The Rural Blog Archive: Februrary 2007

This Web log of rural issues, trends and events is regular reading for hundreds of journalists who cover rural issues and need story ideas, sources, comparisons and inspiration. Rural journalism is important because 21 percent of Americans, some 62 million people, live in rural areas. Let us know what items are helpful, and send stories, links and suggestions, to al.cross@uky.edu. Use of items from The Rural Blog by news outlets is encouraged and 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, let us know.

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007

Toyota picks Tupelo; regional approach, pushed by publisher, is credited

Toyota Motor Corp. will build a $1.3 billion assembly plant 10 miles northwest of Tupelo, Miss., officials announced yesterday. It was big news for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, which by our count is America's largest rural newspaper, with a circulation of 35,000. The plant may make the area metropolitan.

The factory "likely will forever change the landscape of the region" when it begins production in 2010, Business Editor Dennis Seid writes for the Journal. "The plant, which will build Highlander sports utility vehicles, will employ some 2,000 workers by the time production starts. Another 2,000 construction jobs will be created to build the facility, and several thousand related jobs are expected. The $1.3 billion investment by Toyota doesn't include the state incentive package worth about $296 million, less than the $363 million package offered to Nissan seven years ago." (Read more) Nissan's plant is near Jackson.

The Journal has three other stories today: A backgrounder by Seid says Toyota picked Tupelo over Marion, Ark., and Chattanooga "not because of money, but because of the area's people. And most important was how well everyone worked together to bring the project to fruition." (Read more) A story by Leesha Faulkner credits the regional approach taken by Tupelo and Lee County. "The actual property is located in Union County, but Pontotoc and Lee counties will share in the profits," she reports. (Read more) And Emily Le Coz says hiring for the plant won't begin until mid-2008: "Pay can climb as high as $20 per hour with very generous benefits packages." (Read more)

The Journal doesn't say it, but the newspaper can probably take some credit, too. It is owned by the Create Foundation, created by the late George McLean, right, a visionary publisher who helped bring the area into the economic mainstream in the mid-20th Century. The paper alludes to its history in an editorial, calling the coming of Toyota "a transformative opportunity -- the long-sought next day of a new manufacturing level, building on the internationally noted success of the Community Development Foundation, started in 1948." (Read more)

McLean pushed a regional approach, now favored by experts in rural economic development, and extended the paper's circulation area. His foundation serves 16 counties and is to be "a catalyst for positive change in Northeast Mississippi by committing its resources to projects that will improve the quality of life for all citizens of Northeast Mississippi," says the paper's Web site, which includes McLean's operating philosophy:

"The Journal is one of the important agencies in the development of this community.  It does not seek to do this work by itself or for its own glory but it has a vital role to play in cooperation with all other institutions in this area.  The Journal consciously strives to be a good player on a strong community team. The Journal has the special responsibility of providing news and advertising messages as well as editorially expressing the honest convictions of its Editor and Publisher without fear or favor.  It has always endorsed the slogan adopted many years ago by its founder, "Be Just, Fear Not.'' The statement goes on at length, but it is inspiring reading. (Read more) For the foundation's Web site, click here.

‘Food deserts’ lead to insufficient nutrition for rural residents

As young families move away from rural areas, the number of rural grocers dwindles, leaving an older, poorer and less educated population without easy access to fresh food, according to a report in Rural Realities, the quarterly of the Rural Sociological Society. Areas with low access to large groceries are called “food deserts,” 98 percent of which are located outside metropolitan areas. Sparseness of these stores may be contributed to by superstores such as Wal-Mart, that shut down smaller groceries within a wide radius, report Lois Morton and Troy Blanchard in the fourth issue of Rural Realities, not yet online.

“Food deserts” are defined as any area in which all residents much drive 10 miles of more to reach a large grocery store, defined as one with at least 50 employees. “The largest concentrations of low-access counties are in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions of the country,” write Morton and Blanchard. “Low access is also prevalent in select areas of the Deep South and in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and West Virginia. All told, 803 counties are low access areas in the United States.”

The study found that food deserts are more likely to have higher poverty rates and lower median incomes, and people who are older, isoloated or lack a high school education or GED. Morton and Blanchard say many such residents did not get enough fruits and vegetables or dairy and protein. These areas tend to have more small grocery stores and convenience stores per capita but many of these stores do not have much variety and do not sell a lot of healthy food.

Rural residents should shop locally and connect to local food, say Morton and Blanchard. “The Independent Grocers Association and other organizations can play a larger role in both innovating and advocating for reasonable wholesale prices and distribution networks and other essentials for viable local grocers located in low-income areas.” Small towns must support economic development and revitalize their downtowns to support local grocers. They also say programs to feed children, the elderly and the poor should be instated to ensure proper nutrition.

Pay and incentives increase as miners worldwide come into demand

“From the pits of Australia to the coal fields of Wyoming, mining companies . . . are hunting for people to address a dire shortage of workers,” reports The New York Times. “A decade ago, with prices slumping, the sense of mining as a sunset industry left it with a work force with a lot of gray hair under its hardhats. But these days the industry is struggling to meet rapidly growing global demand for iron, copper and other essential commodities.”

“Skills shortages have become a common feature of the global economy, particularly in aging countries,” write Wayne Arnold and Heather Timmons. “Nurses are scarce; engineers, too. What makes the mining industry’s shortages so severe is that the commodities boom caught it more or less by surprise… As commodity prices languished, students pursued better-paying careers elsewhere. Mining schools shrank. The average age of a production worker in mining crept up to 50.” However, growing countries with booming populations such as China and India have driven up demand for ore and other commodities.

“Mining recruiters say industry salaries have climbed 20 percent in the last two years,” the Times says. “Yet mines are so short of workers that projects are being delayed as production costs rise.” Need for skilled workers to run mining equipment has exacerbated the problem. Mining companies are offering scholarships to recruit employees. More women have entered mining, attracted by bigger pay, and guest workers are brought in on temporary visas. In Australia, miners who might be reluctant to live on remote sites in harsh weather work alternating weeks and are flown back and forth to their families at home. (Read more)

Kansans not sure what to think of new Farm Bill; what about your state?

Here's a story most rural newspapers should do when a congressman or senator is nearby: What do they think of the Bush administration's proposed Farm Bill? Business Week has a story from Kansas:

"Lawmakers and farm groups have questions about Bush's plan to reduce agriculture spending overall, cut subsidies for producers earning more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income and make it more expensive for farmers to buy crop insurance," Sam Hananel writes. "Yet the state stands to benefit from some aspects of the proposal. The White House's blueprint would boost conservation funding, promote renewable fuels and provide money to upgrade the quality of rural hospitals -- key issues for Kansas farmers."

And key issues for farmers and their rural neighbors. The Farm Bill is about a lot more than farming, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and his lieutenants are focusing more than ever on the legislation's rural-development aspects. Rural journalists should, too, because federal programs can be important to the health of rural people and economies. To read the Business Week story, click here.

House Dems to review telecom, including broadband, net neutrality

House Democrats will be taking a look at telecommunications and media policies, including several oversight hearings and planning new legislation. “Fostering high-speed Internet deployment, ensuring an open and accessible Internet, and overhauling the federal universal service program that subsidizes telecom connections in rural and impoverished areas are among the key issues to be addressed,” reports National Journal’s Insider Update. “The competitiveness of the video, telephone and radio marketplaces also will be explored, along with protecting the privacy of phone records and promoting efficient use of spectrum.”

“[There] won't be a stand-alone net neutrality bill, and that's a good thing because it won't pass,” Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a watchdog group which supports the concept told David Hatch of Insider Update. “Observers said net neutrality might be added to a broader bill or to various related measures, such as privacy or antitrust vehicles,” writes Hatch. “They cautioned that, given the controversy surrounding the issue, Democrats would move slowly.”

House Democrats will examine several Federal Communications Commission policies, including media-ownership limits and investigating allegations that the National Security Agency conducted surveillance of phone records without warrants, as well as a FCC decision to relax video-franchising guidelines, reports Hatch. The Democrats' agenda calling for “universal, affordable broadband access within five years” will be part of the upcoming telecom legislation. “The Bush administration has pledged to achieve that goal by the end of 2007, but critics say they are not on track.” (Read more)

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007

High-school basketball bosses keep papers from selling unprinted pics

With high-school basketball tournaments in full swing in most states, some state athletic associations are denying media credentials to newspapers that refuse to accept a new or relatively new policy -- the papers may not sell photographs that are published on their Web sites but not in the printed product.

In Louisiana last night, "Several newspapers, including The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, were denied access to photograph the state girls high school basketball championships" after their papers refused "to sign a form allowing only photographs published on newsprint to be sold." (Read more)

The policy has been adopted in several other states, including Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, according to the Bulletin of the Iowa Newspaper Association. Milwaukee-based Visual Image Photography is a contractor for the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. VIP President Tom Hayes told Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "If anybody is at a game and can post pictures and sell them, that would hurt our sales and therefore hurt our revenue source." (Read more)

INA Executive Director Bill Monroe wrote in the Bulletin, "IHSAA entered into its contract with VIP two years ago not fully understanding how it would affect the very media which help make IHSAA events successful." Monroe acknowledged that the IHSAA is not a government agency and had obligations under the contract, but should "take whatever steps necessary to maintain the positive working relationship they have enjoyed up to now with the newspapers of Iowa." The Iowa groups plan to meet on the issue.

UPDATE, Feb. 28: The Louisiana High School Athletic Association rescinded its policy Tuesday night. At halftime of the second evening game of the state girls' basketball tournament, LHSAA Commissioner Tommy Henry said the group will give photographers a flier reminding them that it has an exclusive contract with a photography firm to sell pictures on the Internet, "and Henry said he hoped news organizations would honor that agreement," reports Pierce Huff of The Times-Picayune. (Read more)

Iowa newspaper prompts broad, lively discussion with immigration summit

When Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents detained more than 1,000 workers at meat packing plants in the Midwest in December, including nearly 100 at Swift & Co.'s plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, the local daily Times-Republican, circulation 10,500, called for an "immigration summit . . . to spark a national dialogue on the issue, and give elected officials a chance to understand what the issues are at the grassroots level in order to formulate policy in Washington that better addresses the needs and concerns of the country." The summit was held yesterday, starting with remarks by U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, shown at left with Mayor Gene Beach in photo by the T-R's Ken Black. Here are excerpts from the Times-Republican's staff report:

Marcy Forman, ICE's investigative director, joined the first session via telephone. "She was unable to attend because the weekend storm interfered with her travel plans. The panelists, which also included U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and Marshall County Sheriff Ted Kamatchus, informed the crowd about issues relating to enforcing immigration law. Several times, a call for cooperation between law enforcement and the immigrant community was mentioned as a key toward a better relationship."

"In the second session of the day, local education representatives talked about how recent immigrants have impacted the schools in Marshalltown, and how the population has resulted in opportunities and challenges for students and teachers. . . . Panel members were not the only participants getting attention Monday morning. Two individuals were escorted out of the building by the police for repeatedly violating the rules of the summit during the 10:45 a.m. session. Mayor Gene Beach, who moderated the event, had asked the members of the audience in question numerous times to refrain from blurting out responses."

The third session was on employers' rights and responsibilities. A local hospital spokeswoman "said the existing immigration and work visa laws handcuff hospitals’ abilities to adequately staff their medical teams. She said Iowa is chronically in want of doctors, but because each state receives permission from the federal government to bring in 30 doctors or specialists, those 30 visas are scooped up immediately, still leaving the state short of its need." All the panelists agreed "Iowa is going to be losing much of its work force in the coming years, making it imperative that the country accept and train and keep workers, regardless of how it happens. Each emphasized the importance of congressional action in enacting change."

The final sessions dealt with individual rights and responsibilities, and overall immigration policy. To read the Times-Republican's full report, click here.

Five Western governors agree to cut emissions of greenhouse gases

The governors of California, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington "agreed yesterday on a plan to cut their states' emissions of gases linked to global warming and to establish a regional carbon-trading system, though they stopped short of saying how drastically they will seek to reduce greenhouse gases," reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

The chief executives, all Democrats except Arnold Schwarzenegger, "said that within six months they will set a regional target for lower emissions," Eilperin writes. "A year after that, they pledged, they will devise a regional cap-and-trade system allowing polluters to buy and sell greenhouse gas pollution credits. . . . It remained unclear how much the five states will cut their carbon dioxide emissions and how soon."

Nevertheless, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said, "In the absence of meaningful federal action, it is up to the states to take action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Western states are being particularly hard hit by the effects of climate change." (Read more)

Disappearance of bees threatens production of fruits, nuts, vegetables

In 24 states all over the country, "Bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation’s most profitable," reports Alexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times. (Photo: bee in almond tree by Ann Johnannson for NYT)

"The sudden mysterious losses are highlighting the critical link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the country," Barrionuevo writes. "Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction." It is called "colony collapse disorder," and it's a big deal.

Cornell University estimates that more than $14 billion worth of U.S. seeds and crops, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts, are pollinated by honeybees each year. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, told Barrionuevo, who reports: "The bee losses are ranging from 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70 percent; beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20 percent in the offseason to be normal."

The Times story has much more on the bee industry and possible causes for the disorder. (Read more)

Delta Regional Authority proposes highway system a la Appalachia

The Delta Regional Authority proposed yesterday "an ambitious $18.5 billion transportation plan" to improve 3,843 miles of roads, most of them now two lanes, reports Bartholomew Sullivan of The Commercial Appeal. The officially designated eight-state region, reaches as far noth as Interstate 64 in Southern Illinois and includes two seperate parts of Alabama, the easternmost of which borders Georgia.

The Delta Developmental Highway System was drafted with highway officials in the Delta states and was modeled after the system funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission, which likewise provided the model for the Delta authority, which Congress established five years ago.

"This is the first comprehensive DRA plan for transportation, and was drawn up over 18 months with private consultants at a cost of $140,000. Selection of a team to draw up a multi-modal plan for rail and river traffic will be made April 18," Sullivan reports from the Memphis newspaper's Washington bureau. DRA Federal Co-Chairman Rex Nelson of Little Rock said he expected that the plan would be financed through normal highway appropriations bills.

The plan does not include the proposed southerly extension of Interstate 69, which would enter the region at Henderson, Ky., and exit it near Junction City, Ark. But I-69 is the most prominent road on a map of the system, which is available by clicking here. For a Lexington Herald-Leader story on it, click here.

Monday, Feb. 26, 2007

Weekly papers' postal rates going up 25% less than Postal Service asked

Weekly newspapers that depend on in-county mail delivery got "some good news and some warnings of trouble" today from the commission that recommends postal rates, reports the National Newspaper Association, the principal organization for weekly publishers.

