Summer internship program to address local journalism in rural communities

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 - 11:15am

The College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln received a grant from the Stanton Foundation to help address the decline of local journalism in rural Nebraska communities.

A pressing concern in the state has been the departure of educated individuals, often referred to as the “brain drain.” Nebraska is grappling with a net loss of residents, particularly young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, exacerbating the demand for an educated workforce. This has also led to a decline in local news coverage, with fewer young journalists willing to move to and work in rural communities. 

To combat these rural challenges, Shari Veil, professor and dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, developed a proposal for and received funding from the Stanton Foundation to support a summer internship program that places a cohort of three to four student interns in the news and community organizations of four to five rural communities. The program aims to contribute to expanding local coverage while enhancing the news organization’s digital and social presence. 

Veil and Rick Alloway, associate professor and general manager of 90.3 KRNU, will lead the initiative. Alloway will oversee the implementation of the internship program, visiting each of the internship site locations and ensuring that students and supervisors engage in the outlined activities for each internship position.

The aim is to bolster community journalism while offering young professionals the opportunity to become integrated with local communities,” Veil said. "By moving to the community as a cohort of young professionals, the interns will not feel as if they are the only young person in town.”

Veil and Alloway will also collaborate with the executive directors of the Nebraska Press Association, Dennis DeRossett and Nebraska Broadcasters Association, Jimm Timm and engage with news organizations, community partners and local leaders across the state. 

"Kudos to Shari for generating yet another way to put a spotlight for students on the challenges and opportunities within rural news reporting, while building a potential bridge to our member stations who are in continual need of talented reporters," Timm said.

With 427 out of 531 communities classified as rural, Nebraska faces a confluence of issues ranging from an exodus of educated individuals to the changing landscape of local journalism. This project, while focusing on specific communities, holds the potential to serve as a template for retaining educated professionals in rural Nebraska.

DeRossett wants to help make this program a "win-win-win" for students, for the rural communities and for the local community newspapers.

"By simply getting students exposed to local media in rural communities, having them see and experience the lifestyle, and for them to then see the opportunities that come with that combination could result in meaningful opportunities and relationships," DeRossett said. "This internship project could certainly be one of those ideas that bears a lot of fruit for the future."

Successful outcomes could pave the way for broader collaboration and support, nurturing a vibrant future for rural community journalism. The initiative will also serve as a proof of concept to determine if engaging young professionals in rural journalism can be a sustainable solution for retaining talent in Nebraska.

"I believe the work that Shari and Rick are embarking upon will open the eyes of every student involved, and that these students will be pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoy their experience," Timm said. "This program could result in a tremendous pipeline of future broadcasting talent by changing the perceptions that some students may have about rural journalism."

student interviewing rural community members
A student in Nebraska News Service interviews Seward community members during the city's annual 4th of July Celebration.