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INSTITUTE FOR RURAL JOURNALISM & COMMUNITY ISSUES



 The Rural Blog Archive: March 2006

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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Today is earlybird deadline for economic-coverage seminar

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky., on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members who sign up by today. Next week, the cost for non-members will be $60. To sign up, send an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu and put your check in the mail to the address at the bottom of this file. Make it out to the University of Kentucky for the Murray conference.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Michael Ramage of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Bad news for papers doesn't apply to community papers, experts say

Unlike some media analysts, Jock Lauterer does not see the McClatchy Co.'s purchase of Knight Ridder at a fire-sale price as a sign of the inevitable end of newspapers. Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says it points up the differences in business trends among daily, metropolitan papers and community newspapers.

In a column titled "Hold that Obituary!," Lauterer writes: "In addition to their 32 dailies, Knight Ridder includes 24 community newspapers (defined as weeklies, twice- and tri-weeklies). And McClatchy owns 17 community newspapers. Why is this important? Because, as you may have read, the newer, bigger McClatchy plans to shed 12 of its newly acquired papers. But here’s the news that doesn’t surprise me: The dozen papers on the block are all big dailies, while McClatchy plans to keep all of their so-called 'little' papers. And why is that? In the words of UNC-CH journalism associate professor Frank Fee, 'because they’re the ones making money.'"

Several elements of community journalism make the smaller newspapers a valuable asset, opines Lauterer. "Consider the comments of cowboy poet and columnist Baxter Black, who wrote the following in a column titled, 'Why I Love My Hometown Paper,' (a weekly in San Pedro, Ariz.): 'Small-town papers often thrive because CNN or The New York Times are not going to scoop them for coverage of the VFW Fish Fry or Bridge Construction Delay or boys and girls playing basketball, receiving scholarships, graduating, getting married or going off to war… I think of local papers as the last refuge of unfiltered America – a running documentary of the warts and triumphs of Real People – unfettered by the Spin and Bias and the Opaque Polish of today’s Homogenized Journalism. It is the difference between Homemade Bread and Pop-Tarts.'"

Lauterer's column appeared this week in the print edition of the Chapel Hill Herald. It is not available on the newspaper's site, but it is posted on the Reports section of this site. To read it, click here.

Carsey Institute: Rural Northeast has highest level of job displacement

The rural Northeast posted the nation's highest rate of job displacement from 1997 to 2003, with low-skill workers at the highest risk of losing jobs for good, according to a report released Thursday by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

"Increases in productivity and international competition are changing the nature of work in rural America. Job losses are mounting in communities where low-skill employment has dominated the economy. From 1997 through 2003, over 1.5 million rural workers lost their jobs due to fundamental changes in industries that have historically been the mainstay of the rural economy," Amy Glasmeier and Priscilla Salant write in the report. "In rural America, workers in manufacturing were hardest hit — from 2001 to 2003, one in ten displaced workers were employed in manufacturing," .

The loss of rural jobs was particularly high in the manufacturing sector, and the rate of loss was higher in the rural Northeast than in the rest of rural America, according to the report, titled "Low-Skill Workers in Rural America Face Permanent Job Loss." The report, which analyzed job-displacement data from 1997 to 2003, found that rural job loss have been fueled by automation and cheaper labor overseas.

Two closed paper mills, one in Old Town, Me., and the other in Berlin, N.H., are examples of the situation in the Northeast, the institute said. The report relies on data collected in the Displaced Workers Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every other year, and it reviews how job loss affects families. "Job loss has devastating impacts on families and children. The lack of security that accompanies displacement creates severe stress on the previously employed individual," write Glasmeier and Salant. Click here for the full report.

Montana close to building nation's first methamphetamine-only prisons

Prisons designed solely for methamphetamine treatment are on the way for the Montana cities of Boulder and Lewistown, and they would save the state thousands of dollars.

A Montana Department of Corrections selection committee finished reviewing proposals Thursday, and gave highest scores to a 40-bed women's prison in Boulder and an 80-bed men's facility in Lewistown, reports Sarah Cooke of The Associated Press. Corrections Director Bill Slaughter is expected to sign off on the prisons next Tuesday, which have been called for to help Montana's growing meth problem.

The 2005 Legislature approved a bill to allow corrections officials to contract for some kind of meth-treatment prison. "The Boulder prison, if approved, would cost about $1.8 million a year to operate at $125 per inmate, while the Lewistown men's facility would cost about $3.4 million annually, or $118 an inmate, department figures show," writes Cooke.

The lockdown prisons are designed for repeat offenders, who would spend nine months in treatment followed by six months in a prerelease center with counseling continuing afterward. The state will save $22,831 to house male offenders and about $20,000 going the treatment route for women offenders, reports Cooke. (Read more)

Farmers invest $34.2 million to build biodiesel plant in southwest Mo.

A biodiesel plant in southwest Missouri is closer to construction, with $34.2 million in pledged support from more than 1,000 area farmers.

Nevada, Mo.-based Prairie Pride Inc. plans to start building the plant later this year in Vernon County, and the company hopes to turn about 21 million bushels of soybeans into 30 million gallons of biodiesel per year beginning in the fall of 2007, reports Chadwick Watters of The Joplin Globe. Biodiesel can be used as a 20 percent blend in any diesel engine, and engines used in mining and shipping can use it straight.

The plant will house a soybean processing plant and a biodiesel refinery to convert soybean oil to the petroleum alternative. Prairie Pride officials hope to generate 467,000 tons of soybean meal each year at the plant, which is a high-protein animal feed currently worth more than biodiesel, notes Watters.

The project will cost at least $85.5 million. Prairie Pride still must approve a lending institution as a senior lender to help provide much of the capital for the project. In addition to farmers' pledges, the company has funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it is applying for federal and state grants, writes Watters. (Read more)

Missouri county looks at ethanol plant; would bring state total to six

Franklin County, Missouri, is eyeing an ethanol plant to create jobs, help the economy and lower the nation's dependence on foreign oil, reports Sarah Wienke of the weekly Missourian in Washington.

Missouri already houses three farmer-owned ethanol plants in the northern cities of Macon, Craig and Malta Bend, with plants being built nearby in Laddonia and St. Joseph. A bill in the state legislature would require that nearly all gasoline sold in the state contain 10 percent ethanol, writes Wienke.

A recent University of Missouri study reports that the state's ethanol production should reach 350 million gallons annually by the end of 2008. That would create 5,613 jobs, bring in $63 million in tax revenue and pump $726 million into the state's economy, according to the study. (Click here for the study)

An $80 million ethanol plant in Franklin County would employ 40 to 50 people, Jamey Cline, director of value enhancement for the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said a recent public forum. The plant's presence would raise the demand for restaurants, convenience stores and hotels, he said. (Read more)

School district uses signing bonuses to lure teachers to rural S.C.

A school district in rural Lancaster County, South Carolina, is going to start giving a $1,500 signing bonus for all newly hired English, math, science and special education teachers, and an additional $500 signing bonus for first-year teachers to buy supplies and materials, reports the weekly Fort Mill Times.

The district's decision comes when their a national teacher shortage, which has been shown to be even greater in rural areas where teacher salaries are sometimes lower than in urban areas. School board Chairwoman Lisa Bridges saw the bonuses as a way to help rural districts compete with their urban counterparts, writes reporter Jenny Overman.

In the nearby Fort Mill School District, Assistant Superintendent Chuck Epps said he expects as the teacher shortage grows across the nation, many districts will opt for signing bonuses. "School districts are going to have to look at their incentive packages," Epps told Overman. (Read more)

Kentucky weekly looks outside region to opine on state government

We believe that non-daily newspapers and local broadcast stations should pay attention to state issues, and write about them from time to time. After all, local residents vote for state officials, and are affected by state policy decisions. And circulation statistics suggest that most Americans do not read any of the metropolitan papers that have reporters in state capitals.

The twice-weekly Big Sandy News, which in based in Louisa, Ky., and has reporters in four Eastern Kentucky counties, recently editorialized on closed meeting of legislators working out the state budget in the faraway state capital of Frankfort.

"We don't like the idea of government entities going behind closed doors to discuss the public's business," Tony Fyffe opined. "While the result of their negotiations will eventually be known publicly, what price did citizens pay to get the compromise budget?"

Unfortunately, Fyffe adds, constituents will not get an answer. He tells his readers that open meetings are important because their "government representatives should not be allowed to compromise (your) money in exchange for political favors, and who's to say that's not what happens during these private meetings?"

Rural Calendar

Today: Registration deadline for Illinois investigative reporting event

The application deadline for the second Illinois-Knight Investigative Reporting Fellowships for Community
Journalists, a workshop sponsored by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be held on June 5-7, has been extended to March 31.

This workshop is open to a dozen reporters, editors or publishers from Illinois newspapers with circulation of approximately 75,000 or below. Workshop participants will get tips on computer-assisted reporting and other investigative techniques to find and develop stories. The workshop will focus on how to use local, state and federal public records and other sources for stories. Leading the workshop will be William Gaines, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The Chicago Tribune and now the Knight Professor for investigative/enterprise journalism at Illinois.

Interested candidates should send a letter outlining their interest and professional background with a letter of nomination from a supervising editor or publisher. The workshop will cover room and food expenses for all participants. Letters should be sent to: Rich Martin, Associate Professor, Illinois-Knight Fellowship, Department of Journalism, Gregory Hall, MC-462, 810 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

Today: Deadline to enter National Newspaper Association contest

The deadline for mailing entries to the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest is Friday, March 31. Rules and entry forms can be found at www.nna.org.

"This is the only national contest for community newspapers," said NNA President Jerry Reppert, publisher of The Gazette-Democrat in Anna, Ill. "It is the best way for publishers and managers to show their appreciation for the hard work of their staffs. Give them the recognition they deserve, and show other newspapers just how good your publication can be."

For more information on the contest, contact Sara Dickson at (573) 882-5800 or saradickson@nna.org.

Tomorrow: Professional Communicators seminar in Bowling Green, Ky.

Sessions on photojournalism, investigative reporting and the First Amendment make up a one-day workshop at Western Kentucky University, sponsored by Kentucky Professional Communicators.

Speakers will be Jeanie Adams-Smith, an assistant professor of photojournalism at WKU and award-winning photographer, on "The Future of Storytelling for Photojournalists;" Gordon “Mac” McKerral, associate professor and news-editorial sequence coordinator in the School of Journalism and Broadcasting and former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, on "Analyzing an Investigative Project;" and Gene Policinski, executive director of The First Amendment Center, on "The First Amendment: Who Needs It?"

The program begins at 9 a.m. with registration, includes lunch, and will end in mid-afternoon. The cost is $25 per person in advance, and $30 if paid at the door. Pre-registration is required by e-mailing Cathie Shaffer of KPC at mizcathie@yahoo.com or calling (606) 473-9851 weekdays.

April 4-6: Fabrication, plagiarism and sources on Middle Tenn. agenda

The John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University will celebrate its 20th anniversary April 4-6 with “Self-Inflicted Wounds—Fact and Fiction in Journalism: Fabrication, Plagiarism and Confidential Sources,” all free and open to the public.

The conference, hosted by the College of Mass Communication, “is dedicated to the study of the problem of credibility that can be raised by three different sources,” said Dr. Edward Kimbrell, journalism professor, media critic and interim director of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence.

Former Vice President Al Gore is set to kick off the conference at 12:30 p.m. April 4 in the Tennessee Room of MTSU’s James Union Building with the opening address, “Media and Democracy.” Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean and a nationally respected advocate for First Amendment rights, will follow at 2:40 p.m. with the keynote address, “The Self-Inflicted Wounds,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall of MTSU’s Business and Aerospace Building.

A panel discussion, “Fabrication and Plagiarism,” follows at 3:20 p.m. Dr. Jane Kirtley, director of The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, will moderate and be joined by Jonathan Landman of The New York Times; Bill Hilliard, former editor of The Oregonian; USA Today Executive Editor John Hillkirk; and Joann Byrd, retired editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., attorney Michael Missal of the Washington, D.C., firm Missal, Kirkpatrick and Lockhart will discuss the independent review report of a “60 Minutes” 2004 story on President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. The report will be followed by a 6:30 p.m. reception and a 7:30 p.m. showing of the Oscar-nominated film “Good Night, and Good Luck” in the State Farm Lecture Hall.

Wednesday, April 5, begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Absence of Malice” in the Keathley University Center Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Rush to Judgment? The CBS Crisis,” a conversation with former CBS producer Mary Mapes and Wallace Westfeldt, who was executive producer of “NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall. At 3:30 p.m. in the same hall, Dr. Carol Pardun, director of MTSU’s School of Journalism, will moderate a panel discussion, “The Ethical Issues,” featuring journalism educators Dr. Tom Cooper of Emerson University, Dr. Renita Coleman of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Lee Wilkins of the University of Missouri. The movie “All the President’s Men” will be shown at 7 p.m.

The conference’s final day begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Capote” in the KUC Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Confidential Sources,” a panel discussion in the BAS State Farm Lecture Hall moderated by John Mashek, retired national political correspondent for The Boston Globe and a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Panelists include Earl Caldwell, writer-in-residence at the Scripps-Howard School of Journalism and Communications; Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation; Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Lee Levine, attorney for Wen Ho Lee, the ex-NASA scientist accused of passing weapons secrets to China.

At 4:30 p.m. on April 6, Kimbrell will moderate the conference’s final discussion, “In Cold Blood Revisited.” University of Nebraska at Lincoln journalism professor Susan Gage and three former students, Melissa Lee, Patrick Smith and Crystal Wiebe, will talk about their Pulitzer-nominated eight-part series on In Cold Blood that was published in the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.

April 7-8: Kentucky Watershed Watch conference for Big Sandy River

Details of this conference are forthcoming. For more information, and to register on-line, go to
http://kywater.org/watch/ and click on your watershed of choice on the map.

Kentucky Watershed Watch has more than 3,000 members who give their time in an effort to improve waterways through a coordinated campaign of water quality monitoring, skills development and advocacy. More than 300 organizations are contributing to the effort by providing volunteers, staff, technical assistance, instruction and financial resources, and more than 100 leaders organized in eight local Watershed steering committees carry out the work of the project.

April 7-8: Conference to debate ethics of blogs and online journalism

A conference focused on the ethics of blogging and online journalism will be held April 7 – 8 at Ohio University in Athens to start a dialog among professional reporters, students and academics who analyze professional trends.

Keynote speakers will be Dan Gillmor, a reporter with the Financial Times who encourages blogs as "citizen's media," and Clifford Christians, a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois-Urbana who advocates a need for truthfulness in online journalism. The conference will only consider political blogs, although the issues discussed can be applied to all kinds.

The conference is sponsored by Ohio University's Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. It includes speakers and panel discussions that are open to the public. For more information, go to http://news.research.ohiou.edu/news/index.php?item=271.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

27 percent of public schools get failing grade in No Child Left Behind

More than a quarter of public schools in the U.S. are failing the No Child Left Behind law's requirement for "adequate yearly progress," according to preliminary state-by-state statistics reported to the Department of Education and obtained by several news organizations.

At least 24,470 schools, 27 percent of the national total, did not meet the requirement in 2004-2005. Such schools face penalties, including the eventual replacement of staff. "States are required to show improvement in student test scores in reading and math. If they do not do so for two consecutive years, individual schools must let students transfer to another school. After a third year, schools must pay for tutoring for students from low-income families," writes Paul Basken of Bloomberg News.

Florida ranked last with 72 percent of its schools not showing adequate improvement, while Oklahoma led, according to the data provided to Bloomberg. States just below Oklahoma included Rhode Island (5 percent), Iowa (6 percent), Montana (7 percent) and New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin (each at 8 percent). Just above Florida with the most failing schools was Hawaii (66 percent), Washington, D.C., (60 percent), Nevada (56 percent) and New Mexico (53 percent).

One criticisms levied at No Child Left Behind is that federal funding is inadequate for tutoring. Evidence also exists that states might manipulate their reports, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based research group. "He cited Oklahoma, where the percentage of failing schools dropped to 3 percent from 25 percent a year earlier," reports Basken. (Read more) To see how No Child Left Behind is faring in your state, click here.

Tomorrow is earlybird deadline for economic-development seminar

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky., on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members who sign up by tomorrow. Next week, the cost for non-members will be $60.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Weekly editor offers useful perspective in a county where zoning is new

We've seen no statistics from the American Planning Association on this, but our guess is that most rural counties the United States do not have zoning regulations. Land-use planning is one of the more controversial topics a community and its journalists can tackle, because feelings against government regulation of private property run deep and strong in rural areas, where many folks go to be left alone.

The subject is so controversial that many local news outlets shy away from it. Not the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., and its editor, Brad Martin. The paper supports the county zoning ordinance that went into effect Jan. 15, and it took the opportunity in its March 20 edition to show "Here's how zoning works," as its editorial headline put it. (It could have said "Zoning works, and here's how," but that might have turned off folks who are still trying to make up their minds about the subject.)

The news peg for the editorial was a developer's dropping of plans to expand a mobile-home park after a hearing-room full of "neighbors voiced extreme displeasure with what had gone on before he became involved," as the Times' front-page story reported. The story also noted, usefully, that the park had been established "without government involvement or public comment" because it preceded zoning.

But with zoning, expansion of the park required an exception, which required public notice and a hearing, the editorial explained. "I think it's called participatory democracy," Martin opined. "In the United States, it's how we're supposed to do things. That's not to say that everyone will be happy with the outcome of every zoning hearing. It is to say that zoning in Hickman County is giving neighbors . . . a reasonable way to have a say in what goes on in their communities."

Martin called zoning foes the "deadwood element in our county," which has a population of 22,295. The foes were represented on the editorial page by a letter from an anti-zoning county commissioner who wrote, "Zoning is just another way that government controls the people . . . our poorest people." Sounds to us like Hickman County, Tenn., is a place where the paper knows how to report the news, offer useful perspective and keep open a forum for those with other views. (We just wish the paper was online.)

USDA invests $5.7 million in rural development to save, create 1,600 jobs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making economic-development investments of $5.7 million that it says will save or create 1,600 rural jobs in eight states.

Secretary Mike Johanns made the announcement yesterday, adding to the $63 billion USDA says it has already invested in creating or saving 1.1 million jobs. "The loans are designed to finance business facilities and community development projects in rural areas by granting loans to intermediaries who re-lend the funds locally to support businesses or community development. Loan recipients must use the funds to establish new businesses, expand existing businesses, create employment opportunities, save jobs or complete community development projects," writes Lane McConnell of Brownfield Network, an agriculture news service. (Read more)

States with groups receiving money include Arkansas ($750,000), Iowa ($600,000), Idaho ($330,000), Kentucky ($750,000), Missouri ($500,000), North Carolina ($750,000), New Hampshire ($750,000) and Oregon ($500,000). The Pacific Islands Development Bank in the Western Pacific will also receive $750,000, according to a USDA press release. Click here to read the press release.

One Vermont newspaper tries to break AP ties over bureau chief's firing

At least one Vermont newspaper is asking The Associated Press how to drop out of the news cooperative, in protest of the firing of the state's veteran statehouse bureau chief Christopher Graff.

In a letter to AP President and CEO Tom Curley, Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of the St. Albans Messenger, wrote, "Mr. Graff is an institution in Vermont. For almost 30 years he has been one of the guiding forces of high-quality journalism in our state. His integrity is above reproach. His knowledge of Vermont is legendary. His daily contributions and his management of the Associated Press in Vermont have been your agency's mainstay here. He is the primary reason you have a business in Vermont -- a business we pay for as a cooperative. Without him, Vermont journalism has a weaker report, something to which I strenuously object."

The letter asked about ways to end the newspaper's membership with AP. Another Vermont daily, The Brattleboro Reformer, published an editorial saying, "The AP should be embarrassed by their decision." (Note the veddy British plural pronoun for an organization.)

As for Graff's dismissal, Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp writes, "Speculation has arisen that his dismissal had something to do with a column written by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy earlier this year that supported the newspaper industry's 'Sunshine Week.' AP reportedly withdrew the column from circulation after Graff had distributed it among Vermont AP members." (Read more)

Oklahoma bill would increase rural fire funds; House to vote next week

Oklahoma senators have already passed a bill to increase funds for rural firefighters and the state House is expected to vote on the matter next week, as the firefighters are still trying to contain wildfires.

The measure would end months of wrangling and increase operational grant funds by 45 percent ($2,220) for local fire departments, bringing the total grant for each department to $5,000.

"Our firefighters are true Oklahoma heroes and deserve to have the equipment to protect them when saving precious lives and valuable property. The past four months have shown how important our rural fire departments are and we as legislators must make a solid commitment to tell these volunteers that we stand behind them and appreciate their service," writes state Rep. Ben Sherrer in a column for the Pryor Daily Times. (Read more)

Bids made on 12 Knight Ridder newspapers; speculation abounds

The McClatchy Company is now reviewing bids for the 12 Knight Ridder papers it plans to sell on the same day it buys the 32-paper chain.

"During the last decade or so, newspapers have been 'clustering,' that is, buying papers near one another, allowing them to save money by combining their advertising sales and printing operations and, in some cases, their news divisions. Analysts said that clustering was a major motivation for many of the newspaper companies that are now interested in pieces of Knight Ridder," writes Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times.

Speculation includes MediaNews Group going after the The San Jose Mercury News (circulation 263,067), The Contra Costa Times (182,647) and The Herald (33,766) of Monterey County, all in California; Gannett Co., the nation's biggest newspaper publisher, seeking The News-Sentinel (36,183) in Fort Wayne, Ind., and The Akron Beacon Journal (135,002); Lee Enterprises gunning for The Pioneer Press (191,264) in St. Paul, Minn., and the neighboring Duluth News Tribune (46,460), the Aberdeen American News (16,506) in South Dakota and the Grand Forks Herald (31,524) in North Dakota; and Forum Communications looking at Aberdeen, Fort Wayne and Duluth.

Other papers up for sale are The Philadelphia Inquirer (circ. 368,883) and its afternoon tabloid sister, The Daily News (135,956) and The Times Leader (42,585) in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. McClatchy agreed to buy Knight Ridder on March 13 for about $4.5 billion, and the estimated total value of the 12 papers is more than $1.4 billion, reports Seelye. (Read more) To read more from E&P, click here.

Rural Calendar

Tomorrow: Registration deadline for Illinois investigative reporting event

The application deadline for the second Illinois-Knight Investigative Reporting Fellowships for Community
Journalists, a workshop sponsored by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be held on June 5-7, has been extended to March 31.

This workshop is open to a dozen reporters, editors or publishers from Illinois newspapers with circulation of approximately 75,000 or below. Workshop participants will get tips on computer-assisted reporting and other investigative techniques to find and develop stories. The workshop will focus on how to use local, state and federal public records and other sources for stories. Leading the workshop will be William Gaines, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The Chicago Tribune and now the Knight Professor for investigative/enterprise journalism at Illinois.

Interested candidates should send a letter outlining their interest and professional background with a letter of nomination from a supervising editor or publisher. The workshop will cover room and food expenses for all participants. Letters should be sent to: Rich Martin, Associate Professor, Illinois-Knight Fellowship, Department of Journalism, Gregory Hall, MC-462, 810 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

Tomorrow: Deadline to enter National Newspaper Association contest

The deadline for mailing entries to the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest is Friday, March 31. Rules and entry forms can be found at www.nna.org.

"This is the only national contest for community newspapers," said NNA President Jerry Reppert, publisher of The Gazette-Democrat in Anna, Ill. "It is the best way for publishers and managers to show their appreciation for the hard work of their staffs. Give them the recognition they deserve, and show other newspapers just how good your publication can be."

For more information on the contest, contact Sara Dickson at (573) 882-5800 or saradickson@nna.org.

Saturday: Ky. Professional Communicators seminar in Bowling Green, Ky.

Sessions on photojournalism, investigative reporting and the First Amendment make up a one-day workshop at Western Kentucky University, sponsored by Kentucky Professional Communicators.

Speakers will be Jeanie Adams-Smith, an assistant professor of photojournalism at WKU and award-winning photographer, on "The Future of Storytelling for Photojournalists;" Gordon “Mac” McKerral, associate professor and news-editorial sequence coordinator in the School of Journalism and Broadcasting and former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, on "Analyzing an Investigative Project;" and Gene Policinski, executive director of The First Amendment Center, on "The First Amendment: Who Needs It?"

The program begins at 9 a.m. with registration, includes lunch, and will end in mid-afternoon. The cost is $25 per person in advance, and $30 if paid at the door. Pre-registration is required by e-mailing Cathie Shaffer of KPC at mizcathie@yahoo.com or calling (606) 473-9851 weekdays.

April 4-6: Fabrication, plagiarism and sources on Middle Tenn. agenda

The John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University will celebrate its 20th anniversary April 4-6 with “Self-Inflicted Wounds—Fact and Fiction in Journalism: Fabrication, Plagiarism and Confidential Sources,” all free and open to the public.

The conference, hosted by the College of Mass Communication, “is dedicated to the study of the problem of credibility that can be raised by three different sources,” said Dr. Edward Kimbrell, journalism professor, media critic and interim director of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence.

Former Vice President Al Gore is set to kick off the conference at 12:30 p.m. April 4 in the Tennessee Room of MTSU’s James Union Building with the opening address, “Media and Democracy.” Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean and a nationally respected advocate for First Amendment rights, will follow at 2:40 p.m. with the keynote address, “The Self-Inflicted Wounds,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall of MTSU’s Business and Aerospace Building.

A panel discussion, “Fabrication and Plagiarism,” follows at 3:20 p.m. Dr. Jane Kirtley, director of The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, will moderate and be joined by Jonathan Landman of The New York Times; Bill Hilliard, former editor of The Oregonian; USA Today Executive Editor John Hillkirk; and Joann Byrd, retired editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., attorney Michael Missal of the Washington, D.C., firm Missal, Kirkpatrick and Lockhart will discuss the independent review report of a “60 Minutes” 2004 story on President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. The report will be followed by a 6:30 p.m. reception and a 7:30 p.m. showing of the Oscar-nominated film “Good Night, and Good Luck” in the State Farm Lecture Hall.

Wednesday, April 5, begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Absence of Malice” in the Keathley University Center Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Rush to Judgment? The CBS Crisis,” a conversation with former CBS producer Mary Mapes and Wallace Westfeldt, who was executive producer of “NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall. At 3:30 p.m. in the same hall, Dr. Carol Pardun, director of MTSU’s School of Journalism, will moderate a panel discussion, “The Ethical Issues,” featuring journalism educators Dr. Tom Cooper of Emerson University, Dr. Renita Coleman of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Lee Wilkins of the University of Missouri. The movie “All the President’s Men” will be shown at 7 p.m.

The conference’s final day begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Capote” in the KUC Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Confidential Sources,” a panel discussion in the BAS State Farm Lecture Hall moderated by John Mashek, retired national political correspondent for The Boston Globe and a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Panelists include Earl Caldwell, writer-in-residence at the Scripps-Howard School of Journalism and Communications; Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation; Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Lee Levine, attorney for Wen Ho Lee, the ex-NASA scientist accused of passing weapons secrets to China.

At 4:30 p.m. on April 6, Kimbrell will moderate the conference’s final discussion, “In Cold Blood Revisited.” University of Nebraska at Lincoln journalism professor Susan Gage and three former students, Melissa Lee, Patrick Smith and Crystal Wiebe, will talk about their Pulitzer-nominated eight-part series on In Cold Blood that was published in the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Closer coverage of immigration can raise ethical issues for journalists

Illegal immigration is becoming newsworthy in more rural areas, especially with the discussion in Congress about changing immigration laws and mass protests in response. Journalists who cover the issue need to interview undocumented immigrants and think about the ethical issues involved.

Take the case of Ginnie Graham, a reporter for the Tulsa World. Graham wrote a story in March 2005 about a tax service that caters to both legal and illegal immigrants, hoping to shed light on their contributions to state and national tax rolls, writes Lucy Hood for American Journalism Review. Graham's main source was Gloria Rubio, who was active in the community, an avid taxpayer and an undocumented immigrant born in Mexico. Rubio had no problem with her name or picture appearing in the newspaper, and about a month after publication, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested her and began deportation proceedings.