The Postal Regulatory Commission reduced the U.S. Postal Service's rate-increase request for in-county mail to 18.3 percent, from 24.4 percent, and "denied the USPS request to charge mailers 85 cents for mail bundles entered at a local post office without a container, and denied that charge for tubs of
periodicals mail," reports NNA, which is lobbying hard on postal issues. "The Commission noted NNA's complaints about service quality, commending the testimony of Gary Sosniecki, publisher of the Vandalia (Mo.) Leader, on the extraordinary work required of publishers to obtain acceptable local service."

The commission also recommended a 7 percent increase for the class of mail "most used by newspapers for shoppers and total-market-coverage publications," rather than 9 percent, NNA reports. "The new rates are expected to go into effect in early May. However, the USPS governors have the next action on accepting or rejecting the recommendation. They also set the timing of the new rates."

Tonda F. Rush, NNA's chief lobbyist, said, "The decision also contains some critical signposts for NNA in dealing with the rates of the future. Overall, the commission seems sensitive to our challenges, and it is attempting to give us some rate relief as we cope with the Postal Service's rising costs. Our one major concern remains unresolved: the Postal Service's data about our mail are unreliable, and the Commission
has not given USPS the incentive to improve its measurements."

Texas utility buyers cut plans for coal plants, court environmental groups

Under a buyout by a group of private equity firms, TXU Corp., a huge Texas utility, will abandon eight of 11 planned coal-fired power plants and " cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions," reports the Dallas Morning News. The plans include a goal of reducing the company’s carbon-dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and expansion into renewable energy, reports The New York Times. Environmental groups critical of TXU were invited to the negotiations for the buyout by the purchasers, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and the Texas Pacific Group.

“David Hawkins, who runs the climate-change program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the investment team was essentially asking ‘what would it take’ to gain environmentalists’ support,” write Felicity Barringer and Andrew Sorkin of the Times. Environmental Defense had led an advertising campaign against TXU, depicting it as an environmental criminal that would hurt even its own profits if federal policy changed and companies were charged for carbon dioxide emissions. ED's James Marston called the deal“a turning point in the fight against global warming.”

The coal-plant plan "outraged environmentalists, politicians, business leaders and even Southern Baptists," and "became a symbol of global warming nationally, as Congress debates whether to place limits on greenhouse gas emissions," writes Elizabeth Souder of the Dallas newspaper. (Read more)

“The commitments come at a time of uncertainty for utilities that are considering building coal-fired plants,” write Barringer and Sorkin. “They do not know if such plants will be grandfathered by Congress and excluded from future restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions, or whether anything they build now will have to operate in a starkly different regulatory environment.” (Read more)

Secluded rural homes in Maine popular with indoor marijuana growers

In rural Maine there is a growing trend of marijuana cultivated with hydroponics inside of “shell” homes, meant to look like normal houses from the outside. The drugs are typically sold in more urban areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut or New York, reports Noel Gallagher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

“The innocuous rural locations allow growers to produce year-round crops and operate sophisticated cultivating operations that are difficult for neighbors or police to detect,” writes Gallagher. “These operations are a far cry from the old practice of finding a remote stretch of public land, planting a lot of seedlings and letting Mother Nature do most of the work until harvest time.”

These operations are particularly on the rise in rural areas with a shortage of police. “Criminals also take advantage of cheaper real estate and the privacy that comes with a remote location,” writes Gallagher. “Another benefit is the quality of the product. Investigators say the carefully tended indoor plants have a higher level of the active ingredient in marijuana, so growers can sell for a higher price.” (Read more)

Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007

Journal-Constitution’s circulation cuts leave Georgia with no ‘state paper’

Last week's announcement by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it would no longer circulate in the rural, southern half of Georgia prompted a story in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor -- informed in part by The Rural Blog and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

"Following a trend at regional newspapers from Louisville, Ky., to Dallas, the AJC, which once proclaimed it 'Covers Dixie like the Dew,' is the latest newspaper to retrench," reported Patrik Jonsson, a Monitor reporter based in Atlanta. "The paper decided last week to cut its circulation area in half, abandoning some 70 counties in Georgia and surrounding states to focus on Atlanta's metro area. Though it didn't have any rural bureaus to close, media analysts say circulation often dictates news coverage."

Jonsson added, "Behind the move are advertisers who are demanding more results and better bargains and who see little value in paying to reach rural subscribers who are unlikely to shop in Atlanta." Many rural subscribers may continue to read the AJC online, but its leadership role will be diminished, the Monitor was told by Roy Moore, a journalism professor and associate vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, where the AJC's investigation of a state hospital won it a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 -- and where the paper will no longer be available.

"Newspapers in the past have been community leaders, not just influencing opinion but helping to create changes in attitudes among readers – civil rights being a good example of that. But that's much more difficult to do online, because you still have that obligation to the community that doesn't translate as well to having a website, which is more like a news source than a newspaper," said Moore, who helped start the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues when he was at the University of Kentucky and remains on its steering committee. (Read more)

What is happening in Georgia mirrors what happened earlier in Kentucky, Nebraska and Iowa, where newspapers based in the states' largest cities no longer circulate statewide. We think the loss of a "state newspaper," leaving a state divided among media provinces, is not good for public discourse in a federal republic where the states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy. And as Moore reminds us, it remains to be seen whether remote, online audiences can have political impact at the state level.

The AJC's move has broader implications. "Critics voice concerns about whether authoritative regional newspapers like the AJC can maintain their stature and quality with cuts to staff and papers no longer thudding on porches." Buzz Merritt, former editor of the Wichita Eagle, told the Monitor, "During this terrible period of turmoil in the business and the profession, the trick is whether we can learn how to migrate newspaper journalism onto the new platforms before journalism dies."

Rural editor shares with readers a decision not to humiliate an ill thief

“Is humiliating people the job of a local newspaper?” That's the headline Jeremy Condliffe put on his editorial this week in the Congleton Chronicle, in a rural town in England, about his decision to keep out of the paper the name of a person arrested for stealing £600 (about $1,000) from a charity.

“The volunteer was suffering from cancer at the time and blamed the stress of that. The police were called in, and though the volunteer was arrested and appeared in court, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed,” Condliffe wrote, noting that the money had been repaid and the thief was ill and had no prior convictions. “The charity was upset at this because the volunteer had stolen community money and because it felt the volunteer has milked the illness to get off lightly. The charity wanted us to report the story to "name and shame" the volunteer, so people would know what this person was capable of.”

The thief wouldn't talk to the Chronicle, saying that a defense solicitor had advised that the case would not be publicized. “The solicitor is wrong, at least on legal grounds. The ethics of printing the story are a different matter, however,” Condliffe wrote. “The volunteer clearly has extenuating circumstances — which the charity does not believe — and no "previous". A cynic could well suggest that if you steal once, you’ve got or had your sticky little fingers in other places too — and some at the charity might well believe this — but we have no evidence that this is happening and the volunteer has not been caught stealing before. I decided that it is not the role of the Press to punish and humiliate when others have in turn decided that this is not the just course.”

Condliffe noted that he asked American colleagues (members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors) for advice on deadline, and “The responses were very much in favour of not printing the story.” He published many examples of advice, then followed our suggestion that he keep the name out of the paper but write a column about the case. In doing that, he practiced transparency and accountability.

“We hope readers will write in with their views — or at least have a think about whether newspapers are utterly heartless, as popular belief often has it,” Condliffe wrote. “If you’re the thief, what do you think? Was it an out of character action? You can write in anonymously. Or do you know the thief, know more than we do? Has the Chronicle let someone off the hook? Most important of all: Have we made the right decision?” Click here to read the editorial. The Chronicle's Web site says it is “one of the few independent, family owned papers in the country.” Condliffe succeeded his late father as chairman in 2005.

COMMENTS: Former newspaper editor Tim Marema writes, "Newspaper editors should start with a policy, as much as possible, to determine when they will or won’t print a name. That gives the newspaper a reasonable point at which to start the discussion with the community about what the newspaper does and why it does it.  And it keeps the newspaper from serving the role of judge as well as messenger. In the absence of adhering to such a policy, the editor’s column is much better than nothing. But readers of the Congleton Chronicle can legitimately wonder whether they are getting good information on any topic from their newspaper. In protecting the thief from “humiliation,” one might argue that it’s the newspaper that turns out being red-faced."

Maryland's few tobacco holdouts switch to burley, a leaf in high demand

The state of Maryland offered a buyout to its tobacco growers seven years ago, four years before the federal government did likewise and ended its program of production quotas and price supports. Only about 100 growers remain in Southern Maryland, not enough to hold an auction, but they have adapted by growing under contract for Philip Morris Cos. a different type of tobacco -- burley, most common in Kentucky.

"Burley is in high demand," reports Philip Rucker of The Washington Post. "It makes up about one-third of the blends for all domestic cigarettes, said Pam Haver, a spokeswoman for the Philip Morris buying station. U.S. manufacturers like using burley because of its strong taste and smoking characteristics. . . . The harvesting procedures are the same as for Maryland tobacco: . . . Around late summer, the leaves turn yellow. Then farmers cut the stalks and hang them upside down on sticks from the rafters of their barns."

"With the advent of the buyout, the major companies saw a possible breakthrough where they could get some burley grown in Maryland," Gilbert "Buddy" Bowling Sr., who owns the warehouse where auctions were held, told the Post. Some farmers told reporter Rucker that contracting with Philip Morris is easier, because without federal price supports, auction prices were unpredictable. (Read more)

A prairie dog's life: Lust, kidnapping, cannibalism erode warm, fuzzy image

"Prairie dogs occupy perhaps 5 percent of their former territory, the result of massive extermination campaigns on the Great Plains," writes David Farenthold of The Washington Post. Still, "They remain perhaps the most hated rodent in the West, because ranchers fear that prairie dogs' colonies will eat pastures bare. The dogs are killed by the thousands with poisoned oats, long-range rifles and new technology such as the 'Rodenator' -- which blasts their burrows with a propane-fueled explosion." (Photo from The Washington Post)

To defend the dogs, environmentalists are citing research indicating that they "reproduce more slowly than other rodents, such as rabbits and rats," the Post reports. But they do that in part by eating each other's young, and there are lots of other not-so-warm-and-fuzzy fundings in the research: "Promiscuity, kidnapping, pedophilia, murder, infanticide," says University of Maryland professor John Hoogland -- who still likes them after 34 years of studying their habits during months-long sojourns to the West.

Prairie-dog colonies are called towns. Farenthold writes, "These towns can make Melrose Place look like Sesame Street." Hoogland told him, "Studying prairie dogs is like watching little people. Whatever we do, they do as well, and usually more often." (Read more)

Rural Virginia legislator, aide, writer look back on an era of great change

When he was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1981, Virginia state Sen. Charles Hawkins of Chatham was "one of the few Republicans in a legislative body dominated by southern Democrats," and rural interests held great away in the legislature, writes Mason Adams of The Roanoke Times. Now Republicans and the state's urban areas hold power, "But some things remain the same. Hawkins still speaks for the rural regions of Virginia," and so does his longtime aide, Mary Catherine Plaster.

At the end of the legislative session, Adams offers readers a double profile of a pair who may retire soon. "When and if that happens, there's little doubt that Plaster -- who has spent her life outside the General Assembly doing everything from tombstone inscriptions to receiving alumni for Atlanta's Emory University -- will find plenty to do to occupy her time. But Richmond will be poorer for its loss." That's an opinionated observation that some might find objectionable in a news story, but Adams supports it with reporting on the unusual and perhaps unique pair, including this telling comment from lobbyist Carthan Currin about Plaster: "She has an incredible capacity to see through someone who's trying to use Charles, as opposed to trying to help him. For Charles she's a wonderful reality check of human nature."

Adams writes, "Plaster tells a story of a bill that would have made lots of small changes to counties' land-use and zoning ordinances. It was the kind of bill, she said, that is 'frightening for rural Virginia. Charles stood up and asked them if that was the same message the Indians received about land use from the settlers in Jamestown. Everyone laughed, but the bill was defeated.' But where once Hawkins was but one voice in a chorus speaking for rural residents, he has become more and more of an anomaly as urban regions such as Northern Virginia and Tidewater have increased in population and number of representatives."

"I think there's a feeling we hear that rural Virginia isn't being considered anymore," Plaster told Adams. Hawkins added, "The problems facing rural Virginia become more acute because there are fewer of us here to hold the line." Hawkins is chairman of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which is spending part of the money from the national tobacco settlement to help tobacco-growing areas adjust. (Read more)

Farm wives supplement family income; 80 percent comes from off farm

Throughout the Midwest, women are supplementing their families’ agricultural incomes by taking off-farm jobs. “In an industry where income relies on unpredictable weather, harvest seasons and competing larger farms, a second paycheck can mean the difference between thriving and just surviving,” reports Reuters.

For farm families, 80 percent of their income comes from off-farm employment, estimates the American Farm Bureau Federation, and women work off the farm more often than men, writes Dianna Heitz. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Family Farm Report, their extra income averages about $30,000 per year.

Judith Wittner, a sociology professor at Loyola University Chicago, said competition from commercial farming has driven members farming families to enter the workforce. “Family farms have all but disappeared in this country, and farmers have been reduced to working for pay on their former land or working in available wage labor jobs in the area,” Wittner told Reuters. “This is especially true of women, who take work in factories and offices to make ends meet when farm incomes decline or disappear.” (Read more)

Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

Bush tours N.C. lab producing enzymes to make cellulosic ethanol

President Bush promoted the development of ethanol from cellulose by visiting a research facility in Franklinton, N.C., yesterday. "For Bush, it was another step in his tour across the country to pitch the priorities he outlined in his State of the Union address in January," writes Barbara Barrett, Washington correspondent for the Raleigh News & Observer.

"But for Franklinton, the visit was a big deal indeed. The company's CEO flew over from Denmark. The town's mayor was there, along with county commissioners. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem and state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler showed up. Signs around town welcomed the president, and a quartet of children on a nearby road manned a candy stand, hoping Bush might stop by for a $1 Snickers. Alas, he arrived by helicopter."

But he had fun inside. "I quit drinking in '86," he said on a "tour of what is, essentially, a giant fermentation operation with the faint aroma of a brewery," Barrett writes. "He would mention the date twice more." (Read more) Official photo

At Novozymes North America, which has developed enzymes that it says will greatly reduce the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol from made from wood chips, grass and agricultural waste, Bush called for the diversification of energy sources and change from the “old, old ways.” He called for the production of ethanol made from materials besides corn, partly because of the strain put on livestock producers because of high grain prices. Click here for a White House press release and fact sheet on cellulosic ethanol.

