The Rural Blog Archive: December 2005

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


Dec. 27-30, 2005

Small Okla. daily scrambles to cover fires, deliver papers and stay safe

The Seminole Producer of Seminole, Okla., is throwing its all into covering the wildfires that are devastating parts of Oklahoma and Texas, including about 10,000 acres in its circulation area, east and southeast of Oklahoma City, leaving 50 families homeless, reports Editor & Publisher.

"With a newsroom staff of four and one part-time photographer[, the paper] has basically put all other reporting aside to cover the biggest story in years, according to Managing Editor Karen Anson," Joe Strupp writes for E&P. "The family-owned daily, which publishes Tuesday through Friday and on Sundays, has averaged between 10 and 16 pages this week, a slight increase over most days, with the fire coverage all but replacing sports and events pages."

The 5,300-circulation paper has "produced its first-ever color photos, but only for its Web site [and without captions]. Since the paper publishes in black and white, color shots could not be used in print."

Anson told Strupp that fire lines had been a block away from the paper's downtown office. "The fire department told us that if the wind had not shifted, the whole downtown would have been destroyed, including us," she said. "We just stood here and hoped and hoped." Anson's yard caught fire twice. "It rekindled on Thursday, 15 minutes before deadline and my husband was an hour away. I had to go home and help some neighbors who were already hosing it, and then come back and get the paper out," she said.

Reporter Jennifer Pitts was trapped in her car Tuesday while reporting on a pasture fire. "Within seconds, I couldn't see two feet in front of my face," she told Strupp. "It was smoke and ash. My eyes started burning and watering and I was coughing." Strupp writes, "Pitts, who suffers from asthma, said a water truck pulled in front of her at the same time, blocking her exit for several minutes." The paper has maintained carrier delivery despite road closures in the area. (Read more)

Editor of a Kentucky hill country paper writes frankly about her divorce

Even at newspapers in rural communites, where profesional and personal lives often intersect and overlap, the really personal stuff usually doesn't get written about. Angie Brockman, managing editor of The Sentinel-Echo in London, Ky., broke new ground there this week by writing about her divorce.

"In the last couple of editions, you may have noticed my last name has changed," Brockman began her column. "After nearly 10 years of marriage I have now joined the statistical ranks of all the millions of other Americans, one statistic I never thought I'd be: Divorced."

Later in the piece, Brockman writes, "My ex-husband Adam -- wow, that's weird -- and I were luckier than most people who get divorced. We had no children and we really had no bills to pay other than our house and one car. So, getting an amicable divorce was easy. Actually, so easy it's scary. I've signed more to buy a car than what I had to sign to get divorced. Kentucky makes it easy if you have no children. You just have to be separated for three months before you file, wait 30 days after you file, and then get a court date for the final hearing."

Brockman goes on to explain that her ex is "a wonderful man with many good qualities," but "We were going in opposite directions and had virtually no common interests. That became very obvious after I took the job as managing editor of The Sentinel-Echo in July. I was working a lot and 40 miles from my house. I was not home a lot and it's awful to say, but I really enjoyed it."

She concludes, "So for all of you people about to get married, I say go for it. I loved being married and having the happy homemaker life. I enjoy doing all those crazy things like cooking and cleaning for a man. I think it's great. Just make sure your husband isn't just your friend. Make sure you keep him close to your heart because you don't know how quickly he can drift away." (Read more)

S.C. judge says state's schools are unconstitutionally unfair to rural kids

A trial judge in South Carolina ruled Thursday that the state's school-funding system fails to give students in eight rural school districts the opportunity to receive a minimally adequate education because it does not sufficiently fund early-childhood education, The Associated Press reports.

Judge Thomas W. Cooper Jr. rejected two main arguments of the plaintiff districts, saying their facilities, curriculum standards and the system of teacher certification are adequate, but he said they lacked "effective and adequately funded early-childhood intervention programs designed to address the impact of poverty on their educational abilities and achievements."

The ruling is the latest in a series in several states over the last 20 years, usually in cases brought by rural school districts with meager property-tax bases. The South Carolina case was filed in 1993, began trial in 2003, "and saw more than 100 days of testimony from state lawmakers, education experts and education officials," AP's John Drake writes. "Both sides have indicated they likely will appeal the verdict."

Cooper said that a combination of poor test scores and a high poverty rates in the districts make clear that their students "do not have the opportunity to receive a minimally adequate education," Drake writes.

The lawsuit was filed by 36 districts. Cooper dismissed it, but the state Supreme Court overturned him, saying that the state must provide students with a "minimally adequate" education. Click here to read more from AP. For a local take from Morning News Online of Florence, S.C., click here.

Fraud I: Cheating in bass tournaments increasing along with prize money

If a big-money bass tournament is coming to a lake near you, be alert for cheating. "It's not a matter of if there's going to be another cheating incident. It's only a matter of when the next controversy tumbles into a glittery bass boat," reports Ed Zieralski, outdoors writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Zieralski cites anglers who were disqualified from the Red River Bassmaster Central Open in Louisiana and the National Bass West Team Tournament at San Vicente, Calif. The fishermen "have been banned for life for fishing those particular circuits and others, likely." (Read more)

In Louisiana, where top prize was "a fully-rigged Triton boat and Mercury motor along with $10,000," six bass were tied to stumps before the tournament began, Zieralski reports. In California, where top prize was $3,254, a team was videotaped snagging in a popular feeding area where fish usally won't bite lures.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute originally posted this story in Al's Morning Meeting.

Fraud II: West Virginians say vote buying is common, but less so near them

About two-thirds of registered voters in West Virginia think vote buying happens in the state often or somewhat often, according to a poll sponsored by The State Journal, a Charleston weekly.

"About 21 percent of voters say they don't think it happens very often, and 2 percent say it never happens," writes Beth Gorczyca. "When asked whether voter fraud occurs in their home county, voters are a little more optimistic. About 9 percent said it never happens in their county, while 31 percent said it doesn't happen very often. A combined 49 percent said votes are bought either somewhat or very often."

The poll was conducted from Nov. 22 to Dec. 1 by RMS Strategies, a Charleston research firm, which interviewed 400 registered voters, creating an error margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Mark Blankenship, senior vice president of the company, noted significant regional differences.

"Southern West Virginians are more likely to believe vote buying and political corruption happens very often in their county, while people living in the Northern Panhandle are less likely to believe its happening," he said. In the south, 35 percent said corruption occurs very often -- a much higher number than in other areas of the state. The lowest was 11 percent in the Northern Panhandle. (Read more)

In recent months, elected officials from southern West Virginia have been investigated for alleged election fraud, bribery and other charges, and several from Lincoln and Logan counties have gone to jail. In one FBI sting, a former mayor ran for the legislature, withdrawing a month before the 2004 election.

Vote fraud is more common than Americans would like to think, and it usually pays, University of Kentucky historian Tracy Campbell says in his new book, Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, and American Political Tradition, 1742-2004. The book was the subject of a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader this week and is to be reviewed in the paper on Sunday.

Houma, La., newspaper gets recognized for telling a story not widely heard

"Each day and every week, a great mass of print journalism is produced in this country -- something all too easy to forget when reading a mere sliver of that output in your local paper or scanning the links on your favorite blog. . . . At the same time, each week smaller papers across the nation quietly publish compelling, thought-provoking pieces of journalism, stories that inform and illuminate."

That's how Edward Colby introduced his "Five Great Stories You Didn't Read" piece in CJR Daily, the online edition of Columbia Journalism Review. Colby said it was "our way of focusing some attention on outstanding work done this year that was largely overlooked on the national stage." His first example was the hurricane reporting of The Courier of Houma (pronounced "HO-ma"), La., circulation 17,000.

Colby cited The Courier not for stories on Hurricane Katrina, the center of which struck about 50 miles northeast of Houma, but those on the later Hurricane Rita, which the paper called "the stand-out of the 2005 storm season" after it "crept south of the Louisiana coast for days, pushing water up Terrebonne's five bayous, topping every levee on the parish's southern end and flooding an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 homes and businesses." To read the Courier's season-ending Nov. 30 story, click here.

Colby writes, "One of journalism's tasks is to shine a light on the forgotten, and the Courier's Kimberly Solet performed that job well with her Sept. 29 report, Rita deals Pointe-aux-Chenes a catastrophic blow. Nearly a week after the storm, when no relief agency or help had arrived for the remote villages of Pointe-aux-Chenes and Isle de Jean Charles, Solet published a subtly powerful story about the despair and destruction residents there faced."

Solet wrote, "[S]tagnant water still sits in most yards on this finger of land, and for most the tedious ritual of cleaning up has just begun. . . . On Island Road, the only way in and out of Isle de Jean Charles, the widespread destruction is breathtaking. On one section of the street once populated by American Indian families such as Sandy's mother, Velma Naquin, and Johnny's mother, Mary Danos, five homes in a row are vacant, as if the people who lived in them up and left and never looked back. The island where native families settled centuries ago to take advantage of once-lush forests full of mink and muskrat and water brimming with shrimp, crabs and oysters is surrounded on all sides by the Gulf of Mexico, which creeps ever closer." (Read more)

Film on Buffalo Creek coal-dam disaster added to National Film Registry

What do Cool Hand Luke, Hoop Dreams, The Music Man and Miracle on 34th Street have in common with a documentary on an Appalachian coalfield disaster? They were all among 25 films added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress this week.

The library describes The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man, directed by Mimi Pickering and produced by Appalshop, the media arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., as a “powerful documentary” that “represents the finest in regional filmmaking, providing important understanding of the environmental and cultural history of the Appalachian region.” The registry now has 425 films.

The film documents the February 1972 collapse of a coal-waste dam in the valley of Buffalo Creek of southern West Virginia. "A wall of sludge, debris and water tore through the valley below, leaving in its wake 125 dead and 4,000 homeless," Appalshop said in a release. The Pittston Company, owner of the dam, maintained that the disaster was an act of God. Fearing the company's influence “would lead to a whitewash investigation and absolve it of any corporate culpability . . . local citizens invited Appalshop to come to the area and make a film of the historical record,” the library release said. Newsweek called the film "a devastating expose of the collusion between state officials and coal executives."

The film is currently undergoing preservation with assistance from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund and Cineric Laboratory. In the spring it will be released on DVD along with Buffalo Creek Revisited, Pickering’s 1984 film about lingering effects of the flood. The films will be screened and discussed throughout West Virginia in 2006, thanks to a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Pickering is a California native who came to Eastern Kentucky 34 years ago to learn filmmaking at Appalshop. "Her documentaries often feature women as principal storytellers, focus on injustice and inequity in the Appalachian region, and explore the efforts of grassroots people to deal with community problems as they work for social change," the release said. It quoted film critic Pat Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media at American University’s School of Communications, as saying, “Appalshop’s work has been a cultural beacon, for the people of the Appalachian region, for independent filmmakers, for media arts leaders, and also for people who, like me, celebrate and study the role of independent media in a democratic society.”

Oldest continuously owned farm selling development rights for preservation

"America’s oldest continuously owned family farm is in the process of being permanently protected through
transfer of development rights," reports New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor in his Weekly Market Bulletin. (To sign up for his reports, click here.)

"The 142-acre Tuttle Farm on Dover Point has been in the Tuttle family for more than 300 years, and is currently operated by an 11th generation farmer, William Penn Tuttle III. The Dover city council has put up $1.5 million in conservation funds toward a $3.3 million land protection project being put together by the Strafford [County] Rivers Conservancy," Taylor writes.

"Situated between the tidal waters of the Bellamy and Piscataqua Rivers, the farm includes prime agricultural soils, streams and wetlands," Taylor writes, noting that it is familiar to folks along New Hampshire's seacoast "for its landmark upscale farm market doing business as Tuttle’s Red Barn," on heavily traveled N.H. 16 between Dover and U.S. 4, about eight miles northwest of Portsmouth.

Paper changes tune, welcomes federal aid for broadband in isolated areas

"A $3 million infusion of federal funds will speed the deployment of a high-speed Internet pipeline to some of the most geographically isolated parts of southwest Virginia," reports the Bristol Herald Courier.

Locals hope the expansion will help attract good-paying, high-technology jobs, such as the 700 in Russell County, at the state’s backup data center and a software-development company, that are to eventually employ about 700. "Both the state and the private company, CGI-AMS, say access to broadband Internet service was a factor in their decision," the paper says in an editorial.

"Their glowing testimonials lend credence to arguments in favor of a government hand in broadband development in rural areas where the service is largely unavailable now, or in areas where it is offered but the redundant fiber-optic lines preferred by some technology-dependent companies don’t exist," the editorial says. "In the past, we’ve been reluctant to support municipal broadband – particularly in the Bristol metro area, where it duplicates services already offered by two or three other private industry providers. That isn’t the case in far southwest Virginia. The big cable and phone companies offer broadband in some towns, but seem disinclined to do so on a broader basis. This isn’t the government competing with the free market; it is the government supplementing it in an area facing topographic, demographic and economic challenges."

Only time will tell the real impact of broadband, the editorial concludes, but "For now, it seems the best shot that many communities in our region have at an economically vibrant future." (Read more)

Power companies, others join to bring broadband to northeastern Vermont

When policymakers began discussing extension of the Internet to remote areas more than a decade ago, a term they often used to describe it was "the information superhighway." Now, high-speed "broadband" service has finally come to the woods of northeastern Vermont, evoking comparisons to the advent of the Interstate highway system 50 years ago, says an Associated Press report.

Broadband is being offered by the Cloud Alliance, “a group of Internet service providers and power companies,” in areas where Internet service is not offered by telephone and cable-TV companies, AP reports. “They are all using a combination of state grants, bank loans and personal investments.”

AP's primary anecdote came from Pat Cole, who got more inquiries from potential renters of a vacation home in Westmore when she added “broadband access” to her Internet ad: “One guest, an architect, first stayed for 10 days, but now that he can download large files quickly he can bring his work with him. He’s planning to stay the entire month of February, Cole said.”

“There’s nothing like it. I feel fortunate to have electricity most of the time,” Cole told AP. “To have high-speed Internet in such a remote area is absolutely incredible. It’s good for business, it’s good for pleasure, it’s good for Christmas shopping.” The story also said, “High-speed data transmission will enable people to live in the most remote areas of Vermont and, like the architect heading to Westmore this winter, do work from there that previously required them to live in or commute to cities.” (Read more)

New Hampshire weekly says feds need different focus on rural education

Just across the border from Vermont, in New Hampshire, the news that the U.S. Department of Education had created a Center for Rural Education was underwhelming to a weekly newspaper publisher Karen Ladd, who says the feds need to put their money where their mouth is.

"How very nice, how comforting, to know that we have a task force assembled to address our education issues in the sticks," Ladd wrote in the Colebrook News and Sentinel. "According to Department of Education figures, 42 percent of the nation’s public schools are in rural areas or small towns. Unfortunately, the biggest issue facing the school districts in our rural area is one about which the federal government does not want to hear: its utter failure to meet its own funding levels" -- special education.

"The feds are supposed to fund 40 percent of special education costs, which according to this year’s figures would be $23.1 billion. Instead, the proposed federal budget offers only $10.7 billion," the editorial noted, quoting local Supt. Bob Mills. "Mills, and no doubt many others in education, wish the feds would either fund these initiatives or leave education in the states’ hands, where it belongs." (Read more)

Can manufacturing co-ops keep rural people rooted in the high plains?

In the high plains of North Dakota, "more and more wheat farmers call it quits," writes Dustin Solberg in High Country News. "They succumb to wheat prices that have fallen to under $3 a bushel and the phaseout of government price supports in the ironically named Freedom-to-Farm bill signed by President Clinton in 1996. From 1992 to 1997, North Dakota farm income dropped 37 percent, while farm expenses rose 17 percent."

Some, like Virgil Anderson of Leeds, survive by buying farms of those who quit. "Yet getting bigger doesn’t guarantee survival, which is why a few years ago Anderson and his neighbors decided to do something radical: They built a factory" to make pasta from their durum wheat, an $8 million project backed by 300 investors, mostly farmers.

"Farmers Choice Specialty Foods is one of 12 cooperatives that have been built on the North Dakota prairie in the last five years. The Dakota Growers Pasta Co. in Carrington makes dry pasta such as spaghetti and fettuccini. In Hebron, dairy farmers bought their local cheese factory. The North American Bison Cooperative of New Rockford is marketing bison across the continent and into Europe. A Carrington company called AgroOils squeezes the oil from oilseed crops that are increasingly popular on the plains," Solberg writes. "These cooperatively owned businesses have a common denominator: They knock out some of agriculture’s many middlemen: grain buyers, shippers, processors."

Solberg adds, "While these cooperatives offer jobs and hope for small rural communities, they are not a sure bet. Some are thriving and seem to understand how to compete in a global marketplace; others are struggling and don’t have a clue. Plains co-ops marketing beef, carrots and beans have already failed. But no one denies that cooperatives represent an important attempt at survival for an economically bleak region. Not only do they offer jobs that keep people in these remote small towns, but they make a case for those who believe that 150 years of farming the Great Plains is more than a failed experiment."

Click here to read more of Solberg's story. The Dec. 27 issue of High Country News also includes two stories of environmental interest. The magazine's descriptions: "A conservation movement is stirring on the Great Plains, but local farmers are stuck with a harsh reality: It still pays to plow up virgin prairie," and "Ten years after Frank and Deborah Popper proposed turning depopulated Great Plains counties into a 'Buffalo Commons,' their once-controversial ideas are getting more respect." (Read more)

States band together to cut pollution, global warming, address other issues

Seven states in the Northeast announced Dec. 20 that they woud sets up "a market for about 180 power plants in the region to buy, sell and trade credits for emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that climate scientists say is one of the main causes of global warming," writes Brian H. Kehrl in a special report for Stateline.org. "The agreement among the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont comes after two years of laborious discussions, including the last-minute withdrawal of Massachusetts and Rhode Island."

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative breaks new ground, "but it is just the latest example of states’ increasing use of a team approach to environmental problems," Kehrl reports. "From the North to the Midwest to the West, states are pooling their efforts to devise regional solutions to problems that know no political boundaries – from air pollution, to energy, to water use. While individual state actions can seem like a drop in the bucket of a worldwide issue, regional efforts allow states to parlay their size to a greater effect without relying on Washington, D.C., to take the lead."

Other examples of regional efforts by states include: California, Oregon and Washington are trying to cut greenhouse-gas emissions with hybrid cars and more efficient appliances. The eight Great Lakes states , which have been cooperating since the 1980s, on Dec. 13 announced a plan Dec. 13 to control use of the lakes and their watershed. Eighteen states in the West agreed last year to set goals to increase energy efficiency and use of cleaner energy sources. Officials from five states in the Midwest and Northern Plains are studying biofuels, wind power and other sources of alternative energy and plan to present the results in June 2006. Thirteen states in the West are working with the federal government and several Indian tribes to address air-quality issues, including haze in national parks.

"Binding regional agreements come with their share of hurdles," Kehrl writes, noting that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "publicly backed the regional initiative in November . . . then reneged on his support in December. A spokesman said Romney’s hesitation was over fear that the pact will increase energy prices, echoing the concerns of business groups and industries in the region."

Romney announced his own plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions. A regional approach might be easier on businesses than individual state efforts, which "can prove difficult for businesses to navigate," Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, told Kehrl. (Read more)

North Carolina prepares to sue TVA to force cuts in air pollution

North Carolina officials are following through on their threat to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority to force cuts in emissions from its power plants, which are causing pollution in western North Carolina.

"State attorneys are expected to file a lawsuit as soon as this week . . . seeking a court order to force the agency to reduce emissions from smokestacks it operates," reports J. Andrew Curliss for the McClatchy newspapers, including the News & Observer in Raleigh. " TVA officials plan to fight the action, saying they have taken more steps than North Carolina to cut out dirty air."

Attorney General Roy Cooper said the state would rather compromise than go to court, but TVA "has been pretty stubborn about not moving any further than they are made to move." Curliss explains for readers outside the Tennessee valley, "TVA is a federal agency that operates the nation's largest public power system, including 11 coal-fired power plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee.'

A 2002 state law cited TVA as a polluter and ordered the attorney general to "use all available resources and means" to reduce pollution from out-of-state sources, and "Cooper said cleaning the air is vital to the region's health and tourism industry," Curliss writes. "Gov. Mike Easley is supportive and has said that unless the air in the west is cleaned up, the state will have a hard time adding new roads in the west."

Jack Brellenthin, manager of TVA's environmental policy and strategy, told federal regulators that plants in North Carolina: "It is Tennessee, not North Carolina, that can make a case for requiring additional emission reductions at sources in other states, specifically, North Carolina." (Read more)

Universities trying to get more doctors to set up practices in rural Arizona

As Arizona's population continues to surge, and expand into rural areas, the state's rural hospitals are hard-pressed to find enough doctors and nurses, reports The Arizona Republic.

Reporter Laura Houston files from Kingman, where "We have people out in the middle of nowhere come here and are on death's doorstep," medical resident Jason Taylor tells her. Taylor is a student in a Midwestern University program to place doctors in rural areas. The university is based in Downers Grove,. Ill., but has a campus in Glendale, Ariz.

"Despite attractive loan-repayment programs for medical-school graduates, rural medical rotations by the University of Arizona and Midwestern's residency program, one of the most difficult challenges that rural communities face is finding and retaining primary-care physicians," Houston reports. Most rural areas also lack specialists, "placing the burden on rural doctors to fill in the gaps of knowledge and develop an eye for the subtle nature of life-threatening ailments," she writes.

Alison Hughes, director of UA's Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, told Houston that medical schools need to recruit more from rural areas, because students from such areas are the most likely to set up rural practices. Houston also notes, "Arizona ranks among the states with the lowest number of working nurses and physicians per capita." (Read more)

Tennessee legislator urges advertisers to shun weekly that exposed his affair

A state legislator in southeast Tennessee is warning advertisers to stay out of the Bradley News Weekly, which has long been his nemesis and recently "reported he is dating a woman while waiting for his divorce to come through," reports The Associated Press. The Dec. 13 letter from Sen. Jeff Miller, R-Cleveland, not only made an implied threat that some advertisers resented, but was lacking in grammar and style.

Miller's letter to advertisers read, in part: ''Myself (sic) and many others are going to be watching in the next several weeks to identify and remember those in this community that (sic) wish to subsidize the destructive nature of this type of publication in our community.'' In an interview with the AP, Miller didn't take issue with the weekly's report about his dating, "but said he and his wife are working toward a divorce settlement" and his personal life should remain personal. It's fair game, the Bradley News Weekly said, because Miller has campaigned as an advocate of "family values.''

Editor Barry Graham said in an open letter to Miller in the Dec. 21 edition, "We don't normally report anything about the personal lives of our elected officials (and we know plenty about them). We don't judge people's lifestyle choices. And we don't put them in the paper for other people to judge. But you, Jeffy, put your chosen lifestyle out there for the public to judge.Your platform is that of a guy who believes in the sanctity of marriage, and that marriage should be between one man and one woman. And your behavior doesn't support your platform. So, we report it.''

Graham added, "You're such a fraidy-cat, Jeffy, that when you heard that we'd come to your office to ask you about your threats, you sent us a letter saying that if we ever came back there it would be considered trespassing." The editorial called Miller a liar, a weasel, a bully, a philanderer, a coward and "a silly, irresponsible little boy." It said Miller "once tried to sponsor a bill to put us out of business."

A news story (also written in the first-person plural) explained that Miller had "legislation that would have made us pay for the privilege of being allowed to distribute papers." The story said the paper has reported that Miller "is alleged to be in negotiations with the U.S. attorney's office over whether he will plead guilty to a misdemeanor" or be tried on federal bribery charges. The paper also has questioned Miller's attendance as senator and his performance as delinquent-tax attorney for Bradley County.

Publisher Susan Shelton told the AP's Bill Poovey that no businesses have told her that they will stop advertising. "In fact, she said, she has been approached by business people who want to buy new ads just because of the dispute with Miller." (Read more from AP) In her "Blonde Bomber" column, Shelton writes, "We don't try to please our friends or antagonize people we may not like. We don't play favorites. We have one thing in mind - to write about this city and county as it actually is, not as politicians, boosters and spin doctors want you to believe it is."

Rural topics are among the subjects for 2006 Alicia Patterson fellows

Eight journalists have been selected to receive American journalism’s oldest writing fellowship, an Alicia Patterson Foundation grant. They include John Fleming, editor-at-large of the Anniston Star, who will examine "Social and Economic Justice in Alabama's Black Belt;" and reporters Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, who will look at "The Curse of Coal" in Central Appalachia; and Mitchell Tobin of the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, who will write on "Endangered Species of the Southwest."

Patterson fellows get $17,500 for a six-month grant and $35,000 for a 12-month grant. They travel, research and write articles for the APF Reporter, the foundation's quarterly magazine. "Their articles and photo essays are reprinted in newspapers, magazines, textbooks and websites worldwide and have led to award-winning articles, books and documentaries." the foundation said in a news release. "The winners were selected through a highly competitive process of screening by two panels of judges, as well as submitting detailed proposals, examples of past work, and references." (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Dec. 31: Appalachian Studies Association Weatherford Awards nominations

The Appalachian Studies Association gives two Weatherford awards: one for books of fiction and poetry; the other for nonfiction works. The only requirement is that the subject matter of the books be Appalachian or that they be set in Appalachia. All nominations for Weatherford awards must be made by Dec. 31. The entries must be originally published in 2005. The nomination and seven copies of each book should be sent to: Gordon McKinney, CPO 2166, Berea College, Berea KY 40404 For more details on any of these awards, please visit http://www.appalachianstudies.org.

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005

Texas district adopts conservative Bible-study guide; lawsuit promised

The Ector County Independent School District in Texas decided this week that high-school students will use a conservative guide for studying the Bible as history and literature, rejecting a guide with broader perspective and probably sparking another court battle about religion in public schools.

The board voted 4-2 to use the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools guide, rejecting the ecumenical guide published by the Bible Literacy Project through the non-partisan, non-sectarian Freedom Forum and "endorsed by a group of religious organizations," reports The New York Times. "The council is a religious advocacy group in Greensboro, N.C., and has the backing of the Eagle Forum and Focus on the Family, two conservative organizations." (Read more)

"Critics say the book promotes fundamentalist Protestant Christianity," Barbara Novovitch writes in the Times. Members of Life Challenge Pentecostal Church in Odessa asked for the guide, reported David J. Lee in yesterday's Odessa American. (Read more)

Supt. Wendell Sollis told Novovitch, "I felt like the National Council was a better fit for Odessa, because they're on several campuses here in Texas and because of their longevity." David Newman, a professor of English at Odessa College, told both newspapers he would sue the district, telling the Times that the curriculum advocates a fundamentalist Christian point of view. For an earlier, broader Times story on the North Carolina group's activity in Texas and elsewhere, click here.

Intelligent-design supporters vow to take battle to nation's highest court

The battle over intelligent design in Dover, Pa., schools won't go to an appellate court because voters ousted the school board, but supporters say they plan to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Some politically influential backers of intelligent design warned that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who was appointed by President Bush, so overreached that his ruling will outrage and inflame millions of conservative and religiously observant Americans," writes Michael Powell of The Washington Post.

Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Powell, "This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito." Land is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. "This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries," added Land. Judge Jones ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in biology classes because it is a religious-based teaching disguised as science. (Read more)

NPR series reports one-room schools still learning fortresses in rural America

A National Public Radio series on one-room schoolhouses shows the old bastions of a bygone era still use limited resources and student and community support to offer a rural education.

