INSTITUTE FOR RURAL JOURNALISM AND COMMUNITY ISSUES
The Rural Blog
This Web log of rural issues, trends, events and journalism from and about rural America is regular reading for hundreds of journalists who cover rural issues and need story ideas, sources, comparisons and inspiration. Rural journalism is important because 21 percent of Americans, some 62 million people, live in rural areas. Send stories, links and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use of items from The Rural Blog by news outlets is encouraged and hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
SPJ identifies Kyl as senator blocking Freedom of Information Act reforms
“Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) admitted publicly today that he placed a secret hold on Senate Bill 849, also known as the Open Government Act of 2007. The bill would significantly reform the federal Freedom of Information Act, which is one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and to hold elected officials accountable,” the Society of Professional Journalists reports.
SPJ asked its members last week to help unmask Kyl by asking every
“If Sen. Kyl's concerns are no secret, then why would he insist on working from the shadows to place a hold on this very important legislation?” asked
Tornado-obliterated town in Kansas is surprised it still has a newspaper
The Kiowa County Signal is still publishing in Greensburg, Kan., though the town of 1,500 was all but obliterated by a May 4 tornado that killed 12 people and destroyed more than 90 percent of the town's buildings, including the newspaper's office and those of its advertisers. The Rural Blog reported May 6 and 7 that the weekly was still getting out on the Web and in print with the help of its sister daily, the Pratt Tribune, and owner GateHouse Media. Last week, the main story for Editor Mark Anderson was the graduation of 25 seniors at Greensburg High School. He also took this photo, of Alex Reinecke embracing his father after receiving his diploma at commencement "under a sprawling complex of tents." (Read more)
Jeremy Weber of The Inlander, the newspaper of the Inland Press Association, updates us on the Signal: "The weekly normally publishes on Wednesdays, but rushed a special edition together with the help of staff from the Tribune, GateHouse and the Kansas Press Association. [Publisher Keith]
To provide revenue in the absence of most advertisers, "the Kansas Newspaper Foundation has been collecting charitable donations on the Signal's behalf and using monies to purchase advertising in the paper in honor of donors," Weber writes.
Weekly publisher in N.C. arrested after refusing to leave closed meeting
The publisher of The Alamance News, a weekly newspaper in North Carolina, "has been charged with misdemeanor trespassing after refusing to leave an airport authority meeting that officials went on to conduct behind closed doors," Editor & Publisher reports. "Thomas E. Boney Jr., 52, of Graham, was arrested Tuesday at the meeting of the Burlington-Alamance Airport Authority."
E & P reports, "Boney said he refused to leave the meeting voluntarily because the commissioners wouldn't assure him there would be no talk or vote about a proposed financing package for land bought to lure an unidentified manufacturer." The state open-meetings law allows closed sessions to discuss land purchases or economic development, but Boney said the request that the city and county approve a loan involve "government expenditures and there's no exception for a closed meeting for that purpose."
The local daily newspaper, The Times-News of Burlington, interviewed Boney yesterday, noted that he “has been a longtime public watchdog and advocate of more transparency in government,” and reported that he “was polite during the encounter” with Sheriff Terry Johnson. “He treated me professionally. I treated him professionally,” Johnson told reporter Robert Boyer, who wrote, “Despite the arrest, Johnson respects Boney for sticking to his convictions. ‘He’s got a valid point about having access to public meetings,’ the sheriff said.”
Ad firm told Wal-Mart it had an image problem, including 'hillbilly' shoppers
In an unsuccessful bid to keep Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as a client, an Austin advertising agency told the world's largest retailer that its needed to improve its corporate reputation, and that one of its challenges is a "hillbilly" stereotype of those who shop at its stores -- more than half of which are in rural areas.
GSD&M Advertising "argued that Wal-Mart is a positive force because its low prices help shoppers lead better lives, but it said Wal-Mart's brand had slipped over time from standing for values like patriotism, community and opportunity to offering only economic value as low prices," The Associated Press reports. "GSD&M said if that gap is not closed, shoppers will have one more reason not to shop at Wal-Mart."
The firm, which later lost Wal-Mart's business after 19 years, said news media portray the company as a "bad corporate citizen who doesn't treat employees well and isn't acting as a good citizen of the planet." AP says it got the report from "a union-funded group critical of the retailer, WakeUpWalMart.com."
Wal-Mart spokesman Nick Agarwal "disputed GSD&M's claims that Wal-Mart's reputation has declined in recent years," AP reports. "He said Wal-Mart does not believe it is losing business because of negative headlines." He told AP, "I'm afraid this particular piece of work is not very useful, not least because it's now completely out of date and in some areas just plain wrong." (Read more)
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Calif. Central Valley farms pay pittance to pump water, subsidy critics say
"Some of America's richest and largest farms are paying pennies for the vast amounts of electricity needed to deliver irrigation water to California's arid Central Valley," says the Environmental Working Group, which is critical of many subsidies to agriculture. "In 2002 and 2003, agribusinesses in the Central Valley Project paid only about 1 cent per kilowatt-hour for electricity to transport irrigation water. . . . Compared to Pacific Gas & Electric's agricultural rate, that's an annual subsidy of more than $100 million from U.S. taxpayers."
The Central Valley Project is the largest federally subsidized irrigation system. The hydroelectric power used to pump water is sold by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which sets the rates without oversight from any other agency. EWG says "CVP agribusinesses should be required to pay prices approximating market rate for the power used to store and move irrigation water. A federal agency should regulate power rates to ensure system fairness, and should make these rates publicly available." For a summary of the report, click here.
"Federal law allows the bureau to collect only enough money to cover costs associated with power plants built in the 1950s and 1960s," reports The Fresno Bee, which got an advance look at the report. Tom Birmingham, manager of the Westlands Water District, told reporter Mark Grossi that the project was designed to use hydroelectric power to pump more water from downstream. (Read more)
South Carolina legislature fails to override governor's veto of ATV safety bill
For the second year in row, legislation aimed at limiting injuries to children from all-terrain vehicles in South Carolina has failed to become law. On Tuesday the state Senate fell three votes short of the two-thirds vote needed to override Gov. Mark Sanford's veto, reports Seanna Adcox of The Associated Press.
The bill would have required children 6 to 15 to wear a helmet and goggles while operating an ATV and take a safety course costing about $75. "Sanford said he vetoed the bill because he thought it would impinge on private property rights and diminish parental responsibility," Adcox writes. "The Republican governor said the safety course was a hidden tax on families who already own ATVs. The law would also be difficult to enforce, he said. . . . The measure would have made it illegal for parents to knowingly let children younger than 6 operate an ATV. Violators could have been charged with a misdemeanor and fined between $50 and $200."
South Carolina is one of the few states with no regulation of ATVs. For a detailed list of laws and regulations, from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, click here.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Some want disaster payments to be a permanent part of the Farm Bill
The Iraq spending bill included money for many domestic programs, including $3 billion for weather-related agricultural losses. It was the sixth farm-disaster appropriation in nine years, and now some in Congress want to make disaster payments a regular part of the five-year Farm Bill now being marked up, reports the Omaha World-Herald. "It'd be a way to share risks, like we do for people who suffer damages from hurricanes or tornadoes," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn, told the newspaper.
"Some Capitol Hill lawmakers increasingly question the hardship, the way cash previously was handed out and the impact on farming," writes Jake Thompson, Washington reporter for the World-Herald. "Most farmers who file a disaster aid claim get paid, and without much scrutiny. Some farmers are double-dipping into disaster aid and crop insurance payments. And many farmers take emergency payments for granted." University of Nebraska agricultural economist Brad Lubben told Thompson, "Emergency assistance has become an expected part of the federal safety net. How much need is there, I think, is debatable."
Thompson notes, "The Environmental Working Group and other critics say the disaster packages promote a reliance on aid programs, compete with the government's subsidized crop insurance program and often reward farmers for planting on marginal farmland. EWG, which mines federal farm data, found that 21,000 farm operations have collected emergency disaster payments in 11 of the past 21 years. Most were in the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, all states on the 100th meridian -- west of which is semi-arid.
Jeff Metz, who farms near Scottsbluff, Neb., 15 miles from the Wyoming border, told Thompson disaster aid is needed because of declining crop-insurance payments, which are based on an average yield over several years. His wheat yield is 25 bushels an acre, down from 35 in 2000. He told Thompson, "A lot of this ground should never have been torn up for farm ground. But that's the way our economy works." (Read more)
Lubben told Brownfield Network, a farm news service, that EWG and critical coverage by metropolitan papers have "changed the complexion of discussions about the next farm bill," as Brownfield's Peter Shinn put it in a story critical of the World-Herald article. "I believe every major daily across the country has, at some point, run an article, an editorial, about these payments and where they're going," Lubben said. (Read more)
Coal industry seeks federal subsidies to turn its product into liquid fuels
Republicans from coal-producing states want to add big subsidies for coal-to-liquid fuels to the Senate energy bill, "and many Democrats are likely to support them," Edmund Andrews reports in The New York Times. "But some energy experts, as well as some lawmakers, worry that the scale of the coal-to-liquid incentives could lead to a repeat of a disastrous effort 30 years ago to underwrite a synthetic fuels industry from scratch."
"Lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years," Andrews writes. "Environmental groups are adamantly opposed, warning that coal-based diesel fuels would at best do little to slow global warming and at worst would produce almost twice as much of the greenhouse gases tied to global warming as petroleum."
The Times says the effort coal coal subsidies "is in odd juxtaposition to simultaneous efforts by Democrats to draft global-warming bills that would place new restrictions on coal-fired electric power plants. The move reflects a tension, which many lawmakers gloss over, between slowing global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil." The technology to make liquid fuel from coal into liquid fuel exists and appears feasible if oil prices exceed $50 a barrel, but coal-to-liquid fuels and the process used to make them "produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as ordinary diesel." (Read more)
The industry says it can capture carbon dioxide in the process, and reduce emissions by using renewable fuels, "but none of that has been done at commercial volumes, and many analysts say the economic issues are far from settled," Andrews writes. "No company has built a commercial-scale plant that also captures carbon."
Brazilian firm to buy Swift & Co., creating world's largest meatpacker
Latin America's largest beef processor, JBS S.A. of Sao Paulo, Brazil, has agreed to buy Swift & Co. of Greeley, Colo., America's third-largest beef and pork processor, "creating the world's largest meatpacking firm," reports Tom Johnston of MeatingPlace.com, a magazine for the read-meat industry.
MeatingPlace also notes, "In December, federal agents raided six Swift plants and arrested some 1,300 workers on immigration charges. Company officials said the raids cost upwards of $50 million in lost production and other expenses, but that Swift is on the rebound, with staffing and production levels normalizing in May." (Read more) For a staff story from The Tribune of Greeley, click here.
Hillary Clinton campaigns in Northern Iowa, gets favorable coverage
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York "dampened any suspicion that she was thinking about pulling out of Iowa by introducing herself to several smaller towns in northern Iowa" on Friday, reported Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register. In photo by the Register's Christopher Gannon, Clinton greets Arlene Varcoe at the Emmetsburg Pizza Ranch.
"I'm going to spend so much time in Iowa, I'm going to be able to caucus for myself," Clinton said. "The comment sparked chuckles from audiences in Mason City, Charles City and Algona," Beaumont wrote. "But it was as close as she came to acknowledging the dust-up last week over campaign strategy," in which her deputy campaign manager advised her in a memo, later leaked, to forsake the caucuses. Clinton has run third in recent polls of likely caucus goers, behind John Edwards and Barack Obama, but the latest poll, by American Research Group May 23-26, gave her the lead with 31 percent to 25 percent for Edwards, 11 for Obama and 8 for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Others had 4 percent or less. The poll's error margin was plus or minus 4 percentage points. (Read more)
The Rural Blog would like to feature more local, rural coverage of Clinton and other presidential candidates in Iowa, so if you know of some, whether it's online or not, please e-mail us.
Oklahoma Press Assn. votes to deny full membership to non-paid papers
By a margin of about 2 to 1, members of the Oklahoma Press Association have voted against a proposal to give free-circulation newspapers full membership in the association.
OPA President David Stringer, publisher of The Norman Transcript, writes in this month's Oklahoma Publisher that the issue is dead only for a relatively short time. "I believe we'll face this issue again, and my prediction is it will be in the next 10 years. The industry will continue to change and we will determine how we manage that change," he writes. "I'd like to have a say in how we manage that change, rather than just ignore it and hope it'll go away." Stringer favored the proposal but did not lobby for it in his column -- until now.
"Non-paid publications are a growing part of the industry we're dedicated to serve," Stringer writes. "Unless you count these non-paid brethren as 'not real newspapers,' and I know many people do, I believe it's the job of the association to serve all newspapers, paid or not."
Monday, May 28, 2007
Community journalists examine the Guard and the home front in Alabama
A greater share of Alabama citizens have been deployed to Iraq than those of any state except Texas, so the Knight Community Journalism Fellows in the University of Alabama’s master’s degree program at The Anniston Star did a large-scale reporting project examining the Alabama Guard and how its members, their families and the state have been affected by the war. The project, which included a poll of Guard members, ran in the Star yesterday and is a fine example of how community journalism can bring home big issues that come from far away but have a local impact. (Photo of Jim Priest of the 2025th Transportation Company, in training in Alabama, by Joel Hume)
“Soldiers say those living outside the war do not – possibly cannot – notice the change it has brought to thousands of Alabama homes and businesses. In six years, it has slipped into churches and schools. It has left its mark in pharmacies and hospitals. With all but two of Alabama’s 67 counties hosting Guard units, the war is an ongoing epic for the entire state. It’s one that Guard family members can’t turn off,” Markeshia Ricks writes in the lead story, with contributions from Amanda DeWald and Mary Jo Shafer. Ricks also wrote a story about the help some soldiers will need to recover from their experiences, and one of seven profiles of individual soldiers.
