Explore highlights from INN’s Rural News Network, a consortium of more than 75
outlets across the U.S. reporting for rural America.
Now with 78 newsrooms reporting in 47 states, the Rural News Network from the Institute for Nonprofit News has started off the year with a slate of collaborations and the launch of our first network product! You can get a roundup of rural news sent right to your phone, every Friday morning. Each week we hand pick the best rural-relevant stories from Rural News Network newsrooms, and text them to folks living in (or curious about) our remote areas. Sign up for Text RURAL here.

Below, you'll see the latest reporting from RNN in three key areas from the past few months:

  • In Rural Realities, five newsrooms explore the nuances of workforce development changes in rural communities, such as the Mississippi county where it's estimated only 42 of the 1,111 residents aged 25 and older have a bachelor's degree. “What I found in Issaquena County could easily be the story of any number of counties in Mississippi and rural America,” said reporter Molly Minta, adding that she'll be learning more about solutions to raise educational attainment.

  • Falling Short, our first data collaboration, examines how new federal staffing requirements for nursing homes are playing out in rural areas across the country. “Our reporting has helped inform our community about the details of this issue, which previously has primarily been discussed in anecdotal or rumor-based terms,” said Andrew Phillips, editor-in-chief and executive director of Door County Knock.

  • The rural eviction crisis: RNN newsrooms are reporting on new research from Princeton's Evictions Lab into the approximately 220,000 evictions filed in rural counties each year, representing the first comprehensive analysis of evictions in rural communities.

Even as we launch new collaborative series, we're seeing long-term benefits from previous collaborations that gave newsrooms an initial foothold into a certain topic or community.

That was the case for Honolulu Civil Beat in 2022 when reporter Brittany Lyte traveled to Lanai as part of "Breaking Point: Examining health inequities in America’s rural communities." Lyte's story focused on the absence of in-person care for adults diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

Since her initial story, Civil Beat has had a steady beat of coverage of the island of 3,000 residents where one person owns 98% of the land. Lyte recently published yet another development about the last public airline servicing Lanai; that without federal help would cut off reliable travel for locals' health care needs.

Read on to learn what the Rural News Network is investigating across rural America and where we're turning our attention next.

Can't get enough rural news? Bookmark RuralNewsNetwork.org to get the latest headlines anytime.

Alana Rocha
Editor, Rural News Network
Rural Realities collaboration
This story is part of a series exploring how institutions and students are meeting their educational needs and the demands of today’s rural workforce. See more reporting here.
'I tell them to get on every wait list'
Amirah Mathews, 5, sits with her mother, Taneisha, in a student lounge at Central Virginia Community College on March 15, 2024. (Lisa Rowan for Cardinal News)
Cardinal News
When Taneisha Mathews went back to school, her daughters went with her.

It was Mathews’ second attempt at working toward an associate degree. When she first enrolled at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg in 2014, she was a teen mom who felt that going to college was what she was supposed to do — but she didn’t know yet what she wanted her career to look like.

"I ended up flunking out because I mentally was forcing myself to do it,” she said.

When Mathews returned to campus in summer 2022, she brought Aniyah, then 10, and Amirah, then 3, with her to her night class. Aniyah usually brought a book and hung out in the nearby student center. Amirah sat in the classroom near her mother.

It was an early childhood education course. Mathews had been working full time at a Head Start child care facility for about a year, but she needed to start earning credentials to advance there.

Mathews’ instructor signed off on the arrangement because there were only a handful of students in the summer class.

But her journey hasn’t been easy. As a single mother with two jobs, Mathews, 30, admitted she’s thought about taking a break from working on her degree as recently as last semester.

Virginia’s community colleges are hubs for addressing the state’s workforce demands, with students ranging from traditional associate degree-seekers preparing to transfer to four-year schools to those earning an increasing number of short-term credentials to be used in the workforce immediately.

But affordable access to child care can be a major barrier for community college students, many of whom are older and have families.

Falling Short collaboration
This story is part of a data-driven collaboration on staffing requirements for rural nursing homes. See more reporting here.
'A perfect storm' of issues
Door County Knock
After a rocky few years, culminating in the loss of staff members and $58,425 in penalties, Scandia Village in Sister Bay has transferred ownership for the second time since 2019. Representatives of the new owner, Continuum Healthcare, and other stakeholders say they are optimistic about the future of the skilled nursing facility.

Scandia is not alone in its struggles with staffing. The U.S. has been experiencing a skilled nursing care staff shortage for decades. Staffing ratios have direct ties to the quality of care that aging and disabled residents receive. Continuum, a privately owned company, is acutely aware of these issues and has plans to address them, according to the company’s chief operating officer, Cheryl Dorn.

The purchase of Scandia by Continuum was finalized at the end of January 2024. Continuum is owned by Daniel Bruckstein and based in New Jersey. Its portfolio includes eight nursing homes in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with plans to further expand into the Midwest, according to Dorn.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the regulatory agency responsible for nursing homes. CMS issued a landmark study in 2001 concluding higher nursing staff-to-resident ratios lead to better outcomes for residents.