"They are a legacy of a less mobile, more rural time in American history. Mostly serving isolated communities, the remaining schools require one teacher to educate children of varying ages at the same time in a single classroom," reports independent producer Neenah Ellis. Most of the remaining one-room schools, reports Ellis, are concentrated in a few states in the western United States. Montana has the most -- between 85 and 100. Nebraska is number two, with roughly 75 one-room schools, she reports.

The schools have lower student-teacher ratios, Ellis notes, and she reports, "It's also not unusual for students to have the same teacher for many years. [And she notes] The older students often help the younger ones." The series, begins today and will include a story a month through June. (Read/Listen)

Appalachian school district answers parents' pleas, drops four-day week

The school board in Jackson County, Ky., voted unanimously last night voted to abandon the four-day school week it adopted in September, "after pleas from parents who said cutting a day of classes would harm children in the rural county," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

One of the 200 parents who attended the board meeting, Jackie David, said the parents' victory should be the first against other problems in the school system. "Now we need to win the war," she said.

"The four-day school week was approved by the school board Sept. 5 for financial reasons, becoming the fourth school district in the state to implement a four-day week, but the first to do so primarily for financial reasons," the Herald-Leader reports. "Beginning Oct. 17, students have gotten every Friday off, while teachers have worked half a day. The district will return to five-day weeks in January."

For the newspaper's story about the board's initial decision, click here.

Deaths despite Tamiflu treatment raise fears of drug-resistant avian-flu strain

Two bird flu patients in Vietnam have died, apparently from a virus resistant to Tamiflu, the key drug governments are stockpiling in case of a large-scale outbreak.

"Experts said the deaths were disturbing because the two girls had received early and aggressive treatment with Tamiflu and had gotten the recommended doses. The new report suggests the doses doctors now consider ideal may be too little. Previous reports of resistance involved people who had taken the drug in low doses; inadequate doses of medicine are known to promote resistance by allowing viruses or bacteria to mutate and make a resurgence," writes Alicia Chang of The Associated Press.

Dr. Anne Moscona at Weill Cornell Medical College called the deaths frightening and told AP, "People who stockpile will naturally share or take drugs at the wrong dose, and that's really a bad idea." Moscona has written a commentary on this subject for New England Journal of Medicine. (Read more)

Iowa groups announce legislative plan to boost ethanol use, production

Two interest groups plan to push the Iowa legislature to replace 25 percent of all gasoline sold in the state with renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, reports The Associated Press.

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association President Bernie Punt said the proposal could quadruple renewable fuels use over the decade. The proposal calls for 10 percent of gasoline sold in the state to be replaced by renewable fuels by 2008 and 25 percent by 2015. For additional details, see GrainNet.com.

Iowa Corn Growers Association Government Relations Director Mindy Larson Poldberg told reporters, "The 25 percent renewable fuels standard ... is both aggressive and achievable.'' Sam Cogdill, president of Amazing Energy, said that under the proposal, "A good chunk of money spent on fuel would stay in Iowa, creating jobs and boosting our economy." (Read more)

University of North Dakota study of Native American vets' health to fill void

The University of North Dakota Rural Health Center will begin assessing the health-care needs of American Indian military veterans in January.

"Researchers from the center will start by studying the needs of American Indian veterans in North Dakota. They'll survey veterans on four reservations and one tribal service area in the state over the next year," writes David Dodds of the Grand Forks Herald.

Five hundred randomly selected veterans will be asked about health risk behaviors, health screenings, health-care access, and chronic diseases among veterans using face-to-face interviews, writes Dodds.

Dr. Leander McDonald, head of the project, told Dodds, "Increased coordination of services between the [Veteran's Administration] and the Indian Health Service is needed to address our veterans' health needs. We hope the information ... will ... help to close that gap." (Read more)

Crooked Road bluegrass groups to tour Scotland, return to Celtic roots

Bluegrass musicians from Southwestern Virginia will play in Scotland as part of a 10-day tour in May.

"The group is planning to leave the highlands of Southwest Virginia next year to promote the region's music in the highlands -- and lowlands -- of Scotland. Organizers hope the series of performances in Scotland will lure Scottish tourists to the hills of Virginia. The group of musicians is sponsored by the city of Galax and by the Crooked Road," a group of bluegrass venues in the state's Appalachian region, writes Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

H. William Smith, executive director of the nonprofit organization, told Bowman the tour is "to take the Crooked Road into the international market." The musicians are from Virginia and North Carolina and include Wayne Henderson, the No Speed Limit band, Montana Young, Anderson & Strickland, Laura Boosinger, Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwartz. They have agreed to perform at Crooked Road sites to raise money to pay for the trip, writes Bowman. (Read more)

NNA study shows community papers leading news sources in small markets

"While circulation of the biggest dailies continues its long decline, a new study finds that 81% of adults in small markets read a newspaper every week, and 50 percent say the local paper is their primary news source," reports Editor & Publisher.

The National Newspaper Association, which has about 2,500 members, 87 percent non-dailies, commissioned the study by the Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. "Researchers surveyed adults 18 years old and up in markets with fewer than 100,000 residents," reports E&P.

Fifty percent of respondents listed the local newspaper as their "primary source of information about local communities," followed by television at 16 percent; radio, 9 percent; and the Internet, 2 percent. Readers of community papers spend an average of 38 minutes with each issue, and about a quarter said they keep the paper in the house for six days. The study also showed community-paper readers have a fairly high opinion of their local paper. Some 67 percent rated the accuracy of their community paper as good to excellent, and 64 percent rated the writing quality as either good to excellent.

NNA Executive Director Brian Steffens said the report is a needed contrast with recent news about the decline of metropolitan papers. "Virtually all of the research has been focused on large daily newspapers serving the top 150 markets," he said. (Read more)

American Profile magazine founder starts community newspaper group

American Hometown Publishing, which says it is "focused on preserving the integrity and autonomy of community journalism," announced its creation today with the purchase of two small daily papers in Oklahoma, following purchase of a three-paper, non-daily group in southwest Virginia this month.

The latest additions are the Blackwell Journal-Tribune, circulation 2,690, and the Guthrie News Leader (2,750), sold by Family Media Inc. They join The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va. (7,180), a twice-weekly, and weeklies The Dickenson Star of Clintwood (7,000) and The Post (4,500) of Big Stone Gap. The three were sold by Norton Press, one of whose owners, Jenay Tate, remains publisher.

American Hometown Publishing's CEO is L. Daniel Hammond, who started Publishing Group of America and American Profile, a weekly magazine that began in 2000 and is targeted to small dailies and large weeklies. American Hometown Publishing says it “acquires and manages community newspapers of 25,000 circulation or less by forming partnerships with local publishers and growing their newspapers through proven revenue and market expansion efforts.”

“We believe in the importance of community newspapers, their local editorial focus and keeping our publishing partners involved in the local leadership, while offering them financial interest in a growing company,” Hammond said in a news release. “We focus on strengthening our partner newspapers by helping them improve their business operations, increase their revenues and profits and build their readership through additional resources and expertise.”

Hammond's partner in AHP is Steve Young, who helped start American Profile. Other principals include Operations Vice President Ron Fryar, who recently managed the Morris Newspapers in Tennessee. The company, based in Nashville, says it is "funded by a group of investors led by The Solidus Company (Townes Duncan, president); including Petra Capital Partners (Michael W. Blackburn, partner); the Burch Investment group and others.

UPDATE: Tap-water report details communities with unregulated pollutants

The Rural Blog reported yesterday that the Environmental Working Group lists communities in 42 states where tap water is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals. The item included a link for local editors to check to see if their communities are included. The link had technical problems, so we try again. Click here for the EWG study report.

Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005

With Cheney's vote, Senate passes budget-cutting bill, sends it back to House

The Senate passed a bill to cut federal spending by $39.7 billion this morning, with the decisive vote coming from Vice President Cheney. The Associated Press reports, "The measure, the product of a year's labors by the White House and Republicans in Congress, imposes the first restraints in nearly a decade in federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loans."

Because Democrats forced minor changes before the bill passed 51-50, it must be re-passed by the House before going to President Bush. "Passage is all but certain, but the timing remains in question, since most House members have returned home for the holidays," AP reports.

Cuts in the five-year bill would reduce the projected $1.6 trillion deficit over that period by merley 2.5 percent. "Republicans said the significance lies in more than mere numbers," AP reports, "adding that programs such as Medicare and Medicaid threaten to consume an unsustainable amount of federal revenue if their growth is not trimmed quickly." (Read more)

Tap-water impurities rankings suggest widespread problem in rural areas

Rural residents know water, instead of being life-giving, can be a major source of illness or even death. Now, the Environmental Working Group reports tap water in 42 states is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals, which should prompt rural editors to do some checking on their own systems.

"North Carolina ranks fifth-highest in the nation for the number of contaminants in tap water, an environmental group reported Tuesday. The [EWG], which used state data to compile its report, blamed federal authorities for not establishing health-based standards for scores of common water contaminants. Those contaminants are linked to cancer, reproductive problems and immune-system damage," writes Bruce Henderson of the Charlotte Observer.

The group reports most Americans could be exposed to health problems from contaminated water, even if their suppliers meet existing standards, notes Henderson. The EWG says more than 195 million people in 42 states drink contaminated water, and it charges the Environmental Protection Agency has ignored deadlines to set standards for hundreds of unregulated contaminants, writes Henderson.

The report said N.C. water systems detected 107 contaminants between 1998 and 2003, behind only California, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida. Thirty-nine of the 107 don't have maximum legal limits in tap water. S. C. systems, with 52 detected contaminants, was 36th-highest. Seven of those contaminants have no legal limits, writes Henderson. To look for contaminants in your community's water, click here

Benjamin Grumbles, who heads EPA's Office of Water, told The Associated Press, "For the chemicals the agency regulates, nearly 100 percent of the community water systems ... are meeting clean drinking water standards. We also have a process to continuously identify new contaminants for which regulation could reduce risks." (Read more)

It can be cheaper to fly to London than to some small towns in the U.S.

In rural America you often hear, "You can't get there from here." But, with airfares, it might be said of smaller towns, "You get here [cheaply] from there."

"Low-cost carriers have brought low fares to big and medium sized cities across the USA, but those living in the country's smallest cities have not yet seen the low-fare phenomenon arrive in their neck of the woods. Most isolated from the low-fare expansion are travelers flying out of small-city airports that have
little competition," writes Ben Mutzabaugh for USA Today.

So, how expensive is it to fly to those smaller airports? To get an idea, USA Today ran a snapshot of fares from six big cities to three smaller airports that are served by just one airline. In some cases, it was
actually cheaper to fly to London or Cancun than it was to the closer one-airline airports. Read more and check out the full results in the latest Fare Compare feature: click here.

Broadband bill would revamp Universal Service Fund for rural telecoms

"As part of a planned update of a 1996 telecommunications law, Congress will consider a new proposal that starts with a simple premise: The government should be minimally intrusive when enacting regulations, writes Anne Broache of CNET News.com.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R- S. C., has introduced a 50-page bill (click here to read it), "adding to a medley of proposals Congress will likely take up next year as it attempts to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act," writes Broache. She notes that politicians and industry representatives have criticized the law for failing to account for booming Internet, wireless and broadband technologies.

The bill would make the FCC overhaul the Universal Service Fund, financed by fees on subscribers to fund services in rural, high-cost and low-income areas, as well as schools and libraries, notes Broache. The bill proposes creating a single Universal Service Fund at the federal level, getting rid of the state-level funds and placing a cap on the amount of money the fund can distribute each year, she writes. (Read more)

Coal booming, but not in E. Ky.; miner shortage, permit delays blamed

Eastern Kentucky is known as coal country but isn't riding high in the nationwide coal boom because of a shortage of miners and a delay in processing mine permit application, says an industry official.

"Coal production declined by 1 percent over the past year in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, bucking overall state and national trends that show an increase in mining activity. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported an increase of 1.5 percent in coal production nationwide over the period, thanks in large part to more mining in West Virginia and Wyoming," reports The Associated Press.

Total production from all coal-producing states was 1.1 billion tons. Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told reporter Roger Alford that coal prices have more than doubled to $50 a ton over the past two years, but labor shortages and delays in getting regulatory permits to open new mines in Kentucky are taking a toll.

The production decline in Eastern Kentucky was more than offset by a 16.7 percent increase among mining companies in the separate Western Kentucky coalfield. The state overall coal production rose by 2.6 percent over the past year.

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $6 million to train new coal miners in Kentucky and West Virginia and to equip community colleges with simulators to expedite training of would-be miners. Labor department officials said Kentucky currently needs 3,500 new coal miners. (Read more)

Ten Commandments display OKd; federal court sees no religious intent

"A federal appeals court has upheld a Ten Commandments display alongside other historical documents in the Mercer County, Ky., courthouse," reports Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal.

The opinion by a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- which covers Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan -- blasted the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said the organization brought "tiresome" arguments about the "wall of separation" between church and state, and did not represent a "reasonable person."

Identical displays were judged unconstitutional in Kentucky's McCreary and Pulaski counties by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year because of religious intentions, and because they were posted only after previous ones were challenged, In the Mercer case, the appeals court said there is no evidence of a religious purpose and that the Ten Commandments document is not more prominent than the others.

Bardstown lawyer Francis Manion, of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, told the Louisville newspaper, "It's a big win for the people of Mercer County who've been told for a long time they don't know what they're doing when it comes to this type of issue."

David Friedman of the ACLU of Kentucky said he will consult with the plaintiff about a review of the ruling by the full Sixth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. He also said the Mercer County display is "thinly disguised" as historical. Friedman said, "At this point in this circuit, it means that this particular display is lawful without proof of (religious) intent," writes Smith. (Read more) For the Lexington Herald-Leader version of this story, by Beth Musgrave click here.

Kentucky legislation on Decalogue displays could define politics in 2006

Two Kentucky lawmakers, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, have filed bills to allow Ten Commandments displays on public property, competing moves that could spark competition between the two parties as to which is the stronger on this hot-button issue.

"Kentucky Republican Party chairman Darrell Brock said "the bills would show whether Kentucky Democrats can separate themselves from the national Democratic Party, which he perceives as too liberal for most Kentuckians, writes Elisabeth J. Beardsley of The Courier-Journal.

Brock told Beardsley, "I believe this will be one of the first tests of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, who seems to be running the state House." But Democratic Chairman Jerry Lundergan told her the "golden rules" shouldn't be the subject of political partisanship, and the "days are over" when Democrats allow themselves to be painted as lacking in moral values, she writes.

Lexington Republican Rep. Stan Lee's bill would allow posting of the Ten Commandments at the state Capitol in Frankfort in a broader display including other historical markers. Middlesboro Democratic Rep. Rick Nelson proposes a constitutional amendment to allow the Ten Commandments in any public building, but is rewriting it to add the provision about other historical markers. (Read more)

Dover, Pa., in the intelligent-design lawsuit spotlight, seeks return to normal

A federal judge's decision yesterday barring public schools in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution has brought international scrutiny to a town that would just as soon not be the center of attention.

The ruling "seemed to do little to change entrenched opinions. But locals hoped that with the case resolved, stereotypes of this town as a place of nonstop cultural warfare between liberal atheists and Bible-thumping fundamentalists would at last be dispelled," writes Gary Gately of The New York Times.

Saundra Roldan, a preschool teacher at the YMCA, told Gately, "I hope it is a time for healing now. I hope people will see it's not that we're a bunch of atheists and liberals," she said, "but that we're just trying to protect what America's about, really." Glenda Lentz differed. She told Gately, "Children should not be taught that we came from monkeys when that's flat-out not true."

Carol Thomas, an assistant at the Dover library, told Gately, "We're not walking around glaring at each other. We just have different political views on this." The Rev. Raymond Mummert, an evangelical minister, stated, "It wasn't like anybody made a big thing about it," and added, "We said to one another, 'Let's not let this divide our friendship," writes Gately. (Read more)

States have revenue surpluses; report shows bright spots in U. S. economy

Hawaii, Delaware, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among a growing number of states experiencing something they've haven't experienced in a while: revenue surpluses!

The results include "a $300 million tax refund in Hawaii. A full day of kindergarten for every 5-year-old in Delaware. A light-rail line from Denver's airport to downtown. Cheap health insurance for middle-class families in Illinois. Property tax cuts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A new tram lift for Wyoming's biggest ski resort," writes T. R. Reid of The New York Times.

A survey issued yesterday by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers noted, "Revenues improved notably in fiscal 2005, enabling many states to begin restoring funding to programs cut during the previous economic downturn."

The survey showed even with revenues strong, half the states passed additional tax increases. Fourteen states cut taxes, but overall state taxes went up $2.5 billion, writes Reid. The result, he notes is "a dramatic reversal of fortunes in most of the 50 capitals. A recent National Conference of State Legislatures survey found that 48 states -- all but Rhode Island and Louisiana -- expect revenues to improve or remain stable for the next fiscal year.

Maryland's tax revenues have increased $1.4 billion over the past three years, the biggest jump in state history. Economists say states, most of which are constitutionally blocked from deficit spending, "have become one of the few spots in the U.S. economy to generate savings," Reid writes. (Read more)

Anti-poverty advocates urge Rhode Island governor to protect state's poor

Anti-poverty advocates, propelled by national budget trimming that critics say will shift costs to states and recklessly cuts human services, are urging Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and state lawmakers to protect the poor as they work out the next state budget. Advocates want state leaders to refrain from making cuts that would affect the poor and to invest in affordable housing and energy assistance.

"The advocates are holding a press conference today at Crossroads Rhode Island in Providence to outline their concerns. They say stagnant wages combined with rising costs of housing and utilities will put a record number of people at risk of homelessness and hunger this winter," reports The Associated Press from a story originally in The Providence Journal. (Read more; subscription required)

Landmark Community Newspapers editors: Skip the ham, give us books

Employees of Landmark Community Newspapers' 54 publications are shunning that big, juicy Christmas ham in favor of what might be called brain food.

Benjy Hamm, editorial director for Landmark, based in Shelbyville, Ky., reports in the December issue of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors newsletter that the chain gives employees books, not hams, for Christmas.

"The newspapers like it a lot. We probably hear most comments from the newer newspapers in our group because it's unexpected," Hamm says. "Offering books to newspaper editors and other journalists, rather than a ham or a box of candy, is one way Landmark trains its employees."

Hamm added, "We're dealing with community newspapers, and we want to emphasize training. We do that by providing books we thing are important for them to have in their newsroom libraries." Blogger's Note: Click here and scroll down the page for Emily Dickinson's poetic tribute to the special vessels known as books in her poem, "There is no frigate like a book."

Santa's pretty much a rural guy, but he used to live in New York City

Here's a Christmas story rarely told: Did you know that Santa Claus, or the modern version of St. Nicholas, was originally a resident of Manhattan, at a time when as the island was losing its last rural areas? And that the British have moved Santa form the North Pole, to rural Sweden or Finland? We didn't, either, until we read Jeremy Seal's piece in yesterday's New York Times.

Seal, author of Nicholas: The Epic Journey From Saint to Santa Claus, informs us that when "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (now known as "The Night Before Christmas") was written in 1822, "The poem's landscape mirrored the winter view from Moore's study window in Manhattan," which still had some areas unspoiled that produced a backdrop of "new fallen snow" for Santa's sleigh and reindeer. (Seal educates us about reindeer, too, but that's a tangent.)

"As New York's street grid pushed northward starting in the 1830's, the rural landscapes that had inspired Clement Clarke Moore's enchanted whimsy transformed into slum tenements where liquor dens and flophouses proliferated," Seal writes. "The transcendent Santa could not be accommodated indefinitely by this increasingly urbanized space. A New York residency further required an actual address, entailing convoluted explanations to the children. It was time for Santa to leave the city, not for Brooklyn or the suburbs, but for the North Pole. It was a time when the frozen north pressed hard against the public imagination . . . "

After explorers reached the pole, confirming that it was "utterly uninhabitable," the Brits "relocated Santa Claus to Lapland, with its appropriate backdrop of snow, trees and reindeer, and in doing so have turned the resorts of northern Finland and Sweden into December destinations," Seal writes in a sort of rural tourism report. "The Americans have persisted with the North Pole, but by name rather than by latitude. The creation from the late 1940's of settlements called North Pole near Fairbanks, Alaska, and in the Adirondacks of New York, complete with visitor attractions, means that Santa can be visited every year, though largely in the summer months." (Read more)

Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005

Federal judge in Pennsylvania bars intelligent design from biology classes

The idea that life on earth was created by undentified but intelligent design is "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" and cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a public school district in Pennsylvania, a federal judge ruled today "in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial," The Associated Press reports.

The Dover Area School Board ordered in October 2004 that intelligent design be mentioned in biology classes. Some parents sued, saying that is an unconstitutional overlap of church and state. The board said it was trying to improve science education by teaching students that there are alternatives to the theory of evolution, which they say "cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms," AP notes.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, appointed by President Bush, said in his 139-page decision, “We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom,” he wrote. "Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs," AP reported, citing Jones.

The policy "was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation" and "divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election," AP reports. "The board members were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum. . . . The case is among at least a handful that have focused new attention on the teaching of evolution in the nation’s schools." (Read more)

House passes cuts in Medicaid, Medicare and agriculture; Senate vote looms

As House Republicans celebrate a return to fiscal conservatism, Democratic governors are asking the Senate to oppose the final budget conference bill, saying it shifts costs to states and recklessly cuts human services." Meanwhile, agriculture and senior-citizen groups are attacking cuts to their respective programs.

The Democratic Governors Association cites cuts in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and opposes proposed restrictions on child welfare eligibility. It says the budget conference report would cut funding for child support enforcement by $4.9 billion, and result in $8.4 billion in child support going uncollected, over the next 10 years. The estimated cost to states of complying with new requirements is $8.4 billion over the next five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

This is the first time since the 1995-96 budget standoff that Congress has to tried "to curb the growth of federal entitlement spending that rises automatically according to set funding formulas," notes Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post. "Republican leaders hailed House passage of the budget as proof that they were finally getting a handle on the federal budget after a five-year binge of new spending and tax cuts that turned record budget surpluses into a stream of deep deficits." (Read more)

"Tens of thousands of low-income Americans are likely to lose health coverage under the measure, and many millions will face premiums, deductibles and co-payments for the first time, said Jocelyn Guyer, senior program director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families," Weisman reports. Senior Journal.com reports the bill would make significant cuts in Medicaid and Medicare: "Total Medicare cuts are anticipated to reduce the budget about $8 billion, and Medicaid will be cut about $5 billion." (Read more)

Agriculture.com reports, "The reconciliation package calls for $934 million in cuts from farm bill conservation programs, $400 million in cuts from rural development programs and a $620 million reduction in funding for research programs, as well as cuts to advance payments to commodity producers," according to the National Farmers Union. (Read more)

Texas getting broadband over powerlines; DSL gaining on cable modem

Broadband-over-powerline (BPL) technology is set for deployment across a broad swath of Texas, according to Current Communications Group and TXU Electric Delivery.

The firms said the service, called Smart Grid, will be offered next year to some 2 million homes and businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and some other communities, writes W. David Gardner of TechWeb News. Current teamed up with Cinergy Corp. to test BPL in Ohio.

Google, which has moved in recent months to offer broadband services of its own, has invested in Current, notes Gardner. William H. Berkman, chairman and co-founder of Current, said, "This agreement is a milestone for Current as well as for BPL." In October the first citywide BPL service was introduced by Communications Technologies in Manassas, Va. (Read more)

Meanwhile, Red Herring, a California-based business and technology news service, reports DSL is gaining subscribers faster than cable, but cable still leads in broadband services.

"Leichtman Research Group, a research firm based in Durham, N.H., reports the 20 largest broadband providers in the United States acquired a record 2.6 million net additional subscribers in the third quarter of 2005. The top DSL providers added 1.42 million subscribers, representing 54 percent of the net broadband additions for the quarter, while cable providers added 1.2 million subscribers," writes Red Herring. (Read more)

Poverty is the grinch that steals Christmas for millions, says rural scholar

While statistics show a robust economy, it isn't "Christmas" if you're poor and live in rural America, writes rural scholar Thomas D. Rowley, a Rural Research Policy Institute fellow.

Rowley cites New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who pointed out recently, “It’s hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom.” The bulk of the gains from [economic] expansion are going to the wealthy, notes Rowley, "not to the middle-income or the poor."

Rowley also cites Mark Drabenstott, director of the Center for the Study of Rural America, who recently said three-quarters of the nation’s recent economic growth was captured by the top 10 percent of U.S. counties. Of the nation’s 3,100 counties, just 310 account for 74 percent of growth in income, 74 percent of growth in jobs and 76 percent of growth in population. And, of the job gainers, only eight counties are rural. Of the population winners, only 10 are rural.

Drabenstott noted Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska each lost one percent of their share of national economic output, an annual drop of $8,900 in per capita output and $7,100 in per capita income.

Rowley writes the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports the average renter in rural America earns $8.37 an hour though $10.42 an hour is needed to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. Rowley points out that of the 37 million living in poverty, more than a third are children, and nearly 35 million Americans cannot afford food, while some 46 million cannot afford health insurance. "All of which have higher rates in rural areas," he writes. (For this and previous columns, click here.)

North Carolina survey latest to show poor health status of kids in poverty

North Carolina children living below double the federal poverty level are more likely to be obese, less likely to have adequate health and dental care, less likely to participate in sports activities and more likely to have to repeat a grade, reports Leslie Boyd of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"A new report by the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute, based on a nationwide 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that children in low-income families fare worse on indicators of child well-being," writes Boyd.

Child Advocacy Institute Chairman Bill Jamieson believes making people aware of issues surrounding childhood poverty will pressure legislators to fund social programs. He told Boyd, “Every child should have the same economic opportunity, and we know they don’t.”

Among the study’s findings: Only 28 percent of low-income children are covered by private health insurance; about 29 percent of low-income children ages 10 to 17 are overweight; Parents of low-income children were nearly three times as likely to quit a job, turn down a new job or greatly change a job because of problems with child care. Arenda Manning, director of the Emma Community Center, told Boyd, "It’s a disaster if the car breaks down, never mind paying for soccer shoes." (Read more)

Kentucky, West Virginia get $6 million in federal money to train coal miners

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced six million dollars for training new miners to help coal companies in Kentucky and West Virginia overcome a worker shortage.

"U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced a grant of more than three million dollars to train miners in Kentucky. West Virginia would get an additional three million dollars," reports The Associated Press.

The grants are part of nearly $27 million allotted to support the nation's energy work force, AP reports, part of the High Growth Job Training Initiative, a strategic plan to prepare workers for jobs in expanding industries. Chao stated the demand for coal is creating job opportunities and training for these jobs will prepare miners for the jobs and boost the economy, writes AP. (Read more)

Kentucky's share of the money is $3 million, reports Bill Wolfe of The Courier-Journal. Chao cited a need for about 3,500 additional miners in Kentucky and said the state is facing a worker shortage. "Many workers in the coal industry are nearing retirement and will soon leave the work force," said Chao in a conference call. Eastern and Western Kentucky coal regions will share the grant which will cover on-the-job training for current miners and efforts to recruit and prepare new miners, writes Wolfe.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told Wolfe the grant is "good news. Production is actually down in Eastern Kentucky in a boom period. This will help provide for some manpower, which will be very valuable," said Caylor. (Read more)

Iowa report shows state's meth crackdown not reducing child-abuse cases

"Despite a crackdown on methamphetamine labs, a new study says the number of child-welfare cases involving parental meth use in southwest Iowa has remained steady over the past two years at about 49 percent," reports Amy Lorentzen of The Associated Press.

