As part of an ongoing effort to improve the Rappahannock News’ coverage of Rappahannock County’s most pressing issues — as well as important stories that require time and labor to tell properly — the parent company of this newspaper has signed an agreement with Foothills Forum, a newly organized Rappahannock County nonprofit whose mission encompasses such improved coverage in the local paper.
The Foothills Forum mission — as stated simply on the organization’s foothills-forum.org homepage and in greater detail in a column on the editorial page of this week’s paper by Foothills board chair Larry “Bud” Meyer — is to “be a catalyst for community engagement, research and solutions.”
“Foothills Forum is tackling the need for more fact-based, in-depth coverage of the issues we care about in Rappahannock County,” writes Meyer. “Why? Because a more informed, engaged community makes better choices and decisions for the long term.”
“The Rappahannock News is proud to be part of this pioneering venture with Foothills Forum,” said Dennis Brack, president of Rappahannock Media, which owns this newspaper as well as the weekly Culpeper Times and the quarterly regional magazine Piedmont Virginian. “It’s exciting to imagine the journalistic possibilities made possible through this partnership.”
The collaboration between the nonprofit and the for-profit newspaper began as a discussion more than a year ago at one of the paper’s monthly “Fourth (Estate) Friday” coffee-and-discussion meetings; by last fall, the organization had elected a board and began fundraising and networking (an effort all are welcome to join, as Meyer writes on the editorial page).
Such public-private agreements are increasingly common, as newspapers around the world struggle to deal with the digital revolution and readers’ shifting habits — although the revolution has hit newspaper revenue far harder than readership, especially among Rappahannock’s older-than-average population. Still, the Rappahannock News’ full-time editorial staff has shrunk from four a decade ago to one.
As part of the one-year pilot agreement between Foothills Forum and Rappahannock Media, Foothills Forum plans to develop “editorial matter” — which, initially, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research, will include a comprehensive mail-out survey of Rappahannock’s 3,000-plus households.
The survey results, its trends and conclusions — which Foothills hope will identify “the broadest baseline yet of what we care about” in Rappahannock — will be turned over to the Rappahannock News, which will publish and report on those results at its own discretion and using its own editorial judgement.
As part of the agreement, if the News agrees to publish the initial survey results in a four-page special section, Foothills Forum will pay the newspaper $4,000. An additional $6,000 is available to the newspaper over the course of the one-year agreement to cover the costs of the newspaper’s independent reporting and coverage of survey-identified issues and related stories.
Transparency also being a goal of both the newspaper and the Foothills Forum, the News will not only credit Foothills Forum as the source of any content it contributes, but all stories based on its content will appear with a note: “This special news coverage is made possible by support from the Foothills Forum, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.”
The full agreement is posted on the Foothills Forum website here.
Following the initial release of Foothills’ Rappahannock survey data, some of the newspaper’s plans for increased coverage include monthly in-depth, research-based reports on the issues that survey respondents identify as most pressing, illustrating statistics with interviews — with key policymakers locally, as well as their counterparts in areas across the region, or across the country, who may already have begun work on solutions.
Online, the monthly features would be expanded and presented in a digital-journalism format that allows integration of video, photos, graphics, maps and enhanced discussion/comment elements.
On the Rappahannock News’ editorial/opinion pages, the newspaper also plans to begin including a weekly feature based on comments from the newspaper’s articles online (at rappnews.com) as well as from the online discussion forums currently under construction at rappnews.com.
In addition to career newspaper editor, media foundation executive and (since shortly after moving to Rappahannock nine years ago) novelist Bud Meyer, the Foothills Forum board of director also includes attorney and corporate executive Beverly E. Jones, who is the board’s vice chair; Beverly Atkins, lifelong Rappahannock resident and community volunteer who has served as the county’s commissioner of the revenue for close to 30 years; retired attorney and Sperryville resident Stephen Brooks; former teacher and consultant William Dietel, a Flint Hill resident for 34 years whose experience in philanthropy started with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1970; David Massie, conservation specialist with the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District who was raised on the cattle farm his family has operated in Rappahannock for going on five generations; photographer and Heritage Hollow Farm co-owner Molly McDonald Peterson; attorney and publishing executive Alfred Regnery, a Rappahannock resident since 2012 (and a B&B co-owner since last year) who served with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the U.S. justice department in the ’70s and ’80s and was president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, an independent book-publishing firm, and American Spectator magazine.
The Foothills Forum’s board of advisors includes Monica Worth (co-chair), Andy Alexander, Ralph Bates, Harold Beebout, Matthew Black, Jim Blubaugh, Judith DeSarno, Elizabeth L. Dietel, Edward Dolnick, Jed Duvall, Hal Hunter, Waldo Jaquith, Bette Mahoney, Mike Mahoney, Forrest Marquisee, David Shaffer, Butch Zindel, Dennis Brack, Walter Nicklin and William Walton.