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Ohio Valley Resource, Appalshop reporter Becker among Nieman special reporting fellowship winners

A rural reporter, a small-city editor and an investigative reporter and editor from Puerto Rico the first recipients of a new fellowship from The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University “to support reporting and public service investigations in under-served news markets,” as it is described by the Boston-based Abrams Foundation, which funds it.

The 2019 Abrams Nieman Fellows for Local Investigative Journalism are Benny Becker, a reporter for Appalshop’s WMMT in Whitesburg, and Ohio Valley ReSource, a collaborative of public radio stations serving Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia; Nathan Payne, executive editor of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. daily in a Northern Michigan town of 14,000; and Laura N. Pérez Sánchez of Puerto Rico.

After two semesters at Harvard with other Nieman fellows, the Abrams fellows will receive funding for up to nine months of fieldwork at home, where they will work on a public service reporting project and participate in specialized journalism education. Becker plans to research ways to fund infrastructure “in rural communities that are struggling with the collapse of an extractive economy,” which describes the Central Appalachian coalfield in which he lives.

Payne plans to study the impact of data-driven investigative journalism on public perceptions of local media organizations, with special attention to the effects of mental health policies on local communities. Pérez Sánchez will examine Puerto Rico’s reconstruction and use of relief funds after Hurricane Maria. (A “Frontline” documentary that aired on PBS last night suggests there is still plenty of news to cover on that front.)

The Nieman fellowships are generally considered the leading mid-career fellowships for journalists. None of the Michigan-Wallace fellows at the University of Michigan or the John S. Knight fellows at Stanford University, also announced Tuesday, have a rural background.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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