The Rural Blog

This Web log of rural issues, trends, events, ideas and journalism from and about rural America 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. Send stories, links and tips to al.cross@u&ky.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, please let us know.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ATVs, now integrated into rural landscape, pose serious risks for children

DeKain Abnee, 10, talks to his brother, 12-year-old Jaiden Willoughby, who sits on the all-terrain vehicle Jaiden was driving when it wrecked, sending him to a hospital for brain surgery. His parents "recently requested an interview with the media," reports Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "They said they wanted to speak out about the potential dangers of ATVs, which have killed at least 17 people and injured 129 so far this year in Kentucky, and warn parents to take precautions. ... "ATVs have become an integral part of the landscape and culture all across much of rural Kentucky," and many other states, we hasten to add.

Warren developed the story after attending a seminar on agriculture and child safety sponsored by the National Farm Medicine Center and the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin, and two units of the University of Kentucky -- the College of Public Health and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

In a companion story, Warren reports, "Although ATV injuries and fatalities in rural Kentucky have received wide press coverage in recent years, agricultural experts say they represent only part of the picture when it comes to health threats for youngsters on the state's farms. . . . Farm youngsters traditionally perform tasks and handle responsibilities that, in other settings, would be considered strictly off limits, says Robert McKnight, director of the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention" at UK.

"We wouldn't consider it an acceptable risk for children to be running around on an assembly line floor, or working around a diesel locomotive switching yard," McKnight told Warren. "But traditionally we've found it acceptable that children on the farm can do tasks around heavy machinery, large animals and potentially toxic chemicals." (Read more) (Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram)

More prisoners being sent across state lines as space grows more scarce

"Chronic prison overcrowding has corrections officials in Hawaii and at least seven other states looking increasingly across state lines for scarce prison beds, usually in prisons run by private companies," reports Solomon Moore in The New York Times. Facing a court mandate, California last week transferred 40 inmates to Mississippi and has plans for at least 8,000 to be sent out of state. The long-distance arrangements account for a small fraction of the country’s total prison population — about 10,000 inmates, federal officials estimate — but corrections officials in states with the most crowded prisons say the numbers are growing." (Read more)

Most of the prisons are located in rural areas, such as Beattyville and Wheelwright in Eastern Kentucky. The phenomenon has "raised concerns among some corrections officials about excessive prisoner churn, consistency among the private vendors and safety in some prisons," Moore reports. "Moving inmates from prison to prison disrupts training and rehabilitation programs and puts stress on tenuous family bonds, corrections officials say, making it more difficult to break the cycle of inmates committing new crimes after their release. Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses."

Virginia's first environmental court makes a dent in mountain county's litter

"Virginia’s first court dedicated to environmental cases has flourished in Wise County since its October 2006 beginning," reports the Coalfield Progress. "The people of the county are finally starting to see that trash-related offenses are being taken seriously, county litter control and recycling coordinator Greg Cross said."

Cross told reporter Bonnie Bates that more people are testifying against those charged with littering because they are tired of trash littering the county. "So far, eight people have been convicted for illegal dumping, six have been convicted for trash accumulation, one was convicted for littering and one was convicted for having an illegal junkyard," she writes. "Judgments in these cases ranged from $5,000 to $200."

Cross said he tries to settle many of the trash accumulation offenses outside court, and if offenders don't comply, they are charged in environmental court, which the district judge holds once a month and has a 100 percent conviction rate. "Punishment for the offenses includes a judgement, being ordered to clean the mess and ordered to not commit the same crime again," Bates writes. (Read more)

Appalachian math and science teachers trained to help colleagues, pupils

When students in some Appalachian school districts return to classes in a few days, they will find teachers armed with new tools to help them better learn science and mathematics. Last month, 35 teachers from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia attended a week-long program on "new classroom techniques and content, then having them return to their rural districts to provide support to their colleagues" teaching science and math, and thus help pupils too, writes Sean Cavanagh of Education Week.

"That teacher-to-teacher connection, supporters of such programs say, provides educators working in rural, often impoverished districts with steady, on-site help in the subjects that vex many of them the most," Cavanagh writes, quoting Ron Atwood, an administrator of the program: "There are simply too many math and science teachers who need assistance of one kind or another, and too few people in higher education to help them meet their needs," so "We're trying to grow our own."

Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, told Cavanagh that schools are unable to recruit enough math and science teachers to keep up with departures from the field. "High school officials report that math teaching vacancies are the hardest to fill among all academic-content areas, and that physical- and life-science jobs are not far behind," Cavanagh reports.

The program is part of the Appalachian Math Science Partnership, a University of Kentucky project that received a $22 million National Science Foundation grant to improve math and science education in the three states and eliminate the achievement gap in science and math between students in the region and the rest of the nation. NSF made smaller grants to some other rural areas and continues to support them, Cavanagh reports. "Officials working on those projects issued a report last month showing improved test scores in districts that sent teachers through the training, gains supporters believe are partly attributable to math and science instruction that rural teachers are passing on to their colleagues."

Sandra L. Godbey, a curriculum coach in Casey County, Kentucky, who attended the program in Clinton, Tenn., told Cavanagh that many elementary school teachers "don’t understand the appropriate vocabulary, or the ‘why’ of the math. They just know the algorithm." (Read more)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Community papers and the digital shift: Plenty of life, but new challenges

“Do we have a future?” That was the question seven media executives tried to answer for 100 editors and publishers at the North Carolina Press Association meeting Friday in Charlotte. The companies represented own newspapers and broadcast stations large and small, and some remarks had rural relevance. This report is exceprted from a much longer one filed by Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on his Carrboro Commons Web site.

“I’d like to make a case for weeklies and community dailies. ... There’s a lot of life there,” said Max Heath, vice-president of Landmark Community Newspapers, based in Shelbyville, Ky. “We think we’re still number one source for news. [Because of online] we’re becoming the daily market of the weekly world. There’s some really good papers out there … including the Brunswick Beacon [of Shallotte, N.C.] ... So we’re bullish. … We’re looking to grow our online presence too.”

Moderator Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press and former chairman of Gannett Co. Inc., asked Heath, “We’re hearing a lot about about local, local, local. We hear a lot about that. Or is it the same old thing just wearing a new dress?” Heath replied, “Those of us who have been doing [community journalism] for a long time [know that’s] our bread and butter … and we sorta resent the term ‘hyperlocal’...”

Lauterer reports: “Heath said Landmark is also investing in online and interactive media. However, Landmark has seen some loss in the community market in circulation areas, which is unusual for them. Heath blames higher gas prices. . . . Heath says average readers say they just can’t afford the newspaper subscription.”

Asked how they keep employees motivated when resources are declining, Heath said, “Most community newspapers have a lot of cross-training. ... Everybody does everything anyway. I do think in the community market there is room for niche publications,” such as newspapers targeted to the lake communities in Tennessee. “We’re trying to niche our Web sites too. ... Innovating is what we’re trying to get people to do. ... Recruiting and retention is one of our biggest challenges. We often have to be growing our own.”

Curley told the group, “Whether you’re at a small paper or the largest in the country, it’s decision time. ... The end of the world is not upon us. ... The market for content is growing … whether it’s for general news, sports, entertainment or finance … more people are seeking that content … but we’re doing a terrible job telling our story, because we’re not sure of what our story is.” He added, “Fear of change remains one of our biggest obstacles. . . . The biggest challenge is how we define community, whether they be print or online.”

Other panelists were Reid Ashe, exec vice-president and CEO, Media General Inc.; Scott Flanders, president/CEO, Freedom Communications; Jay Smith, president, Cox Newspapers Inc.; Howard Weaver, vice-president/news, McClatchy Co.; and Mary Jacobus, president/COO, New York Times Regional Media Group. She said, “Our Hendersonville, N.C., paper [the Times-News] is doing extremely well thanks to strong leadership there. We have never had a larger audience for our content, including weeklies and niche products. ... What we quite haven’t figured out how to monetize [online] yet. And I think it’s just going to take some time for our advertisers to come around and see how much it’s worth.”

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rural-connected stocks dropped even more than Dow in a very bad week

"It wasn’t a good week for any stock index," and especially not for the Yonder 40, an index created four weeks ago by the Daily Yonder, the new rural-news site with a political bent. "The Yonder 40 fell 6.7 percent this week, dropping the 40-stock index of the rural economy below its beginning level of July 1," the Yonder reports. "The Dow was down 4.2 percent in the week. The NASDAQ was down 4.7 percent and the Standard and Poor’s 500 index was off 4.9 percent. All the indexes are below their levels of July 1."

All the Yonder 40 stocks were down for the week, except gunmaker Sturm Luger, which was "up strongly again," more than 16 percent, and smokeless-tobacco maker UST (which stands for its old identity, U.S. Tobacco), Yonder Co-Editor Bill Bishop reports today. "In the meantime, an interesting discussion has broken out about the meaning of the Yonder 40. Last week, The Rural Populist asked what the 40 really meant."

The RP is Brian Depew, who does the blog when he's not working for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb. In a note to the Yonder, he took issue with some elements of the index: “When Wal-Mart is doing well, businesses up and down main street in rural communities are being driven out of business. And when Wal-Mart is doing well money is being sucked out of rural communities, destined for the pockets of rich urbanites. When Smithfield is doing well, farmers aren't receiving a fair price for their livestock. And when Smithfield is doing well, family livestock producers are being put our of business. And so it goes for a number of the stocks in the Yonder 40. So, what does the Yonder 40 really tell us?”

A founder of the Yonder 40 and a former Standard and Poor's managing director, James Branscome, replied: "None of us may like it and would love a stock index that reflects the hard work of the small farmer and throws in the sweet smell of alfalfa drying in the windrow, but the reality of what really drives the rural American economy is Wal-Mart and the 39 other companies in the Yonder 40. We did take the Waltons down a few notches when we equal-weighted their $115 billion colossus in the Yonder 40 with the $4 billion Dean Foods that peddles butter and half and half, all made from real American milk. Or, at least, none of it from cows in China. We sorted through about 3,000 stocks before we selected the sainted 40. It would have been nice had we come across investable public companies that represent farmer cooperatives, rural electric co-ops, or worker-owned coal mines and sawmills. There ain't none. No fan of the Daily Yonder may be comfortable with it, but the reality is that Thomas Jefferson's vision of America as a nation of farmers and toilers in the soil is as dead as our third president. Or at least that's what you find when you try to construct an index using SEC-registered and stock-exchange-listed companies for rural America." (Read more)

Map and tables give state and major-county data on factory farms

Food & Water Watch, a group opposed to "corporate control of food and water," this week released what is says is the "first-ever national map charting factory farms to illustrate how these facilities are concentrated in some regions of the country." For the group's press release, click here.

The map shows how states rank in the number of concentrated animal feeding operations for beef and dairy cattle, hogs and chickens (which can be separated by broilers, which are concentrated in the Southeast, and layers, which are widely scattered). Clicking on a state gives the number of CAFOs counted in the 2002 Census of Agriculture. A chart gives the top 30 counties in each category, called "top polluters."

Be sure to click on the map's Methodology button, because the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of a CAFO is complex and the Census of Agriculture "does not measure data based on the same exact criteria," the group says.

Salina Journal: USDA Rural Development goal ‘to keep rural America alive’

"Welcome to government class," writes Michael Strand of the Salina Journal. "Today, we'll start with a pop quiz." Multiple-choice questions about funding of a health clinic, digital TV for northwest Kansas, energy-efficiency measures for rural groceries and a telemedicine project all had the same answer: The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which could just as well be named the Department of Food and Rural Affairs. Most of the spending authorized by the Farm Bill is for food and nutrition, including food stamps, and Strand points out that USDA "is the go-to agency for a large share of government assistance in America's rural areas, including a range of programs that might not seem related at all to agriculture."

Chuck Banks, the Kansas director for USDA's Rural Development program, told Strand: "There are about 2 million Americans who receive farm payments, and about 1 million live on the farm -- but there are 65 million Americans in rural communities, with under 25,000 people." And that's just one definition of "rural;" under lower population criteria used by some programs, America's rural population is 90 million. Strand's take on Rural Development: "In general, the goal is to help keep rural America alive."

One little-known program helps small, rural businesses improve their energy efficiency. When Pat White, who owns five groceries in Kansas, got a letter about it, he threw it away. "I saw 'Department of Agriculture' on the envelope and thought, 'I'm not a farmer' and threw it away," he told Strand, with a chuckle. "A couple years later, I found out they had something to help grocery stores." Grants and loans from the program have helped White replace old, inefficient frozen-food cases and lighting in his Phillipsburg store, and the refrigerated produce cases are to be replaced soon.

Rural advocates say Rural Development needs to offer more grants, like those made to urban areas by other agencies. Strand quotes testimony Vernon Kelley, past president of the National Association of Development Organizations, to the Senate Agriculture Committee, "While USDA Rural Development is an essential partner for our rural communities, we are alarmed that its infrastructure, broadband and community facilities portfolio has become almost exclusively focused on direct loan and loan guarantee programs," and the Bush administration wants to cut those appropriations. (Read more)

Appalachia may be growing -- in one sense, with addition of counties

The Appalachian Regional Commission's service area, which defines "official Appalachia," includes many counties that most Americans would not think of as Appalachian -- such as those on the southern tier of New York and in northeast Mississippi, the two extremities of the commission's boundaries. Those regions were included mainly to boost political support in Congress for the ARC when it was created in 1965, and the loose socioeconomic criteria have allowed additions of several counties over the years.

Now the U.S. House has passed a bill, House Resolution 799, that would add 13 counties to the region, making a total of 423 eligible for funding and other favors from the commission. Generally from north to south, here are the counties that would be added in each state, with the county seat in parentheses:

Ohio: Ashtabula (Ashtabula), Mahoning (Youngstown), Trumbull (Warren), all bordering ARC counties in Pennsylvania, and Fayette (Washington Court House), which would be the first "official Appalachian" county with a segment of Interstate 71 -- a striking illustration of the region's expansion beyond the highlands.

Kentucky: Robertson (Mount Olivet), the state's smallest county, at only 2,200 people; adjoining Nicholas (Carlisle), the southern half of which is in the Inner Bluegrass Region, well removed from the mountains; and Metcalfe (Edmonton), long mostly surrounded by ARC counties. It became even more of a cartographic anomaly a few years ago, when the region gained Hart County, adjoining on the northwest, and Edmonson, west of Hart, creating a western ARC appendage that included Mammoth Cave National Park but included counties with low per-capita incomes, a key criterion for the commission's work.

Virginia: Henry (Martinsville), a Piedmont county but one that has seen big reversals in its major industries of tobacco, textiles and furniture, and is served by Appalachian Power Co.; and Patrick (Stuart), a hilly county that includes Bull Mountain and a segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Where the parkway crosses US 58 is a place with one of our favorite names, Meadows of Dan (source of the Dan River). Now, please, forgive us this little tangent: Just southwest of Meadows of Dan, the parkway intersects and parallels Mayberry Church Road. Perhaps that was the source of a fictional town name for Andy Griffith, who grew up in Mount Airy, N.C., the next town of any size if you keep heading southwest. That's in Surry County; it and Stokes County, to the east and away from the Blue Ridge, are already in the ARC region. For regional maps, click here.