Matrix from corn cobs houses methane, making it feasible fuel for cars

Carbon briquettes created from corn cobs can be used to store high-density methane gas and could spur another alternative to gasoline. “The methane storage system is slim enough that it could replace gasoline tanks in cars and encourage mass-market natural gas automobiles. Methane is an abundant fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline,” writes Tenille Bonoguore of the Globe and Mail in Toronto.

The technology, which stores gas within tiny, complex nanopores, was created by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City. The researchers say that Missouri alone could supply enough corn cobs per year to run 10 million cars. “The technology is already being used in a pickup truck used regularly by the Kansas City Office of Environmental Quality, and principal project leader Peter Pfeifer says the breakthrough could revolutionize vehicle design.” (Read more)

Kentucky panel passes watered-down mine safety bill, angers sponsor

What a difference a year makes. A year ago, after some of the worst coal-mine disasters in recent years, Kentucky passed wide-ranging legislation aimed at making mines safer. Yesterday, a bill to make regulation stronger was watered down in committee, angering advocates, though a provision requiring more inspections was retained, reports R.G. Dunlop of The Courier-Journal.

Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a former coal miner, drafted the changes. She "said the bill needed to be revised for several reasons, including to remove provisions that would have cost the state money or that federal law rendered unnecessary,” writes Dunlop. The sponsor of the bill was not consulted. Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said his bill was “hijacked.” Update: Yonts said Friday that he would let the bill die.

A provision that would require eight hours of annual retraining for mine foremen was reduced to six hours, and instead of equipping all miners working underground with methane detectors, the substitute calls for detectors to be provided “to each group” of underground miners or miners working alone. The plan to bar use of conveyor-belt tunnels for ventilation was removed. “Belt-air” can contain toxins and coal dust and may help fuel fires. A proposal for mine ventilation fans to be running at all times was changed to only require them to “be in operation,” implying they could be turned off. The new bill omits a provision that would have required “an efficient means of transportation” to be available for underground miners in case of an injury or other emergency. (Read more)

COMMENT: Six members of the Mine Safety Projects Advisory Board of the Appalachian Citzens Law Center, including widows of some miners who died in the last two years, published an op-ed piece in The Courier-Journal criticizing Webb on Tuesday, Feb. 27. "In her personal commentary aired last year on National Public Radio after the Sago mine disaster, [she] repeatedly referred to coal miners as her brothers. Her gutting of the mine safety bill last week was no way to treat family." (Read more)

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007

N.H. ag chief hopes ethanol frees up subsidies from corn, helps other crops

Although not the land of corn and switchgrass, the Northeast may be able to benefit indirectly from Midwest prosperity brought on by ethanol. If the Corn Belt doesn’t need as many subsidies, the money can go elsewhere, says New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor in his Weekly Market Bulletin.

“Anyone here in New Hampshire who has been feeding a dairy herd or other livestock this winter has been feeling the shock of soaring grain bills induced by the ethanol craze,” writes Taylor. “For once there may be some significant changes in federal agricultural policy that could benefit farmers here in the Northeast. Ironically, the ethanol craze may actually be the catalyst for change, and that’s because higher prices being paid to farmers for corn could reduce crop subsidy payments, in turn freeing up money for conservation practices, farmland protection, specialty crop promotion and other activities that can help our region.”

Ethanol and the Farm Bill were hot topics when the heads of state departments of agriculture met earlier this month, Taylor reports. “Several groups are currently working on proposals that specifically aim at the Northeast’s needs. At the top of the list are measures to strengthen the safety net for dairy producers.”

New site gives farmers information on markets and business channels

Kentucky is the fourth state to become part of a program that provides a Web site allows farmers and consumers to seek out local market information and agricultural business channels, reports Laura Skillman of the communications unit of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The national was developed by the University of Illinois Extension. Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois are other states using it. “Called MarketMaker, the system features a mapping function and census data on locales and will enable buyers and sellers of food products to find each other quicker and easier,” said the release. “Sellers can use this interactive tool to identify potential markets and find processors and other businesses they need to profitably move their products to the market. Access to the Web site is free.”

Users can search for markets by household type, education, foreign born residents, race and income. Different kinds of businesses, including wholesalers, food retailers and farmers markets can be searched for by city, county and state. The Kentucky program also involves, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and Allied Food Marketers.

Idaho governor slights local press, giving info to only one paper and AP

Many Idaho news providers were disregarded when Gov. Butch Otter vetoed his first bill and the only news outlets were the Idaho Statesman and the Associated Press, who were delivered copies by hand. Other journalists were told that they should get the information from AP, reports Jill Kuraitis of New West Boise. However, not all news outlets subscribe to AP, including most weekly newspapers.

“The rest of us in the press room were ignored,” writes Kuraitis. “That’s New West, the Boise Weekly, The Lewiston Tribune, the Idaho Falls Post-Register, the Twin Falls Times-News, the Idaho State Journal, Idaho Public Television, plus local stations KIVI Channel 6, KTVB Channel 7, and KBCI Channel 2.” Later, the veto was posted on the governor’s web site, but AP and the Statesman got first grabs and other journalists were left feeling snubbed.

Kuraitis told readers, “there are lots of reasons for the press corp to be mighty ticked off, but even more reasons for you to get mad. You’ve been royally insulted. Consider: How do you, personally, find out what Governor Otter is doing? Isn’t it from newspapers, TV news, and sites like NewWest.Net/Boise? You don’t call his office and ask for updates; you rely on us. And when the governor makes news – a veto definitely qualifies as news – the Statehouse press has always been told.” (Read more)

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007

New angles to story of high death rate in Iraq of troops from rural U.S.

Soon after its inception two and a half years ago, The Rural Blog began reporting on the disproportionate casualty rates in Iraq among troops from rural America, which provides s disproportionate share of military enlistments. Now the story has fresh legs, thanks to analyses by The Associated Press and newspapers. "Small towns are quietly bearing a disproportionate burden of war," reports military writer Kim Hefling.

One in five of the U.S. troops killed in Iraq have come from towns of less than 5,000, Hefling reports. "On a per capita basis, states with mostly rural populations have suffered the highest casualties in Iraq. Vermont, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Delaware, Montana, Louisiana and Oregon top the list." Hefling adds, "Many of the hometowns of the war dead aren't just small, they're poor. The AP analysis found that nearly three quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average." Click here to read the full story.

Hefling, who got her start with AP covering rural Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, including Fort Campbell, adds new angles to the story: "Death isn't the only burden the war has visited on the nation's small towns. Entrepreneurs in many small communities have lost their businesses after deploying in the Guard and Reserves, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. More federal dollars also are needed to ensure that returning troops have easy access to veterans health centers, he said.

"Another fairness issue, raised by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., is the Pentagon's practice of transporting the remains of military personnel killed in Iraq only to the nearest major airport. Stupak said it 'imposes a burden on the family and friends when they should instead receive our support.' He has introduced legislation to require the DOD to deliver the remains to the military or civilian airport chosen by the family."

The Lexington Herald-Leader did its own analysis of Kentucky deaths and found that most soldiers who died in Iraq were from poor, rural towns. “At least 53 Kentuckians have lost their lives serving in Iraq, according to the Defense Department, excluding those who died while working for private security firms or soldiers from other states based at Fort Campbell or Fort Knox,” writes Jim Warren. “Of those fatalities, almost 68 percent came from towns under 25,000 -- where 79 percent of the state's population lives. Just over 30 percent came from towns of less than 3,000.” (Read more)

Quality of news most affects profitability at smaller papers, study finds

Small to medium-size newspapers are not spending enough on their newsrooms and are spending too much on their circulation and advertising departments,says a study by researchers at the University of Missouri.

"The researchers . . . found that it is news quality that most directly affects the bottom line," reports Nicole Smith, who covers print publications for DM News, a direct-marketing service. The researchers used a formula that broke down 10-year revenue and expenditures from news, advertising and circulation departments, provided by Inland Press Association, a group of more than 900 dailies and weeklies.

The researchers were Murali Mantrala, a marketing professor, and Esther Thorson, a professor of advertising and associate dean for graduate studies at the university's School of Journalism. They collaborated with marketing doctoral students Hari Sridhar and Prasad Naik, who is now a professor at the University of California-Davis.

Thorson told Scott Jagow of the Marketplace radio program, "What happens when you reduce newsroom personnel is you reduce the diversity of content. So things like culture reviews disappear, close investigation of how local government is operating disappears. The other thing that disappears is just pure amount of content. You know, newspapers are becoming smaller, they're becoming thinner and the actual pages are being shrunk. And so as a result of that underinvestment, it loses circulation."

To read the entire interview, click here. For the university press release, click here.

Experts debate cleaner methods of burning coal as plants proliferate

Experts have cast doubt upon two methods for capturing carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning power plants, which are entering a boom at the same time most global warming is blamed on human activities.

“Within the next few years, power companies are planning to build about 150 coal plants to meet growing electricity demands. Despite expectations that global warming rules are coming, almost none of the plants will be built to capture the thousands of tons of carbon dioxide that burning coal spews into the atmosphere.” Environmentalists support a method that would gasify carbon and store it underground, while industry officials want to stick with an existing pulverized coal method, reports The New York Times.

“Retrofitting either a gasification or pulverized coal power plant is not just a matter of adding new equipment and it might be impractical, the experts say,” writes Matthew Wald. “Temperatures and pressures would be designed to be in one range for a plant that captured its carbon, and another if it merely produced electricity with minimum use of fuel. Less fuel means less carbon dioxide production. Adding carbon capture later also has implications for power supply. Early estimates are that carbon capture will require so much energy that it could reduce plant output by 10 to 30 percent. Some experts say that the best choice may vary according to the type of coal used. Coal with high moisture content may be less suitable for gasification.”

Wald adds, “Some environmentalists dispute the need for new coal plants, but unless there is very rapid progress soon in realizing energy efficiencies or developing the ability to extract and store huge amounts of wind and solar power at reasonable cost, more coal plants seem certain. Compared with cleaner fossil fuels, like natural gas and oil, coal is cheaper and more widely available. So finding a way to capture the greenhouse gases from these plants is critical. … Engineers agree that it is easier to remove sulfur, mercury, particles and other conventional pollutants from plants that use gasification. But they are more expensive to build, and the industry has little experience with their reliability.” (Read more)

Isolated rural mailboxes are an easy target for identity theft

Rural residents may be at risk for identity theft through stolen mail. “Those who investigate identity theft say that rural mailboxes are vulnerable because they are usually isolated and frequently are not visible from the box owners' homes. Thieves typically steal the mail and sign up for a credit card, having it sent to the victim's mailbox where they will pick up the card,” writes Christine Souza of AgAlert, a publication of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Detectives also investigate cases of forged stolen personal or payroll checks that have been taken from a mailbox or a business,” writes Souza. “It is not uncommon for mom-and-pop stores to cash these checks, detectives said. They are not checking to see if the business is legitimate and do not take a thumb print when the check is being cashed… To secure mail, detectives recommend that rural residents and business owners get a post office box and take the extra time to pick up mail daily. This will be a more secure way of protecting checks and personal financial information.”

“Last year, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrested more than 6,000 mail theft suspects,” writes Souza. “California is one state that the service reports is facing volume mail thefts. Nationwide the U.S. Postal Service reports that last year, more than 9.9 million people were victims of identity theft, which cost roughly $5 billion.” (Read more)

Trillin's buddy, Tom Chaney, brings first book fair to his small Ky. town

The owner of The Bookstore in Horse Cave, Ky. is holding the town's first annual book fair this weekend, and the bookstore owner is worthy of a story himself, according to a column by Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal. Bookstore owner Tom Chaney has been an English professor, newspaper editorial writer, theatrical technical director, Baptist minister and farmer, reports Crawford.

Chaney has been other things, including a friend of writer Calvin Trillin, who has used him in stories from time to time and made him the organizing character of a wonderful New Yorker piece called "Telling a Kentucky Story." Chaney can do just that, and make a point. "Books still have a place," he told Crawford. "It's hard to take a computer to the toilet."

Crawford describes the store's atmosphere: "A tenor clarinet on public radio mingled with the fragrances of old books, fresh coffee and Tom Chaney's pipe tobacco." The column also describes the diverse clientele of the bookstore: librarians, high school students, retirees, scientists, preachers and more. The first Horse Cave Book Fair will be this Friday and Saturday at 107-109 Water Street in Horse Cave. (Read more)

Horse Cave is an artsy-smartsy, surprisingly cosmopolitan rural place. It is home to the well-established Kentucky Repertory Theatre, formerly Horse Cave Theatre; Charles Williams, a lawyer turned published poet; the American Cave Museum and Hidden River Cave, for which the town was named ("horse" was a synonym for "big" in pioneer days); and Kentucky Down Under, which has both a cave and animals from Australia. And there's what we in the country used to call a hoochie-koochie show (at least the sign visible from Interstate 65 says so). Plus, Mammoth Cave National Park is nearby. Enjoy!

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007

High Country News writer wins George Polk Award for political reporting, for tracing money that financed referendums against land-use regulation

Ray Ring, Northern Rockies editor for High Country News, won the prize for political reporting in the annual George Polk Awards for revealing that a libertarian group, Americans for Limited Government, and its chairman, New York real-estate tycoon Howie Rich and his Fund for Democracy, were the chief financiers of referendum campaigns designed to scuttle land-use regulations in six Western states.

"Word spread of his report, which detailed the role of a wealthy Eastern libertarian as well as the concerns of environmentalists," the awards program said in its announcement. "The once-popular referenda were defeated by voters in three states, and the courts eliminated one and key provisions of another, with only Arizona approving the full measure.

The release identifies High Country News as "a bi-weekly news magazine founded by a rancher in Wyoming 37 years ago and now based in Paonia, Colo.," and notes that it won the Polk Award for environmental reporting in 1986. The magazine's Web site says it is "a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the best news and information on issues affecting the American West."

Click here to read Ring's story, which was published on July 24. Click here to read the release from Long Island University, which sponsors the awards in honor of George W. Polk, who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece for CBS News in 1948. The criteria are "discernment of a significant news story, resourcefulness and courage in gathering information, and skill in relating the story."

Widow's suit claims drug use rampant at coal mine where husband died

The widow of a Kentucky coal miner who bled to death after his legs were severed in a mine accident filed a lawsuit yesterday claiming "that illicit drug activity was rampant, and even condoned, at the underground mine," reports Deanna Lee-Sherman of the Harlan Daily Enterprise.

