As I write this week’s column, two of the Independent’s staff members are on their way to Keene, N.H. to take part in the fourth annual Radically Rural Summit. Paul Benson, who has been a staff reporter since soon after we launched the newspaper two years ago and who has done outstanding work investigating and explaining complicated issues of town governance, housing, municipal finance, and health, is representing the editorial side of our enterprise.
Emma Doyle, who joined us one year ago as advertising account manager and is a big reason why the newspaper has been able to pay its bills and continue to grow through this pandemic period, is representing the business and marketing side of the staff at the conference.
People come from all over the U.S. to Keene for Radically Rural. They come to trade ideas and inspiration for improving life in small cities and towns and for innovative approaches to solving local problems.
This year, the event has been organized in seven tracks, representing important themes in repairing and sustaining rural life: arts and culture, entrepreneurship, Main Street, health care, land and community, clean energy, and community journalism. I was at the first Radically Rural Summit in 2018, when I was still working at the Provincetown Banner, and I was struck by the recognition that, as unique as the Outer Cape is, we have many of the same concerns and struggles that people in towns all over the country are facing.
In every community, the survival of Main Street is central to a sense of place, and the loss of local, family-owned businesses diminishes its character and resilience.
In the same way, without new business start-ups, the expertise needed to guide them, and the investment capital necessary to sustain them, small-town life cannot survive. The Radically Rural Summit includes what’s called the “PitchFork Challenge,” an event that offers cash awards for pitching good ideas and also serves as a model for bringing together banks, community organizations, entrepreneurs, and others who want to help local businesses find local loans and investors.
It’s telling, of course, that one of the conference tracks is journalism. “Local journalism,” write the Radically Rural organizers, “a bedrock for informed and successful small communities, is under threat. More and more towns are losing their local news sources. We know that when a trusted local news operation leaves a town, taxes increase, bond rates worsen, and community economic development suffers.”
The problems of housing, economic development, rural health care, and clean energy won’t be solved without new ideas and collaboration, or without breaking out of traditional boundaries and roles. Paul and Emma are great examples. He is not just a reporter, but also a problem solver in the finance arena who helped us navigate the SBA’s confusing pandemic relief programs. Emma is not just a great advertising sales manager, but also a deeply thoughtful writer about mind, body, and soul.
That’s how things work in a scrappy small enterprise like this one: everyone has more than one job. If nothing else, it keeps us nimble.