Accurate Rural Narrative

Public media and dialogue consistently relate an accurate understanding of the history, conditions, lived experience, and economic, demographic, cultural, and geographic diversity of rural communities and Native nations.

Investment and partnership in and with rural and tribal communities requires that those outside rural places understand the substantial and essential assets and innovation that rural people, businesses, and resources consistently produce and provide for the nation’s well-being. Yet rural and tribal communities are negatively impacted by inaccurate, stereotyped, and demeaning narratives that shape perspectives and expectations for both those outside and inside these communities. 

For rural places and people to prosper, the realities and lived experience of the true diversity of rural people, places, cultures, perspectives, and economies must be fairly and fully represented in media information and portrayals.


Evidence suggests this building block is important because narratives play multiple roles in social change,1 including the words we use and in guiding action.2 Reports featuring interviews with journalists and community members offer strategies for representing rural communities with accuracy, nuance, and consistency in media (for example, see Hattaway 2020)3. Policy actors and citizens can also use narrative strategically to influence policy outcomes or decisions4 and to engage with stories in the public sphere.

Experts explain that narratives can influence social change by changing frames, forming identity and guiding action1 and by offering counter-narratives.5,p25 Changing frames can entail efforts to shift mindsets—the “deep, assumed patterns of thinking that shape how we make sense of the world and what we do”.6 Relatedly, narratives with depth can provide a foundation for our collective and individual understanding of history and current events.7 

Narratives also help to shape our personal identities and grow our sense of agency through the connection of our personal stories with broader narratives and our values and expectations.5,8,9 Narratives can also shape collective identity10 and contribute to the creation of a shared sense of belonging and community identity—around which people make meaning and take action.11 Narratives are part of the diffusion of ideas and practices, which people borrow and modify locally, often to promote cultural change.12 

Narrative in public media and dialogue represents an opportunity to accurately reflect a community’s priorities. Research on the inclusion of “lived experience,” which can mean local leadership and voices, suggests this perspective can serve as a critique, challenge existing impressions, and provide “empathetic immersion”.13 A report on narrative infrastructure-building work explains that diverse, aligned coalitions can “advance narratives using authentic language in ways that reflects the unique experience of their members across race, place, religion, and immigration status,” and suggests basing these coalitions in rural areas to ensure rural communities’ “values, ideas, vision, and experiences are fully inscribed in the shared narratives” elevated by the coalition (for more, see Swenson-Lengyel 201914).

  1. Wittmayer 2019
  2. Jarva 2014b in Wittmayer 2019
  3. Hattaway 2020
  4. Crow 2018
  5. Davies, 2002, p. 25
  6. Frameworks 2020
  7. Narrative Initiative-What is Narrative? in Frameworks 2020
  8. Rappaport 1995
  9. Riessman, 2008  in Wittmayer 2019
  10. Somers & Gibson, 1994 in Wittmayer 201
  11. Pfotenhauer & Jasanoff 2017 in Wittmayer 2019
  12. Malets 2014
  13. McIntosh 2018
  14. Swenson-Lengyel 2019

Curated Resources

Research Brief
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Building Trust and Visibility Through Community-Based Participatory Research at Rural Minority-Serving Institutions

This research brief explores how rural MSIs and approaches to community-based participatory research can be used to better understand MSIs’ nature and practices.

Case Study
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Communicating for Connection: West Virginia Community Development Hub

This short case study has insights and tips on how rural development practitioners can move beyond neutrality and still communicate effectively with community members from across the political spectrum.

Truth can win if we change course and focus on local news

Disinformation has found a stronghold as news deserts spread through much of rural America. Local journalism can help.

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Ten Media Sources Focused on Rural Communities and Native Nations

Check out our roundup of ten media sources highlighting important issues about and to rural communities and Native nations.

People stand in rural forest. Woman in pink vest has professional camera and records another woman and tree stumps.
Changing the Narrative: Building Trust Through Rural Media

Insights on how we can promote accurate rural narratives and increase local media to build trust and new relationships across geography.

