Good Works

This is a collection of journalism that has won, should win, and should have won awards -- taken from The Rural Blog, a digest of rural events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural places, to help journalists who cover rural issues and need story ideas, sources, comparisons and inspiration.

March 16, 2012

In its first year, N.C. weekly wins national award for service to the First Amendment

A weekly newspaper in western North Carolina that is barely a year old has won the "Distinguished Service to the First Amendment" prize in the Scripps Howard Awards.

Jonathan and Susan Austin, who founded the Yancey County News in Burnsville in January 2011, will receive $10,000 and the Edward Willis Scripps Award for “Unlawful Law Enforcement,” which exposed absentee-ballot fraud, ethics violations, abuse of arrest powers, and the theft and illegal sale of county-owned guns – "all during the newspaper’s first year of operation and despite risks both financial and physical,"the Scripps Howard Foundation said in announcing the award today. "In winning, the Yancey County News bested entries by finalists Bloomberg News and OpenSecrets.org," the paper says in its online story about the award.

Jonathan Austin "documented cases from the weeks leading up to the election in which individuals were arrested, voted, then saw the charges against them later dismissed or drastically reduced," the paper says. “People say we are doing something special here, but we’re only doing what any good journalist learns in Journalism 101 class,” Austin said. “What makes this honor so unique is that we did this work in the newspaper’s very first year, that we did it with no staff, and that other local media had the chance to point out these serious issues as they occurred, but they chose to keep their eyes shut.” (Read more)

The award for community journalism went to reporter Sara Ganim and the staff of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg, Pa., for “Jerry Sandusky and Penn State,” a two-year investigation that led to nationwide coverage of the child sex abuse scandal and its impact on the university. They will receive receive $10,000 and a trophy. The finalists in the category were Brandon Stahl and Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune, for “The Case of Dr. Konasiewicz,” a story about a neurosurgeon with a record of malpractice; and the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., for “Tropical Storm Irene: The Aftermath.”

The award for editorial writing had a rural flavor. It went to Jamie Lucke of the Lexington Herald-Leader for "editorials that took on Kentucky’s powerful coal industry while speaking for the voiceless and powerless in Appalachia," the foundation said. Lucke will receive $10,000 and the Walker Stone Award.

In environmental reporting, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won  $10,000 and the Edward J. Meeman Award for “Pipeline,” a website "dedicated to explaining the economic, environmental and political effects of the natural gas industry's Marcellus Shale drilling," the foundation said.

March 14, 2012

Joplin editor, Mass. reporter, Wisconsin weekly among winners in Local Media Association contest

The Local Media Association, formerly Suburban Newspapers of America, has announced the winners of its contest for 2011.

Carol Stark, editor of the Joplin Globe, was named daily editor of the year for the Missouri paper's "detailed and comprehensive coverage of last May's tornado that killed 162 people and destroyed one-third of the community," writes William Ketter, chief news executive of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns the paper.

Judges at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism said the paper provided "phenomenal" coverage in "the most trying of conditions -- one of the dead was a Globe staffer, half of the staff's homes were destroyed or severely damaged. . . . "It is hard to conceive of a newspaper of any size serving its community better in such a tragic situation."

Ketter also notes that Keith Eddings, a reporter for The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass., which Ketter once edited, was selected as daily journalist of the year "for a series of investigative stories about local government corruption and fraud. . . . Among other stories, he disclosed that the head of an anti-poverty agency was spending more time at the local Elks Club than at his office."

In the Newspaper of the Year competition, the Lake Country Reporter of Hartland, Wis., won among non-dailies with circulations up to 10,000. The other circulation categories were won by suburban papers of the Washington Post Co. in Maryland: the Enterprise of Lexington Park, the Frederick Gazette, and The Gazette of Gaithersburg. Among dailies under 30,000, the winner was the Galveston Daily News of Texas.

For other awards in the contest, click here. The awards will be presented at the association's annual conference in Atlanta Sept. 11-14.

March 9, 2012

Leaders of tornado-blasted community cite weekly newspaper's reappearance as a sign of revival

Morgan County Officials Yesterday we wrote about the newspaper in a tornado-devastated Kentucky town struggling to publish after its office and the home of its publisher were destroyed. Today, at a press conference timed to start exactly a week after the storm hit, Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley held up a copy of West Liberty's Licking Valley Courier and said it was a sign the community will return, independent journalist John Flavell reports. Standing next to Conley is West Liberty Mayor Jim Rupe. The headline reads, "Thank God for sparing so many." (Flavell photo)

co-workers at Licking Valley Courier The weekly newspaper established its first online presence in the wake of the tornado, as reporter Miranda Cantrell (at right in photo with co-worker Ricky Adkins) started a Facebook page that includes news updates and the paper's story about the disaster. She told us, "It was one of the proudest moments of my life when I saw that press rolling our papers" at the Mount Sterling Advocate, the paper's normal printing location.



Feb. 28, 2012

Twice-weekly rural newspaper doing series on mental illness, which affects one in five adults

The Morehead News, a twice-a-week newspaper in northeastern Kentucky, is publishing an eight-part series on mental illness, written by Noelle Hunter.

With Part 1 largely an introduction to the project, running on Tuesdays, Part 2 gets into the facts and figures of the disorders that fall under the mental-illness umbrella. Part 3 profiles a woman living with bipolar disorder; Part 4 will report on the views of clinicians and therapists; Part 5 will profile a man living with bipolar disorder; Part 6 will profile a person living with schizophrenia; Part 7 will focus on the effects on families; and Part 8 will look at treatment options and recovery.

Mental illness is a worthy topic for any news outlet. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, 45.9 million American adults — one in five — experienced some mental illness in the past year. In Kentucky, 180,000 people live with a serious mental illness, which includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Though there have been advancements in treatments these disorders, most in the way of medication and therapy, there is still much that is unknown, Hunter reports.

That comes with larger cultural ramifications. In 2008, about 5,100 adults who have a mental illness were incarcerated in Kentucky prisons and almost 700 adults committed suicide, "almost always a result of untreated mental illness," Hunter reports. Follow the series on the website of the newspaper, part of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., here.

Feb. 14, 2012

Reuters wire service has comprehensive report on impact of post-office closures on rural America

Almost 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices that the U.S. Postal Service is considering closing "are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average," and almost 85 percent are in ZIP codes where United Parcel Service and Federal Express charge more to deliver packages, Cezary Podkul and Emily Stephenson of Reuters report in the most comprehensive package yet on the impact the closings would have on rural America.

"Moreover, about one-third of the offices slated for closure fall in areas with limited or no wired broadband Internet," a factor the USPS did not consider in drawing up the closure list. "Nearly 90 percent of the 24 million Americans without wired broadband access live in rural areas," Reuters reports, quoting Ed Luttrell, president of the National Grange: "There's still a real digital divide between rural and urban America.vYou look at rural folks, they tend to rely much more heavily on the Postal Service for delivery of a wide variety of necessities than urban people."

The USPS has refused to reveal the revenue for individual post offices, but "did provide Reuters expense data for all post offices," the wire service reports. "The statistics show that closing all of the post offices under consideration would save about $295 million a year – about four-tenths of 1 percent of the Postal Service's annual expenses of $70 billion." William Henderson, postmaster general in 1998-2001, told Reuters, "That's not even a drop in the bucket. The bucket won't ripple."

Reuters' package includes a video report (above) from Lohrville, Iowa, which fears that it would lose its identity if it lost its post office, and a nice interactive map that shows the offices on the list, those in rural areas, those without wired broadband and those with package-delivery surcharges. Clicking on a circle gives you the data for that office. Here's an image of the version showing the rural offices on the list:

Click on link in text above or here for interactive map


Jan. 30, 2012

Official calls reporters 'criminal' for coming to school to cover illness outbreak blamed on chemicals

A mysterious illness resembling Tourette's Syndrome has swept through the high school in LeRoy, N.Y. (Wikipedia map), about 20 miles southwest of Rochester. Fifteen cases of a neurological disorder have been reported, and environmentalists, led by activists Lois Gibbs of nearby Love Canal and Erin Brockovich of movie fame, say the illness could have been caused by chemicals spilled in a 1970 train derailment or by hydraulic fracturing of five natural gas wells circling the school that are owned by LeRoy Central School District. The district has tested for environmental contamination, and ruled it out as cause of the symptoms, but Brockovich's team says testing wasn't thorough enough. Local reporters from the Batavia Daily News and The Batavian, an online publication, have followed this story long before it gained national attention.

Howard Owens of The Batavian reports Brockovich sent environmental Robert Bowcock, investigator with California-based Integrated Resource Management, to conduct tests. Bowcock told Owens the report released by the district "wasn't even close to science" and he came to LeRoy at the request of affected students' parents, who said government officials hadn't been transparent with them at a Jan. 11 meeting. Bowcock's team wanted to collect water and soil samples from various sites suggested to them by residents. One site was of the 1970 train wreck, which the Environmental Protection Agency is charge of cleaning up. Bowcock said he was "shocked" by the site's condition, which included leaking barrels of contaminated water and soil. (Batavian photo)

Bowcock and others tried to walk onto school property last weekend, but were stopped by local police and told they didn't have proper permits to gather soil samples. Superintendent Kim Cox said the district has worked "very closely" with professionals to keep the community "involved and up-to-date," but she should have been notified ahead of time about the team's arrival. She said any samples collected by Bowcock would be invalid because "they would have been collected in an unprofessional manner." District lawyer Bill Albert labeled the presence of Bowcock and reporters at the school as "criminal activity." (Read more) The Batavia Daily News has dedicated an entire page on its website to the LeRoy mystery illnesses here.

Jan. 18, 2012

Local reporters were first to probe virtual schools

Virtual education can connect isolated rural students to students in other places and provide them with resources they may not have otherwise, but as Emma Brown of The Washington Post wrote recently, some are "leery of cyber schools," and that has drawn national journalism attention to virtual schools and the companies that operate them. But she says local news media were first to "raise questions about virtual schools' cost and effectiveness," and should be recognized for this.

She wrote that a public radio station in Greeley, Colo., reported about lax oversight and poor student performance at virtual schools, resulting in the president of the state senate calling for an emergency audit of virtual schools. Local stories in Tennessee, both in newspapers and on television, raised similar questions about its first virtual school, drawing statewide attention to the issue. Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey investigated political and financial connections between virtual-school company K12 and the state's top education official. In Arizona, blogger David Safier reported K12 was outsourcing grading of papers to workers in India.

Brown said she could continue listing top-notch local stories about the failings of virtual schools from local, often rural reporters, but summed up: "Local reporters in farflung places were paying attention to virtual schools long before folks in big cities took notice. And for that, they deserve a heap of credit." (Read more)

Jan. 15, 2012

Alaska publisher and Native official, wearing 2 hats in fuel delivery, explains state to media in lower 48

With a Russian tanker's delivery of desperately needed fuel yesterday to Nome, Alaska (here is a good video report from The Nome Nugget, "Alaska's oldest newspaper"), the publisher of a regional newspaper, The Arctic Sounder, wrote an editorial drawing on his dual role as chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the village corporation for Nome and operator of a fuel company.

Jason Evans (above, with child) wrote that in interviews with media at lower latitudes, he was surprised that he had to explain what a native corporation was (they handle money allocated to Alaska natives from the state's oil revenues), and that some reporters "asked if doing all this effort for such a small community is really worth it. I tried to explain the Coast Guard has a 220-year history of assisting commerce throughout our country. The Coast Guard routinely assists commerce in the Great Lakes, along the Hudson River, across the eastern United States. Shouldn't the citizens of Alaska have the same opportunity?" (Read more)

Small-town sports editor named Kentucky's best sportswriter for the sixth year in a row

Kentucky is one of the more rural states and has no major-league pro sports teams, but it's a pretty big sports state, with several strong college basketball teams, the Kentucky Derby, many Thoroughbred breeding farms, and much interest in high-school sports. So it attracts some excellent sports journalists, and that makes it all the more remarkable that the sports editor of a 12,000-circulation newspaper has been recognized for six years in a row as the best sports writer in the state.

Larry Vaught of The Advocate-Messenger in Danville and VaughtsViews.com was named Kentucky's 2011 National Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He has won it in seven of the last nine years. “It never ceases to amaze me that my peers deem me worthy of this prestigious award,” Vaught told Gary Moyers of their newspaper. “It's a tremendous honor once again to receive this award, and I'm not sure exactly what I have done to deserve it.”

Well, I read Larry Vaught from time to time, and I am always impressed with his ability to churn out incisive columns, solid game stories and athlete features, often all in the same day, ranging from the University of Kentucky to the smallest high schools. I don't know who else was nominated for this award, but I have no doubt that he deserves national recognition. He will receive it at the association’s banquet in June in Salisbury, N.C.

Jan. 11, 2012

In front-page editorial, rural weekly demands that board members of county-owned hospital resign

In our experience, most weekly newspapers don't have editorial pages, much less editorials, so when one puts an editorial on the front page and also runs an editorial about the decision, and the work is well-written and well-argued, it's worth noting.

The Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., noted county government's bailout of the "collapsing" county-owned hospital; elected officials' request that they have "a say in any final decision to sell the hospital" and that "the hospital administration will try just as hard to keep the hospital independent as they will to sell it;" and some appointed board members' dislike of the requests.

"It seems like little to ask of someone who is $13 million in debt and asking you for $1.7 million," the editorial said, noting that one member said the board had been "a rubber stamp" for agents who secured the bonded debt. That admission "saves us the trouble of trying to prove that board members acted irresponsibly in overseeing the hospital’s business," the editorial said. "Now the question has to be, 'Why are they still on the board?'" It said the board not only "ran the hospital into the ground" but is "in control of a document that will show if any criminal activity took place," a forensic audit that gives board members "a personal stake in any damaging evidence that may come out."

In her explanatory editorial, Editor-Publisher Sharon Burton said she put the editorial out front because "We believe this is a critical time for our community, and we believe bad decisions will continue if the board is left as it is. We believe it’s our job to bring the issue to the forefront, and there is no better place to do that than on the front page of the Community Voice." The explanatory editorial also included useful background and perspective, including: "At small newspapers we don’t have the luxury of separating the people who cover the news from the people who write opinion pieces. Instead, we work hard to provide fair and unbiased coverage of local news. Then, we look at how that news impacts the people in our community and take a stand as needed on our editorial page."

Burton told us in an email that the editorial generated responses by phone, emails, Facebook messages "and of course being stopped at church and the grocery store," all of them positive except a letter from the daughter of a board member, which is running this week. The Community Voice doesn't put editorials or most news on its website, but PDFs of the pages with the editorials are available on the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues website. The front page, with color, is 3.5 MB; the inside page is 682 KB.

Jan. 4, 2012

Alternative newspaper in Oregon goes far afield to report about rural environmental issues

Eugene Weekly readers are used to seeing news about Eugene nightlife and the University of Oregon in the alternative newspaper, but it also covers the surrounding rural area, unlike most alt-weeklies. Reporter Camilla Mortensen went 20 miles southeast of the city to rural Dexter for a three-part series about the town's struggle against an illegal gravel-mining operation. For over a year, Lost Creek Rock Products has logged and mined Parvin Butte, a natural Dexter landmark, without proper permits. Mortensen says in an e-mail that the paper is filling a hole left in rural environmental coverage after budget cuts at traditional papers forced those stories to the back burner. (Mortensen photo)

Mortensen said Eugene Weekly's owners, Art and Anita Johnson and Fred Taylor, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, "have always had a strong environmental focus and with cutbacks at other papers, both The Register Guard (Eugene's daily newspaper) and around the state, there's a lot of rural and environmental issues that aren't getting attention, like this mine." She also reported on a proposed uranium mine about 200 miles from Eugene, saying "It's in a very rural area where it just wasn't going to get newspaper coverage so we decided I should go ahead and write about it so it didn't fall through the cracks and was a done-deal before people knew about it."

Parvin Butte was slated to become a gravel mine, though residents who live within yards of it didn't know this until mining had already begun. Mortensen reports in the first part of the series that Lost Creek Rock Products obtained a logging permit from the Oregon Department of Forestry and a mining permit from the Oregon Department of Geology and Minerals but failed to go through the Lane County site review process that allows the public to comment on the proposal.

The second part of the series focused on efforts to protect Lost Creek, which "is unobstructed by dams and offers some of the last remaining habitat for spring Chinook in the Middle Fork basin," and runs through the property being mined. Finally, Mortensen wrote about the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries permit for the site and reported that Lane County officials issued a notice of violation to mine operators, though production continues. She also reports the fines levied against the mining company. Most recently, county officials asked the state to revoke the permit.

After Mortensen's first story was published, The Register Guard reported on the mine. That article can be found here.

Jan. 3, 2012

Louisiana editor and weekly win Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism

Stanley Nelson at The Concordia SentinelStanley Nelson and the weekly newspaper he edits, the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La., are the winners of the 2011 Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. The Institute presents the award in honor of Tom and Pat Gish, who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years. Tom Gish, who died in 2008, and his wife Pat were the award's first recipients.

Nelson and the Sentinel showed courage and unusual tenacity in investigating an unsolved murder from the era of conflict over civil rights, and in January 2011 named a living suspect in the 1964 killing of African American businessman Frank Morris. A grand jury was convened and continues to investigate. A prosecutor on the case, David Oppeman, told James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, “I told Stanley the other day he is the hub in this and everybody else is just a spoke. He did the work that needed to be done.”

The newspaper showed integrity and courage in the face of reader resistance to its dogged, detailed reporting in more than 150 stories. “The owners of the Concordia Sentinel never hesitated in following the story,” Nelson wrote in the fall edition of Nieman Reports, of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. "While most readers read the stories with interest and outrage over what happened so many years ago, many of the most vocal were those who detested the coverage and who questioned our motives," Nelson told the Institute for Rural Journalism. “We knew some would be angered to read about the parish's ugly racial past,” he wrote for Nieman Reports. “Some canceled subscriptions. We were threatened. Our office was burglarized. One irate reader called to find out my ultimate goal. ‘To solve a murder,’ I said. ‘You can't do that,’ she snapped. ‘You're just a reporter!’ She hung up. We pressed on.”

For much more on Nelson, the Sentinel and the Gish Award, click here.

Dec. 28, 2011

Spokane paper has good take on troubles that may lie ahead for rural hospitals

Here's a good, localized look at the challenges facing rural hospitals all over the U.S., by John Stucke of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane: "Many of Eastern Washington’s small hospitals are bracing for cutbacks as federal and state governments look to save money.

"Consider Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Chewelah [pin on MapQuest image]: On any given day perhaps nine of its 25 patient beds are occupied. Two of those patients might have private insurance. One might not pay the medical bill. The rest will be covered by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"And yet the hospital has made money in four of the past five years, in part because rural hospitals receive richer payments from government than larger urban hospitals to care for proportionally higher numbers of the poor, elderly and uninsured who populate rural America.

"It’s a bottom-line boost that has kept 38 hospitals in rural Washington afloat. But that extra money from Medicare and Medicaid is drawing the attention of budget cutters. If proposals to retool and scale back the payments are adopted, up to half of these hospitals could be closed within a matter of years, say administrators and policy analysts." (Read more)

Dec. 12, 2011

Newspaper strikes blow against domestic violence with two-part series on victim, monthly feature

In Hickman County, Tenn., one in five calls to the sheriff's office involves domestic assault. This led Editor Bradley Martin of the Hickman County Times to begin searching for a domestic violence victim willing to share her story. On Nov. 21, starting a two-part series, Martin ended his 15-year search and provided readers a glimpse into the severity of domestic violence - quite literally.

The paper reported on the 2007 domestic assault of Shannon Beasley, complete with a striking front page photo of her injuries. In the first part of the series, the Times took a closer look at Beasley's relationship with the accused, the events that led up to the abuse and finally her rescue on March 24, 2007. The second part focused on the resulting trial and Beasley's path to recovery.

Martin said Beasley's attorney approached the paper, saying his client wanted to get the word out about what had happened to her. In January, the Times will start publishing a monthly "Survivor Story" with the assistance of a new coalition known as No Excuse. "The coalition believes it has victims who are ready to stand up, by name and photo, and tell their stories," Martin explained in an email.

Nov. 20, 2011

Local paper broke Penn State story in March; reporter calls it 'a huge testament to local news'

Sara Ganim

Uncovering the story of a former Penn State football coach's alleged rapes of boys "was all local journalism," Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim told Howard Kurtz this morning on CNN's "Reliable Sources." (CNN image)

"Its a huge testament to local news," the 24-year-old Penn State journalism graduate told Kurtz, who initially referred to the 71,000-circulation Advance Publications newspaper as "The News-Patriot." Ganim said, "It was all local journalism, going to my sources. ... I spent a lot of time knocking on doors and getting shooed off properties."

Ganim said the newspaper "did have some pushback" to her stories that first reported the investigation, starting March 31, but "I actually expected a lot more than we got. . . . For the most part people were happy that we were bringing this out." The stories didn't get much play beyond Pennsylvania until ex-coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted this month, perhaps because they were based on interviews with people who had testified before a grand jury, reporting that was difficult for non-local media to match, Ganim said.

The story of Sara Ganim "is also the story of a family-owned media company, Advance, of a second-generation newspaper editor, David Newhouse, of a publisher, John Kirkpatrick, who understands what a newspaper means to a community, and of a newsroom that has the deep local connections and also the courage to keep going no matter what the potential cost to its own reputation," Carl Lavin writes on his 07newsroom blog.

For Ganim's original story, click here. For her latest summary, focusing on authority figures and "What did they know and when did they know it?" go here. Her last-Sunday story about why the probe took so long is here.

Small, weekly newspaper gets best of stonewalling state agency in case of adopted child's murder

Amy Dye

When a 9-year-old girl was found beaten to death and her adoptive brother was charged with murder, the local newspaper wanted to know what the state child-welfare agency had done, or not done, with the family in the four years Amy Dye, left, had been placed there. The Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children stonewalled the Todd County Standard, but the small, weekly newspaper fought in court and a judge found that the agency had violated the state open-records law -- and prevented further stonewalling on appeal by putting the records in his ruling.

The records paint "deplorable picture of what happens when those who are assigned to protect a child fail," Editor-Publisher Ryan Craig wrote in his Nov. 9 paper. Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd of Frankfort "said that Amy was put in the Dye home despite there being a 'substantiated' incident of child abuse prior to her placement" and the case is an "example of the 'potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny'."

Todd County Standard

In his Nov. 16 edition, Craig wrote that a closer look at the records showed "that the cabinet made a choice within a few days of Amy Dye’s death and a day after the Standard filed an open records request to declare the scope of the investigation in a way that would keep the files from becoming public," by classifying its probe as a "neglect investigation" instead of a "fatality investigation," which by law must be public. His story noted that "Officials with the Cabinet delayed nearly two weeks — violating open-records laws — before even responding to the Standard’s initial request for records. Then when the Standard received a response, it was told there were no files whatsoever on Amy Dye."

The Standard is not online, but we have posted PDFs of its Nov. 9 front and jump pages here and here and its Nov. 16 pages here and here. The photo of Amy is from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, which reported on the case in detail today. For the story by Deborah Yetter, go here. University of Kentucky journalism professor Mike Farrell wrote about this and related cases for KyForward, giving a good summary of details, concluding, "We know all of this only because the Todd County Standard sued the cabinet for the records, and in ruling for the newspaper, the judge laid out the story." (Read more)

Nov. 7, 2011

Journalists show inadequate enforcement of laws against toxic air pollution, pinpoint sites

A new report by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity says state and federal regulators are still struggling to enforce a major part of the Clean Air Act, leaving many communities "exposed to risky concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and many other hazardous chemicals."

The journalistic collaboration has produced an interactive map that allows users to look up Environmental Protection Agency data on approximately 17,000 facilities that have emitted hazardous chemicals into the air. (Click on map below for interactive version)

interactive map of EPA data on hazardous chemicals

The "air toxics" issue has lingered for decades. The reporters found that more than 1,600 facilities are labeled "high priority," justifying urgent action, but nearly 300 of them have been in that category for more than a decade. About 400 of them "are on an internal EPA 'watch list,' which the agency has kept secret until now," they write. For the list, in an Excel spreadsheet, click here.

Enforcement has "been delayed by tension between the EPA and state environment programs, budget cuts and a system that allows companies to estimate their own toxic emissions," NPR and CPI report, noting shrinking state and EPA budgets as additional reasons for the lack of enforcement. (Read more)

This evening on "All Things Considered," NPR rural correspondent Howard Berkes reports on toxic pollution by a carbon-black plant in Ponca City, Okla. Thursday on "Morning Edition," he focuses on another rural community, Chanute, Kan., which has a cement kiln fired by hazardous waste. UPDATE: The Chanute story is here; a sidebar is here and a story about the cement-kiln rules is here.

