The Rural Blog Archive: June 2006

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

Friday, June 30, 2006

U.S. political divide reveals two distinct Americas, say researchers

Political polarization will be the subject of an ABC News special tonight at 10, with a report based on the research of demographer Robert Cushing and journalist Bill Bishop, who is writing a book about the topic.

Cushing and Bishop, an adviser to the Center for Rural Strategies and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, have developed and analyzed data that indicates the nation is becoming more politically, economically, and socially polarized. The two have dubbed their theory "the big sort," and it hypothesizes that Americans are segregating themselves, basing their choice of residence partly on their political beliefs.

"The nation has gone through a big sort, a sifting of people and politics into what is becoming two Americas. One is urban and Democratic, the other Republican, suburban and rural," Bishop wrote in the Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 20, 2004. "Although the split isn't true in every case, divisions between city and countryside nationally are stark, widespread and rapidly growing." Click here for the Rural Blog Archive for September 2004, which has an item on the article and a link to it.

New Medicaid rule to require 50 million people to prove citizenship

A new Medicaid rule going into effect tomorrow will require 50 million-plus poor Americans to prove they are U.S. citizens or they will lose medical benefits or long-term care. Many of them could be in rural areas, especially African Americans who were born in the segregated South.

The rule, aimed at reducing the amount of fraud being committed by illegal immigrants, requires that a passport or a birth certificate must be offered when a person applies for Medicaid benefits, or during annual reenrollment in the program for the poor and disabled, reports The Washington Post.

"Critics fear that the provision will have the unintended consequence of harming several million U.S. citizens who, for a variety of reasons, will not be able to produce the necessary paperwork. They include mentally ill, mentally retarded and homeless people, as well as elderly men and women, especially African Americans born in an era when hospitals in the rural South barred black women from their maternity wards," Susan Levine and Mary Otto write.

Attorney Clifton Elgarten filed a lawsuit to contest the rule's constitutionality yesterday in federal court ion Washington on behalf of the nonprofit social services organization Bread for the City and individual plaintiffs. The lawsuit seeks to prevent its implementation in the nation's capital, where 140,000-plus residents get Medicaid, report Levine and Otto. (Read more)

Isolation from facilities, institutions raises risk of obesity in rural U.S.

"Residents of rural communities who feel isolated from recreational facilities, stores, churches and schools are more likely to be obese than those who believe they are closer to facilities, new St. Louis University research finds," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

The study is thought to be the first to examine how obesity and the environmental factors within rural communities are linked, and it involved 2,500 residents of 13 rural communities in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. Factors influencing obesity included distance from recreational facilities and other destinations, feeling unsafe from crime and traffic and poor aesthetics of the neighborhood. People concerned about traffic safety were more likely to be obese, notes Newswise. (Read more)

About a quarter of the people in the South and Midwest live in rural areas, where obesity tends to be more common than in metropolitan areas. A second Newswise item about the same study talks about an urban-rural connection: "The environmental attributes that promote obesity are generally the same in rural communities as those previously found in urban and suburban areas." The item points out, though, that such barriers are reported more frequently in rural areas. (Read more)

Rural economies see growth in middle of changing times, says report

Rural economies are still outpacing metro economies, but a new report in The Main Street Economist explores whether old development policies are best suited for ensuring continued progress.

"The rural economy has enjoyed a strong upturn since 2003. Growth in income and jobs has been stronger in rural America than in metro areas (Chart 1).1 In ’04 and ’05, rural incomes grew 2.8 percent a year (vs. 2.5 percent in metro areas). Jobs were added at a 1.3 percent annual pace (1.2 percent in metro areas).The rural growth appears broad-based, though clearly paced by growth in high-skill jobs and new activity in recreational areas," write Mark Drabenstott and Jason Henderson.

The report notes rural America's reliance on commodity agriculture, natural resource extraction, and labor-intensive manufacturing. "Globalization challenges all three—forcing U.S. producers to slash costs to stay competitive. Thus a pattern of consolidation is the norm throughout the countryside. Farms get bigger and fewer. Coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin produce more coal with bigger shovels and trucks, but fewer workers. Taken together, these shifts mean fewer and fewer rural communities can tie their economic future to the economic engines of the past," write Drabenstott and Henderson. (Read more)

Ethanol craze seen as possible benefit for cattle industry; support mixed

Corn is becoming quite a hot crop in the Midwest, as states such as Iowa start producing ethanol as an alternative fuel. At the same time, the nation's cattle industry sees an opportunity to gain nutritious feed.

"For ethanol plants, like the 50-million-gallon facility being built in this southwest Iowa town (Shenandoah), it's beneficial to sell the co-product locally instead of having to ship it to different parts of the country. Therefore, the opportunity is there for increased feedlots and larger cow/calf operations," writes Mike McGinnis, markets editor of Agriculture Online. Speculation is that the cattle industry will try to negotiate for good prices, because the feed from the plants produces more energy than corn. (Read more)

With ethanol being proposed as something to help alleviate concerns over high gas prices, there is discussion on the federal level about supporting production plants. "Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Friday that ethanol doesn't need its federal subsidy, given the current high prices that the corn-based fuel is fetching. But he said that some subsidies will still be needed to attract long-term investment after the current 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit expires in four years," writes Philip Brasher in the Washington Farm Report. (Read more)

The Wisconsin State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee recently rejected a proposal from Governor Jim Doyle to provide grants to encourage gasoline stations in the state to install more gas pumps equipped for ethanol use. "In March, the State Senate basically killed a bill that would have required all regular gasoline sold in the state contain at least 10 percent ethanol," writes Bob Meyer of The Brownfield Network. (Read more)

Rural bookstores, other retailers thrive in Iowa via power of the Internet

Rural Iowa is home to an emerging trend where storefront businesses are thriving in sparsely populated areas by opening their doors to sales on the Internet, with some doing 95 percent of their business online.

When one such bookstore opened up in Soldier, residents and businesses found they could buy anything they wanted. "Small-town librarians showed up with their limited budgets and started buying books. Rural folks who needed a mystery or a self-help book suddenly found the place," writes Mike Kilen of Gannett News Service.

Many retailers are seeing a connection between an online presence and a good reputation, reports Kilen. online presence created a welcome surprise. "The store lends credence to our Web site," said Brad McKee, owner of Amish Corners in Drakesville, a spot in the road in southeast Iowa. "It tells people we are a business and I'm not doing this out of my basement. That shores up their confidence." (Read more)

Scottsburg, Ind., is prime example of public-sector broadband access

"Scottsburg, Ind., Mayor Bill Graham didn’t want to be in the telecommunications business, but what options did he have? Unable to get the high-speed Internet service they needed, businesses in his town of 6,040 were about to leave. And unable to get the private sector to provide that service, it fell to the town to build its own system," writes Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow at the Rural Policy Research Institute.

"Even more depressing, 18 months of studying the situation led only to the conclusion that it would cost $5 to $6 million to hard-wire a fiber-optic loop around Scottsburg. Needless to say, the town didn’t have that kind of money to spend. Finally, and fortuitously, Mayor Graham found a company that could build a wireless system to serve Scottsburg for a fraction of the cost of fiber -- $275,000, to be exact. And by spending a bit more ($385,000 total), the town was able to cover the whole county and two smaller towns nearby as well," he continues.

"They projected 100 paying customers in the first year; they got 500. Indeed, the system worked so well and was so well received, that they’ve now expanded it to serve seven counties," Rowley concludes. "As reported here last week, 13 state legislatures (including Indiana) have turned a sympathetic ear toward the whining of private providers seeking to trample the rights of municipalities to ensure broadband service and all the benefits it brings for their citizens. Fortunately, all but one of those legislative attempts have been rebuffed and the 13th — in Nebraska — is being reconsidered." (Read more)

Columnist: Small-town newspapers thrive by focusing on local news

"As metropolitan newspapers throughout this country report decline in circulation, newspapers such as this one, which focus on local news, thrive. Except for an occasional feature and for spot news in the Nashville paper, the local newspapers are where we find local news," opines J.B. Leftwich for The Lebanon Democrat in Tennessee.

“'Local' is circulation area. If The Tennessean is circulated in Cookeville, there should be Cookeville and Putnam County stories in its pages. Local news is the reason the small-town newspapers thrive," he writes.

Leftwich reflects on the Democrat's past: "Inside pages were filled with personal item columns written by correspondents in Gladeville, Centerville, Taylorsville, Route 7. Society editor Margaret Brown filled other pages with social tidbits. The staff crammed seven days of news into one edition. Now, that was local news. Nobody wants to return to those days, but the mantra local news' should always prevail." Click here to read both columns under the newspaper heading in our reports section.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Senate panel blocks limits on Internet access fees, or 'net neutrality'

A Senate committee rejected an amendment Wednesday to a bill that sought to prevent telephone and cable-TV companies from charging businesses that want to provide customers with high-speed Internet.

The "Internet neutrality" amendment, to a bill making it easier for telephone companies to sell television service, failed on an 11-11 vote in the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, reports Bloomberg News. According to the roll call, the vote was along party lines except that Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine voted for it. (Read more)

Proponents argued that not enacting the measure hurts the Internet's open nature. The amendment is expected to appear again when the bill goes before the entire Senate. If you care about this issue, now is the time to report where your senators stand on it and perhaps editorialize on the subject. The Rural Blog reported on this issue earlier this month; click here and go to the June 8 blog to see the archived item.

Weekly newspaper in North Carolina starts free wireless Internet service

The Pilot of Southern Pines, N.C., will start a wireless Internet service for southern Moore County to "bind the community together in a dynamic and compelling way with The Pilot's products and Internet service," the three-times-a-week newspaper announced in a story yesterday.

"The Pilot wants southern Moore County to unplug and access the Internet's infinite space unburdened by wires," wrote online coordinator Ryan Tuck, who paraphrased Publisher David Woronoff as saying the service will be accessible at no cost to everyone in the newspaper's service area, whether readers of the 15,300-circulation paper or not. "It's just another example of our commitment to serving Moore County in a complete and comprehensive fashion," Woronoff said.

The paper's Web site averages about 5,000 unique visitors and 23,000 page views per day. "The online push has energized The Pilot's staff, providing new and exciting tools to tell the community's stories," said Steve Bouser, the paper's editor. "We're determined to think about The Pilot as more than a newspaper. It's an information portal. The main thing readers will notice is that there'll be lots of opportunities online to dig deeper into stuff they'll read in the paper." (Read more)

Later in the year, the newspaper will launch a fee-based high-speed wireless broadband network to complement the WiFi network," Tuck reports. "Woronoff predicts that the launch of such a network, which will utilize the cutting-edge WiMax technology, will be complete by the end of the year." The Pilot's Web site says it has been owned since 1996 by Woronoff, Frank Daniels Jr., Frank Daniels III, Jack Andrews and Lee Dirks,.all previously associated with the News & Observer of Raleigh.

Rural veterans travel long distances for treatment, due to few options

Veterans living in rural areas are driving long distances for care they need to treat post-traumatic stress and physical injuries, rural health specialists told the U.S. House veterans subcommittee Wednesday.

"While the VA has more than 700 outpatient clinics, only about 100 are in rural counties. And only 10 percent of physicians, but a fourth of all Americans, live in rural areas. Veterans' mental-health issues include combat stress, readjustment problems and the need for family counseling," writes James W. Crawley of Media General News Service.

The Free Clinic of Goochland, Va., only treats those veterans who seek dental care and who do not have health benefits. Executive Director Sally Graham said more rural health services are needed for veterans, who have founded complaints about driving long distances, reports Crawley. (Read more)

Minnesota youth hurt by pollution, cleanup could save money, group says

Minnesota is spending $1.6 billion per year on children experiencing asthma, cancer, birth defects and learning disorders caused by environmental pollution that could be prevented, a new Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy report estimates.

"In one part, the report's authors use previously tested scientific formulas to determine that the mercury from coal-fired power plants alone costs the state about $30 million annually in neuro-developmental problems in children. This year, Minnesota lawmakers passed tough new mercury reduction limits for power plants that will be phased in over the next decade,"reports John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune.

A 2004 Minnesota Department of Health study showed that 13 percent of rural children reported having asthma and another 13 percent reported symptoms without actually being diagnosed. (Read more)

Arizona detective stresses meth evidence as key to protecting children

About 75 Kentucky police detectives and narcotics investigators learned this week about protecting children in methamphetamine cases and preserving crucial evidence during a workshop with an Arizona detective at the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center in Hazard.

The officers learned about interview techniques, proper surveying of the crime scene and how meth affects children. Detective Tim Ahumada of the Phoenix Police Department's Crimes Against Children Unit urged officers to document cases where adults abuse the children and to file charges, reports Barbara Isaacs of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"One of the details Ahumada recommends gathering for evidence is the height of the child, his or her height when reaching with an arm and the distance in the home between the child's belongings and the meth lab supplies. Often, he said, defense lawyers contend that the child didn't have access to the meth lab supplies," writes Isaacs. Workshop sponsors included the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center; the Kentucky Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, which is based at the University of Kentucky; and Operation UNITE, a regional anti-drug program. (Read more)

American beautyberry plant keeps pesky insects away, study finds

As biting bugs swarm the U.S. and concerns over insect-borne diseases continue, a traditional folk remedy that has been used in Mississippi for more than a century may help.

"Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service housed at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi have isolated compounds in the American beautyberry plant, Callicarpa americana, that may keep chomping insects away," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Charles Cantrell, an ARS chemist in Oxford, said, “Traditional folklore remedies many times are found to lead nowhere following scientific research. The beautyberry plant and its ability to repel mosquitoes is an exception. We actually identified naturally occurring chemicals in the plant responsible for this activity." To make a repellent for mass consumption, a product must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and there needs to be a cost-effective manufacturing procedure, notes Newswise. (Read more)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rural Georgia teacher won battle to teach evolution thanks to standards

"Occasionally, an educational battle will dominate national headlines. More commonly, the battling goes on locally, behind closed doors, handled so discreetly that even a teacher working a few classrooms away might not know. This was the case for Pat New, 62, a respected, veteran middle school science teacher, who, a year ago, quietly stood up for her right to teach evolution in this rural northern Georgia community, and prevailed," writes Michael Winerip of The New York Times.

New does not know how many people at Lumpkin County Middle School questioned her teaching of evolution, but at least a dozen parents, teachers and administrators and several students in her seventh-grade life science class sent e-mails and letters, stopped her in the hall, called board members, demanded meetings, and requested copies of a video shown in class, reports Winerip.

During an April 2005 meeting with Principal Rick Conner, New recalled: "He took a Bible off the bookshelf behind him and said, 'Patty, I believe in everything in this book, do you?' I told him, 'I really feel uncomfortable about your asking that question.' He wouldn't let it go.'" New said Conner told her, "I accept evolution in most things but if they ever say God wasn't involved I couldn't accept that. I want you to say that, Pat."

Throughout the school year, New asked her supervisors to read Georgia's science standards, which include calls for teaching evolution. After she filled out a complaint to initiate a grievance under state law, stating she was being "threatened and harassed," she encountered no more problems. "What saved me, was I didn't have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, 'I'm following state standards,'" she told Winerip.

Gerry Wheeler, director of the National Science Teachers Association, told Winerip that surveys of the group's members have indicated that one-third of teachers "have been challenged on evolution, mainly by parents and students. "A survey of state science standards by the Fordham Institute, a conservative policy research organization that supports teaching evolution, rated 20 states, including Georgia, with 'sound' evolution standards in 2005, down from 24 states in 2000." (Read more)

$1 billion coal-fired power plant to bring jobs, money to West Virginia

A $1 billion coal-fired power plant approved by West Virginia's Public Service Commission is touted to provide Monongalia County with 60 jobs and financial benefits totaling $105 million over 30 years.

The PSC said work on the Longview Power Plant must start within three years and finish within eight on a site near Allegheny Energy’s Fort Martin plant in northern West Virginia. “The PSC laid out conditions to placate three citizen groups that have fought the project for years, including a noise-control plan, proof the developer has the required financing and a $3 million performance bond in case the money runs out before construction is completed,” The Associated Press reported.

The developer is GenPower LLC of Needham, Mass., which specializes in advanced-technology power plants. The plant appears to be the first coal-fired plant owned by the company, which also wants to build one in McDowell County, in southern West Virginia. The state's approval of the site is “a sellout to out-of-state developers, a tax scam, and a threat to our health and well-being,” said a statement from Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power, Citizens for Responsible Development and the Fort Martin Community Association.

PSC spokeswoman Sarah Robertson told reporters, “The commission believes this project could potentially have great impacts not only on West Virginia, but on the country as a whole concerning energy and the productive use of the state’s energy resources.” She said the need for Longview is “bolstered by the commission’s belief that the United States is overly dependent on foreign oil, has supplies of coal sufficient to meet the country’s needs well into the foreseeable future and that those supplies can be used to produce energy to meet other appropriate socioeconomic objectives.” (Read more)

Natural-gas company gets criticized for storming into West Virginia forest

Natural-gas production is booming because of high energy prices, but Equitable Production has some West Virginians enraged after it ignored an existing road to reach a new drilling site and carved a new mile-long path through Kanawha State Forest, in Kanawha County south of Charleston.

"Kanawha State Forest and Equitable officials say an agreement is being finalized to compensate the forest for trees destroyed in building the road," writes Rick Steelhammer of The Charleston Gazette. "Kanawha State Forest Foundation Vice Chairman Julian Martin, a frequent hiker in the 9,300-acre preserve, said he counted the rings of one of the felled trees found alongside the unauthorized haul road and found it to be 108 years old."

Kanawha State Forest is the only state forest where timber harvesting is prohibited. The state Legislature passed a law in 2000 banning logging in the preserve, reports Steelhammer. (Read more)

Backyard ponds attract unwanted critters, but create booming industry

Backyard ponds are becoming a craze in both rural and urban America, but homeowners are finding their creations attract unwanted animals such as raccoons and aggressive, diving birds.

"The number of backyard ponds in the U.S. could reach six million this year, estimates Aquascape Designs, a pond manufacturer based in St. Charles, Ill., up from two million in 1996. But as more homeowners build backyard oases, more animals are treating those ponds as watering and feeding holes, as they dine on the expensive plants and decorative fish," writes Jane Costello for The Wall Street Journal. Ways to combat the animals include water-spraying scarecrows and plastic bird decoys, and even home remedies such as hair clippings and mothballs.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 15 percent of U.S. homes have water features, reports Costello. Sales of water-gardening products have doubled to $870 million per year during the past decade, according to the National Gardening Association. (Read more) Thanks to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story.