The survey of Guard members “uncovered feelings of a Guard stretched past its intent, past its training and recruitment abilities. Their ideas about readjusting to civilian life, and why they joined the Guard in the first place, shift as the war on terror drags on,” Ricks writes. Here are some survey findings in her story:
“More than half of the 420 Guard members surveyed have been deployed to Iraq for at least a one-year tour. Another 33 percent have been to Afghanistan. . . . Of those who have been deployed, almost 66 percent reported coming under mortar attack, machine gun fire or being in vehicles blown up by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. . . . 85 percent said people were "very appreciative" or "somewhat appreciative" of their job. . . . Though the U.S. Department of Defense has had difficulty recruiting and retaining soldiers, on average these members have spent at least four years in the Guard. More than half say they will re-enlist. . . . Only 18 percent reported that they’d experienced a change in employment because of their Guard service. Of those who had a change, 24 percent had been deployed for combat.” (Read more)
A story by Shafer examines equipment shortages in Guard units and brings it home: “The 167th Infantry Battalion of Talladega County should have 42 M-60 machine guns,” she writes. “It has seven.”
In a story headlined "The war at home," Joan Garrett writes of the trials and tribulations of Guard families. One wife, Suzy Sexton, “has learned to love a changed man. She’s learned to make muted sounds and speak careful words. She’s learned to live through her husband’s nightmares.”
Nevertheless, for the first time in 14 years, the the Alabama guard grew last year, thanks to strong enlistments. DeWald interviewed administrators and enlistees like Priest to find out why. Click here for her story.
DeWald and the university's Dr. Ed Mullins teamed up on a story about how Guard members balance tasks and training for home and abroad: “About 60 percent worry that war duty compromises their abilities on the home front "seriously or somewhat." Frustration rises like steam from many of the comments.”
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Glimpses of Guard members on duty too long: Their stories need telling
Local reporters need to be doing the kinds of stories that Scott Pelley did last night on CBS's "60 Minutes" about National Guard units from Iowa in Iraq, one of which is pictured in a CBS photo at left, and that Peter Slevin did in The Washington Post about guard units from northern Minnesota. Slevin did his piece without going to Iraq; you can, too. Just get out and talk to the families in person, and to the troops on the phone or via the Internet.
"Guard members from small towns such as Crookston, Goodridge and Fergus Falls are still patrolling Iraq, their tour extended by President Bush's troop buildup. When they finally return this summer, they will have been gone nearly two years, one of the longest stints of any guard unit since Sept. 11, 2001," Slevin writes. "Their absence is evident in the parked pickup trucks and the vacant dining room chairs in communities across northern Minnesota. It is clear in the weariness of friends and relatives who are filling in. As the deployment stretches on, children study their fathers in pixelated images. Bosses juggle assignments. Mothers juggle everything."
News of one duty extension, "which the families first heard about on television, was a rough blow. One wife likened it to nearing the end of a marathon and learning she would have to run eight more miles uphill," Slevin reports. Like Pelley, he spotlights "computer and satellite technology unthinkable a war or two ago," which enables soldiers to have a virtual, but sometimes frustrating, presence back home. (Read more)
Secrecy helps thwart citizens' efforts against mountaintop removal mining
Efforts by environmental groups to more strictly regulate mountaintop-removal surface mining of coal "are being thwarted by a federal agency’s secrecy," and at least one coal company’s "strategy of shifting its permit requests to evade judicial review," Ken Ward Jr. writes in The Charleston Gazette. "The strategy generates last-minute court fights that pit jobs against the environment, and keep legal challenges to agency permit approvals from being heard, environmentalists say."
Ward's story details a complex procedure involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for valley fills that bury headwaters of streams with material blasted from mountaintops. (Read more)
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Iraq bill includes stopgap money for counties with national-forest land
The Iraq war funding bill passed Thursday night includes $425 million to continue, through September, payments to rural counties hurt by decreased logging in national forests. It funds "more than 700 timber counties in 39 states, mostly in the West and South," reports Matthew Daly of The Associated Press. "It does not include a Senate-approved plan to spend nearly $5 billion to continue the payments law through 2011 and reimburse state and local governments for federally owned property. . . . Still, most Western lawmakers said they were pleased to salvage at least a one-year extension, noting that some schools and counties in the rural West and South have begun layoffs in anticipation of a funding cutoff."
"The county timber payments program, created in 2000 to offset declining timber revenues that helped fund local schools and governments, has been in limbo since it expired last year," reports Keith Chu, Washington correspondent for The Bulletin in Bend, Ore. Chu explores the local impact; for his story, click here.
"Schools and counties throughout the South and West have scrambled to cut spending to make up for the expected loss of federal funds," Daly reports. "Voters in five Oregon counties last week rejected new local taxes to pay for public safety, roads and libraries once financed by logging on national forests." (Read more)
Toyota's rural wage policies spur UAW efforts to organize Kentucky plant
Aileen Waugh, injured at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Ky., helps prepare a candlelight vigil for the plant's injured workers at a park in Georgetown (photo by David Harpe). The United Auto Workers union "has launched a big new push" to organize the huge factory, "trying to capitalize on fears of lower pay, outsourcing of jobs and on Toyota's treatment of injured workers," reporrs Sholnn Freeman of The Washington Post. "The UAW has never succeeded in organizing a foreign auto assembly plant in the United States, but Toyota's emergence as the world's largest automaker has added urgency to this effort." So have impending contract negotiations and the recent sale of Chrysler Corp. to a private equity firm.
"The UAW and the workers have seized on leaked business documents from Toyota that detail a plan to put a lid on manufacturing wages in the United States," Freeman reports. At the factory it is building near Tupelo, Miss., the Japanese company "plans to pay workers about $20 an hour in a region where many people earn $12 to $13 an hour. The average Toyota worker at Georgetown makes about $25 an hour."
"In rural towns, high wages put pressure on other local employers to pay more," Freeman reports, quoting Ross E. Eisenbrey, vice president and policy director of the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute: "Instead of leading with $25 or $27, you have them paying $12," said "That whole effect is wiped out. For the larger economy, it's downward pressure on wages." Toyota says market forces require it to re-evaluate compensation policies -- "a matter that has to be negotiated with the union at UAW-represented plants," Freeman notes. "Toyota today is one of the auto industry's most profitable companies, and officials think its continued success depends on controlling costs."
Pete Gritton, vice president for human resources at the Georgetown plant, which employs 7,200, said lower pay scales "would ultimately translate into stable employment for American autoworkers," the Post reports. "He said Toyota is seeking to maintain cost-effective growth in the United States so it can compete with low-wage countries such as China, Mexico and Brazil. "We are the only major manufacturer of automobiles that is trying to grow and expand its business in the U.S. right now," he told Freeman. (Read more)
Where do gas prices hit hardest? In places where people earn the least
A petroleum-market research service released data this week comparing county-by-county gasoline prices to median household income, revealing where high prices hit hardest. The county with the lowest income, and the highest relative gas prices, is Clay County, Kentucky, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The Oil Price Information Service reported that people in the southeastern Kentucky county "shell out 14.78 percent of their monthly income to buy gasoline costing $3.156 a gallon, according to the index," the Herald-Leader reports. "The county's average monthly income of $1,423.67 is the lowest in the nation, the agency said. Compare that to San Juan County, Wash., where motorists pay the highest cost in the nation -- $3.926 a gallon -- but the bite on their pocketbooks is only 6.78 percent of their monthly income."
California has some of the highest gasoline prices, but also higher income. The other example cited by the Herald-Leader was San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, where residents "use only 3.72 percent of their $6,410.17 monthly income to pay for gas priced at $3.579 a gallon." (Read more)
The index used by the newspaper is from The Best and Worst County Ranking Report, which OPIS promotes as a guide for fuel marketers, saying, "Find out which areas are ripe for expansion and which
Corps of Engineers bans cliff jumping and diving in Huntington District
Just as the summer recreation season began, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers banned jumping and diving from cliffs at lakes in its Huntington (W.Va.) District, which includes most of Ohio, West Virginia and southwest Virginia, much of Eastern Kentucky, and a small piece of North Carolina -- essentally, the middle of the Ohio River watershed. The ban covers parts of four states, not four entire states, as CNN incorrectly indicated today.
The Corps' notice says violation is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to six months. It says the new rule applies to all lakes in the district, but then lists the lakes covered and leaves out some small ones it operates. The Ohio lakes listed are Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Delaware, Dillon, Paint Creek and the North Branch of Kokosing River Lake. The West Virginia lakes listed are Beech Fork, Bluestone, Burnsville, East Lynn, R.D. Bailey, Summersville and Sutton. The Kentucky lakes listed are Dewey, Fishtrap, Grayson, Paintsville and Yatesville. The lone Virginia lake listed is John W. Flannagan. There are no lakes in the North Carolina section, the headwaters of the New River, which flows into the Kanawha River (which is shown on the Corps map above because it has locks).
No other corps districts have similar cliff-diving bans, Corps spokesman David Hewitt told John Raby of The Associated Press. However, "The National Park Service this year banned cliff diving and rope swings in Missouri’s Ozark National Scenic Riverways in an effort to cut down on rowdy behavior. And in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma, the Corps has blocked access to the highest cliff at Lake Tenkiller, where several deaths have occurred. Access to a shorter cliff is not restricted," AP reports. (Read more)
Friday, May 25, 2007
Help find senator who's blocking Freedom of Information Act improvements
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (the “OPEN Government Act”), which would improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Leahy's committee has approved the bill, sponsored by 10 members of each party, but the hold prevents action by the full Senate.
“It is both unfortunate and ironic that this bipartisan bill, which promotes sunshine and openness in our government, is being hindered by a secret and anonymous hold,” Leahy said. “This is a good government bill that Democrats and Republicans alike, can and should work together to enact.”
The bill would restore meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA; impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing statutory deadlines; clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors; establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and create a FOIA ombudsman as an alternative to costly litigation, which often forces journalists to abandon open-records requests. For Leahy's release, which gives details of the bill, click here. For a blog item from Rebecca Carr of the Austin American-Statesman, which is covering co-sponsor Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, click here.
The Society of Professional Journalists is mounting a campaign to identify the "secret senator," at least by the process of elimination. "This is for an important cause — and it's a fine way to exercise our First Amendment rights as we reflect on Memorial Day," SPJ says. We agree. Here are SPJ's instructions:
1. Visit www.SPJ.org, and see if your senator already has been called.
Rural philanthropy getting more attention, nationally and at the local level
"Rural areas get fewer charitable dollars per capita than urban parts of the country. Now some charities are trying to tackle this philanthropic divide," contributor Robert J. Hughes wrote in The Wall Street Journal last month. Some rural communities are creating their own foundations and trying to tap sources of local wealth -- in many cases, farmland that otherwise would be inherited by city dwellers, contributor Richard Mertens writes in The Christian Science Monitor this week.
Hughes cites a Foundation Center study, which "shows that some states with significant rural areas get vastly less foundation money than more-urban states. (The study examined grants from most of the 1,000 largest foundations.) In 2005, North Dakota was awarded $3.3 million, South Dakota $3.2 million and Montana $10 million -- compared with $3 billion for New York and $2 billion for California." He notes that the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy is preparing a report to explain the inadequate support for rural nonprofits, and that Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, and the Council on Foundations plan to hold a symposium in Missoula in August on the problems of rural philanthropy. (Read more)
Hughes notes that the Nebraska Community Foundation "tries to encourage residents who inherit land or other assets to donate a percentage of it to help develop businesses there." Studies show those assets are "slipping away," Mertens writes in the Monitor. "As the rural population gets older, elderly residents are increasingly transferring their assets to children who have moved to distant cities, experts say. Rural foundations hope to capture a small share of these transfers – estimated at $50 million a year in many rural counties – for the benefit of local schools, community centers, day cares, and other civic organizations."
Mertens writes from Parke County, Indiana, where a local foundation has been a recipient and maker of charitable donations for a wide range of purposes. The Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis helped set up such foundations in each of Indiana's counties in the 1990s. The idea is catching on; from 1998 to 2004, the number of rural foundations doubled. "Community philanthropy is growing by leaps and bounds in rural areas," Janet Topolsky, director of the Aspen Institute's Community Strategies Group, which promotes rural philanthropy, told Mertens. "A lot of it has come from the energy of local activists seeing other communities and saying, 'We can do it, too.' "
"We're in an era when federal and state money for rural development has really declined," Don Macke, co-director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Lincoln, Neb., told Mertens. "That means if communities are going to develop, they need to find money locally." (Read more)
Kingsolver writes about virtues, pitfalls, politics of local food systems
"When my family tried to eat local for a year, we learned as much about politics as we did about produce," acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver writes in Mother Jones magazine, channeling her first full-length narrative non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (For a review of the book in The Courier-Journal, by writer Steve Henry, click here.)
Kingsolver writes about the fortunes of the farmers in Appalachian Harvest, a nonprofit in Southwest Virginia and upper East Tennessee. "They had learned organic methods, put away the chemicals, and done everything right to grow a product consumers claimed to want. . . . And then suddenly, when the farmers were finally bringing in these tomatoes by the truckload and hoping for a decent payout, some grocery buyers backtracked. . . . These tomatoes were perfect, and buyers were hungry. Agreements had been made. But pallets of organic tomatoes from California had begun coming in just a few dollars cheaper. . . . The California growers needed only the economics of scale on their side, a cheap army of pickers, and customers who would reliably opt for the lower price. . . . In Charlottesville, Asheville, Roanoke, and Knoxville, supermarket shoppers had no way of knowing how much heartache and betrayal was wrapped up in those cellophane two-packs of California tomatoes."
