On October 4 and 5, 40 journalism students from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and four students from the University of Idaho will visit 11 communities as part of the 2019 Rural Reporting Plunge project. Through interviews, photos and video, and informal meetings with community members in small towns throughout Washington and Idaho, students learn to report on rural issues in an informed, ethical and collaborative way. 

The experiential learning project, led by Journalism & Media Production faculty member Lisa Waananen Jones, involves experimentation with community-guided rural reporting and the potential to improve rural news coverage and immersive student learning. “Our students get a lot of hands-on reporting experience on campus and around Pullman, but many of them don’t have the resources to report beyond our community on their own,” Waananen Jones said. “This project removes cost and transportation barriers so they can get broader experience and explore our unique geographical and cultural region.”

Location criteria include small towns in Washington and Idaho that have a public library, and students do not learn where they will be reporting until the day of travel. The team needs to manage logistical and cultural challenges that can make it difficult to reach underserved communities. Waananen Jones explained, “There is a national conversation in media about how journalism represents rural communities, and whether coverage too often reflects stereotypes or confirms preconceived notions about rural life. We want our students to enter their careers with a better appreciation for the diversity of rural communities and the value of listening.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, this project was administered by the Online News Association with support from Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation. The 2019 Rural Reporting Plunge is supported by a grant from the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment at Washington State University.

The student journey is chronicled on Twitter using the hashtag #ruralbpj, and stories are published to the website, rural.murrowbpj.com.