Review: Daily Yonder

3 stars
Authentic perspectives on rural America with a few hidden gems

In 2008, journalist and author Bill Bishop co-authored The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. It examines how communities across the US are becoming more politically one-sided. This isn’t just a Kentucky vs. California thing – within these states, you’ll find increasingly sharp political divisions. Part of the reason is that people like to live with others who think like them: they “sort” into communities that reflect their values.

In this climate of polarization, it can become easy to fall into stereotypes, and to lose sight of common concerns that all communities share: jobs, access to health care, working infrastructure, clean water and clean air, and so on. Bishop is also a journalist and the co-founding editor (with his wife) of the Daily Yonder, a website that focuses specifically on the needs of rural communities. As such, it also seeks to overcome stereotypes and help people see the diversity of rural America.

The Daily Yonder is published by the Center for Rural Strategies, a non-profit based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee. The Center had about $832K in revenue in 2014, much of it from well-established foundations like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (yes, named for the guy who founded the cereal company) and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Although there’s a big fundraising button on every page, individual or small organization contributions average to only about $20K a year.

Its reach can only be described as tiny at this point: The publication has about 3,500 followers on Twitter and another 3,500 on Facebook (the Facebook page is more regularly updated); its traffic rank is similarly underwhelming. There are some self-inflicted reasons for this: once you get past the frontpage, it’s easy to get lost in the laundry list of topics and inscrutable headlines without any kind of content preview. If clickbait is one extreme of how to present news and analysis, the Yonder is close to the other end.

This also shows a fundamental challenge covering “rural America” as a whole: it’s big, and it’s hard to make local stories exciting for people who aren’t from that specific part of the country. Right now, the frontpage tells me in large letters: “DYNAMIC DELTA LEADERS: EDUCATION IS THE KEY”. Is that a story I want to read? Who knows!

But if you dig, there is lots of good content here. The Viewfinder series, for example, showcases rural photography. The In the Black series is a column that relates the experiences of an underground coal miner. Beyond Coal examines the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The “Speak your piece” columns reflect on many aspects of rural life while staying clear of the vitriol that has become a mainstay of US politics.

Bill Bishop himself followed up on his “The Big Sort” analysis with an insightful article that examines the rapidly increasing percentage of voters who live in “landslide counties” where one of the two parties is likely to win a presidential election with large margins.

Each story has a small Disqus-enabled section for comments, though few stories attract significant discussion. The content is under conventional copyright, and some is syndicated from other sources.

The Verdict

The Daily Yonder deserves to exist, because it provides a much-needed journalistic perspective on rural America. But to truly reach people (rural or not), it will need to strive to become a more engaging source that can successfully perform the difficult task of translating local experiences into public interest journalism with broad appeal to readers in different parts of the country. Because it falls short of that potential, I give it 3 out of 5 stars. If you are interested in authentic perspectives on rural America, I do nevertheless recommend liking their Facebook page or subscribing to their RSS feeds as a way to keep up with their important work.