The Rural Blog Archive: April 2006

Issues, trends, events, ideas and journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Friday, April 28, 2006

'End the war in Iraq' campaign message resonating in rural Virginia

"From a cocktail party of liberal contributors in Baltimore to the ball-cap-wearing crowd in a conservative town in southwest Virginia, wherever Democratic loyalists gather, there are five words sure to prompt applause for a Senate candidate: End the war in Iraq," reports The Washington Post's Robert Barnes, in a look at how the issue is affecting U.S. Senate races in Maryland and Virginia.

"You heard it in Gate City," Democratic candidate James Webb, whose roots are nearby, reminded Barnes, who accompanied him on a cross-state campaign tour that started there Tuesday. Webb, Navy secretary in the Regan administration and a decorated Vietnam veteran, "explained -- very carefully -- his opposition to the war to a group of supporters and family members, pointing to a 2002 op-ed article he wrote for the Post advising against the invasion," Barnes reports.

"My objection to the war is not aimed at my country but at the administration that has chosen to wage this war, an administration that has muddied the truth, made mistake after mistake and refused to accept responsibility," said Webb, wears combat boots to show support for troops -- including his son, who followed him into the Marines and "is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq this summer," Barnes writes.

Webb won applause in Gate City, Norfolk, Richmond and Arlington by saying, "We have a lot of cleaning up to do: Number One is to end the war in Iraq." However, "The sound bites of some candidates get less crisp when they are discussing how to end the war and when," Barnes writes. "Webb said he is reluctant to endorse a specific exit strategy 'from the third row of the spectator seats.' He said the first step should be stating that the United States has no long-term interest in staying in Iraq and working to get the countries in the region to take a more active role. He believes U.S. troops could be out in a couple of years, but he remains cautious. 'We got in precipitously,' he said. 'We have to get out carefully.'"

Rural communities struggle to use health technology sans broadband

"When it comes to using health information technology, rural communities face many difficulties, including common ones such as figuring out how to pay for the systems and how to set up patient information exchanges. But some rural areas have another tough problem. They can’t get affordable high-speed communications services," writes Nancy Ferris of Government Health IT, a guide to public policy and its applications in health information technology.

When using only dial-up connections, doctors, hospital workers and clinicians spend minutes to send files containing reports or photographs that broadband can transmit in seconds. While medical records are not always large files, most still take up considerable time. Many rural health care providers cannot even consider sending radiological images and other graphic files over the Internet, writes Ferris

A 2005 Institute of Medicine report noted the lack of broadband: “This aspect of the digital divide is one of the greatest challenges for rural telehealth, as well as other rural commerce." Rural health care providers can get connection help from the federal government’s Universal Service Fund, which gave out $44 million last year. One area where rural health is thriving is in telemedicine, with states such as Alaska, Maine and Nebraska using new technology to provide health services to people who might otherwise go without, writes Ferris. (Read more)

Wisconsin bill to give tax credits to broadband providers in rural areas

Wisconsin legislators have passed a bill that will give tax credits to companies providing broadband Internet service in rural areas.

The bill creates a pool of tax credits for Internet equipment used to provide broadband "in areas of the state that are not served" or only have one provider. About $7.5 million in tax credits are available, but providers must make about $150 million in equipment investments to fully collect the franchise and corporate income-tax credits, writes Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Dial-up Internet access is used in many rural areas, "and it's the equivalent of a two-lane road rather than an 'information superhighway,'" notes Still. In an age when businesses rely on the Internet, companies without broadband often operate at a disadvantage. An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study shows that broadband penetration in the U.S. was less than 17 percent of businesses and households in 2005, and Wisconsin's penetration is about 15 percent. (Read more)

Small-town museum in Va. exploring benefits of wireless technology

"One of the oldest and smallest state parks in the country, Berkeley Springs State Park is now the first to be a wireless hot spot throughout the entire park," reports The Morgan Messenger, a weekly newspaper in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

The Museum of the Berkeley Springs, in collaboration with the Washington Heritage Trail, got a grant that will help make the museum a free wireless hot spot. The wi-fi connection will be a benefit added to its virtual museum plan, which includes computer access inside the museum and a museum Web site

Jeanne Mozier, who will manage the wi-fi setup, told the newspaper, "You can send email from George Washington's Bathtub, and surf the Web from the gazebo." (Read more)

Allowing religion in public schools may invite some unexpected faiths

As states debate and pass laws on Bible-based instruction and the proper place for "intelligent design" in the classroom, a school board's action in Shallotte, N.C., shows that opening doors to religion in our pluralistic society can let in visitors who may not have been expected.

"Brunswick County school board members have received letters from religious groups interested in handing out literature to high school students as well as protests from parents and other county residents since the board adopted a first reading of a materials distribution policy," reports Sarah Shew Wilson of the Brunswick Beacon.

The school board recently decided that "All religious faiths shall be allowed to provide books and literature, with the exception of works which defame other religious faiths or a person's race or ethnic origin," to be distributed to local students. School employees are prohibited from commenting on the literature, or to encourage students to take it, Wilson reports. The board chairman so far has received letters from the local Unitarian Universalist church and a Buddhist who both want to distribute literature about their faiths. The principal has been contacted by Jehovah's Witnesses concerning literature.

Rev. David Stratton of Brunswick Islands Baptist Church opposed the measure. "I believe the Bible is God's written word, and I would certainly support any and all efforts to put the Scriptures in the hands of people who need them, especially young people. I am very uncomfortable with a policy that would allow, beyond parental control, the distribution of materials of non-Christian groups and cults."

Sue Graffius, religious education director for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, has two children in Brunswick County Schools and wants to share her faith with other students. "It's mostly just pamphlets about our church," Graffius said this week. "About the philosophy and what we believe." As to whether the policy is appropriate, she added, "I don't think that high schools are the place for this, but I welcome an opportunity to introduce my faith to others." (Read more)

Charlotte Observer illuminates shadowy lives of illegal immigrants

An ongoing Charlotte Observer series that started in February is revealing startling insights about illegal immigrants' presence in the U.S. and is shining new light on legal problems. This newspaper's investigative approach can serve as an example for all journalists, even those at small newspapers in rural areas where minority immigrant populations have been growing fast.

The most recent installment of the Observer's "Hiding in plain sight: Illegal immigration in the Carolinas" exposes a problem that may exist in many areas. "Federal immigration agents say they arrest a document counterfeiter every few weeks in the Charlotte area. Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Julie Myers called the buying and selling of counterfeit documents 'an epidemic' that has turned into a multimillion-dollar criminal industry," writes Franco Ordonez. (Read more)

By pursuing the rise in illegal immigration and not turning a blind eye to the story, Editor Rick Thames wrote in a column, the newspaper was sure it "had uncovered the classic news exclusive -- clear, decisive and complete. There were a few loose threads, however. So we pulled. And pulled. And pulled." (Read more)

In part one, Liz Chandler and Danica Coto wrote about the tragic stories that exist in many communities populated with illegals: "Their rising numbers bring rising tension: An immigrant driving drunk kills a schoolteacher; Hispanic gangs clash in shootouts; and public schools and health departments struggle to accommodate the newest Carolinians."

Coto spent part of her time in a van packed with illegal immigrants hoping to cross the border. As she describes in part one, those attempts can sometimes be deadly: "Nearly 1,000 of them have died in the Arizona desert since 2000 from dehydration, injuries and illness and clashes with authorities, smugglers and thieves. The death toll is dwarfed, though, by the hundreds of thousands who make it." (Read more)

In part two, Chandler and Coto explored the debate about how to handle immigrants. (Read more) Part three took a look at illegal immigrants who return to their homelands for visits (Read more). Part four began the examination of the market in illegal Social Security numbers: "In fact, several million immigrants here illegally have likely hijacked Americans' numbers. But don't count on the Social Security Administration to alert you if you become a victim," wrote Tim Funk, Liz Chandler and Stella M. Hopkins. (Read more)

Columnist offers index to ethanol as starting point for journalists

Readers of The Rural Blog have seen many items about ethanol, which is boosting the economies of many rural areas. Journalists who want to do stories on the subject can take some guidance from Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institiute.

In today's Morning Meeting, Tompkins offers an "index to ethanol" with legislative news, explanations of terms, stock and investment information and details about building "your own ethanol still." With President Bush urging the nation to become less energy-dependent, all of this information proves timely.

A certain percentage of all fuel sold must be ethanol-based in Washington, Minnesota, Montana and Hawaii, and several other states are considering similar requirements. Is your state one of them? Journalists should take up the story. Click here to read Tompkins' column at Poynter Online.

Lone Sago Mine survivor tells victims' families four air masks failed

When the Sago Mine disaster claimed 12 lives in West Virginia, at least four air masks failed to work, according to a letter written by the sole survivor.

"The first thing we did was activate our rescuers, as we had been trained," wrote miner Randal McCloy Jr. in a letter addressing the victims' families. "At least four of the rescuers did not function. There were not enough rescuers to go around." The two-page typed letter provides the first insider account to what happened on Jan. 2 at Sago and the mine's owner, International Coal Group Inc., is refusing to comment, writes Ian Urbina of The New York Times. (Read more)

The Times story provides an excerpt from McCloy's letter and video clips, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides the full letter. (Read more). Also, to read "Gripping letter tells of Sago miners' final acts" by Dan Majors of the Post-Gazette, click here. To read "McCloy: Sago miners hit gas pocket 3 weeks before blast" by Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, click here.

University of Kentucky lecturer chronicled death of a 'Lost Mountain'

Erik Reece is both a University of Kentucky English lecturer and the leading spokesman from academia in favor of the abolition of mountaintop removal mining. The latest story about him is by Sean Rose of The Kentucky Kernel, the university's independent student daily. Rose starts off:

"Erik Reece never wanted to write about coal. Which is a little odd, considering the year the UK English instructor spent visiting Perry County, Ky., weaving through briars and underbrush, ducking between boulders and hiding from miners to chronicle a mountain crumbling because of the coal below its surface."

"An assignment from Harper's Magazine took Reece to Lost Mountain in 2003," continues Rose. "What he saw evolved into a book depicting the destruction radical strip mining wreaks on the environment and the people of the region, as well as the corrupt practices that seem to find footholds in many coal businesses. The book, Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness, was scaled down for the Harper's article that ran last April, and was released in January 2006."

"I think one thing a writer has to do is take responsibility for injustices that they perceive," Reece told Rose. "I did start to feel a responsibility. Obviously, the land can't speak for itself, so you have to speak for the land. And I'm not trying to speak for the people of Appalachia, but I am trying to let them tell their stories through me." (Read more)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More Iowans dying due to 70 mph speed limit on rural interstates

A 70-mile-per-hour speed limit on rural freeways is causing more people to die on the roads in Iowa, state safety officials say. The Hawkeye State "had 47 traffic deaths on rural interstate highways last year, the most since 1973. More than half of those fatalities occurred after the speed limit was raised" on July 1, 2005, reports William Petroski of The Des Moines Register.

The figures are even more striking when the first half-year with higher speeds is compared with the same period the year before: "In the first six months with faster speeds, 25 people died in rural interstate crashes, compared with 12 people who died on Iowa's interstates from July through December 2004." However, 2004 had the lowest number of traffic fatalities in any year since World War II.

Still, there is no doubt that the higher speed is causing more deaths, Scott Falb, a safety planner for the Iowa Department of Transportation, told Petroski: "Every time we have increased the speed limit, we get an increase in traffic crashes and fatalities. So certainly there is a correlation."

The department has found that traffic fatalities"have increased in all of Iowa's neighboring states after speed limits were raised above 65 mph," Patroski writes. "This includes more traffic fatalities in Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri and South Dakota. At the same time, traffic deaths declined over the same period in neighboring states that didn't raise speed limits, including Illinois and Wisconsin." (Read more) Kentucky legislators debated raising the interstate speed limit to 70 this year, but the bill did not pass.

Indiana focuses on youth in 15-year strategic plan for rural areas

"In cities, people and their homes and businesses bump up against each other. In small towns and in rural areas, ideals and ambitions bump up against each other. Cities typically have a plan. Outside them, it too often can be a chaotic free-for-all, increasingly tense," opines Dale Moss, Southern Indiana columnist for The Courier-Journal.

Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman is initiating a 15-year plan called the "Rural Indiana Strategy for Excellence: A 2020 Vision for the Indiana Countryside." Moss reports, "She asked leaders in rural areas both to ponder the future and to help improve it. About 150 people convened. They have talked and now they listen to the public, in an ongoing series of stops. Helpful laws, really helpful money? Neither ultimately is assured. At the least, ideas are being exchanged and contacts are being made."

The plan singles out young people as the key to progress. "Engage young people. Give them reasons to stay locally or to return to their small hometowns. Don't just talk about them. Talk to them. Encourage people with wealth -- and they exist in rural areas as they do in cities -- to invest more in their communities. Recognize diversity, too -- urge both help for all and involvement by all," writes Moss. (Read more)

The Rural Blog reported April 21 that residents' top concerns are broadband Internet and economic development. Click here for the archive that includes the story. To read a draft of the plan, click here.

Covering political forums well can require investment of time, space

With primary elections in at least 10 states next month, it's the season for political forums. All too often, news coverage of these events fails to fulfill the intent of the forum and the reason for covering them -- to help citizens make an informed decision about who will lead them. Sometimes, it's because there are too many candidates and too little time at the forum. Or perhaps there's not enough time on the news broadcast, or enough space in the newspaper.

The State Journal of Frankfort, Ky., made plenty of space this week for coverage of a forum among candidates for countywide offices in Franklin County, which has 50,000 people, many of them rural. A Page One story by Paul Glasser, with a picture and index, directed readers inside -- where they found individual stories and photos about the debates in each race, and a listing of the candidates who attended and those who did not. The inside coverage took up more than a page.

The newspaper's co-sponsorship of the forum could have had something to with its extensive coverage, but its role could be one to emulate. So could its 20-page tabloid guide to the candidates, published yesterday and titled "Civics 101." In addition to candidates' answers to questions and a sample ballot, the section included seven pages with short profiles of current officeholders, elected and appointed. It appeared to be financed with lots of political ads, but they took up less than half the space in the section.

Editor asks how you'd report a public meeting held partly in Spanish

The latest question to the hotline of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors comes from Elliott Freireich, publisher of the West Valley View in Litchfield Park, Ariz.:

"Our reporter was covering the Tolleson City Council meeting last night. Two zoning cases came up where the business owners appeared to not speak English. The entire council and city manager are fluent in Spanish so those hearings took place in Spanish. (Our reporter doesn't speak Spanish.) We can and will get the mayor and city manager to give us the info about these hearings, but the question is, do we report that those took place in Spanish?"

Freireich gives essential background: "Tolleson is predominantly Hispanic. Many residents are Spanish speakers. But there is a large minority of the city who don't speak Spanish and in our coverage area are a large number of people I consider rednecks who think 'those people' don't belong here. Reporting this would probably lead to more of an outcry from them. . . . The city is being responsive to these business owners, but there were other members of the public at the meeting who quite possibly did not understand. Should we mention the fact that part of this meeting took place in Spanish?"

Here's the reply from ISWNE member Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: "I think the paper should certainly mention that the discussion took place in Spanish, because the reporter does not speak the language and is thus unable to give a truly authoritative account, even if the conversation were taped and translated. It also gives a significant slice of life in Tolleson, and should not be suppressed because of a possible outcry from rednecks. I cringe when I hear that any newspaper is reluctant to print something just because someone might object."

What's your view? Click here to reply to Cross. Click here to reply to the ISWNE list, through Executive Director Chad Stebbins of Missouri Southern State University.

Carroll hopes for local owners to buy back papers from corporations

With newspapers “losing their luster in the financial world, big changes [in ownership structure] are likely,” some good, some bad, former daily editor John Carroll said in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors meeting in Seattle yesterday, according to a release from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is funding Carroll's job as visiting lecturer at Harvard University.

Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Lexington Herald-Leader, said one good change is a growing interest by people in each of those cities buying back their local newspapers from corporate owners. “I’ve spoken with several of them,” he said. “These are serious people – sophisticated people with real money. Perhaps this is a trend.”

Such potential owners, Carroll said, “talk about the importance of the paper to the community. They talk about restoring its pride. … They see the newspaper as a fallen angel, and they say they’d be willing to accept a lower financial return, which would allow the paper to breathe again. . . . Yes, it seems too much to hope for.” He said such hope is needed because newspapers remain relevant and necessary to a vibrant democracy. “Newspapers dig up the news,” he said. “Others repackage it.”

A word for small towns: Here's another part of Carroll's speech we liked, ending with lines that relate to every newspaper of any size: “If, at some point in America’s newspaper-free future, the police decide that the guilt or innocence of murder suspects can be determined perfectly well by beating them until somebody confesses, who will sound the alarm, as the Philadelphia Inquirer did in 1977? . . . Or, if some future president secretly decides to nullify the law and spy on American citizens without warrants, who – if the New York Times falls by the wayside – will sound the warning? More routinely, who will make the checks at City Hall? Who, in cities and towns across America, will go down to the courthouse every day, or to the police station? Who will inspect the tens of thousands of politicians who seek to govern? Who – amid America’s great din of flackery and cant -- will tell us in plain language what’s actually going on?”

Here are some of the tougher lines in the speech, which sum up the challenge of market forces in newsrooms: "How long has it been since an editor was so rash as to cite public service in justifying a budget? You might as well ask to be branded with a scarlet N, for naive. Our corporate superiors regard our beliefs as quaint, wasteful and increasingly tiresome. Even outside the corporation we have lost stature. We might see ourselves as public servants, but does the public see us that way?"

For the full text of Carroll’s speech, go to www.knightfdn.org or www.shorensteincenter.org, the site of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

FCC may look at enforcing disclosure rules on video news releases

Joe Flint, TV columnist for The Wall Street Journal, wrote yesterday (as The Rural Blog did) about the Center for Media and Democracy's study showing that many TV stations run video news releases without attribution, allowing the public-relations devices to masquerade as straight news. "If they feel so uneasy about airing VNR footage, then they shouldn't put them on the air," he writes. "And if they are comfortable, then play it straight with the audience and let viewers decide if they are being spun or not."

The Federal Communications Commission requires stations to be told "if anyone was compensated in the production or preparation of a VNR," then to disclose that on the air, Flint reports. "An FCC spokesman couldn't recall any stations being penalized for not following the rules on VNRs. That may change. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said last year he wants the commission to 'enforce our rules vigorously.' In an interview last week, he expressed concerns about the use of VNRs." Adelstein told Flint, "I don't how this doesn't damage that trust" that broadcasters have with their audience.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association opposes further regulation. It said last year that the public "has a right to expect truthfulness, accuracy and fairness in newscasts," but "determining the content of a newscast including when and how to identify sources … must remain far removed from government involvement or supervision."

Flint spanks stations that violate the rule: "While there is nothing inherently wrong with reporting a story based on a press release, many television stations are using the VNRs alone in lieu of original reporting. What's more alarming, these stations are airing these videos without revealing the origin of the footage to viewers," Flint wrote. "Although television stations and big broadcasters all say they have rules in place that prohibit using VNRs without disclosure, it appears that many outlets only pay lip service to the rules."

"I was astonished how promotional these are," Diane Farsetta, a co-author of the study, told Flint. "The stations leave in all the promotional aspects and didn't even fact-check the claims being made." To read the Center's report, go to www.prwatch.org.

Wyoming, California governors seek funding for joint energy project

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are teaming up to generate new electricity for California in the form of a coal gasification plant in Wyoming.

"We will jointly focus on the (coal gasification pilot) facility that is authorized under the National Energy Act, to see that located in Wyoming," Freudenthal said. "As you recall that act authorizes but does not fund. Hopefully, we will get to funding.” The act mandates that a combined cycle electric generation facility be built at an elevation of 4,000-plus feet, writes Deborah Holder of the Douglas Budget.

Freudenthal explained that the two states will work together to secure federal funding, then hire a private company for the construction, writes Holder. “This agreement is for us to jointly work to see that located in Wyoming," he told the Wyoming weekly. (Read more)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New Medicare plan cuts profits for thousands of pharmacies nationwide

The new Medicare prescription-drug benefit is putting a financial strain on thousands of rural pharmacies nationwide, even forcing some to close shop.

