The Rural Blog Archive: August 2006

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


Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006

Corn-based fuel might cure U.S. oil addiction, if it wasn't so scarce

E-85, the corn-based fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, is being hailed as an escape from America’s oil addiction, but support for the fuel is lacking in terms of availability.

"Most oil companies want nothing to do with E-85, which they see as a money-losing alternative to their own petroleum-based products. Without help from the oil

industry or a lot more flexible-fuel cars on the road, gasoline retailers are hesitant to install the expensive pumps, which can cost up to $200,000 with a new underground storage tank," writes Alexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times.

"Many drivers whose vehicles can run on ethanol will not buy E-85 unless it is markedly cheaper than regular gasoline, which has not always been the case."

The U.S. currently boasts more than 850 gas stations with E-85, up from 350 since the start of 2005. However, the U.S. is home to 169,000 stations, and sales are small enough that some retailers can tally the regular E-85 customers on one hand, reports Barrionuevo. Sometimes the difference in availability varies greatly among border states. Illinois is the nation's second-biggest corn producer, following Iowa, and has 135 stations with E-85, but only 54 stations exist in Missouri and just 13 operate in Kansas. (Read more)

Supporters of renewable energy buck Colorado electric co-op managers

Some members of Colorado's Intermountain Rural Electric Association are taking steps to become a greener operation by discussing means of renewable energy and combating climate change.

Some members of the IREA had previusly voiced opposition to wind and solar energy. "IREA's membership last year voted to opt out of Amendment 37, which requires Colorado utilities to obtain 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015," writes Steve Raabe of the Denver Post. IREA is a power cooperative that provides electricity to 130,000 people in 10 counties surrounding Denver.

"IREA's general manager, Stan Lewandowski, has been an outspoken critic of Colorado's renewable-energy mandate passed by voters in 2004. He also has taken a controversial stand against the widely held scientific theory that man-made pollution, particularly from coal-fired power plants, is a major contributor to global warming," writes Raabe.

"We have got to get with the big picture here. ... There have been some serious changes in the environment taht we need to deal with," IREA member Patrick Healey told the Post. (Read more)

Kentucky newspaper posts interview with U.S. senator online via video

When The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown, Ky., interviewed U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell last week, the newspaper decided to provide its Web site viewers with a new experience -- video of the lawmaker's session with its editorial board. Such interviews may not provide immediate grist for an editorial or big story, but they do help editorial boards and newsmakers understand each other, and provide useful background for future reporting and commentary. And in this case, the newspaper has gone a worthy extra mile by putting the interview online for readers, turning its role of gatekeeper into one of facilitator.

McConnell spoke about Kentucky remaining a vital tobacco producer despite production falling during the past 10 years. "Frankly, I'm a little surprised at how much tobacco we're still producing," McConnell told the editorial board. Video segments from the interview can be viewed at this Web site.

The News-Enterprise (circulation 16,322) did not immediately write an editorial on McConnell's comments, instead opting for a brief story on tobacco. "The transition from quotas to contracts has been rocky, though. In fact, McConnell was viewed as a 'kind of traitor' by the state's burley interests when he first favored getting rid of the declining support program, which was pricing burley so high the crop wasn't competitive," writes John Friedlein of the paper. Story not available online.

S. Carolina bans teen-age tobacco possession; measure took long time

With tobacco farms, "the lowest cigarette tax in the nation and a dead-last ranking in smoking prevention, South Carolina remains one of the last true smokers' outposts. But from the Pee Dee River to Parris Island, the Palmetto State's "smoke-and-let-smoke" ethic is changing - at least when it comes to teenage partakers," writes Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor.

"By becoming one of the last states to outlaw teenage possession of tobacco on Aug. 21, the legislature and Gov. Mark Sanford (R) took the state's first tentative steps toward state-sponsored smoking prevention. The gambit itself won't likely change many minds. In fact, critics expect police won't find much time to impose a $25 fine, up to five days of community service, and possibly a lecture from the judge's bench on an underage smoker. Yet experts say the law does have meaning, not only for parents trying to bolster their own 'don't smoke' sermons, but for an antismoking movement that, until now, has failed to gain purchase in a state that perhaps takes tobacco more seriously than any other."

Jonsson adds, "Poor people smoke more than rich people, which is one reason why South Carolina, one of the nation's poorest states, has a higher-than-average smoking rate. Kentucky has the highest overall smoking rate - just under 30 percent in 2004, according to the state's health department. When it comes to South Carolina teens, one in four of them have smoked in the last 30 days compared to a national average of just over one in five, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids." (Read more)

Wyoming town to jump-start rural broadband for economic benefits

Local governments have been setting up their own technology networks to compensate for a lack of interest from private providers. They are part of a "growing phenomenon, fueled by dissatisfaction in sparsely populated areas where the local phone and cable providers are slower to invest in costly network upgrades that may not be profitable," reports The Associated Press.

Powell, Wyo., population 5,300, plans to have a fiber-optic network that would provide phone service, cable TV and super-fast Internet to nearly every home and business in the area. In the U.S., at least 40 public utility districts and municipalities offer public fiber-optic services. The $6-million project is designed to draw business to the small locality, reports AP. Internet service providers Qwest and Bresnan were invited to compete for the contract to run the system, but are instead vowing to launch aggressive marketing in response to the city's planned network.

A little over a year ago the farming community of Windom, Minn., had nothing but dial-up access to the Internet. The city spent nearly $11 million building its network and now about 1,700 customers subscribe to one or more of its services — cable, Internet and phone. Qwest has also moved into the area to compete with its high-speed Internet services. Windom's network hasn't become profitable yet, but it is expected to be soon, reports AP.

To make a profit, up to 30 percent of households in a community may have to subscribe to a fiber network and securing the money to start the network may be difficult, requiring it to come out of taxes, loans and private investment, notes AP. (Read more)

Coal-mine safety laws remain stuck in 1960s in Pa.; lawmakers grid-locked

Pennsylvania's coal-mining safety laws are under review by lawmakers who can't agree on proposed changes, and one legislator warns further delay may mean "blood will be on our hands."

A new "federal law requires improvements in how mine owners respond to accidents, addressing concerns that arose in the wake of January's Sago Mine accident in West Virginia, in which 12 miners died. But state Department of Environmental Protection mining regulations, which are designed to prevent accidents, remain stuck in the 1960s, when most of them were written," reports The Associated Press.

Since a January hearing in which Sen. Richard Kasunic gave the "blood" warning, little progress has been made and the Legislature's fall session will be shortened by the election, notes AP. Edward D. Yankovich Jr., the international vice president of District 2 of the United Mine Workers of America, wants state law to specify the meaning of "wireless" communication with below-ground miners. "We want to make sure what's left to question in the federal legislation is not left to question in the state," he said. (Read more)

Wal-Mart kicks off political-style TV campaign to counter critics

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which got its start in rural areas and remains strong there, is responding to attacks from unions and prominent Democrats by unleashing its own political advertisement-style campaign that started spreading its good points on Monday for viewers in Omaha, Neb., and Tucson, Ariz.

"In a local experiment that is eventually to be seen across the country, the giant discount retailer began broadcasting two television spots that, in unusually detailed terms, trumpet its health care plans, charitable contributions and positive impact on the American economy. The ads do not attack Wal-Mart critics but introduce its merits, much as a candidate would. 'Our low prices save the average working family 2,300 a year,' says the narrator of one ad. 'Which buys a lot of things — and a whole lot of freedom,'" writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.

This marketing tactic is contrary to Wal-Mart's tradition of responding to attacks via the media but not letting criticisms of its image affect its television marketing. Now the company is apparently concerned that public opinion is being affected by union-backed groups and Democratic presidential contenders, who have criticized Wal-Mart's hourly pay and health benefits, reports Barbaro. (Read more)

Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006

Data show wide urban-rural income divide; child poverty increases

U.S. Census data released Tuesday show that people ranking in the top fifth of the nation's biggest earners live mainly in metropolitan areas (90.8 percent) instead of rural ones (9.2 percent).

"Meanwhile, those living in the bottom fifth in income could be found in disproportionate numbers in rural areas (21.2 percent of this group lived outside metro areas compared with 9.2 percent of the wealthiest) and to live in non-family households (59 percent of the poor compared with 12.5 percent of the wealthy). A study of the data by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found that children in rural areas were particularly hard hit, with the percentage living in poverty in 41 states higher in 2005 than it was five years before," writes Rick Lyman of The New York Times. (Read more)

To read the Census Bureau's 86-page Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 report, click here. The Carsey Institute's analysis of child poverty in non-metro areas in 2005 listed these states as having the biggest percent of rural children in poverty: Mississippi (36.7 percent), Louisiana (31.5 percent), New Mexico (30.9 percent), Arizona (30.8 percent), and Alabama (30.1 percent). Click here for that study.

Obesity problem found biggest in rural Southern states, says report

Thirty-one states' residents grew more obese in the last year, and Southern states with large rural populations led the way, according to a report by the advocacy group Trust for America's Health.

The report found that Mississippi is the heaviest state, with 29.5 percent of residents obese. Nine of the top 10 states with the most obesity are in the South. No specific reasons are known why obesity is prevalent in the South, said Dr. Jeff Levi, executive director of the group. Experts usually blame it on several factors including poverty, culture and diet, reports Thomas H. Maugh II of The Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

The rest of the top 10: Alabama (28.7 percent), West Virginia (28.6 percent), Louisiana (27.4 percent), Kentucky (26.7 percent), Tennessee (26.6 percent), Arkansas (26.4 percent), Indiana and South Carolina (tied at 26.2 percent), and Texas (25.8 percent). For the report, click here. To read a story by Morgan Kelly of the Charleston Gazette on West Virginia's obesity, click here. For a Mobile Press-Register story by Penelope McClenny, click here.

Plan to sell off tracts in national forests delayed; Oregon applauds

Rural counties across the U.S. will avoid immediate cuts to their school and road budgets, and national forestlands are off the chopping block for at least one more year, under a deal made earlier this month by the Bush administration and three senators from the Northwest.

The counties will continue to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars to compensate them for depressed logging revenue," wrote Jeff Kosseff and Michael Milstein of The Oregonian. "The program, set to expire at the end of next month, provides more than $500 million to mostly rural counties nationally for roads, schools and other public projects. Oregon counties receive more than half the money."

"It's a year's worth of good news for hard-hit rural communities," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told the Oregonian. His allies in the deal were Republican Sens. Larry Craig of Idaho and Gordon Smith of Oregon. (Read more) For an Oregonian editorial about rural folks dodging a bullet for now, click here.

In Va., tobacco's base, governor may ban smoking in state buildings

In a measure of how tobacco's political clout has shriveled, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Tuesday that he is "actively considering" ordering a ban on smoking in state government buildings.

"Kaine's willingness to consider a smoking ban is especially symbolic in a state where tobacco has been king since it was first planted by colonists in 1609. Philip Morris, one of the state's top employers, makes nearly 470 million cigarettes a day at its Richmond plant," writes Michael D. Shear of The Washington Post. "Tobacco was the state's leading export for nearly 400 years until being displaced unceremoniously last year by computer memory chips." The state has ranked third in tobacco production.

The American Lung Association says 22 states have banned smoking in state buildings. Arizona and Ohio residents will vote on whether to ban smoking in all workplaces this November, reports Shear. (Read more) For a chart with the status of all states' smoking laws, click here.

The possibility of banning smoking in most public places is something Virginia lawmakers have wrangled with for a while. "The state Senate passed such a bill earlier this year before a House of Delegates subcommittee killed it. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brandon Bell, R-Roanoke County, plans to introduce a similar measure in the 2007 General Assembly session," writes Michael Sluss of The Roanoke Times. "Fourteen states have workplace smoking bans that also apply to restaurants and bars." (Read more)

Equipment costs, power overload kill Blue Ridge wind farm proposal

A Chicago-based company is no longer considering tapping into power lines for a possible wind farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Roanoke County, Virginia.

Invenergy Wind LLC pulled its proposal after realizing that equipment replacements or upgrades for the project would cost more than $1.6 million over one to four years. Preliminary studies the company started conducting last year revealed that the wind turbines that could generate up to 81 megawatts would further overload or nearly overload power lines and circuits, reports John Cramer of The Roanoke Times.

"The wind energy industry has long been based in the West, but it is rapidly expanding into the Appalachians and other eastern sites as the United States looks for more renewable power sources. Wind turbines produce clean energy but often cause controversy because they can kill large numbers of birds and bats and harm other natural resources," writes Cramer. (Read more)

Mississippi town gets help from hometown guy turned stove maker

A Mississippi man founded a stove-making business called Viking Grill and ended up spurring an economic revitalization in his Delta hometown of Greenwood, population 18,464.

"Who would ever guess that the upscale kitchen range revolution would be birthed in a rural Mississippi town?" economic consultant Jack Schultz asked in a recent Boomtown USA blog. Viking is a company founded by Fred Carl that employs more 1,000 people and racks up annual sales of more than $250 million. In addition to being an internationally-known product, Carl's story is one that inspires others.

Inc. magazine online featured Carl in this month's edition and much of the story by Liz Welch lets Carl tell things in his own words: "I was a weird kid -- I began designing towns when I was 12. Other kids would be playing baseball or smoking cigarettes and I'd be inside drawing airports and schools. By high school, I started assessing our town, thinking of all the things Greenwood needed. When we got a bowling alley in the early '60s, by God, I was thrilled! My parents believed in traveling. Wherever we went, I'd say, 'Why don't we have this in Greenwood?' It was during these trips that I began to understand demographics--we might drive through a town in Indiana with the same population as Greenwood, but it felt much bigger.

"I went to Ole Miss in Oxford to study city planning, then moved back home to work as a contractor," continues Carl, adding that Viking spurred other businesses. "What really tickles me is that businesses that left in the '70s and '80s are returning. Martha Foose was my very first recruit. She's from the Delta, did her culinary training in Paris, and now runs Viking's cooking school as well as Mockingbird Bakery." Click here for the Inc. story about Viking's origin, and click here for one about its progress.

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006

Rural areas hit by Katrina still searching for help; federal funds wanted

Some rural communities feel they have been overlooked in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, both in the wake of the storm and now. With America's eye turned toward New Orleans on the first anniversary of the hurricane's landfall, smaller localities feel they have been left out.

Rural communities such as Pearlington, Miss., population 1,600, have come to rely on the support of churches and neighbors to rebuild their lives. Residents say they are no longer counting on any help from the government, reports Margaret Baker of the Sun Herald. (Read more)

Louisiana's lower Plaquemines Parish, an area with citrus orchards and fishing industry along the mouth of the Mississippi River, may have been the rural areas hardest hit areas by Katrina. Of its former 16,000 population, about a third have returned, reports Matthew Brown of the Times-Picayune. (Read more)

Some criticize the fact that the $5.1 billion in relief funds went largely to homeowners outside the flood plain. However, residents of areas away from the coast, especially those in rural and impoverished places, feel that they have been neglected in relief efforts, reports Reuben Mees of the Hattiesburg American.

"One of the biggest unmet needs was communities north of the Gulf Coast were ignored in this program, just like they were ignored immediately following the hurricane. That program should be designed to help individuals who lost their homes in Hattiesburg and Laurel and all the other rural communities north of the coast," Derrick Johnson, Mississippi president the NAACP, told Mees. (Read more)

Relief for rural areas is on the way from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's pledged $189 million for rebuilding in rural areas hurt by Katrina. "Government entities – including parishes, cities with populations under 20,000, and tribal governments - may apply for funds to re-build rural infrastructure such as fire departments, police departments, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as replace any equipment that may have been damaged in the hurricane," writes Kelly Reeder of St. Tammany.com. (Read more)

For a report from the Rural Sociological Society on Katrina's rural effects, click here.

Black-market biodiesel, selling for $1.86 a gallon, gets Va. man arrested

High fuel prices have generated more interest in biodiesel, a fuel made from vegetable oils, and a black market may be developing. A man in Floyd County, Virginia, has been charged with illegally selling his own brand of privately mixed diesel fuel, or biodiesel, for $1.86 a gallon. For consumers, there are quality-control issues, so it might not hurt to ask your local regulators if they suspect a trend.

In Virginia, Samuel Floyd Bolt claimed he did not know he needed state license to sell the fuel. He will go to court Oct. 20 "on charges of dispensing fuels without being a licensed retailer and dispensing fuels into highway vehicles, both misdemeanors, and failure to pay fuel taxes, a felony," writes Paul Dellinger of The Roanoke Times, a paper that seems to have a nose for spotting potential trends. (Read more)

State authorities observed about 15 customers buy the fuel for $1.86, much less than the $3 a gallon national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Bolt made the fuel using devices ordered off the Internet. "It's less polluting than your fossil-fuel diesel," Bolt told Dellinger. "What we're doing now, it might be 300 gallons a week. But the potential of it in this area, it's phenomenal."

States file lawsuits against each other to curb water pollution from farms

Oklahoma is getting fed up with water pollution from chicken farms in Arkansas, and Kentucky is objecting to Virginia's "plans to allow a strip mining company to discharge more than a billion gallons of briny water into a river just eight miles from where it flows into Kentucky," reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, in a story about state-to-state conflicts resulting from lack of action by federal agencies, or federal action that puts two state at odds.

"In some cases, there is little in the way of federal law or regulation. This is the case with the factory farms in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The administration is still sorting through which regulations apply to poultry, dairy and hog farmers, and existing rules don't apply to those who buy the waste for fertilizer," reports Eilperin. "Oklahoma is now suing eight firms -- including Arkansas giant Tyson Foods Inc. -- on the grounds that the chicken waste applied to crops near the river contains hazardous chemicals that are damaging the ecosystem and jeopardizing the region's tourist industry."

"Across the country, states and localities are suing polluters outside their jurisdiction, and sometimes each other, in efforts to curb air and water contamination that respects no borders," Eilperin reports. "Other times the administration has blessed activities in one state that another state opposes, such as the Consolidation Coal Co. plan to dump salty mine water into a stream that feeds Fishtrap Lake in far Eastern Kentucky. (Read more)

Fishtrap Lake, impounded in the 1960s, has lost much of its volume due to siltation, much of it from strip mining. Now officials are investigating whether mining is to blame for elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a cancer-causing chemical, recently found in fish there. For a story by the Appalachian News-Express on the investigation and an advisory not to consume the fish, click here.

Nominations due Friday for Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity

Do you know a publisher, editor, reporter or photographer who has demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism? You are invited to nominate one or more of them for the Tom and Pat Gish Award, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The award is named for the couple (right) who are in their 50th year of publishing The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky. The Gishes have withstood advertiser boycotts, declining population, personal attacks and even the burning of their newspaper office to provide the citizens of Letcher County the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas, especially those dominated by extractive industries -- in this case, primarily coal. Their coverage and commentary go beyond the boundaries of Letcher County to address issues in state and federal governments and other institutions that have a local impact, such as a new regional drug-fighting agency, the 40-year-old Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority and its coal-buying policies that encouraged strip mining in Central Appalachia. These are just some examples of the type of journalism worthy of the award.

The Gish Award is given to rural journalists who demonstrate the courage, tenacity and integrity often needed to render public service through journalism in rural areas. The first award was made to the Gishes themselves in 2005. The Institute hopes to make it annually, depending on the quality of the nominations.

Nominations for this year's award are due this Friday, Sept. 1. The Institute plans to present the award at one of its conferences this fall or next spring. Nominations should be made by way of a letter giving details on the courage, tenacity and integrity demonstrated by the nominee(s). You should include clips and testimony from multiple sources, and you may be asked to provide additional information. While nominations are due Friday, supporting information will be accepted until Sept. 15.

Send your nomination to: Al Cross, director, Instiute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Journalism Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu and send supporting materials by post. If you have questions, e-mail us or call 859-257-3744. For more information on Tom and Pat Gish, click here.

Satellite TV giants may switch to WiMax for wireless, broadband

Rural areas without high-speed Internet service may be more likely to get it from WiMax technology than satellite TV, if a recent development is any indication. "Satellite TV companies sent shockwaves across the wireless market in mid-August when they abruptly pulled out of a government auction of radio frequencies . . . needed for sending wireless calls," writes Olga Kharif of BusinessWeek.com.

Satellite TV operators EchoStar and DirecTV had paid the highest bid deposit, nearly $1 billion, before pulling out. Those companies sought the airwaves for an expansion into wireless communications. They may now be considering entering the wireless market by using WiMax, which uses minimal equipment to provide large areas with high-speed wireless Internet access at a cheap price, repots Kharif.