Oct. 21, 2011

Cultural journalism project for rural Alaska gains more national recognition

University of Alaska Fairbanks professors John Creed and Susan Andrews have been nationally recognized again, this time for their cultural journalism project designed to help students at the Chukchi campus of the university get works published in local newspapers and statewide news sites. (Amazon image)

The team received a bronze medal in Foreward Magazine's 2011 Book of the Year competition, a second-place award for nonfiction anthology in the Independent Book Publishers Association's Benjamin Franklin Book Awards and special recognition by the Alaska Professional Communicators for their latest anthology featuring stories from 23 rural Alaska writers, the Juneau Empire reports. The book is a follow-up to their first anthology; both are tied to their cultural journalism project. (Read more)

Oct. 18, 2011

Rural paper's MLK front page dubbed best in nation

Rural newspapers often lack the reporting and editing resources needed to give their readers first-class journalism, which is the main raison d'etre of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. But when it comes to giving readers a first-class front page, all it takes is a thoughtful, skilled paginator who is willing to think outside the box, an editor who recognizes his talent, and a publisher who is willing to let him do so: a head paginator like Ian Lawson, an editor like Mary Ann Kearns and a publisher like Bob Hendrickson of The Ledger Independent, circulation 8,000, in Maysville, Ky. Here's the front page Lawson designed for Monday:

Lawson's work was the best front-page treatment of Sunday's Martin Luther King memorial dedication, writes Charles Apple of the American Copy Editors Society, with credit to Associated Press photographer Cliff Owen. For his interview with Lawson, and more great pages from the Lee Enterprises paper in Rosemary Clooney's hometown, click here.

UPDATE, Oct. 22: Lawson and the Ledger continue to make newspaper news, this time with a horizontal front page, written up by Julie Moos of The Poynter Institute  (Newseum image):

Oct. 16, 2011

Wyoming paper tops small classes in Inland contest; it and Pittsburgh paper looked at energy issues

The Inland Press Association, which serves mainly smaller daily newspapers, has announced the winners of its annual newsroom contests in Community Leadership, Editorial Excellence, Front Page, Local News Writing and Photography (including Multimedia, new this year). The winners in the two smallest newspaper divisions are listed below, but we also call your attention to reporting projects by larger papers that provide good examples, ideas and sources for rural journalists.

One good example of that is the reporting of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the development of the Marcellus Shale gas play in Appalachia and its environmental and economic impact. It won first for investigative reporting among papers with circulations larger than 75,000. Among papers with circulations of 10,000 to 25,000, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in Cheyenne won second in explanatory reporting for its look at changes in the Niobrara oil field, a topic that helped it win first place in Editorial Excellence.

The Cheyenne paper and the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau, the hometown paper of Rust Communications, both won two first places and two seconds for writing, but Cheyenne did best overall among smaller papers by winning several photography awards. The contests are divided by circulation classes: Under 10,000, 10,000-25,000, 25,000-75,000 and more than 75,000, Each contest is judged by a journalism school. Here are the judges and small-newspaper winners in each contest, with the larger division listed first: Editorial Excellence (University of Kansas) The Wyoming Tribune Eagle won first "for its compelling editorials, especially in support of public-education reform, and open meetings and access to public records." Two neighboring Indiana papers won second and third: The Herald-Times of Bloomington and The Republic of Columbus.

The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo., won the smallest division for an editorial against school vouchers that "translated an inflammatory, complex topic into easily understood terms," the judge(s) said. "The writer was able to seamlessly mix an appeal to reason with an appeal to emotions. Readers could, no doubt, put themselves and their families into the editorial and clearly see a reason for action. The writer clearly knew the line between being a good editorial writer and trying to be a policy decision-maker or “one truth” solution provider." Second place went to the Lahontan Valley News of Fallon, Nev., for an editorial saying a local university had mounted an "assault" on agriculture; third place went to the Martinsville Reporter-Times of Indiana for an editorial about the "broken" local fire and ambulance system.

Community Leadership (University of Missouri) The Daily Journal of Franklin, Ind., won for a campaign for breast cancer awareness that "truly engaged its community," the judges said. "Beyond printing stories that described the impact of cancer and ways to fight it, the newspaper got the community involved in a fun way. Businesses decorated their buildings in pink, a fundraising drive was held and the newspaper was printed in pink. . . . Funds were given to a local institution that provides mammograms to the poor, and the community is now engaged on an important topic. Most important, the effort looks sustainable."

The Sierra Vista Herald won the smallest division by responding strongly to a severe fire and flood that devastated the Arizona town last summer. It used SMS updates to tell readers about bridge and road closings and warn them away from dangerous areas. The paper "was a gathering place for information, comfort and advice," the judges said. "The Herald provided extraordinary coverage, and the leadership that’s needed when tragedy overtakes a community."

Local News Writing (University of Kentucky) Investigative Reporting: The Herald-Times; second, Southeast Missourian; third, Rio Grande Sun, Espanola, N.M. Smallest papers: Havre Daily News, Montana; second, Lahontan Valley News.

Explanatory Reporting: Southeast Missourian; second, Wyoming Tribune Eagle; third, Kane County Chronicle, St. Charles, Ill. Smallest papers: The News Sun, Kendallville, Ind., second, Paulding County Progress, Ohio; third, Lahontan Valley News.

Front Page (Northwestern University) Larger papers: Wyoming Tribune Eagle; the Southeast Missourian; third, the Daily Journal. Small papers: First, Cape Coral Breeze, Florida; second, Andover Townsman, Massachusetts; third, Hi-Desert Star, Yucca Valley, and The Desert Trail, Twentynine Palms, Calif. (sister weekly and daily).

Photography (Indiana University): This contest has nine divisions but is not divided by circulation. For the winners of this competition and all the others, click here.

Oct. 13, 2011

Texas pair win top prize for small-paper commentary from Southern newspaper publishers

The Southern Newspaper Publishers Association named winners of its Carmage Walls Commentary Prize competition this week at SNPA's News Industry Summit. The wards were announced by Lissa Walls Vahldiek, vice president and chief operating officer of Southern Newspapers Inc., Houston, and daughter of the late Benjamin Carmage Walls, for whom the awards are named.

The winners in the small-paper category, for those with circulation of less than 50,000, were Publisher Doug Toney and Managing Editor Autumn Phillips of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, a 7,600-circulation Southern Newspapers daily. Their series of editorials and columns served as the catalyst for change in development standards in the in the Texas Hill Country city of 50,000, founded by German immigrants in 1845. The paper, which dates to 1852, has been gaining circulation. Click to read the five columns and editorials: #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5.

Second place in the category went to Scott Morris, executive editor of the TimesDaily of Florence, Ala., who wrote about an open-records case that the newspaper eventually won. Read it here. Honorable mentions went to Bob Davis of The Anniston Star in Alabama and Paco Nunez of The Tribune in Nassau, Bahamas. The winner in the large-paper category was Roger Chesley of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, with second going to John Railey of the Winston-Salem Journal and mentions to Tod Robberson of the Dallas Morning News and Mac Thrower of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Oct. 7, 2011

Northwest Missouri newspaper spotlights problems in mental health care in rural areas

Lack of resources keep many rural residents from getting mental and emotional health care, With higher rates of depression and suicide among teenagers and older adults in rural America, this is a major concern, reports Debbie Morello of the Maryville Daily Forum in northwest Missouri, noting that this is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. Monday, Oct. 10, is World Mental Health Day.

"There are people without means to get help, they have no money, no transportation and very few resources," Phil Graham, a psychologist with a part-time office in Maryville, told Morello, referring to the disparity between urban and rural availability of mental-health care. Lack of affordable insurance is another problem, as many private insurers have failed to keep up with mental health needs, Graham added.

Depression rates in rural areas tend to exceed rates in urban areas and suicide rates for teens and older adults are higher in rural areas, according to the Office of Rural Health Policy, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Read more)

Sept. 28, 2011

Alabama publisher 1st rural community newspaper person to win award given by Ohio University

H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers, longtime publisher of The Anniston Star in Alabama, was awarded the Carr Van Anda Award by the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in a ceremony and public lecture Monday at the campus in rural Ohio.

The school's faculty gives the award to high-profile journalists to recognize decades of professional excellence. Recipients have included Bob Woodward of The Washington Post and Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio. Ayers was the 72nd recipient of the award, which was launched in 1968 and named for the legendary New York Times managing editor who studied at Ohio U. in the late 1800s. It is the first time the award has gone to a journalist for a lifetime of work at a rural community newspaper, although many of the previous winners worked in community-level media earlier in their careers.

In a report journalism student Michelle Doe wrote for The Star, the liberal Ayers commented: "I thought I could hear the choir humming ‘Nearer my God to thee.' ... It’s awfully nice to have somebody say well done, and with my views and my area, you don’t get somebody saying well done very often.”

Ohio U. journalism professor Michael Sweeney said he nominated Ayers to recognize not only Ayers' many achievements but also to promote excellence at the thousands of community newspapers throughout the United States. "I like the way [he] is determined to produce high-quality journalism in a small market," Sweeney told Doe. "I have seen some awful, family-owned, small-town papers. Everyone could take a lesson from The Star." (Read more)

Rural-journalism institute boss wins top internal award from Society of Professional Journalists

Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Director Al Cross received the 2011 Wells Memorial Key, the Society of Professional Journalists’ highest honor, in recognition for his outstanding service to the society. Cross covered elections and state government as a reporter for The Courier-Journal for over 26 years and has served as permanent director of the Institute since 2005. He served as SPJ national president in 2001, served on several SPJ national committees and is a director of SPJ's Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. (The Working Press photo by Kevin Zansler)

“Al Cross rises to the challenges of our profession, and has done so consistently throughout his career,” Sue Porter, a Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board member and vice president of programs for the Scripps Howard Foundation, told Olivia Ingle of The Working Press, the SPJ convention newspaper. “Most recently, as director of the rural journalism institute, his leadership is fulfilling a need that would otherwise go unanswered.”

The award was presented by SPJ’s Immediate Past President Hagit Limor at the SPJ President’s Installation Banquet in New Orleans. To see a full list of the 2011 SPJ award recipients, click here.

Sept. 25, 2011

Rural journalists accept Sigma Delta Chi Awards

Journalists covering rural topics were much in evidence last night in New Orleans as the Society of Professional Journalists and its Sigma Delta Chi Foundation presented its annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards.

This photo by Al Malpa of The Chronicle in Willimantic, Conn., won for breaking news photography in small newspapers. David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal won the award for non-deadline reporting by newspapers with circulation of 50,000 to 100,000 for perhaps the greatest series on rural health care ever in an American paper. The series can be a road map for reporting on rural health in any state, and SPJ has put PDFs of the pages here.

Paula Horton of the Tri-City Herald in southern Washington won the award for under-50,000 papers for a two-part series on domestic violence in the Pasco-Kennewick-Richland area. The PDFs are here. Emily Parkhurst of The Forecaster, a weekly newspaper in Maine, won the non-daily investigative reporting award for reporting on use of restraints on children in public schools. The story is available in online segments; links appear after the award's listing on an SPJ web page, here.

The Times of Gainesville, Ga., won the small-daily award for public-service journalism for a series on the Chattahoochee River. Ashley Fielding and Sara Guevara did the series on the Chattahoochee, which can be read here. The award for investigative reporting by daily newspapers of less than 50,000 circulation went to Kirsti Mahron and Britt Johnsen of the St. Cloud Times for a series by "the public cost of Central Minnesota's housing boom and bust." Its pages are here.

Mike Tyree and David Miller of Northern Michigan's Traverse City Record-Eagle were tops in editorial writing at small dailies, for editorials about police misconduct. The PDFs are here. Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia won a second time for editorial cartooning in small papers, above. (Click image for larger version)

Among broadcasters, the small-market award for public service in television journalism went to Rhonda McBride, Jonathan Hartford and Amy Modig of KTUU-TV in Anchorage for "Pandora's Bottle," about the effects of alcohol on the unborn. Jason Lamb and Dan Carpenter of the same station won the feature-reporting award for a "Jacob's Christmas," about a young boy with many health problems. Boyd Huppert of KARE-TV in Minneapolis won the large-market award for the third year in a row with "Land of 10,000 Stories," which are often rural.

There was another sort of rural winner, in a newspaper that is rarely thought of as rural but probably has the best rural coverage of any American paper, because it devotes staff and space to it. Dan Barry of The New York Times won the big-paper award for column writing, for "This Land," a column that often visits rural places. Only one of the columns he entered was rural, but we note the award in order to recognize the good work that he does. Some other rural coverage earned awards, but the recipients were not on hand to receive their awards. For our earlier item on those and other awards, click here.

Among other award-winning work of use to rural journalists was that of FactCheck.org, which exposed myths and clarified facts about the fedreal health-care reform law; and online investigative reporting on deaths and injuries of military veterans, which are disproportionately rural. The award to an independent source went to ProPublica and National Public Radio, here; the award to an affiliated website went to The Bay Citizen and New America Media, here.

Sept. 12, 2011

Citizens unaware of records they can get, newspaper says in reporting local officials' pay

Most people in rural areas are not aware they can file open-records requests to obtain information they are entitled to see, such as salaries of public employees, reports Dave Boucher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky.

In a recent weekend issue of the paper (Aug. 27-28), Boucher reported that he filed 20 records requests to acquire information on city and county employee salaries. Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, told Boucher that public officials in rural places "can feel like a request to know their salary is an invasion of privacy," a feeling that stems from rural community culture in which a public office can be regarded as a private possession.

People simply don't understand what types of information they are entitled to see, Cross told Boucher. According to the Kentucky Open Records Act, any agency that receives at least 25 percent of its funding from public sources is subject to a request, Boucher writes. There are some exemptions, including "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and classified information, but salaries are not on that list. (Read more)

Sept. 5, 2011

Agriculture-policy writer gives a clear, succinct picture of debate over changes in crop subsidies

The prospect that farm programs will be significantly changed as part of the deficit-reduction process has been reported here several times, but as usual, Philip Brasher, left, of Gannett Co.'s Washington bureau (which hired him after the Des Moines Register, a Gannett newspaper, laid him off and closed its bureau) best puts the jam on the bottom shelf where the little folks can get to it:

"Farmers and landowners have long counted on getting a government check every year regardless of how profitable they might be or whether they even planted a crop. But those checks may soon be a lot smaller -- or disappear altogether. A congressional super committee that is charged with writing a plan this fall for slashing the federal budget deficit is widely expected to target those payments," known as "direct payments."

Brasher continues, "Farm lobbyists and their allies in Congress are scrambling to come up with a new and cheaper way to subsidize growers, one that would provide payments when crops are poor or market prices collapse. The threat to the payments is so dire that even the cotton industry, which has long resisted cutting them, is now looking at alternatives. The ideas being tossed about include taking money that now goes to the annual payments and using it to sweeten the federal crop insurance program."

There, in the story's initial paragraphs, are the main cards in play. Deeper down is an underlying reason for change, which Brasher dregded up from a hearing last year: "The goal of income parity of farm people versus urban people has been achieved," Purdue University agricultural economist Otto Doering said at a hearing on farm policy. "Our chief concern now should be volatility." There are 19 more paragraphs, all worth reading if you care about agriculture or have readers, viewers and listeners who do. Go here.

Sept. 2, 2011

Remembrances of, and resources for, 9/11

The Rural Blog is published primarily for rural news media, most of which stick to events and issues in their own communities, especially if they are weekly newspapers. But on rare occasions, a national news event is so significant and touches so many local people that it makes the front pages of such papers. The most recent was the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the next one is likely to be the 10th anniversary of the terror he wrought on Sept. 11, 2001.

This item has 9/11 material that rural media are using or may find useful at this time, such as The Associated Press's September 11 Style and Reference Guide.

Michael Perry of Napa, Calif., has spent the last 10 years collecting newspapers from Sept. 11 or 12, reports Howard Yune of the Napa Valley Register. (Register photo by J.L. Sousa) He has 790 papers, "from nearly every state and more than 20 nations," Yune writes. "Newseum curator Carrie Christoffersen admired Perry’s labors in pulling so many headlines together into one place, but decided his asking price of up to $250,000 was too much for the museum." (Read more)

The Kentucky Press Association collected state political figures' recollections of 9/11 and newspaper front pages, mainly from weeklies, accessible at http://www.kypress.com/911/.

The Mississippi Press Association established a website to share newspapers' 9/11 content.

In a column for Associated Baptist Press,William Leonard of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity wrote about 9/11 at his school, where "Catholics and Protestants, Pentecostals and Anglicans" gathered to support each other, and earlier, at a previously scheduled weekly service, "Undergraduates galore came streaming through the doors, packing pews, leaning against the walls and sitting cross-legged on the floor of the sparse Davis Chapel. Staggered by the news, they grasped for sacred space to help them comprehend the moment." There's a lot more, including an amazing passage from the Book of Jeremiah in the Revised English Bible. Read it here.

Perhaps the main aftermath of 9/11 is what Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post calls "the American era of endless war," with far-reaching ramifications. Read about them here.

Television networks and magazines "have followed different paths in covering a solemn occasion that is also a business opportunity," The New York Times reports.

The U.S. Department of Education published a resources page for teaching about 9/11. USA Today reports on the topic. "Fewer than half the states explicitly identify the 9/11 attacks in their high-school standards for social studies, according to a forthcoming study," Erik Robelen of Education Week reports.

Aug. 25, 2011

Weekly newspaper does a special health section and mails it to everyone in its home county

Special sections on health are good for community newspapers and their readers. Health-care providers have money for advertising in such sections, and a section focused on health can have more impact on readers than individual, occasional stories.

Based on a pilot project it oversaw in 2007, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues began recommending to rural newspapers that they schedule health sections as part of editions that are mailed to every postal customer in a paper's home county, a standard circulation-building technique. If a newspaper wants to help improve the health of its community, why not reach everyone in the community?

Last week, one Kentucky newspaper did that. The Adair County Community Voice of Columbia included a 10-page broadsheet section on health in an edition that was mailed to everyone in the county. And though it got no advertising from the local public hospital, with which it has been embroiled in an open-meetings dispute, it did get ads from hospitals in other counties.

Newspapers can mail up to 10 percent of their annual circulation to non-subscribers in their home county at subscriber rates, and can sell "sponsored circulation" to pay the extra cost of printing and postage for the extra copies. The 2007 pilot project with another Kentucky weekly, The Berea Citizen, found that non-subscribers said they were more likely to subscribe if the paper regularly included health information. For a copy of the report on the project, click here. The health section is not online, but PDFs of its pages are posted on the Institute website in a 4.4 MB file, here.

Aug. 8, 2011

Scranton paper's series on fracking wins second for in-depth environmental reporting in SEJ contest

Some rural reporting won national recognition in the annual awards of the Society of Environmental Journalists, announced today.

Laura Legere of the Scranton Times-Tribune won second place in small-market, in-depth reporting for "Deep Impact: Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale." The judges said, "In the much examined field of fracking, Laura Legere went beyond the clichés . . . She also humanized and investigated a story that big media, such as the New York Times, reported on, but Legere’s reporting went further yet and she brought the issues home." Third place went to "Accidental Wilderness" by David Wolman, a freelancer for High Country News. First prize went to reporters for ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for a series on defective Chinese drywall.

In the beat-reporting contest among journalists in small markets, Susan Sharon of Maine Public Broadcasting won third place for "Science Skeptics, Corporate Lobbyists and the Assault on Maine's Environment." For the other winners in that category, and links to individual stories, click here.

Aug. 3, 2011

National Newspaper Association announces winners of its awards for general excellence

Seventeen non-daily and three daily newspapers were recognized today for general excellence as a part of the National Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest. Each daily and non-daily entry was evaluated on quality of writing; headline language; use of photos and art work; evidence of craftsmanship and skill in composition, reproduction and presswork; editorial pages; front page; family life/living pages; sports pages; advertising design and layout, quality and technique of writing copy; handling of classified and/or reader ads and taste; and treatment of public notices.

The Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., won the daily division. It finished in the top three (unranked at this point) last year, and we wrote here about Editor Dennis Anderson, right. The Press was followed by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle of Cheyenne and The Union of Grass Valley, Calif. We wrote about Union Editor Jeff Pelline here.

The non-daily division was divided into four divisions based on circulation. The repeat winner in the 10,000+ division was The Taos News of New Mexico, edited by Joan Livingston, left, followed by the Idaho Mountain Express of Ketchum and The Ellsworth American of Maine, which also placed last year. The Valencia County News Bulletin of Belen, N.M., received honorable mention.

All three winners in the 6,000-9,999 division were repeats from last year. The N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon was first, followed by The Southampton Press-Eastern Editionof New York and the Jackson Hole News & Guide of Jackson, Wyo. The Sequim Gazette of Washington state received honorable mention.

There was a repeat winner from earlier years in the 3,000-5,999 division: The Wise County Messenger of Decatur, Tex. It was followed by the Hutchinson Leader of Minnesota and the Mount Desert Islander of Bar Harbor, Me., sister paper of The Ellsworth American. Both won last year. The Litchfield Independent Review of Minnesota won honorable mention.

The winner of the small-newspaper division was the West Point News of Nebraska, followed by The Journal of Crosby, N.D., and the Countywide Sun of Tecumseh, Okla. The Banks County Newsof Jefferson, Ga., and the Delano Herald Journal of Minnesota won honorable mention. All awards will be presented at the Toast to the Winners award reception, Saturday, Sept. 24, at NNA's annual convention in Albuquerque.

July 27, 2011

Rural paper reports a rumor, to protect the object; social media may bring more such cases

Report a rumor? Sometimes it's called for. The Times Tribune of Corbin, Ky., made that decision this week because a rumor made viral by social media was raising the possibility of retribution and discrimination against an innocent person and his business.Michele Baker's story began tightly: "A Corbin business has suffered a downturn due to an apparently false rumor circulated on social media outlets that the owners refused to serve uniformed soldiers." It quoted the owner, an India native who said he is a U.S. citizen, as denying the rumor and noting that his daughter is in the local high school's Reserve Officer Training Corps; and it quoted the local police chief: “We have had a dozen calls this morning and we are trying to verify the allegations. We are trying to stop the rumors.” (Baker photo: The Pak-N-Sak store)

Having established the official concern, the newspaper weighed in on its own authority, reporting, "Attempts to contact the servicemen who were allegedly refused service have been unsuccessful. Allegations of business owners refusing to serve soldiers are rampant on the Internet." And it kept the story short: 325 words. There's just as long a story in how the 6,000-circulation daily decided to report a rumor that exploded on Facebook and Topix, the website with discussion threads for seemingly every community.

Managing Editor Becky Kilian said she first heard the rumor Saturday, and by the time the office opened Monday, "It was pickling up multiple threads on Topix and was spreading to Barbourville, in the next county, and the police chief mentioned it to her in a conversation about another matter. "We were both concerned that if the rumor continued unchecked that it might contribute to an inappropriate action on someone's part," beyond the ethnic slurs and gullibility displayed online.

Baker went to work on the story, and "In every aspect in Michele's reporting, it looked like a myth," Kilian said. "It might as well have been a Bigfoot sighting." When a Google search found similar cases elsewhere, involving ethnic or racial discrimination, Kilian knew the paper needed to publish an unusual story. "With the discrimination against a minority and the inflammatory langauge that was being used," she said, "it needed to be addressed."

"This is the first time I think in my career as a journalist that I've ever been involved in a story that dealt with a rumor like that," said Kilian, a Corbin native who has been a journalist for 10 years and returned to her hometown as a reporter in 2009. She became managing editor of the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper last year.

"I just wish there was some way to educate people" that just because they read something on the Internet that doesn't mean it's true, Kilian said. "I wish we could teach news discernment." Situations like this call for editorial discernment, too, and the prevalence of social media mean that journalists may have to make calls like this more frequently.

"So far today's story seems to have garnered a great deal of attention," Baker said in an email to The Rural Blog. "I received a call from a man who said he was among those who helped spread the rumor and the he now regrets it." To read Baker's story, click here. To read some of the discussion on Topix, click here.

Disability judge's generosity leads to probe, and a story with a data-packed interactive table

The actions of a disability-claim judge who served West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio has led to a federal investigation of the Huntington, W.Va., Social Security Administration office and a congressional review of how the agency grants disability claims. It has also prompted a story in The Wall Street Journal, along with a nice interactive table where all judges' performance can be examined.

Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty approved payments in all 729 of his decisions in the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, Damian Paletta of the Journal reports. (Herald-Dispatch photo) "The inspector general reportedly is looking into the matter to ensure that the review process is working as it should — from the Social Security commissioner on down. The American people should expect nothing less," U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat whose district includes Huntington, told Paletta. (Read more)

On average, judges award payments in about 60 percent of cases and spend about an hour on each case, Patella reports. Daugherty tended to favor one particular lawyer and scheduled hearings 15 minutes apart for as many as 20 of this lawyer's clients. (Read more) Amid investigation surrounding his awards, Daugherty retired on July 13, Carrie Cline of WSAZ-TV in Huntington reports.

Social Security disabillity cases appear to be more prevalent in rural areas where men without a high-school diploma are injured and unable, or less able, to perform the sort of manual labor that once sustained them. In Central Appalachia, disabilility lawyers advertise heavily.

To view the Journal's interactive list of all Social Security disability judges and data on their cases and awards, click here. The list can be arranged by state, city, judge or other parameter by clicking on the head of the appropriate column.

July 19, 2011

Access to healthy food: Local angle is available on a national event, and here's an example

The White House says First Lady Michelle Obama will make a major announcement tomorrow afternoon about her Task Force on Childhood Obesity's recommendations to make healthy, affordable food more accessible to all Americans. Using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Desert Locator, community journalists can localize this story.

A food desert is a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. Many rural areas are considered food deserts, and the USDA locator not only has data that can inform a story, but maps that can illustrate it. Reporter Tonya S. Grace of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, Ky., used it to localize the Healthy Food Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Treasury, the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To read her article, click here.

July 11, 2011

Colo. story shows process for post-office closings; some are spared but have fewer employees

With 2010 losses totaling $8.5 billion and more expected this year, the U. S. Postal Service "is doing all it can to be as efficeint as possible while stopping the financial bleeding," Al DeSarro, the service's Western-area spokesman, told Steve Block of The Trinidad (Colo.) Times Independent for a story on the post office in nearby Model. "We never want to close a post office but sometimes we have to. Our projection is that 2,000 to 3,000 will be closed in the next two to three years. (MapQuest image; click on it for larger version)

"A Post Office Discontinuance Study . . . takes nine to 10 months," DeSarro said. We examine a post office for volume, number of visits, building lease costs, utilities and employee and transportation costs."

