The Rural Media Research Initiative (RMRI) supports rural citizens by working in partnership with content producers and consumers to develop research that benefits the rural media ecosystem, strengthening democracy and leading to a more informed public.

This is accomplished by supporting and conducting research concerning rural media, including media created in rural places and consumed by rural citizens. Among others, concepts of misinformation, media literacy, student and citizen journalism, technology access and adoption, and rural representation are key focus areas.

RMRI is a program of the Institute for Representation in Society and Media (IRSM), which is a non-profit research organization that produces original knowledge about the topics of how individuals, organizations, issues, and events are represented in society and media.


RMRI defines “rural” as areas of the country with “open countryside and settlements” (ers.usda.gov) with towns that are no larger than 50,000 residents (census.gov; hhs.gov) who often travel long distances for goods and services as they live in remote communities where the primary economic activities include agriculture, farming, and other resource-dependent industries. 


A large portion of the United States is classified as rural. Yet most research focuses on coastal areas and larger, metropolitan cities. This is exemplified by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election as rural citizens played a vital role in the outcome of that race. Furthermore, local journalism in the U.S. is at an inflection point. Newsrooms are evaporating, especially in small-town America. This results in news deserts, which, according to Penny Abernathy and the Local News Initiative, are communities with no local news coverage at all. Without media covering these places, the most important and pressing issues go unaddressed, and misinformation seeps into the public discourse. Then democracy erodes, and if it crumbles in rural America the foundation of the country will crack, setting the stage for the collapse of society.

By focusing on rural America, RMRI can engage rural Americans by amplifying the important voices in small-town communities, enabling dialogues that lead to powerful and positive change. Social capital can be built and strengthened, civic engagement can be increased, and the rural way of life can be supported.