Here are more excerpts from the 3,939-word magazine article: "When we walked, as a nation, away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial. . . . Now, it's fair to say, the majority of us don't want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children's books, we don't quite believe in them anymore. When we give it a thought, we mostly consider the food industry to be a thing rather than a person. We obligingly give 81 cents of our every food dollar to that thing, too — the processors, marketers, transporters, and so on. Less than one-fifth goes to farmers, and corporate 'producers' get the lion's share of that. We complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might actually send back more than two dimes per buck to the humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn. In the grocery store checkout corral, we learn all about which stars are secretly fornicating, but nothing about the people who grew the cucumbers and melons in our carts. . . .
"There must be some reason why we don't want to think about or compensate these hardworking men and women. The psychic divide between rural working class and urban middle is surely a part of the problem. . . . The urban U.S. middle class appears more immediately concerned about exploited Asian factory workers. For much of U.S. history, rural regions have been treated essentially as colonial property of the cities. The carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction era were not the first or the last opportunists to capitalize on an extractive economy. When urban companies come to the country with a big plan — whether their game is coal, timber, or industrial agriculture — the plan is to take out the good stuff, ship the profit to the population centers, and leave behind a mess. . . . Rural concerns are less covered by the mainstream media, and often considered intrinsically comic. The policy of our nation is made in cities, controlled largely by urban voters who aren't well informed about the changes on the face of our land, and the men and women who work it."
Kingsolver grew up near Carlisle, Ky. She lives with her family on a farm near Wytheville, Va., where they raise free-range chickens, turkeys, Icelandic sheep, and a huge vegetable garden. (Read more)
Last horse slaughterhouse might survive on sales to zoos, lawmaker says
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law yesterday making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption, perhaps dooming the last equine abbatoir in the U.S. “Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill., had been processing horse meat for export to Europe,” notes Ann Bagel Storck of MeatingPlace.com.
State Sen. Brad Burzynski, a Republican whose district includes DeKalb, “hopes the plant, which employs about 48 people to process about 1,000 horses a week, can stay open by processing horse meat for other uses, such as sales to zoos,” the local Daily Chronicle reported. He said he was disappointed by passage of the bill, because “People need to be able to dispose of their animals in a financially responsible manner.”
“Two horse slaughterhouses in Texas also received bad news earlier this week, after their attempt to resume operations was denied,” Storck reports. “A deadline of midnight Monday passed without the Texas House authorizing a bill that would have reopened Dallas Crown Inc. in Kaufman and Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the plants' petition to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that effectively shut them down earlier this year.” (Read more)
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Jackson Hole editor, inside the Beltway, interviews Cheney -- and Pelosi
You might have expected Tom Dewell, co-editor of the weekly Jackson Hole News & Guide, circulation 10,000, to take advantage of a trip to the Washington, D.C., area to interview Vice President Dick Cheney, perhaps the most powerful resident of Teton County, Wyoming. Dewell did that, after attending an American Press Institute seminar last week, but before the seminar he snagged a briefer interview with Cheney's opposite number, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and did a story on her, too. (Official White House photo, by David Bohrer)
The Pelosi material provided useful counterpoint in the Cheney story, which began,“Vice President Dick Cheney, in a White House interview Friday, criticized the Democrats’ redeployment strategy for Iraq and explained the underpinnings of the Bush administration’s surge plan. In a 20-minute conversation in his West Wing office, Cheney also addressed the creep of gas development toward northwest Wyoming, supported the Wild and Scenic designation for Snake River headwaters and offered his views on global warming.”
That was a good mix of topics, from international to local. The Pelosi material in the story offered counterpoint to Cheney's views on Iraq. “Pelosi explained the redeployment strategy she and her colleagues have offered,” Dewell wrote. “The speaker wants to extract American troops from the middle of a civil war, have them protect U.S. interests in the region, fight terrorists and protect the embassy.” Pelosi told him, “It’s a mess there now whether we stay or whether we go. It’s a mess.”
"For my trip to the White House I had only one outfit choice: The blue suit I wore to my wedding rehearsal dinner and the one I wear to funerals and weddings. For the record: I am not wearing my most expensive suit, my Orvis, Simms, Cloudveil fishing gear. . . . I ask if I can go to the bathroom but not because I have to go. My palms and fingers sweat from excitement and feel somehow greasy. I don’t want to shake Vice President Cheney’s hand and have him think I just finished a plate of baby back ribs." (Read more)
Hillary Clinton rejects deputy's advice to abandon campaign in Iowa
With larger, more urban states moving up their presidential primaries to early February or even late January, a ranking member of Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign staff suggested Monday that she bypass Iowa's caucuses “to save time and money for later states in which she might have a better chance of winning,” Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen wrote on his blog after The Associated Press broke the story yesterday. (Register photo of Clinton campaigning in Iowa)
By yesterday afternoon, Clinton and her staff -- one of whom may have leaked the memo -- were on the phones to Iowa and national reporters to kill the story and say she would be in Iowa this weekend. “I am someone who encourages people to raise ideas. At the end of the day, I make the decisions and I've made the decision that we are competing in Iowa,” Clinton said. For the Register's news story, by Tom Beaumont, which has a sidebar box with links to at least 15 other Register stories on the campaigns in Iowa, click here.
NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd notes in this morning's First Read blog that Deputy Campaign Manager Mike Henry's memo had some contradictions, “including the argument Henry makes about skipping Iowa because these small states may not have the influence they had in the past. The contradiction? He argues to campaign in New Hampshire, which is smaller than Iowa. So one can't help but see this memo as an attempt to rationalize the possibility of losing Iowa and trying to wiggle out of that scenario.” Yepsen wrote, “The scenario had some credibility because Clinton has slipped in recent polls of the race in Iowa and because other candidates have tried to bypass Iowa’s caucuses in the past.” But Yepsen and Todd both said, as Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz indicated in The Washington Post, that a national front-runner can't skip Iowa.
The latest survey of Iowa caucus goers, conducted May 18-20 by the Republican polling firm Strategic Vision, gave former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards 29 percent in the Democratic race, to 24 percent for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 16 percent for Clinton. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had 9 percent. Others had less; 16 percent of voters were undecided. Error margin was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Republican race was even more competitive: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 20 percent; former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 18; Arizona Sen. John McCain, 16; and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who has yet to announce his candidacy, 10. Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson had 7, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 5 and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 3. (Read the poll)
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
FCC proposes to cut subsidies for bringing better cell service to rural areas
"The Federal Communication Commission has proposed capping the amount of subsidies paid to improve cell phone systems in rural parts of the United States," the Lincoln Journal Star says in an editorial.
The editorial concluded, It seems reasonable to allow cell phone companies to finally get a more equitable share of the subsidy while Congress works on reform.” (Read more)
Knight News Challenge makes $11 million in grants; $25 million planned
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today the first grants in its Knight News Challenge, a five-year contest offering $25 million in awards for ideas and projects that use digital news or information to build and bind community in specific geographic areas. As Eric Newton, the foundation’s vice president of journalism programs, describes it, the contest combines “nerds, news and neighborhoods.” And Knight's “neighborhoods” includes some rural places.
The largest grant with rural impact is $885,000 to Richard Anderson, right, president and owner of VillageSoup Inc., a company that provides places for residents to learn, share and shop in their neighborhoods or towns. The grant will be used to create an open-source version of VillageSoup’s successful community news software, combining professional journalism, blogs, citizen journalism, online advertising and “reverse publishing” from online to print. Anderson says his goal is “Turning independent weekly newspaper companies and entrepreneurs into an imposing, lively, worldwide creative energy that is competitive with media company chains.” Before establishing VillageSoup, Anderson spent five years teaching and 29 years developing and publishing elementary and high school textbooks. He and his wife Sandy live in Camden, Maine.
The next largest grant with rural impact is $244,000 to Ethan Zuckerman, left, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. With Rebecca MacKinnon, he is the cofounder of Global Voices (www.globalvoicesonine.org), an international community of bloggers and citizen journalists that has introduced readers around the world to the brilliant, funny, insightful and touching voices of bloggers from developing nations. The grant will be used to introduce thousands of new developing world bloggers to the world, helping students, journalists, activists and people from rural areas to the blogosphere. “It’s becoming clear that the world is listening, so now we’re trying to get new groups of people talking.”
A grant with potential rural impact is $222,000 to Lisa Williams, right, founder of Placeblogger, the largest live site of local weblogs and of H2Otown, a nationally recognized citizen journalism site and online community for Watertown, Mass. The grant will help make it easier for people to find hyperlocal news and information about their city or neighborhood through promotion of “universal geotagging’’ in blogs. “Placeblogger wants to make it so simple to know what’s fresh, interesting and compelling about where you are right now, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it,” she says. For the Knight Foundation news release about the program and the largest grants, click here. For the program's home page, click here.
Among eight winners of $15,000 News Challenge grants for blogging is G. Patton “Pat” Hughes of neomax.com LLC and Paulding.com, a hyperlocal news site for Paulding County, Georgia. (county seat, Dallas, just west of Cobb County and Marietta). While editing a local weekly newspaper, Hughes saw the opportunity for the site and obtained the domain name in 1997. The site reaches about 30 percent of local households. It aims to involve the community, offering tutorials on how to upload images and avoid libel. “Because of the passion and dedication required to create a hyperlocal media site,” Hughes says, “My goal is to classify this work as an art form – and make my art worth something in my lifetime.” For a complete list of all News Challenge winners, biographies and project descriptions, click here.
The second round's application period begins July 1. The largest grant in the first round, $5 million, went to Chris Csikszentmihályi and Henry Jenkins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the Center for Future Civic Media, a leadership project designed to encourage community news experiments and new technologies and practices. “We are moving to a Fifth Estate where everyone is able to pool their knowledge, share experience and expertise, and speak truth to power,” says Csikszentmihályi (pronounced Cheek-sent-me-hi). He has worked in the intersection of new technologies, politics, media and the arts for 15 years, lecturing, working to create new technology that embodies a social agenda. For example, he designed his piece “Afghan Explorer” to defend the First Amendment by creating a tele-operated robot reporter to bypass American military censorship. Jenkins is author and/or editor of nine books on various aspects of media and popular culture, the newest books of which include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.
Nieman Foundation names 30 fellows, a few with rural connections
One rural journalist and one who works at a newspaper with a large rural circulation have been named Nieman Fellows at Harvard University. Other fellows plan research that could have rural resonance.
Dean Miller, right, executive editor of The Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, circulation 24,000, will study the role of faith and pluralism in American communities. Miller is the Donald W. Reynolds Nieman Fellow in Community Journalism, funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Alicia Anstead, a reporter with the Bangor Daily News in Maine, circulation 62,000, will study the imaginative, political and historical underpinnings of art in a consumer culture. Anstead is the Arts & Culture Nieman Fellow.
Fellows with research projects that could involve rural areas in the United States include Stuart Watson, an investigative reporter for WCNC-TV in Charlotte, who will study criminal sentencing inequities and factors influencing the disparities in criminal sentencing, to gain a better understanding of the connections between crime and punishment; Walter Watson, senior supervising producer for National Public Radio, who will study how the new media will affect communities that lack access to the changing way news and information are delivered; Dallas Morning News reporter Joshua Benton, who will explore the impact of school rating systems such as the No Child Left Behind Act on classroom instruction and the effects they can have on the way schools operate; and Kate Galbraith, freelance correspondent, who has written for The Economist, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, who will study how government policy fosters or impedes the development of alternative-energy technologies such as solar power or bio-fuels.
Half of each year's fellows come from outside the U.S., and some have research projects that involve rural areas. The most notable is Siew Ying Leu, a Malaysian who is Guangzhou correspondent for the South China Morning Post and will study the role China’s rural population will play in the political and economic future of the country. Leu is the Barry Bingham Jr. Nieman Fellow, a fellowship named for the former editor and publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville. For the full list of fellows, click here.
Justice Department files suit against newspapers in Charleston, W.Va.
The U.S. Justice Department sued the owners of The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail Tuesday, alleging that their joint operating agreement violates anti-trust laws. "Representatives for both newspapers said the lawsuit was not warranted and pledged to fight it vigorously," the Gazette said.
Federal law allows joint operating agreements as exceptions to anti-trust laws. The suit claims the papers lost their exemption when they changed the JOA as part of a transaction in 2004. Originally, each paper owned half of Charleston Newspapers, the entity that handles both papers' business operations. “The Daily Gazette Co., the family-owned company that operates The Charleston Gazette, bought the controlling interest in the JOA from MediaNews Group, the Denver-based newspaper chain [for $55 million]. MediaNews is paid a fee to manage the editorial operations of the Daily Mail,” the Gazette reports. (Read more)
The suit alleges the Gazette intends to “shut down the Daily Mail, depriving readers and advertisers of the benefits of competition.” The department said its investigation prevented the Daily Mail from being shut down. MediaNews President Joseph Lodovic told Editor and Publisher, “The Daily Mail and the Gazette have remained as journalistically competitive as ever,” and Elizabeth Chilton, president and publisher of the Gazette, noted that Charleston is the smallest city with two independent dailies in a JOA, “and publishers of both the Gazette and Daily Mail want it to continue to provide the people of Charleston with competing editorial voices.” (Read more) The Gazette is generally liberal, the Daily Mail generally conservative.
Immigration raid nets more than 100 at rural Missouri poultry plant
More than 100 workers at a poultry-processing plant in rural Butterfield, Mo., were arrested yesterday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who believe the workers were in the country illegally.
An ICE agent told The Associated Press that most of those arrested at the George's Processing Inc. plant were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. George's is based in Rogers, Ark. Several hundred people worked at the plant in southwest Missouri, authorities told AP.
An ICE spokesman "said no charges have been filed against George's and declined to say whether the company knew it was hiring illegal aliens," AP reports. (Read more)
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
World's population becomes mainly urban tomorrow, researchers say
Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia say they have pinned down a landmark date in human history, the first time the earth’s population will be more urban than rural. It will happen tomorrow, they say.