The new benefit saves customers money on drug costs, but the loss of profits from prescriptions is responsible for putting pharmacies in a financial bind, reports The Associated Press. In Minnesota, where more than 100 pharmacies have closed in the last decade, University of Minnesota researchers say 37 more are at risk of closing in the coming years. Todd Sorensen, an assistant professor at the university's College of Pharmacy, is working with his colleagues on using an $84,000 federal grant to try to find ways to keep the pharmacies afloat -- perhaps through networks or purchasing groups. (Read more)

To combat this national threat to rural America, pharmacists in Minnesota are finding innovative options, reports Anne Polta of the West Central Tribune. Some pharmacists are choosing to lease space in medical centers, and others are using a telepharmacy system to spread their sales to neighboring communities. A regional initiative is currently in place to find more options for dealing with the pharmacy shortage. (Read more)

Local entrepreneurs quickly expanding specialized food businesses

Jack Schultz writes in his Boomtown USA blog, "One of the major trends that I’m observing as I travel around the country is the number of entrepreneurial companies that are being started up in the food business. Many of these companies are small, but are in niches that could have huge potential."

Some trends noticed by Schultz, who travels the country helping small towns modernize their economies, include food incubators, which "allow small, local entrepreneurs to have the advantages of big companies in producing their product;" a boom in organic food, which "is starting to spread from the coasts into the heartland," combined with another trend, "local and sustainable production;" bison, "the new health food for carnivores," ethnic foods to meet the needs of growing markets, such as goat meat for Muslims; and production of specialized, niche products, "whether it is lavender in Sequim, Wash., pistachios in Wilcox, Ariz., blueberries in Urbana, Ohio, or olive oil in Rutherford, Calif."

On the final point, Schultz writes, "I’m seeing America’s farmers finding unique products to grow and market. There is a much bigger future in these specialized crops for most farmers, rather than trying to be the low-cost commodity producer. Check out the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University, which is developing various economic models for these niche producers."

SPJ condemns use of video releases masquerading as straight news

When television news departments use of video news releases without saying where they came from, they are irresponsible and misleading, and are opening themselves to increased regulation, the Society of Professional Journalists warned yesterday.

“As we begin national Ethics in Journalism Week, it’s regrettable that far too many television stations continue to forget that their primary obligations are to the public and to truth,” said David Carlson, SPJ’s national president. “They aren’t doing what they are ethically and professionally obligated to do – check out their sources, confirm the veracity of the report, and disclose where the information came from.”

Press releases in the format of a TV story, produced to advance a company’s products or an agency’s agenda, "came to public attention more than two years ago when the Bush administration produced news reports to promote changes in the Medicare program," SPJ noted. "In many cases, these reports were aired without attributing the source, giving the appearance of a legitimate news story."

A report this month by the Center for Media and Democracy documented TV stations' widespread use of video from corporate news releases without any indication that the images and audio "are lifted wholesale from the sources and aren’t the product of the stations’ own reporting," SPJ said. The 10-month study examined 36 releases and identified 77 stations, reaching more than half the U.S. population, that used them at least once. There were many multiple uses.

In 98 instances, there was no disclosure of the source. "Stations didn’t balance or supplement the messages with independent fact-finding; sometimes they made it look like their own reporting, and more than a third ran VNRs intact," the SPJ release said. But SPJ stopped short of endorsing the center’s proposed solution -- an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, clarification of corporate identification rules and penalties for “all stations that air fake news.”

“It’s never a good idea when government tells journalists what they can and cannot do in the content of their news reports,” said Brown, a Sunday Denver Post columnist and former SPJ national president. “We would oppose any expansion of the FCC rule. Instead, we would call on television to clean up its own act.”

Editors' columns boost connection with readers, ASNE president says

We've long thought highly of David Zeeck, executive editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., and incoming president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and he has some advice that we believe applies to all editors -- not just those at large daily newspapers, from which ASNE draws most of its membership, but at smaller dailies and even weeklies.

“Every editor in America ought to be writing a weekly column telling what the paper is about,” Zeeck, who began doing so six years ago, told Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher. Zeeck said his column “has gotten phenomenal reaction from the community. It takes me about four hours a week to compile and write, but it is the best four hours I spend.” Click here to read Zeeck's latest column.

On issues facing the newspaper industry, Zeeck said, “We need to turn around the belief that newspapers are going away. Because everything else has gotten so fragmented, newspapers remain the only mass medium left. That franchise on local news is still owned by newspapers.” He cited a statistic that more people read newspapers on Super Bowl Sunday than watched the game on television. (Read more)

Writer bids adieu to columnist who did the same to him, prematurely

"There are few who pass through this earthly experience who have a chance to read their own death notice printed in a newspaper," writes Dayton Daily News columnist Dale Huffman. "In January of 1993, a copy of the Cynthiana Democrat in Kentucky was sent to me. The paper carried a very kindly worded announcement of my death. It was written by a columnist for the newspaper, Anna Mae Florence, who then was 78, and wrote one of those wonderful homespun gossipy columns."

Anna Mae Florence died this month, and Huffman took the opportunity to convey his respect for her and relate the tale of how he corrected her. "In the next issue of the Cynthiana Democrat there was a large front- page article with the headline 'I'm alive. Pass it on.' It included a reprint of a column I wrote and an apology from Anna Mae who ended the piece with the words, 'I regret the error and may I add, I enjoyed the nice telephone call from Mr. Huffman and I wish him well in the future.'"

Huffman, who has relatives in the area, concluded, "I did call authorities in Kentucky to verify that indeed she has passed away. Just to be sure." Click here to read his column; click here to read Florence's obit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Telecom giants battle rural phone companies over Internet-based service

Many rural phone companies are trying to stop cable television providers from selling the cheap Internet-based phone service known as Voice over Internet Protocol, which uses an adapter to connect a regular phone to a high-speed Internet line.

In South Carolina, Time Warner Cable wants to offer its VoIP service, but it needs connections with rural carriers so VoIP users and rural-phone customers can exchange calls. Six rural carriers say they are not required to provide the services. The carriers argue that VoIP would not be a "telecommunications service," and the FCC has hinted that it will label VoIP an "information service." Time Warner says the difference is irrelevant, reports Paul Davidson of USA Today.

"Nebraska regulators backed Southeast Nebraska Telephone in a similar battle against Time Warner and Sprint," writes Davidson. "Standoffs between Time Warner and rural carriers in Texas and New York are before state regulators or the courts."

To settle any rule disputes, Time Warner asked the FCC last month to rule that rural companies must allow for the new competition. The FCC's decision could impact millions of rural residents. In Congress, a House telecom bill would force rural carriers to work with VoIP rivals, notes Davidson. (Read more)

House bill would eliminate local oversight of cable TV, opines writer

"A GOP-led effort on behalf of the telephone lobby (principally Verizon and AT&T), also backed by many Democrats, is about to toss in the dustbin the longstanding policy enabling cities or counties to negotiate a 'franchise' agreement with companies that provide cable TV service," opines Jeff Chester of The Nation, a liberal magazine.

A House committee is considering legislation that would limit communities say in how phone and cable networks operate. "As Verizon and AT&T roll out their broadband Internet and video services, they wish to remove any obstacle to securing lucrative revenues from signing up customers from the wealthiest parts of the country. The phone giants complain that current law requires them to negotiate with each town (as cable TV currently does) to develop a unique deal that benefits the community, and that giving local officials the authority to have an oversight role is slowing down their business plans," writes Chester.

"Local oversight is to be replaced by a 'national franchise' that will permit the most powerful communications giants in the Internet era . . . to operate without regard for local concerns. Under the bill, phone companies could engage in a form of economic redlining, serving only the most affluent parts of town; the current local franchise system prevents such discrimination." (Read more)

Ohio clergy members say churches broke law by supporting candidate

A group of 56 Ohio clergy members contend that two Columbus-area churches overstepped boundaries on ethics and fairness to support a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the Internal Revenue Service claim the churches violated their tax-exempt status by supporting Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right. The 56 complainants say the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican groups to use their buildings, reports Peter Slevin of The Washington Post.

"The January complaint seeking an IRS investigation -- signed by 31 Christian and Jewish clergy members -- charged that the churches and their affiliates improperly allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities and illegally promoted the candidacy of Blackwell, who won considerable backing from Ohio conservatives while leading a 2004 effort to ban same-sex marriage," writes Slevin. "An April complaint, signed by 56 clergy members, said that Blackwell appeared more than two dozen times at meetings and rallies held by the churches, their leaders or affiliates." (Read more)

Joe Hallett of The Columbus Dispatch is keeping tabs on the churches' activities. He reported last week that one of the pastors targeted by the complaints distributed an e-mail promoting Blackwell, but also that independent experts said the e-mail was worded to avoid getting the church or its pastor in more legal trouble. He quoted Donald Tobin, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and an expert on tax-exempt organizations, and John W. Whitehead, president and founder of The Rutherford Institute, a national organization providing legal services in defense of religious and civil liberties.

"It’s fine to personally endorse a candidate, but you cannot use your church resources to do it," Whitehead told Hallett. "You can write a letter to your friends." (Read more)

Coal operators say new accident-notice rules too rigid, maybe dangerous

Coal-industry officials say that emergency rules imposed after 14 miners died in West Virginia are too rigid and could put miners in additional danger.

During a hearing Monday in Lakewood, Colo., the officials told a federal Mine Safety and Health Administration panel that requiring notification of an accident within 15 minutes could be impractical or dangerous. They argued that miners would face either rescuing someone or having to call in the accident, reports The Associated Press. The temporary standards went into effect March 9 and public comments are being accepted through May 30.

Additional meetings are planned in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. According to this chart on MSHA's Web site, 32 miners — 26 in coal mines and six in other types of mines — have died so this year, compared to 13 mining fatalities this time last year, notes AP. (Read more)

Farmers worry about new National Animal Identification System

At a recent question-and-answer meeting about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new National Animal Identification System, farmers in Wythe County, Virginia, learned that the government can make them comply. Such meetings are being held, or will be held, all over the country.

A USDA clause permits the government to mandate the entire system. "However, the government agency is counting on market forces, which already are pushing for age and source verification, to compel farmers to participate," writes Mary Beth Jackson of the weekly Bland County Messenger.

Proponents say the identification system requiring that animals be tagged and all movements be monitored will protect the nation's food supply from disease and bioterrorism. Opponents say the system is redundant and invasive. Also, there is confusion about how to comply with the requirements, reports Jackson. Farmers want to know where to buy tags, how information will be stored and what public access to that information might exist. (Read more)

N.C. lawmaker fights land purchase needed to honor Flight 93 victims

A congressman from rural western North Carolina is blocking a rural memorial to United Airlines Flight 93 because he dislikes federal purchases of rural property.

Republican Rep. Charles H. Taylor opposes a $10 million request to buy land in Shanksville, Pa., for a permanent memorial honoring the 40 people who died there in the crash of Flight 93. With a film about the crash, United 93, set to hit movie screens tonight, victims' families are ready to fight for the money, reports Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post. "We need to build a memorial for these people," said Rep. William Shuster, a Republican whose district includes Shanksville. "These 40 people were the first counterattack of the war on terror, and they were victorious."

Taylor counters that the federal government is already the nation's largest landowner, that no additional tax dollars should be spent on memorials, and that the taxpayers may be left holding the bag if the families don't raise half the cost of the memorial, as they have said they would. Universal Pictures has promised to donate 10 percent of the gross receipts from United 93 to the memorial.

"House Republicans worry that Taylor is not doing himself any favors, standing against the memorial fund in the midst of a tough re-election campaign against former Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler," the Post reports. (Read more)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rising gasoline prices force rural residents, farmers to rethink travel

Rising gasoline prices are forcing people in rural America to cut back on consumption and travel, though long commutes are a part of many daily lives.

Jim Magagna, the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said managing crops and livestock requires large amounts of fuel, which makes it especially difficult for farmers to cut back. Still, ranchers are reducing their dependency on gas by using all-terrain vehicles instead of pickup trucks to move around their land, reports The Associated Press.

The effect produced by gas prices is far-reaching, said Carol Clements, chair of the National Fuels Fund Network, a group that helps poor families pay their electricity or home-heating bills, notes AP. "All of these energy costs are having a compounding effect," she said. "We're seeing more people bumped from middle and working class to low-income and poverty situations." (Read more)

Rural schools, communities partner to overcome economic struggles

A new trend is occurring in rural America and it is not limited to one state or one socioeconomic class. Rural schools and communities are partnering to offer new programs and helps students achieve success.

The latest issue of Rural Policy Matters, a monthly newsletter of the Rural School and Community Trust explores, describes three different areas where such partnerships are working: Rappahannock County, Virginia is a moderate-income area feeling the squeeze of urban sprawl; Wakefield, Neb., is a low- to moderate-income area where farming is rapidly changing; East Feliciana Parish, La., is a low-income area with few economic opportunities.

Several ideas bind these school-community partnerships together including collaboration, communication, and flexibility. Success in one area seems to have a rollover effect, and as confidence grows, "the school is seen as a great investment by local residents and by outside funders," writes the Rural School and Community Trust. (Read more)

Critical access status gives rural hospitals new life, but cuts proposed

A rural health program gives hospitals critical access status, which has saved about one in five of the 6,000 hospitals nationwide. Now proposed federal funding cuts could threaten the successful program.

The critical access hospitals are now facing President Bush's proposal to cut $133 million in rural health funds. Congress created the program in 1997 to give hospitals the ability to receive Medicare reimbursements at about full cost, unlike other hospitals that accept whatever Medicare decides to pay, reports Allison Barker of The Associated Press.

The only states without hospitals in the program include Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland. Hospitals in those states either fail to meet eligibility requirements or chose not to participate. To qualify, a hospital must have 25 or fewer acute-care beds, keep patients no more than 96 hours and be located 35 miles from another hospital -- or 15 miles in mountainous areas. (Read more)

Nation's farmers focus on bird-flu prevention, detection, surveillance

If you're planning to write about poultry farmers dealiung with bird flu, and also need to explain threat clearly, a good example to follow would be the story by business reporter Wayne Tompkins in today's Courier-Journal, with some material from The Associated Press.

"Most of America's chickens come from commercial farms that keep birds indoors and are well-protected against the spread of disease. But flocks in people's backyards -- officials are unsure how many -- and free-range flocks could mix with wild birds or their droppings. Officials encourage those producers to bring flocks inside and watch for signs of flu," Tompkins writes.

State, federal and wildlife officials are increasing surveillance of wild waterfowl and domestic poultry in order to prevent any outbreak of bird flu, Tompkins reports for the Louisville newspaper. If bird flu arrives, "quick detection will be key to quickly containing it and eradicating it," Ron DeHaven, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told the paper.

Commercial producers are developing their own programs of tests and safeguard measures. Small producers are required by the National Poultry Improvement Plan to have their flocks inspected once a year, notes Tompkins. Bleach baths and other "biosecurity" measures will play a crucial role in protecting the nation's multi-billion dollar poultry industry. (Read more)

Kentucky man is lone American to win grass-roots environmental award

Craig Williams of Berea, Ky., is the only American winner of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's most generous monetary honor for grass-roots environmentalists. It comes with $125,000.

"Williams is being recognized for the work he has done to convince the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate old chemical weapons stockpiled at the Blue Grass Army Depot and around the United States. He has worked to create a nationwide grassroots coalition (the Chemical Weapons Working Group) to lobby for safe disposal solutions," reports Ronica Shannon of the Richmond Register. (Read more)

Williams told The Courier-Journal that a meeting with Defense Department officials in 1984 spurred his push for the safe destruction of chemical weapons around the world. "I remember telling the powers that be that their approach to this thing, of waltzing in here and telling people what they're going to do, that has the potential to impact all of these people in this audience and my family -- without engaging the community in the decision-making process -- is not going to work," he said. (Read more)

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports, "There's no one else quite like Craig Williams, a blustery former New Yorker with a fondness for casual dress and unprintable jokes. As director of the Berea-based Chemical Weapons Working Group, he has become an expert on chemical weapons and how things work on Capitol Hill." (Read more) For information about this year's other winners, click here.

Urban-rural divide exists in government spending on AIDS patients

As some of the highest rates of AIDS cases shift from California and the Northeast to the Southern states, some health groups are arguing that a federal spending law needs to keep up with the times.

"By some measures, AIDS patients in California and the Northeast get more money per capita than those in the South, where activists are lobbying for a bigger share. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Congress is attempting for the first time since 2000 to amend the Ryan White CARE Act of 1990. It is named for the Indiana teenager who died that year after contracting AIDS from treatments for hemophilia," reports The Associated Press.

Kathie Hiers, head of the non-profit AIDS Alabama, says people suffer based on location. But Phil Curtis of the AIDS Project Los Angeles counters that the urban-rural spending differences are exaggerated. The federal government spends $2 billion each year to give more than 500,000 people health care, drugs and other aid in cases where patients are uninsured or cannot survive with just Medicaid or private insurance, notes AP.

Depending on what Congress decides about redistributing aid, California and New York could lose up to $20 million each and Southern states could net millions more, reports AP. (Read more)

West Virginia's natural gas industry tries to replace aging workforce

West Virginia's oil and gas industry says it needs workers. Like the coal industry, the average age of someone working in the natural gas industry is over 50.

"Many West Virginians may not realize coal is not the only extractive industry thriving in the Mountain State. . . . According to a 2005 study prepared by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research, half of West Virginia's homes are heated by natural gas. West Virginia is the third-largest producer of natural gas east of the Mississippi River, and the industry is poised for steady growth for at least the next 20 years," writes Juliet A. Terry of the weekly State Journal in Charleston.

Natural gas prices are more than four times as high than in 1988, reports Terry. The biggest challenge facing the state's burgeoning industry is repopulating the workforce, said Nicholas DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association. "Because of the boom in the energy industry, this can be a career job rather than cyclical like it was 20 to 30 years ago," he said. (Read more)

Rural S.C. county making up textile loss with suburban sprawl?

In Lancaster County, South Carolina's northern panhandle, farms and woods are being replaced by urban development creeping in from nearby Charlotte, but that could also be saving an area damaged by the departure of the textile industry, formerly its economic backbone.

"Once home to the world's largest cotton mill, the Springs Lancaster plant, the county lost nearly 2,500 manufacturing jobs in six years from 1997 to 2005," writes Henry Eichel of the Charlotte Observer. Now both proponents of development and its critics are coming to terms with the idea that development could save the county's economic future.

County Administrator Chap Hurst wants to attract high-end development. "If you look at economic development across the nation, there's not a lot of manufacturing moving around," Hurst told Eichel. "This isn't 10 or 20 years ago; the day of manufacturing is pretty much gone. But there are corporate headquarters moving around. . . . Money attracts money. When you make this environment safe and as pretty as you can make it, you're going to bring in those high-priced investments." (Read more)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bird flu outbreak could create crisis for nation's poultry industry

A possible bird flu outbreak could greatly impact the nation's poultry industry and affect the countries that rely on chicken, turkey and other poultry from the U.S.

In Virginia, boiler chickens and eggs rack up annual sales of $450 million per year, or 21 percent of the state's agricultural commodity production, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. There is a large poultry presence with 880 farms that raise chickens or produce eggs, and four companies operating processing plants, reports Ray Reed of The Roanoke Times.

About 16 percent of the boiler chickens raised in Virginia are then sent to Russia, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Caribbean, writes Reed. (Read more)

An in-depth story on Agriculture Online explains the process of how bird flu can infect chickens and eggs: "Highly pathogenic viruses, such as the H5N1 strain [that contains bird flu], spread to virtually all parts of an infected bird, including meat. . . . Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus can be found inside and on the surface of eggs laid by infected birds." (Read more)

Earth Day reflections: Loss of forest threatens rural areas, writers say

"Our forests are the heart of our environmental support system. And yet, in the 36 years that have passed since the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, we have lost more than one billion acres of forest, with no end in sight," opine Don Melnick and Mary Pearl in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.

"The people most vulnerable to the disappearance of forests are the poor: nearly three-quarters of the 1.2 billion people defined as extremely poor live in rural areas, where they rely most directly on forests for food, fuel, fiber and building materials. But those of us in the developed world are hardly immune. Smaller forests mean fewer predators keeping insects and rodents in check in the Northeastern United States, a phenomenon linked to the spread of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, among others," they continue.

Four keys to preserving forests include: connecting local, informal foresters to better markets; recognizing the importance of forests in maintaining water and soil; seeking a global trade agreement that promotes legally, sustainability harvested timber; and protecting the role forests play in mitigating global warming, conclude Melnick, a conservation biology professor at Columbia University, and Pearl, the president of Wildlife Trust, a group that helps scientists protect nature and safeguard ecosystems. (Read more)

Click here for the U.S. Government Web site for Earth Day.

Reporters along 'endangered' rivers report on group's designation

Flooding, mining and development concerns are the reasons some rivers made an annual list of the nation's 10 most-endangered rivers compiled by American Rivers, first listed in The Rural Blog yesterday.