Western Iowa social worker Carol Gutchewsky conducted the study of ongoing child welfare cases in the Iowa Department of Human Services' 16-county Council Bluffs service area, writes Lorentzen. Gutchewsky said she did the study because many social workers were reporting an increasing number of child abuse cases where meth was involved, notes Lorentzen.

The study shows of 1,469 child abuse cases examined in 2003, 720 involved parental meth use, compared to 781 of 1,605 cases in 2005. Both years, meth accounted for almost half of the cases. The study looked at known meth-use and not suspected use, notes Lorentzen.

Another study found 14,499 child abuse reports filed in 2004, the second highest number ever and just below the all-time high of 14,936 in 2003. The report showed in that 2004, there were 1,713 cases where illegal drugs in a child's body because of a parent or other caretaker use. The DHS reports 299 children present when parents or a caretaker were involved in manufacturing meth, writes Lorentzen. (Read more)

Residents sue electric co-op, oppose selling site for factory development

Three Bullitt County, Ky. residents have sued Salt River Electric Cooperative , claiming it would violate state law if it sells 75 acres in Hillview for a plastics factory, reports The Courier-Journal.

"Salt River Electric bought the property near Interstate 65 last January, and its executives said their intention was to bring in industry and create jobs. Working with Bullitt County officials, they lured Sabert Corp. of New Jersey, which plans to build a 250,000-square-foot plant to make plastic bowls, trays and food containers," writes Bullitt County reporter Brian Moore.

Nearby property owners . . . contend Salt River cannot buy and sell property for development," reports Moore. They are asking that Salt River be ordered to cease buying and selling land for development. Plaintiffs' attorney Jim Conway told the Louisville paper that cooperatives were created solely to generate and sell electricity, and cites a recent state Supreme Court decision to that effect.

Salt River attorney Doug Hubbard told Moore that the land sales lead to electricity sales: "We have an opportunity in selling to Sabert where we'll have one customer that may be comparable to hundreds of residential customers." (Read more)

Bird-flu legislation slammed as drugmakers' loophole slipped into bill

Critics charge bird-flu preparedness legislation, headed for a final vote in the Senate this week, would create loopholes allowing vaccine makers to avoid legal liability even if a patient is harmed by negligence, reports Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Los Angeles Times.

Democrats and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America "derided the legislation as a gift to the drug industry, but its supporters said the lawyers were acting in their own self-interest. Nonetheless, a leading public health group also criticized the liability language, writes Alonso-Zaldivar.

Jeffrey Levi of the Trust for America's Health told the Times, "We recognize the need for liability protections to get the industry into the game, but we're uncomfortable with the breadth of the liability protections and the fact that they are not balanced by an appropriately strong compensation program." The trust advocates stronger government action to deal with the threat of a flu pandemic.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Los Angeles, told the Times, "Republicans tucked a huge Christmas present for the drug companies into the appropriations bill in the dead of night." Backed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., the provision would allow the government to extend legal immunity to vaccine and drug makers by declaring a public health emergency, writes Alonso-Zaldivar. (Read more)

Washington governor pushes for more state investment in biofuels

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed greater investment in the state's biofuel industry, calling it the largest industry of the 21st century and one which she said her state is well positioned to lead.

"Demand for biodiesel and ethanol has grown with the rising cost of gasoline and petroleum fuels. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil-based fuel that can be burned in place of regular diesel or mixed in varying blends; ethanol can be distilled from corn and grain and mixed with gasoline," writes Shannon Dininny of The Associated Press.

Gregoire has proposed $17.5 million in low-interest loans to boost bioenergy projects, such as facilities that crush canola to oil and refineries that convert that oil to a biodiesel fuel. She also proposed legislation to require diesel fuels sold in Washington be blended with a minimum amount of biodiesel, aimed at creating a market for the products produced by the state's farmers and refineries.

State Rep. Janea Holmquist, a Republican, told Dininny the renewable fuel standard would ensure that when biodiesel and ethanol are available in Washington, farmers here will be part of the industry growth. Homquist also stated the bill would take effect when all segments of the industry are available in the state and allows for interruptions because of drought or other emergencies, writes Dininny. (Read more)

News media have moved on too quickly from Big Easy, charges E&P writer

With myriad distractions and industry-wide budget constraints, the nation's news media have turned from New Orleans all too soon, says Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher.

"New Orleans is a devastated city. I know, that's not exactly breaking news. But I just got back from there, and all I can say to everyone I've talked to since is: New Orleans is a devastated city, almost beyond belief. You've got to see it, I told people again and again this weekend, back home in Chicago. Everyone in America should see it," writes Mark Fitzgerald of E&P.

Fitzgerald writes, "The press, of course, is famous for rushing to disasters, and then moving on. . . . Even when newspapers go down there to write about, say, the struggle to reopen such storied restaurants as Galatoire’s or Commander's Palace, the context of daily New Orleans living gets lost. For instance, until I went to New Orleans myself, I had no idea that virtually no McDonald's fast-food sites have reopened inside New Orleans. I had no idea that traffic lights are non-existent outside of downtown."

At a press conference by Mayor Ray Nagin, every reporter was allowed to ask two questions. "As Nagin's harried press spokeswoman went down the line, it became apparent that the reporters were either New Orleans locals, or foreigners. . . . So there are few from outside the city to tell the hard story of how New Orleans is an odd mix of civilization carrying on under almost survivalist conditions."

He concludes, "Driving in the Lower Ninth Ward . . . I saw orange graffiti on a wrecked home that thankfully wasn't an 'X' with a body count. 'Psalm 55:18' was all it said." He gives the King James version: "He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me," and opines, "Restless and unpeacable though we often are, we in the press must stay among the many who abide with that anonymous and hopeful soul in New Orleans." (Read more)

Gift allows journalism class to probe old murder case, dispute jury's finding

"An investigative journalism class, backed by a $5,000 gift from a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, has deconstructed an 11-year-old murder case that is also being examined by the UW Law School's Wisconsin Innocence Project," according to a university news release.

Graduate students in journalism and mass communication professor and Pulitzer Prize winner "Deb Blum's class have conducted dozens of interviews, visited the crime scene, done "reams of photocopying" and hired forensics experts to analyze evidence in the 1994 case," Dennis Chaptmnan. (Read more)

Although students in the semester-long course have not proven Brummer was wrongfully convicted, they have gained valuable knowledge about the persistence, tools and techniques of investigative reporting, notes Chaptman. Adam Hinterthuer, a student in the class, told Chaptman, "We were able to raise a lot of questions that may never be answered, but were never even asked. How 12 people can come up with irrefutable evidence that she did it is beyond me."

Brummer was convicted in the March 15, 1994. The victim's body was found a month later less then two miles from where witnesses said the two were seen drinking together the night before Gonstead's death, writes Chaptman.

Monday, Dec. 19, 2005

Slow Internet hobbles rural firms; FCC head looks to power-line broadband

More than half of small businesses in rural areas can't get broadband Internet access or don't have any interest in signing up for the high-speed connections.

"Those rural firms are at a disadvantage compared with their ... counterparts in more urban areas ... willing and able to opt for broadband, according to a new report by the Small Business Administration," writes business columnist Victor Godinez of the Dallas Morning News.

SBA surveyed 232 small firms in urban areas and 178 in rural regions. It found 54 percent of the urban firms had broadband access, while only 43 percent of their rural counterparts did. The SBA cited several factors: Small, rural companies tend to have fewer employees (an average of 5.4 per firm); as population density decreases, so does the number of companies offering high-speed Internet service; and small urban companies generally cater to urban customers, who are more likely to have broadband Internet.

The problem, the SBA says, is that high-speed Internet access is becoming critical to small companies, and the report stated, "Various studies have concluded that broadband investment and services create jobs, increase productivity and economic output, and hold down inflation." (Read more)

FCC beat: Broadband access is the chief issue for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, who also wants to ensure competition. He told the Los Angeles Times, "Things like broadband over power lines could be deployed much more rapidly if it ends up being a more promising technology." Click here to read Martin's interview with Times reporter James Granelli.

Center for Rural Education created; former education chief named head

The U.S. Department of Education has announced the creation of the Center for Rural Education to help rural schools, and named as director former Commissioner of Education William L. Smith, the last person to hold that job before education was elevated to department status.

"Housed within the Office of Vocational and Adult Education and working in tandem with the Secretary's Task Force for Rural Education, the center will serve as an information resource for policymakers at the local, state and federal levels," Beto Gonzalez, acting assistant secretary for the vocational-and-adult office, made the announcement in remarks to a national meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Tucson," reports the Sioux City [Iowa] Journal.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told reporters, "I am committed to addressing the needs of our students, educators and parents in rural America. This new center will take a leadership role in advancing the cause of rural education." (Read more) For more information about the center, click here.

Rural emergency care at risk as number of farmers, workers decline

Rural South Dakotans have been able to depend on volunteer emergency services in the event of a heart attack or a car accident, but it appears those days are numbered as volunteers dwindle. "When emergency calls come in during the day, no one is around to respond, because there are fewer farmers and so many residents now work in larger towns, writes Corrine Olson of The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Volunteer ambulance services in the Sioux Falls area have been sounding the alarm, saying they cannot operate on volunteers alone anymore. They told the newspaper they need to to hire full-time staff to cover daytime hours or they won't be able to provide emergency care, notes Olson.

Volunteers from area ambulance services are pushing city councils and others to support what they view as a more feasible solution - a tax levied on those who use the ambulance services. But, such a tax would have to be approved by a public vote, an idea that has gotten mixed reviews, writes Olson. (Read more)

CHNI establishes state news bureau to serve a heavily rural readership

Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. announced Friday that Ronnie Ellis, a longtime Glasgow Daily Times reporter, will become the chain's Kentucky correspondent in the state capital of Frankfort on Jan. 2. His copy will move through the CNHI News Service.

"Company vice-presidents Keith Ponder and Eddie Blakeley created the position with the intention of having someone at the capital who could delve more deeply into issues affecting communities within the
CNHI readership," writes Times Editor Todd Garvin. Blakeley said, "We hope to bring our readers a different perspective on statewide and political news. It will be more of a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in Frankfort and how it affects our local communities."

Ellis, 54, has covered politics for much of his 20-year journalism career. He has a bachelor's degrees from Western Kentucky University in English and journalism, and has won several awards. Ellis said, "It's as exciting a move as I've ever made in my career."

Ellis will serve a heavily rural readership. CNHI has daily papers in Glasgow, Somerset, Corbin, Richmond and Ashland, and weeklies (some publishing more than once a week) in Greenup, Olive Hill, Grayson, Morehead, London, Whitley City and Monticello. All the towns are in Appalachia except Glasgow, whose county borders three Appalachian counties. Only one town, Ashland, is in a metropolitan area, and its Daily Independent, the largest-circulation (18,678) CNHI paper in Kentucky, has many rural readers.

Central Appalachian states lead nation in deaths from all-terrain vehicles

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the death rate for all-terrain vehicle users grew faster in Kentucky than in any other state from 2002 to 2004.

The report showed "Kentucky led the nation with 106 reported ATV-related deaths from those years, according to the commission's recently released Annual Report of ATV Deaths and Injuries. West Virginia was second with 93 deaths. Nationwide, there were 1,571 deaths in that span," reports The Associated Press, based on a story originally in the Paducah Sun.

Other states are also seeing more deaths and injuries, but their numbers are not rising as fast as Kentucky's. The CPSC estimates 136,100 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2004 because of ATV-related accidents, up 8 percent from 2003. Wolfson told reporters the increase is partly due to more ATVs in use nationwide than ever before. About 16.3 million riders have 5.6 million ATVs.

The CPSC is considering a ban on sales of full-sized ATVs to children under 16, and enhancing warning labels, requiring dealers to give buyers formal notification of safety rules and child injury data at the time of sale. The new restrictions would also require buyers to complete training before purchasing an ATV, make manufacturers responsible for design and performance safety standards and add an appropriately sized model for 14-year-olds. (Read more) For the full CPSC report in pdf form, click here.

Some critics say enacting rules for manufacturers is not as important as educating people about how to safely ride an ATV. Lisa Hill and her husband, Roy offer training at the ATV Safety Institute of Irvine, Calif. She told the Sun, "Most problems develop because riders haven't followed a basic safety rule."

Mountaintop-removal mining more visible, now 'industrial tourism'

Mountaintop-removal coal mining, once relegated to the Appalachian back country, has been edging closer to major highways, driven by the mining boom, and as a result tourists are stopping to gawk.

The closer proximity of the mining technique to more traveled thoroughfares has "created a sort of reverse eco-tourism among people seeking to get their first up-close look at the much-debated practice. It's also provided a new opportunity for environmentalists to try to sway more people into opposing such mines," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Rev. John Rausch, director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, who says visitors are adding mountaintop removal sites to their travel itineraries, calls the phenomenon, "Disaster tourism. Once people observe what is happening their jaws drop in disbelief." Rausch organizes tours to eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Randy Fiveash told Alford, "It's legal to do the kind of mining that they're doing, and if people want to come to watch that, then I think it kind of falls into the area of industrial tourism." Jordan Fisher Smith, a California author, told Alford, "The only things that can grow in these places are the sorts of plants that county agriculture agents have been trying to spray and eliminate elsewhere." (Read more)

Ruling against corporate farm ban may boost purchases, non-Neb. owners

Nebraskans and outsiders could find it easier to be landowners and absentee farmers if a judge's ruling against the state's corporate farming ban is upheld on appeal.

For 23 years, the state's Initiative 300 has made it more difficult for outside investors and even in-state farmers to put money into land and farms in Nebraska, said David Aiken, an agriculture-law expert at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, write Bill Hord and Martha Stoddard of the Omaha World-Herald.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp of Omaha ruled the ban violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state plans to appeal her ruling. Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma also have corporate farming restrictions, but Nebraska's ban generally was viewed as the toughest.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, called the ruling, "unfortunate and tragic." Others said the ban had limited farmers' options Aiken told Hord and Stoddard without the restrictions farmers will find it easier to pass their property on to relatives or others. Jerry Warner, executive vice president of Farmers National Co., told them, "This has restricted outside capital from coming into Nebraska," and added more than half of all land in Nebraska is farmed by people who do not own the land, write Hord and Stoddard. (Read more; registration required, several related stories archived)

Cherokees fight meth with increased policing, treatment in model program

Cherokee tribal leaders say stepped up enforcement and expanded treatment for drug addicts show success in the fight against the growing use of methamphetamine on the reservation.

"The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have made changes in treatment, law enforcement and public awareness that observers credit as a model for other communities. Western Carolina University professor Gordon Mercer says it's the most effective anti-drug efforts in the region," reports Jordan Schrader of the Asheville Citizen-Times. (Read more)

The tribe has adopted a law regulating the sale of cold-medicine tablets containing ingredients used in making meth. The tribal law is stricter than the one North Carolina passed this year and requires buyers to get the drugs from a pharmacist. A police hotline has generated tips that led to more than 50 drug arrests.

The tribe also has hired a private company to test confiscated drugs rather than rely on the State Bureau of Investigation. The SBI's backlog of cases can delay court proceedings for months, a problem confronting other North Carolina police departments.

University of Kentucky study shows facts of state's urban-rural divide

"A study released by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky offers some statistical analysis to support the existence of disparity between" urban and rural areas, and makes some recommendations sure to heat up an argument over the tax contributions and needs of both, reports Mark Chellgren of The Associated Press.

"University of Louisville economist Dr. Paul Coomes wrote in the 2005 Kentucky Annual Economic Report that when it comes to distributing public resources, such as tax money for transportation infrastructure and even education, the state is too evenhanded," writes Chellgren. Urban areas feel they should be getting more because they not only contribute more they feel they "are the only real hope to pull all of Kentucky out of the economic backwater," he writes.

Coomes wrote, "Kentucky's fiscal policies clearly disadvantage the economic competitiveness of its largest cities. Kentucky is missing lucrative office economy growth. If Kentucky is ever to catch up ... it will be led by its cities," but," he writes, "its urban areas cannot compete nationally and internationally under an anachronistic tax structure and spending policies geared primarily to redistribution and entitlement."

Coomes said half of all private sector wages paid in Kentucky are earned in only four of the 120 counties -- Jefferson, Fayette, Boone and Kenton. If Warren and Daviess counties (Bowling Green and Owensboro, respectively) are included, those six provide half of all the private sector jobs in the state. Coomes estimated Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky contributed $4.2 billion in state taxes and fees in the 2003 fiscal year, but received only $2.8 billion in return. (Read more)

Tobacco takes its toll on Indiana; costs exceed contributions, says study

Tobacco defenders often cite the industry's contributions to the economy when critics underscore the costs of health care from smoking related illnesses. But an Indiana study appears to dilute the argument in defense of lighting up.

Economist Patrick Barkey, the director of economic and policy studies at Ball State University in Muncie, was behind the study. "Most public health studies ask about costs associated with tobacco use. We wanted to find out whether tobacco is the driver of economy." he told Naseem Sowti of the Muncie Star Press. The state-funded study showed tobacco is a "sizable drag on the economy, " writes Sowti.

"The study found there would be more than 175,000 additional jobs -- more than three times the number of people employed in Delaware County in 2004 -- if tobacco were not used or produced in Indiana. Personal income would be $28.7 billion higher; after-tax income would be 7 percent higher; population would be more than half a million people higher; more than $100 billion in cumulative new investments would take place; and per capita income would be $108 higher," notes Sowti.

A 2004 survey showed tobacco use produces $1.9 billion in medical costs annually in Indiana and $448 million dollars in Medicaid expenditures are directly related to tobacco. (Read more)

Musicians ride City of New Orleans train to resurrect Big Easy music

"Good night, America, how are you? Don't you know me I'm your native son, I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans, I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done." Most folk music lovers know that refrain by heart. The lyrics sung by Arlo Guthrie echoed in a recent effort to inspire hearts and raise additional attention and funds for musicians in the city that inspired the song.

The trip, which began Dec. 6, "was actually the first time Guthrie rode the train celebrated in the Steve Goodman song of the same name that Guthrie made so famous. Guthrie and a crew of musicians [rode] the City of New Orleans from Chicago to the Big Easy, stopping along the way to play fundraising shows. The goal is to raise money for New Orleans musicians who lost instruments, homes and work as a result of Hurricane Katrina," writes Kari Lydersen of The Washington Post (Read more)

Guthrie told Dean Reynolds of ABC News, "The thing I fear the most is that we will lose a city that loves its own decadence." Guthrie had a two big concerts over the weekend after arriving in New Orleans. All proceeds go to bringing the music back to the city. He told Reynolds they want to make certain the city doesn't suffer the same fate as the train, as bemoaned in the song. "And all the towns and people seem, to fade into a bad dream, and the steel rails still ain't heard the news. The conductor sings his song again, the passengers will please refrain. This train's got the disappearing railroad blues." (Read more, see the report)

Sunday special, Dec. 18, 2005

How open are juvenile courts in your state? How open should they be?

Fourteen states keep all juvenile-court proceedings secret, "requiring the public to accept on faith that it is being protected from dangerous children -- and that innocent children are being protected from dangerous adults," The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports today, in a big package about efforts to open Kentucky's juvenile courts to scrutiny by the public and the news media. It includes a list of online information about juvenile courts in the U.S. and books on the subject.

Besides Kentucky, the states with generally secret juvenile courts are Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Another 21 states open hearings if the juvenile is a certain age or is charged with a certain level of offense, such as a felony. Ohio allows closure if a judge finds "that public access could harm the child or endanger the fairness of adjudication and there are no reasonable alternatives to closure," according to the legend of a map with the series.

One story in the package focuses on Iowa, which opened all juvenile proceedings in 1998. "Most of its daily and weekly newspapers exercise discretion in what they report and who they name, according to a study published in 2000 by the Newspaper Research Journal," The C-J's Andrew Wolfson writes, noting that the Des Moines Register "only writes about juveniles if they are charged with major offenses that would be newsworthy if the defendant were an adult."

"A few county weeklies, however, like the Daily Democrat in Fort Madison, a Mississippi River town of 10,715 about 200 miles southeast of Des Moines, publish the name of every juvenile charged with any offense. "It wasn't an easy decision -- I understand kids make mistakes," editor Robin Delaney told Wolfson. Delaney and a probation officer said "the practice has caused parents to keep their children on a tighter leash," Wolfson writes -- but notes that "the rate of serious juvenile crime has increased 17 percent in Fort Madison since 1998 . . . while it has declined slightly statewide."

Friday, Dec. 16, 2005

'Weighted' study shows students score better with poverty taken into account

An analysis of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math scores "found that 11 states -- Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas -- outperformed the rest of the country in either the fourth or eighth grade" when scores are weighted by poverty rates, writes Kavan Peterson of Stateline.org.

Kansas, Massachusetts and Minnesota consistently made the top 10 based on their raw NAEP scores. Alabama, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island performed below the national average, and the remaining 33 states scored about the same with poverty levels included. Massachusetts students outscored everyone on both raw NAEP scores and the poverty-weighted analysis, notes Peterson.

The report, Leveling the Playing Field 2005, is the first to analyze NAEP data based on student poverty levels. Research has found poverty to be one of the greatest factors determining student performance. Its findings turn the traditional NAEP ranking on its head. (Read more)

Liquid meth produces stronger high, leaves drug agents questioning potency

Methamphetamine dealers in Marshall County, Alabama, are shopping around a new, potentially more potent liquid form of the drug. The county Drug Enforcement Unit wants to know the drug's potency.

Unit Director Ricky Phillips told George Jones of the Sand Mountain Reporter he has talked to Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, but no one in regional or state law enforcement has seen the new form. The DEA reported that some arrived in Tequila bottles from Mexico this past spring, Phillips told Jones. (Read more)

"The guys we got it from told us it was stronger and better than any meth they had come across yet," Phillips told Jones. He also said the new meth could be easier to transport and harder to detect. Samples police recently found in Arab, Ala., were in a medicine bottle with an eyedropper and a soft drink bottle.

Phillips told WAFF News that a flyer has been sent out to alert law enforcement. A sample was sent to the state department of forensic science to find out what's in the liquid drug, the station reports. (Read more)

Homeland Security report reveals Red Cross services lacking in rural U.S.

A report for a Democratic congressman finds that American National Red Cross has not provided effective and necessary critical emergency relief to rural residents during disasters.

"Specifically, the report finds that Red Cross protocols are inadequate for large-scale emergency disaster response. Cumbersome rules hamper the Red Cross's ability to mobilize resources to quickly provide equal care for all disaster victims, including the economically disadvantaged and people of color," reports PRNewswire. (Read more)

The report rural problems in post-hurricane situations. When Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, S.C., in 1989, "countless rural communities reportedly were ignored by the Red Cross, and as many as 3,000 families in under-served communities were still in need of assistance three months after the hurricane," states the report. As for Hurricane Katrina victims in rural areas, the committee found: "They could not reach the Red Cross by phone and many had no means of transportation to the charity’s shelters. Even if transportation was available, moreover, the fact that some Red Cross shelters were offering assistance only to shelter residents would have prevented these victims from receiving aid and supplies in any event."

The Red Cross is the only nongovernmental organization tasked by the government to provide "mass care" duties under the National Response Plan. The report's sponsor, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson D-Miss., introduced a bill Thursday to address these problems by providing more accountability measures and requiring additional services be put in place. Click here to read the report.

Howard Berkes of National Public Radio reported Tuesday on rural Hancock County, Mississippi, "ground zero" for Katrina's strongest winds and deepest floodwater, where Red Cross response was virtually non-existent. (Click here to listen) In October, Berkes provided an in-depth look at Red Cross failures, especially in rural Hancock County. (Click here to listen)

Biloxi newspaper urges media not to forget Katrina's damage in Mississippi

An unsigned, front-page editorial yesterday in the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., warned the effects of Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi coast have started to fade into what the newspaper described as "a black hole of media obscurity," reports Editor & Publisher.

The editorial states, "Never mind that, if taken alone, the destruction in Mississippi would represent the single greatest natural disaster in 229 years of American history. The telling of Katrina by national media has created the illusion of the hurricane's impact on our Coast as something of a footnote." (Read more)

The editorial concludes, "On the third day after Katrina crushed us, this newspaper appealed to
America: 'Help us now,' the headline implored. America answered with an outpouring of love and help. That response saved us then. Our plea to newspapers and television and radio and Web sites across the land is no less important today: Please, tell our story." (Click here for the complete editorial.)

Congressional study likens San Joaquin Valley to Central Appalachia

A nonpartisan congressional study suggests the San Joaquin Valley of central California may be the West's version of Appalachia, reports Michael Doyle of the McClatchy News Service.

"The travails sound familiar. Poverty is high, education is low and social needs abound. But the 365-page regional report card released Wednesday, one of the most comprehensive of its kind, also leaves unanswered what may be the most enduring Capitol Hill question: What must Congress do now, given the immensity of the problem?" writes Doyle.

The Congressional Research Service concluded, "By a wide range of indicators, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the most economically depressed regions of the United States." Doyle notes, "Even notoriously poor Appalachia fares better in some respects. Per-capita income is lower in the Valley's eight counties than in the 68-county area known as Central Appalachia. Predictably, but grimly, the Valley's public assistance rates are higher than Appalachia."

"In Appalachia, 14.3 percent of residents are age 65 or older; in the Valley, less than 10 percent are 65 or older. Consequently, federal retirement and disability payments are higher. Moreover, the Valley does better than Appalachia in some areas, including receiving federal grants," writes Doyle. (Read more)

Arkansas high court says legislature still hasn't made schools constitutional

Arkansas has retreated from its constitutional obligation to adequately support public education and must corect itself by Dec. 1, 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

"In a 5-2 decision, the high court ruled the Legislature failed to make education spending its top priority in this year's regular session and 'grossly underfunded' school building repairs and construction," reports Aaron Sadler of the Arkansas News Bureau of Stephens Media Group.

Gov. Mike Huckabee "dismissed suggestions that the state dip into a $123 million budget surplus to address the high court decision," and said he would wait to decide whether to call a special legislative session, Sadler reports.

Lawsuits over school funding in Arkansas began in 1992, two years after Kentucky reformed its system in response to a state Supreme Court decision. Arkansas lawmakers "adopted sweeping reforms," but 49 school districts asked the state high court to reopen the case, claiming that the legislature's freeze on per-student funding made the system inadequate. The court voted 4-3 to reopen the case.

"The court said the Legislature was wrong to freeze minimum state aid and funding for at-risk students. The ruling also said lawmakers failed to make education their top spending priority, and that they allocated $85 million less than necessary for immediate school building projects," Sadler writes. "The high court did not specify what it considered a proper funding figure, but said legislators should have abided by a law that requires a biennial study to determine financial adequacy."

Sadler added, "If the Legislature does meet in special session before the court-mandated deadline, Huckabee would consider renewing his push for broader school consolidation. Meanwhile, he said he would review how efficiently the state spends its public school dollars. He called for greater transparency in how public education money is spent," suggesting more should go to teacher pay.

Federal judge declares Nebraska corporate farming ban unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that Nebraska's ban on corporate farming is illegal under the Constitution and the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA]. "The ban, widely known as Initiative 300, was added to the state constitution through a petition drive spearheaded by the Farmers Union in 1982," Kevin O'Hanlon of The Associated Press writes of the ruling by Judge Laurie Smith-Camp.