"Working with United Nations estimates that predict the world will be 51.3 percent urban by 2010, the researchers projected the May 23, 2007, transition day based on the average daily rural and urban population increases in 2005-2010. On that day, a predicted global urban population of 3,303,992,253 will exceed that of 3,303,866,404 rural people," reports PhysOrg.com, a scientific news service.
PhysOrg.com adds, "Although rural natural and social resources are necessary for urban people and places, the researchers say rural people do not fare well relative to their urban counterparts. Maps of U.S. quality-of-life conditions show that poverty and low education attainment are concentrated in rural areas – especially the rural South – where the nation’s food, water and forest resources exist. Over much of the globe, rural poverty is much worse than in the United States." To read the whole story, click here.
Pair get five years in prison for beating up editor in Centerville, Iowa
So, you write what seems to be a routine story about a council meeting, and two guys beat you unconscious. That's what happened to Centerville Daily Iowegian Managing Editor Dan Ehl last September. On May 11, his attackers were each sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to willful injury.
Wade Adams, 27, and Jeffery Horn, 26, punched, kicked and stomped Ehl, who had written what he called a routine city council story that included a discussion of Adams' liquor license. The attack occurred outside a Centerville bar. Ehl suffered a broken leg and facial injuries. He blamed the attack on the story.
“I’m glad justice has been done,” Ehl told the Ottumwa Courier, a sister paper. “I don’t think anyone should be ambushed and beaten no matter what their profession is. I know it got more attention because I’m a journalist, but I don’t think that should happen to anyone.” (Read more) For the 2,800-circulation Daily Iowegian's story about the attackers' plea on its editor, click here.
Rural mail carriers being squeezed by record-high gasoline prices
Record-high gas prices are a big problem for mail carriers on rural routes, who have to provide their own vehicles and fuel, reports Steve Berg of Tulsa's KOTV. Amid sound bites from a carrier, Berg reports, "He says they get about 49 cents per mile from the Postal Service. But he says adjustments are only made every 3 months, and a lot can happen to prices during that time. . . . He says there's a shortage of carriers right now, and he believes it could have something to do with gas prices." (Read more)
National Rural Health Association announces its 2007 award winners
The National Rural Health Association has announced its 2007 award recipients. (Click link for individual summary)
Rural Health Practitioner of the Year - Raymond D. Wells, MD; Inez, Kentucky
Monday, May 21, 2007
Ethanol-driven corn prices turn trail mix, etc. into feed for meat animals
"Growing demand for corn-based ethanol, a biofuel that has surged in popularity over the past year, has pushed up the price of corn . . . to near-record levels," Lauren Etter reports in the Wall Street Journal. "Because feed represents farms' biggest single cost in raising animals, farmers are serving them a lot of people food, since it can be cheaper. Besides trail mix (in photo), pigs and cattle are downing cookies, licorice, cheese curls, candy bars, french fries, frosted wheat cereal and peanut-butter cups. Some farmers mix chocolate powder with cereal and feed it to baby pigs."
Etter's story is datelined Garland, N.C., where she found pig farmer Alfred Smith feeding his pigs trail mix after a 13 percent increase in feed costs over this time last year, but she has reporting from all over the nation, suggesting a story near you: "California farmers are feeding farm animals grape-skins from vineyards and lemon-pulp from citrus groves. Cattle ranchers in spud-rich Idaho are buying truckloads of uncooked french fries, Tater Tots and hash browns. In Pennsylvania, farmers are turning to candy bars and snack foods because of the many food manufacturers nearby. Hershey Co. sells farmers waste cocoa and the trimmings from wafers that go into its Kit Kat bars. At Nissin Foods, maker of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles, farmers drive to a Lancaster, Pa., factory and load up on scraps of the squiggly dried noodles." (Read more, subscription required)
The Center for Agricultural Development at Iowa State University reports on its latest study: "Expanded U.S. ethanol production will cause long-run crop prices to increase. In response to higher feed costs, livestock farmgate prices will increase enough to cover the feed cost increases. Retail meat, egg, and dairy prices will also increase." The study was funded by the American Meat Institute, some livestock groups and the National Grain and Feed Association. For a release from AMI, click here. For one from the National Pork Producers Council, click here. To read the study, click here.
The South posts another lead in a leading health problem: strokes
Strokes are most common in the South, according to the first state-by-state rankings of the No. 3 cause of death for adults in the U.S. The rankings come from a 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 356,000 civilians, which didn't include people in nursing homes or other institutions.
Nationally, 2.6 percent of respondents answered "yes" when asked, "Has a doctor or other health professional ever told you that you had a stroke?" States higher than the national average were Mississippi, 4.3%; Oklahoma (and the District of Columbia), 3.4%; Louisiana, 3.3%; Alabama and Nevada, 3.2%; Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, 3.1%; Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Texas and West Virginia, 3%; Georgia and South Carolina, 2.9%; Florida, Hawaii, and North Carolina, 2.8%; and Virginia, 2.7%. Some of the leading states are also some of the nation's more rural states.
The study was published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "The journal also includes a separate study showing that fewer than half of U.S. stroke patients get to the hospital within two hours of the onset of stroke symptoms," writes Moranda Hitti of WebMD Medical News. "Swift treatment is essential for clot-busting stroke drugs." (Read more)
Will pols keep promises for more rural development in the Farm Bill?
As Congress begins work on a new Farm Bill, "Big agriculture’s domination is waning" and there are better prospects for a broader bill that puts more emphasis on rural development, Tom Rowley writes for the Rural Policy Research Institute. But he warns that politicians didn't deliver on simi liar promises in 2002.
"Thanks to the current round of international trade discussions and ongoing media coverage, we now know just how broken U.S. ag policy is. It violates our international agreements. It jeopardizes trade in other sectors. It fails many who need assistance in favor of those who don’t," Rowley writes. "However, loosening big ag’s grip on all things rural will not, by itself, result in better policies or more money for rural
The Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development, announced April 25
Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Hillary Clinton of New York appeared at the announcement, but National Association of Counties President Colleen Landkamer, a commissioner from Blue Earth County, Minn., cautioned that rural advocates heard similar talk five years ago about a rural title in the Farm Bill. “We’re hoping this time that it’s not just put in, but that it’s appropriated,” she said.
Dabson replaces Fluharty at RUPRI: Charles "Chuck" Fluharty, the founder of RUPRI and for the past 17 years its director and then president, "has stepped down to enable him to devote more time to national and international policy matters that impact rural people and places," RUPRI announced last week. "He will continue to serve as a senior member of RUPRI’s leadership team, retain his position as research professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and has been named a 2007-08 German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Fellow." Brian Dabson, RUPRI’s associate director and then executive vice president since November 2004, is now interim president. Dabson is former president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED).
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Phone companies may bring ‘rural telecom redlining’ by selling land lines
Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire could be victims of “rural telecom redlining,” a growing national trend, if Verizon is able to sell $2.7 billion worth of local-access lines in the region, The Nation reports.
“Labor and consumer activists, joined by some public officials, are organizing against this move, in a high-stakes regulatory and political battle with consequences for the future of telecommunications in all of rural America,” Steve Early writes. “Everywhere it can, Verizon is trying to abandon ‘low value’ landline customers and is focusing instead on building its wireless customer base and investing billions of dollars in a new ‘FIOS’ service. FIOS provides voice, video and high-speed broadband connections on a single fiber-optic cable network, now being extended directly to homes and businesses in big cities and affluent suburbs.”
An economist for the Communications Workers of America has told the Federal Communications Commission that FairPoint Communications -- “a small, largely nonunion North Carolina firm,” Early notes -- is so heavy with debt that it would not be able to extend high-speed Internet service as quickly as Verizon could. Early explains the deal has tax advanatges for Verizon. (Read more)
“Only 60 percent of Verizon's 1.5 million customers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have access to broadband Internet service -- a level of service that the telecommunications industry newsletter, DSL Prime, recently called one of the lowest broadband access rates in the developed world,” The Brattleboro Reformer noted in an editorial. “FairPoint has committed to beating Verizon's promise to extend DSL (basic high-speed Internet technology) to at least 80 percent of Vermont by 2010. With the recent passage of a bill in the Vermont Legislature requiring 100 percent access by 2010, can FairPoint deliver? Experts in the telecom field are saying that DSL -- which uses copper phone line technology that's been around for more than a century -- will be obsolete within a decade.” (Read more)
Illinois governor expected to sign bill closing last U.S. horse slaughterhouse
The Illinois Senate has passed and sent to Gov. Rod Blagojevich a bill to end horse slaughter for human consumption in the state. That would shut the horse abattoir at the Cavel International plant at DeKalb, the last U.S. plant that produces horsemeat for human consumption -- in Europe and Japan.
"Because Blagojevich has been an advocate for banning horse slaughter, he is expected to sign the bill," reports Amanda Duckworth of The Blood-Horse, a Thoroughbred magazine. A federal judge shut the slaughterhouse this year, but it reopened pending an appeal.
Last month, a U.S. Senate committee approved a horse-slaughter ban and sent it to the full Senate. The legislation passed the House in 2006, "but was not acted upon by the Senate before it adjourned for the year," Duckworth notes." "The two other slaughter plants in the country are located in Texas and were shut down after a 1949 state law banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption was upheld by the entire 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals March 5." (Read more) Last week, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would legalize horse slaughter there, apparently after being misled by a senator who took a campaing contribution from a lobbyist for the bill, reported Brad Woodard of Houston's KHOU-TV. (Read more)
Feds order coal companies to strengthen seals between mine sections
A year ago today, five coal miners died at the Kentucky Darby Mine in Harlan County "when two of them were using an acetylene torch near leaking seals that were improperly built" and the mine exploded, writes Jim Carroll of The Courier-Journal. Friday, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration issued new rules to require such seals to be stronger if gases behind them are not monitored and kept inert, and "prohibit welding, cutting and soldering with a flame or arc within 150 feet of them." (Read more)
"The emergency rule, to be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, marks the fourth time in MSHA’s history that the agency has used its authority to issue emergency rules," which require "grave danger," reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. The rule will take effect upon publication and be followed by permanent rules that MSHA will issue after public hearings July 10 in Morgantown, W.Va.; July 12 in Lexington, Ky.; July 17 in Denver; and July 19 in Birmingham, Ala. Sites and times will be announced later.
"The new rule also was driven by the Jan. 2, 2006, disaster that killed 12 miners at International Coal Group’s Sago Mine," Ward notes. "Government investigators believe lightning produced an electromagnetic field that caused a pump cable that ICG left in a sealed area to spark. A buildup of methane gas was ignited, producing a huge explosion that demolished the seals." For more of Ward's story, click here.
For a story on how the Darby miners' widows have coped differently with the disaster, by Stephenie Steitzer of The Courier-Journal, click here. For a more local angle on the widows, by Deanna Lee-Sherman of the Harlan Daily Enterprise, click here. For a story by the Enterprise's John Stepp on a memorial service to be held a week from today for Harlan County miners killed on the job, click here.
Ward has a story today in which an MSHA inspector says he was driven into retirement by the Jan. 19, 2006, explosion that killed two miners at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma Mine in West Virginia: "Justice has been painted as a hero, as the inspector who tried to stand up to his bosses and crack down on Massey. He’s also been painted as a villain, the inspector who missed major problems at the mine, and as the subject of one of the largest internal investigations in MSHA history. The full truth may never be known."
Los Angeles County fair tells livestock exhibitors they aren't welcome
Los Angeles County is huge, with plenty of rural areas. And it has a county fair, the Valley Fair. But it's moved from the San Fernando Valley to a speedway in canyon country to the north, and told livestock exhibitors not to come "because housing animals is too expensive," reports the Los Angeles Daily News.
"They've been offered an alternate venue at Pierce College, where the 100 entrants can showcase and sell their animals," Brent Hopkins reported. "The message did not go over well." When the county's 4-H agriculture chair asked what the June 7-10 fair was doing to promote farming and was told there would be a livestock show, he yelled, "Yeah, but it's not at the fair! Having the Budweiser Clydesdales does not count as having agriculture!" Others disputed the California fair's cost estimates for livestock housing.
"Members of the volunteer committee said moving them would drive away buyers, isolate fair patrons from the popular animal areas and kill the atmosphere associated with the 61-year-old event, officially known as the 51st District Agricultural Association," Hopkins wrote in a 1,066-word story.
When some said they should bring animals to the speedway anyway, Chairman Derek Tabone, a lawyer, advised, "I'm thinking that civil disobedience over a steer isn't a real good reason to go to jail." A dissenter yelled, "But this is the death of a way of life!" Tabone replied softly, "No. It's the death of the fair."
The Bluegrass: Cities and towns eating away at what amounts to a park
The Bluegrass Region of Central Kentucky is in many respects a park, gradually being consumed by the urban areas that are scattered across it, University of Kentucky geography chairman Karl Raitz told Byron Crawford for a column in today's edition of The Courier-Journal.
"The historical overlay of settlements, rising from the rich limestone and fertile soil . . . created a one-of-a-kind horse-breeding culture in the 18th and 19th Centuries," Crawford writes, quoting Raitz: "This produced a built environment that has a sister over in the Nashville Basin [of Middle Tennessee, which has some of the same limestones], but other than that, generally can't be found anywhere else in North America."
"In England, an unbroken expanse of land punctuated by ancient trees might be called 'park land,' he said. Applying that definition to the region in Kentucky: Instead of looking at parks in cities, we are looking at cities in a giant park many counties wide," Crawford writes. "But it's rapidly dwindling. . . . The American Farmland Trust calculates that every hour, 9.82 acres of Kentucky's prime agricultural land is being lost to development. . . . At that rate, it's little wonder The World Monuments Fund has placed Kentucky's 'Bluegrass Cultural Landscape' on its list of the 100 most endangered sites on Earth."