Stella Morris of Cumberland is "pushing for tougher mine-safety legislation," the Enterprise noted. Her suit says her husband, Bud Morris, could have survived with proper treatment from the emergency technician at the No. 3 mine of H&D Mining Inc. on Dec. 30, 2005. The company is out of business, but the suit also names P&P Construction Inc., from which some H&D Mining received paychecks, and Black Mountain Resources LLC, which contracted with H&D for mining. "Illegal drug activity was so heavy the other firms "should have known" about it, Tony Oppegard, one of Morris' attorneys, told the Enterprise.

Oppegard told Lee-Sherman, "We want to send a message to coal operators that you cannot knowingly allow drugs to be used in your mines and expect to escape liability if that causes an accident." Normally, workers' compensation laws insulate employers from liability for accidents.

In the federal investigation of the accident, Bud Morris and the driver of the coal hauler that hit him both tested positive for marijuana and pain killers, but the Mine Safety and Health Administration blamed the accident on a lack of visibility. "The agency also said that Morris' recovery was complicated due to a lack of proper first aid," the Enterprise noted. (Read more)

Democrats for president back net neutrality; GOP base divided on issue

Net neutrality, the idea that Internet providers should charge the same rates to posters of content on the Web, has implications for rural areas and newspapers, and could be an issue in the presidential election.

"Unlike their Republican counterparts, every major Democratic presidential candidate has endorsed net neutrality," reports Charles Babington of The Washington Post. "The move keeps them in good standing with powerful grass-roots groups, such as MoveOn.org, and costs them little in return -- perhaps a bit of space on campaign Web sites to promote a matter that comparatively few voters might explore."

Republican candidates have not endorsed net neutrality, but their base appears divided, with telecommunications companies against it and social conservatives for it. Babington reports, "The debate's partisan nature has surprised and disappointed some advocates, who note that conservative groups such as the Christian Coalition of America and the Gun Owners of America are part of the SavetheInternet coalition," which supports net neutrality. Christian Coalition spokeswoman Michele Combs told Babington, "The conservative side has not been educated on the issue." (Read more)

Supporters and opponents of net neutrality differ on what it would mean for rural areas. Supporters say it would erode the basic democracy of the Web, which allows rural people to overcome their isolation -- and sometimes their lack of money -- and make their voices heard. Opponents say it would raise the cost of expanding high-speed Internet service, or broadband, to rural areas. "A regulatory mandate like network neutrality could result in at least a six-fold relative reduction in broadband deployment in high-cost rural areas than [is found] in low-cost urban areas," according to the Phoenix Center, calls itself "independent and non-partisan." For its report on a recent study, click here.

"Most news organizations seem to be ignoring their own stakes in this matter," Amy Gahran wrote for The Poynter Institute."Without net neutrality, news organizations could be shaken down by telcos for additional fees to guarantee 'preferential delivery' of their content . . . Even though you're already paying for access and bandwidth (and so is your audience), the telcos would charge you more to guarantee that your content is not placed at a competitive disadvantage. . . . If you don't pay up, people might experience various kinds of problems accessing or downloading your online content -- especially higher-bandwidth content such as audio or video. Unfortunately, your would-be audience probably wouldn't realize the telco was responsible for the slowdown. They'd probably just think your site has problems . . . " (Read more)

Monday, Feb. 19, 2007

E. coli outbreaks exposed flaws in production of spinach and lettuce

"Last year's E. coli outbreaks -- one traced to bagged spinach and two to lettuce -- have left a nation in a salad spinner of confusion," reports Deb Kollars of The Sacramento Bee. "Unlike most edible items in the grocery store that have been cooked, baked, broiled, fried, or pasteurized to destroy harmful bacteria, fresh produce has no such 'kill point,' no moment on the assembly line when pathogens meet their doom."

The contamination of fresh produce "led to consumer fear and outrage and an unprecedented push by politicians and health leaders for more regulation of the leafy greens industry," Kollars notes. "Unlike meat, dairy and other basic food items, fresh produce is a largely unregulated corner of the nation's food supply. ... Investigations, sweeping in scope, are under way for each of the three outbreaks. Findings on the spinach probe should be released in coming weeks." (Read more)

Rural Colorado lawmaker says he's pinched by expensive trips to capital

Some rural lawmakers in Colorado are having trouble putting together enough funds to travel to and live in the state’s capitol, reports Mike Saccone of the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction: “Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, said in lieu of a pay increase, the Legislature needs to approve higher daily expense limits for lawmakers from outside of metro Denver.”

Taylor cites strict gift rules enacted by voters and “a 2006 law prohibiting lawmakers from maintaining office accounts” for the squeeze, writes Saccone. “Taylor said between the year-round meetings in his district, wearing out multiple cars and the days he spends on the road, he and other rural lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, incur hefty expenses serving the state.”

Taylor has filed a bill to raise non-Denver lawmakers’daily allowances from $99 to $149. He told a Senate committee that the bill is needed “to help non-metro lawmakers pay for second homes and make the long trips to and from the Capitol every week,” Saccone writes. “The whole idea here is to get some kind of compensation, and $99 doesn’t go very far in Denver for a day,” Taylor said after the hearing. (Read more)

Friday, Feb. 16, 2007

Rural cooperatives partner with for-profit utilities; takeover targets?

Rural electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, but may be attractive targets for those that are. “Some rural cooperatives are sitting in prime locations within a stone's throw from major metropolitan areas and within the grasp of the local investor-owned utility (IOU). And while there may be a strong argument to be made that a not-for-profit might become more efficient if it were owned by shareholders, the odds of that happening any time soon are quite small. While rural electrics are well equipped to fend off takeovers, many of them are entering into partnerships with the IOUs to procure long-term power contracts,” writes Ken Silverstein of EnergyBiz Insider.

The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. estimates that over the next five years there will be about $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year spent by the generation and transmission cooperatives to build new power plants,” writes Silverstein. “Other rural co-ops will form strategic alliances with wholesale power suppliers and specifically IOUs.… Critics of rural electric cooperatives say that they are inherently inefficient and that their business plans are outdated. IOUs, by comparison, don't just have greater economies of scale but they are also positioned to participate in debt and equity markets to gain the much needed capital for future expansion. The biggest cooperatives, they add, are on the periphery of major cities where private utilities could do a better job of serving customers and modernizing their infrastructure.”

Members of at least one rural electric co-op, in Louisiana, sold out to an IOU after the co-op performed poorly during and after a disaster. “The idea may sound good,” Tom Siegrist, a vice president with the consulting group EnerVision, told EnergyBiz Insider. “But rural electric cooperatives are not low-hanging fruit, and pursuing hostile takeovers is not a successful strategy. Co-ops are not-for-profit. They make a small margin and return that to the customers. Customer service levels are also much higher and much stronger. The trend now is for the two to partner.” (Read more)

Three-part series considers impact of global warming on West Virginia

West Virginia Media and its print product, The State Journal, are running a three-part series on how global warming may affect the Mountain State. Part one addressed the global-warming policy debate, including reactions to emissions restrictions from the coal industry. Part two considers nuclear power as an alternative to coal-burning plants. Part three will be posted next week.

Carbon dioxide and coal

Coal-burning power plants are significant contributors of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. The coal industry worries about possible restrictions on greenhouse gases and how they might be structured, reports Beth Gorczyca-Ryan. “One possible way is a cap-and-trade system. Under that method, the federal government sets a mandatory level of maximum carbon emissions. That level then is divided among emitters that buy rights for each metric ton of emissions produced. If a company doesn't use all of its rights, it could sell them to another company that was at risk of exceeding its rights.” California and seven northeastern states have approved caps on greenhouse gas emissions. However, opinion is divided between lawmakers in coal-producing states and non-coal-producing states.

“Another possible way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could be by levying a tax against people who use fossil fuels,” writes Gorczyca-Ryan. “At its most basic level, the tax would be paid by anyone who emits any carbon dioxide.… Bill Raney of the West Virginia Coal Association said a tax on greenhouse gas emissions would be awful not only for the coal industry but also for the entire economy.” He said fossil fuels are the base of many consumer products. “‘A carbon tax is simply something that is going to impact every person on a fixed income because it's going to roll back through the products,’ he said. Instead, he said, the coal industry is hoping for a cap-and-trade system that is completely market driven.” (Read more)

Nuclear energy reconsidered

Many are considering nuclear energy as an alternative to some of the current greenhouse-gas producing energy sources. The depletion of fossil fuels and their connection to global warming have led elected officials, business leaders, and utility companies to reconsider the nuclear option, though nuclear power plants have been banned in West Virginia since 1996.

Gorczyca-Ryan reports, "The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts the role of nuclear power in energy generation will only increase between now and 2030. That's because the plants are considered clean despite the fact that spent uranium fuel cells are highly radioactive and remain so for thousands of years." She writes that nuclear power could be increased by expanding the generating capability of existing plants, recommissioning shut-down reactors, or building new ones.

Some reasons for the nuclear-power comeback: The plants can create a significant amount of energy without emitting greenhouse gases that are depleting the ozone layer. America produces more nuclear power than any other country in the world, and there are currently 66 nuclear power plants with 104 operable reactors in 31 states. There is, however still the question of nuclear waste. (Read more).

To influence politics, conservative group moves its members to small town

A political action organization named Christian Exodus is encouraging thousands of people with similar ideological opinions to move to rural Anderson County, S.C. “The organization's goal is simple: have enough conservative Christian voters in the county to influence local politics,” writes Heidi Cenec of Scripps Howard News Service.

“Christian Exodus is coordinating with other conservative groups to launch the South Carolina Liberty Alliance,” writes Cenec. “Under the alliance, the groups would work together to elect officials who share their views -- limiting government, eliminating property tax and promoting prayer at public meetings are only a few. Christian Exodus also has received the funding to launch its own low-power FM radio station, which would spread the group's message across Anderson County. ... It's only the beginning of the group's plans. According to its Web site, the group wants to overwhelmingly impact the statewide elections of 2014.”

“Christian Exodus has more than 180 members in South Carolina and 1,400 total,” writes Cenec. “Fifteen households have moved to South Carolina since the project started, and another dozen are working on a move now, Christian Exodus President Cory Burnell said. He estimated it would only take about 100 conservative activists moving to the county to have an impact.” Rick Adkins, chairman of the Anderson County Republican Party told Scripps Howard, “If they move 1,400 people to Anderson County, they would be a very big force in the elections, and they could take over a party very easily.”

“But encouraging that many people to move is easier said than done. People have jobs and families,” writes Cenec. “The group could also face challenges winning the conservative right, said Laura Olson, a Clemson University professor who studies the intersection between religion and politics. There's more political diversity within evangelical Protestants than people think, so it's unwise to assume other conservative Christians will agree with their views, Olson said. (Read more)

AT&T seeks statewide Tenn. cable business, could underserve rural areas

In Tennessee AT&T is lobbying to be allowed to enter the cable-television business statewide, raising concerns about monopoly and lack of service for smaller towns and rural areas. “Under current law, cable companies must negotiate an agreement with city or county governments and pay franchise fees before providing service to an area. The proposed law would allow a company to obtain a statewide franchise,” writes Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“More than anything else, this bill is about choice and bringing the future to the residents of all communities throughout Tennessee,” said Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. “Through the facilitation of competition across the state, cable TV customers statewide will enjoy better service and lower prices.” Humphrey reports, “Documents handed out at the event say that cable rates in Tennessee increased an average of 93 percent between 1995 and 2005. In contrast, they said cable customers save an average of $22.30 per month in areas where ‘competition has been introduced.”

Margaret Mahery, executive director of the Tennessee Municipal League, told Humphrey that the bill is “bad for consumers.” He adds, “She and others representing the cable industry or local government said the bill will allow AT&T to ‘cherry pick’ areas for service that provide the biggest profits, making it more difficult to expand service into small towns and low income or rural areas. The bill also contains a provision that forbids local governments from enacting any consumer quality or service standards or requiring that all neighborhoods in a municipality be served, Mahery said.” (Read more)

Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007

Atlanta paper is latest metro to cut rural circulation and, likely, coverage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution made news this afternoon by announcing a sweeping newsroom reorganization and an early-retirement offer for up to 80 employees. But the early national reporting on the changes ignored the impact on rural Georgia, where the AJC will be less available and its reporters probably more scarce.

Starting April 1, the paper says, its direct distribution will be in the 73 counties "closest to Atlanta" -- 66 in Georgia, four in North Carolina and three in Tennessee (including Hamilton, which includes Chattanooga). The blue area on the map is the newspaper's suburban area.

The paper's news release said more than 70 percent of Georgians will still be able to get home delivery. The paper, the largest unit in Cox Enterprises Inc., now circulates in 145 of Georgia's 159 counties. "The print version of the AJC will no longer be available in Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and many parts of Georgia," Scott Leith writes in the paper's story about itself. "The changes will lead to the disappearance of the print paper in cities including Augusta, Columbus, Savannah and Albany." (Read more) Bibb County, at the southeastern extremity of the new circulation area, includes Macon.

"The $5 it costs to deliver a 50-cent newspaper to those areas makes little business sense, especially when our advertisers demand an audience closer to their stores and places of business," Publisher John Mellott said in a letter to readers. The 73 counties have about 7 million people, the paper's release said. "The new service area matches the AJC's distribution with the primary needs of its advertisers. This distribution change affects less than 5 percent of the AJC's circulation base," which the paper says is 1.1 million readers on weekdays and 1.8 million on Sundays. Its Web site has more than 3 million unique monthly visitors.

The release noted, "Consumers outside of the 73-county area can still enjoy AJC news coverage via ajc.com and the AJC's mail subscription program." But when newspapers shrink their circulation areas, they usually shrink their coverage areas, too. The moves in Atlanta reflect similar changes made recently by papers in Dallas, San Francisco and Louisville, and earlier by those in Omaha and Des Moines. In Atlanta, "It's too early to answer that question yet," AJC spokeswoman Mary Dugenske said. "We will be restructuring the entire newsroom, and that will certainly be one of many factors to consider during the redesign process." She added, "We don't currently have bureaus in the impacted distribution area, so this change in distribution area will not result in any bureau closures."

For an Editor & Publisher story on the changes, click here. Such moves leave a vacuum in the coverage of rural issues and the practice of watchdog journalism in rural areas, where metro papers' bureaus can make local officials think twice about misbehaving. That vacuum should be filled by smaller newspapers, and that is one reason we are in business here at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Roads from nowhere: New rurals are surprised by old rights of way

"Steve Kantor bought his home here in 1996," Ernest Sander of The Wall Street Journal writes from Charlotte, Vt.. "It's the last house on a quarter-mile dirt drive, with views of cow pastures and a mountain range. He likes it because it's off the beaten track. Seven years later, however, he was informed by the town that a 50-foot-wide public road runs through his land. He says he wasn't aware of that. The road doesn't appear on maps and there's little evidence of it today."