Kevin Home of the Monterey (Calif.) Herald writes about the Pajaro River (No. 1 on the list): "American Rivers contends that the Army Corps of Engineers' flood control plan is outdated, will destroy habitat and increase the danger of catastrophic flooding along the river. (Read more)

The Boise River (No. 6) is situated near a mine proposed by the Atlanta Gold Corp. of America. The company said it will keep mining pollution out of the river, but aside from cyanide, the mine could release millions of gallons of water laden with arsenic, John Robison, who monitors mining for the Idaho Conservation League, told Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. If the company passes overcomes regulatory hurdles, then it must received a permit under the 1872 federal mining law. (Read more)

American Rivers, an environmental group, wants Arizona residents to speak out for the preservation of the Verde River (No. 10). A $200 million, 30-mile pipeline that is part of an area water-resources plan could dry up 24 miles of the river, states the group's report. "The group said citizens need to demand that planners don't allow development where water isn't safely available," reports Shaun McKinnon of The Arizona Republic. (Read more)

Indiana residents call broadband, economic development rural concerns

Residents across Indiana are participating in 16 public meetings geared toward developing a 15-year plan for the state's rural areas.

Elizabeth Mallers, of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said that the goal of Rural Indiana Strategy for Excellence: A 2020 Vision for the Indiana Countryside, known as RISE 2020, is to create a strategy for improving Indiana's countryside. Residents' top concerns have been broadband Internet and economic development, but the plan will not provide a “cookie cutter” solution to those issues, she told Becky Manley of The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Read more)

“The reality of today’s rural Indiana is far different from the past,” states a draft of the report, which was developed from input from about 150 rural residents and service providers. The report states that “agriculture, while still important, is just one piece of today’s Indiana rural economy." Public input will be used in the final RISE 2020 plan, which is slated for release in June. Click here for a draft of the report.

Georgia becomes first state to sanction Bible classes in high schools

Georgia is believed to be the first state to offer government-sanctioned elective Bible classes, after Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law Thursday.

The Bible is already used in classes in Georgia and other states, and some school districts have classes devoted solely to the Bible. Georgia's new law permits elective Bible classes at high schools, but leaves it up to districts to decide whether to offer them, reports Shannon McCaffrey of The Associated Press.

Perdue also signed a bill allowing Ten Commandments displays at courthouses, which critics attacked as a blurring of the line between church and state, writes McCaffrey. National civil rights groups are monitoring how the laws are implemented before deciding on possible court challenges. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Ten Commandments displays constitutional if their primary purpose was to honor legal traditions and not to promote one religion over another. (Read more)

Governments won't be able to resist charging for wi-fi, opines columnist

Free wireless Internet is an idea being considered by cities small and large, but one columnist does not foresee them being cost-free to the public forever.

"I personally think this idea is great, but I also know there is no way that any cash-strapped city -- a category that appears to comprise all of them -- will not succumb to the financial benefit of pulling the plug on this free service, if it's ever implemented in the first place. So if you get free municipal Wi-Fi, use it and enjoy it while you can," opines John C. Dvorak in his "Second Opinion" column for MarketWatch.

"It's simple economics, and there is no such thing as a free lunch (cliché alert). Even restaurants, coffee shops and airports that have free Wi-Fi do it only as an inducement to keep people in their facilities. And often those initiatives are undone by a slick salesperson who can show the business how to 'monetize' their Wi-Fi," he continues.

"If I were to hazard a guess as to the future of free Wi-Fi anywhere in the U.S., it would end up pretty much where it started -- at small coffee houses scattered here and there. Municipal Wi-Fi will go the way of free parking. There is no free parking," concludes Dvorak. (Read more)

Small daily in N.C. overhauls news operation for more online focus

In Cleveland County, North Carolina, "The Shelby Star has blown up its newsroom – figuratively. The paper's newsroom no longer operates like a traditional newsroom and the newspaper doesn't read like a traditional newspaper. It’s more local. Easier to read. Easier to digest. More interactive. And it fuses with the paper's Web site," reports the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

Via a six-month effort known as the "Innovation Project," the Star (circulation 16,000) has linked its print and online products by having reporters enhance stories with online content. Reporters along with staff photographers take video cameras with them, and readers are being encouraged to submit their own comments, photos and videos. The results have paid off in the past three months, with Web traffic jumping by 47 percent to more than 1.7 million page views per month.

With the new version of its paper, The Star opted to eliminate story jumps, break in-depth pieces into smaller articles, and convert traditional “paragraph-form copy” into a “who, what, when, where” format. “For many newspaper consumers, the paragraph is a dinosaur,” said Editor Skip Foster. (Read more)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Development and mining plans put rivers on group's endangered list

Rivers that are feeling the squeeze of rural development dominate the annual list of the nation's 10 most-endangered rivers compiled by the environmental group American Rivers.

The rivers, in order, are the Pajaro River, which flows into California's Monterey Bay and is the focus of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control plan; the Upper Yellowstone River in Montana, where construction is altering riverbanks; the Willamette River, which has state-authorized “toxic mixing zones;” the Salmon Trout River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, site of a proposed nickel and copper mine; the Shenandoah River, which American Rivers says is "facing an onslaught of development;" the Boise River in Idaho, the headwaters of which a Canadian firm wants to mine; the Caloosahatchee River in south Florida, polluted by agricultural-related outflows from from Lake Okeechobee; Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed, a system of lakes, streams and rivers that is the source of the single largest salmon run on earth, on the Kvichak River, and also the site of a proposed mine; the San Jacinto River in southeast Texas, site of sand mining; and the Verde River, under increasing demand for water from fast-growing Arizona. (Click on a river to read the detailed description or click here to read a summary.)

The Washington Post focuses on No. 5, Virginia's Shenandoah River, which supplies 13 percent of the water in the Potomac River -- which provides 90 percent of the drinking water for the Washington area. American Rivers' report on the Shenandoah focuses on the six mostly rural counties, many of which are attracting national builders and the demands of thousands for new houses. "County governments along the Shenandoah have a rapidly-closing window to get a handle on runaway development before it changes the character of the river and valley forever," the environmental group says.

"Development's not the whole story -- everyone that lives in the valley is guilty in one way or other," Meryl Christiansen, a Warren County, Virginia, resident who lobbied to get the Shenandoah on the list, told Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen"Homeowners who put a lot of fertilizer on their lawns, farmers that don't protect the soil, poultry processors that dump stuff in the river."

Environmentalists want counties to pass ordinances aimed at controlling development, such as ones that encourage clustering houses and leaving open space, reports McCrummen. They also want legislation protecting areas around creeks and encouraging homeowners and farmers there to preserve natural land buffers. (Read more)

Supersized tire shortage creates problem for global mining industry

"The worldwide thirst for stuff from the ground — materials as diverse as copper and coal, gold and oil — has set off a stunning boom in just about every commodity market. But there is one item that lately has dealers in the global mining industry really scrambling: the supersize tire," reports The New York Times.

There is a shortage of the giant tires used on large dump trucks and other heavy equipment, which is creating problems for everyone from Canadian tar sands to coal mines in the U.S. and China. Prices for the tires have now surpassed $40,000. Demand is being pushed by the military for Iraq and Afghanistan, and by construction firms rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Mining firms and tire makers blame the shortage on rapid industrialization of China, India and other countries, which is eating up basic commodities, reporter Simon Romero writes. (Photo from Wyoming by Matthew Staver)

"In many ways, the tire shortage both reflects the soaring commodities prices and contributes to it. . . . In an attempt to cash in on the commodities rally, mining companies have been reactivating old mines and expanding existing operations," Romero reports. "But time and again, these firms have been stymied by a lack of available tires." Mining companies are now trying everything possible to extend the life of their tires, which usually last from 4,000 to 7,000 hours. (Read more)

Md. preservationists aim to protect farm history from development

"Maryland's oldest places have survived fires, floods and the ravages of time. With the U.S. Census predicting 1.2 million new residents in the state in 20 years, preservationists say they need to mobilize," report Mary Otto and Nelson Hernandez of The Washington Post.

Preservationists are worried that farmlands, canals and the weathered tobacco barns in Southern Maryland might not survive progress, or as painter Vicki Michael said, "what people think is progress." State officials are trying to find suitable locations for new housing, schools, utilities and roads, but preservationists do not want them to touch old houses, historic farms or the plush landscape, write Otto and Hernandez.

Development is getting closer to tobacco barns that play an important role in Maryland's agricultural history. Preservation efforts may be paying off, because the tobacco barns were named endangered in 2004 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Post notes. (Read more)

Prescription drug ODs rise in New Mexico; mainly rural problem?

Accidental prescription drug overdose deaths in New Mexico are increasing at a higher rate than those caused by illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in a new study that unintentional prescription drug overdoses accounted for 1.9 deaths out of 100,000 deaths at the beginning of the 10-year study in 1994, rising to 5.3 overdose deaths out of 100,000 deaths in 2003. This represented a 179-percent increase during the 10-year period.

Sidney Schnoll, clinical professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the Medical College of Virginia, cautioned the public about applying these findings to the entire state. “New Mexico is a relatively rural state, and one of the things we know about prescription drug abuse, particularly prescription opioid abuse, is that it is more of a problem of rural areas than urban areas,” Schnoll said. (Read more)

Tax money makes all the difference in rural Oregon schools, report says

"Students in small and rural Oregon districts that get the most tax money outperform those in similar districts that receive less, a new study shows," reports The Associated Press.

The report from the Rural School and Community Trust concluded that efforts to equalize spending on education are not completely working. “The state funding mechanism is intended to level the playing field, but it does not do so among all rural Oregon school districts,” it said. The report covered 132 districts, about two-thirds of the districts and slightly more than a third of the students in the state, and it studied four factors in comparing rural schools: financial resources, teacher quality, poverty, and community education levels, notes AP.

Districts that scored well on state assessments in mathematics and language skills were also among those that put the most local money into education. The report also noted that the best performing districts boasted the most qualified teachers, based on the number of teachers with provisional or emergency certificates, reports AP. (Read more)

Many rural students not pursuing higher education, Pa. report shows

More Pennsylvania students are going to college, but that is not always the case in rural areas, according to a new report on higher education in the Keystone State.

“A Rising Tide: The Current State of Higher Education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” reports that rural students are less prone to attending college because they are more likely to attend lower-performing high schools, college is not part of their family's their tradition, and no colleges exist nearby, writes Robyn Meadows of the Lancaster New Era. Anywhere from 76.4 to 89.5 percent of high school grads in metro areas planned to enroll in postsecondary education, compared to as low as 50 percent in some rural areas.

The report, sponsored by The Education Policy and Leadership Center and The Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, is based on a survey of 519 high school graduates and Census data from 1990 and 2000. It shows that 4 to 8 percent of young adults — mostly from rural communities or of African American or Hispanic American backgrounds — pass on college because of price. Click here to read the report.

Many students are not four-year college material, but they should consider two-year technical programs that can lead to high-paying jobs, said Scott Sheely, executive director of Workforce Investment Board, a group that promotes getting a college education. He said the big problem is that almost half of the students drop out of college. “The concern that I have is for them to go off and study English when they could be very successful in a technical situation,” he told Meadows. (Read more)

Virginia weekly shows value of independence, community focus

The Smithfield Times of Virginia won the small-paper category of the Virginia Press Association's annual award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service, the group's highest honor. The paper also won the award in 2003.

The Times, circulation 6,219, beat out many other papers in the category, for those with less than 30,000 circulation -- a threshold that we think best defines the upper limit for "community journalism." "The quality of coverage underscores what several other entries in this size class demonstrate as well: You don't have to be a big-city newspaper to serve readers with strong, vigorous citizen-based journalism that initiates and facilitates community discussion of important issues and helps citizens find solutions to community problems," the judges wrote.

Its winning formula was a combination of "event coverage and enterprise reporting, backed up with editorial-page campaigning that offered citizens choices and ways of taking action as well as a forum for their own viewpoints, The Times undertook and encouraged strident discussion of issues ranging from the newest developments--not all call them advances--of agriculture, the symbiosis of public and private organizations for the public good, and the performance and responsibility of governmental agencies designed to help citizens but not always able--or willing--to fulfill their missions," the judges wrote.

The Times began 80 years ago covering the Isle of Wight and Surry counties in southeastern Virginia. John and Anne Edwards bought it in 1986 from Thomas Phillips. Click here to see the paper's Web site.

Weekly paper in Ky. should stop publishing DUI photos, opines writer

Eight years ago, the weekly Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, Ky., gained national attention when it started publishing mug shots of people convicted of driving under the influence, in an effort to cut down on DUIs in the county just south of Frankfort. Now, one reader thinks it is time to stop.

"One of the consequences of publishing the mug shots is the effect on offenders' relatives and friends. While many of us peruse the court news, children, as a rule, do not. They do seem drawn to the photos though, and they like to use them as ammunition against other children. Is that your mama's picture in the paper?" opines Jerry Shaw in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Shaw criticizes Publisher Don White's rationale. "If White's ultimate goal is to curb DUIs in Anderson County, there is little evidence that he is succeeding," he writes. "The DUI numbers are all over the place. Anderson County Jailer Joani Clark says she cannot determine whether the paper's mug shot policy has made any difference."

As The Rural Blog reported last week, reported "White is leaving the publisher's chair for semi-retirement, and the paper will hire his replacement soon," Shaw concludes. "I hope whoever takes over will take a long, hard look at the mug shot policy. It is time to change it." (Read more) Shaw is an instructor in English as a second language, General Educational Development and extended services in Anderson County.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Number of class offerings don't affect reading, math test scores in Iowa

"There is no relationship between the number of high school credits offered and the proficiency levels of 11th grade students on Iowa's state-mandated tests in reading and math," reports the Rural School and Community Trust. "These findings refute assertions by some policy leaders in Iowa that small high schools cannot offer a broad enough curriculum for students to achieve at high levels and should, therefore, be consolidated." To read the trust's report on its study, click here.

The study was cited in a story this week by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on the Janesville school district, which has only 80 students in its high school. "Conventional wisdom suggests the district would likely do best by the young people to become one with a neighboring school system. More students would translate into more state funding, which would provide more courses and the means for high achievement," writes Brian Spannagel, citing recent school consolidations in northeast Iowa.

But the study, analyzing scores on the Iowa Test of Educational Development, found no difference in math and reading proficiency between schools with fewer than 200 students and those with more. Janesville has 380 students. State education department spokeswoman Kathi Slaughter told Spannagel, "We argue for no forced consolidation. We agree that good schools can be small schools." (Read more)

Telephone checks can increase cancer screening rates, study says

Researchers have found that telephone calls delivered by trained personnel help women overcome barriers to screening and improved screening rates for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

“This study represents a promising step toward addressing the clear-cut disparity in cancer screening rates and death rates for certain low-income and minority groups,” said lead author Dr. Allen Dietrich, a community and family medicine professor at Dartmouth Medical School. “Our team found that telephone support can increase the historically low cancer screening rates for minority women. We are hopeful that this model can be transferred to other populations who could benefit from this type of outreach.”

Checking by phone offers hope for rural areas, where residents are often unaware of how to get a screening or experience problems communicating with physicians. This study shows that such barriers can be overcome. “Since sixty percent of the patients were Spanish speaking and several are recent immigrants the to U.S., the ability for them to speak with someone who could communicate across cultural boundaries and help navigate the system was especially important,” noted Dietrich. (Read more)

Rash of cattle rustling in Missouri leads to more old-fashioned branding

In Missouri, which has more cattle than any state except Texas, ranchers have been rushing to register new cattle brands, spurred by an outbreak of "cattle rustling," mainly in the southwestern part of the state, reports Todd Frankel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Brands are registered with the state Division of Animal Health, and longtime brand recorder Sheri Berendzen "has seen applications go from perhaps three a week to 15 or 20," Frankel writes. "More than 400 new brands have poured in since November, boosting the number ... in the state past 4,800."

Frankel calls branding "a crude, ancient and controversial practice that is still considered the best way to identify livestock, even in this age of GPS tracking and radio-frequency tags. Branding has its own traditions and language: letters that are lazy and symbols imbued with hidden meaning. A good brand can become a Wild West version of the family crest. Some brands are auctioned off or fought over in divorce cases. And some are obtained just for prestige, never making it onto an animal."

"But only a small minority of cattle in Missouri, estimated at less than 5 percent, are branded; the work is time-consuming, and some worry that it lowers the value of the hide," Frankel reports. "More than 29 states register brands, mostly west of the Mississippi River. Texas lists almost 100,000 different ones. North Dakota has nearly 20,000. At the other end, Illinois has just 432."

"Branding is expected to continue despite growing calls at the federal level for a national animal identification program," Frankel predicts. "The program would assign numbers to every cow in the nation to deal with mounting concern about animal disease outbreaks. But the program is expected to use radio-frequency ear tags, which can be easily removed by cattle rustlers."

Frankel's story has a vivid description of the branding process. To read it, click here.

Half of J-Lab's latest New Voices projects for citizen media are rural

J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, has announced 10 "New Voices" grants for citizen media projects, half of which will serve rural communities.

"This year's winners, selected from 185 applicants, will each receive up to $17,000 for their projects," J-Lab said in a release. "The grant recipients will receive $12,000 in the first year to start up their projects. They will be eligible for $5,000 follow-up grants next year if they successfully launch their projects and supply matching funding." Among the winners were:

• "Federation of Community Correspondents," from WMMT, the community radio station of Appalshop, the long-established media arts and education center in Whitesburg, Ky. It will "train citizens from Central Appalachia in radio news production and story gathering for broadcast on radio and the Web," J-Lab says. "Appalshop will develop the project with a basic curriculum and workshop model that will cover production technology and techniques and provide instruction in basic community journalism."

• "Western Breeze: Montana's Rural News Network," proposed by the University of Montana School of Journalism. "The network will recruit and train residents of three rural Montana towns to report on news and information for rural Web sites and plans to locate a computer kiosk in each community to ensure access and the ability to contribute to the news," J-Lab says.

• "One Sky Radio South Central Magazine," from Alaska Educational Radio System, which plans regional call-in and magazine programs with caller participation via phone and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony using Skype software," J-Lab reports. "Volunteers and paid stringers will be encouraged to produce news and feature segments for the show. The program will be distributed via streaming audio to other stations in the state."

• "Monroe County Radio Project," from West Virginia University. The project will create a news department at WHFI-FM, a radio station owned by the school board in Monroe County, at the southeastern tip of the state, 220 miles and three and a half hours from the Morgantown university. J-Lab reports, "Journalism students and faculty will train student and adult volunteer reporters to report and produce local news stories for a 15-minute daily newscast, regular monthly public affairs programming and a Web site with news and streaming audio."

• "Route 7 Report," from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. The school will train citizens in three rural villages and surrounding townships in the hills near the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio to create a Web site and monthly newsletter on local government, schools, organizations and business. The villages of Coolville, Tuppers Plains and Chester are connected by a 15-mile stretch of Ohio Route 7, and are caught between the coverage areas of the region's newspapers. They have a diverse and largely self-sufficient mix of businesses and services, being about 20 miles in all directions from major commercial centers such as Athens, site of the university.

The coordinators of the West Virginia and Ohio projects, respectively, are Maryanne Reed and Bill Reader. Both are academic partners of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Congratulations to them on being selected. To read about the other grants, click here.

Rural Montana suffers from hit-and-miss cell coverage, but help is coming

Rural Montana's sparsely-populated landscape of mountains and coulees is making it difficult for cell phone companies and their customers.

"While residents of such Montana metropolises as Great Falls and Billings enjoy service on par with cities such as Seattle, they're often back on the rugged cell phone frontier once they leave the city limits," writes Karen Ogden of the Great Falls Tribune. "Like favorite fishing holes, Montanans know the best places to stop and catch a signal — perhaps high on Rogers Pass, or in the little flat spot east of Clearwater Junction. Those intrepid enough to do business on the road need a good measure of patience."

Several cellular companies are planning to install millions of dollars worth of new towers and other improvements in the state this year, reports Ogden. That means some rural communities will get cellular service for the first time, and others will see an end to patchy service. Small, local providers are setting their sights on rural locations. Also, consumer advocates have been encouraging rural areas to petition the cell phone providers for service. (Read more)

Tiny town in Iowa finds big bucks in donations for massive projects

Jack Schultz makes his living by helping small towns develop their economies, and gets his kicks by writing about their success stories. His most recent story on his Boomtown USA blog is about the town of Wall Lake, Iowa, population 841, about 70 miles east of Sioux City. It has many successes to brag about, including an 18,000 square foot, $1.2 million community center built with donations

City Manager Tom Schroeder told Schultz, “My uncle Gus Schroeder, who was mayor for 10 years, and his wife Lil started off the campaign with a $250,000 donation but we got funds from just about everybody in town. Even Andy Williams, who was born and raised here, gave $25,000 in memory of his mom and dad. In all we raised $800,000 in donations, got $200,000 from the state and still have a note for $200,000 on the building.” Schultz adds that Chicago would have to raise over $1 billion in donations to match Wall Lake's proportionate generosity.