From such studies some post offices will be selected for closure while others will remain open, but perhaps with reduced service. In a letter to Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, a district manager wrote, "The Postal Service occasionally interchanges staff, equipment and other resources in order to reduce operating costs, create greater efficiencies, and make better use of its resources."

The post office in Model is among those that will remain open with a reduction in services. The location will still provide post-office boxes, retail and mail-acceptance services, but starting Sept. 10, mail carriers will no longer work out of the Model post office, but the one in Trinidad, 21 miles away, Block reports. For a story about postmaster retirements and resignations driving closure decisions, click here; for one on Iowa officials' complaints about the process, go here.

July 7, 2011

Paper's records check suggests inspector went easy on firm that failed to warn workers of tornado

Following an April 4 tornado that heavily damaged TGASK, a manufacturer of rubber door and window trim for cars, in Hopkinsville, Ky., Kentucky New Era staff writer Dave Boucher dug into state inspection reports and revealed conflicts between the state inspector's employer-friendly account of the episode and the National Weather Service's account of events leading up to the tornado, including warnings that apparently were not passed along to employees.

Boucher's story is an example of how journalists can help protect the public when government fails to hold responsible parties accountable, as illustrated by the inspector’s assertion: “It is not reasonable to conclude that the employer would establish a plan, train employees on the plan, and execute the plan during instances of severe weather, only to disregard the plan in this instance.” Actually, it’s perfectly reasonable, because human beings are involved and they mess up sometimes. The online story may require a subscription; if so, a scan of the print copy is here as a PDF.

June 5, 2011

Retired Kentucky publisher, still a public servant, gets first journalism award named for him

SmithThe first Al Smith Award for public service through rural or community journalism by a Kentuckian was presented Thursday night to its namesake, Albert P. Smith Jr. Making the presentation was Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues, which co-sponsors the award with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Smith owned weekly newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding host of Kentucky Educational Television’s “Comment on Kentucky” and main founder of the Institute, whose advisory board he chairs.

"Paul Harvey said, ‘I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist,’ and can assure you I’ve never met a person like Al Smith, the eternal optimist," Lexington entrepreneur Jim Host told the crowd of nearly 200. "No one in my lifetime has meant more to Kentucky, in terms of how he's communicated, than Al Smith."

"Comment" host Ferrell Wellman said, "No one has demonstrated how a rural journalist can influence a state more than Al. ... When I think of Al, the first thought that comes to me isn’t of a journalist, it’s of someone who loves life -- and that love is contagious." For Wellman's remarks as prepared for delivery, click here.

Smith's last "Comment" producer, Renee Shaw, reflected on a last visit with Smith to the town where he began his Kentucky career: "When Al walked the streets of Russellville that overcast October day, he was a rock star, but his swagger was humble and introspective. You could see the years of reflection flashing before his eyes. It was moving for me, and I realized in a new way, a more appreciative way – of the treasure Al is to Kentucky. A man dedicated to his craft in all its incarnations; to telling the truth and putting up a fight for it; and guiding generations of Kentucky journalists and public servants." For the rest of Shaw's speech, click here.

David Holwerk, a frequent "Comment" panelist as editorial-page editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and now communications director for the Kettering Foundation, said Smith is known for talking a lot, but "Talking and listening, the gift of conversation, is always at the heart of Al’s work as a journalist. ... Inspiring, provoking and providing occasions for conversations like that is the job that Al Smith has assigned himself in this state. For more than 40 years, Al has been finding ways to get Kentuckians to talk and to listen to each other – to engage in the kind of conversations that will inform them before they act to deal with shared problems. He has done this while working as a journalist, but it sells Al short, I think, to call him just a journalist, or even a community journalist. That is not his true calling, nor really why we honor him tonight as the first recipient of the award that bears his name. We honor him for his dedication to a higher and more important role in the public life of this state and its communities." For Holwerk's remarks, click here.

In accepting the award, Smith said community journalism is "the canary in the mineshaft, the signal that things are wrong at the roots of our society, that air has gone stale and democracy is smothered." He said the Institute "turned on as the big city papers were turning off – closing their rural bureaus, firing reporters, and killing their state pages, all while claiming nothing was lost. Yeah, yeah, nothing lost but the news, the signals between city and countryside. If the canary dies, who would know it? Sixty million rural Americans, only 2 percent of whom are farmers, are really too important to be blacked out by modern media from the real world of the 21st Century." For his prepared remarks, which were about the last third of his speech, click here.

Smith is the first recipient of the award because he is a great example of public service through community journalism. His six weekly newspapers helped bring about school consolidation, new public libraries and community arts programs; create thousands of jobs; and keep rural hospitals open and independent. But unlike most weekly editors and publishers, he went beyond the county lines to play a major role in the public life of his state and region. For more on the award and Smith, click here. To download an 18 MB PowerPoint presentation on his career in journalism and public service go here.

June 1, 2011

Reporters share award for historic preservation

Three reporters for a thrice-weekly newspaper and a local preservationist have won a service award from a Kentucky foundation dedicated to historic preservation. The award from the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation went to Donna Horn-Taylor of Corbin for her efforts to save a historic home that was to be demolished for a new courthouse in London, and to the reporters for The Sentinel-Echo of London for their coverage of the issue.

The newspaper reports, "Staff members recognized during the ceremony were Staff Writer Nita Johnson, former editor Julie Nelson-Harris and former reporter Tara Kaprowy." Johnson said, “Our newspaper tries to reflect the events in the community and the support to save the Pennington House was a community concern.” (Read more)

May 23, 2011

Joplin staffers lose homes but get paper out, start Facebook page for survivors, seek volunteer aid

UPDATE, June 7: The fund for Globe employees has reached $40,000, Joe Pompeo reports on The Cutline for Yahoo! News.

Some employees of the Joplin Globe who lost their homes in the deadliest U.S. Tornado in 58 years yesterday reported to work to remake and get out the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper, publisher Michael Beatty said in a story by CNHI News Service.

Of the paper's 117 employees, 26 "took heavy damage to their homes or lost them completely," the story said. "It was amazing," Beatty said. "Their focus was just to get the news out for the people, in print and online, so that they would have the information they needed about where to go and what to do." To see the paper's front page, click here.

At least 20 of the paper's workers lost their homes, and employees from CNHI's headquarters in Birmingham, are heading to Joplin to help out, reports News & Tech, quoting Keith Ponder, CNHI's senior vice president and Sun Belt Division manager: "The Globe team has done exemplary work under difficult circumstances. In spite of their own losses, several of these amazing people were at The Globe contributing to producing this morning's edition and working to provide vital information to the Joplin community in this difficult time." (Read more) The Missouri Press Association has established a fund for the employees affected by the tornado; information is here, and here is the site to make a tax-deductible contribution.

UPDATE, May 24: The Globe "established a Facebook page to link tornado survivors with their family members and friends," Adam Hochberg of the Poynter Institute reports. "The page encouraged Joplin residents to post a note if they made it through the tornado safely, and it allowed other people to post inquiries about friends and family members they haven’t been able to contact." At least four similar pages have appeared, and "Some emergency management experts warn that the hastily created sites can also foster confusion, especially when so many spring up around the same disaster," Hochberg reports. His colleague Julie Moos wrote about Globe reporter Jeff Lehr's experiences with the storm, including his interview on NBC Nightly News. Ziva Branstetter of the Tulsa World has a story about the use of social media.

May 21, 2011

Newspaper calls out U.S. Chamber of Commerce for misrepresenting its material in political ad

It has become common for political commercials to attribute their assertions to newspapers, to enhance the ads' often questionable credibility. That was once limited to newspapers' editorial commentary and reporting of verified facts, but now the ad makers are using such attributions to lend credence to candidates' own assertions that the newsapers report, or just making it up. Newspapers should object to these tactics, and the Tonawanda News in New York did just that this week, with what Politico calls "a double-barreled rebuttal."

The paper published an editorial and a news story, the latter done by its sister paper, the Niagra Gazette, "in order to provide a greater measure of objectivity in its reporting," the News said in an editor's note atop the story by Rick Pfeiffer of Greater Niagra Newspapers. The News objected to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad for Jane Corwin, a candidate in next week's special congressional election, that attributed the headline “Corwin: End harmful regulations” to the News. "It’s that sourcing the News objects to," Burgess Everett of Politico writes.

“There was nothing ever written by the Tonawanda News that would have supported those claims,” News Managing Editor Eric DuVall told Pfeiffer, who reports that the story that appeared on the date mentioned in the commercial "featured none of the claims or quotes contained in the TV ad." He notes that the Chamber did likewise with other papers: "The snippets of text that are featured so prominently in the ad appear to be taken from the editorial or opinion pages of newspapers ranging from the Daily News to the Tonawanda News."

The News editorial, headlined "Chamber ad a shameful misdirection," said, "The advertisement they produced is a blatant attempt to legitimize her flagging campaign by implying that her policy positions are endorsed by this newspaper, when in reality they are not." (Read more)

May 14, 2011

Rural journalists note the death of bin Laden; at least one points out hatred at home

Many rural weekly newspapers abandoned their local-only policy last week to give notice to the killing of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Some did front-page stories with local reaction; the Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., gave it no notice on the front, but filled an inside page with the names of all the victims of the 9/11/01 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, overprinted with a gray image of bin Laden and a quote from President Obama. (Click on image for larger version)

Some rural weeklies ran commentary about the end of the hunt for bin Laden. We especially liked one that appeared this week, in The Woodford Sun of Versailles, Ky., by occasional columnist Susan Dunlap. She wrote that Bin Laden was "the Boogeyman" to her daughter, who turned 16 on 9/11. Then she turned to a local concern, writing: "Is there an enemy -- a boogeyman or boogeywoman, if you will -- of local threat? A look through the police reports published in last week's Sun prompts me to answer yes. According to an account, someone left a dead raccoon covered in fecal matter on the steps of St. Paul's A.M.E. Church in Versailles. A more colloquial way of stating what happened: A dead 'coon' covered in s#*% was left on the steps of a church traditionally attended by blacks." Dunlap said the news should have been on the front page. "At the least, it's the sort of news that ought to make us sit up and take notice. . . . In a world that has shifted its concerns toward an anti-Muslim bias, what happened at St. Paul's is a reminder that it's too early, at least in our county, to declare. the war against prejudice against African-Americans a finished effort." She went on to shame the perpetrator, writing, "What happened on Douglas Street is proof that there is a boogeyman among us."

The Sun does not put articles online, but we have scanned the column so you can read it here.

May 11, 2011

Rural journalism wins Sigma Delta Chi Awards

The 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for non-deadline reporting by smaller newspapers went to an extetsive series on "The Rural Health Care Gap" by David Wahlberg in the Wisconsin State Journal (circulation 50,000 to 100,000) and Paula Horton of the Tri-City Herald in southern Washington (under 50,000) for a two-part series on domestic violence. The Forecaster, a weekly newspaper in Maine, won the non-daily investigative reporting award for reporting on use of restraints on children in public schools, and The Times of Gainesville, Ga., won the small-daily award for public-service journalism for a series on the Chattahoochee River, above. The awards were announced today by the Society of Professional Journalists, formerly Sigma Delta Chi.

Wahlberg began his first story: "Throughout rural Wisconsin, clinics are struggling to find doctors. Hospitals are dropping nursing homes and doing away with delivering babies. Pharmacies are closing." The newspaper added in a graphic, "Good, consistent health care is hard to come by all across rural America. The consequences can be devastating." The series can be a road map for reporting on rural health in any state, and SPJ has made PDFs of all the pages available here.

The Washington series was prompted by "the recent deaths of two young women, allegedly at the hands of their ex-boyfriends, within two weeks of each other," Horton wrote. The series included short biographies and photos of domestic-violence victims in the Pasco-Kennewick-Richland region. The PDFs are here.

The restraints investigated by The Forecaster's Emily Parkhurst are defined as therapeutic, but have caused injuries to children. The story is available in online segments; links appear after the award's listing on an SPJ web page, here.

The public-service award to The Times came not long after the paper was embarassed by the failure to report its editor's drunk-driving arrest. Ashley Fielding and Sara Guevara did the series on the Chattahoochee, which can be read here.

The award for investigative reporting by daily newspapers of less than 50,000 circulation went to the St. Cloud Times for "Gambling on Growth," a series by Britt Johnsen and Kirsti Mahron on "the public cost of Central Minnesota's housing boom and bust." The public cost? "Government leaders who borrowed money to build utilities and roads that go nowhere are trying to figure out how to pay the bill," the paper said. Its pages are here.

The awards for feature reporting in dailies of less than 50,000 circulation went to Daniel Person and Michael Gibney of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, for a four-part series on the return of the gray wolf to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The PDFs are here.

Mike Tyree and David Miller of Northern Michigan's Traverse City Record-Eagle won the award for editorial writing in small dailies, for editorials about police misconduct. The PDFs are here. Jim Kenyon of the Valley News in Lebanon, N.H. (and White River Junction, Vt.) won the award for general column writing in small dailies. His work is here.

WCHS Radio in Charleston, W.Va., won a breaking-news award for small-market stations for its initial coverage of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. The small-market award for public service in television journalism went to Rhonda McBride, Jonathan Hartford and Amy Modig of KTUU-TV in Anchorage for "Pandora's Bottle," about the effects of alcohol on the unborn.

You might say there was another rural winner, in a newspaper that is rarely thought of as rural but probably has the best rural coverage of any American paper, because it devotes staff and space to it. Dan Barry of The New York Times won the big-paper award for column writing, for "This Land," a column that often visits rural places. Only one of the columns he entered was rural, but we note the award in order to recognize the good work that he does.

April 22, 2011

Louisiana weekly reporter was Pulitzer finalist

One year after Daniel Gilbert and the Bristol Herald Courier were honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, another rural journalist has been recognized by the Pulitzer board: Stanley Nelson, right, who has been working on an ongoing series about the murder of a black businessman during the civil rights era for the weekly Concordia Sentinel in Louisiana. He was announced as a finalist for the Pulitzer for local reporting when the award winners were announced this week.

Nelson's reporting identified Arthur Leonard Spencer as the person who killed Frank Morris, a well-liked black businessman in Concordia County (wearing cap in photo). You can see an index of Nelson's work here and our previous item about the package here. For the Pulitzer release, go here.

April 18, 2011

Rural-newspaper correspondent details Ky. corrections reform that still worries local jails

Ronnie EllisIn the latest example of bipartisan cooperation on corrections issues at the state level, fostered by the Pew Center on the States, Kentucky lawmakers agreed last month to overhaul the state's sentencing system and save an estimated $420 million over the next decade. Ronnie Ellis, right, statehouse reporter for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., detailed the process for readers of The Crime Report in a story published today.

The state's prison population grew 80 percent from 1997 to 2009 and the corrections budget grew from $30 million in 1980 to $470 million in 2010 even as lawmakers cut $1.8 billion from the overall budget. "At every opportunity, they stiffened sentences and added offenses to the state’s penal code," Ellis writes. They nearly bankrupted the state." As part of the reform, lawmakers "overhauled the state’s drug laws, as well as its sentencing, probation and parole system" which is expected to lower prison populations and expand drug treatment.

Rural counties had skin in the game. "Jails were bleeding county budgets dry, but counties feared the task force would recommend changing low-level felonies to misdemeanors, thus shifting inmates and additional costs to them," Ellis writes. A bipartisan task force representing all three branches of government held public meetings and conducted research about prison reforms that had worked in other states. "It was abundantly clear that they were going to do something," Chris Cohron, a prosecutor and past president of the Commonwealth Attorneys Association, said. "If we didn’t participate in the process we’d be stuck with whatever they came up with."

The bill received rare bipartisan support in the legislature. Republican Senate President David Williams, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, supported the package, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Jensen said he would resign his the post if he couldn't convince colleagues to pass the bill. "House Democrats concluded they could comfortably support the bill without having the Republican Senate exploit their votes for political advantage," Ellis writes. The relationship between the task-force chairmen, Jensen and Democratic Rep. John Tilley, was also crucial. "They were from two different parties, from two separate parts of the state, but their perseverance caused all of us to lay down our differences for the greater good," Chief Justice John Minton said. (Read more)

April 11, 2011

Minn. news site follows rural youth in college

Kelly Schoenfelder A news website has launched a project that follows several rural youth such as Kelly Schoenfelder, right, on their path to higher education and explores the impact their choices have on the future of Minnesota. "Every conversation I've had with a young person in rural Minnesota eventually gets around to the question of staying or leaving – for college or forever," Jeff Severns Guntzel of the Minnesota Post reports as part of the "Rural Minnesota: A Generation at the Crossroads" project.

Tasha Cary, 19 of Hibbing, is attending Hibbing Community College and plans to transfer to North Dakota State University in Fargo. She says she is not sure if she will return to Hibbing, but she "knows she feels more comfortable in a small community," Guntzel writes. She notes "I like small town life. I just like that you don't have to really be going all the time." Matthew Sullivan, 19, and plans to move to Minneapolis instead of remaining in Hibbing. "I'm definitely not coming back. I like things going on. I like culture; I like theater; I like technology," he told Guntzel. (Read more)

You can follow the Rural Minnesota project here or on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. The project is funded by a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation.

April 5, 2011

Six added to Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame

Bill Bartleman Bill Bartleman, left, was The Paducah Sun's main government-and-politics reporter for 35 years, but the stories he enjoyed doing most for the 25,000-circulation newspaper were "stories about average people in the community," he said today as he joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. He said L.J. Hortin, a journalism professor at Murray State University, reminded students that everything they wrote was important to someone, so "It doesn't matter what you write about," Bartleman said. "It's probably going into somebody's scrapbook."

Robert Carter Bartleman was one of six inductees this year. Others from rural journalism were Robert Carter, right, former publisher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, who was instrumental in passing a state open-records law as president of the Kentucky Press Association; and the late Al Dix, who was publisher of The State Journal in the capital of Frankfort, population 25,000. Dix, below, "kept news columns fair, held officials and institutions accountable, and gave free rein to editors and editorial writers," his plaque biography says. "Confidant of state officials and community leaders, but also a reporter’s publisher."

Al Dix Other inductees were Jackie Hays Bickel, a Paris, Tenn., native and longtime Louisville TV anchor who got her start at Murray State and Paducah; Ed Shadburne of Louisville, former broadcast executive in that city, Nashville and several small towns; and Tom Loftus, longtime Frankfort bureau chief for The Courier-Journal of Louisville. The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the alumni association of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. To download a PDF of the biographies on the inductees' plaques, click here.

April 3, 2011

Daily Yonder offers original rural journalism

Our friends at the Daily Yonder got a nice write-up recently from the folks at Columbia Journalism Review, in The News Frontier Database. "The Daily Yonder began in 2007, primarily as a response to a nationwide reduction in news delivery for rural communities," Chris Benz wrote. "Daily Yonder contributors are often simply rural Americans willing to put pen to paper," and the Yonder allows rural newspapers to reprint its stories without charge.

Bill Bishop The Yonder and we are first cousins, meaning we have the same "grandparents," a cadre of people concerned about rural issues and how they are addressed in national, regional and local news media. The Rural Blog started in 2004 at the suggestion of Bill Bishop, left, a Kentucky native, Texas journalist and adviser to the freshly founded Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. In 2007 Bill and his wife, Julie Ardery, started the Yonder for the Center for Rural Strategies.

The Yonder emphasizes original journalism and is aimed at a general audience, while The Rural Blog is an aggregator designed to bring story ideas, sources and approaches to rural journalists, and sometimes those stories come from the Yonder. We both deal in "analysis of national government news from a rural perspective," as Benz puts it, and we both steer clear of ideological agendas.

“We try to get local stories that tell a national story,” Bill told CJR. “Online journalism is fragmented and plays to its crowd. We wanted a place where people weren’t separated by ideology or geography.” (Read more)

Gish Award winner says her investigation of sheriff was based largely on records requests

Samantha Swindler The investigation that largely won Samantha Swindler, right, the 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues was based largely on a simple fundamental of reporting: requests for public records, Swindler said this weekend in "On the Media," the public-radio series about journalism and the news business. "A lot of it was through open-records reqiuests, and we had to fight for every single one of them," Swindler, the publisher of the weekly Tillamook Headlight-Herald on the Oregon coast, told interviewer Brooke Gladstone.

Swindler was managing editor of the 6,000-circulation daily Times Tribune in Corbin, Ky., when she heard a sportswriter joke about gun sales at the back door of the barber shop owned by then-Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge. When the paper filed a request for the sheriff's evidence logs and he mounted an aggressive defense, forcing the paper to appeal to the state attorney general, "I realized there was something a lot bigger going on," Swindler said. "When we finally got a chance to view the evidence logs, I saw that there were months where there was nothing logged." The sheriff said "we just flush" drugs, but state police said he can't do that.

When the paper filed a records request about 18 seized guns, the sheriff announced that his office had been broken into and 78 guns, drug evidence and paperwork were taken, "When that happened, I realized we were really onto something," Swindler said. "I knew we were on to something before, but then I knew, 'Oh my gosh, it's this bad: He staged a break-in of the sheriff's office.' I'm absolutely concinved that is what has happened." She said that was borne out by a recently filed affadavit from a federal agent describing how drug dealers helped Hodge dispose of guns. He has been indicted.

To listen to the 6½-minute interview with Swindler, or get a transcript, click here. To read more details of her investigation and the Gish Award, go here. Her article about the investigation, and her reflections on rural journalism, in the latest Nieman Reports from Harvard University, is here. UPDATE, April 6: Greg Masters of American Journalism Review reports on Swindler's work.

March 22, 2011

Rural paper delivers bad census news frankly

How does a community newspaper deliver bad news about the community as a whole? Straight from the shoulder, not mincing words and getting responsible reaction from knowledgeable sources. That's what Jeff Noble, editor of the Times-Voice in Jackson, Ky., did when he found that Breathitt County had the largest percentage population loss in 2000-2010 of any county in the state, 13.8 percent.

Wikipedia map of Kentucky(Wikipedia map) "The 2010 Census figures are out, and they weren't kind to Breathitt County," Noble wrote. "Many say the lack of jobs here, and a better quality of life in the Bluegrass region, are the real reason for the population decline."

As commentary on covering this topic, this blog item is too late for most places, since almost all states have received their preliminary census figures, but Noble's story takes a good approach and also illustrates an all-too-familiar rural trend: Most young people who leave rural areas to attend college don't come back. The Times-Voice has no website, so we have posted the story on the website of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, here.

March 19, 2011

Oregon reporter wins big community-journalism award; Gish Award winner Swindler a runner-up

>Tracy Loew Tracy Loew of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., is the winner of the $10,000 prize for community journalism in the National Journalism Awards sponsored by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

Loew and the 38,000-circulation Gannett Co. newspaper won for a 16-month investigation of widespread mismanagement during the past 10 years in the Willamette Education Service District, which serves rural and suburban schools south and west of Portland. "WESD's Web of Deals" had already "won the top investigative reporting prize for small newspaper markets in the Education Writers Association contest," the Statesman Journal reports.

Runners-up were Will Doolittle of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., for "Showdown at Black Brook," an examination of conflicts between landowners and the Adirondack Park Agency, which earlier won the New York State Associated Press Association's first-place award in depth reporting; and Samantha Swindler and Adam Sulfridge of The Times-Tribune, circulation 6,000, in Corbin, Ky., for their investigation of a sheriff who was later indicted.

Samantha Swindler Swindler, right, is the winner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues' 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism. She now publishes weekly newspapers in, of all places, Oregon -- in Tillamook, 75 miles from Salem. The institute, which publishes The Rural Blog, is the repository for entries in the Community Journalism category of the National Journalism Awards.

Another Gannett newspaper that has a significant rural audience, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, won the First Amendment category of the National Journalism Awards "for its aggressive editorial stance that made open government a paramount issue in the 2010 elections and spurred reforms," Scripps said in its news release about the awards. The paper (32,000 circulation, 42,000 Sunday) beat out finalists from much larger papers, the St. Petersburg Times and The Washington Post.

March 15, 2011

Two newspapers serving rural readers are among 10 recognized for digital innovations

A rural newspaper in Connecticut and another one serving rural communities in California made this year's list of "10 Newspapers that Do It Right" from Editor & Publisher magazine.

Appeal-Democrat The Register Citizen of Torrington, Conn., pop. 35,000, won recognition for tearing down the walls between its newsroom and the public with the Newsroom Cafe, where folks sip coffee, munch pastry, use wi-fi, talk with staffers, comment on just-published stories and suggest others. "The public is even invited to daily story meetings, which are streamed over the Internet with live chat," report Kristina Ackermann and Deena Higgs Nenad.

"It has generated a slew of story ideas and has even convinced a stingy advertiser to buy digital space for the first time," E&P reports, citing Publisher Matt DeRienzo, who told the magazine: "It's like social media. It peels back the curtain like the Wizard (of Oz) ... the great and powerful newspaper how it used to be." Well, actually, Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizard, but we get the point.

The 8,000-circulatiion daily is owned by Journal Register Co., which emerged from bankruptcy with a new motto, "Digital First," and a goal of $40 million profit in 2010. "You hit more than $41M," CEO John Paton told employees in his Digital First blog, announcing that all would get an extra week's pay. "Not bad for a bankrupt, beat-up, old newspaper company people had written off as dead in 2009. But we didn’t write ourselves off. We picked ourselves up and got working. We learned to harness both cloud and crowd. Using new tools and working the new news ecology we produced new digital products and revenue streams AND reduced costs. We focused on what we do best and linked to the rest."