Kantor "is at the center of a controversy threatening to throw a monkey wrench into the state's residential real-estate market," Sander writs. "Vermont has scores of old public roads that haven't been used as such for decades and haven't been kept up." We suspect the same is true in most states, so if your rural area has an active market in isolated tracts for houses, this story could be localized.

In Vermont, the clash involves "differing perceptions of public and private property," Sander writes. "Vermont has vast networks of trails, some of which run through people's land, and Vermonters have a long tradition of letting people pass through their property for snowmobiling, hunting, hiking, and other forms of recreation. Locals worry that some of the outsiders now moving to the state are less open to that idea and are too fond of no-trespassing signs."

The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, which claims 38,000 snowmobilers, is telling members how to locate "roads that might have gotten lost over the years. That alarms some property owners and has spooked the state's biggest title insurer, which threatened to stop writing policies in three towns where a number of old-road cases have cropped up," Sander writes. (Read more)

Ethanol-driven expansion of cornfields has environmental drawbacks

As ethanol drives up corn production, more habitat is lost for wildlife and more pollution is created from fertilizer, so the environment could benefit from the development if cellulosic ethanol, which can be produced with less impact, writes Babe Winkelman in the Pilot-Independent in Walker, Minn., population 1,069.

“According to one published report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the nation's 110 ethanol plants used 2.15 billion bushels of corn in 2006,” writes Winkelman. “Economist Keith Collins told federal lawmakers recently that farmers need to grow an additional 6.5 million acres above the 78.6 million planted last spring to meet 2007 demands. It is also estimated that U.S. farmers will need to increase corn acreage to 90 million acres by 2010, which is about the time another 70 to 90 ethanol plants come on line, producing about 12 million gallons of fuel.”

Ethanol may be touted as an environmental alternative to fossil fuel, but many don’t consider that corn has its own impacts. “Like the consequences of more field erosion — commonplace with corn rotations — and what that means for our rivers and streams and the fish that swim in them; the increased inputs of farm chemicals like atrazine and nitrogen fertilizer sand how they will impact the environment and public health,” writes Winkelman. “What's certain is that more demand for corn-based ethanol will only increase corn production, and that means farmers will have to plant in environmentally fragile areas — areas that should never see row crops.”

Cellulosic ethanol may help resolve some of these problems, Winkelman notes. The fuel is made from grasses and other plant material instead of corn, and its fields would provide a prairie-like environment that would be much more hospitable to wildlife. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., head of the House Agriculture Committee, called for “5 million acres to be planted to grasses and other similar plants that could be used to make ethanol.” (Read more)

Organic farming is small, but is growing fast, including livestock

“It’s still a small proportion of farm land, but organic farming continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture,” writes Sara Wyant of Agri-Pulse. “The U.S. had under a million acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005, according to a recent report by USDA’s Economic Research Service. For the first time, all 50 states in the U.S. had some certified organic farmland in 2005. California ranked first in terms of acreage, with over 220,000 acres and North Dakota came in second. U.S. producers dedicated over 4 million acres of farmland -- 2.3 million acres of cropland and 1.7 million acres of rangeland and pasture -- to organic production systems in 2005.”

“Many U.S. producers are embracing organic farming in order to lower input costs, conserve resources, capture high-value markets, and boost farm income, according to ERS,” writes Wyant. “However, the overall adoption level is still low — only about 0.5 percent of all U.S. cropland and 0.5 percent of all U.S. pasture was certified organic in 2005. ... Only a small percentage of the top U.S. field crops -- corn (0.2 percent), soybeans (0.2 percent), and wheat (0.5 percent) -- were grown under certified organic farming systems. On the other hand, organic carrots (6 percent of U.S. carrot acreage), organic lettuce (4 percent), organic apples (3 percent) and other fruit and vegetable crops were more commonly organic grown in 2005. Organic livestock was beginning to catch up with produce in 2005, says ERS, with 1 percent of U.S. dairy cows and 0.6 percent of the layer hens managed under certified organic systems.” (Read more)

More Ohio women landing in prison, particularly from rural counties

The number of Ohio women going to prison, particularly from rural areas, is growing more quickly than the number of men. “Men still outnumber women in Ohio prisons by a ratio of nearly 14 to 1. But women, particularly white women from rural counties, are catching up fast, according to a study by the Public Safety Performance Project of the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts,” reports The Columbus Dispatch.

“A 10-year projection shows the Ohio prison population, which was 48,725 yesterday, topping 50,000 next year and jumping to 65,000 by 2016,” writes Alan Johnson writes. “During the decade, the female prison population would increase 47 percent, compared with 36 percent for men.” Women are most often imprisoned for drugs or theft.

“Several months ago, to cope with increasing numbers, Terry Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, ordered the reopening of unused prison wings and buildings,” writes Johnson. “The cost per inmate: $67 a day or $24,500 per year.” “This is an expensive proposition, keeping people in prison,” Collins told the Dispatch. (Read more)

Freedom of Information Act reform bill in works; your attention needed

Journalists and others who want to improve the federal Freedom of Information Act were encouraged by yesterday's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy. Members "appeared to fully understand the need for effective FOIA reform," Laurie Babinski of Baker & Hostetler, legal counsel to the Society of Professional Journalists, said in a report to journalism groups pushing for reform.

The groups want an FOIA ombudsman in each federal agency, increased reporting requirements, penalties for non-compliance, and the ability to collect attorneys' fees if they sue to force compliance. Most state FOI laws have such provisions, and it makes sense to federal law to do likewise. The full Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., hopes to send a bill to the full House by next month. For Babinski's full report, via, SPJ President Christine Tatum, click here.

While House passage of FOIA reform may seem likely, the effective requirement of a supermajority in the Senate could complicate passage there. Also, such bills can be vehicles for mischief-making by lawmakers who want to restrict information and trade amendments for votes. A big margin in the House could help in the Senate, and reporting and commentary by journalists at all levels could help in both places. So could lobbying by publishers and station managers. This is also a good topic for Sunshine Week, March 11-17.

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

Be my valentine: FarmersOnly.com dating site caters to rural residents

“When farmers hanker to find that special someone to share their lives, it can be, well, like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Just ask Jerry Miller, founder of FarmersOnly.com, a year-old online dating service that caters to farmers, ranchers and others in rural regions who just can't find a connection,” writes Darrell Smith of the Sacramento Bee.

“FarmersOnly.com began as a favor to one of Miller's farmer friends who was frustrated by the dating scene and ready to give up,” writes Smith. “She worked all day at the farm, didn't see any prospects in her small town, and had decided that the city slickers she'd met online were duds. ‘They don't have a clue,’ she'd tell him. Miller's married, but he could relate. He was reared near a dairy farm in Mack, Ohio (pop. 5,837), before he met a city girl and moved to Cleveland. As a partner in a Cleveland-area public relations firm that represents 4,000 farms and ranches nationwide, Miller found his friend wasn't alone. Her predicament prompted him to scour the Internet for dating sites geared to farmers. Not one popped up.”

“‘Doctor, lawyer, farmer -- just throw 'em in the same database,’ Miller said of the big dating sites. So he did what any cyber-matchmaker would do,” writes Smith. “He started a Web site for rural singles in the United States and Canada and the people who love them -- or at least would like to meet them -- and FarmersOnly.com was born. A little more than a year since its launch, the site billed as online dating for ‘down-to-earth singles’ has grown to more than 50,000 members.” (Read more)

Ken Ward tells the story of coal-mine safety in The Washington Monthly

For our money, no one covers the coal industry better than Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. He has participated in both seminars that the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues has held on coal coverage, and now he is showcasing his talents — and the sad story of recent declines in coal-mine safety — to a national audience, in the March edition of The Washington Monthly.

Regular readers of The Rural Blog know the basics, that 47 miners died in accidents last year, the most since 1995, and that 2006 was, as Ward writes, "the first year since 1981 in which more than one accident killed at least five miners each," the official definition of a "disaster" in coal mining. For the national audience, Ward puts the story into context, recalling the 13 fatalaties in 2001 at a Jim Walter Resources Inc. mine near Tuscaloosa, Ala. (That's where the Appalachian ridges go underground; the mine is the nation's deepest.)

"The Sept. 23 tragedy came less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon. At a memorial service for the dead miners, Elaine Chao, President Bush’s secretary of labor, compared the miners’ rescue efforts to those of the firefighters and police officers who died trying to save 9/11 victims," Ward writes. "The Bush administration can claim that, indeed, no more terrorist attacks have occurred on American soil. But its record on mining safety is decidedly more troubling."

After last year's disasters, Congress followed two coalfield maxims cited by Ward: "Mine-safety laws are written in the blood of miners," and "Dead miners make the best lobbyists." Congress passed a bill that "provides for better-trained rescue teams, more oxygen supplies underground, and stiffer fines for safety violations," Ward notes. "But for an industry that has lost more than 104,000 workers to accidental death since 1900 — and continues to lose scores more every year — it will surely not be enough."

The rest of the story is a critical summary of coal-mine disasters, legislation and regulation, with emphasis on the Bush administration — which notes that death rates declined on its watch, until last year. "But that’s in large part because most coal is now produced through surface mining," Ward argues. "The number of miners working underground, where the great majority of fatal accidents occur, dropped from 57,000 in 1996 to 49,000 today. A broader look at the evidence suggests that underground coal mining has become substantially more dangerous in recent years.

"Over the past decade, the death rate per 10,000 miners in West Virginia, where a high proportion of miners continue to work underground, actually increased, from about 1.2 in 1997 to 3 in 2004, according to the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. From 1999 to 2004, West Virginia
and Kentucky — where, again, mining is done below ground — accounted for about a quarter of the nation’s coal production but more than half of its mining deaths." (Read more)

New Harvard president grew up in rural Va., challenged segregation

In 1957, at the age of 9, she wrote a letter to President Eisenhower from her home in rural Virginia, calling for an end to segregation. This week, Drew Gilpin Faust became the first female president of Harvard University, and "Much of what she has written about that letter and her childhood in rural Virginia fits with the leader she has become," reports The Washington Post. "She became a leading scholar on the Civil War South and an advocate for a bigger role in national life for minorities and women."

Drew Gilpin grew up in Clarke County, 60 miles west of Washungton and the home of arch-segregationist U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd. "This was not the Deep South, and I remember no signs designating water fountains or waiting rooms as Colored or White," she wrote in Harvard Magazine in 2003. "But it was a community of rigid racial segregation nonetheless, with lines drawn by custom and common understanding." Byrd's family once owned the local Clarke Times-Courier.

Post reporter Jay Mathews writes, "Her father was a leading figure in the horse-breeding business of Hunt Country. They lived at Lakeville Farm eight miles from the county seat in Berryville. They had no television set, but Faust said she listened to the radio," where she heard about Brown v. Board of Education and the ensuing battles over school desegregation in Virginia. She thinks she was inspired to write the letter while hearing a radio report on a ride home from school with Raphael Johnson, the family's black handyman.

She wrote in 2003, "I asked Raphael if what I had just understood was true, whether I would be excluded from my school if I painted my face black. I came and wrote these very words in my letter, not now as a question but already transformed into a declaration of outrage to the president. 'If I painted my face black I wouldn't be let in any public schools etc. My feelings haven't changed, just the color of my skin.'

"What I remember is that Raphael did not answer my question. My probings about the unarticulated rules of racial interaction made him acutely uncomfortable; he was evasive. But his evasion was for me answer enough. How was it possible that I never asked that question or saw those realities until I was nine years old? How could I have not noticed before?"

Lutheran seminaries offer immersion classes showing pastors rural life

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a largely rural denomination, has created a rural immersion classes to help pastors make the transition from city seminaries to country congregations, reports Linda Janssen Gjere of The Lutheran.

Mark L. Yackel-Juleen, a rural pastor who serves at a ministry near Windom, Minn, population 4,490, has heard many complaints from new pastors starting in rural areas. “Rural life is truly a different culture,” he told The Lutheran. “We cannot stress that enough to people in seminary from urban, metropolitan and suburban backgrounds. On the surface it doesn’t look that different and that’s where people get caught. Very often new pastors misinterpret the culture, blame the congregation and then stomp off after two or three years.”

Gretchen E. Ritola, a pastor in Emerson, Neb., population 856, told The Lutheran, “One thing to remember is that farming is not just what people do, it’s who they are. Two adjustments for urban people coming to these contexts is how the cycle of weather hugely affects everything that happens, and how important one’s presence in the community is to the ministry,”

One new pastor in Nebraska, Robert P. Bryan, said he hadn’t planned to serve a rural area until he took the course. “The rural immersion trip was a great chance to dispel the urban fears and myths of rural ministry,” he told The Lutheran. “The country churches aren’t all closing their doors and burying the dead. So many aren’t only just alive but thriving.” (Read more)

Mental health care in Western Kansas in jeopardy as psychiatrists flee

Mental health care in rural Western Kansas is suffering from a shortage of psychiatrists and needs to be adapted to a more isolated lifestyle, the state’s Rural Committee of Mental Health Services for Children and Families told a state Senate budget panel. “The group asked the panel to consider the uniqueness of rural Kansas when formulating policies to help people with mental health needs, something lawmakers said they hoped to accomplish,” writes Chris Green of the Hutchinson News.

Current models for rural mental health care are designed for much denser populations than the state has, said Lee Flamik, customer services director at Larned State Hospital. “They must travel farther to work or for care than those in urban areas,” writes Green. “Those on fixed incomes are hit harder by high gasoline prices, he said. Rural dwellers are also more likely to be part-time workers and less likely to have paid benefits or health insurance. Plus, in some cases there are fewer and fewer health care providers available.”

“Since 2000, the number of psychiatrists practicing in western Kansas has dropped from 26 to seven,” writes Green. “That means the average psychiatrist or child psychiatrist is serving a geographic area of 5,799 square miles, up from 1,561 square miles in 2000. While licensed social workers and case managers have grown in numbers during the last six years, they still serve a far larger geographic area than their eastern Kansas counterparts. Because care is less available, people from rural areas tend to be later in the course of their disease than urban areas’ when they do receive help, Flamik said. In addition, there's also less anonymity for those who do seek help in small-town hospitals or doctor's offices, which makes the stigma of seeking help a barrier.” (Read more)

Weeklies should get involved in high calling of Sunshine Week, Mar. 11-17

Keeping government open and accountable is the highest calling of a journalist. Sunshine Week, March 11-17, offers a chance to refresh that mission and remind the public of its value, says National Newspaper Association President Jerry Tidwell, publisher of the Hood County News in Granbury, Tex.

