The Rural Blog
Issues, events, trends, ideas and journalism from rural America and the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
For the interactive version of this blog, go to http://irjci.blogspot.com.

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

The Cullman (Ala.) Times makes Web video part of the routine

As many smaller newspapers only have just begun to use the Web, The Cullman (Ala.) Times has started posting daily video updates on its site. The 10,000-circulation daily drew praise for its innovation from Editor & Publisher's Pauline Millard, who said the paper showed the new technology could be used on a budget. (At right: An image from one of the recent Web videos available daily on the paper's site.)

In her column, Millard writes that the staff uses "simple equipment, such as cheap work lights from Wal-Mart, a light diffuser made from PVC and clearance-rack fabric, and an ancient Macintosh computer that serves as a TelePrompTer" for a studio, while the images and sound are captured with "a $300 consumer video camera and a $100 shotgun microphone."

Above all, the newscasts are "hyperlocal," Millard says, and thus give readers and viewers want they want. Called "The Update," the video follows the format of a TV news program, complete with an opening tease of the day's top stories followed by a montage of the newspaper's staff in action and a nod to The Update's sponsor. After the top stories, The Update divides the remaining time among feature and sports stories. In all, it is concise 11-minute video that does far more than the "talking head" format of some newspaper Web video.

To view a recent Web video update from The Cullman Times, go here.

Coal industry should share blame for mine-safety problems, Ky. weekly says

Utah mine owner Robert E. Murray's "recklessness" and the Mine Safety and Health Administration's "failure to rein him in" are to blame for the recent tragedy, but others should face congressional inquiry next week: "Murray's co-conspirators in the coal industry," opines The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

In the latest in a series of detailed, hard-hitting editorials on the safety issues raised by the disaster, the Eagle declares, "We continue to be haunted by the still largely unexamined story of how the industry fought -- successfully -- to keep MSHA from requiring modern mine communications technology in underground coal mines," the Eagle writes. MSHA's excuse, from the Federal Register: "Since technology is constantly changing, newer systems that may be as, or more, effective than [current technology] may be developed."

"We've never seen a worse excuse for fatal inaction or a better example of what's wrong with the coal industry and mine safety enforcement," the Eagle editorial concludes. (Read more)

Following legal victory, Fla. papers post database of FEMA's hurricane aid

Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers and television stations in Florida had sought Federal Emergency Management Agency records on the distribution of hurricane relief money since filing a lawsuit in 2005. The records were made public in June and are now published in a searchable database.

The Web site of The News-Press in Fort Myers has posted the database, which includes information from the four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004 (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne). The database is searchable by the addresses of those who registered for aid and includes the date of application and approval, any amount approved and ownership status of the applicant. The database appears alongside a collection of analysis of the FEMA aid and stories of the legal battle over the information.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Poverty down, but not in rural areas, where it has increased among children

The Census Bureau's annual poverty report says 15.2 percent of rural Americans lived in poverty in 2006, a rate "statistically unchanged" from 2005, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, the national poverty rate declined for the first time this decade, down to 12.3 percent from 12.6 percent in 2005, the Census Bureau report says.

At the same time, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire reports that "in 37 states, a higher percentage of rural children live in poverty today than in 2000." The South has the highest rate, 27.2 percent, while the national rural child poverty rate is 22.2 percent, the study says. States with the highest rates are Mississippi (34.7 percent), Louisiana (34.4 percent) and New Mexico (30.1 percent). The Southwest trails only the South in terms of rural child poverty. Connecticut (9.1 percent) has the lowest rate.

The stagnant overall rural poverty rate stands in contrast to economic growth, especially in agriculture. "According to the Agriculture Department, net farm income, a gauge of the financial health, was a strong $60 billion in 2006, buoyed by rising grain and soybean prices and the boom in fuel ethanol production," Reuters reports. To explain the disparity between the rural and national rates, the Reuters story cites economists who say "rural residents tend to be older, a lower-earning age group, than the national average."

According to the Carsey Institute, there was a "significant decline" in poverty for people over 65 but no significant decline in poverty for children or adults aged 18 to 64. "Research has shown that good policy and programs can alleviate that poverty – programs that provide early childhood education, making work pay for parents, decent schools, and access to health care," said Cynthia "Mil" Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute. "We shouldn't be going backwards on addressing child poverty in the 21st Century."

Gaming measure passes after recount in Charleston, W.Va.'s county

More than two weeks after a slim majority in Kanawha County, W.Va., voted to allow table games at the Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, a greyhound track, the special election's results have been certified following a recount today, reports WSAZ-TV in Charleston, W.Va. (Continuing coverage available here.)

The Aug. 11 referendum went through a ballot canvas on Aug. 24, and the measure was determined to have passed by a margin of 343 votes (of more than 46,000 cast), reports Rusty Marks of The Charleston Gazette. Gaming opponents, who don't want to see table games added to the slots and dog racing at the track, then began raising funds for a recount, Marks writes. Officials counted ballots in just 44 of the county's 175 precincts today, because "that's all we could afford," gaming opponent Mia Moran Cooper told Marks. Tri-State officials had the option of continuing the recount if they chose. (Read more)

The recount found 14 additional uncounted votes, bringing the margin of the measure's passage to 339 votes, WSAZ-TV reports. An official breakdown of the pre-recount results is available here. The county was the last of four to hold referenda on casinos at racetracks -- which already had slot machines -- under a law passed to compete with Pennsylvania's approval of slots statewide. Two tracks in the Northern Panhandle will get casinos, but voters in a more prosperous Eastern Panhandle county voted not to allow a casino there.

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007

Computer mag looks at rural broadband; contest asks how it changes life

The problem of broadband access in rural America takes center stage at Computerworld.com, as the site devotes a large article and a smaller sidebar to a discussion of this important facet of the digital divide.

In the main story, Robert L. Mitchell highlights two key statistics: only 17 percent of rural households use broadband (source: the Government Accountability Office), and that the U.S. ranks 15th in broadband penetration (from a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Mitchell stresses that broadband is key to keeping rural Americans involved in the “New Economy” — without that access, he says, they will be left out. “Rural areas need broadband,” he writes. “But deregulation has freed carriers from any real obligation to offer it. The market will never provide universal broadband access without regulation or subsidies, but the U.S. lacks both a coherent policy and the political will to address the issue.” (Read more)

In an accompanying piece, Mitchell reports that the absence of high-speed connections hampers the operations of larger retailers who have stores in rural areas. He points to Trans World Entertainment, which uses DSL to communicate among its 1,000 Coconuts and f.y.e. music stores. Mitchell quotes a TWE executive as saying access is unavailable in 17 percent of store locations, and even where it was available it was often painfully slow. (Read more)

In an effort to promote the spread of broadband access to rural areas, the Alliance for Public Technology is encouraging people to tell their stories about what high-speed Internet has meant to them. The campaign is called “Broadband Changed My Life,” and the best stories will earn prizes of “up to $1,000.” The deadline for submission is Oct. 1, 2007. To submit a story, go here.

Congress needs to define legal strip mining, New York Times editorial says

Following Friday’s proposal from the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining to create new regulations allowing mountaintop removal for the surface mining of coal , The New York Times called for Congress to step in and have its say.

The Times says this is the latest example of the Bush administration to protect the practice "from legal challenge. But since the net result is likely to be more confusion and more courtroom wrestling, the situation cries out for Congressional intervention to define once and for all what mining companies can and cannot do."

The editorial also points to legislation from Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Rep. Christopher Shays, D-Conn., as a possible means to address the issue of mountaintop removal and its wastes. (Read more) The Times says the bill has more than 60 co-sponsors; the advocacy group I Love Mountains lists 93.

Earlier this month, Mary Jo Shafer reported in The Mountain Eagle and other newspapers that foes of mountaintop removal were focusing on Washington after being rebuffed at the local and state levels. Shafer, now an assistant city editor at The Anniston Star, did the story during an internship with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues as part of earning a master's degree in community journalism from the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program of the University of Alabama.

Demand for water brings search, and then conflict, to rural areas

As San Antonio and its workforce have grown, so have their need for more water, so water company officials have been forced reached farther out into rural Atascosa County, where communities often have opposed any use of "their" water, reports Jerry Needam for the San Antonio Express-News. His story is a good case study of the history of a local problem that is occurring on the rural fringes of many metropolitan areas.

The San Antonio Water System met opposition again recently when it proposed to build a desalination plant in Atascosa County, and Needam says it is not the first time SAWS has battled with rural residents to bring more water into San Antonio. "Water creates conflicts, there's no doubt about that," William Mullican, deputy executive administrator for the Texas Water Development Board, told Needam. "The history of San Antonio is a very good example of that. Anywhere they start to look, local entities will do whatever they can to try to put in place barriers to that exportation occurring."