Register Citizen E&P also recognized The Appeal-Democrat of Marysville and Yuba City, Calif. The cities have a combined population of 72,000, and Yuba and Sutter counties 162,000, but are the hub of farm country and Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento. Last year the Freedom Communications paper went big on multimedia, started using QR codes, "bar-type codes that enable smartphone users to link content, enter online contests, and view photos," and teamed with the two cities' chambers of commerce "to produce nearly a dozen political forums during the primary and general elections last year," E&P reports. "Employees, including the editor, lugged the necessary equipment to various locations so they could do live webcasts and live blogging. Total video views and visits to the Appeal-Democrat website exceeded 15,000 in a month." (Read more)

March 14, 2011

Rural reporter gives school district some advice about public relations, or public information

Some rural school administrators who already have plenty of responsibilities sometimes spend too much time worrying about the image of their school systems, which, of course, means their own image as well. That can cause problems for rural journalists, and Allison Hollon smelled that coming last month when the school board in Adair County, Kentucky, unveiled a draft public-relations plan.

Allison Hollon "I applaud you for making the effort," Hollon, left, wrote in a column, but urged officials not to adopt a policy that school-district employees go through a public-relations person before speaking to the news media. "Employees of any school district already have reservations about speaking to the media," she wrote. "I strongly believe if the school district develops a system where employees have to go through a public relations department before they can speak to me or any other media, it will increase that fear."

Hollon, who has had classes in public relations, also questioned the school superintendent's plan to have "print ready" press releases. "When I receive a press release in 'print ready' form, the first thing I do is come up with a way to change it that makes it unique to our publication," the weekly Adair County Community Voice, Hollon wrote. "Any good journalist worth their salt would do the same thing." The Voice competes with the weekly Adair Progress.

Hollon said a role model exists right there in Columbia: Lindsey Wilson College. "I can call just about anybody at LWC and have an on-the-record conversation. ... Developing a relationship with the media is more than just sending out story tips or press releases. It’s also about developing an open line of communication between the media and janitors, teachers, bus drivers and administrators." (Read more)

Hollon has it better than some. Lisa Gross, the director of the Division of Communications and Community Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education, told us in an e-mail: "I recently talked to an editor at a newspaper in Eastern Kentucky, who told me that the superintendent of the school district he covers had informed him that he’d no longer be receiving press releases or news items from the district, because the paper had reported (truthfully) on some negative issues at a local school. When I talk to school district PR folks, I remind them that their local media outlets are not there to serve as 'cheerleader' for their school systems – media can be helpful, but they should not expect to only see the good things covered and not the 'bad' things." That's good advice that rural journalists need to remember, and on occasion share with school folks.

March 12, 2011

Small-town hair salon good place for a story

Here's a story that can be done in many small towns with a longtime hair stylist, and a good example of how to do it, from Brittany Cofer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. She went up US 127 to Dunlap, population 5,200, to profile the Bouffant Salon, named for the most popular hairstyle when it opened 50 years ago.

Anne Faye Heard and Naomi Barkers "Leaning over a small table, Anna Faye Heard files down Naomi Barker’s nails. Barker, with her hair wound tightly in yellow, blue, orange and purple rollers, has visited Heard’s shop twice a week for nearly 15 years," Cofer writes, quoting Heard: "This is a modern day ‘Steel Magnolias,’ that’s what I like to say."

(TFP photo by Jenna Walker: Heard does Barker's hair) Heard, 68, was 18 when she opened the shop. Naomi Barker is my aunt, and she displayed the Miller girls' capacity for succinct wisdom when she told Cofer why she had been a Bouffant regular from her first visit: “What lady doesn’t want to get her hair done? She does what we want, and it’s a friendly atmosphere.” (Read more)

March 7, 2011

Young editor-publisher in Oregon wins Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity in rural journalism

Samantha Swindler Samantha Swindler, the publisher and editor of the weekly Headlight Herald in Tillamook, Oregon, is the winner of the 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, gives the award in honor of the couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years. Tom Gish, who died in 2008, and his wife Pat were the first recipients of the award.

Like the Gishes, Samantha Swindler is being recognized largely for her courage, integrity and tenacity in Eastern Kentucky, but also in Texas, where she began her newspaper career less than seven years ago. She has been in Oregon since July 2010.

The award will be presented to Swindler on April 1, at the spring symposium of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association in Albany, Ore.

As managing editor of the daily Times-Tribune of Corbin, Ky., circulation 6,000, Swindler spearheaded an investigation of the Whitley County sheriff that helped lead to his defeat for re-election and his subsequent indictment on 18 charges of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.

Swindler and her reporter, Adam Sulfridge, received repeated warnings about their safety as they revealed irregularities in how Sheriff Lawrence Hodge accounted for missing guns his officers had seized, problems with his alleged payments to informants, his failure to present cases against anyone arrested for felony drug violations, failure to send seized drugs to the state crime laboratory, and his officers' repeated failure to testify, resulting in dismissal of serious drug charges.

“She did not let anyone scare her off the story or push her around,” said William Ketter, who worked with Swindler as senior vice president/news for Community Newspaper Holdings, which owns the Times-Tribune.

The prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that the paper's "very persistent" reporting "was a very significant influence on me."

Swindler recounts her experience in the latest edition of Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

“There is a great need for good investigative journalism in rural America,” she writes. “Young reporters tend to think they need a byline from The New York Times to make a difference in the world. If they really want to have an impact, get a job with a community paper and start asking the tough questions that no one ever asked before.”

The investigation of the sheriff was the capstone to Swindler’s four years in Corbin, in which she held local officials accountable on a wide front, revealing that the county was improperly using a tourism tax to fund an airport and that city officials spent $20,000 on tickets to a country-music concert for city employees and their friends.

When Swindler was managing editor of the Jacksonville (Tex.) Daily Progress, the paper won a Freedom of Information Award from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors for coverage of city police corruption. The city manager was fired after Swindler, then a reporter, found he was illegally burning condemned houses.

A native of Metairie, La., Swindler is a 2002 graduate in communication from Boston University.

“She makes a wonderful example for the rest of us,” said Ben Gish, editor of The Mountain Eagle, son of the couple for whom the award is named and a member of the award selection committee.

“If in the past decade there's been any other journalist in America, rural or city, who has demonstrated the level of tenacity, courage and integrity Swindler did with that series, then I'd like to meet them,” Gish said. “Unless they were able to walk in her shoes, it would be impossible for a reporter/editor at a large metropolitan daily to understand the danger Swindler faced while letting Whitley County know its top law enforcement officer was a crook.”

Ketter said, “Never has there been a greater need for perceptive, courageous reporting in smaller communities as big city papers reduce their resources and reach across rural America. That’s why it is so important that journalists such as Samantha Swindler stand their ground, however fraught with risks, as the people’s surrogate, holding public officials accountable.”

The Gish Award has a criterion of tenacity “because our craft has had many courageous rural journalists whose achievements have been meteoric, ending in burnout,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “It’s very difficult to show courage over a long period, as Tom and Pat did. So, I never really anticipated that the award might go to someone who hasn’t turned 30. But in her short career, Samantha Swindler has demonstrated the tenacity, courage and integrity that we had in mind when we created the award.”

Besides Tom and Pat Gish, other winners of the award have been the Ezzell family, publishers of The Canadian (Tex.) Record, in 2007; and former publisher Stanley Dearman and Publisher Jim Prince of The Neshoba Democrat of Philadelphia, Miss., in 2008. No award was presented for 2009. Nominations for the 2011 award are welcome at any time before Sept. 1, 2011.

March 4, 2011

Urban paper does series on historical farms

Meadows family In a good example of rural coverage by a smaller newspaper in a tri-state metropolitan area, an Eastern Kentucky daily is publishing a series of local farm profiles. Carrie Stambaugh, writing for The Independent of Ashland, most recently profiled the Meadows family, right, of Oldtown, Ky. Stambaugh recounts the history of the Meadows' farm, which dates back to 1911, before examining the current operation.

“I had a good childhood right here on this ground," Mildred Meadows Claxon, 84, told Stambaugh. "I never had to move. I was born here, raised here. I went to school about a mile up the road. Never had to move like other kids did." Grandson Jared Stephens, who owns the farm with his wife, has adapted the family's history into two novels, which he hopes will help preserve a simpler way of life he fears is disappearing from the U.S. "There are still people who appreciate the importance of a simple life," he told Stambaugh. (Read more)

You can see the entire farm series via Stambaugh's personal website here.

Feb. 25, 2011

McClatchy reporter honored for covering North Carolina issues in Washington

Barbara Barrett Barbara Barrett, the Washington correspondent for the McClatchy Co. newspapers in North Caolina, The Charlotte Observer and the News and Observer of Raleigh, has been named Washington's top regional reporter by the Washington Press Club Foundation.

Barrett, who began working for the News and Observer in 1998, was honored for a series of stories about North Carolina issues, including one about Sen. Richard Burr bringing Senate committee work to a standstill last year during the health-care debate and another about how a Warren County textile mill had benefited from tariff exemptions, the News and Observer reports.

Feb. 24, 2011

Sioux Falls paper's project on Native Americans wins Taylor Family Award for newspaper fairness

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., circulation 36,000, is the winner of the 2010 Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers, beating out much bigger finalists, The Washington Post and The Sacramento Bee. UPDATE, March 28: The series placed second among papers with circulations up to 75,000 in the National Headliner Awards.

The Gannett Co. paper's entry was “Growing Up Indian,” an eight-part series that examined "the daunting challenges faced by children on South Dakota’s Native American reservations," the award announcement said. "The project was designed to raise public consciousness about what it is like to be a child on a reservation and show how that experience is both different and significantly more difficult than for many other children living in America today." (Photo of Neleigh Driving Hawk, 3, on the Lower Brule Reservation)

Neleigh Driving Hawk

Reporter Steve Young and photographer and multimedia producer Devin Wagner did the project under direction of Managing Editor Patrick Lalley, project designer and Metro Editor Jim Helland and Multimedia Manager Jim Cheesman. They will receive the award and its $10,000 prize March 10 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. The award was established through gifts from the Taylor family, which published The Boston Globe from 1872 to 1999, to encourage fairness in news coverage by America’s daily newspapers. (Read more)

Jan. 22, 2011

Recently retired rural reporters, w/80 years total experience, win Ky. community service award

Tonight, two longtime rural reporters who recently retired were presented a Kentucky Press Association award that usually goes to publishers. Bill Bartleman of Paducah and Herb Brock of Danville won the Lewis Owens Community Service Award, named for a Lexington Herald-Leader publisher who exemplified community service by a newspaper employee.

Bill BartlemanBartleman, left, retired recently from The Paducah Sun after 39 years at the Paxton Media Group's hometown newspaper. He was Kentucky's longest-running legislative reporter, covering 34 sessions, and made a point to keep track of statewide politicians' visits to West Kentucky, a largely rural region that is closer to other states than the bulk of Kentucky and often feels left out. ("West Kentucky" is the term of choice in far Western Kentucky.) He has been active in community and church activities.

Herb BrockBrock, right, worked at The Advocate-Messenger before it was bought in the late 1970s by Schurz Communications of South Bend, Ind., and five years before that at the Cynthiana Democrat. He was a very versatile reporter and columnist, and helped start a regular political speaking in Danville for statewide candidates. But in presenting the award, Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said Brock's proudest moment in his 36 years at the Danville paper may have been when his son David joined the small daily's staff two years ago.

Jan. 13, 2011

Small-town Louisiana reporter digs into brutal, racially tinged murder; N.Y. Times follows up

Mapquest map

A 46-year-old murder case has gotten new scrutiny by the 4,000-circulation weekly newspaper in Ferriday, La., drawing the attention of The New York Times. Stanley Nelson, reporting for the Concordia Sentinel, identified Arthur Leonard Spencer (Sentinel web page image) as the person who killed Frank Morris, a well-liked black businessman in Concordia County (wearing cap above; Mapquest image below)

A suscpect revealed Three people told Nelson that Spencer was part of a Ku Klux Klan hit squad assigned to ride into Ferriday to burn Morris' shoe shop during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964, writes Nelson. Morris lived four days after the fire. "Only the bottom of his feet weren't burned," the Rev. Robert Lee Jr. of Clayton, age 96, who visited Morris in the hospital, told Nelson. "He was horrible to look at." During the four days he was hospitalized, Morris was interviewed by the FBI, Ferriday police and fire department officials. A number of friends who visited Morris in the hospital prior to his death were convinced Morris knew his killers. They said he called them "two white friends."

Leonard Spencer, 71, told reporter Nelson that he did not know anything about the crime and denied he participated in it. Spencer said he made the same denial to two FBI agents about 30 to 40 days ago. His son, William "Boo" Spencer, said Leonard Spencer and other men were surprised to find Morris in his shop that morning. "My dad said they could hear a stirring in the place, then a man came out," said Boo Spencer, 41. Boo Spencer said his father told him the man in the shop, Morris, "was doused with gasoline and started to run." Leonard Spencer's former brother-in-law, Bill Frasier, told Nelson that Spencer confessed to arson and claimed Morris' death was unintentional. The third person to tell a similar version of events was Leonard Spencer's ex-wife, Brenda Rhodes.

Transcripts of recorded FBI interviews with Morris when he was hospitalized following the arson, which the Sentinel obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, indicated Morris never told authorities he knew the men who set his shop on fire. In a morphine-induced consciousness, on at least 12 occasions during those interviews, Morris denied knowing who the men were. The FBI investigated the murder twice in the 1960s, and a third time in 2007. (Read more) (Index of stories on investigation)

Kim Severson, writing for the Times, writes that Rosa Williams, granddaughter of Frank Morris, "moved Mr. Nelson to dedicate himself to this and the other cold cases. ... From that moment on, Mr. Nelson has reported on little else," writes Severson. He was motivated by the curiosity of a newsman. Nelson, 55, told Severson: "What kind of human being could set another man on fire? ... I was just curious about something that happened in our community that I never knew about. I just wanted to find out who did it." (Read more)

Dec. 21, 2010

L.A. Chapter of SPJ names editor of small Calif. daily one of year's five distinguished journalists

The editor of a small daily newspaper in the northern, rural section of Los Angeles County has been named one of five distinguished journalists to be honored by the Los Angeles Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in March.

Dennis Anderson Dennis Anderson, right, became editor of the Antelope Valley Press , the only family-owned independent daily newspaper in Los Angeles County, in 1999. Since then, the newspaper has earned six general excellence rankings from the National Newspaper Association, one from Suburban Newspapers of America and a first place Freedom of Information award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Anderson came to the paper after 18 years with wire services in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. In 2004, SNA and the American Press Institute named Anderson Journalist of the Year for his articles, written while embedded with the California National Guard in Iraq, about local citizen soldiers. Anderson and his son, Garrett, a Marine who was in the second battle of Fallujah, are writing a book about Marine Corps casualties from World War I to Iraq. (Read more)

Dec. 13, 2010

Newspaper series tells the stories of rural residents who are 'full of charisma and verve'

Inspired by a multimedia series from The New York Times, a rural Washington newspaper has launched its own multimedia series to highlight the often unsung residents of its community. The project, "Voices from the Walla Walla Valley," was designed by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and includes a story and slideshow about each Walla Walla resident profiled. "Last year, I fell in love with a New York Times multimedia series called 'One in 8 Million,'" Katrina Barlow of the Union-Bulletin explains on the project Web site. "Each weekly episode featured an everyday New Yorker, who shared something about his or her occupation or lifestyle. I realized that characters like those New Yorkers, who were so full of charisma and verve, lived in rural areas."

"The Walla Walla Valley is full of people who have remarkable stories," Barlow writes. "This is our attempt to highlight these untold stories." The project, which includes an episode every Sunday, will feature both longtime and new residents of the valley. A summary of each episode is included in Sunday print edition of the Union-Bulletin with the full story and video appearing on the newspaper's Web site. You can view the first three episodes of the series here or read more about the project from its founders here.

Dec. 9, 2010

Editor and one of five grant-funded reporters in Ark. promote community journalism at Ark. State

Write for Arkansas, a grant-funded program to place an additional reporter at five community newspapers in the state, has as a secondary goal to raise awareness of the need for trained, professional journalists to cover local issues. "To that end, Write for Arkansas reporter Sarah Morris of the Stuttgart Daily Leader and her editor, Lesley Valadez, traveled to Arkansas State University last month to speak to first-year journalism students about the field of community journalism," The Arkansas Publisher Weekly reports today.

Morris said their main message was “Journalism is still alive and the need for community reporting is still there.” She and Valadez gave students advice on advancing their careers in journalism. “We talked about how internships and multimedia skills were also important in grabbing the jobs,” Morris said.

Reporters in the program "plan to seek additional opportunities to reach out to student journalists and encourage a future generation of community reporters," the story reports. In addition to the Leader, the program has funded reporters at the Texarkana Gazette, The Courier of Russellville, Areawide Media of Salem and the Madison County Record. The program was started by the Arkansas Community Foundation and has a $252,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Nov. 24, 2010

Small-market news outlets win awards for statehouse reporting from CapitolBeat group

> The Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, also known as CapitolBeat, announced its 2010 Cappie winners. The awards are given annually to journalists who cover state houses across the U.S. The winners in the small newspaper group (under 75,000), by category, with links (provided by CapitolBeat) to winning stories, if available:

1. Dan Weist, The Standard-Examiner(Ogden, Utah)
2. Sean Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News (Alaska)
3. Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World (Kansas)
1. Ben Jones, Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wis.)
1. Bernard Schoenburg, State Journal-Register(Springfield, Ill.)
2. Marc Kovac, Youngstown Vindicator (Ohio)

Nov. 23, 2010

Rural weekly newspaper keeps up the pressure on officials to deliver fast Internet service

Sometimes we wonder if rural weekly newspapers are all that interested in bringing broadband to their communities, because newspapers are in competition for readers' time and the coming of broadband brings compelling competition such as video, the fastest growing form of Internet content. But we also believe that rural communities cannot afford to lag behind in the availability and adoption of broadband, and that newspapers should push for broadband access as a fundamental factor in a community's economic development and its quality of life.

One newspaper that has done a bang-up job on broadband is the Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., which published a major package of stories and commentary on the need for faster Internet service in 2007. In an editorial this month, the paper said that "despite the best efforts" of the top county official and the county's two state legislators, the county still lacks broadband and is "losing the race toward the future" even though Kentucky leads the nation in funding from the Broadband Inititatives Program of the Department of Agriculture.

The editorial points fingers at the main local phone company, AT&T, and federal policy. "Some experts have complained that one large flaw in President Obama's rural broadband plan is that large companies like AT&T have not sought out the broadband funding since it wouldn't be enough of a profit center." The editorial suggests a stronger federal role, much like the one that brought electricity to rural areas during the Great Depression: "Why don't we have a government that provides the service at a low cost and gives some honest competition to the telephone and cable providers?" It calls on readers to "discuss this with every elected official you know, and let's take our being left off a very large money list as a call to action." (Read more)

Here's the Standard's 2007 package. Click on the images for larger versions.
Standard's 2007 package Standard's 2007 package Standard's 2007 package

Some rural publishers moonlight to keep papers going; some papers have a staff of one

We don't know of anyone who compiles data on the demise of rural weekly newspapers, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them are in the rural Midwest, particularly the Great Plains, where most counties have been losing population in recent decades. That includes much of Oklahoma, where Clinton Daily News Publisher Rod Serfoss wrote on the topic after becoming president of the Oklahoma Press Association.

"Call it lack of jobs, lack of trees, lack of rain, better birth control or the lack of sex, but the fact is that many rural communities in Oklahoma are dwindling," Serfoss wrote in a column distributed by the National Newspaper Association. "Some day, the number of rural community newspapers will shrink, not because of the decline of the newspaper industry but rather the decline of many rural Oklahoma towns."

To keep going, some small papers have been reduced to a staff of one, and some publishers have taken up additional lines of work, Serfoss reports: "The reality is that many rural papers are a one-person operation and the . . . more and more small-town publishers are doing other jobs to help subsidize the newspaper. It is not uncommon to see the weekly newspaper being produced after the day care is closed, with a person selling an insurance policy and a classified ad at the same time or operating an antique mall in the same office as the newspaper."

Serfoss wrote that he has "seen a closed sign on a paper's office so the publisher can make an ambulance call and at one point a publisher in southwest Oklahoma cooked breakfast at his restaurant every morning, operated his flower shop during the day and then found the time and energy to put out a newspaper. . . . The small weekly publisher has been forced to become creative in finding ways to keep the news coming to his or her community. I appreciate their commitment to do so and hope their readers understand how lucky they are to have someone who is committed to report the news and preserve the history of their town." (Read more)

Nov. 22, 2010

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes three-part series on coal mining, safety and politics

Daniel Malloy and Dennis B. Roddy, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have written a three-part series on coal mining and its issues, beginning with a profile of a miner from Baileysville, W.Va. Adam Vance, 28, married his high school sweetheart, they bought a house and had a child. After a lay-off, Vance decided to look for work in mining, "The only thing really going at the time was underground. That's where I went."  Today he draws between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. Life is good, if not always safe. The work can be dirty, grueling, dark and dangerous, yet like so many others who go underground, Adam Vance finds dignity in bringing coal to the surface, write Malloy and Roddy. (Read more)

Part two is a look at how environmentalists and the coal mining industry differ, and the complexities of finding common ground. They share at least one thing, though: unease at the Obama administration's approach to mining. Friends of Coal proclaims on billboards, "Don't let Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats take away our coal jobs." Environmentalists felt that candidates in the recent W.Va. election competed "to see who could bow most majestically before the throne of King Coal." Among the differences between the two groups: cap-and-trade; environmental pollution; employment issues; activists from outside the region; reality of "clean coal." (Read more)

In the concluding third part, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is described as having a "newfound aggressiveness" in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners. The agency has targeted 111 mines with high rates of safety violations. "This has sent shock waves through the mining industry. Companies are worried they'll be the next one," beginning with Massey Energy's Freedom Mine No. 1, in Pike County, Ky. Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA official and onetime mine safety prosecutor in Kentucky, told the reporters. MSHA Inspectors "swarmed over some locations, sometimes seizing mine telephones to prevent guards from warning foremen underground about their arrival. But it was the move to shut down the Freedom Mine that was the most striking display of MSHA's newly aggressive law enforcement," according to Malloy and Roddy.  (Read more)

Nov. 11, 2010

Small Western papers win for investigative, explanatory reporting in Inland Press contest

The Inland Press Association has announced the winners of its 2010 newsroom contest. The association  contests are co-sponsored and judged by association members from university journalism faculty. The winners in the division for newspapers of less than 10,000 circulation included four in the West.

Investigative Reporting, first place, Havre Daily News in Montana, for "Online Payday Loans." Indian tribes had begun making payday loans through the Internet and the Montana attorney general had to determine what jurisdiction governed the business. A complaint had been made for withdrawing more money from a bank account than had been agreed upon in a loan, and the newspaper quoted many consumers who had had similar problems with the company. The legislature tried to regulate the payday industry, but the bills died in committee. However, in this month's election, 73 percent of Montana voters approved caps on payday-loan interest rates, reports the Great Falls Tribune.

Second place in investigative reporting wenty to the Lahontan Valley News, of Fallon, Nev., for "Money Grabbers," a story about a law that requires counties to return revenue to the Department of the Interior from geothermal production rather than keeping the money in county government coffers.

The Lahontan Valley News won third place in the Explanatory Reporting category for "A stopping point for wild horses," a series about the Bureau of Land Mangement building a pen to contain wild horses the agency captured. The story continues with BLM explaining its authority to round up horses. The series continued with a story about the treatment of the horses. In May, the county sheriff began investigating the treatment of the horses and complaints about the holding pen; a visit by the sheriff and the district attorney was described in a follow-up story.

First place in Explanatory Reporting went to Steamboat Pilot & Today of Steamboat Springs, Colo., for "House of Cards," a five-part series investigating the real-estate market and its collapse in the area. From part one: "The rising tide of affluent baby boomers was supposed to lift Steamboat Springs' vacation home market for years to come. And it did just that for the better part of a decade. But the bubble has burst, and the future of the real estate development market in Steamboat and ski towns like it might never be the same." The second part reported on the failed mortgage market; part three investigated the employment fallout; part four reported on deed-restricted mortgages and the government's role in the market; and part five profiled area residents who were able to buy into the market.

Second place in the category also went to a Colorado paper, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, for "Drug Court: Second Chances and Last Chances," a series profiling area residents who had been in the court. The first story explained a mother's experience. A family's struggle with methamphetamine was profiled, and the last story was about a meth addict and dealer.

Inland, which was called the Inland Daily Press Association until 20 years ago, has its first president from a weekly newspaper: Kathleen Ballanfant, publisher of Village News and Southwest News, in Bellaire, Texas, in metropolitan Houston. (Read more)

Nov. 9, 2010

Rural Ky. paper's use of open records and shoe leather helps lead to indictment of sheriff

Samantha SwindlerA Kentucky sheriff has been indicted by a special grand jury appointed in part because a local newspaper kept reporting on problems in the sheriff's office. Among the problems the Corbin Times-Tribune found were irregularities in how Whitley County sheriff Lawrence Hodge, right, accounted for guns his officers had seized, problems with Hodge’s alleged payments to informants, the failure to present cases against anyone arrested for felony drug violations, and officers' failure to appear in court. In one case, charges were dismissed against a Corbin man arrested for operating a methamphetamine lab near a school after sheriff’s deputies failed three times to appear before the grand jury, the paper reported.