Tidwell called on NNA members, most of whom publish weekly papers, to get involved this year, and suggested several ways to do it. Speeches to civic and school groups, editorials, training sessions on open records laws, and features on the ways citizens use the law are all within a newspaper's expertise, regardless of size. "The Sunshine Week commentary doesn't have to be all negative," Tidwell said. "Our local communities and officials are full of good intentions in most cases, and a great many public servants do their utmost to bring their operations into the daylight where citizens can participate and appreciate the machinery of government. A story about these efforts to prompt citizens to take advantage of these opportunities is an often overlooked tool that newspapers can use."

The week will start with Sunshine Sunday, on which participating daily and weekly papers, magazines, online sites and broadcasters will feature editorials, op-eds, editorial cartoons and news and feature stories that drive public discussion about why open government is important to everyone, not just to journalists. NNA will provide information through its Web site at www.nna.org as materials become available. NNA Public Policy Director Tonda Rush can be reached at tonda@nna.org. For more information, go to www.sunshineweek.org. Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007

Culture shift? Number of hunters declines, but more women join in

The number of hunting licenses has declined nationwide as the pastime has become more difficult due to land development and busy schedules. The number of hunters nationwide dropped by 1.4 percent from 2004 to 2005, from 14.7 million to 14.5 million, according to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Numbers of licenses dropped in 31 states. What are the hunting license trends in your state? Click here for the 2005 data; here for the 2004 data. (Charts list the calculation year, two years later.) For a summary from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, click here.

States with declines in the number of licenses issued included Indiana, 6.9 percent; West Virginia, 6.2 percent; and Michigan, 5.2 percent. States with an increase included Tennessee, 6.2 percent, and Illinois, 1.1 percent. Revenue from licenses, tags and permits, which go to fund wildlife and conservation programs, is up 2.8 percent in spite of fewer hunters, reports Art Lander Jr. of the Lexington Herald-Leader. He reports that industry observers attribute hunting decline to increased costs of licenses, gear and land, and fluctuation in game populations and weather. (Read more)

“Suburban development is partly driving the decline, leaving fewer open spaces where it's safe to pull a trigger without hitting a home or one of its occupants,” writes Nick Miroff of The Washington Post. “But the trend goes deeper, experts say, reflecting a cultural shift underway nationwide. As Americans become busier, more urbanized and less rooted in family and social traditions, they're less inclined to go into the woods on a cold, wet morning to wait in breathless silence for a deer to walk by.”

Miroff continues, “National studies have found that the average age of hunters has risen to the mid-40s. The sport is flourishing among one group, however: women. According to the National Rifle Association, 2.4 million women went hunting in 2005, a 72 percent increase from 2001. Women make up 16 percent of active hunters, with 18- to 24-year-olds the fastest-growing group. . . . Children and teenagers are the main focus of efforts to reverse hunting's decline. Families Afield, a program devised by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other groups, is working to lift restrictions in 20 states that limit hunting to children 12 and older.” (Read more)

A weak dollar can be a strong advantage for U.S. agricultural exports

American farm exports may benefit from a weak dollar and the prosperity of other nations, giving produce grown stateside a competitive advantage when pitted against those in other countries. “Between February 2002 and May 2006, the U.S. dollar depreciated almost 18 percent against foreign currencies. When the dollar appreciates against foreign currencies, U.S. exports cost more in foreign local currencies and thus demand for them declines. Conversely, a depreciation of the dollar increases U.S. agricultural competitiveness by lowering prices of U.S. products in foreign markets,” write Mathew Shane and William Liefert of Amber Waves, a publication of the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service.

“The decline in the U.S. exchange rate since 2000 has helped boost U.S. agricultural exports to an all-time high of close to $70 billion per year,” write Shane and Liefert. “However, almost all of the depreciation is accounted for by appreciation of currencies in developed countries such as the European Union (EU), Australia, Canada, and South Korea.” U.S. agriculture exports lose out in the many developing countries that purposefully depreciate their currencies against the dollar to keep a trade advantage. “Developing countries’ commodities and goods have thus become particularly competitive in the U.S. market, while U.S. agricultural exports have become more difficult to market in those countries. As a result, these countries (mostly in Asia) have generated substantial trade surpluses mirrored by trade deficits for the United States.”

“Yet, other longer term factors can help boost U.S. agricultural exports,” write Shane and Liefert. “High income growth in developing countries is the most important. However, pursuing and maintaining high rates of productivity growth in U.S. agriculture is equally important. These two factors combine to create a strong potential for the future growth in U.S. agricultural exports regardless of how the exchange rate fluctuates in the short to medium term.” (Read more)

Black farmers documented in book, presentation tonight at Va. Tech

Louden Marshall Jr. is an African American farmer in Cumberland County, Virginia, smack-dab in the middle of the Old Dominion. He farms land his grandfather and father farmed. But his son will not. The picture shows the son, Louden III, walking away as the elder Marshall ties his grandson's shoe.

The evocative photo was taken by John Ficara and is more than 120 in Black Farmers in America, which "chronicles what Ficara believes may be the last generation of black farmers in the United States," reports Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times.

Ficara will show his photographs tonight at Virginia Tech tonight as part of the university's Black History Month observances. His presentation is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Wesley Foundation building, 209 W. Roanoke St., and will be followed by a book signing and reception. Thornton tells the sad, recent history of black farmers:

"The rise of corporate farming, the consolidation of farms, globalization and the lure of bright lights and weekends off have eroded family farms, but black farmers have confronted additional impediments, some thrown up by the federal government. The Farmers Home Administration has systematically discriminated against black farmers. During one season, the agency lent money to nearly 16,000 farmers. Only 209 of those loans went to black farmers. In some cases, loans were promised but never delivered.

"In 1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled a class action lawsuit based on those incidents that gave $623 million and forgave more than $17 million in loans to 13,000 black farmers. The cash came too late for many. Their farms were gone. In the 1920s, more than 900,000 black farmers tended 15 million acres in the United States. Now there are fewer than 18,000 black farmers on 2.2 million acres. Marshall said none of his black friends in Cumberland County is a farmer." (Read more)

FCC member's advice suggests wireless future for rural telephone firms

Will rural telephone systems go wireless? Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell advised the rural telecommunications industry to buy a piece of the 700 MHz spectrum at an upcoming FCC auction to use for broadband access, reports Tim McElligott of Telephony Online.

“An increasing number of reports show that the Universal Service Fund (USF) that derives its fees from urbanized telephone use to subsidize rural telephony is off the tracks, and likely to change significantly in structure,” writes Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News. McDowell warned rural telephone operators that they are “on a collision course with disaster.” He said the fund can’t afford to finance broadband connectivity under the current structure, “but there is hope, and it’s happening right now. Significantly more Americans are adopting broadband every day.”

McDowell cited a recent survey “that said half of rural providers are considering offering wireless service,” and urged then to do just that, writes McElligott. (Read more) Fleishman notes, “It’s very sweet spectrum — it penetrates well and goes long distances — and licenses in rural areas are likely to be available at reasonable prices, but the infrastructure to build out won’t be cheap.” (Read more)

American Life in Poetry offers a free weekly column for newspapers

Near the end of his life, Charles Darwin said, "If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week." We're not going to provide music here, and we doubt you plan to do so for your readers, but what about poetry? It was once a staple of rural newspapers, and Nebraska poet Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate in 2004-06, is trying to revive it.

Kooser provides for newspapers a weekly column called "American Life in Poetry," supported by The Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Kooser teaches. Kooser says he "seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture." The column is free, but registration is required and the text of the columns must be reproduced without alteration. Each column offers a relatively short piece of verse with a helpful introduction from Kooser. Following are two recent examples.

"How many of us, when passing through some small town, have felt that it seemed familiar, though we've never been there before? And of course it seems familiar, because much of the course of life is pretty much the same wherever we go, right down to the up-and-down fortunes of the football team and the unanswered love letters. Here's a poem by Mark Vinz."

Driving Through

This could be the town you're from,
marked only by what it's near.
The gas station man speaks of weather
and the high school football team
just as you knew he would--
kind to strangers, happy to live here.

Tell yourself it doesn't matter now,
you're only driving through.
Past the sagging, empty porches
locked up tight to travelers' stares,
toward the great dark of the fields,
your headlights startle a flock of
old love letters--still undelivered,
enroute for years.

Reprinted from Red River Blues, published by College of the Mainland, Texas City, Tex., 1977, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1977 by Mark Vinz, whose most recent book is Long Distance, Midwestern Writers Publishing House, 2005.

Poems can touch on rural issues. The following verse helps illustrate why lots of Americans want to outlaw the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Kooser introduces it this way: "A horse's head is big, and the closer you get to it, the bigger it gets. Here is the Idaho poet, Robert Wrigley, offering us a horse's head, up close, and covering a horse's character, too."

Kissing a Horse

Of the two spoiled, barn-sour geldings
we owned that year, it was Red--
skittish and prone to explode
even at fourteen years--who'd let me
hold to my face his own: the massive labyrinthine
caverns of the nostrils, the broad plain
up the head to the eyes. He'd let me stroke
his coarse chin whiskers and take
his soft meaty underlip
in my hands, press my man's carnivorous
kiss to his grass-nipping upper half of one, just
so that I could smell
the long way his breath had come from the rain
and the sun, the lungs and the heart,
from a world that meant no harm.

Reprinted from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems, published in 2006 by Penguin. Copyright (c) Robert Wrigley, 2006, and reprinted by permission of the author.

Update: Here's another good one, with rural resonance.

New Water

All those years--almost a hundred--
the farm had hard water.
Hard orange. Buckets lined in orange.
Sink and tub and toilet, too,
once they got running water.
And now, in less than a lifetime,
just by changing the well's location,
in the same yard, mind you,
the water's soft, clear, delicious to drink.
All those years to shake your head over.
Look how sweet life has become;
you can see it in the couple who live here, their calmness as they sit at their table, the beauty as they offer you new water to drink.

Reprinted by permission of Sharon Chmielarz, whose most recent collection of poems is "The Rhubarb King," Loonfeather Press, 2006. Copyright (c) 2006 by Sharon Chmielarz.

Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

Candidate for governor in Ky. calls for dialogue on mountaintop mining

Kentucky state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, a candidate in the May 22 Democratic primary for governor, said this morning that the state government "needs to work with mining companies on better ways to extract coal from Eastern Kentucky without ruining the environment," Ryan Alessi of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports via the newspaper's Pol Watchers political blog.

Miller, who worked for Al Gore and Bill Clinton, "stopped short of saying he would halt mountaintop removal, the practice by which mining companies shave off parts of mountains to get access to the coal," the Herald-Leader reports. "Miller said only that he would begin discussions on different options to continue the practice only if streams and natural habitats can be preserved or replaced."

A bill in the state legislature "would require earth that was moved to gain access to the coal be returned to its original place after the mining instead of being dumped into waterways," the newspaper reports. "However, legislative leaders previously told the Herald-Leader that it's unlikely to pass." (Read more)

Backyard Bird Count, Friday through Monday, offers story possibilities

Here's a fun activity your readers might want to know about, and one you might want to cover: the annual Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, Wild Birds Unlimited and the ornithology lab at Cornell University. It starts Friday and ends next Monday. (Left: cedar waxwing)

"The point of the count is to find out -- as well as you can with an animal that flies rapidly from one place to another and congregates in large flocks -- where in North America the birds are, and in what numbers, at the same time each year," writes Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Last year, that meant birds were counted in every U.S. state and Canadian province. The numbers: 7.5 million individual birds representing a record-breaking 623 species, dutifully recorded on 60,530 checklists." (Read more)

Observers tally the highest number of each bird species they see together in their backyard, a local park, wildlife refuge or other area for at least 15 minutes, and submit the counts online at www.birdcount.org. Results "may help scientists understand the impact of global climate change on birds as it alters the abundance or distribution of food such as insects," Cornell said in a news release.

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2007

Mountain Eagle and Pikeville daily fight competition from hospital paper

The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., which has given the people of Letcher County crusading journalism despite advertiser boycotts, personal ostracism and the firebombing of its office, now has a foe from a very unusual and unexpected source -- a regional hospital that publishes a newspaper and uses a non-profit mailing permit to send it to all households in three counties.

The Eagle filed suit Thursday in state court, claiming that the Medical Leader, published by Pikeville Medical Center, "misrepresented itself as a non-profit organization to gain reduced mailing rates and take away advertisers by offering them cut rates 'or almost no rates at all'," the Lexington Herald-Leader reports today. The chief example is an insert from Abingdon, Va.-based Food City, which the Medical Leader recently took from the Eagle, the Appalachian News-Express and the Floyd County Times.

The Eagle and the Times are weeklies; the News-Express, in Pike County, went daily last April. Its owner, Lancaster Management Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS "told Pikeville Postmaster Darrell Rose on Wednesday that the Food City insert . . . makes it ineligible for non-profit mailing rates," reports Lee Mueller, the Herald-Leader's Eastern Kentucky reporter. "Rose said the Medical Leader accepted the decision and will pay a standard bulk-mailing rate, which he said is about 33 percent higher than the non-profit mail rate."

Eagle Editor Ben Gish told Mueller that he was unaware of that ruling, but will pursue his lawsuit "because that's just one area we're concerned about." He and the Pikeville publisher, Marty Backus, "say competing against a publication owned by a large hospital -- which in 2004 received $75 million in federal Medicare and Medicaid revenues, according to a tax document -- is like competing against the government. The 261-bed hospital has about 1,000 employees and revenues of about $150 million a year, records show."

Gish told the Herald-Leader, "In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd wake up one morning with a hospital being my biggest competitor." The hospital is run by Walter May Jr. of Pikeville, who owns nine radio stations, was mayor of the town and won a long struggle for control of the hospital. (Read more)

The Medical Leader covers public meetings, local sports and prints obituaries, but its coverage of political figures appears to be generally friendly. For example, when state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Floyd County plea-bargained a federal vote-fraud charge down to a misdemeanor and was re-elected to his party leadership position, the Eagle's front page carried an Associated Press story laying out those facts. The Medical Leader published a press release from Turner's office that ignored his legal troubles.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007

Senators debate meaning of the Bush budget for rural America

"When it comes to the rural way of life, Washington just doesn't get it," U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said Friday. Nelson was one of several Democratic senators who sasid President Bush's proposed budget "shortchanges rural America," the Omaha World-Herald reported. "Nelson said cutting money for rural health programs, essential air services and law enforcement represents an insult to rural America. He also singled out the absence of disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers."

Republican senators from the region saw it differently. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said many of the "cuts" cited by the Democrats "are merely a slowing of the growth of out-of-control spending. It will be interesting to see how the Democrats increase funding to all the programs they want while keeping spending under control like they promised during the 2006 campaign."

