The David Mathews Center for Civic Life and PACERS Rural Community Newspaper Network hosted the 2023 Conference & Workshop on Friday, April 14th, and Saturday, April 15th. Over 40 journalists and Jean O’Connor Snyder interns across the state met at the Rotunda and the Mathews Center office at the American Village to get to know each other and learn about the techniques and importance of rural journalism.

Throughout the weekend, participants heard from an array of speakers, where they learned new skills and techniques to develop their personal stories, as well as the significance of community papers in rural Alabama. Nan Fairley, Professor of Journalism at Auburn University, kicked off the workshop with a session on ‘How to Tell Our Stories,’ a detailed overview of how to highlight each aspect of local, personal history that the journalists and students can use to tell their own community stories. To further develop and promote these small town stories across the state, journalists learned innovative ways to design their newspapers and create ads to use on social media.

Attendees were able to experience firsthand how impactful these rural stories are through a panel discussion with the editors of four of the rural newspapers that have been published through PACERS and moderated by Dr. Jack Shelton, PACERS Founder. Seen within every community, the newspapers not only preserved local history, but they acted as a means of public health awareness. With many of the communities not having full access to healthcare and rural hospitals closing, these newspapers proved to be especially important in spreading information during the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath.

Additionally, JOIP interns received resources and skills training to assist them in their upcoming summer community engagement projects and future endeavors. Tasked with different headlines and subjects, interns explored the American Village to find the perfect photo and develop their photography skills, which will be useful as they work with and tell the stories of the towns they will be living in this summer. With DMC Education Director, Zara Greene, students heard a presentation filled with communication and soft skills tips that they were able to develop and utilize in mock interviews.

The DMC is thankful for our partnership with the PACERS Network and each university participating in the JOIP program, and we look forward to our future work together. Stay tuned on the blog for intern-authored articles coming this summer as part of the Civic Dispatch series!