The initiative generally prohibits corporations and certain other businesses "from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity, although there are numerous exceptions," O'Hanlon writes. The lawsuit was filed by former state Sen. Jim Jones of Eddyville and several other people. One of the plaintiffs was Shad Dahlgren of Lincoln, a paraplegic who owns part of a feedlot near Bertrand.

The lawsuit said the initiative violates the ADA because it requires at least one family member who owns the farm to be engaged in day-to-day physical activities. "The ban exempts farms that are family owned and operated, nonprofit corporations, American Indian tribal corporations, land used for seed or nursery purposes and land used for research or experimental purposes," writes O'Hanlon. (Read more)

Western Kentucky county commission enacts tough hog-farms regulation

The legislative body of Fulton County, Kentucky, has enacted strict regulations governing area hog farms, considered a major potential source of air and water pollution and health problems.

Residents nationwide have complained about odors as hog farms proliferate with consumer demand for pork products increasing and producer profits rising. Nearby residents and other farmers have also stated concerns about runoff polluting nearby streams.

The ordinance, posted yesterday on the Kentucky Resources Council's Web site, states, "Confined hog facilities can be significant sources of air pollution, odors, surface and groundwater pollution, and if improperly sited, constructed or operated, can create a public nuisance." The ordinance went on to state the local government has a "need to carefully control the management of swine wastes is a matter of public health and sanitation concern because of the possibility of transmittal of flu viruses from swine to humans."

The ordinance also states, "Odors and gases within confinement buildings and emissions from confinement barns, under floor pit systems and waste lagoons have been identified as major sources of ammonia and other noxious emissions, which must be managed and controlled to prevent the unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of the property of others." (Read more)

2019: Study predicts small, large farms increase to squeeze out midsize

A two-year American Farm Bureau Federation study suggests that over the next 15 years, American agriculture will be productive and profitable, but will look considerably different than it does today.

According to the study, "U.S. agriculture’s future will include a drastically changed government farm program, continued consolidation of production, and the adoption of additional environmental practices dictated by the marketplace," states the Federation in a news release.

The study was conducted by a committee of 23 farmers and ranchers from across the nation. AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “It is obvious from the report that America’s farm and ranch families are facing big challenges, but also big opportunities.” The committee was asked to develop a vision of where American agriculture should be in 2019 and then develop policy recommendations to help farmers make the needed transition.

According to the report, by 2019 there will be more large farms and more small farms, but the number of mid-sized farms will have decreased drastically. One trend identified in the report shows that farmers rely on rural communities more than they recognize, especially for off-farm employment. The report will be publicly unveiled at the federation's annual meeting, Jan. 8-11 in Nashville. (Read more)

Cigarette makers score victory in Illinois court; 40 similar suits pending

The Illinois Supreme Court has given the tobacco industry a huge victory, tossing out a $10.1 billion fraud judgment against Philip Morris USA over the marketing of its "light" cigarettes, but the ruling doesn't shield the industry from oncoming litigation.

"But while shares of parent company Altria Group Inc. soared to an all-time high on the news, industry critics warned that the Illinois decision does not insulate U.S. cigarette companies from future lawsuits. There are at least 40 similar suits pending against companies like Philip Morris and Reynolds American, any of which could result in awards into the billions of dollars, tobacco opponents said," reports Paul Nowell of The Associated Press.

Richard Daynard, president of the Boston-based Tobacco Control Resource Center and a longtime industry foe, told reporters, "They need to keep their legal teams ready." Philip Morris USA, which controls about half the U.S. cigarette market, issued only a terse statement saying it was "gratified" by Illinois court's decision. (Read more)

Ben Franklin serves as role model for good journalism on his 300th birthday

Founding father Ben Franklin was many things, from scientist and inventor, to statesman and diplomat. In an opinion piece, the Pew Charitable Trust commends Franklin's journalism past and bemoans the current states of the industry.

"For all his accomplishments, Franklin was first, and perhaps foremost, a newspaperman, publisher of the lively and successful Pennsylvania Gazette," write Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Donald Kimelman, the Trusts' director of information and civic initiatives.

"It is bittersweet such a celebration comes at a time of some peril for his latter-day heirs in Philadelphia, the people who write and publish The Inquirer and its sister publication, the Philadelphia Daily News," they write. The Inquirer's owner, Knight Ridder Inc., has been pressured by stockholders to sell. "At this writing, it remains unclear whether the two newspapers will remain part of Knight Ridder, will be sold together to a different media company, or will be sold off separately," note Rimel and Kimelman.

"The newspapers could stabilize, improve or get much worse under a new owner determined to improve the bottom line through further cutbacks. This is more than a fascinating business story. There is an important public interest - a community interest - in the outcome that deserves greater attention. For journalism is not just a business. It's a public trust, an essential element in the democratic mosaic," they opine. (Read more) Blogger's note: Singing to the choir; hopefully, others will hear and say Amen!

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005

Meth-ingredient restrictions added to bill in Congress over FDA opposition

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has agreed on restricting the sales of cold medicines used to manufacture methamphetamine, which continues to be a scourge in many rural areas. The restrictions are similar to those enacted in 34 states, but would impose nationwide uniformity.

"Under the proposal, Sudafed and similar medicines would have to be under lock and key in stores. Buyers would have to sign a sheet and show a driver's license. Purchases would be limited to one box a day and three boxes a month, writes Gardiner Harris of The New York Times.

The legislation is attached to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, Senate prospects for which are uncertain. The Food and Drug Administration has quietly fought such proposals, arguing most methamphetamine is imported and that restricting cold medicines would lead to unneeded suffering. Dan Troy, former general counsel of the agency, told Harris, "I think it's very sad when you punish the good and the needy because of a few bad actors."

Dr. William Schreiber of Louisville told reporters, "The restrictions ... aren't that bad. Anything that [limits] meth probably has to be done." Dr. Mary Klotman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine called the restrictions "reasonable" and told Harris, "I don't think anyone should stockpile these medicines." (Read more) For another report, by Sam Hananel of The Associated Press, click here.

Religious left protests cuts for poor; right says abortion a higher priority

Hundreds of religious activists protested cutting programs for the poor yesterday at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, but conservatives James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were not among them, write Jonathan Weisman and Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post.

Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's Colorado-based Christian organization, told Weisman and Cooperman, "It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important, but whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners, told the Post that conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees. They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

At issue is $50 billion in cuts over five years, trimming mainline programs that impact the poor. Leaders of five denominations -- the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA and United Church of Christ -- have called on Congress to "come up with a budget that brings "good news to the poor," write Weisman and Cooperman.

Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday the activists' position is not "intellectually right." The "right tax policy," he told Weisman and Cooperman is one that, "grows the economy, increases federal revenue -- and increased federal revenue makes it easier for us to pursue policies that we all can agree have social benefit." (Read more)

Plunging temperatures, rising energy costs prompt interest in heating with corn

"With temperatures dipping and energy prices soaring, homeowners everywhere are turning to alternative heat sources to keep them warm this winter. Many are turning to corn, writes Terri McLean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Communications Department.

Even in Kentucky, with comparatively low electric rates, there has been a renewed interest in burning corn as a heating fuel -- a practice that can be traced back at least to the Depression, when farmers couldn't afford coal, notes McLean. Agriculture engineer Sam McNeill told her, "Corn is not only for home heating. It also has commercial and even industrial applications." McNeill has recently fielded numerous calls from consumers interested in corn as a heating source. (Read more)

Corn is becoming so popular as a heating fuel manufacturers of corn-burning stoves and furnaces can't keep up with demand. Leslie Wheeler of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association in Arlington, Va., told McLean, "It's enormous this year as people look at alternative ways to stay warm."

Agriculture engineer Robert Fehr told McLean corn is competitively priced, about $2 a bushel, costing about $330 to heat a home this winter. By contrast, he notes, the same amount of heat would cost about $1,130 with electric heat, $1,000 with natural gas and $628 with a typical heat pump, writes McLean.

However, Ivan "Red" Swift, alert reader of The Rural Blog, reminds us that retail prices for corn are higher than what farmers are paid wholesale: " I bought 1,100 pounds of corn at Kirkland, Tenn., about 15 miles from my [Alabama] farm, Dec. 12. That's 19.64 bushels. I paid $2.80 a bushel," he writes. "You drive under the hopper and employees shoot the corn into your containers -- in my case three 55-gallon drums in the bed of my truck. . . . It's about as cheap as you can get corn around here. At a local Alabama co-op, it's $3.50 a bushel. At the local feed store, it's $4.50 a 50-pound bag, 5 pounds less than a bushel."

Kentucky may get nation's first law for broad drug testing of coal workers

A Kentucky task force looking into the problem of drug abuse among miners is recommending a comprehensive drug testing program for people who work in the coal industry, and "A state drug-testing law for miners would be the first of its kind in the country," reports The Courier-Journal.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher endorsed the idea yesterday, telling reporters, "Mining is a dangerous occupation and miners deserve the right to work in as safe an environment as possible." But he stopped short of saying he would advocate the program. "We will seek to work with members of the General Assembly to determine the feasibility of enacting legislation," he said in a statement.

"Union and coal-industry officials said that they support mandatory drug testing at mines, but that state regulators will have a difficult time with the details of such a program," writes Alan Maimon of The C-J's soon-to-be-closed Hazard bureau. "We're generally for it, but it's a much more complex issue than people realize," Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told Maimon, who added, "Caylor said his main concern is that industry would have to pay for the tests."

The United Mine Workers of America took no position on the proposal. Steve Earle, the union's Kentucky political director and a task force member, "said he needed to know, among other things, what sanctions would be imposed on a miner who fails a screening," Maimon reports. (Read more)

Meanwhile: Federal inspectors have issued a report calling an Eastern Kentucky mine unsafe following a fatal roof fall. Roger Alford of The Associated Press's Pikeville, Ky., bureau reports federal inspectors have ruled miners were working beneath poorly supported overhead rocks when two men were crushed in a cave-in at an Eastern Kentucky coal mine earlier this year.

MSHA issued six citations to Stillhouse Mining. One alleges the Harlan County company knew hazardous conditions existed and allowed miners to continue working in the area without correcting the problem or warning them of the danger. The subsidiary of Black Mountain Resources is contesting the allegations by state and federal inspectors that it failed to ensure the mine was safe. (Read more)

Appalachian Power energizes new line that protesters called unsafe

A new high-voltage power line strung by Appalachian Power Co. near Beckley, W. Va., which sparked some protest, has been "energized," writes Fred Pace of The Register-Herald in Beckley.

Construction of the 7.2-mile, 138-kilovolt line began in 2004. "Some residents protested the line being to close to their homes and said they feared health effects of magnetic fields from the high-voltage power lines," Pace writes.

Appalachian Power officials said growth in the area reached a point where reliability of electric service was compromised. Project manager Jay Johnson told Pace, “In this area, we’re seeing a load growth rate of more than 5 percent a year. That’s good news for the economy in the area, but it meant we needed to make this improvement to our infrastructure.” (Read more)

Virginia city prosecutor wins defamation case; judgment smaller than sought

A Roanoke jury has ordered an alternative media outlet to pay the top prosecutor in Martinsville, Va., $75,000 for defamation of character -- much less than she sought but a large sum for the outlet.

"Media 6 owner and operator Charles Roark said the jury's decision 'makes it tougher for us to do our job.' He and his attorney said they would consider an appeal. Martinsville Commonwealth's Attorney Joan Ziglar, who triumphed in court but was awarded far less than the $250,000 her attorneys asked for in court, was not available for comment after the verdict," writes Mike Allen of The Roanoke Times.

Ziglar sued Roark and his Media 6 news company for $3 million, charging a published letter defamed her in a tabloid newspaper, Buzz. Roark's Martinsville-based Cable 6 television station "had a reputation for salacious, gossipy innuendo, and Buzz had a similar reputation for outrageousness," writes Allen.

In a letter to the editor, a city jail inmate charged with first-degree murder claimed Ziglar encouraged his co-defendant to lie to a grand jury in order to frame him, and that Ziglar was seeking revenge for an affair he alleged to have had with her sister, notes Allen. Washington and Lee University journalism professor Ed Wasserman, testifying of the decision to print the letter without fact-checking, told the court, "It's reckless, it's thoughtless, it's horrible." (Read more)

Statewide candidates seek newspapers' support, but spend little with them

Virginia's Press, the newsletter of the Virginia Press Association, uses the Old Dominion's recent statewide elections as an opportunity to strike the latest contrast between candidates' use of editorial endorsements in TV commercials with the lack of money they spend on newspaper ads.

During the recent election for governor, Virginia Press Service records showed that only $50,000 was spent on campaign-related advertising that VPS provided to newspapers. "The broadcast ads quickly pointed out how newspapers, through their editorial coverage, took the other candidates to task for voting and campaign records," writes Bill Atkinson, VPA publications editor.

By not advertising in newspapers, candidates are doing a disservice to voters, said Colston Newton, editor of The Northumberland Echo, circulation 2,800. "People think of the weeklies as 'their papers,'" said the editor of the weekly in Heathsville, 40 miles northeast of Richmond. "An ad with the inherent message, 'I can't reach every door, but I can reach you in your paper,' I believe, would resonate almost as well as that door-knock. Subconsciously, the reader would think, 'Hey, he's in my paper. He must care about me.'

"An additional aspect is that most weeklies are read literally cover to cover," Newton continued. "An ad in all the state's weeklies will be seen by more voters at an exponentially lower cost than any TV ad, and it will be taken more seriously."

The Newspaper Association of America recently invited political consultants and interest groups to nominate good examples of political ads in newspapers. The top 50, rated for their creativity and effectiveness by a panel of experts, are available from Jack Brady, director or marketing and advertising, at bradj@naa.org or 703-902-1861. To see samples of the top 50, click here.

Knight Ridder raises $640,000 for hurricane-battered Biloxi Sun Herald staffers

Employees from all of Knight Ridder's properties and others have pulled together $320,000 for their colleagues at The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., who suffered from Hurricane Katrina. Knight Ridder is matching the money, for a total of $640,000.

"The fund officially closed on Nov. 15, though Knight Ridder spokeswoman Lee Ann Schlatter said that checks keep trickling in. Most of the money consisted of personal donations from company employees that ranged from $20 to $500. Schlatter said there were many checks for several hundred dollars," writes Jennifer Shea of Editor & Publisher. (Read more) Schlatter told Shea, "People that lost really lost."

So far, Knight Ridder has distributed tax-free donations totaling $525,000 to 150 employees at the Sun Herald. Knight Ridder said it will evaluate who gets the remaining money of about $115,000. The paper
has 250 people on staff. (Read more)

Buffalo reluctant to roam home; some return, some still on the range

"Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam," is the refrain we know; another might be, "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they see how it is to roam free." In Minnesota, officials are trying to ply some stubborn, roaming buffalo back home after they've escaped and roamed far from home.

"Authorities in western Minnesota knew where the buffalo roamed Wednesday. Their problem was luring a stray herd of 75 bison that remained reluctant to beat the retreat, even after being offered a sugar-coated bribe," writes Paul Levy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. About 40 have returned. The herd escaped their 150-acre pasture at a Barnesville, Minn., farm. and drifted about two miles north of a blacktopped county highway which they will have to cross to return home, writes Levy.

Gail Griffin, executive director of the Minnesota Buffalo Association, told Levy, "Offering them hay or other food seems like the best way to get their attention. Otherwise, I'm afraid they may be going about this all wrong. These are wild animals; machines scare them." (Read more)

Griffin and others are praying for a heavy snowfall, because buffalo become docile in inclement conditions. David Halvorson, who has his own buffalo herd, told Levy, "You want them docile. You can't pressure them. If you do, they'll scatter." Blogger's note: Encyclopedia.com says bison can stand nearly 6 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Their horns may reach a length of 6 feet.

Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005

Cuts prompt group to question feds' interest in improving rural health

A House-Senate conference committee finalizing the federal health-care budget has cut $136 million from what the National Rural Health Association calls the "federal rural health safety net," prompting the association to question the Bush administration's commitment to rural health.

Funding was cut from health programs, created either specifically for rural areas or for all underserved areas, including the elimination of funds for rural emergency medical services, Healthy Community Access grants, health-education training centers, geriatric education centers and the Quentin Burdick Program for Rural Training, NRHA notes in a news release. The conference committee recommendation also reduces funding for state offices of rural health, rural community access to medical devices, the National Health Services Corps.

NRHA indicated gratitude for some proposed cuts that the committee dropped, but said of those that remain, "There is no policy basis for the reduction or elimination of these successful and necessary programs. The NRHA must seriously question the federal government's commitment to actually improving health in rural and underserved areas, rather than just keeping it barely afloat." (Click to read more)

It's a local story, too: Rural journalists, ask your local health-care agencies and private providers what these cuts would mean to your readers, listeners and viewers. And ask your elected representatives where they stand on the issue, as Casper-Star Tribune Washington reporter Noelle Straub did in this story.

Federal government keeping secret names, locations of many civilian workers

A lawsuit filed Dec. 6 reveals the Bush administration has without explanation withheld the names and work locations of about 900,000 of its civilian workers, breaking a tradition of openness begun in 1816.

Adina Rosenbaum, attorney for the co-directors of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, told The Associated Press, "Citizens have a right to know who is working for the government." The research group at Syracuse University sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get the data. Since 1989, the group has posted an online database with the name, work location, salary and job category of all 2.7 million federal civilian workers except those in some law enforcement agencies. Reporters and government watchdog groups used the data to monitor policies and detect waste or abuse.

The TRAC co-directors wrote the federal Office of Personnel Management when the agency withheld the data, saying "Secret governors are incompatible with a free government. Basic information about the employees who carry out the day-to-day actions of government is critical for meaningful public oversight."

The federal government began publicly naming its employees, job categories, salaries and workplaces in 1816, AP writes. The first entry was President James Madison, author of the First Amendment. Click here to read more of the AP story. For TRAC's report on the lawsuit, click here.

Louisville paper's closing of bureaus draws concerns about state coverage

The Courier-Journal said yesterday it will close bureaus in Elizabethtown, Hazard and Paducah, Ky., early next year. It marks the end of an era for the paper, which was a statewide force and presence when owned by the Bingham family of Louisville. Gannett Co. Inc. has owned the paper since 1986, and in the last 10 years has made significant reductions in state circulation and coverage -- cuts that began under the Binghams.

Publisher Edward Manassah told reporter Laura Ungar for a story in this morning's C-J, "We want to continue to focus on local news and better utilize our resources. . . .We would like very much to grow our suburban coverage. We'd like to intensify our online presence to continue to improve the newspaper in terms of impacting our readers." The move will leave the paper with bureaus in Washington, Southern Indiana and the state capitals of Frankfort and Indianapolis. Former Publisher Barry Bingham Jr. told Ungar, "I don't know if you can be a statewide paper without bureaus to cover the state," but said he realizes "Newspaper groups are in serious trouble. The news business is having a hard time."

Michael A. Lindenberger, the Elizabethtown bureau's reporter, told Ungar, "I think it's a huge step backwards … it's a really sad day for the newspaper." Lindenberger said he came to The C-J "because of the paper's tradition of doing big-picture stories that try to hold the state together." Longtime Hazard Mayor Bill Gorman, 81, told Ungar, "It will be a terrible thing. I just think that it's going to cause all of Kentucky to suffer." Gorman noted the newspaper's long history of Appalachian coverage. "We have the Holy Bible and The Courier-Journal," he said.

The C-J Eastern Kentucky Bureau opened in Pikeville around 1950. Its reporters have included David Hawpe, the paper's editorial director and former editor; Stephen Ford, Forum editor and former managing editor; Mike Winerip, now of The New York Times; R.G. Dunlop, prize-winning investigative reporter and former city editor; John Voskuhl, projects editor of the Miami Herald; Gardiner Harris of the New York Times and formerly The Wall Street Journal; and Judy Jones, lawyer and former director of the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health in Hazard. The Western Kentucky Bureau was opened in Paducah in 1933 by Harry Bolser; its reporters included Bill Powell, former editor of the Paducah Sun-Democrat, now The Paducah Sun. To read more of Ungar's story, click here.

Not just papers: Other media firms slimming down to fatten up investors

While stories abound about cuts and closures at newspapers, they are not the only ones experiencing some belt tightening as competition ramps up, spreads out and goes deep.

"The broad shift of viewers and advertising dollars to the Internet is deeply troubling to many media companies, TV networks are grappling with the implications of ad-skipping technologies, and key advertisers like automakers and retailers are rethinking their ad budgets," writes Seth Sutel, business writer for The Associated Press.

Cable companies like Comcast Corp. and satellite broadcast providers like EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Group Inc. are among those facing a new threat from phone companies laying ultrahigh speed fiber optic cables that carry high quality video, data and phone signals. And, investors at several media companies are calling for trimming down and splitting up to boost share buybacks or to increase shareholder value, notes Sutel.

Heather Goodchild, a chief media analyst at Standard & Poor's, told Sutel, "There is a benefit from portfolio diversification. If one of your cylinders is not firing, the others may be." Goodchild calls the current trend "tough love" time for the media.

"Who knows what kind of technology may come along that could challenge traditional media business models anew. [Who] could ... have predicted you would see Walt Disney Co.'s ABC selling episodes of Desperate Housewives for $1.99 to watch on your video iPod?" notes Sutel. (Read more)

The Amcore Bank News? Station's sale of naming rights sparks SPJ criticism

The Society of Professional Journalists has urged Clear Channel Communications to stop its radio stations from selling naming rights to their newsrooms. WIBA, a Clear Channel station in Madison, Wis., sold the naming rights for its newsroom to a local bank.

SPJ President David Carlson said in a news release, "The only thing a news organization has is its credibility. When that's lost, listeners, viewers and readers will not be far behind. Does it sound credible to introduce a news report with 'Here's Jennifer Miller from the Battz Beer News Center?'" WIBA sold its naming rights to a bank. "But does it really sound any more credible to say, 'From the Amcore Bank News Center, here's Jennifer Miller?'" Carlson asked.

Carlson also questioned a newsroom's ability to thoroughly report on an entity when that entity has the naming rights to the newsroom. "When news breaks at Amcore Bank? Will they get the same level of reporting they would get if the story were at another financial institution?" SPJ noted that in 1948-56, the NBC Nightly News was called the "Camel News Caravan." Carlson said, "It was a bad idea then, and it's a bad idea now." (Read more)

Six schools to host new journalism program for international media pros

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced in Washington, D.C., yesterday the State Department will be a partner in the Edward R. Murrow Fellows Program," writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The program, set to begin in April 2006, will bring 100 international media professionals to the United States. They will attend seminars at six journalism schools and visit state capitals to learn about news coverage of state politics and government.

Beth Barnes, director of the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications, said the university will host 10 to 12 journalists from Russia and other former Soviet Union countries. They will be on campus April 5-13. The universities of Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas at Austin are the other participating journalism schools.

The universities will offer academic seminars on journalistic principles as well as opportunities to work with American journalists. The program is named for the legendary CBS newsman who also served as director of the U.S. Information Agency late in his career. (Read more)

American Hometown Publishing buys three family-owned Virginia newspapers

Three Virginia family-owned newspapers, The Coalfield Progress in Norton, The Post in Big Stone Gap and The Dickenson Star in Clintwood, have been bought by American Hometown Publishing, headquartered in Nashville. The newspapers were owned by Norton Press Inc.

Founded in 2003 by L. Daniel Hammond, American Hometown Publishing says it acquires community newspapers, but keeps local publishing partners in place, while strengthening the business operations. The southwest Virginia papers may be the first announced purchases by the company, which reportedly is buying newspapers in Oklahoma. Hammond did not return e-mails seeking comment. Hammond founded American Profile, the newspaper magazine that is inserted in many rural newspapers, but is no longer involved with that publication, the Progress reports.

Norton Press had struggled financially, reports The Coalfield Progress. "I see this as a great thing for all parties," Norton co-owner Michael Tate said. "American Hometown Publishing believes in community journalism and the local people who put out good newspapers. They believe in the relationships between newspapers and communities. And they believe in what our family has always believed in. They are committed to preserving the integrity and independence of community newspapers." (Read more)

Online news site invites readers to interact, post content, add comments

Topix.net, the Web site and search engine that collects news stories worldwide, is expanding to citizen journalism business, offering readers a chance to publish their own stories.

"The move is a part of a broader overhaul that includes the addition of public forums and the ability to comment on stories," writes Michael Bazeley of The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif. Chris Tolles, Topix's vice president of marketing, told Bazeley, "The nature of news is changing as interactivity comes into play. The number of people blogging and wanting to participate seems to be an opportunity."

The company is jointly owned by media companies Gannett, Tribune Co. and Knight Ridder. Topix gets much of its revenue from advertising and from business partners that pay to tap into its news content. The company hopes the new features will draw more visitors and increase ad revenue, writes Bazeley.

San Jose media consultant Susan Mernit noted the bigger opportunity for Topix may be in helping its newspaper partners make their sites more interactive. Mernit told Bazeley, "My sense is the greatest opportunity will come with some affiliation with a local brand." (Read more)

Groups sign on to bill that would protect local government broadband

The Community Broadband Coalition, a diverse group of businesses, special interest groups and local government organizations, is urging Congress to pass the Community Broadband Act of 2005.

"The bill's main sponsors are Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who say the United States lags behind other industrialized nations in providing broadband Internet to its citizens," writes Akweli Parker of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The coalition says only 30 percent of U.S. households subscribe to broadband services, because of high prices and lack of choices.

AARP, EarthLink Corp., Intel Corp., The United States Conference of Mayors were among signers of a letter endorsing the bill -- which responds to pressure from telephone and cable television firms for the passage of laws forbidding local governments from providing telecommunications services. Cable and phone firms, including Comcast and Verizon, say government networks undermine their Internet access businesses and unfairly burden taxpayers, notes Parker. (Read more)

Feds reject Wyoming's call for Arapaho casino payment; counties need revenue

The Department of the Interior has rejected Wyoming's request that the Northern Arapaho Tribe be required to pay money to the state under the terms of a proposed gambling compact the state has rejected.

"George Skibine, an acting deputy assistant secretary of interior, wrote Gov. Dave Freudenthal ... saying the federal government would not require the tribe to pay $450,000 a year," reports The Associated Press. The tribe offered to make payments in 2002, but the state rejected that offer. Freudenthal noted, "The counties surrounding the reservation are concerned about the loss of this $900,000."

However, Skibine told Freudenthal, "The department could not require the tribe to pay the state $450,000 for something the State would not actually be doing and could not be required to do," Skibine wrote. "However, it is reasonable for local governmental entities themselves to negotiate local impact costs directly with the tribe," AP reports. (Read more)

Lawmakers say USDA may circumvent their legislation banning horse slaughter

Four members of Congress who want to end slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption overseas are concerned the Department of Agriculture may try to circumvent pending legislation, which would strip federal funding for USDA meat inspectors at the three remaining horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. and at the Canadian and Mexican borders -- in effect blocking legal operations.

"We're very concerned the USDA is trying to ignore congressional intent to stop horse slaughter," said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who co-signed the letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns with U.S. Reps. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., and John Spratt, D-S.C., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., reports The Thoroughbred Times.

A 2006 agriculture appropriations bill amendment removed federal funding for the meat inspectors. A joint congressional conference committee managed to insert a 120-day grace period. The grace period began Nov. 10 and ends March 9. Horse slaughter could continue after March 9 if USDA meat inspectors are paid on a per-fee inspection by the companies rather than by federal funds. The letter asked for a response by Dec. 21. (Read more)

Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005

Patriot Act extension targets meth, provides new tools for police, prosecutors

A proposed four-year extension of the Patriot Act would restrict the sale of products containing ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine and help police and prosecutors combat dealers.

