Published March 17, 2022

Authors and media specialists Christopher Ali (Farm Fresh Broadband) and Jennifer Lawless (News Hole) share their work and discuss the many challenges to open access to local news, including struggling newspapers, limited coverage of local government, and a widening divide between rural and urban broadband access. In conversation with Jim Brady of the Knight Foundation. This program is part of the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The initiative seeks to deepen the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the vital connections between democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry.

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“This is the definitive book on how the United States has failed to meet the communication needs of rural communities. Combining meticulous research with razor-sharp analysis, Ali opens a path to overturning this historic blunder.” ―Vincent Mosco, author of The Smart City in a Digital World

Farm Fresh Broadband is a timely contribution providing not only a detailed history of rural connectivity (from electricity to telephony to broadband) but also a much needed outline for a national rural broadband plan.” ―Roberto Gallardo, Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development, C&RE Specialist, Purdue Extension

“Democracy depends on informed citizens – and for generations, America’s rich landscape of local newspapers was an unparalleled source of information on state and local politics. So when media markets transform and local newspapers cut way back on their coverage of state and local issues, the threat to subnational democracy is acute. In an analysis that is at once sobering and compelling, Hayes and Lawless use a wealth of data to show precisely how deep the cuts to local political coverage have been – and how those cuts have in turn reduced Americans’ engagement in local politics. This book is written with a style, voice, and urgency that means that you need to read not just your local newspaper but this book from cover to cover.” ―Daniel Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania

“Two recent parallel trends bode ill for the vitality of grassroots democracy: the precipitous slump of voter participation in local elections and news coverage of candidates and issues. By exhaustively tracking and quantifying these dual declines, the authors of News Hole demonstrate their interconnectedness. News Hole is a scholarly work that yields new and valuable insights for political scientists and journalists, as well as ordinary citizens passionate about nurturing civic engagement.” ―Penelope Muse Abernathy, author of News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?


We thank The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support of this initiative and the Pulitzer Prizes for their partnership.

Virginia Festival of the Book staff, volunteers, partners, and attendees appreciate all of our sponsors. It is their crucial support, along with individual donors, that allows us to present the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book almost completely free of charge. We appreciate the generous commitment from our Premier Sponsor, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and these major sponsors: Michelle and David Baldacci, Dominion Energy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Community partners

We appreciate the support of our partners to share this event: Cardinal News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore, Foothills Forum, Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Virginia Library Association.

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