"I still have a hard time with that case," Graham says. "It obviously didn't turn out the way I wanted." Her story illustrates a dilemma faced by more and more rural newsrooms. According to 2004 Census Bureau estimates, the U.S. has 34.3 million immigrants, and they are causing change throughout American society, "everything from the way teachers teach to the way preachers preach," Hood writes. And, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 30 percent are here illegally, and many are moving into rural areas.

"Antiterrorism legislation has brought immigrants under greater scrutiny, and anti-terrorism sentiment has spilled over into anti-immigrant sentiment, making immigrant sources – especially the undocumented – more leery about appearing in the press," Hood writes. In summary, the issues surrounding immigration are becoming more important and more newsworthy, but immigrants are less willing to talk to the press. That leaves journalists having to decide if they will conceal immigrants' identities, and if so, to what extent?

Rafael Olmeda, assistant city editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, told Hood, "I don't advocate running out there, getting names, addresses and a picture, along with a map about how to get there for the ICE, all of which would be truth but not journalistically necessary." But, he added, "It's not our job to protect the world. . . . If you're here illegally, you're running the risk. As a journalist, I am not your risk. Your risk is what you've done." (Read more)

Two bilingual newspapers reach out to Minnesota's Hispanic population

Rural Minnesota has a growing Hispanic population, and two bilingual newspapers -- El Vecino and La Prensa -- have cropped up to serve it since December.

"In El Vecino's first two issues, the national debate over immigration has gotten a lot of attention. But so has local news from Long Prairie, Worthington and St. James, smaller Minnesota cities with significant Hispanic populations," reports Tim Post of Minnesota Public Radio, adding that El Vecino is a monthly publication based in St. Cloud.

Marjorie Fish, a professor of mass communications at St. Cloud State University, said more bilingual publications would benefit the state, especially those residents who wants to stay informed about the world "Being able to get news and information in your own language is particularly important for people who may not yet be fluent in English or who may not wish to be fluent in English who may want to as much as possible retain their own language and culture," Fish told Post.

Fish thinks bilingual newspapers are a good tool for teaching the state's growing Hispanic population, which a a Census Bureau estimate puts at nearly 200,000 people. El Vecino's lone competitor in the state's bilingual newspaper market is the Minneapolis-based weekly La Prensa, which includes English summaries of every story it prints in Spanish, reports Post. (Read more)

International Paper to sell 218,000 acres in South, save sensitive areas

International Paper Co. will sell 218,000 acres of forest in 10 Southern states, but continue to harvest timber from much of the land, in what The Nature Conservancy calls "the single largest private land conservation sale in the history of the South, and one of the largest in the nation," and "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect ecologically important forests, rivers and streams in 10 Southern states."

The buyers are the Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund, purchaser of about 23,000 acres in Florida and 77,000 in North Carolina. The two groups will jointly buy about 39,000 acres in South Carolina. Other states involved are Alabama (14,119 acres), Arkansas (8,123), Georgia (24,120), Louisiana (440), Mississippi (110), Tennessee (2,569) and Virginia (20,830).

International Paper will get about $300 million "at closing, which is expected to occur in the next several months," The Nature Conservancy said in a press release. "The tracts included in the sale are some of International Paper’s most ecologically important lands. The majority of the land will remain working forests. Under the terms of the agreement, timber will be sustainably harvested from some tracts and a set amount of timber volume will be supplied to International Paper for local production. Sensitive areas will continue to be set aside from harvesting activities."

Most of the tracts are on rivers and estuaries. The largest concentration is in the watersheds of the Roanoke, Chowan and Upper Tar rivers in northeastern North Carolina, and nearby areas of the Blackwater, Meherrin and Nottoway River watershed in southeastern Virginia. The most inland tract is on Dry Branch near Hohenwald, Tenn. The Nature Conservancy has state-by-state press releases with maps of the tracts. For a regional map of all tracts, click here.

Big cig firms want to cut payments to states; could hurt farm programs

Leading cigarette manufacturers want to reduce their payments to states under the 1998 tobacco settlement. The companies cite an independent consultant's report, released yesterday, that they have lost market share since the deal, and they argue that states have failed to make smaller, non-participating cigarette makers pay into a fund that would cover losses in future litigation.

Under the settlement, which resolved states' lawsuits to recover their cost of treating smoking-related illnesses, if those conditions are met, the companies get to reduce their payments. In the top three tobacco-producing states -- North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia -- that would reduce money that the states have set aside for development of their agricultural economies.

"The big companies say they are entitled to a reduction of $1.2 billion of the $6.5 billion they are scheduled to pay as the next installment . . . on April 17," notes Michael Janofsky in The New York Times. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, co-chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General tobacco committee, told the Times, "We believe the states have diligently enforced their statutes. . . . We are negotiating with the companies to make sure they pay the full amount." (Read more)

Kentucky "received $112.2 million in the last fiscal year. That is expected to drop to $91.3 million this fiscal year and $88 million for 2006-07, according to budget projections. The 2007-08 payment is projected to increase to $94 million," reports The Courier-Journal's Greg Hall. (Read more) The reductions are based on the participating companies' declining share of the cigarette market.

N.C.'s tobacco-settlement investment in biotechnology yet to pay off

Kentucky and North Carolina each dedicated half their tobacco-settlement money to agriculture. North Carolina, which is investing the money and spending only the earnings, has put much of them in biotechnology. But after putting $14 million of a planned $30 million investment into a Swiss firm, HBM BioCapital, "the box score reads goose eggs: zero investments in North Carolina companies, zero jobs created in the state," reports Lee Weisbecker of the Triangle Business Journal.

"What's more, the venture group's holding company, ... HBM BioVentures, recently announced it was tapped out, essentially 'fully invested,' with only enough cash on hand to meet existing funding commitments through June," Weisbecker reported. Officials of the companies and the Golden Leaf Foundation, which manages the settlement money, said the remaining $16 million could be invested in North Carolina.

The foundation's strategy for the investment was "that the firm's global expertise and international cash-leveraging savvy would pump dollars into later-stage North Carolina biosciences companies," Weisbecker wrote. But none of the "later-stage biosciences companies in the state . . . has passed the muster of either HBM or Durham-based Hatteras BioCapital, the four-person investment advisory group created at the time of the Golden Leaf/HBM deal to scout out North Carolina deals."

HBM CEO Andreas Wicki told the Triangle Business Journal, which is based in Raleigh, that local investment will eventually occur. The company has invested about a third of its $140 million capital in six companies. Three are in the U.S. and all are based in California. (Read more)

California's national parks being threatened by highways, other projects

"As the state's growing population continues to devour open space, the California state park system increasingly is fighting efforts to build railways, roads, utility lines and commercial ventures that threaten its scenic preserves and historical sites," reports Dan Weikel of The Los Angeles Times.

Land set aside for the "health, inspiration and education" of California's residents is being sought after by transportation agencies, local governments, utilities and other interests that parks as easy targets for development, writes Weikel. Recently, development proposals in such areas have multiplied, and environmentalists have expressed concerns about parkland soon housing noise, dust, erosion and water pollution, among other threats.

A huge battle between preservation and development is occurring at San Onofre State Beach, a popular 2,100-acre park in north San Diego County that is home to endangered species and Native American archeological sites. The state attorney general and environmentalists have filed a lawsuit to halt the proposed $915-million Foothill South tollway from cutting through the northern section of the park. The six-lane highway project has eyed parkland because that would not require the condemnation of several hundred homes and businesses, reports Weikel. (Read more)

Innovative community news projects draw citizens toward newspapers

“Citizens who want more news are going out and making some of their own,” with grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, writes foundation Program Officer Denise Tom.

One example is the twice-weekly Hartsville (S.C.) Messenger, which created hartsvilletoday.com, a Web site where readers can share their own stories and discuss issues. “The folks who write the stories call themselves 'contributors' but not 'citizen journalists',” Tom writes.

“Many people in our communities want a say in how we serve them as journalists, but do not necessarily want to be journalists themselves, though they may have stories to tell or informed opinions to express,” said Doug Fisher, a former news editor for The Associated Press who works with the Messenger in his role as a professor at the University of South Carolina.

The Forum, in Deerfield, N.H., “had to overcome the bias that this was just a little newspaper put out by a bunch of liberal cranks,” said Maureen Mann, a retired teacher who runs it. “But now we’re being seen as a neutral voice, a real newspaper that presents all points of view.”

Knight grantees and others can get tips for building Web sites, features and traffic at www.j-learining.org. Tom's story about the New Voices program is on the cover of News@Knight, the foundation's quarterly journalism newsletter. To download a PDF version, click here.

Grant to subsidize two-day API ethics seminars for newspaper staffs

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation of Oklahoma City has awarded the American Press Institute $75,000 grant from to provide a two-day ethics seminar, "Our Readers Are Watching," to newsrooms across the country at a reduced cost.

API says in a release that the seminars "will include sessions on whether, when and how newsroom staffs should use confidential sources, and what editors can do to protect a newspaper's integrity from dishonest sources and dishonest or careless reporters." The content can be customized, and "additional topics include, but are not limited to, accuracy, attribution, cheating, datelines, diversity, fabrication, ideology, online edition standards, plagiarism, tape recording, undercover reporting, verification and victims."

The seminars will be led by Steve Buttry, API’s director of tailored programs. “We’ve seen too many instances in recent years where the actions of fraudulent or careless journalists have harmed the reputations of distinguished newspapers and the many honest journalists who work there,” he said. “Our Readers Are Watching will help clarify and teach a newsroom’s ethical standards to the staff. We will help honest journalists consider difficult situations and improve their ethical decision-making skills. And we will help raise the level of vigilance to protect against any fraudulent journalists still working in newsrooms.”

The grant will pay most of the cost. Newspapers will pay for the lodging and meals of discussion leaders, for photocopies of handouts for the seminars, and a sliding fee based on circulation: $1,000 for newspapers smaller than 50,000 daily circulation, $1,500 for papers from 50,001 to 100,000 and $2,000 for those over 100,000. The grant will cover airfare and ground transportation. For more information contact Steve Buttry at sbuttry@americanpressinstitute.org or 703-715-3300.

Rural Calendar

March 31: Registration deadline for Illinois investigative reporting event

The application deadline for the second Illinois-Knight Investigative Reporting Fellowships for Community
Journalists, a workshop sponsored by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be held on June 5-7, has been extended to March 31.

This workshop is open to a dozen reporters, editors or publishers from Illinois newspapers with circulation of approximately 75,000 or below. Workshop participants will get tips on computer-assisted reporting and other investigative techniques to find and develop stories. The workshop will focus on how to use local, state and federal public records and other sources for stories. Leading the workshop will be William Gaines, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The Chicago Tribune and now the Knight Professor for investigative/enterprise journalism at Illinois.

Interested candidates should send a letter outlining their interest and professional background with a letter of nomination from a supervising editor or publisher. The workshop will cover room and food expenses for all participants. Letters should be sent to: Rich Martin, Associate Professor, Illinois-Knight Fellowship, Department of Journalism, Gregory Hall, MC-462, 810 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

March 31: Deadline to enter National Newspaper Association contest

The deadline for mailing entries to the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest is Friday, March 31. Rules and entry forms can be found at www.nna.org.

"This is the only national contest for community newspapers," said NNA President Jerry Reppert, publisher of The Gazette-Democrat in Anna, Ill. "It is the best way for publishers and managers to show their appreciation for the hard work of their staffs. Give them the recognition they deserve, and show other newspapers just how good your publication can be."

For more information on the contest, contact Sara Dickson at (573) 882-5800 or saradickson@nna.org.

April 1: Ky. Professional Communicators seminar in Bowling Green, Ky.

Sessions on photojournalism, investigative reporting and the First Amendment make up a one-day workshop at Western Kentucky University, sponsored by Kentucky Professional Communicators.

Speakers will be Jeanie Adams-Smith, an assistant professor of photojournalism at WKU and award-winning photographer, on "The Future of Storytelling for Photojournalists;" Gordon “Mac” McKerral, associate professor and news-editorial sequence coordinator in the School of Journalism and Broadcasting and former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, on "Analyzing an Investigative Project;" and Gene Policinski, executive director of The First Amendment Center, on "The First Amendment: Who Needs It?"

The program begins at 9 a.m. with registration, includes lunch, and will end in mid-afternoon. The cost is $25 per person in advance, and $30 if paid at the door. Pre-registration is required by e-mailing Cathie Shaffer of KPC at mizcathie@yahoo.com or calling (606) 473-9851 weekdays.

April 4-6: Fabrication, plagiarism and sources on Middle Tenn. agenda

The John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University will celebrate its 20th anniversary April 4-6 with “Self-Inflicted Wounds—Fact and Fiction in Journalism: Fabrication, Plagiarism and Confidential Sources,” all free and open to the public.

The conference, hosted by the College of Mass Communication, “is dedicated to the study of the problem of credibility that can be raised by three different sources,” said Dr. Edward Kimbrell, journalism professor, media critic and interim director of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence.

Former Vice President Al Gore is set to kick off the conference at 12:30 p.m. April 4 in the Tennessee Room of MTSU’s James Union Building with the opening address, “Media and Democracy.” Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean and a nationally respected advocate for First Amendment rights, will follow at 2:40 p.m. with the keynote address, “The Self-Inflicted Wounds,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall of MTSU’s Business and Aerospace Building.

A panel discussion, “Fabrication and Plagiarism,” follows at 3:20 p.m. Dr. Jane Kirtley, director of The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, will moderate and be joined by Jonathan Landman of The New York Times; Bill Hilliard, former editor of The Oregonian; USA Today Executive Editor John Hillkirk; and Joann Byrd, retired editorial page editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., attorney Michael Missal of the Washington, D.C., firm Missal, Kirkpatrick and Lockhart will discuss the independent review report of a “60 Minutes” 2004 story on President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. The report will be followed by a 6:30 p.m. reception and a 7:30 p.m. showing of the Oscar-nominated film “Good Night, and Good Luck” in the State Farm Lecture Hall.

Wednesday, April 5, begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Absence of Malice” in the Keathley University Center Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Rush to Judgment? The CBS Crisis,” a conversation with former CBS producer Mary Mapes and Wallace Westfeldt, who was executive producer of “NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor,” in the State Farm Lecture Hall. At 3:30 p.m. in the same hall, Dr. Carol Pardun, director of MTSU’s School of Journalism, will moderate a panel discussion, “The Ethical Issues,” featuring journalism educators Dr. Tom Cooper of Emerson University, Dr. Renita Coleman of the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Lee Wilkins of the University of Missouri. The movie “All the President’s Men” will be shown at 7 p.m.

The conference’s final day begins with an 11 a.m. showing of “Capote” in the KUC Theater, followed at 2:40 p.m. by “Confidential Sources,” a panel discussion in the BAS State Farm Lecture Hall moderated by John Mashek, retired national political correspondent for The Boston Globe and a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Panelists include Earl Caldwell, writer-in-residence at the Scripps-Howard School of Journalism and Communications; Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation; Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Lee Levine, attorney for Wen Ho Lee, the ex-NASA scientist accused of passing weapons secrets to China.

At 4:30 p.m. on April 6, Kimbrell will moderate the conference’s final discussion, “In Cold Blood Revisited.” University of Nebraska at Lincoln journalism professor Susan Gage and three former students, Melissa Lee, Patrick Smith and Crystal Wiebe, will talk about their Pulitzer-nominated eight-part series on In Cold Blood that was published in the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World.

April 7: ‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky.

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Baby boomers’ retirements to worsen teacher shortage in rural states

Classroom enrollment is up, the number of teachers is down, and baby boomers -- who comprise the largest age group in the teaching profession -- are hitting retirement age. Rural areas already struggle with teachers moving to big cities, and baby-boomer retirements certainly will not help.

"Increases in college tuition and new pressures to up student test scores have made low-paying teaching jobs less appealing, education advocates say. And because today's college graduates and new teachers typically change careers every five to seven years, turnover for teachers is at a record high. An estimated half of all teachers leave the field within five years," reports Stateline.org.

States feeling the teacher shortage are California, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Texas, Kavan Peterson writes. Iowa and West Virginia also suffer, perhaps because their teacher salaries lagging behind neighboring states. Teachers make about $12,000 more in Maryland and $6,000 more in Virginia than in West Virginia, where teachers averaged $38,496 in 2005, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Click here to see the state-by-state survey.

West Virginia state Sen. John Unger (D) wants to create a Teacher Critical Shortage Area Fund for hard-to-fill positions. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is considering a $30 million-a-year plan to raise teacher salaries above the national average of $46,000. (Read more)

'Rururbias?' Former urbanites flock to high-tech rural communities

Several states are seeing a rise in the popularity of communities that offer big-city amenities but also provide rural surroundings.

Some residents in these areas are defining their living situations with a newfound freedom that is not bound by the words "rural" and "urban." "It is a question that might apply to any number of similar areas across the country, places far down the highway and then a couple of exits more, fast-changing places that demographers have struggled to describe," writes Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post.

"Over the years, such areas have been called exurbs and disurbs, edge counties and edgeless cities, exopoli, outtowns, penturbias, rururbias, slurbs and, curiously, net of mixed beads. Still other terms grasp at their relation to neighboring areas: archipelago economy, global network of nodes and hubs, planetary urban networks," reports McCrummen.

No matter how you define these new communities, most residents share a common view: Instead of escaping from one world, they are creating their own version, writes McCrummen. "I never considered moving here as trying to retreat," said Gail Heppner, who relocated to King George County on the Potomoc River estuary in Virginia. "But I do try to look at it as I'm going somewhere where I'll find people with the values that are important to me: consideration, friendliness, safety." (Read more)

Demand for serenity in Va. boosts property values, even in Appalachia

"Mirroring a trend in the urban areas of Richmond, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, rural areas from the Appalachian uplands to Tidewater's farming communities have been swept up in a national real estate market that has led assessors to put premium values on even the most out-of-the-way pieces of land," writes Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Rural landowners in Grayson County, on southwest Virginia's North Carolina border, recently saw assessed values jump 95 percent. Other rural Virginia areas posted similar jumps, with values in nearby Tazewell County rising by 45 percent. Such increases are coming as shocks to those communities, who often assess property only once every four to six years, reports Bowman.

Rural folks attribute the increases to low interest rates and demand for serene settings. "We've got all four seasons here, good water, clean air and high altitude -- a lot of what people want," real-estate agent Tommy Morton of the Independence in Grayson County told Bowman. (Read more)

Yahoo, Microsoft hope to build amidst farmland in rural Washington

"In the heart of potato country, a high-tech boom is taking place. Technology giants Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. are planning to build massive data storage centers amid the sagebrush and farm fields of rural central Washington," reports Shannon Dininny of The Associated Press.

Possible sources of attraction for the companies include cheap land, inexpensive hydropower and wide-open space. Quincy, Wash., (pop. 5,300) has long been the state's agriculture hotspot, shipping apples, potatoes, onions and hay to points both east and west. Now, despite being located hundreds of miles from Seattle, the city has caught the eye of Microsoft. The mega-corporation has tentatively agreed to buy 74 acres in an industrial park for $1 million. Yahoo has tentatively agreed to buy 50 acres for $500,000.

Tim Snead, city administrator, is anxiously awaiting more details, but he welcomes any kind of boost to the city's tax base. "It's been a quiet little town for many, many years, but it's going to be very exciting. Now, we can just diversify our economy a little, which was badly needed," he told Dininny. (Read more)

South Dakota paper examines prospects, problems of wind energy

South Dakota may have the nation's best wind-energy potential, and developers want to add to the state's sole wind farm, though congested electric transmission lines are a possible obstacle. The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls offers comprehensive coverage of the issue.

Ben Shouse writes that potential solutions to the tramission problem include "expensive new power lines, homegrown turbine projects, unconventional use of the electric grid, even a new coal-fired power plant. But there is little consensus on how best to break the logjam. At stake is the nation's ability to harvest some of the best renewable energy anywhere, and farm states' ability to turn their wind into dollars."

"We have to do something different in rural America to be sustainable and viable in the future, and we've got to look at things different than we did before," Randy Parry, executive director of Miner County Community Revitalization in Howard, S.D., told the Argus Leader. While South Dakota wants to attract new wind farms, exporting electricity will require changes to a transmission system designed solely to serve local markets, writes Shouse. State legislators are negotiating deals with outside companies to perform that work. (Read more)

Small Newspaper Group reporter wins FOI reporting award from IRE

Scott Reeder, the Illinois state capital reporter for the Small Newspaper Group, is the winner of this year's Freedom of Information Reporting Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors, for his series on "The Hidden Costs of Tenure" for teachers in Illinois public schools.

Reeder "filed 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests with almost 900 government entities, then worked full-time for two months policing those requests to get a remarkable 100 percent response rate," the IRE judges wrote. "With this information, he was able to show that the state's 20-year-old law aimed at making it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers had failed and been thwarted by the state's powerful teachers unions. The data he amassed showed that of the state's 876 school districts, only 38 were actually successful in firing a teacher. This work is a testament to the power of open records."

Reeder's employer has this image of him and the Illinois Capitol on its Web site. The company's name reflects both its family ownership and the size of its seven daily newspapers, five of them in Illinois -- The Dispatch of Moline (circulation 32,000); The Daily Journal of Kankakee, home of the company headquarters (28,000); The Rock Island Argus (13,000), The Daily Times of Ottawa (11,650) and the Times-Press of nearby Streator (9,000) -- plus the Herald-Argus of LaPorte, Ind. (12,000) and the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn. (44,000).

The chain has weeklies, including The Agri-News, which circulates in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. It not only has a bureau reporter in the Illinois capital of Springfield, but two reporters in Washington, D.C., where it has had a bureau since 1978. Reeder beat out entries from much larger newspapers -- the Detroit Free Press, The Dallas Morning News and The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. -- and Scripps-Howard News Service. To read his series, click here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

'No Child Left Behind' means some subjects are getting left behind

The reading and math testing rules in the No Child Left Behind law are causing some schools to reduce "class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it," Sam Dillon reports for The New York Times. Is this happening in your schools? Find out!

Dillon calls it "a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art." A survey by the nonpartisan Center for Education Policy, to be made released tomorrow, "indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities."

The survey found that "71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math," the Times reports. The study examined 299 school districts in 50 states over four years.

Dillon quotes University of Wisconsin professor William Reese, author of America's Public Schools: From the Common School to No Child Left Behind: "Because of its emphasis on testing and accountability in particular subjects, it apparently forces some school districts down narrow intellectual paths," Dr. Reese said. "If a subject is not tested, why teach it?" Perhaps, we say, because schools should help students become well-rounded citizens. (Read more)

Dillon notes, "Historian David McCullough told a Senate committee last June that because of the law, 'history is being put on the back burner or taken off the stove altogether in many or most schools, in favor of math and reading.'" We'll say it again: Find out whether this is happening in your schools.

Welfare reform program leaves rural mothers uninsured, but employed

A new rural health study shows that welfare reform has helped low-income mothers get jobs, but that those jobs do not provide health insurance.

"One of the unintended consequences of welfare reform is that a substantial percentage of former welfare recipients have lost their Medicaid coverage and became uninsured," said Timothy McBride, an analyst for the Rural Policy Research Institute and a professor at the St. Louis University School of Public Health. The study shows that while welfare reform helped people get jobs, it placed less attention on whether the jobs included health insurance, and on possible urban and rural differences.

"Health insurance issues continue to plague people in rural areas and are a particular issue for women and children," said Bill Sexton, president of the National Rural Health Association. "Jobs available in rural areas are more likely to offer lower wages and less likely to offer health insurance, which means that individuals living in rural America will continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining quality health care. We must find a way for rural working people to have access to affordable health insurance, which includes good jobs or better coordination of benefits at the state and federal level."

To read "The impact of Welfare Reform on Health Insurance Coverage in Rural Areas," click here.

Chemical cars in unsecured railyards pose major threat, experts say

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week that he will ask Congress to enact security rules for chemical plants, but "the public could be left vulnerable by the railways running in and out of many of them," and through many rural areas, reports David Kocienewski of The New York Times.

"The railways transport more than 1.7 million shipments of hazardous materials every year, including 100,000 tank cars filled with toxic gases like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia," the Times reports. "According to a recent study by the Navy, an accident or terrorist attack involving a single car of chlorine near a densely populated area could kill as many as 100,000 people."

Richard A. Falkenrath, President Bush's former deputy homeland-security adviser, told the Times, "Chemical transport is clearly the greatest vulnerability in the country today, and for some reason — and I'm not sure what it is — the federal government has not acted. There's no legislation necessary, the government already has the authority to require stronger containers, reroute shipments, and allow the kind of tracking that would allow local police agencies to know what they have to contend with in their communities. But to date it hasn't been done." (Read more)

Meth-chemicals maker agrees to restrict sales, report suspicious orders

Federal officials in Louisville have used an environmental case to rein in a small chemical-supply company suspected of being a supplier to methamphetamine labs, The Courier-Journal reports.

In agreeing to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, Antec Inc. also said it would no longer sell "key chemicals used to make meth," report to the Drug Enforcement Administration "all suspicious chemical orders, such as sales to nonbusiness addresses and customers who pay in cash," and subject itself to DEA inspections, reporter Kay Stewart writes.

"Asst. U.S. Atty. Randy Ream acknowledged that the agreement, which must be approved by a federal judge, is unusual, but ... the DEA wanted restrictions on the company's sale of meth ingredients," Stewart reports. "For at least 15 years, chemicals sold by Antec, especially red phosphorous and iodine crystals, have been found frequently during raids of meth labs around the country, said Tony King, head of the DEA's Louisville office."

King told Stewart that makers of meth drove from as far away as Missouri to buy from Antec, and that iodine crystals sold by the company were found in a meth lab just south of Louisville in late 2004. "A lot of cooks gave us statements" that they bought their chemicals at Antec, King said, adding that agents found printed directions to Antec at some meth labs. (Read more)

Developers bulldoze, encircle, relocate family cemeteries in South

"Throughout the South, family cemeteries pepper the landscape. But as cities from Atlanta to Memphis radiate rapidly outward, the growth is swallowing rural land that swaddles the graves," Theo Emery writes for The Washington Post in a story datelined Lebanon, Tenn.

The conflict between growth and graves has long troubled preservationists, who fear developers are threatening "a cultural heritage buried in the soil and chiseled in its headstones," writes Emery. Ian W. Brown, an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama, described family cemeteries as "outdoor museums" that are threatened throughout the South: "A lot of the land has been sold, abandoned, come under forest, things like that. People are concerned with them in a general fashion, but unless it's your family, no one's tending them."

In many Southern states, farm families traditionally buried their dead on their own land, speeding up the post-death proceedings and providing for easy maintenance of the graves. Over the years, though, families sold their farms and moved away, leaving those graves to the mercy of vegetation and developers, notes Emery. Still, many Southerners are buried in church and other non-family cemeteries, and community, non-church cemeteries have existed in rural areas of the South for generations. (Read more)

Hodding Carter III blasts lack of sunshine, urges journalists to 'rage'

Sunshine Week, March 12-18, was about building public support for open government. But the lack of participation by some journalists and news outlets suggests that we need an internal campaign as well as an external one. Let such a campaign begin, and let it begin with the speech that the University of North Carolina's Hodding Carter III gave at the National Freedom of Information Day conference.

Carter blasted journalists who are "too sophisticated, too indifferent or too much the lone rangers of journalism to lend themselves to a systematic, sustained campaign of unrelenting resistance to home-grown Big Brotherism. Some even seem to suggest by their silence that declarative sentences about freedom of information, about openness, about the people's need to know — are juvenile, irrelevant, unworthy of modern journalists and offensive to modern sensibilities. Others dismiss them with cold cynicism as politically inspired." More excerpts:

"Such is the oh-so-wise, or wise-guy, reaction to freedom-of-information campaigns. What is worse, it is what too many in the news business fear from the public when we try something like Sunshine Week — or when we seek improvements in the Freedom of Information Act. And when we demand rollbacks in the tidal flood of classification that has spread across virtually every government agency, domestic no less than within the national security cone."

"In ways unseen for the last half-century, since the height of the Cold War, government is systematically shutting down the taps, drying up the flow of information to the American people, cutting back on the intent and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act and the Bill of Rights. In a nation created on the basic proposition that the people are sovereign — every man a king, no man wears a crown — government once again suggests by deed and word that it is entitled to the privileges of unchecked royalty."