Needam says rural residents worry that if the water is used elsewhere, it might not be available if their community's demand grows. On the flip side, one SAWS official argues that sprawl and the spike in commuters mean thousands aren't "paying their water bill to SAWS, but they're using a whole lot of SAWS water" at work. Clearly, it is a difficult balancing act, with the needs of a growing regional hub one side and the concerns of a rural community on the other. Or as another SAWS representative put it, "I don't know that there's any source of water that can be tapped without irritating someone." (Read more)

Monday, Aug. 27, 2007

Edwards focuses on rural voters; adviser says they'll be pivotal in Nov. 2008

In an effort to gain ground in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, John Edwards has styled himself as the candidate most in touch with rural America, reports Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post.

She reports that the former North Carolina senator has peppered his speeches with quips such as, "You don't make a hog fatter by weighing it," an attack on the notion that more testing is all that is needed to improve education. The agricultural analogy highlights his campaign's subtext,"that he is the sole Southern Democrat and cultural conservative in the Democratic presidential field, making him the only top-tier candidate in his party who can appeal easily to white men," Kornblut writes.

Kornblut explains the goal of the rural recasting is to contrast Edwards with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and make the case that Edwards can "attract culturally conservative voters in states such as Virginia, voters who consider gun ownership an important right and aren't thrown by his drawl."

Virginian David "Mudcat" Saunders, an Edwards adviser, told Kornblut that rural voters will help decide the election. "Rural America is pivotal," he said. "Rural America is saying, 'To hell with the Republicans.' But you've got to have the right candidate, one who can get through to the culture." (Read more)

'Transfer of wealth' studies suggested for rural philanthropic development

Continuing to heed the call of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., members of a recent Council on Foundations conference in Montana spent time in small groups creating "working drafts" to shape the "philanthropic agenda for rural America," reports Suzanne Perry of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The brainstorming at the end of the conference produced drafts including more than "30 items in areas including the arts, economic development, education, the environment, health, housing, technology, and efforts to increase the financial assets of individuals and families," Perry writes.

Perry reports that members recommended that "transfer of wealth" studies be conducted by state and by county to show "how much money will be passed on to heirs over the next 50 years." Conference members also said these reports should coupled with guides as to how communities might "tap into that money," she writes. This is of key concern for rural communities, as much of that of wealth is in rural land and assets. If that wealth can be reinvested in those communities, there is great potential for economic development.

According to Perry, the small groups also recommend encouraging "grant making that marries environmental protection to economic development," as well as those grants that take interest in the issues of locally-grown food and the expansion of rural access to technology. By "marrying" large issues, these grants can tap into a deeper pool of resources and gain more attention than narrow examples.

In another suggestion, the conference members emphasized "research on ways foundations can support arts and culture in rural areas and distribute the findings broadly," Perry writes. This recommendation seeks the help of newspapers and other local media, as those would be the natural sources for the public distribution of such findings. Click here to read more; subscription or one-day pass required.

Meanwhile, the latest report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy looks for ways to bridge the divide in giving between rural and urban nonprofit groups. It suggests that rural nonprofits combat “grantmakers' perceptions of rural life, geographical isolation and capacity-building needs.”

Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007

Pennsylvania's plan to put tolls on mainly rural I-80 could be wave of future

If a current controversy in Pennsylvania is any indication, rural residents may have to start paying tolls to travel interstate highways in order to fund transportation improvements in urban areas.

Gov. Ed Rendell proposed, and legislators agreed, that tolls be imposed on Interstate 80, which runs from east to west through the middle of the state and is used mainly by people from other states, mostly truckers. The congressmen from mainly rural northwestern Pennsylvania are trying to block the apparently unprecedented move, but they are unlikely to be successful because the state's two senators don't agree with them, The New York Times reports today.

Bernard Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, which has studied the impact of toll roads, told Times reporter Sean Hamill, “I think most states will eventually have to move to the user principle. Tolls are going to be the wave of the future.” (Read more)

"This kind of regional populism seemed to be out of style," researchers Terry Madonna and Michael Young wrote last Sunday. In recent years, "Country-city clashes have been more about values and ideology than about money and economics. . . . The I-80 proposal has violated the tacit modus vivendi between urban and rural Pennsylvania. Rural residents around I-80 don't expect to pay road taxes to subsidize urban Pennsylvania. But that's how they perceive it. As such, it threatens to unsettle the crucial economic questions once thought to be decided -- who gets what, when, and how." Madonna is a professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College and Young runs Michael Young Strategic Research in Harrisburg.

Julie Ardery of The Daily Yonder, beating the Times to the story, wrote that the controversy illustrates the increasing responsibility of state and local governments for infrastructure. She concluded, "We hear a lot about the cultural divisions between rural and urban Americans, but culture doesn't explain Pennsylvania's toll road 'slugfest.' This battle isn't over "values" but money – the money needed to pay for federal highways that the feds can’t or won’t provide." (Read more)

Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007

Ky. passes synfuel incentives for coal industry, amid warning of a reckoning

The Kentucky General Assembly this week passed new incentives for plants to make synthetic fuel from coal, over objections of Appalachian residents who said the bill, among other things, would lead to more strip mining of coal through mountaintop removal. But their pleas did find some receptive ears, writes Ronnie Ellis, the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. correspondent in the state capital of Frankfort.

"Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council . . . warns a day of reckoning is coming when mandated reductions in carbon emissions which are warming our planet will dramatically increase the costs of coal-generated electricity. Lawmakers respect Fitzgerald, courteously listen to him, and then vote against his counsel. At least they listen. And this week, it appeared others got through to lawmakers about the devastation of coal mining. Members of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth were eloquent and moving in their condemnation of coal and its effects on their lives and the environment – eloquent enough that several lawmakers asked to go and see for themselves."

Ellis gives the pro-industry arguments from coalfield legislators, and sums up with a song lyric from a friend: "As a flatlander who has never depended on the livelihood provided by coal mining nor lived near its destruction, I don’t possess any answers. There seems a high price for coal but its backers promise a high return. Still, the debate this week reminded me of a lyric in a song Mitch Jayne wrote for The Dillards: 'Promises are words for things they never do. Mountains are promises come true.'" (Read more)

Friday, Aug. 24, 2007

In face of immigration crackdowns, farmers turn to inmates for labor

For $2 an hour, low-security inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes harvest watermelons in Arizona, where farmers have been using prison labor for almost 20 years. The demand for the inmate workforce is growing as state and federal governments crack down on the use of undocumented workers, writes Nicole Hill of The Christian Science Monitor (who took the photo).

Hill reports that a similar program has begun in Colorado, another is being considered in Iowa, and the Arizona program has never been more in demand, especially since farmers there face state fines for employing undocumented workers. The program allows cleared prisoners — about 3,300 of the state’s 37,000 prisoners — to work on private land for a minimum of $2 per hour, Hill writes. The requests for labor far outnumber the ability of the Arizona Department of Corrections to fill them, Hill writes, so “the ADC is considering innovative solutions – including satellite prisons.”

The program has detractors, such as the United Farm Workers of America and the Western Growers Association. Hill reports that the UFWA sees a food-safety concern in the use of prison labor, while the WGA says the situation points to an even greater need for a “legal, stable workforce.” (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

New rule aimed at removing legal barriers to mountaintop-removal mining

Mountaintop removal -- the practice of using explosives to blast away the tops of mountains to expose coal for strip mining -- has been used controversially in Central Appalachia "under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion" for decades, and now has found the support of the White House, says The New York Times.

The Bush administration will approve a new regulation that will allow mountaintop removal to continue and expand, in an effort to encourage mining companies to increase output to meet increased demand, reports John M. Broder. The new rule, drafted by the Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department, would require only "that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law," Broder writes.

That "environmental harm" is at the forefront of the mountaintop-removal debate, since the mining generates tons of waste that must be deposited somewhere, usually in valleys and headwater streams near mines. The new rule limits the protection of these areas from dumping. "Activists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage of vast tracts and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams," Broder writes.

Broder's story is a good summary of a complex issue, but he slips on at least one point, saying that the environmental impact statement for the rule says that under it, "another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018." The streams that are buried don't come close to being rivers. (Read more)

Likewise, an otherwise good graphic with the story says, "Coal companies are supposed to reclaim land, but native trees have trouble growing on disturbed topsoil." That implies that only restoration of forest would accomplish reclamation. The law requires only "vegetative cover," and that typically is grass -- although recent research has found that with less soil compaction, trees can be more easily grown on mined land.

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Coal industry could have prevented mine deaths, weekly's editorial says

As the rescue effort at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah remained halted, leaving six miners trapped and probably dead, The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., continued to offer some of the sharpest criticism about the current state of mine safety in the United States.