Wisconsin county's rural housing plan clusters homes, keeps open space

A proposed residential development in St. Croix County, Wisconsin's fastest growing county, would be the first project under a new rural housing plan that aims to preserve an agricultural appearance.

"The relatively new type of housing development allows for a concentrated cluster or clusters of houses on a large piece of real estate, with the remaining land being conserved for use by all residents. It replaces the traditional lay-out for rural housing developments that carve up the land in individual chunks of land," writes Jeff Holmquist of the New Richmond News.

Rolling Hills Farm would include two miles of eight-foot trails for residents, a public park, a wetland overlook and native prairie grasses. The homes would be equipped with environmentally-friendly aerobic septic systems, and pairs of homes would share a well, reports Holmquist. (Read more)

Ohio farmer busted for selling raw milk says law violates religion

An Amish dairy farmer in Mount Hope, Ohio, is going to court for selling raw milk to an undercover agent, but the man says the law forbidding such a sale violates his religious beliefs, which call for him to share the milk he produces.

Arlie Stutzman, who lives a pastoral region in northeast Ohio that has the world's largest Amish settlement, had his license revoked by the Ohio Department of Agriculture in February. "In April, he got back his license, which allows him to sell to cheese houses and dairies, but received a warning not to sell raw milk to consumers again," reports The Associated Press.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Dairy Association report that raw milk poses health risks to humans because it is not heated to kill bacteria. Raw-milk sales are banned in 25 states, notes AP. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rural states rank poor on annual child welfare list; solutions sought

Rural America is lagging behind urban areas in the health and welfare of its children, according to an annual report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

Ten predominantly rural states finished in the bottom ten in overall child well-being including, from 41st to 50th: North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi. The overall rank was based on factors such as poverty, low birth weights and child death rates. For the entire rankings, click here.

Nationwide, about 13 million children are living in poverty, and rural states are suffering from poor economic conditions such as parents lacking secure employment. In a story focusing mainly on Kentucky and Indiana, The Courier-Journal reports that state leaders see better preparing students for college and the work force as one key to overcoming poverty. (Read more)

U.S. Supreme Court to rule on greenhouse gases; may affect power plants

The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering whether the government should regulate greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide from motor vehicles, and its ruling could affect several industries.

The court will rule on whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required under the federal clean air law to treat carbon dioxide from automobiles as a pollutant harmful to health. A dozen states filed a lawsuit to try and force the EPA to curtail such emissions just as it does cancer-causing lead and chemicals that produce smog and acid rain, reports H. Josef Hebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.

"While the case doesn't specifically involve carbon releases from power plants, environmentalists said a court decision declaring carbon dioxide a harmful pollutant would make it hard for the agency to avoid action involving power plants which account for 40 percent or the carbon dioxide released into the air. Cars and trucks account for about half that amount," writes Hebert. (Read more)

Al-Jazeera reporters run into prejudice in North Dakota, producer says

"In a country's hinterlands, a distant region seldom visited by outsiders, a television crew investigates why so many residents are fleeing the area. When local officials catch wind of the crew's presence, they begin interrogating people the journalists interviewed, and pressure others not to talk. Russia? Uzbekistan? China? No. This incident took place in North Dakota, in the heart of the United States," writes Joanne Levine, executive producer of programming for the Americas at al-Jazeera International.

"When the sheriff of Crosby, a town [in North Dakota] near the Canadian border, heard about it, he contacted the U.S. Border Patrol. An agent soon showed up at the local newspaper, asking for the journalists' names. Other agents asked whether they 'seemed like U.S. citizens.' The journalists are Peggy Holter, Josh Rushing and Mark Teboe. They are all experienced reporters, and they are all U.S. citizens. So what was it that raised officials' antennae? The channel they work for: al-Jazeera," continues Levine.

"Say that name in the United States and, likely as not, the listener will practically shudder in revulsion. Many Americans automatically think 'terrorist TV,' or 'Osama bin Laden's network.' They see al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language channel based in Qatar, as the al-Qaeda leader's mouthpiece, broadcasting his videotaped messages of jihad," opines Levine.

"Yet the truth is that al-Jazeera is a pioneer of news independence that the U.S. government once lauded for bringing freedom of the press to the Middle East. Now it's planning to broadcast worldwide, including in the United States. But as its Arab owners work to make that a reality, the prejudice here persists, and those of us who work for the network find ourselves running, at every turn, into resistance, rejection and racism," she concludes. (Read more)

Iowa leaders search for solutions to stop declining rural population

New U.S. Census Bureau figures have officials in Iowa worried about its declining rural population, with some counties having lost at least 5 percent of their population from 2000 to 2005.

"Without enough new workers, the average age is rising in nearly every part of those counties, while school enrollment is declining," writes Dan Gearino of the Globe Gazette. "Local and state leaders are fighting to reverse the trend with a two-prong strategy. First, they are using incentive payments to attract high-wage jobs and encourage existing employers to expand. Second, they are devoting more time and money to improving recreational amenities and revitalizing main streets, in the hope of attracting more young families."

Shirley Phillips, the economic development director in Sac County, said the state's rural counties are hurt by economic challenges. Such areas lack four-lane highways to transport goods to major cities, and she is joining in an effort to push the state to expand U.S. Highway 20 across western Iowa. "The two-lane portion of U.S. 20 is a major thoroughfare in three of the slowest growing counties, Calhoun, Ida and Sac," reports the newspaper in Mason City. (Read more)

Copper-theft craze continues across U.S.; cities are fighting back

"Call it black market alchemy. Water pipes, utility wires, floral vases and rain gutters — all made of copper — are being turned into cash at scrap yards by thieves profiting off the metal's record market prices," writes Christopher Baxter of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

Copper thefts are occurring daily in the U.S., and the metal is fetching $4 per pound, compared to less than $1 three years ago. Copper is considered the premier metal for making everything from wiring to money, and replacing it expensive with copper water piping costing about $18 per pound, or about $6 per foot, reports Baxter. (Read more)

Municipalities across the U.S. are trying to crack down on the thefts and one example is in Tuscon, Ariz., where city officials say trading in stolen metals for cash at scrap yards and junk dealers helps methamphetamine users pay for their habit. City law now requires secondhand dealers to keep more detailed records and report transactions involving items such as scrap copper to police within two business days, notes Baxter. Thanks to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story.

Tennessee's Leaf-Chronicle reports on all Iraq stories involving locals

"Since the Iraq War began more than three years ago, The Leaf-Chronicle (circulation 21,154) of Clarksville, Tenn., has seen it all. As the closest daily paper to the Fort Campbell Army post, where tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq from the 101st Airborne Division are stationed, the Leaf-Chronicle has reported on deaths, deployments, and disputes from Washington, D.C. to Baghdad," reports Editor & Publisher. The daily,owned by Gannett Co., covered last week's stories about three Fort Campbell-based soldiers facing murder charges for alleged misconduct in Iraq, and two others once considered missing but then determined to have been murdered, reports Joe Strupp.

Leaf-Chronicle Executive Editor Richard Stevens told Strupp that covering such stories can overwhelm readers: "It is getting pretty weary here dealing with a lot of sad stories, a lot of sensitive stories. A kidnapping story can present a long, protracted search. Both of these have the potential for being very sensitive stories. Our community and newspaper staff is getting pretty weary of the drumbeat of trouble." (Read more) The Kentucky New Era (circ. 11,090), a smaller, independent daily in Hopkinsville,Ky., on the other side of Fort Campbell, used coverage from The Associated Press for both stories.

Kentucky governor bans his employees from Web sites to boost work

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher is attempting to boost workers' efficiency by blocking access to specific Web sites on state computers, including at least three Jewish-related sites and several newspaper blogs.

"Last week, officials blocked state employees from surfing various Internet categories including entertainment and humor, online auctions and Web logs, known as 'blogs.' The state also blocked employees from viewing [Mark] Nickolas' www.BluegrassReport.org, after he was quoted in a New York Times article being critical of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration," reports The Associated Press.

State officials also blocked The Rural Blog, published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The director of the institute, Al Cross, who is an occasional commentator on Kentucky politics, was quoted in the Times story. "Cross said he would not 'presume any motive' on why the site was blocked but said it was ill-advised. The blog on the site is not political in nature, Cross said," writes AP's Joe Biesk. A poster on another blog said he was a state employee whose access was not blocked, and other posts indicate that the blocking appears to vary among agencies. (Read more)

The Courier-Journal reports that the state's effort to block sites is troubled by inconsistency. The state has not successfully blocked all TV, humor and sports sites, "as shown by a reporter's sampling of 50 sites yesterday on a state computer," writes Tom Loftus of the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ethanol boom creates concern over food supplies, livestock costs

Dozens of new distilleries across the U.S. are using corn to make the gasoline substitute ethanol, but an extensive New York Times package uses data, graphs and an energy-balance sidebar to illustrate the trend's possible negative effects on agriculture and food prices.

"The ethanol phenomenon is creating some unexpected jitters in crucial corners of farm country. A few agricultural economists and food industry executives are quietly worrying that ethanol, at its current pace of development, could strain food supplies, raise costs for the livestock industry and force the use of marginal farmland in the search for ever more acres to plant corn," writes Alexei Barrionuevo.

"By the middle of 2007, there will be a food fight between the livestock industry and this biofuels or ethanol industry," said Dan Basse, president of AgResources, an economic forecasting firm in Chicago. "As the corn price reaches up above $3 a bushel, the livestock industry will be forced to raise prices or reduce their herds. At that point the U.S. consumer will start to see rising food prices or food inflation."

"If that occurs, the battleground is likely to shift to some 35 million acres of land set aside under a 1985 program for conservation and to help prevent overproduction. Farmers are paid an annual subsidy averaging $48 an acre not to raise crops on the land. But the profit lure of ethanol could be great enough to push the acreage, much of it considered marginal, back into production," notes Barrionuevo. (Read more)

Mine-safety advocates say all workers deserve methane gas detectors

"Methane is the chief suspect in the explosion that killed five miners at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Eastern Kentucky, but only foremen and roof bolters carried detectors to warn of dangerous gas levels. Some safety advocates, union officials, and the families of miners killed at the Darby mine in Holmes Mill say all miners need to have detectors," writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

Federal regulators and coal industry officials said the Darby blast and the Jan. 20 methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia that killed 12 miners do not warrant more detectors. Federal and state laws already require testing for methane every 20 minutes, and mines must also test before every new shift and before resuming cutting for coal, reports Carroll.

A portable device that can detect the colorless and odorless gas costs about $650, compared to the breathing devices given to each miner that cost on average $582. There are other detectors available for use that will cut off power to machines when dangerous levels are detected. The new mine safety law signed by President Bush did not address methane detectors, notes Carroll. (Read more)

Young reporters replace vets, 'get snookered' by officials, opines professor

A generational shift is occurring in newsrooms across the U.S. with veteran reporters being replaced by young journalists, and a lack of knowledge about past events is hurting the product, opines Edward Wasserman , Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University.

"Pruning news staffs has become a managerial routine, and shedding higher-earning -- meaning, longer-serving -- employees a mark of fiscal prudence. They're getting six months', maybe a year's pay, and they're gone. So are their Rolodexes, their intuition, the stories they did or meant to do and their deep familiarity with their communities. With the growth in journalism positions concentrated in the burgeoning Internet sector -- where the focus on attracting the youth demographic is at its most intense -- the new jobs that are opening up are likely to be filled by people a generation or more younger than those being shown the door at old media operations," writes Wasserman.

"I had a conversation a year or two ago with an ex-reporter, who had long experience covering national security, about why his newspaper, one of the country's best, had fallen into lockstep in reporting credulously on the run-up to the Iraq war and had underplayed fierce dissent within our government. He said, essentially, that the coverage decisions were being made by people who weren't acquainted with the Gulf of Tonkin incident or the Iran-contra affair, or the other landmark late 20th century instances of official U.S. deceit or ineptitude. So they got snookered," continues Wasserman.

"That was a disturbing answer. It made me realize that managing generational change is a delicate matter of achieving a balance of memory and energy, the seasoned and the fresh, certainty and skepticism. It's a matter not of lowering costs, but of carefully calibrating a newsroom culture. And it's a challenge that, I'm afraid, is being blown," concludes Wasserman. (Read more)

Wal-Mart to upgrade 1,800 stores, build 1,500 new ones across U.S.

Wal-Mart Supercenters are constantly springing up in rural, urban and suburban locations in the U.S., and the pace is expected to continue, influx with 1,500 new Wal-Marts slated to open in the next five years.

Almost two-thirds of the locations will come as Supercenters, meaning they will include groceries, gas pumps, drive-up pharmacies and banking and auto services in addition to general merchandise items, reports Jeffrey Sheban of The Columbus Dispatch. Wal-Mart also plans to remodel 1,800 stores during the next 18 months, which includes transforming many older locations into Supercenters.

"In suburban areas, where most of the nation’s 2,022 Supercenters are located, Wal-Mart is building them closer together than ever. In some markets, particularly Dallas, the large stores are two or three miles apart. That’s compared with the previous 15 to 20 miles apart Wal-Mart thought was appropriate when its stores were mostly in small towns and rural areas," writes Sheban. (Read more)

East Texans fight to prevent purchase of rural college's classical station

In the oil country of East Texas, Kilgore College's classical music radio station KTPB has just been sold to a California-based company that plans to eliminate local programs and instead broadcast a feed of Christian music and other religious programming 24 hours a day.

Educational Media Foundation Broadcasting will pay the financially strapped college $2.46 million over 10 years, and its plans are already attracting complaints. Classical enthusiasts have formed Save Our Arts Radio and generated at least 175 letters, many of them forwarded to the Federal Communications Commission, which must approve the acquisition, reports The New York Times. (Read more)

"The loss of a classical KTPB would be the latest footstep in the decline of classical music radio in the United States. Doomsayers see the trend as part of a broader diminishing of the art form, although new sources — satellite and digital radio and Internet streaming — are emerging. In 1990, about 50 commercial stations were on the air; the number is closer to 30 now," writes Daniel Wakin. For additional background on this story, click here for an article by Lester Murray of the Kilgore News Herald.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Small-town newspapers thrive with innovation, avoid dailies' pitfalls

Lee Enterprises Inc. owns 58 newspapers and is one example of a chain where smaller newspapers -- like the Waterloo Courier in Iowa or the Missoulian in Montana -- are outdoing larger publications.

For some data confirming that small papers are outperforming big ones, the Audit Bureau of Circulations shows that "weekday circulation over a six-month period fell 4.7 percent at Colorado's Denver Post, but rose 2.5 percent at the Grand Junction Sentinel; Florida's Orlando Sentinel dropped 8.3 percent, but the St. Augustine Record rose 11.2 percent; California's Los Angeles Times dropped 5.4 percent, but the Stockton Record rose 1.2 percent," reports Reuters.

"In many ways, community newspapers are still enjoying the advantages that big metropolitan dailies such as the New York Times or Chicago Tribune have lost," writes Paul Thomasch. "Readership has held up better, and fewer people have defected to the Internet for news and classified ads. The trick for smaller newspapers is to keep that advantage, particularly as more local content becomes available on the Internet, be it from bloggers or other media companies."

Small-town newspapers are using innovation such as The Monroe in Wisconsin, which allows companies to run ads on one page with a related "how-to" advice article on the facing page. The News-Press in Oklahoma prints its city's visitors guide for free, uses some of its own photos in the publication, and then gets the ad revenue, notes Thomasch. (Read more) In another example of innovation, The Rural Blog reported on June 8 about leaders in Jonesborough, Tenn., paying the community's weekly Herald & Tribune to send a copy to every resident. Click here for the archived item.

New weekly supplements show up in newspapers, enjoy success

Rumors of print media's demise may be premature. Just ask Gannett Company, the nation's largest owner of newspapers, which just witnessed a spinoff of its magazine supplement, USA Weekend, bring in more than $3 million in ad revenue.

The new USA Weekend HealthSmart was distributed by 76 of the 600 newspapers that carry USA Weekend (circ. 22.7 million), meaning it reached an estimated 7.5 million readers with articles on allergies, asthma, cholesterol and migraines, reports Stuart Elliott of The New York Times. Through the first five months of 2006, 338 new magazines came out, down slightly from 395 during the same period last year, according to Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, who tracks start-ups on his Web site. (Read more)

"USA Weekend competes against magazine supplements distributed each week through newspapers that include American Profile, owned by the Publishing Group of America; Life, from Time Inc.; and Parade, part of Advance Publications. Mr. Husni noted that the Publishing Group of America recently introduced a sibling for American Profile, called Relish, a monthly that covers food and is also distributed through newspapers," writes Elliott. American Profile is distributed largely in smaller and rural markets.

Pennsylvania reporter gives armor used in Iraq to sheriff's deputy

When a reporter for The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pa., returned from covering the Iraq War, the paper did not want his armor to collect dust. Solution: Give it to Montour County Deputy Sheriff Daryle McNelis.

McNelis will use the armor for training purposes and for his duties with the Northumberland/Montour Drug Task Force and the Columbia/Montour Strategic Tactical and Response Team. Replacing armor that was at least 10 years old, the new armor is less than a year old, weighs about 17 pounds and can stop a bullet from an AK-47 at 100 yards, writes The Daily Item's Eric Mayes, who wore the gear in Iraq.

Janet A. Tippett, president and publisher of The Daily Item (circ. 24,226), said the donation sprung out of discussions about ways to put the armor to good use. The donation saved McNelis's supervisors more than $1,500, reports Mayes. (Read more)

Martha's Vineyard stands at crossroad between rural past, urban future

Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is a hub for growth complete with new vacation homes and plenty of commercial offerings. However, a family with long-time ties to the area wants its rural lifestyle preserved.

Multiple generations of the Mayhew family have lived in Martha's Vineyard, and now brothers Jeremy and Todd are speaking out in an effort to preserve some of the growing community's past. "When the time comes to raise a family, Jeremy Mayhew hopes that his children will be able to enjoy the same small-town, rural lifestyle that he has shared with many generations of Mayhews before him. He wants them to be able to leave their keys on the car seat, without locking the door, and to be able to see all the stars at night," writes Ian Fein of The Vineyard Gazette.