In June, DirecTV and EchoStar struck a five-year deal to jointly resell satellite broadband service from WildBlue, which currently has more than 85,000 subscribers in rural areas. (Read more) The Rural Blog reported on June 29 about the weekly Pilot of Southern Pines, N.C., using WiMax technology to provide residents with free wireless Internet. Click here for that archived item. The Rural Blog also reported on WildBlue's rural efforts on May 9. Click here for that archived item.

Question for Ahhhnold: Buck feds, legalize non-hallucinogenic hemp?

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering whether to sign a bill passed in the California legislature to allow the state's farmers to grow industrial hemp, despite a federal ban on the practice.

"Seven states have passed bills supporting the farming of industrial hemp; their strategy has been to try to get permission from the Drug Enforcement Administration to proceed. But California is the first state that would directly challenge the federal ban, arguing that it does not need a D.E.A. permit, echoing the state’s longstanding fight with the federal authorities over its legalization of medicinal marijuana," writes Patricia Leigh Brown of The New York Times. "The hemp bill would require farmers who grow it to undergo crop testing to ensure their variety of cannabis is nonhallucinogenic."

Opponents say the measure could provide hiding places for this wishing to grow the illegal cannabis, and those fighting it include the California Narcotic Officers Association and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Hundreds of hemp products, including energy bars and cold-pressed hemp oil, are made in California, giving the banned plant a capitalist aura. But manufacturers must import the raw material, mostly from Canada, where hemp cultivation was legalized in 1998," reports Brown. (Read more)

Newspaper finds 'CAVE people' as town plans revamp for big event

When big things begin happening in a small town, it often brings our what Jack Schultz of Boomtown USA calls "Citizens Against Virtually Everything," or CAVE. That phenomenon, reported here on June 7, was cited in an editorial by Linda Ireland in The LaRue County Herald News about plans for Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday celebration in the Kentucky county where Lincoln was born.

The celebration will kick off in Hodgenville on Feb. 12, 2008, Lincoln's 199th birthday, and Ireland has "a problem with the way the bicentennial planning is progressing, however. It seems only a few people are becoming involved in the early stages. That means plenty of others will stand back and complain about how this international celebration will evolve. I've heard there is a petition circulating about keeping Lincoln Square a square, rather than making it a circle to improve safety for pedestrians. That decision was made a year ago and several public meetings have been held since then, inviting residents to express their opinion. To my knowledge, no one protested the change."

Ireland likens this to the CAVE people phenomenon she read about, and cites ways to recognize such people, including: They attend no public meetings and criticize the way "they" do things; they knock the local town council and county commission; and they, above all, are skeptical, cynical and negative about anything and everything meant for community progress. "If any of this sounds like you, there is hope. Try helping to build your community, instead of tearing it down," opines Ireland. Editorial not available online. Click here for the archived blog item.

Times West Virginian promotes Misty Poe to city editor position

Misty Poe is the new city editor of the Times West Virginian in Fairmont, following six years as a general assignment reporter for the paper, Publisher Andy Kniceley announced in WV Press News, a weekly publication of the West Virginia Press Association. The Times West Virginian, circulation 11,264, is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Congratulations to Misty from her friends at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. She was a fellow at a conference that the Institute programmed for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland in June 2005.

Monday, Aug. 28, 2006

Rural schools struggle to improve scores; sanctions make little difference

When Inez Middle School in rural Eastern Kentucky failed to meet No Child Left Behind Act testing goals for the sixth year in a row, it served as an example of rural districts across the country struggling to deal with the requirements of the federal law with few options for help and lackluster public support.

"National and state experts say districts such as Martin County face myriad problems, which include limited resources to make schools better, and communities that can be indifferent to educational achievement issues. In reality, some NCLB sanctions don't hold a lot of weight in rural, lower-income districts," writes Raviya H. Ismail of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "NCLB is a federal law that measures achievement in public schools based on state tests in reading and math. The law holds accountable only Title 1 schools, those that receive federal aid for low-income students."

Rural schools face many challenges when trying to meet goals including attendance and literacy problems, difficulty retaining and recruiting teachers, and a lack of planning time during the school day, reports Ismail. Some schools such as Inez are using innovative techniques like providing students additional help in reading and math through specialists and partnering with Morehead State University to train teachers.

Students are supposed to have the option to transfer to another school when situations like the one at Inez arise, "but Inez Middle cannot do that because the school they could transfer to, Warfield Middle School, failed to meet NCLB goals for four consecutive years. Under NCLB, students may not transfer to similarly struggling schools," writes Ismail. (Read more)

No Child Left Behind is ineffective or hurting schools, adults claim in poll

Many newspapers are running stories on their local districts' performance on the No Child Left Behind tests, and a national survey shows that nearly 70 percent of adults familiar with the act believe it has had no effect or is actually hurting public schools

The 38th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools surveyed 1,007 adults, and it found that 45 percent knew either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the law, up from 40 percent last year and 31 percent two years ago. That fnding is just a small part of the much larger poll report, which includes categories such as major findings and conclusions, source of school improvement, public school ratings and the sources of K-12 problems.

When asked "What do you think are the biggest problems the public schools of your community must deal with?," the majority of the respondents (24 percent) said lack of financial support, which is often a problem found in rural districts. Other problems included overcrowded schools (13 percent), lack of discipline (11 percent), drug use (8 percent), studens' lack of interest (6 percent), parents' lack of support (5 percent) and fighting (5 percent). (Read more)

Click here to read an Education Week story about the poll. Subscription required.

Census of Agriculture can be used to track farmer-to-consumer sales

The rise in produce sold directly to consumers is benefitting independent farmers, and Megan Watzin of The Roanoke Times shows how to use Census of Agriculture data to track the trend."Nationwide, the number of farmers markets more than doubled from 1994 to 2004,increasing from 1,755 to 3,706, according to USDA statistics," Watzin reports.

"Cutting out the middle man gives farmers the freedom to set their own prices and to keep all of the money that product brings in rather than having to share it with wholesalers, distributors and grocery stories. It can bring a solid supplementary income at a time when many farmers struggle to turn a profit, but is often not enough to be the farmer's sole source of income," reports Watzin. (Read more)

Customers are often affluent suburbanites who want to have fresh and organic food and feel a connection to its origins. So while the suburbs continuously encroach on farms, direct-selling farmers learn to adapt.

National agriculture leader Larry Turner dies in Comair 5191 crash

Among tose who died in the Comair 5191 crash yesterday was the University of Kentucky's Larry Turner, 51, "a forward-looking agriculture leader whose efforts had earned him national as well as statewide respect," writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Turner served as a national extension leader in his role as associate dean for extension, and his job as director of the Cooperative Extension Service in UK's College of Agriculture gave him many responsibilities, including helping tobacco farmers adapt to a free-market system. "He oversaw more than 1,000 employees and offices in all 120 Kentucky counties, and he was helping farmers chart a new course after the federal tobacco support program was abolished," reports Jester.

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, told Jester that Turner "was, effectively, Kentucky's chief extension agent." (Read more) One of Cross' students wrote a story about the efforts of Turner and his staff to help tobacco farmers and communities. (Read more)

Journalists play key role in shaping 'Islamic-phobia,' say media experts

Media reports on Muslims are contributing to "Islamic-phobia" by containing bias or stereotypes, experts said during a panel discussion earlier this month at the National Association of Black Journalists' national convention in Indianapolis.

"We're given the most extreme manifestations and there is no balance," Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of U.S. coverage. "It shouldn't be 95 percent negative and 5 percent positive. It shouldn't be just about Ramadan. It needs to be more than that." Islam is the second largest religion behind Christianity with an estimated 1.2 billion followers, reports The Associated Press.

Panelists called for reporters to find positive stories about local Islamic communities and avoid using stereotypical phrases such as "Muslim garb" when referring to clothing such as the head covering that some Muslims wear, notes AP. "There has to be another side presented," said Brenda Shaheed, a vice president of Martin University in Indianapolis who has practiced Islam for more than 30 years. "If I learned about Islam through the images in the media, there's nothing that would attract me to it." (Read more)

Walid more recently delivered media criticism in the case of Rima Qayyum, a West Virginia teacher of Pakistani descent who is also "blasting airport officials and U.S. Airways in her first public statement since . . . she was detained for 14 hours earlier this month because officials at Tri-State Airport mistook her face wash and bottled water for bomb ingredients," reports The Charleston Gazette.

The episode prompted live TV coverage of the incident but the follow-up was lacking, Walid said. "The media play up the allegations but fail to inform the public when they turn out to be unfounded," he told the Gazette's Scott Finn. Qayyum told him, “I believe that the media over-publicized my Pakistani ethnicity as if it were a bad thing, even though I am an American citizen.” (Read more)

For an Aug. 18 item about Islam not being the enemy and how that message needs repeating, because a recent Gallup Poll found that 39 percent of American adults believe American Muslims aren't loyal to the U.S., but most of the poll respondents said they didn't know a Muslim, and those who do had more moderate attitudes, click here.

Timber industry hires foreign workers; low pay, hard labor deter others

Many West Virginia communities have been helped by from a burgeoning timber industry that employs about 11,000 people today, but the difference is that businesses are finding alternative labor via immigrants, reports Greg Collard of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

In some cases, local workers are turning to other industries that pay more. Carl Shoemaker, the head of human relations at Oregon-based Columbia Flooring, told Collard its West Virginia plant along the Mingo-Logan County line is losing local workers to coal mines and railroads that support them. "Their starting wages are often times are more than double what our starting wage is," said Shoemaker.

Dick Waybright, executive director of the West Virginia Forestry Association, told Collard that foreign workers are simply willing to perform hard and lowest-paying jobs. "I've heard it said that, well maybe we need to start looking to Mexicans to fill the labor supply, and What we see as one of the problems, is first of all it's hard work. It requires stamina to get out there and work. You're lifting, you're pulling, you're shoving," Waybright said.

A social trend may be the changing ethic of America's young workforce, reports Collard. Buck Harless, who runs six sawmills and six coal mines, said, "The work ethic has changed tremendously from what it was 25 years ago. I think parents are responsible for a lot of that. They spoil their kids." (Read more)

Rural workers must overcome lack of 'soft skills,' says Virginia official

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Pat Gottschalk called for development of "soft skills" to pull rural towns in Southside Virgnia, the state's southern Piedmont area, out of a slump. Gottschalk said that workers need to be punctual, work with others, and develop their communications skills, reports Jamie Ruff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"Southside's hardships are well-documented. For many years, textiles, furniture manufacturing and tobacco were the foundation of the region's economy, and all three have crumbled. Danville saw so many plant closings and job losses that its economy has had the dubious distinction of being the worst in the country that could not be blamed on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina," reports Ruff.

Gottschalk has encouraged Northern Virginia businesses to set up human resource operations and warehouses in these less expensive, economically-depressed areas. However the workers will need to become more educated and adapt to technology, he told Ruff. (Read more)

Robotic airships might provide rural areas with new way to wireless

There's yet another idea to help rural areas gain full access to the digital world. "Bob Jones has a lofty idea for improving communications around the world: Strategically float robotic airships as an alternative to unsightly telecom towers on the ground and expensive satellites in space," writes Alicia Chang of The Associated Press.

Jones, a former NASA manager, developed the "Stratellites" idea for Sanswire Networks. The devices would be floated with helium, unmanned and solar-powered. They would transmit from the stratosphere and provide wireless access for high-speed data and voice communications, reports Chang.

Such devices might be useful to rural areas that are now "dead zones" to wireless technology and during natural disasters that effect ground-based communications, notes Chang. Prototype testing is expected to begin this year. (Read more)

Agriculture heritage project gains ground in Kentucky; site picked

A Kentucky Agriculture Heritage Center is moving closer to becoming reality with a recent 50-acre land donation in Mercer County, and the $25 million project should break ground in 2010.

"The center is to contain educational and meeting facilities and a multimedia theater on the state's farming history. Also planned is a hall of fame honoring people who have significantly advanced the state's agricultural efforts," writes Sheldon S. Shafer of The Courier-Journal. The project's board cited several benefifs of building Mercer County including its central location, the presence of a working farm and the available expansion space. (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006

One-third of rural pharmacists consider closing under new Medicare plan

A survey of more than 500 community pharmacists revealed that nearly nine out of 10 (89 percent) are getting less money and a third are considering shutting down since the new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan went into effect Jan. 1.

"The survey found that more than half (55 percent) of respondents said they have had to obtain outside loans or financing to supplement their pharmacy’s cash flow because of slow reimbursement by health care plans," according to the National Community Pharmacists Association. "More than two-thirds (67 percent) of those surveyed said their pharmacy was located in an area with a population of less than 50,000 persons, and most (68 percent) said they had been in business for at least 20 years."

“Community pharmacists have been the backbone of the Part D program and are frequently the most accessible—and sometimes the only—health care provider in the community,” said NCPA Executive Vice President and CEO Bruce Roberts. “We need to address the serious problems of low and slow reimbursement in the Medicare Part D program to ensure that these communities will continue to be served by their pharmacists.” (Read more)

A May 8 item in The Rural Blog referenced a study that shows rural residents are paying more for drugs than urbanites under Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. The study by the Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis of the Rural Policy Research Institute reported that average monthly premiums for Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans vary from $6 in urban New Hampshire to $53 in rural Hawaii. Click here for the archived item and click here for the study.

Rural health care gets $1.3 million boost in seven Georgia counties

A five-year, $1.3 million grant will allow North Georgia College & State University to provide new health care facilities and services to rural residents in seven counties.

The grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration will serve residents in Lumpkin, Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Hall, Union and White counties, reports Debbie Gilbert of The Gainesville Times. Grace Newsome, nursing professor and director of the project, said the money will help address "the tremendous problem of access in rural areas."

"Most mountain folks don't want to drive to Atlanta (for health care), and some don't even want to go to Gainesville. In an emergency, they'll go to a hospital, but they have no regular provider for disease management," Newsome told Gilbert. (Read more)

Hybrid tree might boost nation's ethanol production, say researchers

Purdue University researchers are using genetic tools to design trees that could reach 90 feet in six years, be grown as a row crop on farmland, and biggest of all -- produce alternative transportation fuel.

"In 2005 ethanol accounted for only 4 billion gallons of the 140 billion gallons of U.S. transportation fuel used - less than 3 percent. About 13 percent of the nation's corn crop was used for that production. Purdue scientists and experts at the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Energy say corn can only be part of the solution to the problem of replacing fossil fuel," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes to replace 30 percent of the fossil fuel used annually for transportation with biofuels by 2030.

"If Indiana wants to support only corn-based ethanol production, we would have to import corn," said Purdue faculty member Clint Chapple, one of three people conducting the $1.4 million, three-year study. "What we need is a whole set of plants that are well-adapted to particular growing regions and have high levels of productivity for use in biofuel production."

The hybrid poplar could produce 70 gallons of fuel per ton of wood. "Approximately 10 tons of poplar could be grown per acre annually, representing 700 gallons of ethanol. Corn currently produces about 4.5 tons per acre per year with a yield of about 400 gallons of ethanol," reports Newswise. (Read more)

Nation's farming technology keeps improving, as number of farms shrinks

America's farming tradition is full of technological advances, but the bigger picture is the amount of farms going from 6.5 million in the early to mid-1920s to today's just over 2 million.

Kentucky is an example of a state seeing a decline in farms with 85,000 currently in operation, down from 107,000 in 1975, said Dale Ayer, an agriculture teacher at Henderson County High School. In that county alone, farms have shrunk from 875 to 525 in the last 30 years, reports Chuck Stinnett of The Gleaner. Still, Ayer's high school boasts 375 ag students and Future Farmers of America members.

"The farms that remain are considerably larger. The size of the average Henderson County farm has increased from 250 acres in 1975 to 350 acres today, and the typical grain farmer leases hundreds more acres from other landowners," writes Stinnett. "But as an ag educator, Ayer is concerned that it's increasingly difficult for young farmers to get started. The largest group of farmers today are those age 65 and older, followed by those aged 55 to 64 and those aged 45 to 54." (Read more)

Pennsylvania bill aims to slash distance students walk to school

Proposed legislation in Pennsylvania would cut how far students can be asked to walk to school, from one-and-a-half miles to three-quarters of a mile for elementary students and from two miles to one-and-a-half miles for all other grades.

Supporters of the bill are calling it a safety measure, but some school officials and parents argue the physical activity benefits students' health and provides a sense of community, writes Lindsay Minnema for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. "It gives kids a sense of community," said Cynthia Massie, a parent of three children who school in Camp Hill, Pa. "It gives them a chance to talk in the 10 minutes they spend together walking. Plus, it gives them exercise."

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Eugene McGill, R-Montgomery, counters that student safety is vital. "This [law] has not been updated in close to 60 years," McGill told Minnema. "People were a lot closer to the schools then, and they did more walking. It wasn't until the 1960s when there were two-car families, and now families have a car for everyone over the age of 16, so there's a lot more traffic on the roads." On Aug. 29, the House Education Committee will consider the measure. (Read more)

'Sound Off' pages provide readers with voices in community newspapers

"The 6,800-circulation weekly Mountain Eagle, deep in the rugged coal mining country in Letcher County, Ky. does not have any blogs in Internet speak, but the newspaper's immensely popular 'Speak Your Piece' page might be serving the same purpose," writes Larry Timbs writer for the National Newspaper Association's Publishers' Auxiliary.

Readers can share their opinions through e-mail, voice mail or letters with few restrictions from the paper. Other newspapers have similar "sound off" columns, and the Eagle's "Speak Your Piece" usually occupies a broadsheet page in each issue and is a major selling point of the paper, notes Timbs, an associate professor of mass communication at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

The Mountain Eagle is 99 years old and its staff have no plans to place the paper online anytime soon. Editor Ben Gish said that it relies on circulation revenue and besides, no local person has ever asked about putting the paper on the Internet, reports Timbs. This article is not available online.

Newspapers must have Web sites, local presence to survive, says journalist

Some newspapers are using community ties and online editions to maintain their place in the changing media world. Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project, is urging small newspapers to also have a local presence and to create a bond with readers.

"While Lauterer believes printed newspapers will not go away -- 'people still want something tangible,' he admits that in today's world a Web presence is a necessity," writes Teri Saylor for the National Newspaper Association's Publishers' Auxiliary. Saylor is the former executive director of the North Carolina Press Association.

The Herald in Jefferson, Ia. (population 4,700) does not yet have a Web site and neither does the town itself. Rick Morain, owner and publisher of the Herald, said he wants to make his newspaper's Web site that of the community as well. This article is not available online.

Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006

U.S. trade head considers net neutrality regs unnecessary, seeks evidence

Keeping the Internet free of extensive regulations will pave the way for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, the Federal Trade Commission chairman told a group Monday at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual conference in Aspen, Colo.

Deborah Platt Majoras, the FTC's Republican chairman, said proposed Net neutrality legislation is unnecessary because there has been no proven harm to consumers. The Senate is considering a legislative proposal to rewrite telecommunications laws, and an Internet Access Task Force at the FTC is evaluating the proposals. "The concept of network neutrality . . . generally means that all Internet sites must be treated equally," writes Declan McCullagh of CNET News.com. (Read more)

In an FTC press release, Majoras said, “I ask myself whether consumers will stand for an Internet that suddenly imposes restrictions on their ability to freely explore the Internet or does not provide for the choices they want. And I further ask why network providers would not continue to compete for consumers’ dollars by offering more choices, not fewer. We make a mistake when we think about market scenarios simply as dealings between and among companies; let us not forget who reigns supreme: the consumer.” (Read more)

Senate bill aims to expand list of acceptable billboards along highways

A Senate bill is threatening to change the U.S. Highway Beautification Law passed in 1965 to promote more scenic highways and limit billboard placement.

A measure in the Senate Energy and Water Appropriation Bill would loosen billboard regulations and proponents argue the measure is needed to recover from damage caused during last year's hurricane season. "The provision would apply everywhere, not just in the storm-damaged region. It would allow states to legitimize a long list of billboards that otherwise wouldn't be allowed and allow the industry to force local communities to accept 'non-conforming' billboards, whether they want them or not," opines columnist David Hawpe for The Courier-Journal.

"In Washington, billboard lobbyists cited last year's hurricane to justify an amendment allowing replacement of illegal billboards," continues Hawpe. "The provision would apply everywhere, not just in the storm-damaged region. It would allow states to legitimize a long list of billboards that otherwise wouldn't be allowed and allow the industry to force local communities to accept 'non-conforming' billboards, whether they want them or not." (Read more)

Kentucky town adopts smoking ban; to be one of strictest in the state

City commissioners in Henderson, Ky. (population 27,373) approved a smoking ban that promises to be one of the strictest such bans in one of the slowest states to adopt the measures. Nearly one-third of Kentucky adults smoke and the state has had more tobacco growers than any other.