The 6,000-circulation daily also reported that Hodge’s department failed to send seized drugs to the state crime laboratory for examination. It uncovered the information by requesting records from the lab, finding that the department had submitted drugs for testing only once during 2009, though the sheriff said he had been making arrests throughout the year. The paper also requested documents related to the seizure of 18 weapons. Hodge initially told the paper that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had seized the weapons instead of his department. Later, Hodge reported that his office had been burglarized. The paper's review of the serial numbers indicated as many as 16 of the missing guns were among those Hodge had reported stolen.

Lawrence Hodge The Times-Tribune's editor at the time, Samantha Swindler, right, told The Rural Blog: "It was a lot of work and, honestly, sometimes it was a little scary. But it is by far the most important work I've done in my career. I know resources in a newsroom can be scarce, but investigative work is essential in small towns, where the good ol' boy system still thrives. I'd just encourage editors to push their reporters to go after these types of leads. It's important. And I'm not taking about important for circulation or ad sales. It's important for society. God help me if I see a wrong in my community and think I don't have the time to right it. If I get to that point, it's time to quit the business." Swindler is now general manager of the Tillamook Headlight-Herald, on the Oregon coast west of Portland. The Times-Tribune is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.; the chain's vice president for news, Bill Ketter, told The Rural Blog that the work "illustrates what a small, rural paper can do when it holds public officials accountable and doesn't get scared off by the big, powerful sheriff."

Hodge was indicted Monday on 18 charges of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with physical evidence — all felonies, the paper reports. The grand jury said Hodge began taking money the first year he was in office. The thefts totaled about $350,000, Commonwealth's Attorney Allen Trimble said. Trimble told The Rural Blog that the paper's "very persistent" reporting "was a very significant influence on me." Without it, he said, Hodge probably would have been indicted anyway, but not before his term ends in January; he lost the primary election.

Sept. 21, 2010

Rural editor wins Ky. First Amendment Award

John NelsonJohn Nelson, editor of the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Ky., last night received the James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment, presented by the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. (A-M photo by Clay Jackson)

Nelson, who also oversees editorial operations of other Schurz Communications newspapers in Kentucky, won the award because "He has fought for open government in a number of important ways," former Kentucky Post editor Judith Clabes, the award's first winner, said in presenting it to him. She cited the nomination from Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, who wrote, “Few people in Kentucky are as adamant about open government. If more had the drive that John Nelson has exhibited during his journalism career, there would be a demand from every corner of the state that all public agencies operate in ‘sunshine’ and make the agency’s business truly the public’s business.”

As KPA president in 2004, Nelson led Kentucky's first statewide public-records audit and was instrumental in creating the KPA Legal Defense Fund and a lawsuit that KPA filed to open juvenile court proceedings. Federal courts rejected the suit's arguments, but the Court of Appeals "interpreted state law in a way it had never before been interpreted, giving judges an opening to allow the press into the courtroom at their own discretion," he said in his acceptance remarks. Nelson has also been president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Sept. 20, 2010

Three-month investigation examines meth labs in east Tenn.

Meth About one-third of all methamphetamine labs reported nationwide in 2009 were in Tennessee, and the state ranked second to Missouri in the number of reported labs. In a five-day series, the Knoxville News-Sentinel examined the problem ravaging east Tennessee, discovering despite the recent crackdown on meth in the state that meth cooks have simply adopted the "shake-and-bake" method to go around restrictions. "I've made it every way there is, and I've never bought a thing," Jason Thomas, a convicted meth cook, told Matt Lakin. "I can make it anytime I want."

The newspaper's three-month investigation reveal meth cooks have simply recruited others to buy the drug's key ingredient, psuedoephedrine, after the state moved it behind pharmacy counters. While meth abuse used to be a distinctly rural problem in Tennessee, now some cities see more cases in a month than rural areas see in a year, the News-Sentinel reports. "Roughly two-thirds of the old labs still sit empty, unused and unfit for human habitation," Lakin writes. "The state can quarantine property, but it can't force a cleanup." The investigation also revealed some labs are never quarantined, meaning homes across the state can "sit seeping poison," unknown to future residents. (Photo of two grams of meth by Brimer)

The five-day series from Lakin and Adam Brimer also examined the drugs' cost to families in the state and its toll on Tennessee's children. Ten east Tennessee counties accounted for over one-third of the 9,000-plus meth lab busts statewide in the past decade, Lakin writes, with nine of those counties being clustered just off Interstate 75. Still state law enforcement says the problem is no longer a rural one. "When all this started, everybody kept comparing it to moonshining and calling it a hillbilly drug," Tommy Farmer, director of the state meth task force, told Lakin. "But just because you don't have meth lab seizures in your area doesn't mean you don't have a meth problem. It's not moving west. It was already there. We're just doing a better job of going out and getting them."

You can read the index of the entire series here.

Sept. 17, 2010

Tenn. editor visits Ground Zero, shares the experience with his readers and takes a stand

Hickman County Times 9/11 special section Brad Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., was inspired to devote a considerable part of his 9/11/10 newspaper to the events of 9/11/01. (The paper is dated Mondays but distributed Saturdays.) His front-page centerpiece was the tale of a New Jersey couple he met while touring Ground Zero. Like many in the New York region, their 9/11 story became increasingly harrowing but ended well. Now they lead tours around the site for tourists to "experience the personal effect of it." Click for PDFs of the front page, the first jump page and the second jump.

In an editorial, Martin reflected on his visit to the neighborhood to see nearby buildings that survived (St. Paul's Church), the new construction (55 of 190 floors of the Freedom Tower) and the location of the proposed Isalmic center and mosque, two blocks away:  "By the time we'd made it around the big block, my interest in seeing where a mosque might be built had waned. Controversy? Not here. We saw no protests. ... The whole place was a peace park. I can only imagine what the crowds will be like next September. ... I know what the mood will be like. Somber. Reverent." Martin's view of the proposal? "This country was settled by people seeking religious tolerance, a pillar that was built deep into the American infrastructure. Surely we cannot move that pillar, and threaten the foundation, because of 19 people." (Read more)

Sept. 7, 2010

N.C. newspaper sparks community to rally around child welfare

Olivia Neeley What began as a normal crime beat assignment for Shelby Star reporter Olivia Neeley, right, quickly evolved into an ongoing series by the newspaper and eventually into a call for action among community members. Neeley reported on a shooting that left two people dead in Shelby, N.C., in August 2009, and produced a short online update and blurb for the next morning's print edition. Upon returning to the community the next day, Neeley was struck by the matter-of-fact tone several children  took toward the shooting. One girl, in a nonchalant tone, simply asked "Who got killed?" (Freedom Communications photo)

"I felt particularly uncomfortable at the scene (the night before), so I could only imagine how those children felt," Neeley told Freedom Communications, for a feature story on the company's Web site. "When the girl said it the way she did, very casually, I just couldn’t believe it." The question, "Who got killed?," became the headline for an ongoing series sparked by reader input regarding their shock at the problems facing children in the community. Star publisher Skip Foster appointed Neeley the lead reporter on the project, shifting her from the crime beat to covering children in peril.

"It would not be an easy task or pledge to live up to," reported Freedom. "People, including the children themselves, are reluctant to talk about abuse or neglect. Secondly, it was very important to protect the children’s identities while still giving a detailed account of those involved." The series produced a number of heart-breaking stories about local children, and after much reaction from readers, Neeley began pointing them to local charity organizations. A group of local community leaders announced an event, called Connect, Commit to Change, to benefit the agencies helping children.

"The Star ran ads in the paper to promote the event, and set a goal of recruiting 15 agencies to participate. They got more than 50," according to Freedom. Participants were asked to fill out "I commit to" cards that contained promises to connect specific talents, like pro bono legal help, with specific needs. The Star later published the cards to hold participants to their promise."We had no idea how many people would attend the event, and were naturally a little nervous when the day arrived," Neeley said. "But then people kept rolling in, and it was amazing to see what one quote from a little girl a year ago could do to inspire an entire community." (Read more)

Aug. 10, 2010

Much rural reporting in that recognized by annual awards from Society of Environmental Journalists

The 2009-2010 winners for ninth annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment, given by the Society of Environmental Journalists, include several of rural interest that swept the investigative-reporting category. Charles Duhigg's "Toxic Waters" series for The New York Times won first place; read our previous coverage of the series here. Abrahm Lustgarten, Joaquin Sapien and Sabrina Shankman of ProPublica won second place for their series of stories on the risks of natural-gas drilling. You can read coverage of that series here. Third place went to Ron Seely of the Wisconsin State Journal for his series "Who's Watching the Farm?" It "took on the big factory farm lobby, exposing weaknesses in government regulation and enforcement that are putting important water resources — and the citizens who rely upon them — at risk," SEJ said.

Kera Abraham of the Monterey County Weekly received first place honors in the Small Market Print Reporting category for the series "Green vs. Green: Environmentalists Duke It Out." You can read her stories about both sides of various environmental debates here, here and here. Other winners of rural interest included reports on coal: The documentary "Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future," from Michigan Public Radio and The Environmental Report, which won second place in the Beat/In-Depth Radio Reporting category, and the two-part series "Powering a Nation: The Coal Story" from Sara Peach, Jenn Hueting, Monica Ulmanu, Chris Carmichael of the University of North Carolina, which won the Student Reporting category. (Read more)

July 1, 2010

Publisher's novel celebrates community journalism

Tim Spitzack, editor and publisher of an urban community-newspaper publishing company in Minnesota, St. Paul Publishing Co., has a written The Messenger, a novel that he says is designed to "pay tribute to those in all communities who quietly go about their lives making a difference in the lives of their families and others around them."

The Messenger by Tim Spitzack The protagonist is John Jenkins, a young journalist marking time at the Marquette Messenger until he can get into a larger market. He thinks nothing significant ever happens in a farming community, but one day he is told to write the obituary of an elderly local farmer. The remarkable, untold story Jenkins uncovers through his investigation, happenstance encounters with people who knew the man, and covert visits to his farm, challenge everything the young reporter holds dear. "The Messenger is a poignant glimpse of the heart wounds of WWII vets on both sides of the line," says the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Bulletin.

"There's a popular phrase in community journalism that says there are no bad stories, only bad writers," Spitzack says. "What this means is that there are a multitude of interesting stories about our fellow citizens to discover if we are willing to scratch below the surface. I wrote The Messenger to pay tribute to the people who live quiet lives, but through their acts of love and compassion influence the lives of so many others." Published by OakTara, the first chapter and a half are in the media kit at http://www.timspitzack.com/.

June 30, 2010

TV meteorologist in northern Alabama looks to better inform viewers about climate change

Dan Satterfield The South might not be the first place you would look for defenders of the science behind global warming, but a television meteorologist in Huntsville, Ala., is making it his mission to better educate his viewers about climate change. Dan Satterfield, right, weatherman at WHNT, "recognizes that many in his audience are 'climatically challenged,' and his profession has the power to help those afflicted by science illiteracy," Lynne Peeples writes in OnEarth, the journal of the National Resources Defense Council. Only about 7 percent of all TV meteorologists work at a station with a designated science reporter, which often turns them into the station expert, Kris Wilson of the University of Texas, told Peeples. (OnEarth photo by Alex Martinez)

"People learn to trust weathercasters and like them, so whatever they say about things like climate change carries tremendous weight," Wilson said. "By choice or by default, weathercasters end up being the science experts." Satterfield said he remained unconvinced regarding global warming until the mid-1990s, but repeated exposure to the "overwhelming evidence" of climate change, made him finally say, "Whoa, I need to start looking into this." After going back to school for a master's degree in earth science, Satterfield began sharing his views on the air. He expected a backlash from his conservative audience, but "aside from a handful of complaints, the show's ratings and viewer questions suggested that people were listening," Peeples writes.

"Satterfield has a backbone," Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, told Peeples. "He makes other meteorologists think, 'If he can do it in Huntsville, I can do it in Cleveland.'" Satterfield as produced longer specials about climate change in addition to frequent snippets in his three-minute weather segments, where he says "something short but powerful that dispels a climate myth." (Read more)

Satterfield's efforts are even more impressive as climate change skepticism appear to be on the rise even after global warming appeared to gain more support during the last decade. Part of that rise may be attributed to the news media, which has been "doing a lousy job of putting things in context," Kevin Krajick writes for OnEarth. He concludes "papers need to explain: scientists know the seas are rising; they don't know exactly how much; one study is only one study, and there will be many more to come before we arrive at a reliable number." You can read his exhaustive review of several texts examining climate change skepticism and examples of what he considers good climate reporting here.

June 27, 2010

Gish family of The Mountain Eagle wins top award from international weekly editors' group

A family that has published a crusading Appalachian weekly for more than 53 years won the top awards at the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, which ended last night with an awards banquet at Eastern Kentucky University.

The Gish family of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky. The Gish family of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., won ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award for their outstanding public service through community journalism. Ben Gish, right, accepted the award on behalf of his father, Tom, who died in 2008, and his mother, Pat, who has Alzheimer's Disease.

The award is named for Eugene Cervi, who was editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. Former ISWNE President Tim Waltner, who presented the award, said he had no doubt that Cervi, like Tom Gish the son of a coal miner, would be pleased with the selection. "For the past five decades the Gish family has continued to make a difference, not only in the community of Whitesburg, but literally across this country . . . Their commitment to craft and to the people in their community reflects the highest ideals of community journalism." (Read more) For a detailed report on the conference, click here.

Editors of sister weeklies in Wisconsin town both win in international editorial-writing contest

Wikipedia map Abbottsford, Wis. (Wikipedia map) is not only blessed with two weekly newspapers, but two of the best editorial writers among weeklies in several English-speaking countries, at least according to the results of the 2010 contest of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Both papers, which are owned by the same company, placed in the Golden Dozen, the 12 editorials judged the best among 96 entries in the contest.

Kevin O'Brien, editor of the Tribune-Phonograph, won for an editorial that pointed out the hyypocrisy of a new mayor who promised more openness in government but joined the city council president in "retreating to the city-hall offices  to discuss the matter privately" when the president objected to the mayor's committee appointments.

Peter Weinschenk, editor of the Record-Review, won for an editorial criticizing the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for a poor process for planning local highway improvements. It began, "First, you get a cart, and next, a horse. Importantly, you put the horse before the cart. These are transportation basics."

The top winner of the contest, and recipient of the Golden Quill award, was Mo Mehlsak of The Forecaster of Falmouth, Maine. The judges said he explained "an intricate series of city and school official maneuverings . . . in such a way that readers unfamiliar with the political figures and events can understand the problem," the school superintendent's undue influence over the appointment of a board member. To read the editorial, click here.

Others in the Golden Dozen were David Giffey, editor of the Home News in Spring Green, Wis.; Dick Crockford, publisher of the Dillon Tribune in Montana; Marcia Martinek, editor of the Herald Democrat in Leadville, Colo.; Mark Brown, executive editor of By The Sea Future of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla.; M. Dickey Drysdale, editor-publisher of The Herald of Randolph, Vermont; Paul MacNeill, publisher of the Eastern Graphic in Montague, P.E.I.; John Wylie, publisher of the Oologah Lake Leader in Oklahoma; Bill Knight, columnist for The Zephyr of Galesburg, Ill.; and Tim Waltner, publisher of the Freeman Courier in South Dakota. For a detailed report on the conference, click here.

June 21, 2010

Departing editor spanks local officials in print, says she's been doing it for years

Samantha Swindler Samantha Swindler is leaving her job as managing editor of the Corbin Times-Tribune in southeastern Kentucky to become general manager of the Tillamook Headlight-Herald on the Oregon coast, west of Portland. She will leave behind a strong four-year record of holding accountable local officials who often view their public offices as private possessions, and she delivered an exclamation point of sorts over the weekend with a column that dressed down the leaders of the town of 8,000.

The column began, "I wasn’t particularly surprised with how Corbin city commissioners voted Monday night because, like all major decisions, it was made long before the public meeting." Having implicitly asserted that the commission routinely violates the state Open Meetings Act, Swindler then pulled up the rope that city officals provided for their own hanging, not on issues of legality but of courtesy and public policy.

"What was surprising is how the commissioners and city manager reacted when a room full of citizens and business owners came to participate in the democratic process," specifically to object to making the city's Main Street program manager part time, "ensuring [she] will be forced to find another job," Swindler wrote. "In a town where so much government goes wrong, her program and minimal budget actually produced results for the community." The city manager dismissed the speakers, eventually saying “I’m through.”

As for the reason cited for the cut, a tight budget, Swindler suggested the commission wasted money by giving $50,000 to the local economic-development agency, "an organization which, for the life of me, I can find no reason for its existence. ... The members of those boards don’t even know what the director is working on because of “confidentiality” of potential businesses. The director’s reports are notoriously vague and don’t even offer the slightest hint of what we might be getting for his $78,000 salary. ... Economic development isn’t just about luring in a 100-person factory every five years. It’s also about improving the community to make it attractive to both potential businesses and tourists," in the town where Col. Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In closing, Swindler noted the prospect of an uncontested election for the city commission this fall. "If you’re not happy with those choices, I suggest someone start a write-in candidate campaign and challenge those who, occasionally, ought to be challenged. Because we really need a new kind of politics here." (Read more)

We asked Swindler if she was less inhibited with the editorial because she is leaving town. She replied, "I was careful not to write anything that I wouldn't be proud to stand behind long-term. I didn't want to do one of those angry, finger-wagging, 'and another thing...' going-away columns that comes across as bitter. I tried to make it a positive piece, at least in the aspect of creating community through Main Street. But that economic development agency? That's a darn joke. I've written stuff about them before ... and I've been writing columns like that for years. That stuff needed to be said, and I hope I said it strongly without coming across as simply spiteful." Tillamook's gain is Corbin's loss.

June 15, 2010

A proper sendoff: A column about a local character who helped define his community

One of the best things a rural journalist can do is write an appreciation of a signiifcant local person who has recently did but to whom justice couldn't be done in a typical obituary. Paul Roy of The Independent Herald in Oneida, Tenn., did that last week for his community and William C. "Jumby" Terry, a business and political fixture in coal- and timber-rich Scott County for decades.

Roy writes about the last time he saw Jumby, "physically feeble, but mentally as bright-eyed and alert as I had seen him in the past few years," and the first time, 34 years ago, when he tried to get him to invest in a second newspaper for the county. "He wanted to know who was going to be involved in this new venture, what the true purpose was, who came up with the idea, etc., etc. It was my interview and I hadn’t asked a single question!" Jumby "had a running feud of several years" with one of the prospective investors, so he "opted out, but within just a few years (and many times afterwards), he said he wished he had got in on the ground floor. I wish he had, too."

And while the two became friends, Roy knew where to draw the line: "I learned early to say no thanks when Jumby would say, “Come with me, let’s ride around awhile.” I did that a few times, and had no intention of continuing the practice. When Jumby wanted me to go for a ride, he actually wanted to convince me of something and he wanted time to be on his side. Behind the wheel of his car, his ever-so-slow moving car, he was in control. And he had no intention of letting me out until he got whatever it was off his mind and into mine!"

Roy's column brought Jumby back to life in a way that only he could, because of his personal experience with him. But such personal experience isn't required to write an appreciation, and it doesn't have to wait until someone dies. Local characters make a community what it is, and often define it, pieces like this are part of the basic job of a local paper, holding a mirror up to the community. To read it, click here.

June 11, 2010

Illinois 12-year-old starts paper, joins press group

Keith Davis Keith Davis, 12, of rural Annawan, Ill., population about 900, began publishing his own newspaper almost two and a half years ago, and is now an accredited member of the Illinois Press Association. In addition to the print edition of his newspaper, The Annawan Times, Davis designed and operates Annawantimes.com, reports Rocky Stuffelbeam of the Star Courier in Kewanee. Davis runs the entire production from his home computer. In April he was named an honorary member of the IPA.

"We were intrigued by his inquiry about membership in our organization," David Porter, communications and marketing director for the IPA, told Stuffelbeam. "To be honest, we really had no category for him, but we did not want to discourage him. We looked at what he is doing and felt any young person pursuing journalism should be encouraged. We felt strongly he should be recognized for his effort and service to his community." Davis said his newspaper "is eight pages pretty much every week and includes Annawan news, events, advertising, weather, puzzles (yes, Sudoku), a comic strip and anything else that strikes the 12-year-old’s fancy," Stuffelbeam writes. The newspaper is distributed at the local IGA and has three subscribers. Annawan is on Interstate 80 in Northern Illinois. (Read more)

June 1, 2010

Ga. papers form alliance for political reporting

With the shrinkage in coverage and circulation of metropolitan newspapers, and the cutbacks in state-capital reporters, it's up to smaller newspapers to fill the vacuum, and a group of Georgia newspapers will be doing that with a historic partnership. Georgia’s largest dailies and Tennessee's Chattanooga Times Free Press have formed the Georgia Newspaper Partnership to "provide deep reporting found nowhere else in the Southeast," the group says.

“This partnership helps put an end to the idea that there are two Georgias,” said Bert Roughton Jr., managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has drastically reduced its circulation area in the last three years, leaving many rural areas without a metro daily. “The work that these partner newspapers do will go a long way toward providing the state’s voters a more unified voice.”

In addition to reporting projects, the parrtnership will support three statewide polls by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. So far, this is "the only large-scale, non-partisan political polling in Georgia for 2010," the group says, announcing that the first statewide polling will appear exclusively in the partner newspapers starting on July 11. (We wouldn't have indicated when we were polling, but that's just us.)

Besides Atlanta and Chattanooga, the papers in the group include the Athens Banner-Herald, The Augusta Chronicle, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Times of Gainesville, the Georgia Times-Union (an edition of The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville), The Telegraph of Macon, the Rome News-Tribune, the Savannah Morning News, the Statesboro Herald and the Valdosta Daily Times. Sunday readership of the group alone exceeds 2.2 million.

“As a small newspaper in southeast Georgia with very limited resources, the Georgia Newspaper Partnership will allow us to give our readers much more in-depth coverage of the governor’s race and every statewide race than we could possibly have produced on our own,” said Jim Healy, executive editor of the Statesboro Herald. “Also, it will hold candidates much more accountable than in the past.”

May 9, 2010

Twice-monthly paper, university journalism program share public-service award in Alaska

Skagway News Depot. The Skagway News, a twice-monthly paper in southeast Alaska, and the journalism program at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks shared the top prize last night at the annual awards banquet of the Alaska Press Club in Anchorage. For a PDF list of all winners, go here.

The Skagway paper won for its stories on the billing practices of a company that operates air ambulance service for the town, which had 862 people at the 2000 census and is three hours by road from Whitehorse, Yukon, and six hours by ferry from the state capital of Juneau. "The newspaper showed how local residents were being double-billed for medevac flights and that the cost of such flights had quadrupled in a year," the judges said. The stories helped prompt an inquiry by Alaska's congressman, changes in practices by the company and an official effort to get local residents to take insurance that covers the flights. "The paper went beyond just pointing out the problems: Its stories discussed possible solutions and helped frame a public policy debate about the best and most-affordable way to ensure that all residents and visitors to Skagway would have access to medevac insurance." Here's the first story, the next story and the latest story. The UAF program shared the award for embedding three students and a professor with American military units in Iraq for a month. Here is a report on the multimedia project, which the judges called "creative and corageous."

The contest for newspapers is mostly divided between small and large markets. Multiple winners in the small-market category included the Nome Nugget for best sustained coverage, environmental reporting and breaking news; and the Homer Tribune for best series, political reporting and education reporting. The Tribune was named best weekly newspaper; its competitor, the Homer News, placed second. Jenny Neyman of the Redoubt Reporter of Soldotna, also on the Kenai Peninsula, won for best use of story and photo, and she picked up many second- and third-place awards. So did Alex DeMarban of Tundra Drums and Alaska Newspapers Inc., who won for best news story.

Much of the good rural journalism in Alaska is on radio, thanks to the state’s large network of public stations. Radio winners included Ed Ronco of Sitka’s KCAW for comprehensive reporting, Rosemarie Alexander of Juneau’s KTOO for government or political reporting (on the ethics case against former Gov. Sarah Palin), Mike Mason of Dillingham’s KDLG for environmental reporting (a story on the proposed Pebble Mine), Jay Barrett of Kodiak’s KMXT for public-affairs program (the Alaska Fisheries Report), Jenny Canfield of KNBA in Anchorage for documentary (Native Perspectives on Statehood, after 50 years) and Alaska Public Radio Network Washington Correspondent Libby Casey for best crime or courts reporting (a story on Supreme Court arguments). Casey is “a Nina Totenberg in the making,” said judge Cathy Duchamp of Washington, D.C.

Canfield is now editor of the Tundra Telegraph, an online, citizen-journalism site that is part of Alaska Dispatch, an online news site that has attracted refugees from the state’s shrinking mainstream media and major investment by Publisher Alice Rogoff. The top award for editorial writing, open to all media just as the public-service award is, went to Craig Medred of the Dispatch.