"Sens. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said the Combat Meth Act -- together with anti-meth measures championed in the House -- were included in the Reauthorization Conference Report filed Thursday," writes Jerry Seper of The Washington Times.

Leaders in both parties are expected to push for the legislation, which will likely be debated this week. The proposal includes treatment funding to help meth addicts. Meth use nationwide has increased by 300 percent in the past decade, notes Seper. The bill provides an additional $99 million a year for the next five years to train state and local law enforcement and allocates $20 million for rapid-response teams to assist and educate children who have been affected by methamphetamine. (Read more)

GOOD WORK: For a powerful story on one Kentucky woman's fight with meth addiction, Resurrected from Meth, by Ronica Brandenburg of the Richmond Register and the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. News Service, Click here.

Midwestern farmers, families get 'golden age' retirement training

It's hard leaving the farm behind. Many farmers have toiled so long and so hard, it's difficult to stop. But, a special program is helping some plow new fields, metaphorically, in retirement.

"Organizers of the Golden Age Farming pilot program through the University of Missouri extension office -- which is also under way in Nebraska and Iowa -- hope the sessions will initiate discussions not typically heard in an industry in which workers often labor until they die," writes Alan Scher Zagier of The Associated Press.

Cynthia Crawford, a family financial education specialist, told Zagier, "In farming, there isn't a golden handshake. There's no magic cutoff date. There aren't early retirement packages.'' The Missouri extension service had offered farmers estate planning courses, but organizer Mary Sobba said the new course is more integrated. Participants called the program an eye-opener. In Missouri, 53 percent of farmers are older than 55 and nearly 80 percent are older than 45.

In the program, a former accountant conducts estate-planning sessions. Living wills, durable power of attorney and long-term care health insurance are also topics. But participants are asked "to brainstorm, to daydream, to map out established goals" as well as pie-in-the-sky scenarios. Crawford told participants, "Don't tell me what you're retiring from, but what you're retiring to," Zagier writes. (Read more)

HE'S AN ALUM: Zagier attended a rural reporting seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, in June at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland .

MORE ON FARM FRONT: For a special report on a young 4-H leader, Farming strikes right chord with well-versed student, by Ben Sutherly of the Dayton Daily News, click here.

N.C. tobacco co-op becomes cigarette maker; some growers sue for cash

A farmers cooperative rose from the ashes of the federal tobacco era to become a cigarette maker and exporter, targeting China's 300 million smokers.

The Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative bought a state-of-the-art cigarette manufacturing plant in Roxboro, N.C., north of Durham, for $26 million from Miami-based Vector Tobacco, reports Lee Weisbecker of the Triangle Business Journal.

The co-op also owns a processing plant near Roxboro, where tobacco is stored and prepared for export to Spain, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim, writes Weisbecker. Some owner-members disagree with the Raleigh-based organization's new strategy. Two lawsuits argue that the co-op's reserves should be distributed among its members. Those cases are pending.

There are about 100 workers at the plant. A spokesman says employment could rise as high as 400 over the next few years. "Meanwhile, some 14 million pounds of processed, flue-cured tobacco, purchased from the co-op's list of 3,500 active farmers and valued at $35.3 million, is set for shipment to China in February in the group's biggest overseas deal," Weisbecker writes.

Co-op Director Arnold Hamm told Weisbecker, "The results have exceeded expectations," but the co-op has not yet made a profit. Hamm said they plan to meet that target in the third year of operation. The co-op also plans to begin sharing revenue with its members. (Read more)

Immigrants, descendents struggle with poverty, lack of health insurance

"Immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for 1 in 4 people living in poverty, and have contributed to nearly three-fourths of the increase in the uninsured population since 1989, according to a new report
by the Center for Immigration Studies," reports Deborah Bulkeley of the Deseret Morning News.

There are 35.2 million immigrants living in the nation, more than at any other time in the nation's history, according to the report. Nearly half of the 7.9 million immigrants who arrived between January 2000 and March 2005 were illegal, writes Bulkeley for the in Salt Lake City newspaper.

The 11 million illegal immigrants comprise about 3 percent of the population, but are an estimated 14 percent of all uninsured individuals. CIS is a nonpartisan research organization that supports lowered levels of immigration. The U.S. Congress is preparing to debate several immigration-reform proposals.

Steven Camarota, the report's author, called Utah's overall immigrant growth "modest compared to other states." Camarota said a key question is the social cost to taxpayers as increasing numbers of low-skilled workers compete with the poorest Americans for jobs, writes Bulkeley. Angela Kelley of the immigrant rights group National Immigration Forum told Bulkeley, "It's counter-intuitive to say we want to keep 11 million people in a suppressed, underground economy." (Read more)

Judge orders FEMA aid extension, calls cutoff 'economic discrimination'

A federal judge has given thousands of impoverished and displaced Katrina victims another month of federal aid and criticized a planned cut-off as discriminatory.

"Calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency 'numbingly insensitive' and 'unduly callous,' a federal judge [has] ruled the agency must pay the hotel bills of hurricane evacuees until Feb. 7. Thousands faced a Thursday deadline to check out or begin picking up the tab themselves," writes Jodi Wilgoren of The New York Times.

The ruling covers 42,000 evacuee families in 4,000 hotels in 47 states and the District of Columbia. FEMA had planned to stop paying for their rooms on Dec. 15 or Jan. 7. Then, several of the evacuees filed a class-action lawsuit. The ruling demands that 84,470 applications for assistance be resolved and mandates hotel bills be covered for two weeks after each family receives its check, notes Wilgoren.

Lawsuit plaintiff Leonora Bartley told Wilgoren, "Now I have an opportunity to look for housing and to provide a home for me and my son. I was panicking because I was going to be homeless." FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews told Wilgoren the agency's "aim is to ensure that all victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have housing."

Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. said he based his ruling on federal law that requires the government to ease suffering and damage caused by natural disasters. "The arbitrary deadline violates that legislation, Judge Duval wrote, and discriminates against victims based on economic status," writes Wilgoren. (Read more)

Arizona city going wall-to-wall wireless in effort to develop economy

The city of Tempe, Ariz., is joining the growing ranks of cities and suburbs with wireless Internet service.

"Call it a municipal status symbol in the digital age: a city blanketed by a wireless Internet network, accessible at competitive prices throughout the town's homes, cafes, offices and parks," writes Michelle Roberts of The Associated Press.

Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix and home to Arizona State University, plans to have wireless Internet for its 160,000 residents in February. It will become the first city of its size in the United States to have Wi-Fi citywide. City officials hope high-speed Internet will attract more technology and biotech companies "and the young, upwardly mobile employees they bring," writes Roberts.

Cheryl Leanza, of the National League of Cities, told Roberts more U.S. cities are looking at using Internet access as an economic development tool, but few cities have gotten as far as installing systems. "Most cities are realizing that it may be something that they want to do," Leanza said. (Read more)

Industry, enviros debate Schwarzenegger's contradictory stance on coal

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hates pollution from coal-fired power plants but he also likes the low-cost of electricity they produce. The two sides of "the governator' have people confused and combatant in a tug-o-war with high stakes for consumers, industry leaders and environmentalists.

"Over the last year, the governor has enthusiastically embraced both positions ... now he's getting pressure from pro- and anti-coal factions in his administration and across the West to reconcile his stances. All the vying parties hope to influence energy policy in California, the region's biggest electricity market," writes Marc Lifsher of The Los Angeles Times.

Gary Ackerman, executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, an industry group for electricity sellers, told Lifsher, California, like others in the states "want[s] the cheap power and they also want renewables" such as wind and solar energy, which are more expensive.

Lifsher writes, "Schwarzenegger can try to lower California energy costs, among the highest in the nation, by building transmission lines to import coal-generated power from Wyoming, New Mexico and other mountain states, or he can make his state a leader in efforts against global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions." (Read more)

'Friends of Smokies' specialty plates raises $740,000 for park programs

The Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are getting good mileage out of license plates.

"Sales of Smokies tags in Tennessee and North Carolina raised nearly $740,000 this year to support the nonprofit group's conservation, education and maintenance programs in the country's most visited national park," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press. Gary Wade, chairman of the Friends board, told reporters, "With such strong public support for the plates and the park, we hope to accomplish as much or even more in 2006."

The Smokies plate in Tennessee remains the most popular specialty tag out of more than 90 offerings, notes Mansfield. Friends spokesman George Ivey said an increase in the Knox County wheel tax likely lowered sales "in tag-friendly Knoxville," writes Mansfield. The Friends keep $30.75 of the extra $35 annual fee for a specialty plate in Tennessee, and $20 of the extra $30 fee in North Carolina. (Read more)

East Kentucky Power reapplies for power line through part of national forest

East Kentucky Power Cooperative has reapplied to construct a power line in Rowan County, Kentucky, a portion of which would go through the Daniel Boone National Forest, appealing what some industry observers say was an unusual ruling.

"In August, the Kentucky Public Service Commission declined ... an application for the same route. The commissioners said they 'will not prohibit a new application for this same route, if further study of alternatives shows all of them to be infeasible,'" states a company news release. The company said it considered several alternatives, "including routes that follow existing rights of way through the national forest and routes that do not enter the national forest at all," and said the U.S. Forest Service agreed that "the best route is the one that was originally proposed."

Monday, Dec. 12, 2005

Big Box Politics: California weekly scrutinizes Wal-Mart's election influences

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is suing Turlock, Calif., a city in the San Joaquin Valley south of Modesto, for trying to block another Supercenter in the area -- but lawsuits are not the company's only way of getting around opposition, writes Abby Souza of the twice-weekly Turlock Journal.

In Contra Costa County, she writes, Wal-Mart put more than $1.5 million into a successful 2004 campaign to reverse the county's "big box" ordinance, which banned stores with more than 100,000 square feet and more than 5 percent non-taxable merchandise. It funded “Contra Costa Consumers for Choice,” which gathered 30,000 signatures to get the ordinance on the March 2004 ballot. Voters overturned the ordinance, 54 percent to 46 percent.

In Inglewood, Calif., Wal-Mart donated more than $1 million to “Citizens Committee to Welcome Wal-Mart to Inglewood,” which collected 15,000 signatures to get the approval of a Supercenter on an April 2004 ballot, but that measure was defeated. The secretary of state's office says Wal-Mart has paid more than $4.3 million since 2000 to 10 different groups to run political campaigns against California cities' big box ordinances. (Read more)

Katrina put poor blacks in less familiar rural surroundings, study indicates

Rural, predominantly white areas appear to be seeing an influx of African Americans from Hurricane Katrina, and the newcomers are less well-to-do than their new neighbors, the Los Angeles Times found by analyzing address changes fuled with the U.S. Postal Service.

The records indicate that poor African Americans settled in places much different from home, and in most cases wherever government-chartered buses or planes stopped. William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan, said there is evidence to corroborate the finding that poor blacks ended up in wealthier, more rural areas that are predominantly white.

"Frey and other researchers said there was evidence — primarily anecdotal — corroborating the Times' finding that poor blacks ended up farther away in wealthier, more rural areas that are predominantly white. The move to more-prosperous cities could amount to a second chance for many evacuees and could change New Orleans forever," Tomas Alex Tizon and Doug Smith write.

Evacuees from New Orleans' suburbs, mainly middle-class whites, tended to relocate nearby in areas that resembled their former surroundings. Fifty-nine percent of evacuees relocated without leaving the storm-damaged area. "Overall, about 80 percent of the evacuees remained in the Southern states closest to the hurricane-damaged region, with the top destinations being suburban New Orleans, followed by Houston; Baton Rouge, La.; Dallas; and Atlanta," the Times reports.

The newspaper's analysis included 325,000 address changes from Aug. 29, the day Katrina hit, through mid-October. That represented about a quarter of the 1.5 million addreseses in the region that are no longer receiving postal delivery. "We should look at this situation as a kind of motion picture, and this gives us a glimpse of one scene," Frey said.

A lack of financial resources make it harder for poor people to return, while middle-class residents are able to afford it. This means New Orleans may have radically different demographics. "It points to a New Orleans that could become much more white and middle-class," Laura Ann Sanchez, a researcher at the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Ohio's Bowling Green State University, told Tizon and Smith. New Orleans' "melting pot of race and culture" may be lost, she said. (Read more)

Digging for black gold: Coal industry rides high, but some wary of bust

U. S. News & World Report is the latest major news outlet to realize that the coal industry is in a boom unlike any since the 1970s. "While Americans have been transfixed by the spectacular rise in oil and natural gas prices and the fat profits of the oil giants, coal has quietly risen to prices not seen for nearly three decades," writes the weekly magazine's Kit R. Roane.

A sustained boom "would be one that the coal industry hasn't seen since the OPEC oil shocks of the mid-1970s brought coal prices up to nearly $100 a ton and turned Appalachia's coal country into a Wild West free-for-all of bootleg miners and golf-course business deals," writes Roane. For consumers, rising coal prices could mean even higher energy prices. David Khani, an industry analyst, told Roane, "There haven't been many coal booms, so it's hard to compare. But there has clearly been a spectacular change."

The federal National Energy Information Center projects domestic demand for coal will increase to 1.5 billion tons by 2025, a nearly 38 percent increase from current levels. Most of that demand will come from electric utilities, notes Roane. And, the boom means big profits for companies such as Peabody Energy Corp., which reported a 141 percent increase in third-quarter earnings last month.

Industry officials say costs of digging coal are rising, and many worry about an industry bust. Consol Energy has publicized a $500 million expansion in Pennsylvania that promises to increase capacity there by 70 percent, or about 7 million tons a year contingent on buyers coming to the table first, writes Roane. The Department of Energy has lined up several coal and utility companies to jointly invest with the federal government in a new "zero-emission" $950 million coal-fired power plant. The plant could be operational by 2012, notes Roane. (Read more)

The boom makes some folks worry about environmental damage and safety risks. The Charleston Gazette reports here on a coal-slurry spill at a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary’s plant in Raleigh County. State regulator said about 10,000 gallons of slurry was spilled.

Some see the boom as a chance to steer futre development in Central Appalachia, but an industry expert warns that the region is having a hard time keeping up with demand. For that and other news from the "Covering Coal" seminar of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, click here.

Japan eases ban on U.S. beef, but Japanese have developed an Aussie taste

Japan has eased a two-year ban on U.S. beef, defusing a trade dispute and reopening what has been the largest overseas market for American ranchers.

"The Cabinet decided to allow the import of beef from younger American cattle after a government food-safety commission made a long-awaited ruling last week that meat from those animals was as safe as Japanese beef. Japan imposed the ban in December 2003 after the discovery of mad-cow disease in a dairy cow in Washington state," writes Martin Fackler of The New York Times.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told reporters the decision was "an important step in terms of normalizing beef trade based on scientific standards." Japan's decision allows the resumption of imports of beef from cattle less than 21 months old, considered too young to catch the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can be fatal to humans.

A Kyodo News survey last week showed 75.2 percent of respondents unwilling to eat American beef. Australian beef has filled the void. In 2004, Australian beef sales jumped a third to 51 percent of beef consumed in Japan. Japan bought $1.4 billion worth of U.S. Beef in 2003. (Read more)

Alltel merger boasts rural focus; selling telephone unit for $4.9 billion

Alltel Corp. has announced plans to spin off its local telephone unit to shareholders and merge the business with Valor Communications Group, a deal worth $4.9 billion.

"The transaction would create a local telephone company with a rural focus and 3.4 million access lines in 16 states. The companies said the deal was attractive because of their complementary market regions, and
they forecast $40 million of cost savings annually," reports the Houston Chronicle.

Based in Little Rock, Ark., Alltel is considered one of the nation's leading rural telephone companies. In September, the company said it was talking with multiple possible buyers of its local business so it could concentrate on wireless. The deal is expected to close by mid-2006. Alltel would emerge from the deal as an all-wireless carrier serving 11 million mostly rural and small-town customers, the Chronicle reports. Analyst Taher Bouzayen told the Chronicle, "The wireless market is definitely where the growth is."

Some industry analysts speculated the company could become a takeover target for other wireless companies, but Alltel Chief Executive Officer Scott Ford said, "We are not having discussions of those kinds of transactions with anybody." Alltel, derives most of its revenue from wireless service, the Chronicle reports. (Read more)

Meth summit of 13 Midwestern governors convenes in Indiana tomorrow

Governors from 13 midwestern states will gather for three days beginning tomorrow to work on plans for combating the spread of methamphetamine production and abuse.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who will host the summit in downtown Indianapolis, told Indianapolis Star reporter Michele McNeil, "I look forward to not only learning from other states, but also sharing the tactics that Indiana has developed to protect Hoosiers from meth." In 2004, the Drug Enforcement Agency found more than half of all meth lab incidents in the U.S. occurred in the Midwest.

The governors will visit the Miami Correctional Facility about 60 miles north of Indianapolis. The prison operates a meth rehabilitation program for inmates. The first 22 inmates to complete the nine-month program graduated in October. The Indiana Department of Child Services' protocol for removing children from homes containing meth labs also will be discussed. Officials also will review anti-meth initiatives from South Dakota and Minnesota.

About 150 officials are expected at the meeting sponsored by the Midwestern Governors Association and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is the keynote speaker. The Midwestern Governors Association includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. (Read more)

Minnesota governor lays groundwork for changes in laws on illegals

A study ordered by Minnesota's governor tabulates the cost of services to residents who are not legal citizens, but doesn't consider any financial contributions they may make to the state's coffers.

"About 80,000 illegal immigrants live in Minnesota, and the state services they and their children use cost taxpayers more than $175 million a year, a new study concludes. The study was ordered by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who plans to propose law changes affecting illegal immigrants during the coming legislative session," writes Patrick Sweeney of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Pawlenty told reporters last week, "We should support immigration that is legal and orderly. Unfortunately, the current system is neither and needs to be reformed." Brian McClung, a spokesman for the governor, told Sweeney that Pawlenty believes current immigration laws and practices have produced a chaotic situation that "can't be justified by simply saying that it provides cheap labor to the state."

The report focused only on how much illegal immigrants cost the state. Some studies conclude "the benefit to the national economy of work by noncitizens exceeds the cost of public services they consume," Sweeney noted. An administration official said Pawlenty did not request an analysis of the economic benefit contributed by illegal immigrants. (Read more)

Requiem for small tobacco farmers: One woman embodies an era's passing

The story of one Central Kentucky woman, whose life embodies tobacco farming as it was for most of the 20th Century, is told today by reporter Amy Wilson of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"She stood in the tobacco warehouse on the opening day of burley sales, as she had done for many of her 75 years. But this time, there was no fanfare, no governor, no commissioner of agriculture, no crowd of buyers and hum of sellers. There was just her and men with calculators. They told her what they would give her for her tobacco and she had to agree with the price or go home with her unsold crop," writes Wilson. "So Pat Thompson did something she never ever does. She cried."

Thompson has decided it is her last year growing tobacco because the federal program of price supports and production controls is over, and that "has done what the changeable weather could not: make her quit," writes Wilson. Thompson said tobacco quit her before she was ready to quit it. Pat met her husband, farmer John Thompson, in early fall 1958. "She stayed in the fields alongside her husband ... but she was not some delicate flower likely to be laid low by sunshine," Wilson writes.

"Thompson remembers when tobacco fetched good money, but this year ... the plants didn't grow in the greenhouses like they should ... they didn't get enough good sunlight. They ... didn't get rain. She irrigated day and night, then came six inches of rain. Nothing you could do but watch it fall," describes Wilson. Thompson told her, "You can gamble every day of the year and never once leave the farm." (Read more)

Man who defamed John Siegenthaler Sr. on Wikipedia is found, confesses

A Nashville man "has admitted that, in trying to shock a colleague with a joke, he put false information into a Wikipedia entry" about journalist John Seigenthaler Sr., The New York Times reported yesterday.

"Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Mr. Seigenthaler on Friday that he had written the material suggesting that Mr. Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Wikipedia, a nonprofit venture that is the world's biggest encyclopedia, is written and edited by thousands of volunteers," writes Kit Seeyle.

Seigenthaler, a former editor of The Tennessean, raged about the libel, in an op-ed article in USA Today, of which he was once editorial director. "His plight touched off a debate about the reliability of information on Wikipedia -- and by extension the entire Internet -- and the difficulty in holding Web sites and their users accountable, even when someone is defamed," Seeyle reports.

Seigenthaler had been told his only recourse was to file suit against his defamer's Internet service provider, but a book indexer named Daniel Brandt in San Antonio, who runs Wikipedia Watch, played detective with the Internet protocol address of the defamer's computer, which Seigenthaler had published.

"Every computer connected to the Internet has a unique IP address, and sometimes, even if that's all you know, it can be used to find which city someone lives in," explains Mark Schaver, computer-assisted reporting director for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, noting that GeoBytes offers such a service. "Brandt doesn't say what he used to trace Chase to Nashville, although he did use a free software tool called Curl to learn that the IP address was for a computer server, which gave him the clue that told him which company Chase worked for," Schaver writes in a memo to colleagues.

Brandt then sent an e-mail message to the delivery firm, asking about its services. "A response bore the same Internet protocol address that was left by the creator of the Wikipedia entry, offering further evidence of a connection. A call by a New York Times reporter to the delivery company on Thursday made employees nervous, Mr. Chase later told Mr. Seigenthaler," Seelye writes. "Mr. Chase resigned from his job because, he said, he did not want to cause problems for his company. Mr. Seigenthaler urged Mr. Chase's boss to rehire him, but Mr. Chase said that, so far, this had not happened."

Click here for the Times story and here for The Tennessean's Sunday story, by Natalia Mielczarek.

Rooting out threat to rural Virginia: ‘Ham on the lam’ tromping the wilds

Ever heard the saying, "When pigs fly"? Well, rural Virginia has a bigger problem with pigs that have flown the coop, reports columnist Bob Gibson of The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.

"Large feral pigs are trampling through the remnants of our state’s once pristine forests, glens and dales. Industrial hog farms, where the last lots of captive domestic creatures are kept, experience an escape rate perhaps greater than Virginia’s well-populated prisons at last, quite unofficial, count," Gibson writes.

Small farms hide surprisingly large escape problems, notes Gibson, with a memorable phrase: "There is no mandatory reporting of ham on the lam." Gibson notes that deer-vs.-car accidents catch more attention or, he writes, "drivers would be complaining more about ... the hogs that slip farm fences and wander onto roadways."

Farmers in Culpeper County are suffering property damage from an estimated 50 or more wild hogs roaming through the county, writes Gibson. "Feral pigs are mean. And they’re kind of pig-smart. A wild hog views fences with contempt and sees farmers as helpful producers of fresh grains. Private hunting is being recommended by state game officials. Public hunting may even be tried," he writes. (Read more)

Chief Blogger Bill Griffin notes: Experienced wild-hog hunters will warn first-timers that it's not deer hunting. Hogs will charge. Mean, nasty, snorting, 250-pounds-plus of tough bacon bent on goring a leg (at the very least). The best site is up in a tree stand, or close by a tree you can scramble up quickly after firing your first shot. And take a change of underwear.

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005

Kentucky paper's series on health draws on, offers lessons for, other states

The Courier-Journal of Louisville is concluding its series on Kentucky's poor health this week, beginning today with a story about lessons the state's leaders can learn from other states -- thus offering lessons not just for Kentucky but for other states, many of them rural, with low health status.

Medical writer Laura Ungar cites Maine's "all-out assault on tobacco," New Mexico's "concerted efforts to attack smoking and obesity" and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who "turned his personal weight battle into a statewide crusade." A sidebar story examines those states and Utah.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a physician, "likes to say that he considers Kentucky's 4 million residents his patients. And he says he has a prescription to improve their health," Ungar writes. "It includes setting policies that support healthy lifestyles, bolstering Medicaid and taking steps to recruit and keep doctors."

Another plan in the works would give "Get Healthy Accounts" to chronically ill Medicaid recipients, for them "to spend on wellness programs if they work to improve their health through regular checkups or disease-management programs," Ungar writes. "To attack obesity, Fletcher said he will encourage local school boards to increase physical activity for students. And he said he plans to introduce a Governor's Fitness Award program soon." (Read more)

Fletcher's tax-reform package last year raised the state cigarette tax 27 cents, to 30 cents a pack, and the governor continues to say that he would like to see it raised another 13 cents, but may not push for it in the legislative session that begins next month because of resistance from legislators. "Like many of the health issues facing Kentucky today, smoking is a challenge with deep roots in our culture, history and economy," he told Ungar. Changing that takes time, he said, and "The biggest thing is the culture of education, making sure people understand healthy habits, assisting them in getting the health care they need, but also assisting them in taking responsibility for their own health, because that's where the key lies."

Monday update: For today's story, about the private and academic sectors playing a bigger role in improving health, click here. For a sidebar on the work of volunteers and advocates, click here.

Friday, Dec. 9, 2005

National study shows less traffic, more highway fatalities in rural areas

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said yesterday 42 percent more fatal crashes occur in rural areas than on much busier highways in urban or suburban areas.

"Focusing on fatal crashes from 1994 through 2003, the study found rural crashes are more likely to involve multiple fatalities, rollovers and motorists being thrown from their vehicles ... [and] it takes longer for emergency medical services to arrive," writes Ken Thomas of The Associated Press.

In 2003, Montana led the nation with 95.4 percent of its fatal crashes on rural roads, followed by Maine, South Dakota and South Carolina. The report found that while more fatal crashes occur in rural parts of the country, rural traffic is far lower, notes Thomas. The report found motorists drove 10.3 trillion miles on rural roads during the 10 years studied, compared with 16.1 trillion miles on urban roads.

The study found rollovers happen in about one of every four rural crashes involving at least one traffic death, compared with one in 10 for urban crashes; motorists were thrown from their vehicles in 17 percent of rural crashes compared with 8 percent in urban crashes; and multiple deaths occurred on rural roads about 11 percent of the time, compared with 7 percent on urban roads, writes Thomas. (Read more)

Alaska National Guard acknowledges a push for recruiting in rural areas

More rural news media are taking a local look at national reports about military recruiters concentrating on young men and women in predominantly poor, rural areas. The national reports said a disproportionate number of rural recruits choose the military because they have few if any other career prospects.

Alaska Public Radio and KTUU-TV in Anchorage are reporting increased Army recruiting efforts in rural Alaska. APR reports, "The Alaska National Guard is launching a major drive," its largest in a decade. Click here to listen to APR's report. Army National Guard Commander Craig Christianson told KTUU's Natasha Rasheed, “We will be traveling to all of our rural locations to meet with the community leadership ... to increase our presence.” (Read more)

The American Friends Service Committee sued the Department of Defense to get a listing of all recruits and their hometowns, a valuable analytical tool for newspapers. Click here for that resource.

Wal-Mart runs ads in response to National Newspaper Assn. complaints

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. placed full-page advertisements in 336 smaller newspapers in Missouri and Oklahoma after weekly publishers complained they are ignored by the world's largest retailer.

"The move comes at a time when the company is trying to address accusations it treats workers poorly and drives local shops out of businesses. The ads, which ran . . . between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, were a test for a possible change in newspaper advertising policy at Wal-Mart, which publishers say has ignored their dailies and weeklies for years," reports Marcus Kabel of The Associated Press.