Todd Mayhew talked about why Martha's Vineyard attracts people: "It's a safe haven. That's why a lot of people love it here; it's away from the rest of the world. But it feels like it's being leached away, bit by bit. Each loss might be small, but if you think ahead, in 100 years that's a lot of change." The Martha's Vineyard Commission is about to start the public phase of its Island Plan that aims to chart the Vineyard's direction for the next 50 years and a public forum is scheduled for Saturday morning at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs, Mass., reports Fein. (Read more)

Wisconsin Newspaper Association prints final hard-copy newsletter

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association's weekly Bulletin is going completely electronic, after recently printing its final hard-copy issue. Other state newspaper associations already publish electronic-only newsletters. Will more follow suit, and is it a harbinger of the future for newspapers themselves? Now the Bulletin will be available only at this Web site, where 165 subscribers already receive the weekly reports on Wisconsin's papers and on valuable reporting resources. WNA Executive Director Peter Fox attributed the move to the $50,000 spent on printing and mailing the newsletter.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cell and Internet phone users will help subsidize rural phone service

Internet phone service firms must start paying a percentage of their revenue to a federal program that subsidizes telephone service for rural and low-income customers, according to a Federal Communications Commission ruling issued Wednesday.

The Universal Service Fund pays for programs to connect schools and libraries to the Internet, and the FCC requires phone companies to contribute 10.5 percent of a portion of their revenue. The ruling increased the taxable portion of that revenue by 9 percentage points for wireless firms and it means that Internet phone services will be taxed on 65 percent of the same revenue source. Vonage officials said the ruling would add a $1 fee to their customers' $25 monthly bills, writes Sara Kehaulani Goo of The Washington Post. (Read more)

A second FCC decision raised the amounts that cell-phone carriers contribute to the fund, which will most likely cause an increase in customers' bills. "Telecom and media analyst Rebecca Arbogast of [the brokerage firm] Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. said cell-phone customers who average a $50 monthly bill could see 50 cents added," the Post reports.

Biomass energy's time may have come, if oil prices remain high

Ambitious plans are in motion in Washington and in state capitals to run the nation's transportation system mainly on alcohol produced from bulk plant material, steering the U.S. away foreign oil and its accompanying problems such as wars, global warming and terrorism.

"Scientists have projected that in the long run, ethanol made from biomass could be cheaper than gasoline or corn ethanol, costing as little as 60 cents a gallon to produce and selling for less than $2 a gallon at the pump," writes Justin Gillis of The Washington Post. "But right now it would be more expensive than gasoline, and the low prices are likely to be achieved only after large plants have been built and technical breakthroughs achieved in operating them. Perhaps the biggest issue is this: Time and again, the country has grown interested in alternative fuels only to drop the subject as soon as oil prices fell. Will the United States be able to make a plan and stick with it for the long haul?"

One key question is how practical it will be to gather hundreds of millions of tons of bulk material to supply ethanol factories. Eastern Idaho produces plentiful crops of wheat, barley and potatoes, and the Canadian company Iogen Technologies LLC is eyeing the Snake River Valley as one possible source of biomass. A big source of biomass may be the leaves, stalks and stubble left over when corn is harvested -- a material called "corn stover." A group of young farmers in Imperial, Neb., won federal and private grants exceeding $3 million to study how to corn stover can fit into ethanol dream, reports Gillis. (Read more)

Government accepts petitions to protect forest land in Va., N.C., S.C.

Federal officials on Wednesday accepted Virginia's petition to protect nearly 400,000 roadless acres in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

Petitions also were accepted from North Carolina and South Carolina to protect forest land in those states, and now the U.S. Forest Service and state officials will develop rules and take public comments on governing those roadless areas during the next year. The Bush administration proposed last year to open one-third of remote national forest lands that were protected from road building, logging and other commercial developments, reports John Cramer of The Roanoke Times.

The 1991 Roadless Area Conservation Rule prohibited road building in unless necessary for public health and safety. "Mark Warner, Virginia's former governor, was one of the first governors in the country to voice opposition to the Bush proposal. Virginia has the most roadless acreage of any state east of the Mississippi," writes Cramer. (Read more)

Anti-strip mining activists seek end to mountaintop removal in Virginia

Activists opposed to strip mining are protesting in Wise County, Virginia, for stricter regulations and an end to mountaintop removal. State officials say their criticisms might be directed at the wrong people.

National and regional groups opposed to surface mining met last week with county residents to discuss taking action. Proposed activities include: Protesting at surface mine permit hearings where permits are approved; demanding to accompany state mine inspectors at surface mine sites; and urging Gov. Tim Kaine and state lawmakers to restrict blasting activity, prohibit late-night mining and ban mountaintop removal, writes Jeff Lester of The Coalfield Progress in one of two stories on the issue. (Read more)

In a second story, the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy said it does not rubber-stamp surface mine permit proposals or give coal companies whatever they want. State officials said modern technology helps enforce mine regulations, and critics need to realize some issues cannot be dealt with on the state level. Blasting standards used nationwide were developed decades ago, and the DMME's proposal for a federal study of possible revisions awaits funding, reports Lester. (Read more)

Homeland Security ranks West Virginia last in disaster preparation

Federal homeland security officials, under fire from big cities for not giving them the money they wanted, ranked West Virginia last during a recent assessment of how well states are prepared to handle disasters.

The Department of Homeland Security reviewed every state's plan for combating a catastrophe, such as a large hurricane or a terrorist attack. A team of federal officials reviewed several factors, including plans for evacuation, health care and communication during a disaster. West Virginia was rated “not sufficient” on 60 percent of the factors tested, the highest percentage in the nation. "Forty percent of factors were “partially sufficient” and none were sufficient," writes Scott Finn of The Charleston Gazette.

Louisiana finished second to last by getting "not sufficient" on 29 percent of the factors, partially sufficient on 67 percent and sufficient on 4 percent, reports Finn. (Read more) For the entire report, click here.

Slow farm vehicles and impatient drivers colliding more in Ohio

Although the amount of farms in Ohio is shrinking, the remaining ones are growing in size, and farmers are traveling long distances on tractors -- much to the dismay of automobile drivers.

"Last year, 434 crashes in Ohio involved farm vehicles and equipment, the State Highway Patrol reported. Eleven involved fatalities, up from six in 2004. Wayne County in northeastern Ohio led the state with 20 crashes, eight of which caused injuries. Under state law, tractors marked with an orange, slow-moving-vehicle emblem cannot travel the roads faster than 25 mph. That has caused some problems for those using modern tractors designed to go faster," writes Dana Wilson of The Columbus Dispatch.

State Rep. Jim Carmichael, R-Wooster, plans to propose a bill that would allow tractors to travel faster and thus deter some drivers from feeling the need to pass them on narrow roads, reports Wilson. The bill would require that the operators have a driver’s license and that they post their tractor’s top speed on a speed-indicator sign. (Read more)

Rural Nevada newspaper endorses legalization of marijuana possession

A newspaper in rural northern Nevada raised some eyebrows this week by endorsing a ballot measure to decriminalize adult possession of limited amounts of marijuana through regulation and taxation.

"In a state where prostitution is legal in certain counties, bars are not required to close and children can legally possess and use tobacco, objections to marijuana legalization on a moral basis seem hypocritical," opined the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard on Tuesday. "Those who view marijuana as a blight on society have yet to offer an effective solution of how to stop its spread through society or better fund law enforcement. Continuation of the ill-funded, halfhearted campaigns of the past is little more than veiled acceptance of its current widespread and illegal use."

"The Regulation of Marijuana Initiative will appear on ballots in November. It would allow those 21 years old and older to legally possess, use and transfer one ounce or less of marijuana. Penalties are also stiffened for those who drive under the influence of marijuana or sell it to minors. Use in public would be prohibited. For a $1,000 annual license fee, state-licensed retailers would be able to sell marijuana. The latest proposal would allow adults to possession up to 1 ounce," continued the newspaper. (Read more)

State Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, expressed surprise over the newspaper's support for the Nov. 7 ballot question. "It surprised me that a rural newspaper would do that," he told The Associated Press, noting northern Nevada's conservative ideology. Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the medicinal use of marijuana in 1998 and 2000. Click here for the AP story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rural experts urge senators to include broadband in next farm bill

Smaller communities must get broadband access to spur economic development, a panel of rural experts said during a hearing of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on Tuesday in preparation for a new farm bill.

Jane Halliburton, of the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Development Organizations, told senators, "Rural communities are forced to make do with technologies of yesterday. For rural America to compete in today's global economy, there must be implementation of broadband Internet connections."

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, agreed that broadband access is key: "Broadband Internet access is no longer merely a desirable option in today's world," he said. "It is absolutely vital for businesses to operate productively and competitively, as well as for the education of our children and a host of other activities in rural communities." The 2002 farm bill allocated $100 million in loans for broadband infrastructure development, but that was repealed later, reports Jared A. Taylor of AXcess News. (Read more)

Grass-fed cattle gives consumers best beef, benefits rural economies

Most U.S. cattle are fed protein supplements (steroids) and pesticide-treated silage, grains and hay, but that is not the case at Long Meadows Grass Beef farm in Knox County, Ohio where cattle feed on grass and ultimately become high-quality beef.

Using that farm as an example, Aaron Beck of The Columbus Dispatch describes a model that is starting to attract more farmers and beef eaters: "Cattle drink water from a well that was drilled 180 feet below surface. . . . The animals graze a temporarily fenced area of the hilly pasture until they’ve eaten the grass to 4 or 5 inches above the soil." Farmers then move fences so that cattle will gravitate toward a new patch of grass. That ensures animals are getting the best grass, and humans are getting natural beef.

Jo Robinson, founder of Eatwild.com, said that people who buy grass-fed beef are helping farmers survive. "When you do that, you’re supporting your local rural economy. You’re helping to preserve a beautiful landscape and you’re making it possible for small farmers to survive in your area. You also begin to understand the hard work involved in creating a good-quality product," she told Beck. (Read more)

'Food insecure' Appalachians risk becoming obese, diabetic, says study

"Members of rural Appalachian households who lack access to food or experience hunger are more likely to be obese and have diabetes, according to an Ohio University study," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Researcher David Holben found that subjects from households with greater levels of “food insecurity” had a greater body mass index (30.3) than those with smaller levels of food insecurity (29). People from food insecure households were also more prone to having diabetes (37.9 percent) and being overweight (48.1 percent) than those in food secure households (25.8 percent and 35.1 percent).

A total of 2,580 people participated in the study, with 72.8 percent from food secure households and 27.2 percent from food insecure households. In 1999, the year the Ohio University study took pace, 10.1 percent of U.S. households fell under food insecure. Food insecurity can lead to stress, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and also poor management of chronic disease, reports Newswise. (Read more)

Indian casinos raked in revenue of $22.7 billion last year; schools benefit

Native American-run casinos and resorts are a booming industry in the U.S., with Indian tribes and state governments seeing billions of dollars in the revenue column.

Indian gaming brought in $22.7 billion in revenue in 2005, up 15.6 percent from 2004, according to the Indian Gaming Industry Report. The independent industry report found that state and local governments in the 30 states with such casinos netted $1 billion-plus from fees and revenue-sharing agreements, a 20 percent increase from 2004, writes Kavan Peterson of Stateline.org. (Read more)

States and Native American tribes are finding that gambling can generate money for schools and other public services. Indian gaming got a boost when Congress voted in 1988 to uphold tribes' right to operate casinos on reservations. Since then, 227 tribes have opened 420 facilities in 30 states, reports Peterson.

Iowa children near livestock farms risk getting asthma, says study

"Children who attend school near large-scale livestock farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may be at a higher risk for asthma, according to a new study by University of Iowa researchers," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

"Previous research has shown increased rates of asthma among children living in rural areas of Iowa and the United States," said Joel Kline, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Iowa. "Given that CAFOs release inflammatory substances that can affect the health of workers at these facilities and the air quality of nearby communities, we were interested in whether there was a connection between CAFOs and increased rates of asthma among kids in rural areas."

Researchers found 12 children (19.7 percent) with physician-diagnosed asthmafrom the study school located near a CAFO and 18 children (7.3 percent) from the control school. Using the broadest definition of asthma (physician diagnosis, asthma-like symptoms or asthma medication use) the rate was 24.6 percent at the study school and 11.7 percent at the control school. Iowa's overall rate of physician-diagnosed asthma is 6.7 percent, reports Newswise. (Read more)

Rural living: Kentucky developers create small-town feel with amenities

In a fast-growing corridor of Scott County, Kentucky one residential development is aiming to provide all of life's necessities within walking distance, as an example of growth guided by "new urbanism."

New urbanism is occurring in several areas of Kentucky, and the rising price of gas is spurring this trend, reports Marcus Green of The Courier-Journal. Architect Steve Austin, a consultant and president of Bluegrass Tomorrow, a Central Kentucky planning group, said, "As gas goes towards $3 a gallon, having anything that you can walk to in your neighborhood is a cost-saving amenity." (Read more)

"New urbanism traces its roots to the 1970s and 1980s, when planners and architects began conceiving neighborhoods with town centers harkening back to earlier American cities. The movement has spawned projects such as Florida's Seaside, the coastal development awash in pastel colors where the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was filmed. But some projects have drawn criticism for establishing neighborhoods cut off from larger communities -- all while gobbling up undeveloped land," writes Green.

Magnets give numbers for reporting spill, weight problems in coal country

Fired up by blackwater spills in eastern Kentucky, members of Mountain Justice Summer are distributing magnets with two 800-numbers for government enforcement agencies to coalfield residents.

"The first number is a 24-hour hotline for reporting blackwater spills to the Kentucky Emergency Response Team (1-800-928-2380). The second number is for reporting overweight coal trucks to Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement (1-800-928-2402)," according to a press release from the group. The magnets are an effort to increase awareness and enforcement of legal violations common among coal companies.

According to the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources Web site, blackwater spills "are of great concern due to their effect on the environment and the citizens who live in Kentucky's coalfield regions. Spills impact water quality, harm aquatic life and damage environmental health." Overweight trucks pose threats to motorists and they damage publicly-owned roads and bridges.

Mountain Justice Summer aims to end mountain top removal mining and includes members in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nation sees 30 percent drop in meth lab seizures, positive drug tests

Methamphetamine use is a major problem in rural America, but reports released Monday show a big drop in seizures of manufacturing labs and in the number of people testing positive for the drug in the workplace.

"The number of meth lab busts plummeted more that 30 percent last year as most states put in place laws to restrict the sale of over-the-counter cold medicines used to make meth, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Intelligence Center," reports The Associated Press. Quest Diagnostics Inc., the nation's largest drug testing company, reported that the number of job applicants and workers who tested positive for meth dropped 31 percent during the first five months of this year based on 3 million tests.

Meth lab seizures totaled 12,185 last year, down from 17,562 in 2004, with the predominantly rural states Oklahoma, Montana and Washington posting some of the biggest drops. Several states passed laws last year restricting the sales of cold medicines, which contain ingredients used in making meth. At present, 37 states have such laws, notes AP. (Read more)

Crack cocaine joins meth as drug problem for rural West Virginia

"Methamphetamine has ravaged many West Virginia communities in recent years. Now rural areas are coping with a scourge more associated with big cities: crack cocaine," writes Michael A. Jones of the Daily Mail in Charleston.

Mason County Sheriff Scott Simms sees crack cocaine usage as "10 times the problem meth is," and he attributed the drug's presence to the increasing influence of big-city crack dealers relocating to rural areas. In many cases, law enforcement officials think the dealers start off in bigger cities and then find the nearby rural areas, reports Jones.

West Virginia police have experienced great success in stopping the spread of meth, but they find crack cocaine dealers are relentless in trying to turn a profit. Many rural law enforcement agencies also struggle with low staffing numbers that hinder their drug-fighting efforts, writes Jones. (Read more)

Wal-Mart changes rural Arkansas town from Bible Belt to melting pot

Arkansas's northwest corner is traditionally seen as its Bible Belt, and Benton County boasts 39 Baptist, 27 United Methodist and 20 Assembly of God churches. However, with the retail giant Wal-Mart in town, the times, they are a-changin'.

"Recruited from around the country as workers for Wal-Mart or one of its suppliers, hundreds of which have opened offices near the retailer's headquarters here, a growing number of Jewish families have become increasingly vocal proponents of religious neutrality in the county. They have asked school principals to rename Christmas vacation as winter break (many have) and lobbied the mayor's office to put a menorah on the town square (it did)," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.

"Wal-Mart has transformed small towns across America, but perhaps its greatest impact has been on Bentonville, where the migration of executives from cities like New York, Boston and Atlanta has turned this sedate rural community into a teeming mini-metropolis populated by Hindus, Muslims and Jews," reports Barbaro. The county's first synagogue opened two years ago and its roughly 100 members represent a religion that continues to mystify the rural area. (Read more)

Indian tribes succeed at opening colleges despite rural isolation

"Tribal colleges -- schools owned and run by Indian tribes that are often located on reservations -- are growing, stemming in part from economic clout spurred in some cases by Indian gaming and a desire by tribes to validate their sovereign status," reports The Associated Press.

No such colleges existed prior to 1968, but American Indians' interest in higher education spurred a development that now includes more than three dozen colleges in the U.S. and one in Canada. American Indian enrollment in universities has more than doubled in the past 25 years, including a 62 percent jump at tribal colleges in the past decade, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Tribal colleges often face an uncertain future, though, because of rural isolation, limited property tax bases, and neglect from state governments, reports AP. Seven have failed in the past 25 years, but another 17 have opened. (Read more)

Wind energy projects stay popular in rural areas; what about drawbacks?

Wind energy offers emissions-free electricity and is seen as a moneymaker for rural areas, but drawbacks such as dead birds and bats are fueling a call for more studies on its economic and environmental effects.

"Among the sites being considered for wind turbines in Appalachian states is Highland County, where the first wind farm in Virginia has been proposed. Opponents say the 19-turbine project would industrialize Highland County, a pastoral and sparsely populated setting of rugged peaks and valleys where sheep outnumber people. Supporters say the project would pump about $200,000 in tax revenue into the county's ailing economy. State officials are reviewing the proposal, which faces lawsuits from opponents," writes John Cramer of The Roanoke Times.

"Less than 5 percent of the potential wind energy in the country lies east of the Mississippi, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but development of wind power in the East is a high priority for the U.S. Department of Energy. Wind produces less than 1 percent of all electricity in the United States, but the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's trade group, predicts it will increase to 6 percent by 2020," reports Cramer. (Read more)

Wineries dot rural Texas landscape; 2003 law opened up dry counties

A stroll down highways in rural Texas used to involve passing housing developments, billboards and other various sights, but now the countryside is fast becoming home to food and wine establishments.