The occasion for Crawford's column is a photographic exhibit called "Vanishing Bluegrass" at at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, created in part with a grant from the Central Kentucky chapter of the American Institute of Architects. UK architecture professor Mark O'Bryan noted that the Bluegrass has no multi-county land use regulations, so he hopes " for some type of regionally coordinated discussions among counties for developing strategies to cope with growth on a broad scale," Crawford writes.
Friday, May 18, 2007
White, rural and homogenous, Iowa and N.H. are atypical of America
The two states that vote first in the race for president are among the most rural, white and homogenous -- much unlike the nation as a whole, The Associated Press reports, updating an old story with new data.
Iowa, which votes first through caucuses, and New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, ranked 41st and 48th in AP's analysis of how closely each state "matched national levels on 21 demographic factors, including race, age, income, education, industrial mix, immigration and the share of people living in urban and rural areas. The rankings were then combined to determine the state that best mirrors the country as a whole," AP's Stephen Ohlemacher writes.
"A better bellwether might be Illinois. It's the most average state," followed by Oregon, Michigan, Washington and Delaware. "West Virginia was the least typical state -- poorer, whiter, more rural -- followed by Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont and Kentucky. . . . South Carolina, which also has an early primary, ranked 24th." (Read more)
A counter-argument, defending the role of Iowa and New Hampshire, is that they represent America's rural roots, which still run deep among much of the population -- and that the Democratic and Republican parties in those states have a mix of ideological views that are not all that much different from the entire U.S.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Weekly editor gets exclusive access as Giuliani mends fences in Iowa
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has mended fences with an Iowa farm couple, and their local newspaper editor was the only journalist present for the reconciliation. He apologized in person to Deb and Jerry VonSprecken Monday for his campaign's cancellation of an event at their farm, on grounds that they weren't wealthy enough to be affected by the federal inheritance tax, which he wanted to campaign against. (Photo: Deb VonSprecken holds a young calf as Giuliani feeds it.)
“I found out what had happened a couple of days ago,” Giuliani told Michelle Phillips of the weekly Anamosa-Journal Eureka, who broke the first story and was the only journalist who spoke to the candidate during his makeup visit. “It was reported to me that we canceled an event and the family was upset. It should have never happened. It’s my campaign and I take full responsibility. This is not the way I think this should’ve been handled or people should be treated.” (Read more)
The cattle farmers turned down Giuliani's request to reschedule the event on their property, but Deb VonSprecken agreed to be his campaign chairman for Jones County, just east of Cedar Rapids.
Giuliani's "still got some explaining to do" about the inheritance tax, The Des Moines Register said in an editorial. "The Giuliani campaign would have found it nigh on to impossible to turn up an example of an Iowa family that is severely affected by the tax. There are many myths about the estate tax. One of them is that heirs have to sell off the family farm to pay the inheritance tax. In fact, the estate tax kicks in only after the first $2 million in the estate's value, which misses most family farms unless they happen to be owned by the very wealthy. Indeed, last year, 99 percent of estates paid no estate tax at all, and the exemption is scheduled to go up to $3.5 million ($7 million for a couple) in '09." (Read more)
Appealing mine-safety fines usually gets them cut in half, GAO study funds
Coal companies that appeal major federal fines for mine-safety violations typically get their penalties cut in half, according to U.S. Government Accountability Office audit released yesterday at a meeting of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Lawyers and administrative law judges for the Labor Department “substantially reduce” fines, even when federal inspectors find negligence by mine operators, the audit said. It also found that the lawyers and judges rarely provide good documentation of their reasons for reducing the penalties, originally levied by the department's Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Other GAO findings, as listed by leading coal reporter Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette, included:
"GAO investigators found that mine operators challenge a small number of MSHA penalty assessments. The cases that are appealed tend to involve more serious accidents and larger penalties," Ward writes. In 1996-2006, "about 6 percent of fines proposed by MSHA were appealed, the GAO found. The average amount of an appealed fine was $1,107;" unappealed fines averaged only $176. "Fines for violations where accidents did occur, were highly likely to occur, or where operators showed “reckless” actions were the most likely to be reduced on appeal." (Read more)
Coal-mine safety measures still two and a half years from implementation
"The nation's top mine safety official said yesterday that it would probably be at least 21/2 years before the federal government puts into place new measures to save coal miners' lives, such as rescue chambers where miners could wait for emergency help," Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports from the House committee meeting mentioned above. (Read.more)
Kentucky weekly puts the issue of broadband access on the public agenda
The Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., doesn't have a Web site. It has less need for one than most papers, because hardly anyone in the Southern Kentucky county has high-speed Internet, or broadband. And the weekly, owned and edited by Ryan Craig, did a bang-up job of putting that issue on the county's public agenda recently, with three A-1 stories and a sidebar by reporter Melony Leazer. We've scanned and posted these stories so you can read them and use as examples for your own reporting and writing.
Click here for the top of the front page, with an excellent graphic and the beginning of the main story. Click here for the bottom, with the start of two more stories. Click here for jumps and sidebar.
Baxter (Ark.) Bulletin editor arrested for harboring fugitive -- her brother
How many reporters get to write about their managing editor being arrested? Joanne Bratton of The Baxter Bulletin in Arkansas did yesterday? Here's her top: "The Baxter Bulletin managing editor Kandra Branam was arrested Wednesday on a charge of accomplice to fleeing, a felony, and two charges of hindering apprehension, both misdemeanors. Branam, 43, turned herself in Wednesday to the Baxter County jail on the charges and was released after posting $5,000 bond, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said."
Next, quotes from Publisher Betty Barker Smith: "Kandra Branam has been relieved of her responsibilities pending resolution of the criminal charges against her. Cheryl Whitsitt will become acting managing editor. Because this is both a pending legal matter and is a personnel matter, we will not comment further."
Branam was charged with knowing that her brother assumed a false identity to avoid being jailed in Colorado. The 11,400-circulation newspaper asked her for comment, and she said, "I did not know my brother was a fugitive. The only thing I did wrong was try to help my brother." (Read more)
Monday, May 14, 2007
Post goes after program that helps rural co-ops build coal-fired plants
The Rural Utilities Service's loan program to help cooperatives build power plants "is a major force behind the rush to coal plants, which spew carbon dioxide that scientists blame for global warming . . . even as Congress seeks ways to limit greenhouse-gas emissions," Steven Mufson of The Washington Post reports, in the paper's latest scrutiny of U.S. Agriculture Department spending.
The Office of Management and Budget wants to end loans for new plants and limit loans for transmission projects to the most remote rural areas, and "Environmentalists have also targeted the program," Mufson writes. "They say it removes any pressure for the rural co-ops to promote energy efficiency or aggressively tap renewable resources." The co-ops get 80 percent of their electricity from coal (the national rate is 50 percent), and demand for their electricity "is growing at twice the national rate." (See Friday blog item)
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association argues "that the loans for new coal plants are needed to keep electricity cheap and reliable in rural areas." There are about 800 co-ops; most of them simply distribute electricity, but more than 50 also generate it. Many now have primarily suburban customers, as growth in metropolitan areas has spread into the service areas drawn for the co-ops in the 1930s. But NRECA says per capita income of their member-consumers is 15 percent below the national average, and they play important economic and civic roles. (For data on Kentucky co-op members, click here.)
The Post notes that East Kentucky Power Cooperative, a group of distribution co-ops, "is fighting the Justice Department over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act [but] has received approval for Rural Utilities Service loans to pay for new coal-fired capacity." NRECA President Glenn English said "global warming has shifted the debate," Mufson writes. "But, he said, any climate change legislation should show leniency toward the rural co-ops" because they "are in economic situations that make it very hard for them to invest in cutting-edge technologies," English told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (Read more)
UPDATE: In a May 15 letter to the Post, English said the story misstated the co-ops' position. "We must use all the tools available to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, not just the economic bludgeon of high rates as a draconian force to reduce consumption." He said those tools include conservation, renewable energy, clean-coal technology, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and efficiency -- and said co-ops have a better record at improving their efficiency than "the big power companies."
Mine-safety agency to report on why it failed to prevent major accidents
Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette writes, “Why didn’t federal mine safety officials do more to step up enforcement as violations continued at the Sago Mine before the Jan. 2, 2006, disaster? How did federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors overlook the missing ventilation walls that led to the deaths of two workers at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine? What role did an MSHA inspector play in ordering the removal of roof-control straps at the Kentucky Darby Mine, a project that led to the May 2006 explosion killing five workers? Over the next few months, MSHA officials may finally offer some answers.”
The first installment of MSHA's first “internal review” reviews of its failures to prevent last year's worst coal-mining accidents of 2006 is due soon, because the reviews are released about a month after the official investigation reports on each accident. “The investigation report on Aracoma, the first of the three to be released, was published on March 29,” Ward reports. “The Darby investigation report came out on April 12, and MSHA released its Sago report last week.”
Critics blame last year's 47 deaths, the most since 1995, on “reduced MSHA oversight, Ward writes. “They say the agency — led by two former coal operators under the Bush administration — has become far too cozy with the coal industry. . . . Richard Stickler, a former coal company official who took over as MSHA chief in October 2006, has said his agency has to do better.” (Read more)
Gas prices can have an effect well beyond the wallet, researcher says
The surge in gasoline prices can have a disproportionate effect on rural areas, especially those who commute from them to jobs in metro areas. It's a story for rural news media, and a study by a Florida State University professor illustrates some points of examination you might not have considered.
Wayne Hochwarter, a professor of management in FSU’s College of Business, found that "60 percent of employees confirmed that the price of gas has significantly reduced the amount of money they have to spend on other things, while 45 percent reported the need to pay off debts more slowly or not at all . . . and 26 percent indicated that the cost of gas has necessitated going without basics such as heat or air conditioning, or even cutting back on food purchases," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.
"Hochwarter found that those most affected by gas prices were prone to experience stress both on and off the job. Specifically, negative views of work and the company, sluggishness, antagonistic behavior, feeling overwhelmed and sadness were significantly higher for those indicating gas-price-related effects on spending behavior. . . . The research also indicated much higher levels of family conflict for those required to modify spending habits. . . . Hochwarter’s research is being prepared for presentation and publication."
Court gives Montana weekly access to student records in BB-gun shooting
The Montana Supreme Court ruled last week that the Cut Bank Pioneer Press “has the right to see documents dealing with the punishment given to Cut Bank High School students involved in a BB gun shooting,“The Associated Press reported. School trustees had withheld the information, citing privacy.
“The discipline imposed by the board on students of the school, particularly students involved in potentially injurious actions, is a matter of public concern,” the unanimous court said. “The board’s assertion that unidentified students have a privacy interest in the disciplinary measures imposed upon them which would prohibit a general report to the public about the board’s action in the matter is unpersuasive.”
The ruling also clarified a Supreme Court decision last year "that endangered the public and press’s ability to sue school boards for open-meetings violations," AP reported. "The Montana School Boards Association told school boards around the state that the previous decision, in which a woman unsuccessfully challenged the openness of a Darby School District meeting to hire a superintendent, could make it difficult for a newspaper to show any “personal stake in the decision of a school board.”
The court touched on that case, Fleenor v. Darby School District, in saying that the 1,600-circulation weekly, which claimed a personal interest in the records, had a right to the information. The court said in Board of Trustees v. Pioneer Press, “The interest was personal to Pioneer because the records were necessary for Pioneer’s work.” The paper had argued that the public needs to know how officials are dealing with such violent situations.
“School trustees, who handed out the punishment behind closed doors, argued that the privacy interests of the students trumped the public’s right to know,” AP reported. “A lower court sided with the school district, arguing that federal privacy law restricted release of the disciplinary records. But the newspaper never requested the names of the students, the high court pointed out. It only wanted to know the punishment. And the state Supreme Court said the Montana Constitution holds sway in the matter. The court also dismissed an argument from the school district that the newspaper already knew the names of the students involved based on gossip around town. The trustees had said newspaper editor LeAnne Kavanagh could piece together the punishment handed down with the names of the students she knew were involved.”
“The identifying information in Kavanagh’s prior possession was disclosed to her, not by governmental action, but by small-town rumor mill,” Rice wrote. “Although possibly a superior conduit of information, such revelations do not factor into the constitutional balancing test nor mitigate the government’s constitutional obligations.” (Read more, via the First Amendment Center)
Rural-urban divide surfaces in primary races for governor of Kentucky
The races for nominations for governor of Kentucky, to be decided in primaries a week from tomorrow, have "uncorked the long-held divide between rural Kentucky and urban Kentucky," writes Ryan Alessi of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "That gap is dusted off every so often during debates over spending, such as whether to provide funding for a sports arena or billion-dollar bridges in Louisville versus pouring more money into economically depressed areas. It has surfaced in both subtle and overt ways lately."
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a rural native who grew up in Lexington, "has endeared himself to many rural counties by sending goodies from Frankfort: tax money for road paving, funds for downtown redevelopments, and grants for emergency radios, local Boys and Girls clubs and other programs," Alessi writes. Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville has criticized Fletcher's "statewide check-presentation tour, implying that the governor is using tax funds as bribes to gain support for his re-election bid."
A fellow Republican, Secretary of State Charles Merwin Grayson III, an urbane Northern Kentuckian who goes by "Trey," told Alessi that small-town and big-city voters perceive state government's role differently. "In the poor areas, which tend to be more rural, that's really what they look to Frankfort for," Grayson said. "The urban areas aren't into that as much. They want policy or they want to be left alone."
"Another factor that exacerbates the urban-rural split," Alessi notes, "is that a candidate with Jefferson County roots hasn't won a governor's race since Lawrence Wetherby in 1951." And Wetherby was an incumbent, having succeeded to the office when Earle Clements became a senator -- and said he was not from the Jefferson County seat of Louisville, but Middletown, then a rural place on the edge of the county.