"As a Marine lieutenant breaking top-secret material in the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune 48 years ago, as a State Department spokesman who read more classified material than was good for anyone about 30 years ago, I can say categorically that the vast majority of all the information squirreled away behind the classification stamp has nothing to do with national security. Nothing. You could throw 90 percent of it out the windows up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and nothing of value to national security would be lost. Most people who have had to deal with classified material agree."

"What has happened to our capacity for outrage? . . . Are we in the vineyards of the press really too sophisticated to rage? Do we think it unseemly for well-educated men and women in business suits to behave like a revolutionary rabble?" (Read more) For more on FOI Day events, click here.

Satellite company hopes to reach out to rural areas with Internet service

Hughes Network Systems LLC, a satellite service company that recently sold its DirecTV satellite television business, hopes to expand its rural Internet service under the new brand HughesNet.

The Hughes Communications Inc. subsidiary is aiming to provide services to the estimated 10 million to 15 million households without access to a high-speed broadband connection. "Hughes will never compete with traditional broadband and DSL service providers because satellite services are much more expensive. While 'terrestrial' high-speed Internet packages are $30 to $40 a month, Hughes's basic monthly services start at about $60," reports Ellen McCarthy of The Washington Post.

The company "already has about 275,000 customers in what it considers 'underserved' parts of the country," the Post reports. To help rural businesses, Hughes officials said they plan to target medical or legal practices that want high-speed Internet but cannot access a cable network. (Read more)

Ky. OKs new mine-safety laws; W.Va. task force to open its meetings

Kentucky has responded to January's coal-mine disasters in West Virginia by passing a law that gives state officials power to fine mine operators for safety violations, as federal officials do, and offers whistleblower protection to miners who report violations. The bill won final, unanimous passage Friday. It also requires emergency breathing devises to be stored along escape routes underground, and requires the state to inspect each mine at least three times a year, instead of twice. House and Senate conferees on the state budget bill added $750,000 for that purpose in negotiations Saturday.

"The measure is absent some of the requirements included in legislation approved earlier this year by West Virginia lawmakers, including a provision that requires coal companies to provide a wireless communications system between working areas and the surface and tracking devices so that rescue crews could more easily find miners in case of accidents," notes The Associated Press. (Read more)

Nevertheless, The Courier-Journal, a Louisville newspaper often highly critical of the coal industry, says in an editorial today, "Progress has been laid at the graves of the 21 coal miners who have died digging coal this year. Kentucky has honored the dead with major steps forward in mine safety." (Read more)

Meanwhile, The Charleston Gazette reports that a West Virginia "task force that is studying mine rescue gear has met at least twice, but has never publicly announced its meeting dates." An inquiry from reporter Ken Ward Jr. prompted Gov. Joe Manchin’s general counsel to say that the task force would go beyond legal requirements and comply with the state open-meetings law.

"The task force study was part of a plan by the Manchin administration to delay implementation of the new law, which requires additional oxygen supplies and wireless communications equipment in all of West Virginia’s underground mines," Ward writes. "Manchin pushed the new law through the Legislature in just one day — and won its unanimous approval by both houses — after the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster and the Jan. 19 Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire. The legislation left most of the details of the new requirements up to rules to be written by the mine safety office. When industry lobbyists complained about the office’s initial rule, the requirements were delayed and the task force was formed." (Read more)

Nevada ambulances, many volunteer, rank last in response time

Nevada's rural response times are the worst in the country, with car crash victims often waiting up to 65 minutes before arriving at a hospital, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports.

"If you have an accident on a rural Nevada highway, you are likely to wait up to 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. In some counties, the wait is over a half hour. Sometimes, no ambulance arrives. That's because many of Nevada's rural ambulance crews are all-volunteer squads. They are real estate agents, school teachers, miners and grocery store clerks, and they have to drop work to head out to emergencies on remote highways where the location of the accident is often a mystery," reporters Jim Sloan and Steve Timko write in "Special Report: Rural EMS service lagging."

"And even after ambulance crews have arrived at an accident scene, given first aid and loaded patients into their ambulance, it's likely to be another 45 minutes to an hour before they can get you to the hospital to see a doctor. These add up to the worst response times in the country. According to a computer-assisted analysis by the Gazette-Journal of federal databases and state accident reports, Nevada's response to rural fatal accidents is a little over 18 minutes. That's 56 percent longer than the U.S. average for rural fatals of 11.6 minutes, and 44 percent longer than the average (12.6 minutes) for other Western states," continue Sloan and Timko.

The Gazette-Journal's analysis of data collected from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the U.S. Department of Transportation found the average response time of Nevada rural ambulance crews to fatal accidents in 2004 was 19.34 minutes. "That's nearly four minutes slower than it was in 2001, when stricter post 9-11 training requirements started making it difficult for volunteer crews to find people to join," write Sloan and Timko. (Read more)

R.I.P.: Buck Owens, a son of rural Texas, Arizona and California

If you appreciated the talent, energy and showmanship of Buck Owens, who died Saturday at 76, you'll enjoy the recollections of Washington Post music critic Richard Harrington, who interviewed him during a comeback engineered by Dwight Yoakam in 1989. To read it, click here.

Farewell to Gordon Parks, a son of rural Kansas, from a grandson of it

Photographer Dave La Belle drove a long way to say goodbye to Gordon Parks, the famed photographer who chronicled the civil-rights movement, was the first African American to direct a major film, and died March 7 at 93. La Belle, who met Parks in 1996, gave his reasons in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

"Both of us chose photography as one of the tools we would use to speak to the world and try to change those things we thought needed attention. . . . We share Kansas roots. It is the land of my mother's birth and childhood, and a place I did some of my best photographic work while working at a newspaper in Chanute in the 1970s. And though our childhoods were lived in different eras and different places -- he on the prairies of Kansas in the early 1920s, me in the creeks and hills of California in the 1950s -- we were both children of the earth, free to roam and explore, nurtured by the land and the sometimes hard lessons nature taught. Both of us knew the sounds of frogs and owls and wind talking in the tops of trees.

"So why drive 1,400 miles roundtrip to attend his funeral? Because exploring and documenting and trying to give shape to what I see and experience, and then sharing that with others, is what I do and one of the ways I understand the world and myself. Why are any of us compelled to do the things we do? Why do we fly halfway around the world, making pilgrimages to places we read about in books? Because something in us that is hard to describe says 'go'."

La Belle, a photography instructor at the University of Kentucky and adviser to the Kentucky Kernel, painted rural pictures with words like these: "A huge, reddish-pink ball of a sun melts behind the large silhouettes of mature trees and small, time-bleached gravestones in a rural Evergreen Cemetery outside Fort Scott, Kansas. On a barbed-wire fence nearby, two yellow-chested meadowlarks try to hold their perch against a cold, gusting wind intent on pushing them off." (Read more)

For another Parks tribute, from Kenny Irby, Visual Journalism Group leader at The Poynter Institute, click here. The page also has a link to a gallery of Parks' work.

Rural Calendar

Meetings set on special designation for Cumberland Plateau in Tenn.

Three public meetings on the draft feasibility study for designating Tennessee's portion of the Cumberland Plateau as a National Heritage Corridor are scheduled for this week in Huntsville, Crossville and Monteagle. The designation could boost federal funds for rural economic development projects.

"The National Heritage Corridor program is administered by the National Park Service but does not involve federal land acquisition or condemnation of private property. Rather, the designation enables local businesses and governments to take advantage of the National Park Service logo to promote nature-based and heritage-based tourism throughout their region," reports Morgan Simmons of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The designation would apply to a 21-county region in Tennessee with 594,000 acres of public land. The plateau includes 15 state parks, 14 natural areas and seven state forests, notes Simmons.

Click here to read the story and a list of times and places for meetings, which begin at 5:30 today.

March 28-29, 30-31: GIS demographic mapping workshops in Wisconsin

Learn how to use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to make thematic maps of your community, geocode addresses, perform spatial queries and analysis, extract and map Census variables such as race, poverty, language, education, health and many other demographic variables. The agenda includes an introduction to the Census Bureau's American Factfinder, downloading Census and American Community Survey data to map, AND creating color-shaded maps to display data. Exercises are designed for beginners. Intermediate Excel skills required. Each students is assigned a computer on which to work.

The one-day workshops for the Milwaukee region will be held in March 28 and 29 at 18650 W. Corporate Dr., Suite 115, Brookfield. The workshops for the Madison area will be held March 30 and 31 at 3001 W. Beltline Hwy. All workshops will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at InaCom Computer Learning Centers. The fee is $399. To register online or for more info click here or phone 877-241-6576.

Workshop materials include a 75-page workbook, which includes the presentation, exercises and reference worksheets; ArcGIS (ArcView 9.1) software 60-day trial CD set; and a subscription to the Planners' ToolBox subscription service, which provides access to new 2004 Tiger/Line geography files (already converted to shapefiles) such as streets, zip codes, school districts, voting districts, census tracts and many other useful geographies. The subscription also includes the Analyzing Your Community Workshop: Using the Census to Better Analyze Changing Places and People online web workshop.

March 31: Registration deadline for Illinois investigative reporting event

The application deadline for the second Illinois-Knight Investigative Reporting Fellowships for Community
Journalists, a workshop sponsored by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be held on June 5-7, has been extended to March 31.

This workshop is open to a dozen reporters, editors or publishers from Illinois newspapers with circulation of approximately 75,000 or below. Workshop participants will get tips on computer-assisted reporting and other investigative techniques to find and develop stories. The workshop will focus on how to use local, state and federal public records and other sources for stories. Leading the workshop will be William Gaines, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The Chicago Tribune and now the Knight Professor for investigative/enterprise journalism at Illinois.

Interested candidates should send a letter outlining their interest and professional background with a letter of nomination from a supervising editor or publisher. The workshop will cover room and food expenses for all participants. Letters should be sent to: Rich Martin, Associate Professor, Illinois-Knight Fellowship, Department of Journalism, Gregory Hall, MC-462, 810 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

March 31: Deadline to enter National Newspaper Association contest

The deadline for mailing entries to the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest is Friday, March 31. Rules and entry forms can be found at www.nna.org.

"This is the only national contest for community newspapers," said NNA President Jerry Reppert, publisher of The Gazette-Democrat in Anna, Ill. "It is the best way for publishers and managers to show their appreciation for the hard work of their staffs. Give them the recognition they deserve, and show other newspapers just how good your publication can be."

For more information on the contest, contact Sara Dickson at (573) 882-5800 or saradickson@nna.org.

April 7: ‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky.

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Weekly editor conducts Sunshine Week records audit; criticizes police

In an example of editorial leadership, the editor of The Puyallup Herald, a weekly in Washington state, published a column during Sunshine Week criticizing the not-so-public records in his county.

"I'm disappointed, I'm concerned and I'm puzzled," Roger Harnack writes. "Why is it so difficult to obtain public records here in east Pierce County?" The newspaper staff conducted a public records audit for police, schools and municipal agencies in the paper's area of coverage -- Puyallup, Sumner, Bonney Lake and other towns in Pierce County -- and did not "flash our press passes," Harnack notes.

One request was for the names of the last five DUI arrests, which no one in law enforcement would provide to the auditors. Someone in the Pierce County Sheriff's Department told an auditor the names were not public. Requests for municipal records fared better, Harnack said, saying that documents were provided almost immediately, as were school records, with the exception of the Puyallup School District superintendent's contract.

"Washington State Patrol officials vowed to be as responsive as humanly possible, and Capt. William Hilton of Puyallup, who heads the District 1 detachment here in Pierce County, said he'd gladly accept input on making the public records process easier for both the general public and staff," Harnack writes, adding that he will continue to keeping tabs on public records. (Read more)

Weekly attacks Oregonian meth series; first-grade teacher faces charge

The Oregonian started an exhaustive chronicle of the rise of methamphetamine with a series in October 2004. After 261 stories, several awards and a Pulitzer Prize nomination, an alternative weekly says the daily Portland newspaper "manufactured an epidemic."

"In its effort to convince the world of the threats posed by meth, The Oregonian has sacrificed accuracy," opines Angela Valdez of the alternative Willamette Week. "According to an analysis of the paper's reporting, a review of drug-use data and conversations with addiction experts, The Oregonian has relied on bad statistics and a rhetoric of crisis, ultimately misleading its readers into believing they face a far greater scourge than the facts support."

In one of several examples, Valdez writes, "On March 3 of this year, The Oregonian described meth as 'a potent stimulant now consumed by 1.4 million Americans from Oregon to the Carolinas.' . . . In fact, the number, which comes from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, refers to those people who report using meth at least once in the past year. They may have used it one time or 100. According to the same study, fewer than 600,000 people report using meth within the past month — a closer approximation of addiction, according to drug-abuse experts." (Read more)

Questioned by Willamette Week, The Oregonian defended its reporting. The weekly did not elaborate. Last year, Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss won a Pulitzer for his investigative reporting of ex-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a teenage girl in the 1970s. (Click here for more on the weekly's rare feat) To date, The Oregonian has not published a response to the attack on its award-winning coverage.

Meth beat: In Belen, N.M., the weekly News-Bulletin reports, "A first-grade teacher who told police she was at a rural Los Lunas elementary school shortly after midnight Sunday grading papers was arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamines." Joanna Chavez, 37, is facing one count of first-degree felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute on school grounds. (Read more)

Premium beef producer sues for ability to test all its cattle for mad-cow

Creekstone Farms Premium Beef of Campbellsburg, Ky., "sued yesterday over the federal government's refusal to allow it to test for mad-cow disease in every animal it slaughters," reports The Courier-Journal. "Creekstone says it has Japanese customers who want comprehensive testing, but claims the Agriculture Department threatened criminal prosecution if Creekstone did the tests, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture controls mad-cow tests that are administered to about 1 percent of the 35 million cattle killed each year. The department plans to reduce the number of tests conducted and it has long argued that 100 percent testing would not guarantee food safety, notes the Louisville newspaper. Some meatpackers are dealing with Japanese buyers that insist on the tests, and they fear that suspect results could discourage consumers from eating beef.

Japan, which tests nearly all its cattle, banned U.S. beef shipments in January after inspectors found cuts of veal containing backbone. Backbone is banned in Japan, even though it is consumed in the U.S. A previous Japanese ban led Creekstone to cut production and fire 150 employees at its Arkansas City, Kan., processing plant, The C-J says in a staff-and-wire report. (Read more)

KAKE Channel 10 of Wichita, Kan., has a story about a Kansas congressman supporting Creekstone's lawsuit. "I've had conversations with the Department of Agriculture to try to allow this," said U.S. Rep Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). "They've blocked it each step of the path. I've even threatened to take away their travel funds if they don't allow this to occur." (Read more)

Mad-cow beat: To read a story from Xinhua News of China on mad-cow cases declining worldwide, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, click here. For a Birmingham News story about an infected cow bought at an Alabama auction about a year ago and the unsuccessful search for its origins after its death from mad-cow disease, click here.

Field of Dreams: Iowa farmers slowly getting high-speed Internet access

"Iowa’s communities have fairly good Internet access. But, when one steps beyond the city limits, holes appear, says Brenda Biddle, a utility analyst with the Iowa Utility Board," reports Bob Davis of Iowa Farmer Today.

Biddle’s agency is currently measuring Internet access throughout the state, with plans to release a report in May. The board’s 2004 report showed no difference in high-speed access between cities and small towns, but the figures drop quickly outside of cities, Biddle said. A USDA 2005 survey showed that out of the Iowa farmers with Internet access, 70 percent used dial-up accounts, notes Davis.

As is the case across America, farmers' chances of getting high-speed access depend on their location, writes Davis. Roxanne White, general manager for the Iowa company Evertek, focuses largely on providing wireless connections to farmers, which are expensive. “Many farmers use it to track market prices and weather," White said. Some take online classes to improve their education, and others operate small businesses to sell some of their products, she said. (Read more)

North Dakota plant would produce 100 million gallons of ethanol

"Gold Energy, LLC is partnering with US BioEnergy Corporation to construct North Dakota's largest ethanol plant. The plant, to be build near Hankinson, North Dakota, will consume nearly 37 million bushels of corn, produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and produce 320,000 tons of distillers’ grains annually," reports Cyndi Young of Brownfield Network, an agriculture news service.

Gov. John Hoeven supports the idea. "We have put good programs in place and worked diligently with the Gold Energy Board and US BioEnergy to develop this plant in North Dakota," said Hoeven. "It will have a big impact on Hankinson and southeastern part of our state, both in more revenues for our farmers and good jobs in rural North Dakota. This ethanol plant will be the third one under construction, along with a biodiesel plant, and we are working on more." (Read more)

Roanoke Times is best-read weekday newspaper in top 106 metros

The Roanoke Times, a newspaper we read almost every day for its rural coverage, has a higher percentage of adults in its metropolitan area reading it on weekdays than any other newspaper in the nation’s largest 106 metro areas, according to Scarborough's "Ranker Report," relayed by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s e-bulletin.

The Times “has stayed consistently in the top ten of this ranking since 2002,” when it was No. 1, SNPA reports. “Comparing readership percentages of 183 newspapers, The Roanoke Times ranked at the top with the highest percent of total adults, 56 percent, reading an average daily issue. Of 228,640 adults in the Roanoke metropolitan area -- which includes the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, Craig and Franklin and the [independent] cities of Salem and Roanoke -- 128,040 read an average daily issue of The Roanoke Times.” Its daily circulation, according to the Editor & Publisher International Yearbook, is 98,687.

The paper, owned by Norfolk-based Landmark Communications, is 10th in percentage of Sunday readers. We suspect it has a strong online readership, too, because it is among the leaders among newspapers its size in use of new media. We recall audio-video presentations about the Blue Ridge Parkway and bluegrass music, and podcasts in which editors and reporters talk about how stories were conceived, reported, edited and presented. Hats off!

Hilton Head newspaper calls for 'defensible, documented' stories

A reunion of journalists who worked the old, afternoon Raleigh Times gave some who are now at The Island Packet (circ. 18,416) in Hilton Head, S.C., the occasion to reflect on the recent past and the future of newspapers.

"It tells us that we've come full circle," says the collective column. "It tells us that, with the help of the Internet, we're back to providing today's news today. It tells us that there is tremendous value in a small group of accountable, well-guided individuals who hustle to gather defensible, documented information and share it with a large audience. It tells us the need for local news, local knowledge, local leadership and a local civic conversation has not gone away and newspapers are uniquely qualified to provide it."

New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., who was a reporter at the Raleigh Times in the mid-1970s, attended the reunion. Despite new options, journalism hasn't changed, he told his former associates. "Newspapers are best when they reflect communities back to themselves," he said.

The column concludes, "Now at the Packet, we do it around the clock, using paper, cyberspace, sound, film clips and real-time feedback from our readers. We may not be barefoot street urchins [like those] who sold the Times when it bore slogans like 'To-day's News To-day' and 'All The News While Its (sic) News . . . but we're scrambling to get you today's news today."

The Packet's parent company, McClatchy, announced last week its pending $6.5 billion purchase of the Knight Ridder chain, making it the nation's second largest newspaper chain. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Today: Registration deadline for national extension health conference

The annual National Priester Health Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Louisville April 25-27, with a Pre-Conference Youth Summit April 24. This year’s theme is “The Race is On: Translating Research into Policy and Practice for Healthier Communities.”

The conference will highlight programs and research being developed and implemented by professionals around today’s leading health indicators and health focus areas. These programs and research-based approaches educate community members, impact health policy and build positive health behaviors in local communities through partnerships and multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Registration forms, hotel information and program agenda are at www.ca.uky.edu/Priester. The early registration deadline for the conference, to save $100 on fees, is March 24. The deadline for hotel reservations also is March 24. Go directly to the hotel’s Priester Conference Web site to make reservations at http://louisville.hyatt.com/groupbooking/sdfrlheel2006.

Tomorrow: Ohio Valley forestry workshop with author Wendell Berry

Author and farmer Wendell Berry will be the featured speaker during the inaugural Ohio River Valley Woodland and Wildlife Workshop March 25 in Cincinnati. Berry, well known for his natural and environmental writing, will present "Your Forests, Our Future" during the one-day workshop.

"Wendell is nationally known, not only as a gifted writer, but as a friend to environmental issues and feels the need for sustained forest management - any kind of natural resource management," said Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, one of the workshop's sponsors.

The workshop addresses needs common to most woodland owners but is aimed primarily at those in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. It will feature woodland and wildlife experts from UK, The Ohio State University and Purdue University Extension services as well as other forestry organizations. More than 20 educational sessions are planned on topics including "Trees and Forests: Their Many Values," "Developing a Woodland Management Plan," "Threatened and Endangered Species" and "Woodland Ponds."

Cost of the workshop, to be held at Cincinnati's Diamond Oaks Career Development Campus, is $25 per person if paid by March 16 and $30 afterwards. Lunch and materials are included. There will be youth programs available at a cost of $5 per person. Both indoor and outdoor sessions are scheduled. For more information or to register, call the UK Forestry Department at (859) 257-7597. Online registration is also available at www.ukforestry.org.

Monday, March 27: Annual Land Use Summit, Michigan State University

The Annual Land Use Summit will be held March 27 at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. The theme is "Planning for Prosperity." Participants will not only contribute to defining a state land-use agenda but will also take home tools to use at the community level. For information visit the Land Policy Program Web site at www.landpolicy.msu.edu.

March 28-29, 30-31: GIS demographic mapping workshops in Wisconsin

Learn how to use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to make thematic maps of your community, geocode addresses, perform spatial queries and analysis, extract and map Census variables such as race, poverty, language, education, health and many other demographic variables. The agenda includes an introduction to the Census Bureau's American Factfinder, downloading Census and American Community Survey data to map, AND creating color-shaded maps to display data. Exercises are designed for beginners. Intermediate Excel skills required. Each students is assigned a computer on which to work.

The one-day workshops for the Milwaukee region will be held in March 28 and 29 at 18650 W. Corporate Dr., Suite 115, Brookfield. The workshops for the Madison area will be held March 30 and 31 at 3001 W. Beltline Hwy. All workshops will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at InaCom Computer Learning Centers. The fee is $399. To register online or for more info click here or phone 877-241-6576.

Workshop materials include a 75-page workbook, which includes the presentation, exercises and reference worksheets; ArcGIS (ArcView 9.1) software 60-day trial CD set; and a subscription to the Planners' ToolBox subscription service, which provides access to new 2004 Tiger/Line geography files (already converted to shapefiles) such as streets, zip codes, school districts, voting districts, census tracts and many other useful geographies. The subscription also includes the Analyzing Your Community Workshop: Using the Census to Better Analyze Changing Places and People online web workshop.

March 31: Registration deadline for Illinois investigative reporting event

The application deadline for the second Illinois-Knight Investigative Reporting Fellowships for Community
Journalists, a workshop sponsored by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be held on June 5-7, has been extended to March 31.

This workshop is open to a dozen reporters, editors or publishers from Illinois newspapers with circulation of approximately 75,000 or below. Workshop participants will get tips on computer-assisted reporting and other investigative techniques to find and develop stories. The workshop will focus on how to use local, state and federal public records and other sources for stories. Leading the workshop will be William Gaines, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The Chicago Tribune and now the Knight Professor for investigative/enterprise journalism at Illinois.

Interested candidates should send a letter outlining their interest and professional background with a letter of nomination from a supervising editor or publisher. The workshop will cover room and food expenses for all participants. Letters should be sent to: Rich Martin, Associate Professor, Illinois-Knight Fellowship, Department of Journalism, Gregory Hall, MC-462, 810 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

April 7: ‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky.

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

N.Y. pols slur Appalachia, seemingly unaware it's partly in their state

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor, told an audience at a Manhattan synagogue on March 12, "If you drive from Schenectady to Niagara ... it looks like Appalachia." David Weidner of MarketWatch.com, who broke the story, wrote, "Put that one in the category of 'everyone is offended.' That is, except the Upper West Side Democrats to whom Spitzer was speaking."

Republican Gov. George Pataki, whose record Spitzer was attacking, said the Democrat had insulted upstate folks. "Lost in the fracas was a geographical fact: In some places, upstate New York actually is Appalachia," notes Jenny Medina in The New York Times today. Fourteen counties along the state's Southern Tier (folks there have made it a proper name) are in the federally designated Appalachia, along the scenic, southern route from Schenectady to Niagra Falls, via Binghamton and Elmira.

In fact, "Pataki is a member of the Appalachian Regional Commission and employs an administrator to coordinate programs like pediatric medical services in rural areas and overhauling waste water projects," Medina writes. Pataki seemed unaware of other facts, saying "Appalachia doesn't have Empire Zones," a state economic-development designation. "The governor was mistaken. There are 12 Empire Zones in New York's Appalachian counties," Medina notes. (Read more)

"Experts do not exactly blame New Yorkers for their lack of awareness," she reports, quoting Ron Eller, a former director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky: "There's never going to be a consensus about the real meaning of Appalachia. It's either a cultural place that's defined pejoratively or geopolitics that governors might not want to be a part of. But they are all willing to take the money." That, and old-fashioned political logrilling, are why parts of New York and Mississippi are in official Appalachia. Their respective sponsors in the mid-1960s were Sen. Robert Kennedy and Rep. Jamie Whitten.

USDA to grant $9.8 million for 10 states' rural electric, telecom efforts

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced that $9.8 million will be awarded to rural electric and telecommunications cooperative organizations in 10 states, creating or retaining 500 rural jobs.

The loans and grants will be awarded to electric and telecommunications co-ops, which can use the money to improve community facilities and infrastructure, access to local medical care, and other projects that encourage a favorable climate for jobs and growth, reports Cyndi Young of Brownfield Network, an agriculture news service. (Read more)

In Minnesota, a $740,000 loan to the Federal Rural Electric Association of Jackson will help fund a new 50 million gallon ethanol plant, creating 70 new jobs. In Georgia, a $740,000 loan to the Okefenokee Rural Electric Membership Corporation in Nahunta will help create 58 jobs and retain 25. Other states receiving money include South Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. (Click here for grant listings)

Christian truckers find spiritual help at roadside stops across America

Billboards near truck stops in Kingdom City, Mo., advertise good deals on adult videos, but Christian volunteers are promising truckers something else -- salvation.

"The romance of the road and chance to make an independent living have helped steer more than 2.5 million truckers into the business, but weeks away from home make for a solitary life aggravated by tight drop-off schedules. . . . [But truckers say the chapels] are an oasis from a subculture of foul-mouthed radio chatter and truck stops sometimes rife with prostitution," reports The Associated Press.

Hundreds of volunteers work at truck stop services from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Madera, Calif. Many truckers receive brochures proclaiming Jesus "would have driven an 18-wheeler." The pamphlets are published by Truckstop Ministries, Inc., a Jackson, Ga.-based non-denominational Christian nonprofit that has 67 missions, including 39 that have opened since 1991, reports AP. (Read more)

Trucker Ed Boelter of Jud, N.D., recently conveyed his spiritual needs at one of the roadside services. "Lonely. Like the world's a bunch of garbage," he said, looking up. "I just want peace of mind. Quiet. Everybody working together like a baseball team. Isn't that how it's supposed to be on the road?"

Wineries, Christmas trees might help save farming, N.C. professor says

Blake Brown, a professor at North Carolina State University, is spreading one message to all farmers: Alternative crops can be a viable savior.

North Carolina is a prime example of how alternative crops are replacing a shrinking tobacco market, Brown said. In 1983, tobacco accounted for 27 percent of the state’s farm income, but that number is now 9 percent. However, hog and poultry production now accounts for 57 percent, up from 34 percent in 1983. Also, 12 percent comes greenhouse or nursery stock, up from 3 percent in 1983, reports Scott Nicholson of the weekly Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C.

Brown highlighted Christmas trees, which currently account for 1 percent of the state’s farm income. “That may not sound like much,” Brown said. “But it was $99 million.” He also mentioned organic farming, cut flowers, herbs, and other specialty markets, none of which totaled more than $1 million in total income, writes Nicholson. If added together, Brown said those crops could provide a key to farming's future.