"Increasingly, wine-grape growers are putting down roots, committed to cultivating the Mediterranean grape varieties that can thrive in the area's Hickory Sands soil and warm weather," writes Bonnie Walker of the San Antonio Express-News. "From one lone acre planted in 1998, in Don Pullum's Akashic Vineyard, Mason County now boasts more than 100 acres of wine grapes and seven growers."

Wineries such as the one owned by Scott Haupert in the mostly dry Mason County, about 40 miles from Fredericksburg, resulted from legislation passed in 2003 that loosened regulations on wineries in dry counties. In addition to selling their own products, the 2003 law allows people like Haupert to sell other Texas wines, "as long as they are made with 75 percent Texas fruit," notes Walker. (Read more)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mexican drug, human smugglers opt for rural roads, hurt national parks

People smuggling drugs and humans into the U.S. from Mexico have switched from major highways to rural routes because of increased security, and national parks in the southern U.S. are being damaged.

"Thousands of people now cross on foot. They leave piles of trash, build fires, damage the park's famous cacti and create countless trails through the fragile desert vegetation. Park workers spend most of their time backing up Border Patrol officers and dealing with border issues," writes Jennifer Talhelm of The Associated Press.

In order to improve homeland security after 9/11, the U.S. Park Service has received $35 million in annual money. Park superintendents say costs of dealing with security and damage are much higher, though, and managers at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona spend about $100,000 a year from its maintenance budget to repair roads and barriers used by smugglers, reports AP. (Read more)

U.S. national parks head for collision with new homes, businesses

National parks offer visitors a chance to escape noisy cities and about 273 million people visit them annually, up from 79 million in 1960. However, development is edging closer to these sanctuaries and a collision may occur soon.

Glacier National Park in Montana is just one example of a park feeling the squeeze of development, as houses and retail stores invade from the west and bulldozers work on a coal mine in the north. "To the south, an emotional debate rages over whether to allow oil and gas interests to explore a sacred Blackfoot Indian plot. From above, gradual warming continues to nibble away at the park’s famed glaciers. Once as many as 150, they barely number 35 today," reports The Associated Press.

“If this keeps up, we may be looking at the National Park Formerly Known as Glacier,” said Steve Thompson, a Montana program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. An AP analysis of census data reported that since 1990 more than 1.3 million people have moved into counties surrounding the Gettysburg, Everglades, Glacier, Yellowstone, Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains parks. The average number of people per square mile in those areas jumped by one-third. (Read more)

Rural Iowa county runs out of addresses due to residential growth

Dallas County, Iowa is running out of addresses because its population grew to 51,762 last year, up 2,300 from 2004, and now taxpayers will spend $260,000 on a new address system for about 4,300 people in the county's unincorporated areas.

As new homes have cropped up in Dallas County -- about 90 new ones have been built each of the past six years -- some developments have been represented by just one address; with each home given a letter. The county's 911 department reported problems responding to emergency calls and said nearly nine of 10 rural addresses were not pinpointed as a result, reports Melissa Walker of The Des Moines Register.

Under the new system, each rural residence will get an address and there will be no suites or apartment numbers. "Some streets will be renamed to better mesh with future growth. The new names and numbers have already been delivered to residents by mail," writes Walker. "Both old and new addresses are included in the postal service's system." (Read more)

Global warming worsens from cars, airplanes, coal-fired power plants

"Using electricity from coal-fired power plants, flying in airplanes and driving cars or trucks all produce emissions that scientist say are warming the planet, perhaps dangerously," writes James Bruggers of the Louisville Courier-Journal as part of a special report on global warming.

According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory, the predominantly rural states Indiana and Kentucky rank sixth and seventh respectively for per capita carbon emissions. Anyone who wants to know how their home and transportation energy contributes to global warming can make calculations at this site run by the World Resources Institute.

The C-J also offers tips for how people can reduce global warming including: use fuel-efficient vehicles; drive less; join a car pool, use public transportation or ride a bike; buy compact fluorescent light bulbs; plant trees; turn lights off in unoccupied rooms; and explore solar power. Click here for Bruggers' story.

Bickering over who provides broadband hurts rural U.S., opines writer

"With high-speed Internet, people and communities can improve their lives in innumerable ways. We’ve seen it in health care, education, economic development…you name it. And for small rural communities, with limited access to on-the-ground resources, the stakes are even higher," opines Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow at the Rural Policy Research Institute.

"According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, just 54 percent of rural residents have access to broadband. Only 25 percent have broadband at home. In urban areas, 80 percent have access; 45 percent have it at home. As a result, the United States ranks 16th in the world in per capita broadband deployment. We’re also falling behind in access to high-capacity broadband and cost per unit of bandwidth," writes Rowley.

"And while we’re on the subject of cost, it’s important to note that rural Americans don’t just have less access to broadband; we pay more, too. Fewer providers mean less competition (sometimes no competition), which, in turn, means higher prices. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, rural customers pay 33 percent more for cable modem service and 11 percent more for DSL than do urban customers," continues Rowley.

"In a February . . . community broadband expert Jim Baller summed up the battle precisely, '. . . as we see what we need, we see across the world the leading nations . . . getting it and moving forward while we sit here at home in America wasting time quarreling with the private sector about who should be doing what. We don’t have the luxury for that quarrel,'" concludes Rowley. (Read more)

Cattle thefts increase in rural America; new investigators join fight

"The era of dusty stagecoaches and wagon trains is long gone but cattle thieves - the bad guys in a thousand Westerns - never quite rode off into the sunset. Rustlers are now a growing menace in some parts of rural America, striking in the dead of night and sometimes selling their haul before the rancher or farmer discovers the animals are gone," writes Sharon Cohen of The Associated Press.

Rustling may be increasing because of a 25 percent increase in beef prices in the last five years. Others speculate the crimes are occurring because methamphetamine addicts need money quick. Devices such as cell phones and gooseneck trailers are assisting the thieves in their getaways, but different states remain undeterred in their efforts to catch the criminals, reports Cohen.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has deployed 29 investigators with full police powers to combat this problem in Texas and Oklahoma. Working with state and local officers, the investigators recovered or accounted for about 5,200 stolen cattle last year, compared with about 2,400 in 2004. The group also investigates the theft of horses, saddles and trailers, and it recovered more than $6.4 million in stolen animals and related items in 2005, notes Cohen. (Read more)

Small-time farmers choose animals over machines; hope to save money

Small numbers of U.S. farmers are turning to animals for help performing tasks usually done by machines in an effort save money on gas and protect the environment.

The U.S. Census Bureau ceased tracking how many farms use animal power after 1960, when the nation's farms used 4.7 million tractors and 3 million horses and mules. Tim Huppe, owner of BerryBrook Farm and BerryBrook Ox Supply in Farmington, N.H., estimated 3,500 oxen teams exist today in New England. "A lot of small farmers don't want tractors leaking on their land," Huppe told M.L. Johnson of The Associated Press. "If you look at the whole package, you're not buying any petroleum, and all the waste, the manure, goes back on the land."

"Large, commercial farms require machines that can work around the clock without tiring. But unlike tractors, animals reproduce. They cost a few thousand dollars or less and can be used for plowing in the spring, hay rides in the fall and logging in the winter. Machines depreciate, while animals can be trained and sold at a profit," writes Johnson. (Read more)

A hiker's best friend? Goats replace horses as travel buddies in Ohio

More and more hikers trudging through trails in central and southeastern Ohio are opting to bring along pack goats, and this rural trend is aiming to shed stereotypes associated with the animal.

"There's not a big call for pack goats in Ohio's wilderness, but they are popular on the West's rough terrain," writes Holly Zachariah of The Columbus Dispatch. "Goats are more surefooted and loyal than mules, according to Internet sites devoted to the animal. They can carry a third of their weight and, if well-conditioned, can pull three times as much."

The goats are becoming so popular among hikers that earlier this month 30 people and 20 goats showed up for the first Ohio Regional Pack Goating Rendezvous at Forked Run State Park in southeastern Ohio. "Goats get a bad rap as stinky, stubborn animals that climb your cars and eat your garbage and tin cans," organizer Wendy Hannum told Zachariah. "But we get them to be just like a dog." (Read more)

Virginia editor calls for slavery apology during acceptance of SPJ award

Small-town newspaper editor Ken Woodley is challenging his fellow journalists in Virginia to support a national apology for slavery.

Accepting the 2006 George Mason Award from the Society of Professional Journalists -- Virginia Pro Chapter, The Farmville Herald editor called for a push to have politicians support a congressional resolution of apology that would be delivered publicly by the president, reports Kathryn Orth of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "When he died, there was one thing, and one thing only, that George Mason was unreconciled to in this world. . . . Slavery," Woodley after receiving the award last week.

Journalists must use their power to influence society, Woodley said. "When we see someone drowning, there are times when we are uniquely situated, because of the power of the press behind us and within us, to be their life preserver,"he said. Woodley played a key role in establishing Virginia's $2 million Brown v. Board Scholarship Program, which goes to victims of school closings in Prince Edward and other areas. The George Mason Award recognizes journalists who contribute to civic journalism and freedom of the press, writes Orth. (Read more)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bush signs mine-safety law that provides two hours' worth of oxygen

It's now official: President Bush signed a coal-mine safety law Thursday that takes effect immediately and incorporates the most substantial changes in the industry in three decades.

"The new law gives two hours' oxygen supplies to miners, instead of one; requires the deployment of underground communications and tracking equipment within three years; and cracks down on coal companies that ignore safety," reports James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. Most recently, five miners were killed in a May 20 explosion at the Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Holmes Mill, bringing this year's coal-mining deaths to 33. That total is 11 more than the death toll for all of 2005.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said, "There is still a lot of interest in seeing further safety action," but he did not list specifics. "Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told reporters that federal and state governments need to require underground rescue chambers in coal mines," writes Carroll. (Read more)

Traditional farm animals make way for horned, heroic beasts in New York

A New York Times article explores an emerging trend of traditional farms being replaced by fantasy-like creations. "A cow is no longer just a black-and-white mottled animal that moos and supplies milk, but a large, horned and heroic beast, imported from the highlands of Scotland, with all kinds of beefy, antibiotic-free, grass-fed implications," writes Woody Hochswender.

"Life on the farm will never be the same, especially in the exurban areas 50 to 100 miles outside New York City. The once ubiquitous potato fields and duck farms of eastern Long Island now sprout luxury homes and strip malls. Northern Connecticut's stately tobacco barns now house lawn and garden centers. New Jersey poultry and truck farming businesses face increasing competition from corporate farming enterprises to the west," reports Hochswender.

"Even as real mud-splattered working farms are fading out, though, a new kind of animal husbandry is coming in. Niche, hobby and artisanal farming is on the rise, often with perfect barns, manor houses and manicured lawns, places where Tolstoy would be perfectly at ease with his ledger books and progressive agricultural ideas. Instead of Herefords and Holsteins, we now have Belted Galloways and Scottish Highlanders, large, impressive beasts, carefully fed and bred as much for looks, in some cases, as for milk or beef. Instead of your regular old barnyard goat, there are now Nubians and Nigerian dwarves," continues Hochswender.

"While a fair amount of corn and hay is still grown in the areas ringing New York City, the focus is shifting to organic produce, sustainable methods and exotic breeds. These small farms tend to be both preservationist in intent and capital-intensive in practice. They exist not only to preserve land, but to further a vanishing breed. Even in the best of circumstances, they often just break even. But the root of this type of farming is not money, meat or even ribbons at the agricultural fair. It is love of animals," concludes Hochswender. (Read more)

Utah radio station's 'Horse Talk' aims to answer all equine questions

First, a show named "Car Talk" appeared on National Public Radio to give automobile advice. Now, a weekly show named "Horse Talk" is dishing out equine advice on Park City, Utah's KPCW (91.9 FM).

Hosted by equine expert Jen Hegeman with help from veterinarian Charmian Wright, the program fields questions about bits, saddles and horse wormers. Weekly topics include horse safety and equipment, Utah's only polo club and horse myths and folklore. The show is for everyone from folks new to the scene to horse industry veterans, writes Brandon Griggs of The Salt Lake Tribune. (Read more)

New York Times to help train Hispanics to enter U.S. newsrooms

The New York Times and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) hope to address the lack of Hispanics in U.S. newsrooms with an intensive training program next year for Latino students at Florida International University (FIU) and the University of Arizona.

"To qualify, students must be NAHJ members, have completed one semester at a student newspaper or major newspaper, be in good academic standing and write a 500-word essay about being a journalist. The program will consist of an institute for Latinos similar to one created for African-Americans in 2003 at Dillard University in New Orleans," reports Editor & Publisher.

Don Hecker, a New York Times copy editor involved in the project, said The New York Times Journalism Institute for Student Members of NAHJ, a one-week training session, will launch at FIU in January with 20 students. The program will move to Tucson, Ariz., in 2008, notes E&P. (Read more)

High-speed Internet brings hope to rural Ohio village dealing with poverty

Residents of Chesterhill, Ohio, are used to Internet access that moves at the speed of a horse and buggy, but now the rural village's 304 inhabitants are being catapulted into the world of high-speed Web travel.

As is the case in many Appalachian communities, the residents originally hoped the Internet would help them "overcome decades of isolation perpetuated by hilly terrain and narrow, winding roads. Only high-speed service would break through the barriers, it seemed, but it remains elusive in most of the 29 Ohio counties considered part of Appalachia," writes Kelly Hassett of The Columbus Dispatch. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the American Distance Education Consortium, the community 90 miles southeast of Columbus will finally get that chance.

The high-speed connection is being made possible via a satellite dish behind Chesterhill's library and receiving antennas on the village's water tower and buildings. High-speed access paves the way for online job training and educational courses in a community where about 20 percent of residents are living in poverty. "The lack of technology and high-paying jobs has deepened the chasm between small Appalachian communities and the larger Ohio cities," reports Hassett. (Read more)

Kentucky demonstrators hope to stop paving of mountain trail

Protestors from the citizens' group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth tried to stop paving on the Little Shepherd Trail on Pine Mountain Thursday because they say the work threatens a major tourist attraction in Cumberland, Ky.

"Paving opponents -- who discovered this week that the 14-mile dirt and gravel trail was being blacktopped despite what they thought were assurances from a state official last year that it likely wouldn't -- said two Kentucky State Police troopers effectively closed the trail, preventing them from reaching the announced site of their protest," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader in a staff and wire report.

The trail follows Pine Mountain in southeastern Kentucky, and it traces a fictional path traveled by Chad Buford, a mountain orphan in John Fox Jr.'s novel, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. Several miles have already been paved as part of the $1.6 million project, but demonstrators hope to save a 7-mile leg between a 19th-century crossing called Scuttlehole Gap and Creech Overlook. (Read more)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nation's emergency rooms enter crisis stage; rural areas lack doctors

Emergency medical care in the U.S. is hurting. From 1993 to 2003, the U.S. population grew 12 percent and emergency room visits jumped 27 percent, but 425 emergency departments shut down.

Three reports released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine state that based on two years' worth of reviews, fixing the nation's ER problem will require billions of dollars and Congress should create a new agency to deal with it. "Long waits for treatment are epidemic, the reports said, with ambulances sometimes idling for hours to unload patients. Once in the ER, patients sometimes wait up to two days to be admitted to a hospital bed," writes David Brown of The Washington Post.

"Another hazard largely unrecognized by Americans is that hospitals, especially in rural areas, often cannot find specialists such as orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons willing to cover the ER. In some cases, . . . doctors are unwilling to treat high-risk patients with complicated ailments, many of them uninsured, at inconvenient times. Sometimes it is simply a function of shortages. In 2002, there were fewer practicing neurosurgeons in the United States (about 3,000) than a decade earlier," reports Brown. (Read more)

Farmers markets keep popping up, connecting rural folks with urbanites

The societal distance between rural American and the nation's urban locales is being bridged with the emergence of farmers markets in both metropolitan cities and sometimes hard-to-reach locations.

"Nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 19,000 farmers sell their products exclusively at farmers markets," writes Charles M. Kuperus, New Jersey's secretary of agriculture. "Since 1994, the USDA has published the National Directory of Farmers Markets. In the first edition, there were 1,755 listed. By 2004, that number had more than doubled to 3,706. In New Jersey, we have mirrored this trend. We now have 80 farmers markets, with 28 of them opening in the past four years alone."

"Not only do farmers markets serve as a social event, but they can be important arenas for social programs as well. They are a key participant in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition programs, making fresh, locally grown agricultural products available to at-risk women, children and senior citizens. Nationwide, 58 percent of markets take part in such programs," continues Kuperus.

"In short, farmers markets can and do serve as a catalyst for urban and suburban areas to reinvent themselves, while at the same time bringing us as a nation full circle to the kind of commercial model that first helped make our cities great. By continuing to strengthen that connection, farmers markets will play an important role in the future of both our developed and rural landscapes," concludes Kuperus. (Read more)

Seven states seek to host 'world's cleanest' coal-burning power plant

Seven states are vying for an estimated $1 billion federal and private energy initiative called FutureGen, which is being billed as the world’s cleanest coal-burning power plant and is expected to provide 1,300 construction jobs.

"Financing and tax breaks to win the site selection . . . are valued from $2.4 million in Kentucky to $164 million in Ohio," reports Eric Kelderman of Stateline.org. "Other states are sweetening their offers in different ways. In addition to a $20 million appropriation, Texas has passed a law to take legal responsibility for the carbon dioxide that will be captured and pumped underground to reduce the plant's emissions. Illinois, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming also are vying for the plant, projected to start operation in 2012."

Coal production is being touted as one possible solution to the nation's ongoing energy woes. "The governors of Montana and Wyoming also are promoting their state's coal reserves -- in speeches, news reports and talks with energy companies -- as a new source of fuel for the country and a new source of revenue for rural communities," writes Kelderman. (Read more)

Appalachian School of Law gets accreditation, exceeds expectations

Nine years after admitting its first batch of aspiring lawyers, the Appalachian School of Law in far Southwest Virginia now has full accreditation from the American Bar Association.

This status typically improves a school's reputation and its recruiting ability. "Created by a group of local lawyers and community leaders without the benefit of an existing undergraduate school, ASL was envisioned from the start as a place where aspiring lawyers from the area could get a law degree and use it to benefit an economically struggling region," writes Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times.

Of the 71 students enrolled at the school in August 1997, only 47 survived for a second year. That statistic is a far cry from the most recent academic year's enrollment of 371 students, which exceeded a projection of 360 students, reports Hammack. (Read more)

Spokesman-Review opens editorial meetings to public via webcast

One newspaper is hopping on the chance to use new technology as a way to welcome the public. The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wa., introduced a webcast feature on Wednesday that gives readers a window into its twice-daily editorial meetings.

