The Rural Blog

A publication of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Friday, Dec. 31, 2004

U. S. Postal Service cuts may further diminish rural mail delivery

The nation's back roads won't escape the economic and cultural impact of changes that may come during the new yar from a possible overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service that is being considered in Congress.

But Robert Gutsche Jr. writes in a special report in The Washington Post, “Washington lawmakers are still stalled over how much flexibility to give the Postal Service in setting its own prices and whether the service should have more control over its pension savings and other retirement benefits. But with the Postal Service thinking about another postage increase, Congress probably will address the proposed legislation early in the new session.”

For the past 10 years, the USPS has been closing post offices to consolidate the sorting of mail at regional hubs and adding technology to the way workers handle mail to save the agency money, writes Gutsche. Those changes have already had lasting effects on rural mail service:“In tiny Woodman, Wis., for instance, the federal government closed its post office almost five years ago and initially moved operations into a small tavern where people would sort and pick up their mail. But mail has not been sorted there in at least three years. Now when people send mail, it gets postmarked three towns away.”

Grutsche reports a glimmer of hope for small communities around the nation. “These closings mean jobs to small communities, but there is little to suggest an overhaul of USPS operations would signal a large drop in the need for rural mail carriers.” USPS officials told the newspaper, postal jobs overall are expected to decline through 2012 as post offices continue to turn to technology. Rural carriers numbered 46,000 in the mid-1990s rising to about 63,000 today, one-fifth of the country's total carriers.

North Carolina board orders new ag commissioner election; court fight looms

The North Carolina Board of Elections has decided to resolve a two-month-old fight over the election for commissioner of agriculture by ordering a new election, but Republicans on the board are promising a court fight to overturn the plan, which could cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

The board “voted Wednesday to hold a statewide election in March or April,” reports Sharif Durhams of The Charlotte Observer’s Raleigh Bureau. “Republicans . . . cried foul. They argued the board's three Democrats crafted the election through an illegal procedural move and that a judge will cancel the new vote. New elections typically require support of four of the five board members. The Democrats argued they had backed a new election with four votes before -- a limited revote on the race in coastal Carteret County to replace more than 4,400 lost votes. Technically, the Democrats said, they were simply amending that order to apply statewide. The motion by board member Bob Cordle of Charlotte passed 3-2.”

Returns show Republican Steve Troxler with a 2,287-vote lead over incumbent Democrat Britt Cobb, but “a faulty electronic voting machine lost 4,438 Carteret votes, enough votes to make a difference in the race,” Durhams reports. “Troxler said he probably will appeal the ruling.”

Appalachian Law School shooting case settled for $1 million

The family of a student killed in a shooting at the Appalachian School of Law, along with three students wounded in the attack, settled their multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the school yesterday for $1 million. The cases had been moved to Roanoke for fear the Wise County judiciary is too closely tied to the school.

Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports officials at the Grundy, Va., school “accepted no responsibility for the results of a disgruntled student's decision to open fire on his classmates and school administrators in 2002, even though students had warned that the student was potentially dangerous.”

School President Lu Ellsworth said outside a Roanoke courtroom the school agreed to settle the suits to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle, writes Bowman. Ellsworth told Bowman, "I do not believe there was any basis to predict this kind of occurrence or that any violence would occur on campus."

The family of shooting victim Angela Dales and the three survivors filed their suits in January seeking nearly $23 million. The lawsuits claimed poor security at the school and a negligent attitude “allowed a gun-wielding student to turn the campus into a scene of bloody carnage on Jan. 16, 2002.” Dales' father, Danny Dales, said family members decided to settle to put the tragedy behind them and avoid a lengthy legal process: "I'm of a settled mind now, more so than I've ever been. This is the best, I think, for my family."

The student who fired on school officials and students soon after learning he was being forced out for poor grades, Peter Odighizuwa, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving six life sentences. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but after treatment he was deemed mentally competent to stand trial.

Scavengers scour Southern Kentucky town, looking for radio treasure

A Christmas promotion by a Kentucky radio station turned into the lead story for the local weekly newspaper this week, as hundreds of people searched for a holiday treasure trove that proved more difficult to find than the station expected.

“Treasure hunt keeps Albany on the move” read the main headline in the Clinton County News, above a long story and photograph chronicling the swarms of citizens who were scouring the area around the town’s main intersection – which WANY Radio’s clues indicated to many was the likely location of a document with instructions on how to claim the $700 in prizes and $500 in cash.