Schroeder also showed Schultz other projects made possible by investors, such as a $50 million biodiesel plant, a 220-acre lake with 125 new housing units, a 70-bed nursing home, and a 660-megawatt wind turbine. "When 300 people showed up that night to hear me talk, I was really impressed," Schultz writes. "I couldn’t even come close to doing a calc of how many people in Chicago would have to come hear me talk to get to the ratio of people interested in their town and how they could make it better."

Brit Hume, profiled by Post's Kurtz, stays grounded in rural Hume, Va.

The most viewed article on The Washington Post's Web site today is about television journalist Brit Hume, who in 30-plus years in Washington years in has gone "from garden-variety liberal to committed conservative," as media writer Howard Kurtz sums up the journey.

"As a senior Fox News executive and anchor who landed the only interview with Vice President Cheney after his hunting accident, Hume has traveled light-years since his early days as a dogged investigator," Kurtz reports. "He has become an acerbic critic of his chosen profession," accusing other journalists of liberal bias that he says is "unconscious," not deliberate. Kurtz cites studies concluding that the reporting on Hume's "Special Report" show favors Republicans.

"Hume is no partisan brawler in the mold of some of Fox's high-decibel hosts," Kurtz writes. "By virtue of his investigative background, his understated style and his management role, he represents a hybrid strain: conservatives who believe in news, not bloviation, but news that passes through a different lens, filtered through a different set of assumptions." He told Kurtz, "Sure, I'm a conservative, no doubt about it. But I would ask people to look at the work."

Hume rejects the social whirl inside the Beltway. He and his wife "abandon Washington every Thursday night for their country home in Fauquier County -- in the tiny town of Hume, Va., named for one of his relatives in a clan that emigrated from Scotland in 1721," Kurtz reveals. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Journalists, coal industry folks hash out communication, trust issues

Journalists, coal-company officials and business associates of the coal industry -- more than a dozen in each category -- gathered yesterday in the booming coal town of Pikeville, Ky., to talk about the difficulties they have with each other and try to forge a more mutually beneficial relationship.

The Coal-Media Roundtable was sponsored by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Appalachian News-Express, the Pikeville newspaper that became a daily today. News-Express Publisher Marty Backus and Institute Director Al Cross called the meeting a success, and said it might be repeated, as often as annually.

"For years, the relationship between the coal industry and the media has been rocky at best," Neil Middleton, news anchor for WYMT-TV in Hazard, said in introducing the station's report on the meeting. Middleton and co-anchor Danielle Morgan attended the roundtable. "A journalist's job is to provide information for the public. A coal miner's job is to provide energy for the nation, but when those paths cross, it isn't always a pretty meeting," Morgan told viewers, introducing a video clip of her interview with Mike Browning, editor of The Logan Banner in West Virginia.

"When we called to get information on one disaster, we were hung up on six times," Browning said, expanding on an episode he had related at the roundtable. Coal executives said that happens, and calls aren't returned to certain journalists, because of inaccurate or biased reporting. "When you give them a statement, it will be edited for content, taken out of context," said Paul Matney of TECO Energy, which mines in southeastern Kentucky. Cross urged coal companies to give every journalist at least one break, and discuss problems they have with stories, not cut off communication.

The day ended with better feelings on both sides. "I think this is a good first step," said Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. He called for more such meetings, and tours of mines by journalists. Just sitting around the same table and talking helps, said David Gooch, executive director of Pikeville-based Coal Operators and Associates. "It's a matter of trust," he told the roundtable. "Trust comes from association." To see WYMT's full report, click here, then click on the story in the Video list. A more detailed report on the meeting will be posted in the Reports section of the Institute's Web site.

Wal-Mart plan will make part-timers eligible for health care sooner

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a major economic force in rural areas, is going to relax health insurance eligibility requirements for part-time employees, paving the way for 150,000 workers to gain coverage.

The previous requirements had employees work for two years to qualify for employer-sponsored insurance, but that will become one year starting next month. The most used version of the company's health plan will be available for $23 a month, and workers' children would be included for an additional $15, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Wal-Mart has come under fire by unions and others that say its health benefits are inadequate. Even the new requirements are seen as unaffordable by Chris Kofinis, spokesman for WakeUpWalMart.com, a group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. He told AP the plan requires the worker to pick up the first $1,000 in medical expenses, and that amount could jump to $3,000 for families.

Archaeologists take Civil War items during 'safari' digs across Virginia

So-called "relic hunters" are engaging in a new breed of organized digs throughout the history-filled hills of Virginia with the aim being to unearth Civil War artifacts.

Critics say such "safari" digs, many of which take place in rural areas, destroy the past by removing artifacts that could teach the public about the state's Civil War heritage, writes Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post. "These digs are like reading a book, ripping the pages out as you read and setting them on fire," said Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the state's Department of Historic Resources.

The Council of Virginia Archaeologists have complained to state legislators and contacted landowners about stopping the digs. Many relic hunters counter that they just have a passion for history. Some write books on their findings, and others donate time to help archaeologists track down previously overlooked sites, reports Schulte. (Read more)

Disease hits 75 percent of Chesapeake Bay's rockfish; market struggles

"In a frenzied rite of spring, thousands of Maryland anglers churned onto the bay yesterday for the first day of trophy season,' the start of the recreational season for rockfish, or striped bass. But some on the hunt felt the day was dampened, not by an early-morning rain, but by bad news about Maryland's state fish," writes Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post.

The wasting disease mycobacteriosis is affecting nearly three-quarters of the Chesapeake Bay's rockfish, from bacteria that can produce a severe skin infection in humans. Wearing gloves can protect humans, though, and no evidence exists that eating rockfish causes the disease. However, it is threatening a $300 million industry, especially with supermarkets and restaurants yanking the rockfish, reports Williamson.

After a Washington Post story about a month ago, the heavy-bellied bass starting selling for much less on the commercial market, which prompted the state Department of Natural Resources to launch a rockfish rehabilitation campaign, writes Williamson. (Read more)

Kentucky county edges closer to smoking ban in public workplaces

Pike County, Kentucky's legislative body passed a smoking ban on first reading Monday night and now it just needs a second reading to become law.

The ban would affect the Hall of Justice and courthouse, and it has garnered support from the county's teen-age population, reports WYMT Mountain News. "You don't actually have to be smoking to get the damage from it, and it makes people realize it's a big problem, and it's something that needs to be taken care of," said Ashley May, a member of the Pike County Youth Leadership Council.

If approved next month, the ordinance will go into effect July 15, and it will join several other smoking bands in Kentucky. A smoking ban for all public buildings passed last week in Letcher County, and a similar ordinance went into effect last weekend in Prestonsburg, notes WYMT. (Read more)

Nashville TV lumps city in with 'Third World,' ignores facts, opines editor

"Much of the outside world has a view of Appalachia that has changed very little over the past half-century, which is illustrated every so often by big-city reporters who come to the mountains to take a look for themselves. When the story isn't quite what they imagined, the reporters sometimes prefer the legend over the truth," opines John Henson of the Harlan (Ky.) Daily Enterprise.

"The latest example was a report on poverty in Lynch by Nashville television station WSMV earlier this year. The one-sided view of Lynch drew quite a bit of controversy during a recent city council meeting where council members discussed filing a complaint with the FCC. The report was full of errors and exaggerations, even before it actually started. No one at WSMV bothered to find Lynch on a map, placing it in Tennessee, even though it's at least 70 miles away," continues Henson.

Henson cites the introduction by WSMV anchor Dan Miller, who said, “We want to show you a disaster in our own back yard, people living in Third World conditions right here in Tennessee.” Reporter Mark Stewart went on to say, “In some places, plumbing, heat and telephones are all a luxury and food is often scarce,” later adding that “education is a challenge. Many here never finish school.”

To counter this news report, Henson simply presents Census Bureau facts: "Lynch has 0.0 occupied homes without heat. If you have problems with statistics, that means zero or none, whichever you prefer. Nashville, by comparison, has no heat in 0.4 percent of its occupied homes, or 799 homes total. According to the statistics, Lynch has two homes without complete plumbing facilities (0.5 percent) and 28 without telephone service (6.7 percent). Nashville has 1,059 homes (0.5 percent) without complete plumbing facilities and 4,054 without telephone service (1.8 percent). The percent of high school graduates in Lynch is 69.9 percent, compared to 80.4 percent for Nashville." (Read more)

Author explores Earth Day, promotes environmental stewardship

"I’ve lived long enough to know that life is not simple and straightforward. Each day brings decisions on how to live within the context of nature and the earth, and yet it seems unnaturally easy in this day and age to break all the rules," writes Sylvia L. Lovely, president of the NewCities Institute and author of New Cities in America: The Little Blue Book of Big Ideas, in a column about Earth Day on April 22.

"A fundamental tenet of environmental stewardship is to recognize our linkage in the chain of life. It is also important that stewardship involve the proper use of the environment. Nothing that we do is done in a vacuum. It matters deeply just how well we use the materials that we need to survive and thrive, and that nature provides us," continues Lovely.

"I optimistically observe that the sentiment for stewardship is growing. While it is our helpmate in many ways, technology is increasingly viewed as a foe as much as a friend if we rely exclusive on it to connect with each other and with the natural world," she writes.

Click here to read this entire column in our Reports section.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Nation's elderly poverty rate drops, but rural America's outlook worsens

"Forty years ago, a third of the nation's elderly lived below the poverty line. Now, just one in 10 seniors is considered poor. That plunge in the elderly poverty rate is credited to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other assistance programs," reports Howard Berkes of National Public Radio.

That progress is on shaky ground, though, in rural areas like Harrison County, Ohio, where 16,000 people live on 400 square miles of Appalachian foothills. The county's economy once boomed with farming, mining and milling, but declines in those areas and young people leaving home have created a smaller tax base for funding programs. Many residents who remain are women, and elderly women are twice as likely as elderly men to live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. About 80 percent of those served by the county's senior center are women, Berkes reports.

Many people entering retirement in rural communities are hopeful that the economy will improve, thus fueling important services with much-needed funding. Harrison County Economic Development Director Chris Copeland cites a $73 million ethanol plant slated for the county as one positive sign. Still, money issues could shut down a food program long before that plant is built, which makes it hard for the county's elderly to share in that optimism, NPR reports. (Read more)

Vermont man takes lead in providing broadband for rural community

"When C.J. Vadnais founded the Southwestern Vermont Broadband Cooperative last September, he was doing far more than giving high-speed Internet to the 30 households within the broadcast radius: He was helping this tiny mountain town of 900 people take a leap into the 21st century not often seen in towns five times its size," writes Matt Tuthill of the Bennington Banner.

Vadnais wants to expand the co-op from servicing 30 homes to 60 or more, which is significant because many rural communities lack any broadband service, reports Tuthill. Stamford is one of only a dozen rural communities in the U.S. to have successfully founded a broadband co-op, the Banner reports.

Prior to broadband, Stamford residents accessed the Internet with a dial-up modem, and people sent large files via a satellite Internet service provider. Vadnais said that telephone or cable companies probably would not want to expand broadband service to Stamford. "It's such a small market up here. I don't know how it would be worth it ... but it could always happen. And you know with telephone and cable companies -- you're at their mercy," he told Tuthill. (Read more)

Rural school districts opt for four-day weeks in Idaho, Colorado

Several rural Idaho school districts are already operating on four-day schedules to save money, and more counties may follow suit.

State law requires students attend schools a set number of hours per year, but reducing the number of days can create heating, salary and transportation savings, reports Anne Wallace Allen of The Associated Press. Don Bartling, superintendent in Boundary County, said his district expects to save $108,000 this year, and the Bear Lake County School District will save about $200,000 this year.

Idaho state Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, opposes the shortened weeks and says they are proof that the state neglects education funding. The shortened week isn't unusual in some other Western states, including Colorado, where about 50 of the state's 178 school districts use it, writes Allen. (Read more)

N.C. school district considers year-round schedule to combat costs

Schools in Wake County, North Carolina may go to some form of a year-round calendar to combat rising construction costs, report T. Keung Hui and Todd Silberman of The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The proposal is part of a plan to spend $994 million on facilities through 2010. In order to keep the building plan under $1 billion, summer vacation would have to be reduced for more than 100,000 of Wake's 120,504 students, and all students would begin the school year in July. If the school board OKs the proposal, Wake would be a rarity among the nation's large districts, write Hui and Silberman.

The proposed changes would take effect in 2007. (Read more)

Rural schools group to take statewide role in Arkansas funding fight

In Little Rock, Ark., "an organization created to protect one rural high school announced Friday it would take a statewide role," changing its name from the Paron Education Preservation Alliance to the Rural Education Preservation Alliance, writes Aaron Sadler of the Arkansas News Bureau.

Group spokesman Ron Crawford said the alliance wants to stop a growing movement to shut down rural schools. "We recognize that some schools should be consolidated if they are failing either academically or financially," Crawford told Sadler. "But it has become clear from the last special session of the Legislature that a small band of insiders are intent on closing schools in our state regardless of their merit."

The alliance plans to meet with state officials soon about funding issues currently being considered by legislators, writes Sadler. (Read more)

Small farmers oppose farm identification proposal in Vermont

Small and backyard farmers in Vermont are speaking out against a proposal for mandatory farm identification rules aimed to prevent an outbreak of animal diseases.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture proposes that all farms and other sites with livestock register with the state so mad-cow disease or avian flu could be stopped in its tracks. Opponents say identification could lead to government intrusion that might hurt small farmers, and they want the Legislature to research the issue further or make the program voluntary, reports Lisa Rathke of The Associated Press.

Many farmers with larger flocks or herds support the proposal and say the state is simply trying to protect animals, notes AP. (Read more)

Prions that cause mad-cow-like disease stay potent in soil, study finds

Scientists have confirmed that prions, proteins thought to cause chronic wasting disease in deer, latch on to minerals in soil and stay infectious. That is significant since most proteins that bind to soil lose their power.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are suggesting that certain soil types serve as natural prion repositories. "As animals regularly consume soil to meet their mineral needs, it's possible that prion-laden soil particles contribute to the transmission of prion disease such as CWD among animals," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. CWD is a fatal, incurable condition that belongs to the same family as mad-cow disease.

"Our results suggest that reducing the number of infected animals -- as has been done in the recent outbreak of CWD in Wisconsin -- could limit the potential for further (disease) spread," says lead author Christopher Johnson, a UW-Madison doctoral student in animal health and biomedical sciences. "These results also suggest that other species that share ranges with CWD-infected deer may be exposed to soil-bound prions, increasing the potential of CWD transferring to other species." (Read more)

Charleston Gazette wins SDX award from SPJ for mental-health series

A Charleston Gazette staff series on mental health has won a Sigma Delta Chi Award in Public Service ,for newspapers with less than 100,000 circulation, from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards honor radio, magazines, newspapers, television and other outlets for excellence in journalism. The Charleston Gazette series, titled “Brothers Keeper: West Virginia’s Mental Health Crisis," attempted to answer the question "Is the state failing the estimated 50,000 West Virginians with severe mental illness?" To read the stories from January and February 2005, click here.

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards will be presented July 14 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. For a complete list of the award winners, click here. This year's Pulitzer Prize winners are slated to be announced Monday afternoon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

'Emerging church' focuses on youth, culture, creating small communities

Is your community home to an "emerging church?" Community-minded Protestants are getting behind the movement, which focuses on youth, a preference for small communities, making Christianity relevant and embracing local culture, according to ReligionLink.org, the site of the Religion Newswriters Foundation.

"Few of these young congregations call themselves churches. Leaders say they turned to emerging ideas out of frustration with churches’ lack of emphasis on evangelism, lack of outreach to society’s poor and neglected, and divisive denominational politics. Among emerging churches, many hold fast to conservative roots while others are willing to question traditional Christian teachings," the site says.

This movement has relevance, especially since Barna Research found in 2003 that just three out of 10 twentysomethings and four out of 10 thirtysomethings attend church weekly. Director George Barna told Pennsylvania's Allentown Morning Call that he expects traditional churches to lose half their "market share" by 2025, with alternatives like the "emerging church" gaining followers. (Read more)

Although this movement is for those who prefer small communities, that does not limit it to rural areas. Cities such as Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York are home to small groups that are part of the "emerging church." A "Dallas-based church consulting firm, says about 1,000 congregations are part of the movement," writes Suzanne Sataline of The Wall Street Journal. (Read more)

Questions about bird flu? Check Harvard Medical School report

"Is a bird flu pandemic 'inevitable,' as so many health experts believe? Is there a way to protect yourself and your family from this deadly virus? A new report from Harvard Medical School answers these and other urgent questions," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

The report, "Bird Flu: How to understand your risk and protect your health," provides the information needed to answer such questions based on the latest scientific research and practical advice of Harvard doctors. The report was written by Drs. Anthony L. Komaroff, editor-in-chief of Harvard Health Publications and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Raphael Dolin, an influenza specialist and the dean for academic and clinical programs and Maxwell Finland Professor of Medicine at Harvard. (Read more) The 44-page report costs $16, and it is available here.

Georgia ag extension agent says next terrorist attack could hit farms

"South Georgians could face terror threats from their dinner table rather than falling victim to a hijacking or 'dirty bomb,'" writes Wayne Hardy of the weekly Blackshear Times in Georgia.

Agricultural terrorism is a rural concern because a sick cow or an extra box of vegetables on a delivery truck can serve as red flags to that the food supply is being threatened. Pierce County Extension Agent John Ed Smith says farmers are the eyes for even the most subtle sign of terrorist threats. “Every farmer in this county is aware of the potential threat of agriterrorism,” Smith told Hardy. “Something like the dumping of any type of fruit or vegetable can be a sign of an exotic disease being introduced.”

Smith notes there are security holes at livestock farms nationwide that could allow for an attack. Foot-and-mouth disease, a viral disease that cripples cows, swine, goats, sheep and deer, has been absent in the U.S. since 1929, but could re-emerge via livestock. An animal disease can spread easily, but that can be combated by farmers who are aware and ready to act, Smith told Hardy.

This story is a good example of the local extension agent working with the local paper to convey information useful to all readers, not just people in agriculture. (Read more)

2.5 million acres of rural land succumbs to development in Colorado

"Agricultural land is vanishing from Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West at a jolting rate, according to two recent studies," reports Pam Zubeck of The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

Environment Colorado’s Research and Policy Center reports that development consumed more than 2.5 million acres of agricultural land from 1987 to 2002. Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Report Card states that nearly a quarter of the West’s ranches have given way to other uses in the past 30 years and 24 million more acres will disappear by 2020.

Rural land is being hurt by growing populations, livestock industry consolidation, conservation ranchers who preserve land without producing on it, a federal grazing permit shortage and government subsidies, according to the Colorado College report. Both reports said that converting rural land into homes and businesses further drains public services. "It also could harm tourism, which relies on pristine open space to lure urban dwellers," writes Zubeck. (Read more)

To read the Colorado College State of the Rockies Report Card, click here. The other report is not online.

Wind farming may expand to Blue Ridge in Southern Virginia

Less than a year after Highland County, Virginia, high in the Southern Alleghenies, approved the construction of 400-foot wind turbines on ridges, a company has approached Patrick County, in the Blue Ridge, with the idea of constructing about 20 of the electricity-generating structures.

The project needs approval from state and federal agencies. On Monday, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to pass an emergency ordinance that would prohibit the construction of any structure more than 100 feet in height. The ordinance will last 60 days, and supervisor intend to research the wind turbines and hold a public hearing on the matter, writes Mason Adams of The Roanoke Times.

Opponents of the turbines are concerned that the project would pollute the area and damage local tourism, the county's rural character and values of nearby property, reports Adams. (Read more)

Cactus rescuers attempt to protect Arizona plants from development

Arizona is booming with development of rural areas, and second only to Nevada in population growth, so the Cactus Rescue Crew is out to save plants being wiped out by human activity.

"The group was organized six years ago by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society. Since then, it has rescued over 27,000 cactuses and other native plants from road widenings, subdivisions, golf courses and shopping malls," writes Patricia Leigh Brown of The New York Times. "It has inspired kindred groups in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City. Tucson, mandated by the state to curtail water use, now plants rescued cactuses rather than wetland plants in highway medians."

Most newcomers to Arizona "care about the human impact on the environment, but they still want golf courses," said Rita Maguire, president of ThinkAZ, a public policy research institute in Phoenix. Two years ago, concerns about development in Pima County spurred the passage of a $174 million bond issue to buy open land for conservation and to a plan to concentrate development in areas where environmental impact is minimal, reports Brown. (Read more)

N.C. farmer holds on to his mountain land by selling Christmas trees

Jim Henson is determined to keep his 250-acre parcel of mountain land in Valle Crucis, N.C.; he grows Christmas trees on his land and tries out other crops to whet his scientific urge.