"The ordinance prohibits smoking in public buildings and in indoor workplaces with few exceptions, and makes owners and managers of businesses responsible for ensuring smoking does not take place on their premises It also prohibits smoking within a "reasonable distance" of doors, windows and the ventilation intakes of buildings where it is prohibited," writes Frank Boyett of the Gleaner. Existing outdoor facilities would not be subject to the "reasonable distance" rule.

"The major exceptions are private residences, private clubs that have no employees, charitable gaming facilities such as bingo halls, retail tobacco stores, and hotel and motel rooms that are designated for smoking. However, motels may not designate more than 20 percent of their rooms for smoking, and they must grouped together," reports Boyett. (Read more)

Judge protects paper from giving up interview notes in theft investigation

A circuit court judge in south-central Kentucky ruled Monday against a prosecutor's attempt to access a newspaper reporter's notes concerning a theft investigation, ruling that a subpoena for notes and interview tapes violated the First Amendment.

Barren County Circuit Judge Phil Patton said the Glasgow Daily Times is protected by the First Amendment and a state law regarding reporters' privilege. "The notes and tapes in question were from an interview Daily Times reporter Tara Hettinger conducted with an Edmonton man charged with 30 counts of theft," reports The Associated Press. "Commonwealth's Attorney Karen Davis had subpoenaed Daily Times editor Todd Garvin and Hettinger, and was negotiating with the newspaper's managers. But Patton's ruling came before the newspaper's managers decided how the issue should be handled."

"We will vigorously defend any attempt to subpoena reporters' notes or tapes," Times Publisher Peter L. Mio said. "We hope this ruling closes the book on this matter." (Read more) For a staff report in the Times, click here.

'America by Food' exhibit draws big crowds at rural museums across U.S.

"Small-town museums may have found a way to draw the big crowds of their city counterparts: Offer food. Thousands of Kentuckians are expected to visit six rural museums to see a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit on the history and social traditions of American food," writes Andrea Uhde of The Courier-Journal.

The exhibit, "Key Ingredients: America by Food," traces the evolution of refrigerators from root cellar to icebox and it examines how states are linked with specific foods, such as Kentucky and bourbon. The exhibit has already hit 15 states and is back in Kentucky for a second run due to high attendance. "That's a big boost for small museums," reports Uhde. "Such rural museums have become more common in Kentucky, where towns are trying to capitalize on things unique to them, said James Wallace, a former assistant director of the Kentucky Historical Society. But the museums often operate on less than $100,000 a year, and they compete for the same funding." (Read more)

The exhibit will run Sept. 2 through Oct. 14 at the Oldham County History Center in La Grange, Ky., and at the Buhl Arts Council in Buhl, Idaho, and other Kentucky stops include Georgetown, Hardin County, Hazard, Harrodsburg and Paducah. A run is slated for the Pondera History Association - Transportation Museum in Conrad, Mont., from Sept. 3 through Oct. 13. For a full schedule, click here.

Chicago's foie gras ban gets ignored by eateries, supported by others

"Foie gras appeared on pizza on Archer Avenue Tuesday, complemented cornbread and catfish at a South Side soul food place, and was stacked on sausages like pats of butter at a gourmet hot dog joint on the North Side. Chicago's immediate reaction to a city ordinance banning foie gras--the French dish made from the livers of force-fed ducks and geese--was to embrace the gray goo like never before, in flights of culinary imagination," write Josh Noel, Brendan McCarthy and James Janega of the Chicago Tribune.

Despite a new City Council ban on foie gras, restaurants are fighting back by openly defying the law, and the Illinois Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court to overturn the ban. The lawsuit claims the City Council overstepped its authority. "The ban began with the outrage of animal rights activists, who cited the cruelty of force-feeding ducks and geese with tubes until their livers swelled to 10 times normal size," reports the Tribune. (Read more)

"In 2004, California passed the only U.S. law to end the production and sale of foie gras, which goes into effect in 2012. Similar bills have been introduced in Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and New York," according to a press release from Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006

Gun issue still hampers Democrats in rural areas, local Dem pol writes

Democratic candidates for Congress are increasingly focusing on rural America, but one rural Democrat ic officeholder foresees a tough road ahead, and notes that a county-by-county look at recent presidential elections reveals little success for Democrats in rural America.

"One issue that has severely hampered the Democratic Party in rural America, particularly the South, is gun control," opined David Gambrel for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I have found that urban and rural people sometimes have completely different views on this issue. For urbanites, guns are often associated with school shootings, gangs and crime. When rural Americans, particularly Southern males, think of guns, it is often from a totally different perspective. To many of my friends, guns are family heirlooms."

Gambrel, the property valuation administrator for rural Lincoln County, Kentucky, continued: "When it comes to protection in rural America, more often than not, you're on your own. It is just not practical to have a law enforcement officer on every corner as it is in the city. So when politicians start talking about anything that remotely resembles a threat to Second Amendment rights, many rural Americans get their dander up. I have several friends who are single-issue voters when it comes to gun control. Right or wrong, that is how they have voted and will continue to vote."

Gambrel concludes, "We who believe that the Second Amendment was intended by our founding fathers to protect the individual's right to keep and bear arms also must doggedly stress that with rights come responsibilities. Just as strongly as I believe in the right to own a gun, I believe in the importance of safety. No one should possess a firearm without knowing its safe and proper use. Most important, if you have children in your home, they must not be allowed improper access to your weapons. For those who believe the national party should stay the course on this issue, be warned: If it does, the victory map will continue to be more Republican than Democratic." (Read more)

Chrysler's 'General Lee' cruiser no longer eludes police, but attracts them

The General Lee always managed to escape from police on "The Dukes of Hazzard," but DaimerChrysler's production of the Dodge Charger is making that vehicle a friend to police departments across the country.

"The General Lee -- the car driven by Bo and Luke Duke -- is expected to continue tearing up the back roads of fictional Hazzard County in its bright orange skin, thank you very much. The police version looks a bit different and is unlikely to be driven in such a reckless manner," writes Michael A. Jones of the Charleston Daily Mail. About 50 of the cruisers are currently being used police departments throughout West Virginia, and several of them reported the new vehicle being a public relations boost. (Read more)

"The Dodge Charger came back into production two years ago after the name lay dormant for nearly 30 years. Many weren't surprised when Dodge introduced the Charger as a police cruiser soon after, mainly due to the rear-wheel drive and new four-door design. Dodge stopped manufacturing police vehicles in the 1980s, leaving the market mainly to the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor," reports Jones.

Wal-Mart recycling program aims to cut solid waste, energy consumption

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is spending $500 million to cut its energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, and it hopes to reduce its production of solid waste by 25 percent during the next three years at nearly 4,000 locations.

"Wal-Mart's plastic recycling program starts when employees collect plastic packaging and garment bags (1) and use balers (2) to compress the plastic into bundles. Cardboard on the ends of the bales facilitates shipping (3). The plastic is then sorted and sold to recyclers, who turn it into resin pellets (4) that can be turned into new plastic products," writes Ann Zimmerman of The Wall Street Journal.

Wal-Mart is converting waste into a raw-material stream for the suppliers of its merchandise, and some of the "waste" is returning to stories as private-label paper towels and tissues, reports Zimmerman. Matt Hale, the solid waste director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pointed out that Target Corp. is also recycling by sending 300 million-plus plastic hangers a year to its vendors. (Read more)

Ill. governor proposes shift in gas supply from imported to homegrown

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich wants to combat high fuel costs and dependence on foreign oil by having his state replace half its current gas that comes from imported oil with that made by homegrown products in just over a decade.

Blagojevich, a Democrat running for re-election, needs legislative approval of his five-part, $1.2 billion plan, which includes building up to 20 ethanol plants, five biodiesel plants and four facilities that would create ethanol from corn husks and wood pulp. Illinois currently houses five ethanol production plants and three more under construction, reports Monica Davey of The New York Times.

"He will seek additional incentives to increase the number of service stations selling biofuels, with the goal that all of Illinois’ 5,000 or so service stations would offer E-85 (which is 85 percent ethanol) by 2017, compared with just 130 that offer it today," writes Davey. (Read more) For more specifics of Blagojevich's proposal, click here for a story that appeared in the Peoria Journal Star.

Illinois man suggests destroying dam for fish passage, gets call from FBI

"On July 25, Jim Bensman of Alton, Ill., attended a public meeting on the proposed construction of a bypass channel for fish at a dam on the Mississippi River. Less than a week later, he was under investigation by the FBI— the victim, depending on how you look at it, of either a comedy of errors or alarming antiterror zeal," writes Cornelia Dean of The New York Times.

In her recap of the meeting, Linda N. Weller of The Telegraph in Alton reported, "Jim Bensman of Alton said he would like to see the dam blown up and resents paying taxes to fix dam problems when it is barge companies that profit from the dam." (Read more) That apparently drew some official attention.

Bensman told the Times that he got a telephone call on July 31 from "someone who identified himself as Matt Federhofer, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," writes Dean, adding that Bensman said the agent considered it a terrorist threat. Since then, Benson said he is no longer suspected of anything, but he fears future accusations could arise. (Read more)

Bensman is a coordinator with Heartwood, an environmental organization. He told the Times that he suggested that the corps destroy the dam, because the system of locks and dams hurts the environment and provides an unfair government subsidy benefiting boat traffic over railroads.

Labor board files complaint against Massey Energy over mine hires

A National Labor Relations Board complaint says a Massey Energy subsidiary unfairly refused to hire members of the United Mine Workers of America at a West Virginia mine.

When the Horizon Natural Resources Cannelton mine closed in 2004, Massey, generally not a unionized company, purchased it with a "welcome" message for all interested workers, reports The Associated Press. The complaint said Massey, based in Richmond, Va., refused to hire former Horizon miners because of their union affiliation and has discouraged "employees from engaging in these activities in order to avoid an obligation to recognize and bargain with the Union." (Read more)

The NLRB wants an order that would require Massey's Mammoth Coal subsidiary, if requested by the UMW, to restore conditions to the way they were when Horizon operated the mine. A hearing is slated for Oct. 10 in Charleston, W.Va.

Monday, Aug. 21, 2006

Decline of Oregon towns example of widening rural-urban income gap

Oakridge, Ore., housed a thriving logging and mill industry for a few decades, but the last mill closing in 1990 on the heels of tighter environmental rules left its 4,000 residents struggling for ways to make a living.

"Residents now live with lowered expectations, and a share of them have felt the sharp pinch of rural poverty. The town is an acute example of a national trend, the widening gap in pay between workers in urban areas and those in rural locales, where much of any job growth has been in low-end retailing and services," writes Erik Eckholm of The New York Times.

Oregon's rural-urban pay differential illustrates the widening gap between prosperity and poverty: Rural workers' full-time wages averaged $27,600 in 2005, down from $34,200 in 1976; and urban workers' salaries now average $37,800. Eckholm did not provide a 1976 average for urban workers. The main challenge facing rural areas is tracking down a new source of economic development, and many towns are resigned to the idea of being a bedroom and retirement community. (Read more)

Rural Colo. charter schools preclude long bus trips, but are short of cash

Colorado's charter-school law allows for same-sex classrooms, schools that focus on math and science, and even rural facilities for students not wishing to travel three hours every day on a bus.

"Charters are public schools that operate independently of the district," writes Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer of the Denver Post. About 10 of Colorado's 137 charter schools are rural. The rural versions differ greatly from urban ones in their application of the law, Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, told the Post. "They fill the void when the inefficiencies of running a tiny school dozens of miles away from the main office lead districts to shutter the neighborhood schoolhouse," Wittemeyer writes.

However, charter schools suffer from a lack of funding, which can sometimes mean no new textbooks, no social events, or no speech therapists. "These schools solve the distance problem but must address a host of others, most school officials said: recruiting qualified teachers to live in a place where the nearest sushi restaurant might be more than 100 miles away can be tough, and per-pupil funding means money is always tight," reports Wittmeyer. (Read more)

Kentucky governor tackles overweight coal trucks; traffic deaths decline

In an effort to prevent often-fatal traffic accidents, Kentucky's governor is cracking down on coal trucks that travel through Eastern Kentucky with overweight loads.

"Almost as soon as Gov. Ernie Fletcher took office, his administration began a crackdown on truckers hauling overweight loads. Roy Crawford, an Eastern Kentucky forensic engineer who has pushed for years for safer roads . . . said the move has saved countless lives," reports The Associated Press. Fatalities involving heavy trucks in the East Kentucky Coal Field declined from 40 the year before Fletcher's crackdown on overweight coal haulers to 13 over the past year."

Just a few years ago, vehicle-enforcement officers rarely issued tickets to coal haulers, Crawford said. Fletcher, co-chairman of the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, "has pushed for more stringent safety laws to protect coal miners, secured state funding to open drug-treatment centers to help Eastern Kentucky deal with widespread prescription drug addiction, and successfully pushed for the creation of 'coal academies' to train miners," writes the AP's Roger Alford, who was based in Eastern Kentucky befire being named correspondent in the state capital of Frankfort. (Read more)

Fletcher visited coal country last week with a stop in Pikeville, where he will host a three-day meeting about economic and environmental problems with governors from 13 Appalachian states starting on Oct. 11. For a recap of Fletcher's recent visit, click here for a story from the Appalachian News-Express.

Memorial to honor Kentucky mine victims shines light on safety issues

Mine safety became a running theme during the Harlan County Coal Miners Memorial Service on Saturday evening for eight miners killed in the past year -- five who died May 20 after an explosion at the Kentucky county's Darby No. 1 mine and three others who perished since last August.

"Federal records show that only seven coal miners were killed in Kentucky last year and 22, a record low, were killed nationwide. This year, however, coal-related deaths in Kentucky already have doubled to 14, and 37 coal-mining fatalities have been reported nationally," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Many speakers Saturday night pleaded for tougher mine-safety laws. (Read more)

"Miners are rarely recognized in our society until they die in a mine accident," said Tony Oppegard, a mine safety advocate and lawyer who represents the families of some of the miners. "There is no greater way to pay tribute to these miners than to speak out for mine safety." Debbie Hamner lost her husband in the January Sago Mine disaster that claimed 12 lives in West Virginia, and she echoed Oppegard by saying, "American miners deserve a safe workplace," writes The Courier-Journal's Deborah Yetter, a former resident of Harlan County. (Read more)

For video of the memorial from Hazard's WYMT-TV Mountain News, click here. Also, Harlan County resident Ray McKinney announced last week he is leaving his post as the federal administrator for coal mine safety and health, reports The C-J's James R. Carroll. He leaves Washington to become manager of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's District 5, based in nearby Norton, Va. (Read more)

Daniel Woodrell explores rural issues, isolation in 'country noir' novels

Daniel Woodrell of West Plains, Mo., published his first novel in 1986. Though he is not a household name, he is gaining notice for his telling of stories of the struggles of rural Americans.

Woodrell's books feature what amount to commentaries on rural realities, such as the methamphetamine epidemic. His eighth and most recent book, "Winter's Bone," tells the story of a 16-year-old girl with a father who makes meth. When the father abandons the family, the daughter must find a way to keep her home. Woodrell's story contains the despair often found in such situations, and he calls his writing "country noir." He explained to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of The Wall Street Journal, "It's a noir story set in rural America rather than an urban area."

In addition to the commentary on meth, Woodrell's book explores the isolation felt by rural residents. "It's basically survive on your own. They are divorced from a mainstream world, and devoted to surviving outside of all that. For the most part, anything goes. To the members of the clan, drug dealing is almost acceptable. So is getting caught," Woodrell told Trachtenberg. (Read more)

Novelist George Pelecanos recently referred to Woodrell as "a guy that I wish people would read." This article contains a link to that Pelecanos interview, but it is for subscribers only.

Film on first integration of a Southern high school premieres Thursday

"Fifty years ago, seniors Bobby Cain and Alfred Williams and 10 other black students walked down the steep hill from their Broad Street neighborhood past hundreds of taunting, angry white people to Clinton High School. Under the glare of the crowd, they crossed the threshold into history and made Clinton High the first public high school integrated by court order in the Old South," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press bureau in Knoxville, Tenn.

Now the story of what occurred in that rural mill town 20 miles northeast of Knoxville is the subject of a 90-minute documentary film titled The Clinton 12 narrated by James Earl Jones. (Read more) The film, produced by the Green McAdoo Cultural Organization and directed by local filmmaker Keith McDaniel, will premier at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Ritz Theater in Clinton. The film will also be shown at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and at 5, 7, and 9 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are available for $10 at the Clinton City Hall, the Oak Ridge Civic Center and online at www.greenmcadoo.org. The Green McAdoo Cultural Center, a museum highlighting Clinton's role in the civil-rights movement, is also slated to open this weekend.

Friday, Aug. 18, 2006

Left-right-center network aims to stir the pot on congressional earmarks; it's a unique opportunity for local papers to join in 'network journalism'

Is some agency, institution or other entity in your community the recipient of a congressional earmark -- a line-item appropriation to a specific recipient, usually added secretly to an appropriations bill by the area's congressman? It might not have made the news, for any number of reasons -- locals may not want to generate jealousy, and members of Congress may not want other folks to seek earmarks. Or maybe there's something questionable about how that earmark made it into the bill.

Earmarks are both local news and national news. Once relatively rare, they have greatly increased in recent years, and questions are being raised about how they got there -- questions about the influence of lobbyists and their relationships with members of Congress. To hold those members accountable, a very diverse collection of groups is organizing a network of journalists, bloggers, activists, nonprofit organizations and just plain citizens to find out just how earmarks get done.

The Exposing Earmarks Project is starting with the current appropriations bill for the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services, which has 1,867 earmarks. The project's Web site asks participants to "Call the office of the congressperson you think might have secured the earmark and ask them if they are indeed responsible for it," to "Call your member of Congress and ask whether they are responsible for any of the earmarks in the upcoming Labor-HHS bill," and to post the findings and other comments at http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/node/1043.

The Examiner Newspapers give these instructions: "Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money. Then email us at info@examiner.com with the subject line “Earmarks” and tell us what you found out." (Read more)

As a practical matter, we suspect that citizens are less likely to get immediate answers to such questions than local journalists in the congressman's district, so we encourage journalists at all levels to participate. If your area is in line for an earmark, it's a local story for you, and the beauty of the project is that it plans to use locally gathered information to generate a national report, and offers a clear road map for reporting.

An Excel spreadsheet listing the earmarks in the bill, and a very handy map showing the locations and recipients, is available on the Web site of the Sunlight Foundation, which says it was founded this year to use the Internet to help citizens learn more about activities in Congress. Besides the foundation and the Examiner papers, other partners in the project are Citizens Against Government Waste, Porkbusters, the conservative magazine Human Events Online, conservative blogger Mark Tapscott and the fiscally conservative organizations Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation.

The network "marks a key moment in the evolution of the Web as a reporting medium -- the first left-right-center coalition of bloggers, activists, non-profits, citizens and journalists to investigate a story of national import," writes New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen in his PressThink Web log. Because the bill is pending, Rosen says, "This is journalism in time to make a difference." Rosen says it's an example of "networked journalism," a phrase coined by Jeff Jarvis of the BuzzMachine blog.

Islam is not the enemy: A message that needs repeating, it appears

The National Newspaper Association is doing a great service by distributing to its members editorials by Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, making important distinctions between the few Muslims who act out hatred through terrorism and the overwhelming majority who are good citizens. Haynes' latest piece illustrates why such columns are needed and why newspapers should run them.

"When I argued in my last column that demonizing Islam threatened religious freedom, I assumed the vast majority of Americans would agree. I may have assumed wrong," Haynes began his latest effort. He cites a Gallup Poll done for USA Today and released last week. It found that 39 percent of American adults believe American Muslims aren't loyal to the U.S, one-third believe American Muslims are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and 22 percent do not want Muslims in their neighborhood. Haynes quotes from e-mails, sent to him after an earlier column, that espouse even more outlandish beliefs, and makes his case again.

"Millions of Muslims in America are hardworking, civic-minded, taxpaying citizens -- some of whom are fighting and dying as members of the U.S. armed services," Haynes writes. "More Americans than I imagined, it appears, are so frustrated, fearful and angry about the terrorist threat that they're no longer willing to sort out what is and isn't authentic Islam. For growing numbers of people in this country, the 'war on terrorism' is now seen as a 'war on Islam.' This characterization of the war is exactly what al-Qaeda has worked for years to achieve in its battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide."

The phenomenon may be largely one of ignorance, because most of the poll respondents said they didn't know a Muslim, and those who do had more moderate attitudes. "Only 10 percent of those who know a Muslim would not like one as a neighbor vs. 31 percent of those who don't know a Muslim," Haynes writes. This suggests that education may hold the key." Educating adults about Islam is largely up to the news media, and we think that's especially important in rural areas, where folks are less likely to know Muslims. To read Haynes' latest column, click here. To e-mail him, click here.

