Explore the latest from INN’s Rural News Network, a consortium of more than 70 outlets across the U.S. reporting for rural America.
Today marks one year since I joined INN to lead the Rural News Network. Doing so meant a return to my rural roots in journalism.

Out of college, I started my career working for Wichita's CBS affiliate as its NW Kansas bureau chief, based in Hays, KS. I'll never forget being flown in to interview at the fancy, populated flagship station and out the next morning. No time to see the 'German Capital of Kansas' (that back then boasted 26,000 residents) before I contracted and called it 'home.'

I covered 22 counties to the Colorado and Nebraska state lines and, like many of the local leaders I was meeting, wore several hats. It was a grueling 18 months, but I look back on it now fondly.

I always said I knew Kansas better than I knew Florida, where I grew up. Like the 520+ journalists working in RNN newsrooms, I was a resident expert on my community and the region because I was a part of it, regardless of if I was on the clock.

I'm honored so many years later to help elevate the work of other rural reporters, and be a resource through INN to provide wraparound editorial services that enable journalism that is both meaningful to their core audience and piques the interest of outsiders.

I may be marking one year at the helm of RNN, and celebrating all we've accomplished, but I had a head start. My colleagues, led by Bridget Thoreson, Jonathan Kealing, Sharon McGowan and Sue Cross, set the network up for success, making member-driven decisions dating back to 2021.

Since last summer, RNN has published an impactful editorial collaboration – Breaking Point, launched and a summer internship program through the Scripps Howard Fund.

We have three more editorial collaborations on tap for this year, a few data journalism projects in the works and will be focused on helping foster a sense of community for the Network.

Stay tuned as we continue to cultivate this locally sourced reporting from and for rural America.

Alana Rocha
Editor, Rural News Network
Competing cultures
The Town of Caroline will receive at least some indication of the opinion of Grandmas on zoning by this time next week, thanks to a Democratic primary consumed by the topic. (Casey Martin for The Ithaca Voice)
The Ithaca Voice
Calvin Snow owns 175 acres of land in the town of Caroline, a rural community situated about 12 miles east of Ithaca. He has owned and operated Snofarms, a dairy wholesale business, since 1974. But the Snow family has lived and worked on their land since 1816 when his ancestors first settled in the hills around Caroline.

With a population of about 3,300 residents, Caroline has long been recognized by locals and visitors for its crystal clear natural waterways, vast pastoral scenes and fragrant fields of wildflowers. Concern for protecting the views and natural resources Caroline has to offer came to a head in the last couple of years, with talk of adopting zoning ordinances to ensure commercial developers steer clear.

Over the last decade, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County have both experienced a major development boom, with new businesses, retail and housing developments taking form. Local officials and some residents in the Town of Caroline have taken note of the upward trend in development interest nearby, thus sparking the call for the adoption of a zoning ordinance.

Zoning is commonly described by planning experts as a tool for local governments in cities, towns and villages to determine what their neighborhood looks like, who can develop and what they can develop.

One of the fundamental reasons to adopt zoning in any city, town or village in the county is to ensure local governments and residents have recourse of action if a business, corporation or an individual develops or uses land inappropriately. Conservation is also a main reason cited by pro-zoning proponents as well.

In short, if a corporation submits a bid to purchase and develop a property storage unit, for example, the Town Board would have no legal standing to deny them, even if the majority of the community agreed against construction.

Snow currently serves as a member of the Caroline Town Board and has struggled debating the issue of adopting zoning in the town. He told The Ithaca Voice that as he feels responsibility to the town, and the board, he also has a responsibility to his land and to his family. A lot has changed in Caroline since Snow started work in 1974.

“You’ve got different cultures within this town,” Snow said. “You’ve got the Cornell professional who wants a little more space and then you have us, who have been farmers for generations.”

Turnovers at the top
Bethany Atkinson for Mississippi Today
Mississippi Today
William LaForge — the former Delta State University president who was suddenly fired last summer — wants you to know this is not about “sour grapes.”

The regional public college he led for nine years in Cleveland, a small town in the Mississippi Delta, was losing students. There was a 27% decline in enrollment during the pandemic. He feuded with faculty. The school’s cash-on-hand, a financial health metric, was dwindling. And clashes with local donors over the golf course he closed sowed division.

LaForge concedes all of that. But if the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees had to fire him, he said there was a better way to do it.

Though the board gave LaForge a few weeks heads up it was considering parting ways, he says he did not learn he was officially fired until the commissioner, Alfred Rankins, called him on Monday, June 20, five minutes before a press release published announcing the decision.

“The way they did this gave Delta State an unnecessary black eye at a particularly vulnerable time,” he said. “I resent that.”

The stunning termination was the first in a series of presidential turnovers that have roiled colleges and universities in Mississippi over the last year. Weeks after LaForge was canned in 2022, Rodney Bennett, the president of the University of Southern Mississippi, stepped down in July — nearly a year before he said he would. Earlier this year, Thomas Hudson at Jackson State University resigned after the board placed him on administrative leave with pay. Then Felecia Nave was terminated from Alcorn State University.

All this has left students, faculty and staff and alumni wondering: Why is this happening? Mississippi Today spoke with more than a half-dozen former IHL board members, university administrators and faculty to understand the causes.

Some trustees said there are likely as many reasons for the recent turnover as there are departed presidents.

Others said it’s more general than that. But everyone agreed the job is getting harder, especially for the presidents of the smaller institutions.

Consequential curfews
The Navajo Police Department has been holding checkpoints to share information about the curfew order on the Navajo Nation. (Noel Lyn Smith for Farmington Daily Times)
The first COVID-19 case on the Navajo Nation came in March 2020, and by the end of the month the tribe already had in place a curfew to keep residents home.

The curfew was among the most stringent measures any U.S. tribal or non-tribal government enacted to check the spread of the virus. Violators who were issued citations could face fines of $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

When the tribe faced a shortage of protective gear for public safety officers, many of whom were on the front lines of the pandemic, the tribal government passed legislation to direct revenue from fines to the Navajo Police Department.

At the time, former Navajo Nation Council Delegate Wilson C. Stewart Jr., who sponsored the dedicated fund to help the police, said the department should spend whatever it needed “to keep themselves safe, to keep our police officers safe and to keep our facilities as clean as possible.”

An investigation into the aftermath of the Navajo Nation public safety measures by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found multiple breakdowns in their implementation.

The nation’s nine prosecutorial offices didn’t receive guidance on how to handle the cases sent to them, and few were prosecuted.

And the designated fund for the police department to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) never materialized because tribal administrators never set up the funding mechanism.

In the end, the investigation found, the most consequential legacy of the curfews is the impact on hundreds of residents who were issued citations and who still have them hanging over their heads as a part of their criminal history.

Summit focuses on sustaining rural journalism
The third National Summit on Journalism in Rural America happening in Lexington, KY, and online next month will explore ways rural communities sustain local journalism that supports democracy.

News industry professionals – including a few rural journalism start-ups, academic researchers and journalism funders – will convene for a packed day of discussions.

I am excited to join Tim Marema, editor of The Daily Yonder and one of two founding RNN advisors for a conversation about broadening the appeal of rural news.

We want to hear from you! Reach us at
Rural News Spotlight is a biweekly newsletter featuring reporting from INN members on the ground in rural communities addressing their most pressing issues and possible solutions.