Another trend North Carolina farmers are jumping on is viticulture, all the way to bottling of wine. The Yadkin River valley, in the state's Piedmont area, is home to several wine tours and cooperative marketing efforts, reports Nicholson. “Everybody wants to be the next Napa Valley,” Brown said, referring to the famous California wine country. (Read more)

N.C. Labor Dept. sanitizes published story about pesticide violations

When the North Carolina Department of Labor replied to News & Observer staff writer Kristin Collins' request for files about Ag-Mart, a tomato grower that got the state agriculture department's largest fine ever for breaking rules on pesticides, "the Labor Department blacked out so much information that its files were nearly unintelligible," the Raleigh newspaper reports.

"Included was a copy of a 2003 News & Observer story, written by Collins herself and another reporter, in which words or phrases were blacked out in 67 places. References to virtually any human being, including public officials, Ag-Mart executives and workers -- even pronouns such as 'their' -- were missing. In some cases, random words such as 'tomatoes' were hidden." Labor Department spokesman Juan Santos told the N&O that the editing, known in bureaucracies as redacting, "reflects what some people would say is an over-the-top zeal to protect employees."

The N&O's story on the redacting was listed as a "staff report," which prevents us from giving someone credit for a good lede: "Here are some words the N.C. Department of Labor thinks the public shouldn't see: tomatoes, landlord, Mexicans, workers." Click here to read the report and see an image of the redacted copy.

Vermont AP chief loses job after posting Leahy Sunshine Week column

(Updated from yesterday) Christopher Graff, who ran the Vermont bureau of The Associated Press, "was told Monday he no longer had a job . . . after he put a partisan column on the wire, and as the news agency is consolidating some of its bureaus across state lines," The New York Times reports.

Graff, 52, who had worked for the AP for 27 years and has hosted "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public Television for more than 10 years, declined to discuss the matter with Kit Seeyle of the Times, saying he had signed a nondisclosure agreement. AP said it didn't discuss personnel matters.

"Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of The St. Albans Messenger, said one clue to Mr. Graff's departure might have been the AP's having told him this month that it was inappropriate for him to have posted a column by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy," D-Vt., Seelye writes. The column, for the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Sunshine Week, criticized "the first White House in modern times that is openly hostile to the public's right to know." AP quickly removed the column.

Lynn said Graff was surprised because he had posted a similar Leahy column last year, without criticism. "Lynn said he and other journalists in the state were angry that the AP had refused to explain what had happened and were worried that Vermont was being left with weakened news reporting," Seeyle writes. "Graff's departure from the AP comes as critics of all ideological stripes have been scrutinizing the media closely for signs of what they perceive as political bias. Graff's departure was first reported Monday on a blog of The Rutland Herald and The Times Argus." (Read more)

Peter Freyne of Seven Days, "Vermont's alternative Webweekly," says Graff "has been a cornerstone for the entire Vermont press business . . . because (he) has consistently made the calls, especially the close calls, that established the Vermont AP wire as the gold standard for news credibility." (Read more)

Knight Foundation to continue its mission after sale of Knight Ridder

Although the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invested in Knight Ridder Inc., and was established by the Knight brothers who founded one side of the newspaper chain, its sale to McClatchy Co. will not stop the foundation from funding journalism initiatives across the world.

"The foundation had divested all but 500,000 Knight Ridder shares well before the deal was announced. . . . And it will still seek to improve life in the 26 communities around the country where the Knight brothers had owned papers," writes Charles Storch of the Chicago Tribune. (Read more)

"Jack and Jim Knight founded Knight Foundation to give back to the communities that gave them so much and to encourage the kind of journalism excellence that was the hallmark of their careers. That is the mission they gave us, and we intend to fulfill it," said Alberto Ibarguen, foundation president. The Knight Foundation is the major outside funder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Rural Calendar

Tomorrow: Registration deadline for national extension health conference

The annual National Priester Health Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Louisville April 25-27, with a Pre-Conference Youth Summit April 24. This year’s theme is “The Race is On: Translating Research into Policy and Practice for Healthier Communities.”

The conference will highlight programs and research being developed and implemented by professionals around today’s leading health indicators and health focus areas. These programs and research-based approaches educate community members, impact health policy and build positive health behaviors in local communities through partnerships and multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Registration forms, hotel information and program agenda are at www.ca.uky.edu/Priester. The early registration deadline for the conference, to save $100 on fees, is March 24. The deadline for hotel reservations also is March 24. Go directly to the hotel’s Priester Conference Web site to make reservations at http://louisville.hyatt.com/groupbooking/sdfrlheel2006.

Saturday: Ohio Valley forestry workshop with author Wendell Berry

Author and farmer Wendell Berry will be the featured speaker during the inaugural Ohio River Valley Woodland and Wildlife Workshop March 25 in Cincinnati. Berry, well known for his natural and environmental writing, will present "Your Forests, Our Future" during the one-day workshop.

"Wendell is nationally known, not only as a gifted writer, but as a friend to environmental issues and feels the need for sustained forest management - any kind of natural resource management," said Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, one of the workshop's sponsors.

The workshop addresses needs common to most woodland owners but is aimed primarily at those in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. It will feature woodland and wildlife experts from UK, The Ohio State University and Purdue University Extension services as well as other forestry organizations. More than 20 educational sessions are planned on topics including "Trees and Forests: Their Many Values," "Developing a Woodland Management Plan," "Threatened and Endangered Species" and "Woodland Ponds."

Cost of the workshop, to be held at Cincinnati's Diamond Oaks Career Development Campus, is $25 per person if paid by March 16 and $30 afterwards. Lunch and materials are included. There will be youth programs available at a cost of $5 per person. Both indoor and outdoor sessions are scheduled. For more information or to register, call the UK Forestry Department at (859) 257-7597. Online registration is also available at www.ukforestry.org.

Monday, March 27: Annual Land Use Summit, Michigan State University

The Annual Land Use Summit will be held March 27 at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. The theme is "Planning for Prosperity." Participants will not only contribute to defining a state land-use agenda but will also take home tools to use at the community level. For information visit the Land Policy Program Web site at www.landpolicy.msu.edu.

March 28-29, 30-31: GIS demographic mapping workshops in Wisconsin

Learn how to use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to make thematic maps of your community, geocode addresses, perform spatial queries and analysis, extract and map Census variables such as race, poverty, language, education, health and many other demographic variables. The agenda includes an introduction to the Census Bureau's American Factfinder, downloading Census and American Community Survey data to map, AND creating color-shaded maps to display data. Exercises are designed for beginners. Intermediate Excel skills required. Each students is assigned a computer on which to work.

The one-day workshops for the Milwaukee region will be held in March 28 and 29 at 18650 W. Corporate Dr., Suite 115, Brookfield. The workshops for the Madison area will be held March 30 and 31 at 3001 W. Beltline Hwy. All workshops will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at InaCom Computer Learning Centers. The fee is $399. To register online or for more info click here or phone 877-241-6576.

Workshop materials include a 75-page workbook, which includes the presentation, exercises and reference worksheets; ArcGIS (ArcView 9.1) software 60-day trial CD set; and a subscription to the Planners' ToolBox subscription service, which provides access to new 2004 Tiger/Line geography files (already converted to shapefiles) such as streets, zip codes, school districts, voting districts, census tracts and many other useful geographies. The subscription also includes the Analyzing Your Community Workshop: Using the Census to Better Analyze Changing Places and People online web workshop.

April 7: ‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky.

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

EPA says Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota have cleanest air

"Rural residents of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana" breathe the cleanest air in the United States, while urban New Yorkers and Californians have the dirtiest air, according to a new evaluation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and reported by The Associated Press. (Read more)

Using data from 1999, EPA also evaluated the risk of getting cancer from toxic air pollutants. To generate a map showing the extent of any measured pollutant, and a county-by-county ranking, click here.

Now's the time to start reporting on grass-roots election activities

Yesterday's primary elections in Illinois, two weeks after those in Texas, are a harbinger of what could be one of the most critical off-year elections since 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress. Candidates, parties and lobbying groups are already working on strategies to get out their loyal voters, and in rural America that often means socially conservative voters who take their cues from religious leaders.

In the 2004 elections, we encouraged rural journalists to cover these leaders, in churches and elsewhere, to illuminate what was going on in elections and help explain the results. There is even more reason to do that this year, because the Internal Revenue Service has started "a crackdown on political activities by churches and other tax-exempt organizations," The New York Times reported this week.

Michael Davis of the Chattanooga Times Free Press may have broken this story on March 13, reporting, "Almost 75 percent of 82 examinations of tax-exempt organizations found the groups had some type of banned political activity during the 2004 election cycle, according to the IRS. . . . Most cases were single incidents handled with advisories notifying the groups of their infractions."

"The tax code allows churches and other tax-exempt charities to register voters and to express views on public issues. But the rules forbid supporting a political party or candidate," David Kirkpatrick writes in the N.Y. Times story. Davis writes in Chattanooga, "Voter guides must be unbiased, nonpartisan and fairly poll all candidates on a variety of questions, according to the IRS." (Read more)

Davis offered background about tax-exempt groups in the Chattanooga area, and Kirkpatrick's news peg was "a coalition of nonprofit conservative groups ... holding training sessions to enlist Pennsylvania pastors in turning out voters" and boosting Sen. Rick Santorum in the process. If the IRS starts a case against the group, Kirkpatrick writes, it "could define the boundaries for churches and other groups. Although the tax agency has often overlooked political activity by churches, it has repeatedly warned the clergy and religious groups that it intends to enforce its rules with new vigor this year, in part to correct what it considers to have been too much political intervention by churches and charities in 2004."

In that year, ballot proposals against gay marriage were on the ballot in 11 states, drawing to the polls many social conservatives who might not have otherwise voted -- many in rural areas. They may have made the difference in some elections, such as a U.S. senator in Kentucky and perhaps even the pivotal Electoral College votes of Ohio. President Bush won 62 percent of the rural vote, exit polls showed.

The IRS found "a disturbing amount" of political activity by tax-exempt groups in 2004 election, including churches' inviting just one candidate to speak or distributing voters' guides that in effect favored one candidate over another, Internal Revenue Commissioner Mark W. Everson told the Times -- which noted that he said in a February speech to the City Club of Cleveland, "We can't afford to have our charitable and religious institutions undermined by politics."

Though "Pennsylvania appears to be the sole state where advocacy groups are pouring so much into working with churches so early, the outcome of the effort, and the way the tax agency responds, could have an influence far beyond the state," Kirkpatrick writes in his story about the Pennsylvania Pastors Network. "Republicans, encouraged by their success mobilizing religion-minded voters in 2004, are stepping up their efforts to collect church directories around the country to help turn out voters for the midterm races." (Read more)

Kirkpatrick's story relies in part on a tape of one of the group's sessions, given to the paper by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has chapters around the nation and has often provided such tapes to journalists to reveal political strategy and tactics of religious conservatives. Other groups and individuals have done likewise. In Kentucky in 1995, a Republican candidate for governor may have lost the election because a videotape showed him literally and figuratively embracing an ardent social conservative who had organized a potent grass-roots organization in the Louisville area. The videotape was provided to, and reported on by, The Courier-Journal.

You don't have to rely on tapes to cover these grass-roots activists. Get to know them, attend their meetings and report on an important part of America's political process. It can take some time to develop sources and gain access, so get started now. --Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Coal industry, regulators, safety advocates agree on bill in Kentucky

"Safety advocates and industry and state officials hammered out a consensus" on a bill to improve coal-mine safety in Kentucky yesterday, apparently clearing the way for its passage in the wake of a major mine disaster in neighboring West Virginia in January.

The revised version of Senate Bill 200 does not include several measures approved by the House, such as "a 24-hour state hot line to report violations, subpoena power for the state mine safety office and more underground 'self-rescuer' breathing devices than required by federal standards," but would require each mine to be inspected at least three times a year, up from two, and require miners to have "telephones or equivalent two-way communications" with the surface, The Courier-Journal reports.

The bill would also require mines to have more oxygen supplies and report accidents within 15 minutes; offer protection to miners who report problems; and allow state officials to levy fines of up to $5,000 for violation of roof-control or ventilation plans. State officials, who say they prefer to focus inspection efforts on problem mines, say they need more money to meet the three-per-year requirement, but the United Mine Workers of America disagrees. (Read more)

Can the Grange reinvent itself to boost rural economic development?

The Grange, founded in 1867, "championed education and the funding and improvement of rural schools. The Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery and the Farm Credit System came into being largely due to grassroots lobbying by Grange members," writes Joan Opyr of Moscow, Idaho, whose local Grange puts its "focus on rural economic development."

"I believe that the work of the Grange might be essential to preserving and expanding the vitality of our small towns," Opyr writes in her blog on the site NewWest.net, which focuses on business and the new economy in the Rocky Mountains. Its Northern Idaho editor is Opyr, who quotes L. Roger Falen, master of her local:

"The membership in most granges has been dwindling . . . . old timers pass away . . . and because of the increased mobility [of youth] today and the decreasing farm population, it has been hard to get young folks to join. The old Grange had a lot of pageantry and ritual. In order to attract new people, some [Granges have become] what is called an Action Grange -- less ritual [and more involvement] in community projects."

Opyr concludes, "Rural communities need Action Granges. We need an organizing home for active, vibrant, grassroots activists to agitate on behalf of our small towns. Given its history, the Grange is a good (and perhaps even the best) place to start." (Read more)

Wireless phone companies going after rural customers in Kentucky

"The fight for Kentucky's mobile-phone customers is moving into the countryside . . . as rural users find as many uses for wireless technology as suburban commuters and office workers," writes business reporter Wayne Tompkins of The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

"Spirited competition for users of cell phones, text messaging and wireless broadband Internet access is music to the ears of rural economic developers, who see the telecom revolution as crucial to luring jobs and businesses," Tompkins writes, reporting on competition among Cingular Wireless, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Cingular's executive director of network engineering for Tennessee and Kentucky, Bill Plantz, told Tompkins, "The mobile phone is not the businessman's toy anymore. It's being used by Farmer Jones riding his combine out in the field."

Such developments are good news for Brian Mefford, president of ConnectKentucky, a public-private partnership formed to expand technology networks in the state. ""There are huge implications for rural economic development," he told Tompkins. "Entrepreneurs, small businesses, big companies, anybody who wants to live where they grew up in a rural area, or relocate to a smaller community, they now can do it. That's what gets us up in the morning." (Read more)

Rural counties work together to expand Internet access in New York

Business executives in the Appalachian counties of New York -- which those in the state call the Southern Tier -- want to expand broadband Internet access in the Empire State's rural areas.

The Southern Tier refers to the counties along the Pennsylvania border, which comprise the northernmost section of official Appalachia. "Their goal: Expand access for their constituents and for residential users," reports Tracey Drury of Business First of Buffalo. Todd Snyder, a consultant in Sunbury, Pa., working with the group, said the initiative will likely last five to 10 years, with some changes coming sooner.

Rural communities have had to be aggressive to gain the same Internet access that is common in urban markets, especially if they want to retain younger residents, writes Drury. Rural areas have long been underserved in terms of technology, said John Bartimole, CEO of the Southern Tier Health Care System. Bartimole added, "We may be able to save some more lives in rural areas." (Read more)

Europe moves to close rural-urban broadband gap; whither U.S.?

The European Commission is "mobilising telecoms legislation and structural and rural policy to stimulate broadband access across Europe, especially in rural areas," reports SiliconRepublic.com of Ireland.

The European Union sees "a significant urban-rural gap" in high-speed Internet access, "with rural communities lagging behind in terms of coverage due to population scarcity and distance, reports John Kennedy. "This means lower returns on investment which can discourage commercial suppliers.
Public-private partnerships are necessary to increase broadband take-up."

The gap in Europe is similar to that in the U.S., where there is no federal broadband policy and telecommunications companies have lobbied to keep government out of the business. Twenty-four percent of adults in rural America have high-speed Internet access, compared with 39 percent in urban and suburban areas, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Wild West: Owner of Point Reyes Light says ex-owner attacked him

An argument over a story about a farm, to be published in the Point Reyes Light in northern California, allegedly brought the current and previous owners to blows and ended in a restraining order being issued against the former owner of the Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly, reports the California Newspaper Publishers Association eBulletin.

Robert Plotkin won the order against David Mitchell, publisher for more than 30 years and winner of the 1979 Pulitzer for public service. The order bars Mitchell from coming within 100 yards of Plotkin, who alleged that Mitchell grabbed his throat and tried to run over him with his car after they got into an argument while riding in the car, reports The Associated Press.

Mitchell, 62, told AP that Plotkin, 35, is overreacting: "It sounds like we have a very young man with a very wild imagination." Plotkin, a former Monterey County prosecutor, told the wire service that the "loss of the paper has affected [Mitchell]" and that he has no hard feelings toward him. "A court hearing is scheduled for April 4," AP reports. "Lawyers for both men said they hope to settle the complaint."

Rural Calendar

Friday: Registration deadline for national extension health conference

The annual National Priester Health Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Louisville April 25-27, 2006, with a Pre-Conference Youth Summit on April 24. This year’s conference theme is “The Race is On: Translating Research into Policy and Practice for Healthier Communities.”

The conference will highlight programs and research being developed and implemented by professionals around today’s leading health indicators and health focus areas. These programs and research-based approaches educate community members, impact health policy and build positive health behaviors in local communities through partnerships and multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Registration forms, hotel information and program agenda are at www.ca.uky.edu/Priester. The early registration deadline for the conference, to save $100 on fees, is March 24. The deadline for hotel reservations also is March 24. Go directly to the hotel’s Priester Conference Web site to make reservations at http://louisville.hyatt.com/groupbooking/sdfrlheel2006.

Saturday: Ohio Valley forestry workshop with author Wendell Berry

Author and farmer Wendell Berry will be the featured speaker during the inaugural Ohio River Valley Woodland and Wildlife Workshop March 25 in Cincinnati. Berry, well known for his natural and environmental writing, will present "Your Forests, Our Future" during the one-day workshop.

"Wendell is nationally known, not only as a gifted writer, but as a friend to environmental issues and feels the need for sustained forest management - any kind of natural resource management," said Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, one of the workshop's sponsors.

The workshop addresses needs common to most woodland owners but is aimed primarily at those in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. It will feature woodland and wildlife experts from UK, The Ohio State University and Purdue University Extension services as well as other forestry organizations. More than 20 educational sessions are planned on topics including "Trees and Forests: Their Many Values," "Developing a Woodland Management Plan," "Threatened and Endangered Species" and "Woodland Ponds."

Cost of the workshop, to be held at Cincinnati's Diamond Oaks Career Development Campus, is $25 per person if paid by March 16 and $30 afterwards. Lunch and materials are included. There will be youth programs available at a cost of $5 per person. Both indoor and outdoor sessions are scheduled. For more information or to register, call the UK Forestry Department at (859) 257-7597. Online registration is also available at www.ukforestry.org.

March 27: Annual Land Use Summit, Michigan State University

The Annual Land Use Summit will be held March 27 at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. The theme is "Planning for Prosperity." Participants will not only contribute to defining a state land-use agenda but will also take home tools to use at the community level. For information visit the Land Policy Program Web site at www.landpolicy.msu.edu.

March 28-29, 30-31: GIS demographic mapping workshops in Wisconsin

Learn how to use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to make thematic maps of your community, geocode addresses, perform spatial queries and analysis, extract and map Census variables such as race, poverty, language, education, health and many other demographic variables. The agenda includes an introduction to the Census Bureau's American Factfinder, downloading Census and American Community Survey data to map, AND creating color-shaded maps to display data. Exercises are designed for beginners. Intermediate Excel skills required. Each students is assigned a computer on which to work.

The one-day workshops for the Milwaukee region will be held in March 28 and 29 at 18650 W. Corporate Dr., Suite 115, Brookfield. The workshops for the Madison area will be held March 30 and 31 at 3001 W. Beltline Hwy. All workshops will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at InaCom Computer Learning Centers. The fee is $399. To register online or for more info click here or phone 877-241-6576.

Workshop materials include a 75-page workbook, which includes the presentation, exercises and reference worksheets; ArcGIS (ArcView 9.1) software 60-day trial CD set; and a subscription to the Planners' ToolBox subscription service, which provides access to new 2004 Tiger/Line geography files (already converted to shapefiles) such as streets, zip codes, school districts, voting districts, census tracts and many other useful geographies. The subscription also includes the Analyzing Your Community Workshop: Using the Census to Better Analyze Changing Places and People online web workshop.

April 7: ‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky.

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ohio court: State records law supersedes federal health secrecy law

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the state's open-records law trumps the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted to protect personal health information and has often been a vexing obstacle for journalists seeking information about effects of accidents and other events.

The health department in Cincinnati refused to give the Cincinnati Enquirer lead-paint citations, on grounds they contained children’s private health information. The court ruled that the citations contained no such information, and more importantly that federal privacy guidelines can’t seal records that are open under state law, reports Robert Vitale of The Columbus Dispatch. (Read more)

"It’s the nation’s first ruling weighing a state’s open-records law against" HIPAA, said John C. Greiner, who represented the Enquirer in the case. He predicted the ruling could have national implications, writes Vitale. Similar rulings have been made by some state attorneys general -- such as Kentucky’s, where attorney general opinions in freedom-of-information matters have the force of law.

Oklahoma company bundles wireless television with Internet service

A rural telephone company in Oklahoma is connecting its Internet-based television service wirelessly to customers' TV sets, reports Dionne Searcey of The Wall Street Journal.

Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, based in Kingfisher, Okla., is installing equipment in homes that provides wireless TV. If successful, it could spur similar efforts by phone companies that are competing with cable operators to provide bundles of telecommunication services. Most phone companies now spend hours trying to wire homes for Internet service or to provide the service on existing cable, Searcey writes.

Pioneer, with 20,000 high-speed Internet subscribers in 76 towns, started providing Internet-based television in July to 5,000 of its customers, Searcey reports. (Read more)

Virginia company aims to bridge digital divide between rural, urban U.S.

DigitalBridge Communications is hoping to provide broadband Internet access to rural areas, starting in Virginia, reports Ben Hammer of the Washington Business Journal.

"Ashburn-based DigitalBridge uses a technology called WiMax, which sends radio frequencies from towers through walls as far as two miles away and to antennas as far as five miles away. WiMax lowers costs by bypassing phone networks and eliminating the need to wire every home for access," writes Hammer. DigitalBridge declined to specify locations that might be served.

The Virginia-based company plans to package Internet telephone service, streaming video and other services with Internet access. DigitalBridge will focus on communities with fewer than 20,000 residents, notes Hammer. (Read more) Twenty-four percent of adults in rural America have high-speed Internet access, compared with 39 percent in urban and suburban areas, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. (Click here for that report)

Beaten at lobbying, telecom firms getting into wireless broadband

"Having tried to stop cities from offering cut-rate or free wireless Internet access to their citizens, some large phone and cable companies are now aiming to get into the market themselves," writes Amol Sharma of The Wall Street Journal.

The push for municipal broadband began after come companies refused to extend access to rural areas, or offered services at high rates. Telecom companies immediately criticized municipal efforts, questioned whether they could survive financially and even called for state laws to bar or restrict the cities' efforts. However, with companies such as Google Inc. and EarthLink Inc. entering the municipal market, telecom companies are changing their tune, reports Sharma.

AT&T Inc., the nation's largest telecom provider, wants to build a wireless Internet service for Washtenaw County, Michigan, which is located in the southeast part of the state and is home to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Cox Communications recently helped offer wireless Internet access in parts of Arizona, and Time Warner Cable may do the same in Texas. The shift in support from these companies comes as more than 50 communities nationwide have started providing cheap or free Internet access, notes Sharma. (Read more)

As timber firms sell land, enviros try to buy to block development

Since dozens of forests have been put on the market by timber companies, conservation groups have tried to raise money to buy the land as private investors have eyed the space for development.

"A recent U.S. Forest Service study predicted that more than 44 million acres of private forest land, an area twice the size of Maine, will be sold over the next 25 years. The consulting firm U.S. Forest Capital estimates that half of all U.S. timberland has changed hands in the past decade. The Bush administration also wants to sell off forest land, by auctioning more than 300,000 acres of national forest to fund a rural school program," writes Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

If the sales continue, environmentalists fear forest land could soon house condominiums and trailer parks, Eilperin writes. Environmental groups such as the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the New England Forest Foundation have bought habitats with ecological value, but their buying power is not limitless, reports Eilperin.

A third of the U.S. is forest and 57 percent is privately owned. "Maine has the largest contiguous block of undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi -- at least 10 million acres, or more than half of the state's entire land mass. Most of it was once owned by paper companies, but this is shifting quickly. According to the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, 20 million acres changed hands in Maine's North Woods, north of Bangor, between 1980 and 2000," notes Eilperin. (Read more)

Oklahoma bills would put farm-fresh food into school lunches

Each house of the Oklahoma legislature has passed "farm-to-school" legislation to "provide, fresh, high-quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias" and to "get kids excited about healthy eating through nutrition lessons coordinated with the fresh fruits and vegetables served for lunch," reports The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Now each house will consider the other's bill.

"Researchers have found that farm-to-school programs improve children’s nutrition," says the center, which organized a pilot program with the state agriculture department. "Other effective farm-to-school activities include school gardens, ag-in-the-classroom activities, farm visits and cooking classes."

Anne Roberts, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, told legislators that the program has worked in other states and could address a growing obesity problem, and said Oklahoma ranks last in the nation in percentage of the population that eats five or more fruits or vegetables a day.

Kerr Center President Jim Horne said, “We come at farm-to-school from a rural development perspective, and [through the program] look forward to building a rapport that’s long been missing between urban America and rural America.” (Read more) The Farm to School Program Web site lists 17 states as participants.

Blue Ridge Parkway uses volunteer work force to combat low funding

"These are hard times on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The maintenance backlog of more than $200 million is vexing. Running the park with a work force that's 20 percent undermanned is challenging. But this year has brought new trials. The park is without a dedicated landscape architect for the first time. And it had to go begging for money to print maps," writes Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, running from Cherokee, N.C., to Waynesboro, Va., has long been the most used part of the national park system, but its budget cannot support the operating costs, notes Thornton. The park received its first substantial budget increase this year since 2003, but much of that will pay off the park system for shared operations.

Volunteers now comprise a big chunk of the work force that maintains the 469-mile parkway. Parkway superintendent Phillip Francis said he is exploring "nontraditional ways to get the job done." That mans trying to gain more support from Friends of the Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, reports Thornton. (Read more) This article also contains a link to a multimedia story on the subject.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ask candidates how they will handle open-meetings, open-records issues

Sunshine Week is over, but reporters need to keep open government in mind -- especially if it's an election year. Make sure your questions to candidates include a few on open records and open meetings, such as the circumstances under which a candidate would close a meeting if elected.

Tonia Moxley of The Roanoke Times put the question last week to candidates for mayor of Blacksburg, Va. The topic "has dominated Blacksburg politics over the past few years," Moxley wrote, but that's not a necessary predicate for asking such questions.

Putting candidates on the spot now, and eliciting public commitments, could make them less likely to close meetings or withhold documents -- or even more likely to talk about what was discussed in a closed session. One Blacksburg candidate "promised to break the council 'code of silence' for closed sessions if he thinks it necessary," Moxley reported. (Read more)

Forest Service ex-chiefs, Missouri Republicans criticize plan to sell tracts

Four former chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service, who worked under presidents of both parties, are criticizing the Bush administration's proposal to sell pieces of national-forest land to shore up a program for rural schools and roads in counties with the forests, calling it a "slippery slope."

"Lawmakers from both parties have challenged the land sale, saying short-term gains would be offset by the permanent loss of public lands," The Associated Press noted: "Schools would get $320 million next year, but the figure would drop sharply after that, to $40 million in its final year, officials said. That would be a 90 percent decrease from current spending — a figure Western lawmakers called unacceptable." (Read more)

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt, Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, all Republicans, came out against the sales, which would include 21,556 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest in southeast Missouri. "The way the proposal is structured," AP reports, "Missouri would sell off more land than other states but receive fewer dollars for its schools." (Read more) It was "one of the rare times that Blunt has publicly questioned a White House proposal," Jo Mannies, political writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writes in her Political Fix blog. (Read more)

Senate votes to spend extra $184 million on mine safety over next 5 years

"In the first significant action by Congress this year on mine safety, the Senate has agreed to spend an additional $184 million over five years to hire more mine inspectors and develop new communications technologies for use underground," reports James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

The figure is included in the budget resolution passed by the Senate on Thursday. The resolution is "a $2.8 trillion blueprint for spending that will be followed later this year by appropriations bills, Carroll explains for the Louisville newspaper. "The House still must approve the budget bill, and prospects there are uncertain because of the significant spending increases senators pushed through."