Papers near U.S. bases walk thin line when covering soldiers' war crimes

"For towns that host military bases, the war in Iraq hits home in a way that other communities simply can't comprehend -- and many local newspapers have adapted their coverage accordingly, offering strong support for U.S. troops and their families. But now those papers face a daunting challenge in the wake of disturbing charges being brought against several soldiers," writes Sarah Weber of Editor & Publisher.

The Army has charged four soldiers from Company C of the 101st Airborne Division with premeditated murder, among other crimes, related to three Iraqi prisoners who died in the soldiers' care. The 101st is based at Ft. Campbell, Ky., which is served by The Leaf-Chronicle (circulation 21,154) of Clarksville, Tenn., and the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky. (circulation 11,000). Also, seven Marines and one Navy corpsman were charged with murder and kidnapping, among other charges, in the death of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi man. Those men are based at Camp Pendleton, which is covered by the North County (Calif.) Times (circulation 93,051), reports Weber. Both the New Era and the Times have relied almost entirely on Associated Press stories, according to the papers' online archives.

Similar crimes have occurred and been covered by other local newspapers throughout the U.S., and these newspapers face the dilemma of reporting sensitive stories while having to maintain journalistic integrity. "The pressures that fall upon these local papers are more nuanced than they may seem, especially during times of war. Newspapers are, after all, a business, and to ignore the interests and opinions of readers would be self-defeating. As such, the knowledge of how a wide military audience may react to coverage of atrocities can affect the decisions made in the newsroom," writes Weber.

Richard Stevens, the Leaf-Chronicle's executive editor, told Weber he tries to walk a thin line: "People tend to not want to alienate the military community. There's a natural muting. We may not have a vigorous debate with the left because that's the self-correcting dynamic of the community. But I think the newspaper is right down the middle. We try to be." (Read more) The Leaf-Chronicle is a unit of Gannett Co. Inc.

Investors in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., paper should reveal identities, say experts

The Times Leader (circulation 42,500) of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has new owners, but most of them are still secret, and the local competing newspaper is making an issue of it. The newspaper was one of 12 that McClatchy Co. sold after buying the 33 papers owned by Knight Ridder.

Tim Gulla and Nichole Dobo of the Citizens Voice (circulation 31,500) in Wilkes-Barre, write: "Readers should know the identities of the local investors who joined a former publisher and a Texas-based investment firm to buy the former Knight Ridder newspaper, four journalism experts said." Why? To maintain the paper's credibility., they say.

Gene Foreman, who managed the Philadelphia Inquirer newsroom for 25 years and now teaches journalism at Penn State University, said, “As far as the idea of the people who own the local newspaper not telling the readers — or advertisers, or any of their constituencies — who they are, it is simply not a good idea. It is in complete opposition to an open flow of information that we in the news media are trying to promote on behalf of the public.”

"Newspapers are a public commodity with the responsibility to be forthright with the communities they serve, said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism training institute in St. Petersburg, Fla," write Gulla and Dobo. "Newspaper owners, who hold considerable power, are held to higher standards of accountability than most businesses, much like a hospital or public school, she said."

The Citizens Voice reports that the Times Leader "is under the control of its former publisher, Richard L. Connor, who was backed by Texas-based HM Capital and a group of local investors for the $65 million deal. Connor named himself publisher and executive editor shortly after taking over the paper July 28. Connor downplays the significance of naming the local investors. The local investment represents a small amount of the selling price, Connor said." He told the competition that the investors "don’t have a controlling financial interest. There are literally hundreds of investors in this project." (Read more)

U.S. judge orders tobacco companies to tell the truth, but not to pay up

Tobacco giants such as Philip Morris USA and Reynolds American avoided major financial penalties Thursday when a judge in Washington ruled that the manufacturers violated racketeering laws but that they could not be ordered to pay the billions of dollars in fines. Tobacco-farming interests, which are not always the same as cigarette-manufacturing interests, are relieved over the lack of monetary penalties.

"That award would have been damaging to any industry," said Gary Huddleston, spokesman for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. "For the people who grow tobacco in this state, those companies are the only customers. That has to be good news." (Read more)

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the companies to correct deceptive statements made over the years about cigarettes' effects on humans, but she did not order industry-funded smoking-cessation and education programs. "Kessler also ordered the companies to stop labeling cigarettes as 'low tar,' 'light,' 'ultra light' or 'mild' because such cigarettes have been found to be no safer than others because of the way people smoke them." reports the Winston-Salem Journal. Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem, told the paper through spokesman David Howard, "We are certainly pleased in the ruling that the court did not award any unjustified and extraordinarily expensive monetary penalties that have been sought by the government." (Read more)

"The lawsuit alleged a five-decade scheme by tobacco companies, including the largest cigarette-maker, Philip Morris USA, and its parent company, Altria Group, to hide the health dangers of smoking. Altria Group Inc. said the company would seek a review of the ruling," write Peter Hardin and John Reid Blackwell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. William S. Ohlemeyer, Altria Group vice president, told the Times-Dispatch, which shares a home city with Philip Morris, "Philip Morris USA and Altria Group, Inc. believe much of today's decision and order are not supported by the law or the evidence presented at trial, and appear to be constitutionally impermissible or infringe on Congress' sole right to provide for the regulation of tobacco products." (Read more)

Lemonade contest offers aspiring entrepreneurs a chance to shine

If you believe, as we do, that developing entrepreneurship is a key to the economic progress of rural areas, you might want to do a story about Inc. magazine's Lemonade Stand of the Week.

The contest is open to ages 5 to 12 through Aug. 31. In addition to being featured on this Web site, winners receive an Inc.com T-shirt. Two articles on the Web site offer tips for these budding entrepreneurs; click here for 10 tips for winning. The 10 tips include: Read Tom Sawyer, use your age in designing the stand, find a niche, be nice to parents, focus on location, do not skimp on quality, charge a lot, diversity, follow instincts and win.

Click here for an Inc. story about first-time business owners. To submit an entry for the Lemonade Stand of the Week, click here. For more details, send e-mail to lemonade@inc.com. Thanks to economic consultant Jack Schultz for leading us to this story in his Boomtown USA blog.

Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006

Rural schools struggle to meet No Child Left Behind's costly '3 Ts'

No Child Left Behind presents several stumbling blocks for rural school districts striving to reach its goals for educational improvement, according to a consensus reached by some state leaders at a recent meeting. The meeting, organized by the Aspen Institute, brought out concerns from leaders in Ohio, Arkansas, Vermont, Nebraska, and Kansas. They identified several accountability measures that pose problems. You could call them the "3 Ts": testing, tutoring and teacher qualification, recruitment and retention..

"First, test scores in rural schools are less likely to be statistically valid than in other schools because rural schools are typically smaller and therefore more subject to random score fluctuations. When identified for sanctions, rural schools may find that there are no approved supplemental (tutoring) service providers operating in their area or that per child tutoring costs are higher than elsewhere," reports Rural Policy Matters, a newsletter of The Rural School and Community Trust.

Also, NCLB's requirement that teachers be "highly qualified" in the subjects they teach "are especially difficult for small, rural schools. The mandate, which requires teachers to have a college major or equivalent in each subject they teach, forces many small-school teachers to obtain highly-qualified status in several subjects or grade levels. The requirement is doubly difficult because colleges are rarely located in rural communities. Although the Department of Education offers some rural teachers extra time to meet the requirement, its definition of rural is so narrow that only a small fraction of rural teachers are eligible. Competition for highly qualified teachers further intensifies the recruitment and retention disadvantages of rural districts." (Read more)

A study published in December 2005 said, "Rural districts reported that their greatest challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers are geographic and social isolation as well as being in close proximity to higherpaying districts." The study conducted by Edvantia, Inc. and the National Association of State Boards of Education reviewed existing research, surveyed rural superintendents across the nation, and conducted case studies of three Virginia programs that support teacher recruitment and retention.

"Most frequently cited recruitment methods were the use of statewide/local/Internet advertising, personal contacts, and networking. Strategies for locating potential teachers included involving building-level staff in the recruitment and hiring process, promoting the advantages of living and teaching in a rural area, and offering more competitive salaries," the authors wrote. "Teachers who stay in rural districts are thought to do so as a result of enjoying their position and the overall school and community environment, as well as the salary and benefits or the stability and convenience of being in one area." Click here for the report.

Ohio metro areas see population decrease, as people move to rural areas

News outlets all over the country are swimming in stories from this week's release of the latest Census estimates, including the first for counties as small as 65,000. The Toledo Blade reports Ohio's six biggest cities suffered population losses in the 2005 American Community Survey released this week, and some officials are blaming the difference on people moving into rural areas.

Some decreases included Columbus' 2.5 percent slip between 2000 and 2005, Toledo's 8.8 percent drop during the same period, and Dayton's more than 20 percent slide. Other cities experiencing decreases include Akron, Cleveland and Cincinnati. At least one person blamed the changes on an economic downturn. "We have lost a number of our major companies in Toledo in the last few decades, and the people went with them," Toledo historian Fred Folger told the Blade's Karamagi Rujumba. (Read more)

The Census Bureau's American Community Survey of 3 million households a year contains an expanded set of social and demographic data for counties as small as 65,000. This information should serve as a gold mine for media at all levels. To learn more about the ACS data and to access it, click here.

Democrats attack Wal-Mart in attempt to connect with rural voters

When Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., delivered a speech yesterday attacking Wal-Mart, he followed a growing trend among the nation's Democratic leaders going after the retail giant as a means to connect with voters.

"Across Iowa this week and across much of the country this month, Democratic leaders have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits," write Adam Nagourney and Michael Barbaro of The New York Times. "The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor."

“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Biden said in Des Moines. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?” Wal-Mart counters that its average wage is more than $10 an hour, and that it provided more than 150,000 once un-insured Americans with health insurance. (Read more)

Los Angeles sues for right to dump treated human waste in rural county

Although it already has farms lined up in Arizona, the City of Los Angeles wants to keep dumping its treated sewage in rural Kern County, California, and it filed a lawsuit Tuesday to challenge a new voter-approved ban on sludge in that area.

At present, the human waste is trucked to the county, dried in large piles and then spread on land used to grow crops for livestock. When the ban takes effect at the end of the year, the lawsuit claims the Kern County environment will suffer from the lack of fertilizer. Supporters of the ban that passed in June contended the waste threatened air and groundwater quality, reports The Associated Press.

"The Environmental Protection Agency decided in the early 1990s that spreading treated sewage waste over farmland was preferable to sending it out to sea or pouring it in landfills. Since then, urban centers have trucked their sewage to rural areas, where the waste primarily is used as fertilizer for animal feed crops. Some farmers swear by the benefits of the waste, saying it can improve soil quality by turning nutrient-poor ground heavy with clay into arable farmland," reports AP. (Read more)

Inland Press Assoc. seeks entries by Sept. 13 for annual news contest

The Inland Press Association is seeking entries by Sept. 13 for its five annual newsroom contests in Editorial Excellence, Local News Writing, News Picture, Front Page and Community Leadership, with winners to be displayed at Inland's 121st Annual Meeting, Oct. 15-17 in Chicago.

Four of the five contests have the same circulation categories: Class A - less than 10,000; Class B - 10,000 to 25,000; Class C - 25,001 to 75,000; and Class D - more than 75,000. The News Picture Contest does not have circulation divisions. The Local News Writing contest is sponsored by the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications, and it is open to any news story published from Aug. 1, 2005 to July 31, 2006. Categories include investigative reporting, explanatory reporting and personality profiles. Each entry costs $15; papers can enter three items in each category.

Entrants can download entry forms from the File Gallery located on the Inland Web site. Participants can fill out the forms online, print the completed forms and then submit them to Inland with the respective entries. All entries should be delivered to the same address: Contests, Inland Press Association, 701 Lee St., Suite 925, Des Plaines IL 60016. Make fees payable to Inland Press Association. For more details, call Elaine Lange at 847-795-0380.

Lancaster Management Inc. turns another Kentucky weekly into a daily

Another Lancaster Management Inc. weekly became a daily this week in Kentucky, with the Georgetown News-Graphic joining Pikeville's Appalachian News-Express.

News-Graphic Publisher Mike Scogin wrote in a Sunday column, "It's like building a plane in the air. That's the theme of a video my wife, Johnna, who is a middle school literacy coach, uses to illustrate that an effective reading program is always a work in progress. The same idea can be applied to what is happening at the News-Graphic. This week, we begin publishing on a five-day cycle. Tuesday through Friday, we will be publishing in the afternoon cycle, which means the newspaper will be available around lunch and in your driveway after work. Our Sunday edition will continue to be delivered in the morning."

"The News-Graphic's move to what is considered a daily' newspaper goes against all the trends. Few newspapers are adding days to their publishing cycles. The Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville moved to six days earlier this year [in April], and I hear a newspaper in South Carolina is making the move in late September." (Read more)

The generally accepted definition of a daily is a paper that publishes four or more times per week. Lancaster has three other dailies, in Liberal, Kan.; Murray, Ky.; and Branson, Mo. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists 33 other weekly newspapers owned by Lancaster, which is based in Gadsden, Ala. (The Gadsden Times is owned by the New York Times.)

Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006

Some state fairs thrive, but others wither, bringing future into question

State fairs bring together families and friends from rural and urban areas. Kentucky's opens tomorrow in Louisville, the state's largest city. But the days of tractor pulls, cotton candy and all kinds of fried food may be in danger because of slumping attendance.

The New York Times' Monica Davey reports on states such as Illinois and Colorado, where "the problems have grown severe enough to lead political leaders to question the spending of tax dollars to keep the fairs afloat. “Nothing is forever,” said state Sen. William M. Napoli, R-S.D., where some lawmakers want it abolished. “We’re trying to keep a dinosaur alive that’s probably outlived its purpose."

"Though critics say slipping attendance and increasing subsidies show that fairs have lost their role in an era in which entertainment can be found almost around every corner, defenders point to the original purposes -- to teach about farming and industry, and stir a sense of community." Fairs' roots go back "at least 199 years to a New England farmer, Elkanah Watson, who put a small exhibition of sheep under an old elm in Pittsfield, Mass." Davey writes.

The International Association of Fairs and Expositions represents 1,300 state, county and other agricultural fairs, and its officials contend that many state fairs still bring in the crowds. Daveyt reports that some of the nation's most successful fairs occurred this year in Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Georgia and Washington state. (Read more)

FCC asks television stations if they properly labeled video news releases

The Federal Communications Commission wants to know whether 77 television stations labeled "video news releases," footage typically aired and presented as a news report, The Washington Post reports.

"Video news releases became a hot political topic last year after it was discovered that the White House paid to produce public relations spots for its initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind, and then gave them to television stations, some of which aired them as authentic news broadcasts. The FCC inquiry follows an April study by the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy that found that 77 stations had aired video news releases without properly labeling them," Frank Ahrens writes.

Some stations run the releases as they are. Others add original reporting and video. The FCC requires that stations label news releases much like infomercials, in which viewers are told that the footage was paid for by a sponsor and is an advertisement. Failure to label may result in up to a $32,500 fine per incident and stations may face a revocation hearing for their broadcast license, reports Ahrens. (Read more)

Severe black-lung disease rampant in certain coal regions, says study

A bigger proportion of coal miners in Appalachian areas such as West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky suffer from severe cases of black-lung disease than elsewhere in the U.S., and they are developing the problem at an earlier age, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and reported by James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

The study in October 2005 revealed a concentration of severe black-lung cases among active miners in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama and Colorado. Two theories for the high concentration include excessive dust levels or a more toxic type of coal mined in the regions.

"Based on X-rays of more than 29,000 miners from 1996 to 2002, NIOSH found 886 cases of black lung -- about 3 percent. Of those cases, 35 percent qualified as severe, meaning the disease progressed more rapidly than might be expected," Carroll writes from the C-J's Washington bureau. (Read more) For the counties where black lung is most prevalent, from Kentucky's WKYT-TV and WYMT-TV, click here.

Mine where five died gets more citations, alleging pre-blast violations

Jim Carroll is busy on the coal beat for the Louisville newspaper. He also writes: "In the nearly five months before an explosion killed five coal miners May 20 at an Eastern Kentucky mine, federal inspectors there turned up 28 safety violations. But now inspectors have turned up at least 58 other problems with Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 before it was closed because of the blast, federal records show."

That is more than the number of citations the mine received in 2002 or 2003. Carroll writes, "Some mine-safety advocates, including a widow of one of the miners killed, said the number of problems found after the explosion raises questions about the quality and number of inspections before the accident. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is conducting a review of its inspection procedures before the accident, acting Administrator David Dye said in a statement to The Courier-Journal."

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told Carroll it is "not uncommon for mine inspectors to be overzealous after a fatality at a mine. ... They will issue many citations not directly related to true safety concerns. These normally would be considered discretionary citations -- citations viewed by laymen as sloppy housekeeping violations, or violations that normally could be fixed before the inspector left the mine. These may technically be violations, but they would not contribute to an accident or cause a fatality."

The story does not say just how many citations were issued for combustible materials, roof-control and ventilation violations, but MSHA officials said 23 were "serious and substantial." They said none of the 58 violations were related to the blast. (Read more)

Another town board backs effort to unionize Peabody mine in W. Ky.

An effort by Peabody Energy miners to organize a union has gained support from a third group of city fathers in Western Kentucky, reports The Messenger in Madisonville.

The city commisison of White Plains, population 800, approved a resolution supporting the United Mine Workers of America's request that Peabody "allow its employees to choose freely whether to be unionized by remaining neutral and not resorting to the use of pressure tactics, such as mandatory meetings on unionization, threats to close the mine, or any other form of interference or intimidation."

The city joins the other Hopkins County towns of Mortons Gap and Nortonville in supporting the effort. Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton previously told the newspaper that union organizers are "engaged in what they're calling a corporate campaign against Peabody to claim membership and dues essentially by forcing UMWA representation on three-fourths of our U.S. employees who choose to be union-free." (Read more; subscription required)

Satellite TV customers left in limbo in battle over out-of-market stations

One of the nation's largest satellite-TV providers is furiously working to cut a deal with broadcasters in order to keep providing signals to hundreds of thousands of subscribers who get programming from stations outside their markets.

EchoStar's Dish Network, the second-largest satellite-TV provider, appealed a federal appeals court's May order to shut off "distant network transmissions," such as sending signals from New York City stations to customers in Denver. The ruling has implications for rural areas near the borders of the officially defined TV markets. For example, Clinton and Cumberland counties in Southern Kentucky are officially in the Nashville and Bowling Green markets, but satellite viewers there would like to get (and may be getting from EchoStar) stations in Louisville and Lexington.

Without a settlement, EchoStar will begin cutting signals next month. It says fewer than a million customers would be affected, reports Joyzelle Davis of the Rocky Mountain News. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006

Postal chiefs hear complaints from executives of community newspapers

Top postal officials, including the postmaster general, heard plenty from community newspaper executives about their frustrations with delivery problems and a proposed double-digit rate hike during a meeting in Washington last week. National Newspaper Association President Jerry Reppert of Anna, Ill., called for the meeting which drew 52 publishers, state press-association executives and leaders of NNA, whose 2,500 members are overwhelmingly weekly newspapers, many dependent on the U.S. Postal Service.

"Two themes permeated the day -- the ongoing problems with USPS delivery of newspapers to distant destinations, and the harmful effects that a proposed 25-30 percent hike of in-county rates would have on community newspapers," reports David Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association. "Publishers didn’t hold back in telling postal officials that in many instances delivery problems have worsened throughout the country, that postal workers lack understanding and training about periodicals mail and that there is little consistency in the application of postal regulations."

Newspapers make up 11 percent of total periodicals mail, but newspapers delivered inside the home county -- the heart of community newspaper circulation -- are less than 1 percent of the total. "The volume of in-county mail has dropped from 1.7 million pieces in 1986 to 760,000 pieces in 2004. NNA believes the postal numbers are suspect," Bordewyk writes. "Postal officials admitted that it’s difficult to get 750,000 USPS employees on the same page when it comes to handling periodicals mail."

On the rate hike, "Several newspaper publishers said they understand increased costs, but contend that the proposal now being considered by the Postal Rate Commission is excessive," writes Chip Hutcheson of The Times Leader of Princeton, Ky. "NNA will argue to the Postal Rate Commission that the sampling method used by the USPS is flawed, and that in-county mail costs do not warrant such a large increase."