In this week’s edition, an editorial listed the names of the 63 miners killed nationwide since Jan. 1, 2006, as well as the six miners still missing in Utah. “It's a terrible toll -- 70 miners in all -- and one that should be unacceptable, because fatality-by-fatality reviews show that most of these deaths could have been prevented by a combination of systematic risk assessment, conscientious mine management, diligent regulatory enforcement, and adoption of technologies that are taken for granted elsewhere,” the editorial said.

The editorial suggested key links between recent coal mining deaths: a lack of advanced emergency breathing and communication devices in mines. The Eagle said miners aren’t given adequate training with breathing devices, called Self-Contained Self-Rescuers, and that the models in use in these mines have been rendered “obsolete.” In addition, the editorial said miners lack a system for two-way communication in mines. Legislation passed after the Sago Mine disaster of January 2006 has mandated the installation of such r]systems, but not until 2009, and the editorial said progress has been slow on that front. (Read more)

Meanwhile, a friend of one of the miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine confronted mine co-owner Bob Murray yesterday at a funeral for one of the three rescue workers killed at the mine, The Associated Press reports. The man "handed Murray a dollar bill" and said, "This is just to help you out so you don't kill him." AP reports, "Murray's head snapped back as if slapped." For video from CNN, click here.

The episode "revealed more than just the frustration of people in this mining community in central Utah's coal belt, where most still speak in whispers when criticizing the officials whose businesses pay their bills," AP reports. "Critics are now openly calling the mine a disaster waiting to happen and pointing fingers at Murray Energy Corp. and the federal government as the agents of the tragedy." (Read more)

Today, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Murray and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration made a risky change to the mining plan of the previous owner, contrary to statements by Murray. MSHA approved the change in only seven business days, Robert Gehrke reports. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007

Crackdown on illegals raises nationwide concern about harvest labor

The Bush administration, under political pressure to show toughness after failure of its immigration bill, says it is cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants. That has helped spread worries about lack of farm labor to harvest crops this year to all corners of the country, including the apple orchards of the Hudson River valley in New York. "There are new fears in New York and around the nation over whether there will be enough hands to pick the crop," Lisa Foderaro of The New York Times reports from Hamptonburgh, N.Y, where Jonamac apples are being harvested in the photo by the Times' Joyce Dopkeen.

"Nationwide, growers’ associations estimate that about 70 percent of farmworkers are illegal immigrants, many of them using fake Social Security numbers on their applications. Under the new rules, if the Social Security Administration finds that an applicant’s information does not match its database, employers could be required to fire the worker or risk being fined up to $10,000 for knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant," Foderaro writes. "Growers say that only 2 percent of farmworkers nationwide come from the current guest-worker program, which, they say, is plagued by red tape, low capacity and delays." (Read more)

The Department of Homeland Security "first proposed the regulations in June 2006 but then failed to implement them while an immigration-overhaul made its way to the Senate floor," reports June Kronholz of The Wall Street Journal. "That bill collapsed in part because of a public outcry over the administration's lax enforcement of immigration laws already on the books." (Read more)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, after first saying that it welcomed the new regulations, had a conference call for its leaders with administration officials last Thursday, Bob Meyer of Brownfield Network reports. "There have been concerns in agriculture that the latest rules will cause an even greater shortage of farm labor, especially in fruit and vegetable-growing areas," Meyer reports. "Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation president, Bill Bruins says that concern came up in the conference call and while the White House acknowledged the problem, they have every intention to push-ahead with the enforcement." (Read more)

Television chains rushing to create Web sites for local high-school sports

Coverage of high-school sports has long been a staple, and an important audience-builder, for local news media. Now local outlets are getting more competition from national media chains, and they could have an impact in rural areas.

"Within days of each other, three media companies . . . launched Web brands aimed at high school sports," writes Katy Bachman of MediaWeek, reporting on the latest site to be announced, by Hearst-Argyle Television, highschoolplaybook.com. "Emmis Communications, partnering with the Indiana High School Athletic Association launched a statewide brand, IHSAAsports.org. Belo launched hsgametime.com in six of its markets, with plans to roll out the site out to all the company’s markets by the end of this month."

Hearst-Argyle plans to launch the site in all 25 of its markets and "to syndicate the site in markets where it doesn’t own stations, with the goal of reaching 100 markets by August 2009," Bachman reports. "One of the main signatures of Playbook are the specially trained student sideline reporters, at least 10 in each market, who will not only contribute video coverage but serve as the face and voice of the community . . . equipped with Canon HV20 high-definition camcorders, provided by Canon, the first sponsor of the site. The site is also heavy on social networking with MySpace- and Facebook-like community tools including personal profile pages, team pages, school pages, SMS voting and other 'mashable' content." (Read more)

W.Va. county narrowly approves adding table games to slots at racetrack

A dog-racing track near Charleston, W.Va., which already has slot machines, hopes to add casino table games following apparent, narrow approval in a countywide referendum -- the third and last such vote in the Mountain State this year, part of a regional trend that could encourage casinos in Ohio and Kentucky.

The outcome of the Aug. 11 referendum was in doubt for another week, as a recanvass widened the 33-vote margin to 343. The final tally was "23,192 in favor of allowing poker, craps, roulette and other casino-style games at Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, and 22,849 against," reported Tara Tuckwiller of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more) Opponents split on a recount; the West Virginia Family Foundation said it wouldn't change the results, but the West Virginia Council of Churches said it would pay for a recount, reports Mike Waterhouse of WSAZ-TV. (Read more)

The state's four racetracks, which have had slots for several years, won legislative approval for table games this year, after Pennsylvania authorized slots statewide and Maryland continued to discuss allowing slots at tracks. The only West Virginia county to reject table games was Jefferson, a prosperous county at the state's eastern tip. The other two approvals came in the Northern Panhandle, close to Pennsylvania.

The expansion of gaming in the two states is expected to increase pressure for it in Ohio, where voters have twice rejected casinos, and Kentucky, where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Steve Beshear is pushing for a statewide referendum and leading in polls against Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. After Beshear won the primary, the governor dropped his hands-off stance on the issue and said he would fight casinos. This week he launched a television ad campaign built around a recent tour he made to states with casinos.

Monday, Aug. 20, 2007

As feds focus on terrorism, Indians say drug fight on reservations suffers

"While the FBI turns its attention to preventing another 9/11, drug traffickers are exploiting the vacuum. The result: A drug epidemic and related crime wave are plaguing Indian communities," report Paul Shukovsky and Daniel Lathrop in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"White House cuts to the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been disastrous for tribes -- in part because the bureau in Indian Country acts like a local police department, making the felony arrests," the P-I reports. "Tribal police don't have legal authority to arrest non-Indians or charge anyone with felonies. And the maximum term in reservation jails is one year." The main drug causing problems is methamphetamine.

Justice Department records show that the FBI has had 27 percent less investigative activity on Indian reservations since Sept. 11, 2001 -- "mirroring the transfer of more than 2,000 agents nationwide to counterterrorism duties, and a related sharp decline of investigations into white-collar crime, police abuse and civil rights violations," Shukovsky and Lathrop report.

"Officially, the FBI maintains that the number of agents assigned to Indian Country has increased by 7 percent, and that the number of indictments handed down has remained steady. But special agents in the field, former FBI administrators and federal prosecutors say the real picture is bleak. They say agents who would normally respond to reservation crimes aren't doing it as much because of a domino effect of the FBI being saddled with homeland security matters. And they say federal investigations on most reservations have failed to keep pace with burgeoning crime." (Read more)

Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007

Number of gun dealers down 79% since 1994; many closed in rural areas

"The number of federally licensed firearms dealers has fallen 79 percent nationwide since 1994, when Congress passed " new gun-control measures that still spark fiery debate," reports Michael Doyle of the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

"In 1994, there were 245,628 U.S. residents holding federal licenses to sell firearms," Doyle reports from Washington. "Now, there are 50,630 of the so-called Type 1 federal firearms licenses nationwide. "The decline in licenses began after Congress approved in 1993 the so-called Brady Bill, named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. The 1993 law, and a subsequent 1994 anti-crime law, imposed new restrictions."

Firearms licenses now cost $200 for three years, not $10 for one year, and "applicants now must submit photographs and fingerprints and inform local police of their plans. In many cases, those losing licenses were so-called 'kitchen table' dealers, who operated from their homes rather than from formal storefronts."

"Smaller shops simply can't afford some of that," National Rifle Association spokesperson Ashley Varner told Doyle. "People in rural areas have a harder time getting firearms if they aren't near a large store." Still, "Justice Department records indicate total firearm sales have remained roughly even." (Read more)

Rural providers recruit local citizens to fill gaps in health-care workforces

"Frontier and rural health care providers looking for innovative ways to solve increasing workforce shortages are sometimes finding that help is as near as their own backyards: by recruiting and training local people to be health care professionals in their communities," reports Candi Helseth of The Rural Monitor.

