KOSU is adding a new agriculture and rural issues reporter position to highlight Oklahoma voices and combat the spread of news deserts.
The position will be partially funded with $20,000 in seed funding from Report for America, a national service program aimed at increasing reporting on under-covered issues and communities. The new position will also expand KOSU’s regional reach, as the station partners with Harvest Public Media, a collaborative network of reporters and radio stations throughout the Midwest and Great Plains.
KOSU general manager and associate director Rachel Hubbard said the station’s goal is to use the funds to generate an endowment to make the position permanent.
“Agriculture is such an important part of Oklahoma’s economy, and people are more disconnected from the farm than they’ve ever been,” she said. “At some points in Oklahoma’s history you may have been one generation removed from the farm, and now there is a significant portion of the population that lives in Tulsa or Oklahoma City that has no connection to rural Oklahoma. So, how can we relay the struggles of people who are providing our food and driving such an important part of the state’s economy to people who don’t have a direct connection?”
According to a recent national study by PEN America, newsroom staffing has declined by 47 percent over the last 15 years. Hubbard said that’s a problem, particularly in rural areas where there are few, if any, media outlet alternatives.
“Rural areas are disproportionately affected by that shrinkage. Even for newspapers that haven’t closed, many small media outlets have just become ‘ghost papers’ or ‘ghost stations’ where they’re just repeating information,” she said. “So, original reporting about things that are happening in rural Oklahoma is shrinking rapidly, and that’s not fair to the people who live there, because agriculture and the rural economy are such big parts of Oklahoma.”
Hubbard believes public media has the capacity to connect people through conversations and highlighting issues that affect everyday Oklahomans.
“As the population continues to shift in the state, this rural-urban divide becomes an issue at the State Capitol,” she said. “I think we can speak into that space through what we specialize in, which is civil conversation and reporting that features real people. That’s where we can really make a difference.”
KOSU is among 164 newsrooms in 46 states and Puerto Rico to receive the funding. Through its partnership with Harvest Public Media, KOSU will expand its storytelling reach to radio listeners in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota. Hubbard said KOSU has a good working relationship with National Public Radio (NPR), which is interested in highlighting more Oklahoma stories.
“This continues to vault us into a position to elevate the research that, in many cases, OSU is involved in or other stories where Oklahoma ag producers play an important role,” Hubbard said. “It allows us to tell Oklahoma stories on a national stage.”
Thomas G. Coon, vice president for OSU agricultural programs, said he’s excited for scientific experts at OSU to have another opportunity to provide research-based information about agriculture.
“There is great concern and some confusion about how food is grown and people can rely on OSU for the answers to help them provide safe and cost-effective food for their families,” Coon said. “We intend to be a resource for KOSU by contributing information that ultimately may be used on the larger NPR stage in an effort to better inform consumers about the steps taken to ensure they have safe, sustainable and nutritious food from farm to table.”
The position is slated to be filled by June 1, following a competitive selection process through Report for America. Application submissions are open.
KOSU is a public radio service of Oklahoma State University and a member station of
National Public Radio. Its programming can be heard by more than 91,000 on-air listeners
every week in central, northern and northeastern Oklahoma, parts of Kansas, Missouri
and Arkansas and worldwide at kosu.org.
Media contact: Rachel Hubbard | KOSU general manager | email@example.com | 405-896-4324