Tennessee: Lewis (Hohenwald), Lawrence (Lawrenceburg), Giles (Pulaski) and Lincoln (Fayetteville). That string of counties runs more west-east than north-south, and adding them would reduce a mapping anomaly while creating others. It would add three of the seven Tennessee counties that border ARC counties in Alabama and Mississippi, but adding Lewis (named for explorer Meriwether Lewis, who died there under mysterious circumstances on the Natchez Trace) would be a northwesterly extension of the region. And the change would create a big notch by omitting Moore County, home of the Jack Daniel Distillery at Lynchburg.

Ohio governor orders council to get broadband for every county in state

"Ohio's Appalachian governor has ordered that broadband Internet access be made available to every county in the state," reports Julie Carr Smyth of The Associated Press statehouse bureau in Columbus. Gov. Ted Strickland on Friday "directed the Ohio Broadband Council to coordinate an effort that will extend broadband access to all 88 counties and allow public and private entities to tap into the network."

"Ohio's economic future relies on our ability to compete in a high-speed, high-tech global marketplace," Strickland said in a statement. "The Ohio Broadband Council will partner with the public and private sectors to help make sure that every Ohioan has viable access to affordable, high-speed internet service, regardless of where they live, work or learn." For the news release and executive order, click here.

"Internet access in Ohio's Appalachian region has been particularly slow to arrive," Smyth reports. "The effort to expand broadband access is aimed specifically at regions of the state such as Appalachia, where the economy and education levels have fallen behind, the coal industry has faltered and manufacturing jobs have moved abroad. Some schools face a technology gap in a largely rural, mountainous region where high-speed Internet is spotty. . . . The Governor’s Office of Appalachia announced earlier this month it was partnering with The Ohio State University to bring broadband access to community-owned wireless networks in several Appalachian counties, and up to three communities will receive a community learning center with computers for public use at no charge." (Read more)

In West Virginia, Clinton rouses crowd on Iraq but is careful about coal

Sen. Hillary Clinton drew big crowds yesterday as she took her presidential campaign to West Virginia, but touched gingerly on the subject of the state's major extractive industry, reports The Charleston Gazette.

“She emphasized other energy methods and said coal needs to be burned more cleanly,” Tom Searls wrote, quoting Clinton: “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to make it work for America.”

Clinton spoke to “a standing-room-only crowd of more than 700” at West Virginia State University. “She brought the crowd to its feet more than once, but never for longer than when she said she would end the war in Iraq,” Searls reported.

“Clinton began her day in Charleston running late to a 1 p.m. fundraising luncheon at a downtown hotel. Charleston City Councilman Harry Deitzler, who helped organize the event, said he was told it was the largest primary fundraiser ever for a presidential candidate in the state.” (Read more)

Obama goes rural in Iowa, hits ‘corporate megafarms,’ plans summit

Sen. Barack Obama, on a two-day tour of rural Iowa, "pledged Friday to seek help for struggling family farmers and offer more incentives for renewable fuel development," The Associated Press reports. "Rather than investing in rural opportunity, our government is handing out subsidies to corporate megafarms," he told a crowd of about 200 on a farm near Adel..

Obama is from Chicago. "He said that representing Illinois, with its heavy farm sector, gives him credibility on rural issues and insight into small farmers’ plight," AP reports. "He said as president he would continue pushing for a rural agenda, including trade policies that encourage more farming exports. Obama said rural America suffers from a lack of access to broadband Internet service, as well as farm programs that don’t focus on small family farmers and renewable fuel producers."

Obama named three agriculture experts "to study policies that would help rural America," AP reports. "He said he plans to hold an economic summit meeting next month to explain some of these policies. " (Read more) "When the conversation veered away from farming – as it often did – Mr. Obama sought to steer it back to agriculture policy," reports The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny, a longtime Iowa reporter.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Farm Bill passes House with support of most Democrats, most farm groups

"The House of Representatives passed its version of the farm bill Friday by a vote of 231 to 191," reports Brownfield Network. "The vote was closer than it otherwise would have been because of the funding mechanism used to pay for additional spending on nutrition and other programs included in the farm bill. Democrats decided to end a tax exemption for foreign companies that employ U.S. workers, describing the move as 'closing a tax loophole,' and many Republicans balked, characterizing the move as a 'tax increase'."

Most agricultire and commodity groups, including the more liberal or populist National Farmers Union, supported the bill. The 19 Republicans who backed included Rep. Adrian Smith of Nebraska, who told Brownfield he did do "in large measure, because his constituents wanted him to," Peter Shinn reports.

But as Smith acknowledged, "Chances are, the farm bill will end up quite different than how it stands right now." Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said Friday afternoon that the House bill "did serious damage to conservation," which he promised to correct. And Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said at the National Press Club that the House bill is unacceptable. (Read more) For an analysis from Washington by Michael Smith for the Council of State Governments, click here.

The bill "devotes more money to conservation, renewable energy, nutrition and specialty crop programs than in the past but leaves in place - and in some cases increases - subsidies to producers of major crops such as corn and soybeans at a time of record-high prices," reports Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The Associated Press. "It reflected a delicate straddle for Democrats writing their first farm bill in a decade, who struggled to balance the needs of first-term, farm-state lawmakers against the demands of liberals seeking more money for environmental and nutrition programs." The bill would stop payments for farmers' multiple businesses.

The bill "includes requirements for country of origin labeling on meat. It curtails payments to farmers with incomes over $1 million," down from the current $2.5 million, reports the Daily Yonder, which has a story about "the revolution in national farming attitude and allegiances that's taken place below all the skirmishes on the surface." It also has this USDA map, one snapshot of the geographic distribution of farm subsidies.

Rural philanthropy is getting a fresh focus that could make a big difference

Rural areas fare poorly in getting grants from foundations, but foundations are paying attention to the issue, and responding favorably to a challenge from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to do more. Next month representatives of more than 100 foundations will meet with the Senate Finance Committee chairman in Missoula, Mont., "to consider ways to meet his challenge," reports The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

While rural problems differ around the country, almost all rural charities "have a harder time getting foundation money than their urban counterparts," writer Suzanne Perry reports. "Many operate on shoestring budgets, cover vast geographic areas, and are located far away from big urban foundations." Shannon Cunningham, president of the West Virginia Grantmakers Association, told Perry that travel issues forced the state chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals to disband.

In Montana, the recently created Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits in Helena got foundation money to help improve charity operations, and for research that showed a "philanthropic divide" between states that have large foundation assets and those that do not. (Perry's story is accompanied by a state-by-state chart listing foundation assets in each state.) That research prompted Baucus to issue his challenge at last year's Council on Foundations meeting, and led to next month's conference.

"Rural advocates say the time is ripe to carve out a strategy to revitalize rural areas, many of which are suffering from problems such as population loss and poverty, because an enormous transfer of wealth is expected to take place over the next half century as people die and leave money to their heirs — a projected $41 trillion, according to one study," Perry writes. "If even a fraction of that money could be tapped, they say, it could help transform rural America. In fact, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in Battle Creek, Mich., is considering a major grant of $30 million to help community foundations across the country convince people in rural areas to leave a small percentage of their estates to their towns."

Rick Foster, Kellogg's vice president for programs, said at last month's National Rural Assembly that the foundation has discovered "bipolar" views of rural areas: (1) "People living there are hard-working people, they're self-sufficient, self-reliant," and turn to neighbors when they need help, too proud to accept outside aid. (2) "Everybody's name is Bubba, and they're not intelligent at all." They run meth labs, have high rates of teenage pregnancy and youth drug abuse and "really don't deserve our help."

A 2004 study of rural philanthropy for the Center for Rural Strategies found that foundations were unsure how to define "rural" and preferred regional grants for particular missions. "Many questioned whether rural groups had the capacity to manage grants and carry out programs effectively," Perry writes. "And some were troubled by the absence of a 'critical mass' of donors in rural areas. Despite the obstacles, momentum is growing in some quarters to devote more attention to rural issues." (Read more)

Brain drain: Rural states struggle to keep single, college-educated youth

Well-educated young people continue to emigrate from "a number of states in the Midwest, Great Plains and Northeast, taking high tax revenues and economic potential with them," reports Stateline.org.

"To reverse the loss of such a valuable asset, states are trying solutions that veer from granting financial incentives to stay, to trying to create jobs to keep and attract new workers, to improving the quality of life for young people," Pauline Vu writes. "The problem for states is there's no sure-fire solution."

"There is an argument of what comes first — the businesses who hire the graduates, or the graduates who lure the businesses? I don't think the research on that is definitive," Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told Stateline.

"Maine will become the first state to give future college graduates a hefty tax credit to help pay back their student loans if they stay and work in the state. The incentive could amount to a yearly tax credit of just under $5,000 a year over the course of 10 years," Vu reports. Such programs "usually have been targeted at specific jobs such as doctors or math and science teachers or directed at rural areas," and several states recently rejected proposals for broader incentives.

Bruce Vandal, the director of post-secondary education and workforce development for the Education Commission of the States, told Vu that if jobs aren’t there for college graduates, "there’s no reason … they would stay, even with the financial incentives." Vu notes, "Many rural states have a natural disadvantage when it comes to a quality of life that appeals to the young." (Read more)

A Census Bureau report says that from 1995 to 2000, the states that lost the biggest percentage of single college graduates aged 25 to 39 were North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana. The biggest gainers were Nevada, Colorado and Georgia, with Atlanta being a major national magnet.

States put belts on school buses; new guidelines, crash video may spur more

"Texas just decided that school kids should be strapped into buses equipped with lap and shoulder belts. California, Florida, Louisiana, New York and New Jersey require seat belts on new school buses, too," reports Tony Lang of Gannett News Service.

"Yet most school districts across the country don't require seat belts on school buses -- largely because of cost and low fatality rates that say the big yellow bus already is safe. But sentiment may be changing. New federal guidelines due this fall are expected to propose voluntary standards for the use of belts. That's a shift in long-standing policy."

Each year, U.S. children suffer about 17,000 injuries related to school buses, "a rate up to three times more than expected," Lang reports, citing research by Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio. And he suggests that "rare crash video from inside a Grant County, Ky., bus" could spur states to require belts. The video "shows little kids being flung to one side then the other, as drug-impaired driver Angelynna Young swerves. No one was killed in the crash. But all 17 kids were sent to hospitals . . . " (Read more)

Young pleaded guilty last month to two counts of assault, eight counts of drug possession and 15 counts of wanton endangerment. She tried to withdraw her plea this month, and denied she was high at the time of the crash, but the judge refused her request and sentenced her to 22 years in prison. The video was played at the sentencing, reports Jamie Baker-Nantz in the Grant County News. For her story and photos, click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Politicians rediscover newspapers, especially smaller ones, as ad medium

"At a time when many categories of newspaper advertising are declining, the political message is making a comeback," reports Kevin Helliker in The Wall Street Journal today. As overall spending on campaigns doubled to $3.1 billion between 2002 and 2006, the amount spent on newspapers, including their online editions, tripled to $104 million, according to PQ Media. The rate of growth appears to be highest in races for local posts, such as mayor and state legislator, because newspapers boast greater penetration and influence in small- to medium-size markets."

Newspapers still have less than 5 percent of the political ad market, but "a growing number of political consultants say newspapers can offer distinct advantages over television and other media," Helliker reports. "Newspaper readers vote at above-average rates. Even amid circulation declines, newspapers in many markets reach an audience that is competitive with any single broadcast channel, a strength that online editions are bolstering. Online editions also are reaching a demographic group that their print editions have been losing -- the young reader."

Here's the part of this story we really liked: "Newspapers also allow for more sophisticated arguments than are delivered in the typical 30-second television campaign." Helliker cites the print ads by Republican consultant Arthur Haney for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2004, making an argument perhaps too complex for a TV ad. Hackney told Helliker that newspaper ads helped "turn the tide" in several campaigns he ran.

Helliker suggests that newspaper sales staffs aren't as aggressive as they could be in selling political ads, but notes: "The nation's fourth-largest newspaper chain, Lee Enterprises Inc. of Davenport, Iowa, has appointed a corporate sales executive to drum up political advertising at Lee's 50-some papers in mostly small- to medium-size markets." (Read more)

Dolly Parton's brother aims to tourist-ize Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

Jonathan Cox of the News & Observer in Raleigh writes from Roanoke Rapids, N.C., just south of Virginia: "This border city has visions of Branson. Or at least Myrtle Beach. Long known as an interstate pit stop at North Carolina's northern entrance, Roanoke Rapids aims to become an entertainment destination. Leaders envision a showcase with a water park, live shows and restaurants to grab tourists along Interstate 95 and rev up a sputtering economy. What they have is a name, Carolina Crossroads; 123 acres carved with roads such as 'Music Way' . . . and a theater bearing the name of a man best known for being his sister's brother."

That's Randy Parton, sibling of Dolly Parton, who turned a theme park in her home Sevier County, Tenn., into Dollywood and made it the premier commercial attraction of the Great Smoky Mountains. "His theater, built with $21.5 million borrowed by the city, opens today. Officials project as many as 300,000 patrons the first year, a forecast some consider optimistic. In the community, excitement mixes with uncertainty," Cox reports, quoting one woman: "I think it's going to work out. We hope so, anyway." (N&O photo shows the siblings singing the national anthem at the 2005 groundbreaking.)

Hope is an important word these days in Roanoke Rapids, an old textile-mill town of 17,000 where foreign competition has boosted Halifax County's unemployment rate "as high as 11.9 percent in January 2002. It's now 6.5 percent," Cox writes. He says the city is using aggressive tactics "similar to those adopted in the state's other ailing manufacturing towns, but it's playing out differently. In Kannapolis, near Charlotte, leaders are betting on a new biotechnology hub backed by billionaire octogenarian David Murdock and top universities. Lenoir won Google, which is building a computer facility. Roanoke Rapids got Parton."

And to some, that is not a favorable comparison, Cox reports: "Many residents are skeptical that Parton, who is virtually guaranteed $750,000 a year, plus a house and car, will be a big enough draw. His last hit was in 1983 -- "A Stranger in Her Bed," which was No. 92 on the Billboard country charts -- yet, he's the only name on the playbill through year end. The project is unfolding slowly. Plans called for the theater to open as early as March." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Agriculture secretary says he'd recommend veto of committee Farm Bill

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said yesterday that he “and the President’s entire team of senior advisors will recommend that he veto this bill,” the Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee.

“Johanns says the measure as sent out of the committee is too pricey and will require tax increases to be implemented,” reports Tom Steever of Brownfield Network, a Midwest farm news service. Johanns called the bill's loan-rate and target-price provisions as a step backward in farm policy and said it would bring intense scrutiny from the World Trade Organization. “The loan rates that exceed market prices create an incentive to plant one crop over another regardless of market demand,” the secretary said. (Read more)

Dan Morgan reports for The Washington Post, “Farm-state Republicans had been lining up with Democrats to defend the bipartisan bill but changed course when notified that a proposed increase in nutrition programs would be funded partly by tightening the rules on U.S.-based foreign companies that avoid U.S. taxes by using offshore havens. Republicans quickly picked up on a White House statement branding the funding plan as an unacceptable tax increase. . . . Democrats said the tax proposal would merely close a loophole that the Bush administration itself has decried in the past."Who is surprised that the administration takes the side of CEOs who hold beachside board meetings at the expense of programs to feed the least fortunate here at home?" asked Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. The furor added a new element to an increasingly heated debate over whether the bill would provide meaningful reforms to the sprawling farm-subsidy system.” (Read more)

The New York Times' David Herszenhorn, catching up to previous coverage by the Post, reports the politics: Faced with fierce opposition from the House Agriculture Committee, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and other Democratic leaders lowered their sights and are now backing the committee’s bill, in part to protect freshman lawmakers from rural areas who may be vulnerable in the 2008 elections. (Read more) A Congressional Budget Office report said the bill would increase spending by $5.8 billion through 2012.

Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., defended the bill as “supported by a broad spectrum of agriculture, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy advocates,” Peterson said in a prepared statement. “(The bill) represents a carefully crafted compromise that includes substantial reforms and new investments in programs that matter, including fruit and vegetable production, nutrition programs, conservation and renewable energy. Our bill implements Country of Origin Labeling, improves food safety, and paves the way for energy independence while preserving the safety net that our farmers and ranchers need.” (Read more)

Clinton, Obama square off in the Quad-City Times, bewildering NBC

"The two Democratic front-runners have finally engaged, rather than simply allowing their staffs to go back-and-forth," NBC News Political Editor Chuck Todd says in this morning's "First Read," analyzing the back-and-forth that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had in the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa. (Can you name the four Quad Cities? See the bottom of this item for the answer.)

The Democratic candidates "tangled Tuesday in some of their sharpest terms yet over how to deal with countries that are antagonistic to the United States," reports the QCT's Ed Tibbetts. "In an interview with the Quad-City Times, U.S. Sen. Clinton, of New York, labeled as “irresponsible” and “naive” Obama’s statement that he was willing to meet, without precondition, the leaders of five countries hostile to the United States during the first year of his presidency. U.S. Sen. Obama, of Illinois, countered in a separate interview with the Times, accusing the Clinton campaign of hatching a “fabricated controversy” and suggesting that her position put her on the same track as the Bush administration."

Tibbets notes, "The exchange sprang from a questioner on a YouTube/CNN television debate Monday night asking whether Obama would be willing to meet in the first year of his presidency, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Obama said he would." Clinton said she would not without an understanding of what any such meeting would be about, to avoid being used for propaganda.

NBC's Todd writes, "The only thing that strikes us odd about yesterday’s skirmish is that the candidates launched their attacks and counterattacks via such a small media venue (the Quad City Times). It's like two major deciding to go to war . . . over the Falkland Islands. Yesterday our producers in New Hampshire tried to get Clinton to say her criticism on camera and she demurred. And neither candidate granted an interview to any other media on this issue. If neither candidate chooses to put their words on camera today, does this mean the skirmish is over?" (Read more)

No, Chuck, it doesn't. Folks in Iowa do care about foreign policy and how the president deals with those who are our foes or cast themselves as such. What we see here is a measured escalation by the candidates, willing to go at it in print but not in the hotter medium of TV, or even radio. Sound bites hit harder. Hats off to Ed Tibbets for getting the story. (The QCs: Davenport and Bettendorf, Ia., and Moline and Rock Island, Ill.)

Newspaper war going full steam in Mayberry -- er, Mount Airy, N.C.

"What would Sheriff Andy Griffith think about the newspaper brawl going on in his old Mayberry?" asks Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He reports on a visit to Griffith's hometown, Mount Airy, N.C., which after decades of conflicted feelings after decades of conflicted feelings and sharp declines in its traditional industries (textiles, tobacco, furniture) has embraced tourism and the "Mayberry" monicker:

When Heartland Publications LLC of Old Saybrook, Conn., bought Mid-South Management of Spartanburg, S.C., last month, and began to cut staff and consolidate operations at the daily Mount Airy News and weeklies in Elkin, Yadkinville, West Jefferson and Stokes County, leaders and staff of the Mount Airy and Elkin papers started The Messenger, a five-day-a-week newspaper for Surry County.

"After securing financial backing of a local investor who is said to have deep pockets, they set up shop in a local shopping center and went about the adventurous business of creating what Publisher Michael Milligan claims is the first daily start-up in North Carolina in 40 years (although I’ve just learned there a new daily in Fayetteville that may have beat the Messenger to that claim). Be that as it may, the Messenger is pretty unusual," Lauterer reported on his blog July 17. "And another thing the new paper’s leaders wanted me to know, the Messenger is an investor-employee owned paper. That’s a different breed of cat, and accounts for the energy I witnessed at the Messenger office during my visit today."

The Messenger reports a free, home-delivery circulation of 8,973, with rack sales making the figure around 10,000 -- more than the Mount Airy News' 9,200. Heartland is fighting back with a lawsuit accusing the former publishers of “raiding” key personnel, circulation records and computer passwords. Lauterer writes, "I’m not going to stick my foot in this legal donnybrook. . . . My job is to try and help ALL community newspapers of this state. That’s what I was trying to do last month when I phoned the new editor of the Elkin Tribune, and when I began chatting about the change in ownership, he abruptly hung up on me. In my publisher’s playbook, that is an unforgivable sin. You don’t hang up on people no matter what. So excuse me if I’m not feeling very charitable towards Heartland Publications LLC right now."

Lauterer notes his "decades-long relationship with many of the folks at the old News and Tribune," and his placement of "one of my most outstanding community journalism students, Meghan Cooke, at the News for an internship there this summer, never suspecting that the rising junior from King might get caught up in the teeth of this newspaper slugfest. Visiting and counseling with Meghan today, I was relieved to hear her say that the experience, though harrowing, has been valuable. With the News staff down to a skeleton crew, her workload (and number of clips) has increased tremendously, making her all but indispensable to the News."

Lauterer got a better reception in Mount Airy, where Heartland Publisher Gary Lawrence gave him some time."I left the News feeling a little better about Heartland," he writes. "At the busy office of the Messenger, I watched an impromptu newsroom jam session where publisher Milligan delivered a stirring pep talk. “We’re on the cutting edge!” he told his staff with the vigor of a high school football coach dishing out a halftime locker-room pep talk." He calls Editor Rebel Good (yes, that's his name) "the wise old civics teacher. Their chemistry works. . . . And the Messenger is on the cutting edge. In a country where most all dailies are distributed by paid subscription, starting up a daily and offering it for free is a bold and risky business model.
But if anybody can make it work, these folks can. Their online edition should be up and working some time in late July. Go to www.surrymessenger.com."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Documentary examines effects of building three prisons in one rural county

Many rural areas hungry for jobs turn to prisons, private or public, as reliable, good-paying employers. But many residents object, for many reasons. The debates get a lot of coverage, but once the decision is made to accept a prison, there is less coverage of the ramifications. Local journalists might see that as beating a dead horse, and stirring up hard feelings, but what about other rural communities facing the same question? They could use some background, and they can get at least a taste of it tonight on PBS, with the documentary “Prison Town, USA,” part of the public network's series “P.O.V.,” which stands for for “point of view.” (Some local stations air the series at a different time or on a different night, so check your listings.)

The film is about Susanville and Lassen County, Calif., populations 13,500 and 34,000, respectively. They "underwent a substantial makeover with the construction of three huge prisons" about 10 years ago, Neil Genzlinger writes for The New York Times. "The hopes were that the complex would take the place of lumber and other major businesses that were fading. The fears were — well, myriad. The film . . . looks at the big-picture issues Susanville now confronts through a collage of small stories. There are no documentary-style talking heads or charts here, just some very ordinary-looking people trying to find their places in a changed community. . . . The film is light on specifics, beyond the intriguing factoids interspersed in stark white-on-black lettering between scenes." (Read more)

The archives of the weekly Lassen County Times offer more specifics, almost all negative. A search for High Desert State Prison, one of the three correctional facilities in the area, produced 14 stories about riots, murders, shootings, escapes and conspiracies. A search for "prison" produced some articles about economic benefits, including an editorial by General Manager Pete Margolies endorsing construction of the newest prison, a federal facility -- but also other problems. A March 13 story detailed how Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to use the county jail to house convicts sentence to three years or less, instead of the current year or less. It also reported that the state had finally become current in reimbursements to the county for trials of cases stemming from the two state prisons. (Map from MSN Encarta)

North Carolina may ban new waste lagoons on hog farms, raise standards

The North Carolina House voted without dissent yesterday to prohibit new waste lagoons on hog farms, a source of much water pollution, and set higher standards for new waste disposal systems. The House made changes in a bill passed by the Senate, which will now consider the changes and seems likely to concur.

"Lawmakers are moving to pass the legislation before a 10-year-old moratorium on construction of new hog farms expires in September," reports Wade Rawlins of The News & Observer of Raleigh. "The measure fell short of a phase-out of existing lagoons that environmental groups initially sought. But it does provide aid to farmers to help them voluntarily convert to more environmentally friendly waste disposal systems. . . . Farms with existing waste lagoons could continue to use them and, in certain circumstances, could replace failing lagoons that pose an imminent hazard with new ones. Environmentalists said that change weakened the bill. But the hog industry contended that farmers could be put out of business otherwise."

Rawlins notes that North Carolina is the nation's No. 2 hog producer, and writes, "State leaders have been struggling with how to reduce the water and air pollution caused by the factory farms, which produce huge volumes of manure and urine that sit in open-air waste ponds. While the solids are broken down by bacteria, the liquid waste is sprayed on fields as fertilizer. During rains or floods, the waste can wash into streams, degrading water quality and promoting conditions that can cause fish kills." (Read more)

Newspapers in West Virginia seek dismissal of federal anti-trust lawsuit

The owners of The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail want a federal judge to dismiss a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit alleging that the Gazette bought the Daily Mail's half of the papers' joint operating agreement (JOA) in 2004 to put the Mail out of business.

The response denied that, noting the deal required the Mail’s previous owner, MediaNews Group, to control editorial policies of the paper. “The Gazette Co. and MediaNews had no such plan to close the Mail, nor do they have any such plan now,” the reply said. A staff story in the Gazette said the suit “cited cutbacks in Daily Mail operations — but Monday’s response said these have been only normal cost-saving steps, common to any newspaper facing competition from the Internet and other news media.”

The newspapers’ reply said the Justice Department was mistakenly assuming that papers in a JOA, which the department must approve, are in economic competition with each other. “In reality, it said, JOAs eliminate financial competition, letting papers pool costs and split profits,” the story said. “The only competition that remains is ‘the competition of “thoughts and ideas” that is beyond the scope of the antitrust laws,’ Monday’s filing said. ‘And, as any casual reader can attest, the two [Charleston] newspapers are fiercely independent.’” The Gazette's editorial stance is generally liberal, the Mail's generally conservative.

The response asked for “swift dismissal of the Justice Department case to avoid the extreme legal cost of the antitrust discovery process,” the non-bylined story said. (Read more) For a later story, carrying the byline of Daily Mail Business Editor George Hohmann, with a link to a PDF of the motion, click here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Terror fears, immigration debate keeping foreign doctors from rural U.S.

Efforts to bring more foreign physicians to rural America are hampered by "restrictions from the war on terror and the immigration debate," reports The Associated Press. "Many believe the process will become more difficult after the attempted terrorist bombings in Britain that have been linked to foreign doctors."

Foreign physicians already make up a considerable share of the doctors in poor rural areas that are classified as medically underserved. Physicians who immigrate to such areas can get J-1 visa waivers to work there for three to five years, "with a shot at eventually obtaining permanent residency," AP's Chris Talbott writes. But since the 2001 attacks, an Agriculture Department J-1 program has ended and the Department of Health and Human Services has changed rules so that fewer counties are designated as underserved. "The number of physicians in training with J-1 visa waivers has fallen by almost half over the past decade."

"The government estimates that more than 35 million Americans live in underserved areas, and it would take 16,000 doctors to immediately fill that need, according to the American Medical Association," Talbott writes. "And the gap is expected to widen dramatically over the next several years, reaching 24,000 in 2020 by one government estimate. A 2005 study in the journal Health Affairs said it could hit an astonishing 200,000 by then, based on a rising population and an aging work force."

"And that will mostly be felt in rural America," U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told Talbott: "We're facing a real crisis." Conrad sponsored a program that authorized 30 J-1 visas per state per year. The program is up for reauthorization next year. (Read more)

USDA paid dead farmers $1.1 billion over seven years, GAO audit says

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report," writes Sarah Cohen of The Washington Post. In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time."

Cohen explains: "Most estates are allowed to collect farm payments for up to two years after an owner's death, giving heirs time to restructure their businesses and probate the will. After that, local USDA officials must certify every year that the estate is still farming and has remained open for reasons other than simply collecting subsidies. But the GAO report found that the Agriculture Department depends on heirs and businesses to alert the agency to deaths and does not use other sources, such as Social Security records, to confirm eligibility." The report is to be released at a Senate Finance Committee meeting tomorrow.

"In a letter responding to the GAO report, the Agriculture Department said that the payments were not necessarily examples of fraud or abuse and that auditors did not prove any specific cases of cheating," Cohen reports. "The department's field offices defended the practice of routinely paying dead farmers' estates without fully investigating the claims, citing staff shortages and competing priorities." (Read more)

Giuliani, Romney lack rural platforms; relying on social issues for rural vote?

The two leading Republican candidates for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, have little if anything to say about rural issues, writes Bill Bishop, co-editor of the Daily Yonder, the new rural-news sit with a political bent. And he wonders why.

“When you look for ‘rural’ or ‘farm’ at either the Giuliani or Romney websites, there’s very little,” Bishop writes. “When you search back issues of newspapers for what these leaders have said about crop supports, rural housing or small schools, you don’t find much. Well, really, you don’t find a thing. Neither candidate has an ‘issues’ section dedicated to rural America. Neither candidate has a history of working on rural problems.”

Bishop says one reason may be that the candidates believe Republican voters are not as responsive to rural issues as they are to social issues, gay marriage being the latest and hottest example. He says political scientist Peter Francia of East Carolina University “controlled for every other demographic factor (age, race, income),” and found that rural voters' support for George W. Bush was 10 percentage points above the rest of the nation, and the most important factor in how they voted in was gay marriage.

“Of course, 2004 isn’t 2007 or 2008. But it may be that leading Republican candidates are pretending as if it is (and will be),” Bishop writes. “No wonder Republican candidates mention rural less often in their debates. Maybe they figure that opposition to gay marriage is a rural platform.” (Read more) For the Yonder's early take on former Sen. Fred Thompson, who's doing well in polls but has not declared his candidacy, click here.

Obama going after rural voters; schedules forum, policy summit in Iowa

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is turning his presidential campaign toward rural voters, who make up more than a third of the population in Iowa, where the first votes will be cast, and even more -- about 40 percent -- in the early-voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"Obama plans to host a rural policy forum on Friday in Dallas County, Iowa [just west of Des Moines], where he said he will gain insights directly from rural voters. He will also host a rural policy summit in Iowa in mid-August, which will focus on rural economic development, quality of life in rural communities, agriculture and renewable energy," Mike Glover of The Associated Press bureau in Des Moines reports on an interview with the candidate. "Obama isn't known as a candidate with much rural expertise, but he said his background in Illinois had given him insight into the challenges facing rural America."

Obama said rural and urban people share problems of health care access, failing school systems and lack of livable wages, but some issues are unique to rural, such as "spotty rural broadband and wireless coverage, underfunded community colleges and a need to make the most of the growing alternative energy industry," Glover writes. "
Some candidates, including former Sen. John Edwards, already have released plans for rural development, and others will likely do so in coming months. While Obama gave no specific date for rolling out his rural policy plan, he said he has put together a team of experts to assist in the effort." (Read more)

New tractors, education, tobacco changes help slash rollover deaths in Ky.