Henson grows commercial-size trees to sell wholesale, and he leases several fields in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. "Henson starts at a much smaller tree than his competitors. He starts Fraser fir seeds collected from high-elevation natural stands on Roan Mountain and Mount Rogers. After three years, the resulting seedlings are moved out of starting beds and planted in rows, where they will spend another two years before they are ready for transplanting into the field," writes Scott Nicholson of the weekly Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C.

Henson works as a hospital pharmacist four days a month, but he’d rather be planting trees. In fact, Henson enjoys living on the mountainside so much that he placed 139 acres in a conservation easement just to protect his land from logging or development, reports Nicholson. (Read more)

West Tennessee telephone cooperative may merge with Ky. co-op

Because $12 million in debt, the Yorkville Telephone Cooperative board has approved a request that the Tennessee firm's 3,400 members vote to sell its assets to the West Kentucky Rural Telephone Cooperative Corp., based in Mayfield.

West Kentucky CEO Trevor Bonstetter, a 22-year veteran of rural telephone cooperatives, said the merger will allow both firms to take advantage of economies of scale to add customers and deploy new technologies. A mix of debt service, quickly-changing technology, equipment troubles, the move from analog to digital systems, and customer and financial losses, put Yorkville in trouble, reports Chris Rimel of the State Gazette in Dyersburg, Tenn.

West Kentucky currently operates landline and cellular telephone services in eight counties in western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. A vote on the consolidation is slated for April 27. (Read more)

Triple Crown Exchange to give CNHI one newspaper in trade for three

Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and Triple Crown Media Inc. are exchanging newspapers in Georgia and Indiana.

"TCMI, which owns the Rockdale and Newton Citizen newspapers, the Gwinnett Daily Post and Albany Herald, will acquire the Clayton News Daily in Jonesboro, the Henry Daily Herald in McDonough and the Jackson Progress-Argus, a weekly in Jackson. All newspapers acquired by TCMI are located in Georgia. In return, CNHI will receive The Goshen News of Goshen, Ind.," reports the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. (Read more)

CNHI, based in Birmingham, Ala., currently owns 90 daily newspapers and 210 non-daily publications in 200-plus communities. After this transaction, Triple Crown Media will own six dailies and one weekly.

Long-time weekly publisher resigns, plans to pursue career as columnist

A long-time editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Anderson County, Kentucky, announced his resignation last month to fulfill a dream of writing a statewide column for weeklies.

Don White of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg is leaving after 28 years to pursue his lifelong ambition. He will write under a penname, "Ken," who will be accompanied in his columns by a dog, "Tucky."

“It will be a challenge each week to come up with material of reasonable statewide interest, but I'm confident that Tucky and I can build readership over time,” White said in the News. He wants to blend writing, photography, and traveling, into a weekly column. "Today, there are still some really outstanding writers and photographers throughout Kentucky, but most weekly newspapers can be hard-pressed to attract and retain columnists capable of both writing and shooting photos."

Under White's management, the Anderson News routinely won awards in general excellence from the state press association. White has also been a reporter and editor for the Commonwealth Journal in Somerset, Ky., and editor/general manager of the Casey County News in Liberty, Ky. (Read more)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Arkansas passes smoking ban; one of most rural states with measure

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signed a wide-ranging statewide smoking ban into law last Friday, and the state is one of the most rurally populated to do so.

The act takes effect in 90 days and prohibits smoking in most public places, including all workplaces with three or more employees. Establishments catering only to people 21 and over are exempt, reports Aaron Sadler of the Arkansas News Bureau, a service of the Stephens Media Group. (Read more)

Arkansas is the 17th state to pass such a ban, writes Sadler. Tobacco is not grown in Arkansas. Compared to the 15 states with bans listed on the Americans for NonSmokers' Rights Web site, Arkansas has the fourth highest percentage of residents living in rural areas with 47 percent. The top three are Vermont (62 percent), Maine (60 percent) and South Dakota (48 percent).

A rural county in Appalachian Kentucky passes a smoking ban

Letcher County, Kentucky, on the Virginia border in the heart of Appalachia, became the fourth and most rural jurisdiction in the tobacco-growing state to go smoke-free after the county legislative body passed an ordinance banning smoking in buildings that are open to the public.

William Farley of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg (not available online) reported that public opinion at the meeting of the county Fiscal Court was sharply split. Charles Turner, a Vietnam veteran, said he sees the effects of cigarettes every time he visits a VA hospital. "Now when I go to the VA, how many of them are coughing their lungs out?" he asked the court.

The magistrates and County Judge-Executive Carroll Smith, a ban supporter, deadlocked on the issue last fall, but Magistrate Trey Narramore, who faces a tough race in the May 16 primary election, changed his mind and the ordinance passed 4-2. One dissenter called the issue a matter of civil rights, not public health. A former smoker, Magistrate Wayne Fleming said it should be up to each business to decide whether to prohibit smoking.

Georgetown was the most recent Kentucky city to ban indoor smoking, following the lead of nearby Lexington. Louisville has passed a more limited ban. Other municipalites in tobacco states, such as Montreat, N.C., and several cities in Georgia, have also passed some sort of ban. For a list from the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, click here.

'No Longer Alone' manual tells adults how to protect rural gay youth

Thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth grow up and sometimes spend their entire lives in rural areas, but the programs to help them find acceptance often only exist in metropolitan areas.

A resource manual titled No Longer Alone addresses these concerns for adults who want to protect rural gay youth. The writer, Christopher J. Stapel, is an openly gay high school math teacher who attended rural schools and is about to enter a Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Kentucky. He explains why this lack of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GBLT) programs in rural areas puts many teens at a variety of risks, and what adults can do to make the environment safer for these teens.

"While larger communities have visible and active gay and lesbian communities, gay and lesbian students in rural places lack gay role models and are disconnected from the larger gay community. But rural gay kids are not alone," Stapel writes. "Rural gay students can take comfort in knowing that there are other kids like them, although maybe not visible, in their own communities."

Stapel cites the following statistics from a National School Climate survey as evidence for the unsafe environment for rural gay youths: 80 percent of gay youth have been verbally harassed and have teachers who rarely intervene when overhearing homophobic comments; two-thirds of gay youths feel unsafe at school; rural gays are less likely to find GLBT resources or GLBT-friendly staff members; and gay youth are also at higher risk for suicide, depression, and drug abuse.

The manual has suggestions for gay youths, but its mainly geared toward adult role models, including teachers and social service providers. Stapel tells teachers to use "gender-neutral language, don't assume heterosexuality, make GLBT-friendly literature available, discuss current events that involve GLBT people, and familiarize yourself with resources for GLBT youth in your area." To read the manual, click here.

Rural definition needs work to serve the public good, writes columnist

Ways of defining rural America vary from generation to generation, but one columnist used a road trip to inspire his own version.

"At a pit stop on a long drive home last week, I even came up with one of my own: Rural is where gas station squeegees all have long handles so little old ladies can reach the bugs in the center of the 4x4 windshield. The beauty of that definition — if I do say so myself — lies in the fact that it hits on three of the dominant factors of rural life: trucks, driving and the elderly," writes Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow at the Rural Policy Research Institute.

"The abundance of definitions, however, does not mean that rural America is well defined or well served. Indeed, it is neither. As University of Illinois professor Andrew Isserman points out in the October 2005 issue of International Regional Science Review, researchers and policymakers alike stumble when it comes to defining rural America. We have, says Isserman, no satisfactory way to measure "rural." Instead, rural is defined in 'two different overlapping and often contradictory ways, always defined by what it is not—not urban, not metropolitan.' Consequently, we misunderstand rural conditions, misdirect programs and funds and confuse everyone in earshot," continues Rowley.

Rowley references the way federal data systems define rural America, one classifying it as an area with less than 2,500 people and the other using counties to designate metro and non-urban areas. "Insulting as it is for rural people and places to be regarded merely as a residual and defined primarily by what we’re not, the real damage comes from the huge undercounting of rural people — undercounting that minimizes rural political clout, results in rural people and places being ineligible for rural programs and leads to all sorts of confusion about the actual needs and conditions of rural America," he writes.

Rowley stresses the importance of coming up with a rural definition that can be used to make sure federal programs serve the right people. "We’ve been getting rural wrong for decades; it’s time to get it right. It’s time for a better, more accurate, more realistic definition of rural America," he concludes. (Read more)

Rural critters shock suburbanites in Virginia; 'animal police' stay busy

"In Loudoun (County, Va.), when the bulldozers come and the houses go up, the deer, beaver and rabbit politely move aside – no picketing, petitioning or protesting. But, according to the staff at the county's Department of Animal Care and Control, many humans moving into new houses are surprised to share their new neighborhood with furry – or scaly – neighbors," reports the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Loudoun’s Chief Animal Control Officer Kim Miller told reporter Anne Keisman the number of calls about pesky animals has increased drastically during the past five years. Before the urban sprawl, Miller said people first called their neighbors for help, but now they phone the “animal police.”

Animal Control staff report that one of the most surprising things is how callers have such a sense of urgency and how they panic about the presence of animals. “People are devastated about living with animals. And the scary thing is that a lot of children are being raised absolutely afraid of animals,” Joy Wilson, a dispatcher at animal control, told Keisman. (Read more)

Virginia county investigates ad promising 'free plowing' for votes

"In far Southwest Virginia, where votes allegedly can be bought with beer, cigarettes and pork rinds, authorities are hearing complaints about a new form of election fraud: plowing for votes," writes Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times.

Washington County residents complained to local officials and law enforcement about a classified advertisement that offers "free plowing" in exchange for votes in the Glade Spring mayoral race next month. However, the advertisement may be one big joke. The elected official whose phone number appears in the ad claims someone pulled a hoax on him and the mayoral candidate he supports, reports Hammack.

Sheriff Fred Newman said the complainants have compared the case to a voting scandal in Appalachia, where residents claim they were offered beer, cigarettes and even pork rinds in exchange for their votes, notes Hammack. Despite the comparison between Appalachia, Va., scene of a big vote-buying case, and Washington County, and their relative proximity, the two are quite different with the the former having coal and the other not. (Read more)

Eastern Kentucky newspaper announces plan to expand to daily

Residents in Pike County, Kentuckym will have a daily newspaper for the first time in 50 years when the multi-weekly Appalachian News-Express expands next week.

Editor Rachel Stanley writes that the newspaper will begin publishing Tuesday through Sunday, starting April 18. The paper has been published Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. "For years I've always had the dream of making the Appalachian News-Express a daily newspaper," said Publisher Marty Backus. He said going daily will satisfy readers' need for more local news coverage.

Backus said a recent survey revealed a big demand for the paper to go daily. The newsstand cost of the paper will not change. "There are 12 comparably sized daily papers in Kentucky now, and the 13th will be the News-Express, Backus said. The Pikeville Daily News, which ran from 1949 through 1954, was the first and only daily paper in Pike County until now," writes Stanley.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Proposed ag-bio defense labs in rural areas spark residents' opposition

Proposals to replace an aging agro-bio defense lab are drawing opposition at some of the 14 places where it could be located for Department of Homeland Security research.

The new lab would replace an old one on Long Island. Residents near the new, suggested sites fear that the proposed 500,000-square-foot facility would make the area at risk for terrorists' attention.

Near Columbia, Mo., the University of Missouri wants to build the $400 million facility near an elementary school and a retirement home, writes Alan Scher Zagier of The Associated Press. Lisa Patterson, a mother of three who lives nearby, told Zagier the old lab "was built with isolation in mind for a specific reason. We understand the highest levels of security would take place, but we also know mistakes happen."

"Preliminary plans call for a 30-acre containment site surrounded by a 250-foot buffer encircled by a security fence, and a second fence along the project's outer perimeter," Zagier writes. The site can be expanded by another 70 acres if necessary, and a series of wooded ravines serve as natural buffers, the proposal states." (Read more)

While there is sizable competition for the new anti-terror lab, that doesn't mean the residents in those areas are any more willing to welcome a research lab. Sharon Dodson of The Commonwealth Journal of Somerset, Ky., recently reported that almost 2,800 people delivered a petition opposing construction of the facility on a rural site northeast of town.

"We are concerned about potential dangers and disruption of our quiet farming community. We feel it poses a genuine threat to the health and way of life of our community and surrounding counties,” said the residents in the petition. David Taylor, a dairy farmer who lives near the proposed site, was more concise. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig,” he told Dodson. (Read more)

When a rural hospital closes, a community suffers economically, too

Hospitals can be important economic engines in rural communities, offering many professional, good-paying jobs and keeping locals from going elsewhere to get health care and spend money. A new study backs that up, finding that closure of a rural community's only hospital has a measurable economic effect. It found that in the three years after closure, local per capita income dropped 4 percent and the unemployment rate rose by 1.6 percentage points.

The study, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is titled "The Effect of Rural Hospital Closures on Community Economic Health." It tracked 140 counties where a hospital closed between 1992 and 1998. "Researchers found that, in general, a county that lost a hospital experienced a decrease of approximately 1 percent in per capita income in the county for the first three years following the closure. If there were other hospitals in the county, the income of the community returned to pre-closure levels within three years," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. "However, if the closed hospital was the only one in the county, then per capita income fell by 4 percent (or roughly $703) and did not return to pre-closure levels, the research team reported." (Read more)

The research is believed to be the first study to separate the economic contribution of the hospital as a major employer from the importance a hospital brings to the economic development possibilities of a community. It was funded by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy and appears in the April issue of the journal Health Services Research.

"Our findings suggest that in certain situations, it may be in a community’s long-term interest to directly support a hospital in order to ensure its long-term survival," said Dr. Mark Holmes, co-author of the report and a senior research fellow for health economics at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. "A county losing its only hospital experiences a larger decline in its average income. This suggests that private business values the existence of a local hospital. Anecdotally, we hear from local economic developers that recruiting is more difficult without a hospital to serve the community."

Rural electric co-ops battle propane dealers; can affect broadband

When Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed a bill to allow rural electric cooperatives to continue providing propane gas and Internet service in addition to electricity, it ended the latest chapter in a multi-state battle between the co-ops and propane dealers -- one that has implications for future energy supplies.

The new law negates a decision by the Supreme Court of Kentucky that said electric co-ops could not provide non-electric services. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by propane dealers, against whom the co-ops recently began competing. The battle is being, or has been, waged in other states such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas, and can affect some co-ops ability to offer broadband Internet service.

For the short term, the co-ops want to be seen as energy companies, not just electric utilities. Most of them are now organize their marketing under the "Touchstone Energy Cooperative" umbrella. For the long term, co-ops are interested in propane because the fuel and natural gas are the source of energy for fuel cells, which can generate electricity. The technology is not commercially viable, but could become so in several years, creating the first real competition for the electric co-ops.

For more information from the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, click here.

Over half of N.C. migrant farmworkers living in substandard conditions

Many Hispanic farmworker families suffer from inadequate housing, putting them at risks of disease and the psychological effects of overcrowding, according to research done in North Carolina by Dr. Thomas Arcury of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Previous research found housing to be an important factor for good health, because severe crowding and inadequate sanitation brings a higher risk of exposure to disease, and overcrowding has an affect on psychological well-being, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Subjects of the study came from households with at least one adult farmworker and at least one young child, with the majority of the subjects originally from Mexico. The researchers looked at the characteristics of the dwelling and the household, and the behavior of the household. Most subjects (54 percent to 71 percent) lived in mobile homes, compared to 7 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the rural population. Many dwellings were near agricultural fields, with increased exposure to pesticides.

“It is important to improve these conditions because of the vital role they play in the state farm economy and therefore, the state economy of North Carolina,” Arcury said. Data came from four surveys of North Carolina farmworker communities conducted in 2001 and 2003, and the results are published in the April issue of the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. (Read more)

Kentucky establishes a loan program to help beginning farmers

The Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corp. announced Tuesday that it will implement a $2 million loan program for "beginning farmers" to help them create business plans, find expertise and get funds to prepare their farming operations for the future. It will be administered through lenders with Kentucky offices, according to a press release from the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy.

Other states have loan programs for beginning farmers, but make direct loans. The Kentucky loans will be originated and serviced by lending institutions. Criteria for loans will include a five-year commitment by a main lender, and a mentor to advise on recordkeeping and business analysis.

Borrowers cannot own more than 30 percent of the average farm/ranch size in the county where the operation is located, and must have a net worth of less than $250,000 and an off-farm income less than $50,000 per year, with a total household income less than $75,000 annually.

The loans will have a 2 percent fixed interest rate with a 1 percent service fee, with a maximum loan term not to exceed 10 years, and no penalty for early payment. All loans will be secured with fixed assets and personal guaranty. Most other states' loan programs for beginning farmers charge interest near market rates, according to Kentucky officials.

Nantucket, Mass., citizens vote to ban chain stores from downtown

Citizens of the island town of Nantucket, Mass., voted at their annual Town Meeting last week to ban chain and franchise stores from their core downtown shopping district, joining other rural, touristy places such as Carmel, Calif.; Bristol, R.I.; and Port Townsend, Wash.

The town of 9,520, south of Cape Cod and east of Martha's Vineyard, "already had strict rules forbidding neon signs and vinyl siding on its downtown shops," The New York Times reports. Now it "limits stores and restaurants in downtown to companies with fewer than 14 identical outlets and fewer than three standardized features among items like trademarks, menus or employee uniforms."

Stacey Stowe writes, "Perhaps surprisingly, it was not the prospect of a Wal-Mart or a Dunkin' Donuts on this island — where madras shorts and Range Rovers are summer staples — that prompted Ms. Hudson's proposal, but rather the arrival last year of the impeccably preppy retailer Ralph Lauren in a store on Main Street." That store will stay, because the law cannot be retroactive. (Read more)

The Times and Nantucket's newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror, report that the chain-store ban got no debate. "Town Meeting voters spent more time debating the merits of an $84,000 snow-making machine, which was eventually shot down, than the municipal operating budget or the town's soaring solid waste expenses," the I&M reports. (Click here to read more; subscription required for full text)

Rural topics present in awards from business journalists' society

Stories on rural topics were among award winners in the Society of American Business Editors and Writers contest, announced recently.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, at 140,000 circulation considered a "small" paper by SABEW, won recognition for two pieces. The first, "Wrong Side of the Track," by Janet Patton, exposed the lack of workers' compensation in the horse industry, which draws heavily on migrant workers. The second, "Win, Lose or Draw: Gambling for Jobs" by John Stamper, Bill Estep and Linda Blackford, looked at lack of accountability for Kentucky's incentives for job creation, a key tool for rural economic development.

A Des Moines Register piece, "On New Ground," by Philip Brasher, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Anne Fitzgerald and Lee Rood, investigated a new trend in farm ownership with over half of Iowa's farmlands owned by residents over the age of 65. Because of this trend, massive transfer of ownership when the current owners pass is looming over the state economy.

The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., produced "Tiny Town a Roost to Big Bamboozles," a story about Champlain, N.Y., pop. 5,967, along Lake Champlain in the northeastern corner of the state. Because of its proximity to Canada and its remoteness, the town has become a breeding ground for scams run by Canadian companies. These companies like the town's easy access to the border and a U.S. post office box, which they think gives them more credibility, the paper reported. For more, click here.

Rural broadcaster among new Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famers

Six journalists were inducted yesterday to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, including the owner of a small-town radio station who for 48 years has not only brought local news to his rural community but offered a regular diet of regional, state and national guests on a morning call-in show.

"I try to provide a wide variety of opinions and points of view on our show so people can make better and wiser decisions about lots of things," Don Neagle, co-owner and news director of WRUS in Russellville, Ky., told the luncheon crowd in Lexington. He said he is "just an old radio guy" who wanted to be a disc jockey, not a journalist. Now, despite never taking a journalism class, "I am a legitimate journalist, and I've got the dadgum plaque to prove it!"

Neagle bemoaned the fate of last year's radio honoree, Lee Denney, who last week lost his job at WOMI in Owensboro when Regent Communications largely dismantled the station's news operation. "It's a sad and troubling story," he said. At WRUS, "We bought the station three years ago in order to keep it local."

Two other broadcasters were honored yesterday -- Ferrell Wellman, who was a state political reporter for Louisville's WAVE-TV before becoming a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University, and Claude Sullivan, a masterful broadcaster who did University of Kentucky basketball and football games, horse racing and Cincinnati Reds games before dying of throat cancer in 1967 at the age of 42. Audio clips of his calls were played for the audience, bringing back fond memories. Wellman, who grew up listening to Sullivan in Ashland and Lexington, called the recognition for Sullivan "long overdue."

Other honorees were sportswriter Bob White and photographer Larry Spitzer, both retired from The Courier-Journal; and David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association since 1983. White, known as "Mr. Kentucky High School Sports," told the crowd, "All I ever tried to do was the best I could with the ability I had." Spitzer quipped, "I'm especially happy that it's not being done posthumously. It means so much more when you're here in person."

