolation. Look for "border"
locations, where people living just a few miles apart face dramatically
different situations. The more alike they are in every other way,
- Look to outlying areas of your ADI for stories that tie in
with national trends. If you are doing a story on poverty, look
outside the city for examples. Poverty is not solely an urban