AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   March 2003

Shortchanging Mayberry   

Rural America ignored in the news, a report finds

By Tamara El-Khoury
Tamara El-Khoury is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

If not for the notorious Midwest mailbox bomber, Middle America would have hardly been mentioned on network news last summer.

According to a new report, a whopping 78 percent of the time the heartland is mentioned on national TV news, it's in the context of a crime. Print readers, on the other hand, are immersed in rural land-use stories. When Middle America comes up in major newspapers, 29 percent of the time it's something about sprawl. (TV--shocker--didn't give land-use issues the time of day.)

"One of the main surprises of the study was the fact that rural life only becomes newsworthy when it has urban-type problems," says Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which conducted the study on behalf of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The group analyzed news using the term "rural" in major print outlets and on all television newscasts last year from January 1 to June 30. Networks averaged two mailbox bomber stories a day during the early summer spree--and that was more coverage by far than any other rural issue got.

"I think the bottom line is that any other group of people who command 25 percent of the population would find themselves more frequently in the news media," says Ali Webb, the Kellogg Foundation's communications manager for food systems and rural development. "Rural Americans really do feel forgotten by urban and suburban America."