Editor Steven A. Smith says he aims to engage the readers in the editorial decision-making process, while not necessarily letting go of the editorial board's authority. The two meetings occur at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and they involve a critical analysis of the newspaper and talks about upcoming issues. Wednesday's webcast received about 50 to 60 viewers, including an entire newsroom from Utah, reports Sarah Weber of Editor & Publisher.

"A more obvious direct benefit from the webcast concerned a local battle with Wal-Mart. The Spokane community has been in the process of examining a proposal for a supercenter in the area, and Smith has admitted that his paper has had troubles locating representatives from the conglomerate for comments after regular business hours," writes Weber. When the issue arose during the webcast, Smith received a call from a Wal-Mart representative who said the paper would be contacted within a few hours. (Read more) Click here for the webcast.

Looking for a rural home? Progressive Farmer offers its top 200

Progressive Farmer traveled the country and just released its second annual list of the top 200 places to live in rural America, with several counties in the midwest appearing in the top 10.

The top 10 in order from first to last included: Ontario County, New York; Union County, South Dakota; Oconee County, Georgia; Grafton County, New Hampshire; Kendall County, Texas; Grundy County, Illinois; Lancaster County, Virginia; Boone County, Indiana; Blaine County, Idaho; and Hood River County, Oregon. Some predominantly rural states barely showed up, such as Kentucky getting two nods -- Hardin County (No. 154) and Woodford County (174).

Aside from travel experiences and cost of living data, the publication used "a formula that takes into account crime rates, air quality, access to health care (the number of medical resources per thousand people), education (student/teacher ratios and college-bound percentages) and leisure activities (restaurants, museums, parks, golf courses, etc.)." Click here for the complete list.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Christian Appalachian Project may hurt poor, rural folk, opines writer

The Christian Appalachian Project has been hailed in newspaper, magazine and wire-service stories for decades. Now, an article in National Catholic Reporter suggests that it does more harm than good, and raises other questions about how poor, rural areas get help -- and can become dependent on it.

The Christian Appalachian Project, started by Fr. Ralph Beiting back in 1964, began in response to the poor living conditions of those in Eastern Kentucky. In the years that followed, government aid arrived in many forms. "These government programs probably helped some people, but ultimately they destroyed the spirit of the proud mountain residents, who used to disdain any outside aid," writes Lucy Fuchs, who worked with Beiting's organization. "Today most observers will say that the single greatest harm to the Appalachian people can be said in one word: welfare."

"The word 'welfare' is no longer used, but there are still many commodities and other forms of assistance given to the poor, and most people seem to like such assistance very much. This was perhaps one of the first things we learned as we got to know the East Kentuckians. People say, without embarrassment of any kind, that they 'draw,' meaning they receive government assistance. Others are appalled that with the new rules there is a time limit on such assistance. I have even heard some healthy people say they would like to be on disability just so that they would not have to work anymore," she continues.

After working one year with the Christian Appalachian Project, Fuchs says she realized the program creates dependence and poverty for some. "Instead of somebody like me teaching GED, what Kentucky needs is better schools. Instead of employment with the Christian Appalachian Project, Kentuckians need more job opportunities and improvement in those jobs that are already available. Kentucky needs more people who are appalled at mountaintop removal, the successor to strip mining (although much worse), rather than people who seem to feel they are helpless to do anything about it," she opines.

Ultimately, Fuchs, a professor emerita of education from St. Leo University in Florida, admits no easy solution to Appalachia's struggles exists. She writes, "I learned in East Kentucky that it is not a simple task to help the poor. Even using the term 'poor' for these people is problematic. Who wants to be defined only by their financial status?" (Read more)

Southern Baptists pick dark horse from South Carolina as president

The Southern Baptist Convention elected Frank Page to a one-year term as its new president yesterday, following his calls for more cooperation in a church hit with criticisms from its younger members.

Page beat out two higher-profile candidates, and some church members hope his victory ends a long period of "tightly scripted politics and little tolerance for internal dissent," reports Anita Wadhwani of The Tennessean. Page called the win a sign that Southern Baptists believe "we could do together a lot more and a lot better than what we can do separately." Page hails from First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.

"Page's election comes in the midst of a contentious annual gathering of some 12,000 church members and pastors who are weighing the denomination's direction at a time when baptism rates are down and contributions for evangelical work are declining. Page, 53, entered the race at the urging of a group of pastors, many from a younger generation, who had turned to Internet blogs to express their discontent with the current leadership and direction of the convention," writes Wadhwani. (Read more)

"Support of the denomination's Cooperative Program, which funds international and North American missions work and seminaries, was a key issue in the race. Page's church, which average 2,530 in Sunday attendance, last year gave $534,000, or 12.2 percent of its undesignated receipts, to the Cooperative Program," writes Ron Barnett of the Greenville News. "Nationally, the average has dipped from nearly 10 percent to 6.5 percent, a trend Page said threatens . . . a wide range of programs." (Read more)

Oklahoma murder occurred after victim wrote letter to newspaper

Letters to the editor can sometimes spur action, as is evident in Hominy, Okla., 40 miles northwest of Tulsa, where the 2004 “Citizen of the Year” is charged in the July 2005 shooting death of Rebecca Clements over a letter she wrote.

Roy Westbrook was evicting Clements’ sister from rental property he owned. When he spray-painted “Get out, get out” on the home, Clements wrote to the weekly Hominy News-Progress. Clements’ letter stated that it seemed “the vandalism in this town is not only done by misled children but by some of the most prominent citizens of Hominy.” "That same day, Westbrook was in court, where a judge ordered Clements’ sister to vacate the property in two weeks. Nonetheless, on July 19, in front of a lunch crowd of over 50 people, Westbrook allegedly walked into the Hominy Diner where Clements worked as a waitress and shot her three times. Clements was 11 weeks pregnant at the time," writes Dave Russell of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Westbrook notched the “Citizen of the Year” honor for work on a community park, and he goes to trial on Sept. 11, reports Russell. Ramona Brown, general manager of the News-Progress, said such drama is part of the paper’s allure. “Everyone wants to know who got caught doing what,” she said. “We are a small town and we know everybody.” (Read more) The Hominy paper could not be located on the Web.

California farmers see jump in theft of copper, diesel fuel in rural county

Farmers in Merced County, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of Modesto, are falling victim to thefts of copper wire and diesel fuel, two commodities whose prices have increased during the last two years.

"Copper and diesel are the biggest issues in ag crime," said Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman Scott Dover. "To be able to go out in a field and steal 100 gallons of diesel is a lot of payoff for a little work." Rural ag crimes have been on the rise the whole time prices have increased for copper wire and diesel fuel, reports Carol Reiter of the Merced Sun-Star.

Merced County's rural ag crime task force includes just two detectives with hundreds of miles of land to patrol, writes Reiter. Dover admits catching thieves is tough because ag crimes usually occur at night, in very rural areas away from houses. (Read more)

Alternative weeklies start snatching up big-time advertisers from dailies

America's alternative newspapers used to rely solely on local advertisers that could not pay for space in dailies. Then came the financial troubles hitting major-city dailies, and big-time advertisers started to view the weekly alternative publications as a wise investment.

Alt weeklies boast their young readership as a big selling point for advertisers wishing to reach such clientele. The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies reports that 72 percent of the papers' readers are 18-49, a demographic that newspapers are not attracting, reports Samantha Melamed of Media Life Magazine. Many of the small- to mid-size weeklies still rely on local businesses for ads, and those local accounts even comprise 80 to 90 percent of the ad revenue for larger weeklies.

Alternative papers still struggle, though, because of a free circulation that makes them vulnerable in the eyes of industry analysts and competitors. "They contend alt weekly circulation claims are not reliable, even though most are in fact audited at some level, either by ABC or Verified Audit, according to AAN," writes Melamed. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Nation's meth abuse removes kids from homes, strains welfare agencies

The methamphetamine epidemic is eating up state welfare agencies' resources, especially in rural areas, and social workers are faced with helping addicts find treatment and getting their children into new homes.

Generations United, a group that promotes the involvement of grandparents and other family members in children’s lives, has released a report suggesting an increase in the number of children removed from their homes because of meth. The coalition is pushing for reform in federal welfare laws that are administered by states, and hopes that Congress will give grandparents and other family members some of the same resources foster parents receive to better support children in meth-affected homes. The Senate Finance Committee set aside $40 million on Thursday to support local efforts to help such kids, reports Daniel C. Vock of Stateline.org.

"In Montana, drug use is a factor in 66 percent of all foster care placements; meth is the drug at issue in 55 percent of those cases, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. That means meth is a more common factor than alcohol, which is involved in 52 percent of cases. (The numbers add up to more than 100 percent because there is some overlap)," writes Vock. "In one year, Tennessee saw instances of children of meth-using parents going into foster care almost double, jumping from 400 in 2003 to 700 in 2004, according to the report." (Read more)

New York's rural schools report more violence than city schools

School crime data for the 2003-4 and 2004-5 school years shows New York's city schools are safer than its rural ones, but schools in New York City might have underreported violent and disruptive incidents.

The statistics released by the New York State Education Department come "three weeks after the state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, issued an audit that found that safety incidents were being underreported by schools statewide," writes David M. Herszenhorn of The New York Times. "The comptroller's audit blamed individual school districts as well as the State Education Department."

The numbers released yesterday show disparities between the city and the rest of the state: New York City, with more than one million public school children, reported 40.3 violent incidents per 1,000 students; and poor rural districts reported a rate of 58.8 incidents per 1,000, notes Herszenhorn. (Read more)

Telecom to provide fiber for broadband expansion in rural Virginia

XO Communications has signed a $3 million deal to provide dark fiber to the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative for the expansion of advanced broadband services to rural communities in Virginia.

The unused fiber-optic cable will connect communities in the central and southern parts of Virginia with broadband providers. "The network will encourage competition by allowing telecom providers to offer new broadband services, and that in turn will help promote economic growth by creating new jobs and attracting new companies to the area," writes Neil Adler of the Washington Business Journal.

The nonprofit cooperative, funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Authority, aims to connect 20 counties and more than 60 business, industrial and technology parks to broadband Internet providers, reports Adler. (Read More)

Rural Oregon county seeks to make money, limit noise of concerts

Leaders Marion County, Oregon, want to limit the noise brought on by concerts and other mass gatherings without hurting the economic gains provided by such events on public property.

The county's commissioners will consider strengthening regulations on mass gatherings on Wednesday, which is an issue that cropped up a year ago. "Two summer concerts held on a farm near Woodburn last summer drew a strong response from neighbors who thought that their farming lifestyle and rural community were being threatened by the crowds," writes Timothy Alex Akimoff of the Statesman Journal in Salem.

The county's current ordinance states that events attracting more than 1,000 are subject to land-use permits. "The new ordinance, should it pass, defines a mass gathering as 3,000 people or more in one place at any time, or more than 500 people per day during a three-day period. The new ordinance would set a limit of one large gathering every three months," reports Akimoff. (Read more)

Local businesses boost rural economies, stick around, opines writer

A spirit of entrepreneurism can provide an economic boost to rural communities, and Jack Schultz cites an example of that idea coming to life in his latest Boomtown USA blog.

Schultz, a consultant to small-town economic developers, talks about Minnesota entrepreneur Eric Bergeson, who writes a weekly column for newspapers in his area. One of Bergeson's most recent columns talked about rural towns focusing less on recruiting big companies and instead fostering a growth in hometown entrepreneurs: "The businesses which have truly transformed a lucky few declining small towns into bustling, growing, vigorous communities have been home-grown. Some local kid decided to stay around home and try out a crazy idea. . . . People thought he or she was nuts, but the dreamers just kept chasing their dream, sticking to it through thick and thin."

Bergeson as cites loyalty as one strong suit of such entrepreneurs: "Most importantly, the home-grown entrepreneur sticks around. He is loyal to the town. He’s not going to demand tax breaks from the local municipality because he knows that paying taxes is one of his main functions, a way he can help sustain the infrastructure which he uses to make a living. The home-grown entrepreneur isn’t so short sighted as to move to the first city which offers him a temporary break on taxes." To read Bergeson's past columns and daily blog, click here.

Farmers own, operate ag-flavored eatery in Washington, D.C. area

The North Dakota Farmers' Union owns and operates one of the newest restaurants in the posh Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. At Agraria, every dish consumed by the patrons contains ingredients produced by American family farmers.

Robert Carlson, a wheat and barley farmer, heads the union and is the driving force for the restaurant. Agraria, a name suggested by another North Dakota farmer, means "from the land." "Farmers aren't all about getting federal money," Carlson told National Public Radio. "We're also about doing things to help ourselves... The ultimate way to add value to your product is to put it before the consumer in a restaurant."

Carlson said setting up shop in the nation's capital "really has nothing to do with lobbying," adding "it has a lot more to do with the fact that Washington, D.C., really never has a recession." The restaurant may end up cropping up at other U.S. locations, reports NPR. Click here to read and listen to more.

U.S. publisher to roll out first portable 'e-newspapers' later this year

Ever imagined a newspaper that can be read on cheap digital screens, then rolled up and stuffed into a pocket? "Some of the world's top newspapers publishers are planning to introduce a form of electronic newspaper that will allow users to download entire editions from the Web on to reflective digital screens said to be easier on the eyes than light-emitting laptop or cellphone displays," reports Reuters.

The Hearst Corporation, which operates 12 dailies including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is planning a large-scale trial of the readers this year and they could retail between $300 to $400. "Digital newspapers, so called e-newspapers, take advantage of two prevailing media trends -- the growth of online advertising and widespread use of portable devices like the iPod music player. E-newspapers would cut production and delivery costs that account for some 75 percent of newspaper expenses," writes Kenneth Li .

The devices may also help newspapers consume more online advertising, notes Li. Ad spending on newspaper Web sites jumped 32 percent last year but only accounted for 4 percent of total ad spending in newspapers, according to the Newspaper Association of America. (Read more)

Monday, June 12, 2006

House committee OKs $115 million cut for public broadcasting

"House Republicans yesterday revived their efforts to slash funding for public broadcasting, as a key committee approved a $115 million reduction in the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs," writes Rick Klein of The Boston Globe.

The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees health and education funding approved the cut to the corporation that distributes money to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. The move would slash the corporation's budget by 23 percent next year, to $380 million. The cuts could force smaller public-radio stations in rural areas -- which rely almost entirely on federal money -- to shut down, said Kevin Klose, NPR's president. "The impact of today's decision could resonate in every community in America," he told Klein. (Read more)

One PBS spokesperson said such a reduction would force a digital upgrade to be funded with money currently being used for other programs. Paula Kerger, PBS's president and chief executive, issued a statement that said the cuts would force the network to "drastically reduce the programming and services public television and public radio can provide to local communities." Programs in peril include the literacy television program "Ready to Learn" and the online teachers' resource "Ready to Teach," reports Klein.

Southern Baptist ministers to take complaints from blogs to convention

Southern Baptists will open their two-day annual meeting tomorrow in Greensboro, N.C., and Russellville, Ky., youth minister Art Rogers is just one of many ministers who plan to voice complaints.

"While he says he supports the denomination's new conservatism, Rogers said he and other ministers are using Internet blogs to complain about what they call a culture of intolerance, infighting and questionable management practices of the denomination," writes Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal. "Whether Rogers and his group will have a lasting effect on the denomination is unclear." (Read more)

Disputes about the future of America's largest Protestant denomination are nothing new. "It is still the question of who controls the convention and determines what their direction is," Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and a frequent critic of the Southern Baptist leadership, told Tim Whitmire of The Associated Press. "I think there is serious division over what to do about the future of the convention itself."

Leonard, the Wake Forest Divinity dean, sees the conservative SBC leadership significantly damaged by an aging congregations and a message that does not reach younger worshippers, who seek either a welcoming approach or a charismatic experience, writes Whitmire. Southern Baptists "tend to sound mean in the public square," Leonard said. "They want to draw the lines and they are amazed when people say they don't want to join." (Read more)

Governors from 18 western states demand reduction in global warming

A group of western governors are concerned about rising greenhouse gases and want their states to take action to reduce global warming while still meeting a growing energy demand.

The Western Governors' Association unanimously passed a resolution Sunday calling on states and cities to reduce human-caused greenhouse gases, without going into specifics. It marked the first time the group took a formal vote on global warming, and it comes as several utilities are hoping to build coal-fired power plants across the West. Court battles are underway with opponents of the plants arguing that they would contribute to the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming, report Janet Wilson and Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times.

The governors also called for "a range of possible strategies for environmentally sound energy production, including rebates to customers for efficient appliances, upgrades to building codes and construction of multibillion-dollar coal plants that would convert harmful carbon dioxide emissions to gas rather than spewing them into the air," write Wilson and Nicholas. The association includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. (Read more)

Kentucky broadband initiative holds key to rural areas' futures

Awareness is growing about the power of broadband Internet access in spearheading economic development, and Kentucky is a prime example of one rural state seeing such access as a key to its future.

"An initiative led by ConnectKentucky is at work to bring broadband coverage and use to the entire Commonwealth by 2007," writes Mark Schirmer of Foresight, a publication of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center. "Though statewide, the campaign operates on a county-by-county basis, seeking solutions for providing broadband coverage, raising awareness of the technology, and driving up demand for its availability. Thought Kentucky ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of home Internet use, ConnectKentucky's program stands as one of the nation's leading efforts to cultivate the implementation of broadband technology."

"Bringing broadband to rural areas and small towns, however, often faces an uphill battle, sometimes quite literally," adds Schirmer. Telecommunications companies often balk at the cost of connecting small towns to their networks out of fear that utilization will be insufficient to provide a return on their investment. Mountainous terrain, which dominates Kentucky's eastern landscape, compounds the expense of connecting communities, making broadband access even more difficult to obtain." (Read more)

Leaders in Pendleton County, Kentucky recently voted to work with BlueOne out of Lexington on a six-month test that aims to provide 85 percent of the county's residents with wireless broadband. To read a story by Debbie Dennie of the Falmouth Outlook, click here.

'Silicon Holler?' Rural Kentucky university houses landmark projects

A physicist at Morehead State University in Kentucky claims he is six to nine months away from completing a "working model" of a device that could help U.S. soldiers detect roadside bombs in Iraq.