Kentucky once led the nation in tractor deaths, 82 percent of them from rollovers, but only one Kentucky farmer was killed as a result of a rollover last year, "the lowest tractor rollover death toll in the state in recent memory," Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports today.

Warren got the story idea from information presented at "Children and Agriculture: Telling the Story of Risks and Safety," a workshop held this month in Kentucky by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the National Farm Medicine Center and the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin. While the workshop focused on children's safety, broader farm-safety information was presented.

"Tractor rollovers traditionally have been a leading cause of farm deaths," Warren writes. "When Kentucky led the nation in 1994 with 28 tractor-related fatalities, 23 of them were caused by rollovers. "Safety officials think two main factors are behind the downward trend: Farmers are buying new tractors, which come with roll bars and seat belts as standard equipment, and they're following safety recommendations and putting rollover protection on more older tractors. And there are fewer small farmers, say the experts," because the federal tobacco program of quotas and price supports was abolished in 2004.

Melvin Myers, an associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health who works in farm-injury prevention, told Warren that American tractor manufacturers made roll bars standard on new tractors around 1985, but many farmers took the equipment off. "Also, many older tractors that lacked roll bars or seat belts remained in use on farms," Warren writes. "Now, that's beginning to change as old tractors wear out and farmers replace them with models equipped with roll bars." (Read more)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

North Dakota farmers, looking for more crop rotation, sue to raise hemp

David Monson, looking at his canola field in photo by Dan Koeck, is "at the leading edge of a national movement to legalize growing hemp, a plant that shares a species name, a genus type and, in many circles, a reputation, with marijuana," Monica Davey reports for The New York Times from Osnabrock, N.D.

Monson "listens to Rush Limbaugh in his tractor . . . is the high school principal in nearby Edinburg, population 252 . . . [and] is a Republican representative in Bismarck, the state capital, where his party dominates both houses of the legislature and the governor is a Republican," Davey writes, with just a hint of wonder. The legislature "has passed a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp and created an official licensing process to fingerprint such farmers and a global positioning system to track their fields," she reports.

"This year, Mr. Monson and another North Dakota farmer, with the support of the state’s agriculture commissioner, applied to the Drug Enforcement Administration for permission to plant fields of hemp immediately." But the DEA has not acted, and "hemp is considered the same as marijuana," Steve Robertson, a DEA agent at the agency's Washington headquarters, told the Times. Monson and another farmer have filed suit against the drug agency. Robertson told the Davey that the DEA was still reviewing their applications, but "he could not say much beyond that because of the litigation," she writes.

Hemp contains tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance that produces a marijuana high, but its advocates "note that it contains mere traces of THC, and that hemp (grown in other countries) is already found here in clothes, lotions, snack bars, car door panels, insulation and more," Davey writes. "Maine, Montana, West Virginia and other states have passed bills allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, Alexis Baden-Mayer of Vote Hemp, a group that lobbies for legalization of it as a regulated crop and is helping with the lawsuit, told Davey.

In North Dakota, the hemp movement took off when wheat farmers like Monson saw their fields attacked by a fungus and needed to practice more crop rotation. "Its tall stalks survive similarly cool and wet conditions in Canada, just 25 miles north of here, where it is legal, Davey reports. Monson told her, "This is not any subversive thing like trying to legalize marijuana or whatever. This is just practical agriculture. We’re desperate for something that can make us some money." (Read more)

Federal judge in Virginia accepts plea deal, big fines for OxyContin makers

After asking why three executives of Purdue Pharma shouldn't go to jail for their marketing of the painkiller OxyContin, which became the scourge of the Appalachians, U.S. District Judge James Jones accepted a plea agreement that requires the company to pay $600 million in fines. "While this may not be a popular decision, my job is not to make popular decisions but to follow the law," Jones said in court at Abingdon, Va.

"Jones said it would be improper to send someone to jail for something they didn't actually do," reports Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times. The executives "were held criminally accountable for misbranding committed by other company officials. In order to obtain convictions, prosecutors did not have to prove they even knew that crimes were being committed under their watch. Not only were the convictions based solely on the executives' positions of responsibility, there was also no evidence to link the misbranding to rampant abuse of OxyContin." The executives will pay $34.5 million in fines.

The executives "sat impassively through emotional statements by people who blame them for the overdose deaths of their loved ones. Other speakers recounted their own near-death experiences," Hammack reports. "Fifty people from around the country . . . held a vigil near the courthouse in a steady rain before going inside." Hammack cites the staggering statistics: "In far Southwest Virginia alone, more than 200 people have died in the past decade from overdoses of oxycodone, an opium-based narcotic that is the active ingredient in OxyContin. Police have also reported dramatic increases in crime as addicts turn to fraud, theft and violence to support their habits." (Read more)

Sigma Delta Chi Awards have rural connections, including a cartoonist;
his publisher sees provocative editorial page as a way to boost circulation

There were several winners with rural connections at last night's Sigma Delta Chi awards banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, but none so rural as Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia, circulation 18,500, who won the for editorial cartooning in 2006. Few papers with circulation under 20,000 have editorial cartoonists, a point noted by the judges, who said, "We applaud the Rome News-Tribune, a small newspaper, for having a full-time editorial cartoonist on staff."

Publisher Burgett Mooney III said in an interview that he wanted a cartoonist because he sees a "provocative" editorial page as a way to build and maintain circulation. "It gives us a place to really drive people to the newspaper," he said. Lester has been cartooning for the paper for five years. He was living in Rome and doing cartoons for an online news service until the dot-com bubble burst, then Mooney recruited him.

Lester tackles local, state, national and international topics, but said in an interview that he tries to make two of five cartoons a week have some local connection, often through a setting that is not identified but that local will recognize as a locale in the town of 35,000. Lester is generally conservative, but has an independent streak. The newspaper "tends to be what is considered conservative on economic matters and liberal on social issues," said the editorial-page editor, Pierre-Rene Noth.

The News-Tribune is part of News Publishing Co., which also publishes seven weeklies in northwest Georgia and Cherokee County, Alabama. The Sigma Delta Chi Awards were established in 1932 by the organization now known as the Society of Professional Journalists. The current program began in 1939, when Sigma Delta Chi presented its first Distinguished Service Awards. When Sigma Delta Chi changed its name to SPJ in the 1980s, the original name was retained for the awards and SPJ's foundation. Its board includes Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Several awards were handed out last night for coverage of rural issues by urban media. Marx Arax of the Los Angeles Times won in the magazine-writing category for a series of stories on a California raisin picker. Todd Melby and Duane Richard of Chicago Public Radio won in radio documentary for "Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students." Two awards were given for coverage of the Sago Mine disaster: to NBC Nightly News, for breaking news coverage on TV, and Mine Safety and Health News, for public service in newsletter journalism. For a complete list of this year's and past winners, click here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Edwards wrapup: Coverage from the mountains to the metropolitans

The purely rural day of presidential candidate John Edwards' "Road to One America," better known as "the poverty tour," produced much coverage in Central Appalachia and beyond. Here are tidbits and links:

The official end of the tour was in Prestonsburg, where the weekly Floyd County Times ran the photo above (by Ralph Davis), posted video on its Web site and YouTube and reported: "Edwards' speech focused on strengthening the lives of American workers, through higher wages, education and tax cuts. Although he spoke frankly about the broad spectrum between 'the very rich' and "everybody else," Edwards also said, 'People who are highly educated do very well.'" (Read more)

Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va., said "Edwards didn’t make a speech when he visited the Wise County fairgrounds Wednesday. He didn’t outline the changes he’ll make if he’s elected as the country’s leader. Nor did the former North Carolina senator take questions from the dozens of local, regional and national press representatives who covered the event. Instead, on the last day of a three-day tour aimed at highlighting the plight of poverty-stricken Americans, he listened. At an hour-long roundtable discussion conducted outside at three picnic tables, Edwards asked organizers of the annual Remote Area Medical outreach, which provides free health services, to tell him stories about healthcare problems in Southwest Virginia. He asked for it, and he got it, and so did the crowd of about 200 spectators who turned out to see a presidential candidate." (Read more) Deal also has a good "behind the scenes" story.

The nearest daily paper, Pikeville's Appalachian News-Express, focused on Edwards' appearance in adjoining Letcher County. Reporter Loretta Tackett said the overflow crowd at the Appalshop media and arts center was nevertheless "small," but "The stopping place was fitting for Edwards' tour, as Appalshop was founded in 1969 per President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of the 'War on Poverty.'" (Read more)

Carrie Kirschner of The Independent, a larger daily in Ashland, Ky., focused on an Edwards challenge to the current president, quoting the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential nominee: "I want to invite George Bush to come here. I want President Bush to see the other America and the challenges the people are faced with. I want him to understand what’s happening out here." (Read more)

The Lexington Herald-Leader highlighted concerns about drugs, expressed by young people. Cassondra Kirby wrote, "They told him that teens and young adults are overdosing at an alarming rate, while others are trapped in a vicious cycle of daily drug use. Young people described common images of high school students crushing and snorting pills on desks at school, and babies born addicted to drugs." (Read more)

The Courier-Journal of Louisville had a broader approach. Political reporter Joe Gerth wrote, "Tracing the steps of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards issued a call yesterday for economic and social change in America," and quoted Edwards: ""This country needs a movement to restore our values. We need a movement that actually embraces work again, not just wealth. … We need a movement to provide hope and opportunity." (Read more)

On PBS NewsHour, Roger Simon of Politico.com said Edwards is following a "risky" strategy by focusing on poverty, because poor people are a small part of the electorate, but "He plays well in rural America." Susan Saulny of The New York Times reported in a wrapup story that Edwards "suggested that [his] 'two Americas' theme . . . was an appeal for help not just for the poor, but also for all working Americans bypassed by the nation’s prosperity." (Read more)

Last night, Edwards was in Roanoke -- not part of "official Appalachia," as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission boundaries -- but the event had that theme, because it starred bluegrass-music patriarch Ralph Stanley. The Roanoke appearance wasn't part of the official tour, but Edwards' 17-minute speech was punctuated by his recent travels," The Roanoke Times' Mason Adams reports. (Read more)

Edwards is scheduling at least one more stop in rural Kentucky. The Mississippi River town of Columbus, population 229, won an online competition for an Edwards town-hall event, beating out "cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles," thanks to Columbus native and University of Kentucky graduate Shawn Dixon, Herald-Leader Political Writer Ryan Alessi reports on the paper's PolWatchers blog.

Coal miner's video leads to citation for company, which denies it's related

At last week's U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration hearing on proposed new regulations for seals in coal mines, miner Charles Scott Howard played a video that showed seals cracked and leaking water in Cumberland River Coal Co.'s Band Mill No. 2 Mine in Letcher County, Kentucky.

This week, MSHA cited the subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc. for failing to conduct a pre-shift examination of the seals. "MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said Tuesday that inspectors visited the Band Mill mine last Thursday and Friday to check the seals," reported Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Mine seals, which shut off abandoned portions of coal mines from areas where miners are working, are supposed to be checked before each work shift begins." (Read more)

Today, Arch Coal said the citation was not issued for "unsafe conditions," such as the water leaks. Kim Link, a company spokeswoman, said it was "MSHA’s interpretation of the regulation that required a pre-shift exam daily, rather the weekly exam that was currently in place." She said five daily inspections, rather than the three required by law, were made when the seals were leaking in April and May, and the mine recorded more than 178,000 employee-hours of operation last year with no accidents or injuries. (Read more)

Savannah Morning News latest metro paper to curtail rural circulation

Another metropolitan newspaper is reducing the size of its circulation area, continuing a trend that can put more pressure on rural news outlets to cover the issues and hold local officials accountable. The Savannah Morning News announced today that it is "discontinuing home delivery along with store and rack deliveries to 17 outlying counties and portions of three others," the paper reports. "Under the plan, 95 percent of the newspaper's circulation will be within a 60-mile radius" of Georgia's main coastal city.

"Market conditions, rising fuel prices, additional taxes, postal rate increases and advertiser pressures have combined to affect newspaper distribution costs and have forced the Savannah Morning News, like many other newspapers, to reconsider its delivery processes," Morning News reporter Christian Livermore writes. He quotes Publisher Julian Miller: "Right now, we're delivering out about 120 miles - places where we have just a few subscribers and single-copy customers. With the cost of gasoline, labor, paper, trucking, everything has combined to make it impossible to recoup your investment that far out." (Map from MSN Encarta)

While many counties are affected, the change affects relatively little of the paper's circulation of 52,000. "About 1,025 subscribers are in the affected area," Livermore writes. "The Morning News will continue to distribute in 14 counties, including Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties in Georgia and Beaufort and Jasper counties in South Carolina." The story notes that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "cut Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and parts of Georgia from its circulation territory" this year. (Read more)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Edwards concludes poverty tour where RFK did, in Prestonsburg, Ky.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards concluded his three-day poverty tour this afternoon at the old Floyd County Courthouse in Prestonsburg, Ky., where Robert F. Kennedy concluded a similar tour as he prepared to run for president in 1968. "This country needs a movement to restore our values. We need a movement that actually embraces work again, not just wealth," he said, according to The Courier-Journal.

Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville wrote: "Edwards said he wasn't trying to mimic his 'political hero.' 'I don't deserve to be compared to Bobby Kennedy,' Edwards told the crowd that spilled across the courthouse lawn. He added, 'I want America to remember what he did decades ago. I want you to join us to end the work Bobby Kennedy started.'"

AP put Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the same story, saying he "made his own speech for the nation's poor on Wednesday, speaking at a recreation center in the nation's capital, and in a jab at his rival, argued that combating poverty was hardly new for him, a one-time community organizer in Chicago. Edwards, coming off criticism for getting $400 haircuts and building a new 28,000-square-foot mansion, repeatedly tapped into his own humble roots in an effort to connect with the coalfields."

Jafari reported that Edwards "heard firsthand accounts of the problems plaguing the region" and "was especially moved" by Wise, Va., coal miner James Lowe, 51, "whose cleft palate kept him from talking for five decades until a dentist last year volunteered to perform a $3,000 orthodontic procedure for free. Edwards shared the story ... at his other stops, saying Lowe and other low-income workers 'deserve better.'"

In Whitesburg, Ky., Edwards said the only solution to such problems is universal health care, and said that Lowe, "instead of being angry at living 50 years with such a condition in the world's richest nation, "was thankful and appreciative" for his treatment. "When are we going to start treating people like him … with the dignity and respect that they’re entitled to?" he asked.

Edwards tells coalfield audience he's for a carbon limit, lower each year

Deep in the Central Appalachian coalfield this morning, presidential candidate John Edwards said the U.S. should put a limit on its emissions of carbon and reduce the limit each year so that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas that causes global warming, are reduced 80 percent by 2050. A carbon limit is anathema to the coal industry, the region's major employer, but the industry's safety and environmental records make it controversial, and Edwards' remarks won applause from the crowd at Appalshop, the media and arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., and its Appalachian Media Institute for youth.

Edwards' comments came in response to a question from Nathan Hall, a Berea College student from Allen in Floyd County, who said he plans to start a bio-fuel company in the area. Edwards said the government should require permits for carbon emissions and auction them to “the polluters pay. … That money should be used to fuel your biofuel work” and other alternative-energy efforts. “I’m glad you’re doing work on biofuels,” he told Hall. “That is the answer, ultimately.” Biofuels are popular in Iowa, the first presidential voting state.

