ISWNE is planning a return to in-person annual conferences by gathering in Central Kentucky July 20-24.

Your host will be the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, where I’m a professor and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The conference will begin with two days of touring in Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region.

The region is known for Thoroughbred horses, but it’s also home to the oldest U.S. newspaper west of the Appalachians, the Bourbon County Citizen in Paris, near Lexington. We will visit the independently owned weekly, as well as nearby Claiborne Farm, home of the greatest Thoroughbred ever, Secretariat. And there may be another newspaper stop along the way.

Just as we did when the 2010 conference was held in Kentucky, we will start our explorations at a bourbon distillery, one very different from our previous stop. The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort was built before the Civil War and has not been reconfigured for tourists in the method of the Woodford Reserve distillery, which we visited in 2010. It’s a more realistic look at the operation of bourbon distilleries and the warehouses where the whiskey is aged, which can be a more important part of the manufacturing process than the distilling. We think you will enjoy the tour, and the products!

As we motor across the Bluegrass, we may see some tobacco fields, perhaps beginning to turn yellow, signaling the harvest to come. But another leafy crop has been grown in Kentucky for more than two centuries, and is on a track to again exceed tobacco in production: hemp. The legalization of industrial hemp, pushed by Kentucky politicians such as Sen. Mitch McConnell, has created a whole new industry of cannabis products, and we will visit Kentucky Cannabis Co., a major manufacturer and distributor of CBD products.

Kentucky Cannabis is located in the small town of Midway, so that will give us an opportunity to discuss the Midway Messenger, the mainly online newspaper that my students and I produced for 14 years and is being placed in the capable hands of The News-Graphic, a twice-weekly newspaper in nearby Georgetown. The Messenger was the forerunner of other university-operated news outlets for communities that once had their own local newspapers, and we will discuss that phenomenon.

We are still developing the professional programming for Friday and Saturday, and are open to your suggestions. ISWNE is focused on editorial concerns, but we know from our list-serve, personal discussions and other sources that business issues have become more important to many if not most of you than ever before. So, we want the programming to be responsive to the challenges facing weekly newspapers and contribute to their sustainability.

The programs and the awards banquet will be held in the new Gatton Student Center at UK, across Avenue of Champions from the dormitories where you will stay. The main dorm, Holmes Hall, was built just a few years ago and we think you will find it comfortable and convenient; it has meeting rooms ideal for the editorial critiques. Downtown Lexington is adjacent to the campus, and walkable; Lexington has a good bus system and plenty of Uber and Lyft drivers if you want to explore further.

We will stick with the $595 conference fee used for the most recent in-person conferences. More information, including a registration form, will be coming your way soon.

We will observe whatever COVID-19 protocols the university has in place at the time. We expect to require proof of vaccination or a negative test immediately upon arrival.

It will be great to gather again with ISWNE folks and we are excited about welcoming you to Kentucky.

Email Al Cross at

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