Guiding the discussion for NNA were Tonda Rush, public-policy director in the group's Washington office, and Max Heath, chairman of NNA’s postal committee and a vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers. "Postal officials more than once praised NNA’s Rush and Heath for their work to represent community newspapers in postal issues," Bordewyk writes. For an NNA release on the meeting, click here.

Illinois daily partners with city to provide residents with wireless Internet

The Daily Journal (circulation 28,280) of Kankakee, Ill., owned by Small Newspaper Group, Inc., is partnering with the city to provide residents with wireless Internet service.

"The 28,000-circulation daily has formed a joint business with the city of Kankakee to provide wireless access downtown and eventually citywide. The WiFi network will allow community members to access e-mail, play online games and make phone calls, all on a secure, firewall-protected connection emanating from an antenna on the Daily Journal's roof," according to The Inlander, a publication of the Inland Press Association. (Read more)

"According to the Daily Journal, the newspaper and the city formed a joint business, WiFi Kankakee LLC, in response to laws restricting municipalities from creating and profiting from WiFi networks. WiFi Kankakee will pay the newspaper $800 per month to support the network and cover its electrical costs, and will pay the city $100 per year for equipment access. . . . Each user is allowed 15 hours of free usage per month. After the 15 hours are up, users pay a fee of $19.99 to continue using the wireless network."

Immigrants change landscape of rural states, new census data reveals

Immigration numbers have jumped in U.S. communities during the last five years, but the big surprise is how much predominantly rural states have changed, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

"South Carolina's immigrant population jumped 47% between 2000 and 2005. Arkansas saw the nation's largest percentage increase in Latinos, 48% from 2000 to 2005," writes Robin Fields of The Los Angeles Times. "The population data released today provide the first large-scale glimpse of how U.S. communities of 65,000 and larger have changed since the turn of the century. The nation remains about two-thirds white, but minorities make up an increasing share of the population in every state but West Virginia, the data show." (Read more)

"But it is in the less-expected immigrant destinations that demographers find the most of interest in the new data. Indiana saw a 34 percent increase in the number of immigrants; South Dakota saw a 44 percent rise; Delaware 32 percent; Missouri 31 percent; Colorado 28 percent; and New Hampshire 26 percent," writes Rick Lyman of The New York Times. "Immigration was just one area covered by the first release of data from the American Community Survey, which also covered such demographic information as race, age, education and marital status." (Read more)

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey of 3 million households a year contains an expanded set of social and demographic data for counties with populations as small as 65,000. This information should serve as a gold mine for media at all levels. To learn more about the ACS data and to access it, click here.

U.S. land-use inventory reveals increase in rural land going residential

An inventory of U.S. major land uses, drawing on data from the Census, public land management and conservation agencies, shows that more rural land is being used for residential development.

"Urban land area quadrupled from 1945 to 2002, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over this period. After adjusting earlier estimates for new criteria used in the 2000 Census, urban area increased by 13 percent between 1990 and 2002. . . . Estimated acreage of rural land used for residential purposes increased by 21 million acres (29 percent) from 1997 to 2002, and by 17 million acres (30 percent) from 1980 to 1997," write Ruben N. Lubowski, Marlow Vesterby, Shawn Bucholtz, Alba Baez, and Michael J. Roberts in a bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Major uses in 2002 were forest-use land, 651 million acres (28.8 percent); grassland pasture and range land, 587 million acres (25.9 percent); cropland, 442 million acres (19.5 percent); special uses (primarily parks and wildlife areas), 297 million acres (13.1 percent); miscellaneous other uses, 228 million acres (10.1 percent); and urban land, 60 million acres (2.6 percent)."

"The most consistent trends in major uses of land (1945-2002) have been a growth in special-use and urban areas and a decline in total grazing lands. Forest-use land has generally declined since the 1940s, but increased 2 percent from 1997 to 2002. Total cropland area dipped about 2 percent from 1945 to 2002, but has cycled upwards and downwards twice over this period. Between 1997 and 2002, total cropland area reached a new 57-year low, continuing a downward trend since 1978." To access the full report, click here, and for a report summary, click here.

Vermont's small farmers fight proposal for reporting of livestock data

A Vermont proposal aims to manage animal diseases by having farmers report data on livestock and land size, but small farmers are waging war against what they see as an attempt by agribusiness and federal farm authorities to eliminate them.

If farmers would choose not to comply, the proposal mandates a $1,000 fine. This is bigger than just a fine "in a state where small farms of nursery-rhyme dimension persist even in the face of burgeoning industrial agriculture, the proposal sounds to some like government intrusion on an Orwellian scale: something akin to 'Animal Farm' meets '1984.' Even though such livestock accounting systems are voluntary - for now - throughout most of the country, the emotional issue has small-time farmers worrying about Big Brother and government intrusion," writes Matt Bradley for The Christian Science Monitor.

"While the premises-registration program is free, many here see it as a first step toward the kind of labor-intensive bureaucratic regulations that could pose huge challenges for small farms," writes Bradley. "But some small farmers are holding their ground. 'Agribusiness wants to control the food supply,' says Jay Bailey, who owns a 40-acre farm near Brattleboro. 'Small independent farmers are a thorn in their side. We think independently.'" (Read more)

Proposed Alaskan mine draws criticism from salmon fishing sector

Pebble Mine is a proposed $250 billion copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Keys Point, Alaska, but its potential risks to the ecosystem are drawing criticism from unlikely parties such as U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Stevens, a Republican in support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, "and fellow critics talk of a fragile environment or even an 'ecosystem' menaced by the mine. But their main argument is that the mine threatens an established economic interest, salmon fishing: commercial, sport and subsistence. At the same time, they are battling tradition. Going back to the Klondikers, mining has had a romantic history in Alaska, and the state regularly approves mining projects while charging minute royalties," writes Adam Clymer for The Washington Post.

Robert Gillam, a wealthy financial manager, sees the mine as a threat to a rural ambience that is missing in other states. "I think the people of Alaska are evolving into a more balanced opinion on development," he told Clymer. "People have understood that there is a huge value to wilderness and habitat" and that Alaska has "all the things that people have lost in other states." (Read more)

Monday, Aug. 14, 2006

Mine-safety chief bars West Virginia Public Radio from recording speech

David Dye, head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, barred recording of his remarks this month when he spoke at the International Conference on Ground Control and Mining at West Virginia University about mine-safety legislation recently passed by Congress.

"This perplexed us at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, especially given the intense criticism that MSHA has received since the disasters at Sago and Aracoma" this year, West Virginia Public Radio said last week. As reporter Emily Corio noted, "MSHA is of considerable interest to West Virginians, especially since the Sago disaster this year. Family members of the men who died at Sago have expressed concern and anger at MSHA. There have been charges of lax enforcement of mine safety laws. There's been frustration with MSHA's response to mine accidents, and accusations that the agency is more concerned about the well-being of coal operators than the safety of miners."

Dye's barring of recorders was a surprise, Corio said, because he "is a public official, making a public address, and he was discussing an important issue to our state." To hear her full report, click here.

Suicide rate in southwest Virginia gets attention from local paper

The Progress ran this map with its story. Dark green counties and independent cities are below average; light green are slightly above average; gold are higher, almost double the average; red are even higher.

A son's suicide is inspiring two Virginia parents to educate others about ways to prevent future deaths, and The Coalfield Progress does a good job writing about a regional issue with local impact.

"After their son’s death, Bill and Phyllis Russell needed help. They began attending the closest Survivors’ of Suicide Support Group in Johnson City, Tenn. The couple missed only one meeting in five years. In April of 2005, along with Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church and the Rev. Betty Marshall, they began the Lee County Survivors’ of Suicide Support Group. In late 2005, while on the way home from a suicide prevention conference in Roanoke, they decided to form a regional coalition after learning that Southwest Virginia’s suicide rate is double the state’s and nearly double the nationwide rate," reports the Progress.

"Working from the napkin Phyllis used to take notes, the Russells involved the Lenowisco Health District, the Virginia Director of Suicide Prevention, Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, Frontier Health and Planning District One Behavioral Health Services. Determined to educate everyone about depression and suicide, Bill and Phyllis Russell founded the Lenowisco Suicide Prevention Network. . . . The group has made presentations to nearly 300 people in multiple groups in Wise, Lee and Scott counties."

Since the federal government has announced a shortage of mental health providers in Southwest Virginia, a community effort may be critical to reducing the high suicide rate, reports the Progress. There are 775,000 suicide attempts annually in the U.S., and 30,000-plus die that way with there being three suicides for every two murders in Virginia. For information about the Lenowisco Suicide Prevention Network, call Bill and Phyllis Russell at (276) 346-1641. (Read more)

Businesses lead push for legalized alcohol sales in several rural states

Rural towns and counties comprise many of the areas being targeted by real estate developers, grocery chains, restaurants and Wal-Mart as places where legalized alcohol sales could boost business profits.

"Since 2002, business groups have spent upwards of $15 million on campaigns, including professional lobbyists, to persuade voters in some 200 dry towns and 25 dry counties in six Southern states to legalize alcohol sales in stores and restaurants. Wal-Mart has financed dozens of local elections, contributing from $5,000 to $20,000 a campaign, said Tim Reeves of Beverage Election Specialists, which supports local alcohol referendums," writes Melanie Warner of The New York Times.

"Attempts by Wal-Mart and others to allow alcohol sales in other places that remain dry — 415 counties in the South and in Kansas still prohibit such sales — are meeting fierce resistance from some church groups and religious leaders. They argue that returning to the days when liquor flowed will mean more family violence, under-age drinking, drunken driving and a general moral decay in the community," she continues. More dry-to-wet measures have passed than have been defeated in the last four years in Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas, and supporters say going wet provides added tax revenue for community development.

While many communities are still awaiting results on whether going wet boosted development, restaurants acknowledge the laws are playing a role in where they build and how much they profit. "Retailers and restaurants say the ability to sell alcohol is not a precondition for choosing a new location, but it is a factor. For casual dining chains, the average restaurant check doubles when someone orders an alcoholic beverage, according to the research firm NPD Group," reports Warner. (Read more)

School discipline statistics hard to compare due to different standards

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools report major disciplinary incidents and cases where students received official punishment, but critics say the statistics often are misleading because of each school's different standards for punishment.

So, in a story that any newspaper can and should do, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution compares local statistics to two things -- other districts, and the perceived reality of students and parents at the schools involved. "With fewer than 20 disciplinary incidents per 100 students last school year, South Atlanta was the third safest high school in the metro area. None of South Atlanta's 1,100 students was caught stealing, carrying a knife or concealing a gun. Yet, according to Atlanta Police Department records, authorities were called to the campus at least 50 times during the school year," writes Bridget Gutierrez.

The discipline data varies widely from district to district, which concerns some parents, teachers and administrators who say numbers fail to reflect reality, reports Gutierrez. "It's definitely frustrating for parents because the data we are allowed to get is minimal," said Cindi Wilson, a Loganville mother who helped start Parents Against School Violence a few years ago in Gwinnett County. "Since No Child Left Behind has come into play it has not necessarily made things better for the safety of the schools or the reporting." For more of this analysis, including in-depth statistics, click here.

Professional schools provide rays of hope in southwest Virginia

Higher education is playing a key role in diversifying the economy and retaining residents in Buchanan County, Virginia. The reason: The addition of law and pharmacy programs.

"Beyond their economic benefits, the law and pharmacy schools have been a source of pride, jobs and hope in a county where unemployment is nearly double the state average, the population declined by 17 percent between 1994 and 2004, and the median household income in 2003 was $24,317," writes Albert Raboteau of The Roanoke Times. "In Buchanan County, the schools are credited for higher property values, new homes being built, and stores opening."

Officials estimate the 9-year-old Appalachian School of Law brings the region $12 million a year, and the relatively new University of Appalachia College of Pharmacy should bring $20 million a year. Also, a residential boom is occurring with one $4.6 million apartment complex being built near the pharmacy college, reports Raboteau.

"Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Virginia Department of Transportation are engaged in a roughly $175 million flood control and road improvement project in downtown Grundy, increasing the amount of buildable land in a mountainous area where flat lots are hard to find," writes Raboteau. "Wal-Mart and other new stores that will open as a result of the flood project are expected to employ 400 people." (Read more)

Western Kentucky residents fired up over hog farms, possible pollution

Fears about strong odors and pollution are spurring about 70 Western Kentucky residents to challenge environmental permits approved for nine large hog operations in Fulton, Hickman and Carlisle counties.

"Each of the farms would have about 5,000 hogs, producing a total of at least 16 million gallons of liquid waste per year that would be spread on fields as fertilizer, according to filings with the administrative appeals office of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet," writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal. "The residents fear strong odors and water pollution from storm runoff, said attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, which filed the appeal with Midway attorney Hank Graddy."

Farmer Caleb DeWeese, of Hickman County, said precautions will safeguard the environment, and he said hog farms would benefit the farmers and the agriculture-dependent community. The Courier-Journal previously reported that the state's hog population should grow by 38 percent over three years, due in part to tax breaks offered by the state. (Read more)

Georgia town transforms trash heap into renewable energy cash cow

A landfill in the west Georgia town of LaGrange is now producing revenue and renewable energy thanks to natural gas, instead of being a trash pit that contaminates the air with methane, a greenhouse gas that's 20 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

"Larger trash dumps around the nation are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture the methane gas that is given off as the trash decomposes. But as the tubes plumbing the LaGrange landfill suggest, even the smallest community can voluntarily convert teeming trash heaps into a green - yet revenue-generating - venture," reports Greg Bluestein of The Associated Press.

Georgia and other Southern states are using landfills to produce a much-needed supply of energy in a time when cleaner alternative sources of energy are scarce or expensive, notes AP. (Read more)

McDonald's drive-in orders go high-tech via North Dakota town

Your McDonald's order may be going through a little North Dakota town

In his Boomtown USA blog, Jack Schultz writes that Rugby, N.D. (population 2,939) "has developed a very innovative program with Verety out of Chicago. Would you believe that they are taking drive-in orders for McDonald’s restaurants all over the country? Pat Bye, head of the local Job Authority, explained it to me, 'They came into town and set up a training center in a vacant building. Once the people are trained they work out of their homes. The only requirement is that they have to have high speed Internet access.'"

"There are already 50 workers at the company in Rugby with plans to expand it to 150. It is a model that could very easily be expanded. Rugby was also recognized for its $1000 grants to high school and college entrepreneurs, encouraging them to start businesses in the town," continues Schultz, a consultant to small town economic developers.

Author Wendell Berry earns award for writing, speaking on rural U.S.

Farmer, writer and conservationist Wendell Berry speaks out about agribusiness and industrial economy hurting the rural U.S., and his efforts led to a Distinguished Service to Rural Life award from the International Rural Sociological Society during a weekend meeting in Louisville, Ky.

"In accepting the award, he spoke of the changes necessary at land-grant universities if there is to be a healthy movement in sustainable agriculture. He recalled his freshman year at the University of Kentucky in 1952, when he assumed that the food he ate in the student cafeteria had been grown on the university's land by faculty and students of the College of Agriculture -- and his disappointment when its taste told him otherwise. He also said that it was only after leaving Kentucky and returning that he saw the threats to and decline of its rural ways," writes Melissa Gagliardi of The Courier-Journal.

When Berry speaks about rural issues, he is not necessarily looking for people that agree. "Conversation does not require agreement. It goes better, in fact, and is more instructive, if there are divergences. I intend to stick to my point of view, but I say, long live the conversation," he said. (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006

14 sites, many rural, remain in running for bio-terrorism research lab

Department of Homeland Security officials announced the final 14 sites in the running to house bio-terrorism research lab on Wednesday, which could transform a rural place into a hub of activity.

The 14 sites are the Kentucky-Tennessee Consortium (Somerset, Ky.); Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (California); Georgia Consortium for Health and Agro-Security; Heartland BioAgro Consortium (Kansas); Mid-Atlantic Bio-Ag Defense Consortium (Maryland); Gulf States Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium (Mississippi); University of Missouri at Columbia; North Carolina State University-College of Veterinary Medicine; Oklahoma State University; Texas A&M University; Brooks Development Authority and Brooks City-Base Foundation (Texas); Texas Research and Technology Foundation; Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (Texas); and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Hundreds of workers would be needed to build the lab, which would create 400 permanent jobs with a total annual payroll of $30 million, as well as the potential for jobs at related companies such as drug manufacturers," reports Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Scientists at the 500,000-square-foot facility would study potential biological threats to the U.S. food supply and humans, including foreign animal illnesses such as foot-and-mouth disease and zoonotic diseases." (Read more)

The Kentucky-Tennessee combo "is ... the only multi-state consortium among the list of finalists," writes Jeff Neal of The Commonwealth Journal in Somerset. "The consortium, if successful, would position southern Kentucky and east Tennessee as a hub for homeland security scientific research. The partners include the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. If the Pulaski County site is chosen, it is projected that the entire community landscape will change." (Read more)

"Many who live in the immediate area don't want the quiet community disrupted. Others worry about safety issues such as leaks, workers being exposed and carrying disease to the outside, and the potential that the lab could be a terrorist target," reports the Herald-Leader's Estep, a local native. "Opponents collected 2,800 names on a petition against the lab, set up a Web site, held one rally and plan another."

Midwest acts as 'shock absorber,' helps dilute ideas from the coasts

When economist, writer and actor Ben Stein drove four hours from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls, S.D., he went from a cramped big city to what Forbes magazine calls the best small city in the USA.

“The Midwest is the shock absorber for the rest of the country, acting just like the shocks on your car. All of the crazy ideas that come from the two coasts take a while to permeate into the heartland. It allows for some of the crazier ones to be diluted down. Contrast that to France or Italy, which are much smaller in size and as a result don’t have the luxury of contemplating as much what they are going to do," Stein said during a speech attended by Jack Schultz, a consultant to small-town economic developers.

"Shock absorber? I kind of liked the analogy," concludes Schultz in his Boomtown USA blog.

Electronic monitoring helps count homeless living in rural Virginia

An electronic system is helping counties and government agencies in rural southeastern and south-central Virginia monitor the number of homeless people, an often under-reported problem

"Homelessness in rural areas such as Southside is difficult to measure because it is far less visible than in urban environments. Previous surveys of homelessness in Southside likely captured only half the problem, said Ronnie Pannell," writes Megan Watzin of The Roanoke Times. " The West Piedmont Better Housing Coalition, a group working to eliminate and prevent homelessness in Franklin, Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties and Martinsville and Danville, started the system with a federal grant."

"The system allows participating aid providers, such as homeless shelters, domestic violence centers and other social service agencies, to compile and access information about clients who are homeless or at risk for homelessness," she continues. "Using the program, agencies have counted 89 homeless people since January." The last survey in the area, in January 2005, found 78 homeless. (Read more)

W. Va. serves as model for states coping with rural doctor shortage

"As the demand for qualified physicians and other healthcare professionals in rural communities outweighs supply, local leaders continue to seek solutions. Rural rotation programs during medical school and residency training, greater attention to finding 'homegrown' talent, and assistance with repaying student loans are among the ways some underserved areas are working to attract and retain medical professionals," writes Jessica Zigmond for Modern Health Care.

"A big challenge is that when physicians are working in rural areas, they are often alone and isolated," says Elaine Mason, director of the West Virginia University Health Sciences Placement Service. "We're working hard at improving that situation." Many areas are taking a "grow their own" approach that encourages students to give back to the rural areas where they received their medical education.

Last year, West Virginia University's program helped 94 residents, and 52 of them opted to stay in the state. "The overall percentage of retained physicians has been dropping in recent years: 43 residents, or 61%, remained in West Virginia in 2002, and 18 residents, or 62%, remained in-state in 2000," notes Zigmond. (Read more)

Preserving barns seen as economic development tool in Kentucky

Barns are a part of tradition Kentucky, a state big on horses, cattle and tobacco, and the Central Kentucky Heartland Rural Heritage Development Initiative sees preservation of farmland and farm buildings as ways to foster a special form of economic development.

National and regional experts recently toured farms in Nelson, LaRue, Marion, Mercer, Boyle, Green, Taylor and Washington counties to formulate an action plan. "Kentucky is one of two areas in the country that is part of a National Trust for Historic Preservation pilot project that examines using preservation ideas and principles as economic development tools in rural areas, said Joanna Hinton, executive director of Preservation Kentucky, a statewide nonprofit organization focusing on preservation," writes Laura Skillman in a news release from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.(Not online)

"The National Trust received a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement the three-year pilot program in the two locations. The grant funds are being matched with local money and administered through Preservation Kentucky. The Kentucky Heritage Council and Dry Stone Conservancy are also partners in the initiative," notes Skillman.

