INN member newsrooms partner to address COVID-19 in rural communities

Rural communities are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Residents of these areas tend to be poorer, older and have more chronic health conditions than those in urban areas and they have to travel farther for access to health care. As the number of COVID-19 cases increases all over rural America, the already financially strapped health care systems and medical professionals are being slammed.

Five INN member newsrooms, including Iowa Watch, Wisconsin Watch, Carolina Public Press, Side Effects Media and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, are collaborating to understand how the pandemic is playing out in rural communities in a series called “Slammed: Rural health care and COVID-19.” All the content will be posted on a landing page on the Reveal website.

“Deep, sustained coverage of rural communities often goes missing in mainstream media, and we collectively are uniquely positioned to cover these issues over the next several months,” said Sumi Aggarwal, project manager and Director of Collaborations at Reveal.

“We believe this type of important public service journalism continues to build trust with our communities, which helps us build our audiences and credibly ask for public support of our work at a time when funding for journalism is very uncertain,” she added.

In mid-March, Aggarwal approached Sharon McGowan, INN Collaborations Leader, about whether some of the participants in an earlier collaboration about rural health care in the Midwest would be interested in partnering to report on the effects of COVID-19 on these communities. “Seeking a Cure: The quest to save rural hospitals” was published in September 2019.

“INN newsrooms did great work on the rural hospitals collaboration, and several of them were eager to continue reporting on this issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” McGowan said. Carolina Public Press had already done quite a bit of reporting about COVID-19, making it a good fit for the project, she noted.

“Seeking a Cure” was the first of three INN editorial collaborations so far. “From Rust to Resilience: What climate change means for Great Lakes Cities,” was published from April 20 – May 1. “Lens on Lightfoot,” a seven-partner collaboration of Chicago newsrooms examining the administration of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, is ongoing.

In addition to INN, support for “Slammed: Rural health care and COVID-19” comes from the Solution Journalism Network. INN’s work on this collaboration is made possible by the Joyce Foundation’s support for INN’s Amplify News Project.

The collaboration’s objectives include engaging with the communities the partners are covering, making sure they are important voices in the work, enhancing the reach and impact of the reporting and also driving conversations about solutions.

“Ultimately, we hope to identify best practices by providers and communities to sustain the already fragile state of rural health care during this pandemic,” Aggarwal said.

If you have an idea for an editorial collaboration, please contact Sharon McGowan at