May 3, 2010

Sigma Delta Chi Awards in journalism include some to journalists in smaller markets

The Society of Professional Journalists today announced the winners of the Sigma Delta Chi Awards in journalism. Many non-daily newspaper categories had no winners, and the winners were based in metropolitan areas. The winners among dailies in rural or small-city markets, with circulations of 50,000 and less, included:

Public Service Journalism: “Meijer's Secret Plan,” Brian McGillivary, Traverse City (Mich.) Record-Eagle, Michigan

Deadline reporting: "Natural gas explosion destroys half a downtown block," staff, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana

Non-Deadline Reporting: “Fatal Funnel,” Gabe Semenza, Chris Cobler and staff, Victoria Advocate, Texas
Investigative Reporting: “Luzerne County Corruption Investigation,” Terrie Morgan-Besecker, Jen Learn Andes, Jerry Lynott and Gary Visgaitis, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 
Editorial Writing: “Kids for Cash,” Dave Janoski, The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre (same subject as above)

Feature Reporting: “Hospice: Learning How to Live,” Sara Schilling, Tri-City Herald, Washington state 
General Column Writing: “Sunday Reflections,” Tracey O'Shaughnessy, Republican American, Waterbury, Conn. 
Sports Column Writing: Mike Benischek, Poughkeepsie Journal, New York
And we couldn't help but include this one:
Research about Journalism: “Detecting Bull: How to Identify Bias and Junk Journalism in Print, Broadcast and on the Wild Web,” John H. McManus, The Unvarnished Press

The awards will be presented Oct. 2 during the 2010 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas. For more information contact Lauren Rochester at (317) 927-8000 ext. 210 or at lrochester@spj.org.

April 26, 2010

Pulitzer-winning rural editor says investigative reporting will preserve newspapers

Much of the focus on the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to the Bristol Herald Courier for uncovering a natural-gas royalties scandal has been on the reporter who broke the story, but the newspaper's editor deserves praise for the environment he's helped to create. "A few days before landing a Pulitzer, 28-year-old reporter Daniel Gilbert was interviewing the Easter bunny because he had weekend duty at the Herald Courier," Jane Podesta writes for The Huffington Post. "That's how it works in a hands-on newsroom overseen by a Lou Grant-style editor, J. Todd Foster, who unleashes all his reporters to do investigative work but demands daily reporting on hyperlocal stories."

Carl Esposito and J. Todd Foster"It's time to stop crying in our beer and realize no matter how big a newspaper, if it has a commitment it can do investigative reporting," Foster, at right in photo, told Podesta. "If we can no longer cover every school board and city council meeting, we can still do investigative reporting without worrying about spending the money or risking being sued. The investigative reporting niche will save newspapers." Foster, "a burly investigative reporter-turned-editor," convinced publisher Carl Esposito, at left in photo, to fund Gilbert's participation in Investigative Reporters and Editors' week-long computer assisted reporting boot-camp and then oversaw Gilbert's reporting on the scandal.

When the Media General paper lost 3,000 subscribers after pulling out of two Southwestern Virginia counties to save on delivery costs, Foster refused to cut investigative reporting. Most media pundits have called the Herald Courier's win a surprise, but Foster was prepared for the win. He suggested to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in February that he thought the paper had a shot at a Pulitzer. He told Podesta, "I ran to the store and bought two $4.99 bottles of champagne and threw them in the trunk," he told Podesta. "I thought, if we don't win, I'll take them home. If we do win, I'll look clairvoyant." (Read more)

In his Sunday column, Foster took whacks at The Washington Post, which declined to hire him at 38, saying he had reached his potential, and which published a story about his paper that made an assumption about its viability and leaped to a conclusion about Gilbert's future. He says on Facebook that he is "overjoyed at the national response" to the column, "written during a prolonged writing slump, at 35,000 feet, in 27 minutes, in the throes of journalistic passion. There may have been a few beers consumed at the airport during an earlier layover."

April 18, 2010

Davis, Petaluma and Los Banos papers top rural winners in California contest

The Davis Enterprise and the weekly Petaluma Argus-Courier and Los Banos Enterprise were the general-excellence winners among small newspapers in the California Newspaper Publishers Association contest, which handed out awards last week.

The Davis paper easily won the award in the classification for dailies with 10,000 circulation or less, which is most likely to include rural papers, and the Auburn Journal placed second. The two papers likewise finished 1-2 among editorial pages. Davis won for writing, but Auburn won for breaking news; Davis placed second in local news coverage, behind the Lompoc Record.  The Daily Triplicate of Crescent City, on the far north coast, won for investigative or enterprise reporting and placed second in breaking news. Davis won first and second for environmental and/or agricultural resource reporting, perhaps no surprise because its town is home to the University of California's leading agriculture progams.

editorial cartoon Among weeklies with circulations of 4,301 to 11,000, the Petaluma paper, in Sonoma County, won for editorial pages, local news coverage and layout and design. Its second-place awards included Web site and editorial cartoon, above, by Steve Rustad. The Half Moon Bay Review in San Mateo County placed second in general excellence.

The Los Banos paper, which won the general-excellence award among weeklies with circulations of 4,300 or less, is published in Merced County, which is also home to the Merced Sun-Star, which won several awards in the 10,000-25,000 daily classification, including second for general excellence, behind the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

For a complete list of winners, and many examples of their work, download the special section from the CNPA Web site.

April 12, 2010

Bristol Herald Courier, circulation 33,000, wins public-service Pulitzer Prize for coal-gas series

A wonderful example of rural journalism is the latest recipient of the most prestigious Pulitzer Prize, the one for public service. The Bristol Herald Courier, circulation 33,000, won the award today for reporting on the mess Virginia and its natural-gas companies have made of a law and program to develop the state's coalbed methane and pay royalties to those who have a claim on it.

Daniel GilbertThe public-service prize is a gold medal, given to an organization rather than an individual, but the Pulitzer jury cited "the work of Daniel Gilbert [left] in illuminating the murky mismanagement of natural-gas royalties owed to thousands of land owners in southwest Virginia, spurring remedial action by state lawmakers." Gilbert, 28, had already won the Investigative Reporters and Editors award for papers under 100,000 circulation and the initial prize for community journalism in the National Journalism Awards.

Today's award shows that Gilbert's work, and the support of his editors, was worthy of more than categorical recognition -- and that there is plenty of talent and gumption among rural journalists. "It underscores the importance of public service reporting, especially in rural areas," Gilbert told Steve Szkotak of The Associated Press. Editor J. Todd Foster said, "This is validation that a newspaper with limited resources can do world-class journalism." He said Gilbert's work shows "why newspapers will continue to survive in some form. Nobody else is going to do this sort of reporting." (Read more)

For our original item on the series, with links to individual stories, click here. For items on the NJA and IRE awards, go here and here. For a list of this year's Pulitzer Prizes, from The Washington Post, which led this year's list with four, go here.

April 8, 2010

Institute director and a still-practicing rural journalist enter Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame

Among this year’s seven inductees to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame are Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and Jim Phillips, longtime news director of the two radio stations in rural Grayson, Ky.

Al Cross Cross, right, said in remarks at the induction luncheon that he was being recognized largely for his work at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where he worked for more than 26 years, the last 15½ as political writer, but was nominated by one of the people he serves as "extension agent for rural journalists" – Sharon Burton, editor and publisher of The Farmer’s Pride, Kentucky’s statewide agricultural newspaper, and the weekly Adair County Community Voice in Columbia. "That’s the most satisfying part of this honor," he said. For his remarks, click here. Cross started out as a rural journalist, at the Clinton County News and WANY Radio in Albany, and later edited, managed or helped manage weekly papers in Monticello, Russellville and Leitchfield. In 2001-02, he was national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and in 2004 became director of the institute, which is based in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

Jim Phillips Phillips, right, has also had careers in both newspapers and broadcasting, but he went the other direction, moving to WGOH Radio after more than 15 years as editor of The Journal-Enquirer, the local weekly. He has been at the station, now joined by WUGO-FM, for more than 41 years. "God has given me a journalistic career I could not have imagined," he told the crowd at the induction luncheon. "I’ve just loved every minute of it." He said he had to get back to Grayson because he had a newscast to do this afternoon. Another inductee, Jack Lyne of Site Selection magazine, also has rural roots; he grew up in Russellville, where he was inspired and mentored by the local editor, Al Smith, who did likewise for Cross and many other Kentucky journalists. "When it comes to Kentucky journalism, Al’s got more assists than John Wall," the Kentucky basketball star, Lyne said. He also credited others in Russellville who pushed him toward excellence and emphasized hard work.

Other inductees were Neil Budde of the DailyMe, formerly of Yahoo! News and the Wall Street Journal Online; Liz Everman, longtime anchor for WLKY-TV in Louisville; and two posthumous honorees, Fred Paxton of Paducah-based Paxton Media LLC and Lois Ogden Sutherland, founder of the journalism program at Northern Kentucky University.

March 31, 2010

'Children of the Mountains' wins a Peabody Award; so do shows on OxyContin and W.Va. textbooks

A Hidden America Children of the Mountains 20/20The hour-long ABC documentary "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," broadcast on "20/20" in February 2009, was a winners in the 69th George Foster Peabody Awards for electronic media, announced today by the University of Georgia.

"A powerful documentary shot in the hollows and house trailers of Appalachia reminds us that not all critical problems lie in 'developing' nations," the Peabody board says on its Web site. The program, reported and narrated by Kentucky native Diane Sawyer, tracked the travails of children who were the victims of irresponsible adults in four Eastern Kentucky communities.

The documentary stirred complaints that it represented those subcultures as the dominant culture in Central Appalachia, and amplified an unfounded stereotype with a segment about a largely irrelevant case of incest. But it also made residents and journalists in the region think about their own responsibilities to address its problems, and the show's revelation of "Mountain Dew Mouth" prompted action from drink manufacturer PepsiCo and the state of Kentucky to protect children's oral health. For our commentary on the show, click here.

Two other Appalachian documentaries won Peabodys: "The OxyContin Express" by Current on Vanguard TV, and "The Great Textbook War" by Terry Kay Productions on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The board said of the former, "With tales of drug-dealing MDs in Florida and Appalachian 'pill-billies,' the documentary makes clear the enormity of the prescription-drug epidemic." Of the latter, "This thoughtful, balanced and gripping radio documentary shows how a 1974 battle over textbook content in rural West Virginia foreshadows the 'culture wars' still raging," the board said.

March 29, 2010

Bristol reporter wins another national award for series on natural-gas mess in southwest Virginia

Daniel GilbertDaniel Gilbert, left, of the Bristol Herald Courier, circulation 33,000, has won another national award for his investigation of the mess Virginia and its natural-gas companies have made of a law and program to develop the state's coalbed methane and pay royalties to those who have a claim on it. Last month he won the first community-journalism prize in the National Journalism Awards; today he won the category for newspapers under 100,000 circulation in the Investigative Reporters and Editors contest.

"Gilbert tackled a subject that many would find incomprehensible," the judges wrote. "Using extensive open records requests and building his own database, Gilbert not only found a state escrow fund of $25 million that could not be accessed to pay land owners but also gas and oil companies that never paid into the fund. He found reporting errors and redundancies that showed the fund was losing money and he brought it all home with engaging interviews with shortchanged land owners. The series led to the first audit of the decade-old escrow fund, more attention by the department that runs it and $700,000 in back payments by oil and gas companies and pending state legislation to make it easier for people to get paid." For more on the series, click here. For the latest story, here.

The award certificate for local-circulation weekly newspapers went to the Lake Oswego Review, in a suburb of Portland, Ore., for a series of stories revealing that the local police lieutenant had been "forced to leave a job 17 years earlier after he sexually assaulted a woman while on duty; was arrested on charges of assaulting his wife and driving drunk; and that powerful friends saved his career," the judges said.

Finalists in the small-daily circulation category won by Gilbert were Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette for revealing how a state official funneled grant money to her son and tried to cover it up; Duaa Eldeib of the Daily Southtown of Chicago for exposing what IRE called "irresponsible and corrupt" spending by a regional school superintendent; and The News-Democrat of Belleville, Ill., for reporting on a state prison; and Melissa Nann Burke of the York (Pa.) Dispatch for her investigation of a local charity that paid a family $2.5 million to run it. The York Daily Record was a finalist for the IRE Freedom of Information Award for its creation on an open-records Web site and related investigations, including one of the same charity.

Some other IRE awards went to journalism with strong rural implications. The highest award, the IRE Medal, went to The New York Times for its "Toxic Waters" series and KHOU-TV's stories on discrimination and corruption in the Texas National Guard.

March 16, 2010

Wisconsin newspaper launches series of stories on rural health care, starting with hospitals

Wisconsin State Journal reporter David Wahlberg is taking a year-long look at rural health care. Installments on related issues will follow in the coming months. Joining Wahlberg on the project is State Journal photographer Craig Schreiner. The project is partly supported by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which awarded a fellowship to Wahlberg. (Read more)

The first report includes how rural hospitals, often "critical access hospitals" that get extra Medicare money in return for limiting admissions and stays, are dealing with hard economic times. Wahlberg reports, "A 10 percent cut to rural hospitals this year in Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor, brings an additional challenge. Hospital administrators are pushing for a tax that would bring in extra federal money to offset the state cut." Medicare accounts for about half of the budgets at most rural hospitals. But nursing homes, home-health care and mental health services don't qualify for the higher payments, so are often cut when budgets get tight. (Read more)

March 12, 2010

Southwest Va. energy series wins first community journalism prize in National Journalism Awards

The first award for community journalism in the National Journalism Awards goes to Daniel Gilbert, left, of the Bristol Herald Courier "for lifting the lid on a 20-year-old state law that allowed the energy industry to profit without compensating property owners" in Southwest Virginia, says the Scripps Howard Foundation, which sponsors the awards. Each award carries a cash prize of $10,000. We noted the 28-year-old Gilbert's series in The Rural Blog in January, saying it exposed "the mess Virginia and its natural-gas companies have made of a law and program to develop the state's coalbed methane and pay royalties to those who have a claim on it." The editor of the 33,000-circulation Media General paper, J. Todd Foster, wrote that it exposed "malfeasance, corruption and outrage."

Scripps Howard established the award because "Community Journalism is vitally important, not just to journalism today, but to the future of journalism, and we wanted to recognize the outstanding work that's being done," Vice President Sue Porter said. Recognition is more likely with the new category; Gilbert's entry impressed judges in the public-service competition, but was not a finalist. But one community journalist was a finalist in another category.

Jim Kenyon, a staff writer for The Valley News in Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., circulation 16,000, was a finalist in the NJA's commentary competition, along with Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal. The winner was Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. For examples of Kenyon's work, taking Dartmouth College administrators and faculty to task for not sharing in the pain of budget cuts, and uncovering preferential treatment for a movie star who got caught speeding on a rural highway, click here. In the editorial writing category, Jamie Lucke of the Lexington Herald-Leader was a finalist with a package that partly addressed rural-Kentucky issues such as coal mining and bad teeth. The other finalist was Barb Arrigo of the Detroit Free Press; the winner was Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times.

Also of rural interest, Charles Duhigg of The New York Times won the environmental reporting award for his "Toxic Waters" series about inadequacies of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The series, several pieces of which have been excerpted on The Rural Blog, "prompted wide-ranging overhauls in enforcement of the 1970s laws," the foundation says. Finalists in the category included Abrahm Lustgarten and Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica, who brought national attention to the problems caused by deep natural-gas drilling, also often excerpted here. And Thomas Frank of USA Today won the Raymond Clapper Award for Washington Reporting, for his stories on how a tax on airline tickets funds general-aviation airports, many if not most of them in rural areas.

A book featuring the winners and their work, and videos about the winners' work and acceptance speeches, will be available at www.scripps.com/foundation after the April 23 awards presentation. A printed copy may also be requested. The community-journalism category was judged by Kerry Duke, managing editor of KyPost.com; Rusty Coats, vice president of content and marketing for E.W. Scripps Co.; and the undersigned, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

March 5, 2010

Kentucky pair's multimedia tobacco story wins Pictures of the Year International award

Alvin Stamper, the winner of the 2009 Garrard County Tobacco Cutting Competition, and most of the recent ones, cuts and spears burley tobacco. Photo by David Stephenson.

Pictures of the Year International has honored David Stephenson, Kentucky Kernel photo adviser and former Lexington Herald-Leader photographer, with first place in its "News story - multimedia" category for 2009. The winning project, "Cutting through the competition," below, is a multimedia report by Stephenson and Herald-Leader reporter Amy Wilson about a tobacco-cutting contest in a state that no longer relies on the crop. It originated from their preparation for Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues seminars in October about storytelling.

IRJCI photo: Stephenson looks on as Beattyville Enterprise Editor Edmund Shelby interviews Enterprise employee Cheryle Walton during the first workshop of Foothills in Focus, a project to help weekly papers in Appalachian Kentucky adopt multimedia. Stephenson started the instruction with audio, which is essential for good video. The Foothills in Focus project is funded by the McCormick Foundation.

Cutting Through the Competition from David Stephenson on Vimeo.

Feb. 1, 2010

Rural weekly writer, larger-media colleagues picked for 9-day health fellowship in Boston area

A reporter for a thrice-weekly newspaper in southeastern Kentucky is among 11 medical journalists chosen for a prestigious fellowship that will take them to the Boston area this spring to study health care and how to cover it.

Tara Kaprowy, right, of The Sentinel-Echo in London was chosen for The Health Coverage Fellowship with the support of her employer and its owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., and of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

"The fellowship, the first of its kind in the country, is designed to help the media do a better job covering critical health care issues. It does that by bringing in as speakers more than 50 top health officials, policy people, and researchers. It also brings the fellows out to watch first-hand how the system works," says a news release from Babson College. The fellowship is housed at the college's Center for Executive Education in Wellesley and is directed by Larry Tye, former health and environment reporter at The Boston Globe and author of five books.

The eight-year-old program is sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, with help from the Maine Health Access Foundation, New Hampshire’s Endowment for Health, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and the Texas-based Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The contributions from outlying states helped create slots for reporters from those states.

Joining Kaprowy will be Robert Weisman of the Globe, Cathy Corman of WGBH Radio in Boston, Shawn Cunningham of WAGM-TV in Maine, Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams (Mass.) Transcript, Cynthia McCormick of the Cape Cod Times, Karen Nugent of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Denis Paiste of the New Hampshire Union Leader, Jason Roberson of the Dallas Morning News, Kathryn Tolbert of The Washington Post, Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

Jan. 23, 2010

Kentucky's best small paper reads like a big one

The best small newspaper in Kentucky last year was again the Todd County Standard of Elkton, according to the results of the 2009 Excellence in Kentucky Newspapers Contest of the Kentucky Press Association. The winner of the medium-circulation class for weeklies was The Springfield Sun, and the best large weekly was The Oldham Era of LaGrange. The top multi-weekly was the Sentinel-News of Shelbyville, and the best small daily was Hopkinsville's Kentucky New Era. It and the Standard, published in an adjoining county, are independently owned; the other three are part of Landmark Community Newspapers, based in Shelbyville.

None of these were surprises. The Standard, edited and published by Ryan Craig, right, has a circulation of about 2,500 but has stories, editorials, pages and sections that look like those in a daily with circulation 10 times as large, or more. And it won the categories that we watch most closely: enterprise/analysis story (third place too), investigative story and editorial page, and second and third in ongoing/extended coverage. (Craig is shown speaking at the 2009 Society of Professional Journalists convention.) The Trimble Banner, a Landmark paper in the tiny town of Bedford, won second place in the small-weekly class, and the Adair County Community Voice, a relatively new paper started by Sharon Burton, was third.

Runner-up to the Sun, edited by Jeff Moreland, was another Landmark paper, the Spencer Magnet. Third in the medium-circulation weekly class was the McCreary County Voice, a locally owned paper competing against a more established, chain-owned weekly. In the large-weekly class, the runner-up was the Jessamine Journal of Nicholasville, a Schurz Communications paper, followed by The Lebanon Enterprise, a Landmark stalwart.

Landmark's Kentucky Standard, of Bardstown, was runner-up in the class for non-dailies published more than once a week. It was followed by The Sentinel-Echo of London, which for two years in a row has been judged the best weekly of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. These papers regularly wrestle for the title of Kentucky's best weekly.

In the small-daily class, the New Era was followed by The Richmond Register, a CNHI paper, and The Messenger of Madisonville, published by Paxton Media LLC of Paducah. The winner among medium-circulation dailies was the Bowling Green Daily News, the state's only other independently owned daily. It was followed by The Gleaner of Henderson, a Scripps-Howard paper, and The Advocate-Messenger of Danville, Schurz's Kentucky flagship. Paxton's hometown paper, The Paducah Sun, placed second in the large-circulation class, which was won by the much larger Lexington Herald-Leader, a metropolitan paper and the state's second largest. The biggest paper, The Courier-Journal, is a KPA member but doesn't enter the contest.

Jan. 18, 2010

Bristol paper exposes 'malfeasance, corruption and outrage' in Virginia schemes for natural gas

A list of last year's best investigative journalism, compiled by California Watch Editorial Director Mark Katches with the suggestions of top editors and reporters around the nation, includes December stories by Daniel Gilbert of the Bristol Herald-Courier, circulation 33,000, about the mess Virginia and its natural-gas companies have made of a law and program to develop the state's coalbed methane and pay royalties to those who have a claim on it. (Herald-Courier photo by David Crigger) To read the main story that began the eight-day package, click here. For the second day, here. Other stories reported how coal companies block access to royalties, how the state escrow fund is bleeding money, how gas companies fail to pay into the fund, how small landowners are left without royalties. As the series concluded, the state Oil and Gas Board voted to audit the fund.

J. Todd Foster, editor of the Media General paper, wrote in a column that the problem "involves millions of dollars and affects thousands of Southwest Virginia property owners," many of them scattered across the country, and various "forms of malfeasance, corruption and outrage." He said the gas companies "are getting rich. The moms and pops who own the land are getting screwed" and "can’t afford to battle deep-pocketed corporate armies of attorneys bent on stringing the process out over years." He detailed how the story developed, and how Gilbert reported it over 13 months. "This is a classic example of how a newspaper dedicated to a community can mine a story that no one else would have ever tackled for its sheer complexity and obscurity."

Foster, who has a pugnacious streak we like, couldn't resist ending his column with this paragraph: "The rest of you also need to ponder this fact: If newspapers fall by the wayside as victims of a fragmented media landscape, much of it free and offered on the Internet by authors untrained in journalism or its ethics, then you can kiss goodbye watchdog reporting that keeps government and the private sector from straying outside the lines of the law." Amen!

Jan. 14, 2010

Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Wyoming news projects among Knight Community Information winners

Five community newspapers in Arkansas will each get an extra reporter for the next two years, thanks to a $252,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and matching money of about $140,000 to be raised by the Arkansas Community Foundation. The grant was among those announced yesterday by the Knight Community Information Challenge, which Knight calls "a five-year, $24 million contest that helps community and place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged."

Write for Arkansas is designed "to provide more in-depth coverage of local issues," including economic development, Knight said. "The reporters will write articles for print and blog about their communities and experiences on a new Write for Arkansas Web site. The additional reporting staff will help Arkansas residents and leaders have a greater understanding of the state’s challenges and needs. Meanwhile, the project’s online component will chronicle local issues from across the state and open a new channel of communication allowing residents to participate in the news."

The reporters will be paid $35,000 a year, Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, reports in the latest Arkansas Publishers Weekly. "A committee will develop the complete criteria for the program, but it is likely that the five newspapers selected will represent each of the corner quadrants of the state and one in Central Arkansas. APA is working with the ACF to develop the criteria." (Read more)

Among other grants, $225,000 will go to the Centre County Community Foundation in Pennsylvania to "help launch a 2-1-1 phone information service in 15 Pennsylvania counties. Residents will have access to round-the-clock answers to questions about local services for basic needs and emergencies, as well as general community information. While there will also be an online component, much of this area is without broadband Internet access, and phone service is likely to be the primary link," Knight says.

Another rural-orirnted grant, of $122,000, is going to the Lander Community Foundation of Wyoming to support WyoFile.com, which examines Wyoming public policy and politics. "Wyoming’s economy and culture have been rooted in natural-resource industries, including agriculture, timber, mining and oil and gas development," Knight says. "Like many energy colonies with small populations and vast landscapes, industrial proponents have heavily influenced Wyoming policies. WyoFile.com will increase its staff and reporting budget to further engage Wyoming’s residents, lawmakers, educators and business people through an independent, alternative source of content and analysis." (Read more)

Dece. 24, 2009

Small daily gives frank look at troubled local bank

For most of the time since the banking crisis hit, more than a year ago, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues has encouraged community newspapers to report on the health of their community banks, using easily available public information gathered by federal regulators and public-interest organizations. We have no idea how good the coverage has been nationwide, but we think it would be hard to beat what we've seen this week in The State Journal of Frankfort, Ky.

First the newspaper reported that the leading bank in town, Farmers Bank & Capital Trust Co., plans to start repaying the $30 million it borrowed from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and that its non-performing loans increased from $29 million to $44 million over a six-month period earlier this year, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reporter Paul Glasser also cited a recent report by the bank to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., revealing that it lost money in September, after making $4.3 million in September 2008.

Those are the kind of figures that could make depositors worry about the solvency of their bank. The newspaper confronted those fears and figures in an editorial (accompanied by a cartoon), saying, "This doesn’t mean the local bank, or its holding company, is on the brink of failure. Most failed institutions are said to have troubled asset ratios of 100 percent." But the editorial also noted that the bank plans to sell stock to repay TARP "at the risk of diluting current shareholders," that the Investigative Reporting Workshop of the American University School of Journalism reported the bank's troubled assets rose to by more than a fifth this year, and its "troubled asset ratio" was 36.9 percent in September, far above the national average of 14.1 percent. And it went back to the start of TARP, noting that the “Treasury Department insisted the loans were not bailouts of participating banks, merely a helping hand to get sound institutions through tough times. But ProPublica, a nonprofit group of investigative journalists, said some of the banks 'have turned out to be not so healthy.'”

