By Rachel Muenz
Almost every article I’ve read in urban newspapers about the countryside and its people seems to rely on stereotypes. Maybe it’s just because I’m from a small town and more sensitive to these things, but media coverage of rural areas often appears condescending.
The countryside is either pictured as a perfect utopia or barely civilized wilderness full of uneducated hillbillies.
I’ve read articles where people in small towns have been called “hicks” and “rubes” by the writers, derogatory terms that should not be tolerated in good journalism.
Usually, the bias is much more subtle.
Villages are always quaint and sleepy, hills are always rolling and gentle and the people are simple folk who lead slow, simple lives.
Yes, there are rolling hills in the country and some people might not have as much education as people who live in the city, but they certainly aren’t stupid. There are also plenty of university grads who live in small towns. Life might be different in rural areas but it is no simpler than life in the city.
But, to be fair to urban journalists, it can be hard to be accurate when you have little knowledge of your subject and little time to find out.
As a journalism student, I know how quickly journalists are expected to research and write their stories. Under that kind of pressure, whatever first comes to mind gets down on paper. If you’re a journalist with little experience of small towns, often what first comes to mind are probably stereotypes of farmers and “quaint” villages.
Still, this is no excuse for bad reporting. At the very least, journalists should write about people who happen to live in rural areas instead of their version of the typical “country person.” Focusing on the person first and their jobs and where they live second should help writers avoid stereotypes in an article.
Fact-checkers and editors should also be on the lookout to keep stereotypes from creeping into their reporters’ articles about rural towns and the people who live there.