The story in the summer edition cites examples from Nevada, Alaska and Maryland. In the photograph, Dr. Christine Alarcon, left, and assistant Lisa Windsor treat a three-year-old patient at the only dental clinic for low-income children in Dorchester County, on Maryland's isolated Eastern Shore. Community groups "negotiated a deal with Alleghany College in western Maryland to reserve two spots for Eastern Shore students in its dental hygiene program. . . . Students were required to commit to practicing at least two years on the Eastern Shore."

The University of Nevada "developed a medical student rotation program to introduce students to rural practice and, at the same time, provide more services to those communities," and directors of a frontier hospital in Alaska "picked up the bill for hospital employees to become registered nurses," Helseth writes. (Read more) The Rural Monitor is published by the federally funded Rural Assistance Center, a collaboration of the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health, the Rural Policy Research Institute and the Office of Rural Health Policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rural intersections in Wisconsin deadlier than urban, newspaper study finds

Intersections in northeastern Wisconsin were deadlier "than more congested urban intersections in recent years," Karen Lincoln Michel and Ben Jones report for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers after studying state records for a 10-county area and the rest of the state from 1994 through 2005. About 80 percent of the 422 crashes at intersections were on roads the state classifies as rural. "Statewide, 70 percent of all fatal crashes at intersections occurred on rural roads," Lincoln and Jones report.

Two reasons seem to be two kinds of speed: faster driving in rural areas, and fast suburban growth. "The speed at which traditionally rural areas are transitioning to far-flung suburbs, boosting travel pressure on narrow country roads, is outpacing government’s ability to make upgrades," they write. "Although the majority of deadly crashes happen on local roads, they get a minority of the federal funds aimed at preventing deaths."

The story, which points out several problem intersections, can be done by any reporter in any state, using data collecteted by state transportation agencies and the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Read more)

Friday, Aug. 17, 2007

Kentucky county on edge of Cumberland Plateau says no to ATVs on roads

An ordinance to allow all-terrain vehicles to be driven on public roads, which gained national attention when introduced in Wayne County, Kentucky, last month, died at this week's meeting of the county Fiscal Court when even the member who introduced it declined to vote for it on second reading. ATVs are highly popular in the county, where the rugged western edge of the Cumberland Plateau meets the Tennessee border.

"District Two Magistrate Darrell Dishman, who originally brought the petition to the court asking that ATV's be allowed to travel on county roads in order to reach off-road trails, said he was opposed to the ordinance because he did not want to burden riders with purchasing liability insurance," Melodie Jewell Phelps reports in this week's Wayne County Outlook. "District Three Magistrate Dale Vaughn said he was opposed to this
ordinance from the first day he learned about it. But he said he wanted to keep and open mind and listen to those who voiced an opinion [at a recent public hearing]. With Kentucky leading the nation in ATV deaths right now, Vaughn said he was afraid the numbers would skyrocket." (Read more)

About those names: As non-Kentuckians may have guessed, a fiscal court is the state's version of a county commission. The name goes back to the days when magistrates (still "justices of the peace" in the state constitution) had both budgetary and judicial powers. But it's more accurate nomenclature than in Louisiana, where the county legislative body is the Police Court. Still, when it comes to such names, we like a little color and thus don't care for a recent change in Tennessee, where the official name is Legislative Body. Ugh. And a persnal note on newspaper nomenclature: I've always liked the name of the Outlook, against which I competed briefly 32 years ago. A newspaper ought to give readers an idea, at least implicit, of the outlook for their community. The name is most popular among papers in Kentucky, site of three of the 13 weekly Outlooks in the United States. Washington and Ohio each have two. Only one U.S. daily bears the name, the Alexander City (La.) Outlook. --Al Cross, director, Inst. for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007

From the Appalachian coalfield, an editorial rebuke for Utah mine owner

As The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., went to press yesterday, the weekly newspaper looked far west to another coalfield, where rescue efforts continued at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah. "We join with mining communities throughout the coalfields in praying for their rescue, even as time grinds away at the odds of achieving that outcome," the Eagle's editorial said. "Meanwhile, everyone anxious about the fate of the miners has had to endure a week of watching the mine’s owner, Robert Murray, demonstrating why he doesn’t deserve to be trusted with the facts, let alone the lives of thousands of people who depend on him for their livelihoods." (Photo of Murray by Ramin Rahimian of Reuters, via the Daily Yonder)

The editorial accused Murray of several misstatements. "Particularly galling to us were his off-the-wall rants about former federal mine safety officials Davitt McAteer and Tony Oppegard, both of whom we know well," who worked for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton era and "have been among the most effective advocates miners have ever had – a distinction Bob Murray would no doubt claim for himself, but one that wouldn’t seem likely to withstand a moment’s scrutiny."

After reports that cast Murray as "bumptious but benevolent . . . his Berlin Wall of bluster began crumbling," the Eagle notes. "The first blows came from seismologists who reported that the 'seismic event' at Crandall Canyon was the violent cave-in itself, not an earthquake triggering it. Then MSHA contradicted him, confirming that Crandall Canyon was indeed doing retreat mining in the area of the cave-in. Then . . . came reports that miners who had been working in the area had been fearful about their safety."

The Eagle explained to its readers the differences in the mines they know and the one in Utah, and questioned MSHA's approval of retreat mining in an environment where high pressure and seismic activity can cause "'bumps' or 'bounces' in which the mine ribs or floor can suddenly give way with explosive force, firing chunks of coal like bullets and reducing solid coal pillars to rubble." It said the investigation of the accident should not be left to MSHA, but also include a group of outside experts. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007

Rural rollout of broadband running out of gas as profits thin, expert says

“Are rural Americans doomed to second-rate broadband services?” asks Robert Mitchell, a national correspondent for Computerworld. The magazine says the answer is yes -- because it's too expensive for publicly held communications firms that maximize profit to please Wall Street. Sound familiar, newspapers?

Less than a third of rural American homes have high-speed Internet, while half in metropolitan areas do, according to the latest survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Only 31 percent of rural homes have broadband, while 52 percent in urban areas and 49 percent in suburbs do. Rural households are gaining on their metro counterparts, but slowly. "Between 2006 and 2007, high-speed Internet usage among rural adults grew by 24 percent, versus 18 percent for urban residents and just 7 percent for suburbanites," Pew's report said. "Broadband penetration among rural residents in early 2007 is now roughly equal to broadband penetration among urban/suburban residents in early 2005." (Read the report)

Pew focuses on demographics, Mitchell reports, "because accurate estimates of broadband deployment are simply not available from the cable and telecommunications companies -- and because the center's studies are too small to paint a complete picture with regard to availability. . . . Most of the low-hanging fruit" has already been picked in terms of providing access to the most profitable, easy-to-reach customers. While demographics may play a role in the slowdown in broadband penetration,  the situation may be that many people in the country simply can't get broadband, whether they want it or not." (Read more)

In an earlier piece, Mitchell said Verizon's sale of rural lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to "tiny" FairPoint Communications "is part of a broad strategy to shed less profitable business in rural areas while retaining business in higher density metropolitan areas, where the return per mile of fiber-optic cable is highest. . . . Today, most rural New England customers can't even get basic DSL. But even if FairPoint does offer broadband to more rural customers . . . will it be yesterday's technology, while the rest of the world moves to multi-megabit speeds capable of supporting multimedia video and audio streams?"

Again, Mitchell says yes. "The telephone network is slowly disappearing into the Internet," he writes. "While universal access for telephone service is still a reality, there is no such entitlement for rural Americans when it comes to broadband. Unless an investment is made, most of them will remain in maintenance mode on the outdated . . . infrastructure." Governments' role in providing broadband is limited by lack of money, and state laws -- passed after heavy lobbying by telecom firms -- to limit or block publicly provided broadband.

Illinois Press Assn. starts small-donor fund to support training, advocacy

Most of the charitable programs for journalism training and advocacy are designed to attract donations from foundations and large companies, so the Illinois Press Association's foundation has started one designed to get smaller contributions from individual journalists -- the Fourth Estate Society.

"Newspaper people tend to share a really strong bond with their industry," IPA's PressLines reports. "They don't have newspaper jobs; they are newspaper people. And many of them want to share their successes with future generations of journalists and pass along the passion that they have for newspapers."

The society has five levels of annual memberships, ranging from $50 to $1,000, and a $2,500 lifetime membership. Members get public recognition, reports from the Illinois Press Foundation and invitations to events sponsored by the foundation. The contributions fund efforts to protest the First Amendment, promote literacy efforts and provide journalism scholarships for students and working journalists. (Read more)

Monday, Aug. 13, 2007

Paper gets back computer police seized after chief's reporter wife tattled

"A judge ordered authorities to return a newspaper's computer, but only after its hard drive was copied for possible search to determine whether a reporter broke the law by recording sources without their permission," The Associated Press reports, updating the embarrassing saga of the New Castle (Pa.) News.