The editorial continued relating the local situation to the national, saying the bank "is in the same predicament as its customers: Even though some economists say the recession is over, the recovery is too weak to make anyone feel especially secure. [It] finds neither businesses nor individuals are in the mood to borrow much money, which inevitably depresses the bank’s revenue outlook," the editorial continues. "If Americans really have resolved to reduce their indebtedness, that’s not a bad thing. Farmers Bank was established in an era of fewer consumer goods when people found it prudent to borrow only if they really needed to, and vigilant bankers kept them from diving in over their heads. It’s past time for financiers, and the rest of us, to rediscover the proven wisdom of living within our means."

That's a frank and helpful look at a town's most powerful financial institution, by a newspaper that has a circulation of only 8,000 and is often considered the "local little sister" to metropolitan papers in Louisville and nearby Lexington. While Frankfort is the state capital, it is not metropolitan; it has a population of only 27,000 and a county population of fewer than 50,000, so The State Journal is still very much a community newspaper. It's owned by Ohio-based Dix Communications and makes its edtorials available online only to subscribers, but Opinion Editor Ron Herron has graciously alllowed the pertinent editorial page to be posted on the Institute site, here.

Nov. 25, 2009

Something we can all give thanks for: A man is free because a journalist and a newspaper cared

One of the most thankful Americans tomorrow may be Lebrew Jones, and he is doubtless grateful to a journalist, Christine Young of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. She thought he was wrongfully convicted for the murder of a Manhattan prostitute, and her reporting led to his release on parole last week. "In a decision that one legal expert called 'basically unheard of,' the state granted him parole after his first interview," Steve Israel of the THR reported. (THR photo by Chet Gordon)

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute has been following this story for a year or more, highlighting the "remarkable multimedia presentation" the 70,000-circulation newspaper assembled. She told him in an interview, "This story cost the newspaper a small fortune, and Derek Osenenko, the executive editor, and Joe Vanderhoof, the publisher, could have spiked it and didn't, just because they wanted to do the right thing. How great is that? How rare is that in a for-profit business?"

Asked how she was feeling about the role of journalism these days, Young (right) said, "It is the foundation of our freedom. It is under-appreciated and shamefully undervalued, even by the leaders in our profession, and that breaks my heart. As for journalism and justice, the world is filled with injustice, and the joy of being a journalist is being blessed with the opportunity to right it, even once." Amen, and amen. We are thankful for Christine Young and journalists like her.

Nov. 12, 2009

Wis. journalist offers lesson on stimulus reporting

The government's most recent estimate for the number of jobs the stimulus act created is 640,000. However, when Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Ben Poston began to examine those numbers in Wisconsin, he found the government data was full of problems. Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute interviewed Poston for the "Morning Meeting" post Wednesday to glean lessons journalists could learn from his work.

Poston explains that the number of indirect jobs the government says have been created by the stimulus uses a formula that says for every one direct job created by the stimulus another indirect one was created. "In the end, you wind up arguing with a formula, since the government does not try to actually measure the jobs," he told Tompkins. Even after his reporting Poston says he doesn't know the exact number of jobs created by the stimulus in Wisconsin: "All I can say for sure is that the total is less than 10,073, the figure first reported. From what I found, it's at least overstated by hundreds of jobs."

Poston concludes the interview with this advice for other journalists looking at stimulus data: "Interview the data like you would interview a source. Look carefully at the grants, contracts and loan data for any discrepancies. If the information seems irregular or improbable, it probably is." (Read more)

Oct. 31, 2009

Anniston Star wins SNPA commentary prize again

Three staff members of The Anniston Star won the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize given by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association: Bob Davis, editor; Phillip Tutor, commentary editor; and John Fleming, editor at large. They wrote about Alabama's lax regulations on predatory lending and the victims created by it: "An enterprising, well-researched and well-told investigation into a horrific legal shakedown." It was the second such award for Davis, right.

Judges cited "deep research and sharp writing," and praised "the writers' ability to frame an issue specifically for their readership. Predatory lending is a difficult issue in many communities across the nation, but these pieces show how they strike at home. More important, they describe how they can be solved at home. Second, these pieces shine by personalizing the issue. They put faces to what might be nameless statistics and explore individual stories. That makes them all the more readable and memorable."

To read the entry, go here. For information on predatory lending from the Center for Responsible Lending, go here.

Oct. 14, 2009

Newspaper's reporting costs lax restaurant inspector his job with local health department

We reported on the open-records battle between the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville and the Pennyrile District Health Department exactly one month ago; now Sara Hogsed's reporting has led to personnel changes at the Todd County Health Department. Todd County Public Health Director Leslie Daniels announced Friday that after four years of insufficient performance, environmentalist Malcom Rust's employment with the department was over. Hogsed's initial report in the independently owned daily revealed that Rust was chronically behind on restaurant inspections. (Encarta map)

In an interview with the New Era for the first story, Rust said that there was "too much work for one person," a comment that didn't go unnoticed by his superiors. In an e-mail from Daniels to Rust announcing the termination, Daniels said: "I have given you many warnings concerning speaking with the media." The e-mail was obtained by the New Era through another open-records request. The newspaper also requested Todd County inspections for September, but Daniels told the New Era she wasn't sure Rust had conducted any. (Read more)

The weekly Todd County Standard, which has also been reporting on restaurant inspections in the county, reports that Rust was also fired for “abusive behavior” and “theft,” according to the letter he received. The Standard notes that Rust and Daniels had clashed over how or whether to inspect Amish and Mennonite schools in the county. (Read more)

Sept. 25, 2009

Weekly editor checks economic-stimulus data, finds school districts that no longer exist

"In Kansas, 11 school districts that no longer exist are on the U.S. Department of Education’s distribution list for stimulus funds. They are set to receive nearly $600,000," Jennifer LaFleur reports for ProPublica. "We found these school districts when Kirby Ross, managing editor of the Phillips County Review in Phillipsburg, Kan., alerted us that our county-by-county stimulus tracker included two districts in his area that didn’t exist."

"We checked more states and found that other consolidated or dissolved districts were on the list. In Missouri and Iowa, a handful of closed districts were listed as receiving stimulus funding.
That doesn’t mean stimulus checks will be arriving to empty buildings. In instances where money is allocated to a closed district, it typically is divvied up among the districts where the students now attend." (Read more)

Sept. 22, 2009

Miss. reporter earns prestigious McArthur grant, will keep trying to solve crimes of civil-rights era

Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, has been awarded a prestigious McArthur Fellowship. Mitchell, who has spent two decades solving crimes of the civil-rights era in Mississippi, will receive a five-year, $500,000 grant funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

"The purpose of the program is to promote creativity across a great range of fields in the interest of improving the human condition," foundation president Bob Gallucci told Chris Joyner of The Clarion-Ledger. Mitchell, 50, plans to use the grant to continue his pursuit of crimes that remain unsolved and to finish a book. He may take temporary breaks from The Clarion-Ledger to work on the project, but will continue to publish his findings in the Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.

"I speak for the entire Clarion-Ledger family when I say that Jerry's latest honor solidifies his position as one of the nation's top journalists," Larry K. Whitaker, The Clarion-Ledger's president and publisher, told Joyner. According to the foundation's Web site, the three criteria for the fellowship are exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work. (Read more) For the foundation's bio of Mitchell, click here.

UPDATE, Sept. 29: Richard Perez-Pena of The New York Times has a short but nice profile.

Sept. 14, 2009

Kentucky newspaper wins open-records battle, raises questions about local health departments

An open-records battle by the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville resulted in a weekend story questioning the performance of health departments in southwestern Kentucky. Sarah Hogsed reports that the Todd County Health Department is behind in its inspection of local food businesses and the Trigg County Health Department had awarded a disproportionate number of perfect scores. (Read more)

Hogsed's story comes after a heated open records battle between the newspaper, circulation 10,000, and the Pennyrile District Health Department. Hogsed first requested "copies of all retail food establishment reports from 2008 and 2009" on July 14, but health officials told her she had to submit her request in person with a photo ID and pay "all cost associated with the recovery and photocopying," according to the resulting open-records decision of the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General

The department eventually withdrew its demand that Hogsed file her request in person, and the implied threat of charging more for copies than the law allows, but Attorney General Jack Conway ruled that the delay in meeting Hogsed's request was a violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act. The department had claimed that it was too understaffed to meet Hogsed's request within the three-day period mandated by the law, and since Hogsed did not request specific records, they were not required to provide any, Terry Anderson reports on the Kentucky Open Government Blog. (Read more)

Aug. 17, 2009

Writer knows where to find facts and do a sidebar; photographer knows how to capture the scene

When Ronnie Ellis of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. went to northeastern Kentucky to cover a big special election for a seat in the state Senate, he didn't just do the basic situation piece about the race, visiting local hangouts and interviewing voters. He produced a nice feature story on one hangout, operated by Joe Quillen, 82, above. (Photo by John Flavell, The Independent, Ashland)

"If you want to know what’s really going on, go to Quillen’s Service Station," writes Ellis, who is based in Frankfort and writes for CNHI's five daily papers and six weeklies in Kentucky. But don't expect to top off your tank. "The gas company took out the pumps years ago. ... It’s more social club than commercial enterprise. And civic club."

“They know everything – EVERYTHING,” state Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, told Ellis. “And what they don’t know, they’ll figure out for you. And they’ll tell you when they do.” Ellis concludes, "Pullin said the group not only knows what’s going on in their community today – they know every bit of history for the past 40 years so they understand what led to today’s news." (Read more)

Every town has one or more places like Quillen's. Rural journalists, avoid them at your peril. Here's a slide show from Flavell:


July 22, 2009

Drilling stories win environmental reporting prizes

Stories on natural-gas drilling won both top small-market awards for environmental reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists. This year's only prize for small-market TV reporting went to Jim Parsons, Kendall Cross and Michael Lazorko of WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh for "Drill Baby Drill," which the judges called "the kind of outstanding environmental journalism that every newsroom should commit to report." First prize for small-market print reporting went to Lowell Brown amd Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe of the Denton Record-Chronicle for reporting on the effect of gas drilling in residential areas of the Dallas exurb. The 13,000-circulation paper is a sister of the Dallas Morning News.

The second- and third-place winners in the small-market category, both writers for High Country News, were more rural. Florence Williams won second for "On Cancer's Trail," which SEJ describes as "the story of a young Navajo biologist studying breast cancer so that she can understand the high incidence of the disease in her family and community." Williams spent a year reporting this story as a Ted Scripps fellow at the University of Colorado. J. Madeline Nash won third for "Back to the Future," a story about a global warming that lasted about 150,000 years around 55 million years ago. She asked, "What does that tell us about our current climate dilemma?" SEJ says, "The answer she provides is terrifying."

Stories on gas drilling by Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica won third place for investigative reporting. Second place for explanatory reporting went to Stefan Milkowski and John Wagner of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, circulation 14,500, for "Alaska's Changing Climate", which SEJ calls "penetrating examination of the state's shrinking ice cap, starving sea mammals, melting permafrost, beleaguered spruce forests and ailing fish stocks." For descriptions of all winners and links to their work, click here.

July 13, 2009

News-Gazette, University of Illinois J-school unveil project to report on local economic disparities

Champaign County, Illinois, population 171,000, "is home to a world-class university, chic new downtown lofts and more than 350 restaurants. It is also home to more than 58,600 residents – nearly one in three – who are impoverished or near poverty, according to 2007 Census Bureau data."

So report freelance writers Shelley Smithson and Pam G. Dempsey for The News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, in the first of a series "to engage citizens, educators and other media in an ongoing examination of poverty and its related issues in Champaign County," an editor's note says. The project director is Rich Martin of the University of Illinois School of Journalism, and journalism students will be involved. The project will include an interactive Web site "where citizens can access and contribute information about these issues," overseen by Brant Houston, the school's Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting and former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

"While news stories will be a significant part of this project, a major goal will be to provide access to information about the community to those citizens who seldom get that access," the editor's note says. "The project is funded by the Marajen Stevick Foundation, a News-Gazette community foundation; a matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a journalism foundation based in Miami; and contributions from the University of Illinois." (Read more)

June 28, 2009

International weekly editors' group honors writers of editorials and Garrett Ray for public service

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors concluded its annual conference today on Prince Edward Island after recognizing 12 weekly editors for their editorials and giving its highest award to a man whom one nominator dubbed the dean of the organization.

Garrett Ray, right, former editor and owner of the Littleton Independent in Colorado and retired faculty member at Colorado State University, won the Eugene Cervi Award for a career of outstanding public service through community journalism. His friend Richard McCord of Santa Fe, N.M., said in announcing the award that Ray has won journalism awards for "almost anything you can win an award for."

Ray's awards included the 1980 Golden Quill, which ISWNE gives to the editorial deemed the best of the Golden Dozen, 12 editorials that are recognized at the group's awards dinner and reprinted in its quarterly magazine, Grassroots Editor. For the latest edition of the magazine, with the award winners and their editorials, click here. For a capsule rundown of the awards and the conference, click here.

June 7, 2009

Owensboro, Ky., honors brothers who published a great paper and continue to serve the community

At a time when newspapers are having more difficulty than ever fulfilling their public-service role, a Kentucky town took time yesterday to honor two brothers who gave it one of the best small newspapers in the United States and turned the money they got from selling it into philanthropic projects that have continued to advance the community.

John and Larry Hager of Owensboro, population 52,000, sold their interests in the Messenger-Inquirer about 20 years ago. "John Hager would go on to start the Public Life Foundation, which helped spark the We the People group that has had success in encouraging public involvement in government," the paper's Dariush Shafa reports. "Larry Hager Jr. went on to create the Hager Educational Foundation, which has given out more than $1 million in grants since its creation in 1990."

The brothers' interests reflected the editorial position of the newspaper, where John largely handled the editorial side and Larry the business side. "I never saw John make a major editorial decision at the newspaper that was selfish," said David Boeyink of Indiana University, who edited the editorial page for nine years in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when the Messenger-Inquirer was named one of the nation's five best small newspapers. Boeyink said the paper looked out for the marginalized and the vulnerable, and followed "the hard path of changing institutions and culture."

John Hager, right, who bought out his brother about five years before selling the paper (to A.H. Belo Corp., which five years later sold it to Paxton Media Group), said he and his sibling were not on the same track, but they started from the same point: concern for "the vulnerable and the voiceless." Larry Hager, left, told the crowd at RiverPark Center, "Service to your fellow man turns out to be the most satisfying thing you ever do. ... Let's go out tomorrow and keep on doing it." (Read more; subscription required)

April 30, 2009

Kentucky student newspaper tackles coal issues

A student newspaper in Kentucky tackled tough issues surrounding coal today. Brad Luttrell, editor-in-chief of the University of Kentucky's daily Kentucky Kernel, did the stories and photographs. We think any newspaper in the Central Appalachian coalfield could learn from his work and use it as an example to follow.

Luttrell, raised in Harlan County, recounted his own experience with coal mining, like that of many people in Kentucky: "My cousins, grandparents and uncles are not the enemy. The same coal they blast out of a mountain, you are using right now. If you used electricity today – watch television, flip any light switches, refrigerate your food or walk into any modern building – then you are as much a part of the problem as the coal companies."

The special section of the Kernel has three segments; a feature on Erik Reese, a UK professor and anti-coal activist, who gained national attention for his book Lost Mountain, about mountaintop-removal strip mining; a long feature on Nate Waters, a senior mining engineering student at UK; and Luttrell's column about growing up in a mining community. Read more here.

April 23, 2009

Institute for Rural Journalism recognized with East Kentucky Leadership Foundation's media award

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (logo and link at left) is receiving this year's Media Award from the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation tonight in Hazard, Ky. "The Institute serves as a public policy center to help rural journalists grasp the local impact of broader issues, find sources, and develop new story approaches," reports Marie Luby of WYMT-TV in Hazard.

The Institute is being recognized for its role helping rural journalists tackle tough stories and keeping rural communities informed. "It's a lot more difficult to be a good, ethical, hard-nosed journalist in a small town than it is a big city because you never know when someone's going to come in, walk right in to your office, no receptionist or security guard, and start banging on your desk about something you wrote," IRJCI Director Al Cross told Luby.

The Institute was founded by the University of Kentucky in 2001 and staffed in 2004 with the hiring of Cross, thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its initial focus was on Appalachia, and though it quickly became a national program, the region and the state are its homes. The university has adopted the program, which is raising money for an endowment to expand its work. To read the story and watch an interview with Cross, click here.

April 20, 2009

Writer at 34,000-circulation daily in upstate N.Y. wins Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing

An editorial writer from a 34,000-circulation newspaper in rural New York won this year's Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing today, on the strength of what the judges called "his relentless, down-to-earth editorials on the perils of local government secrecy, effectively admonishing citizens to uphold their right to know."

Mark Mahoney, right, is editorial page editor of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, the smallest paper to win a Pulitzer this year. He authors a nationally recognized blog about First Amendment issues, “Your Right to Know.”

"Editor Ken Tingley said Mahoney’s win made him think of the line from the movie 'Hoosiers,' when the basketball coach is urging on his small-school team to the championship," the Post-Star reports. Tingley said, "This is for all the small newspapers out there that never got to play in the game." Tingley said. The paper is part of Lee Enterprises.

Mahoney "has a gift for making dry topics, like the Freedom of Information Law, readable through entertaining examples and comparisons," his paper reported. He began a recent editorial about state government, "In the time it takes you to read this sentence, it will have spent about $20,000." (Encarta map)

Each entrant in the editorials category had to send in 10 examples of work. The jurors for the prize were Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Robert J. Caldwell, editorial page editor of The Oregonian; Nanya Friend, editor and publisher of the Charleston Daily Mail; Jeff Good, editor of the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt.; and Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The Detroit News. Tucker, who chaired the jury, and Good, a regional neighbor of Mahoney, are former Pulitzer winners.


April 16, 2009

Struggling rural newspaper breaks a national story

The Tracy Press in California has been struggling for survival. Back in February 2008, we reported that the family-owned newspaper had cut back circulation from daily to just Wednesdays and Saturdays. Now the paper has broken a local story that went national.

After 8-year-old Sandra Cantu disappeared March 27, all the paper's drastically reduced staff started working on the story. After Cantu's body was discovered stuffed in a suitcase, reporter Jennifer Wadsworth, 22, started following rumors which led her to Cantu's 28-year-old neighbor, Melissa Huckaby, who had become a suspect in the case. Huckaby first refused to speak to Wadsworth when she contacted woman through the cell phone number listed in court records, the reporter told Alexandra Zavis of the Los Angeles Times, but then "She said, well, you're from the home paper."

Huckaby proceeded to reveal that she owned the suitcase in which Cantu's body was found. Although she claimed it had been stolen the day before Cantu's disappearance, she had not told police that. After reading Wadsworth's report on the paper's Web site, the cops brought Huckaby in again. Following a five-hour interview, she was charged with kidnapping and killing Cantu. With that, the paper itself became front-page news. "Wadsworth said she is struggling to get enough reporting time in between all the TV interviews," writes Cantu. (Read more)

April 13, 2009

Sigma Delta Chi Awards have rural resonance

There's some rural resonance in most categories of the annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards for journalism, announced today by the Society of Professional Journalists.

In some cases, awards went to rural media or those telling rural-related stories to large rural audiences. The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, circulation 58,000, won for deadline reporting among newspapers with circulations less than 100,000, for its coverage of a record flood in central Iowa. Jonathan Ellis of The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., circulation 48,000, won the investigative reporting award for smaller-circulation papers, for "Casino Kings." Smaller newspapers continued to win the SDX award for cartooning. This year's goes to Chris Britt of the State Journal Register in Springfield, Ill., circulation 50,000.

Other awards were for work that examined issues or topics with strong rural angles. John Burnett, Marisa Penaloza, Quinn O'Toole and Tanya Ballard Brown of National Public Radio won the radio investigative reporting award for "Dirty Money," a series about local law-enforcement agencies becoming dependent on confiscations from drug traffickers. The award for breaking news coverage in small television markets (Nos. 51 and below) went to Alison Morrow, Jerry Owens and John Martin of WBIR-TV in Knoxville for coverage of the TVA coal-ash spill. The large-market award for feature reporting went to Boyd Huppert and Jonathan Malat of KARE-TV in Minneapolis for "The Land of 10,000 Stories," a series of features, many about rural Minnesota and Wisconsin. The staff of KTUU in Anchorage, which has a large rural audience, won the public-service TV award for its coverage of the trial of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Online winners with rural resonance included "Perils of the New Pesticides," a reporting project by the Center for Public Integrity. For the full list, go to http://www.spj.org/.

April 7, 2009

Binghamton newspaper covers shooting tragedy despite cutbacks, language barriers

Like many newspaper editors these days, Calvin Stovall has been working with a reduced staff and a tight budget. But when a gunman opened fire at an immigration center in his town of Binghamton, N.Y., population 45,000, the Press & Sun-Bulletin editor didn't let the cutbacks stop him and his reporters from doing their job. "It is easy for us to get hung up on that," said Stovall. "But we have had the people we needed to cover the story."/p>

Since Friday's shooting, the paper's staff have been working around the clock to cover the story properly, with extra print and web content that includes a focus on the 13 victims, who include eleven immigrants, their English teacher, and an office worker. Local translators have helped the staff overcome language barriers in interviews, and journalists from papers also owned by Gannett Co. Inc. have joined the staff to help with coverage.

Stovall told Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher that the tragedy points to why journalists do what they do: "The industry is really going through a lot right now, we know we play a very important role and this is a reminder of the very important role we play." (Read more; read the paper's Web coverage here)

April 2, 2009

Ariz. weekly tells well the story of rural physicians

The story of recruiting doctors to rural areas is an old one, but as long as the need exists, it's worth telling. Pete Aleshire of the Payson Roundup in Arizona, one of the nation's larger weekly newspapers (circulation 18,000), does a nice job of introducing the issue in human terms:

Midnight phone calls.
Lack of specialist backup.
Ever-present patients.
Big city wives.
Oh, the challenges of being an up-to-date doctor in a small town.

Of course, then there’s the great relationships with your patients, the tight-knit medical community, the community connections, the nice house, the acreage and fishing just down the road.
Ah, the joys of rural medicine.

Aleshire also gives the basic data: "While 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas — only 9 percent of the nation’s doctors practice in those areas, according to a study of rural medicine published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Worse yet, only 3 percent of students in medical school say they intend to practice in a rural area."

He adds, "People living in rural areas generally have more medical problems, which reflects higher poverty rates — which in 2000 ran at 14 percent in rural areas and 11 percent in urban areas. Moreover, people living in rural areas are less likely to have medical coverage, which means their doctors more often find themselves treating patients without insurance."

For the whole 1,500-word story, click here.

March 20, 2009

Weekly's editorial poses pointed questions lawmakers should ask about drilling legislation

Editorialists often presume to have the answers. Sometimes it's better to ask questions, to invite readers to think. That's what Editor Ben Gish of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., did this week, as he took a crack at a bill in the legislature that would allow drilling for natural gas on state-owned property, including state parks.

"Let's assume for a moment that we are a state representative and ask ourselves some simple questions," Gish wrote. "Shouldn't I at least take a few hours out of my busy schedule to watch a well being drilled so I can get some kind of feel for the property damage that will occur on the lands I took an oath to protect?"

That was Question 1. Others touched on how gas wells work, the chemicals that are often used in fracturing of underground rock formations. The 15th and last question: " Now that I have become aware of some of the problems associated with the extraction of natural gas, I am beginning to feel the pain of some of our citizens who are being forced to let gas companies drill wells on their property simply because their mineral rights were surrendered years ago under broadform deeds. Shouldn't I begin to do my duty and introduce legislation that would help protect the health and safety of all of Kentucky's citizens who are being affected by the current boom in shale-gas drilling?" (Read more; subscription required)

March 18, 2009

Quit whining and lead the way toward change and profitability online, rural editor urges journalists

"I’m so sick of the pity parties for the newspaper industry." That's how Samantha Swindler of The Times Tribune in Corbin, Ky., begins her latest column, prompted by journalists whining "about the doom and gloom in the newspaper industry and what ills will befall our country if the newspaper ever ceases to exist."

Following a "rolls eyes" line bracketed by asterisks, Swinder continued, "Nothing bad is going to happen to society if newspapers cease to exist, because good journalism will always be around. ... It’s that unearned sense of entitlement, that lack of adaptability or unwillingness to evolve, that loss of the whole American idea of ingenuity, that’s crippling the economy (not just the newspaper industry) and making me sick." She said newspapers should charge small fees for online content, and stop allowing aggregators to use their news without paying.

"We community newspapers are in a far better position than the major metros," Swindler acknowledged. "We still produce a relatively scarce product — very few media outlets are fighting over local coverage — and our readership demographic of older, rural residents will probably be some of the last to transition to online news sources. Plus, people in small communities have a greater attachment to local news than city dwellers."

But unless newspaper journalists at all levels lead the way toward change that brings online profitability, Swindler concludes, "The world is going to be stuck with a bunch of punk bloggers who have no scruples, who can’t write an open-records request, who post anything before it’s proven fact, who purposefully intermingle opinion and news because they’re more interested in being a 'personality' than a reporter, and who really will be the death of the journalism of accountability — which is all I’m really worried about." (Read more)

March 3, 2009

Rural superintendent explains how kids' brains work, and local weekly passes it on to the public

Education is the great hope for economic development of poor rural areas, but that has become a rote statement with not much deeper understanding of how education works -- especially early-childhood education, which experts say must be expanded if many poor children are to achieve their potential. Educators need to explain that, and rural journalists need to report it.

