Lessons on Overcoming Polarization from Bowling Green and Ohio County, Kentucky
Political polarization. The so-called urban-rural divide. A growing sense of distrust for journalists. In the wake of a contentious presidential election, how are these national issues playing out in everyday media use?
This pilot study examines what political polarization looks like at the local level, and provides recommendations for how local journalists and community members might bridge the divides of party and demographics. By diving into the media consumption of a small group in Bowling Green and Ohio County, Kentucky, we were able to get a sense of how residents in a region largely considered rural, red, and “flyover”—and either Midwestern or Southern, depending on who you ask—are interpreting and adapting to the current political moment.
Through a series of focus groups, story diaries, and interviews, we asked Bowling Green and Ohio County residents how they decide what news to trust, what to verify, and what to avoid. We also talked to them about how their reading of the news affects how they engage with neighbors of different political persuasions—who they may see at a soccer game or on a Facebook page, but with whom they may not have any meaningful interaction.
Based on these conversations, our recommendations for local media and other community members to foster a more inclusive political dialogue include:
- Explore local issues and local angles on national issues, with a solutions journalism approach (which looks for responses to problems)
- Collaborate with outlets that residents are already reading, watching, or listening to
- Provide opportunities for community engagement and participatory journalism.
This report is the first part of an ongoing project in the region. This initial research will set the agenda for a workshop with journalists, citizens, and community groups in Kentucky. Through that workshop, we hope participants will design initiatives to guide local news outlets in engaging meaningfully with regional community issues across divides.