Bob Littlepage is working with the U.S. Department of Defense on a device that will use optical, electronic, infrared and chemical sensors to locate the bombs. Aside from potentially saving lives, this story's significance is that Littlepage works at a 9,000-student rural university. Morehead is home to a multimillion-dollar space science program -- one of only four in the nation -- and is seeing itself as the driver behind a "Silicon Holler" -- a reference to the mountains and valleys in northeastern Kentucky, and California's Silicon Valley, writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Morehead will start construction on its $16 million, 45,000-square-foot Ronald G. Eaglin Space Science Center next year and plans to open the facility featuring a domed planetarium in 2009. (Read more)

Meat producers jump on craze over 'natural,' organic beef, see big results

When Coleman Natural Foods began selling "natural" beef in 1979 in the high-desert San Luis Valley about 180 miles southwest of Denver, shoppers and meat producers viewed the product as unusual. Now, the beef is creating quite a stir in the meat industry.

"Natural and organic meats have become so popular that even the big conventional meat producers are getting into the business, and Coleman is left in the unexpected position of scrambling for shelf space," writes Susan Moran of The New York Times. Since Coleman first started churning out beef in 1979, the government has developed quality standards for that beef and organic food — including produce, meat and the grain fed to cows and other animals.

Organic meat sales grew 55 percent last year to $256 million, and natural meat sales nearly doubled in four years to $681.3 million in the year ended April 22. Natural and organic meat producers say continued success hinges on small ranches and farms, which are often preyed upon by developers during tough economic times. From 1982 to 2003, nonfederal land devoted to grazing fell more than 5 percent, from 611 million acres to 576 million acres, reports Moran. (Read more) A sidebar helps define "natural."

Pen pal program brings farming home to Nebraska elementary students

Nebraska students whiz by the state's many farms every morning and afternoon on buses, but now a pen pal program is helping them understand the work they see occurring.

Nebraska’s Ag Pen Pals program connects elementary students with surrounding farms to help encourage an interest in the state's agriculture industry and to educate students. The program linked more than 250 farms and ranches with classrooms last year, and it allowed students to learn about the entire farming process, reports Hannah Fletcher of Iowa Farmer Today.

The only requirement is the classes and farm families communicate at least three times a year, and the program has expanded to include rural schools. "It initially was offered in Nebraska’s four major metropolitan areas: Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Grand Island. Now, there are 22 cities involved," writes Fletcher. (Read more)

Stephens Media Group buys five newspapers in Central Arkansas

Stephens Media Group is boosting its presence in Arkansas with the purchase of five newspapers from Magie Enterprises, a family-owned company that has churned out news print for 50-plus years.

The newspapers are the weekly Cabot Star-Herald, Carlisle Independent, Lonoke Democrat and Sherwood Voice, plus the twice-weekly Jacksonville Patriot, reports The Associated Press.

Stephens Media Group is based in Las Vegas, where it publishes its flagship newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and it owns 11 daily newspapers and more than 30 weeklies across the country. The company currently owns three dailies in Arkansas - The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, the Times Record of Fort Smith, and the Pine Bluff Commercial - and 16 other weeklies. (Read more)

Virginia congressman weds Galax Gazette editor along bike trail

"The wedding feast was a shared burrito, the cake coconut and the transportation of the two-wheeled variety as U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher married his longtime girlfriend at an outdoor ceremony," reports The Associated Press.

The 9th District congressman from Virginia wed Amy Hauslohner on Saturday on a former railroad bridge overlooking Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Before the ceremony, they bicycled from Abingdon, Boucher's hometown, to Damascus. Boucher's wife will continue as news editor of the Galax Gazette, but will not write about or report on her husband or politics. (Read more)

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Fort Wayne, Duluth, Fargo, Aberdeen papers going to family companies

Three family-owned media firms with large rural audiences are among the buyers of four newspapers, also with big rural interests, that McClatchy Co. is buying from Knight Ridder and reselling.

Forum Communications of Fargo, N.D., will buy The News Tribune in Duluth, circulation 46,000, and the Grand Forks Herald, circ. 31,000. The company owns seven small daily newspapers in Minnesota and the Dakotas, with circulations of 6,700 to 16,000, and the The Forum of Fargo, circ. 51,000. It owns about 20 weeklies, mainly in Minnesota, with some in Wisconsin and one in West Fargo. "The sale includes a number of smaller businesses affiliated with the Herald and the News Tribune, including Agweek, a Herald agribusiness publication, and newspapers in Superior, Wis., Two Harbors, Minn., and Cloquet, Minn.," The Associated Press reported in a story printed in the Forum. (Read more)

Schurz Communications of South Bend, Ind., another family-owned firm, is purchasing the American News in Aberdeen, S.D. "Schurz publishes 12 daily and six weekly newspapers in medium and small markets with a combined circulation of nearly 225,000," reports Jennifer Saba for Editor & Publisher. "It also owns four television stations, seven radio stations, two cable companies, phone directories, shopping guides, and a printing company." The company's newspapers include the South Bend Tribune and small daily newspapers in Danville and Winchester, Ky., and weeklies in Nicholasville and Stanford, Ky.

In a family way: Ogden Newspapers of Wheeling, W.Va., will buy The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind., an afternoon daily in a joint operating agreement with The Journal Gazette, a morning paper owned by the Inskeep family. Ogden is family-owned, and "The shared values will help Ogden Newspapers and The Journal Gazette Co. work together," The Journal Gazette reported. (Read more)

"Ogden Newspapers is purchasing Knight Ridder’s 75 percent stake in Fort Wayne Newspapers as part of its deal with McClatchy," reports The Journal Gazette's Jenni Glenn. "The Journal Gazette Co. owns the remaining 25 percent of Fort Wayne Newspapers under the joint operating agreement between the two newspapers. That agreement, which was renewed in 2003, expires in 2050."

Ogden "publishes 39 daily newspapers, as well as related Web sites, telephone directories, weekly newspapers, shoppers, and magazines in 15 states," E & P reports. Ogden CEO Robert M. Nutting said in a news release, "We're very pleased to have been selected by McClatchy to continue the tradition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning News-Sentinel. As a family company we're especially pleased to be associated in the Fort Wayne JOA with another long-standing newspaper family. The Inskeep family and the Fort Wayne newspapers are obviously cornerstones of northeast Indiana and we're proud to become partners in this venture. Here in the Ohio Valley where my great-grandfather started his first newspaper we publish one morning and two separate afternoon papers, so we know and understand the benefits of the dynamic of a community served by multiple newspaper voices."

"The Akron Beacon Journal is going to Sound Publishing Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Black Press, a Canadian company which produces over 100 publications in British Columbia, Alberta, Washington state and Hawaii," E & P reports. "McClatchy has found willing buyers for 11 of the 12 Knight Ridder papers it plans to divest when it completes the acquisition of Knight Ridder slated to close at the beginning of July. The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is still on the auction block. McClatchy expects to announce a buyer for that paper in the upcoming weeks." (Read more)

Tennessee's oldest town makes sure all residents get weekly newspaper

Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, in the notheast part of the state, wanted to keep its residents informed, so its leaders are paying the community's weekly newspaper to send a copy to every resident.

Tennessee Press Association President Steve Lake writes in a May newsletter about "the arrangement Publisher Lynn Richardson of the Herald and Tribune, Jonesborough, has with her city: 100 percent saturation as the city pays for all residents to have a subscription to the paper, all in return for extensive, full coverage of civic boards, with the understanding that government employees receive no special treatment or favors in the paper — sounds like a dream setup for both parties." (Read more)

In a phone interview, Richardson told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that Town Administrator Bob Browning liked the newspaper's coverage so much that he initiated the conversation. "He was sometimes frustrated at the methods they needed to use to get information out to all the people in Jonesborough about meeting information and what happened at the meetings," Richardson said. "So he had been really pleased with our coverage because . . . what we focus on is the town."

Now reaching about 2,000 households, the Herald and Tribune does not shy away from printing articles or letters to the editor that criticize town leaders. "It was carefully explained that they would have no editorial control what so ever and they agreed to that," Richardson said. "Thus far, there have been no problems."

U.S. House to debate issue of telecoms charging businesses for Internet

U.S. representatives will get the chance today or tomorrow to debate and vote on "net neutrality" in the pending telecommunications overhaul bill. At stake is whether businesses can provide high-speed Internet without facing charges from telecommunications companies, so if you care about this issue, now's the time to see where your U.S.representative stands on it and perhaps editorialize on the subject.

An amendment to the bill seeks to prevent Bell telecoms and cable-TV companies from charging businesses to allow speedier Internet delivery to preferred customers. "Strict rules that would bar Bell and cable companies from charging preferred businesses for speedier Internet delivery are being sought by advocacy groups on both the left and the right -- along with such leading tech sector firms as eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. But the Bells and cable firms, joined by free market groups, call the proposed rules an unwarranted intervention into the Internet," write Susan Davis and Drew Clark of National Journal's Insider Update.

The telecommunications overhaul bill would prohibit Bell firms and cable companies from blocking competitors' traffic, note Davis and Clark. (Read more)

Small rural telecom to beat AT&T in Arkansas' Internet TV race

"A small family-owned local telephone company in Yell County plans to roll out Internet television service in the coming days, beating phone giant AT&T as the first to offer the service in Arkansas," writes Wesley Brown of the Arkansas News Bureau.

Arkwest Communications will provide digital access to some 200 TV channels and 1,500 hours of movies on demand for 2,000 of its 6,000-plus residential customers at the onset. AT&T and Comcast Corp., which provides cable TV, high-speed Internet and broadband telephone service in central Arkansas, are battling over franchise agreements that would allow AT&T to provide digital telephone service, reports Brown.

Arkwest is focused on providing rural customers with telecom offerings that are often found solely in urban areas, writes Brown. (Read more)

U.S. House OKs mine-safety bill with higher fines, more oxygen supplies

The House of Representatives approved on Wednesday the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, which would be the industry's biggest safety overhaul ever and comes on the heels of 33 coal-mining deaths this year.

"The measure, approved by a 381-to-37 vote, requires mine operators to provide a second hour's worth of air for miners along escape routes (they now carry one hour's worth). They will also have to provide communication and tracking devices for miners within three years. The maximum civil penalty for violations of mine-safety regulations will rise to $220,000, from $60,000," writes Ian Urbina of The New York Times. (Read more)

The Senate-House measure would give mines as long as three years to install communications and tracking equipment, and it does not require inspections of breathing devices by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. "It also would require fire-resistant lifelines that guide miners along escape routes to the surface," write James R. Carroll and Wayne Tompkins of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

"In the event of a death or entrapment of a miner, they must notify federal mining officials within 15 minutes and have two rescue teams available within an hour," reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Read more)

Democrats seeking rural vote need married folks' support, opines writer

America's political divide is well documented by the news media and one scholar is asking very basic questions: "How is one to make sense of it all? Are there red states and blue states? A closer look at the election results by county gives a different picture," opines liberal political scientist Michael Harrington for Christian Science Monitor.

Many counties in "blue" states vote "red," but those states are dominated by urban counties that vote "blue," writes Harrringto, who found that as population density decreases from urban to rural areas, voters consistency lean Republican. "The true pattern is blue urban vs. red rural and suburban. The mean population density for counties voting for President Bush was 108 inhabitants per square mile in 2000, and 110 in 2004. This compares to 739 for Al Gore and 836 for John Kerry."

Harrington asks, "Why do rural and suburban areas vote Republican and urban areas vote Democratic? Certainly urban singles, with or without children, have different policy priorities than suburban and rural married couples. These differences are somewhat reflected in the platforms of the two parties. The purpose of politics is to reconcile different preferences and order social priorities."

Suggesting "there's more to this story," Harrington proposes that Democrats consider the following, if they want to win over rural voters: "A simple regression equation matching county characteristics against vote outcomes . . . shows two significant variables: population density and the percentage of married households vs. female heads of household. For example, of the 100 counties with the lowest proportions of married households, Mr. Gore won 85 and Mr. Kerry won 90. Of the 100 counties with the highest proportions of married households, Bush won 96 in 2000 and 97 in 2004." (Read more)

Fishing industries lost amidst sea of residential boom in N.C., Maine

North Carolina's coast is booming with residential development in the form of high-rise condos, which are towering over fishing villages that are part of the area's heritage and cultural history.

"Is the economic boom that accompanies new homes and businesses popping up all over the East Coast worth the loss of a traditional livelihood, of longstanding fishing piers, of fish houses and commercial docks?" asks Hilary Snow of the State Port Pilot, a weekly in Southport. Many speakers said "no" at a forum to address the state’s changing waterfronts Monday in New Bern.

"There is no clear solution, no one-size-fits-all answer, for protecting the commercial fishing industry and the traditions of the coast, but Monday state officials and fishermen explored tax incentives, citizen-based initiatives and government action, among other issues, and heard what other states are already doing," reports Snow.

Maine is also seeing its coast covered in residential development. Hugh Copperthwaite, fisheries project coordinator for Coastal Enterprises in Maine, conducted a study of 25 coastal towns. He found that as more private condominiums and neighborhoods built private marinas and boat slips, "a path to the fishermen’s livelihood — the water — was getting harder to find," writes Snow. (Read more)

Rural county says no more to sewage from Southern California

Several Southern California cities are scrambling to find a new place to dump sewage, after rural residents in Kern County to the north voted Tuesday to end the spreading of treated human waste on farmland.

Each year, Kern County's fields accept 450,000-plus tons of treated human waste, and the mixture is spread on land used to grow cattle feed. Some residents said the sludge had no pathogens and worked well as fertilizer, but others worried about it hurting water supplies or increasing air pollution. So, 82.69 percent of county voters OK'ed a ban on the sludge, reports Juliana Barbassa of The Associated Press.

The practice of using treated waste as fertilizer began in the early 1990s when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided that applying treated sewage to farmland as fertilizer was better than throwing it in the sea or landfills. Kern County's inexpensive land and its location, just across the Tehachapi mountains from Los Angeles, made it an attractive option, notes AP. (Read more) The Rural Blog excerpted a Los Angeles Times article for an item about this on May 2. Click here for the archived item.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Medical privacy law nets no fines, prevents rural reporters from doing jobs

"In the three years since Americans gained federal protection for their private medical information, the Bush administration has received thousands of complaints alleging violations but has not imposed a single civil fine and has prosecuted just two criminal cases," writes Rob Stein of The Washington Post.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has been a nightmare for many rural news outlets, partly because their hospitals have been over-cautious about it. In many cases, community journalists have been prevented from finding out basic information such as whether a patient is being cared for at a hospital.

Of the 19,420 grievances filed, the government has closed 73 percent of the cases -- more than 14,000 -- either ruling that there was no violation, or allowing those holding the information to fix problems. HIPAA guaranteed in 2003 that medical information be protected by a uniform national standard, reports Stein. Thanks to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story. (Read more)

An Associated Press story states the law "is a stopper in a traditional source of information about the daily stream of accidents, crime and the like: the local hospital's admitting desk. HIPAA requires hospitals to ask patients whether they wish to have information disclosed to the public. If the patient says no, the hospital can't give out information such as the traditional short condition descriptions 'good' or 'serious,' or even say whether the person is in the hospital, dead and in the morgue." (Read more)

'Mississippi-owned' newspaper sent team to Iraq for up-close coverage

When the 155th Brigade of the National Guard traveled to Iraq from Tupelo, Miss., the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal provided its readers with a first-hand account of the action.

"Committed to covering local news, the 35,000-circulation paper sent a reporter and photographer over to Iraq in April 2005 to bring the war home to hundreds of local families affected by the deployment," writes Jeremy Weber in the Inlander, the weekly tabloid of the Inland Press Association. "During its daily Iraq coverage, the paper devoted its front-page centerpiece or a full inside page to the stories and photos from Iraq. The Daily Journal covered local troops teaching agricultural techniques to Iraqi farmers, delivering supplies to schools, and other aspects of daily life."

The Daily Journal calls itself the largest “Mississippi-owned” newspaper, and editor Lloyd Gray's mission is "building the community." He said the Iraq coverage "touched a chord like nothing I’ve ever seen in my 35-plus years in the newspaper business." Click here for the paper's Journal of War. The paper recouped much of the expense of sending photographer Thomas Wells and reporter Jennifer Farish (right) to Iraq with a 48-page special section, reports Weber. (Read more)

School-bus radio? Company to broadcast in Mass. buses, share ad revenue

A Massachusetts company wants to provide school districts with money in exchange for radio advertisements and a variety of commercial programs on buses.

"BusRadio, of Needham, Mass., said it aims to begin broadcasting to more than 100,000 Massachusetts students in September and to expand nationwide in 2007. The closely held company, which offers school districts a percentage of ad revenue, has signed contracts with districts in Massachusetts, California and Illinois, said Michael Yanoff, chief executive officer. Several districts said they will receive 5 percent of the revenue generated by the free broadcast service," writes Robert Tomsho of The Wall Street Journal. The company says the service is designed to reduce misbehavior by giving students something to listen to.

School-bus radio is the latest example of advertising aimed at public-school students, which first started in 1990 with Channel One giving schools free televisions and cable access in exchange for broadcasting its programs and advertising. In an age of low budgets, schools are turning to textbook advertising and selling rights to the names of facilities for additional revenue, reports Tomsho.

Commercial Alert, a consumer-advocacy group in Portland, Ore., opposes such advertising and wants Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to bar BusRadio from the state's school buses, writes Tomsho. Howard Schaffer, a spokesman for the Public Education Network, a Berkeley, Calif., association of foundations that raise money for public schools, said budget woes are "making it easier for corporate people to go into schools and offer them things that would have previously been verboten or cast aside." (Read more)

Rural post offices close in Europe, routes shut down in Canada; U.S. next?

Rural post offices are closing in Ireland and the United Kingdom, on top of the elimination of several routes in Canada. Despite several stories on those closings, it remains unclear whether such will occur in the U.S.

All of the reports from other countries during the past few months makes us suspicious, as does the unwillingness or inability of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association to talk to us. We were told the association's officers will be unavailable for comment until at least next month. However, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman said he knew of no plans to cut back on rural service.

To read about at least one rural post office closing every fortnight this year in Ireland, click here for a story from Unison.ie, Ireland's largest on-line content resource.

Mont., Tenn. list meth makers on registries; more states may follow

"Like sex offenders and tax dodgers, methamphetamine makers are now being listed on Internet registries in several states," writes Elizabeth Wilkerson for Stateline.org.