“We expected someone to find it during the first of Christmas week,” three weeks after the first clues were broadcast, Pam Allred, owner of WANY, told the News. “Randy (Speck, the station manager) and I have seen people within two feet of it and then all of a sudden they just turned around and walked away.”

On Monday, the station began eliminating some clues, which had been distributed to local merchants as part of a shop-at-home promotion in the town of 2,000 and county of 10,000. “The entire idea behind the hunt was ‘Shop at Home.’ That’s why we have taken a clue to each store every day ... to get people into the stores,” Speck said. “I’m sure many people haven’t been into some of the stores in over 20 years.”

Year-end treats on W.Va. air: Tonight, a taste of country on Public Radio

“Tonight, Joe Dobbs brings a hot-apple-pie musical treat to the windowsill as his show 'Music from the Mountains,' presents 'An Evening in Mayberry' at 9 p.m. on West Virginia Public Radio.” That's a countryfied lead that likely will have listeners salivating, and that we just had to quote verbatim.

Herald-Dispatch music columnist Dave Lavender invites listeners to tune to Huntington's WVWV at 89.9 FM. Lavender writes that the program, recorded live at last September’s Glenville State College Bluegrass Festival, features festival organizer and Mayberry aficionado and fellow fiddler Buddy Griffin as well as the bluegrass band known in TV land as "The Darlings" and by bluegrass fans as The Dillards.

West Virginia Public Radio can be heard in portions of surrounding states -- Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. For more info go online at

Tomorrow: Saturday Night Jamboree, pioneer country cavalcade, lives again

Anyone who grew up in the 50s and early 60s in the area of West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio will remember a “home-baked” television tradition know as the “WSAZ Saturday Night Jamboree” that showcased local and national talent live for 11 years from 1953 to 1964.

That tradition will be resurrected this weekend in a wave of country nostalgia in Huntington, W.Va., reports the Herald-Dispatch. The newspaper details preparations by a number of performers and program talent who either dreamed of appearing on the show years ago in their youth, or are descendants of the show’s original staff.

“Saturday night at 7, Rick Ruggles, a lifelong musician and songwriter, fulfills a boyhood dream -- he gets to play the Jamboree,” writes music columnist Dave Lavender. “Ruggles, 57, is just one of 14 local classic country artists who will be playing the Saturday Night Jamboree, a free show at the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium.” The show will be hosted by Alan Sturm, the son of original "Jamboree" host Dean Sturm.

The old show was “Like a home-baked Grand Ole Opry-style show… (and) featured a stream of local talent from The Haylofters, a square dance group, to singers and talented musicians from near and far that included Bobby Bare, Loren Greene, and many others,” writes Lavender.

Oldest North Carolina resident dies at 112; life predated aviation and the auto

The oldest North Carolinian and oldest graduate of Duke University -- who was born six years before the Spanish-American War and lived through two world wars and the birth of the automobile, aviation, television and the Internet -- has died less than a month before her 113th birthday.

The Durham Herald-Sun reports that Ruby Lee Markham Drakeford, a retired teacher, died Wednesday of advanced age and was developing pneumonia. Drakeford was born in Durham on Jan. 25, 1892, and graduated from Trinity College, now Duke University, in 1912, the year the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, The Associated Press noted. Curtis Booker of Durham, whose great-grandmother was Drakeford's aunt, said "She was just shy of her 12th birthday when the Wright Brothers flew."

According to the Gerontology Research Group at the University of California at Los Angeles, she was the fourth-oldest documented American and 10th-oldest documented person in the world, Herald-Sun staff writer Jim Wise reports. The documentation: Drakeford's age was listed as 8 in the 1900 Census.

Friday, Aug. 20, 2004

Medicare to pay rural hospitals more

New Medicare reimbursement rates, which begin Oct. 1, are a welcome change for rural hospitals in financial trouble, the Associated Press reports. “Basically, they lose money when they treat Medicare patients,” said Michael Robbins, the West Virginia Hospital Association’s vice president for financial policy. “Now, they may not be recovering all their costs, but they will get a little help.”

Congress authorized higher rates, beginning April 1, in a law passed last year. The Oct. 1 change is only the third full inflation-adjusted increase for inpatient care in the last 20 years, according to Bloomberg News. Rural rates will go up 3.2 percent, about double the increase for other hospitals.

