Coming Home: Connecting to Community

Celebrating Rural America

Pictured: “Alabamaland” is a feature-length documentary about three generations of black women exploring their very different ties to Jones Farm in Western Alabama, the same plot of land that their ancestors once worked as slaves. Funded in part by ITVS. Photo credit: April Dobbins

Coming Home: Connecting to Community is a public media collaboration supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that celebrates the people, culture, and stories of rural America through authentic local voices and talent. This multi-faceted collaborative will showcase local stories about the diversity, traditions and richness of small towns and rural life.

Coming Home: Connecting to Community speaks to all Americans as public media stations elevate stories about what home means, the contributions and significance of America’s small towns, and about shared values across communities. The collaboration harnesses the power of public media through a national/local network of storytellers, producers and distributors. Working with local community partners, public media can uniquely preserve community stories about traditions, aspirations, struggles and what it means to be an American.

A look at recent and upcoming films on Independent Lens and other producing partners about rural America.

Public Media’s Role

To inform this coordinated effort, CPB has engaged thought leaders, national public media organizations, and public media general managers serving rural communities. In a survey of 162 public television stations conducted in 2018, stations highlighted more than 120 local, rural-related productions that have the potential to be shared across the system. General managers expressed interest in building greater local capacity in the following areas:

  • Digital storytelling
  • Deep community engagement
  • Content sharing with both a regional and national audience
  • Alignment of local work with national projects

CPB will be providing funding to 10 public media stations serving rural communities to support these efforts. The funding will assist homegrown rural producers, filmmakers and storytellers to put their unique and authentic stamp on what life in rural America truly entails.

CPB also recently funded the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) to train, mentor and provide technical assistance to help strengthen small, rural stations’ organizational capacities, as well as diversify their revenue streams. Participating stations include: WTIP (Grand Marais, Minnesota), WERU (East Orland, Maine), WMMT (Whitesburg, Kentucky), WNCU (Durham, North Carolina), WXPR (Rhinelander, Wisconsin), KBFT (Nett Lake, Minnesota), KWSO (Warm Springs, Oregon), KTNA (Talkeetna, Alaska), KZUM (Lincoln, Nebraska), and KRTS (Marfa, Texas).

In addition, members of the National Multicultural Alliance (NMCA) have identified over 50 potential programs featuring rural stories from Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

PRX is championing experimentation, risk-taking and stepping outside of creative comfort zones through Project Catapult, which encourages stations around the country to create podcasts meaningful to their communities while also developing new talent within the public media system. WKMS in Murray, Kentucky is a member of the project’s third cohort of stations and will be working on creating a podcast on demystifying the rural experience.  

Thought Leaders
from Rural America

Sarah Smarsh, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, American journalist and author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, has emphasized the importance of sharing local stories from rural communities and underscored public media’s opportunity to bring those stories to the forefront.


“We like to define ourselves, rather than having people from outside of Arkansas define us.”
―Former Governor and Senator David Pryor on the importance of local storytelling.


Coming Home Graph


Recently Shared Stories from Rural America:

  • Monrovia, Indiana illustrates how values like community service, duty, spiritual life, generosity and authenticity are formed, experienced and lived alongside conflicting stereotypes in a small town.
  • Harvest Public Media covers topics such as agribusiness, biofuels, climate change, farming and ranching, food safety, and rural life from the Heartland.
  • Portraits & Dreams Revisited looks back at the family and rural life of children in a coal mining region in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
  • With support from CPB, 37 public radio and television stations across the nation used “Country Music: A film by Ken Burns,” as a spring board for local story development and celebrations about the history and impact of music in local communities, such as the local podcast, ”Raised in Knoxville” from WUOT talking about how country music was raised in Knoxville, one of the largest cities in the Appalachian region. 
  • In addition, Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s program featuring an Alaska Native lead character who shares her adventures in a small village. Created with local advisors and writers, this educational program for 4-8-year olds highlights the indigenous knowledge, cultures, values and traditions of Alaska Native peoples, while showcasing contemporary aspects of rural life. (Molly of Denali is funded through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn grant program.)
The Providers explores the relationship between healthcare professionals, their patients, and their community in rural New Mexico.