Railroads stressed by boom in ethanol, which can't go into pipelines

“Like the corn it's made from, ethanol is largely a product of the small-town Midwest, distilled in places like Nevada, Iowa, and shipped to market by train. Now, as ethanol producers ramp up production, they are straining railroads already taxed by burgeoning shipments of coal, containers and grain. And they worry that the transportation crunch could make it difficult for ethanol, despite its surge of support in Washington, to compete with energy rivals,” writes Ilan Brat of The Wall Street Journal.

“Unlike gasoline, natural gas and oil, ethanol attracts water and other chemicals, so it can't be sent through the long-established pipelines that move those fuels. That means the ethanol industry has been forced into a marriage with the already groaning railroads, Railroad executives say ethanol, though still a small part of their total freight traffic, promises to be a lucrative growth opportunity,” writes Brat. Ethanol shipments have almost tripled since 2001 and are projected to increase another third this year, says the Association of American Railroads. “Some railroads question the durability of the ethanol boom,” Brat notes. “Oil prices could drop, corn supplies could dwindle and alternatives could crop up.”

Many ethanol producers are struggling to upgrade their rail facilities, but “Many of the producing plants aren't large enough or lack the track and facilities to fill unit trains themselves,” writes Brat. “That is forcing the producers to shell out millions on tracks and equipment they hadn't planned to spend. Lately, large railroads have used their newfound market power to raise prices on many commodities they carry. For producers it comes at a time when high corn prices are squeezing their margins.” (Read more)

First licenses to grow hemp issued in N. Dakota; possible in other states

“North Dakota issued the nation's first licenses to grow industrial hemp Tuesday to two farmers who still must meet federal requirements before they can plant the crop,” reports The Associated Press. “Farmers must get approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which treats hemp much the way it does marijuana and has not allowed commercial hemp production but has said it would consider applications.”

Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant. Hemp contains only trace amounts of the chemical that causes a hallucinogenic effect, and “is used to make an assortment of products including paper, rope, clothing and cosmetics,” AP's Blake Nicholson writes. “Law enforcement officials worry that industrial hemp can shield the growing of marijuana, although hemp supporters say that fear is unfounded.”

“North Dakota is one of seven states that have authorized production of industrial hemp,” Nicholson reports. “The others are Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia, according to Vote Hemp, an industrial-hemp advocacy organization based in Bedford, Mass.” (Read more)

Tenn. governor wants smoking ban, conservation, records ombudsman

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen had plenty of news for members of the Tennessee Press Association at their winter convention in Nashville Thursday: Proposals for a statewide smoking ban, purchase of natural areas and timber rights on the Cumberland Plateau, and creation of an ombudsman to help resolve complaints about local officials who fail to obey open-records laws.

“Every Tennessean deserves — frankly, every one of us has the right — to go to work, to earn a paycheck, to eat a meal, to provide for our families, without risking our health in the process,” the governor said of the smoking ban. “No one should have to choose between their personal livelihood and their health. All workers have the right to breathe clean air.” He implicitly noted that the political power of tobacco has largely evaporated as most growers in the state have abandoned the crop. “Tobacco is no longer the top crop” in Tennessee, he said. “In fact, it's struggling to be in the top 10.”

The conservation plan would create an $82 million bond to preserve 124,000 acres of forest. “The state is buying some of the land outright; for other parts, it would buy either timber rights or conservation-easement rights,” write Clay Carey and Sheila Burke of The Tennessean. (Read more)

The freedom-of-information ombudsman would be housed in the office of the state comptroller, who oversees the finances of local officials. “They have lots of reasons to listen to what the comptroller has to say,” Bredesen noted pointedly. He said the new post would keep local officials from “stonewalling” open-records requests and forcing citizens or news outlets to spend money to take them to court.

Trauma deaths prevalent in rural areas; 14 states lack routing systems

Fourteen states lack “an organized method for routing critically injured people to the closest appropriate trauma center,” and the American College of Emergency Physicians “estimates the death rate from unintentional injury is 50 percent higher in rural areas than in cities, at least in part because of the long distance people have to travel to get trauma care,” reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Barbara Isaacs writes for the Kentucky newspaper that legislation in the state would start work on “a state-wide system that would include a registry -- a system to track injuries, how quickly they were treated and where.” Similar legislation has failed to pass the legislature for the last six years.

Most rural areas don't need high-level trauma centers with specialty services such as neurosurgery and internal medicine, Dr. Andrew Bernard, a trauma surgeon at the University of Kentucky, told Isaacs. He said the state needs more Level III trauma centers that provide basic emergency services in places like Pikeville, Hazard and Somerset, which are relatively small but have large regional hospitals, and larger towns like Owensboro and Paducah. Trauma victims “could be well managed at regional trauma hospitals, keeping patients closer to home and minimizing travel time.” (Read more)

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007

Western lawmakers reject Bush plan to sell off public land for schools

“For the second year in a row, the Bush administration has proposed selling off as much as 300,000 acres of national forests and other public land to help pay for rural schools and roads. And for the second year, Western lawmakers and environmentalists blasted the plan, saying short-term gains would be offset by the permanent loss of the land,” writes Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.

“The Bush plan would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act as of October, but would drop funding to about $400 million over a four-year period – a 50 percent cut over a proposal made last year,” writes Daly. “That plan was never enacted and the law expired. Western lawmakers have been trying to reauthorize the law, but have been frustrated by budget constraints and concerns that Oregon gets too much money under the current formula.”

“Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said the land sale plan makes a few changes from last year,” writes Daly. “It includes an advisory commission that would determine if individual parcels are worth selling, and splits revenue from the sales between the rural schools program and conservation programs run by the Forest Service. That last element was intended to address criticism that money from the land sales would not always benefit states where the land was sold.”

“Bob Douglas, president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, said rural schools across the country are facing the real possibility of layoffs if money for the program is not found, and soon,” writes Daly. “‘We are truly facing an emergency of catastrophic proportions in our 800 forest counties and 4,400 forest county school districts,’ he said, adding that local governments could start sending out pink slips to as many 16,000 teachers and county employees in mid-March.” (Read more)

Rural news outlets increasingly in need of Spanish-speaking journalists

There is a growing need for Spanish-speaking journalists in rural areas, which increasingly are home to immigrants. Many farm and factory workers from south of the border might not have their voices heard without someone who can understand their tongue. A recent example comes from Laura Noeth, editot of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, a city of about 30,000 in the southwest part of the state:

“On her first day on the job here Monday, Chris Harris, a recent grad of the University of Memphis, was assigned to do a story on the people affected by the layoff of 556 workers at Flynn Enterprises, which makes blue jeans,” Noeth said in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “The first people she found coming out of one of the two local plants spoke only Spanish. No problem -- Chris interviewed them in Spanish. Just shows how there's an urgent need for Spanish-speaking residents of small cities and rural areas.”

Harris wrote for the New Era, ”Jorge Hernandez and Sonia Juan Perez moved to Hopkinsville last spring to work for Flynn Enterprises. They started work in June. Both of them — along with 554 other Flynn employees — received letters last week telling them that as of April 3, they will no longer be working for the textile company that brought them to Kentucky. Hernandez said his parents also received layoff notifications last week, putting the entire household out of work. They moved to Hopkinsville last spring and Hernandez said he does not plan on moving again. ‘I will look for other work,’ he said, adding, though, he does not know where he will go.” (Read more)

Rural colleges create an urban feel to attract more students, residents

To attract more students and other residents, some rural colleges are looking to revamp their image and create a downtown atmosphere around their campuses. “For decades, colleges… in rural areas of the country embraced a pastoral ideal, presenting themselves as oases of scholarship surrounded by nothing more distracting than lush farmland and rolling hills. But many officials at such institutions have decided that students today want something completely different: urban buzz,” writes Alan Finder of The New York Times. “You can’t market yourself as bucolic,” said J. Timothy Cloyd, president of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., the second fastest-growing city in the state, with a population of 52,430 in 2005.

Dozens of institutions are undertaking such projects, including the University of Connecticut in Storrs, (pop. 10,996) and Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., (pop. 34,874), reports Finder.

“At Hendrix, construction will begin this year on a large urban-style village on the 130 acres of ball fields and woods that the college owns across the street from the main campus, with stores, restaurants and offices,” writes Finder. “Soon, officials hope, will come nearly 200 single-family houses, many with rental apartments above the garage; 400 town houses, apartments and loft-style condominiums; and a charter school with the college as a participant.” The development will be built in a style called New Urbanism. “Buildings will be close to the street and roads kept narrow to encourage pedestrian traffic and de-emphasize cars. The neighborhood and its buildings are meant to recall the housing and shops built in American towns in the first half of the 20th century.”

“At the same time, officials have realized that a more urbanized version of the ideal campus could attract a population well past its college years — working people and retiring baby boomers — if there is housing to suit them,” writes Finder. “And so a new concept of the college campus is taking root: a small city in the country that is not reserved for only the young.” (Read more)

New doctoral program addressing psychological problems in rural Alaska

Alaska is no longer the only state that does not offer a doctorate in psychology, which is required to get a psychologist's license. A new program at at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and Fairbanks has eliminated that unwelcome distinction and given promise that better treatment will be available for endemic psychological problems in rural areas of the nation's largest state.

“A new doctoral program in clinical-community psychology to address the state's high rates of suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse, with a focus on rural Alaska,” reports The Associated Press. It addresses “specific psychological problems in rural and indigenous areas, with students studying Alaska Native culture. A number of Alaska Native elders serve as program advisors and help teach classes.”

Part of the program helps address trauma, “on both an individual and cultural level,” AP reports. “Suicide rates in Alaska are among the highest in the nation, as are the rates of domestic violence, rape, child abuse and substance abuse. Sometimes in small communities substance abuse takes a toll in a broad way, contributing to accidents, domestic abuse and suicide.” (Read more)

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007

When bald eagle goes off endangered list, developers may pose new risks

Do bald eagles nest near you? In areas being eyed by developers? Here's a story with potential impact. By next week the Bush administration will decide whether or not to remove the bald eagle from the endangered species list. The national bird will still be protected, primarily under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, but some are concerned that ambiguous wording could allow harmful disruption of these animals, reports Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio.

“If they go forward with their proposal, I think the eagle is essentially unprotected from harm caused by development,” John Kostyak, a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation told NPR. The level of protection for the eagle gets could depend on how the administration defines the word, “disturb,” reports Shogren. “The law says it's illegal to disturb an eagle. But what does that mean?”

NPR quoted from a memo signed by Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall in which he wrote that the proposed definition of the word would be “very difficult to enforce without evidence of a dead or injured eagle.” Hall and other federal biologists suggested a better definition, Kostyak told Shogren. “They essentially said that if it's likely to disturb a bird, if it's likely to cause an injury or death, then a developer is forewarned that it's prohibited by the Bald Eagle Act,” he said. (Read more)

According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, the conservative group that sued to have the eagle delisted, the Interior Department asked the federal judge in Minnesota who set a Feb. 16 deadline for delisting to extend it until June 29, and the judge granted the request today. (Read more)

Housing, health groups voice concern over proposed budget cuts

President Bush's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 was dead on arrival, probably even on typesetting, as one commentator put it. But this week's proposal was still an important event in the process that will determine what the federal government spends on some important rural programs, not just agriculture and rural development, which are included in the Farm Bill. Advocacy groups for rural health and rural housing spoke out about the plan.

Rural health: “Despite continued support from Congress for many rural health programs, the Administration proposed to eliminate funding for several successful rural health programs and to drastically cut others for the fourth straight year in a row,” said a National Rural Health Association press release. Among those on the chopping block are rural health flexibility grants, a small hospital improvement program, rural health network and outreach grants and rural and a community access to emergency devices program.

“Yet again, the President’s budget is completely shortsighted on the crucial issue of health care for rural Americans. This is not the time to cut programs to the most vulnerable Americans. The budget fails to acknowledge the importance of these rural health programs and the significant role they place in ensuring access to quality health care and the continued development of innovative rural health care delivery systems,” George Miller, NRHA President, said in the release.

Rural housing: “The budget would defund the Section 502 and 515 direct lending programs, which have enabled the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make loans to low-income home buyers and to producers of rental housing for the lowest-income rural residents," said a press release from the Housing Assistance Council. "The Section 502 direct program has made home ownership possible for over 2 million rural families since it began in 1950. The Section 515 rental program, which took effect in 1963, has financed more than half a million decent, affordable apartments for rural residents.”

The council added, “The budget also proposes reductions in funds for USDA's revitalization of existing rental housing, farmworker housing, and the Section 523 program, which covers administrative costs for nonprofit community organizations running self-help housing programs. It would eliminate funding for the Rural Housing and Economic Development program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and reduce funding for some of HUD's major programs such as the Community Development Block Grant, while increasing some others, including the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which is popular in rural places.”

However, a Mortgage Bankers Association press release noted that the proposal “would also increase by 50 percent the fee for the Rural Housing Service’s single-family guarantee program. As the RHS program is frequently the only option for potential homeowners in rural areas, this increase will make it even more difficult for families in rural areas to become homeowners, especially since the Administration zeroed out funding for the RHS single family direct loan program.”

We got these releases, and the one about the bald eagle at the end of the first item, through Government Policy Newslinks, which offers a daily digest of press releases, statements, reports and other informational material from Congress, the White House and federal agencies. GPN offers a free, 60-day trial subscription to readers of The Rural Blog; to sign up, click here.

Lack of pathologists increases cost of autopsies in Southern Illinois

There are not enough forensic pathologists to perform autopsies in rural areas in Southern Illinois. There are just 400 board-certified forensic pathologists in the nation, according to The Associated Press. John Heidingsfelder, the forensic pathologist who traveled to rural areas in Southern Illinois to perform autopsies, has left the area and is no longer commuting. Since Heidingsfelder left, people working at morgues in rural areas of the region have been driving bodies to Evansville, Ind., to be examined.

Gallatin County Coroner Tony Cox has proposed three centrally located morgues with the idea that the drive time would be less than one hour to get to a forensic pathologist."I've had this vision for some time that we need to be centrally located where driving time would be one hour or less for everybody," said Cox. "I think this is fairly close to becoming a reality." Right now, rural counties with morgues have to pay to use outside morgues when they need to see a forensic pathologist, AP reports. (Read more)

Southern growth and energy groups partner for renewable solutions

Two Southern organizations announced that they will partner to support initiatives promoting research and commercialization of renewable energy in the region. The Southern Growth Policies Board, a public policy think tank, and the Southeast Agriculture and Forestry Energy Alliance Steering Committee, a leadership group working for new energy solutions, will create the new Southeast Agriculture & Forestry Energy Alliance, said a press release.