Mike Buffington, past president of the National Newspaper Association and editor and co-publisher of the Jackson Herald in Georgia, told Kabel, "I think it is a good first step." Buffington wrote in a letter posted on the NNA's Web site, "Wal-Mart built its foundation of stores in many of our rural and suburban communities, the places where I, and many of my fellow publishers, operate newspapers." (Read more)

Wal-Mart regularly faces criticism, lawsuits and organized attacks from labor union-backed campaign groups. Brian Steffens, executive director of the NNA, said retail and grocery store ads together account for about 60 percent to 80 percent of revenues for community newspapers, writes Kabel. For an Institiute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues report on Wal-Mart and NNA, click here.

Georgia ordinance protects mountains from development, angers opponents

A mountain protection ordinance is now on the books in White County, Georgia, the state's first county to do so, and real-estate interests want to fight the measure, which preserves undeveloped land.

The ordinance, adopted earlier this month, applies to large tracts with a slope of 25 percent or more, regardless of elevation. That protects 9 percent of White County's privately owned land, but properties already being developed do not fall into that category. However, developers without a building permit will face limitations on grading, clearing, the height of the house, and other aspects of construction, notes Debbie Gilbert of The Gainesville Times.

The county commission's approval enraged opponents, who consider the ordinance an unconstitutional taking of private property, because it permits development only on a small portion of a steep lot. "We think it's an eminent-domain issue," Harriet Carter, a White County real-estate broker, told Gilbert. "I was aghast that just two guys could ramrod this down people's throats. I don't know what their agenda is."

Proponents countered that the ordinance was needed to both protect mountains and so that the county could comply with the 1989 Georgia Planning Act's rules for environmental protection. Counties in the Appalachian foothills are supposed to have a mountain ordinance, but many counties have delayed adoption of any such measure, reports Gilbert. (Read more)

Kentucky farm revenue could top $4 billion despite tobacco sales decline

Agricultural economists say Kentucky agriculture could yield a near-record $4 billion this year with the livestock sector flourishing while grain farmers struggle and tobacco's influence wanes.

"The state's signature equine industry will exceed $1 billion in gross receipts in 2005, and the growing poultry industry is close behind at around $900 million, said Craig Infanger, a University of Kentucky ag economist. Beef cattle receipts also were up," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Infanger told Patton the livestock sector offsets declining receipts for crops and tobacco. High land values, strong export markets and an infusion of government payments put the ag industry in a strong position for next year. "This is a strong agricultural sector right now. This year's farm cash receipts should come close to last year's level," Infanger told reporter Janet Patton. (Read more)

Infanger predicted "farm cash receipts could reach a record $4.14 billion next year if exports remain strong and farmers have normal weather conditions." But, he noted, "Farmers will face production challenges from rising interest rates and higher energy costs." UK tobacco economist Will Snell said tobacco receipts will likely drop by $250 million to $275 million this year, with burley production down 35 percent. Not only did many growers leave the industry with the end of the federal tobacco program, it was a bad crop year.

Tobacco settlement money spent to balance budgets, not prevent smoking

Only a small fraction of the money from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes is being used to prevent smoking, according to an update by several advocacy groups. Much of the money is going toward bailing out cash-strapped states.

The report, "A Broken Promise to Our Children," was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.

"The researchers said rather than funding smoking prevention efforts, states often use tobacco-related funds to pay off budget shortfalls or fund capital campaigns and construction projects. Tobacco industry officials said states should use funds from the $206 billion settlement for their intended purpose," reports the Daily Policy Digest of the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, a foundation that looks for free-market solutions to public-policy problems and private alternatives to government regulation.

Researchers found states in total allocated $551 million for tobacco-prevention programs in fiscal year 2006. The Centers for Disease Control recommend $1.6 billion. The tobacco industry spends $15.4 billion to market tobacco products, nearly 28 times the amount states spend on prevention. (Read more)

Only Maine, Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi spend at least the minimum recommended levels. Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee spend no state funds on prevention, while 30 other states spend less than half of the recommended amount. Click here for the full report.

Efficacy of new truck weight law not proven, opines W.Va. newspaper

A Huntington, W. Va., newspaper has cast a skeptical eye at official optimism about a new law allowing heavier-laden trucks to rumble down designated highways in the state, opining thatg the proof will be in the highway safety data reported at year's end.

"Changes in state law that allow heavier coal, logging and other trucks to use designated roads in southern West Virginia have improved public safety, the state Public Service Commission said Tuesday. Problems with overweight trucks and speeding are being addressed through enforcement, the PSC said in its annual report," noted the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.

"So far, the PSC has measured improvement in the number of permits to haul heavy loads and in enforcement. In the long run, improvement will be measured in how those roads fare in terms of maintenance, in how safe people feel driving on those roads and the actual safety record of those roads," the newspaper concluded. (Read more)

Unknown critters discovered in Smokies; other national, state parks checking

A scientific critter head count has found greater numbers, greater diversity and unique species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"The ambitious All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory project, which aims to catalog every life-form in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has already found 3,500 species new to the park and more than 500 previously unknown to scientists. Now the idea is spreading through the 388-unit national park system and to many state parks, including the 54-unit Tennessee park system that began its own ATBI last year," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Michael Soukup, chief scientist with the National Park Service, told reporters, "If this effort could prosper, I think it would have an enormous impact on how people relate to biodiversity in this nation."

About 150 national scientists and researchers attended the annual Smokies conference and reported on their own studies in the 520,000-acre preserve on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Reports also included efforts to start ATBIs on the Colorado Plateau, the Adirondacks of New York and a state park in southern Ohio, notes Mansfield. The country's 57 national parks and 113 other scenic areas are trying to identify their major animal and plant inhabitants to be able to better manage resources.

Slime molds, fungi, beetles, moths and salamanders have made up a large portion of the discoveries so far in the Smokies. Chief Blogger Bill Griffin opines: They should check the nation's capital.

Kansas professor resigns as religion chair after sending anti-creationism e-mail

A University of Kansas professor resigned as chair of the religious studies department Wednesday and his prior anti-Creationism e-mail is still bothering Christian conservatives.

"Associate Professor Paul Mirecki said his resignation was a response to the controversy over his canceled plan to teach a course criticizing intelligent design, the idea that life on Earth was created by a higher power and is too complex to have arisen through evolution. Mirecki told police earlier this week that he had been beaten by two men who apparently objected to his widely publicized statements against creationism. In a brief resignation letter, he cited the ongoing controversy and the 'recommendation of my colleagues in the department,'" writes Dion Lefler of The Wichita Eagle.

Mirecki will stay at the university as a tenured professor. Longtime conservative activist Mark Gietzen called for Mirecki's firing. "He's not the type of person I want to pay taxes to . . . to poison the minds of young kids. He doesn't belong in a university teaching anything," Gietzen told Lefler. (Read more)

Since late September, University Chancellor Robert Hemenway has posted a statement on the university's home page calling evolution "the central unifying principle of modern biology" and saying "creationism and intelligent design are most appropriately taught in a religion, philosophy, or sociology class, rather than a science class. . . . On a personal level, I see no contradiction in being a person of faith who believes in God and evolution." To read the full statement, click here.

Knight Ridder to examine bids today; won't identify interested parties

Investment bankers for Knight Ridder are to review "initial expressions of interest" today from possible buyers of the newspaper chain.

The San Jose, Calif.-based chain publishes 32 daily newspapers and is worth "about $4 billion on the New York Stock Exchange. Investors, led by Legg Mason Inc.'s Private Capital Management, have pushed chief executive P. Anthony Ridder and other board members to sell, in hopes a buyer would pay a higher price," writes Joseph N. DiStefano of the Knight Ridder News Service.

Spokesman Polk Laffoon IV said the company won't identify would-be bidders. Newspaper chains, such as Gannett Co. Inc., as well as private investment firms appear interested in some or all of Knight Ridder's papers, but none has made an offer.

Knight Ridder is profitable but has suffered from higher newsprint and employee-benefit costs, while ad sales have flattened. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, says chain ownership has already eroded regional dailies. As job cutbacks continue, she sees a risk of "homogenized news" and a decreased accountability of local officials who face less scrutiny. (Read more)

Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein said he could see paying eight to 10 times cash flow for a newspaper company, which is about its current stock market price: "I don't care about the Internet, I don't care about people not reading newspapers. ... At a certain price, it's attractive."

Jennifer Saba of Editor & Publisher reports Gannett approaching record revenues, taking 'hard look' at Knight Ridder acquisition; click here to read. Kit Seelye of The New York Times reports Knight Ridder papers making high profits, despite uncertainty; click here to read.

University of Wisconsin expert sees newspaper Web sites as possible salvation

James Baughman, journalism professor and director of University of Wisconsin - Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, believes newspaper Web sites may save publications in light of declining circulation, and he believes blogs are not a substitute for professional, commercial journalism.

Baughman made his remarks on those issues and more in an interview with Maggie Shea of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. He "has a keen interest in the changing role of newspapers, the Internet and journalists in today's world," writes Shea.

Shea asks Baughman about newspaper circulation declines and what he sees for the next 50 years for the newspaper industry. He told her, in part, "I think [newspapers] are going to be less important in American life. I think they've been declining as a source for more and more Americans ... It's possible that the newspaper Web site will, if not displace the newspaper, become more and more important."

Shea also asks him about the emergence of blogs. In part, Baughman told her, "The best data that I've seen suggest that people are still turning to established news sites." For more of the interview, click here. Julie Bosman of The New York Times reports Newspaper executives predict growth, higher ad rates in 2006; to read, click here.

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005

States failing science, math, lowering U.S. standing; Kansas gets F-minus

About half of the country's public schools systems are poorly educating students in science and math, according to a new report anticipating 2007, when states will be required to tests students' progress in science. The report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said Kansas, which has opened the door to teaching "intelligent design" in its schools, flunked -- and then some.

The report "suggests the focus on reading and math as required subjects for testing under the federal law, No Child Left Behind, has turned attention away from science, contributing to a failure of American children to stay competitive in science with their counterparts abroad," reports The New York Times. Writer Mike Janofsky says the report appears to support concerns schools have undermined the country's production of scientists and engineers and put the nation's economic future at risk. Leaders warn the nation's talent pool in science needs expanding to stay ahead of countries like China and India.

Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Fordham institute, told the Times, "The first step is to set higher expectations, and too many states have low or a lack of expectations to respond to the new global competitiveness." Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told Janofsky, "If children are not taking [Algebra] until the ninth grade or ever, we are in a world of hurt." (Read more)

Only seven states got an A, with 12 receiving a B, and 8 plus the District of Columbia receiving a C. Seven states got a D, and 15 got an F. The authors also awarded 22 states a D or F, with Kansas winning a special distinction, F minus, notes Janofsky, for its decision to allow teaching of intelligent design. The report cited mounting "religious and political pressures" as undermining the teaching of evolution.

Newspaper reports on dangerous, secret rail traffic; lots of rural wrecks

A package of stories by The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., extensively details how much dangerous cargo is carried by rail through cities of all sizes nationwide and reports that about half the wrecks that have occurred have been in rural areas.

One of these reports shows what a community should do in the event of a toxic chemical release, and how these shipments are being kept secret to avoid terrorists. But the secrecy keeps the public from knowing what is passing through their towns. And, the reports take a step by step approach for journalists on how to report such an event.

The newspaper reports affected communities do not have adequate emergency plans in case of a derailment, dangerous spill or chemical release. The Press-Enterprise also notes that large-scale wrecks have occurred coast to coast the last couple of decades. About half of these big wrecks have occured in rural areas. Click here to see the list.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institiute alerted us to these articles in his Morning Meeting column.

Appalachians have less public water, pay more for it; sewage hits other areas

People in Appalachia have less access to public water and sewer systems and spend more for it than other Americans, says a report from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Also, "straight-piping," in which sewage goes directly into a stream, is still a problem in remote areas, and some towns that have treatment systems can't afford to operate them up to standards, researcher Jeff Hughes said.

The report by the University of North Carolina Environmental Science Center said because the headwaters of the Eastern United States' major rivers are all in Appalachia, "whatever happens to Appalachian waters has major consequences for the nation as a whole." The ARC hired the center to study infrastructure in its 13-state region, writes Jennifer Bundy of The Associated Press

Hughes said the region's topography makes it more difficult and expensive to lay and repair water and sewer pipes or install septic systems. Because of the expense, Appalachian residents spend more of their incomes on water and sewer bills. Only 52 percent are served by public sewer systems, compared to 75 percent of U.S. households in 1990, Bundy reports. Click here to read more of her story; click here to read a summary of the report on the ARC Web site.

Of the 23 million people living in Appalachia, about 74 percent are served by community water systems, compared to 85 percent of the nation. Some 33 percent in the region are served by small and medium-sized water systems, compared to 20 percent of the nation. About 18 percent of Appalachia's public water systems rely on more easily contaminated surface water, compared to 11 percent nationally.

New strategies, entrepreneurial spirit eyed for improving Kentucky's economy

Kentucky is joining the growing list of predominantly poor, rural states looking at "growing their own" businesses and industries as a means of boosting economic development and providing jobs. "The development of small businesses enterprises is the way we're going to grow and develop our economy in Eastern Kentucky," University of Kentucky history professor and Appalachian specialist Ron Eller told the Lexington Herald-Leader for the final installment of its series of reports on economic development.

"After pursuing essentially the same job-creation strategy for more than a decade, Kentucky has little to show for its efforts. Even though the state spent a majority of its development dollars recruiting and retaining industrial businesses, the state has fewer manufacturing jobs today than it did in 1990," write John Stamper and Bill Estep.

The rest of the nation has also lost manufacturing jobs, at a faster rate than Kentucky, but the state remains near the bottom of nearly every national economic measure. "Per capita income: 44th. Poverty: 45th. Average wage per job: 39th. University research and development: 41st," note Stamper and Estep.

The state's average weekly wage was the slowest growing in the nation during the first quarter of 2005. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Kentucky's average was $628, well below the national average of $775. (Read more) The Web site contains multiple links to this multifaceted series.

Guide balances ecology, economics for property owners with forests

As rural areas experience rapid development with profound ecological consequences, the Community Forestry Resource Center is making available a guide to balancing development and forested land.

The 160-page "Balancing Ecology and Economics: A Start-Up Guide for Forest Owner Cooperation" guide is intended to show how private landowners "can improve the ecological conditions of their lands while improving their own economic well-being and that of the communities in which their forest land is located," says the center.

The guide is intended primarily for landowners and resource managers and "provides information on all aspects of establishing a forest owner cooperative, including: forest management, marketing, business planning, co-op governance, cooperative structures, non-timber forest products, sustainable certification, developing member education programs, and more," writes the center. For more information about Sustainable Forestry Cooperatives, or to order a copy of the guide, click here.

West Virginia looks at appraisals as way to boost rural housing market

A legislative subcommittee of West Virginia legislature has outlined some ways to improve real-estate appraisals, particularly in rural areas, where lack of appraisers hurts the housing market, reports the State Journal, a Charleston weekly.

The subcommittee wants to gather data to compare appraisals around the state, especially in rural areas, improve the accessibility of appraisals for rural areas, and create standards to fit the topography and terrain for the state. It also wants to improve communication between agencies and lenders to create firm appraisal standards, and make sure that the manufactured housing industry receives fair appraisals.

Appraisers are often hard to come by. Berkeley County, in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle, has 29 appraisers and Kanawha County, West Virginia's most populous, has 58. Others, such as Lincoln and Taylor, have only one. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development often can't find an appraiser, especially in rural areas, Danny Forinash writes.

West Virginia's HUD director, George Rodriguez said, Federal Housing Administration loans aren't given in rural communities as much as urban areas because of the limited lender outreach and appraiser availability. "If you have to pay an appraiser to go out to Webster County and do more work," he said, "it's going to impact the cost of the house." (Read more)

Finding data for rural areas to make fair appraisals is a major focus, David Rathbun, senior director of loan origination and underwriting for the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, told reporter Danny Forinash. "In more rural areas, they literally have to knock of doors and ask people if they've sold property lately," Rathbun said. "They probably have to do that because those areas don't have enough Realtors for multi-listings. But it's unfair that people in Pocahontas County have to spend so much time getting data."

Washington state resources, coordinated efforts keys to fighting meth

Washington state, city, and county officials say it will take a coordinated effort and education, backed by funds to confront and conquer their methamphetamine problems.

"At the federal level, Congressman Rick Larsen, co-chair of the bipartisan House Meth Caucus, is working to get money to local law enforcement agencies to help communities battle meth-related crimes," writes Gordon Weeks, news editor of the Anacortes American. Larsen told Weeks, “It’s been a bottoms-up approach. It’s time for the federal government to fight it from the top.’’

The state legislature received recommendations in November crafted by state Attorney General Rob McKenna’s “Operation: Allied Against Meth’’ task force. The task force includes representatives from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, treatment programs, business, real estate, nonprofit organizations, government and the Legislature, notes Weeks.

Final recommendations include creating a new crime for possession of large quantities the chemicals needed to make meth; $3 million to support law enforcement to compensate for cuts in federal grants; creating a revolving fund to help communities clean up; and establishing new treatment and education guidelines to help adults endangered by meth use, writes Weeks. (Read more)

The group also recommends increasing the power of local health officials to post immediate warnings on meth lab properties and prevent reoccupation or the removal of contaminated properties, notes Weeks.

Funding boost for chemical-weapons destruction in Colorado, Kentucky

Preliminary figures from the Pentagon show chemical-weapons destruction plants planned in Madison County, Ky. and Pueblo, Colo., could share $300 million or more in the next federal budget.

"What's more, similar funding levels are proposed for the next five years, said Craig Williams, director of the Berea-based Chemical Weapons Working Group. Williams spoke at a meeting yesterday of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, which he co-chairs," writes Peter Matthews, Central Kentucky Bureau Chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

The preliminary numbers would represent a huge boost over the current budget -- $33 million for the two plants this year, with similar amounts proposed for the next few years. Construction funding is not set for the Kentucky plant until fiscal year 2011. The United States has until April 2012 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, including 523 tons of nerve and blister agent at Blue Grass Army Depot.

Things that bite in the night: Bedbugs are back, and we have the expert

After some 50 years of near extinction in the United States, bedbugs are back, and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has the 'Indiana Jones' of combating the pests. Michael Potter, an entomologist, is the much sought-after expert on the topic, writes Terri McLean, an extension communications specialist in the college's communications office.

"I'm basically trying to bang the drum and get the word out about bedbugs so that the public can begin to understand this critter," said Potter, who in recent weeks has fielded calls from "Dateline NBC," The
New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,
and "Inside Edition."

Potter is working closely with UK entomologists Ken Haynes and Dan Potter and doctoral student Alvaro Romero to study the "hottest bug issue in a generation." The bedbug, or Cimex lectularius, virtually vanished after World War II but began returning in 2001, McLean writes.

Potter believes changing cultural habits, increased international travel and emigration from countries where the bugs are prevalent is the reason for the resurgence. The practice of recycling mattresses and buying secondhand furnishings may also have contributed, and Potter also notes that pesticides that controlled the bugs have been banned. "DDT was a phenomenal bedbug product that was used in the '40s, '50s and '60s before we lost it [in 1972]. We do not have products today that are nearly as effective." He advises, "The best thing to do is to know the likely ways they can get into your home," adding there are a variety of low-odor sprays, dusts and aerosols to combat bedbugs. (Read more)

Knight Ridder stirs interest; mixed signals from Gannett on possible bid

Gannett Co. Inc. CEO Craig Dubow told an investor group yesterday his company would take a "hard look" at any acquisition opportunities, including Knight Ridder, reports The Associated Press.

Dubow said Gennett would proceed only if it were in the best economic interest of its shareholders. Knight Ridder has been forced by its largest investors to explore the possibility of a sale. Gannett director Karen Hastie Williams recently told reporters Gannett had "a full plate" and that the board had not seriously discussed such an acquisition. The first round of bids is due Friday, AP reports.

Gannett, based in McLean, Va., is the nation's biggest newspaper publisher with 99 daily newspapers and 21 television stations. It also owns more weekly newspapers than any other company. Knight Ridder is the second-largest in terms of circulation, with 32 dailies in 29 markets. It owns more large-city newspapers than any other media company, notes AP. (Read more)

Pulitzer Prize rules expand to allow online entries in all categories

Internet journalism received a leap in recognition yesterday -- though not as much as some online journalists wanted -- as the Pulitzer Prize Board widened its submission guidelines to include online material for all of its journalism categories. "The new rules come as newspapers increasingly rely on their Web sites to disseminate, support and enhance their work, even as print circulation declines, writes Nahal Toosi of The Associated Press.

The new guidelines will apply to the 2006 awards, which cover work in 2005. "It's a very significant change," said Sig Gissler, administrator of the program. "This reflects the growing importance of online content, but, at the same time, print remains very important, and I think the Pulitzer competition now reflects a blend of print and online, which is what most newspapers are seeking to achieve these days."

Some online journalists said the Pulitzer board needs to go farther and accept entries from online-only publications. "They have to figure out a way to honor the very best journalism . . . and not merely protect the newspaper industry, which is what this decision kind of looks like," Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com, told The Wall Street Journal. "If they want to follow their readers, they should start by being more creative about their decisions."

The competition's Public Service category, considered the most prestigious, has since 1999 allowed an online presentation to be part of entries. That category will continue to accept various forms of online work, but the 13 other journalism categories will allow online content for the first time. (Read more)

West Virginia Press Association President Frank Spicer dies; funeral tomorrow

Frank Spicer, president of the West Virginia Press Association, died Sunday of lung cancer.

Spicer was elected president of the WVPA in August, after serving as vice president and treasurer and serving on association boards over the past eight years. He recently retired from the West Virginia Daily News after 34 years where he worked as advertising manager and as publisher.

A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg. There will be no visitation. Online condolences can be sent by clicking here.

Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005

Americans moving to the country; study says rural sprawl damaging ecology

"For the first time in more than a century, more people are moving to rural areas than from rural areas,” according to a report in Ecological Applications, based on data from 1950-2000.

The report was edited by Andrew Hansen of Montana State University and Daniel Brown of the University of Michigan, and it showed profound changes in land development. One-fourth of the lower 48 states now house exurbia development, a five-fold increase since 1950, say the authors. The Southeast, Southwest, the upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the western seaboard have attracted the most rural development.

The authors note that the land use pattern is not good for the country’s native plants and animals and they conclude: The population has shifted from East to West; forest and agricultural land covers have decreased in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states; and the information-driven economy has fueled rural sprawl by enabling people to make a living even in relatively isolated areas. In addition to the impact on plants and animals, the authors said land use changes will lead to increased air and water pollution.

The authors hope for greater collaboration between ecologists and social scientists "to help shape land use decisions that will mitigate damage to the environment while still offering viable and attractive choices for U.S. residents," writes Newswise, a research-reporting service. (Read more)

Nebraska farm leader wary of stereotypes in proposed reality TV show

The president of the Nebraska Farmers Union is worried about how accurately a new TV reality show would portray farmers and their problems.

"John Hansen doesn't know whether 'The Farmer Wants a Wife' would bend its rural reality cast into media fodder as naive bumpkins. But, he said, 'I'm not inclined to be helpful to any of those efforts that would trivialize the enormous problems that farm and ranch families face,'" writes the Associated Press based on an article in the Grand Island Independent.

The reality show is being handled by FremantleMedia, which produces "American Idol" and "The Price is Right." The show's producers are scouring Nebraska, California, Ohio and Texas for the cast. "We're looking for all types of farmers, not just the country bumpkin," casting director Deborah Tarica told AP.

Previously, Hansen worked to stop a reality show about an Appalachian family going to Beverly Hills. "We (Nebraska Farmers Union) were very much involved on the national effort to beat that down," he said. Hansen likes the new show's angle, but he's also worried about how Americans perceive family farmers. "It's somewhere between rednecks and 'Hee Haw': culturally backward and unwashed," he told AP.

FremantleMedia has launched "The Farmer Wants a Wife" in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Norway, notes AP. (Read more)

U.S. signs plan to build emissions-free power plant; enviros call it a distraction

"The Bush administration announced on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with a coalition of energy companies to build a prototype coal-burning power plant with no emissions. The project, called FutureGen, has been in planning stages since 2003. But the Energy Department said here that a formal agreement had been signed under which companies would contribute $250 million of a cost estimated at $1 billion," writes Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times.

Environmental advocates criticized the announcement, saying it was a move to block discussion of new commitments to cut carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gas emissions. "It's getting to be like Charlie Brown with Lucy holding that football," said Alden Meyer, a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Every time, at the last minute, the U.S. pulls it away."

The latest talks are another step in an international effort that began in 1988 to reduce heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases. Since then, climate scientists, with widening consensus, have connected a global warming trend to rising levels of those gases in the atmosphere. (Read more)

Curbing kudzu: South Carolina's use of native plants becomes national model

In order to block foreign invaders such as kudzu, volunteers are planting native flora in South Carolina forests in what has become a national model.

"Volunteers ... have collected seeds from native plants growing along local roads. Then, with the help of the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies, they planted these seeds in a special farm in the Francis Marion National Forest. The seeds grew into plant plugs that were replanted in the state's national forests. The program is now considered a national model that some think could help solve a growing problem: The spread of invasive plants," writes Tony Bartelme of the Post and Courier.

Bill Stringer, a Clemson University agriculture professor and a leader of the S.C. Native Plant Society, told the Charleston newspaper, "We're pretty doggone passionate about native plants, so one day six or seven years ago, one of our fellows was talking to a soil scientist ... and asked why they didn't use native grasses to revegetate areas. The soil scientist said they didn't have a supply of native seeds."

The program is being copied across the Southeast. "There's a lot of interest nationally in restoring native plant communities," Stringer said. Last week in Atlanta, the Native Plant Society, U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service received the 2005 Regional Forester's Award for their work on the project, writes Bartelme. (Read more)

Indiana residents oppose hog farm near refuge for sandhill cranes

Northwestern Indiana residents who live near an area where thousands of sandhill cranes gather each fall want the state to halt construction on a nearby hog farm.

"A coalition of residents fear [the 2,500 sows on] Belstra Milling Co.'s hog farm just north of the refuge will lead to air, water and land contamination, and threaten the sandhill cranes that pass through northwestern Indiana while migrating south," reports Jon Seidel of the Post-Tribune in Gary.

Coalition members collected signatures from 1,000 residents opposed to the project and have appealed the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's approval of the DeMotte company's permit for the site, writes Seidel. Each fall, tens of thousands of the once-endangered cranes migrate through the fish and wildlife area which attracts about 30,000 birdwatchers.

Work on the farm has already begun. The 8,000-acre wildlife area is internationally recognized for supporting a significant proportion of the sandhill's total population. Diane Packett, president of the Sycamore Chapter of the Audubon Society, told Seidel, "If they put a shopping mall in the same place, we would still be worried about it." The residents have until next Thursday to provide additional material requested by the environmental management office. Malcolm DeKryger, Belstra's vice president, said the residents' fears about the farm were unfounded. Story may no longer be available; click here to see.

Maryland Farm Bureau to push for financial aid as key to industry's future

A Maryland Farm Bureau report on farming's future in the state will likely contain a recommendation for financial help for young farmers trying to break into the business and for investment in new crop products.

The bureau recently gave farmers a preview of the report, the result of a series of forums at the direction of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The report is due in February and will suggest ways to protect farmland and help farmers be more profitable, reports Kristen Wyatt of The Associated Press.

Maryland farmers have to contend with high land prices, making it difficult to get started while tempting others to sell to developers, notes Wyatt. The report will recommend putting money into an existing program designed to help make the industry more profitable, and to help young farmers buy land. The program hasn't been funded. Gene Roberts, a turf farmer who is helping put together the report, told Wyatt, "Basically what we're looking for is more support."

