LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 4, 2023) — In a digital world where news is based on clicks and hidden behind paywalls, three University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information alumni are taking a different approach to journalism. These three alumni are a part of the Kentucky Lantern, a free, nonpartisan news service which allows readers to access articles without paywalls or subscriptions and allows other news outlets to republish the website’s articles free of charge with attribution.
Jamie Lucke, a 1976 journalism graduate, serves as the editor-in-chief of the Kentucky Lantern while McKenna Horsley and Sarah Ladd, both 2019 journalism graduates, are reporters for the outlet. The team consists of just one other reporter aside from these alums as well as a team of freelance contributors. Based just a short stroll away from the Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, the four-person Kentucky Lantern team covers news across the state.
The team launched their daily newsletter and website on Nov. 30, 2022, covering the state’s economy, environment, government and health. While the Kentucky Lantern is new, the idea of nonprofit newsrooms is not. The Kentucky Lantern is a part of States Newsroom, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit newsroom that operates similar newsrooms across 33 other states.
Lucke, a former editorial writer at the Lexington Herald Leader, was the first to come on board the Kentucky Lantern and brought on the other three team members in fall of 2022. Ladd joined the team next after her time at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, as a COVID-19 and health reporter. Horsley came to the team after her experience as a reporter at The State Journal in Frankfort, Kentucky, and The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, West Virginia.
Ladd said Kakie Urch, Ladd’s mentor and associate professor in the School of Journalism and Media, was the first to suggest she may be a good fit for the Kentucky Lantern.
“She finally convinced me to apply and to pitch myself as what I wanted to do, which was health reporting,” Ladd said. “The more I researched and read, the more I was drawn to and intrigued by the model of free and accessible news in this nonprofit model.”
Horsley shared a similar sense of intrigue with the nonprofit model and what it may mean to Kentuckians.
“I think our role is bringing this extra voice to what state politics coverage can be like here in Kentucky,” Horsley said.
The impact of this “extra voice” can already be seen in the responses the team receives. Since launching, the newsletter has garnered thousands of subscribers and clicks. Both Ladd and Horsley expressed that they had received positive emails where readers said they appreciated the lack of a paywall, the depth of coverage and the ease of republishing. Lucke said she hopes to keep the momentum going.
“What I’d really like to do is lift up the stories of Kentucky people to illuminate and explain policy and to shine a light on the place where people and policy intersect,” Lucke said. “In doing that, we hold powerful people and powerful institutions accountable to the public and taxpayers. To me, that’s our guiding light.”
In working toward this goal, all the alumnae mentioned the positive impact that their time at UK had on getting them to this point and preparing them to move forward.
Lucke said she owed her 40-year journalism career to the faculty and experiences during her time in the journalism program. Ladd shared a similar sentiment.
“I think that the school offered these quality classes, but then also mentors for life,” Ladd said. “I just remember not understanding and not knowing what a professional female journalist really looked like, because most of my encounters were with male ones, but Kakie showed me what it meant to be a female journalist.”
As former staff members at the Kentucky Kernel, Ladd and Horsley both mentioned the importance of gaining experience while in school, whether through the Kentucky Kernel, internships or a passion project.
“There were a lot of experiences beyond the classroom that really solidified the journalist I am today,” Horsley said.
An internship with the Kentucky Lantern is one example of experience outside of the classroom that students can take advantage of. Current intern Mariah Kendell, a senior journalism and political science dual major, shared the impact that her time at the Kentucky Lantern has had on her job search as she approaches graduation.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to learn from the most outstanding journalists in the state, who are pioneering the future of the news industry,” Kendell said. “I’ve always known that I wanted to work at the intersection of media and government, and this internship has given me a fresh perspective on both.”
Lucke hopes the Kentucky Lantern and States Newsroom’s other nonprofit newsrooms across the country can not only give interns and employees a fresh perspective but also serve as an industry example for what the future of journalism could look like.
“We’re not alone in this nonprofit model, and I feel like we’re a kind of hybrid that brings a lot of the best of the traditional industry into maybe a more workable business model for the future,” Lucke said. “I hope we can be an example of how to get people the good, solid information they need to make informed decisions. That is one of the biggest challenges of our era, and this model may be a way for future journalists to address that.”
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.