The urban-rural split has been much less a factor in the six-way Democratic primary, but "at least one candidate in that race has tried to capitalize on it," Alessi reports. "Last week, Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford introduced his 'One Kentucky' plan aimed at balancing the different needs of the state's smaller communities and the metropolitan areas. The plan includes shifting more money to rural areas for programs such as incentives for telephone and broadband companies to provide services." Lunsford told reporters that the state's urban-rural divide "is getting bigger." (Read more) For a story on Lunsford's proposal, by Louisvillian Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal, click here.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Ky. counties with worst population loss agree to work together on jobs
The two Kentucky counties with the worst combined loss of population in this decade have agreed to work together on economic development, a move that experts say is needed in much of rural America but is often difficult to accomplish because of economic, political and even high-school athletic rivalries.
“We have to have the jobs to keep the young people here,” Fulton County Judge-Executive David Gallagher told The Paducah Sun. “We’re probably not going to get a Toyota to come into the river counties, but we think we can generate a few plants that will employ 50 to 150 that will stop the population drain.” Fulton and Hickman counties are on the Mississippi River at the western tip of the state. The Sun's Joe Walker reports, “Hickman County Judge-Executive Greg Pruitt said the partnership is something he had been pitching to Fulton County for more than a decade.”
Since the 2000 census, Fulton has lost 10.4 percent of its population, more than any of the state's other 119 counties, and Hickman ranks third with 5.5 percent. “Both counties have been hard hit by job losses in the automotive and garment industries, as well as the inability to retain young people seeking work,” Walker reports. “Last month, the two counties’ economic development organizations agreed to join forces, with Hickman County contributing $10,000 a year into roughly a $75,000 annual fund that Fulton County maintains for business recruiting. If successful, the partnership could be renewed after a year.” (Read more)
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Giuliani campaign snubs farmer, who tells weekly; world finally finding out
Rudy Giuliani, whose successes as New York mayor included cleaning up Times Square and 42nd Street, is suffering some embarrassment today because of a mistake his campaign made in dealing with some folks on another 42nd Street, near Olin, Iowa. That's in scenic Jones County, where Grant Wood of "American Gothic" fame grew up.
After Deb VonSprecken, in photo at right, contributed to Guiliani's campaign, it called her, asking her to host an event. “We started making phone calls. We got the sheriff and fire department and Olin school was going to let out early. We were also expecting kids from the Anamosa school,” Jerry told the weekly Anamosa Journal-Eureka. “Deb even went around and personally invited people.” They moved cattle to another field to make room, and invited relatives from out of state.
But then the campaign called and asked their assets, and when told how modest they were, it called the event off. “Tony [Delgado, of the campaign] said, ‘I’m sorry, you aren’t worth a million dollars and he is campaigning on the death tax right now,” Deb VonSprecken told Journal-Eureka Editor Michelle Phillips, who got the story in her May 3 edition and headlined it "Guiliani snubs Jones County." Click here to read it. (The "death tax," of course, is the federal inheritance tax -- opponents of which often cite family farmers as victims but have short of evidence that the tax, with large exemptions, really affects farmers.)
Phillips wrote that Deb VonSprecken “got a call from New York later the same day asking her to introduce Giuliani at a rally in Cedar Rapids, also scheduled for May 4. They offered her one-on-one time with Giuliani and to have her photo taken with him. ‘My feeling is that they’re trying to cover their butts,’ said Jerry.” Deb said, “I may go and give him a piece of my mind, but I’m not going to introduce him.”
That's some pretty hot political material, but it seems that few if any people outside Jones County heard about it until Thursday afternoon, when Greg Sargent of The Horse's Mouth political blog called VonSprecken and the Journal-Eureka to confirm what he called the "unbelievable story" posted it on his blog at TalkingPointsMemo.com. Sargent quoted Deb VonSprecken: “I told [Rudy's aide] from day one that we were poor folks, just trying to scrape by. ...When they [asked us to host the event], I was just ecstatic. We were honored. It was an honor and a privilege. We worked so hard. ...Why would Rudy Giuliani not come speak to the average Americans that live in eastern Iowa, instead of qualifying you as a millionaire before he will show up to your place?”
The blogosphere erupted, and the Des Moines Register picked up on the story. Across the top of this morning's front page was a headline reading "We're not rich enough for Giuliani" with the subhead, "Olin farmers say he pulled out of event at their home after checking their assets." The Register story had some problems. The main head was not supported by a quote in the story, and you had to get to the jump before the inheritance tax was mentioned. It mistakenly attributed Deb VonSprecken's quote above to "her local newspaper" and did not mention the Journal-Eureka -- whose efforts deserved mention. So we do.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Coal-dependent rural electric co-ops fight caps, taxes on greenhouse gases
Rural electric cooperatives, which get 80 percent of their power from the burning of coal and serve 40 million people, are marshaling their historically potent lobbying forces to fight proposals for limits caps or taxes on the emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, reports the Des Moines Register.
"Some 2,000 co-op directors and executives who packed into a hotel ballroom on Capitol Hill this week were warned by Glenn English, chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, that controlling climate change would mean 'sizable increases, big increases' in their electric rates," reports Philip Brasher. English told co-op officials to give senators and House members a "dose of reality," and said, "We're willing to do our part for the country, but we have to do it the right way."
The co-ops serve many fast-growing suburbs that were once farm country, "and they need to increase their generation capacity by 50 percent during the next 10 years, according to the cooperative association," Brasher writes. "Most of that additional electricity must be produced from coal, the co-ops say." They also say co-ops "they are worried about the impact of rate increases on poor rural residents. (Read more)
Iowa journalists learn about health, wealth and wireless at seminar today
How does a rural community ensure economic stability? How can rural residents get affordable, high-speed Internet access? What are the best approaches to rural health care? Experts on these topics spoke today at "Health, Wealth and Wireless: Issues and Stories for Rural Iowa," a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, the Center for Rural Strategies, the Main Street Project and the Iowa Newspaper Foundation.
Speakers included Iowa Rural Health Association President Cece Arnold; Gene Crick, executive director of the TeleCommunity Resource Center in Austin, Tex.; Susan Roberts, director of the Thomas Jefferson Institute's Food and Society Fellows program; state USDA Rural Development Director Mark Reisinger, at right in above photo, and Rick Morain, who is both economic-development director of nearby Greene County and publisher of the Jefferson Herald, at left in photo, by Shawn Poynter of the Center for Rural Strategies.
A more detailed report of the seminar, including links to presentations, will be posted on this site soon.
Makers of OxyContin suffer financial pain for the pain of ‘hillbilly heroin’
The drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma and three of its top executives "pleaded guilty Thursday of waging an aggressive -- and fraudulent -- marketing campaign for a drug linked to widespread crime, addiction and death," reports Laurance Hammack of The Roanoke Times. "After a six-year investigation that spanned the nation, the case culminated Thursday morning in a federal courtroom in far Southwest Virginia, a region that was once an epicenter of OxyContin abuse." Problems with the drug remain in the region, including Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virgina. The company is based in Stamford, Conn.
In U.S. District Court at Abingdon, the company and the executives agreed to pay more than $630 million in criminal penalties, a combined fine believed to be the third largest ever paid by a drug maker. Pleading guilty to misdemeanor Medicaid fraud were the president, chief legal officer and former vice president of medical affairs. They will pay $24.5 million in fines to Virginia's state Medicaid fraud unit.
"When Purdue Pharma introduced the drug in 1995, it claimed to have harnessed a potent opium derivative -- normally reserved for the treatment of severe pain and terminal illness -- with a time-release formula that made it safe for widespread pain management," Hammack reports. "The company stuck to that sales pitch, even in the face of evidence that its revolutionary formula was easily defeated by abusers who crushed the tablets and snorted or injected the powder for a heroin-like high."
Federal prosecutors said Purdue Pharma's sales force "falsely told some physicians that OxyContin produced less of a euphoric effect than other painkillers and was thus less prone to abuse," and that the company relied on addiction research that was found to be incorrect, Hammack writes. (Read more)
“By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see soaring rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug,” writes Barry Meier for The New York Times. The Times needs a geography lesson: It says court was held “in this small city at the edge of Appalachia, a region where OxyContin abuse became so widespread that the drug was dubbed "hillbilly heroin."” Abingdon is in the Ridge and Valley Belt of Appalachia, next to the Cumberland-Allegheny Plateau zone to the northwest.
USDA says new rules will spur broadband in more places that lack it
Since 2001, more than half of the money in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's broadband program has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commutes of a mid-size city, according to The Washington Post. Today, USDA proposed new rules for the program that Under Secretary for Rural Development Thomas Dorr said "will improve broadband coverage in rural America."
"The aim of the rules is to get funding and support to areas that need it most," Carolina-Virginia Farmer reports. USDA said the proposed rules would promote deployment to areas with little or no high-speed Internet service; ensure that residents in funded areas get access to broadband more quickly; limit funding in urban areas and areas where a significant share of the market is served by incumbent providers; clarify and streamline equity and marketing survey requirements; increase transparency in the application process; promote better understanding of application requirements; and ensure that funding is keeping pace with increasing demand for bandwidth. For the USDA press release, click here.
Illinois policy expert gives listeners an excellent primer on the Farm Bill
Listeners to the "Focus 580" program on WILL-AM from the University of Illinois got an excellent primer on the Farm Bill yesterday morning from Robert Thompson, the university's Gardner Chair in Agricultural Policy. Thompson knows his stuff; he is a former agriculture official for the federal government and the World Bank, and former dean of agriculture at Purdue University.
We were driving most of the time while listening to Thompson and couldn't really take notes, but his nuggets included: More groups than ever are lobbying on the Farm Bill, which is renewed every five years; only 20 to 25 percent of the money in the bill goes to commodity programs; and while most senators are responsive to farmers in their states, probably fewer than 35 House members have enough farmers in their districts to worry about them when it comes to getting re-elected.
If you're interested in these subjects -- and if your a journalist in rural America, you should be -- this one-hour program is worth your time. To listen to it, click here. A comprehensive Farm Bill primer is on the Web site of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Iowa bureaucrats pick up where Legislature left off to control hog odors
After the newly Democratic Iowa Legislature did not pass a law giving local officials control over where smelly hog operations could be located, "The new director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the new Iowa secretary of agriculture are meeting to craft fresh ways to curb hog-lot odors," reports Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen.
"Trying to limit hog odor while still promoting pork production has been an emotional issue in Iowa. Resolution has been elusive, so it's good that new policymakers are taking another crack at it," Yepsen writes. " When the Democrats took control of the Iowa House, Senate and governorship in last year's elections, many farm activists believed a local-control bill would be approved. They felt betrayed when it wasn't." Yepsen also notes, "It's not clear such 'local control' would cure existing problems, and the term means different things to different people."
Natural Resources Director Rich Leopold told Yepsen one option being considered is a method used in Denmark, where "producers blow exhaust air through hay bales that have been saturated with bacteria that eat hydrogen sulfide, one of the culprits in hog odors." Leopold asked, "Can we do that? Shall we mandate it? Or should we make it voluntary? Is it a certain size facility that has to do that? I'm pushing the industry. I'm telling pork producers, Farm Bureau and everybody else: 'You've got a problem. Real or perceived, I'm not going to debate it. There is a problem out there, and the status quo isn't working. Look at this last election cycle and how ugly it got. In the next election, you could lose. Instead of working to make something happen, something is going to be done to you.'" (Read more)
A graying rural Virginia seeks to attract a younger workforce
As the population of rural America ages nationwide, the University of Virginia is looking at how to attract young people to come back to the rural areas of the state. Young people tend to move out of rural areas for education and more job opportunities, while older people stay in small towns or retirees move there for a more relaxed pace of life, reports Faiza Elmasry of Voice of America.
However, a younger working population is necessary to support these older people, reports Elmasry. “It is crucial because, as we know, older populations need more health care. They need more social services and all those are paid by the taxpayer's dollar. And if you have a small number of workforce, the younger ones are moving out, your resources are limited but your demands are high,” Qian Cai, a population studies expert at U.Va. told Voice of America.
Changing demographics are changing the nature of the economies of these rural areas, reports Elmasry. Affluent retirees are creating more demand for shopping, home-building, and other services in rural Virginia. Local communities are trying to attract young entrepreneurs with other innovative ideas such and wineries and breweries. The Internet may also help young people to work in small towns, allowing them to conduct business with other cities and the rest of the world. (Read more)
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Some presidential candidates chase rural votes with program ideas
"Improving life in rural America is a priority for a few of the presidential candidates," Wayne Washington writes for McClatchy Newspapers from South Carolina, one of the early primary states.
Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a product of small-town Kansas, proposes "rewards for people who make a five-year commitment to living and working in a rural area," Washington reports. "It would help pay off college loans and offer a $5,000 tax credit for rural first-time home buyers."
Former Sen. John Edwards, a South Carolina native, "traveled last month to his birthplace, the Oconee County town of Seneca," to promote a plan to "increase investment in rural businesses, boost teacher pay, cap subsidies for corporate farmers and support areas that grow crops that could be used to create alternative energy sources," Washington reports. "Another Democrat, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, has a plan that promises some of what Edwards has put forward. She also has pushed to expand Internet access to more rural areas."
Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies, said the next president could help rural America most by focusing on Internet access, "providing loans and grants to spur the growth of businesses whose jobs would replace the loss of manufacturing work;" retooling the No Child Left Behind Act so rural teachers, "who tend to teach multiple subjects, do not have to take expensive, time-consuming and possibly career-changing certification training in different subjects; increasing Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals, which do not have the high volume of patients that urban hospitals" do, Washington writes.
