Journalism as Connectivity: Encouraging Inclusivity in Local News Coverage of Poverty and Other Social Issues

The presentation focuses on the topic of media and representation. It relates to the conference subtheme of diversity and inclusion through its focus on creating more opportunities for marginalized individuals to use local media to participate in broader community dialogs.

Local news organizations contribute significantly to the maintenance of attitudes, routines, values, and attitudes that reinforce and maintain the social systems broadly referred to as “community” (Janowitz, 1967; Carey, 2009). Local news coverage of even the most routine aspects of daily life serve to reinforce commonality and convince individuals within a community that their lives matter (Lauterer, 1999; Billig, 1995).

In many rural communities, however, access to local news coverage and opportunities to determine how one is represented in local media are not evenly distributed. In Appalachia, he voices of poor residents are often excluded from local news coverage (Carey, 2017; Duncan, 1999; Gaventa, 1980). Their absence from media narratives may further isolate the poor within their communities and reinforce problematic understandings of poverty as the product of cultural deficiency.

In this presentation, I will share insight gleaned from a series of interviews with activists, journalism advocates, and community development professionals in Appalachia. Those interviews focused on practical ways community news outlets in rural communities can foster more inclusive public discussions in their communities, on ways community groups can encourage (sometimes reluctant) journalists to cover poverty and other social issues with greater inclusivity, and on the value in pursuing both of those goals. By including more, and more diverse, voices in community discussions in ways that avoid stereotypical representations common in national narratives about Appalachia, community news organizations may facilitate more democratic community discussions. They also may help empower residents and challenge stereotypical views of poverty within a community.