Local police seized the computer after a reporter who is married to the police chief told her husband that another reporter had recorded interviews with him and a county supervisor. Recording of phone conversations in Pennsylvania requires consent of both parties, and violation of the law is punishable by up to seven years in prison. The newspaper says it is protected by case law, and won a court order preventing police from getting data from the computer. It struck an agreement with the local district attorney agreed that the computer's hard drive could be copied for possible search if courts rule that the case can go forward.

The News reported that the case "has been resolved" by the agreement, and its story does not mention the copying of the hard drive. It says the agreement "required The News to remove from the computer and other recording devices any audio recordings obtained without the consent of the party whose communication was being recorded. The computer and audio recording devices then were to be returned to The News."

Also, reporter John Manna writes, the News must require its reporters "to obtain the consent of a party prior to recording any conversation involving the party." However, the agreed order says that does not apply "to any recordings of public proceedings where consent is implied or other recording permitted by law." In exchange, the district attorney agreed not to prosecute the reporter for wiretapping. (Read more)

Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007

Most community journalism about Congress is favorable, often superficial

Most community newspapers' coverage of their U.S. representative is not critical, and is often superficial, Brian Schaffner of American University said at a panel discussion at the convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, which ended today in Washington, D.C.

Schaffner cited a 1998 Freedom Forum study that found 49 percent of stories about members of Congress originated with a member's office, and another study which found that only 6 percent of stories about members mentioned someone critical of the member. However, "Some community journalists do produce coverage that can be used to hold incumbents accountable," he said. He offered a "counter-hypothesis," that most coverage is favorable because members do a good job of representing their districts, and the threat of negative stories keeps them in line. Our experience with papers and members says that is unlikely.

Newspaper ownership plays a role in how local papers cover local members of Congress, Schaffner said. He said his research has found that chain-owned newspapers have less coverage of congressional activities, but more coverage of campaigns for Congress. "A lot of times the House races are a kind of black hole" in coverage, he said, adding that is probably even more true of state legislative races.

It's important to distinguish between campaign and other coverage, said Bernard Stein of The Riverdale Press, a Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly at the far edge of the Bronx in New York City. "Every news outlet has an obligation to interview all the candidates" who will be on the ballot in its circulation area, he said, but he was less supportive of heavy coverage of congressional activities, because the Internet has made that more available to people who want to read it. He said the Press seldom does a story focused on Riverdale's member, but often mentions him in stories about local issues with a federal aspect.

Garrette Silverman, press secretary for Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, defended her office's production of a weekly column that carries the senator's byline and appears regularly in 69 Ohio papers with a total circulation of 4 million. She said she writes it on the basis of a taped conversation with Voinovich, and he approves the final copy. We observed that is likely not the case with state legislators, most of whom in our experience put their bylines on canned columns produced by the staff of their party caucus. --Al Cross

Utah mines vulnerable to 'bumps' from pulling pillars; Murray mine had one

As the effort to rescue six miners in Utah goes on, stories today suggest more strongly than ever that the mining method used at the mine -- pulling the pillars of coal that support the mine roof -- is the most likely explanation for the massive release of rock known as a "bump," which is usually a roof collapse but can come up from the floor or out from the walls. "Federal studies have found that pulling pillars, especially in the bump-prone mines of Utah, is always particularly dangerous," Ken Ward Jr. writes in The Charleston G azette.

"A bump occurs because of pressure pushing down onto the mine roof or wall, as opposed to the roof or wall simply falling down," Ward explains. "Very deep mines in the hard sandstone areas of Utah are especially prone to bumps. The hard rock roof and floor of mines adds to the pressure that can cause bumps. At least 80 percent of bumps have been found to occur while operators are performing retreat mining or pulling pillars, according to another Bureau of Mines study published in 1991." (Read more)

The Salt Lake Tribune obtained a memo, and did the map at left, showing that operators of Murray Energy Corp.'s Crandall Canyon Mine were trying to work around 'poor roof conditions' before halting mining of the northern tunnels in early March after a "large bump occurred . . . resulting in heavy damage' in those tunnels. The memo indicates that mine operators knew the tremendous pressures of a mountain bearing down on the mine were creating problems with the roof, and they were searching for a way to safely keep the mine from falling in as they cut away the coal pillars supporting the structure." Robert Ferriter, director of the safety program at the Colorado School of Mines and a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, questioned the role of the agency, which approved "retreat mining," or pillar-pulling, in May. "It's dangerous. Damn dangerous I would say," Ferriter told Robert Gehrke of the Trbune. "What is MSHA doing in all this? They're the ones who are supposed to catch this sort of thing." (Read more)

Indians use laws, casino cash to block developments far from reservations

“Developers are increasingly running up against newly powerful but tradition-minded American Indian leaders” in the West, such as Mike Jackson of the Quechan Indians, right, Nelson Schwartz of The New York Times reports today from the Quechan base of Yuma, Ariz. The tribe blocked creation of a gold mine and a low-level nuclear waste dump, and now is fighting construction of an oil refinery. (For a map of those sites, click here.)

Thanks to federal environmental and historic-preservation laws, Indians have impact far beyond their reservations. “In northern Arizona, Navajos, Hopis and other Indians have effectively stopped plans to expand a ski resort roughly 50 miles from the nearest reservation, after convincing a federal appellate panel in March that using wastewater to make artificial snow would desecrate peaks long held sacred,” Schwartz writes. (Photo by Jeff Topping for the Times)

In Montana, Northern Cheyenne make similar arguments “to block drilling for coal-bed methane near their reservation,” Schwartz reports. "Pumping water out of underground aquifers to extract natural gas will harm the spirits that inhabit the springs and streams where the Northern Cheyenne worship, says Gail Small, a Northern Cheyenne tribe member who heads Native Action, an environmental group she founded after graduating from law school. Adding weight to her argument is the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, ... which acknowledges the link between native American religion and land both on and off the reservation.”

“You’re seeing a real renaissance of tribes becoming aware of their cultural resources and heritage, and reclaiming that heritage even when it’s off the reservation,” University of Arizona law professor Robert Williams Jr. told the Times. He has advised tribes on the legal issues surrounding off-reservation sacred sites. Schwartz reports, “Thanks to the rise of casino gambling on Indian reservations, many tribes now have the money to challenge natural resource companies, real estate interests and other wealthy players who have long held sway in the West.” (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007

Wis. county rejects limit on confined animal feeding sites, looks at zoning

The Board of Supervisors in Vernon County, Wisconsin, this week rejected a a six-month ban on confined animal feeding operations with between 500 and 1,000 animals. That means "a proposed 2,400-head hog operation . . . will start construction by end of the month," the Vernon County Broadcaster reports.

"The 23-6 vote was greeted by applause," Tim Hundt writes. "The board did vote to tighten some restrictions on farms by passing a 'livestock facility licensing ordinance.' The board also voted to form a comprehensive planning commission that will start to look at land-use planning. The board voted 15-14 in favor of the animal siting ordinance and 24-5 in favor of forming the comprehensive planning commission "

"The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had cautioned the moratorium faced legal issues with Wisconsin’s Livestock Facilities Siting Rule," reports Bob Meyer of Brownfield Network. The ordinance passed by the commission gives it limited auithority under state law. County Corporation Counsel Greg Lunde said the county "would not be the best test case to challenge some of the issues mainly because the county has no zoning," Hundt reports. (Read more)

Volunteer, online 'paper' in N.H. gets Knight-Batten Award for innovation

An all-volunteer online newspaper in Deerfield, N.H., that "has become the major source of news for three rural communities" won one of this year's Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism, J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, announced yesterday.

The Forum is two years old, getting a start-up grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's New Voices program, which J-Lab also administers."In a readership area of 7,000 homes, it has more than 200 bylined contributors and averages 37 original articles per week, excluding obituaries, classifieds, letters to the editor and events listings," J-Lab said in its news release. To read it, click here.

The Forum was the only rural-related winner this year. Each of the six winners will get at least $1,000. A national panel of judges has chosen winners of a $10,000 grand prize and a $2,000 "first-place award." Four other entries among the total of 133 were given honorable mention. The top winners will be announced Sept. 17 at a symposium and luncheon, "Creativity Unleashed," at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007

Mountaintop-removal foes, rebuffed at state and local levels, look to D.C.

Opponents of mountaintop-removal coal mining like Sam Gilbert, above, "have found some allies in their fight, but most come from outside the Appalachian coalfield – activists, authors and journalists who write stories for national and regional newspapers and magazines," Mary Jo Shafer writes for The Mountain Eagle and other newspapers. "Much the same has been said in the legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, where efforts to limit mountaintop removal have failed or never gotten off the ground. So now the debate is moving to the halls of Congress, where opponents think they have a better chance for change."