The staffing guidelines provided by the study are not mandates, however. Some states, including Wisconsin, have minimum staffing levels mandated, though all of them are lower than CMS’s recommendations.

In 2023 the Biden administration issued a proposal to federally regulate nursing home staff levels. The proposal is still working through Congress, but according to payroll data, no Door County skilled nursing facilities meet CMS guidelines or the much lower federally proposed minimums.

The Biden proposal would require nursing homes to have an RN on duty 24/7 and provide almost 3.5 hours of nursing care per resident per day, with one of those hours provided by an RN and the rest by a CNA.

Rural evictions crisis
RNN newsrooms are digging into Princeton's Eviction Lab database to see how evictions are affecting their communities.
Black renters overrepresented in eviction filings
A new study found that in nearly every rural county, Black renters were overrepresented in eviction filings. (Aallyah Wright for Capital B)
Capital B News
Black rural Americans are still feeling the strain of the failed promises of the Reconstruction era and discrimination in lending, as redlining has pushed them away from homeownership into tenancy.

A new report illuminates the struggle: Southern Black counties have higher eviction filing rates than their white counterparts. In four states — Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina — rural counties have higher eviction filing rates that are near or above the national average. The rates are also higher than larger cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

In nearly every rural county, Black renters were overrepresented in eviction filings — even in majority-white counties. For example, in counties that are 20% Black, 50% of evictions are filed against Black households. In counties that are over 50% Black, around 75% of evictions are filed against Black households.

About 17 million people in rural America rented homes in 2018, representing significant growth since 2000. During the same period, more than 220,000 evictions were filed against people in rural areas. White households made up 57% of evictions; however, the rates were four times higher for Black households, according to new research. The findings provide an analysis of the crisis in rural America using Princeton’s Eviction Lab national database.

The crisis isn’t just about economics. It’s also about race.

Poverty and racism in the housing and rental markets are major contributors to why the racial disparities persist, the report stated. Nearly 31% of rural Black residents live in poverty, compared to 20% of the urban Black population.

“While poverty leads to evictions, eviction has never been a strictly economic phenomenon,” the authors wrote. “The effect of race is so powerful that one can explain lower eviction rates in many rural communities in large part through the fact that so few Black Americans live there.”

The current day homeownership gap wasn’t a failure of the system, but an intentional result, said Christopher Tyson, president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a nonprofit focused on creating affordable homeownership opportunities.

“The homeownership that is disproportionately experienced by white Americans was the result of intentional action by the government and was the result of specific policies that created the reality we have today,” Tyson said.

Accolades and awards 🎉
RNN series named one of the top journalism collaborations of 2023

The Center for Cooperative Media named the Rural News Network's Speaking Out project as one of the the top 10 collaborations of 2023 globally.

"Every year, I’m amazed to see how partnerships can enhance journalism and its impact," Director Stefanie Murray wrote.

Six RNN member newsrooms worked together covering stories on the ground in five states and Puerto Rico to focus on the nearly 14 million people of color who live in rural America and face unique challenges. More than 40 other publications shared the stories online, on the radio, and across social media platforms, reaching hundreds of thousands. 
Investigate Midwest, Flatwater Free Press recognized nationally for collaborative work on Nebraska governor's business interests

The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing has awarded Flatwater Free Press and Investigate Midwest its 2023 'Best in Business' Award for government coverage.

The two RNN newsrooms teamed up last year to examine Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen's global hog empire – both the conflict of interest it presents and the water quality near some of his hog operations around the state. Elected as Nebraska’s top executive in 2022, Pillen now oversees the state agency tasked with setting rules for pork operations, including his.

“This collaboration resulted in important public service journalism,” said Erin Orr, Investigate Midwest’s executive director, “which is at the heart of Investigate Midwest’s mission to hold the leaders in big agribusiness and government accountable.”

The SABEW judges said the winning stories held ‘the powerful accountable’ and broke new ground tying the environmental impact on the water supply to the governor’s business.
Looking ahead: Internships, elections and more
  • RNN is launching a collaboration with 10 newsrooms to identify and report on challenges rural communities face with voting access with new support from the Google News Initiative. This is part of a range of programs and support INN is offering to make it easier for newsrooms to cover elections, expand on that reporting, or increase their organization’s sustainability by capitalizing on their work. More election plans are coming together for the network this year - stay tuned!

  • In partnership with the Scripps Howard Fund, we are again running a fellowship program with eight RNN member newsrooms hosting paid interns for 10 or 20 week internships. After the first year, many newsrooms were able to keep their interns on as staff through the end of the year.

  • We're about to roll out a new program designed to support members in directly sharing their expertise with national broadcast audiences. Participants will receive training and equipment to make appearances on radio and TV programs to discuss their on-the-ground reporting on rural America.
We want to hear from you! Reach us at collaborations@inn.org.
Rural News Spotlight is an occasional newsletter featuring reporting from INN members on the ground in rural communities addressing their most pressing issues and possible solutions.