President Bush proposed $288 million on the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for each of the next five fiscal years. The Senate amendment, which would give MSHA an additional $36 million to $38 million per year, was added by Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd and John "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, where 14 miners died in disasters in January.

MSHA nominee blocked: Carroll's "Notes form Washington" column also notes that Byrd is holding up the nomination of Richard Stickler, a former coal-industry executive, to run MSHA. "That means the full Senate can't vote on Stickler until Byrd decides otherwise," Carroll explains. Byrd, who has never met Stickler, said he wanted a meeting with to discuss his concerns, "but nothing happened before the Senate left Thursday for a weeklong break," Carroll reports. (Read more)

Hunters, take note: Study funds diseased deer meat holds deadly protein

University of Kentucky microbiologist Glenn Telling, "one of the country's top experts on prions," has helped confirm for the first time that muscle meat from deer with chronic wasting disease also contains deadly proteins known as prions, writes Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In a report published in the journal Science, Telling and his colleagues say study findings show that "haunch and leg meat from infected deer also contain prions, and that other meat could be affected. To date, there is no evidence that anyone has ever caught chronic wasting disease from deer or elk meat. Even so, authorities recommend that hunters should never eat meat from animals with CWD. And Telling's findings apparently add weight to that recommendation," reports Warren. (Read more)

These new findings might come into play should chronic wasting disease ever move from deer and elk to humans, notes Warren. Another prion disease can do just that. Mad-cow disease first appeared in the 1980s in Europe in the 1980s and people started dying after consuming beef from infected cattle.

USDA's vision for new Farm Bill is 'watershed moment,' experts say

"The next Farm Bill will actually help rural America," Rural Policy Research Institute Fellow Tom Rowley says in his latest column. Rowley says past bills have helped "a narrow slice of rural people, growers of subsidized crops," and that subsidies "don't even do much for areas that are heavily farm-dependent," citing the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank's Center for the Study of Rural America.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed at last month's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum that it is now "focused on the importance of rural, rather than farm, prosperity," Rowley says, quoting RUPRI Director Chuck Fluharty: {The 2006 Forum was a watershed moment in USDA history and could become a landmark event for U.S. rural policy. For the first time ever, these issues were central. I am hopeful this represents a new USDA perspective and commitment taking hold."

Rowley credits "a convergence of factors," including public support for USDA's rural-development efforts, the non-farm part of which consumed only 0.7 percent of the last farm bill; and "a new sheriff in town," the World Trade Organization. "If the United States intends to honor its trade agreements (and avoid sanctions), farm production subsidies as we know them will have to go. When they do, billions in crop payments will be freed up and up for grabs," Rowley writes. "My guess is that the department would rather keep that money in house and use it for rural development," not deficit reduction.

Kentucky budget would fund rural projects, neglect emergency radio

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a budget bill with hundreds of Homeland Security projects in 61 rural counties — but not Louisville's $70 million planned emergency radio system, reports Joseph Gerth of The Courier-Journal.

The plan would require the state's Department of Homeland Security to fund those projects, many of which are in rural areas, with almost half the money received from federal grants. Since the federal government has states compete for funds, Kentucky might suffer should its budget not meet state and federal priorities, said Alecia Webb-Edgington, state homeland security director. One priority is updating communications systems, and Louisville police officers currently use a patchwork grid, writes Gerth.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, called the budget an "outrage" for not meeting the communication priority. Despite a lack of state support, Louisville leaders plan to update their emergency radio system anyway with funds set aside in the city budget, direct federal earmarks and other sources, reports Gerth. "Louisville has the highest concentration of federally designated terrorism targets in the state. But one legislator defended the project, saying Kentucky's rural counties could be terrorist targets, too." That was Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. (Read more)

THE RURAL BLOG WAS NOT PUBLISHED ON FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2006.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rural poverty may be worse than data show because times have changed

When the federal government defined "poverty" in 1963, food was the key factor because it accounted for 30 percent of estimated household expenses. That meant many rural families who grew their own food weren't really poor, or not as poor as the statistics made them look. But that is less true today, because food makes up less than 12 percent of household expenses. Thus, poverty could be underestimated, especially in rural areas, and experts think poverty in general needs to be better defined.

Reporter Anna Bernasek wrote about the issue in The New York Times on Sunday: "While some of the remaining 88 percent [after food expenses] may go to nonessentials, items such as housing, transportation and health care are significant, and expensive, factors. . . . So why hasn't such an important statistic been updated to reflect modern conditions? The answer is politics.

"Thanks to a quirk of history, the poverty indicator, unlike many other economic statistics, is not under the jurisdiction of an authoritative statistical agency like the Bureau of Economic Analysis or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Instead, it resides in perhaps the most political place of all: the Office of the President. And during the last four decades, no president of either party has wanted to draw attention to a statistic that the nation has come to take for granted, especially if updating it might cause the number of people regarded as living in poverty to increase." (Read more)

"There is no political will to really determine what actually and meaningfully constitutes being poor in America today," Amy Glasmeier, Penn State Geography’s E. Willard Miller Professor of Economic Geography, writes on her Poverty In America project Web site. "The first step forward in developing a realistic measure of poverty is to remove the determination of the poverty measure from the Office of the President and turn it over to an independent commission or agency involved in matters associated with poverty alleviation." (Read more)

Is wireless best option for rural broadband, rural phone companies?

Because much of the electromagnetic spectrum in rural areas is unused, wireless systems using those frequencies may be the best alternative for getting them high-speed, broadband Internet service, says The Aspen Institute in a report on its 2005 Conferences on Telecommunications and Spectrum Policy, which offered other ideas for rural broadband -- and rural adaptation to digital television.

"The rural paradox is that wireless technology, which poses the greatest peril to independent rural wireline [telephone companies], may also become their salvation," the report says. "Ensuring that rural telcos and residents can avail themselves of modern telecommunications technology promotes economic development, and bolstering local economies in turn supports broadcast advertising -- and growing customer bases for telcos."

The conference included many high-ranking executives of telecommunications companies. "All appeared to agree that making some form of broadband service available to virtually every American at an affordable price is a worthy goal," the institute reports.

A general consensus supported several suggestions, including: Telecommunications enterprise zones to promote a range of pilot projects and experiments, an idea suggested by Brian Fontes of Cingular; use the Universal Service Funds that now subsidize rural phone rates to pay rural phone companies "to switch to wireless or other advanced technologies." (Click here to download the report from our Reports site)

Rural Virginia residents turning to wireless for high-speed Internet

Folks who moved to rural Virginia and don't "mind driving a bit farther for milk but cannot face life without speedy Internet access" are turning to wireless systems to stay fully connected to the world they left.

In Loudoun County, "15,000 households, about 17 percent of the total, cannot get access to broadband. Most of these homes are in the less populous western part of the county, where phone and cable companies are reluctant to invest in networks without a critical mass of ready customers," reports Michael Alison Chandler of The Washington Post.

After years of slow dialup or "expensive and often slow satellite service . . . a handful of companies and cooperatives selling wireless . . . have brought broadband service to many who thought there was no hope," Chandler writes, "but they have not been able to help everyone. For wireless service to work, a direct line of sight from the transmitter to the antenna is needed. In a mountainous, wooded area, that can be difficult."

"We have this wonderful modern technology, and you can't even use it unless you can bounce things off barn silos," Rita Mace Walston, general manager of the Herndon-based Telework Consortium, which helps companies set up work-from-home programs, told Chandler.

Last year, the county hired a broadband manager to help expand access, and he proposed a plan "to bring fiber-optic lines to every household in Loudoun. But the $320 million proposal has little prospect of offering a return on the investment, and he said the foreseeable future probably rests with wireless." (Read more)

Miner text-message devices work 90 percent of the time, study finds

A federal study has found that "text-messaging devices to contact trapped coal miners work in about 90 percent of underground areas and about 90 percent of the time," reports The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Now the question may be whether that is enough to require that they be provided to each miner.

The "personal emergency devices" have been a focus of debate since 12 miners died in the Sago Mine in West Virginia, with advocates saying devices could have saved those miners and others in similar situations, and coal companies and federal officials saying the devices are not reliable enough to make them mandatory. In Kentucky, the state Senate recently removed such a requirement from a mine-safety bill.

"Yet the devices are used in Australia, other countries and 20 American mines, including in southwestern Indiana and West Virginia," and "other safety experts and former miners and relatives of miners who died on the job said the devices are worth using if they save only one life," reports James R. Carroll, who obtained a portion of the Mine Safety and Health Administration study report.

"The latest unit, with a tracking device and a lighter battery, costs about $900. A transmitter cost between $50,000 and $55,000, and an antenna costs about 20 cents per foot, or about $4,000 for a 20,000-foot loop, according to Mike Koesterer, general manager of the Americas for Mine Site Technologies Inc., the Australian firm that makes the devices," Carroll writes.

The devices "send text messages one way to small receivers the miners carry," helping guide them to safety and/or rescue. "Davitt McAteer, former head of MSHA under the Clinton administration, said the system was used to warn miners of a fire at Utah's Willow Creek Mine in 1998. All 45 miners got out safely," Carroll reports. (Read more)

Natural-gas boom means a tax bonanza for a rural state, Wyoming

"As natural gas prices have spiked and drillers have descended here on the nation's least-populous state, Wyoming has collected about $65 million a month more in energy taxes than the government can spend," reports Kirk Johnson of The New York Times. "The numbers, in their cumulative power and duration, are starting to change the state's vision of what it could be and how to get there."

Even after pouring money into tax cuts, education, wildlife protection, historical preservation and other programs, the state still has "hundreds of millions to be set aside in an all-purpose savings account that some state officials fantasize could one day grow large enough to subsidize the state budget itself — Wyoming as trust-fund kid, or cowboy emirate," Johnson writes.

The state superintendent of public education, James McBride, told Johnson, "It's a great time to be in education in Wyoming. In five years, we'll be the best, and first, in everything in the country." But experts say the investments in education must be coupled with efforts to create new kinds of jobs that will keep college graduates in the state. (Read more)

Sinclair Broadcasting replaces corporate newscast with 'content feeds'

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., a 56-station TV chain with a disproportionately rural audience, is ending the "corporately produced news program known as News Central that had been a lightning rod for criticism from opponents of media consolidation, reports Andrea Walker of the Baltimore Sun.

"While Sinclair is getting rid of the live anchors that send out news feeds . . . its television stations will be sent 'content feeds,' much like a wire service sends stories to subscribing newspapers," the Sun reported, quoting David Amy, Sinclair's chief financial officer. Amy told Walker the program "wasn't generating the kind of ratings we had ... anticipated it would achieve."

"Sinclair introduced the News Central model in 2002 as a way to air live newscasts and save on operating costs," the Sun reports. "Critics complained that the newscasts were disingenuous because they appeared to be locally produced. Others said the feeds came with a conservative bent and homogenized the news content the company was providing its viewers."

Many of Sinclair's stations do not have local news operations and are part of networks that also do not do news. "The company will close news operations at four of its WB stations in Milwaukee, Buffalo, N.Y., Tampa, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C., by March 31," Walker reports. (Read more)

Hatfield-McCoy Institute for Agreement Training holds first session

"In the 1800s, Pike County in Eastern Kentucky was the battleground for the Hatfield-McCoy feud – the fabled dispute that entangled two families in two neighboring states and left more than a dozen people dead. Today, it is the site of an innovative workshop to teach people how to handle conflict much more peacefully," reports Terri McLean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture news service.

“What better place on the planet to teach people about skills that will resolve conflict?” asked Tim Campbell, Pike County extension agent for community and economic development, who organized the institute. He said the workshop uses the legacy of the famous feud to focus attention on modern concepts of mediation, negotiation and facilitation.

The institute, which lasts a week, is an expansion of a one-day agreement training program. The first week-long workshop, a recent event that attracted 14 people, including a teacher, a surgeon, a customer-retention specialist and a member of an Extension Homemakers club, who paid $400 each to attend.

"The participants learned largely through interactive exercises, with a minimum of lectures," McLean writes. "Stephanie Richards, the nation’s only Extension agent for fine arts, was on hand to add what Campbell called 'a dose of reality' to an important component of conflict resolution training – role-playing."

Campbell told McLean that participants were “100 percent in favor of doing it again.” He added, “I know from our own experiences that the need for this type of information is growing because, regrettably conflict is growing.” (Read more)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rural America: Diversity grows; factories dominate but are in decline

Did you know that manufacturing jobs make up substantially more of the rural labor force than the urban work force, and that rural factories employ almost twice as many people as farming?

So says “Demographic Trends in Rural and Small Town America,” the latest in a series of reports on rural America by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. The larger message of the report is that rural America is becoming more diverse, and so are its challenges, such as its increasing difficulty in recruiting and keeping good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“Many places are seeing large increases in population, whether it is retirees and others looking for a different quality of life or the many ‘new Americans’ choosing to live and work in rural communities,” Carsey Institute Director Cynthia Mildred Duncan said in the news release about the report, by Kenneth M. Johnson, a sociology professor and demographer at Loyola University in Chicago.

“The report shows that many rural areas are also growing more racially diverse, a trend fueled in part by an increase in the number of immigrants settling in these areas,” the release said. “Although immigrants remain a small percentage of the rural population, immigration accounted for a disproportionate share of the rural growth since 1990. In 2000, the foreign-born populations in 297 counties exceeded five percent for the first time.”

Only 6.5 percent of the rural labor force is engaged in farming, while 12.4 percent is employed in manufacturing, “substantially higher than the 8.4 percent figure in metropolitan areas,” the report notes. But it warns, “It does not appear that manufacturing will come to the rescue" of rural America, because “the recent globalization of manufacturing has cost many rural manufacturing jobs. The low-technology, low-wage manufacturing that rural manufacturing plants specialized in is now shifting offshore. The impact of these trends is clearly reflected in the dramatically reduced levels of population growth and modest net migration gains in manufacturing counties since 2000.”

Most rural population growth is occurring “in areas with scenic landscapes, mild climates or proximity to rapidly growing metropolitan areas, or a combination of these elements,” the release said. To download the full report, click here. To read the news release, click here.

Duncan said the report has “broad implications for issues ranging from water quality to the availability of affordable health care to support for core community institutions and infrastructure. And we need to be deeply concerned about the people in chronically poor areas that continue to struggle with stagnation and under-investment.” The report notes rural areas' high rates of child poverty, poor access to health care and government services, and stresses caused by “the rapid influx of people and businesses into many areas.”

The report, which defines "rural" as "non-metropolitan," was written It includes a story on how the demographic changes are playing out in one North Carolina county. (See below)

A shakeup in Mayberry: Surry County, N.C., exemplifies rural changes

"Surry County is experiencing very real upheaval, changes as great as at anytime in its history," Julie Ardery writes after visiting Mount Airy, N.C., hometown of Andy Griffith and template for TV's Mayberry. "For a century, the county’s economy, society and culture have been bound up in three industries — furniture making, tobacco, and textiles. Suddenly, all three are passing from the scene."

In "Mayberry Shake-Up," part of the Carsey Institute's latest report on rural America, Ardery says that as those traditional industries shrivel, poultry processing is growing, with an influx of Hispanic workers. "Wayne Farms has grown, adding 200 workers last year. According to HR director Karen Hardy, 80–85% of the company’s work force is Hispanic. Many employees live in a trailer park adjacent to the chicken plant and walk to work. Hispanic residents now outnumber African- Americans in Surry County."

Marion Venable, director of the Surry Community College Foundation, told Ardery that textile and furniture companies located in Surry County for its cheap water, timber and labor, but “The people we see coming in are attracted by aesthetics” Ardery concludes, "This change more than any other seems
to mirror what’s happening," and she sums up the community's challenge: "With Surry County’s society and industries in flux, community leaders, in Mt. Airy especially, have been beset with a curious problem: how to maintain the town’s attractiveness as a stable, rural idyll yet adjust to a forcibly new economy."

Burke Robinson, who moved back to Mt. Airy, population 8,400, in 1991 "to be closer to an aging parent and enroll his children in the smaller school district, has invested in local real estate and is developing a resort on land just outside of town, where an elegant 19th century hotel once hosted guests from across the eastern seaboard," Ardery writes, quoting him: “Tourism isn’t the answer, but it’s one of the answers.”

Robinson said the county is seeing an influx of “active retirees” with second homes who plan to move to the county, population 71,000. Some who retired to Florida “are finding that summer twelve months a year is not much fun," Robinson said. "They went from cold to hot, but they’re coming back to warm.”

The influx of Northerners and urbanites is changing Surry County in other ways. Two years ago, voters passed an ordinance to allow liquor by the drink. Father Eric Kowalski, priest of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Mt. Airy, told Ardery that any such notion was “howled upon by many people,” who warned, “It will destroy our wholesome population.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the county also hopes to expand its economy with vineyards and wineries, which are getting help from the half of national tobacco-settlement proceeds that North Carolina invested for assistance to agriculture.

Economic change may also raise the value placed in education. “If there’s any blessing in not having any work,” Dobson Elementary Principal Jan Varney told Ardery, “it’s seeing education as a necessity.”

Sago Mine owner blames lightning for blast; others say too early to say

The company that owns the Sago Mine, where 12 miners died in an explosion on Jan. 2, said last night that it believes the blast was caused by lightning. But International Coal Group said it did not know how the lightning reached the methane gas inside the mine, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's special adviser on the investigation said it is too early to reach such conclusions.

ICG said in a press release, “The precise route by which the lightning electrical charge traveled from a surface strike location to the sealed area remains under investigation. There is no obvious conduit directly from the surface, such as a borehole with a metal casing, although searches have been conducted on the surface.” The Charleston Gazette notes, “Federal and state inspectors have said they consider lightning a possible cause of the explosion, but that such a strike cannot be conclusively blamed for the blast until a path from the surface to underground is pinpointed.”

Manchin's special adviser on the probe is Davitt McAteer, former head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said comments about the cause of the explosion are premature. “We’re not ruling lightning out, but we’re not ruling it in, either,” McAteer told Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. “The fact that lightning struck is a fact, but what we don’t have, and have no way of knowing, is the path it took and the route of ignition.” (Read more)

Kentucky House passes phone-dereg bill that could cost rural consumers

The Kentucky House voted yesterday to largely telephone service in the state, and the Senate is expected to follow suit. But "Opponents warned that many customers -- especially those who live in rural areas with less competition -- could end up paying more," reports The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

"If the bill becomes law, it will remove state oversight of phone rates for everything but the dial tone," writes C-J business reporter Wayne Tompkins. "The state's two largest local phone companies, BellSouth and Alltel, have lobbied heavily for the measure, suggesting that burdensome state regulations have hampered their ability to compete with the all-in-one communications packages offered by cable companies, writes John Stamper of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

A foe of the bill, House Majority Whip Joe Barrows, called it perhaps the best piece of corporate overreaching and the worst piece of consumer legislation I've seen in my 26 years in the legislature." A BellSouth official competition will keep prices down, and customers in rural areas, which have little competition, will be protected because rates for the 40 percent who choose basic service will still be regulated by the state Public Service Commission. (Read more from C-J)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Sunshine Week tale: County's demand for story review is lead balloon

When a county administrator tried to require a twice-weekly paper in rural western Minnesota to "submit its stories about the county for fact-checking or be cut off from top county officials," he ran into a "public outcry" and quickly backpedaled and apologized, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Employees of the 9,100-circulation Alexandria Echo Press in Alexandria (population 8,900, in a county of 32,000) said they were gratified to see public support for independent journalism as a watchdog on public officials. The paper noted in an editorial Friday that "Sunshine Week . . . a time to celebrate First Amendment rights," is this week. . . . We're happy to report that the First Amendment is not taken lightly in Douglas County. ... Any effort to weaken it will run into a buzzsaw of opposition." The editorial is not available online, but the apology of County Coordinator Bill Schalow is.

In an interview with the Star-Tribune's Larry Oakes, Schalow said he was trying to satisfy officials who were sometimes unhappy with how the Echo Press reported on them. He said some officials are uncomfortable dealing with reporters and sometimes didn't like being quoted. "To try to help, Schalow recycled a communications protocol he had written in the 1990s for nearby Pope County, when he worked there. Pope County workers were on strike, it was a tense time, and the county wanted a procedure for handling media inquires," Oakes reports. (Read more)

How does your state's constitution rank in opening up government?

Which state constitutions provide the best protection for the public by guaranteeing access to government records? Find out by going to www.citizenaccess.org, for the results of a study by the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

Not unexpectedly, the two states that have recently added openness provisions to their charters ranked highest. Florida's constitution was the clear leader, which the study classified as "mostly open" or "mostly sunny," to tie in with Sunshine Week. California was ranked "somewhat open," or "sunny with clouds." It was followed by Louisiana, then Montana and Rhode Island in a virtual tie in the "partly cloudy" category. Six states were rates "cloudy" and the rest were labeled "nearly dark." Georgia's ranked lowest.

The study examined eight constitutional areas, including legislatures, executive branches, courts, government employees, local governments, private institutions, public participation in government and open-records procedures. Sub-categories included access to financial records, judicial-conduct complaints, records on elections and redistricting, retirement records, security and protection of privacy.

The Citizen Access Project is funded by Orlando broadcast executive Marion Brechner. The project also received funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, major supporter of Sunshine Week. For a news release on the study, from Newswise, click here.

National polls: Open government essential to effective democracy

"Sixty-two percent of respondents to an Ohio University Scripps Survey Research Center poll conducted at the request of the American Society of Newspaper Editors said "public access to government records is critical to the functioning of good government," reports SunshineWeek.org.

"The poll indicated that only a third of Americans consider the federal government 'very open.' Twenty-two percent of respondents consider the federal government 'very secretive'; another 42 percent said it was 'somewhat secretive.'

"When asked about secrecy at the state and local level, respondents to the Scripps poll were less concerned: 10 percent said these legislative bodies were 'very secretive' and 30 percent said 'somewhat secretive.' More than half, 55 percent, said state and local governments are open to public review."

Oregon study shows link between school funding, student achievement

The Rural School and Community Trust says a study it conducted founds that money available to school districts "significantly influences educational outcomes in rural Oregon."

The study also found that "rural districts facing the greatest challenges receive the fewest resources and have the lowest levels of academic achievement. By contrast, rural districts facing the fewest challenges receive the most resources and have the highest levels of achievement," the trust reports in the March edition of its newsletter, Rural Policy Matters.

The study also found that "the influence of per-pupil funding levels on student achievement is stronger
than the influence of poverty," the newsletter says, noting that such a finding is not typical. "It suggests
that, in Oregon, equity and adequacy in the distribution of funding for public education are especially crucial. Collectively, the findings describe a pattern in which the distribution of resources appears to be compounding, rather than mitigating, socioeconomic disparities and working against efforts to close achievement gaps."

The full study is slated for release this spring. To read the trust's preliminary report, click here. To download a copy of the four-page Rural Policy Matters, with articles on other rural school issues, click here. The newsletter also has a question: In what 11 states are more than half the schools located in rural areas? The answer appears below, above the Rural Calendar.

Study suggests immigrants with a sense of community reduce crime rates

A new study challenges the widespread belief that immigration drives up crime rates, and suggests that the opposite is true if immigrants live in areas where they can develop a sense of community. If you're a journalist in one of the rural areas where immigration has recently become significant, we suggest you share these findings with your readers, who may share that belief.

The belief exists "because of the assumed propensities of these groups to commit crimes and settle in poor, presumably disorganized communities," the lead author pf the study, Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson, writes in The New York Times, which produced the graphic seen here. "Yet our study found that immigrants appear in general to be less violent than people born in America, particularly when they live in neighborhoods with high numbers of other immigrants."

Sampson says "the usual suspects — a decline in crack use, aggressive policing, increased prison populations, a relatively strong economy, increased availability of abortion — has probably played some role," but not as much as believed. He says his study "showed that living in a neighborhood of concentrated immigration is directly associated with lower violence . . . after taking into account a host of factors, including poverty and an individual's immigrant status." Rising immigration rates in the study period coincided with lower crime rates.

Sampson studied almost 3,000 violent acts in 1995-2003 by people aged 8 to 25. "The study selected whites, blacks and Hispanics (primarily Mexican-Americans) from 180 Chicago neighborhoods ranging from highly segregated to very integrated. We also analyzed data from police records, the Census and a separate survey of more than 8,000 Chicago residents who were asked about the characteristics of their neighborhoods," he writes. "Surprisingly, we found a significantly lower rate of violence among Mexican-Americans than among blacks and whites. A major reason is that more than a quarter of all those of Mexican descent were born abroad and more than half lived in neighborhoods where the majority of residents were also Mexican. This 'protective' pattern among immigrants holds true for non-Hispanic whites and blacks as well." (Read more)

Tampa Tribune: ‘Legal Status Not Among Fruits Of Migrants’ Labor

The "quaint farming town" of Plant City, Fla., "became ground zero" last week "in a global controversy about an immigration reform bill moving through Congress," wrote Jan Hollingsworth of the Tampa Tribune (story no longer available online).

More than 100 protesters, most of them current or former farmworkers, demonstrated at Plant City's annual Strawberry Festival for "legalization of undocumented migrant workers," Hollingsworth reports. "One man stood at the curb with this sign: 'Your berries come from OUR illegal hands'."

The demonstrators oppose HR 4437, which "would punish people who harbor or help illegal immigrants, even unknowingly, and proposes fines or jail time for employers who hire workers without legitimate documentation. . . . It is estimated that nearly 11 million undocumented workers reside in the United States, about 850,000 of whom live in Florida, according to the Pew Hispanic Center."

Case of mad-cow disease found somewhere in Alabama, USDA says

The third case of mad-cow disease has been found in an animal in Alabama. U.S. Agriculture Department officials said the cow, which was killed by a local veterinarian and buried on the farm after it became unable to walk, did not enter the food supply for people or animals.

State and federal agriculture officials said the farm was quarantined but declined to give its location, "citing security concerns," reports Dave Parks of The Birmingham News. "Investigators are working to determine where the cow was born and raised and locate its herdmates and offspring," The Associated Press reports. "Investigators are working to pinpoint the cow's age."

The vet examined the cow's teeth and estimated the animal "quite possibly upwards of 10 years of age," Alabama's chief vetl said, which would put its birth before 1997 -- , when the U.S. "banned ground-up cattle remains from being added to cattle feed in 1997. Eating contaminated feed is the only way cattle are known to contract the disease," AP notes.

The cow "was part of a herd of 40 cattle in a state filled with thousands of small producers," Parks reports. The first paragraph of his story said the situation"poses no risk to human health but some economic concern for the cattle industry, authorities said." Federal officials told AP they did not expect the case to affect their efforts to reopen Japan to shipments of U.S. beef. (Read more)

ANSWER to rural-school question

The last paragraph of today's fourth item asks which states have more than half their schools in rural areas. The answer, according to the Rural School and Community Trust: Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Formula for rural job growth: Innovation, cooperation and partnerships

"Rural communities that are growing and creating jobs have three things in common: innovation, cooperation and partnerships," said experts at "Building Your Region From Within," a workshop at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., reports Doug Wilson, senior writer at the Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig .

Mark Drabenstott of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's Center for the Study of Rural America said communities that have been marketing themselves for decades should be willing to work with neighbor towns that they might regard as competitors: "The power of regional efforts comes ... from pooling resources, money, economic assets and creating a critical mass."

"Drabenstott said colleges and universities often help regions reach a 'critical mass' that helps foster growth and job creation. Higher education is critical because it helps move the work force to higher skill levels," Wilson reports. "The information about job growth is borne out by national statistics that show fewer than 10 of the 310 fastest growing counties are rural."

Click here for more from the Herald-Whig, at an address both modern and archaic: www.whig.com.