Tennessee brought the nation’s first such registry online in 2005, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law June 4 creating one. Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia have registry bills pending, and an Oregon bill would require the state to alert residents -- whether through an Internet registry or other means -- when a convicted meth maker is released from prison into their area. Montana includes meth makers in its sexual and violent offender registry but does not list them separately, reports Wilkerson.

The registries mark a new tool for combating meth, and nearly all states limit sales of cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in producing the drug. Lawmakers and law enforcers said the meth-maker registries differ from sex-offender registries, because sex offenders are required to register in person and re-register regularly, notes Wilkerson. (Read more)

California valley votes to keep rural lifestyle by limiting homes

Hikers and equestrians defeated developers by voting Tuesday to preserve their rural lifestyle in the High Desert city of Apple Valley, located 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The valley's residents voted to pass Measure N, which prevents the Town Council "from adopting a new General Plan that would have allowed more than two homes per acre," according to a staff report in the San Bernardino Sun. The newspaper's report did not provide vote totals.

Measure N reaffirms the intent of a 1999 initiative to limit the number of single-family homes to two per acre, and it prevents the Town Council from doing differently until at least 2020, wrote Chuck Mueller of the Sun in a prior story. Apple Valley contains 15,000-plus acres of vacant land zoned for a single-dwelling unit on 2.5 or 5 acres. (Read more)

'C.A.V.E. people' use negativity to thwart improvement, opines paper

Communities aimed at improvement must be aware of C.A.V.E. people, or “Citizens Against Virtually Everything," opines the Daily & Sunday Jeffersonian of Cambridge, Ohio in an editorial inspired by a recent presentation by Jack Schultz, a consultant to small-town economic developers.

Such people are likened to a "toxic infestation" that can destroy a community. The editorial writes that some characteristics of C.A.V.E. people include: attending no public meetings and criticizing the way “they” do things; complaining about the quality of police, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, firefighters and EMTs; knocking down the local town council and county commission; saying that local newspaper and radio stations are no good and have less local news than out-of-town media.

The editorial is only available to paid subscribers at the paper's Web site, but more if not all of it can be read for free on Schultz' Boomtown USA blog.

Nominations sought for Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity

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

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

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

Nominations for this year's award are due Sept. 1. The Institute plans to present the award at one of its conferences this fall. Nominations should be made by way of a letter or e-mail giving details on the courage, tenacity and integrity demonstrated by the nominee(s). You may be asked for more information.

Send your nomination to: Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Journalism Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu. If you have questions, e-mail us or call 859-257-3744.

For more information on Tom and Pat Gish, click here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Among the 250 counties with lowest income levels in U.S., 225 are rural

An analysis of the latest county income levels in the United States reveals that low incomes are prevalent in rural America, with several Texas counties among the very poorest.

In the 2004 data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, 225 non-metropolitan counties crop up in the list of the 250 lowest in the nation. "Over 100 of the lowest 250 counties are located in four states – Kentucky (35), Texas (30), Mississippi (20), and Georgia (19). Only 12 are metropolitan counties – five in Georgia, three in Texas, and two each in Kentucky (Edmonson and Trimble) and Mississippi (Perry and Tunica). In all, 33 states have at least one county included in the 250 lowest income counties," notes the Center for Rural Affairs. (Read more)

The 10 counties posting the lowest per capita income in 2004, from first to last, included: Starr, Texas, $11,362; Loup, Neb., $13,372; Maverick, Texas, $13,586; Zavala, Texas, $13,873; Ziebach, S.D., $13,933; Zapata, Texas, $14,253; Jefferson, Miss., $14,479; Union, Fla., $14,535; Todd, S.D., $14,557; and Presidio, Texas, $14,781. For the list of the 250 lowest income counties, click here.

Rural schools fail to hire tutors mandated by No Child Left Behind

Schools making little progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are required to hire outside tutors, but many poor, rural districts are having trouble doing so because such firms shy away from working in locations where money opportunities are slim.

"With such scanty options, some schools have turned to grass-roots tutoring companies that have sprung up with little track record, such as a small Arkansas firm started by a former basketball player. Some are trying online tutors. But many . . . are doing nothing at all," writes Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post. Such rural schools comprise about one-third of the nation's public schools.

This problem illustrates a conflict between a law aimed at helping failing schools and private companies that do not always cater to needy students. The whole idea of private tutoring become part of the act when Congress went against the Bush administration's voucher plan that would have allowed parents to send their children to private schools at the public's expense, reports Goldstein.

Administration officials seem at a loss for ways to help rural districts, writes Goldstein. Stacy Kreppel, a senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, said, "There's not a lot they can do if a provider turns around and says, 'No, we are not going to serve.' . . . We may need to examine . . . where the gaps are and if there are additional strategies we can take." (Read more)

Immigration program provides rural hospitals with staffing boost

More than 100 foreign-born physicians, from countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Croatia, have worked in Kansas communities under the J-1 visa waiver program, which allows international medical graduates to stay in the U.S. as long as they spend three years in medically underserved rural or urban communities.

"But the program is a temporary one that has been reauthorized every few years -- most recently in 2004 -- and officially expired last week. Now, some lawmakers want to make the program permanent, arguing that it is critical for quality health care in rural areas where few American doctors want to practice," reports Sam Hananel of The Associated Press.

Legislation to reauthorize the program permanently is being considered in the U.S. House and Senate. "The program is crucial in small farming towns . . . where it has become nearly impossible to recruit American doctors," writes Hananel. "While a quarter of the nation's population lives in rural areas, only 10 percent of physicians practice there." More than 1,000 waivers have been requested in each of the past three years in the U.S. (Read more)

Meat-processing plants getting more rural, and workers more Hispanic

Meat processors are using lower-skilled labor, more of it Hispanic, and gradually moving their operations to rural areas, reports William Kandel in a feature story in the latest edition of Amber Waves, the online magazine of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Agriculture Department.

"Between 1980 and 2000, the Hispanic share of meat-processing workers increased from under 10 percent to almost 30 percent, while the Hispanic workforce itself became mostly foreign born," Kandel writes. "While the rapid population growth and geographic dispersion of Hispanics since the 1990s has helped meet the labor needs of rural-based meat-processing plants, Hispanic settlement has also had social and economic implications for rural communities."

Factors driving plants to rural areas include lower stock hauling and feed costs, opposition to unions in rural areas, and incentives offered by rural communities and state and federal governments -- such as a federal enterprise zone that lured a 1,500-worker Cagle's-Keystone plant to rural Clinton County, Ky., population less than 10,000. Much if not most of the Southern Kentucky plant's workforce is Hispanic.

The four leading poultry-producing states in 1993 were Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina, all with large proportions of rural residents. However, such relocations often lead to worker shortages because of the lack of conveniently located housing, limited public and retail services, and long commutes, reports Kandel. (Read more)

Many plants are finding solutions to such shortages, thanks to the country's growing Hispanic presence. Between 1980 and 2000, the share of non-Hispanic Whites in the meat-processing workforce slid from 74 to 49 percent, while the share of Hispanics rose from 9 to 29 percent. Kandel sees this as one way Hispanics help stimulate rural economies and he writes, "Although a small share (10 percent) of all U.S. Hispanics live in nonmetro counties, the rapid growth of the U.S. Hispanic population — exceeding 100 percent in about half of all states over the past decade — has significant implications for rural communities."

Immigrants' stories spark connection with man in Kentucky's coal country

"A lot of people, when they think about immigrants, think about them 'coming in.' They don’t think about what it's like for them to leave their homes in the first place. I do, because one day, I might have to leave my home in the mountains," Machlyn Blair, of Jeremiah, Ky., wrote in an essay for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

"For generations, people in my family have moved from state to state for jobs, and put their lives at risk in the coal mines. Here, leaving the mountains is a rite of passage, just like crossing the border might be for others. I hear kids every day making plans about their future, and Eastern Kentucky isn’t a part of that. I never thought I'd have anything in common with teenagers from other countries like Mexico, but I do. Seeing the immigration debates and demonstrations on TV, I understand that big companies look at our families as dollar signs, as people who can pack coal out or bring the tomato harvest in," continues Blair.

"Knowing where I’m from is one of the most important things to me. I don’t want to give that up for a paycheck. And I’m afraid if I go, I’ll never be able to come back," concludes Blair. His essay was produced by the Appalachian Media Institute and Youth Radio. Click here for more of his essay.

Community-supported agriculture offers fresh food in Auburn, Ala.

In "community supported agriculture," customers to pay a fee up front for food fresh out of the ground every week for a year, providing advance financial support to local growers.

"The concept behind CSA is local consumers share the costs and risks with the farmer. There are many different crops to choose from, so you might get something different every time," writes Brock Parker of WTVM Channel 9 in Columbus, Ga., where the annual fee is $500.

Customers know vegetable supplies might run low due to diseases or droughts, but they overlook such risks because of the money saved and the quality of the food, notes Parker. There are even waiting lists for people wishing to participate because CSAs are structured for small groups of customers. For more information, e-mail Randle Farms at randlefarms@mindspring.com. (Read more)

Citizen activists help shape positive environment for Iowa town

A group of 10 young people from Spencer, Iowa (pop. 11,317) formed Positively Spencer a couple of years ago, and since then they have strived to create a positive environment for the town's residents, notes Jack Schultz in his Boomtown USA blog.

“We don’t have any elected positions within the community. We don’t even have a bank account, but we are a group of people who care deeply about the town. We’re not doing Positively Spencer to benefit the town for 2006 or 2007. We’re hoping that what we are doing is affecting Spencer in 2015 and 2025 and 2030.” Kevin Robinson, a local banker, who is one of the original 10 told Schultz.

The group identified people in the 22- to 40-year age bracket who moved to Spencer for jobs and chose to stay to raise a family. In turn, Positively Spencer tries to ensure a high qualify of life for those residents, because they see it as a key to economic development. "It is a model that other towns could and should copy," concludes Schultz, a consultant to small-town economic developers.

North Carolina sees drop in meth-lab raids, credits cold-medicine law

North Carolina authorities raided the fewest number of methamphetamine labs in May since December 2003, and officials credit a new state law restricting the sales of cold medicines used to make the drug.

North Carolina Bureau of Investigation agents busted 11 meth labs in May, a 69 percent drop from 35 labs in May 2005, reports The Associated Press. Since the new law went into effect Jan. 15, state officials reported 112 labs have been busted. They found 172 labs in the like period last year. (Read more)

Colorado couple's marriage delayed after they engage in hotel fight

"Ali Aghili, 37, and Marney Hurst, 33, both of Boulder [Colo.], were to be married Saturday night at the posh Little Nell Hotel [in Aspen]. Instead, they got into a fight the night before and police arrested them because both allegedly threw punches," reports The Associated Press, picking up an initial report in the Aspen Daily News.

The couple's $250 bond conditions required they be separated, nixing their plans. "The investigation began after police received a 911 call reporting one woman yelling at another. Police determined Hurst had been shouting at Aghili's sister," reports AP.

This report might embarrass the couple, but the Aspen Daily News does go by the motto "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen." (Read more)

Nominations sought for Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity

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

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

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

Nominations for this year's award are due Sept. 1. The Institute plans to present the award at one of its conferences this fall. Nominations should be made by way of a letter or e-mail giving details on the courage, tenacity and integrity demonstrated by the nominee(s). You may be asked for more information.

Send your nomination to: Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Journalism Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu. If you have questions, e-mail us or call 859-257-3744.

For more information on Tom and Pat Gish, click here.

SPJ raises awareness of community colleges as possible routes to papers

Society of Professional Journalists Region 10, which covers Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, is starting a push to make community college journalism graduates potential entry-level employees of Washington's weekly newspapers.

"Working with the Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA), SPJ will encourage high school students from low- and moderate-income families to consider one of the lower-cost community colleges with strong journalism programs, rather than a more expensive four-year college," Oren Campbell, the region's education liaison and former regional director, writes in an e-mail.

"The rationale: Most Washington weeklies and some smaller dailies offer entry-level salaries of around $20,000 -- only two-thirds of what the average four-year college communications graduate receives. A community college education costs considerably less than at a four-year college, and student-loan debt is more manageable," Campbell writes. To e-mail him, click here.

Rural journalists in Pakistan organize to advance press freedom, ethics

"Supporters of press freedom are growing more vocal in Pakistan, where a Rural Media Network Web site has launched to defend freedom of expression and support journalists in the country’s rural areas," reports the Editors Weblog of the World Editors Forum. (Read more)

The site, http://online-rmnp.tripod.com, says the network was organized to to monitor and defend freedom of expression in rural Pakistan, provide support for rural newspapers, provide a forum for debate, and help build the professional capacity of rural journalists and other sections of civil society "to better equip them in political mediation." The network publishes Sadiq News, a newsletter covering various issues for rural journalists, including freedom of expression, press-freedom violations, ethics and training.

"The network launched the site with a small ceremony on May 28 in the newsroom of the Nawa-I-Ahmedpur Sharqia newspaper, in Ahmedpur East," reports the International Journalists' Network. "Ehsan Ahmed Sehar, head of the network and chief editor of the newspaper, built the site with help from Pieter Wessels, chairman of the Commonwealth Journalists Association's Australian branch."

The emir of Bahawalpur, Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi, said at the ceremony that the Internet is, as IJNet reported, "helping to bring freedom of expression within reach of people in the rural areas of developing countries." For more information, contact Sehar at ehsanshr@hotmail.com or ehsan.sehar@gmail.com, or telephone +92-62-2273092.

Monday, June 5, 2006

How religious is your state? New data from Gallup Poll can tell you

The Gallup Poll has assembled a state-by-state account of worship attendance that could provide useful comparisons for journalists writing stories about the religious angle of social and political issues.

The data, based on more than 68,000 interviews in the last two years, shows that 58 percent of adults in Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina said they attend church or synagogue weekly or almost weekly. Mississippi was right behind at 57 percent. Utah and Arkansas are tied for fifth at 55 percent, Nebraska and North Carolina are tied for seventh at 52 percent, and Tennessee and Georgia round out the top 10 at 52 percent. The second 10 are Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Virginia and Minnesota, tied for 20th.

"Church attendance is much higher in the South" than other regions, the poll said in a news release. Of the states traditionally defined as Southern, "Virginia has the lowest reported church attendance rate (44 percent) which is still above the national average (42 percent)." Reported worship attendance is lowest in New England.

Another way to look at the data is to subtract those who say they seldom or never attend worship from those who say they attend weekly or almost every week. That gives a "net attendance" figure, in which Louisiana and Mississippi lead with +33, followed by Alabama at +31 and South Carolina at +30. Those are also the top four states in regular attendance, so it may be fair to say that they are the four most religious states. (The middle category for attendance in the polling was once a month.)

The figures show rural residents led in church attendance. At the request of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, the Gallup folks broke down the data for Kentucky and adjoining states into urban, suburban and rural respondents. In six of the eight states, church attendance was highest among rural residents. Suburbanites led in Ohio; in Tennessee, urbanites led, but rural residents led among those who said they worship weekly. In the net-attendance calculation, rural residents in Tennessee and Illinois were the most religious among the eight states.

Click here to read the full report from Gallup. For more details on data in Kentucky and adjoining states, call the Institute at 859-257-3744 or send an e-mail to Al.Cross@uky.edu.

Republican leaders are putting gay marriage back on the agenda

Same-sex marriage, which appeared to be a big issue in rural areas in 2004, is back on the national agenda this week with a Senate vote scheduled on a constitutional amendment. There appears to be no chance that the amendment can get the two-thirds votes in the Senate and House to send the amendment to the states for ratification, so critics say Republicans are merely trying to boost their chances in the fall elections.

Newsweek reports this week, "Last month James Dobson, the influential founder of Focus on the Family, met privately with key Republicans, including Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner, to warn them about the political consequences of failing to promote issues like marriage. 'If you forget us, we'll forget you,' he said, according to a GOP House leadership aide who was briefed on the gatherings, but declined to be identified discussing private meetings."

Debra Rosenberg's story also says, "While the GOP leadership clearly hopes this tack can revive their sputtering election prospects this fall, some GOP strategists aren't so sure. Pew polls show a 10-point jump in support for gay marriage since 2004. And Bush pollster Matthew Dowd doubts it was decisive last time around. 'It didn't drive turnout in 2004,' he says. 'That is urban legend.' Turnout was the same in states with bans on the ballot and those without, Dowd says."

Rosenberg quotes Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as saying of same-sex marriage, "It's the one issue I have seen that eclipses even the abortion issue among Southern Baptists." (Read more)

Nominations sought for Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity

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

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

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

Nominations for this year's award are due Sept. 1. The Institute plans to present the award at one of its conferences this fall. Nominations should be made by way of a letter or e-mail giving details on the courage, tenacity and integrity demonstrated by the nominee(s). You may be asked for more information.

Send your nomination to: Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Journalism Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu. If you have questions, e-mail us or call 859-257-3744.

For more information on Tom and Pat Gish, click here.

Rural police departments struggle to fill vacancies; low pay plays role

Low pay for police officers is a chronic problem in rural America, and here is an example from Roane County, Tenn., where private security firms are luring away would-be officers.

"At several different police and sheriff's departments there are manhunts going on every day. They're not looking for criminals, but new officers," reports Eric Waddell of WVLT Channel 8 in Knoxville. Potential officers often struggle with where to apply because of pay discrepancies, and private security companies offer overtime pay that can make salaries 3 to 4 times what city and county departments might provide.

Also, as many officers get experience and training, they tend to move to more profitable places. "Officers tell us one problem that hurts both the Anderson and Roane County Sheriff's Departments is a pay system that does little to reward seniority," reports Waddell. "Here's a common complaint, deputies with 15 or 20 years of experience make very little more than deputies fresh out of the academy." (Read more)

Bio-Town, USA: Can Reynolds, Ind., pave way to energy self-sufficiency?

Reynolds, Ind., above, "wants to secede from America's energy grid and power itself entirely with renewable sources, like its corn and pigs," writes Monica Davey of The New York Times.

"This corn and soybean and hog farming town, which pops up out of nowhere at a crossroads and disappears as fast, has only 533 residents left. As in many withering rural communities, worries here lean toward keeping the school open, persuading sons and daughters to stay and finding a role for small farms in a changed economy. But a different worry has risen here, too. With government financing and help from state agriculture officials, Reynolds is wrestling with the nation's dependence on ordinary energy supplies and starting a one-town rebellion. Some say the goal may be too ambitious, too fantastic, for any place, much less little Reynolds."