Edwards said a biofuel industry “can create at least a million new jobs” and the government can “direct the jobs to the places where they’re most needed,” with grants to train at least 150,000 a year, he said. “This is a great economic opportunity, and an opportunity that I think could have a real impact on this area,” he said. That would appear to require the commercial scale-up of technology to create ethanol from cellulose; Appalachia is heavily forested and raises little biofuel feedstocks such as corn and soybeans.

On another coal-related subject, a member of the Letcher County 4-H Teen Council, who identified herself as Cassidy, asked Edwards why it is so hard for miners to get benefits for black-lung disease, caused by coal dust. “It’s because the government has not been responsive to the needs not only of coal miners but to the unsafe work conditions … not only coal miners, but a whole group of industries, Edwards said, winning applause when he said politicians are responsive to corporations. “We desperately need a president of the United States who will stand up and do the things that are necessary for regular working people instead of these big corporations,” he said to more applause.

Stephenie Steitzer of The Courier-Journal reports that there was room for only 150 of the 300 people who showed up, so Edwards stood on top of a picnic table to address those who had waited outside and listened. "We so badly need Americans to understand that level of dignity and respect that people are entitled to," he said. "I don't know about you, but I actually believe in a country where everybody is entitled to the same level of respect. My father didn't go to college and worked in cotton mills all his life and is worth every bit as much as any president of the United States. I believe that, I will always believe it." (Read more)

Edwards is a former senator from North Carolina who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004. He is on three-day tour to highlight his goal of eliminating poverty, and his final day retraces the steps of a poverty tour conducted by New York Sen. Robert Kennedy before he declared his presidential candidacy in 1968. His final stop is in Prestonsburg, Ky., this afternoon. (See previous blog postings.)

Some in the region "have mixed feelings" about Edwards' visit, reported Danielle Morgan of WYMT-TV in Hazard, the region's only commercial television station. Those feelings were also reflected in a story by Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville. At his first stop today, in Wise, Va., Edwards appeared conscious of concerns about how his trip might reflect on the area: “These challenges do not define the people of this area; It’s their strength and resilience, and continuing to show courage, that defines them.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader says today that much has changed in the region since Kennedy's visit: “Gone are the tar-paper shacks that dotted hillsides -- barely enough to ward off the cold of winter, even with coal stoves blazing inside. Outhouses are no longer the norm. And one-room schoolhouses are unheard of,” writes Cassondra Kirby, the paper's new reporter in Hazard. “Today, four-lane highways cut through the mountains, connecting residents with regional hospitals, community colleges, chain restaurants and retailers such as Wal-Mart. But poverty has not been whipped. High school dropout rates are still higher than in the rest of the state; per-capita income is comparatively low; and many lack access to public water and sewer systems.”

Kirby's story, with help from Somerset reporter Bill Estep, focuses on ideas people in the region have for improving it. To read it, click here. (Thanks to the Herald-Leader for Charles Bertram's photo of Edwards in Whitesburg, and to Appalshop's WMMT for streaming coverage on its Web site.)

Massachusetts lags in rural broadband, as studies show its economic impact

Massachusetts, often on the cutting edge of many things, has left much of its rural population far behind in access to broadband, or high-speed Internet service. "State officials have yet to develop a comprehensive policy for fixing the telecom time warp. But this fall, three Western Massachusetts towns will participate in an experiment to test wireless networks in rural settings," reports Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Boston Globe.

"We are creating a new kind of ghetto," said Don Dubendorf , president of Berkshire Connect Inc., which works to bring broadband to businesses and institutions in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. "It's morally wrong. It's stupid economically, it's dangerous from a public safety point of view, it's absurd from a public education point of view." This fall, Dubendorf's company and Pioneer Valley Connect " will create WiFi hot spots in the towns of Florida, New Salem, and Worthington, with funding from the quasi-public John Adams Innovation Institute," Johnson writes. "The idea is to use radio transmitters to spread the signal from high-speed lines to create square-mile wireless broadband networks for homes, businesses, and municipal buildings, without the massive investment needed to wire every home."

The strongest arguments for broadband are economic. Johnson cites a study conducted by Gov. Deval Patrick's cable commissioner, Sharon Gillett, last year when she co-chaired the Broadband Working Group of the Communication Futures Program of the Massacusetts Institute of Technology. It "found that among 22,390 ZIP codes, communities with broadband access recorded greater growth in jobs, businesses, and property values. The report said communities with broadband access experienced an additional 1 to 1.4 percent in their job growth rate between 1998 and 2002. Those communities also saw an added 0.5 to 1.2 percent growth rate in the number of businesses." (Read more)

Another study, reported today by the Center for Media Research, found that broadband use is "strongly correlated with household income." The study, by Leichtman Research Group found that:

  • 68 percent of all households with annual incomes over $50,000 now get broadband vs. 59 percent last year; 39% of all households with annual incomes under $50,000 get broadband vs. 27% last year.
  • While 81 percent of all US households have at least one computer, only 56 percent of those with annual household incomes under $30,000 have a computer at home. Just 45 percent of households with annual incomes below $30,000 subscribe to an Internet service at home, compared to 92 percent of households with annual incomes above $75,000.
  • Overall, only 7 percent of all Internet subscribers say that broadband is not available in their area.
  • Nearly three-quarters of households in the US now subscribe to an Internet service, and broadband has grown to account for over 70 percent of all online subscribers at home. LRG forecasts the total number of broadband subscribers will increase by over 40 million over the next five years. (Read more)

Tennessee looks to Kentucky for example of how to plan rural water lines

When Tennessee legislators saw that Gov. Phil Bredesen had budgeted money to run a water line "up a mountain in Warren County for residents who don't have water, tempers flared as legislators demanded to know why one county got money when others needed it, too," The Tennessean's Sheila Wissner reports.

Rep. Mike McDonald of Sumner County, just north of Nashville, "gathered more than three dozen signatures on a bill that would have authorized the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to develop a statewide water plan and loan fund to help communities extend more water lines. It would have been patterned after the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, which requires all projects using state or federal funds to be vetted through an organized chain of local and regional councils. The bill didn't pass this session, but McDonald says he'll push the issue again next year." he told Wissner, "We need a statewide comprehensive plan to get water to people, and then we wouldn't have these arguments."

A study the department did for McDonald in 2004 "estimated that 5 percent of Tennessee households didn't have municipal water. It would take 18,470 miles of lines to get water to 112,000 households, at a cost of $1.7 billion, the study estimated," Wissner writes. "The study did not delve into the number of households with no clean, reliable alternative water source. That number remains unknown. The problem is most evident in Middle and East Tennessee, where well drillers fight the rocky terrain" and drill dry 10 to 20 percent of the time.

Sometimes, existing wells go dry. That happened to Tammy and Wayne Blatt, who live on a farm near Carthage in Smith County. In photo, by Shelley Mays of The Tennessean, Tammy Blatt washes dishes outside near the drums of water her family must buy and haul twice a week, at considerable expense.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here are the best community papers, says the National Newspaper Assn.

The National Newspaper Association has announced the top placers in the general-excellence competition of its annual Better Newspaper Contest. The general-excellence awards are based on placement in detailed contest categories. NNA has about 2,500 members. More than 85 percent are weekly papers, but its contest also has categories for dailies. The first-, second- and third-place winners will be announced at the NNA Convention and Trade Show at the Waterside Marriott in Norfolk Sept. 25-30.

Among dailies with circulation of 16,000 and larger, the top three papers in the contest (in no particular order here or in any category) were the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., and two from Colorado: the Greeley Tribune and the Daily Times-Call of Longmont. Under 16,000, the top three were the Lebanon (Mo.) Daily Record, The Journal Review of Crawfordsville, Ind. and The Daily Record of Baltimore.

NNA listed six winners among non-dailies with circulation over 10,000, indicating that the judges gave three honorable mentions in the category as well as first, second and third places. The six are The Taos (N.M.) News; The Ellsworth (Me.) American; the San Francisco Bay Guardian; the Idaho Mountain Express of Sun Valley; The Independent Weekly of Lafayette, La.; and The Peninsula Gateway of Gig Harbor, Wash. We're most familiar with the Ellsworth paper, which acts like a daily; it covers the state capital and regularly does project reporting, currently on Maine's program to give all students laptop computers.

Among non-dailies with circulations of 6,000 to 9,999, two of the three winners are from favorite spots for recreation and second homes: The Eastern Edition of the Southampton Press, which serves the Hamptons area at the end of New York's Long Island; and the Jackson Hole News & Guide of Jackson, Wyo. The other winner was a perennial, the N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon, Ia. The paper carves its own niche in many ways. It is a regional weekly that is fanous for publishing scores of special sections each year, it doesn't put content online, it doesn't spell out "Northwest" in its name, and would like us to put "Review" in all capital letters, but we don't approve of such typographical tyranny. However, we do approve of the job that Peter Wagner, his sons and staff do with the Review and their local weekly, the Sheldon Mail-Sun.

The winners among non-dailies 3,000 to 5,999 include some well-known, quality papers: The Hutchinson (Kan.) Leader, the Litchfield (Minn.) Independent Review and the Hood River (Ore.) News. Under 3,000, the winners are the Curry County Reporter of Gold Beach, Ore.; The Community News of Aledo, Tex., just west of Fort Worth; and the Mount Desert Islander of Bar Harbor, Maine, a paper that has the same ownership as The Ellsworth American. They make quite a pair Down East.

Another poverty tour: Advocate wishes all would-be prexys would take one

As a teenager, Dee Davis (right) saw Robert Kennedy visit his hometown of Hazard, Ky. Thirty years later, he drove another liberal senator, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, around the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield to see miners suffering from coal dust. Tomorrow, he will be part of the final day of former Sen. John Edwards' anti-poverty tour, to Wise, Va., and Whitesburg and Prestonsburg, Ky. He says today in an essay on National Public Radio:

"I wish they were all coming. These things matter. It is not about party; it's about eyeballs. And there are sights that need seeing. When no one shows up to witness the obliteration of mountaintops — vast hillsides being shoved into creek beds — then desperate mining practices flourish. When the rest of the country never sees the broken families and children cut adrift from addiction, then a pharmaceutical company can get off with a fine and a pat on the rump for years of dumping pain drugs like OxyContin into these rural communities." (For a report on the case, see The Rural Blog archive for June 20.)

"People will tell you government doesn't work. But I've seen it work. It starts with somebody showing up and making an effort. I have also seen it fail. Mostly that happens when no one's paying attention." (Read more) Davis, a filmmaker by trade, is president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg and a member of the national Advisory Board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Edwards tour prompts reminiscence from local reporter who was with RFK

As former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina takes his 2008 presidential campaign on an anti-poverty tour, ending it by retracing the steps Sen. Robert F. Kennedy made on a similar tour in 1968, Thomas N. Bethell remembers. Bethell covered Kennedy for The Mountain Eagle, the Whitesburg, Ky., weekly newspaper, and later was the research director for the United Mine Workers and the managing editor of The Washington Monthly. He wrote about the Kennedy and Edwards tours for today's edition of the Daily Yonder, the new rural-news site with a political bent. Here are some excerpts:

“Are we really expected to believe that a candidate with a net worth on the high side of $60 million, a brand-new 28,000-square-foot house, and an apparent addiction to $400 haircuts wakes up every day obsessed with the goal of ending poverty in America? . . . Maybe the charitable thing to do is wait and see. After all, it was only after Robert Kennedy was martyred, a few months after his Appalachian tour, that we all decided he was genuine in his determination to battle poverty. . . . He might have been a wonderful president, the first since Franklin Roosevelt to offer real and lasting hope for hard-pressed people, rural and urban alike. Or not. In the winter-spring of 1968 it was much too soon to tell, and the summer never came.”

“It’s a measure of how desperate some of us were that we suppressed private doubts and wrote glowing accounts of his tour. Over the ensuing decades that tour has acquired the aura of something more spiritual than political, and it’s not surprising to see John Edwards striding along the pilgrim’s path, hoping that some fragment of the enshrined Kennedy mystique will adhere to his campaign. But skepticism and cynicism, although arguably unavoidable, aren’t very useful. There would seem to be intriguing parallels between 1968 and 2007, especially in the apparent fact that the candidates’ great wealth and good fortune failed to blind them to the needs of those less lucky or gifted. And the fact that both were more wedded to well-meaning rhetoric than to far-ranging policy proposals shouldn’t be held against them, not at this point at any rate. No one, least of all Roosevelt, knew what he would do for the downtrodden until he was actually in the White House. No one, early in 1968, knew what Robert Kennedy would do: It was too soon to know, and then it was too late. No one, in mid-2007, knows what John Edwards would do or whether, if elected, he would actually have the leverage to enact the initiatives, far-reaching or otherwise, that he might deem essential to redirect and revitalize the mostly afflicted and largely outsourced economy of Appalachia. So, rather than being a time to render some sort of judgment, it seems to be a time to watch and listen … maybe even to hope.” For Bethell's entire article, click here.

Today, a voter in New Orleans asked Edwards on ABC's "Good Morning America" how he could justify a $400 haircut. “I don't,” he replied with a smile. He said that in a busy campaign, such things are arranged by others, and “I should have been paying closer attention and it shouldn’t have happened.” When host Diane Sawyer broadened the inquiry, implicitly questioning the sincerity of Edwards' anti-poverty campaign, he replied, “A completely fair question … If you look at the arc of my life, I came from having very little to having a lot. … I want that chance to be there for everybody.” He said he was involved in urban ministries in North Carolina, helped organize union workers, pushed for raising the minimum wage (which he said could be the single most important solution to eliminating poverty), and started a program for poor kids in eastern North Carolina that gives them their first year of college free if they work. To watch, click here.

Rural children are more likely than urban kids to be obese, study finds

“Here’s a surprise,” writes Geri Nikolai of the Rockford Register Star in Northern Illinois. “Children growing up in rural areas are more likely to be overweight or obese than their city counterparts. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford after reviewing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on 46,000 children.

“Of those, nearly 8,000, or 18 percent, were overweight or obese. And rural children were 25 percent more likely to have weight issues than city children, said Dr. Martin Lipsky, regional dean of the college and co-author of the study.” Lipsky told Nikolai, “Rural children may have less access to healthier foods. There may be a fast-food restaurant in small towns, but not other types of restaurants. They may lack diversity in fresh fruits and vegetables in their markets. Sometimes there is less opportunity for physical activity like sports, a sidewalk to walk on or even having to park far away from an event and walk.” (Read more)

A box with the story summarizes other findings: “The study showed that overweight rural children are more likely than their urban counterparts to be white; live in households at 200 percent below the poverty level; have no health insurance; have not seen a doctor for preventive care in a year; be female; use a computer for non-school work more than three hours a day; and watch TV for more than three hours a day.”

Small town in Illinois makes a go of its community-owned grocery store

"A few years ago, it looked as though Washburn Community Foods, Illinois' only community-owned grocery store, was not going to make it," writes Fitzgerald M. Doubet of the Peoria Journal-Star. Several rural communities have organized to preserve local supermarkets after outside firms abandoned them.

