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Journalists visit Bardstown as part of international program

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By Kacie Goode

On Tuesday afternoon, around 20 journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in The Loft at Spalding Hall as part of a tour of Kentucky to speak with editors, reporters and owners of rural news outlets. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss challenges that are unique to journalism in a rural setting, and among those leading the discussion Tuesday were The Kentucky Standard’s editor, Forrest Berkshire, along with Landmark Community Newspapers Editorial Director John Nelson and Al Cross, former political reporter for the Courier Journal who is now director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and a professor of journalism for the University of Kentucky.

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Berkshire provided an overview of The Standard’s work and the difference between local, regional, state and national news, as well as the importance of community-specific content.

“No one anywhere else in Kentucky is going to be interested in this news except for people that live in this community, and honestly, that’s how we survive,” Berkshire said. “We are bringing people news they are not going to get anywhere else.”

This kind of content is unique to rural journalism, where readers are going to be more interested in the issues directly affecting their neighborhoods, streets and schools.

Nelson explained how he provides editorial support to 50 community newspapers owned by Landmark, of which The Kentucky Standard is part, and Cross discussed helping rural journalists understand the issues affecting their communities while keeping their product relevant.

“Ten years ago, I gave a presentation that said community newspapers were the healthiest part of traditional journalism, traditional news business in the United States, but we don’t know how long it will last,” Cross told the guests. “Ten years later, I think they are still a very healthy part, but they are beginning to deal with the same kinds of pressures” affecting larger papers and other news media.

Cross said he believed the survival of journalism at the local level comes down to quality, relevance and reliability.

After providing an overview of rural journalism in Kentucky, the speakers opened the floor to questions and comments from the visiting journalists.

“To me, this is very exciting because I also come from a community newspaper,” said Dion Vansen, of Belize. He said his newspaper, The San Pedro Sun, is small and independent, with only two reporters. Like many of Kentucky’s rural newspapers, The Sun is heavily focused on producing content localized to his community.

“We do have a section called ‘national news,’” he added, where readers can keep up with major developments in the country.

Vansen shared how his staff must be able to perform more than one task for the paper, such as being a reporter, a photographer and working on production.

Carlos Urbina Arancibia, of Chile, asked how rural newspapers attract readers and buyers in a time when the news media is in competition with social media and other “free content.”

Berkshire said it comes down to being able to verify information as well as provide context on local issues.

Santiago Molina Ona, of Ecuador, through an interpreter, asked about incorporating national news into community coverage. Berkshire said he would look at adapting the coverage to show local impacts. He gave the example of covering people from the community of the newspaper where he worked during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, who were in Washington D.C. and New York, or more recent coverage of how immigration enforcement has impacted local residents.

The visit was part of the International Visitor Leadership Program hosted by the World Affairs Council. Bardstown has been selected as a site for such programs in the past. In December, five journalists from Russia came to town interested in learning about America’s freedom of the press and how it contrasted with operations in their home country. In 2016, Tajikistani journalists visited Bardstown and Louisville outlets to discuss the survival of news media.

Laura Duncan, visitor program manager with the WAC of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, said The Standard and Berkshire, in particular, were suggested for the visit after being recognized by the state for public service in community journalism.

Aside from the Bardstown visit, the journalists also had plans to visit Louisville outlets before leaving for Texas.