The idea started last year with Gov. Mitch Daniels and his administration, which picked Reynolds to be "Bio-Town" because it was not too far from major roads or Purdue University, the heart of agricultural and engineering research in Indiana. "As the price of gasoline soared, Reynolds adopted the notion as its own, and residents began speaking passionately of an end to their reliance on foreign oil and of the potential electricity they could envision in the more than 150,000 pigs that wander nearby," Davey writes.

"Since November, nearly 100 of the community's residents have begun driving cars that can run on ethanol-based fuel, as has the employee who drives one of the town's three vehicles. The other two town cars have been replaced with diesel vehicles, so they can run on bio-diesel fuel like vegetable oil. And this month, officials here began work on a plant that would allow Reynolds to draw its electricity from pig and cow manure, as well as human waste. After that, they say they want to make their own renewable natural gas with the methane from the waste of those same pigs, cows and people."

That depends on attracting more than $7 million in private investment, Daniels acknowledged in an interview with Davey, who reports, "There are those here who wonder if BioTown will ever be more than a political press release." (Read more)

Kentucky graduates say voluntary prayer to protest ban on official prayer

Another Kentucky high-school graduation featured a voluntary, group recitation of the Lord's Prayer in protest of a student's legal objections to officially led or officially sponsored prayer.

"At the beginning, some of the students stood and quietly prayed the Lord's Prayer, while others who opposed school prayer stood and waved American flags to show their support of the Constitution," reported Peter Smith, religion writer for The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

The student speakers reflected the differing viewpoints. "Valedictorian Jacqueline Ward said that while Shelby County is still largely white, middle class and Christian, it has diversity -- and that students will encounter more diversity as they enter the world," Smith reported. Ward said, "Though we may not agree with them, we must fully respect them and their views." Salutatorian Justina Ellis received loud applause when she said being diagnosed with diabetes "brought me closer to my Lord," and quoted Scripture, "I can do anything through Him who strengthens me."

School officials dropped the usual benediction from the ceremony because of objections from graduating senior Arshiya Saiyed, an American-born Muslim, and the American Civil Liberties Union. "When Saiyed walked up to receive her diploma (at right), there were some cheers and one or two boos from the guest area, but not from fellow graduates," Smith wrote.

A lawsuit by the ACLU on behalf of a student at Russell County High School last month prompted a federal judge to prohibit official prayer at the school's commencement. "Students rose on their own during the ceremony and recited the Lord's Prayer. And Megan Chapman, the student who had been designated to lead the prayer, included religious messages in her remarks to graduates," Smith wrote. (Read more)

The school's principal said he made admission to the ceremony ticket-only partially because of the prayer issue, but mainly to ensure that each student's family members could get into the Frankfort Convention Center, which has a capacity of about 5,000, the Sentinel-News of Shelbyville reported. (Read more)

Newspapers' online advertising revenue jumps by 35 percent

American newspapers' revenue from online advertising grew to $613 million in the first quarter of 2006, according to the Newspaper Association of America. That was a 35 percent increase from the first quarter of 2005 and the eighth consecutive quarter newspapers' online ad revenue has grown. The growth accounted for most of the industry's 1.8 percent ad-revenue increase, The Associated Press said.

"Last year, online ad revenue totaled $2.027, marking a growth of 31.48 percent from 2004," reports Erik Sass of Online Media Daily. "Expenditures on print ads, by contrast, remained flat in the first quarter. Print ad revenues came to $10.5 billion, up 0.3 percent from the same time last year. Overall, print and online ad revenues combined totaled $11.1 billion ... an anemic year-over-year growth of 1.8 percent."

NAA does not categorize online ad spending, "but other analysts, including Merrill Lynch and Borrell Associates, have said that classified ads make up the bulk of newspapers' online ad revenues," Sass reports. "Print classifieds in the real estate category grew to $1.1 billion--26.3 percent more than last year. Recruitment ads also grew to $1.1 billion, marking a 2.3 percent increase. Auto ads, however, fell to $940 million -- a drop of 14.5 percent." (Read more)

Friday, June 2, 2006

FCC may increase subsidies for rural phone and Internet access

A Federal Communications Commission proposal would increase how much companies subsidize telephone service in poor and rural areas.

The proposal aims to ensure that enough money is raised to finance the federal Universal Service Fund, which is projected to pay out $7.3 billion this year. "The money goes to subsidize phone service in high-cost areas of the country, to make phone service affordable for more than 7 million low-income consumers, to offer reduced telecommunications and Internet rates to rural health-care providers, and to subsidize those services for schools and libraries," writes Arshad Mohammed of The Washington Post.

Companies subsidize the fund with revenue they take in for interstate and international telephone calls, and many companies pass costs onto their customers. In addition to telephone and Internet providers raising their rates, voice over Internet protocol providers may have to follow suit, because they would contribute up to 64.9 percent of their revenue to the fund under the proposal, reports Mohammed. (Read more)

Treating illegal immigrants burdens rural hospitals with high costs

Spanish-speaking immigrants are flocking to some rural areas, bringing with them costly medical needs.

"While policy debates and demonstrations on immigration persist, and its effects on rural health care are being measured, demographers are trying to sort out why Hispanics are moving all across the country rather than settling in the southwestern United States, as they have for years," writes Hope Hanson of The Rural Monitor, a publication of the Rural Assistance Center. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 14 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, and that group is the fastest growing minority in both metro and nonmetro counties.

The migration of Hispanics into rural areas is creating needs for changes in health care, writes Hanson. Although Hispanics are starting to settle all across the U.S., hospitals near the Mexican border are incurring more substantial costs from immigrants than those facilities elsewhere. Many border hospitals treat immigrants who suffer injuries while attempting to enter the U.S., and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reimburses hospitals only for people taken into custody. According to the United States/Mexico Border Counties Coalition, in 2000, border hospitals reported a total loss of $189.6 million in providing uncompensated emergency care to illegals.

One possible solution to the financial drain on hospitals would be granting immediate amnesty to immigrants and making them eligible for federal assistance, reports Hanson. For now, though, federally funded health centers are alleviating some of the financial burden on rural hospitals, because they are able to help uninsured people, both new immigrants and citizens, without draining the hospitals. (Read more)

Should your rural hospital remain in critical-access status? Consider this

Many rural hospitals have remained in business by taking "critical access" status, which guves them larger goverment payments in return for limiting the numbers and stays of their patients. Only two hospitals have take the status and then given it up, and one provides an example for rural media to cite in questioning whether their hospital should remain in such status.

When Westlake Regional Hospital in Columbia, Ky., became a critical-access hospital, its bed count was cut from 77 to 25 and its average patient stayed less than 96 hours. "Last year, Westlake again was on the cutting edge – this time by becoming just the second critical-access hospital, out of more than 1,200 nationwide, to convert back to general, acute-care licensure. The other is an Indian Health Service hospital in Whiteriver, Ariz.," writes David A. Gross of the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health, in the latest issue of Kentucky's Rural Health Update.

The Kentucky hospital made its decisions based on "careful analysis" of financial concerns, collaboration with critical-access hospitals in adjoining Green and Casey counties, and ability to build its patient numbers. “It’s surprising,” Steve Hirsch, coordinator of the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program in the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, told Gross. To download the Rural Health Update with this story, click here. (The PDF file is large, 8 MB.)

Oil-shale development studied for Utah, Wyoming, Colorado; Kentucky?

High oil prices have renewed interest in oil shale, which can be mined and processed into synthetic crude oil. Oil shale is found in many places, including the Piceance Basin of northwestern Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Utah, and the knobs that border Kentucky's Bluegrass Region on the west, south and east.

The mother lode of oil shale is the Piceance Basin, of which Tom Kenworthy of USA Today writes, "There is no dispute that a thousand feet below the isolated ranch country here on Colorado's western slope lie almost unimaginable oil riches. It's locked in sedimentary rock — essentially immature oil that given a few million years under heat and pressure would produce pools of oil easy to extract. The Energy Department and private industry estimate that a trillion barrels are here in Colorado — about the same amount as the entire world's known reserves of conventional oil."

Tests are being conducted on ways to extract the oil that are more economical and environmentally friendly than previous attempts, which surged with oil prices in the late 1970s and early 1980s but were abandoned as not cost-effective. Various studies and skeptics have cited likely negative effects, such as large-scale land disruption and air and water pollution. Of particular concern in the Piceance Basin is a large population influx to a rural area, and a huge demand for water in a region where it is scarce. (Read more)

Companies to get tax breaks for offering broadband in rural Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill this week that will provide tax breaks for telecommunication companies that extend broadband Internet service into the state's rural areas.

The "Broadband Deployment Act" provides income and franchise credits to help companies buy the equipment needed to provide broadband service. Throughout the country, rural areas are often neglected by telecommunication companies because of the high costs of installing broadband equipment. The tax breaks are only available for companies that expand into areas currently without service.

The act is designed to spur economic development with the use of the Internet, reports the Pierce County Herald. (Read more)

Rural bridges seen as keys to past, road blocks for growth in Texas

Rural bridges are fading fast across Texas because of outdated designs, poor construction and claims that they impede development. But local historians want to preserve such bridges to fight urban sprawl.

"It's a story that's been playing out for years across Texas. When bridges are judged deficient or obsolete, they qualify for federal funding. When that money becomes available, the structures can be removed, repaired or left alone, depending on their condition or historical significance," writes Roy Appleton of The Dallas Morning News.

In recent years, Texas officials spent about $3.1 million and committed $5.3 million more to restoring historic bridges. More than 10,000 of the 49,000 bridges in Texas also qualify for federally funded replacement or rehabilitation. Instead of rural bridges being replaced, preservationists say the bridges should be left alone to halt the spread of development, reports Appleton. (Read more)

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Highway amendment may OK new billboards that violate local laws

An amendment to the Highway Beautification Act passed in the U.S. Senate earlier this month could give some states the power to allow advertisers to rebuild billboards destroyed by nature, even if replacement is forbidden by a local law.

"On May 4, the Senate attached the billboard amendment at the last minute to the controversial $109 billion emergency appropriations bill, which is designed primarily to fund wars in the Middle East and provide relief for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005," writes Daniel Jackson of the Press-Register in Mobile. "The House's version of the spending bill did not include the billboard amendment, Brinton said. A conference committee made up of members of both Congressional houses will soon negotiate the final form of the act before it is sent to the president." (Read more)

Thirteen states are seeking an exemption from the act including Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. A Tampa Tribune editorial sharply opposes the amendment: "It takes an act of nature to force landowners to update unsightly billboards, and now Congress wants to remove even that tiny requirement. . . . Like Joe Camel billboards, this proposal should be snuffed out. Allowing billboards to be built free of current design standards is not good public policy." (Read more)

Lack of animal vets in rural America threatens food security, says study

America's ability to combat any outbreaks of animal diseases could be significantly damaged by a projected shortfall in the number of food-animal veterinarians, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by Kansas State University's College of Business Administration, projects a major shortfall in the vets, which specialize in handling livestock, by 2016, reports The Associated Press. "Not having enough veterinarians in rural communities, out in the field, to do adequate disease surveillance threatens our food security," said Dr. Lyle Vogel, director of the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "For the first time, this study has scientifically documented there is a shortage and shown the shortage is going to get worse."

The study found that while the demand for food animal veterinarians could increase 12 to 13 percent over the next decade, four out of every 100 jobs will not be filled. The shortfall is expected to affect the U.S. Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which protects U.S. agricultural health, notes AP. (Read more)

Nation's elderly enjoy more in-home services, longer lives in rural areas

Elderly people are choosing to live in rural areas because they get more in-home services and are shown to live longer lives than their counterparts in urban locales, according to University of Missouri researchers.

"Elderly residents of rural areas often face greater challenges than their urban and suburban peers in gaining access to transportation and health care. Missouri ranks 13th in percentage of population over 65 with 1.5 percent of the state population older than 85, the 2000 Census said," writes Tom Long for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Despite the challenges, some studies have shown benefits to spending one's autumn years in the countryside, particularly for men who farm."

Many people over the age of 85 living in rural areas are residing in homes they have owned for long periods of time, said Daryl Hobbs, a rural sociologist at the university's Center on Aging. Also, many rural seniors own their own homes, notes Long. (Read more)

Three financial parties to net awards for investing in rural America

Three financial institutions with investments of $160 billion-plus in rural areas will get the first-ever "Making Rural America Work" awards as part of Stand Up for Rural America Day, at noon June 6, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

Receiving the first Making Rural America Work awards will be: Bank of America, which has invested $52 billion in rural markets since 1999; Fannie Mae, which since 2000 has invested $108 billion to help provide rural families with affordable homes; and The Federal Home Loan Banks, whose Affordable Housing Program has played a part in the development of 135,000 affordable homes for rural Americans.

"Stand Up for Rural America Day, sponsored by a national coalition of rural community development supporters, will also feature addresses by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Panel presentations will cover rural hurricane recovery on the Gulf Coast, the impact of rural community developers and changing rural demography," according to a press release from the Center for Rural Strategies. The press release is not available online.

Appalachian county wants natural-gas producers to pay more taxes

A real-estate tax dispute between an extractive industry and one Virginia county is the latest chapter in the long saga of Appalachian counties attempting to get extractive industries to share more of the tax burden.

Several Virginia counties have recently engaged in tax assessment battles with industries, because they want the companies to take on a bigger tax load. Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton uses a dispute between Equitable Resources and Wise County to lead into a story about ongoing regional negotiations to determine how true values of gas wells should be determined.

"But in years past, commissioners of revenue . . . have been assessing each well based on the average cost of drilling a well — a method still used by Wise and Buchanan [counties]. No depreciation was factored in for a well’s age, nor did commissioners consider the amount of gas each well produced in a year. The companies’ dissatisfaction over these assessment methods was about to erupt into litigation by CNX against Buchanan County in 2004," writes Deal. "Instead of seeing local governments and gas companies duke it out in court, (state Sen. Phillip) Puckett decided to bring representatives from both sides to the table, to see if an agreement could be reached." (Read more)

After 18 months of negotiations, southwest Virginia commissioners of revenue and representatives from the Virginia Oil and Gas Association decided new wells will be assessed individually, reports Deal.

Panel says 1898 Wilmington, N.C., race riot was only U.S. coup d'etat

"North Carolina should provide economic and social compensation to victims of Wilmington's 1898 racial violence, said a panel that also concluded the attack was not a riot but rather this country's only recorded coup d'etat," writes Mike Baker of The Associated Press.

Baker documents the event in further detail: "By killing and terrorizing blacks in Wilmington on Nov. 10, 1898, white supremacists were able to overthrow government officials in New Hanover County at gunpoint -- the only recorded violent government overthrow in U.S. history, according to the 500-page report, produced after six years of study. The plot ushered in a new anti-black political era for the Jim Crow South and ultimately cut black voting rights." (Read more)

Mark Schreiner of the Wilmington Star-News delved more into the recommendations with his coverage: "The commission recommended that several newspapers - including the Star-News - which reported on the event as it happened, to work with the North Carolina black press association to prepare a summary of the commission report, study the effects of 1898 and impact of Jim Crow on the state's black press and endow scholarships for black journalists." The paper's Executive Editor Tim Griggs said, "The Star-News will do everything it can to report on both the lessons learned from 1898 and the commission's findings. The paper will also work with other state media to address the commission's recommendations."

The commission's recommendations include establishing a new redevelopment authority in Wilmington and economic incentives to encourage minority business and homeownership in the Northside and Brooklyn, where the racial violence took place. The report also states that minority homeownership should be increased and maybe the government can "use its eminent domain power to acquire vacant commercial properties" for such purposes, reports Schreiner. (Read more)

Wisconsin governor's partial vetoes of rural jobs bill creates turmoil

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, enraged Republican lawmakers by using a partial veto on a bill meant to spur economic development in rural areas, and an attempt to override his veto failed Wednesday.

"The Legislature approved the 'Rural Jobz Act' in March requiring the Department of Commerce to set up 10 rural enterprise development zones where businesses who locate or expand would be eligible for a range of tax breaks. At the time, lawmakers from northern and western Wisconsin hailed the bill as a way to help their areas attract jobs. Doyle in April used his partial veto power to strip the word "rural" several times from the bill, to eliminate several tax incentives he said were too costly and to allow Milwaukee and Madison to compete for projects," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Wisconsin is one of the few states that allows governors to change the meaning of legislation by deleting words, characters and numbers. It can get very inventive. Doyle is running for re-election this year and may face a tough battle. The Rural Blog reported on Doyle signing off on rural bills yesterday and on his veto use in our May 4 edition. Click here for the archived items.

Virginia principal aims to make up for students' vandalism with work

In Roanoke County, Va., Hidden Valley High School Principal David Blevins is struggling to find a community service project for his Virginia students to perform during a trip to New York City on June 16.

"He came up with the idea for a one-day community service project after three Roanoke County students -- two from Cave Spring High and one from Hidden Valley -- were arrested in New York on May 7. The students were charged in connection with an incident in hich paint cans were thrown off the roof of the 20-story Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel in midtown Manhattan, slightly injuring a police officer and damaging some police vehicles parked in front of the 17th Precinct station," writes Jen McCaffery of The Roanoke Times.

Blevins has spent hours talking to people in New York and searching the Internet for a project that can be performed by 29 student volunteers, notes McCaffery. When Blevins contacted the Doubletree in New York, he was told having students clean might violate union constraints. The 17th Precinct liked the idea of students working there, but the station is under renovation. Blevins also suggested the students could wash police cars, but that would have to take place in the middle of busy 51st Street. (Read more)

KKK protest over graduation prayer sparks counter-protest in Kentucky

Prayer is a hot-button issue for Kentucky high schools holding graduations, and students in Shelby County held their own protest over the KKK coming out against a student who did not support the prayer idea.

"Although the student body has split over a Muslim student's complaint about traditional prayers originally scheduled for Friday's graduation, they united after a member of the KKK disparaged the student and the school's decision to have no official prayer. More than 40 seniors gathered across from the Shelby County courthouse to support diversity and togetherness," writes Cassondra Kirby of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Shelby County's Sentinel-News reported in a Tuesday night update, "Although reports are conflicting and there was confusion as to what time the event would take place Tuesday, police said only one member of the Ku Klux Klan arrived to protest outside Shelby County High School. A Louisville Klan unit was to protest the prayer issue at the school graduation." (Read more)

Even so, school Principal Gary Kidwell said he decided to make admission to the ceremony ticket only partially because of the prayer issue, but mainly to ensure that each student's family members could get into the Frankfort Convention Center, which has a capacity of about 5,000, Terri Miller of the Sentinel-News reported in Wednesday's paper. (Read more)

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

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



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