February 20, 2008

Rural Journalism loses a friend and champion

Many COMJIG members are familiar or involved with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which is directed by active COMJIG member Al Cross. Earlier this week, Al sent us some bad news: Rudy Abramson, a nationally known journalist who helped start the IRJCI, died Feb. 13 from injuries suffered in a fall at his home in Reston, Va. Rudy was 70.

Rudy's professional chops are solid: He was a Washington reporter for the L.A. Times for three decades, his biography of American statesman Averell Harriman was critically acclaimed, and along with Jean Haskell he edited the very useful Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Most recently, he was working on a biography of Eastern Kentucky lawyer and author Harry Caudill, and he was active in efforts to prevent an amusement park from being built next to a Civil War battelfield.

For the IRJCI, Rudy was an enthusiastic champion of community journalism, particularly those editors in small towns who showed bravery, integrity, and tenacity in holding accountable the powers that be. Those who had the pleasure to hear Rudy's detailed and enthralling tales of brave community journalists at IRJCI functions will no doubt miss Rudy's storytelling skills.

A full obituary is currently on the front page of the IRJCI Web site, but I wanted to include here an excerpt of that obit, a quote from IRJCI co-founder Al Smith:

“Although he was always a big city reporter, Rudy never forgot his rural roots in northern Alabama,” said Al Smith, the Lexington journalist who co-founded the Institute with Abramson. “He was passionately concerned about environmental and economic problems in Appalachia. While writing stories about the region, he concluded that one major improvement might be to help local news folks do a better job covering the serious issues. That’s how we came up with the ideas for the Institute, which we sold to President Lee Todd at UK.”

I urge COMJIG members to keep our friends Al Cross, Al Smith, and others at the IRJCI in our thoughts as they mourn the loss of their friend, who was a true champion of community journalism.

A memorial service for Rudy will be held at the Freedom Forum's Newseum in Washington, D.C., at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26.

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