National Public Radio racks up listeners, makes them loyal, survey says

National Public Radio is the fourth most listened-to radio format, according to a telephone study of 114,035 adults across 84 cities in 2005 and early 2006 recently released by The Media Audit.

"Listening to public radio has been growing steadily over the past 20 years," said Bob Jordan, president of The Media Audit. However, "Awareness of public radio's growth as a format has not been that visible, since data for public stations are not reported in the primary audience ratings service. Today National Public Radio garners an adult audience 75 percent as large as news/talk, the largest format in the nation."

Of the top 10 formats, National Public Radio ranks first in converting listeners into loyal listeners, reports the Center for Media Research. (Read more) Public radio is an increasingly important source of radio news, which has become a niche service for most of the commercial side of the industry. As one president of a group of 20 to 25 stations recently told us, "Our surveys show that the more news you put on the air, the smaller your audience" -- unless you're a news-and-talk station, he added.

Richmond Register wins with upbeat culture, 'Open News Organization'

Kentucky's Richmond Register is the main focus of an Inland Press Association article about newspaper culture, and its considerable improvement under Jim Todd's editorship turned up more Kentucky Press Association awards than any other small daily in the state last year

"Todd knew much work needed to be done when he interviewed for the editor position of the 10,000-circulation Richmond (Ky.) Register. The top story that day was a review of the new movie Starsky & Hutch. At least it was staff-written. Todd took the job, hoping to infuse the newsroom with his unique brand of leadership. 'We have fun here. We all seem to go out of our way to take a personal interest in each other. Lots of pats on the back, lots of accolades,' he said," writes Randy Craig of The Inlander.

Todd's approach to creating an exciting newsroom with an upbeat attitude resembles that of Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Newton "calls this atmosphere the Open News Organization, a modernization of the concept he introduced in his book The Open Newspaper. Newton said open, honest communication forms the basis of the open news organization. Newspapers have to be honest about what works and what doesn't. They have to be honest about whether or not they are doing a good job," writes Craig.

Newton and Todd both make recommendations for improving newsrooms, many of which can be applied to weeklies. Some of them include: Make diverse hires; form advisory boards with community members; open up editing and reporting to everyone in the newsroom; examine you work and consider ways to improve; experiment with new formats and ways to distribute news such as Web sites. (Read more)

West Virginia weekly closes doors, leaves 'hometown news' legacy

When The Piedmont Herald, circulation 1,400, published its last issue on Aug. 1, it left the "Tri-Towns" of Piedmont, W.Va., and Luke and Westernport, Md., without a local paper.

"Bill and Marg Hood purchased the Piedmont Herald — the undisputed source of the news that matters the most to the residents of Piedmont, Westernport, and Luke — in 1969. Since then, their effect on the people of the Tri-Towns area specifically and the world of journalism in general has become synonymous with the true meaning of the term 'hometown news,'" writes Liz Beavers of the Cumberland Times-News, circ. 30,088. (Read more)

The Herald came out every Tuesday and its closest competitor was the daily Times-News, 25 miles to the northeast. The Herald had already temporarily stopped printing on June 6, when Bill Hood’s health forced him to retire. Marg Hood passed away in 2000, and she left a legacy as the Tri-Towns’ most outspoken advocate, reports Beavers. “Marg helped us to fight our battle to save Bruce High School, (and) she made the public aware of the battles being faced by Westvaco {a paper company} against the various environmental agencies,” wrote Westernport resident Bob Shimer in a 2000 tribute column in the Herald.

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006

Journalists, extension agents address burgeoning bruin population

A black bear might not seem out of place in Eastern Kentucky, but one's trek past a swimming pool and homes in the town of Whitesburg increased the need for public education on dealing with the creatures, whose numbers are growing in many Appalachian states.

Several Kentucky counties along with "the Forestry Department at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture were in the process of planning an educational program to help area residents learn more about the black bear’s return to the state. A day trip through Whitesburg by one such bear made the program seem all the more apropos," writes Terri McLean of the college news service. (Not online)

Long ago, Kentucky once housed many black bears, earning it the nickname the “bear state,” but unregulated harvests and loss of habitat almost erased them from existence for more than a century, UK researcher Dave Maehr explained at a meeting in Whitesburg last week on how to deal with bruins.

Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal wrote of the bears' resurgence in a column today: "The growing black-bear population in Kentucky is venturing ever closer to the bright lights. . . . At least 18 bears have been killed on Kentucky roads in the past 19 years, as bear sightings and nuisance complaints have increased in Eastern Kentucky and the south-central part of the state." (Read more) The latest road kill came on the Outer Bluegrass section of the state's Mountain Parkway. Tim Weldon of The Winchester Sun wrote a story and took this photo, which shows the bear, law-enforcement officers and the driver of the SUV that hit the bear. The area "is not considered to be part of the black bear’s core territory, according to a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, who also said the bear was probably traveling alone," Weldon wrote. (Read more)

Residents oppose logging of forest land near North Carolina resort town

The U.S. Forest Service plans to log 231 acres near the resort town of Blowing Rock, N.C., and critics are seeking to preserve the scenic landscape they enjoy watching from their million-dollar homes.

"The Forest Service says its plan is misunderstood and the effects exaggerated. But as more urbanites buy stakes in some of the state's least-touched places, the agency now finds itself preparing elaborate scenery analyses for logging projects. Today's meeting will feature computerized post-cutting simulations. 'It's something we've recognized for some time now,' said Anthony Matthews, a Forest Service planning officer in Asheville. 'As more subdivisions and development move out to the forest, changes to visual quality become more of an issue,'" writes Bruce Henderson of the Charlotte Observer.

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina has protected 28,000-plus acres along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Blowing Rock, and Forest Service officials say the 231 acres will be logged in 18 tracts scattered over 17 square miles west and south of Blowing Rock, reports Henderson. (Read more)

High-tech climate makes broadband Internet key for rural businesses

Businesses in rural America are turning to broadband for high-speed Internet access when cable modems or DSL connections are simply too slow to perform basic operations and customers demand fast service.

"To be successful in today's competitive marketplace, small businesses must be able to obtain and promptly respond to orders online, conduct research, purchase inventory, access electronic documents from suppliers, and receive large e-mail attachments with ease. To send and receive this information efficiently and quickly, small business owners need broadband access. In fact, experts say that businesses without broadband access will be left at a competitive disadvantage and run the risk of becoming disenfranchised from their customers and the marketplace," writes Peter Gulla, vice president for consumer sales and marketing of the North American Division of Hughes Network Systems.

Gulla writes in SmartBiz, an online publication that provides Internet technology resources for small businesses: "Broadband access is now an essential utility for small businesses as customers become more reliant on the Internet for purchasing and communications." (Read more)

Gulla, of course, is interested in gaining customers for his company, which advertises itself as the world's largest provider of satellite broadband. So he paints with a sloppy brush when he writes, "Getting satellite broadband is as easy as getting satellite television." He fails to note that the service costs more than satellite TV or broadband via other means. The Rural Blog reported on May 30 that satellite broadband starts at about $50 a month, compared to $36-$38 via other means, for a relatively slow link. (Read more)

USDA to give $9 million for renewable energy in Iowa, Kansas, Oregon

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced Tuesday that 12 projects in Iowa, Kansas and Oregon will get over $9 million in loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

More than $6 million of will go to eight recipients in Iowa. The largest are Amana Farms Inc., getting a $500,000 grant and a $1,065,850 loan guarantee for an anaerobic digester system; and Tri-City Energy in Keokuk, a $500,000 grant and a $2 million guarantee for a biodiesel facility.

Rough and Ready Lumber Co. of Cave Junction, Ore., will get a $500,000 grant and a $2,350,000 loan guarantee to install a biomass high pressure boiler and back pressure turbine generator system to increase steam production for the lumber drying process and produce 1.5 MW of power that will be sold to a local power company. For a story and a list of grants from The Associated Press in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, click here.

"The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency program provides grants and loan guarantees to eligible farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses to assist in developing renewable energy systems and making energy improvements. Projects must be located in a rural area (any area other than cities or towns of greater than 50,000 population and the immediate or adjacent urbanized areas of the cities or towns)," according to a USDA press release. (Read more)

College papers maintaining circulation, even getting Wal-Mart ads

Many daily newspapers keep reporting declining circulation figures and a loss in young readership, but college newspapers are holding steady and even attracting advertisements from the usual paper-shy Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Maybe that's one reason Gannett Co. Inc. bought the student newspaper at Florida State University last week.

"While the newspaper industry suffers through a funk, college newspapers are keeping the attention of coveted young readers. It's an audience that reads regularly, despite the conventional wisdom. According to a 2005 survey by market research firm Student Monitor, 71 percent of college students read at least one of the last five issues of the college paper. By contrast, 46 percent of students (down from 49 percent last year) read the print version of at least one national newspaper in a typical week, according to Student Monitor," writes Emily Steel of The Wall Street Journal.

"Campus papers are not completely immune from problems facing big metropolitan papers. Most have seen weakness in local advertising, a result of flagging local economies in small towns as well as a shift among local advertisers to the Web. But national advertising, after falling sharply in the wake of 9/11, has been rising steadily at many big college papers in the past couple of years."

Wal-Mart says it plans to advertise in college papers again this year. "Advertising in college newspapers is highly targeted and comparatively efficient way to reach these students," Linda Blakely, senior corporate communications manager for Wal-Mart, told Steel. (Read more)

SPJ to honor three with Sunshine awards, including Indiana high schooler

A high-school student fought to get information from Kokomo, Ind., city officials and his efforts have earned him a national Sunshine Award from the The Society of Professional Journalists.

Ryan Nees joins journalists Nancy Conway and John Hughes, both of Salt Lake City, as the three people being recognized for their contributions in the area of open government.

"Indiana high school student Ryan Nees’ request for information turned into a city wide legal battle. After registering for a city e-newsletter, Nees received notices about fund-raising events for the mayor. He wanted to see whether there was any connection between the e-mail address lists for the city newsletter and city Mayor Matt McKillip’s promotional material, so he requested the newsletter e-mail address list. This request was denied," writes SPJ in a press release. (Read more)

“Ryan found an attorney to take the case pro bono after researching the law and securing a favorable opinion from the Public Access Counselor,” stated the nomination letter for Nees. “He also became part of the mayor’s newsletter, dubbed a ‘youthful political operative’ with questionable motives – as the city administration tried to explain away the lawsuit and its non-disclosure of public records by scaring up privacy concerns.” After Nees won access to the e-mail list, Indiana lawmakers passed a bill closing e-mail lists to the public for inspection and copying, unless the government OKs their release, notes SPJ.

Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2006

Community-supported agriculture directly connects buyers, food source

A farm in Summit Hill, Pa., is bustling with traffic every Monday night when families arrive to pick up boxes of fresh vegetables, and that is just one example of “community-supported agriculture” programs taking shape across the country.

"More consumers are going directly to small local farms to buy their produce, often by becoming share members of such programs, a reflection of the growth of the organic food movement. The way a program works can vary depending on the farm. Some run year-round and cost $40 a delivery; others last for a five- to six-month growing season and can cost $200 to $700 and have membership fees paid up front," writes Jennifer Alsever of The New York Times.

Some participants in these community-supported agriculture programs consider their investments costly, but others consider it the most economic way to go. "More than 1,200 of these programs now operate nationwide, with about 150 new ones emerging each year, said Guillermo Payet, majority owner of LocalHarvest.org, which offers a database listing farm programs as well as farmers' markets," reports Alsever. (Read more)

As young flee Montana plains, New West culture flocks to the Rockies

Blaine Harden of The Washington Post seems to be in the midst of a love affair with Montana. His drive across the state revealed that the beasts Lewis and Clark wrote about still exist, but with fewer onlookers.

"I ran over a snake (a big rattler, it seemed; I was afraid to stop for a postmortem), narrowly missed a kamikaze antelope, swerved around the bloated carcass of a mule deer and came to a screeching stop for six cows on a mid-morning saunter. Montana still amazes -- with beasts, with distance, with its famously big crystalline sky that doesn't get all soupy in high summer heat," writes Harden.

"Yet, as a morning in Malta, in the plains of northeast Montana, and an evening in Bozeman, in the mountainous southwest, clearly show, this iconic Western place has been reformulated: cut into separate and unequal parts, cleaved along a fault line of wealth and bankruptcy, growth and decline, ebullient newcomers and aging descendants of the homesteaders. . . . The New West culture that supports all this is also no mystery. For a decade or two, college-educated people who want to live in decent towns, fish in clean rivers and hike in high mountains have been descending on western Montana."

But in the high plains to the east, rural counties are constantly witnessing the departure of young adults for more career-promising opportunities elsewhere. A population exodus involving people of all ages, though, is the greater problem that is hurting county schools and creating ghost towns. "There is no mystery about the reasons for this exodus: farm mechanization and farm consolidation, low birth rates and stagnant crop prices, drought and heat, blizzards and boredom. And no one has come up with a way to stop farm kids from fleeing," writes Harden. (Read more)

Wal-Mart to hike starting pay by 6 percent, but the question is where

A survey told Wal-Mart one thing: Improve your hourly pay to stay competitive with local retailers. So, the nation's largest private employer announced a 6 percent raise in starting salaries yesterday for about a third of its U.S. locations. At the same time, it is instituting wage caps on each type of job, which means about 3 percent of its workers "will no longer be eligible for merit-based raises unless promoted to a higher pay grade," reports The Wall Street Journal.

"The company said the wage increases would occur at 1,200 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores, but it did not say how many employees would be affected. The company employs a total of about 1.3 million people at some 3,900 stores in the United States. For a Wal-Mart employee with a hypothetical starting hourly wage of $6.25, a 6 percent increase would mean a raise of 37.5 cents an hour, or $3 a day, for a full-time employee working an eight-hour shift," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.

The Journal suggested another reason for the move, noting it "comes less than two weeks after Chicago became the largest U.S. city to require big-box retailers to pay a 'living wage,' despite objections from Wal-Mart and other businesses." The ordinance requires at least $10 an hour plus $3 in fringe benefits by the middle of 2010. "Mayor Richard M. Daley could veto the measure but would need two aldermen to drop their support in order to avoid having his veto overridden." (Read more)

Although Wal-Mart declined to release its average starting salary, officials said the average hourly pay for full-time employees is $10.11. The company said the pay increases will be spread evenly throughout the U.S. with no favoritism given to rural or urban stores. "Wal-Mart generally pays higher wages in urban areas because of the higher cost of living and competitive pressures," reports Barbaro. (Read more)

Wal-Mart's rural-urban wage differential hit home for some of its employees in Frankfort, Ky., when the company opened a new Supercenter 10 miles south, in rural Lawrenceburg. It cut jobs in Frankfort and offered employees there jobs in Lawrenceburg -- but at $1 an hour less than they were getting in Frankfort, The State Journal, the local daily paper, reported Sunday. (Story is not posted online.)

Kansas town for 'Exodusters' examined by far-apart McClatchy papers

A Kansas town founded by African Americans after the Civil War took on the name Nicodemus, and the story of its formation remains an intriguing one and one often retold by reporters.

A 10-year celebration as a national park and historic site gave the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader a chance to write about it. During 1877 and 1878, "more than 500 black Kentuckians were promised 160 acres, access to a herd of horses, loving white neighbors, plenty of game, forests of timber, hills of coal and the right to govern themselves in a town of their own making," wrote Amy Wilson. (Read more)

Each Kentuckian paid $5 to land spectators to trade their current lives for new ones in the South Solomon River Valley in the northwestern Kansas plains. "And while some turned back disappointed at the small, treeless burg, the town thrived during the late 19th century. Today, though, it boasts just 34 people. Yet it remains the only town west of the Mississippi settled by only blacks to survive into the modern day," writes Beccy Tanner of The Wichita Eagle, like the Herald-Leader a McClatchy Co. paper. "From 1877 to 1879, more than 50,000 blacks fled the South for Kansas, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. They were called 'Exodusters,', a biblical reference just like Nicodemus." (Read more)

In his Boomtown USA blog, Jack Schultz, a consultant to small-town economic developers, looked beyond Nicodemus to the rest of Graham County and rural Kansas as a whole to find that the population decline is pervasive: "The township is 30 miles square, which means that it has decreased from 120 home sites down to the 14 today. In Nicodemus, only 3 of those 14 are African-Americans. In the entire state, only 116 African-American farmers remain out of the hundreds that once planted in the state. . . . Today, Graham County is down to 2,721 residents from 4,751 in 1970. The medium age is 46.5 years compared to a national average of 35.8." (Read more)

Wis. writer wins CapitolBeat award for story on developmentally disabled

Tom Sheehan, who covers Wisconsin state government for the mostly small-circulation Lee Newspapers of Wisconsin, recently won the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors (CapitolBeat) award for a single report in a newspaper of less than 75,000. His winning story was about families who resist moving their developmentally disabled relatives out of state institutions.

"For about three decades, the state has mirrored a national trend in encouraging a shift in care for the developmentally disabled from public and private institutional settings to community-based residential settings, such as group homes. The transition has been slow and steady. But political, legal and budget pressure to empty the state centers, as well as county-run and private institutions, known as intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded (ICFs/MR), has never been greater," wrote Sheehan, who has been the Lee Newspapers' statehouse bureau reporter for five and a half years.

Sheehan interviewed both families and industry experts, many of whom agreed that the push toward community-like settings does not work for all patients. "Some developmentally disabled people who have moved into community settings have unnecessarily died, been injured or placed in jeopardy in situations that could have been avoided, said Carolyn Kaiser, a field representative for the state union employee district, which includes Northern Center," he reported.

Sheehan's story appeared in about five newspapers including the LaCrosse Tribune.

New Mexico writer wins AP award for probing illegal campaign donation

When David Giuliani of The Las Vegas Optic in New Mexico learned the Luna Community College Foundation gave $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, in July 2004, he started investigating because charitable nonprofit groups are not supposed to give such donations. Guiliani's efforts recently earned him the New Mexico Associated Press award for an investigative story in 2005.

Giuliani described his investigation in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: "Late on a Saturday afternoon in November 2005, I was surfing the Internet and visited the followthemoney.org Web site, which tracks contributions to candidates across the country. I noticed that a local educational foundation had contributed to a local state senator's re-election campaign. I believed that a foundation couldn't make such a donation with its federal nonprofit status. I then visited the IRS Web site and found educational foundations, indeed, couldn't make such donations.

"I knew I had a story. I had the donation confirmed with the foundation's director on Monday morning; she said the IRS had fined the group. But when I started calling foundation board members, several were in the dark and had no idea such a contribution was made. In the last of my three stories, I had an indication that the state senator returned the money, although he didn't confirm it. As you know, it can be hard for a small paper to do enterprise reporting. That's why we must be strategic with our resources."

To read Guiliani's initial story, click here. To conduct your own such investigation of monetary contributions to legislative candidates, visit the National Institute on Money in State Politics Web site. It's a good starting point for reporters in any state, with links to each state's campaign-finance agencies.

Indiana doctor treats 5,000 patients, expands care with laser machine

"Dr. Thomas Anderson is a true country doctor. The bearded physician lives on a farm, raises sheep, and has a family practice in the rural community of Camden [Ind.]. He is the sole owner and sole doctor in his practice. He performs minor surgeries, still barters on occasion, and he makes house calls to dying patients," writes Jennifer Archibald of the weekly Carroll County Comet, circulation 5,000.

Since starting his practice in 1982, Anderson has handled 120,000-plus patient visits and he currently serves 5,000 patients in northwest Indiana. That number should increase since Anderson just added a state-of-the-art $135,000 laser machine, which allows him to do facial rejuvenation, acne treatment, oxygen infused/antioxidant facials, and removal of wrinkles, birth marks, scars, unwanted facial and body hair, and spider veins, reports Archibald.

"His new service is called MedAesthetics, and his techniques include laser and Botox treatments, and medical needling. He said there is an emerging market, especially baby boomers, who want to reduce the signs of aging. He sees the new service as a way to help people feel better about themselves, and as a way to expand and stabilize his country practice," writes Archibald. (Read more)

Think your wireless laptop is safe from hackers? Think again, says Intel

A warning that wireless Internet users are vulnerable to hackers should be taken to heart by Web surfers, including journalists, who might think their encrypted Wi-Fi laptops are safe.

"We've always known that wireless networking had lots of security problems. But we didn't realize how bad they could be until this week, when Intel released information about security vulnerabilities in the software that runs its Centrino wireless systems, and when security researchers independently demonstrated how they could exploit similar flaws to take over a wireless laptop with startling ease," writes Stephen H. Wildstrom of BusinessWeek Online.

