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

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 About Rural America

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

America’s Rural Opportunity: Innovation Fueled Rural Economies

Innovation and collaborative local leadership are turning challenges into opportunities. Rather than wait on solutions from outside, many rural places are building on their existing assets and designing creative economic development approaches that drive toward more broadly shared prosperity while creating and retaining jobs.

Various logos
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

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.

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.

Mindset Shifts

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

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