|Rachel Needham, The Rappahannock News Report for America journalist, reflects on the many surprises of life in the county:
“One fateful sunny afternoon I came into the Hillsdale Country Store on 211 in Washington to ask directions. “I’m new to the county,” I told Angela Lombardi, who was working the register. “I came to work for the Rappahannock News.”
“Angela paused, looked me square in the face and said, “Well, are you guys going to write about Black Lives Matter?” I said I would like to, but didn’t have a story. At that, she scribbled her name and phone number on a piece of receipt paper and told me about her son, Dominic, who was busy painting a sign to post at the end of their driveway.
“Before I met Angela and Dominic, I thought the George Floyd protests hadn’t reached Rappahannock County. As we have seen, I could not have been more wrong. Rappahannock has surprised me in all kinds of ways: the quality of our newspaper, thanks in large part to Foothills Forum and its journalists; the muscle of its nonprofit sector; the resilience of its businesses in this unprecedented time of uncertainty; its commitment to unity even when strong opinions clash.
“I am proud to be a part of the Rappahannock community and excited for what lies ahead. A big thanks to everyone at Foothills Forum and Rappahannock News for being so encouraging and welcoming. If you have comments or questions for me, please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Find Rachel’s coverage of Dominic and his advocacy here.
Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post media columnist, has issued an essential clarion call in her urgent book published last week, Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.
“Some of the most trusted sources of news – local sources, particularly local newspapers – are slipping away, never to return … The cost to democracy is great. American politics will become even more polarized; government and business corruption will flourish; the glue that holds communities together will weaken,” writes Sullivan, also the former public editor of The New York Times.
“I am convinced that those who care about good journalism have to do whatever is possible to make things better … We must shore up newspapers with thoughtful policy changes. We must support existing news organizations … We must encourage and sustain the new efforts that are filling at least some of the gaping holes, and are becoming more important every day.”
Photo credit: Poynter
Foothills Forum is just one of the new, local efforts that Sullivan encourages. In fact, the rise and growth of independent, citizen-driven nonprofit news-gathering was the subject of the third annual survey conducted by the Institute of Nonprofit News (INN), and Foothills’ leadership is reflected in these trends of the nonprofit news movement:
- Local, local, local: “Local publications make up a growing share of the nonprofit news field,” the INN survey found. “As financial woes force severe cutbacks and closures of traditional local newspapers, more local nonprofit news media are being launched.” According to the survey, 36% of news nonprofits are local in focus (like Foothills), 26% are state-oriented, and 23% are national.
- Citizen support: As with Foothills, “nonprofits are continuing to diversify their revenue sources, particularly by tapping into individual giving … (in fact) a majority of nonprofit news outlets reported that foundation funding made up less than half of their total annual revenue,” concluded INN. Foothills has always believed that it is essential that the people of Rappahannock back financially its local news collection.
- Direct to readers: The survey documented “a significant shift among publishers toward focusing on direct audiences.” Our partnership with The Rappahannock News is a strong example of just such direct delivery of news. “More publishers than ever reported that they primarily engage their audience directly,” rather than through a news service, for instance, INN found.
Learn more about the INN survey here.