State officials held seven town hall-style meetings with farmers for suggestions. The Maryland Agriculture Commission, which will present the report, hopes it will encourage lawmakers. (Read more)

Wikipedia tightens rules after prominent journalist charges 'online vandalism'

"Prominent journalist John Seigenthaler [Sr.] described as 'false and malicious' an entry on Wikipedia implicating him in the Kennedy assassinations. When he phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, he was told there was no way of finding out who wrote the entry. Wikipedia has since removed the entry and now requires users to register before they can create articles," reports BBC News.

But, BBC notes, site visitors will still be able to edit content posted without having to register. The case has highlighted once again the problem of publishing information online. Online information can be posted anonymously by anyone. The Rural Blog broke the news on Seigenthaler's charge Dec.1.

Wikipedia has used volunteers to edit previously submitted articles. Wales acknowledged the new procedures won't prevent the posting of false information but it might limit them, and make it easier to edit content. Wales told BBC, "In many cases the types of things we see going on are impulse vandalism."

In an opinion piece for USA Today, where Seigenthaler was the founding editorial director, the 78-year-old journalist said only one sentence in his Wikipedia biography was correct - the fact that he was Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the early 1960s. Seigenthaler described Wikipedia as a "flawed and irresponsible research tool." He asked, "The marketplace of ideas ultimately will take care of the problem but in the meantime, what happens to people like me?" (Read more)

Community Publishers Inc. to acquire newspaper chain in Oklahoma

Community Publishers Inc. (CPI) has struck a deal to purchase Retherford Publications, the largest privately owned newspaper chain in Oklahoma, according to The Oklahoma Publisher.

CPI will acquire 15 community newspapers and four specialty publications. The company already owns 10 daily and weekly newspapers in Arkansas and Missouri, reports the official publication of the Oklahoma Press Association. CPI President Steve Trolinger said his company looks "forward to working with the staff of each publication to help them find ways they would like to grow and improve."

"Retherford Publications was founded in 1965 when the late Bill Retherford purchased the Tulsa County News," writes The Oklahoma Publisher. (Read more -- subscription required)

Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005

Study shows agriculture heavily dependent on illegals for harvest

A booming construction industry in the nation's Southwest is offering better pay while beefed-up patrolling along the Mexican border has made it harder for unauthorized workers to reach farms.

"Men and women who have crossed the border illegally — mostly from Mexico — may number as high as 20 million, with 12 million to 15 million holding jobs, according to analysts at Bear Stearns in New York. An analysis by Barron’s estimated they account for about $970 billion of the goods and services produced by the real economy," writes Juliana Barbassa of The Associated Press.

The majority of farm workers are illegal immigrants who make up 53 percent of the approximately 1.8 million farm workers in the country, up from about 12 percent in 1989-90, according to a government survey, she writes.

Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers Association, which represents more than 3,000 farmers in Arizona and California, told Barbassa, "The fresh produce industry couldn't exist without a foreign workforce." Nassif wants a temporary program allowing undocumented workers to pick winter vegetables in order to avoid a worker shortage that could cost the industry billions. Produce farmer Don Stutsman said, "We’re not policemen. And there just isn’t anyone else who’ll do it." (Read more)

Competing interests: Nation's energy needs vs. preserving 'pristine' land

"Soaring energy prices and profits have revived plans for two massive pipelines to bring natural gas hundreds of miles south from the frozen Arctic Ocean, through vast untouched forests and under wild rivers, to the United States," writes Doug Struck of The Washington Post.

The biggest private construction projects in North America "would flood isolated areas of Alaska and Canada with thousands of construction workers, pump billions of dollars into poor native economies, and bring the roar of heavy cranes and bulldozers to pristine areas where it is now quiet enough to hear the hoots of snowy owls and the rustle of pine boughs," writes Struck.

Oil company officials and energy analysts call the projects crucial. "Supporters and opponents agree the projects would affect Canada's sparsely populated north on a scale larger than the Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s, and unleash a rush of new exploration and drilling," notes Struck.

Michael Miltenberger, Northwest Territories minister of natural resources, told Struck, "Every square inch is going to be opened to diamonds, sapphires, gold, oil and gas. There's an insatiable demand. And the critical first step is the pipeline."

The two pipeline projects have to be built one at a time. Native groups in Canada have not given access rights, environmentalists are concerned about caribou and permafrost, and the pipeline companies face regulatory red tape and lawsuits, writes Struck. The Alaska Gas Pipeline would stretch 1,700 miles, cost $20 billion and take a decade to build. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline would snake 800 miles along the Mackenzie River, cost $6 billion and take three years to complete. (Read more)

Pennsylvania leads coal bandwagon; W.Va., Montana, Wyoming, more aboard

Pennsylvania and West Virginia are investing in a new generation of coal-fired power plants in hopes that they will boost economies and help makes the United States less petroleum dependency. "The governors of Montana and Wyoming also are promoting their state's coal reserves -- in the media and in talks with energy companies -- as a new source of fuel for the country and a new source of revenue for rural communities," writes Eric Kelderman of Stateline.org.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told reporters, "Our current system of centralized supply is obviously more vulnerable than most of us ever imagined." Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted nearly half of the nation's gasoline and 19 percent of natural gas supplies. Winter prices are projected to rise as much as 70 percent.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has outlined plans to spur coal liquefaction. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is wooing commercial partners and the U.S. Department of Defense for money to convert coal to liquid fuel. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal is talking with energy companies about a liquefaction plant, and his state is looking at competing for new energy business initiatives, writes Kelderman.

Florida and Minnesota have plans to build new power plants that would burn gasified coal as part of President Bush's 10-year, $2 billion Clean Coal Power Initiative. While technologies to reduce pollutants at coal-fired power plants may improve air quality, Antonia Herzog, a climate specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Kelderman mining still impacts streams and rivers. (Read more)

For a United Press International story on how rising natural-gas prices are driving up overseas interest in U.S. coal, U.S. coal starting to get some respect, click here.

Firms urged to prepare for bird flu; telecommuting praised as alternative

People who live in the suburbs and exurbia but work in the cities may have to double-up on their telecommuting in the event of a avian flu pandemic, according to a business and insurance study.

"Corporations need to 'anticipate and prepare now' for a virus that could sicken or even kill many workers, disrupt supply chains, shut down essential government services and make overseas travel impossible, according to Robert Wilkerson, corporate preparedness expert at Kroll Inc., a New York-based risk-consulting company," reports Marilyn Geewax of the Cox News Service.

A survey by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and an insurance industry committee reports 66 percent of employers said they had not adequately planned to protect their companies from a pandemic flu outbreak. An additional 14 percent said their company had adequately planned, and 20 percent were undecided, writes Geewax.

Wilkerson told Geewax that expanding telecommuting capabilities should be a high priority. Government officials might shut down mass transit systems or order people to stay home. Even in the absence of government edicts, people might decide to stay home because they are sick or fear catching the disease. Many will have to stay home with children whose schools have been closed, he said. The full Cox News Service story has suggestions on how to prepare for pandemic flu. (Read more)

Anti-meth campaign hits homegrown product; more potent version arriving

A nationwide campaign launched to warn people about methamphetamine is aimed primarily at the home-cooked variety despite a wave of the more potent "ice" version coming from Mexico and the Southwest.

"Some 562 meth labs and dump-sites were found in Kentucky during 2004, and over 1,000 sites were found in Indiana. While there's been a significant decrease in meth labs ... new public service announcements will soon hit the airwaves educating viewers on the dangers of meth," reports Ann Marshall of WAVE-TV in Louisville, Ky.

The Office of National Drug Policy and the Partnership for a Drug Free America are behind the public service announcements discussing the dangers of meth. "One commercial features a woman making meth in a lab as the fumes flow up into an upstairs apartment where a little girl unknowingly inhales the toxic fumes," she writes. The tag line to the spot is, "So, who has the drug problem now?"

The TV ads are targeted toward teens and parents. Radio and print ads are being prepared. Louisville is one of 23 cities where ads will get airtime. Tony King with the Drug Enforcement Agency told Marshall while the number of home labs has decreased by 80 percent, "ice" in much greater quantities is being smuggled into Kentucky. (Read more)

Ohio River towns produce blue smoke, tainted water, most of Ohio's pollution

"The people who live along the river, in centuries-old towns and large riverfront neighborhoods ... make up less than 6 percent of Ohio’s population. But a [Columbus] Dispatch analysis found that factories and power plants along the river produce 25 percent of Ohio’s toxic waste and just under 70 percent of its smog and soot-producing pollution," writes the Dispatch's Spencer Hunt, in part one of a series.

Mike Fremont of Rivers Unlimited, a nonprofit group that protects and restores Ohio’s streams, told Hunt, "There is a power plant on one side of the river or the other for what seems like every 5 miles." Hunt notes that health fears often collide with concerns for jobs and cleaning up industrial abuse.

Eric Fitch, an environmental-science professor at Marietta College, told Hunt, "It’s all kind of running together in this foggy soup. We’re releasing all this stuff into the environment, and we don’t know what the result is. We’re an open-air test tube." Today's installment in the series talks about the toxic residue that creates brownfields and the subsequent environmental threats. (Read more)

Clarksburg, W.Va., councilman to lead National League of Cities

A city councilman from Clarksburg, W.Va. -- population 16,522 -- will assume presidency of the National League of Cities this December, following the mayor of Washington and preceding the mayor of Indianapolis, reports The Exponet-Telegram of Clarksburg.

"By all accounts, it is not an office often held by a councilman from a small city, but it is a position for which Jim Hunt is particularly well-suited," writes Gary A. Harki. "We are an organization that represents cities of all sizes, and we have leaders from cities of all sizes, but it is not usual that someone from a city the size of Clarksburg is our president," Donald Borut, the executive director of the league, told Harki.

"The National League of Cities is 80 percent small towns," said Karen Anderson, past president and the mayor of the Minneapolis suburb Minnetonka, Minn. "(Hunt) brings that perspective of small town leadership to the league."

The League has 1,600 cities and towns that pay membership dues for services such as lobbying in Washington and training for community leaders, writes Harki. Lisa Dooley, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, said her state has not had a representative serve as a league officer in at least 80 years. Hunt served as first vice president this year, and as second vice president two years ago.

Hunt testified before Congress against cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program, which could have devastated the state, Dooley told Harki. "He was able to talk to Congress specifically about the effects it would have on West Virginia and in particular Clarksburg," Dooley said. (Read more)

Mayberry survives in a police cruiser, complete with Opie's fishing pole

A Warrenton, Va., man can relive every nostalgic episode of "The Andy Griffith Show," a program that symbolized the essence of rural America -- a simple life with honest and sincere people.

Ricky Brown can relive Deputy Barney Fife making an illegal U-turn on Main Street in Mayberry. All Brown has to do is go into his garage, open the car door to his 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 and start the engine, writes Donnie Johnston of the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.

Brown purchased the cruiser at a car show in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. If not an original, the car is "an exact replica of the vehicle Sheriff Andy Taylor used to drive Ernest T. Bass to Mrs. Wiley's party," writes Johnston. Brown says he was told the car was one of a number of vehicles used on the show and had been in the seller's family for 40 years.

Opie's fishing pole is in the trunk. In the back seat, there is a faded 8-by-10 color photo of Andy, Barney (Don Knotts), Opie (Ronnie Howard) and Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) with each actor's autograph. Brown has had the picture authenticated. Brown smiles as he looks down at the rear wheels of his prize vehicle, and told Johnston, "Hey! It even has its original hubcaps!" (Read more)

Marketing group forms in southwest Virginia to help artists tap into tourism

A regional marketing group for southwest Virginia artisans will cover 19 counties and three cities, from Patrick, Montgomery, Floyd and Giles counties west to Lee County. It is currently identifying artisans, organizations and crafts venues, writes Paul Dellinger of the Roanoke Times' New River Current.

Woody Crenshaw, president of Round the Mountain, said, "Right now, we've got about 700 artisans who have been identified.We know who they are. Now we need to find out what they need from us," writes Dellinger. Round the Mountain will have its big public outing next spring, probably in Abingdon, at a conference on creating a new cultural tourism economy in the region.

Diana Blackburn, executive director of Round the Mountain, told Dellinger, "It's really an important new development for Southwest Virginia. It is a big project that will unfold over the next decade."

The organization will be modeled on Handmade in America in Asheville, N.C., which covers 22 western North Carolina counties and focuses on crafts as a business. A 1996 study showed arts and crafts contribute $122 million to North Carolina's economy, writes Dellinger. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Dec. 7: Innovators to gather for Vermont 'Manure Summit'

Farmers and innovators from all over Vermont will gather this Thursday to hear about the latest farming technology, including high-tech suggestions for how to handle animal manure.

Dubbed "The Manure Summit," the agriculture and the environment conference will focus on how to manage manure in an environmentally safe way and how to generate money and extra nutrients out of it with new technology, writes Susan Smallheer of the state's Rutland Herald.

David Lane, deputy secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, will moderate the panel on nutrient management. He told Smallheer, "It really is about alternatives to handling manure and nutrient management." Lane said the high cost of electricity is a major issue for farmers as well. (Read more)

The day features several panel discussions with contributions from 31 speakers. The keynote speaker will be Richard Waybright of the famed Mason-Dixon Farm in Gettysburg, Pa., which has been called a "living
laboratory" for its innovations in handling manure to milking cows with robots, notes Smallheer.

For more details, contact the Vermont Environmental Consortium at Norwich University, 485-2213.

Monday, Dec. 5, 2005

USDA undersecretary says agency to put more emphasis on rural development

Tom Dorr, undersecretary of agriculture for rural development, told the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Des Moines last week that "changes are coming in the way government thinks about rural economic development," reports The Des Moines Register.

In the past, government spending has been focused on the belief that subsidies to farmers would eventually work their way into the rural economy. Those days will end, Dorr said, "as government policy shifts from commodity programs to rural development programs," writes Jerry Perkins, farm editor for the Iowa newspaper. (Read more)

"Farmers won't be left out," he said. But limited farm budgets, the globalization of agricultural trade and constraints on farm programs imposed by the World Trade Organization are the three factors driving the change. Dorr said rural America's economy depends more on off-farm jobs and income than it does on farm receipts."We can't keep doing things the way we've been doing them and expect to succeed, "Dorr told the Farm Bureau. "It's time to look for new strategies recognizing the new realities," he said.

The Associated Press reports Dorr touting the Internet and energy from biofuels as the key to economic growth in rural areas. Dorr met with residents in Lamar and Fort Morgan last week to discuss major issues surrounding rural communities and development. Dorr referred to the USDA as "the venture capital bank for rural America" that can help create opportunities. He agreed rural communities should take advantage of the growing need for renewable energy. (Read more)

Dorr told the Lamar Daily News, "Energy is the hot new cash crop in America," and said clean air, quiet surroundings, lower cost of living and low crime rate make rural areas prime for economic development.

Michigan launches initiative for rural broadband access by 2007

The Michigan Broadband Development Authority (MBDA) has announced it is seeking to expand services into the state's most rural and underserved regions. The move is in response to Gov. Jennifer Granholm's call for affordable broadband throughout the state by 2007.

"In eligible regions, qualifying broadband providers may receive 4 percent loans with interest-only draw periods of up to 24 months. Providers will work with local government and economic development organizations to qualify their proposals," reports the Niles Daily Star.

Granholm told reporters, “Making affordable broadband access available to residents, public entities, and businesses across the state will make Michigan more competitive." The newspaper notes, "large users of high-speed Internet services in underserved regions are being encouraged to leverage community-wide access. It is hoped these entities will partner with providers to lower the cost of such infrastructure."

Teri Takai, director of the Department of Information Technology, told the newspaper, "There is no one technology or ... strategy that can be applied to each region of the state, ... but the key will be innovative partnerships." James W. Butler, III, executive vice president of the MBDA, said, "By ... concentrating our efforts on the parts of the state that do not currently have widely available access, we are in a strong position to move the state toward its universal coverage goal." (Read more)

Cody's wi-fi for tourists ahead of some metros; buzz may boost business

A Wyoming town is leaping ahead of some major metropolitan areas by fast-tracking wireless broadband connections for tourists, a move that could have major economic development ramifications.

"Tourists and locals can get online to surf the Web from dozens of spots along [Cody, Wyo.'s] busiest streets, putting the city ahead of metro areas such as San Francisco and Philadelphia, which are still developing their city wi-wi plans. Wi-fi is a communications industry protocol by which consumer devices can communicate wirelessly with larger networks, including the Internet," writes Ruffin Prevost of the Billings Gazette. "Wi-fi" is short for "wireless fidelity."

Prevost writes, "It's not a fantasy thanks to a new wireless Internet service called Yellowstone WiFi, launched earlier this year by TCT West of Basin." Chris Davidson, TCT West general manager, told him the company is still fine-tuning the system. "It's a new technology for us as well," he said.

A marketing push aimed at tourists is planned for the summer 2006 which will allow free access to online information about area attractions and city services, notes Prevost. Davidson told him TCT West has spent more than $100,000 to set up the system, and he's counting on heavy use by tourists to pay for the investment. "There's hundreds of thousands of people who pass through Cody, and people are becoming a lot more connected. They need to have their information," he said.

Customer Jean Good told Prevost, "I am absolutely thrilled to the toes with it." She uses TCT's fixed wireless service for her home-based desktop publishing business and logs onto the Yellowstone Wi-Fi network when she needs to get online while in town. (Read more)

The Chicago Tribune now provides a Q&A column on wi-fi technology at this location.

Tribune looks at phenomenon of rural poor in Midwest enlisting in military

The Chicago Tribune joins the ranks of newspapers examining recent data showing military recruiters benefit from a lack of alternative economic and educational opportunities for many rural poor.

"Nationally, rising anti-war sentiment and news of mounting casualties in Iraq led this year to the most dismal Army recruiting season since 1979. But in the expanses of the Midwest, the downturn has been much less than in other places," writes, E. A. Torriero of the Tribune.

In dozens of sparsely populated Illinois counties, places with some of the state's highest poverty rates, an average of nearly one in 10 young people joins the military. That's more than twice the rate nationwide and makes downstate Illinois one of the prime recruiting grounds in the country. But more than patriotism is at work. Tough times in the heartland make the military an appealing alternative.

Pfc. Tyler Platt, 19, who signed up last summer and is studying information technology, told Torriero, "The Army offered a better future than what I could find by staying back home." Anita Danes, research director for a non-partisan Massachusetts group, said, "Rural America is ripe territory for military recruitment."

Rural areas "are places, as military recruiters put it, without the negative influences they encounter elsewhere in the country," notes Torriero. (Read more) The American Friends Service Committee sued the Department Of Defense to get a listing of all recruits and their hometowns, a valuable tool for newspapers to do sophisticated analysis for their readers. Click here for that resource.

Poverty program cuts showdown expected; hurricanes press needs, funding

Efforts to cutback poverty programs will be at the center of an expected bruising fight as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week.

"A showdown is expected between conservative House Republicans and their more moderate Senate counterparts as congressional negotiators try to resolve differences in cost-cutting measures GOP leaders argue are necessary to cut the deficit," writes Robert Dodge of the Dallas Morning News.

The budget reduction proposals will trim future spending for Medicaid, food stamps and other programs. The changes come as a handful of states are dealing with the immediate and long-term costs of providing support for families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, notes Dodge.

The House bill would reduce Medicaid spending by giving states the option of reducing benefits and imposing premiums and co-payments on beneficiaries. It would reduce payments for prescription drugs and make it more difficult for seniors to dispose of assets so they can qualify for long-term nursing care.

The House measure tightens food stamp eligibility, cutting off benefits to 220,000 people nationwide. The Senate's smaller $35 billion package contains fewer savings in poverty programs and would reduce funds the government pays to encourage private insurance companies to participate in Medicare. (Read more)

Measure would allow new 'bioterrorism' agency to avoid public disclosure

The American Society of Newspaper Editors reports a bill working its way through the Senate "would significantly hamper the ability of the public, the press, and even Congress to oversee efforts to protect the population against bioterrorism and pandemic outbreaks."

The Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005 [S. 1873] has passed in Senate committee. It would create a new "Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency" or BARDA within the Department of Health and Human Services. "The agency would be excluded from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act and large portions of federal acquisition regulations," notes ASNE.

"The public would be prevented from participating in its own defense against bioterrorism and pandemic such as the Avian Flu," writes ASNE. The ASNE is offering materials to assist news agencies in an effort to notify the public, and possibly block the effort to skirt public notice requirements. For the text of the bill, click here. Section 3(f) is the particular provision related to open government laws.

"Talking points" which lay out the arguments against this legislation, drafted by the Sunshine in Government Initiative, are available through the ASNE Web site. Click here for a copy of a letter in opposition to the legislation drafted by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government. For newspaper articles and editorials discussing the legislation: Click here for an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; here for a Seattle Times article; and here for one in the Roanoke Times.

To contact ASNE Freedom of Information Chair Andy Alexander, call 202-887-8334 or e-mail him at andya@coxnews.com. You can call ASNE Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at 202-452-4840 or e-mail him at kevin.goldberg@cohnmarks.com.

Mississippi weeklies with integrity show it by doing 'what needs to be done'

Freelancer Julia Cass reports in the latest issue of American Journalism Review that four "weekly newspapers in rural Mississippi reveal that good, enterprising journalism still goes on in the hinterlands even in the poorest state in the nation."

"Mississippi has a relatively large number of weekly newspapers. The Mississippi Press Association membership includes 86 of them compared with 24 dailies, and 56 of them are individually owned, according to Carolyn Wilson, the association's executive director. The Deer Creek Pilot, Carthaginian, Enterprise-Tocsin and Neshoba Democrat, all owned and run by native Mississippians, maintain independent voices solidly rooted in a particular place," writes Cass.

Jim Abbott helms the Enterprise-Tocsin (circ. 6,125) in Indianola. He faces a challenge as the white owner of a newspaper in a county that is 70 percent African American. "But because we're dedicated to accept the challenge of controversy and publish a newspaper that's trusted by all in our community, we won't hold back due to economic threats or petty things like getting the cold shoulder from people," Abbott told Cass.

When a big storm damages Carthage, Waid Prather doesn't quit after taking a photograph and gathering information for the Carthaginian (circ. 5,759). Instead, the editor removes debris from the roads. "When you run a newspaper, you own the community. I don't care who the sheriff or board of supervisors are. It's yours to take care of. You defend it, you criticize it, you do what needs to be done," Prather told Cass.

Stanley Dearman, former owner of the Neshoba Democrat (circ. 8,070) in Philadelphia, refused to sell to a chain before eventually selling to James Prince III. "From what I've seen happen in other places, they try to squeeze out every cent they can and rotate publishers and editors in and out whose primary concern is their own upward mobility. They don't take a heart-and-soul interest in a town," Dearman told Cass.

Unlike urban dailies, these weeklies are not losing readers, notes Cass. "We are the only media outlet in the world that gives a damn about Sharkey and Issaquena counties," says Ray Mosby, publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot (circ. 1,550) in Rolling Fork, Miss. Mosby wrote an editorial addressed to a judge who said the paper better not mention him again. It was titled "And what if we do, Judge?" (Read more)

West Virginia's highest court OKs coal-exports tax over industry objections

West Virginia's Supreme Court has affirmed the state's right to tax coal exports, rejecting coal companies' arguments that the state's severance tax is actually a sales tax that violates interstate commerce protections.

If the court had struck down the tax, the state said it would have been forced to refund an estimated $500 million in tax revenue and interest to the 11 coal companies that challenged it. Coal-company attorneys place the figure at half that amount, reports Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press.

Of the 11 coal companies that originally filed the lawsuit in 2003, at least seven have since changed hands. The companies now involved in the lawsuit are Alpha Natural Resources Inc., Arch Coal Inc., Consol Energy Inc., Foundation Coal Holdings Inc., International Coal Group Inc., Massey Energy Co., Peabody Holding Co. Inc. and U.S. Steel Mining Co., writes Messina. (Read more)

Justice Larry Starcher wrote for the majority, "West Virginia's coal severance taxes are substantially similar to coal severance taxes that have been found to be constitutional by the United States Supreme Court." Eliminating the exports' severance tax would have cost the state between $40 million and $50 million in future annual revenue. The coal companies say they will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meth use creates workplace injuries, economic struggles in rural Wyoming

Methamphetamine use is rising in Campbell County, Wyoming, and business owners see the drug damaging an already downtrodden economy. Businesses in industrial parks are battling both meth use and the related injuries, reports James Warden of The Gillette News-Record.

Industrial workers must be able to concentrate on essential safety measures, such as properly building a scaffold, but drug addicts simply can't function as well as nonusers, said John Pettyjohn, safety manager at S&S Builders. In addition to meth's damage to the human body, secondary effects from lack of sleep and poor nourishment pose additional dangers at job sites, Pettyjohn told Warden.

Ultimately, non-meth users face dangers, and costs can surpass $1 million in the event of an accident, reports Warden. Even companies with extensive safety programs can face rising insurance premiums. Meth problems aren't limited to heavy-equipment industries, Pettyjohn said. Drug-related theft and lost time threaten everyone, he said. (Read more)

For an Associated Press report on senior citizens selling drugs in Appalachia, click here.

Ball State University makes First Amendment video for pro-censorship students

"Alarmed by a study that shows opposition to the First Amendment from many high school students, a Ball State University journalism teacher made an educational DVD about the U.S. Constitution and is sending it to 4,000 high schools nationwide," writes Will Higgins of The Indianapolis Star.

"That study was a real wake-up call," Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, Ball State's national scholastic journalism and First Amendment institute, told Higgins. "More than one in three (high school students) would welcome government censorship of newspapers?" The study, released earlier this year by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and researchers at the University of Connecticut, reported that 35 percent of the students said the First Amendment went too far in guaranteeing rights; 21 percent didn't know enough to have an opinion.

The video provides historical background on the Constitution and includes with journalists and journalism educators. "If you make journalism more of a staple in class or encourage more civics learning," Watson said, "it would change students' opinions" about the First Amendment, reports Wiggins. (Read more)

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005

Many large rural electric co-ops aren't so rural, as suburbs expand

"Rural electric cooperatives were born out of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, to bring electricity to far-flung farms that profitmaking utilities refused to serve," but are now scrambling to keep up, and keep in touch, with suburban growth in their territories, writes Nikita Stewart in The Washington Post.

"Because co-ops' distribution systems are aging and were built to support a few farms, not thousands of homes, they are upgrading their equipment, such as new wiring and transformer substations. They also try to provide the level of service their growing numbers of suburban customers expect." Herbie Smith, a district manager of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, told Stewart, "We've got a different customer base," said "It was tobacco farmers and livestock farmers and watermen. . . . Now, they are younger, and they have higher expectations. They are mathematicians and engineers."

Under the laws that authorized them long ago, the co-ops "have an additional problem that puts them in conflict with modern times: They have to persuade thousands of new customers to participate in the running of the co-op -- annual meetings must have a quorum, although proxy voting for the board is allowed -- or the co-ops lose their nonprofit status," Stewart writes. "That's tough: The new customer/member is more often than not a commuter with a working spouse, children in school and, thus, no time to attend meetings. . . . Many newcomers have no clue that the law requires customers' participation as members."

Co-ops offer free food and entertainment to attract customers to annual meetings, and use door prizes even for casting a proxy vote. Members of the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative who attended their meeting "or voted by proxy were eligible to receive lawn mowers, digital cameras, flat-screen TVs and $50 gift certificates for Target or Sears," the Post reports. The Southern Maryland co-op did much the same, attracting votes about 1,440 of its 130,060 members -- just over 1 percent, but enough to meet the co-op's bylaws, Stewart writes.