Shafer's story includes polling done by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, showing that opinion about use and conservation of natural resources is deeply divided in southeastern Kentucky's Harlan and Letcher counties, part of the area where mountaintops are mined. The Eagle is published in Letcher County, where Gilbert lives. (The report does not name the two counties, but their inclusion was confirmed for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues by Mil Duncan of Carsey.)

Shafer, now the assistant city editor at The Anniston (Ala.) Star, did the report for the Institute as part of an internship to earn a master's degree in community journalism from the University of Alabama, through the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Shafer's report also includes stories about a Kentucky legislator who is trying to limit mountaintop removal and also interviewed coalfield residents and an industry official who see mountaintop mining as a source of jobs and land for development or tourism. Another story examines the state of the United Mine Workers of America in Eastern Kentucky -- no working miners, but members in other fields and a strong heritage.

Foundations hear pleas and strategies for giving more to rural areas

Suzanne Perry of the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports from Missoula, Mont.: “Foundations could help alleviate many of the nation’s most pressing problems by focusing more on the challenges and opportunities of rural America, speakers at a conference on rural philanthropy here said. While they receive fewer philanthropic dollars than urban areas, rural regions have been hit hard by some of the issues that are at the top of the country’s policy agenda — access to health care, immigration of low-wage workers, the need for better schools, and the loss of industrial jobs, they said.”

The conference is sponsored by the Council on Foundations and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, challenged foundations last year to do more for rural areas. Council President Steve Gunderson said that shouldn't mean less for urban areas, because rural areas should tap into “the huge transfer of wealth that is expected to take place over the next 50 years as people die and leave their estates to their heirs,” Perry writes. A good deal of that wealth is in rural land and other assets.

A recent National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report, Rural Philanthropy: Building Dialogue From Within, "suggests that grant makers send their staff members on more site visits to rural areas and pay for events that bring urban foundations and rural nonprofit groups together,” Perry writes. “People fund people they know,” Dorfman said. “Relationships matter.” The conference ends Thursday. (Read more)

A survey of foundation staffs for the Center for Rural Strategies found “A perception that rural nonprofits lack the capacity to handle grants, a belief that rural funding falls outside many foundations’ interests and missions and sense that physical distance and cultural differences between urban-based philanthropies and rural organizations separate the foundation world and rural America,” the center's Tim Marema writes in the Daily Yonder, the center's new rural-news site. (Read more)

Utah mine used ‘most dangerous’ method, mining roof-supporting pillars

The Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times, long the domain of our friend and founder Rudy Abramson, gets back into his old coal beat today with the latest national story on "retreat mining," a method the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration authorized in June at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. near Huntington, Utah, where six miners are trapped, their fate unknown.

"It's a delicate endeavor," writes Judy Pasternak of the Times. "Columns of coal are left in place to hold up the roof of the mine while the vein is tapped. Once the reserves have been extracted, the miners harvest the last of the coal on the way out, cutting carefully into the pillars and scrambling out of the way as the roof caves in. The final column to be slashed is known among miners as the 'suicide pillar'."

Tony Oppegard, a mine-safety lawyer and former federal mine-safety official, told the Times, "It's the most dangerous type of mining that there is." Pasternak writes that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health considers "the last phase of room-and-pillar mining is disproportionately dangerous," accounting for 10 percent of U.S. coal production, but 27 percent of mining deaths in a 2003 study. Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association told Pasternak the sample of 100 fatalities was small.

Mine owner Robert Murray has denied that the six miners were doing retreat mining, and contends that the roof collapse was caused by an earthquake, an event never recorded in Utah. Outside experts say the seismic jolt registered at the time seems to have been caused by the collapse itself. Pasternak writes that retreat mining "dislodges such tremendous volume of earth with such force that it causes quake activity." (Read more)

Murray has been the coal industry's "best friend," The Washington Post reports, drawing on a long interview he gave reporter Alec MacGillis this summer. To read MacGillis's story, click here.

Paper's coverage helps capture escapee, holds Okla. authorities accountable

John Wylie, left, publisher of Oklahoma's weekly Oologah Lake Leader, was reading the nearby Vinita Daily Journal on June 5, and knew something was wrong when he saw that his neighbor editor was replying to a reader's complaint about a mental patient who had "walked away from a picnic." Wylie was in an excellent position to have heard about such an incident, and had heard nothing.

He did some digging and learned that the patient had walked away from a picnic at Oologah Lake, in the adjoining county, and that the escapee "had a two-state felony record including aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and had repeatedly threatened to kill law enforcement officers, jailers and friends," Wylie told Stan Schwartz of the National Newspaper Association. Escapee Randy Thweatt "had an escape history and had tried to kill a McCurtain County woman with a rifle."

"The only call the hospital made after discovering Thweatt was missing was to the McCurtain County Sheriff's Office in Idabel so it could warn the woman. In Rogers County, where Thweatt had escaped, authorities were not notified," Schwartz writes in the latest edition of NNA's Publisher's Auxiliary. Wylie broke the news, alerted a TV reporter in nearby Tulsa, and "Thweatt was apprehended by two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers within 48 hours of the Leader's story," Schwartz writes. (For a PDF of the story's jump, click here.) "Oklahoma Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinta, issued a statement praising Wylie: 'I believe had it not been for the vigilance of the press -- in this case John Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader and Lori Fullbright of KOTV-Tulsa -- this dangerous criminal may have remained at large.'"

Wylie reported the capture (story and jump) but the story wasn't over. He learned that "At that same lake just a week later, while Thweatt was still at large, more than 100 Girl Scouts held a campout," Schwartz writes. "It was also the 30th anniversary of the Locust Grove Girl Scout murders. Three young girls had been raped and killed at that site. The community still remembers that time." Click here for Wylie's story. Finally, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health apologized for the incident, and put a six-month suspension on all outings, but when Wylie asked for a copy of the order, he found that it it wasn't in writing.

Wylie wrote an editorial about dealing with the mentally ill, and related his own experience: When he was a big-city reporter, he covered a mentally ill veteran "who held police at bay for a day with volleys from high-powered weapons," then "got past security at The Kansas City Star, and pled his case with a .45-caliber handgun aimed straight and true at our heart through the pocket of his raincoat." (Read more)

Farmland prices rising, especially around ethanol plants in the Midwest

"Skyrocketing farmland prices, particularly in states like Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, giddy with the promise of corn-based ethanol, are stirring new optimism among established farmers," reports Monica Davey of The New York Times. "But for younger farmers, already rare in this graying profession, and for small farmers with dreams of expanding and grabbing a piece of the ethanol craze, the news is oddly grim. The higher prices feel out of reach."

Davey reports from DeKalb, Ill., citing an 80-acre tract "that sold for $10,000 an acre at auction this spring, a price that astonished even the auctioneer," Davey writes. "In central Illinois, prime farmland is selling for about $5,000 an acre on average, up from just over $3,000 an acre five years ago, a study showed. In Nebraska, meanwhile, land values rose 17 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same time last year, the swiftest such gain in more than a quarter century."

Davey also writes, "A federal-government analysis of farm real estate values released Friday showed record average-per-acre values across the country. The analysis said property prices averaged $2,160 an acre at the start of 2007, up 14 percent from a year earlier. . . . In Iowa, which produces more corn and is home to more ethanol plants than any other state, farm rental prices are mimicking purchase prices: they were up about 10 percent this spring over a year ago, according to a study by William Edwards, a professor at Iowa State University, who said it was the largest jump since he started tracking farm rents in 1994."

Some of the highest prices are near the nearly 200 existing or proposed ethanol plants, "where the cost of transporting the corn would be the cheapest," Davey reports. Jason Henderson, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, told the Times that that land close to such facilities, most of which are in the Midwest, had jumped by as much as 30 percent over a year ago. (Read more)

UPDATE: A Times editorial Aug. 10 says the ethanol boom "gives bigger, richer farmers and outside investors the ability to outcompete their smaller neighbors. It cuts young farmers hoping to get a start out of the equation entirely. It reduces diversity in crops and in farm size." (Read more)

Monday, Aug. 6, 2007

Senate passes bill to improve federal Freedom of Information Act

The first Freedom of Information Act reform in 11 years passed the Senate without dissent Friday night after being held up for two months by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. Among other reforms, the bill would create an obmudsman to resolve disputes about records requests, some of which have lingered for years because there is no penalty for failing to meet the law's deadlines for response.

The bill would also create a tracking system and hotline allowing requesters to follow their request through the system, and ensure that those who sue to get records will be get reimbursed for attorney fees when a federal agency hands over records right before a court order that might have included a fee award. It is called the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act, or OPEN Government Act. It is promoted by the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media groups.