Thompson is one of the longest-tenured executive directors of a state press association, and one of the most successful. For years, all newspapers in Kentucky, now numbering 150, have been KPA members. He said many of his counterparts have left press-association jobs because of "contentious relationships" with members, but he said that has not been his experience -- even though he has a 27-member board, the second largest of any state, and has worked with as many as 250 board members.

The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the University of Kentucky Journalism Alumni Association and the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Protests for immigrant-friendly reform held in rural America, too

As many as 3,000 southwest Kansas residents, including several children and teen-agers, rallied for immigrant rights Monday morning at Stevens Park in Garden City.

Andrea Hernandez, 33, told Kursten Phelps of the Garden City Telegram she has lived with her husband for five years illegally in the U.S., but their two children are native-born citizens. "There are many people like us, who come here to work, to try to give our children a better life than we've had," Hernandez said. "We work, we follow the laws, we stay out of trouble. There are citizens who break more laws than we do. All we want is a chance." (Read more)

The Rev. Juan Guerra of Dodge City's Office of Hispanic Ministry told the crowd to fight H.R. 4437, the House-passed bill that would make it a felony to be in the country illegally. The bill, which doesn't include guestworker plans, calls for local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. Guerra told the crowd. "... We've come here today for one reason: justice for all and especially justice for immigrants."

Garden City may not have been the only rural place taking part in Monday's rallies. "Across the United States, in the nation's largest cities and some of its smaller towns, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and children of immigrants, labor unions and civic associations took to the streets in an immigrant 'Day of Action,'" write Sonya Geis and Michael Powell of The Washington Post. (Read more)

'Little Mexico' comes to rural life; that can be a good thing, writer says

"The immigration debate has heated up, although it actually has been going on for quite some time in the quieter circles of small and mid-sized towns, particularly those in rural settings. It is only now that Congress has caught up and is engaging in law and policy making in its wake," writes Sylvia L. Lovely, president of the NewCities Institute and author of New Cities in America: The Little Blue Book of Big Ideas.

"Just two years ago at a National League of Cities seminar, I faced a roomful of mayors and council members who hijacked my intended topic and turned it into 'What do we do about migrants?'" she writes. "The solutions people tossed out were all over the map from the hardnosed 'Make 'em learn English and conform' to descriptions of celebrations and embracing what they had to offer the native population.

"One thing is for sure. Many of the smaller places have done what smaller cities and towns where the rubber hits the road and there isn't time for lengthy debate often do. They come up with solutions. Some are better than others, but they make them without a lot of guidance from anywhere else. The fact is that communities will increasingly face the demographic juggernaut that is new and different people. Those who embrace this with positive programming and open arms will likely do better than those who don't."

Click here to read this entire column in our Reports section.

Farmworkers' union to announce first national contract for guest workers

The country's largest union of farmworkers planned to announce today that it had signed the first nationwide contract in an effort to keep guest workers in agriculture.

"The union, the United Farm Workers, and Global Horizons, a labor contractor based in Los Angeles, have signed an agreement that provides employer-paid medical care, a seniority system and a grievance procedure to help ensure that farms comply with state and federal laws. Global Horizons, one of the nation's largest suppliers of agricultural guest workers, has nearly 1,000 in the country now, but plans to have 3,000 to 5,000 by peak harvest season this summer," reports The New York Times.

Global Horizons has workers in more than a dozen states and it wants to improve its image after Washington State revoked its license to do business because of alleged violations. The state said the company did not pay guest workers their promised wages, put them in poor housing, did not pay enough unemployment insurance taxes and improperly withheld state income taxes, writes Steven Greenhouse.

Mordechai Orian, the president of Global Horizons, said the contract would combat complaints that guest worker programs treated employees badly. In a climate where workers are hard to come by for fruit and vegetable growers, Orian told Greenhouse the contract might help keep workers in agriculture instead of seeing them enter other industries. (Read more)

Wal-Mart pledges not to open bank branches; critics still worry

Despite its previous plans, Wal-Mart Stores promises to never open bank branches, in light of protests and the first public hearing in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's 73-year history.

"At times, the hearing felt more like a referendum on Wal-Mart's integrity than the wisdom of allowing it to open a bank, with friends and foes of the retailer marshaling character witnesses. Testimony touched on Wal-Mart's role in port security, its efforts to recover missing children, the generosity of its health insurance plan and the cost of a shovel at its stores. The FDIC . . . is reviewing Wal-Mart's application to open a bank that would process credit card transactions," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.

Many bankers voiced concerns about the company opening traditional consumer banks that take deposits and grant loans. The chief concern is that such a move could put other banks out of business, based on Wal-Mart's economic strength and its ability to get a stranglehold on markets. Even without branches, critics say a Wal-Mart bank would give even more power to a company, "whose sales — more than $300 billion in 2005 — make it three times as large as the nation's next-biggest retailer," reports Barbaro.

The company's supporters counter that criticism of Wal-Mart's original idea was a "thinly veiled effort to prevent a new and nimble competitor from entering the industry," writes Barbaro. (Read more)

Johns Hopkins study shows brain’s reaction to meth affected by gender

A government-funded study at Johns Hopkins University reports what could be the first evidence that amphetamines have a greater effect on men’s brains than women’s, which could have implications for methamphetamine investigation and treatment.

"The study, led by Gary S. Wand, M.D., a professor of endocrinology in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, found that men’s brains showed evidence of up to three times the amount of chemical dopamine as women’s when exposed to amphetamines," reports Newswise, a news and public relations service for higher-education and research firms. Dopamine acts as a hormone that can increase heart rate and blood pressure.

“These appear to be the first clinical studies whose results may help explain why we see a greater number of men abusing amphetamines than women,” Wand stated. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 6 percent of American males and 3.8 percent of females, 12 and older, illegally used amphetamines in 2004. (Read more)

Budget crunch may create flooding danger by cutting stream gauges

Some 7,400 stream gauges exist nationwide to measure water levels and provide flood warnings, but budget crunches have led to some being deactivated.

"In 1994, federal budget cuts led to the loss of a gauge on the Licking River at McKinneysburg (Ky.). Three years later, a flash flood on the Licking inundated the town of Falmouth, six miles northwest, and killed four people. The furor over the incident led to more gauges and increased federal financing. But in the past few years, budget pressures have built up once more," reports The New York Times.

Each device costs on average $13,500 to run, writes John Schwartz. The national network, which has other costs as well, takes some $120 million each year to run about 7,400 gauges, down from 8,221 in 1968. The program's support comes from the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bush administration has requested an additional $2 million be added to the $14 million contribution from the Geological Survey.

"In the case of the Licking River, there is still debate over whether the deactivated stream gauge might have provided a crucial alert if it had still been in operation. Robert Hirsch, the associate director for water at the Geological Survey, said he believed that it would have," writes Schwartz. Falmouth has yet to fully recover from the 1997 flood. (Read more)

Lost treasures? Students say mountaintop removal crushes culture

Five Middle Tennessee State University students went to the Southeast Student Mountaintop Removal Convergence near Whitesville, W.Va., in March to learn about destructive mining practices. "What they discovered was that mountaintop removal mining is to strip mining as blowing up a cherry bomb is to lighting a sparkler-it's all a matter of scale," reports Casey Phillips in the student newspaper Sidelines.

"Just like with people, first impressions, not second-hand accounts, usually have the strongest impact when it comes to understanding environmental destruction. As the members of (Students for Environmental Action) stood on [Larry] Gibson's 50-acre property, which is now surrounded on all sides by 3,000 acres of land owned and mined by Massey [Energy], their collective impression was pretty strong," he writes.

The SEA members realized that the problems caused by mountaintop removal mining do not just consist of flattening the landscape. "As far as [colonial] Americans, I think the Appalachian traditions are the only rich cultural traditions that we have, and that entire tradition is being crushed," Charlee Tidrick, an MTSU graduate and SEA member, told Phillips. "[These companies] are not just crushing people, they're crushing a culture." (Read more)

Kentucky lawmakers pass phone-deregulation bill; could raise rural rates

A bill that would deregulate local phone service for many Kentuckians is on the way to Gov. Ernie Fletcher after being passed by legislators last night as they neared the end of the 2006 General Assembly.

The bill's supporters say that state regulations hurt traditional phone companies who are in competition with all-in-one communications packages being provided by cable companies. However, the bill's opponents counter that deregulating the service will create higher prices for rural customers, where competition is rare, writes John Stamper of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"HB 337 is unquestionably the most irresponsible, anti-consumer bill that I have seen enacted into law in 28 years - it allows the telecom giants to deregulate without accountability, and will likely result in lower costs in competitive markets at the expenses of rural and more vulnerable customers," said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental and consumer group.

The bill eliminates state pricing regulation for everyone except people who use only a basic phone line. Such customers can purchase features such as call waiting but not as part of a package. Rates for customers who opt for a phone company's package service would not be regulated, which currently applies to more than half the customers, reports Stamper. (Read more)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Most rural people in U.S. now live in counties next to metro areas

The population of rural America is increasingly in places like Spencer County, Kentucky -- where "farmers run cattle, cultivate burley tobacco and raise alfalfa, hay and soybeans" within sight of subdivisions built to attract urbanites who hunger for a rural environment, reports The Courier-Journal.

Business reporter Marcus Green's story focuses mainly on the county, the 17th fastest growing in the United States, according to census estimates. But in writing about what is fast becoming a bedroom community for Louisville, Green puts it in a national context:

"Much of the United States is seeing people move to neighboring counties from major cities in search of affordable housing and a less urban lifestyle, said Cynthia "Mil" Duncan, director of the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. She estimates that as much as two-thirds of the nation's rural population lives in counties that are adjacent to metropolitan areas."

Green cites a report the Carsey Institute issued last month -- "Demographic Trends in Rural and Small Town America," which he says "highlights the challenges rural communities face. Rapid growth can increase demand for emergency services, schools, roads and sewers -- possibly overwhelming their pocketbooks. That's been the case in Spencer County." (Read more)

One of the challenges of such development is balancing it with commercial and industrial developments, which usually pay more in property taxes than they received in services. “For every $1 in property taxes paid, industrial and commercial businesses receive $0.27 in services. In comparison, for every $1 in property taxes received, residential properties receive $1.17 in services,” writes Jack Schultz in his Boomtown USA blog. “This is why purely 'bedroom' communities have a difficult time prospering and the reason that most cities and townships seek a balanced mix between residential and business uses.”

Fourteen states vie for bio-agro lab; billions in economic impact at stake

"Public and private institutions in at least 14 states have applied to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build and operate its proposed $451 million National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), the replacement for the department’s aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) near Long Island, New York," reports John Miller of The Scientist, a magazine that covers developments in research, technology and business.

The applicants are located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, California and Colorado. Many if not most of the sites are in rural areas, such as the one proposed northeast of Somerset, Ky., in a joint application by Kentucky and Tennessee.

The 500,000-square-foot lab will be used to conduct research on vaccines and drugs to fight human diseases, foreign animal diseases, and animal diseases humans can catch. It will house researchers from DHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports Miller.

"Wherever the new lab is located, it will have an enormous local economic impact, experts say. According to a study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the NBAF will bring in between $3.5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years. Salaries alone will reach up to $2.5 billion, the report says," writes Miller. (Read more)

Feds criticize Montana for requiring gas companies to clean up water

Federal energy officials are fighting Montana's new rules requiring companies that extract methane gas from underground coal beds to clean up the water pollution caused by drilling.

The new rules came after a Montana consulting firm obtained a copy of an unreleased 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report that says cleanup costs are relatively inexpensive. The report said requiring companies to hold the contaminated water in storage ponds "would not have a major impact on production or any of the financial parameters measured by the economic model of any of the geographic regions investigated [Wyoming, Montana or Indian Country]." A more expensive method would be cleaning the water via reverse osmosis, reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

"The debate centers on how best to mitigate the environmental impact of coalbed methane extraction, which provides 9 percent of the nation's natural gas supply and requires pumping water from underground to release the methane," she writes. "At the end of the process, drilling companies are left with water high in salinity and sodium that is often dumped into nearby streams, where it can damage soil, crops and wildlife."

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said the restrictions are vital. "The place where people are developing coalbed methane is the place where people make a living irrigating," he told Eilperin. "The coalbed methane company is going to come and go in 10 years. But that rancher and his family have been there for 150 years. Who's going to take care of that rancher's grandchildren when there's no water?" (Read more)

Dying breed? Women rarely get hired in underground coal mines

"Unlike you, perhaps, Brenda Horn Schoonover wears a dark blue uniform to work that is decorated with rows of yellow reflective tape. She puts on her father's old black hard hat, carries his rust-flecked coffee thermos and a dinner bucket decorated with a heart and a message in a little-kid scrawl: 'Have a safe day at work, Mom. I love you.' Schoonover, 38, is nearly the last of her breed: A female underground coal miner," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

During the 1970s and 1980s, victories in federal sex discrimination lawsuits helped possibly hundreds of Kentucky women get coal mining jobs. "By 1985, nearly 4,000 women held 1 percent of the nation's mining jobs. But the boom went bust. Betty Jean Hall, who was executive director of a Tennessee-based activist group called the Coal Employment Project, told the Herald-Leader in 1986 that female miners were hardest hit by the industry's layoffs because they were 'the last hired and the first fired' -- a labor dictum that no one challenged.

Today, "There are thought to be only two in Eastern Kentucky, and perhaps half a dozen more in Western Kentucky," Mueller writes, despite the fact that coal mining is booming, especially in Kentucky where the work force went from about 12,000 in 2002 to about 16,000 at present. State figures report 800 of them are women, but that statistic includes clerical and maintenance workers, support staff and managers.

State Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a former miner, wants to know whether coal companies are actively recruiting and hiring women. "If there's a shortage, as everybody claims, maybe we ought to look at our women before we start bringing in non-English-speaking miners, to be politically apropos," she told Mueller, referring to one company's recent proposal to the state mining board. (Read more)

Enlist or not? A crossroad for youth in a rural Mississippi community

Young people in Meridian, Miss., have never shied away from military duty. At least until now.

"When President Bush calls for sacrifice in Iraq, this is a place that listens," writes Anne Hull of The Washington Post. But when a group of new recruits gathers in Meridian, Clarkdale sports star Blake Johnson does not show despite pressure to enlist. "Now, that's a Marine," says Staff Sgt. Jay Wyatt, describing his first encounter with Johnson. "Just how he walked into the office. He has the basic leadership qualities we are looking for. He's a quarterback, pitcher and third baseman. These are leadership positions. He is a very determined individual. His scores would qualify him for any job he wants."

"Johnson won't be enlisting," Hull writes. "The decision doesn't come in a lightening-bolt moment. It occurs gradually, seeping in." Some of that process involves thinking about another Meridian who lost his life in the war. Hull concludes, "Johnson's tone is reverent. His own path will be different. Instead of boot camp after graduation, he'll try to find a job -- 'anything I reckon' -- and start community college in the fall." (Read more)

Congressional deal would kill proposed wind farm near Cape Cod

In another twist on opposition to wind farms, a U.S. Senate-House conference committee report would effectively kill a proposal for the nation's first large offshore wind farm, proposed for Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod, Mass.

The amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill gives the governor of "the adjacent state," Massachusetts, veto power over any wind farm in the sound. Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposes the wind farm, and most of the candidates running for his post this fall are against it. The full Congress will take up the budget bill next, reports Cornelia Dean of The New York Times. The issue of using wind farms is growing in some rural areas.

The New England wind farm would include 130 turbines in an area that would cover 24 square miles. Each tower of turbines and blades would soar 420 feet above the water. Cape Wind Associates, the private company that proposed the wind farm, said the project would produce three-quarters of the electricity now used on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, notes Dean.

"The proposal won the support of many environmental groups and lawmakers," writes Dean. "But many Massachusetts politicians of both parties have long objected to the proposal, saying Nantucket Sound, a major attraction for the region's tourism-based economy, is a poor site for so large an industrial installation." (Read more)

Kentucky PSC approves power line that would cross national forest

The Kentucky Public Service Commission reversed itself Friday and approved a power line near Morehead that has been attacked by environmentalists because it would cross the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Sheltowee Trace hiking trail.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative got clearance to build a 6.9-mile, $4.9 million line that requires clearing a 100-foot-wide right of way. East Kentucky Power says the line is needed to improve service in 10 northeastern Kentucky counties. "The PSC rejected the proposal in August because it said East Kentucky Power had not adequately considered other strategies, such as sharing a nearby Kentucky Utilities right-of-way," writes Todd Van Campen of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth opposed the line since 4.8 miles of it would cross the forest and the trail. The group, concerned that the line will affect grouse and deer hunting, said it should instead follow existing rights of way that mostly avoid public land, reports Van Campen. (Read more)

The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing the PSC's order and will then decide whether to grant East Kentucky Power a special use permit. For more details about the proposal, click here. The Rural Blog wrote on Dec. 13, 2005 about the cooperative resubmitting its proposal. (Click here for the archives)

The Oxford Project: Rural Iowans' stories told in photographs, poems

Peter Feldstein photographed 670 people "in 1984 as part of the Oxford Project, an effort to document small-town Iowa life through the images and words of its people. At the time, Oxford, a town in eastern Iowa, had 676 residents. Last year, Mr. Feldstein picked up his camera again, beginning a new series of portraits of the same people — or, at least, those who had not died or moved away," writes Nina Siegal for The New York Times.

Stephen Bloom, an author and journalism professor at the University of Iowa, has conducted interviews with some of the portrait subjects in Oxford (pop. 725) and written short prose poems based on their comments. Without question, the Oxford Project has brought to light several personal histories in a close-knit town where new faces and new automobiles stand out like a sore thumb, reports Siegal.

Bloom said he hoped the photographs will speak for rural residents. "So many people call this flyover country," he told Siegal. "No one listens to rural America. They are the ignored. My hope is that this project will be able to show that there's great rural poetry and rural wisdom." Feldstein will display some of the photos and poetry next February at the Des Moines Arts Center.

Ben Stoker, 21, was just a few weeks old when Feldstein first took his picture. "A lot of people don't like small towns because they're so tight knit," he told Siegal. "But that's what makes the place so great. You know who's sleeping with whom, but when your mother dies you know there will be 28 people at your door with casseroles." (Read more)

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Hall of Famer last year, out of a job this year: That's local radio news

Lee Denney, the voice of news in Owensboro, Ky., and a 2005 inductee to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, is out of a job because "Regent Communications has decided to cut back on its local news commitment to Owensboro," Denney told the local daily newspaper. "That is their prerogative. It's unfortunate for me personally, but it is a trend in the industry."

Denney, 65, was news director for Regent's WOMI-AM and WBKR-FM and anchored "Afternoon News Drive," a program that is now canceled. The company also abolished the job of its local promotions director, reports Ryan Garrett of The Messenger-Inquirer.

Mark Thomas, vice president and general manager for Regent's Owensboro-Evansville region, told Garrett that the elimination of the news director's job was a business decision and not based on Denney's performance. Garrett writes, "The programming is becoming more music intensive, he said. The stations will continue to air morning news segments and break in for major stories, Thomas said."

Denney told Garrett that he does not plan to stay in broadcasting but has not ruled it out. Last year, as he prepared to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, he told the paper that he was nearing retirement age but had no plans to retire. "I intend to keep working," he said. "It's still fun." Denney worked in radio and TV in Bowling Green before working in TV news in Louisville, Evansville, Jacksonville, Dayton and San Diego. He settled in Owensboro in 1985. "I've been honored by the response of the community to my efforts to report the news in a fair and accurate manner for more than two decades," he told the newspaper.

Scofflaw coal operator illustrates weakness in fine-collection system

Harold K. Simpson of Ewing, Va., paid only $50,352 of more than $1.1 million in fines that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration levied against him in the last 10 years, according to an MSHA database, making him the agency's worst scofflaw during that period.

"He is not alone in having unpaid fines, but his case raises a question: How could a coal operator rack up such a staggering penalty debt, yet still keep mining? The answer is that, scofflaw or not, Simpson is an example of serious weaknesses in the government's system for collecting fines," writes Bill Estep in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Companies can escape fines by going out of business. And the law does not allow MSHA to shut down a mine because of unpaid fines for safety violations, no matter how large the amount. That is in contrast to surface mining rules, under which the government can bar permits for operators if they haven't paid fines for environmental violations." Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told Estep that if a company willfully fails to pay, it should "be barred from getting a future license, or ... put out of business."

Estep's story traces Simpson's life and his boom-and-bust history in the Central Appalachian coal industry, including his company's guilty plea and payment of a $20,000 fine for serious safety violations at his mines in southeastern Kentucky -- and his purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of real estate in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. (Read more) Similar stories could be told about similar scofflaws, and we urge smaller newspapers serving the coalfield to tell them.