Image of report cover with text Revealing Rural Realities: What Fuels Inaccurate and Incomplete Coverage of Rural Issues?
Revealing Rural Realities: What Fuels Inaccurate and Incomplete Coverage of Rural Issues?

This report underscores and articulates how ongoing changes in the structure and business of media and journalism contribute to the…

A Few Things to Know Abut Rural America report page
A Few Things to Know About Rural America

Knowing what is true about rural places and people is a challenge. Too often, people lump all of rural America…

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Learning Through Collaboration: Field Leaders Drive Critical Conversations

Setting the scene: Over eight hundred people in the virtual room, watching and listening, sharing resources in the chat, and…

Field Items

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Narrative Change

Case studies and reports from StrengthenND about narrative change around newcomers to North Dakota

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Small Talk with Communities Unlimited

Small Talk with Communities Unlimited (CU) is a new podcast for rural communities to help highlight the challenges they face and introduce solutions CU is using to address them.


Rural America is far more diverse than how it is portrayed in media and popular culture. This series from Partners for Rural Transformation and NPQ highlights that topic and efforts to address multi-generational poverty.

3 Lessons from a Storytelling Podcast

Hattaway Communications interviews Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Tony Pipa on his podcast Reimagine Rural. Tony shares three best practices for challenging negative cultural narratives through storytelling.

Rural Aperture Project logo
The Rural Aperture Project: Leveraging data to gain new insights into rural America

The Rural Aperture Project from the Center on Rural Innovation is intended to provide all those advancing rural prosperity — from practitioners…

Reimagine Rural Podcast

Hosted by Tony Pipa, a scholar in the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution and a product of rural America, each episode features local voices telling the story of progress in their rural community and considering the intersection with policy and public resources.

How to Talk about Rural Issues report cover
How to Talk About Rural Issues

This brief summary highlights FrameWorks Institute’s research on public perceptions of rural issues. See research highlights, recommendations, and examples of framing decisions this research helps to clarify.

What's in and What's out in Nave Representation text with background of headshots of Native people

In the past few years, Native and Indigenous representation has shifted and changed in a positive way. Check out IllumiNative’s take on what’s in and what’s out in Native representation.

The Rural Blog cover
The Rural Blog

A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

American Journalism Project

Local journalism keeps communities informed and holds the powerful accountable. It is the key to an informed citizenry and provides the tools to safeguard a healthy democracy — but the industry is in crisis.

Three Indigenous women sit around a table
Reclaiming Native Truth

Reclaiming Native Truth is a national effort to foster cultural, social and policy change by empowering Native Americans to counter discrimination, invisibility and the dominant narratives that limit Native opportunity, access to justice, health and self-determination.

Mindset Shifts: What Are They? Why do They Matter? How do They Happen?
Mindset Shifts

A FrameWorks Strategic Report for those working on and funding mindset shifts.

Image that says, "BROKE is an intervention for the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors to communicate justly about how the rich got rich and how the poor stay poor."
Building Narrative Power for Economic Justice

See slides from BROKE Project which examines the stories people tell about poverty and wealth, and builds new narratives rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, narrative power, organizing for economic justice, and social science.

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The Daily Yonder

The Daily Yonder provides news, commentary, and analysis about and for rural America. It is published by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies.

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Indian Country Today (ICT)

ICT is a spacious channel that serves Indigenous communities with news, entertainment, and opinion. ICT is an independent, nonprofit, multimedia news enterprise.

Center on Rural Innovation Logo
CORI Rural Toolkit

The Center on Rural Innovation’s library of resources and strategies for facing the challenges in rural communities.

Mother in traditional Native American garb kisses her toddler's cheek
Recommendations to Improve Relations Between Indigenous Communities and Local News in Colorado

These reflections on how local news and Indigenous communities interact were among many that surfaced during the 2022 Indigenous Voices working group discussions.

We see the framework as a living document, which necessarily must evolve over time, and we seek to expand the collective ownership of the Thrive Rural Framework among rural equity, opportunity, health, and prosperity ecosystem actors. Please share your insights with us about things the framework is missing or ways it should change.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group