‘Covering & Guiding Rural Economic Development’ in Murray, Ky., April 7

Many local news outlets have played a role in bringing jobs to their communities, both with stories and editorials and with civic leadership. Today, they and their communities face new challenges. For example, globalization has made it more difficult for American communities to attract and retain jobs, and many rural communities face technological obstacles in keeping up with the rest of the country and the world.

To help rural journalists cover these issues and provide responsible civic leadership, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a workshop, “Covering and Guiding Rural Economic Development,” in Murray, Ky. on April 7. The conference at Murray State University will be held in conjunction with the spring meeting of the West Kentucky Press Association; the fee, which includes lunch, will be $25 for WKPA members and $50 for non-members.

Speakers include Henry Torres of Rural Sourcing of Jonesboro, Ark., which sells rural America as an alternative to overseas outsourcing; Brian Mefford of ConnectKentucky, a business-government alliance that promotes technology development; Mickey Johnson, district director of Murray State's Small Business Development Center, which encourages entrepreneurship; Paul Monsour, former Union County Advocate editor, who now heads the county economic development foundation; Justin Maxson of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which encourages local entrepreneurship and questions the effectiveness of state economic-development incentives; J. R. Wilhite of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet; state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson, Ky., banker; Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, which oversees Kentucky's spending of tobacco-settlement money for agriculture; and Laura Skillman, an award-winning journalist who heads news services for the agricultural unit at the University of Kentucky; and Ron Hustedde of the UK Cooperative Extension Service, who runs an Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute to develop and encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs in rural areas.

To download a PDF of the conference brochure and registration form, click here.

Rural pharmacists feeling squeeze from new Medicare drug program

Rural pharmacists who helped patients adapt to the new Medicare Part D drug plan "are having problems of their own with ... Part D, and they say it could force some of them to drop their hallmark small-town service or close their doors for good," reports the News-Leader in Springfield, Mo. "Reimbursements from drug plan companies are so low and so slow to arrive that it's causing cash flow problems."

Kathleen O'Dell writes,"A large percentage of rural southern Missouri customers are on Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor, which pays pharmacists more than most third-party payers including the Medicare drug plans. When the government automatically assigned Missouri's 140,000 Medicaid seniors to Medicare drug plans Jan. 1, pharmacists lost money they don't expect to recoup."

The newspaper explains in a detailed "How It Works" sidebar: "Retail U.S. pharmacies, especially the more than 24,000 independent pharmacies, don't have the clout or volume of chain-owned pharmacies to negotiate higher reimbursements. And anti-trust laws prohibit independent pharmacies from pooling together to negotiate better fees." The National Community Pharmacists Association is exploring the possibility of changing the law, spokeswoman Carol Cooke told the News-Leader. (Read more)

Robert Pear of The New York Times reports that some Texas pharmacists close to President Bush discussed the issue last week with Bush's chief political adviser, Texan Karl Rove. In a written report, they said, ""Most independent community pharmacists are small-business Republicans." (Read more)

McClatchy buying Knight Ridder, but will sell 12 of KR's 32 dailies

Knight Ridder Inc. agreed last night to sell itself to the McClatchy Co., The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported this morning, citing unnamed sources close to the negotiations. The sale price is $4.5 billion in cash and stock, plus assumption of about $2 billion in debt, the Journal reported. (Read more) Industry analyst John Morton told Reuters it is "a fire-sale price."

McClatchy, based in Sacramento, was the only firm to submit a final bid, the Times reported. It is the eighth largest American newspaper chain; Knight Ridder is second, and the combined company will rank likewise, behind Gannett Co., which Times reporters Kit Seelye and Andrew Sorkin said "passed on the auction entirely." (Read more)

McClatchy will have 32 daily newspapers after selling 12 Knight Ridder dailies, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; the American News in Aberdeen, S.D.; the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota; The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; the Contra Costa Times and The Monterey County Herald in California and the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota. Read more from The Associated Press; for the companies' joint press release, click here. For a story by Pete Carey and Chris O'Brien in the Mercury News, in the company's headquarters city of San Jose, click here.

McClatchy's Web site lists 17 weeklies -- seven in California, four each in North Carolina and South Carolina, and two in Washington. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook database lists 32 Knight Ridder weeklies -- 12 in California, five in Illinois, three each in Florida, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas, two in Pennsylvania and one in Kansas. Many if not most are affiliated with the company's dailies.

Wall Street Journal graphic

In places like Aberdeen and Biloxi, folks worry about sales of local newspapers

As Knight Ridder began considering bids last week, folks in some small cities and rural areas served by the company's smaller newspapers voiced concern that the new owner "will scale back coverage, install unfamiliar leaders or cut charity and other civic efforts," reported Joseph Menn of the Los Angeles Times.

"No change would be good," Mike Levsen, mayor of Aberdeen, S.D., population 25,000, told Menn. "Right now they contribute hugely to the community." The American News, circulation of 16,000, "not only reaches more than 70 percent of the households in its readership area, but also champions the local women's shelter and sponsors numerous events, including panel discussions about regional population shifts and an annual celebrity pheasant hunt, which sends money to a camp for children with diabetes."

"John McManus, director of a journalism watchdog project at San Jose State University, near Knight Ridder's corporate headquarters and flagship newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News . . .said the changes might be more profound in places like Aberdeen," Menn reports.

In Biloxi, Miss., worry about a change in ownership of the Sun Herald "is more acute in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," Menn writes. "In addition to providing donations, the paper continued to publish, flying in editions that told evacuees where to get help." Vincent Creel, the city's public affairs director, told Menn, "A good newspaper is the conscience of a community, and to try to do that on a cookie-cutter template, that's hard." (Read more)

Bush speaks to National Newspaper Assn. Government Affairs Conference

President Bush, whose support in rural areas was probably key to his election and re-election, told rural and community newspaper publishers and editors in Washington Friday, "I've never forgotten that lesson that good politics means paying attention to the people not only in the big cities, but outside the big cities."

Bush spoke to the Government Affairs Conference of the National Newspaper Association, a group of about 2,500 papers, 87 percent of them non-dailies. "I also recognize that not all the press is located in the big cities in America," he said, recalling his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1978. "I remember people telling me, whatever you do, you make sure you go knock on the door of the rural newspaper. If you're interested in finding out what's going on in the community, you not only go take questions, but you listen to what the people are saying."

Bush thanked the newspaper executives "for being part of the backbone of democracy. You know, you can't have a democracy unless there is a free and vibrant press corps. I sometimes remind people I may not like what you print, but what you print is necessary to maintain a vibrant public forum where people feel comfortable about expressing themselves." For the White House transcript of Bush's remarks, click here.

The third question to Bush came from Max Heath, vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. and a specialist in postal issues, which are critical to weekly newspapers. Heath told Bush a postal bill that NNA backs and is headed to a conference committee "was really pushed forward by a commission that you appointed," but may be in danger of opposition from the administration because it might increase the budget deficit. Bush replied, "Frankly, this issue hasn't made it to my desk prior to me arriving at this meeting. I'm mindful of the bill. I need to know more about the particulars before I make you a commitment one way or the other."

When Heath first raised the issue, and dropped the name of "Bonnie Mullens, of the McGregor Mirror and Crawford Sun down in your area," Bush interrupted to ask, "She didn't call you to go after a subscriber, did she?" Heath replied, "No, we just did a little research." The president responded, "Okay, good. Smart man."

Bush defends No Child Left Behind Act at newspaper conference

Karen Fishman of The Tullahoma (Tenn.) News asked Bush, "I wanted to know what you understand the complaints to be about your No Child Left Behind policy, and if you acknowledge those complaints as any weaknesses to the policy? How effective do you think it is in spite of that?"

Bush replied, "The complaint is, that how dare the government cause us to measure -- one of the complaints -- too much testing, you know. I heard that when I was the governor of Texas. . . . You know, how dare you test people who don't speak English as a first language. My answer to those concerns is that, how do you know if you don't test? How can you possibly tell whether a child is learning to read and write if you don't measure? When I was the governor of our state, I was deeply concerned about a system where people would come to me and say, you know what, we're getting kids in college that are not very literate. This kind of, just, social promotion was the culture and the norm.

"If I were a newspaper owner, I'd want to make sure people could read. And one way to make sure people read is to measure early whether or not people can pass a test. I've heard people say, all we're doing is teaching the test; you're causing people to teach the test. And my answer to that is, teaching a child to be literate will enable that child to pass the test. There's something fundamental about literacy."

Bush added later, "There's got to be accountability in the public school system. If you do not diagnose a problem, you can never solve the problem. . . . We believe every child can learn -- every child. And, therefore, this is a program that says we want accountability for the taxpayers' money."

Mississippi farmers have become the forgotten victims of Katrina

Thirty miles north of the Gulf Coast, Mississippi dairy farmers hit by Hurricane Katrina have "abandoned their herds and homesteads" and are getting little aid, reports Spencer Hsu of The Washington Post.

"Katrina roared north along Interstate 59 and spawned sustained winds of 120 mph as far as 80 miles inland. In that wedge of devastation, boats and processing plants were smashed. Wood-plank hay barns and tin-roofed dairy sheds were shredded. And this region's stoic fishermen and farmers became the forgotten victims of the storm, lost in the misery of metropolitan New Orleans and the Mississippi coast."

Hsu continues a stark litany: "Around small towns such as Petal and Laurel, as well as the coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Pearl River, scores of small farmers who normally would be harvesting blueberries, greens, squash, bell peppers and fresh cut flowers through the mild winter are idle because buyers from New Orleans farmers markets and Mississippi casino restaurants were blown away. Across timber-rich southern Mississippi, the storm blew down or made impossible to machine harvest about $1 billion in old-growth hardwood and pine forest, wiping out wealth for 60,000 landowners that took generations to build. . . . Poultry growers were mostly insured, and cotton-rich Delta farmers dodged Katrina's winds. But non-industrial tree farmers -- who hold 69 percent of the state's timber acreage -- received just $400 million from Congress, a fraction of their losses." (Read more)

Wildlife, tourism concerns delay wind farm in 'Virginia's Switzerland'

A proposed wind farm in the Virginia mountains has been delayed because of worries about the huge fan-shaped devices' effects on wildlife and tourism, reports The Roanoke Times.

"State biologists say the giant wind turbines could harm endangered bats, birds, viewsheds, other natural resources and tourism in rural Highland County, known as 'Virginia's Switzerland'," writes John Cramer. State officials said last week that review of the project would be suspended until Highland New Wind Development LLC responds to the concerns of state agencies, which want another year of study.

"Most U.S. windmill facilities are in the West, but a growing number are being built in the Appalachian Mountains," Cramer notes. "The company's studies show the proposed project, which would put 19 windmills atop two ridges . . . would cause minimal damage to the environment. But state biologists say the giant wind turbines could harm endangered bats, birds, viewsheds, other natural resources and tourism in rural Highland County, known as "Virginia's Switzerland."

Cramer concludes, "Supporters say the project will generate nonpolluting energy, help decrease America's dependence on foreign energy sources, produce local tax revenue of about $200,000 annually, create temporary construction jobs and boost tourism in a county that's financially strapped." (Read more)

The Recorder of Monterey, the weekly newspaper for Highland and Bath counties, has closely followed this issue. General Manager Anne Adams' latest story is about a bill in the state legislature "to give localities the option of how to tax wind utility equipment." (Read more)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Recreation, investments driving up rural land values 11 percent a year

"Rural real estate prices 11 percent to an average of $1,510 per acre from Jan. 1, 2004, to Jan. 1, 2005," reports USA Today. "That's the fastest annual increase since 1981 and the biggest on record in dollar terms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More recent data from Iowa State University show prices in Iowa rose nearly 11 percent in 2005. In Texas, the median rural land price rose 15 percent in 2005. State and USDA estimates differ because of sampling times and techniques but show similar trends."

The inflation of rural land values is the greatest since the late 1970s, when food prices rose and the federal government encouraged farmers to clear out their fencerows and plant all they could. ""Everybody is waiting for it to level off," Charles Gilliland of the Real Estate Center at Texas A & M University told reporter Sue Kirchhoff. Or perhaps fall off. She notes, "Land values sank 27 percent from 1982 to 1987."

Experts see less risk in the current boom, because it is less financed by debt. In some regions, most buyers are "developers, individuals who want to convert a ranch or farm to a recreational purpose, such as hunting or fishing, or those who see land as a good investment given low interest rates," Kirchhoff writes.

"This is a starkly different episode," Mark Drabenstott, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's Center for the Study of Rural America, told USA Today. "We've seen considerable off-farm investors interested in farmland, in part a lingering result of the [low] stock market performance of recent years." (Click here to read more)

Experts offer strategies for rural schools with declining enrollment

Is a rural school or district in your area suffering from declining enrollment? Are the administrators and board members getting the right advice? They, and your community, could benefit from the Rural School and Community Trust's new policy brief, "Breaking the Fall: Cushioning the Impact of Rural Declining Enrollment." Click here to download the 17-page document.

"Though there is no silver bullet that will 'fix' all problems associated with declining enrollment, these recommended state and local policies can accomplish two goals: (1) Buy time and give communities and economies time to rebound and/or adjust to population and revenue loss; and (2) Ensure that all students in communities with declining enrollment are offered an excellent education," the Trust says.

"The report asserts that states and local communities must act to sustain and improve small rural schools with declining enrollment. There are always students 'left behind' in these communities and they have the same rights to an equal educational opportunity as those who leave. Indeed, our society’s obligation to educate is not dependent on demographic good fortune and cannot, and should not, be compromised by geography."

Rural schools enrolling more students of color: In another report, the Trust analyzed data from the census and the National Center for Education Statistics to investigate changes in the demographic makeup of rural communities, and found that the percentage of students of color enrolled in rural schools increased by 46 percent from the 1993-94 school year to 2002-03. In that year, rural school enrollment was 8 percent Black Non-Hispanic, 5 percent Hispanic, 3 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native; about 0.5 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 81 percent White Non-Hispanic. (Read more)

Meth addiction reaching pre-teen victims in rural Texas town

Methamphetamine addiction in Marble Falls, Texas (pop. 6,059 ) is rapidly rising among a new group of victims: pre-teens and children, according to a local chemical dependency counselor.

Susan Hartline, of Hartline Counseling, told Marcella Taylor of The Highlander News, "The meth problem here is absolutely horrible, the worst I've ever seen, and I've lived in 17 states."

Methamphetamine abuse now affects one in three families in the county, according to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, Taylor writes. And Hartline said she is seeing an alarming increase in the number of local children seeking treatment. "Meth use is found on every single campus, including Marble Falls Elementary School," she said. "I've treated kids as young as fourth and fifth graders."

Her observations are supported by a 2004 Texas Department of Public Safety crime report, which sowed children as young as 10 years old have been arrested for possession of meth. Hartline added that some children get the first taste from their parents. She has had seven former clients admit that they got their children high, and 26 adolescents admit that their parents were the first to give them meth. "Many parents are doing methamphetamine with their kids so that the kids will not turn them in to authorities or so they will have a using buddy," she said.

One problem fueling drug use among children, said David Laine of the District's Narcotics Enforcement Team, is children's easy access to money. "Parents are giving their kids $20 or $40 at the beginning of the week," he told Taylor. "The parents have to hold them accountable for where that money goes."

He stressed integrated communication within all levels of law enforcement, along with public awareness and education, will be crucial to fighting meth. (Read more)

Kentucky lawmakers scale back mine-safety bills prompted by disaster

A committee of the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate voted yesterday not to require that coal mines be inspected more often or that underground miners wear tracking devices to help rescue crews find them.

Roger Alford of The Associated Press reports, "With weeks becoming months since 12 miners died in a Sago, W.Va., disaster, the sense of urgency to enact stricter laws may be fading in Kentucky, said state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville." Yonts has a bill to require tracking devices, at least four inspections each year, provide tracking devices and allow stronger penalties against violators of safety laws.

"Both bills would require stores of breathing devices in underground mines, though the House bill would make them more accessible than the Senate version, said Tony Oppegard, a Lexington lawyer and former general counsel to the state mine regulatory agency," Alford reports. (Read more)

Indiana to get largest biodiesel plant; public supports renewable fuels

Louis-Dreyfus Agriculture Industries LLC plans to build the world’s largest biodiesel plant near Claypool, Ind., 40 miles west of Fort Wayne, making fuel from Indiana soybeans.

"Indiana is the fifth-largest corn state and the fourth-largest soybean state, and with the facilities under construction, the state will produce an additional 400 million gallons of ethanol annually and 95 million gallons of biodiesel (including Louis Dreyfus)," reports Gary Truitt of Brownfield.com, an agricultural news service. "Indiana’s goal is to produce a combined 1 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel annually." (Read more)

"A new national public opinion survey demonstrates overwhelming public support for government policies and investments that will support development of renewable energy sources like solar, wind and ethanol," reports Agriculture.com. The survey shows a major shift in public opinion, said Read Smith, co-chair of the 25 x '25 Work Group, an organization that would like to see the US to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025. "Americans want to invest in renewable energy right here at home so that we are less dependent on countries in unfriendly and unstable parts of the world," Smith said. (Read more)

Reports of Formosan termites in mulch from Louisiana are incorrect

Reports on the Internet warning consumers about termite-infested wood mulch are not true. "The e-mails warn consumers about buying 'cheap' wood mulch from national home improvement stores because the mulch might be infested with Formosan termites," reports Brownfield.com. "The e-mail claims hurricane-damaged trees from the Gulf Coast which were infested with termites have been made into mulch."

Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen told Brownfield, an agricultural news service based in the Badger State, “We’ve checked with our counterparts in Louisiana and the email is not accurate. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry put quarantines in place last fall following the hurricanes to prevent the spread of Formosan termites." The quarantines require woody debris to stay in designated areas in Louisiana unless the department approves a termite-treatment plan for it. Ashley Rodrigue of the department told Brownfield, “We have multiple state and federal agencies working together to ensure that the quarantines are effective.”

TV stations need more accurate, in-depth health stories, study finds

The first-ever national study of health coverage on television found a need for more accurate reporting and more medical information.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that "health and medical stories comprised 11 percent of the news portion of late-evening newscasts in the one-month period studied, with 1,799 such stories carried on 2,795 broadcasts captured from the representative sample of 122 stations in the nation’s top 50 media markets," reports Newswise, a news and public relations service for higher-education and research firms.

Many stories did not detail the source of the information presented. "Items about specific diseases tended not to contain recommendations for viewers, or information about how common the disease was — which could help put the news into perspective with other health issues. But most disturbing, the study’s authors say, were the egregious errors contained in a small minority of studies — errors that could have led to serious consequences," reports Newswise. (Read more)

One story broadcast on several stations reported as fact that lemon juice could be an effective contraceptive and even help prevent the spread of AIDS. The study was done in a research lab, but many stories neglected to mention it had not involved humans. "Even more alarming, one of the stations misinterpreted the study altogether and stated that lemon juice may be a substitute for 'costly' HIV medications," notes Newswise.

For an example of a local news outlet being willing to report on other media, click here for a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on how area stations fared in the study. The full report was published in the American Journal of Managed Care, but it is not available online.

Science, medical reporters doubt viewers' ability to grasp their topics

"While topics such as 'genetics' and 'biotechnology' have become part of the public’s general vocabulary, some researchers believe these issues receive far less media coverage than they once did. Does the lack of coverage stem from general public disinterest? Does it come from the inability of scientists to publicize their findings? Does the blame rest with the reporters themselves?" asks Newswise, a news and public-relations service for higher-education and research firms.

A new study conducted by University of Missouri-Columbia researchers explored the duties of a scientific reporter, and it found they have little faith in the viewers, reports Newswise. “Science reporters and editors believed citizens wouldn’t be able to acquire and process the information about biotechnology and the sources of information used to trigger science stories,” said Mugur Geana, a doctoral student, who conducted the study with Glen T. Cameron, MU professor of advertising and Gregory Chair of Journalism Research in the School of Journalism.

Geana and Cameron surveyed 304 science and medical reporters. Cameron said the study implies that reporters will either not cover some material or believe they have to simplify stories for the general audience. Reporters also responded that they were concerned that pop culture negatively affects the public's view of science, notes Newswise. (Read more)

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Fed head warns community banks about commercial real-estate loans

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is warning bankers that the rapid growth in commercial real estate loans poses potential risks for them -- and for other customers who need credit.

Community banks, defined as a bank or thrift institution with total assets of $1 billion or less, have become more focused on commercial real estate lending in recent years. That "raises the possibility that risk-management practices in community banks may have not kept pace with growing concentrations and may be due for upgrades," Bernanke told a group of bankers in Las Vegas. Despite not having any major concerns about community banks, Bernanke cited sound risk management as a key for the banks' longevity, reports Nell Henderson of The Washington Post.

At present, there are 7,200 community banks in the U.S., down from more than 10,000 in 1994. That reduction can be explained by bigger banks buying up the community operations, Bernanke said. Still, more than 700 new community banks have opened since 2000, writes Henderson. (Read more)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bernanke also criticized a loophole that permits commercial companies to own banks. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced plans to open a bank. Click here to read more and see a video of Bernanke's remarks.

Decline in U.S. smoking = Less settlement money for tobacco states

Americans smoked fewer cigarettes last year than at any time since 1951, which could reduce money received by big tobacco states. Since a landmark settlement between states and tobacco companies in 1998, smoking has declined more than 20 percent, writes Marc Kaufman of The Washington Post.

The resulting decline in revenue will affect agricultural investment in North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, the top three tobacco states. Each state has earmarked large portions of settlement money for development of their agricultural economies. As part of a $246 billion settlement, tobacco companies are paying states money to settle lawsuits over cigarette-related health costs.

The 46 states that signed the settlement expected about $6.5 billion this spring, but tobacco companies have said they may be allowed to cut payments by $1.2 billion this year. The companies have said the agreement permits them to reduce payments if their collective market share falls below a certain amount. They claim that occurred in 2003 when smokers started opting for generic cigarettes, but that issue is being disputed by several states, notes Kaufman. (Read more)

Alabama aftermath: Hope, renewal bring communities together after fires

"From the scattered ashes of a church that burned to its bones in a remote corner of Alabama, the Rev. James Posey sees hope. He imagines a majestic, new Morning Star Baptist, 3,000 square feet, towering pillars and wooden pews. He imagines parishioners who come every Sunday and on Wednesdays, too, to hear the word of God delivered by a man whose faith never fell, even when the church building did. His is one of 10 churches in this state, some dating back a century, torched in the past month," reports Audra D.S. Burch of Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Three university students from Birmingham are being charged with arson and conspiracy in connection fires set last month at nine Baptist churches in rural Alabama. Burch spend time during the last week visiting the rural community of Oligee, Ala. What she found is a remarkable story of hope and renewal.

"In the Sundays since the burnings, the churches bonded. They shared space, prayed together and discovered neighbors. (Jack) Allen, who pastors a white congregation, opened his doors to Pleasant Sabine, one of the county's oldest black congregations. The churches sit less than a quarter-mile apart, separated only by a pair of cemeteries, and yet no one remembers their ever worshiping or fellowshipping together. It was like this all over the five wounded counties, churches sharing for the first time. Initially, it was about support. Now, it's about rebuilding," writes Burch.

"Most of the congregations have collected donations, from other churches, individuals, organizations and the promise of help from construction companies. A coalition of organizations is campaigning to raise $1 million. Federal loans are also available. In Eutaw, Posey points to the envelope that arrived the other day. Inside, a check for $100 from a stranger. It's a start," concludes Burch. (Read more)

Sago mine deaths strike a chord in faraway northwest Indiana

In a world that may seem increasingly cynical and withdrawn, it helps to know that sometimes, one person is willing to reach across many miles to help other human beings and make a difference.

Dee Holmes of Delphos, Ohio, population 6,860, did that when she held a benefit Saturday for the families affected by the Sago mine disaster in Tallmansville, W. Va., more than 300 miles away.

Holmes, a 36-year-old bartender, watched the coverage of the early-January disaster closely, and felt a bond with the families of the miners who were trapped, because her husband works out of town as a plumber and pipe fitter for financial reasons, she said in an interview. "From what I understand, that's what most of the miners were doing," she said. "They do it for monetary reasons."

Holmes said she is not related to anyone involved in the accident, but sympathized with the families who lost loved ones. "I personally don't know what I would do if I was in the position of losing my husband," she said.

When she decided she wanted to help, she called her local news station, WLIO in Lima, Ohio, and left a message with Holly Geaman. Geaman called her back within two hours and gave her a number for listeners to call to make donations. Holmes then called other people who would be interested in donating, then the Chamber of Commerce, of which she is a member, who got her in contact with the local Fraternal Order of Eagles, where the benefit was held. And, she said, it just "snowballed from there."

The benefit raised $725.25 for the families of the miners. Twelve were killed in the explosion; survivor Randal McCloy is making progress with recovery at HealthSouth MountainView Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, USA Today reports. More information about the disaster and its aftermath is available via the January and February archives of The Rural Blog. --Brittany Griffin, graduate assistant, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Copper-mining companies claim mineral rights in rural Arizona

Debbie Mechigian and Kenn Goldman moved to Dragoon in September, but now fear that their land may be worthless after an Australian mining company served the couple's neighbors with letters informing them of plans to explore for copper on their properties.

Photo by Pat Shannahan, The Arizona Republic

 

Below the "blue-black mountains in southeastern Arizona," residents in Dragoon are trying to stop copper-mining giants BHP Billiton and General Minerals Corp., which have filed claims on some of the residents' land and could start work anytime, writes Susan Carroll of The Arizona Republic.

"With copper surging to record prices on the world market, some analysts say more rural areas across the West can expect to see similar notices. Using a near-century-old law, mining companies are legally allowed to check if some rural residents are sitting on a gold mine. Major mining interests are snatching up many square miles of mineral rights at a time, although mostly for exploration of public lands -- not private. The competition is fierce in Arizona, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of the country's copper production, according to the Arizona Mining Association," Carroll writes.

Mining companies are using the Stock Raising Homestead Act, a law signed in 1916 by President Theodore Roosevelt "to promote westward expansion and allowed homesteaders to claim up to 640 acres of free land for cattle grazing," notes Carroll. During the late 1900s mining boom, Congress retained the mineral rights for the land homesteaded under the act.

Now millions of acres in the West are "split estate" lands, meaning private property owners only have surface rights and the federal government can lease the mineral rights. Through the Bureau of Land Management, anyone can file for mineral rights to unclaimed land homesteaded under the act, reports Carroll. (Read more)

Wisconsin farmers fight to keep their ginseng afloat in global market

Keary Drath, a stout Wisconsin farmer and self-appointed ginseng sleuth, knows from the first bite whether the powerful root is homegrown or from overseas. Getting ginseng buyers to make that distinction might save Wisconsin's century-old ginseng farming business, now being threatened by global rivals.

"With its rich loam, sunlight and cool summers, Wisconsin -- especially Marathon County in the central part of the state -- produces premium American ginseng. It is more potent and more bitter than American ginseng grown elsewhere. To an untrained eye, dried Wisconsin roots look the same as those produced in great quantity in Canada and China. Mislabeling and product mixing abound," writes Jane Zhang of the Wall Street Journal.

In 1992, Wisconsin produced 2.4 million pounds of ginseng, easily more than half of the American product sold throughout the world. Then, in the early 1990s, Canada purchased Wisconsin seeds and converted tobacco farms to growing ginseng, with surplus seeds sold to China. Wisconsin now grows just 500,000 pounds a year, far below Canada's five million and China's three million. Just 200 ginseng farmers exist in Wisconsin, down from 1,600 in the early 1990s. (Read more)

The Post story did not address the widely held belief that cultivated ginseng lack the medicinal properties of roots that grow wild and are the object of diggers in forests over much of the Eastern United States.

SPJ calls for action to preserve access to birth data, other vital records

"Pending federal regulations have state vital records officials considering rollbacks in access to birth and death records. If your state officials aren’t thinking about this issue yet, they soon will be," writes the Society of Professional Journalists in a press release.

