WHITESBURG, KENTUCKY — The Daily Yonder strives towards a paradoxical mission: local news on a national level. The website covers rural news and rural issues, posting about one to four new articles a day. The Yonder’s mission is to fill a local journalism void in rural areas, and to that end it allows small town papers to publish its content for free. The website is a project of the Center for Rural Strategies, a Kentucky-based nonprofit which advocates for rural causes.
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Married couple Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery are the site’s editors and sole full-time employees. On their site, a first-person account of rural farming might sit comfortably alongside an analysis of the correlation between declining rural incomes and access to education. The former story was set in Montana, the latter in Alabama. Either way, Bishop says, “We try to get local stories that tell a national story.”
The pair previously served as editors/publishers of the Bastrup Times, a weekly paper in Smithville, Texas. Bishop, a former reporter for papers in Kentucky and Texas, was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary. The two assemble regular articles on rural issues from a variety of writers, ranging from opinion to reporting to personal essays. Agriculture news is a staple, along with analysis of national government news from a rural perspective.
Bishop, the author of The Big Sort: How the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, wants the site to bring people together. He spent years researching the book, which describes economic and demographic changes which have polarized America. His desire for American unity colors his editorial outlook. “Online journalism is fragmented and plays to its crowd,” he says. “We wanted a place where people weren’t separated by ideology or geography.” Focusing on the rural perspective, rather than the conservative or liberal, allows the site to exist in an as-yet-unpolarized space.
The Daily Yonder began in 2007, primarily as a response to a nationwide reduction in news delivery for rural communities. Daily Yonder contributors are often simply rural Americans willing to put pen to paper. Bishop and Ardery have sought out writers across the country—Bishop once solicited an article from a school teacher based on a particularly witty letter to the editor. The site maintains an active tip line and accepts unsolicited articles.
The Daily Yonder is lucky to have some like minds at its parent nonprofit. A number of former journalists staff the Center for Rural Strategies, and the CRS’s initiatives are often media oriented. Projects have included sponsorships of documentary film productions, a campaign to deliver broadband to rural areas, and the “Rural Desk News Initiative,” a 2003 attempt to provide in-depth television reporting about rural issues to local news stations. Unlike many new journalism nonprofits, the Daily Yonder maintains a strict divide between fundraising and editorial operations. The CRS gives the Daily Yonder its budget, but only discusses coverage in broad terms.
Grants, primarily from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provide the majority of the Daily Yonder’s small budget. The Media Democracy Fund, the Cummings Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation also contribute, as do individual donors. These primarily fund salaries for the editors, who both work near full-time but share a single salary. “Bill and Julie are the primary expense and they’re the primary asset, too,” says CRS vice president Tim Marema.
The Daily Yonder serves about 35,000 daily readers, scattered throughout the country. By delivering a hard news sensibility to an underserved niche audience, and making do with a tight budget, The Daily Yonder has made good on every platitude ever uttered about small-town ingenuity and togetherness, and done so with style.
The Daily Yonder Data
Name: The Daily Yonder
Principal Staff: Bill Bishop, co-editor; Julie Ardery, co-editor.
Affiliations: Media Democracy Fund; Cummings Foundation; Annie E. Casey Foundation; NewWest.net; Center for Rural Strategies.