Part 2: Radically Rural, Community Journalism

A recent Relevant Point suggested newspaper advocates keep an eye on a thriving partnership in New Hampshire called Radically Rural.

Here’s the promised sequel.

The partners are the local newspaper, The Keene Sentinel, and the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.

Their intense focus is on keeping rural life vibrant. One of the core catalysts is a healthy and Relevant local newspaper. What’s not to like?

The goal for local news: “Radically Rural seeks to provide ideas, solutions, and models for news organizations and communities to ensure the financial health of those operations so that residents can stay informed.”

If you missed the Relevant Point about Terry Williams, the president and chief operating officer of Keene Publishing, find it here. He and Mary Ann Kristiansen started Radically Rural, a national expansion of a regional event called CONNECT.

Williams leads the Community Journalism track at the annual summit, which this year occurred as a hybrid event in September.

I wanted to know if the Radically Rural concept could work elsewhere, with more community newspapers partnering with their trade associations or similar entrepreneurial centers.

I put the question to Julianna Dodson, who became director of Radically Rural in February.

Radically Rural Director Julianna Dodson

“Yes” was the short answer.

Look no further than the attendance trends in the four years a Radically Rural summit occurred:

2018: 544 participants, from 21 states.

2019: 586, from 25 states.

2020: 502, from 43 states (virtual, thanks to the pandemic).

2021: 460, from 43 states (in person and virtual).

Radically Rural’s lesson is that you can build a following from the networks attached to guest speakers, funders and participants. Add in relationships born from shared experiences and an update newsletter to further lock in connections and continued interest.

In her strategic planning, Dodson said she examined successful program and event models elsewhere. In particular, she cited learning from the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, which bills itself as a gathering place to “advance the needs and promote the interests of rural or remotely located communities.”

“Our relationships with organizations like theirs are mutually beneficial as we all grow and help our rural communities,” she said.

Dodson confirmed Radically Rural is expanding beyond the once-a-year event to year-round programming that can drill even deeper on important issues such as downtowns, entrepreneurship, land use, clean energy, health care, the arts, and, of course, community journalism.

“We will be doing monthly virtual roundtables on the second Wednesday of every month, January through June, possibly, July,” Dodson added. “We will be posting a schedule with signup links soon. The best way for folks to keep up-to-date is to sign up for our newsletter.”

In many ways, Radically Rural is a version of THE Community Forum, a core strategy of The Relevance Project.

It’s one more way to strengthen community newspapers by moving them closer to the people they serve — or want to attract.

Radical, indeed.

Associations, jump in.

–Tom Silvestri, Executive Director, The Relevance Project

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