Farmers and their bankers decry foreign takeover of farm credit outlet

Farm lenders and the National Farmers Union are objecting to a Dutch bank's planned acquisition of Farm Credit Services of America, which is based in Omaha and serves Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. Rabobank, which operates in 35 countries and has more than $500 billion in assets, making it one of the world’s largest banks, announced the purchase July 30. FCSA has $7.8 billion in assets.

The deal is bad for American agriculture because FCSA will have to leave the U.S. Farm Credit System, said leaders of Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, which is based in Louisville and serves Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. It said the Farm Credit Administration should deny FCSA's application to leave the system "due to the impact it will have on the system's aiblity to meet its congressional mandate and farmers' ability to consistently obtain credit in the four states" served by FCSA.

The Louisville-based association, which has $8 billion in assets, said that if the deal goes through, "Rabobank would control the largest portfolio of U.S. farm loans of any single lender." Rabobank has acquired Valley Independent Bank in California, Ag Services of America in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Lend Lease Agribusiness, formerly part of the Equitable insurance company, now part of AXA Financial. Its deal for FCSA is thought to be the first foreign purchase of a part of the Farm Credit System.

The National Farmers Union wants the agriculture committees of the House and Senate to hold hearings on the deal. In an Aug. 18 press release, the union said its 300,000 members have “serious concerns” about the takeover. “We are concerned that assistance to beginning farmers, commitments to local communities and access to competitive agricultural credit for all producers may be shoved aside,” NFU President Dave Frederickson said.

Rabobank said in announcing its purchase that the deal should give farmers and ranchers more financing options, because the Farm Credit System will charter new members in four states FCSA now serves. The withdrawal is required when a bank buys a member of the system, as is payment of an exit fee, which FCSA said will be more than $800 million and will go into the system’s insurance fund. The fee “may lower insurance premiums for all Farm Credit System entities for a considerable time,” Rabobank said.

News is where you find it

The story in The Daily Times of Maryville, Tenn., circulation 21,613, seemed out of place. It was written by staff writer Lance Coleman, but was about a state legislator three counties away, with few if any constituents among the newspaper’s readers. But it was a good story, and Coleman knew it. So did other papers, which picked it up this week.

Coleman had traveled to Mississippi with a local Army National Guard unit, the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, to cover its training, when he heard that an officer in the unit, Maj. John Mark Windle of Jamestown, was also a state representative who will not be able to serve in the state House this winter because the unit is being deployed to Iraq.

Windle, a Democrat who represents Morgan, Fentress and Overton counties, which have no daily newspapers, is unopposed in this year’s election. He told Coleman that his district has the highest percentage of people enrolled in TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, but that staff could take care of constituent services. If the unit is deployed, he said, “I think our constituents expect me to go.” Yesterday, the unit got its orders, Coleman said in a telephone interview today.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues seeks to recognize good work in community journalism as part of its efforts to help non-metro media set the public agenda in their communities, grasp regional issues and interpret rural issues for national news media. Send your tips to Al Cross, interim director, at

Monday is deadline to sign up for campaign-finance seminar

Reporters covering the 2004 elections could get some useful help at an expenses-paid seminar to be held Sept. 17-19 at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta. “Covering Campaign Finance: Tracking the Cash in the ’04 Elections and Beyond,” is sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, with a grant from the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.

The program includes sessions on new campaign-finance laws, tricks of the trade, tips on researching contributions, commentary from consultants in both parties, the connections of campaign money, lobbying and legislation, and advice on ad-watching from Ken Goldstein of the University of Wisconsin, who has done groundbreaking research on political-commercial buying patterns.

(A personal note: The program also includes a session titled “Why and How Donors Give.” In 15 years as political writer for The Courier-Journal, I rarely used the word “donor” to describe a political contributor, because the word implies a gift for which nothing is expected in return. That is usually not the case with political contributions, and the folks who will be speaking at this conference know that. --Al Cross)

Attendance at the seminar is free, but is limited. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 23. Fax your name, title, affiliation, address, phone, fax and e-mail to 404-252-9135. If you have questions, call 404-256-0444. Successful applicants will be notified Aug. 25. The organizers add this final note: "If selected, please understand that a substantial financial commitment has been made for you to attend. You will be expected to arrive on time and participate fully in the entire program." (Saturday night is dinner on your own; since the rest of the trip is on other people's money, you might try the somewhat pricey but very enjoyable Pittypat's Porch, 25 International Blvd.)


Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004

FDIC proposes to relax bank-examination rules

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has proposed to exempt most U.S. banks from close scrutiny of the investment they make in their communities, a move that advocates for rural areas and inner cities say will reduce the money supply in those areas.

“It’s a shame,” said Judy Kennedy, president of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders. “Some insured institutions will continue to invest in, and provide services to, low- and moderate-income communities without a federal requirement -- but the question is whether even they will do so at the very same level, if community reinvestments and services are no longer required.”

Bank lobbies applauded the proposal, saying it would remove unnecessary burdens and allow them to “redeploy more resources toward their customers and communities,” said Dale Leighty, president and chairman of First National Bank of Las Animas, Colo., and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

The American Bankers Association, which includes banks large and small, said it was pleased that the FDIC was also proposing a broad definition of “community development” that the ABA said would benefit rural areas. The FDIC said banks that would be freed of stricter examination would still have a community-development performance standard, allowing them to choose between community-based lending, investment and service activities.

The current and proposed rules govern how small a bank must be to escape close scrutiny in examinations for compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act. “Small” banks are examined only for their record of making loans in the areas that they serve, while “large” banks undergo a stricter, more complex test of their patterns of providing service and investment in those areas.

Under current rules, “small” banks are those with assets of less than $250 million. In proposing to raise the threshold to $1 billion, the FDIC is following the lead of the Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees the thrift institutions that were once called savings and loan associations. The Federal Reserve Board and the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks, have declined to raise their thresholds, citing potential adverse effects on rural areas.

In asking for public comment on the $1 billion threshold, the FDIC did not withdraw a Feb. 6 proposal, made with the other bank regulators, for a $500 million threshold. For more from the FDIC, go to:

FDIC data indicate that raising the threshold to $1 billion would reduce regulation on 1,655 of the 2,236 banks now subject to stricter examinations. That would include all those in Idaho and Wyoming, and all but one in Alaska, Montana and Vermont. Figures for some other states: 89 percent in Arkansas, Iowa and Minnesota (32 of 36 banks in each state), and between 80 and 87 percent in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Kentucky’s figures are typical: 25 of the 30 “large” banks would become “small,” a reduction of 83 percent.

As reported here Monday, a study of Kentucky banks by researchers at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville,, found that CRA requirements seem to increase lending and the money supply in rural communities.

Here’s a list of contacts on various sides of the issue: David Barr, FDIC, 202-898-6992; Heather McElrath, American Bankers Association, 202-663-5469,; Tim Cook, Independent Community Bankers of America, 202-659-8111; Jim Eberle, America’s Community Bankers, 202-857-3145,; Ross Kleinman, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, 202-293-9856; Tim Marema, Center for Rural Strategies, 865-494-7980,; Debby Ross, Rural Local Initiatives Support Corp., 202-739-9276,

Bush environmental policies get more media scrutiny

The phrase “mountaintop removal” evokes images of something that might be done by aliens with laser cannons in a science-fiction movie. But it is real, it is big, and it is getting bigger, thanks in part to regulatory changes by the Bush administration, according to a lengthy article by Joby Warrick in Tuesday’s Washington Post:

While there has been much coverage of this issue in national publications in recent years, including a New York Times story noted here last week, Warrick’s article is one of the most comprehensive to appear in a major newspaper outside the Appalachian coalfields, where the practice has turned mountaintops into mesas and buried more than 700 miles of waterways.

Mountaintop removal was specifically authorized by an eleventh-hour amendment to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, which otherwise required land stripped for coal to be restored to its approximate original contour. The practice began growing in the mid-1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, but was slowed by court action.

“Today, mountaintop removal is booming again, and the practice of dumping mining debris into streambeds is explicitly protected, thanks to a small wording change,” the Post reported. “Officials simply reclassified the debris from objectionable ‘waste’ to legally acceptable ‘fill’.”

Administration and industry officials say that change and others were needed to encourage coal production in order to make America less dependent on foreign oil for its energy. West Virginia’s top elected officials say the practice is necessary for continuation of the coal industry in the state, but a poll for “a West Virginia environmental group this year found that opponents of the practice outnumber supporters by 2 to 1,” the Post reported.