Washburn, on the Woodford-Marshall county line 25 miles northeast of Peoria, had 1,147 people at the 2000 census. The town "rallied in the fall of 2000 to save the store by getting 380 shareholders to invest a total of more than $100,000 when the previous owner announced he was closing, the store struggled to stay in business. In 2001, store managers were forced to lay some workers off and cut back store hours to keep the store afloat. By the end of the year, the store was taking in less than $15,000 a week when it needed $20,000 just to break even," Doubet reports.

"The Washburn Grocery Association, a for-profit corporation formed by community residents to run the store, had to hold town meetings to inform locals that their grocery store would go under unless more residents started shopping there as their primary source of groceries. Today, their efforts appear to have paid off. Though the store isn't setting any profit records, it is getting enough customers to break even and keep the business open." (Read more)

Scrap metal prices make farm eqipment a bigger target for thieves

Jennifer Hemmingsen of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids reports, "As scrap prices cause metal thefts to soar, thieves are increasingly looking to Iowa farmsteads for heavy payloads like hog feeders and other equipment, police say. Already this year, Iowa law enforcement departments have identified 105 metal thefts, items that were stolen to sell for scrap, instead of for their own sake, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Last year, there were 96 . . . up from 34 in 2005." (Read more)

The department's Jim Saunders tells Pat Curtis of Radio Iowa, "The thieves are expanding their thefts to rural farm locations. They're stealing metal hog feeders or other equipment made of galvanized and stainless steel." Saunders urged owners of valuable metal objects "to consider installing motion-sensitive lights and surveillance cameras to deter potential thieves," Curtis reports. "He says it's also a good idea to secure buildings containing tools or metal objects with quality locks. Saunders adds that placing unique markings on metal items can help in identifying the stolen material." (Read more)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Politico.com, Institute director take closer look at Edwards' anti-poverty tour

"A controversial war rages abroad, having claimed the lives of thousands of American troops. In the White House, an increasingly unpopular president limps to the end of his term. And out in some of America's poorest precincts, a telegenic candidate who hopes to replace him calls on the nation to put an end to poverty. Bobby Kennedy in 1968? Yes, and consciously echoing him this week, John Edwards in 2007," writs Richard Allen Greene of Politico.com, the new, well-staffed, Washington-based Web site for political news.

We're not usually in the business of quoting ourselves, but think in this case to refrain would be hiding our little light under a bushel, so here's a section of Greene's story:

"Al Cross, the veteran Kentucky political writer who now heads the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said there could be political capital in the poverty tour, which Edwards is calling "The Road to One America." 

"This is not about Appalachia, it is about all the poor regions of America: the Black Belt, the Rio Grande, the small towns of the Great Plains that are emptying out. He is trying to tap into the part of the base that is still sensitive to these social-equality messages," Cross said. 

Edwards is not polling noticeably better among poor people than he is among Democrats at large, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC survey, which showed him at 10 percent support in Democratic and Democratic-leaning households with incomes below $20,000. Hillary Clinton drew 55 percent and Barack Obama 20 percent. 

Cross dismissed that result as meaningless. "You can't put any stock in national polling of poor people. Poor people have got a lot of other things to worry about other than an election that's more than a year away." 

For the rest of Greene's article, and some uninhibited comments from readers, click here. For a look at advance stories and editorials from the Appalachian stops on Edwards' tour, go to The Rural Blog for July 14.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Democrats divided over curbing farm subsidies, an idea Bush supports

House Democratic leaders have said they will not accept a "status quo" Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this year, but they are getting some unexpected disagreement from members of their caucus, including new members from districts where relatively few farmers get payments from commodity programs. (Dept. of Agriculture map)

Freshman Democratic Rep. Zack Space of eastern Ohio has a "district of small and medium-size farms . . . far down the list of those receiving government farm payments," but opposes "major changes in the traditional price and income support programs," Dan Morgan reports in today's Washington Post. Space is one of nine freshman Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, which will take up the bill on Tuesday. He told the Post, "I'm with the farmers back home who are generally satisfied with the commodity program we have now."

Morgan writes, "A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from 'red' states . . . where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections."

Morgan's story is a good summary of the issues swirling around the bill, which finds the Bush administration wanting reforms that Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota resists. To read it, click here.

Rural towns in Midwest turn sour on Iraq war as more of their youth die

Tipton, Iowa, gave President Bush "the benefit of the doubt" when he launched the war in Iraq, but now that the town of 3,100 has lost two soldiers, its attitude toward Bush and his strategy has "turned more personal and more negative," reports Peter Slevin of The Washington Post. (Map from MSN Encarta)

"While opposition to the war has been stronger and more visible on the East and West coasts, small towns in the heartland and the South have provided the Bush administration with some of its most steadfast backers. But that support has cracked amid the echoes of graveside bagpipes and 21-gun salutes, which have been heard with greater frequency in recent months in small Midwestern communities. Two prominent Republican senators who broke with the president this month come from the nation's midsection. Sens. George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) said Bush needs to find a new direction in Iraq and a way to start bringing the troops home," Slevin writes.

Back to Tipton, and the recent death of Spec. David Behrle (right): "Regular business at City Hall stopped for a week before Behrle's body came home, as staff members made sure routes were cleared, streets were swept and flags reached the right places. 'In a town of 3,000, you wouldn't expect two of them to be killed,' Mayor Don Young said. The town's weekly newspaper, the Tipton Conservative, devoted its entire front page to the rain-swept, flag-bearing crowds that greeted the return of Behrle's body. Photos of Behrle, from a childhood Halloween to a tour in Iraq, filled an inside page. Included in the brief text was a comment from his family: 'He is 'The Man," and our hero.'" (Read more)

Krista Clark of the Conservative noted in an editorial that the county is now home to a third Iraq casualty: "Cedar County had less contact with Donald Griffith, Jr., the son of Diane and Donald Sr. of Mechanicsville. Twenty-nine when he died in a firefight in Tal Afar, Donny was a career Army soldier who was stationed and living in Ft. Lewis, Wash. before being sent to Iraq. But even though Donny had grown up in Las Vegas, the Griffith family has deep roots in Cedar County, especially in Mechanicsville, and it was back to his parents’ and his wife’s home, back to Cedar County, that he came to be buried after losing his life in the conflict."

John Edwards already making headlines in Appalachia with planned visit

A planned visit by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was the lead story in this week's edition of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., and a planned stop on the other side of Pine Mountain in Wise, Va., won Edwards a story in the Coalfield Progress of Norton, Wise County's main paper. The Big Sandy News, named for far Eastern Kentucky's main river, had three articles pegged to Edwards' planned stop in Prestonsburg, Ky., including an editorial headlined "Visit is welcome but could have negative impact." (MapQuest route map)

The Eagle said Edwards would be the first presidential candidate in Letcher County since Robert Kennedy came in 1968, as an "unannounced candidate" exploring poverty. Edwards is retracing the Appalachian part of Kennedy's route Wednesday to conclude a tour focused on poverty. The Eagle ran a large Associated Press color photo of Edwards on its front page, and continued its story to the editorial page, with a Tom Bethell photo of Kennedy in the town of Fleming-Neon. The paper noted that "President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in 1964 from Eastern Kentucky." The Big Sandy News, a regional, twice-weekly paper, noted with more specificity Johnson's visit "to Martin and Johnson counties," which the paper serves.

"While we're pleased that a presidential candidate is showing an interest in Eastern Kentucky, we're a little cautious about Edwards' visit since the theme of his tour is poverty," opined Tony Fyffe of the News, predicting "news footage of rundown homes, trash-ridden roads and streams, etc. . . . We don't deny that thousands upon thousands of Eastern Kentuckians live in poverty, but that's the one negative image the region and the state have had to overcome for decades. Forget about the wealth and all of the successes, Kentucky is nothing more than a poverty-stricken state, according to the national media. . . . If he wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we hope Edwards returns to the region and puts his poverty action plan to work. Something tells us, however, that we'll be just a memory as soon as the tour bus leaves the region next Wednesday." The Big Sandy News has a subscription-only Web site.

Bonnie Bates of the Progress, citing a campaign release, says the former U.S. senator from North Carolina "will arrive in Wise sometime on July 17. . . . On July 18, Edwards will make an appearance at the county fairgrounds as volunteers prepare for this year’s Remote Area Medical health outreach, according to a media contact for Edwards’ campaign." Then Edwards will to to Whitesburg to answer questions from young people at the Appalshop media and arts center, and finally to Prestonsburg for a major speech at the old Floyd County Courthouse. The Progress has a subscription site. The Mountain Eagle is not online.

Edwards' tour "will reinvigorate an old campaign theme and test an even older notion: that talking about poor people is a politically losing proposition," writes Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times. "The poverty rate in America has stayed fairly constant since the late 1960s. But polls show that the issue of poverty and homelessness consistently ranks low among voters' priorities. The discussion has become so fraught with moral and racial overtones that presidential contenders often find it best to say little or nothing. But Edwards insists that "people do care" about those less fortunate and believe government has a role, even a responsibility, to help those who cannot help themselves. They just have to be asked." Nine paragraphs later, Barabak writes, "Edwards could also benefit from talking about poverty, precisely because there is apparently so little political gain, demonstrating a personal conviction that transcends polling." (Read more)

Maine and the Dakotas have the deadliest rural roads, study concludes

Maine had the deadliest rural roads in the United States in 2005, followed by North and South Dakota, with Iowa and Vermont tied for fourth, according to research by the Center of Excellence on Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota. The rankings are based on percentage of fatalities outside cities with a population of 5,000 or more, without regard to rural road mileage; Maine's figure was 92 percent.

In Minnesota, the state with the 15th deadliest rural roads, the study found that 72 percent of the state's traffic fatalities in 2005 occurred in areas that were defined as rural, reports Sarah Kirchner of the Albert Lea Tribune: "Overall, the Upper Midwest is a deadly place for drivers on country roads." (Read more) To see where your state ranked in 2005 and 2004, click here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ky. venture-capital firm pushes plumbing-and-electric unit for poor housing

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. invests in southeastern Kentucky, one of America's poorer regions. The area has much substandard housing, often so categorized because of plumbing issues. Now the venture-capital firm has started a business of its own, to address the housing problem and eventually create jobs.

Kentucky Highlands is building and installing “housing cores,” which have a finished kitchen, bathroom and laundry room ready to be hooked up to plumbing and electricity. It plans to demonstrate the unit at an “extreme build” home project with 150 volunteers in McCreary County on Monday, the sixth house with one of the cores. The company plans to build 14 more, for a total of 20, but says the units can also be used to upgrade houses that lack modern plumbing; it says there are 17,000 such homes in Appalachian Kentucky.

The cores installed so far have been built by contractors. The company hopes to develop a market for the cores and build a factory to construct them and hire people from the region, said Elmer Parlier, its vice president for investments. Even without a factory, “It would increase the quantity and quality of affordable housing in the area, increase homeownership opportunities in KHIC’s service area and create jobs while providing construction skills training,” said Jerry Rickett, president of the company.

“Providing all the mechanical parts of the house in a factory-built unit ... will make it easier for volunteer groups, such as Habitat for Humanity, to build houses because most of the complex plumbing and electrical tasks have been done before work at the site begins,” KHIC said in a news release.

Retired Gen. Abizaid says Northern Nevada like Afghan-Pakistan border

Retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid now lives in Minden, Nev., about 10 miles south of the state capital of Carson City. Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal said in a post on Inside Nevada Politics that Abizaid had some interesting things to say about his new neighbors in rural Northern Nevada. She quoted from the Inside the Pentagon newsletter, which had Abizaid saying:

"It's kind of like the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. All the locals are armed. They absolutely hate the federal government. And there's a certain amount of drugs that pass back and forth across the border. So, for those of you who are not in a militia, please come and see me because I'm starting one up there." (Original article is available for $5 from InsideDefense.com's NewsStand.)

Damon backgrounds: "Abizaid spent four years as U.S. Central Command Chief, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other military operations involving critical Middle Eastern countries. His retirement coincided with Bush's surge in Iraq. Abizaid wasn't known as a proponent of the surge and had testified to Congress that the Army couldn't sustain an additional 20,000 troops. Bush ordered a surge of 30,000. According to the Weekly Standard, Abizaid's philosophy in the middle of the war was that American troops acted more as an 'irritant' than a solution and that Iraqi forces would become too reliant upon them for counterinsurgency work." (Read more) Thanks to Rocky Mountain Report for the tip.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ex-publishers, local bigwigs starting Mt. Airy, N.C., paper; Heartland files suit

"The owners of the The Mount Airy News and The Tribune in Elkin are trying to stop the former publishers of those two papers from printing a competing newspaper Monday," reports Sherry Youngquist of the Winston-Salem Journal. "Heartland Publications LLC has filed a lawsuit against former publishers Mike Milligan and Rebel Good, saying that the men crippled its newspapers last month by taking key employees and information with them" to start a new paper called The Messenger, based in Mount Airy.

"An attorney representing the new newspaper and its staff said that the group has not filed a response and has 30 days to do so," Youngquist reports. Both men resigned to protest staff cuts made by Heartland when it bought the papers last month. "The suit alleges that information critical to the newspapers, such as passwords, notebooks and circulation lists, was erased or was missing." The suit seeks an injunction and asks that the men "return business information and not employ former workers or contract with former customers." (Read more)

In an earlier story, Youngquist wrote, "Media analysts say that the startup newspaper’s success will depend a lot on the economy but also on the person bankrolling it. C. Richard Vaughn, the CEO of John S. Clark Co. Inc., is the chief financial backer of The Messenger. Vaughn’s general-contracting company does business throughout North Carolina and the Southeast. He is listed on the articles of incorporation filed with the state as the incorporator of Surry Publishing Group Inc., which will publish The Messenger. But Surry Publishing Group’s principal address belongs to Granite Development, which is operated by Vaughn’s son, C. Richard Vaughn Jr., and Craig Hunter, the chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.

"It is unclear how The Messenger’s editorial staff will handle coverage of Hunter and Surry County government. Milligan declined to be interviewed further. But the fact that The Messenger’s editorial staff is made up entirely of local newspaper people who have been in the community many years is a big advantage, said Jock Lauterer, a lecturer and director of Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 'It also depends on a willing readership,' he said. 'If I was going to do this, I’d start a free newspaper and circulate widely.' Milligan declined to say how the newspaper would be circulated." (Read more)

Lady Bird Johnson: A would-be reporter who protected rural landscapes

Here's a salute to Claudia Alta Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson, who died yesterday at 94. She did a lot for rural America by promoting highway beautification -- the first legislative initiative by a first lady -- and boosting the political career of a president who advanced programs that help rural people. She was the first chair of Head Start, "the early childhood education program that was a major component of his War on Poverty," notes Elaine Woo of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

She wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and placed in the top 10 of her graduating class in journalism at the University of Texas, but Lyndon Johnson prevailed. In the White House, she was often his closest adviser, and in 1964, after he signed the landmark Civil Rights Act, she courageously campaigned for his election in eight Southern states where opposition to the law was strong. A life well lived, much in our service.

Julie Ardery of the Daily Yonder pays tribute to Lady Bird, with some lovely pictures of wildflowers along the highways and these closing lines: "This April in Texas was a banner season for bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and white prickly poppy. A bold final spring for Lady Bird." To read the entire tribute, click here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Congressional earmarks going through with little coverage, Novak says

Conservative political columnist Robert Novak writes in the latest Evans-Novak Political Report that the professed transparency of House Democrats when it comes to earmarks on appropriations bills is "a sham" because they routinely vote to approve each other's earmarks and that isn't being covered by the news media.