Marema "said candidates too often think of rural needs purely in terms of agriculture and the gargantuan farm bill that Congress passes every four to seven years," because a small fraction of rural Americans earn their livelihood through farming. (Read more)
Study on rural children's health programs being released Thursday at 10
A new study by the Carsey Institute at the
The press conference will begin at 10 a.m. The call-in number is 866-704-7500; the passcode is 800585.
"All across the country, low-income families with children depend on Medicaid and SCHIP when their children get sick," Carsey Institute Director M
Wisconsin cooperative for farmers' health insurance inspires imitators
"An innovative health insurance cooperative for Wisconsin farmers has been so successful in its first few months that organizers are working with other groups in the state to launch similar co-ops and fielding phone calls from people all over the country interested in organizing co-ops to control insurance costs," reports Amy Rinard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Farmers long have had difficulty finding affordable insurance because they are forced to buy individual, rather than group, coverage and insurers view farming as a dangerous occupation," Rinard writes. "Some estimates say more than 18 percent of Wisconsin farmers are uninsured." The co-op was made possible by a 2003 law allowing cooperatives for the purchase of health insurance. It was pushed by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, "which says many other business and occupational groups are interested in using this law to organize such co-ops to use the power of collective bargaining to lower health insurance costs for their members," Rinard reports. (Read more)
20 years after he left, friends and colleagues remember a great rural editor
Steve Lowery, former editor and publisher of newspapers in Central Kentucky and a former president of the Kentucky Press Association, died April 29 at his home near Westciffe, Colo. The coroner said Lowery died of natural causes. He was 54. Lowery first made his mark as publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise, now edited by his daughter, Stevie L. Daugherty. Last night, Lowery's colleagues, friends and family gathered to remember him.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and a longtime friend of Lowery, told the crowd at Bosley Funeral Home, "The best rural editors play two institutional roles: that of the journalist, independent to a fault, and the role of civic leader. You must be willing to call them as you see them, show courage and speak truth to power. But whatever passion you show in criticizing what you think is wrong, you must show that same passion in promoting what you think is right.
"Steve did both -- and he did it, to be frank, in a place where that may have been a little more difficult than most. He held up a mirror to Lebanon and Marion County. He helped this place face its problems, and in doing so he helped it realize its potential. He was always urging me to come to [Marion County Country] Ham Days, and always disappointed in those years I didn't show up. He wanted me to see Lebanon at its best, and he wanted this place, his adopted home, to be its best.
"I believe that when Steve left The Lebanon Enterprise 20 years ago -- and the fact we have such a good crowd tonight is testimony to his impact -- that he left Lebanon and Marion County a better place, and he could take some credit for that. That could be a great epitaph for any newspaper editor, but especially one in a small town." To read the rest of Cross's remarks, and a story about Lowery by Central Kentucky News-Journal Publisher Richard Robards, click here.
Even small papers should think Web first, adapt to new media, speaker says
Newspapers, including small ones, should post stories on their Web sites as soon as possible and not charge for content unless it's unique and high-quality, the director of digital publishing for the nation's fastest-growing newspaper chain said today at the Small Newspaper Conference of the Inland Press Association.
"We're back in the breaking-news business," said Howard Owens of GateHouse Media. "Not only is it great journalistically, it's what's going to help grow our audience online." He added, "For small newspapers, it's even more important because we should be the hub of information for our communities."
Owens told those at the seminar in Indianapolis that he generally opposes selling subscriptions to Web sites because "We have such a challenge to grow a substantial online audience," no barriers are needed. He said even archives can be offered for free with revenue from Google Ad Sense, which detects the subject in which a reader is interested, delivers an ad and gives the paper a small fee. He said daily papers should aim to get a number of unique daily visitors equal to half their print circulation.
Owens' support of blogs and and other user-generated content brought questions from a self-described "gray hair" who suggested that the new media forms compromise newspapers' standards and credibility. Owens replied that media are changing, suggesting that newspapers must adapt. "You think it's changed fast until this point?" he asked. "It hasn't even started. . . . If we don't embrace partcipation with our communities, we're not going to survive, especially online."
Owens said he made a mistake when he posted to the Web site of the Kiowa County Signal (see items from earlier this week, below) photos of tornado-flattened Greensburg, Kan., by a photographer whose name had been in the trade press because he had lost his job for altering photos. Owens said his mistake was not recognizing the name; he said he's not sure what he would have done if he had recognized it. "It was the only art we had at the time," and "It helped tell the story," he said. Earlier, he said, "I was very careful in how I worded the captions." He said he has no reason to believe the photos were altered. Owens wrote about it on his blog; to read it, click here.
Monday, May 7, 2007
Kansas newspaper's survival in doubt despite extraordinary efforts
The efforts to keep the Kiowa County Signal going (see item from Sunday) after the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., have gained attention from Editor & Publisher and the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
"Despite having its offices flooded and portions of its roof torn off, the three-person staff of the 1,200-circulation paper has kept up with the story all weekend, posting stories and photos to its Web site, as well as planning a six-page special edition slated for later today," Joe Strupp reports for E&P from New York.
Anderson spoke to Strupp "via cell phone as he drove in slow traffic along State Highway 54 Monday morning along with hundreds of others seeking to return to the community that has gained international attention following the tragic tornado," Strupp writes. "It was unbelievable devastation, the whole scene," Anderson said. "I had taken pictures Thursday of two ribbon-cuttings for new businesses that no longer exist." He said he started taking pictures immediately, "but I didn't want to interview people because it had been so much for them. It has been hard for me to deal with it objectively." (Read more)
The Community Journalism Interest Group is using its blog to solicit help for the Signal. On the blog, Stephanie Mulholland of the Kansas Press Association reports that the paper has computers, "but no power is expected for a few weeks. A generator may be on its way." The KPA president, executive director and technical consultant are helping with coverage in
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Tornado levels Kansas town and newspaper office, but not the newspaper
What do you do when your town is leveled and your weekly newspaper's office is destroyed? The Kiowa County Signal in Greensburg, Kan., put whatever news it could on its Web site as soon as it could, and asked citizens to post photos and videos online. The work was done with the help of its parent paper, the daily Pratt Tribune, circulation 2,100. Both papers are owned by GateHouse Media. The papers "were not set up to file stories remotely," and because "the Greensburg office was destroyed . . . nobody had login information for the web site," Howard Owens, GateHouse's director of digital publishing, wrote on his blog. GateHouse moved the site to allow remote posting, but Owens said coverage was complicated because "state officials were not letting local media into Greensburg. The Pratt staff had no information beyond what we could get from The Associated Press (from which the above photo was obtained) or The Weather Channel."
But at 5:09 p.m. Saturday, news of the Friday night tornado began appearing on the paper's site, with an invitation to post photos and video on Flickr.com and YouTube.com and tag submissions "Greensburg07." At 8 p.m., Owens posted a roundup of that coverage: "You can find a video Jburtonstone with dramatic pictures of debris and destroyed buildings. Sabian2323 posted a video apparently shot Friday night of first-responders checking the damage. Another video compiles several radar images taken from various internet sites and sets the video to an Elvis Presley song. In the blogosphere, coverage has ranged from providing updates for readers to remembrances of Greensburg by former residents."
Sunday evening, the Signal's site gained stories by Editor Mark Anderson about survivors, including the newspaper's circulation manager, and an overall update from AP. Staff writer Gale Rose reported, "The people of Greensburg are scattered to the four winds. Some are in shelters in Haviland or are staying with family and friends. Their homes, their businesses, their town have all been destroyed. Eight of their neighbors are dead and dozens are injured from a monster tornado that relentlessly made its way across the entire city of 1,400 on Friday night and smashed Greensburg to bits." (Read more)
The Web site of the Pratt Tribune, which publishes Monday through Friday, was not updated over the weekend. (UPDATE, May 7: "Our site is much clumsier for posting," Tribune Editor Conrad Easterday told Editor & Publisher.) The towns are about 30 miles apart, in adjoining counties in southern Kansas. "The staffs of both papers are working on a special Monday print edition," the Signal reported in its first story.
Friday, May 4, 2007
Problems of meth use worse in rural areas, where best treatment is scarce
Rural users of methamphetamine may suffer more severe problems in certain respects than urban users, according to a study at the University of Nebraska. The average starting age of a rural meth user is 3.6 years younger than urban users. Rural users showed much higher rates of intravenous use and alcoholism. They also displayed more signs of psychosis than urban addicts, reports The Associated Press.
“These results suggest that rural meth users face higher risks associated with their drug use,” writes Eric Chudler of the University of Washington in Neuroscience for Kids. “For example, the higher rates of intravenous drug use may lead to more people with infectious diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. Higher levels of alcohol abuse may lead to more cases of alcoholism and liver disease. Unfortunately, rural areas often lack the mental health and medical facilities necessary to treat drug addiction.” (Read more)
Dr. Jennifer Sharpe Potter, an opiate specialist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., told AP there are few options to treat meth addiction and the best aren't usually in rural areas. (Read more)
Wind power lacks regulation, may not cut emissions as much as expected
Wind power may not cut air pollution as much as expected, but states should create detailed guidelines for regulating the fast-growing industry, says a study by the National Academy of Sciences. Wind turbines pose threats to birds and bats, generate noise and remove aesthetic value from rural landscapes. In the Mid-Atlantic highlands, a drop in the bat population has been attributed to wind turbine deaths, although findings for birds are inconclusive, reports Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.
The study “found that aesthetic concerns are often the most vocal complaints about wind-power projects, but that those concerns are seldom adequately addressed by siting reviews,” Ward reports, noting that wind farms have been increasing and are projected to spread quickly in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania (site of the photo above, near Mill Run). Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., who pushed for the report, called for a law that to regulate where the windmills could be placed, similar to the federal strip-mine law of 1977. (Read more)
“Wind machines can displace power from coal and make electricity without sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and without nitrogen oxides, which add to smog. But the study said they would not reduce the total output of those pollutants because there was already a cap on sulfur emissions and one on nitrogen oxides was likely to follow,” writes Matthew Wald of The New York Times. “Wind power could also reduce coal-plant carbon dioxide, which is thought to cause climate change, but the impact may be small, the report said. By 2025, wind turbines could cut carbon dioxide output by 4.5 percent compared with what it would otherwise have been, but this ‘would only slow the increase.’” (Read more)
Crop insurance: Taxpayers take most risks, insurers make big profits
"Private companies are taking advantage of a poorly designed crop insurance program for farmers to reap 'excessive' profits while taxpayers absorb most of the costs and risks, investigators told a House committee yesterday. Republican and Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reacted with calls for major changes in the insurance program," reports The Washington Post.
Reporters Dan Morgan and Gilbert Gaul were following up on some of their own work. They reported in October that the 16 government-approved firms writing crop insurance made $3.1 billion in profits in the past eight years, while the government lost $1.5 billion. The Government Accountability Office found that the companies "had rates of return averaging 30 percent in 2005 and 24 percent in 2006," compared with a 'benchmark' of 6.4 percent for property and casualty insurers, Gaul and Morgan report.
Here's a local angle for you: The Agriculture Department "paid the companies $6.6 billion to cover administrative costs in the past decade. Much of that has been passed on to local crop insurance agents -- some of them farmers -- who constitute an influential lobby that has fought changes in the program."
USDA sets premiums to insure crops against weather losses and falling prices, and "charges farmers only about a third of what it costs to pay the claims, and it covers most costs on policies for farms with the worst weather risk," the Post notes. "Congress expanded crop insurance subsidies in 2000, promising that the subsidies would end other 'emergency' farm payments. But last week Congress approved $3.4 billion in drought and weather relief, ignoring a White House veto threat." (Read more)
Horsemeat plant resumes slaughter while closure ruling under appeal
We're sorry to disturb horse lovers on the weekend of America's greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby, but the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States "will temporarily resume processing horses and selling their meat to overseas markets," under a federal appeals court's stay of a lower-court decision," writes Tom Johnston of MeatingPlace.com, a newsletter for the red-meat industry.
Senate panel moves to ramp up biofuel output, calls for corn alternatives
The biofuel industry is moving fast, spurring new federal legislation urging faster growth. Wednesday the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved 20-3 legislation to require the nation to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. “The bill would replace a mandate enacted in 2005 that requires the nation to use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012, a target that will be passed long before then.”
Perhaps with optimism toward the benefits of cellulosic alternatives or in view of rising grain prices, only 15 billion of the 36 billion gallons of the target goal would be allowed to come from grain, the rest to be made from switchgrass, plant waste and feedstocks other than corn.
“Democratic leaders could bring the legislation up on the Senate floor later this month, but the bill faces major hurdles. Senators from coal-mining states want to set a similar mandate for the use of diesel and other fuels made from coal. There is also likely to be a battle over whether to require the use of wind energy and other renewable power sources,” the Des Moines Register reports. (Read more)
83 recommendations for Wisconsin farms and rural areas are released
The Future of Farming and Rural Life Project from the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Literature released 83 recommendations to improve life in the rural parts of the state. They include plans to deal with issues in rural community life, land use and conservation, and agriculture and forestry. The list was compiled by a committee representing farm organizations, agriculture, conservation and other rural interests after meeting with farmers and other rural residents at six regional forums held in the state in the last year.
“The report recommends that all citizens in the state have access to affordable, high-quality health care and notes that farm families lag well behind the general public in acquiring quality health care coverage,” reports the Capital Times in Madison. It proposes a variety of education programs that stress a connection between community and the countryside. It also recommends that the state create a program to buy development rights to help local governments hold on to the lands that are used for agriculture.
“Middle-sized family farms, which the report characterizes as the most threatened segment of agriculture, should be helped with grants, tax credits and investment capital for modernization, expansion or conversion to alternate systems.” (Read more) The recommendations will be presented at the Future of Farming Conference in Madison on May 14-15 and a final report will be issued afterward. To see the complete list of recommendations, click here.