Yesterday, in Hedegesville, W.Va., in the state’s relatively prosperous Eastern Panhandle, supporters at a rally for Bush cited his religious faith, and gave him his strongest applause when he talked about social issues, the AP reported:

In the eye of the storm in Punta Gorda, Fla.

“I’ve got a paper, but I don’t have a town.”

That’s what Sherry Mearns, health editor of the Charlotte Sun-Herald, told herself and others after she and her husband, Business Editor Dan Mearns, drove around the Punta Gorda area after hurricane Charley hit.

They and their readers had a paper every day, thanks to printing assistance from papers in Bradenton and Venice. “We have printed through this whole thing, and that’s amazing to me,” Mearns told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in a telephone interview. She said gathering news was sometimes difficult because police blocked access to hard-hit areas.

Readers of the Sun-Herald appreciated the effort to keep publishing, Executive Editor Jim Gouvellis told Elizabeth Carr of Poynter Online in a story published Monday: view.asp?id=70049

Gouvellis said some readers said they hugged their newspaper carriers when the Sun-Herald was delivered. “People are really thankful to receive their newspaper,” he said. The paper has a circulation of 35,000 with four zoned editions.

The paper, part of the Suncoast Media Group, plans to reserve about $1 million worth of free space for advertisers who are rebuilding or reopening, and will turn itself “into something akin to a community bulletin board where people can communicate with one another.” On the paper’s Web site., the first item is a “People Locator,” to help out-of-staters find relatives they haven’t been able to reach.

Mearns said the community has been well served by WCCF Radio, a Clear Channel station, which she said has operated even though its roof was blown off. We tried to reach the station, but their phone was constantly busy. Go figure.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community issues seeks to recognize good work in community journalism as part of its efforts to help non-metro media set the public agenda in their communities, grasp regional issues and interpret rural issues for national news media. Send your tips to Al Cross, interim director, at


Monday, Aug. 16, 2004

Our blog is for all rural journalists, and all journalists interested in rural issues, but it has a strong Appalachian flavor, because Central Appalachia is the initial focus of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Today, we’re all about Appalachia, in one way or another.

New appropriations chairman could come from Appalachia

The ( Louisville) Courier-Journal reported yesterday that a senior congressman from Appalachia, Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers of Eastern Kentucky’s 5 th District, is in a race with Reps. Ralph Regula of Ohio and Jerry Lewis of California for chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, “one of the most powerful jobs in Washington.” Reporter James R. Carroll quoted Keith Ashdown, spokesman for the Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government-spending watchdog group: “This will be a gold rush for whichever state gets it.”

University program explores Scots-Irish roots

Many newspapers used an Associated Press weekend story about the strong Scots-Irish legacy in Appalachia, as interpreted by the Center for Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University, The school’s summer program for Appalachian, Scottish and Irish studies has an exchange agreement with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The story highlighted such Scots-Irish contributions as whiskey making and language, including such expressions as “you all.” The reporter was Elizabeth Davis and the story was datelined from Norris, Tenn., and the Museum of Appalachia.

NYT: Horizon case shows need for change in bankruptcy law

The New York Times took note editorially today of last week’s court ruling allowing Horizon Natural Resources to sell six unionized mines without the obligation to provide health care and retirement benefits for more than 3,000 retired and active miners. “This cruel situation sounds like the stuff of another folk-song lament in Appalachia,” the editorial said. “But the bankruptcy judge, William Howard, found he was well within existing law and might even save jobs if the mines can be sold and kept open in some fashion. . . . The law clearly needs humane revision.”

Update: Study shows banking law helps some rural areas

We’re still waiting for mainstream media to pick up on the story, reported here a week ago, on relaxation of bank-examination rules under the Community Reinvestment Act. Here’s another source: A study by researchers at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville,, found that CRA requirements seem to increase lending and the money supply in rural communities. However, the study, which used Kentucky as an example, failed to find “evidence of significantly increased local lending in economically distressed rural counties,” those in Appalachian Kentucky.




The Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues had several meetings to plan the Institute and to further promote its mission. Links below provide information on the details and discussions of meetings since the IRJCI was officially established in Fall 2002.




Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
College of Communications & Information Studies

122 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879

Questions about the web site: Contact Al Cross, interim director,

Last Updated: Aug. 20, 2004