The alliance will include agricultural, forestry, conservation and environmental interests, “as well as researchers, industry representatives, grassroots organizations, and other renewable energy champions,” said the release. “The Alliance will formally create a network to collect and share critical information for the commercialization of renewable energy technologies and will work to forge consensus on policies and programs needed to develop bioenergy production. The Alliance will provide advocacy and education to help position the southeast region as the national leader in the production of renewable forms of energy. The Alliance also plans to create a virtual resource center to connect members to research, news and data.”

Company drops plans for power plant in rural Oregon county

A company that planned a natural gas-fired power plant in rural Klamath County, Oregon, has withdrawn its applications for air and site permits. The owners couldn't sell the electricity, officials from the state officials told The Associated Press. The plans for building the California-Oregon Border Energy Facility brought controversy to the area and had split residents and officials. It was to be built in the Langell Valley, near the town of Bonanza, in a rural area of Oregon.

"Procedurally, it was a very poor project," Klamath County Commissioner Bill Brown told AP. Other opponents objected to placing the plant in a rural area. The company proposing the plant wanted to take advantage of a large gas pipeline and electrical transmission lines to transport the energy to Western markets, AP reported. The plant could still be built, but state officials said the company would have to submit new permit applications and that emission guidelines would be stricter. (Read more)

Monday, Feb. 5, 2007

Information and inspiration: Good Works at RuralJournalism.org

There's a lot of good journalism being done in rural America, and for the last two and a half years we have shared some of it with you on The Rural Blog. Now we have created a new page of what we consider to be the best work by rural journalists -- work that won awards, might win, or should have won. To go to the page, click here or on the link above.

These stories provide both information -- ideas, sources, approaches -- and inspiration to journalists in rural America. We know there are lots of good journalists at rural newspapers and broadcast stations, and that they sometimes need a little help or encouragement to go beyond the usual. We hope The Rural Blog and Good Works do that. If you have suggestions, please let us know.

We will be adding to this page as we find other outstanding examples of good rural journalism, and we hope you can help us by letting us know about work that should be shared. Just send an e-mail to Al.Cross@uky.edu.

Lawmakers call for support of high-speed Internet access in rural areas

Politicians across the country are recognizing the need for rural broadband and creating initiatives to help small communities bridge the digital divide. High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury, but is now a necessity for a community to keep up in areas such as business, medicine, and education. The problem with lack of rural broadband isn’t just with surfing the Internet, said Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., the top Republican in the Congressional Rural Caucus. “It's about tele-teaching, it's about tele-medicine. It's about a small, rural hospital, and connecting to an urban hospital so your X-rays of your chest can be read quickly because they won't have radiologists on staff,” he said in an Associated Press interview.

“He also said the state could open up competition and increase broadband access if Pennsylvania allowed private companies to use communications towers now used by state police, hunting officials and other government agencies. Opponents have argued that could interfere with essential police and public communications transmitted from such towers,” writes AP's Genaro Armas. (Read more)

“Commercial companies provide the technology to more densely populated areas that make the ventures more profitable, but less populated rural areas have not always been provided the same service. Now, state government and rural electric cooperatives are stepping in to fill the technology void for rural residents,” reports Illinois Farm Bureau’s FarmWeek. “We’re making sure rural Illinois is not left behind without broadband,” Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn recently told the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council.

“Illinois Farm Bureau policy supports increased state and federal funding to develop broadband access in rural areas,” writes FarmWeek's Kay Shipman. “FB will work with utility cooperatives and other entities with existing infrastructure and expertise ‘to provide broadband service to all rural areas,’ IFB policy states. The state is helping provide high-speed access in rural Illinois through the use of towers owned by the Illinois State Police, the Department of Transportation, and other state agencies.” (Read more)

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecommunications subcommittee “supports re-examining the “E-rate”- a portion of federal phone taxes used to offer schools and libraries in rural and poorer areas affordable access to telecommunications services. The Universal Service Fund (USF), the repository for those revenues, has collected $20 billion since 2003.” Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., “sees two options for accelerating rural telecommunications development: boosting the E-rate through higher taxes, an option he opposes, or expanding qualifications for rural facilities hoping to tap the USF,” writes Martin Ross of FarmWeek. (Read more)

Congressional Democrats hope to strengthen mine-safety laws

Now that Democrats control both houses of Congress, they "plan to make a legislative push this year to strengthen coal-mine safety and institute more aggressive oversight of the Bush administration's regulatory policies," reports James R. Carroll, Washington reporter for The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

House Education and Labor Committee spokesman Thomas Kiley, noting that 2006 was the deadliest year in mining since 1995, with 47 deaths, told Carroll, "The goal for the committee is to make sure that a year like 2006 is never repeated." The committee plans a mine-safety hearing by early March. It is headed by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., perhaps the chief ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The only mine-safety legislation introduced so far, by Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., would ban the use of conveyor-belt tunnels for ventilation. Congress first banned the practice in 1969, but the Mine Safety and Health Administration has allowed it under a special rules since 2004.

"Other areas Congress is likely to consider this year include requiring more thorough testing of breathing equipment; making more stored air available to miners; toughening standards for mine seals and retreat mining; deploying rescue chambers in mines; and giving MSHA's accident-investigation powers to an independent agency, according to lawmakers, congressional staffers," the United Mine Workers and other safety advocates, Carroll writes. (Read more)

State law banning corporate farms dies in Nebraska

A federal judge has issued a permanent injunction prohibiting Nebraskan officials from enforcing a state law prohibiting corporate farming. “Voters approved the corporate ban as a constitutional amendment in 1982. With few exceptions, it outlawed ownership of agricultural land or livestock by nonfamily farm corporations and limited liability partnerships. Widely regarded as the toughest law of its kind in the country — and wrapped in controversy from the day it took effect — Initiative 300 had survived previous court tests,” writes Art Hovey of the Lincoln Journal Star.

“It took effect amid worries about insurance companies acquiring ag land during the 1980s farm crisis, writes Hovey. “Many of its after-the-fact critics wanted fewer restrictions on the right of unrelated partners to join together to invest in livestock feeding. Those same critics pointed to the overturning of a similar law in South Dakota in 2002 as a sign the Nebraska law’s days were numbered. They were proven right in late 2005, when U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp ruled, without a trial, that I-300 violated the interstate commerce clause and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They were proven right again a year later, when the appeals court in St. Louis affirmed the interstate commerce finding.”

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union and an I-300 advocate, said if I-300 is gone, it’s “a huge step backward and a very disappointing prospect. And I continue to believe I-300, all things considered, has been an enormous positive force in Nebraska agriculture. And it’s served not only agriculture, but also the environment and the state extremely well,” he told Hovey. (Read more)

Friday, Feb. 2, 2007

Corps of Engineers lists 'unacceptably maintained levees' in U.S.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released the locations of levees that have "unacceptable maintenance inspection ratings," which means that a levee has "one or more deficient conditions that can reasonably be foreseen to prevent the project from functioning as designed," a Corps release said. Examples include: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culverts.

For the list of levees, click here. For a fact sheet on the levee safety program, click here. We learned about this report from Government Policy Newslinks, which offers a daily digest of press releases, statements, reports and other informational material from Congress, the White House and federal agencies. GPN offers a free, 60-day trial subscription to readers of The Rural Blog; to sign up, click here.

Barren County, Kentucky, named best place to live in rural America

Progressive Farmer’s third annual top 10 rankings of “Best Places to Live in Rural America” lists Barren County, Kentucky, as No. 1, and it was the No. 1 story in yesterday's Glasgow Daily Times.

"The dynamic farming community, education system and hospital were among the factors that worked in Barren County’s favor," the Times' Melanie Thomas wrote after interviewing Joe Link, executive editor of the magazine.

Link visited the county in October. He wrote for the magazine, "Barren County is the kind of place where people come, like what they see, then decide to call it home. . . . While many rural areas have struggled to attract commerce, businesses here are thriving. Three industrial parks have filled and a fourth is in the works. The county scored well in our health-care statistics, so we weren't surprised to find a residency program for new doctors — a rarity for a community so small." It also scored well on education, and on crime rate -- one-fifth the national average for rural counties.

The county's name comes from the savanna-like landscape found by its first settlers. Link wrote, "There's little doubt that a strong farming heritage continues to influence attitudes and tradition. Barren County holds on to its rural roots; each year it ranks at the top of Kentucky's agricultural production. And though so many U.S. farms are becoming 'megafarms,' most of the county's farms are still small in comparison." (Read more) The county's mainstays are cattle and, even with no federal program, tobacco.

For a story on the local Chamber of Commerce dinner celebrating the selection, click here. Progressive Farmer's other Top 10 counties were: Warren, Pa.; Randolph, Ill.; Gillespie, Tex., Union, S.D.; St. Lawrence, N.Y.; Sac, Iowa; Garfield, Okla.; Amador, Calif.; and Polk, N.C. (Read more)

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007

Bush Farm Bill: Conservation, ethanol, specialties gain; wealthy lose

The Farm Bill proposed by the Bush administration yesterday, which would cut payments to farmers by $10 billion over the next five years, may be the most reform-minded in decades. Conservation, ethanol and fruit and vegetable growers would get more money. Wealthy farmers would lose funding entirely and multiple payment provisions will be cut off. “The department noted that under the government’s current policies, only 9 percent of all American farms collected 54 percent of all government commodity payments,” writes Alexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times. “These proposals are more equitable distributions. We have to keep that support amongst the people who pay the bill,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

“The proposal would increase conservation financing by $7.8 billion and direct almost $5 billion to fruit, vegetable and other “specialty” growers, who have received little federal assistance in the past,” writes Barrionuevo. “It would also provide $1.6 billion for research and development on cellulosic ethanol, which comes from agricultural waste and nonfood crops. The proposal would actually increase overall direct payments to farmers by $5.5 billion, or 10 percent, over 10 years. But it would also reduce large loans that, Brazil and other countries have argued, distort global trade.”

Subsidies would go only to “growers who make less than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, a restriction affecting 71,800 farmers of the 2 million who declared farm income in 2003,” writes Barrionuevo. “The current income cap is far more — $2.5 million — and it disappears altogether if at least 75 percent of a grower’s income is farm-related.” Antipoverty groups such as Oxfam America have praised the bill for supporting poorer farmers, but critics say it’s a bad move for business and the economy. (Read more) “The administration's plan also eliminates the three-entity rule, which allows farmers to receive payments under multiple entities, and would restrict the possibility of maneuvering around the new, proposed limit. Under the 2007 plan, farm payments would be limited to individuals and capped at $360,000,” writes Aine Gianoli of Data Transmission Network. (Read more)

Johnanns' announcement was "the administration's opening move in what will be a lengthy tug of war with Congress over a new multi-year farm bill," write Dan Morgan and Gilbert Gaul of The Washington Post, which has focused much attention on farm subsidies. Click here for the story and links to related articles.

Hospitals and more: The Farm Bill deals with much more than farming, including rural development and rural health. “The plan includes $1.6 billion in guaranteed loans to complete the rehabilitation of more than 1,200 current Rural Critical Access Hospitals. It also includes $500 million to reduce the backlog of rural infrastructure projects such as water and waste disposal loans and grants,” said a USDA release.

Molly Ivins poked fun at the powerful, was beacon to rural liberals

Molly Ivins, who died of cancer at 62 yesterday, was the mostly widely syndicated liberal columnist in the United States, and often a lifeline to rural liberals, writes John Nichols of The Nation. (AP file photo by Henny Ray Abrams via The Washington Post)

"For the people in the places where no one famous ever came, Molly Ivins arrived a couple of times a week in the form of columns that told the local rabble-rousers that they were the true patriots, that they damn well better keep pitching fits about the war and the Patriot Act and economic inequality, and that they should never apologize for defending 'those highest and best American ideas' contained in the Bill of Rights," Nichols writes. "Ivins understood that change came only when some citizen in some off-the-map town passed a petition, called a congressman or cast an angry vote to throw the bums out." Ivins had a Texas bureau job with The New York Times, "which she wrote her way out of when she referred to a 'community chicken-killing festival' in a small town as a "gang-pluck'," Nichols writes. (Read more)

Her effort to keep the phrase in the story "angered the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair," Times media reporter Kit Seeyle writes. "She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist." (Read more)

Times editors "never got her," Gary Cartwright explains in The Texas Observer, which Ivins co-edited in the 1970s and later supported financially. "Molly’s down-home irreverence and barbed style — references to the “awl bidness,” for example — puzzled and confused her superiors. I think the title of her first book, Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?, was inspired by her ordeal at the Times."

Cartwright also writes, "As she got older, she worried especially about the First Amendment, which she believed was under attack not just from the right wing, but from corporate America. Except for a handful of small, independent newspapers like the Observer, the media have mostly been swallowed up by bottom-line corporations and faceless conglomerates." (Read more)

Joe Holley writes in The Washington Post: "In the marbled halls and lawmaker offices a the state Capitol and poking her nose into small-town courthouses and sheriff's offices across the vast and variegated state, she acquired a reputation among visiting journalists as the quintessential Texan." Ivins grew up in Houston and knew George W. Bush in high school. She called him "Shrub." He said last night that he “respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase,” and added: “Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed.”

So much Molly Ivins wrote is eminently quotable. We chose this line, which the Post used: "I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel -- it's vulgar." (Read more)

Virginia panel endorses statement of regret, not apology, for slavery

A unanimous committee of the Virginia House "defused tension over a proposed state apology for slavery Wednesday, passing a substitute resolution expressing 'profound regret' for Virginia's role in sanctioning slavery and other forms of discrimination," reports Michael Sluss of The Roanoke Times.

The legislation "satisfied House and Senate sponsors of resolutions calling for the General Assembly to atone for slavery and appeal for racial reconciliation," Sluss reports, noting that it gained the support of a member "whose critical comments about the original resolution stirred controversy and generated negative national publicity for the state in a year when Virginia is celebrating the 400th anniversary" of settlement.

Delegate Frank Hargrove, a Republican from Hanover County, "created a firestorm by saying Jan. 16 in The [Charlottesville] Daily Progress that Virginia’s black residents should “get over” slavery and discussing whether Jews might “apologize for killing Christ,”" reports Bob Gibson of the Progress.

Hargrove told the Times that he supported the revised resolution because it conveys regret for slavery but 'you're not apologizing for something you had no part in.'" The substitute resolution says the legislature ""expresses its profound regret for the Commonwealth's role in sanctioning the immoral institution of human slavery, in the historic wrongs visited upon native peoples, and in all other forms of discrimination and injustice that have been rooted in racial and cultural bias and misunderstanding." (Read more)

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

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