A provision in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004 pertaining to public access to birth and death certificates could make it harder for reporters, activists and genealogical researchers to access such records. No one will really know what exactly the act entails until at least June 2006. However, in preparation for the act, South Dakota has sealed off public access to certified birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce records. Many other states are placing new restrictions on records, notes SPJ

SPJ urges you to contact you state's Freedom of Information coalition and your vital records officials to find ways to avoid an all-or-nothing approach. "Sponsor a roundtable discussion, and do stories on the issue," SPJ urges. (Read more)

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Illegal immigrants hold one-fourth of U.S. farming jobs, study finds

Nearly a fourth of farm workers in the United States are illegal immigrants, putting agriculture well ahead of other industries in use of illegals, according to a study released by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Undocumented immigrants make up a growing part of the U.S. labor force -- almost 5 percent -- and account for a large number of jobs in farming, cleaning, construction and food service, the center found. Illegal immigrants hold 24 percent of all farming jobs, 17 percent of cleaning jobs, 14 percent in construction and 12 percent in food preparation. Sixteen percent of native-born American workers perform service jobs, compared to 31 percent of illegals, reports S. Mitra Kalita of The Washington Post.

The study estimated that the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. grew by at least 400,000 last year, to between 11.5 million and 12 million. "Of that group, 7.2 million are employed, the study found. Most of the migrants came from Mexico, who make up about 56 percent of the total undocumented population. The rest of Latin America accounted for 22 percent, according to the study," writes Kalita.

Thousands of people protested yesterday in Washington against proposed legislation that they argue would allow the prosecution of those who help illegal immigrants. President Bush has pushed for a temporary-guest-worker program, but anti-immigration groups argue that would hurt the U.S. economy by lowering wages, Kalita reports. (Read more)

Some national-forest parcels being taken off sale list; how about yours?

Some of the national-forest parcels targeted for sale, in a plan to sell land for rural roads and schools, may be taken off the list because they were selected by regional officials unfamiliar with the properties. That's the case with six of the 47 parcels picked for sale in Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest, and could be true elsewhere. If you're covering this story, it could be worth an inquiry.

"The six parcels cover more than 400 acres east of Morehead in Rowan County, including a 107-acre tract recently purchased with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Forest Service spokeswoman Marie Walker said yesterday. The parcels are in an area where the agency wants to acquire land, but roughly fit the category of scattered pieces of land that the Bush administration wants to sell to fund rural schools and road projects," writes Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Last month, the Forest Service said it would consider selling 4,500 acres in that forest to help raise money for rural areas. Nationally, 300,000 acres have been identified for sale, but officials estimate 175,000 acres would raise the $800 million needed for schools and roads. (Read more)

The plan needs congressional approval, which may not come. Two Republican legislators from Montana, Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg, opposed the plan in a column in the Billings Gazette: "We don't believe it's wise to sell public land to fund a program that deserves full funding on its own. We sit on the House and Senate appropriations committees, and as long we're there, the proposal to sell public lands will never see the light of day." Both legislators are sponsoring legislation to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program, which gives payments to counties that see declines in Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management receipt-sharing programs. (Read more)

Bush administration issuing rule requiring more oxygen in coal mines

The U.S. Mine Safety and Healthy Administration will publish a temporary rule Thursday providing emergency oxygen to the nation's more than 37,000 underground coal miners and contract workers, following a month of study by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

In the new rule that could become permanent later this year, MSHA adds at least one additional one-hour air device to the one device that coal companies already provide. MSHA argued in the new rule that additional oxygen could have prevented many of the deaths at the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster, the Jan. 19 Aracoma Mine fire and a 1984 fire in Utah that killed 27 workers. MSHA admitted it knew since 1998 that the previous oxygen requirement was inadequate for escape attempts in more than a third of the nation’s underground coal mines, reports Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette.

"That year, an MSHA study found that it would take more than an hour to evacuate 234 of the nation’s more than 600 underground coal mines. At 76 of those 234 mines, miners would need more than two hours of air to escape, the study found. The Clinton administration was working on a rulemaking proposal to require additional oxygen, but it was dropped after President George W. Bush took office," writes Ward.

“It is a shame that the federal agency charged with protecting coal miners has to be spurred to action by the tragic season of death that has cost 21 miners their lives so far this year,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. “If MSHA were not asleep at the switch, perhaps those men would still be alive today.” MSHA estimated that complying with the new rule will cost the industry $54.7 million in the first year and $18.9 million annually after that. (Read more)

South Carolina governor says broadband makes rural economies global

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is urging rural residents to strive for self-sufficiency and embrace broadband Internet access.

Sanford spoke before more than 300 people at the South Carolina Rural Summit on Monday in North Charleston. While 44 percent of the new jobs created in the state last year were created in rural areas, "Sanford said 30 percent of the jobs announced in the state in the 1990s are no longer here," writes Bruce Smith of The Associated Press. The governor said getting broadband Internet access could link rural areas to the global economy: "We've got to think of infrastructure not just in terms of roads and sewers and water - which are very, very important - but we've also got to think about it in terms of information itself," he said.

Sanford also said rural South Carolina offers amenities not found in urban settings. "Play to your high strengths and one of the strengths that rural South Carolina has are those intangibles - that little town South Carolina is a place like you would like to raise your kids," he added. (Read more)

McMurtry says Oscar voters discriminated against rural 'Brokeback'

Larry McMurtry, the Texas native who co-wrote "Brokeback Mountain," says it lost the Academy Award for best picture of 2005 to "Crash" because members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences discriminate against rural stories, reports Hollywood.com: "The writer, who has been involved with four Oscar-nominated films including 'The Last Picture Show' and 'Terms of Endearment,' claims 'Crash' won because it was set in Los Angeles, where most Academy voters live." McMurtry said, "The three rural films [I was involved with] lost. The urban film, 'Terms of Endearment,' won. Members of the Academy are mostly urban people. Crash was a hometown movie." -- Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, starring in "Brokeback Mountain"

U.S. food labeling bill may invalidate laws on grits, smoked meat

Opponents of a U.S. House bill say it threatens at least 200 state laws on food safety and labeling.

"Everything from Alabama's nutritional standards for grits to the way Wisconsin labels cheese and smoked meats would be invalidated if the legislation were enacted, a bipartisan group of attorneys general argued at a news conference Tuesday (March 7). But food industry representatives and the bill's sponsor argue that the legislation is meant to unify a patchwork of state laws that are costly to business and confusing to consumers," writes Eric Kelderman of Stateline.org.

The National Uniformity for Food Act would standardize food labeling and require states to petition the federal Food and Drug Administration for more stringent safety regulations. Opponents include 39 state attorneys general who have signed a letter telling Congress to vote "no," reports Kelderman. Other opponents include the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the nonprofit Consumers Union, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Environmental Trust.

Of the 200 state laws possibly in jeopardy, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and the NRDC said those include shellfish safety standard laws in at least 16 states and milk safety and restaurant laws in all 50 states, reports Kelderman. (Read more)

Alabama House passes bill to make exposing kids to meth labs a felony

Alabama's House approved a bill Tuesday that makes exposing a child to a methamphetamine lab a felony.

Having already passed in the state Senate, the bill just needs Gov. Bob Riley’s signature, reports George Jones of the weekly Sand Mountain Reporter (circ. 11,107). Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, sponsor of the legislation, said, “This was such an important bill because it protects children from inhaling the fumes or absorbing them in their skin. The bill gives law enforcement officers another charge they can file when trying to shut down meth labs.”

Jennifer Lindsay with the Marshall County Department of Human Resources reports that as of Dec. 31, 2005, there were 269 open protective service cases involving one or more children. "Of those, 120 cases involved meth use by a parent or caregiver. Of 186 children in foster care, meth use by a parent or caregiver is a factor for 72 of those children," writes Jones. (Read more)

Southern Maryland development leaves country stores in rearview mirror

At least 26 country stores used to exist in St. Mary's, Md., but fewer than 10 have avoided being demolished, abandoned or converted into restaurants, antique shops or other businesses. Of the few that remain in St. Mary's and other Southern Maryland counties, planners say development could spell their end, reports Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post.

"It's a fairly resilient type of business, but those that succeed will have to change," John Savich, director of the St. Mary's Department of Economic and Community Development, told Partlow. "It's not going to be selection, and it's not going to be price. It's going to be the friendliness or something that's a little different or a little better."

At Stone's Store in Budds Creek, in St. Mary's, Patsy Stone and her family have been winning with friendliness since 1932. "But Stone has decided to sell the store. If she were a younger woman, she said, she might try to expand and modernize. Of her four children, one was interested in taking over, but he died of cancer," writes Partlow. (Read more)

Rocky topper says the best journalists always sweat the small stuff

John Temple, the editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, wrote a column last week telling a small but pivotal story about himself to illustrate a big lesson that young journalists should remember -- "that a key measure of a journalist was whether, on even the smallest task, his work was impeccable." (Thanks to Jim Romenesko of the Poynter Institute for the heads up.)

Temple recalls his first assignment at a big paper, the Toronto Star: "Cover a routine news conference by a Cabinet minister about some obscure federal program. . . . The story was a test. I had been sent out so editors could compare what I wrote with what the wire service reported from the same event. The message was clear: If your story isn't better than theirs, we're going to use theirs. And if theirs is better than yours, what are you doing in this newsroom?"

"The combination of the competition in the newsroom and the demanding expectations from management meant that I knew I had to step up my game. . . . I learned that how I handled a short item given to me by an assistant city editor would set the tone for how I was perceived in the newsroom, and ultimately the kinds of assignments I would get," Temple writes. " Today, when I hire journalists I try to determine whether they take seriously everything they touch, or just the 'big stories.' I'm always disappointed when an intern comes into the newsroom and regards writing obituaries, for example, as something beneath them.

"If journalists approach small, seemingly simple, tasks with a different, more lax, attitude than they approach the big ones, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to summon the skills needed to master the challenges of stories that might put them on the contest pedestal," he continues. "In fact, in my experience it's unlikely that journalists will be able to produce contest-winning work unless their daily efforts shine." (Read more)

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

March 12-18: Sunshine Week's message needs rural media's support

Sunshine Week, March 12-18, will put a national spotlight on open government and secrecy -- the problems we face, the impacts on communities, and what the public can do. Programs are scheduled for more than 35 venues in metropolitan locations, but the week's message could fall on deaf ears without support from rural news outlets.

Rural newspapers and broadcast stations, which serve more than 60 million Americans, are part of the community involvement cited by the Web site as a key to last year's success: "The impact of the thousands of news stories and commentary in print, online and broadcast was palpable. People were given the knowledge and the tools to get the information they needed to make their lives better and their communities stronger. Participants went beyond news pages and programming to reach their communities." (Read more)

This chart shows how the federal government is denying more requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Similar trends have been reported in some states and localities.

Newspapers are encouraged to print editorials, op-ed columns, editorial cartoons, public forums, and news and feature stories that can spur public discussion about why open government is vital to preserving the freedoms established in the First Amendment. The Web site of Sunshine Week has plenty of material that can be used and adapted by any news organization. Sunshine Week organizers hope that message can be celebrated all year through newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, Web sites and others.

Sunshine Week's success depends on participation from journalism groups, media companies, state press associations, open-government and First Amendment advocates, librarians, civic groups, educators and student journalists. If you want to get involved and need to know more about open government, visit www.OpenTheGovernment.org. For the Sunshine Week blog, click here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Sunshine Week's message needs support from rural news media

Sunshine Week, March 12-18, will put a national spotlight on open government and secrecy -- the problems we face, the impacts on communities, and what the public can do. Programs are scheduled for more than 35 venues in metropolitan locations, but the week's message could fall on deaf ears without support from rural news outlets.

Rural newspapers and broadcast stations, which serve more than 60 million Americans, are part of the community involvement cited by the Web site as a key to last year's success: "The impact of the thousands of news stories and commentary in print, online and broadcast was palpable. People were given the knowledge and the tools to get the information they needed to make their lives better and their communities stronger. Participants went beyond news pages and programming to reach their communities." (Read more)

This chart shows how the federal government is denying more requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Similar trends have been reported in some states and localities.

Newspapers are encouraged to print editorials, op-ed columns, editorial cartoons, public forums, and news and feature stories that can spur public discussion about why open government is vital to preserving the freedoms established in the First Amendment. The Web site of Sunshine Week has plenty of material that can be used and adapted by any news organization. Sunshine Week organizers hope that message can be celebrated all year through newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, Web sites and others.

Sunshine Week's success depends on participation from journalism groups, media companies, state press associations, open-government and First Amendment advocates, librarians, civic groups, educators and student journalists. If you want to get involved and need to know more about open government, visit www.OpenTheGovernment.org. For the Sunshine Week blog, click here.

Many baby boomers retire to rural areas, reinvigorate communities

Seventy-seven million people born between 1946 and 1964 comprise the baby boomer generation, and many are opting to settle down in rural U.S. locations, primarily in the South and West. State and local governments see this as a chance to breathe new life into rural communities.

"Small towns—as opposed to big retirement enclaves—make sense for the new retirees, sociologists say, because they’ve shown a preference for staying active, living in mixed-age communities and escaping the hubbub of urban and suburban life. Seizing this emerging economic opportunity makes sense, but some worry that states—too eager for young retirees’ cash—won’t be prepared to provide the medical and social services their new senior citizens will need as they grow older," reports Stateline.org.

Economists foresee at least 400,000 boomers a year, with an average of $320,000 to spend on a new home, choosing rural areas. The boomer generation represents $2.3 trillion in annual spending power, and some rural communities see attracting retirees as more lucrative than netting new businesses. "Retirees spur economic development through the mailbox, because their income arrives in the form of Social Security, pension and other savings checks, and they require very little in return," writes Christine Vestal.

Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, already boast a big chunk of the retirement market, but state officials are still looking at ways to help rural communities attract their share of the boomers. Also, in Arizona officials are helping rural communities attract retirees who are tired of high housing costs in and around Phoenix, notes Vestal. (Read more)

Paper finds high enlistment, low war-death rates among Montanans

Twenty percent of soldiers killed in Iraq hail from densely populated counties, while 32 percent come from rural counties, but Montana bucks that trend, according to a sociologist and the Great Falls Tribune.

Montana, one of the more rural states, boasts the highest enlistment rate for the Army, Navy and Air Force, according to the National Priorities Project, which says it pushes for social and economic justice. But it ranks 40th in Iraq war deaths per person, reports Gwen Florio of the Tribune, circulation 33,000.

One military official says Montana's rare standing might be due to the the soldiers' rural upbringing. "I'm guessing there's something to the nature of rural areas where people have to be more self-sufficient and they're outdoors-oriented. They garner skills and an inner sense of being more aware of what's going on around them that comes in very handy when you're in the military in a combat or stressful situation," said Adjutant Gen. Randy Mosley, head of the National Guard in Montana. "There may be an advantage in this type of environment that has to do with conditioning and hardening."

The newspaper's inquiry was based on research by former University of Texas sociology professor Robert Cushing for the Austin American-Statesman, finding a higher death rate among service members from rural areas. Cushing updated his work for the Tribune's story. (Read more)

Investors see rewards in rural hospitals, but will costs rise?

Investors find that money spent on rural hospitals can net a greater rate of return than in an urban market.

Many municipally owned and operated rural hospitals have been run inefficiently, despite reporting high staff levels that may make them the biggest employers in the country. With limited cash to correct inefficiencies, many rural hospitals have become a drain on communities. Now investors are seeing opportunities to partner with physicians to purchases those facilities from rural municipalities, reports Harry Fisk of the Nashville Business Journal. Nashville is a center of the health-care industry.

The investors could help rural hospitals claim a bigger chunk of the market share. "Many rural facilities are plagued with out-migration and only hold 20 percent to 35 percent market share. In today's mobile environment, patients are willing to drive more than an hour to see a physician, so rural hospitals can no longer take it for granted that the local population is locked up," writes Fisk. (Read more)

An explosion of $1.6 billion worth of new hospital construction in Wisconsin since 2001 has given rural facilities a much-needed facelift, reports The Associated Press. Some critics worry the new construction will drive up health-care costs and wonder whether it's needed. (Read more)

Report urges Congress to preserve funding for rural phone carriers

Since cell phones in rural areas are dependent on wire-based networks, phone revenue should not be moved from traditional rural carriers to the Universal Service Fund, according a report released Friday.

"The report was released by the Foundation for Rural Service, an arm of the National Telecommunications Cooperation Association of rural carriers. Although USF, which aims to guarantee communications service to all Americans, has strong political support in the Senate and among rural legislators, many are seeking a revamp," writes Drew Clark of National Journal's Technology Daily. Several bills to revise USF are currently in Congress. (Read more -- subscription required)

The report, "Wireless Needs Wires: The Vital Role of Rural Networks in Completing the Call" is part of the Rural Telecom Educational Series. The foundation writes that is an "ongoing effort to promote rural telecom and educate those who will determine its future. . . . With Congress preparing to reconsider telecom legislation, the foundation believes that this series will help to play a vital role in educating both national and local policy-makers on the issues facing community based telecom providers." (Click here for details on getting the report)

Homeland Security funds surveillance cameras in Alaska village

"Dillingham is a quiet fishing village in southwest Alaska, home to 2,400 people and not a single streetlight. What it does have, however, is 80 surveillance cameras, focused on the port and the town, courtesy of a $202,000 Homeland Security federal grant," reports The Associated Press.

Dillingham Police Chief Richard Thompson said the cameras could stop terrorism in southwest Alaska, and they may also curb the drinking, deaths and drug deals that occur every summer when commercial fishermen arrive. But critics say the cameras violate their civil liberties. "There are no jihadist sockeyes swimming into our bay, no militant moose, no bomb-bearing belugas," resident Tim Smeekins told AP. A petition to remove the cameras has more than 200 signatures, and may be voted on this fall.

Thompson said the cameras only take still pictures every 15 minutes, and the images will be stored only if there is a crime. He told AP that if weapons ever come through Dillingham on large freighters, "it might someday be useful to know which ship dropped that cargo off or picked it up." (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Tomorrow: Panel, film on how to help rural families avoid 'money trap'

Many rural families work hard but struggle to meet day-to-day expenses or to build a cash cushion for unexpected financial blows. Money traps such as payday loans, high-interest car loans, tax-refund anticipation loans, and other predatory financial practices make their struggle to pull even or move ahead more difficult. This briefing will provide new research and tools to address money traps and other obstacles to building family financial stability and success. Current policy initiatives and innovative approaches to address these issues will be discussed.

Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will speak on "Leveling the Field for Rural Working Families: A Commonsense Consensus." His comments will be followed by a premiere of the 25-minute documentary Avoiding the Money Trap and a panel discussion among nationally-renowned experts, including Cynthia M. "Mil" Duncan of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire and Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America.

The event will be held Wednesday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to noon in Room 233-235 of the Hall of the States at 444 North Capitol Street NW in Washington. Reservations are required. RSVP to Helina at 301-656-0348 or helina@thehatchergroup.com.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Will AT&T-BellSouth deal bring broadband to rural areas faster?

AT&T Inc. is set to buy BellSouth Corp. for $67 billion in stock, and rural areas could benefit, according to the president of a public-private partnership that works to expand rural broadband.

The combined companies could provide new resources in the effort to expand broadband to rural areas, Brian Mefford, president of ConnectKentucky, which is working to improve Kentucky's technological development, told Wayne Tompkins of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "I'm encouraged by it," Mefford said. "Ultimately, this will be a good thing for Kentucky," a state that is about 44 percent rural.

We couldn't find someone from another state saying likewise, but it's a good question to ask when doing follow-up stories today. AT&T Chairman Edward Whitacre indicated that Mefford may be correct; in a conference call with analysts today, he said, "This combined company will deliver the advanced broadband and IP based services that are the future of communications, and we will do so much faster and more efficiently than either of the companies could have done alone." (Read transcript via Wall Street Journal)

Most likely the largest U.S. telecom merger ever, industry experts speculate it could improve services ranging video to broadband. The sale, which is subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals, would give AT&T total control over BellSouth and its share of cell-phone leader Cingular. AT&T currently owns a 60 percent share of that company, while BellSouth has 40 percent. (Read more)

NASCAR leaving its rural roots and fans in the dust, columnist says

"NASCAR built a multi-billion empire racing in small towns" and attracted blue-collar workers "who related to the drivers' working class roots. NASCAR has now gotten cool. Although the southern United States is still its strongest audience, you can find NASCAR everywhere," writes Don McNay in his latest business column for the Richmond Register in Kentucky.

"The audience and venues are changing, and there are not many drivers who have moonshine running on the resume. Many original NASCAR fans feel like NASCAR is forgetting about them. From a business standpoint, NASCAR is going through the same process most successful businesses have to make. When you expand, you take a chance of losing touch with your original audience," he continues. (Read more)

McNay concludes, "I understand where both NASCAR and the rural audience are coming from. . . . NASCAR has made a great name. The drivers are living a dream. If the sport wants to keep producing 'The Last American Heroes,' they need to remember the fans that made their dream a reality."

Any publication or Web site that does not compete with a publication that syndicates McNay can run his column after it appears each Sunday. E-mail him at don@donmcnay.com) to check.

Encyclopedia of Appalachia deconstructs region's 'hillbilly' image

Creating a realistic picture of Appalachia's history took a decade to complete, but co-editors Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell welcomed the task.

The book, which The Associated Press calls the first general reference work on Appalachia, is available via the University of Tennessee Press for $79.95. Its 1,832 pages contain contributions from more than 1,000 historians, folklorists, sociologists, geologists and journalists. "What we tried to do across the entire encyclopedia was to make sure the information was authoritative, that the writing was clear and engaging and accessible, and we had balance," Haskell, retired director of Appalachian studies at East Tennessee State University, told AP's Duncan Mansfield.

The authors note that debate rages over defining Appalachia. "They accept the federal definition of Appalachia as including all of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, roughly following the spine of the ancient Appalachian Mountains," writes Mansfield. Trends are explored such as "urban Appalachia" in growing metropolitan areas and "rural sprawl" in expanding tourism areas.

The encyclopedia treats Appalachia as "a region that is a hell of a lot more complex and interesting than most people inside it and damn near everybody outside it think," said Abramson, a Florence, Ala., native and retired Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He is chairman of the national Advisory Board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. (Read more)

Appalachia, Va., vote fraud: Two crimes for every vote; locals shrug

"A sweeping indictment alleges a town election fraught with fraud, with two candidates and their supporters buying votes with beer and cigarettes, stealing mail-in ballots and voting repeatedly for themselves in the name of a deceived electorate. The indictment returned Thursday by a Wise County grand jury contained more than 1,000 violations of election laws -- about two crimes for every vote cast in the May 2004 election in Appalachia," Laurence Hammack wrote in The Roanoke Times last Friday.

Ben Cooper, the mayor and acting town manager of the rural town in southwest Virginia coal country, is described in the 300-page indictment as someone who wanted complete control. "Not only did Cooper and his allies buy and steal votes to accomplish that goal, the indictment alleges, they also used their stolen mandate to create a corrupt police department that was given the authority to harass their political enemies," reported Hammack. (Read more)

The town's residents just shrugged in response to the 14 defendants charged Thursday, Hammack reported in a follow-up story on Saturday. Instead of dwelling on the indictments, planning continued for a parade and ceremony to commemorate the town's 100th birthday Friday. Despite the ho-hum public reaction, University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said the indictments mark the state's worst case of election fraud in more than 60 years. (Read more)

As court proceedings continue, the town's council is facing questions. "Appalachia Town Attorney Mike Abbott has instructed council not to comment publicly on allegations of voter fraud, election irregularities or the current ongoing investigation in the town, but has told council it does need to get involved in addressing allegations of violations of its policies and procedures," writes Ida Holyfield of The Post of Big Stone Gap, Va., in a story about the council's response. (Read more)

Vermont, the most rural state, loses high-school grads, gains retirees

Vermont, where 62 percent of people live in rural areas, highest in the nation, now has the nation's lowest birth rate, and three-quarters of its public schools have lost children since 2000.

Fifty-seven percent of Vermont students leave the state to attend college and most never move back. The state's number of 20- to 34-year-olds has shrunk by 19 percent since 1990, but the number of older residents is rising with an influx of retirees. The New York Times reports, "It is now the second-oldest state, behind Maine," which is the second most rural state, at 60 percent.

Governor Jim Douglas wants to make Vermont the Silicon Valley of environmental technology companies, give college scholarships where students must remain in state for three years after graduating, relax building restrictions to spur housing, and get high schools and elementary schools to encourage their students to plan on a future in Vermont, writes reporter Pam Belluck.

With the biggest city having only 40,000 people, "growing up in Vermont can feel like a straitjacket," Nicholas Reid, 22, who was raised on a farm in Brookfield but now lives near Boston, told Belluck. "There wasn't a lot of opportunity for diversity." (Read more)

According to the 2000 Census, the only states that were majority rural were Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and Mississippi. How rural is your state? Click here to see a map with figures for each state.

Michigan meth-lab bills promise to clean up sites, make them safe

New bills in Michigan aim to make sure that sites used to cook methamphetamine are cleaned to standards so that homes, autos or barns are inhabitable again.

"Spaces where meth is cooked pose immediate risks for fires and explosions. In addition, residual contaminants from cooking and smoking meth settle onto surfaces," writes Sandra Kao of the Capital News Service in a story published by the South Bend Tribune.

One bill would require Michigan State Police to maintain a Web site with former labs' locations and their cleaning status. In January 2006, state police reported 12 meth lab raids and 23 meth-related incidents across the state. There were 261 raids in 2005 and 209 in 2004, notes Kao. (Read more)

Capital News Service began as an experimental program in Michigan State's University's School of Journalism, and it now provides both invaluable experience for students and a unique service to Michigan's newspapers. Students cover stories about issues that are important to CNS member newspapers. Click here to learn more about it.

Georgia bills would let developers tax residents to fund roads, schools

Georgia legislators are considering giving developers the right to tax residents in new subdivisions to pay for roads, sewers, schools, parks and environmental cleanups.

The sponsors of two bills say the measure would boost rural areas, citing similar efforts in Florida. Florida has allowed neighborhood improvement districts since 1980, with more than 360 neighborhoods taking advantage. Proponents say poorer communities that can't afford to build infrastructure could attract residential growth and more jobs, reports Christopher Quinn of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Opponents say that mega-neighborhoods would occur where growth already exists, adding to sprawl. They also worry about the bills granting developers quasi-governmental powers without enough public oversight. "Environmental groups worry that the law would give developers the ability to put huge developments into exurban areas where lack of infrastructure once kept them at bay." writes Quinn.

Senate Bill 414 is expected to come up for debate in the Economic Development Committee this week. Rep. Larry O'Neal (R-Warner Robins) has introduced similar legislation as House Bill 1323. (Read more)

Residents debate development's scope in a tiny Virginia town

Excavators and diggers are developing Lovettsville, Va., (pop. 912) and residents of the town in northern Loudoun County first welcomed the idea of a charming Lovettsville Town Center.

"But the goodwill has come under strain in recent months as the project's scope has changed and two council members' dealings with the developer are coming under scrutiny. McLean-based Elm Street Development is asking the Town Council to allow 55 more townhouses, something residents did not want when the project was approved in 2002. Elm Street Development also recently revealed that a grocery store -- residents' greatest wish for the project -- is not economically practical in such a small town," writes Amy Gardner of The Washington Post.

Remarkably, most of the residents at a public hearing said their biggest beef with the project is the lack of plans for a grocery. The nearest is three miles north, in Brunswick, Md. Lovettsville is six miles as the crow files from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where the Virginias and Maryland meet. By some measures, Loudoun is the fastest growing U.S. county.

Residents say Elm Street is guilty of "development creep" -- proposing one thing to start but asking for changes along the way that add up to an undesirable product. Adam Peters, Elm Street's project manager for Lovettsville Town Center, told Gardner, "I understand the 'creep' notion. They have some valid points. But at the end of the day, it was going to be developed by somebody." (Read more)

Sunday, March 5, 2006

National-forest sales would tilt toward Northwest, away from South

More than a quarter of the money President Bush would raise by selling national-forest land "would benefit rural schools in Oregon and Washington, though just 6 percent of the sales would occur in those forest-rich states," reports Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.

"Only about 10 percent of the proceeds would go toward rural schools in the South and Midwest, the two regions where more than a third of the sales of 300,000-plus acres would occur, according to an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center. . . . The center’s analysis is based on how states fared under the Forest Service land-sales program this year."