"Amendments to strike transparent earmarks are brought up for a floor vote, they are overwhelmingly defeated and the news media completely ignore the story," Novak writes. "Searches of Lexis-Nexis and Google News suggest that no one -- and we mean absolutely no one -- has picked up on the story of Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and the embarrassing fight he lost to keep an earmark in his district." We suppose Novak does not include in his definition of "news media" Politico.com, which reported June 28 and July 3 on the removal of McHenry's earmark for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree in Spruce Pine, N.C..

McHenry blamed the 249-174 vote against his $129,000 earmark on his outspoken criticism of Democrats. "Since his election in 2004, McHenry has become one of the Democrats' most vocal critics on the House floor," Politico.com reported July 3. The earlier story noted that the vote marked the first time that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has succeeded in removing an earmark. For the latest Politico.com story, click here. It notes, "Interestingly, four members of McHenry's own state delegation — usually tight-knit groupings — voted against him: Republicans Howard Coble, Robin Hayes and Sue Myrick and Democrat Brad Miller."

Novak may be more on point when it comes to traditional and local coverage. We checked the archives of the Morganton News-Herald, the daily newspaper closest to Spruce Pine, and the latest story on the matter was a June 21 report from Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press, which prominently noted McHenry's earnark, called him a "burr in the side of Democrats running the House" and said an unnamed "senior GOP member of the Appropriations Committee pointed McHenry's earmark out to reporters, calling it 'interesting.'" Sounds like the Democrats wanted at least one earmark they could defeat on the floor. (Read more)

We found nothing on the matter in the archives of the Asheville Citizen-Times, a larger paper almost as close to Spruce Pine but not in McHenry's 10th District. The Hickory Daily Record, largest paper in the 10th, noted the committee action in an editorial critical of earmarking but we found nothing in its archives on the floor vote. All three papers are owned by chains that have Washington reporters. But reporters don't have to be in Washington to write about such matters; there's plenty of information on the Web. Use it!

Weekly newspaper in rural Kentucky may be small, but it thinks big

The Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., has a circulation of about 2,500, but it does a better job than many larger weeklies of putting items on the public agenda. On May 17 we noted its four-story package about the need for broadband Internet service in the county. That was part of the paper's year-long "Focus on the Future" series, which continued last week with "Some BIG Ideas" for the county of 12,000 people.

The paper presented the ideas without regard to what they might cost, but none of them were outlandish. "Let's just talk about what might be possible and perhaps someday someone with the resources or the drive might just succeed," said the staff-written story. In other words, the paper is planting seeds, giving them a first dose of water and hoping others will agree to take over. That's a worthy mission for a local media outlet.

The ideas included a drive-in theater; a theme park; a wedding chapel, which might appeal to nearby Fort Campbell; a museum that shows how tobacco, still an important local crop, is grown; and "a computer for every child in Todd County that needs one." The paper invited readers to submit their own ideas, which will be published in the Aug. 29 edition. The Standard has no Web site, but click here and here to see the pages.

Small-market TV stations more likely to air 'stealth advertising,' study says

In what researchers call an “apparent threat to the long-term credibility of television news,” 90 percent of 294 monitored newscasts included at least one instance per newscast of “stealth advertising,” which researcher Jim Upshaw calls a commercial message “cloaked in some other garment than a normal commercial.”

“Small-market stations showed more commercially influenced material” than medium- and large-market stations, ScienceBlog.com reports. “Advertisers’ messages are infiltrating small-market television newscasts at about the same percentage that owners of digital video recorders are skipping the commercials.”

Upshaw, a former reporter at the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., is a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon. “Stations are not telling their viewers that what they are putting on the air in news or feature stories or in other news content is being done to court a specific advertiser,” he said. “I think people need to learn to be media literate, informed viewers of television. We may not be able to stop these practices but we need to be aware that these practices do exist.” (Click here for the ScienceBlog summary.)

Upshaw's co-researchers were David Koranda, a visiting professor of advertising, and former journalism doctoral student Gennadiy Chernov, now at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. They “monitored two evening newscasts a month at 17 U.S. stations over four months in early 2004, including a February ratings sweeps week,” ScienceBlog reports. “The researchers explored promotional tone or content, product placement on the screen within stories or even on the desks of anchors, sponsored segments within newscasts and news framing, in which a legitimate story quietly raises positives images of companies or brands. . . . They documented 750 instances, about 2.5 individual slots per newscast – with an average of one minute, 42 seconds per occurrence – of commercial influences.” The study is in the June issue of Electronic News.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Both Lancaster dailies, in Ohio and Pa., among E&P's '10 that do it right'

Only two U.S. daily newspapers have "Lancaster" in their name, both serve many rural communities, and both are on Editor & Publisher magazine's annual list of "10 That Do It Right," a group of newspapers "shattering the perception that this is a slow-moving dinosaur of an industry that refuses to adapt to rising needs and fresh opportunities," the magazine says. "This is never a '10 Best' list, thankfully, but rather a tip of the hat to a handful of news-papers of widely varying size that have made great strides, and can serve as a model, in one or more important areas: technology, marketing, reporting, design, online, photography, community awareness, diversity, advertising, even blogging and social networking." E&P says of the Lancaster papers:

"The Lancaster (Pa.) New Era was doing something right long before the past year. It won state awards, and was the rare afternoon daily with almost as much circulation as its morning counterpart. But the New Era, founded in 1877, received national attention when its coverage of last October's tragic shootings of five Amish schoolgirls won honors including the Pulliam prize and the Religion Communicators Council's Wilbur Award." Its circulation is 41,306; Lancaster's 2000 population was 56,348, the county's 470,658.

"Lancaster, Ohio, pop. 35,335, won't ever be confused with Manhattan. Columbus is the nearest big city, about 35 minutes away. Go north, says Lancaster Eagle-Gazette Publisher Rick Szabrak, and you're in new suburbia. Go south, and you're in farmland. So when Managing Editor Antoinette Taylor-Thomas is interviewing any young person — especially a candidate of color — she stays 'blatantly honest' about homey Lancaster, where racial and ethnic minorities make up just 5.3 percent of the community." The Gannett Co. Inc. paper's circulation is 13,166. (Details available on E&P's subscription-only Web site)

China, under world scrutiny, executes food-and-drug chief for taking bribes

"In perhaps a demonstration of how serious China is about shoring up the safety of its food products, Beijing executed the former head of its State Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday," Tom Johnston of MeatingPlace.com reports.

Zheng Xiaoyu, 63, was convicted of taking bribes to approve untested medicine that was blamed for at least 10 deaths. The official news agency Xinhua (which posted the photo, of Zheng in court last month) did not disclose the manner of execution. "Zheng's execution was concurrent with a press conference at which China's top food and drug regulatory agencies vowed to crack down on counterfeit food and medicine," MeatingPlace reports. "Beijing has been pressured to make vast improvements after a spate of health scares tied to sub-par products, including exports of tainted food and fake drugs. (Read more) For a longer Associated Press report, click here. For the Xinhua story, click here.

Community pharmacists 'outraged' about proposed Medicare changes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed cuts in pharmacy reimbursements Friday, prompting "outrage," a word not usually seen in business-group press releases, from the National Community Pharmacists Association, many members of which are in rural areas.

NCPA said the proposed reimbursement formula for generic prescriptions, based on a new definition of "average manufacturer price," will drive some pharmacies out of business and "dramatically reduce patient access to community pharmacies." The group said independent pharmacies "represent 42 percent of retail pharmacies and serve a large number of underserved rural and densely populated urban areas."

The group said the average community pharmacy's profit in 2006 was $128,968, and a Government Accountability Office report in December estimated that the loss expected as a result of the new formula would be $120,622. "In other words, virtually all profit would be eliminated," NCPA said. "Under these business conditions many community pharmacies will be forced to no longer participate in Medicaid program or even go out of business, which will leave their patients to either find other alternatives for their pharmacy services or be forced to visit emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. The cost to taxpayers will increase because of this misguided approach." For the full press release, click here.

More reasons to care about the Freedom of Information Act reform bill

The Rural Blog and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues are not advocates -- except for coverage of issues, and laws that help journalists perform their First Amendment functions. That's why we keep reminding you that the House has passed a bill to improve the Freedom of Information Act and the Senate is sitting on it, because of a "hold" imposed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the 41-year-old FOIA is that costly lawsuits are often the only way to challenge federal agencies' denial of records or get them to even respond to records requests. Most states have an official, such as the attorney general, to provide a quick, inexpensive appeal. The bill in Congress would create a FOIA ombudsman to mediate disputes between agencies and record-seekers. It would also restore meaningful deadlines for agency, create real consequences for agencies that miss deadlines; clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors and set up a FOIA hotline service. For details on the bill, from sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., click here.

Some requests filed almost 20 years ago are still pending, according to the Knight Open Government Survey released July 2 by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. "In January, the archive filed FOIA requests with 87 federal agencies for copies of their 10 oldest open or pending requests," writes Stephanie Kanowitz, Web editor for Federal Computer Week magazine. "Five agencies — the State Department, Air Force, CIA and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and FBI — reported FOIA requests that have been pending for at least 15 years, according to the report. Other findings include:

  • Ten agencies misreported their oldest pending FOIA requests to Congress in their fiscal 2006 Annual FOIA Reports, which are required by law.
  • Ten agencies misrepresented their FOIA backlogs to Congress.
  • Several agencies contradicted their own responses to the archive’s two previous “10 oldest” audits by reporting requests this year that were significantly older than those they produced in 2003 or 2005.

So, why should rural journalists care about FOIA? Because it opens to door to information in federal agencies that can have a lot to do with things in your area -- crime, education, the environment and federal spending, to name a few. If you think the act needs improving, write about it -- and ask your senator about it the next time he or she comes to visit. For an example, from the Kentucky New Era, see the third item below.

Monday, July 9, 2007

N.C. papers win court ruling preventing abuse of open-records exception

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has reversed part of a trial-court ruling that allowed local officials to keep two weekly newspapers from getting a document because it had been placed into a personnel file.

"Whether a document is part of a 'personnel file' ... depends upon the nature of the document and not upon where the document has been filed," the panel wrote in a unanimous decision. The case was brought by The News-Reporter of Whiteville, a twice-weekly paper, and the weekly Tabor-Loris Tribune against Columbus County officials who withheld a letter sought by the papers.

In September 2005, when the county Board of Commissioners was considering whether to renew a contract with its medical director, the emergency-services director sent the board a letter discussing his work with the medical director and recommending that a new one be hired. The county made no change, and denied the newspapers' request for a copy of the letter, arguing it was exempt from the open-records law because it was in a personnel file and dealt with the performance of a county employee, The Associated Press reports.

The appeals court wrote, "While portions of the letter are protected from disclosure, those portions can be redacted, and the remainder — falling within the Public Records Act — provided to plaintiffs." The court said making anything in a personnel file exempt from disclosure "could result in governments transforming a newspaper clipping that addressed a government employee's performance into a confidential record," AP reports. For the full story, via the First Amendment Center, click here.

Romney has big organizational lead in Iowa, but stretches the truth

"Six months before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney has taken a commanding organizational lead in this traditional kick-off state," reports Jonathan Martin of Politico.com. "Arizona Sen. John McCain's financial difficulties have forced him to dramatically scale back his Iowa campaign, and it's not clear whether former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or ex-Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will fully engage in the ... caucuses. (Photo via The Associated Press and Politico)

"That leaves Romney as the sole representative of the GOP top tier to commit to the traditional Ames Straw Poll and offer himself to voters for up close and personal inspections. The former Massachusetts governor has 20 full-time staffers, coordinators in most of the state's 99 counties, and a group of about 50 "super volunteers" that has already swept through the universe of likely caucus-goers with initial phone calls and have begun going door to door in key precincts. His effort got a big boost last week when McCain, down to just $2 million cash on hand, halved his Iowa staff to seven to save money."

Martin blames McCain's support of the failed immigration bill, and notes that Guiliani has made changes in his Iowa staff, but you have to wait until the second page of the story to see the reason we think Romney is ahead in Iowa: He's the only candidate who's run TV and radio ads. (Read more) They were compelling. But they stretched the truth, says the Annenberg Political Fact Check at the University of Pennsylvania, which said today that he "exaggerates his record and traffics in ambiguous language." We'd spell it "trafficks," but we put much stock in FactCheck, because it's run by Brooks Jackson, a former investigative and political reporter for The Wall Street Journal and CNN. To read his latest on Romney, go to www.FactCheck.org.

Kentucky newspaper holds McConnell's feet to the fire on FOIA reform bill

The Kentucky New Era, an 11,000-circulation daily in Hopkinsville, Ky., continues to take a leadership role in trying to get the U.S. Senate to consider a bill that would improve the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The paper published an editorial June 27 asking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to get Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to release his “hold” on the bill, which the Justice Department opposes. Last week, when McConnell was in town, New Era reporter Joe Parrino buttonholed him on the subject.

“McConnell defended a move by his colleague Sen. Jon Kyl to hold back legislation on the release of public information," Parrino reported. "McConnell said he hadn’t yet discussed the matter directly with Kyl but understood his colleague’s reservation to be about the bill’s national-security implications. McConnell dismissed any notion that Kyl is trying to bury the bill.”

“All Sen. Kyl is saying is that we need to bring it up, debate it and he may need an amendment,” McConnell told Parrino. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to pass.” Parrino noted, “Kyl placed the hold secretly and owned up to it only when the Society of Professional Journalists queried every single U.S. senator about the matter.” (Read more)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Freshman Democrats Webb, Tester, McCaskill are Senate ‘redneck caucus’

The Rural Blog has taken note of Virginia's Jim Webb since he started running for the U.S. Senate in 2006, mainly because a major part of his strategy was to bring rural voters back to the Democratic Party -- and he succeeded. He also started making waves very quickly, having a personal dust-up with President Bush at the White House. Now he and Bush are back on speaking terms, and he has "lowered his profile," but his criticism of Bush's Mideast policies, which helped elect Webb, "is unabated," reports The Virginian-Pilot.

Dale Eisman reports from Washington that Webb "and several other first-term Democrats, particularly Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, have formed an informal ' redneck caucus.' It's an allusion to their residence in 'red,' or Republican-leaning, states and their interest in lunch-pail issues, including raising the minimum wage and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to overseas workers." McCaskill told Eisman, "We were the three that probably were least expected to win" and also "come from the reddest states."

Eisman writes, "Their arrival in the Senate has given comfort to North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan. For years, he's been a lonely crusader for populist causes like increased controls on international trade and the repeal of tax laws that he says encourage companies to export jobs. Dorgan told Eisman, "It's a breath of fresh air to have Sen. Webb and about five others. A lot of senators put on a blue suit . . . and think they're 10 feet tall, but Jim has a great sense of humor." (Read more)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Maine law requires studies for big-box stores, sets criteria for rejection

Maine has become the first state to require developers of large retail stores to pay for studies of their impacts on local services, local businesses and the environment. "The proposed store can't be approved if the studies find it is likely to cause a quantifiable, 'undue adverse impact' on more than one of those fronts and is expected to have a harmful effect on the community overall," reports Kris Hudson of The Wall Street Journal. "Similar measures have been proposed in six other states in the past two years."