"Earlier attacks on Wi-Fi security focused on a hacker's ability to break through weak encryption and snatch supposedly private communications out of the air; or, on the ability of an attacker to gain unauthorized access to a wireless network. These new vulnerabilities are much more frightening because they allow an attacker to bypass all of the computer's defense mechanisms, including file encryption."

"For the time being, there's not a whole lot you can do to protect yourself, short of turning off the wireless adapter on your laptop," reports Wildstrom. "It would probably be best to wait until fix software is available from the maker of your computer or from the maker of your add-in wireless card, if you use one. In the meantime, it's a good idea to turn off wireless when you are not actually using it." (Read more)

Monday, Aug. 7, 2006

Smaller-scale census data should provide more stories for rural media

A wealth of census data is slated for release next week, and an expanded set of social and demographic data for counties with populations as small as 65,000 promises a gold mine for media at all levels.

The U.S. Census Bureau will release the 2005 American Community Survey (ACS) data Aug. 15 on social and demographic characteristics for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, every congressional district and all counties and places with populations of 65,000 or more. This is the first time the data will be available for areas with populations of less than 250,000. Additional releases include: Economic characteristics with the annual release of income, poverty and health insurance data on Aug. 29; housing characteristics data on Oct. 3; and selected population profiles with data by race, Hispanic origin and ancestry on Nov. 14.

Some newspapers are already getting into act of reporting by using Census estimates released last week. The Charlotte Observer reports, "The ... area's Hispanic population shot up dramatically over the past five years, with double-digit percentage increases in every county, according to Census estimates released today -- a trend that continues to change the face of North Carolina." Cleve R. Wootson Jr. continues, "Most of that increase is due to immigration from other countries, though some people are moving here from other states. North Carolina has gained about 33,000 Hispanics every year since 2000, according to the state demographer's office. About 26,000 of them are from other countries." (Read more)

In rural Atkinson County, Ga., population 8,030, Hispanics comprised 3 percent of the residents in 1990, but by 2004, "Hispanics had eclipsed blacks and become the largest minority, with 21 percent of the population. County officials, who say illegal immigrants have been undercounted, believe Mexican immigrants and their children may actually make up a third of residents," writes Rachel L. Swarns of The New York Times. Such a transition leaves long-time residents dealing with dislocation and new residents dealing with alienation. (Read more)

To learn more about the ACS data and to access it on Aug. 15, click here.

Medicare changes promise more, then less income for rural hospitals

Get ready to cover more financial problems at small, rural hospitals. After an initial gain, they stand lose millions of dollars in the biggest Medicare payment changes in more than 20 years.

The Bush administration will announce this week whether it will implement its proposed payment system for inpatient care this fall or delay it a year. The changes are intended to bring Medicare's payments for care more in line with hospitals' costs. If implemented this year, the new system would raise revenue for many small, rural hospitals, but cut their reimbursements in later years -- a move they say they can ill afford, writes Patrick Howington, health business reporter for The Courier-Journal.

Urban hospitals that handle more cardiac care and complicated surgery cases will a slight pay cut net year, then see rates increase in following years. "The first change would base Medicare reimbursements on hospitals' costs rather than on their charges, or list prices. That would bring lower reimbursements for many surgeries and cardiac procedures," Howington reports for the Louisville newspaper. "The second major change, proposed to begin in October 2007, would boost pay for treating patients who are severely ill or have complicated conditions." (Read more)

Rural, white counties in Tenn. elect African Americans county mayors

"The most remarkable thing about Eugene Ray's election as county mayor of Bedford County, Tenn., was how unremarkable it was --- in every category but one. Ray, who has long been active in the Middle Tennessee county's civic and business life, defeated independent Mike Fisher on Thursday by better than a 4-3 ratio. He also happens to be a black Democrat in a county where blacks make up only 8.5 percent of the population," reports Tom Baxter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Ray's election was one of several in which racial barriers fell Thursday in Tennessee," Baxter noted in a Saturday story. In rural Hardeman County, in southwest Tennessee, which is 41 percent black, "another African-American Democrat, Willie Spencer, won the race for county mayor. He and Ray become only the second and third African-American county mayors in the state."

Baxter quoted Paul Carney, city editor and county-government reporter for the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, attributed Ray's victory to "nothing I can think of --- other than he's earned it." he said Ray, a Shelbyville real estate agent, has served as chairman of the county Board of Commissioners and as president of the chamber of commerce in the city that calls itself the Walking Horse Capital of the World. (Times-Gazette photo of Ray and state Rep. Curt Cobb by Kay Rose)

Carney wrote in the Times-Gazette that Ray was also "the first black to be the highest elected official in their jurisdiction in all of Middle Tennessee." It quoted one of Ray's fellow commissioners as saying he won ""just being an honest man with plenty of experience." (Read more)

Marcus Pohlmann, a political-science professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, told Baxter that the results showed strong evidence of voters ignoring race and could bide well for U.S. Rep. Harold Ford of Memphis in the U.S. Senate race against Republican Bob Corker. (Read more)

Broadband, developers 'Santa Fe' the Blue Ridge; Albemarle to act?

"Call it the Santa Fe-ing of the Piedmont. Virginia's Blue Ridge from Middleburg to Charlottesville is undergoing a dramatic transformation. It is becoming urbane without the urban. Or even suburban. It is becoming a place where people can make city-quality money, and satisfy city-quality tastes, without the city. Where 'viewsheds' are jealously guarded, this change involves the search for a new and distinct authenticity that combines storing your breadmaking flour in an antique Hoosier cabinet while bemoaning the way the rain-laden clouds interfere with your computer's satellite connection," writes Joel Garreau of The Washington Post, author of The Nine Nations of North America.

"You see it from the Big Sky Country of Montana to the Gold Country of the Sierras, to the Piedmont of North Carolina, to the mountains and coasts of New England. This Santa Fe-ing is marked by a profusion of high-end and inventive food, wineries, shops, restaurants, theater, moviemaking, film festivals, bookstores, music and the arts in landscapes that don't look too different from the way they did a century ago, albeit better kept up. Think of it as Monticello with broadband. It's a combination of the 21st century and the 18th century, the Information Age and the Agrarian Age. It's a place that sees the last two centuries of industrialization as a nightmare from which we are slowly awakening." (Read more)

In Charlottesville, an ordinance that would require phasing and clustering of rural property is being criticized by people who want to use the land as they see fit and is being applauded by others as a form of rural protection in a growing area. Ninety-five percent of Albemarle County is designated rural, and phasing would permit two subdivision rights on each parcel every 10 years. Clustering aims to reduce development's impact on natural resources by grouping small parcels and leaving a large preservation tract, writes Jessica Kitchin of the Daily Progress.

Anti-sprawl advocates and conservationists see the ordnance as the key balancing growth with tradition. “We can’t ignore the significant damage [rural] development does,” said Morgan Butler, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “These are invaluable instruments to channel growth back into the development areas.” One landowner, Mary Ford, opposes the ordinance and asks, “Why does the county feel they should have control? Let us be responsible for what is rightfully ours.” (Read more)

Wisconsin town gets business, Internet boost from rural entrepreneur

Many rural towns across America are pinning their economic development hopes on luring young people back after they earn college degrees. Once Wisconsin town is seeing the benefits of former residents returning as rural entrepreneurs.

Hilbert, Wis., is home to 1,089 people and no traffic lights, but the town is awake with development from Todd Thiel. "After a 10-year stint as an investment banker, Thiel moved back, acquired the town's red-brick bank building — built in 1908 for the State Bank of Hilbert — and turned it into the international headquarters of his financial-services group. As he settled in, Thiel lobbied Cingular Wireless to upgrade its local network. Before long, also at Thiel's behest, the village had rigged a wireless Internet transmitter to its bright blue water tower," writes John Schmid of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Thiel, 36, is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs who gravitate toward rural venues because digital technology untethers companies from congested urban centers. If the American heartland is to survive in a global economy, it will need more like him, economists say," reports Schmid.

"Innovation and entrepreneurship will be decisive in the economic well-being of the rural Midwest," said Sarah Low, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Rural America, part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo. Lee Munnich, a senior fellow who directs the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota, told Schmid that rural entrepreneurs can converge in "rural knowledge clusters" geared toward innovation. (Read more)

States keep moving to curb use of eminent domain for development

A Supreme Court ruling last year that approved a Connecticut city's authority to seize private property for economic development is spurring ballot initiatives in several states to curb local governments' abilities to use eminent domain.

"In the South, four states are entertaining ballot proposals that would tighten the eminent-domain process. A Florida initiative requires local governments to sell expropriated property back to the owners if the land isn't used for the stated purpose, while ballot initiatives in Georgia and South Carolina would crimp government use of eminent domain. In populist-leaning Louisiana, a ballot proposal would prevent local or state government from condemning property and then transferring it to another individual or group, a measure that could affect how the state rebuilds after two devastating hurricanes last year," writes Christopher Cooper of The Wall Street Journal.

In the west, there is a "Kelo with a twist: Tapping anti-eminent-domain sentiment that conservatives say runs high among voters, some groups are pushing to limit how governments regulate private property. Measures heading for ballots in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Washington would require governments to compensate landowners if they apply more restrictive zoning retroactively, impose more stringent environmental rules on undeveloped property or apply aesthetic-development regulations on private land as a way to counter urban sprawl." (Read more)

The Rural Blog reported July 27 that the Ohio Supreme Court said cities must have a specific reason to use eminent domain and that economic development is too broad of a justification. Click here for the item.

Virginia coal country: Would noise ordinance cut mountaintop removal?

Two Stephens, Va., residents, Kathy Selvage and Charlene Greene, saw one coal company go bankrupt and do not want another one taking its place. They want the Wise County Board of Supervisors to pass a noise ordinance aimed at curbing mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The Rural Blog has relayed the reporting of the local Coalfield Progress on the issue, but folks at The Roanoke Times, at least 175 miles away, know a good story when they see it. Tim Thornton reports, "The ordinance wouldn't apply only to the mine that looms over Stephens, but it would certainly affect it. The old operation was supposed to run 20 hours a day, though Selvage and Greene say it routinely went longer. They want to limit mining in residential areas to 15 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week. On Sundays, the noise couldn't start until 10 a.m.,". (Read more)

In Stonega, "double houses" were built for housing two miners' families, but now residents are being bought out so companies can search for more coal. Pigeon Creek Processing, a mining company that operates a mine at the edge of Stonega, is buying those homes and even a place on the National Register of Historic Places cannot prevent future demolition in Stonega, Thornton writes. (Read more)

Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress reports that the proposed ordinance drew much opposition, mainly from farmers and coal miners, at the latest county supervisors' meeting. (Read more)

Longtime executive director of Kentucky Broadcasters Assn. dies

J.T. Whitlock, a longtime leader of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association and a figure familiar to small-town radio folks in the National Association of Broadcasters, died Saturday. He was 81.

Whitlock was general manager and co-owner of WLBN and WLSK, which serve Lebanon and Springfield, as well as a local television station. He was KBA president in 1967 and became secretary of the association and editor of the newsletter in 1973. When the jobs of secretary and treasurer were combined in 1980, he became the executive director until his retirement in 1995. As director emeritus, he continued to serve as a legislative liaison and KBA’s representative on state and national committees for emergency action. He was active in local emergency management in Marion County.

"J.T.’s straight-forward and energetic style helped to build the Kentucky Broadcasters Association into an active and respected group," KBA said in a statement. "He had a passion for the great purpose of broadcasting-- “to serve the public interest.” He was known and loved by broadcasters, government officials and industry leaders in the state and the nation." The association gives a J.T. Whitlock Life Member Award to members retiring or leaving the profession.

Survivors include his wife; his son, James T. Whitlock, Jr., of Stafford, Va.; his daughter, Betty Whitlock Reesor of Lexington and his sister, Helen Carey of Lebanon. Visitation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday at Bosley Funeral Home in Lebanon. Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Lebanon. Broadcasters are encouraged to drive marked station vehicles to remind folks in Whitlock's home county what he meant to broadcasting in the region.

Friday, Aug. 4, 2006

FCC continues push for broadband via power lines; key for rural access

Federal regulators yesterday renewed their effort for an expansion of broadband over power lines, a potential high-speed Internet access boon for rural areas typically limited to DSL or cable modems.

"If broadband over power lines, or BPL, takes off, then more Americans, particularly in rural and underserved areas, will be able to plug into high-speed Internet access, and markets dominated by cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) should be forced to lower consumers' bills, members of the Federal Communications Commission said at their monthly meeting," writes Anne Broache of News.com.

The FCC unanimously voted to adopt an order designed to reaffirm and build on the first set of BPL rules issued in 2004, which focused on preventing the new technology from interfering with radio signals that rely on nearby frequencies. Such frequencies are used in aviation and in zones near U.S. Coast Guard and radio astronomy stations, notes Broache. (Read more)

Sludge replaces manure, chemicals as fertilizer on Va. mountain farms

A writer for Virginia's Coalfield Progress took an interesting approach to explaining how "sludge" is replacing chemical fertilizer and commercial manure as the fertilizer of choice for farmers.

Jodi Deal uses a tour Wise County officials took of area farms to explain just how a by-product of sewage treatment is becoming the latest “land application of biosolids.” "In the background, farm workers continued to gather the sludge from a dumping site, load it into manure spreaders on the back of conventional farm tractors and spread it on the fields," she writes.

"The practice, which was controversial when it first began due to environmental concerns, was the center of a heated debate among county supervisors and concerned citizens in the early 90s. Citizens were opposed to importing the organic waste of other localities and using it on local soil, citing fears that the product might contain hazardous chemicals," Deal continues.

Board of Supervisors representative John Peace told Deal that choosing to use sludge is up to farmers, but that it may prove vital when other natural resources dry out. “It’s up to the farmer. But you always hear the question of what will happen when the coal’s gone. I’d like to see us farming this land," Peace said. Sludge can reduce some of the acidic pH put into soil from mining, and it does not cause nitrate and phosphate pollution in waterways like chemical fertilizers. (Read more)

Calif. publisher to make papers the 'Wal-Mart of information purveyors'

When George Riggs, 60, became head all of the Northern California newspapers of MediaNews Group Inc. this week, he inherited a 11 Bay Area dailies and dozens of daily, weekly and specialty publications with a total paid daily circulation of 697,000.

Now the Mercury News publisher faces the task of overcoming stagnant circulation and advertising pressure from Yahoo, Google, Craigslist and other online giants. Riggs, called a "bulldog" by colleagues, may turn to "exploiting the company's newfound Bay Area dominance to turn things around," even as fears persist about more newsroom job cuts, reports John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times, one of the papers added to the MediaNews stable.

Riggs said MediaNews will attempt to look for savings elsewhere by becoming more efficient. "The issue in getting efficient is not to try to cut the heart out of the editorial product," he told Simerman. "We are going to have to become super, super efficient on the cost side. We're going to have to become the Wal-Mart of information purveyors. None of us wants to hear that, but that's a harsh reality." (Read more)

Lieberman, primary foe join forces against Wal-Mart, for employees

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) faced his upcoming opponent in Tuesday's senate primary, antiwar Democrat Ned Lamont, on Wednesday in Bridgeport, Conn., and they agreed on one thing: Wal-Mart's employees deserve better treatment.

The retailer is the target of a nationwide bus tour sponsored by WakeUpWalMart.com. That campaign took center stage Wednesday over the bigger story: "that of a three-term senator scrambling to stave off an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a wealthy novice," writes Dan Balz of The Washington Post.

Lieberman chose not to focus on his political battle and instead spoke of the "great news," reports Balz. "We're all together today in wanting to wake up Wal-Mart and say, 'Treat your workers fairly,'" Lieberman said. Lamont spoke briefly, telling the audience, "As I look down at Washington, D.C., right now, I want the Democrats to stand up and say what they're for. We believe that universal health care is a basic right for each and every American. And it won't take me 18 years to go down to Washington, D.C., and to get that done." (Read more)

Canadian intern seeks slaves' stories along rural roads in Kentucky, Ohio

Canadian reporter Chris Lackner is hiking rural roads and walkways as part of a 535-mile trip to retrace how 19th-century fugitive slaves left Southern farms and plantations to find freedom in Canada.

The 27-year-old intern with the Ottawa Citizen is investigating some of the stories of the 40,000 slaves believed to have made the trek. "The Underground Railroad was a biracial human-rights movement for equality. That makes it very relevant," he told Barbara Zuck of The Columbus Dispatch. "Today there are a lot of causes, and people tend to just shrug their shoulders and say, 'What can one person do?' These were individuals who believed in something, acting on their own. It proves how individuals who take action can sometimes effect enormous change."

Lackner is writing two feature stories a week. Click here for his latest story about going through Ohio. An additional three or four short stories appear daily on Lackner's blog, "Tracks to Freedom." "The people of Kentucky and Ohio are what make this trip tick," Lackner told Zuck. "I'm just trying to tell their stories and their families' stories." (Read more)

Farming provides sense of community for city dwellers in Roanoke, Va.

"It's a fantasy for some city dwellers -- to someday move to a piece of land in the country, maybe buy a tractor, grow corn or raise animals. But as some Roanokers are proving, you don't need a large space to find your inner farmer," writes Joe Eaton of The Roanoke Times.

From housing bee hives in their backyards, where the nectar is more plentiful than in rural areas, to planting gardens of tomatoes and cucumbers, these city dwellers turned farmers are finding that agriculture can help them bring in money. Roanoke resident David Dodson hopes to get 240 pounds of honey from his backyard hives for sale this year, which he plans to market at $4 a pint and $8 a quart.

Another resident, Rick Williams, is even practicing permaculture, a philosophy centered around growing food naturally. "Williams uses no chemicals on his crops and is obsessed about promoting rich soil. His crops are not planted in neat rows. Butternut squash peek out from below blueberry bushes. Eight-foot tomato plants climb bamboo poles. For Williams, yard farming is an experiment in community building. He eats most of his produce, but he also sells some to neighbors," writes Easton. (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006

Lack of net neutrality causes political tremors for senators in tight races

Senators facing close races in the Nov. 7 election are shying away from a possible September showdown over network neutrality -- the issue of whether using high-speed Internet should be like using a toll road. Lawmakers are opposing a vote on an amendment to preserve the Internet's openness before Election Day, Nov. 7, because some view a "no" vote as possible fuel for their opposition, reports David Hatch of National Journal's Technology Daily.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., raises money from communications companies and is "locked in what political observers consider the tightest Senate race this year, apparently is anxious about the impact of voting on network neutrality. The fear is that a vote against an amendment on the issue might make him susceptible to accusations that he helped destroy today's Internet," writes Hatch. The amendment would prevent high-speed Internet operators from blocking or degrading the content of competing Internet players, and it would require the Federal Communications Commission to examine net neutrality. (Read more)

Rural implications? Proposals for "network neutrality" would raise the cost of expanding broadband in rural areas, according to a report from the Phoenix Center. "A regulatory mandate like network neutrality could result in at least a six-fold relative reduction in broadband deployment in high-cost rural areas than [is found] in low-cost urban areas," according to the study by economist George Ford and attorneys Thomas Koutsky and Lawrence Spiwak. "In a very real way, the burden that a network neutrality mandate would create would be disproportionately (but not exclusively) borne on the back of rural America." For the report, click here. The Phoenix Center calls itself "independent and non-partisan."

Latest data: U.S. broadband connections grew 33 percent last year, with a total of 50.2 million homes and businesses having the high-speed access, the FCC says. "The agency also reported that almost everyone has access to at least one broadband provider, and that 99 percent of the U.S. population lives in 99 percent of the ZIP codes that have one high-speed access provider," writes Wendy Davis of Online Media Daily. "A study issued earlier this year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also reported a surge in broadband use. Pew found that 84 million Americans connected at home via broadband in March -- up 40 percent from 60 million one year ago." Nielsen//NetRatings reported last month that 72 percent of Web users now connect from high-speed lines, up 57 percent from one year ago, notes Davis. (Read more)

Estate-tax bill includes renewal of money for mine cleanup projects

Republican lawmakers are seeking a renewal of the federal mine-reclamation program that pays for cleaning up abandoned coal mines and health care for retired miners.

"West Virginia would be a big winner under the abandoned mine legislation, which renews a law first passed in 1977. The state has a large backlog of abandoned mine sites requiring cleanup and it has the most so-called 'orphan miners' in the country. Orphan miners are retired coal workers whose former employer has gone out of business. They tend to be poor and are concentrated in Appalachia. Many beneficiaries are elderly widows of miners," reports The Associated Press.