Here are some basic facts about how Americans get their electricity, from the second largest co-op, Jackson Electric Membership Corp. in Georgia: The U.S. has 3,190 electric utilities, most of which, 2,013, are publicly owned, mainly by cities. Only 242 are investor-owned, but they are in major urban areas and serve 75 percent of all U.S. electric customers. The other 935 electric utilities are cooperatives, which serve 11 percent of the total. Of the co-ops, 875 merely distribute electricity, while 60 generate and 12transmit it. Co-ops have more than 32 million members in 46 states. For more data from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, click here. For a detailed history of co-ops, from Cumberland EMC in Tennessee, click here.

Friday, Dec. 2, 2005

Institute launches multi-topic resource guide for reporting on rural issues

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues was founded to help all journalists better understand rural issues and small communities, which are often drowned out by the bustle of metropolitan life. The issues facing rural America are covered inadequately or sometimes not at all by short-staffed rural media, leaving them to be covered by wire services or the bureaus of larger newspapers -- which usually give them lesser play than they would receive in areas where the issues are important.

The Institute wants these issues -- such as education, health care, the environment and economic development -- to be part of the public agenda, so we are launching Reporting Resources, a collection of computer-assisted reporting resources for covering a variety of rural issues.

The guide contains sources on the major issues listed above, plus agriculture, cultural and social issues, plus a separate section on the craft of journalism, including media law and ethics, writing, grammar, investigative reporting, technology, professional networking and online news sources.

More topics will be added as the guide develops. We want you to help us make it dynamic. If you are a journalist who used certain resources to prepare a story or deal with a professional issue, or someone interested in rural issues who knows of a resource that should be listed, please e-mail Institute Director Al Cross at al.cross@uky.edu. We also want to know of any shortcomings among the listed resources.

The resource guide is located at http://www.uky.edu/CommInfoStudies/IRJCI/resources.htm.

Michigan joins nine other states in restricting release of autopsy photos

The death of a 16-year-old female in a car crash in 1996 helped lead to restrictions last year on autopsy photos being shown in Michigan -- one of at least 10 states to enact laws to prohibit coroners from releasing pictures or other death records to the public.

Pictures of the girl were shown during court-ordered morgue tours for people convicted of drug- or alcohol-related offenses. "I felt like the government has no right to use my daughter as an administrative tool, as a tool for punishment," said Connie Ayres, the girl's mother, reports The Associated Press.

The new laws were prompted in part by a legal battle in Florida over autopsy photos of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash in 2001. Several newspapers sought the pictures after questions arose over how Earnhardt died and whether better safety equipment might have saved him. Ultimately, Florida passed a law blocking public access to autopsy photos.

Supporters of such restrictions say the release of autopsy records could compound family members' pain, and they worry about the possibility of gruesome morgue photos being published on the Internet or elsewhere. Ohio and Pennsylvania are considering such restrictions. (Read more)

574 S.C. teachers, many rural, have national certification; third in nation

South Carolina boasts the country's third highest total of teachers with a special national certification, and many of them serve rural areas where the need is greatest.

The 574 teachers who earned certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards this year each receive $75,000 in bonuses over the next 10 years, writes Ron Barnett of The Greenville News. He notes that this "comes at a time when the program is under scrutiny by a governor who wants to trim and focus it and some policymakers who are questioning whether the money might be better spent elsewhere."

South Carolina's total of 4,444 nationally certified teachers falls below North Carolina and Florida. In 2001, South Carolina set a goal to have 5,000 certified by 2005, compared to just the 40 teachers with the distinction in 1999, writes Barnett. (Read more)

Pennsylvania firm develops new method to control, lessen farm animal odor

With more people moving into rural areas, farm-related odors, especially pig farms, are sparking more confrontation between new residents and farmers raising livestock with major economic repercussions if farmers are forced to relocate or reduce production, says the research-reporting service Newswise.

"Now, a new patent to be issued to Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center utilizes a unique method to reduce animal waste malodors, ... helping farmers ... co-exist ... with their new neighbors. The method was developed by Monell analytical organic chemist George Preti and olfactory neuroscientist Charles Wysocki in response to a request for help from Pennsylvania state officials," writes Newswise.

A grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture funded the project. The olfactory cross adaptation method they developed reduces the ability to detect foul odors. The nose adapts to one odor and becomes less sensitive to a second more offending odor. Preti explained, "It reduce[s] the ... malodor bouquet found in farm manures." (Read more) Blogger's note: Anyone attaching the words 'malodor bouquet' to pig manure must not have smelled it. There ain't no stank like pig stank.

Scholar opines about need for rural health care in Thanksgiving column

In his latest column, A Health-Filled Thanksgiving, Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow for the Rural Policy Research Institute, uses his latest Thanksgiving experience, involving a relative's health problem, as a springboard to cite shifts in treatment of rural residents.

Rowley notes, "Many rural Americans face obstacles in getting quality health care — ranging from lack of access to services to lack of insurance to pay for those services if they can get them. It’s also true that many rural Americans face perceptual hurdles in using locally available care, believing that quality is found only in the big city. As a result, rural people and rural providers alike suffer. Fortunately, there’s a move afoot to improve the quality of rural care."

Rowley pays tribute to the National Rural Health Association, which has kicked off an initiative "on the belief that rural providers can not only achieve high quality standards, but can actually be leaders in improving the quality of care across the nation," he writes. Rowley says his experience is that those beliefs are well founded, and he lists examples in collaboration, integration, technology and education.

Rowley mentions shifts in reimbursement toward performance-based pay and the increasing tendency of rural people to look past local providers and go instead to the city for care. "Other rural providers must join them if they are to survive," said Dr. Forrest Calico, NRHA senior advisor for quality. (Read more)

13 percent of Minnesota's HIV patients live in rural areas; trend mirrors nation

On World AIDS Day, the Minnesota Department of Health reports 300 state residents were recently diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, adding to the state total of about 5,000, 13 percent of which live in rural areas.

"The Minnesota statistics mirror those nationwide. They foster the myth that rural areas are safe from the disease and its agent, said Rosemary Thomas, program manager for AIDS Information Duluth, a program of Lutheran Social Service," writes Peter Rebhahn of the Duluth News Tribune.

Rebhahn's story centers on Jamie Kutasevich, who is speaking out against people being judged because they have HIV/AIDS. "For Kutasevich, acting on the belief carries a cost, because she has the HIV virus, and the stigma it carries is real," Rebhahn notes. The 23-year-old, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, says, "I want to get the word out. I'm not afraid. It's out there, and it can happen to anybody."

Rebhahn notes that Kutasevich "had never used intravenous drugs or engaged in promiscuous sex -- two of the risky behaviors that lead to HIV transmission and add to the stigma of the infection. She got HIV from her former boyfriend." (Read more)

Hospital Corporation of America sells five rural hospitals for $260 million

Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) has announced the completed sale of five rural hospitals in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington to Capella Healthcare for about $260 million.

The facilities involved include Grandview Medical Center, Jasper, Tenn.; River Park Hospital, McMinnville, Tenn.; Southwestern Medical Center, Lawton, Okla.; Capital Medical Center, Olympia, Wash.; and North Monroe Medical Center, Monroe, La., reports PRNewswire.

These facilities are part of a previously announced sale of hospitals located primarily in rural and non-urban markets. The company's remaining hospitals are primarily located in larger urban and suburban areas. HCA writes that it "believes the divestitures will not have a material effect on its future financial position or results of operations." (Read more)

Unsung hero? Weekly publisher took on Joe McCarthy, lost newspaper

The hit movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" chronicles Edward R. Murrow's heroics, but other figures took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin 50 years ago without the resources or protection of CBS-TV, opines columnist Bill Wineke of the Wisconsin State Journal.

"So when it comes to awarding 'courage' badges, my candidate is a guy who is far less known by the public. LeRoy Gore, publisher of the Sauk Prairie Star, a weekly newspaper in Sauk City, also took on McCarthy in 1954. He organized the 'Joe Must Go' campaign to recall the senator. The campaign gathered 375,000 signatures, but it needed more than 400,000 to be effective," writes Wineke.

"(Gore) ended up losing his newspaper. Sauk County District Attorney Harlan Kelley convinced a justice of the peace to issue warrants for Gore's arrest for aiding and abetting a felony. The charges, incidentally, were based on a state law forbidding corporations from being involved in election activity, essentially the same charges being levied in Texas against Rep. Tom DeLay. The main difference is that the 'corporation' in this case was the Joe Must Go Club. In other words, organizing a recall petition drive was deemed a felony in itself. The Wisconsin Supreme Court threw the case out," continues Wineke. (Read more)

Gore, who died in 1977 of emphysema, once explained why he took on McCarthy. "I've wondered sometimes about people like me who take up crusades -- I think any newspaper man has a penchant for exhibitionism -- you wonder how much of it is high principle and how much is a compulsion you can't help," he answered. "You don't find too many news people with compulsions for exhibitionism anymore. Nor do you find too many of us willing to take on the structures of power," concludes Wineke.

This story received national notice on Romenesko at Poynter Online.

West Virginia University launches Web site to tell hurricane evacuees' stories

West Virginia University's Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism students and faculty have created an interactive, multimedia Web site to document Hurricane Katrina's evacuees' stories.

"The Web site, 'Starting Over: Loss and Renewal in Katrina's Aftermath,' includes photo essays, written stories, multimedia pieces and documentary footage. The pieces explore how the victims of the late August hurricane are coping with tragedy and beginning new lives more than a thousand miles from home," reports Newswise.

Students and faculty began by working with people who came from New Orleans to Kingwood, W.Va., to seek help. The project combines news writing, video, photography and the Web, notes Newswise. "These are skills that our students will need as they enter 21st century newsrooms, where media convergence is happening more and more each day," said Interim Dean Maryanne Reed. (Read more)

Associated Press unveils new values and ethics policy, says transparency needed

The Associated Press has released an updated "statement of news values and principles" in a move AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said was meant to provide for more transparency.

The policy combines information about reporter conduct from different manuals under a new preamble designed to enunciate AP's ethical standards. "We really wanted to express a higher purpose we all feel about what we do," Carroll explained, writes Miki Johnson of Editor & Publisher. (Read more)

The preamble lists practices that constitute "ethical behavior," advising staff to try to identify sources, not plagiarize, not misidentify themselves to get information, and quickly deal with any questions of abuse. Although the anonymous source section call to mind recent scandals -- "The description of a source must never be altered without consulting the reporter" -- Carroll said a combination of issues raised in the past five years had prompted the detailed look at anonymous sourcing.

While the statement is meant to be a resource for new AP employees, Carroll acknowledges it is also a step toward the transparency the statement lists as "critical to our credibility with the public and our subscribers." For the full text of the statement, click here.

FCC approves sale of WSAZ-TV NewsChannel 3 to Gray Communications

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the sale and transfer of license of WSAZ NewsChannel 3 in Huntington, W.Va., from Emmis Communications to Gray Television, Inc.

Gray announced Aug. 22 that it had entered into an agreement with Emmis to acquire the assets of the the NBC affiliate in the nation's 62nd largest designated market area for $186 million, reports The Ironton (Ohio) Tribune. (Read more) In the region, Gray owns WTAP-TV in Parkersburg, W.Va., WKYT-TV in Lexington, Ky., WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky., and WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, Va. To read Gray's press release, click here.

In remembrance: Two former American Press Institute executive directors die

Malcolm F. Mallette and Walter Everett, both former American Press Institute executive directors, died in the past week. Mallette, 83, died Nov. 25 at his home in Durham, N.C., and Everett, 95, died Nov. 28 at his home in Middletown, R.I. "Both men were giants in the industry, true pioneers, and left a real legacy of achievement," Andrew Davis, API's president and executive director, said in a statement, reports Editor & Publisher.

Mallette, who was with API for 21 years, served as an associate director, managing director, director, and director of development. He retired in 1987. Before joining API, he worked as a sports editor at the Asheville Citizen Times and as sports director of the Winston-Salem Journal, both of which are are in North Carolina. He also became the latter paper's managing editor.

Everett worked for API for 26 years, during which he oversaw API's move from Columbia University in Manhattan to its current headquarters in Reston, Va. Before joining API, he worked for 15 years at daily newspapers, beginning in 1933 as reporter with The Providence Journal. (Read more)

Award-winning Oregon editor wrote for 46 years, died at 74 from cancer

Jerry Tippens, whose career as a reporter, columnist and editor spanned more than 40 years in Oregon, has died Monday of cancer at age 74.

His daughter, Julie Tippens, chief of staff for Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., said, "From 17 to 74, he was an active journalist." The last piece he wrote was for The Daily Astorian, where he was a longtime columnist, reports The Associated Press.

Tippens started his career at The Daily Republic in Mitchell, S.D., while at Dakota Wesleyan University, which recently gave him a doctorate of humane letters for journalism and for fighting hunger in Oregon. Tippens joined the former Oregon Journal as night city editor in 1962 and covered the Oregon Legislature in the mid-1960s. Tippens was editorial page editor when the Journal merged with The Oregonian, and he retired from that newspaper in 1991 as associate editor. (Read more)

Appalachian State University announces new graduate school dean

Edelma Huntley has been named dean of the Cratis D. Williams Graduate School at Appalachian State University, an academic of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

"Huntley ... was associate dean from 1995-2000, and was a faculty development consultant for the university’s Hubbard Center for Faculty and Academic Development from 1993-95," reports the Asheville Citizen Times.

Huntley joined the university in 1978 as an assistant professor in the Department of English, was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 1983 and named full professor in 1989. She has a Ph.D. in restoration and 18th-century British literature from the University of Louisiana. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Dec. 9: Carl A. Ross Student Paper Competition entry deadline

Dec. 9 is the first of several upcoming deadlines related to the Appalachian Studies Association's annual meeting, to be held in Dayton, Ohio, March 17-19. The Carl A. Ross Appalachian Student Paper Competition is open to middle/high school and undergraduate/graduate students. The winners will receive $100 each. Costs of attending the conference are the winners' responsibility.

All papers must adhere to guidelines for scholarly research. To make a submission, e-mail a Microsoft Word copy of a 20 to 30-page paper by December 9, 2005 to: Roberta Herrin, Ph.D. Director, Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, Box 70556, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tenn., 37614, telephone 423-439-7997, fax 423-439-7870, or e-mail herrinr@etsu.edu.

Students who wish to present their papers at the conference must also submit a Proposal for Participation following the guidelines above by Dec. 9.

Dec. 4: Partners for Family Farms book signing at Kentucky distillery

Partners for Family Farms invites you to help celebrate local food with a presentation and book signing by Michael Ableman to celebrate his new book, Fields of Plenty: A Farmer's Journey In Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Woodford Reserve Distillery between Versailles and Frankfort, Ky.

The event is sponsored by Brown-Forman Corp. and its Woodford Reserve subsidiary and WUKY-FM in Lexington. For more information contact Partners For Family Farms at (859) 233-3056.

Dec. 7: Neighbor Works Training Institute's Symposium, San Francisco

NeighborWorks Training Institute's The New Rural America: Partners and Progress, a community economic development symposium showcasing innovation and excellence, will be held Dec. 7 at the Hilton San Francisco. For information, see http://nw.org/network/training/upcoming/ruralSymposium05.asp.

Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005

McCain seeks limits on Indian casinos, as Shawnee eye ancestral Ohio

A push for land and casino expansion in Ohio by native Americans has caught the attention and the ire of a key U. S. senator who thinks the tribes are over-extending their reach and need to be reined in.

The Eastern Shawnee Indians, based in Oklahoma and Missouri, say settlers pushed their ancestors off tribal land in Ohio two centuries ago and they want the land back to build four casinos, which would be Ohio's first, reports Bloomberg News.

"Some 20 U.S. tribes are staking similar claims off their reservations. As Indians and their corporate partners pursue distant new markets, lawmakers in Washington, including U. S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are moving to set new federal limits," writes the business magazine.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said "No one believed that Indian gaming would be an $18.5 billion-a-year business, no one in their wildest dreams.'' McCain helped write the 1988 U.S. law that allowed Indian tribes to run casinos in states that permit gambling. Nov. 18 he introduced a bill to restrict off-reservation gaming to a tribe's home state, reports Bloomberg.

McCain said it was time to review the 1988 law. ``It is going to be a delicate proposition,'' he said. Votes on McCain's bill and similar legislation haven't been scheduled, Bloomberg reports. (Read more)

Locals say grasslands restoration plan is a burden, denies youth experience

Since 1998, environmentalists have tried to keep Western grasslands grassy by paying ranchers not to graze their cattle. But some locals object, saying it's economically burdensome and denies young people a traditional Western experience.

"Seven years ago an Arizona environmental group began paying ranchers to give up their grazing rights when their herds, or bank accounts, had failed to thrive. By this fall, the Grand Canyon Trust, had spent more than $1 million to end grazing on more than 400,000 acres," reports The New York Times.

Former Bureau of Land Management employee Michael E. Noel, a Republican state representative from southern Utah, wants to roll back trust agreements. Noel told reporter Felicity Barringer the loss of the grazing allotments hurts ranching and deprives young people of the chance to work the land. He contends retiring the lands goes against an "implicit agreement." and said, "if we allow that to occur, we go down the path of eliminating all grazing on public lands."

Grand Canyon Trust Executive Director Bill Hedden said he could not understand why his efforts seemed a threat to Mr. Noel and "had hoped to create a situation with no losers where ranchers could consolidate their herds in more congenial settings." Under the alternative, Hedden told Barringer federal officials could bar grazing during a drought without bankrupting ranchers. (Read more)

War on geese: U. S. combating loitering birds that leave progeny and poop

Even as it fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a global war on terrorism, the U. S. government is establishing a new front to thin out some migratory birds that linger too long on their way to warmer climes and leave too much of themselves behind, reports Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins in his latest Morning Meeting column.

"The Philadelphia Inquirer says the federal government has launched what amounts to an all-out war on the rising number of resident Canada geese loitering in the nation taking up residence in parks and farms and leaving behind lots of mess and little geese, writes Tompkins. (Read more)

The Inquirer explains: "With nationwide numbers of so-called resident Canada geese soaring and the headaches they create for landowners, farmers and officials mounting, the federal government is declaring all-out war," And, adds Tompkins, "You, dear reader, could become one of its trusty foot soldiers." For the full Inquirer story, by Jennifer Moroz, click here.

Tompkins notes the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife rules take effect before year's end and give local officials more power "to help get rid of the notoriously pesky fowl," he writes. The goal is to reduce the birds' numbers nationwide from 3.2 million to about 2 million by 2015, he notes.

Tompkins concludes, "There are other effective ways of controlling the resident populations without killing birds. GeesePeace has worked in 10 states and the United Kingdom. The project involves, in some cases, treating geese eggs to keep them from hatching."

Sierra Club tries to attract allies, says not all development of land is bad

The Sierra Club, in a move that could help it gain new allies, is starting to go to bat for some developers.

The club plans to release this week its "Guide to America's Best New Development Projects," an endorsement of mixed-use residential, commercial and retail developments which includes a project to build as many as 5,000 homes on the site of a former steel mill in Atlanta; the conversion of a high school into apartments and condominiums in Albuquerque, N. M.; and redeveloping a factory and warehouse district in Portland, Ore., into more than 2,000 town homes and apartments," writes Jim Carlton of Canada's Globe and Mail.

"We are trying to be supportive of developers who are doing the right thing," said Eric Olson, Washington-based director of the Sierra Club's Healthy Communities Campaign. "We're also recognizing that you can't just be against things all the time. You have to be for things."

Keith Woods, chief executive officer of an industry group north of San Francisco, where the Sierra Club has fought to block many proposed developments, told Carlton, "I think someone at the Sierra Club has taken a reality pill, and I'm glad."

Carlton notes, the Sierra Club filed a brief on behalf of a developer planning to build 40 units of affordable senior housing in Berkeley, Calif. A neighborhood group opposed the project challenged it in court, says Tim Frank, a senior policy adviser for the environmental group. The California Court of Appeal cleared the way for that development last year. (Read more)

TVA, formed to get power to rural poor, remains largest public utility

Tennessee Valley Authority revenues grew to nearly $7.8 billion in 2005, a 3.5 percent jump in electricity sales in the seven-state Tennessee Valley, keeping TVA the nation's largest public utility.

"The self-financing government agency said revenues rose $261 million compared to the year before, but blamed rising fuel costs for a drop in net income to $85 million, compared to $386 million in 2004," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press.

In a TVA news release, TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said, "Overall, TVA's integrated power system had its most successful year on record, supplying our customers with more than 171 billion kilowatt hours of electricity At the same time, the rising prices of coal, natural gas and purchased power significantly increased our operating expenses in 2005 and will continue to be our toughest challenge in 2006."

TVA supplies electricity to most of Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. (Read more)

U.S. lawyer in tobacco suit leaving his post; acknowledged clash with Justice

The Justice Department lawyer who led the government's civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry for the past five years is leaving the department after clashing with some of her supervisors over the direction of the multibillion-dollar case, reports The New York Times.

"The Justice Department told the federal judge hearing the case of the lawyer's departure on Wednesday. The lawyer, Sharon Y. Eubanks, said ... she was leaving voluntarily to explore work as a lawyer in the private sector or elsewhere and that she had enjoyed her 22 years at the Justice Department. But Ms. Eubanks acknowledged the clashes with supervisors at the Justice Department, including Robert McCallum, associate attorney general; Peter Keisler, the head of the civil division; and Dan Meron, Mr. Keisler's deputy," writes the Times' Eric Lichtblau. (Read more)

Eubanks told Lichtblau, "I didn't feel like I had the support at all times of the political team." Justice Department officials declined comment , citing the privacy of personnel matters. Eubanks was at the center of a political dispute when she objected to a decision to reduce the penalties they were seeking by $120 billion. For The Washington Post version, by Carol D. Leonnig, click here.

Nurses plan Dec. 12 strike at Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals

Registered nurses at nine Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals in West Virginia and Kentucky say they will strike in December claiming the nonprofit health system reneged on agreement allowing modified work-week schedules.

Bill Riggs, the Kentucky Nurses Association's labor relations director, says nurses work three 12-hour shifts with no overtime and receive 40 hours pay under the modified schedules at hospitals in Beckley and Summers County, W.Va. and seven Eastern Kentucky hospitals. The contract, signed a year ago, extends to 2007, reports Bev Davis, senior editor of the Beckley Register-Herald.

Riggs told reporters ARH said it will end the modified schedules for many registered nurses on Dec. 12. Riggs said, "They signed an agreement with ARH and have built their schedules around that contract."

ARH, headquartered in Hazard, Ky., said, "Management has ... found a substantial amount of non-productive time provided by the modified schedule drains financial resources that could be utilized to provide system improvements in patient care," ARH began in 1956 as the Miners Memorial Hospital Association, which was created by the United Mine Workers to provide health care in the Kentucky and West Virginia coalfields. (Read more)


Newswise unveils online resources for feature and breaking-news stories

Newswise, a comprehensive database of current news, archives, and subscription wire services, reports that it has created two new online tools for reporters -- one for journalists writing about major breaking news events, and another for feature reporters.

The news service says the “Breaking News Channels” and “Feature Channels,” are available on its Channels page at http://www.newswise.com/channels. Newswise said feature reporters can review a large number of ideas that will enhance their reporting on trends and human-interest stories. Offerings from knowledge-based institutions grouped in a thematic way will open access to feature writers.

Roger Johnson, president and founder of Newswise, said, "Journalists can tap into these channels to find both the inspiration for and the necessary materials to create their own unique stories. Both of these novel tools will enable reporters’ to find and use information from sources in creative ways."

In addition, Newswise will have four groups of more general feature ideas within science, medicine, lifestyle, and business. Newswise says its expansion goes beyond news research to "using online technology to help journalists respond quickly, creatively, thoughtfully, and comprehensively to culture-changing events and trends," they write. (Read more)

NPR podcasts topping charts, rewriting business model, reports online mag

National Public Radio, reacting to member-station demands, has begun podcasting its major stories.

"The public spoke, and NPR listened, launching podcasts on Aug. 31. According to Maria Thomas, vice president and general manager of NPR Online, it took only six days after launch for NPR's "Story of the Day" podcast to reach the coveted No. 1 spot on iTunes for most downloaded podcast. On Nov. 21, NPR's podcasts held down 11 spots on the iTunes Top 100, more than any other media outlet, "writes Mark Glaser of Online Journalism Review.

NPR has also is hosting podcasts for member stations, and selling and splitting underwriting revenues with them. And, it's launched three original podcasts under the new alt.NPR brand as an incubator for edgier content, writes Glaser. Thomas told Glaser there were two driving forces for NPR: listener demand for portable audio and the chance to find a new business model for working with stations.

Glaser notes that Podcasting gave NPR a new model for selling underwriting, and sharing the proceeds with stations. (Read more)

Truthdig, 'anti-blog' news site, launched to sort out the facts online

A communications professor and former editor of an online magazine has joined with a reporter-entrepreneur to launch an "anti-blog news site" to counter what they consider the cacophonous proliferation of blogs and the resulting glut of information much of which is barely or non-corroborated.

"The newly launched Truthdig.com [is] an online news magazine that editor-in-chief Robert Scheer described as 'anti-blog.' Scheer, a clinical professor with USC's Annenberg School for Communication and former editor of Online Journalism Review, said the current World Wide Web is a 'food-fight' and claimed 'people are suspicious of the Internet ... due to the lack of trust,' writes the OJR's Jennifer Sun.

Scheer and the site's publisher, Zuade Kaufman unveiled Truthdig this week. Scheer told Sun, "There is truth for any given subject. But you have to dig for it." Scheer described his position as editor as "turning strong writers to dig leaders, but controlling the direction of the digs." (Read more)

Seigenthaler says false Wikipedia biography is example of online vandalism

For 132 days, the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia said this about a prominent journalist: "John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."

As you might guess, Seigenthaler is hopping mad. "At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong," the former editor of The Tennesseean and editorial director of USA Today wrote in the national newspaper this week.

"I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about 'the wonderful world of Wikipedia,' where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference 'facts' composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice," he wrote. "At my request, executives of the three Web sites now have removed the false content about me. But they don't know, and can't find out, who wrote the toxic sentences. . . . Naturally, I want to unmask my 'biographer.' And, I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool."

Seigenthaler concluded, "And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them. . . . Unlike print and broadcast companies, online service providers cannot be sued for disseminating defamatory attacks on citizens posted by others. Recent low-profile court decisions document that Congress effectively has barred defamation in cyberspace."

Rural Calendar

Dec. 4: Fields of Plenty author to appear at Kentucky family farm meet

Writer, photographer and farmer Michael Ableman, widely known for his work in sustainable agriculture, will be the featured guest at the Partners for Family Farms' statewide gathering Dec. 4. at Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky.

The event, from 4 to 6 p.m., is open to the public. It is sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Brown-Forman/Woodford Reserve and radio station WUKY, writes Terry McLean of the U. K. College of Agriculture Communications Department.

Tickets are $25 for members of Partners for Family Farms and $45 for nonmembers. All ticket purchases are tax-deductible. Nonmember tickets include 2006 membership in PFF, a private, nonprofit organization
dedicated to sustaining farm life and farm land. To reserve tickets, call (859) 233-3056 or write P.O. Box 22259, Lexington, Ky., 40522. (Read more)

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

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



Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunications

122 Grehan Journalism Building, Lexington KY 40506-0042

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

Questions about the Web site? Contact Al Cross, director, al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: Dec. 22, 2005