The tilt increased Republican skepticism of the plan. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told AP, "Why sell most of the lands in those states that don’t get much money from these payments and very little land in the states that get the most money?" New Mexico "would get $2.3 million, just one-fifth of 1 percent of the overall proceeds, in exchange for selling 8,000 acres, or 2 percent of the sales," Daly writes, also noting opposition from Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo. (Click here to read more)

Click here for a table of proposed sales, by state, from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Coal mines short of experience, not of miners; safety issues debated

The Sunday editions of Kentucky's two largest newspapers had plenty of information about the coal industry that could prove useful to journalists in other coal states, especially in Appalachia.

Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the widely publicized "shortage of underground miners" is actually a shortage of experienced miners. In Central Appalachia, 7,287 people have received miner's licenses in the last three years, but "only 1,964 have been hired," Mueller wrote.

Mueller explains that the temporary licenses "can get them inside a coal mine, if one will hire them. But they must then work 45 days wearing a trainee's green hardhat. During that time, they can't operate equipment or work without supervision until the green hat is exchanged for the black hardhat of a certified miner. Critics say companies, even with coal at near-record prices, are reluctant to pay trainees full-time pay for six weeks of little work." A state training program may help bridge the gap. (Read more)

Mine safety remains a big issue. In his "Notes from Washington" news column, James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal noted testimony at a Senate hearing last week that the federal government is spending much less on mine safety these days, largely because the old U.S. Bureau of Mines was abolished in 1996. Carroll also noted that "the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which does research on mine technology," would have its $255 million budget cut by $5 million under President Bush's proposed budget.

Mike Neason, who manages safety and health for the mining facilities of Hanson Aggregates in Kentucky and other states, said NIOSH needs more money, not less. But he also said Congress "shouldn't look for quick technological fixes to mine safety problems. When it comes to underground communications, adding breathing devices or changing mine rescue rules, no solution works for all mines, Neason said." (Read more)

On their opinion pages, both newspapers beat the drum for safer mines. The Herald-Leader's editorial called for improvement and merger of safety bills in the state legislature, and The Courier-Journal had three pieces: an editorial about the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's poor record of collecting fines; an op-ed article by former mine-safety regulator Tony Oppegard laying out some of the dangerous conditions in underground coal mines; and a Forum section centerpiece by industry critic Erik Reece saying recent mine fatalities are the responsibility of "almost anyone who uses electricity at home or work must acknowledge some responsibility. But some people bear more than others," such as federal officials.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

National-forest sales would tilt toward Northwest, away from South

More than a quarter of the money President Bush would raise by selling national-forest land "would benefit rural schools in Oregon and Washington, though just 6 percent of the sales would occur in those forest-rich states," reports Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.

"Only about 10 percent of the proceeds would go toward rural schools in the South and Midwest, the two regions where more than a third of the sales of 300,000-plus acres would occur, according to an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center. . . . The center’s analysis is based on how states fared under the Forest Service land-sales program this year."

The tilt increased Republican skepticism of the plan. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told AP, "Why sell most of the lands in those states that don’t get much money from these payments and very little land in the states that get the most money?" New Mexico "would get $2.3 million, just one-fifth of 1 percent of the overall proceeds, in exchange for selling 8,000 acres, or 2 percent of the sales," Daly writes, also noting opposition from Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo. (Click here to read more)

Click here for a table of proposed sales, by state, from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Coal mines short of experience, not of miners; safety issues debated

The Sunday editions of Kentucky's two largest newspapers had plenty of information about the coal industry that could prove useful to journalists in other coal states, especially in Appalachia.

Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the widely publicized "shortage of underground miners" is actually a shortage of experienced miners. In Central Appalachia, 7,287 people have received miner's licenses in the last three years, but "only 1,964 have been hired," Mueller wrote.

Mueller explains that the temporary licenses "can get them inside a coal mine, if one will hire them. But they must then work 45 days wearing a trainee's green hardhat. During that time, they can't operate equipment or work without supervision until the green hat is exchanged for the black hardhat of a certified miner. Critics say companies, even with coal at near-record prices, are reluctant to pay trainees full-time pay for six weeks of little work." A state training program may help bridge the gap. (Read more)

Mine safety remains a big issue. In his "Notes from Washington" news column, James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal noted testimony at a Senate hearing last week that the federal government is spending much less on mine safety these days, largely because the old U.S. Bureau of Mines was abolished in 1996. Carroll also noted that "the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which does research on mine technology," would have its $255 million budget cut by $5 million under President Bush's proposed budget.

Mike Neason, who manages safety and health for the mining facilities of Hanson Aggregates in Kentucky and other states, said NIOSH needs more money, not less. But he also said Congress "shouldn't look for quick technological fixes to mine safety problems. When it comes to underground communications, adding breathing devices or changing mine rescue rules, no solution works for all mines, Neason said." (Read more)

On their opinion pages, both newspapers beat the drum for safer mines. The Herald-Leader's editorial called for improvement and merger of safety bills in the state legislature, and The Courier-Journal had three pieces: an editorial about the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's poor record of collecting fines; an op-ed article by former mine-safety regulator Tony Oppegard laying out some of the dangerous conditions in underground coal mines; and a Forum section centerpiece by industry critic Erik Reece saying recent mine fatalities are the responsibility of "almost anyone who uses electricity at home or work must acknowledge some responsibility. But some people bear more than others," such as federal officials.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Treatment number for meth addiction quadrupled during 10 years

Drug treatment centers are witnessing a substantial rise in the number of people seeking help for methamphetamine abuse. Does your state rank above average?

The number of meth users admitted to treatment clinics quadrupled from 1993 to 2003, according to a review by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. More states in the West than in any other region exceeded the national average of admissions for meth treatment, reports The Associated Press. Sharp increases occurred in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. New Mexico had the lowest increase, followed by Alaska and Arizona, which had 36 admissions per 100,000 people ages 12 or older in 1993. That's compared to the national average of 56 per 100,000 people.

Nationwide, the admission rate for treatment rose from 28,000 in 1993 to nearly 136,000 patients in 2003, notes AP. The review analyzed data on 1.8 million patients admitted annually to treatment centers. Eighteen states posted higher rates than the national average: Oregon was highest, followed by Hawaii, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Montana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Missouri, Idaho and Kansas. (Read more)

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that reauthorizes the USA Patriot Act, which includes restricting sales of cold medicines used to make meth. The House is expected to vote on the Patriot Act next week.

Meth levy voted down in Oregon; paper demands more 'ammunition'

Commissioners in Yamhill County, Oregon, voted down an initiative to put a possible levy on the May ballot, which, if approved by voters, would have funneled $14 million over three years to expand the county's war on meth. The Rural Blog reported on the initiative in its Feb. 2 edition.

The commissioners' vote was much to the dismay of the local newspaper, the News-Register, which called for more "ammunition" in the war on meth in a Feb. 25 editorial. "Meth takes a toll on all of us," the paper said. "Our taxes pay law enforcement costs, but we also have direct losses and pay higher insurance rates because meth addicts steal to support their habit."

Commissioners voted against the ballot initiative to assess the need for more money to fight the problem. Also, McMinnville-area voters are already facing major bond proposals for schools and public safety, the editorial said. "But no one should question the importance of stopping the explosion of meth use and related crimes," the paper responds.

"It is argued that each dollar spent on prevention saves $8 in direct and indirect costs. Any war on meth needs to combine law enforcement with treatment and prevention," the paper adds. (Read more)

U.S. mine-safety official says computer glitch hurt collection of fines

Federal mine-safety regulators are blaming computer problems for their failure to collect safety fines in more than 8,000 cases since the middle of 2003.

David Dye, acting head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told a Senate panel Thursday that the problems prevented MSHA from referring unpaid fines to the Treasury Department for collection. Referrals should occur with debts more than 180 days old. "Can't you walk them across the street?" Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, asked Dye. "Believe me, I wish we could," Dye replied. A Treasury Department official told The Associated Press that referral of debts from other agencies only temporarily stopped last spring during a switch to a new computer system.

More hearings are scheduled to examine mine safety and several bills have been introduced following the deaths of 21 miners this year, reports James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

The Louisville newspaper's op-ed page has this epigram taken from an Appalachian News-Express editorial: "For MSHA to be effective, [it] must force all companies to pay their fines. If they don't, shut them down until they pay, or work out some type of monthly payment plan."

West Virginia governor demands full-time coal-mine rescue teams

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin wants the Bush administration to require full-time, professional rescue teams to respond to fires and explosions in coal mines.

Manchin said this year's mine accidents showed the volunteer system is inadequate, and more teams are needed at strategic locations around the coalfields. “It would be no different than trying to protect New York City with a volunteer fire department,” Manchin told Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette. Manchin said he told Bush about the rescue team shortage after the Sago Mine disaster and the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire.

In 1977, Congress ordered the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to write rules “to provide that mine rescue teams shall be available for rescue and recovery work at each underground coal mine.” MSHA required all mines to provide for two rescue teams within “two hours ground travel time.” Along with rescue team members retiring, contracting of teams has fueled a decline. Since 1995, industry and labor officials have said a crisis exists and MSHA needs to help, reports Ward. (Read more)

Rural Arizona sees tons of trash, damaged land from border battles

"Mountains of trash, recurring fires, despoiled natural springs, vandalized historic sites and disappearing wildlife are part of the devastating toll that the government's running battle with smugglers and migrants is taking on national parks and wildlife refuges along the U.S. border with Mexico," writes Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times.

In southern Arizona, the damage is threatening a big chunk of the Sonoran Desert, which boasts a greater diversity of plant and animal life than any other of the four North American deserts. At Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, 2 1/2 million pounds of garbage are found every year. Arizona's 350-mile long border with Mexico features six national parks, three wildlife refuges, three national monuments, two national conservation areas and a national forest. At Organ Pipe, on Cabeza Prieta's east side, the National Park Service estimates visitors may see 200 pounds of trash per mile each year, reports Cart

"Wildlife biologists say trash and human waste spread disease among animals. Preventing damage is complicated by the Border Patrol's virtual immunity from laws designed to protect the border environment. The Real ID Act, enacted last year, gives the U.S. Department of Homeland Security authority to exempt its operations from environmental laws," writes Cart. (Read more)

Environmental groups argue that the Border Patrol has shifted the illegal traffic from Southern California and Texas to more sensitive landscapes in Arizona. The Border Patrol requires environmental sensitivity training and mandates that agents report any damage caused by driving through wilderness, notes Cart.

Park Service faces cut, but pledges to preserve visitors' experience

National Park Service officials plan to use "innovative management approaches" to deal with the $100 million budget cut proposed by President Bush.

Park Service Director Fran Mainella "told the House parks subcommittee that she expected no effect on park visitors' experiences because the cuts would be outside of parks' operating budgets, which would receive slight increases to help cover staff salary increases. Congress will decide whether to accept or revise Bush's budget plans. In East Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's operating budget would rise slightly under Bush's proposal, $396,000, from the $16.7 million budget this year," writes Richard Powelson of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The Smokies, the most-visited national park, gets financial relief from private donations to the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The group had a "peak" fund-raising period last year and gave about $1.6 million to the park, notes Powelson. The larger problem facing many national parks is a maintenance backlog, reports Powelson. At the Smokies park, the current backlog is estimated at $180 million, and about 60 percent of relates to road maintenance. (Read more)

'Free lunches die hard': Rural Alaskans may be taxed to pay for schools

One Alaska state senator is proposing a new tax on rural residents, claiming that politically unorganized areas need to cough up their fair share of education costs.

Alaska's rural residents are currently exempt from paying property taxes or other taxes that supplement the cost of operating schools. State Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, is proposing a bill that would change that, despite the anti-rural tag it might place on him, reports Matt Volz of The Associated Press. "Free lunches die hard," Bunde said.

The proposed tax would apply to the nearly 20,000 residents in 19 politically unorganized regional education assessment areas, which have mostly Alaska Native populations. The tax would be based on what the rest of Alaskans pay for education, and the Department of Revenue puts that at $467.99 per adult, notes AP. The proposal could bring in $9.2 million next year, according to the Revenue Department's analysis. (Read more)

Residents younger than 21 and older than 65 are exempt in the bill, which is slated for a Senate vote today.

Wal-Mart's way: '800-pound gorilla' tells manufacturers what to make

Instead of relying on food and drink companies for innovative products, retail giant Wal-Mart, which has deep roots in rural areas, is taking the matter into its own hands.

"With nearly 2,000 supercenters in the United States and plans for 280 more this year, Wal-Mart is the country's largest food retailer, according to Retail Forward, a research firm in Columbus, Ohio. Data from food and beverage companies indicates that Wal-Mart represents 14 percent to 18 percent of all food and beverage sales. As Wal-Mart hunts for ways to take costs out of its grocery business and offer popular items that can help bring customers into its stores, the company has become more involved in creating the products it sells, and how those products get onto Wal-Mart's shelves," writes Melanie Warner of The New York Times.

Wal-Mart's general strategy has been telling vendors what they and at what prices. For instance, when it comes laundry detergent, Wal-Mart is ordering manufacturers what versions to make and how to package products. Most supermarkets collaborate with those manufacturers to promote products and create special in-store displays, but they almost never direct what new products get made, reports Warner.

"Wal-Mart is the 800-pound gorilla," said Ted Taft, managing director at the Meridian Consulting Group of Westport, Conn. "You're going to want to do more things for a customer who is growing as fast as Wal-Mart is." (Read more)

Thursday, March 2, 2006

There are great weeklies; great weekly editorial pages seem harder to find

A weekly newspaper contest held by the Inland Press Association found "lively local journals full of aggressive investigative reporting," contest judge Bill Roesgen writes in The Inlander. "Winning entries from small-town weeklies looked as clean and sophisticated as the best of metropolitan dailies -- not only on page one, but throughout," observes Roesgen, a former editor and publisher. "Investigative journalism should not be left to metros and national magazines."

Rogesen said he found "an amazing spectrum" in terms of quality, and was disappointed in editorials. He said they "were often lacking, or consistently bland and upbeat. Unrelenting community boosterism may be the price of small-town advertising support." (Roesgen's article is not available online.) One possibility to consider: Some editors of great weekly editorial pages may be too busy to enter such contests, or be unaware of this one, or the regard and respect of their readers may be enough for them.

The Mirror in Tonganoxie, Kan., The Fauquier Citizen in Warrenton, Va., and the Sun-Current in Eden Prairie, Minn., took top honors in their circulation divisions in the Nation's Best Non-Daily Newspaper Competition. The Mirror won for the second straight year in the less than 5,000 circulation category, the Citizen won in the 5,000-10,000 slot, and the Sun-Current's won the 10,000-plus group. All three sported sophisticated page designs and exceptional writing, according to the judges. Full judges' comments and awards lists should be available soon at this Web site.

Georgia weekly: New development director may have fudged résume

In an example of how a small weekly newspaper can be a watchdog on local government, The Blackshear (Ga.) Times (pop. 3,355) reported that the county's new community development director may have been hired on false credentials.

Sonny Bland was hired last month to do home inspections and enforce county building ordinances. He is the highest-paid county government employee at $65,000 a year, reports Jason Deal. He put on his résume that he had a master's degree in civil engineering from Harrington University in England, but the newspaper found that Harrington is at least a non-accredited school, often referred to as a "diploma mill," and possibly entirely fictitious, Deal writes.

County Commission Chairman Mitch Bowen stuck by the hiring decision, telling Deal that "his hiring was based more on experience than degrees." He also said he has "excellent credentials as an engineer," with good references and has done good work for them so far. He blamed the controversy on "people who are after me in the election and people who don’t want a code department."

The motto of The Blackshear Times is one of our favorites: "Liked by many, cussed by some, read by them all." Click here to read more; full story only available in print edition.

Cowabunga! Americans know Simpsons better than 1st Amendment

A survey released Wednesday shows that Americans are better versed on "The Simpsons" than they are on the First Amendment.

The study, conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, found that fewer than 1 percent of the respondents knew the amendment's five protected rights: freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and to petition for redress of grievances. However, about 20 percent had no problem identifying the five members of the animated Simpson family, reports Gerry Doyle of the Chicago Tribune.

Many respondents had interesting, incorrect notions that certain rights are in the First Amendment. Twenty-one percent said the right to own pets was listed between "Congress shall make no law" and "redress of grievances." Seventeen percent said that the amendment gave them right to drive a car, and 38 percent said "taking the Fifth Amendment" was included in the First, notes Doyle. (Read more)

The museum tries to educate the public with exhibits, and it will soon open an interactive Web site. The museum is run by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization.

Anti-meth blitz Montana's biggest advertiser; inspiring other states?

"The camera follows the teenager as she showers for her night out and looks down to discover the drain swirling with blood. She turns and sees her methamphetamine-addicted self cowering below, oozing from scabs she has picked all over her body because the drug made her think there were bugs crawling beneath her skin, and she lets out a scream worthy of 'Psycho,'" writes Kate Zernike of The New York Times.

The spots are part of the Montana Meth Project, a campaign paid for by Thomas M. Siebel, a software billionaire and part-time resident who says he wants to help battle meth. Since it began in September, when it was reported in The Rural Blog, the project has become the biggest advertiser in the state. Since other states have expressed interest in the effort, Montana officials say they want to make it a model for fighting something that has plagued rural areas, reports Zernike.

Following suit with several other states, Montana has restricted sales of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for making meth. Still, the drug continues to fill local jails and prisons with new inmates. State officials say people convicted on meth-related charges comprise 80 percent of the prison population, including 90 percent of female inmates, notes Zernike. (Read more)

Bush administration cut mine-safety fines; Congress urged to up them

The Bush administration has decreased major fines for mine-safety violations since 2001, and not collected fines in nearly half the cases, according to a data analysis by The New York Times, the latest newspaper to mine data on mine safety.

Records show that in the last two years the Mine Safety and Health Administration did not give delinquent cases to the Treasury Department for further collection efforts, which must happen after 180 days. With 24 mining deaths this year, the agency has come under fire, and could be grilled further at a Senate oversight hearing today, report Ian Urbina and Andrew W. Lehren.

Federal records show that mining fatalities have stayed stable. "In each of the last three years, 55 to 57 miners have died in all areas of mining. Experts say a long-term decline in coal-mine fatalities is in part a result of growing mechanization," write Urbina and Lehren. There is an ongoing push for Congress to increase fines, and the newspaper found the number of major fines issued at maximum level in 2004 was one in 10. (Read more)

A U.S. House hearing into mine safety on Wednesday featured Robert Friend, MSHA's administrator for metal and nonmetal mine safety and health, who testified that MSHA has increased citations and orders at coal mines by 19 percent since fiscal 2000, reports James R. Carroll of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Chairman Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., "adjourned the hearing despite vehement protests and shouts from Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.," who wanted to let a non-member ask a question. (Read more)

Thurmond's daughter to speak about rural issues in South Carolina

"When the biracial daughter of former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who died in 2003, has visited the state in recent years, most of the talk was about her relationship with her father. But when Essie Mae Washington Williams returns next week, she will be discussing ways to improve life in rural South Carolina," reports Bruce Smith of The Associated Press.

Williams will be the keynote speaker in North Charleston on Tuesday at the South Carolina Rural Summit sponsored by the state Commerce Department. Williams, a retired school teacher, will discuss the Washington Williams Resource and Development Centers she is opening to help seniors improve their computer skills, writes Smith.

A 16-year-old black maid gave birth to Williams in 1925 when Thurmond was only 22. A former segregationist, Thurmond died at 100 without acknowledging Williams as his offspring. (Read more)

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

National rural health group says rural safety net still 'grossly inadequate'

"The nation’s health-care safety net [remains] grossly inadequate in rural areas," and "rural Americans are more frequently denied access to health care than their urban counterparts," says the National Rural Health Association, citing a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Rural America also continues to lag behind in recruitment and retention of physicians and other medical providers in rural communities, NRHA says. The study was conducted by the Rural Research Centers of the University of Washington and the University of South Carolina and the National Association of Community Health Centers. "More than 14 million Americans in more than 3500 communities receive their health care from a federally designated CHC," NRHA says in a release.

NRHA president Bill Sexton asserted that programs that place clinical providers in rural areas "are continually cut in the budget process." He added, "Statistics show the cold, hard facts—but what we are talking about here are people and their inability to receive basic health care services in the world’s greatest nation It’s a disgrace!"

The study's lead author, Dr. Roger Rosenblatt, can be contacted at rosenb@u.washington.edu, or 206-543-9425. The abstract can be viewed online here. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol. 295, No. 9, March 1, 2006; Pages 1042-1049.

Study finds Iraq combat veterans more likely to suffer from mental stress

More than one in three military-service members who served in Iraq have sought help for mental-health problems, and nearly twice as many as those who served in Afghnistan reported having a mental-health problem or were hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder, according to new study. It has implications for rural areas, which provide a disproprtionate number of enlistees and often lack mental-health services.

"Those returning from Iraq consistently reported more psychic distress than those returning from Afghanistan and other conflicts, such as those in Bosnia or Kosovo," writes Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post. "Iraq veterans are far more likely to have witnessed people getting wounded or killed, to have experienced combat, and to have had aggressive or suicidal thoughts, the Army report said."

The Post adds, "Earlier research has suggested that 12 to 20 percent of combat veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which produces flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts that disrupt work and home life. The new study found that Iraq veterans have mental disorders diagnosed at the rate of 12 percent per year." (Read more)

Proposed forest land sale stirs comment, criticism from conservationists

"A change in the Bush administration's proposal to sell more than 300,000 acres of national forests would give local and state governments first crack at buying the land at market value," reports Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times. The sale was originally proposed to temporarily fund a program that funnels money into rural counties, Thornton writes.

But some conservationists are crying foul. Roger Holnback, executive director of the Western Virginia Land Trust, told Thornton "We've been working hard for years to get land added to the national forest, not to sell land out of it."

Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment, told Thornton that after local and state governments have their chance at buying the land, the forest service would auction the remaining land. He added that 175,000 acres could raise the $800 million that the program needs, and when that much is raised, the auctions would stop.

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon, says the the administration's proposal just cuts the program's funding and makes up the difference by selling forest land. Boucher is also sponsoring legislation to fund the program through general appropriations, as has been the case since 2000.

Rey added that he was perplexed by the controversy over the auction. "Conveying land in and out of federal ownership is not a new, novel, or even uncommon thing," he told Thornton. (Read more)

Mine-safety agency databases lack data, Wall Street Journal reports

Government watchdogs, industry officials and labor unions are attacking the Mine Safety and Health Administration for not collecting information needed to evaluate death and injury rates.

"Moreover, while a vast amount of information is available on the agency's public database, it is difficult for outsiders to analyze, critics say. Safety information is organized by individual mine operators instead of by parent companies, for instance, making it hard to judge a company's performance. And while the site lists proposed penalties, figuring out what is actually assessed is tough," report Joi Preciphs and Emily Ann Brown of the Wall Street Journal.

A study by the Government Accountability Office three years ago revealed weaknesses in internal databases and criticized them for only containing "information on accidents that were investigated, not all mine accidents." MSHA added an extended search function to its online database two years ago, which allows searches for mines by state, county and federally designated districts, note Preciphs and Brown.

The GAO report highlighted the lack of data on staff employed by independent contractors in underground mines. "Enforcement data on these employees largely goes uncollected, the GAO said. That is troubling to safety experts, given that mining companies increasingly use independent contractors for their work. The GAO said 18 percent of underground coal miners worked for contractors in 2002, up from 13% in 1993," report Preciphs and Brown. (Read more)

Committee formed in W.Va. to review more coal-haul road requests

Two coal companies want more West Virginia roads added to the list where coal trucks weighing up to 120,000 pounds can travel.

In 2002, the state Legislature passed a law increasing the weight limits for coal trucks and creating a system of county roads for transporting coal, reports Paul Nyden of The Charleston Gazette. The five-member Coal Resource Transportation Designation Committee will decide what roads to add to that system. "The committee will review requests to add roads, especially in areas where there were no active mines when the original bill was passed in 2002," writes Nyden.

The highway department will review all requests, analyzing the structure of roadways, bridges, culverts and shoulders along the roads, Nyden writes. Committee member Bill Raney said to gain approval, a coal company could give the DOH funds to improve structures such as weak bridges. (Read more)

Older adults in rural N.C. prefer folk remedies to ward off, treat diabetes

Diabetic adults in rural North Carolina over age 65 are more likely to use folk or home remedies before getting a massage or undergoing acupuncture, according to a new study.

“What most people think about as complementary medicine – acupuncture, homeopathy and massage therapy – they aren’t using at all,” said Thomas Arcury, Ph.D., lead researcher, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Their use is largely limited to home remedies, vitamins and minerals.” The study aimed to learn more about what complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies older adults use, and it concluded that the majority don’t use CAM therapies to treat diabetes or other chronic diseases, reports Newswise, a news and public relations service for higher-education and research firms.

“They are using CAM for prevention or for treating symptoms (a headache, a sore throat, a cut) but not for treating a chronic condition,” wrote the study's authors. “CAM use among these rural older adults is largely a form of self-care.”

The study divided CAM therapies in eight categories including: food home remedies (honey, lemon and garlic), other home remedies (tobacco, Epsom salts, and salves), vitamins, minerals, herbs, popular manufactured products (flax seed, amino acids and glucosamine sulfate), CAM therapies (imagery, biofeedback and energy healing) and CAM practitioners (chiropractor, herbalist and acupuncturist). Fifty-two percent used food home remedies and 57 percent used other home remedies. (Read more)

New technology benefits rural newspapers, keeps reporters on beats

"The most important benefit of new technology in the newspaper industry is to put more boots on the street. And that will be the saving grace of the industry. On the street, there is no substitute for people who practice the craft well. When we distill our industry down to its basic parts and boil it down to the essence, the things that we must do well are rolled into a couple of activities," opines Rob Carrigan for Newspapers & Technology.

Old technology at weekly newspapers made seemingly simple tasks time consuming for reporters. "Today, order entry at point-of-sale, electronic layout, addressing machines and various computer automations of those tasks have eased those burdens. They save time and can even help prod the advertising department and push the news people to deliver clean copy and to meet their deadlines.

"But so far, I haven’t run into a good machine to call on advertisers, write up a council meeting, knock out a feature, or shoot two high school football games in one night. Until we have that capability, I think we ought to use new technology to put more boots on the street. And to give credit when and where credit is due," concludes Carrigan. (Read more)

Carrigan is the publisher of the Ute Pass Courier in Woodland Park, the Gold Rush in Cripple Creek and the Extra in Teller County, all ASP Westward LP weeklies in Colorado.

Newspapers still an essential source, but Internet is cutting into readership

A survey of 2,800 consumers by the market research business Outsell Inc. shows that 61 percent of consumers look to newspapers as an essential source for local news, events and sports, followed most closely by television at 58 percent.

Seventy-one percent said they rely on network, cable and satellite TV as primary or secondary sources of national news. Thirty-three percent choose their local newspapers first or second for coverage of national events, followed by 28 percent who access sites such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL News. Eleven percent of consumers are relying regularly on their daily newspapers' Web sites, the survey said. In addition, it said, the "interactivity and personalization afforded by the Internet" has cut into newspaper readership, reports Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun.

"It's going to be really interesting to see whether newspapers are going to be able to capitalize on the Internet from a financial point of view," Rachel Smolkin, managing editor of American Journalism Review, told Madigan. "Even as newspaper circulation is declining, we're seeing readership increases in newspaper Web sites. It's not that readers aren't interested in news." (Read more)

Knight Ridder sets March 9 deadline for bids on sale of company

Knight Ridder, the second-largest newspaper chain in the United States, has set a March 9 deadline for bids on the company and will make any decisions to sell by mid-March, reported Editor and Publisher of the company's San Jose Mercury News.

MediaNews Group, Gannett Co, and the McClatchy Co. are making bids, E&P reported. Thomas H. Lee and Hellman & Friedman may also bid, while the Blackstone Group, Providence Equity Partners and Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts are undecided.

"Knight Ridder has appointed a three-person independent panel to review bids to make sure potential buyers will maintain 'journalistic excellence.'" E&P writes. "However, the board does not have to follow the panel's recommendation." (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.

 


 

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
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122 Grehan Journalism Building, Lexington KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879


Questions about the Web site? Contact Al Cross, director, al.cross@uky.edu


Last Updated: April 3, 2006