A chronicle of vanishing towns in northwestern North Dakota

Richard Rubin writes in The New York Times Magazine today about the decline and death of tiny towns in northwestern North Dakota, and the struggle of some to survive. It's worth reading. Many counties in the Great Plains are losing population, but Rubin notes, "Of the 25 counties nationwide that lost the largest portions of their populations in the 1990's, 12 were in North Dakota."

Some places in the Plains are giving away land to entice homesteaders, employers and families, a notion that has garnered considerable publicity but not much proven response. PrarieOpportunity.com, a Web site that lists 86 places in North Dakota, some of them ghost towns, gets about 20 "good" inquiries by e-mail per week, says its founder, Steve Slocum, marketing director for a bank in Williston, at 12,000 the region's largest town. But Rubin writes, "It is tough to say, exactly, how many families have actually picked up and moved to northwest North Dakota since all this began. There are no statistics, only anecdotes, and very few of those. Steve Slocum can list a few families, but even he gets a little fuzzy on whether all of them have actually moved to the area or merely intend to at some point."

One couple, Shawn and Esther Oehlke, moved to Crosby, pop. 1,050, to "start a company, SEO Precision, that would design and build electro-optic mechanisms, primarily for military applications," Rubin reports. Esther told him, "We're probably the only ones from out of state who've come here to try and prove the experiment." And now they say some of the promises that brought them -- money from local banks, tax credits and variances from local officials. In November, Esther wrote a letter to the local weekly newspaper, The Journal, complaining. She said the response was mostly positive.

The Oehlkes, Rubin writes, "have exposed the paradox at the heart of this transaction. On the one hand, what towns like Crosby are actually selling — really, all they have to sell — is atmosphere, an idyllic image of a place and a way of life most Americans believe is already gone. On the other hand, if these places are truly successful in attracting new people, that atmosphere will, necessarily, change."

Steve Andrist, third-generation publisher of The Journal, told Rubin, "I'm acutely aware that there are people who are an impediment to progress. I think they're in a minority. If I thought they were a majority, I'd leave myself." He did for 20 years, to work as a journalist, mainly in Minnesota, "which seems to draw a lot of people from North Dakota," Rubin writes. "He returned in 1991 with a different perspective and a wife who grew up elsewhere in the Midwest. This last fact is perhaps what enables him to understand why so many non-Crosbyites see the place as isolated (it's 6 miles from the Canadian border, 70 from the nearest American McDonald's or Wal-Mart, 120 from the nearest shopping mall), insular and clannish. Asked if his wife is now regarded by natives as a Crosbyite, he replies, candidly: 'I think she is to the people who are important to her. And I think she'd have a hard time fitting in with other people.'"

Still, Rubin writes, "While there is no scientific apparatus for measuring such a thing, northwest North Dakotans might just be the friendliest people in America. It is rare, very rare, to pass someone on the road without receiving at least a finger wave, regardless of whether or not they have ever seen you or your car before. A stranger walking down the street of a small town will not only be smiled at but also approached and actually engaged in genuine conversation. And a stranger stopping into a small-town bar will be hailed instantly as an honored guest, even after he explains that he only came in to use the restroom." (Read more)

Friday, April 7, 2006

Rural journalists convene for economic development seminar in Kentucky

"Smaller towns used to attract jobs — particularly manufacturing jobs — with their lower land prices and taxes. These workers were skilled enough to get the job done but could be offered less than big-city folks. Al Cross, the director of the University of Kentucky-based Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said the scenario has hanged: Globalization has erased the need for a cheaper local workforce. Plus broadband technology can be harder to come by in the country," writes Kristin Taylor of the Murray Ledger & Times (in an article not available online).

How to overcome challenges and how companies deal with economic development are two topics on tap today at “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” a conference for rural journalists. The seminar is being presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at Murray State University’s Curris Center at the West Kentucky Press Association's spring meeting.

Murray-Calloway County Economic Development Corp. President Mark Manning works with newspapers on a regular basis and said they can play an integral role in attracting businesses. “Most companies, if not all companies, will subscribe to a local paper before they make a decision, before they even visit, and if they don’t subscribe, they will often check it out online. When they do so, what they are really doing is checking the soul of the community,” Manning told Taylor. “I think newspapers, particularly in rural communities, do reflect the soul of what’s going on."

Editorial explains weekly's decision not to publish advertisement

The Door County Advocate, a weekly newspaper in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., explained to its readers why it refused to publish an advertisement from an advocacy group and, in a brief editorial, described several central tenets of journalism ethics -- the need for accuracy and fair presentation, and respect for context.

Door County Residents for Fair Enterprises, which opposes location of a Wal-Mart in an area proposed for annexation, wanted to place an ad in the paper with accusations that "could not be supported," said Editor Warren Bluhm, so the ad was rejected. The group stuck back at the Advocate, calling the paper an "enemy of free speech" and saying that the ad was refused with no reason given.

The editorial said, "The Advocate simply did not have the time or the human resources available to investigate the claims of the ad and assess its accuracy by Saturday." The paper did point out some interesting developments from the ad controversy, including "the city's possible use of closed sessions to discuss aspects of the Hopf annexation that were already matters of public record, and the disturbing fact that an agreement signed by the mayor March 10 obligates the city to extend utilities to the development site whether the annexation is approved or not." The editorial said the ad may have been inaccurate or misleading, and had "hysteria" in its text. (Read more)

Rural Minnesota town gets boost from immigrants; are they illegals?

A hog processing plant in Worthington, Minn., is attracting immigrants in droves, but some city officials believe many of the newcomers are illegals.

"The workers, now mostly from Central America rather than Mexico, purchase fake documents that get them into the workplace," writes Jim Ragsdale of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "They are 'hot-bedded' into crowded, fire-trap apartments. They wire millions of dollars home. They drive without real licenses, live in fear of deportation and have been known to hide in snowbanks after fender-benders."

At the 18,000-hog-a-day Swift & Co. plant, a previously single-breadwinner's job has become a lower-wage position filled by an immigrant. Some Worthington officials welcome the influx, despite concerns about illegals. "They have seen their population rise at a time of rural declines. They welcome the new workers, new businesses, new homeowners and, eventually they hope, new citizens," writes Ragsdale.

"We're not against immigrants whatsoever," Police Chief Mike Cumiskey told Ragsdale. "We're against criminals. We're against the fact that the federal government doesn't allow us to ID people. If we can solve that problem, every other problem gets better for us." (Read more)

Rural Kansas communities opt for mergers in light of population declines

City and county leaders in parts of western Kansas are taking a novel approach to combat declining rural populations: combining governments.

Tribune, a small town near the Colorado border, is considering combining with Greeley County's government. "There is a frontier mind-set -- a survival, tough, entrepreneurial mind-set. I would credit that spirit as being a part of what has caused them to say, 'Hey, we have to be smarter and do it better,'" Terry Woodbury, president of Kansas Communities LLC, which specializes in county and city development, told Dave Skretta of The Associated Press.

Tribune's population is now 758, down from 918 in 1990, and Greeley is the state's most sparsely populated county, according to U.S. Census data. While several school districts along the Nebraska and Kansas border plan to merge this summer, rural communities have rarely tried to merge to stave off declining populations. "I believe they've discovered that of all the consolidations in the United States, there is no other rural example" like theirs, Woodbury told Skretta.

A bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature to ease the merger process was passed in the House but is stalled in the Senate, notes Skretta. Negotiators are trying to merge the House bill with a broader Senate bill that limits state oversight in many government consolidations. (Read more)

Officials from three Virginia counties oppose sale of national forest land

Officials in the Virginia counties of Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke are speaking out against the Bush administration's plan to sell up 309,000 acres of national forest land to fund rural roads and schools.

More than 5,700 of the acres marked for sale are in Virginia. Giles County has one 205-acre tract; and Montgomery County has 390 acres, reports Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times. "They're not making any more land," Giles Supervisor Barbara Hobbs said. "Once it's gone, it's gone."

"The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act has been funded since 2000 without selling land. But Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture, said last month that federal law requires the program have a dedicated funding source before it is renewed," writes Thornton. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon, said Rey is wrong, and the Bush administration simply chose to rewrite the rules. (Read more)

Kentucky meth lab raids cut in half; reduction coincides with new law

Since Kentucky instituted a new law restricting cold medicine sales last July, state police have noticed methamphetamine lab raids drop by almost 50 percent, reports WKYT-27 in Lexington, Ky.

In the first two months of this year, police report that 77 meth labs were raided, compared to 151 during the same time last year.

Since cold medicines are an ingredient in meth, people must now present a photo ID and sign a log to obtain them. Meth addicts are now turning to mom and pop stores who sell cold medicines illegally, according to state police. Those store owners could face penalties, but police are more concerned with the more elaborate meth labs that are replacing smaller ones, reports WKYT. (Read more)

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Wal-Mart says ad test in rural papers didn't pay off, so no more ads

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which many rural newspapers say has made life hard for them, has decided not to expand its local newspaper advertising after an experiment in Missouri and Oklahoma "showed the expense is not justified" the company said yesterday, reports The Associated Press.

The test "had been closely watched by publishers who complained publicly last year that Wal-Mart sought free publicity from their newspapers but refused to buy ads . . . while driving out local businesses that had been mainstays," AP wrote. (Read more, via Editor & Publisher)

After complaints from the National Newspaper Association, a group dominated by weekly papers, "Wal-Mart agreed to run a test in the holiday shopping season," placing a full-page, four-color ad for electronic items in 336 papers, AP wrote. "It did increase product sales, but our margins are so thin that we didn't even come close to offsetting the cost of the ads," spokeswoman Mona Williams told AP. Mike Buffington, immediate past president of NNA, said Wal-Mart told him likewise.

Buffington pressed Wal-Mart on the issue as president, in the year ending Oct. 1, and remained point man with the company. Buffington, co-publisher of Jefferson, Ga.-based MainStreet Newspapers Inc., told AP "A one-time test is probably not a true way to evaluate community newspapers. In fact, we understand they had quite a bump in sales. But the advertising itself, the full-page color ads, were expensive and they were advertising loss-leader type items."

UPDATE: Wal-Mart wouldn't say how much the ads cost, but a report in the E-Bulletin of the California Newspaper Publishers Association said it was $73 million.

An NNA survey of member papers last spring found that 87 percent had a Wal-Mart in their coverage area, and 67 percent said the presence of the company had a negative impact on their paper. For a detailed report on the face-offs between spokeswoman Williams and rural publishers at last year's NNA Convention, click here.

House panel rejects Democratic 'buildout' plan for telecom services

"As a House of Representatives subcommittee moved toward passage of a telecommunications overhaul bill prior to the forthcoming Easter congressional recess, it rejected a Democratic-sponsored amendment that would have required the regional Bell operating companies to 'build out' services to all customers within given geographic areas," reports Drew Clark of National Journal's Insider Update.

Bell companies AT&T, BellSouth, Qwest and Verizon Communications -- as well as rival companies and rural phone companies -- want national franchises without buildout rules. "Cable operators already have franchises on the local level, and their agreements generally require them to build out to all geographic areas," writes Clark.

Buildout would not have started for another five years, but then a new national franchise holder would have been required to extend service to an additional 20 percent of area households within three years. Rural areas would have been exempt, reports Clark. Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the amendment would "force them to provide service where it doesn't make economic sense to do so." (Read more)

Immigration bill divides evangelicals; stalemate in Senate weakens

More than 50 evangelical Christian leaders spoke out Wednesday in favor of an immigration bill that would allow illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens without going back to their native countries.

U.S. senators have debated the bill for two weeks and are split down party lines. The bill has also caused division among evangelicals. Many of the nation's most influential evangelical organizations either support other measures to strengthen border control and deportation, or are staying mum on the issue, reports Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post.

The leaders did not hold back, notes Cooperman. "Evangelicals are a lot more sensitive to the plight of immigrants than outside observers might think," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals' vice president for governmental affairs. "When you put together the biblical mandate to care for the alien and the receptivity of the Latino community to the evangel, to the gospel, you have a sensitivity factor that almost outweighs the traditional evangelical concern for law and order." (Read more)

Jonathan Weisman of the Post reports that Senate Republicans reached on agreement last night on a compromise to "allow undocumented workers a path to lawful employment and citizenship if they could prove -- through work stubs, utility bills or other documents -- that they have been in the country for five years. To attain citizenship, those immigrants would have to pay a $2,000 penalty, back taxes, learn English, undergo a criminal background check and remain working for 11 years." (Read more)

Dateline NBC probes for anti-Muslim reactions at Va. NASCAR race

NASCAR calls it "outrageous" that Dateline NBC targeted one of its racetracks for a possible report on anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.

NASCAR said NBC confirmed the presence of Muslim-looking men with a camera crew at one track. The network crew was "apparently on site in Martinsville, Va., walked around and no one bothered them," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told The Associated Press. Martinsville is one of the more rural sites for NASCAR. "It is outrageous that a news organization of NBC's stature would stoop to the level of going out to create news instead of reporting news," Poston said.

NBC released this statement in its defense: "We were intrigued by the results of a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll and other articles regarding increasing anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States. . . . It's very early on in our newsgathering process, but be assured we will be visiting a number of locations across the country and are confident that our reporting team is pursuing this story in a fair manner."

NASCAR and NBC Sports are in the final year of a broadcast agreement, notes AP. (Read more)

Bush administration restricts scientists from speaking on global warming

Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has hurt their ability to speak freely about global warming, and that Americans are being left in the dark. Is this a rural journalism story? You betcha. All journalists ought to care when the government restricts scientists' ability to discuss science, and climate change affects everyone.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said administration officials have criticized them for speaking on policy, removed global warming references from documents, investigated news leaks, and urged them to quit speaking with media, reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

"These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight," writes Eilperin. (Read more)

Grants to improve cancer treatment for rural residents in seven states

A $3.9 million grant will help the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City detect and treat rural American Indians who might have cancer.

The 51-month project is funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and five other sites received money to serve ethnic populations. Rural residents often struggle to medical care for cancer, but that problem is worse in frontier areas, defined as having six or fewer people per square mile, reports Lois M. Collins of the Deseret Morning News.

"How do we help people who have basically lacked access, based on partly geographical issues, navigate through the system?" said Dr. Randall Rupper, an investigator for HCI and the VA's Salt Lake Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center and co-principal investigator. The project hopes to answer that question by making sure residents in rural and frontier communities get screened for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer, reports Collins. (Read more)

In all, the six demonstration sites will enroll 13,000 members of minority populations, and HCI hopes to enroll 1,800 American Indians. "Other demonstration sites include Molokai General Hospital in Hawaii (Pacific Islander and Asian American patients), University of Texas (Hispanic-Mexican American), New Jersey Medical School (Hispanic-Puerto Rican), Johns Hopkins University in Maryland (African American) and Josephine Ford Cancer Center in Michigan (African American)," writes Collins.

Iowa gets taste of Vegas with casino; some profit to aid development

In the midst of cornfields and old mills, a new casino is set to open its doors in Northwood, Iowa.

The Worth County Diamond Jo Casino will open April 6. "A large wagon wheel adorns the casino's exterior -- which looks more like a giant Iowa farmhouse than anything on the Strip in Vegas," writes Joseph Marks of the Austin Daily Herald. "Inside the casino 511 slot machines cover the floor. Some machines are complete and pristine except for a layer of wood dust from surrounding construction. Others are screenless with their wiry guts hanging out the front and patient technicians calibrating their insides."

“It seems like a contrast to have a casino in a rural area,” Carrie Tedore, director of public relations for Diamond Jo's Dubuque and Northwood locations, told Marks. “We tried to preserve the grist mill in the design of the new casino but inside it has all the excitement you expect when you're out for a night of fun.”

Farmer's Feast, the casino's restaurant, will honor the area's agricultural heritage, and 6 percent of all casino profits will go toward community development opportunities. The Worth County Development Authority, the non-profit handling that money, anticipates bringing in between $1.5 million and $2.1 million this first year, notes Marks. (Read more)

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Arizona weekly spotlights local problems with No Child Left Behind Act

We've written a good bit about the impact on rural schools of the No Child Left Behind Act, but there's nothing like an object example to put the issue in clear focus. The weekly Payson Roundup in central Arizona did that with a story and editorial in Tuesday's edition, and the situation it covered will almost surely be repeated in hundreds of school districts across the nation in the next couple of months.

The Roundup's story by Max Foster reported hat six special-education teachers at the local high school would not be rehired "because none met the No Child Left Behind mandate that requires all teachers must be 'highly qualified' in their subject areas by June 30, 2006. The teachers . . . are qualified and certified in their core areas but not in Special Education."

The six could be rehired if the district cannot find "highly qualified" teachers to replace them, but recruitment could be difficult for local officials because they must compete with salaries in the Phoenix metropolitan area, about 50 miles away, and "they must find instructors who have bachelor's degrees or college majors in each core teaching area plus Special Education," Foster reports. "In other words, certification mandates are doubled, sometimes tripled, for teachers of Special Education students."

The situation prompted an editorial which began, "Few of us can imagine the nightmare of watching a lifelong career disappear in an instant with the passage of sweeping federal legislation." It went on to say, "NCLB is an awkward fit for small towns, and we are feeling the squeeze as a new portion of the legislation goes into effect in June of this year."

The editorial said the certification requirement "is logical in the classrooms of Chicago and New York City where the hiring pool is deep and the wages are competitive, (but) destroys the very system that has kept rural schools running since the beginning of public education. In small towns across the country, 'pitching in' is the tradition. Teachers often teach numerous subjects and multiple grade levels."

The Roundup's Web site says it was judged best in the nation last year by the National Newspaper Association. The paper's latest edition indicates that it doesn't just have a good site, it has excellent content in print and online. Its lead story, by Felicia Megdal, does a good job of localizing an important story -- "Arizona's rate of underage alcohol, drug and tobacco use ranks among the highest in the nation, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."

Senate considering two bills to open federal courts to radio, TV

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills to open federal courts to radio and TV coverage. The bill was written by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and is now in front of the full Senate for consideration, reports the National Press Photographer's Association. It would require the Supreme Court to permit cameras and microphones in open sessions “unless it decides by a vote of the majority of Justices that allowing such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of one or more of the parties involved in the matter.”

The second bill, called the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005, will create a three-year pilot program that gives federal judges discretion on permitting radio and TV coverage on a case-by-case basis.

Radio Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran told committees, “Television and radio coverage would make the federal judicial system accessible to more citizens, enhance understanding of the judiciary, and foster greater trust.” She added, “RTNDA members have covered hundreds if not thousands of proceedings at the state level and the presence of a camera has never resulted in a verdict being overturned.” (Read more)

Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, however, told the Senate committee that the bill raised security concerns as well as constitutional questions, reports Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times. "It's not for the court to tell Congress how to conduct its proceedings," said Justice Kennedy. "We feel very strongly that we have intimate knowledge of the dynamics and the mood of the court, and we think that proposals mandating and directing television in our court are inconsistent with the deference and etiquette that should apply between the branches." (Read more)

Red Cross seeks partners in rural areas for help in hurricane response

Hurricane season starts June 1 and the American Red Cross has a plan for avoiding the kind of criticism that came after Katrina, reports Howard Berkes of National Public Radio in a Web-exclusive story.

The group's new readiness plan wants to establish the following by July 1: training and funding for partner organizations in minority, low-income and rural communities; adequate six-day supply of food and shelter for 500,000 people, including 1 million meals a day; "client services" for 2 million families; upgraded computer systems for up to 2 million clients; expanded call centers able to field 100,000 cases a day; 1 million emergency financial-assistance debit cards; more warehouse capacity in high-risk states; more pre-positioned communications equipment in high-risk states; increase the 800-RED-CROSS hotline capacity by one-third; and more Red Cross presence at state emergency operations centers.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross was criticized for the following: "little or no relief effort in some rural, minority and low-income communities; long lines at some relief centers, which turned many hurricane victims away; overwhelmed call centers leaving hurricane victims on hold or dialing for hours and days; shortages of food, supplies and emergency financial-assistance debit cards; alleged fraud and waste, keeping relief supplies from people who needed them most; and shoddy treatment of whistleblowers who tried to call attention to mismanagement and alleged criminal wrongdoing," writes Berkes.

The plan calls for better logistics and technology to handle the tracking, deployment and flow of relief supplies, funds and information. Although the improvements will not be completely implemented by July 1, the Red Cross aims to have most of them up for this hurricane season. It is also readying a more thorough system for checking volunteers' backgrounds, reports Berkes. (Read more)

Wal-Mart offering help to businesses in urban areas it has targeted

Wal-Mart Stores, which got its start in rural areas, is moving strongly into urban America -- and offering help to other businesses, something that has not been part of its history in rural America, where it has reshaped many retail landscapes and the advertising bases of rural newspapers.