The voice vote by unanimous consent came after a series of negotiations between Kyl’s staff and that of the sponsors, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Tex., reports Pete Weitzel of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government. Kyl and the Justice Department "objected to the definition of the media for fee waiver purposes, to a measure restoring the recovery of attorneys fees (changed by a 2001 court ruling), to the penalty provision if an agency fails to meet the 20-day response time, to the creation of an ombudsman, and to a section calling for reporting on Critical Infrastructure Information," Weitzel reports.

"The compromise made changes to the first three in ways we do not believe harmful," Weitzel writes. "The penalty provision was changed to match that in the House bill, which we thought more practical.  The ombudsman provision, as negotiated, primarily adds language to the Leahy-Cornyn bill that puts into statute the requirement that each agency have a chief FOIA officer and a public liaison.  Those were established by presidential executive order last year. The CII section is not really related to FOIA reform but is something Sen. Leahy felt strongly about.  It is not in the House bill and we did not object to its being dropped."

Weitzel says the best scenario for supporters of freedom of information is for the House to accept the Senate version. If not, a House-Senate conference committee will be required. "Either way, we believe we’ll see the bill going to the president soon." For Weitzel's detailed analysis of the changes, click here.

Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007

Obama's heading to Nevada, but his rural advice is coming from Iowa

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will bring his rural "listening tour" to the Republican stronghold of Elko, Nev., tomorrow, but his rural emphasis remains on the first presidential-caucus state, Iowa (where this campaign photo was taken). He plans to have a "rural summit" in Iowa at mid-month, and all three members of his "rural advisory committee" are from Iowa, Bill Bishop noted this week in the Daily Yonder, calling it "policy-making on the fly."

"Farming is different, we presume, in Louisiana — and in Appalachia, the issues have nothing to do with farming at all. No matter. The election is in Iowa, so that’s where Obama will develop his rural platform," which is rapidly developing: "Obama is following Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin on the farm bill. . . . Obama says he agrees with Harkin that there should be more 'emphasis on nutrition.' Obama likes ethanol. Obama would put limits on farm subsidies. . . . supports expanding broadband Internet in rural areas . . . said community colleges don’t receive enough financial support."

Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal advances Obama's visit to Elko, noting it has "about 4,500 active Democratic voters, 24 percent of the electorate in a county 56 percent Republican. (Read more) In an earlier story, she noted, "The caucus rules are written in a way to make ignoring any region of the state difficult. . . . Under state law, smaller counties are allotted more delegates per voter than larger counties. That means campaigns have to convince fewer people in rural counties for the same number of delegates they might win in more populous counties." (Read more)

Rural kids score between urban, suburban on tests; new report has lots more

Rural students are doing better on national tests than their counterparts in cities, but not as well in reading and math as those in suburbs, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, which has a wealth of other background information on education in rural America.

"A larger percentage of rural public school students in the fourth and eighth grades scored at or above the 'proficient' level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress [tests in] reading, mathematics, and science ... in 2005 than did public school students in cities at these grade levels," NCES said in a release. "However, smaller percentages of rural public school students than suburban public school students scored at or above the 'proficient' level in reading and mathematics."

The report says that in 2003-04, more than half of school districts and a third of all public schools in the U.S. were in rural areas, but those schools had only a fifth of the total public-school enrollment. Rural schools accounted for 28 and 25 percent of enrollment in the South and the Midwest, respectively, but only 16 percent in the Northeast and 13 percent in the West. The report uses a new classification system to address the chronic problem of defining "rural." It "distinguishes between rural areas that are on the fringe of an urban area, rural areas that are at some distance, and rural areas that are remote," the release said. (Read more)

ABA may recommend closing criminal cases that don't produce convictions

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates will vote Aug. 13 or 14 on whether to recommend that federal, state and local governments immediately limit access to records of closed criminal cases in which there has been no conviction. "The policy change would likely carry great weight with all levels of the court system and restrict access to valuable records that newspapers review every day at courthouses across the country," says the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"The goal of these changes is to allow those who have gone through the criminal justice system without a conviction to be free of their past charges, especially when seeking future employment," ASNE reports. "It also suggests denying access to criminal records where a conviction has occurred, but the defendant has engaged in a 'specified period of law-abiding conduct.' One important result, however, is that critical information about the judicial system would be cut off from scrutiny by the public and the press. Information gleaned from cases resulting in acquittal is not only used to review possible misconduct within the court system, but also is aggregated to review trends in criminal justice over longer periods of time. The proposed recommendations, in fact, would not only apply to court records but also police records and records now accessible under FOIA and many similar state laws. This is despite considerable court precedent stating that access to all types of criminal records should be maintained to the greatest extent possible."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press published an in-depth article in the Summer edition of its quarterly magazine The News Media and the Law. Other resources available from the committee include a press release urging defeat of the proposal and an earlier letter to the ABA protesting it. ASNE Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg is available at 703-812-0462 to answer questions.

Friday, Aug. 3, 2007

W.Va. publisher takes on other papers, local officials over public-notice ads

Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Radio reports, "There’s a fight going on for the hearts and minds of newspaper readers in Lincoln County – and that struggle could affect small newspapers all across West Virginia. Dan Butcher, a Lincoln County native who moved to Florida and made a fortune ... is challenging an established newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, with a start-up called the Lincoln Standard. He’s alleging that the Lincoln Journal and local politicians are in cahoots with each other – and taxpayers are footing the bill."

Newspapers are paid to print public-notice advertising for many legal matters, including a list of locals who haven't paid their taxes. The law calls for the list to be printed once; the Journal printed it more than once, and after the Standard pointed that out, the county got a refund. The law also "says you only have to print people’s names and what they owe," Finn reports. But Journal Publisher Tom Robinson "says it makes sense to print extra information -- like addresses -- especially in a county where more than 500 people are listed in the phonebook under the name 'Adkins'." A story by the Journal's Richard Tipton points out that the listings also included "property descriptions, rows of dots and ticket numbers."

Here's the larger issue: In West Virginia, rates for public-notice ads are set by law, according to a paper's circulation, at specific rates per word. Butcher's newspapers (he bought two more and started another in the area) recently noted that no one audits newspaper's certifications of their single-copy sales, and suggested that some papers are falsifying them in order to get higher rates for ads, because their percentage of household penetration -- 89 percent in one case -- is too high for counties with low income and education. Butcher was once a community newspaper executive for a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. (Read the story.)

Gloria Flowers, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, told Finn, "I do not feel there are any publishers in the state that fudge a tremendous amount on their circulation numbers." (Read more) Butcher says he was spurred to start his paper when the Journal wanted to charge a woman $59 to publish an article seeking sign-ups for the county's first youth soccer league. For his broader reflections on the how and why of his newspapers, which operate under the umbrella of West Virginia Standard, click here.

UPDATE: In its Aug. 9 edition, the Lincoln Standard reported on citizen protests at the county commission meeting and Butcher's federal-court lawsuit to remove the Lincoln Journal and the Lincoln News Sentinel as the county's newspapers of record. (Read more)

Reporter squeals on colleague to her police-chief husband; computer seized

A reporter for the New Castle (Pa.) News is married to the police chief. She heard that another reporter had recorded a telephone conversation with her husband, which in Pennsylvania requires the consent of both parties. After she told him, "Police made an unannounced visit to the newspaper and took a computer and some recording devices," reports Jim Romenesko in his digest of journalism news for The Poynter Institute.

The News reports today: "The New Castle News announced today it will file a court protest against the unannounced seizure by authorities of a newsroom computer that police say was used to illegally record phone conversations with two local public officials about a proposed police training facility. The News’ petition will ask that the city police department return the computer immediately, saying it is important to the daily production of the paper and could be subject to indiscriminate search of sensitive news files."

The reporters are Pat Litowitz and Debbie Wachter Morris, whose husband is Northwest Lawrence Regional Police Chief Jim Morris. "Chief Morris declined to say why he pursued the case against Litowitz and whether he considered their conversation to be off the record," the News reports. "His wife said that he previously had asked her to inform him if she ever learned that he had been recorded without his knowledge."

The story quotes Wachter Morris as saying she had no conflict of interest: " I felt if my husband was the victim of an alleged crime, and I was seeing it happen, I felt obligated to bring it to the attention of my employer and my husband as the victim." The story also explains why Litowitz tapes conversations: for accuracy.

The un-bylined story also reports, "Even if the phone conversation was taped, any public official speaking with a reporter has no reasonable expectation of privacy. Beyond that, we are confident that case law holds this particular statute to be so overly broad that it is unenforceable. . . . The seizure of the computer represents a dangerous intrusion by police to some very profoundly held First Amendment issues." Sounds to us like some journalism ethics and management issues are in play, too. Romenesko's headline is "What can happen when a cop's spouse works at a newspaper."

