Women Lead Charge to Address Rural Issues, Journalists Say

A panel of five women journalists kicks off the Rural Women’s Summit in Greenville, South Carolina.

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Greenville, S.C. – Rural women are frequently at the forefront of identifying community problems and leading the charge to correct them, said a panel of women journalists at the opening of the Rural Women’s Summit in Greenville, South Carolina, Monday (October 28, 2019)

“So many (rural) issues are ones women have been hollering about for years,” said Mary Annette Pember, an independent journalist who writes for Indian Country Today, the Daily Yonder, and other publications.

Other panelists were:

  • Lyndsey Gilpin, founder of Southerly, an online magazine focusing on climate change in the rural South.
  • April Simpson, a reporter who covers rural issues for Stateline, a news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
  • And Ruxandra Guidi, a contribution editor for High Country News and a journalism professor at the University of Arizona.

Leah Douglas, a reporter with the Food and Environment Reporting Network, moderated the panel.

From left to right, moderator Leah Douglas, a reporter with the Food and Environment Reporting Network; April Simpson, a reporter who covers rural issues for Stateline, a news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts; Mary Annette Pember (speaking), an independent journalist who writes for Indian Country Today, the Daily Yonder, and other publications; Ruxandra Guidi, a contribution editor for High Country News and a journalism professor at the University of Arizona; and Lindsey Gilpin, founder of Southerly magazine. (Photo by Shawn Poynter)

Pember, who has written extensively about the disappearance and murder of Native American women, said the phenomenon has gotten mainstream press coverage recently. But the problem has existed for centuries.

“Native women went missing for hundreds of years, and no one really cared,” she said. “Women started hollering about that and finally the story got legs, as we say in the journalism business. … Women were saying stuff is happening to our family, stuff is happening to our community and we started hollering about it. When we holler long enough, people start to pay attention.”

Gilpin said it was the women in coal country who brought the problems of contaminated water to the forefront.

“Most of the rest of the country doesn’t think about water,” she said. “But in rural communities, especially coal communities, it’s a big issue.”

When she started covering water quality in Eastern Kentucky, she learned about the issue from other women.

“I started to see all these groups on social media, mostly mothers and women who were talking about the water coming out of their faucets was brown, or smelled terrible, or was sulfury, or doesn’t come out at all… Women were talking about their babies coming out with a rash after taking a bath. When the water companies wanted to raise their rates, it was the women who started citizen groups… They don’t want to pay more for water that isn’t good or has carcinogens in it.”

And it was women who were taking the lead in reporting on those issues, the panel said.

As a young journalist in the 1990s, Guidi said, women journalists were rare, especially those like her who were Latina. But now, women are taking a larger role in newsrooms, she said.

And the way women cover stories changes the stories, she said.

“I think being a woman journalist allows me to wear my heart on my sleeve… I’m interested in doing journalism that helps people relate to… personal experiences,” Guidi said. “I don’t feel unsafe in anyway traveling as a woman, or doing journalism as a woman. I welcome being part of that majority in a lot of spaces where I work.”

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