The Maine law was signed a week ago by Gov. John Baldacci. Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill applying to stores of more than 100,000 square feet. "A Montana measure mirroring the Maine law died in committee in the state's latest legislative session," Hudson reports. "Another measure is under review in New Jersey. The impact-study bills are the latest twist in efforts to use legislation to curtail the development of Wal-Mart and other chains, like Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp. , that commonly build large, stand-alone stores." (Read more)

Illinois federal judge slams door on last horse slaughterhouse in U.S.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that Illinois’ ban on slaughtering horses for meat is constitutional, “after a six-week legal battle between the state and Cavel International, a DeKalb slaughterhouse that was the only facility in the country still processing horse meat for overseas diners,” reports the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

Kapala had issued a statement June 25 saying he lacked jurisdiction until an appeals court decided whether The Humane Society of the United States could intervene as a defendant. “The appeals court said Tuesday that Kapala did have jurisdiction, and ordered him to make a final judgment before moving ahead on the appeal.” Cavel has indicated it will appeal and request expedited handling of the case. (Read more)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rural areas still lag behind cities, suburbs in broadband at home

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

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

The rural-urban disparity is not quite so great in workplaces, on which some rural residents rely for Internet connections. In rural areas, 38 percent said they have access to a high-speed connection at their place of work. For suburban and urban residents, the workplace-access figure is 55 percent.

One reason for the rural-urban broadband gap is lower Internet usage of any kind among rural residents. "Internet usage in rural areas also trails the national average; 60 percent of rural adults use the Internet from any location, compared with the national average of 71 percent," the report said. (Read the report)

Recent closures stir fears for small newspapers, communities in Arkansas

The closure and merger of several small newspapers in Arkansas, in the space of a few days, signals losses of population, losses of local retailers, and in turn a loss of community.

"Newspapers folding, merging or cutting back production is nothing new, although three in one state in the span of a few days is unusual, and new startups have been a rare sight lately," writes Ben Leubsdorf of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The decline of local businesses and -- especially in the Delta -- dwindling populations pose serious challenges for community newspapers. As owners see their advertising base shrink, publishing a daily, semiweekly or even a weekly becomes more and more difficult, observers say."

Arkansas is home to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but the company advertises little in newspapers, and when it and other megastores enter a newspaper's territory, local retailerts "either go out of business or become so stressed financially that they can't really afford to advertise much anymore," newspaper analyst John Morton told Leubsdorf, who noted, "Falling population in many rural areas also hurts the local economy."

Leubsdorf gives the details: "The weekly DeValls Bluff Times folded after 53 years of publication, its content absorbed into The Grand Prairie Herald in Hazen, seven miles down the road. ... Within a few days ... the DeQueen Daily Citizen also folded and two newspapers in Monroe County, the Monroe County Sun in Clarendon and The Brinkley Argus, merged to form The Central Delta Argus-Sun." (The weekly DeQueen Bee, which has one of the cutest names of any newspaper anywhere, lives on, under the ownership of Lancaster Management Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., which bought both papers from a family.)

Leubsdorf interviewed Arkansas native Liz Hansen, a former reporter in the state who studies rural papers as a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University. "She said some rural papers are experimenting with other options, such as a voluntary dues model like that which supports public television, or papers banding together to offer group advertising sales. But, she said, there is no 'one ready solution yet.'" The Democrat-Gazette, known for putting little free content online, will sell you this story for $1.95. To get it, click here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A story for Independence Day: Maine island creates its own government

"Most of the nation marks 231 years of independence today with parades, picnics and fireworks. But the people of Chebeague Island, Maine, are celebrating just three days of self-government," after being governed from the mainland for 260 years, reports National Public Radio, introducing a story by Howard Berkes. (Photo by David Tyler for NPR)

The move to create a new town, accomplished by passage of a bill in the state legislature, came in response to the possibility that the island's school would be closed. Berkes reports on the first town meeting (shown in photo): "Every folding chair was filled in the island gym and it was standing room only on the fringes.  Registered voters held fluorescent green cards, ready to raise them high when it came time to vote.  They had 110 items on the agenda, including the school and town budgets, establishing town jobs, and managing waste, traffic, boating, shellfish, elections, animals, cemeteries and more.  It took four hours.  But half the island’s voters had already spent months on developing this framework of government." Click here to read and listen to the story. (Great sounds!)

Mabel Doughty, 85, told Berkes: "Before that, we felt that those people on the mainland, that somehow they owned the island. We’re going to be our own people. And it’s a little bit feeling what the people who did the Declaration of Independence. They fought so hard to get there. Just as we have. And I think from now on let’s say, the Fourth of July is going to have great meaning for those of us on the island."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Broadband makes upstate N .Y. village less rural, says occasional visitor

For many rural places in the Northeast, the July 4 holiday is the beginning of second-home season, when folks from the cities decamp to the woods. In many places the city is following them, in the form of high-speed Internet access that makes the Web fully useful but also may change the character of the locales — at least in the view of The New York Times and one of its media reporters, David Carr. He writes from Corinth, N.Y., a town of 6,000 on the narrow, upper Hudson River in the foothills of the Adirondacks:

“My family owns a cabin up the mountain, the kind of place city dwellers come to get off the grid. But the grid keeps finding me. Apart from the Barn [ice-cream stand], there is a good wireless connection at the public library, and if you don’t mind latching onto someone else’s signal, just everywhere else around town. . . . There’s a lot of talk in the gas stations and beauty parlors — some of it on cellphones while waiting in line — about who is scheduled to get hooked up next" to the digital world of flash video and round-the-clock news.

“Places like Corinth have never been short on ‘community,’ so the addition of some pages on MySpace, Facebook, or a goofy video on YouTube is not going to knit the place together in some bold new paradigm. The picnic table outside Stewart’s will still be the best place to pick up local gossip. But a broader popular culture that many have rejected by leaving big cities now rides back toward them on a big fat pipe. If you live in Corinth and are jacked in, you could watch the final episode of ‘The Sopranos’ along with the rest of the country and click onto TMZ’s continuing ballad of Lindsay, Paris and Britney, there for the plucking. Indigenous culture is being supplanted by one where everybody is in on the same joke.”

Carr notes that the cable-TV business “has roots in the sticks . . . a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1940s. Today, the rural hunger for digital service represents a business opportunity for a mature industry that is going to run out of customers at some point.” Time Warner is “headed up the mountain” with its pckage of cable, phone and broadband, “and soon enough, there will be nodes for the likes of me — Mr. Off-the-Grid — to jack in. When that happens, we can take care of business amid the towering pines. But how will that be different from the place we drove three and a half hours to get away from?” (Read more)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Weekly editors' group charges batteries, gains perspective at conference

It’s a small group with an imposing name, an unpronounceable acronym and a nameless newsletter, but the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors showed at its annual conference last week that it’s a resilient and inspirational bunch of journalists who uphold the finest ideals of the craft.

A record 107 people attended the conference in the Black Hills, and as many as a third of them (including this writer) were at their first ISWNE meeting. And unlike most gatherings of editors and publishers, the conference included no sessions on how to sell more papers or more advertising, or even on how to deal with the Internet. The society is about journalism, and mainly about editorial leadership in community journalism.

It was founded in 1955 with the goal of improving editorial pages at weeklies, and the only awards it gives are for editorial writing, with one exception – an award for public service through aggressive reporting and interpretation of local government. But even that award requires reverence for language, for which its namesake, the late Eugene Cervi of the Rocky Mountain Journal, was known.

This year’s winner of the top editorial-writing award, Lori Evans of the Homer News in Alaska, echoed the comments of many other attendees when she said the conference recharged her batteries. “Our papers may be very small, but I believe our spirit may be larger than most of us imagine,” she told the awards-dinner crowd.
At the heart of each annual conference are editorial-critique sessions, originally intended to make up for weekly newspapers’ lack of editorial boards. They have expanded to critiques of the editorial and op-ed pages, and sometimes other parts of a paper.
The give and take is often among editors and publishers who know each other well, but they welcome new blood – essential in a group that has about 200 dues-paying members. “ISWNE is a small organization, more like a family than an organization,” said Dick Lee of South Dakota State University.
But even if that is still the case, it’s a far-flung family. Many of those at the conference were from Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the group often meets outside the U.S. Years ago, a British editor endowed a bursary, or stipend, to bring an editor “across the pond” for the conference and give a speech. This year’s recipient was Moira Sleight, managing editor of the Methodist Recorder, an independent paper that is published for Methodists in the U.K. but has a global readership.
Sleight told the audience about her paper and the current state of independent community journalism in Great Britain, which she said may be threatened by “hyper-local” publications that major newspaper chains have started for “small rural areas and city neighborhoods,” typically with a free circulation of 6,000.
Even the British Broadcasting Corp. has gotten into the act, creating Web sites with similar agendas that threaten local papers’ sites, prompting strong lobbying by the newspaper industry against it. “No local paper has the resources to compete with an organization like the BBC,” Sleight said. “If it goes ahead, it will have a very negative effect on many community newspapers.” For Sleight's full prepared remarks, click here.
The learning experiences at ISWNE conferences are not limited to journalism. Tours and local presenters give attendees a taste of the locale, broadening editors’ perspective. The Black Hills gathering included an obligatory trip to Mount Rushmore, but an even more extensive visit to Crazy Horse (above), where a much larger memorial, this one to the legendary Native American leader, is slowly being blasted out of a mountain.

The group sat in on the most extensive interview ever granted by Ruth Ziolkowski, 81, widow of Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor who started the project in 1948 and died in 1982. The interview was conducted by Jack Marsh, diversity vice president of the Freedom Forum, who also moderated a panel discussion with Native American journalists.

In South Dakota, a state with a large Indian population, Marsh and Larry Atkinson of the Mobridge Tribune have created a journalism diversity program like none in any other state. Their annual conference at Crazy Horse attracts 150 or more Native American students and 35 to 40 mentors, and the American Indian Journalism Institute brings Native American students to University of South Dakota for one of four courses, then places them in internships.

“Native Americans are the most under-represented group in journalism,” Marsh said. Of the 58,000 journalists at U.S. daily newspapers, only 300 are identified as Native Americans, he said, and the number who are actually enrolled as tribe members – which requires at least 25 percent Indian blood in many tribes – is probably about 100.

Back at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, headquarters for the editors’ conference, one agenda item for the group’s business meeting was “Future of ISWNE.” The outgoing president, retired editor Harry Hix of Oklahoma State University, said the group is “making progress” after doubts about its survival a few years ago. Membership topped 200 this year, thanks in part to trial memberships and other recruitment efforts of Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute for International Studies at Missouri Southern State University, who is the group’s executive director.

Stebbins said the organization has improved its publications – a monthly newsletter and the quarterly Grassroots Editor magazine – and is providing more services, such as a hotline for members to ask each other questions about issues that arise at their newspapers, few of which are chain-owned. “The people who have sent in their questions have been amazed by the responses they’ve received,” often as many as 50 in a 24-hour period, Stebbins said.
The hotline also helps maintain a sense of community among the widely scattered membership. For rural journalists, often hampered by the isolation that defines rurality, ISWNE can provide valuable networking and inspiration. For more information, go to www.iswne.org.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

FOI Act reform bill needs editorial support, especially in Kentucky

The federal Freedom of Information Act is 41 years old, and like most folks in their 40s who haven't been well cared for, it is showing its age. Most state open-records laws are better, providing a quick, inexpensive appeal to the attorney general or some other authority if an agency refuses to cough up records or fails to respond in the required time. Under FOIA, many records requests have languished for years, and going to court to dislodge them is too expensive for the citizens or news outlets that want the documents.

A bill in the Senate would restore meaningful deadlines for agency action, and and create a FOIA ombudsman as an alternative to costly litigation. It would also impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing the deadlines; clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors, and establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies. For details of the bill, click here.

The Department of Justice opposes the bill, and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is putting a hold on it, preventing the Senate from considering it. Supporters of the bill are asking news outlets to write or air editorials urging their senators to ask Kyl to let the bill be heard. Any editorial would be helpful, but Kentucky media outlets could be especially influential, because Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the Senate Republican leader and the Kentucky open-records law is one of those that provide a quick, inexpensive appeal.

The Kentucky New Era said in an editorial, "Sen. McConnell, we ask that you let your long-standing reputation for support of open government remain stainless by persuading your colleague to drop the hold and let this bill go forward toward a vote." Citing findings by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government that responses to FOIA requests dropped by 31 percent last year, the editorial said the Bush administration "has allowed lax FOIA enforcement and a near-obsession with secrecy to undercut the public’s right to know,” and asked, "How would you feel if someone else had something you own, and you had to file a written request to get it, and then there were delays upon delays getting it to you?" (Read more)

Second W. Va. county approves casino table games at local racetrack

Voters in a second county in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle have voted to allow the local racetrack to become a full-scale casino by adding table games to its slot machines. The unofficial results yesterday in rural Hancock County, at the state's northern tip, were 5,021 for and 3,506 against, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

The vote sought by Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort follows a similar one in Ohio County, which authorized table games at Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center. Voters in Jefferson County, in the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle, rejected the idea. The fourth and final referendum will be held for Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming in Nitro, in Kanawha County, which includes Charleston.

The West Virginia Legislature authorized table games, subject to local referenda, to help the tracks compete with slot machines recently authorized statewide in Pennsylvania. "Mountaineer plans to install 90 table games, with about half of those to be poker tables. Instructors have been trained by West Virginia Northern Community College, which also is training workers for Wheeling Island," reports Paul Giannamore of the Sunday News-Register of Wheeling. For his story, click here.

Weekly editors' group gives awards for editorial writing, public service

Twelve editors of weekly newspapers won awards for editorial writing last night from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, and one got the Golden Quill Award for best editorial of 2006. She is Lori Evans, editor and publisher of the Homer News in Alaska, a Morris Communications paper.

Evans' Sept. 14 editorial called for an end to unlimited property-tax exemptions for homeowners 65 and over on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, where second homes and retirement homes are becoming popular -- so much so among senior citizens that their total property exemptions last year totaled $404 million, almost double the 2001 figure of $210 million. "Given the borough's changing demographics -- more seniors, fewer young families -- the exemption is just not fair," Evans wrote. The Borough Assembly didn't follow Evans' advice, but this fall voters will decide whether to put a $300,000 cap on each exemption.

Other "Golden Dozen" award winners at the ISWNE annual conference in Rapid City, S.D., were Steve Dills of the Sylvan Lake News in Alberta; Gary Sosniecki of The Vandalia Leader in Missouri; Luke Klink of The Star News in Medford, Wis.; Betta Ferrendelli of The Observer in Rio Rancho, N.M.; Dick Crocford of the Big Horn County News in Montana; Bill Schanen of the Ozaukee Press in Port Washington, Wis.; Charles Gay of the Shelton-Mason County Journal in Washington; John Wylie II of the Oologah Lake Leader in Oklahoma; Mike Buffington of the Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga.; Tim Waltner of the Freeman Courier in South Dakota; and Mo Mehlsak of The Forecaster in Falmouth, Maine.

The Eugene Cervi Award for public service in community journalism went to Guy and Marcia Wood, publishers of the Sangre de Christo Chronicle in Angelfire, N.M., from 1984 to 2006. "They constantly battled village government to keep meetings and records open," the presentation said. The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting and interpretation of local government, and reverence for language, for which the award's namesake is known. Cervi, of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver, died in 1970.

Information and inspiration: Good Works at RuralJournalism.org

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

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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Last revised July 16, 2007, 10:45 p.m. EDT