Grantmakers need a better understanding of rural America, they are told

Foundations and others that make charitable grants need a better understanding of rural America to help it overcome its disadvantage in the grant-seeking world, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy says in its latest report, Rural Philanthropy: Building Dialogue from Within.

Grantmakers' perceptions of rural life, geographical isolation and capacity-building needs greatly reduce the ability for rural nonprofits to secure funding," NCRP said in a press release. "Many perceive rural America as a place where tight-knit communities work together to overcome adversity; others see the region as resistant to change," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. "But generalities have the effect of masking contemporary issues affecting rural America, making it harder for rural nonprofits to attract grant-money."

The isolation that defines "rural" greatly limits opportunities for rural groups to make contact with major grantmakers, "which are usually located in urban areas," the release said. "The report also finds that grant makers often require capacity-related benchmarks that are difficult to achieve without having sufficient funding for staff and technical assistance." The study was based on focus groups with nonprofit leaders who serve rural parts of California, Florida, Kentucky, Montana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.

NCRP will present its findings, with recommendations on how to strengthen foundation giving in rural areas, at the Council of Foundations conference on rural philanthropy in Missoula, Mont., next week. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) inspired the council to hold the conference with a speech at its annual meeting last year.

Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007

North Carolina legislators back off limits on local-government broadband

Local governments have persuaded state legislators in North Carolina "to back off a proposal to limit the ability of municipalities to build and operate their own high-speed Internet networks," reports Michael Martinez of National Journal's Insider Update. About 15 states have such limits, passed at the behest of telecommunications firms, but few have passed lately because of growing concern about -- and news coverage of -- the lack of broadband access in rural areas and small towns.

In the House Finance Committee, a bill that would have restricted local-government broadband became one that merely ordered a two-year study of municipal broadband networks' performance. Rob Thompson, a policy advocate for the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group, said the original bill would have been tough for local governments to swallow, because the legislature last year "stripped localities of the authority to grant and receive revenue from video franchises," Martinez writes. "In North Carolina and more than a dozen other states, video service providers seeking to enter new markets can bypass local governments by applying for statewide franchises."

Thompson said he thought legislators were reluctant to limit municipal broadband "because they knew that companies had failed to provide the new competition they promised to get the statewide franchising law" for video. He remains wary of what may happen in 2009, because the main sponsor of the original broadband bill is slated to be one of the study panel's co-chairs. (Read more)

Murdoch will probably sell Ottaway Newspapers, industry analysts say

Rupert Murdoch will probably sell the Ottaway Newspapers subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co. because community newspapers are not his line of business, say industry analysts, most recently the editor-at-large of Editor and Publisher. "My guess is, prepare for a sale. It's really not the kind of paper he operates in the United States, or even the kind he operates in Australia or the U.K," Mark Fitzgerald told Sarah Shemkus of the Cape Cod Times, Ottaway's third-largest daily paper, with a circulation of 44,000.

Ottaway publishes eight dailies and 15 weeklies. The dailies are the 80,000-circ. Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., and The Record of Stockton, Calif., 59,000, both with substantial rural readerships; The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass, 32,000; the Mail Tribune of Medford, Ore, 31,000; the Pocono Record of Stroudsburg, Pa., 19,500; the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, 12,300; The Ashland (Ore.) Daily Tidings, 5,010; and The Danville (Pa.) News, 2,623. Click here for all Ottaway papers.

Ottaway was once a separate company. Its former chairman, James Ottaway Jr., controls about 7 percent of Dow Jones' stock and was an outspoken opponent of the sale to Murdoch's News Corp. Just as Dow Jones' Wall Street Journal reported forthrightly and comprehensively on the controversial sale, the Times added useful context to its coverage today, running a list of the 17 papers on and near Cape Cod and their owners.

Many industry observers have concluded "that News Corp. is likely to sell off the Ottaway newspapers quickly," Shemkus reports. "Possible suitors could include GateHouse Media, Colorado-based MediaNews Group Inc., and Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., according to Ken Doctor, who leads analysis of the news publishing industry for the California market research firm Outsell Inc." GateHouse, a fast-growing company, has four papers on Cape Cod, where Ottaway has three. CNHI's chief news executive, Bill Ketter, is based in Massachusetts, near most of the Ottaway papers.

One other rural angle, sort of: A top industry analyst "said the dismantling of newspaper dynasties was reminiscent of the disappearance of small farms," report Joseph Menn and Thomas Mulligan of the Los Angeles Times, quoting John Morton: "It's like the farmer who leaves the farm to the family and divides it evenly. A couple of generations go by and all of a sudden you're sitting on an acre."

Food-price hikes not related to expansion of biofuel industry, experts say

Recent increases in food prices are not related to earlier increases in prices of grains used to make biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel, reported Phyllis J. Griekspoor of the Wichita Eagle.

"Yes, corn and grain prices have increased, in part because of the demand for corn to produce ethanol. But growing demand in Asia also has affected prices, as have adverse weather conditions in major corn growing areas," Griekspoor wrote. "Food prices, in reality, are edging up only 1.5 percent more than they did last year and the year before, an annual rate of increase between 3 and 4 percent, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture." ERS economist Ephraim Leibtag told the Eagle reporter that grain prices have an impact on animal-feed costs, which that causes small increases in retail prices, "but feed is such a small part of the overall price that it really isn't a driver."

Only about 20 percent of the U.S. consumer's food dollar goes to pay for the raw materials received from the farmer," Griekspoor reported. "Labor used by manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and eating establishments accounts for nearly 40 cents of every food dollar." Ed Maxiner, an editor with the Kiplinger Agricultural Letter, told the Eagle that the single greatest contributor to higher food prices is energy, because ""Fuel contributes costs to food at every step." Other factors include drought and a dramatic increase in worldwide demand for human food and livestock feed, driven by a rapidly expanding middle class in Asia.

Griekspoor's July 1 article is available for a fee from the archives of the Eagle.

Gonzales aide told OxyContin prosecutor to slow down, put him on hit list

A senior U.S. Department of Justice official tried to delay or derail a pending plea agreement with Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the painkiller that became a scourge in Central Appalachia, according to the U.S. attorney handling the case -- and eight days later, the prosecutor's name showed up on a list of nine U.S. attorneys that the now-resigned aide recommended for dismissal.

John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Brownlee said Michael Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, called him on his cell phone at home Oct. 24. The Roanoke Times reports: "Elston said he had been talking to attorneys for Purdue about concerns that prosecutors were moving too quickly, Brownlee testified." Brownlee said he asked if Elston was calling on behalf of the deputy attorney general, and when Elston told him no, he told Elston that "he needed to back out of the case." The next day, Brownlee obtained a plea agreement from the company and three executives to pay $634.5 million in fines for over-promoting OxyContin.

Amy Goldstein and Carrie Johnson of The Washington Post report, "Justice Department officials said it was not unusual for senior members to weigh in on major criminal cases. . . . Brownlee and other former prosecutors said nighttime calls such as Elston's, coming just hours before the end of a long, complex case, are unorthodox, particularly when the department's criminal division already has signed off on a case. Brownlee said the head of the division had authorized him that afternoon to execute the plea agreement. . . . Brownlee ultimately kept his job. But as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales confronts withering criticism over the dismissals, the episode in the OxyContin case provides fresh evidence of efforts by senior officials in the department's headquarters to sway the work of U.S. attorneys' offices." (Read more)

The committee's main focus yesterday was Brownlee's handling of the case. He has been criticized for not pushing for jail time for the three executives, and by "others who say the prosecution is a setback in the effort to provide relief to millions of Americans who suffer from chronic pain," Laurance Hammack of the Times reports, with help from The Associated Press. "Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., didn't buy Brownlee's explanation that the government had no evidence that top Purdue officials knew of a marketing campaign in which its sales representatives downplayed OxyContin's potential for abuse and addiction." (Read more)

Information and inspiration: Good Works at RuralJournalism.org

There's a lot of good journalism being done in rural America, and it's preserved onral newspapers and broadcast stations, and that they sometimes need a little help or encouragement to go beyond the usual. We hope The Rural Blog and Good Works do that. If you have suggestions, please let us know. We add to this page as we find other outstanding examples of good rural journalism, and we hope you can help us by letting us know about work that should be shared. Just send an e-mail to Al.Cross@uky.edu. a page of this site. Called Good Works, it has what we consider to be the best work by rural journalists -- work that won awards, might win, or should have won. To go to the page, click here or on the link above. These stories provide both information -- ideas, sources, approaches -- and inspiration to journalists in rural America. We know there are lots of good journalists at ru

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 let us know by e-mailing 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, 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, West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program at the University of Alabama. It is funded by the University of Kentucky and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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