Southern Texas center stresses social capital, promotes education
At the southern tip of Texas, where poverty is high but community is strong, the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development reaches out to young people in the area while considering the region’s unique character. In the Edcouch-Elsa School District, just 20 miles from Mexico, 99.5 percent of students are Hispanic and more than 90 percent are from low-income families. “Though considered economically disadvantaged, this close-knit community is fortunate in its supportive families, cultural treasures, and historic resiliency,” reports Rural Roots, a publication of the Rural School and Community Trust.
Llano Grande encourages students to celebrate their roots, writes Alison Yaunches. “With a grant from the Annenberg Rural Challenge, Llano Grande began an oral history project, in which students chronicled the tales of their community elders and documented their local history and cultural heritage--information too often missing from their school history books.” The center also seeks to promote education, “fine tuning the attitudes and expectations of youth and community members around future student academic pursuits.” At the same time students are encouraged to gain education and expertise away at college and return home to bring those benefits back to a close-knit community.
Francisco Guajardo of the University of Texas and the Center for Rural Strategies said schools should acknowledge the value of these young people, even though they may not necessarily receive the highest grades, reports Yaunches. “We need to redefine what merit means. We have kids in our schools who are gifted, but do not score well and we're saying you need to value these kids, too. Their degree of resiliency and the social capital they bring is unique to the Latino perspective,” he told Rural Roots. (Read more)
Writer born in rural America takes position to fight for rural England
Bill Bryson, a writer and humorist born in rural America, will become head of a campaign to protect rural England. Bryson was born in Iowa but has lived in Britain for some of the last 25 years. He will take over the Campaign to Protect Rural England just as the government is planning cut back on restrictions to rural development, reports Reuters.
“The CPRE -- formerly the Council for the Protection of Rural England -- describes itself as a charity promoting the beauty, tranquility and diversity of the countryside with 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county,” reports Reuters. Bryson said his first campaign will be to fight litter. He said that being a foreigner could provide a useful perspective for his new position. “I grew up in an industrial farming state. If you suggested to people they should go out for a walk they would think you were mad,” Bryson told Reuters. “Here, the countryside is so beautiful but you are in danger of taking it for granted.” (Read more)
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Rural broadband program criticized for doing too little to spread service
A federal program to bring broadband to rural areas may be not be doing as much as intended. Members of a House committee yesterday that the rural broadband program is passing over many areas still left without high-speed Internet while giving hundreds of millions in loans to providers in areas that already have service. The rural broadband program was created by Congress in 2002. Of 69 loans totaling $1.2 billion, only 40 percent went to underserved areas, report Dan Morgan and Gilbert Gaul of The Washington Post.
The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program has been criticized for not doing enough for truly rural areas. The Post reports, “Since 2001, more than half the money has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commutes of a mid-size city. An Internet provider in Houston got $23 million in loans to wire affluent subdivisions, including one that boasts million-dollar houses and an equestrian center.”
The USDA has been working since late 2005 on new regulations to target the broadband program to rural areas in need, but the new rules won’t be revealed until they are published, said a spokesman for the USDA's Rural Development division, report Morgan and Gaul. “Last week, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) introduced legislation to close loopholes that allow areas that ‘are neither rural nor suffer a lack of service’ to collect the loans and loan guarantees.” (Read more)
Farm Bureau hops on the broadband bandwagon, seeks federal funds
The American Farm Bureau Federation is urging Congress to pass a matching grant program to improve access to broadband Internet service. It supports the plan of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to provide $40 million a year, with $10 million to come from state and private funds.
The federation said in a press release that 24
The federation said in a press release that 24percent of rural Americans have high-speed Internet access at home, compared to 39 percent of urban and suburban residents.
“A 2006 report from the Commerce Department shows that broadband Internet access enhances the economic growth and performance of communities,” the release said. “A three-year study by the department indicates communities with broadband access significantly outpaced communities without broadband access in terms of employment, overall number of businesses and property values.”
Texas, a leader in oil, can become a leader in biofuel, say researchers
In Texas, where cattle can’t spare the corn for ethanol, Texas A&M researchers are developing a biofuel from sorghum. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Program Manager Robert Avant Jr. said the state is in a prime position to participate in the upcoming industry. “An agricultural leader, Texas produces 26 percent of the county's domestic oil and 29 percent of its natural gas, Avant said, pointing to the extensive energy infrastructure already in place. It seems only natural, he said, the state would be ready to take the lead with biofuel,” writes Holly Huffman of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
When Texans have become used to looking underground, the state should look to its agriculture industry for an alternative, said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. “It's time to turn to those we can trust and that is our nation's farmers,” Staples told the Eagle. The university has been researching sorghum for decades. “The hybrid sorghum being bred at Texas A&M is widely adaptable to different Texas soils, drought resistant and offers high-yield potential.”
In addition to developing another fuel crop, A&M researchers are working on biofuel conversion methods, such as Zero-emission Energy Recycling Oxidation System, reports Huffman. “The technology uses pure oxygen to create high temperatures needed to oxidize hazardous organic waste and is used by a Texas-based company that goes by the same name. Currently being commercialized, ZEROS can be powered with a variety of waste - manure, wood, crop biomass and even animal carcasses, according to Allen Jones, director of the Texas Water Resource Institute, which is part of the Texas A&M System.” (Read more)
Bill allows rural Mo. physicians’ assistants to operate semi-independently
The Missouri Legislature has passed a bill allowing physicians’ assistants in rural health care clinics to operate unsupervised a third of the time. “The bill allows physician assistants, or PAs, to treat patients unsupervised 34 percent of the time as long as their supervising doctor is on site 66 percent of the time,” reports Kathleen O'Dell of the News-Leader in Springfield. Without the new guidelines, the Board of Healing Arts would have required doctors to be present 100 percent of the time, effective in August, which would have been the most restrictive such law in the country.
Some had feared that rural health care access would be threatened if PAs were required to always have doctors present all the time, because those doctors may be hard to come by in rural areas, reports O'Dell. “Some health clinics would have been forced to reduce operating hours or close completely, leaving thousands of Missourians to travel greater distances for medical treatment, or go without, said Paul Winter, president of the Missouri Academy of Physician Assistants.”
When not on site, each clinic’s doctor must still be readily available for consultation via telecommunication and must be within 30 miles of the facility, reports O'Dell. “Among other bill provisions, a supervising physician and PA together may apply to the Board of Healing Arts for alternate amounts of on-site supervision if they are in designated "Health Professional Shortage Areas," where there is a recognized shortage of primary care providers. With a waiver, the PA could practice up to 50 miles from the supervising physician.” (Read more)
In Florida, rural housing developments complicate firefighters’ training
As more homes spread into rural areas, Florida firefighters have had difficulty with continuing to use prescribed burns to prevent wildfires. A prescribed burn is an intentionally created fire of manageable size used to clear out flammable underbrush and trigger new growth. “Leading all other states, Florida burns about 2 million acres of wild lands each year. But with increasing numbers of homes, burners have had to set smaller blazes that can more easily be contained. More workers also have to monitor the flames, so fires cost more,” writes Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel.
“A burn of thousands of acres of isolated St. Johns River marsh can be done by a crew of five for as little as $1.50 an acre,” writes Spear. “But a 32-acre burn last year near Jacksonville homes needed 16 people and cost $312 an acre. More than ever, prescribed burners -- who typically work for forestry, wildlife and water-management agencies -- regularly struggle with how to keep smoke and flames in a targeted area. Of more than 1,500 wildfires this year in Florida, 89 were triggered by prescribed fire.”
In some areas home developers are required to make allowances for prescribed burns and to notify new residents, reports Spear. “There's a whole new crop of folks in Florida every few years. Documents tell them if they are living in a rural area, they are possibly going to be exposed to prescribed fire,” Jeff Bielling, a county wildfire-mitigation officer, told the Sentinel. (Read more)
A tribute to weekly editors, from a daily editor and former D.C. reporter
"Anyone who's been around the newspaper business knows one of the toughest jobs is that of the weekly," writes Carl West, editor of The State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., and a former Washington reporter. "The job gets tougher in dealing with news that can anger a close neighbor or choir mate at church, always a prospect in small towns. . . . Crusading or advocating this or that cause has its risks, particularly when the editorial knife slices a powerful politician or prominent advertiser. The history of weeklies is filled with stories of publishers who faced an advertising boycott for reporting news or promoting a cause that alienated the local power brokers. Violence can erupt when an issue gets really hot. Reports of fisticuffs, gunshots, bombs and arson dot the archives of weekly newspapers that pursued stories taking on a small-town establishment when money, a political career or other items dear to its heart were on the line."
West was moved to write by attending the Tom and Pat Gish Award Dinner at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, at which the stories of the Gishes and the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Tex.) Record, winners of the award. "The Gishes are practically legends in Eastern Kentucky where their Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg took on the powers that be on hot-button issues such as strip mining, government secrecy and corrupt politicians in the face of death threats and arson, to mention a couple," West wrote. "No one's surprised there's a national award in light of what they've done with the Mountain Eagle ("It Screams") and survived doing it."
"The Canadian Record stands tall in the Gishes' shadow. . . . Ben, a co-publisher with his wife, died in 1993. He made his mark for fearlessness and character early. A mayoral candidate, upset with an Ezzell editorial, beat him up. Ezzell was hospitalized with a concussion, among other injuries. The publisher took it all with humor, though, contending at the time the aspiring but hot-headed politician was trying to express 'a legitimate editorial opinion the best way he knew how,' with his fists." (Read more)
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
NPR and David Letterman, on the same day, talk about rural journalism
The latest reports of circulation declines at metropolitan daily newspapers prompted a different take at National Public Radio yesterday. NPR aired a story by Brian Mann of North Country Radio in New York state, about the relative health of small-town papers and the special challenges they face.
Mann cited the recent research by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, calculating that the circulation of newspapers based outside U.S. metropolitan areas is more than 20 million. "One in three small-town papers actually gained circulation last year. And the papers that lost circulation saw much smaller declines than urban dailies," Mann said. "That success has inspired the big media conglomerates to buy in."
His example was Landmark Communications, which is best known for owning The Weather Channel but has been in the newspaper business for a long time, with dailies in Norfolk, Roanoke and Greensboro. Its Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. subsidiary, based in Kentucky, "owns more than 100 small newspapers in 16 states" and hopes to buy up to four more each year, Mann reported, quoting LCNI Editorial Director Benjy Hamm, former editor of a 55,000-circulation daily: "We see community newspapers, in many ways, defying the trends that you see at the larger metros."
For his most specific example, Mann went to his hometown daily, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, circulation 4,100, in Saranac Lake. For the downside, he interviewed another fellow panelist at last month's National Summit on Journalism in Rural America -- Jenay Tate, editor and publisher of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va. Tate and her brother sold to American Hometown Publishing 15 months ago. She stayed on, but told Mann that selling a paper her grandfather bought in 1924 "was like losing my heart."
"Many small-town papers face spiraling debt as they struggle to modernize," Mann reported. "As the value of rural papers skyrockets, Tate says more families are tempted to sell out, sometimes triggering nasty ownership disputes. Growth pains aside, small papers face some big challenges. In the past, these rural towns had less access to the Internet, which meant less media competition. That’s changing fast, and more mom-and-pop papers are rolling our their own online editions in a bid to keep pace." Click here to listen to the story. Click here for an annotated transcript.
Even as the NPR was airing the story on “All Things Considered,” David Letterman was taping last night's edition of “The Late Show” for CBS, which included the frequent feature, “Small Town News,” a collection of funny and often strange clips from newspapers in far corners of the country. Then he announced that the most famous feature of the show that evening would be “Top Ten Signs Your Newspaper Is In Trouble.”
Letterman noted the declining circulation of newspapers, without noting that the big declines in circulation are among metropolitan dailies, not smaller dailies and weeklies. But he was setting up a laugh line: “What happens if all newspapers go out of business and we won’t be able to do 'Small Town News'?” For our money, the Top Ten weren't all that funny. We thought the best was No. 3: “Under Weather, it just reads Yes.” For the whole list, courtesy of Jim Romenesko at The Poynter Institute, click here.
Feds trace byproducts from tainted pet food to chicken feed in Indiana
"Chicken feed in some farms in Indiana contained byproducts from pet food manufactured with contaminated wheat gluten imported from China," The Associated Press reports, citing a joint release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
"An estimated 30 broiler poultry farms and eight breeder poultry farms in Indiana received contaminated feed in early February and fed it to poultry within days of receiving it, the agencies said. Other farms will probably be identified as having received contaminated feed, they added," AP reports.
"All the broilers believed to have been fed contaminated products have been processed, while the breeders are under voluntary hold by flock owners, the agencies said. The FDA and USDA said the likelihood of human illness from eating chicken fed the contaminated product is very low. With no evidence of harm to humans, no recall of poultry products processed from these animals was being issued, the agencies said."
Information and inspiration: Good Works at RuralJournalism.org
There's a lot of good journalism being done in rural America, and it's preserved on a page of this site. Called Good Works, it has what we consider to be the best work by rural journalists -- work that won awards, might win, or should have won. To go to the page, click here or on the link above. These stories provide both information -- ideas, sources, approaches -- and inspiration to journalists in rural America. We know there are lots of good journalists at rural newspapers and broadcast stations, and that they sometimes need a little help or encouragement to go beyond the usual. We hope The Rural Blog and Good Works do that. If you have suggestions, please let us know. We add to this page as we find other outstanding examples of good rural journalism, and we hope you can help us by letting us know about work that should be shared. Just send an e-mail to Al.Cross@uky.edu.
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program at the University of Alabama. It is funded by the University of Kentucky and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.
To link to the blog of the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, click here.
For a collection of good rural journalism, taken from The Rural Blog, click here.
To SEARCH RuralJournalism.org, go to our Home Page by clicking here.
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Questions about The Rural Blog, this Web site or the Institute? Contact Al Cross, director, email@example.com