Under mounting criticism of its labor and pricing policies, especially in urban areas where it is trying to expans, the company announced a new effort to support small businesses near its urban stores by offering financial grants, training on how to survive with Wal-Mart, and free advertising, reports Michael Barbaro of The New York Times. The help will be offered around 10 of the 50 stores Wal-Mart wants to open in cities in the next two years, says The Wall Street Journal. (Read more)

An internal Wal-Mart report from 2004 found that 2 percent to 8 percent of consumers stopped shopping there because of the company's bad press, Barbaro reports. Chris Kofinis, a spokesman for Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed group that wants Wal-Mart to improve wages and benefits, said the new efforts were "bitterly ironic" because they were "asking Wal-Mart to help solve the problems it created." It also does not address major issues wages, which amount to less than $20,000 a year. "What this is, is another PR stunt in a litany of PR stunts." (Read more)

Journalist, inspector pay tribute to Bill Hayes, strip-mine regulator

"These days, it's accepted practice to plant industry veterans in the federal bureaucracy to ensure that special interests are pampered and their political contributions guaranteed. It was not always thus," writes David Hawpe, editorial director of The Courier-Journal. "Last weekend, a memorial service was held in the chapel at Pine Mountain Settlement School for my all-time favorite bureaucrat, William Hayes, who once imposed regulatory integrity on a strip mine industry that relentlessly resisted it."

After recounting Hayes' early career, which overlapped with his at the Louisville paper's now-closed Hazard bureau, Hayes writes, "In 1976, during the term of Gov. Julian Carroll, Hayes was reorganized out of the coal industry's way and resigned to protest," saying, "This big money has blinded the people in Frankfort to get the kind of reclamation we need and to help preserve the natural resources we've got."

Soon afterward, the federal strip-mine law was passed, and "the feds needed a man with impeccable credentials to head their new Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation field operation in Hazard," Hawpe writes. "Hayes was the obvious choice." (Read more)

On the facing page, The C-J carries a story from OSM inspector Patrick Angel about the first time the agency issued a cessation order -- directing a coal company to stop mining because its violation of the law was causing imminent harm to the environment or public safety. The full article is worth reading, because it gives a vivid description of the literal and figurative obstacles faced by strip-mine inspectors.

Not included Angel's article, but in Hawpe's column, are these lines from Angel about Hayes' order, to protect the Clover Fork of the Cumberland River in Harlan County: "That epitomized the work he did, helping a much younger group of inspectors start off on the right foot. He propelled the badly needed federal enforcement program with some courageous actions. Bill bravely did what he and only he could do, because of his senior status and his reputation in the agency. He issued that first cessation order when we were in fact under orders not to do so. There was a legal challenge at that time. But if we had walked away from the landslide we were on that first week, word would have gotten around the coal industry."

Rural roads crumbling after rural traffic increases 27 percent nationwide

Farmers in rural California say the roads in the nation's No. 1 agricultural region are crumbling, and communities simply don't have the money to fix them.

"People drive on the side because it's actually better than the actual road," farmer Augie Scoto said of the road along his land outside Merced, Calif.

The Road Information Program reported a 27 percent increase in rural traffic nationwide between 1990 and 2002, mainly due to urban sprawl, reports Olivia Munoz of the Associated Press. About 60 million people lived in rural areas in 2005, twice as many as 1990, according to TRIP. California was also one of the top states in the nation for rural growth. Accidents on rural roads occur 2.5 times more often than other roads, but only carry 28 percent of traffic, the TRIP study said.

DeAnn Baker, a lobbyist for the California State Association of Counties, told Munoz that roads should be paved every 20 years, but many in the Central Valley are paved about every 80 years.

Beavers causing 'political crisis' in rural area of Blacksburg, Va.

Residents of Blacksburg, Va., pop. 39,212, have an interesting twist on next month's election, and it's creating a real 'dam' problem for some councilmen, reports The Roanoke Times in an entertaining story by Tonia Moxley.

As predicted by Virginia Tech wildlife expert Jim Parkhurst, new beavers have moved into "Blacksburg's most rural area", Heritage Community Park and Natural Area, Moxley reports. This comes just two months after a pair of the riverine rodents were eradicated amid concern that their dams would flood residential property and damage gardens. The council could have built fences or left them alone, but because of the concern for damages and the budget, it chose eradication.

And now the beavers appear vengeful, arriving just in time to become an issue in the upcoming election for three council members and a mayor. The beavers are a real pest for Councilman Don Langrehr, who is running for mayor, because many of his supporters are environmentalists. Langrehr led several tours of the park this winter, after the first beaver eradication, to show constituents the beaver's damage and to explain why he voted for their eradication. He called the episode "my political crisis." (Read more)

Tributes to Barry Bingham Jr. and Fred Paxton keep coming in, so this edition of The Rural Blog includes updates on yesterday's items about the two publishers.

Barry Bingham Jr. was a publisher who cared about rural readers

Barry Bingham Jr., publisher of The Courier-Journal from 1971 until his father sold the Louisville newspapers in 1986, died yesterday at his home in Glenview after a long series of health problems. He was 72.

Like his father, Barry Jr. followed the policy established by his grandfather, who said "I have always regarded the newspapers owned by me to be a public trust, and have endeavored so to conduct them as to render the greatest public service." For the Binghams, that meant all of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, not just metropolitan Louisville. They posted reporters and dug up stories and circulated newspapers in the far corners of Kentucky, and supported libraries, bookmobiles and student contests. They were a distant but bright beacon, offering enlightenment and hope to rural people. (Photo by David R. Lutman)

“He loved the state and treasured the newspaper’s role as one of the few things that brought Kentucky together,” Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek and a C-J reporter from 1973 to 1980, told the newspaper's Andrew Wolfson, who wrote its front-page obituary. Last year, the paper closed its rural bureaus, and this month began charging more for single copies outside the metro area.

Unlike his father, Barry Jr. remained at arm's length from political leaders. "One of Barry's contributions was to divorce the administration of the paper from any private or personal relationship with people running the state," Kentucky journalist Al Smith told Beverly Fortune of the Lexington Herald-Leader. He made the C-J and The Louisville Times known for high ethical standards, and "raised the standards of everybody in the business," Smith said. (Read more) Wolfson wrote, "He refused to use the newspapers to do anyone favors, according to those who worked for him, and severed ties with friends when they ran for office, to avoid even the appearance of a conflict." (Read more from C-J)

Paul Janensch, who was executive editor of the Bingham papers when they were sold, writes in The C-J, "Barry Bingham Jr. was the best boss I ever had," because "He expected the best," and "set the example." Janensch, now a professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., also writes, "He was a visionary. Long before the Internet was a well-known term, he predicted that newspapers someday would be delivered to video screens in the home. . . . He was right. Among the most looked-at Internet sites today are those maintained by newspapers. Some think it won't be long before online newspapers will replace the ink-and-paper versions tossed on our driveways -- or in our rose bushes."

Bingham is survived by his wife, Edith S. Bingham; his children, Emily S. Bingham and Mary C. "Molly" Bingham of Washington; his stepchildren, Charles Bingham of Louisville and Philip Franchini of Los Angeles; and his sisters, Eleanor B. Miller of Louisville and Sallie Bingham of Santa Fe, N.M. Visitation will be at Bingham's home at 4309 Glenview Ave. from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville.

Fred Paxton, head of large, family-owned newspaper chain, dies at 73

Fred Paxton, 73, chairman of Paxton Media Group, died Sunday in Paducah, Ky., of pancreatic cancer. The firm publishes the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun, the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, Ky., its flagship, The Paducah Sun, and and 26 other daily newspapers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina, plus weeklies. It owns WPSD-TV, the NBC affiliate in the Paducah market, which includes southeast Missouri and southern Illinois.

Paxton oversaw the family-owned company's expansion into one of the nation's largest privately held newspaper chains in the 1990s, and became chairman in 2000. In the 1980s, the Paducah Sun-Democrat dropped the political word from its name and Paxton became an adviser to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who saw Western Kentucky as the key to Republican success in the state.

"I don't think there was a single civic or governmental issue that affected far Western Kentucky that I didn't start with Fred to gather information," McConnell told the Sun. Former Gov. Brereton Jones, a Republican-turned-Democrat, told the paper he often asked Paxton's advice. "Fred was the epitome of honesty, decency, basic goodness and plain-old common sense," Jones said. (Read more) For more on Paxton Media, from University of Kentucky journalism student Laura Clemmons, click here.

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute paid tribute to Paxton in his Morning Meeting column: "Mr. Paxton hired me as a producer more than 25 years ago. The station had big visions for a medium market. Even though he owned the TV station and the newspaper in Paducah, he encouraged us to be competitive with each other so nobody could say we were running a monopoly. . . . Fred let me take a trip to cover a story and told me to stop by the accounting office to get an expense check. When I returned home, I delivered an envelope with money left over from the trip. The accounting office was mystified. 'What's this?' Betty, the accountant, asked. I explained that I had not spent all of the money. 'Look,' she told me, 'Mr. Paxton approved that money and expected you to spend it.' I loved working for Fred Paxton. What a completely decent man." (Read more)

Paxton is survived by Peggy Sabel Paxton and their four children: Jim, David, Nancy and Richard. His three sons are all active in the family business. His funeral will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. A reception will be held in the parish hall today from 5 to 8 p.m. Milner & Orr Funeral Home of Paducah is in charge of arrangements.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Congress may end rural phone subsidies; would mean higher bills

Rural telephone subscribers may have to pay more for phone service or go without it, if a federal user-fee system is overhauled or removed.

"Known as the Universal Service Fund and part of national telecommunications policy since at least 1934, it was meant, among other things, to subsidize the high cost of providing phone service to far-flung customers," writes Dennis Camire of the Gannett News Service. "The fees, which appear on consumers' long-distance phone bills, have been increasing, in part because users of newer communication services such as Internet phone calls can avoid paying them. One problem with the fees, now 11 percent of a typical long-distance bill, is that they are beginning to draw complaints from consumers as they continue to climb, industry officials said."

"Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he would end the fees and the rural phone company subsidies if he could and would try to find a way to reduce size of the total program. On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is seeking ways to enhance the program and spread its cost among a variety of communications services. Other options include capping the subsidy at current levels, expanding it to cover basic high-speed Internet in rural areas, tightening rules on who can receive the subsidies and providing subsidies only to low-income people," reports Camire.

Last year, $3.8 billion was paid in federal subsidies, up from $1.9 billion in 2000, to about 1,700 rural carriers that deal with high service costs. If the subsidies disappeared, some industry experts have estimated that customer's phone bills would increase by five to six times the amount they currently pay, writes Camire. (Read more)

Broadband Internet is a key to rural economic trends, analyst says

Jack Schultz of Agracel, Inc. of Effingham, Ill., which helps small towns recruit high-tech and manufacturing jobs, cites entrepreneurs and the the Internet as two trends driving the economic development of rural communities in 2006.

"This medium is finally having the impact that was predicted of it in the late 1990s," Schultz writes on his Boomtown USA blog. "Virtually every town that I visit has one success story emerging of a business that is booming based upon the Internet. A recent study showed that 750,000 Americans are making their livings on eBay, an industry that didn’t even exist a decade ago." Broadband Internet service is the key to "homesourcing," Schultz's word for "setting up call centers and outsourcing work to rural households."

Of entrepreneurs, Schultz writes, "You can’t have enough of them. There are some interesting ones doing some incredible things in the agurbs®," his term for "a prospering rural town with a tie to agriculture" outside a metropolitan area.

Other key trends in Schultz's Top 10 include incentives for attracting artists, revitalizing downtowns, recreational land, encouraging talented expatriates to return to their hometowns, regional cooperation in job recruitment, and clustering of industries in regions. (Read more)

Rural areas must collaborate, innovate for success, columnist writes

"If we can no longer spend billions on commodity payments to farmers, perhaps some of that money could be used to help the vast majority of rural Americans who don't farm, as well as the farmers, many of whom depend on the non-farm rural economy for jobs and benefits," opines Thomas D. Rowley in his latest column for the Rural Policy Research Institute.

Rowley provides many ideas on how rural Americans can achieve success in the future, from the traditional idea of working together to the modern approach of embracing new technology. Above all else, he writes, rural residents must strive to start thinking globally and seeing the big picture for economic success.

"All of that innovation requires, of course, innovators (or, if you prefer, entrepreneurs). We need people who see what isn't and ask 'why not?' People who identify opportunities and create ways to seize them, in both the private and public sectors," opines Rowley.

Rowley suggests rural areas take a systematic approach: "For starters, regions themselves must take the lead, but they need assistance in forming. Where I live, city and county officials duke it out over things like funding EMS and the public library. Incentives for communities to work together would help. Second, regions need money for planning -- for bringing together partners, identifying assets, targeting markets and crafting strategies. Third, federal funds need to be flexible, letting communities pay for what needs to be done rather than simply for what programs will allow." (Read more)

Rural, urban children risk being overweight by watching TV, study shows

A new study reports that allowing preschool-age children to watch too much TV – even shows like Sesame Street or Disney DVDs – could make them at risk for being overweight.

"In a study exploring the relationship between excessive TV exposure and overweight risk for preschool-age children, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System found that 3-year-old children exposed to two or more hours of TV a day were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than children who either watched or were in a room with a TV on for fewer than two hours a day, regardless of the child’s environment at home," reports Krista Hopson of Newswise, a news and public relations service for higher-education and research firms.

The study reports that one in four 3-year-old children watch five or more hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommends children ages 2 and older be limited to less than two hours a day, writes Hopson. In the average home, the TV is on more than seven hours a day, and high exposure could be connected to preschoolers chances of being overweight, says study lead author Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.

The release indicated that there was no difference in rural and urban areas, because it said the study sample was representative of both populations. The total sample was 1,016 children total between the ages of 3 and 4 1/2. (Read more)

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania released a study last year showing that more rural students in the state qualified as "obese" -- 20 percent, compared to 16 percent of urban students. During the survey, the number of obese students in rural school districts rose about 5 percent, more than twice the increase among urban students. For more from St. Mary's Medical Center of Huntington, W. Va., click here.

Monday, April 3, 2006

EPA proposes to relax limits for arsenic in small, rural water systems

Rural journalists need to ask their local water systems about this: The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to allow higher levels of metals such as arsenic in smaller drinking-water systems, primarily in rural areas, as a way to alleviate the cost struggle for communities that are struggling to meet recently enacted water-quality standards.

"The proposal would roll back a rule that went into effect earlier this year and make it permissible for water systems serving 10,000 or fewer residents to have three times the level of contaminants allowed under that regulation. About 50 million people live in communities that would be affected by the proposed change. In the case of arsenic, the most recent EPA data suggest as many as 10 million Americans are drinking water that does not meet the new federal standards," writes Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

The rule is subject to public comment until May 1. It would allow drinking water to have arsenic levels of as much as 30 parts per billion in some areas, rather than the national standard of 10 parts per billion.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water, said Congress instructed the agency in 1996 to take into account that it costs rural systems proportionately more to meet federal water standards. But Erik Olson, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the proposal threatens public health. "It could have serious impacts on people's health, not just in small-town America. It is like overturning the whole apple cart on this program," Olson told Eilperin. (Read more)

Senators want to avoid selling forest land; comment period extended

The Bush administration has extended through April 30 the period for public comment on its plan to sell 300,000 acres of national-forest land to finance a program for schools and roads in forest areas. Comments may be sent by e-mail to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon have proposed another way to finance the program, closing a loophole they say lets some government contractors avoid tax obligations. Baucus and Wyden's proposal goes after a current law that does not allow the federal government to withhold taxes owed by federal contractors. The Democratic plan would withhold 3 percent of federal payments for goods and services delivered by private contractors, reports Matthew Daly of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have criticized the Bush plan, saying it is not worth the loss of land and it would not raise enough money. For more background on this story, read "Schools could get a boost at land's expense" by Kevin Murphy of The Kansas City Star.

Timber firms sell more land for conservation; conservationists want more

Two more big forest-preservation deals were announced last week, after International Paper Co.'s sales in 10 Southeastern states, but conservationists noted that the million or so acres preserved in the last two years "represent barely 2 percent of timber company lands that are coming on the market in the East," The New York Times reports. "And in many places like parts of North and South Carolina, conservation groups are competing for the land with developers who seem more determined than ever."

International Paper is transferring 217,000 acres in the Southeast and 69,000 acres in Wisconsin, and the Plum Creek Timber Co. of Maine will give up to 400,000 acres to The Nature Conservancy and two other conservation groups, Felicity Barringer reports for the Times.

Derb Carter, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the Times that conservation groups have a golden opportunity to preserve Eastern forests, but their funds -- even if augmented by state money, as in South Carolina -- "is dwarfed by the amounts that can be offered by developers of residential communities, golf courses and hunting clubs," Barringer wrote, quoting Carter: "The federal government is, for practical purposes, out of the conservation land acquisition business."

"An analysis of federal budget data by the Wilderness Society shows conservation financing — money available for conservation purchases either directly or through grants to states — has shrunk to about $140 million annually from more than $500 million in 2001," Barringer reports. (Read more)

Some rural New Mexico residents left in cold by telephone companies

Cellular phones and e-mail messages are the only avenues for quick communication for the 5.7 percent of homes in New Mexico without telephone service, many of which are located in rural areas. The only state with a higher percentage is Mississippi (6.5 percent), according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

The national average for homes without phone service is 2.4 percent, according to the bureau, which doesn't distinguish between people who cannot afford it or who cannot get it. "In McKinley County, 31.6 percent of households reported they didn't have phone service. Six counties in New Mexico reported percentages higher than 10 percent, and nobody in Huerfano, near Bloomfield, has a landline. According to a 2003 census survey, 44.8 percent of New Mexicans have Internet access at home -- the fourth lowest percentage in the country. The national average is 54.7 percent," reports The Associated Press.

Public Regulation Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy said McKinley, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties are among the poorest in the state. Often times, telephone companies do not want to invest in rural areas, she told AP. "It's not fair and equitable, and that's a problem," she said. (Read more)

Mobile science labs bring agriculture home to Maryland school children

Relatively new Maryland license plates bear the message "Our Farms, Our Future," and the intent is too educate young people about the origins of products they use daily. For instance, milk is not made at the grocery store, as many kids assume, writes Ted Shelsby in "On the Farm" for the Baltimore Sun.

"I've heard it many, many times," said George Mayo, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, a nonprofit group established in 1989 to educate citizens about the role agriculture plays in their lives. "Kids across the state don't relate milk to cows or farms. They don't make the connection between agriculture and the clothes they wear, their shoes and the food they eat."

Revenue from tag sales is helping to convert trailers into mobile science labs for use at 70 to 80 schools each year. The labs generally stay in one spot for a week, and most schools see that about 150 students participate per day. "Students have made butter from cream. They have used soybeans to make crayons. They make cheese from milk. They are taught the importance of water quality and why it is harmful to put oil or other chemicals into the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries," writes Shelsby. (Read more)

Wisconsin man develops way to turn cheese waste into energy

A "cheesehead" from Wisconsin have tested technology that turns cheese waste into energy

"With the help of a ag-development and diversification grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Joe Van Groll of Stratford says he has developed a process than can convert whey permeate into ethanol. He says the process also creates two valuable byproducts, a probiotic cattle feed supplement and salt. The process could save cheese makers millions of dollars in disposal costs, somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 cents for every 100 pounds of milk processed," reports Bob Meyer of the Brownfield Network, an agriculture news service.

Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen said, “This technology is an excellent example of the no-waste, bio-based economy. It promises to boost cheese profits, preserve the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil.” Plans are ongoing to take the technology to the market place. (Read more)

Arkansas agriculture secretary wants to expand farmers' markets

Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Richard Bell says expanding the state's farmers' markets would help small farmers and exporters.

Bell, the former longtime president and chief executive of Riceland Foods Inc., told Cristal Cody of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he wants to encourage small farmers. “We’ve got to try to get more funding and help to grow markets,” he said. “If we don’t do something to increase the balance between small and big farms, we’re just going to have three or four big farms in eastern Arkansas.”

Bell is also exploring ways to increase the state's number of small exporters. Many of the state's crops, such as soybeans, are exported. About 45 percent of the country’s soybean crops are exported, compared to 80 percent of Arkansas’ soybeans, Bell told Cody. (Read more)

Farmers can take online quiz to see how they affect environment

A new online quiz aims to help farmers assess their operations' impact on the environment.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service quiz presents an overview of common operational issues that affect the eco-system, reports Tyne Morgan of the Brownfield Network, an agriculture news service. From livestock exclusion to erosion control, the assessment provides an overview of many issues that farmers face across the country. The quiz is designed to help guide producers on ways to make their operations more environmentally friendly. (Read more)

Producers anywhere can take the quiz at the extension service's Web site.


Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of daily Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



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Last Updated: May 1, 2006