The mining provision has been added to the estate tax and minimum wage bill to try to entice West Virginia Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller to abandon a Democratic filibuster on the estate-tax measure," writes Andrew Taylor. "A Friday vote looms on whether to cut off the Democrats' stalling tactics." (Read more)

Reporting on mining companies' woes can start with bankruptcy records

As an example of how to report on troubled coal companies, Bonnie Shortt of The Coalfield Progress reports that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is likely to revoke permits for four of Glamorgan Properties LLC's mine operations in Wise County.

"The company, whose parent company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, missed a Monday deadline to submit actual-cost bonds for reclaiming idled surface mine sites, according to DMME spokesman Mike Abbott," writes Shortt. Glamorgan needed to submit the bonds because it previously provided false information in order to take part in a pool bond program, according to DMME spokesman Mike Abbott. Glamorgan's operations stopped in may when its parent company, Unity Virginia Holdings LLC, filed for bankruptcy. (Read more)

Newspapers can investigate troubled coal companies by starting with U.S. bankruptcy courts' records, which list the names of companies who have filed. If a filing is discovered, reports can then call the regulators and request records pertaining to the company in question. To search a U.S. database of bankruptcy filings, click here.

Review finds 134 defective self-rescue breathing devices in Ky. mines

Kentucky regulators found 134 defective breathing devices during a review of air packs used in the state's 250 underground mines, after being ordered by Gov. Ernie Fletcher to test thousands.

"All but one of the defective air packs removed from underground mines were manufactured by CSE Corp. of Monroeville, Pa. The CSE SR-100s also were used by miners who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after an Eastern Kentucky mine explosion in May and in the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia in January," reports The Associated Press.

Fletcher's order came after five miners died during a May 20 explosion at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in which air packs failed to save three of them from carbon monoxide poisoning, notes AP. (Read more)

Arizona's rural land up for preservation, via initiatives on Nov. ballot

Arizona's Land Department is selling land to keep up with the state's booming population, but rural residents may get a chance to stop the rocks and hiking trails from being replaced by houses and eateries.

This story of urban sprawl versus rural life is one being told by many newspapers through the country, but Ruth Liao of The Arizona Republic writes about land dwellers seeking a voice in their future and how they might actually get one: "The long-standing tug of war between development and conservation is once again headed toward an Election Day showdown. Voters will have to choose between two initiatives." One would preserve 700,000 acres of land, and the other saves 400,000 with limited uses allowed.

The state sold a record $515 million worth of land last year, and a 275-square mile section will mark the largest parcel sold later this year. "Some homeowners say they understand that the state must keep up with growth, and they even like it that the money from the sales is used to fund education. But they worry they don't have enough say in how the land is used," reports Liao.

A further explanation of the two initiatives up for a vote reveals the unique options facing Arizona's rural residents. "Proposition 105, calls for preserving as much as 400,000 acres in state trust land, but the Legislature would have to approve every acre or parcel being preserved," writes Liao. "The other ballot measure, Proposition 106, is called Conserving Arizona's Future. It wants to automatically preserve 259,000 acres and set aside an additional 358,000 acres that could be purchased by cities and set aside for conservation." (Read more)

Agriculture project to connect rural, urban kids by sharing viewpoints

Hurricane Katrina coverage inspired one researcher to ponder how emergency responders might handle such a crisis in a rural area, and whether creating bonds between rural and urban youth might benefit the country during such times.

Gary Wingenbach, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station agricultural communications researcher, is working colleagues from Texas Tech University and Howard College on a $490,000-project called a "Big City, Big Country Road Show." The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the project, slated to start in September, with the hope that it will foster a mutual understanding among diverse, younger generations," writes Kathleen Phillips of Texas A&M University.

Wingenbach envisions the project helping urban kids realize agriculture's importance for providing food, and perhaps inspiring some of them to follow careers in that field. "Will our project lead college and high school students to come up with definitive communications solutions before the next hurricane or tornado? I doubt it," he told Phillips. "But if these two groups can work together and understand each other's uniquely different viewpoint, I think that will lead to better communications between them."

"College students will begin this fall to develop the curricula for the 'road show,'" writes Phillips. "They will gather background materials for case studies by monitoring what news is being covered in particular areas. They also will develop team lessons, group decision-making processes and consensus building activities. The following two summers will be spent in U.S. cities where the college agriculture majors will meet with the city teens to examine local food or health events covered by the news media during the previous six to 12 months." (Read more)

Ind. editor blames MySpace profile, investigative stories for dismissal

The former managing editor of The Palladium-Item in Richmond, Ind., says he was fired because of his work with a personal profile on MySpace.com and a probe of the local economic development agency.

The 18,000-circulation paper "had been put on a Gannett Co. Inc. 'Performance Improvement Plan' . . . after a company review found it lacking in 'real life, real news' stories," but Rich Jackson said that wasn't mentioned among the reasons for his dismissal, reports Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher.

"Jackson said the publisher told him the paper had done 'an investigation on my computer at work and found that I checked my Myspace messages.' He said the paper's ongoing Myspace.com page made such message checks a valid work-related act." Jackson said his site, which he took down a month before his firing, had some "sophomoric" humor. He said the officials who fired him said his profile "had some sexual content," but he told Strupp that he believes anything sexual came from someone else. (Read more)

Kentucky jail uses garden to provide food, lessen financial burden

"A nearly two-acre patch of land that once contained only grass today is producing fresh vegetables to feed to the inmates and, at the same time, lower total food costs at the Hopkins County Jail," writes Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

“It’s the first Hopkins County Jail garden we’ve ever had and we’re doing it to help offset the cost of feeding an average of 400 inmates a day,” Jailer Joe Blue said. “We have approximately $350 to $400 invested in fertilizer, seed and plants, and we’re looking at a projected value of $15,000 in produce. So from a small investment, we are getting a big return at the end.” No food is going to waste, since "extra corn, tomatoes, green beans and squash is being frozen by the jail’s kitchen crew for use in the winter in soups and stews," reports Skillman.

Many counties have jails that are financial burdens, so here's an example worthy of examination by journalists all over the country. This story is not available online, but Amber Coulter of The (Madisonville) Messenger reported on it July 8, quoting Deputy Jailer Kenny Oates as saying that the garden will probably be expanded next year, he said. "Jail employees have about 45 acres available for planting," Coulter wrote. (Click here to read more; subscription may be required)

Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006

Turnout history puts rural U.S. under spotlight for November voting

Low turnout is almost guaranteed for this November's federal election without a presidential race, which many predict will place added importance on the rural vote, already being targeted by many candidates, Cyndie Sirekis of the American Farm Bureau Federation reminds us.

"Although residents of rural America make up 20 to 23 percent of our nation’s population, research shows they tend to turn out at the polls in far greater numbers then their urban and suburban counterparts. If the overall voter apathy trend continues among urban and suburban residents, while rural residents come out to the polls in droves, each vote cast becomes even more significant," Sirekis writes.

"Among rural residents, farmers and ranchers are well-known to have a high level of political activity. As independent business families, they have a lot at stake. While they produce affordable food, fiber and fuel, they also take care of our nation’s land, forests and streams. Together, farmers and non-farm voters living in the same communities can help make rural America a force to be reckoned with by exercising their right to vote." (Read more)

Front-porch revival aims to bring back meeting place for family, friends

Summer nights can often bring together family and friends on the front porches of homes in rural America, and a National Public Radio series explores how those moments are priceless for several generations.

"Porches, debate and democracy go together. And it's no surprise the tradition of gracing an American home with a front porch goes back to the early days of the country's history. This summer, All Things Considered is examining the front porch: its history, its role in American life and literature and its rich symbolism," NPR's Michele Norris reports.

Porches once played a prominent role in American families during the days before air conditioning, as places where people enjoyed iced tea and talked about the neighborhood gossip. "But today, many homes don't have that transitional space, and air-conditioning, television, computers and other enticements draw people inside the home. American porch culture isn't what it used to be," Norris says.

She notes an ongoing effort to change that by Claude Stephens, education director at an arboretum in Louisville, Ky. Stephens founded the "Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339," which promotes a simple suggestion: "Sit down a spell. That can wait." To hear more about that union and this ongoing story, click here. Thanks to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story.

Firefighters, others to get wireless Internet boost in rural Rhode Island

Rhode Island aims to become the nation's first wireless state, and one of the program's three pilot communities is a rural place that is mostly without any cable television or high-speed Internet service.

Even so, little Foster is joining Providence and Newport as the cities getting broadband Internet first as part of the Rhode Island Wireless Innovation Networks. This program aims to "bring Wi-Fi technology -- Internet via radio waves -- to every community in the state," and Foster's system should be online in four to six months. The question is how many people will have access to the network because its range depends on the area's topography, writes Philip Marcelo of The Providence Journal.

Plans call for Foster's network to target the town's ambulance corps, fire companies, and other emergency response units, which are without Internet service for the most part. Wireless Internet is being viewed as vital for firefighters in cases where building layouts and fire hydrant locations are needed in a quick manner, reports Marcelo. (Read more)

Rural Maine lacks broadband Internet due to cost, logistical hurdles

Wireless telephone and Internet networks are in short supply throughout rural Maine, where even "the most basic of utilities to your home (like electricity, sewer lines or cable TV) can be either cost-prohibitive or simply a logistical nightmare," writes Tom Hespos for OnlineSpin.

Hespos, president of Underscore Marketing LLC, recently visited the area and discovered that most rural Maine residents either rely on dial-up Internet or their public library for access. (Read more) Consequently, Hespos found the Bangor Daily News in the midst of a series exploring the availability of broadband Internet service in Maine.

Broadband availability rose in Maine "from 65 percent of ZIP codes as of June 30, 2001, to the current 96 percent," writes Peter J. Brown in the eighth and most recent story. An Advanced Technology Infrastructure Authority aims to expand broadband to areas lacking infrastructure investment or where the economic climate is poor. To read more articles in the series, click here and search for broadband.

West Virginia mine-safety head seeks inspectors; computers upgraded

West Virginia's mine-safety director wants Gov. Joe Manchin to hire more inspectors and reopen an agency regional office in Buckhannon, as part of ongoing efforts to stop deaths in underground mines.

Director James Dean "has already implemented changes in the agency’s computer system to flag mines for required periodic inspections, and to warn if inspectors are 'spending excess time at a particular mine.' The lack of such computer warnings, Dean says, led to Massey’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine where two miners died in a January fire — and an unspecified number of other state mines — not receiving required annual electrical inspections," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

West Virginia leads the U.S. in coal-mining deaths with 20 of the 37 fatalities nationwide. This year marks the deadliest one in the state's coal mines since 1991, when 22 miners were killed. (Read more)

Missouri Web site aims to link farmers with chefs seeking fresh goods

A Missouri Internet initiative is aiming to bring together farmers with chefs who want fresh meat and vegetables -- two groups whose schedules are often not conducive to hooking up.

"During the morning and early afternoon, when chefs aren’t in the kitchen and have time to talk, farmers are out in their fields or hoop houses, tending to the bounty they must sell to stay in business. And, when those producers may have time to talk, the chefs usually are running their kitchens," writes Repps Hudson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Solution: an Internet site last month by University of Missouri Extension in an effort to bring producers and chefs together."

"My goal is to create an additional marketing tool for farmers," said Tricia Wagner, extension local-foods specialist, adding that farmers needed chefs interested in their products and chefs needed a way to reach farmers. The Web site is being hailed as an innovative effort to bridge gaps between the farming and culinary industries, and it could benefit both financially, reports Hudson. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006

Endless summer: Swimming holes serve as soothing spot for all ages

Most communities have a swimming hole that could be written about or photographed, and reporter Leon Alligood and photographer Shelly Mays of The Tennessean showed the way yesterday with a story about Tennessee's swimming holes -- perfectly times for the hottest time of the year. In photo, Ryan Nowers swings into the Harpeth River.

Alligood writes, "The swinging rope dangles invitingly above the water, held by the laws of physics in a line perpendicular to the glassy surface below, a sort of plumb bob for this season we call summer. The rope, thick and heavy and holding the smell of mildew and memories, waits patiently for these dog days, when sweat easily breaks on a young man's brow and his thoughts turn to something cool. Inevitably he thinks of the length of rope, hanging high from the stout branch above a blue hole of liquid happiness."

The young man used as an example is Mike Swarthout, a junior at Middle Tennessee State University, who finds swimming is a relaxing break from his studies. Swarthout "is thinking of cool and wet, of course, but he also is pondering flight, the simple mechanics of hurtling one's body into the air, experiencing Sir Newton's law of gravity firsthand, and accomplishing this exercise with panache, or at least with enough flair — arms windmilling and legs pedaling — to draw laughter from friends on the bank," writes Alligood.

The lure of a swimming hole is a magical experience for some, and often times people forget they exist nearby. "There are a few thousand named creeks, streams, lakes and rivers in the state. The swimming holes are too numerous to count and, even if one did attempt to make a census, the subject is too, well, subjective to compile a list. One man's delight at rippling, shallow water may not float the boat, no pun intended, of one who prefers a hideaway that is deep and wide," reports Alligood (Read more)

'Blueways' spotlight natural resources for rural areas seeking tourism

The Tennessean kept up the cool-water-for-dog-days motif today, with a story by Anne Paine: "First there were greenways. Now there's the wet version: blueways. They're streams that are mapped — much like hiking trails — showing access points for canoes and kayaks as well as camping spots, historical sites and other points along the route."

Just as greenways are stretches of park land encouraging people to explore the Southeast, blueways are bodies of water that aim to attract outdoor visitors and prompt interest in protecting nature. Blueways and greenways both promise potential economic development for rural areas, because they can provide connections between parks, shopping centers and other locations, reports Paine.

Blueways are part of a growing outdoor tourism push, said Chuck Flink, president of Greenways Incorporated, a consulting firm in Durham, N.C. "In the crazy economy we live in right now, they are positive impacts," he told Paine. "Some of the smaller towns are really getting the idea that, 'Hey, we've got these resources too. We don't have to plow $20 million into it.'" (Read more)

Clinton wants lower energy costs, broadband for rural N.Y. -- and U.S.?

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., pushed for reduced energy costs, more markets for farmers, an immigration policy that addresses agriculture workers and more high-speed Internet access in the rural U.S. during a stop in Cambria, N.Y. Monday. "She also discussed the need to create development that will raise wages for farmers, noting that she doesn’t think federal lawmakers should get a raise before the minimum wage is increased or average wages increase. She also noted that federal aid generally is sent to areas with dense populations," writes Jill Terreri of the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal.

Clinton hailed ethanol and other biofuels as possible solutions to the country's rising energy costs. “We need to look at wind and we need to look at solar,” she said. The senator also talked about economic development incentives such as student loan forgiveness, rural tax credits for home purchases and new businesses, and government-backed rural savings and investment accounts to attract people to rural areas, reports Terreri. (Read more)

Raymond Hernandez of The New York Times notes, "Mrs. Clinton’s effort to appeal to voters in this part of the state may have as much to do with 2008 presidential politics as it does with her re-election efforts this year. Her associates say that she and her advisers are well aware that capturing a substantial portion of the upstate vote could help her achieve a substantial margin of victory in November that could, in turn, give her momentum in advance of a potential presidential bid.

"But as important, making inroads in the state’s Republican strongholds would demonstrate her broad political appeal, at a time when critics in both parties say she is too polarizing to win a nationwide race by attracting moderate voters. Nationally, rural voters play a significant role in presidential elections, particularly in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, states that provide early tests of a candidate’s strength. In that context, Mrs. Clinton’s speech here offered an opportunity to preview the themes she might touch on in a national campaign. (Read more)

Complaint over prayer at senior centers erupts in northeastern Kentucky

A group of senior centers in rural northeastern Kentucky are changing their practice of praying before meals, after a complaint prompted them to ask whether people object. If so, then there will be no prayer.

The Fivco Area Development District, which serves Boyd, Carter, Greenup, Elliott and Lawrence counties, has ordered its area centers "to replace the traditional prayer before meals with a moment of silence, based on a complaint received by the state. . . . The memo, sent to all centers overseen by Fivco, says only that the complaint came from 'an individual who feels he should not be subjected to the prayers of others,' and adds 'the same individual complained about music in the center,'" writes Cathie Shaffer of the Greenup County News-Times.

One solution offered by the Kentucky Division on Aging in Frankfort is that people wishing to pray arrive a half-hour before the planned meal service, and those only wanting to eat arrive a half-hour after the service starts. Greenup County Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter, who also chairs the Fivco board, told Shaffer he sees no problem with prayer at the centers.

All three centers in the Fivco area "have adopted a new, non-official policy regarding prayer. Before a pre-meal blessing is offered, someone stand up and asks if there are objections. If no one speaks up, an oral prayer is given. If someone does object - which hasn't happened yet - a moment of silence will be observed instead," the News-Times reports. It has no Web site; click here to read the story on our site.

Network news provides little coverage of environmental issues since 9/11

"People who look to TV’s broadcast networks for news on the environment have likely been disappointed for several years. An ongoing study shows environmental coverage, after picking up dramatically in the first several months of the Bush administration in 2001, pretty much vanished after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that same year," writes James Bruggers, environmental writer for The Courier-Journal.

Bruggers attended a symposium put on by the Michigan State University environmental journalism program on Friday in New York City, where he learned that environmental coverage peaked in 1989 before entering its downward spiral. "For example, last year, the federal energy plan was on air just 25 minutes at the three networks combined. . . . Considering very credible scientists have been warning about the potential loss of civilization as we know in with a generation or two, that's pretty scary," he opines for the Louisville newspaper, in his blog.

Environmental coverage at all three networks totaled 168 minutes in 2005, down from 617 minutes in 2001 and 774 minutes in 1989. "What does all this mean? Don't rely on the three broadcast networks for your environmental news," Bruggers concludes. "Now, a question: Where do you get your environmental news?" (Read more)

Open-government group pushes for mediator as key to accountability

Proponents of the Freedom of Information Act are pushing Congress to pass additional legislation that would establish an ombudsman or mediator to help speed up the rather lengthy process of filling requests.

Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org told members of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability that Bush's 2005 executive order on improving agencies' disclosure of information failed to truly produce change, reports Corinna Zarek of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "There is no meaningful followup built into the executive order; it is up to Congress to hold the agencies accountable," she said. (Read more)

"OpenTheGovernment.org is a coalition of journalists, consumer and good government groups, environmentalists, labor and others united to make the federal government a more open place in order to make us safer, strengthen public trust in government, and support our democratic principles," according to the group's Web site, which also includes information about the environment, public health, national security and public accountability.

Create a credit card czar to handle abuse complaints, demands columnist

When Don McNay wrote about an MBNA collector who claimed to have talked to his deceased mother, McNay began receiving stories about other credit card companies boasting the same feats. McNay demands the creation of a credit card czar to handle such complaints.

"Consumers need one agency, one address, and one phone number to call about abusive credit card companies and collectors. That credit card czar should have some real authority. Few of the above mentioned agencies have any power. The web site for the Federal Trade Commission basically tells you not to expect their help and the Comptroller of the Currency is usually an industry lapdog. State agencies don't have the resources to go after billion-dollar credit card companies," McNay writes.

"A credit card czar would keep the abuses in check. A czar could issue a license to be a collector. Anyone that goes over the line could be thrown out of the collections business. Even without a credit card czar, there are some ways to reign in abuses. One place to look would be state bar associations. A trend in law firms nowadays is to have few lawyers on staff but an army of collectors who operate under their umbrella.

"To me, the solution is simple. If a 'law firm' cannot manage or supervise their staff, the partners in the firm should be disbarred. If that happened a couple of times, collectors would not go over the line as often as they do now. At the very least, they would stop saying they have talked to dead people. When all of the promises are gone, the czar would be the one who stops out-of-control collectors," concludes McNay. (Read more) Click here for his first MBNA column.

Citizens must stay informed on Kentucky smoking bans, opines innovator

Several Kentucky cities have adopted smoking bans in restaurants and other public places, and now the state government, often a slave to tobacco in the past, is following suit in buildings it owns and leases.

"A tipping point regarding health in Kentucky occurred this month when Gov. Ernie Fletcher designated that state buildings be smoke-free. This takes on national significance as well, given that Kentucky is a tobacco-producing state and has some of nation's highest numbers of smokers and health complications that result from smoking," writes Sylvia L. Lovely for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The best way to deal with the smoking controversy is to allow informed citizens to reassert their role in the democratic process by becoming involved in important decisions at the local level. Questions, such as whether to ban smoking in commercial establishments should be decisions that are mandated by the people and their elected leaders in each community," opines Lovely, the executive director and CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities, a group that promotes innovation in the cities it represents.

"The key to such local decision-making, of course, involves an informed citizenry that has the willingness to understand the need for give and take. We must take the best information we can acquire and act on it while understanding the balance of compromise that often is necessary, particularly in urban settings where we increasingly live close to one another." (Read more)

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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