The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va., understands that, so its latest edition has a great story headlined "Brain not wired for modernity: Schools chief offers insights during workshop." (Progress photo by Melanie Lane) Staff Writer Jodi Deal reports on a speech by Wise County Schools Superintendent Jeff Perry at a teachers' workshop that was open to the public:

"Eighty percent of what humans do is based on subconscious instincts, urges and thought processes, Perry told the crowd. Learning a little more about what’s happening and why can help teachers tailor lessons to take advantage of the way the brain works, not work against it. The same knowledge can help parents relate to their children, and could even come in handy for routine interaction between adults."

The story, less than 900 words and an easy read, is a good example of how newspapers can help develop more detailed understanding of important issues. The Progress site is subscription-only, but the story is posted on the site of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, here. It includes a sidebar with basic and interesting facts about the brain.

Feb. 6, 2009

Weekly newspaper goes 24/7 to keep its readers informed amid aftermath of record ice storm

As the deadline of The Crittenden Press coincided with a massive ice storm in Western Kentucky in the last week of January, Editor and Publisher Chris Evans knew the edition would be overtaken by events. Recalling an ice storm the previous winter, a one-column headline on the front page announced "Deja vu". But as all of Crittenden County, including the Marion radio station WMJL, lost power, last winter's experience helped the newspaper become the sole source of local information at a critical time.

Evans, left, got a generator and enough power to publish an 8½-by-11-inch handbill that was inserted into the paper, and distributed around town even before the paper arrived. It gave critical updates on a host of critical subjects. Because there was no Internet access to update the paper's Web site, Evans called reports to Matthew T. Patton, a local native who lives in Philadelphia and writes a column for the paper. "People were sending him pictures and he would post them online," Evans said. "He was running our Web site ... and you would never know he wasn’t right in the middle of it."

Readers appreciated the efforts. "We got tremendous feedback" about the Web site and handbill, Evans said. "I had people drive by the office, honk their horn and give thumbs up. It's times like this that really give me a charge and makes me love my job." That showed in this week's paper, which you can download here. And what about next week's paper? Evans said he is planning a special section with "the Git-er-done Awards for individuals and entities who need a slap on the back or a tip of the hat." He probably won't include himself, but we will, right here. For a full story, click here.

Jan. 30, 2009

Rural paper tackles health and lifestyle issues

After her husband's death from cancer in 1999, Linda Bell Warren of Big Stone Gap, Va., has preached the word about smoking and the health problems that accompany it. A story about her crusade begins a weekly series in The Post, the local weekly newspaper, about health and personal lifestyle decisions.

Editor Ida Holyfield said in a note atop the Warren story, "When it comes to our health, how much of our situation can be linked to lifestyle choices, and what should we be doing to help ourselves and our loved ones? This week, a widow shares her story of the toll cigarette smoking took on her husband. Next week’s story deals with suicide prevention and how loved ones of those who have committed suicide cope."

Tal Warren "said that without question, cigarettes took his life. He smoked two packs a day for 30 years,” Holyfield writes. Although Warren went several years without any major health problems and even quit smoking cold turkey in 1987, his history with cigarettes took a turn in 1998. Only eighteen months later, he passed away in the night, another victim of smoking.

“I’m a retired chemical engineer by training, and I’ve got a very analytical mind," Linda Warren told Holyfield. "Cigarettes cost you a whole lot more than the price of the pack you buy. They can cost you your life.” (Read more; subscription required)

Jan. 26, 2009

Pollan, journalism prof who knows food and farms, makes Forbes' list of top 25 liberals in news media

A journalism professor who writes about the process and politics of food just did make Forbes magazine's list of the 25 most influential liberals in the U.S. news media. No. 25 is Michael Pollan, right, of the University of California, Berkeley, and here's what the magazine said about him:

"The author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Pollan has had more influence than any other contemporary writer on mainstream American thinking about what we eat. His manifesto--"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants"--should now be in political vogue. (Obama likes arugula.)"

Forbes explains its effort: "Barack Obama's inauguration was the formal point at which the reigning ideology in Washington changed from "conservative" to "liberal." We use those terms without apology, as they are used in American political discourse." For its definition of "liberal," and the list, click here.

Dec. 6, 2008

Weekly doesn't shy from reporting on hard times

As the economy worsens and more people fall into dire straits, that's news. But in our experience, most rural newspapers shy away from enterprise reporting about hard times. Some are reluctant to shine the spotlight on neighbors; some think there's enough bad news already. But if a newspaper is to be what it should be, a mirror of the community, it needs stories like the one published in The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va., this week.

"While many of us looked forward to sumptuous Thanksgiving feasts and holiday gift bargain shopping on Black Friday, others worried about simply getting enough food to fill their families’ bellies," Jeff Lester began his story about a surge in clients at the Wise County Food Bank. He didn't include material from any interviews with clients, but Melanie Lane took this photo of unidentified clients at the facility. (The paper often runs photos showing the Appalachian county's natural beauty.)

Lester reported that the food bank "could find itself hurting within a month," and told readers how they could donate. He gave the hours of the bank's two locations and its eligibility rules. (Read more; subscription may be required)

UPDATE, Dec. 8: The Progress was ahead of the curve. Today Michael Sluss and Rob Johnson of The Roanoke Times report that some area food banks are running out of food and may need state aid.

Dec. 4, 2008

NAA's "20 under 40" hotshots include four who serve rural America with newspapers

The Newspaper Association of America's 2008 20 Under 40 list features four employees from rural newspapers and a company that owns many rural papers.

Assembled by the NNA magazine Presstime, the list includes executives under 40 who represent creative and progressive work relevant to their respective publication and the newspaper industry. Individuals who received the honor include editors, advertising directors and online staff and feature writers, among others

The honorees were Dan Cox, president of the The World Co., publishers of the Lawrence Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan.; Shannon Dunnigan, vice president of human resources at GateHouse Media in Fairport, N.Y.; Mike Fuhrman, editor of the Statesville Record & Landmark in Statesville, N.C.; and David Sickle, circulation director for The Republican & Herald and The News-Item in Pottsville and Shamokin, Pa.

Fuhrman, editor of the Statesville Record & Landmark, has been recognized for helping create partnerships with four other daily papers to improve reporter training and an implement an emergency response plan. He has also introduced his paper to a new Web publishing system this past August. Publisher Tim Dearman says Fuhrman “understands the role the newspaper needs to serve in a changing environment. He is the best hire I’ve ever made, and I’ve been in the business a long time.”

Presstime says that the goal of the list “is to assemble a group of people, under the age of 40, who represent the innovative work being done at today's newspapers, and tell their stories through profiles in the magazine and enhanced content online at www.naa.org."

See the profiles of the winners here.

Dec. 3, 2008

Small-town radio station gets awards, attention for public-service work in Indiana community

Radio stations can be an important part of a small community, and one in Southern Indiana has recently been recognized twice for its public service. WMPI in Scottsburg, population 6,000, was recently named small-market station of the year by the Indiana Broadcasters Association and received a write-up in The Courier-Journal of nearby Louisville.

J.R. Ross, left, and his father bought the station almost 20 years ago, and since then, have made sure it is an integral part of the community. "I think people are hungry for customer service," Ross says. C-J Indiana columnist Dale Moss writes that Ross "missed a shift recently after dental work, and listeners called, worried what was wrong." (Photo by Moss)

The station also works hard at giving back to the community. This weekend is its 19th annual "We Care" holiday auction, which provides warm clothing for children in the community. With priorities like that, we think they deserve all the attention they can get. (Read more)

Nov. 16, 2008

At historic election, editor recalls earlier pioneer

Steve Doyle, editor of The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, Ky., found a good way to localize the historic presidential election in his column for the weekly, writing that Barack Obama's election made him think of the first African American he went to school with, in sixth grade at Simpsonville Elementary, between Shelbyville and Louisville.

"Integration was a topic that was recognized intellectually but hardly embraced socially," Doyle wrote, "so Delbert O’Bannon was sort of our version of James Meredith, breaking down a barrier at the local school. And he did so with panache. He was loquacious and friendly and tried to fit in. ... For some reason – I have no idea why – Delbert sort of embraced me. He would sometimes call our house to talk, which felt really strange and caused all sorts of concerns. ... I never really knew how he felt about being that first person of color to bring light to our classroom. But I can tell you this: In 2008 Barack Obama is seen as the agent of change in our world, an icon of progress for the our time and a light in a once-dark closet. And in 1964, Delbert O’Bannon helped enlighten the generation that voted for him." (Read more)

Nov. 14, 2008

Weekly newspapers covered Agriprocessors Inc. and its big immigration raid differently than dailies

The weekly Postville Herald-Leader in Iowa faced an unexpected challenge last May when the town suddenly became the center of a then-record immigration raid and a symbol for the nation's immigration debate. An article in Grassroots Editor, published by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, highlights the work of the Herald-Leader and other weeklies in covering the raid at Agriprocessors Inc. and its aftermath.

Agriprocessors was a story years before the raid. The company began in 1987, and, by 1996, had become the "world's largest kosher slaughterhouse." With the resulting "influx of Hasidic Jews and an international workforce, the town came to be seen as an experiment in multicultural living," writes Patricia Berg. "In a region almost entirely populated by Christians descended from German and Norwegian immigrants, Postville had suddenly become a mosaic of Anglo Christians, Jews, Latinos and Eastern Europeans." University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom wrote a book about it, Postville.

With this year's raid, however, Postville was national news, with major dailies focusing on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and immigration policy. Local weeklies not only had to report that story, but also lived the story, as friends and neighbors were arrested and deported. "Even a few miles down the road their perspective is different from mine, because they don't live right here," said Sharon Drahn, editor of the Herald-Leader. The dedication required to report on many of the stories still emerging from the raid is also much harder on local staff. Janell Bradley, owner and editor of three area weeklies, says that she has begun studying Spanish three nights a week, so that she is no longer dependent on interpreters.

Gerald Blue, editor of the Fayette County Union, 15 miles from Postville, says that weeklies' proximity to the story has enabled them to report areas of progress. "The dailies chose to ignore anything that was positive" about Agriprocessors, he said. He says that while daily papers did not report on company changes for the better, such as a new staffing agency, the weekly papers did. (Read more)

Oct. 1, 2008

N.C. editor illustrates small-town life, literally

Wildlife illustration from The Matthews RecordJim Denk knows the work involved in running a small-town newspaper. Although he and his wife, Janet, employ just a few part-time workers at The Matthews Record, the local newspaper they bought a few years ago, they still end up doing everything from writing to selling advertising to delivering the papers to the post office in the North Carolina town of 28,000 near Charlotte.

Those responsibilities alone are enough to keep the couple very busy, which makes the stunning visuals created by Denk all the more impressive. He is creating a lot of buzz in the journalism community for the detailed graphics he creates for the weekly.

In an interview, Denk told Sara Quinn of the Poynter Institute about his work. For example, he found that wildlife issues were important in his community. So, he says, "I created an illustration of a forest, the way it looks in North Carolina. I put everything in it that I've ever seen there. Like salamanders to frogs. I did the research on the frogs, what kind they were. Turtles to deer to barred owls. That was fun." His illustration appears above.

Denk, who has worked for The Charlotte Observer and the Detroit Free Press, is extending his graphic work to advertising. "At first, I thought creating the ads would be just one more production thing to do," he says. "But, I'm already looking at it like it's the next challenge for me." (Read more)

Sept. 24, 2008

Ky. columnist gets attention for financial coverage

On almost every issue, Don McNay disagrees with Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, but the Richmond, Ky.-based columnist doesn't let that stop him from commending the state's junior senator for positions they do agree on. He's getting noticed for it.

Yesterday, Dave Astor of Editor & Publisher highlighted McNay's column, which runs in The Richmond Register. Astor writes, "McNay ... makes some interesting points about how [Bunning] had better instincts about America's economic problems than many other politicians."

McNay, who makes his living counseling people with financial windfalls, says Bunning seems to be "in touch with how people really live and what they are really thinking" about the proposed Wall Street bailout. He also praises Bunning for opposing the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, and the current chairman, Ben Bernanke, when it was unpopular to do so.

McNay compares the proposal to another Congressional decision that is widely considered disastrous. "The rush to spend $700 billion and reshape the world economic system also reminds of the rush up to the current war in Iraq," he writes. " We are being asked to make a hasty decision by officials whose data we can’t verify and who haven’t done that great of a job. There is a push to 'ignore the fine print' and get on with things." (Read more)

Sept. 3, 2008

Institute founder to be nationally recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists

Don't let his age fool you. The founder of the Institute of Rural Journalism and Community Issues, Al Smith, 81, is being honored this week by the Society of Professional Journalists - among the likes of late political journalist Tim Russert - and he has no intention of slowing down.

Smith's formidable career has taken him to a variety of journalism positions, beginning with editor and publisher in both Eastern and Western Kentucky small-town newspapers. He went on to head the Appalachian Regional Commission under two U.S. presidents, worked as a host of KET's "Comment on Kentucky," founded the IRJCI at the University of Kentucky and continues to advocate for better higher education opportunities and solutions to rural issues.

In Atlanta this Saturday, Smith will be recognized for his endless contributions to the journalism industry and be named a Fellow of the Society, SPJ's highest honor. For a column on Smith, by Tom Eblen in the Lexington Herald-Leader, click here.

Aug. 21, 2008

For 50 years at the same station, Don Neagle has kept up the public-service traditions of rural radio

Radio news has been in decline for 20 years or more, but in some rural communities, dedicated owners, managers and announcers keep up the tradition of the locally owned radio station as a crucial source of local news and a public forum. We don't know a better example than Don Neagle of WRUS (610 AM) in Russellville, Ky., where on Labor Day, Sept. 1, he and Logan County will celebrate his 50 years at the station. (Photo by Tim Webb for Kentucky Living magazine)

"As the Internet continues to unsettle the economics of the news business, the long career of my old friend is a witness to the traditional values of rural and community journalism," Al Smith writes on RuralJournalism.org. "He still does it the old-fashioned way, getting up before dawn with the farmers and factory workers to tell them what the weather will be like, what happened in their county yesterday, and what might happen today. For many Logan countians, he is someone they began listening to as their parents got them out of bed to catch the school bus. ... But it is doubtful that any Kentucky-based radio host mixes the conversations – literary, down home, and politically savvy – that are so uniquely appealing in Neagle’s daily talk show, “Feedback.”

"Guests might be an author on the line from Louisville or New York about a new novel, or a Vanderbilt University Divinity School professor discussing Pentecostalism in South America, or, as on an especially memorable morning, one of Western Kentucky University’s aging Hilltoppers helping Don spin their music that went gold in the Fifties. ... An avid book reader, a longtime library trustee, and married to a former teacher, Don’s passion for reading compensated for whatever he missed as a college dropout. But his learning rests easily in the folksy, good-humored chatter of a man who can talk to anybody."

Smith, the co-founder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, concludes, "Don has managed to exploit new technology to keep his little media business profitable, but much of his success is still so very personal — the dependable service that long ago forged a bond between a rural American community and its self-taught but experienced news guy. He feels the pressures of his business interests compromise his time to do quality news. After he leaves, he is not sure what will happen, or who will care as much." (Read more)

UPDATE, Aug. 29: Columnists Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald-Leader, here, and Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal, here, commemorate Neagle's achievement.

July 25, 2008

A Pakistani editor fights for freedom of expression in a dangerous land

We read much about Iraq and Afghanistan because U.S. troops are fighting there, but the most dangerous country in the world is probably Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, many Islamic fundamentalists, and borders with Afghanistan, Iran, India and China. We need to read more about Pakistanis who stand up for freedom, including freedom of the press, which can be most difficult to achieve in rural areas, as journalist Najam Sethi is finding out.

"Pakistan's free media and conservative Islam have become powerful forces, untethered from the state that once held both in check and weakening the government's ability to shape public views," Peter Wonacott reports for The Wall Street Journal. Sethi is attempting "to tip the scales of power toward the media." He is editor in chief of the Daily Times and the Friday Times, English-language papers that lampoon the Islamists. His ability to persuade public opinion was limited because relatively few Pakistanis can read English. But he recently launched a newspaper in Urdu, the language spoken by most people in the country, despite death threats that have continued.

The Urdu paper Aaj Kal in early February "sold quickly in the conservative tribal belt, causing trouble," Wonacott reports. Sales there were suspended after two of the paper's distributors were detained by Taliban who told them to stop selling it. Editors of regional editions agreed to tone down photos of women when publication resumed, but Sethi says they are not allowed to alter the paper's editorial pages.

Pakistani journalists are usually safer criticizing the government than the militants who challenge it. "I don't want my throat slit," says an unnamed editor in Peshawar, a conservative region. Sethi told Wonacott that few papers take on Islamic militants "because they're scared. The state doesn't have the ability to protect them." The chart from the Journal shows how much more dangerous it was to be a journalist in Pakistan last year than in 2006. The nation's intelligence agencies have encouraged Sethi, 60, to leave the country for his safety; his children were relocated last week, but he and his wife, the editor of an English-language fashion glossy, remain in their home, which is now guarded by army rangers. Read more here.

July 24, 2008

NNA to honor Rhoades, Spaar for rural journalism

Kenneth H. Rhoades of Nebraska and Betty Simpson Spaar of Missouri will be honored during the National Newspaper Association’s 122nd annual convention and trade show, when they will be presented with the Amos and McKinney awards, respectively.

NNA calls the awards "the highest and most dignified tributes in community journalism." They are given to a working or retired man and woman who have provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and to their communities. The awards will be presented at the business luncheon on Sept. 27 in St. Paul, Minn.

Rhoades is co-publisher of Enterprise Publishing Co., a group of newspapers in Nebraska and Iowa. He will receive the James O. Amos Award, named for a pioneer Ohio journalist. Spaar, publisher of The Odessan, in Odessa, Mo., will receive the Emma C. McKinney Memorial Award, named for the co-publisher and editor of the Hillsboro (Ore.) Argus for 58 years.

For NNA's release on the awards, click here. For more information on the convention, go to http://www.nna.org/.

July 22, 2008

Really small daily wins Tenn.'s top investigative reporting prize for series on local Somali refugees

Friday, we reported that a weekly newspaper won the overall prize in a Tennessee Press Association contest category that also included dailies. The next night, the Times-Gazette of Shelbyville, circulation 7,385, fifth smallest of the state's 27 daily papers, won Tennessee's top award for investigative journalism.

"Times-Gazette staff writer Brian Mosely received the state's top award for investigative reporting by The Associated Press Saturday night, highlighting a total of 18 awards won by the paper in the state's two major press competitions held this weekend," the Rust Communications paper bragged (with justification) in a non-bylined story yesterday. Mosely received the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting from the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors "for his five-part series about the influx of Somali refugees in Bedford County," Editor & Publisher reports. "In all, the paper won five awards from TAPME in the category of newspapers with a daily circulation under 10,000." (Read more)

The Christmas-week series was truly investigative because Mosely had to write it without cooperation from the refugees, many of whom work at a local Tyson Foods plant and have had difficulty integrating into the community. In a Jan. 31 speech to the Shelbyville Rotary Club, published in the paper Feb. 2, Mosely said the series "exposed an undercurrent of fear and distrust of the Islamic refugees ... even hate," through comments on the paper's Web site. "I was also called a bigot by Muslims from outside the community. One local critic even accused me of fiendishly manipulating my readers, hoping that that my articles would inspire someone to commit a hate crime against the refugees."

In an opinion piece at the conclusion of the series, Mosely (right) wrote, "Over the past few years, this community has given a helping hand and opened their arms to the new arrivals from Somalia. In return, many of these refugees have given Shelbyville the finger." And he said that some sources he contacted for background "seemed to be so blinded by political correctness that they would excuse any behavior."

Mosely told the Rotarians that the series accomplished at least one thing: "It started a discussion about our new neighbors and what can be done to help them become a part of the community. The Times-Gazette have already been paid a visit from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, who want to help out the Somalis. I'm also given to understand that a similar effort is currently underway here in the county as well. But, as I said in a recent op-ed column, where were these offers of help four years ago when the refugees began to move to our community? They didn't come from the charitable organizations who settled them here. After a certain amount of time, the refugees are left basically on their own." To read Mosely's coverage, click here. For his blog, go here.

July 20, 2008

After a tough call, rural editor shares her thoughts

"The greatest part of reporting for a community newspaper is the variety," including the more challenging parts, Sharon Burton, right, writes in the latest edition of her paper, the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., which recently became a paid weekly after starting as a free fortnightly. "A community newspaper is about the people, provided for the people," Burton observes.

"Sometimes, that means writing articles that are fun to write, and sometimes the job is not as pleasant."

We doubt Burton thought it was pleasant to publish a story in last week's paper about County Judge-Executive Ann Melton being named in a lawsuit against her contractor husband for failure to pay home-construction loans. The story says Gary Melton "criticized the Community Voice for reporting the civil case, saying the only reason the county judge-executive is listed in the lawsuit is because she is married to him." But in our view, it's still worth a story.

Burton made no reference to the story in her column, but we're sure some readers made a connection. She wrote, "Whether we are covering events or interviewing people, I try to always keep in mind that after the story is published and gone, the lives of the people we cover continue, and what we write or do not write can impact them forever. I pray that I never make rash decisions about our news coverage and that my heart and motives are right when I make editorial decisions." We wish more editors shared such thoughts with readers. (Read more)

July 18, 2008

Tenn. weekly beats dailies in overlapping category

UPDATE, Sept. 10, 2010: The Standard won the category again in 2009, but in 2010 the prize went to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, a daily edited since August 2009 by Kent Flanagan, former Tennessee bureau chief for The Associated Press.

Most newspaper contests have separate categories for dailies and weeklies, but the Tennessee Press Association abolished those categories last year in favor of total weekly circulation. The middle category, where large weeklies and small dailies competed against each other, was won by a weekly -- the Southern Standardof McMinnville, a thrice-weekly with a circulation of 9,900. The awards were handed out today in Nashville. (By industry convention, "weekly" means a newspaper published less than four times a week.)

Among the Standard's awards in the 15,000-to-50,000-circulation category were first prize for news reporting. It also won an award for public service, for holding a candidate forum in a special state Senate election, reviving the Warren County spelling bee after more than 20 years and running a series of historical articles to mark the county's 200th birthday. The paper, owned by Morris Newspaper Corp. of Tennessee, has won the cumulative points-based award for general excellence in its category seven times out of 20 since the award was established in 1999.

The general-excellence winners in other circulation categories were The Erwin Record, 5,000 or less, for the sixth straight year; the Memphis Business Journal, 5,001-15,000; The Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, 50,001-200,000; and The Tennessean of Nashville. The contest was judged by members of the Nebraska Press Association.

The Newport Plain Talk, a daily, won first prize for public service in the medium-sized category, for promoting a local Relay for Life. The small-category winner was the Humboldt Chronicle, for successful advocacy of a local higher-education center. Between those two categories, the public-service winner was The Standard Banner of Jefferson City, for its coverage of political dithering over a counstruction plan for the Jefferson County schools.

The weekly Mount Juliet News and The Wilson Post, both in Wilson County, won in the small and medium categories for investigative reporting, respectively doing series on school bullying and an increase in dog bites. The Post also won for best single editorial in the medium category, declaring that it was no longer going to cover a spat between the Lebanon mayor and a council member. The Milan Mirror-Exchange won in the small category for an editorial blasting the local childrens'-services office for mishandling a case and endangering a child's life. The editorial was written by Publisher Bob Parkins, who died several weeks later. His son, Victor Parkins, is TPA president.

July 1, 2008

Mo. reporter easily reveals fake cop, gets noticed

Linda Trest, a reporter at the Gasconade County Republican in Missouri, has made national news with her uncovering of the record of a man named Bill Jakob, who came to the town of Gerald and convinced local officials that he was a federal agent on a mission against methamphetamine. CBS News producer Charlie Brooks, center, interviewed her for a report on "The Early Show," scheduled to air tomorrow morning.

When Trest "started hearing complaints from people whose homes had been searched, she began making inquiries about Mr. Jakob," Monica Davey reports in The New York Times. “Once I got his name, I hit the computer and within an hour I had all the dirt on this guy,” Trest told Davey, who writes: "As it turned out, Mr. Jakob, who is married and lives near Washington, a small town not far from Gerald, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003 when he owned a trucking company, and had, at 22, pleaded guilty in Illinois to a misdemeanor charge of criminal sex abuse of someone in their teens. Since the 1990s, he had worked, at times, as a police officer in tiny departments in towns like Kinloch, Mo., and Brooklyn, Ill., though he never seemed to stay anywhere long and was never certified as a police officer in either Missouri or Illinois, his lawyer said. (Under some conditions, short-term employees with some departments are not immediately required to have state certification.)" (Read more)

Trest was going beyond the county line with her reporting. Gerald is in Franklin County, but only 11 miles from Owensville, the Gasconade County seat and home of the Republican. The Republican posted a Web page about the national coverage. For Trest's initial story, click here.

June 29, 2008

Alabama paper does 8-day series on payday loans

Does your state allow payday lenders to charge annual rates of 456 percent? Alabama does, and in Calhoun County, they outnumber banks, 31 to 30. "Opponents have another name for them: predatory lenders. Their prey tends to be the working poor, the military, seniors, those on fixed incomes, without access to conventional credit," The Anniston Star said in the first installment of an editorial-page series on the issue, which began last Sunday and concluded today.

The 25,000-circulation daily revived the Biblical term usury, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "the practice of charging, taking, or contracting to receive excessive or illegal rates of interest for money on loan." The paper said, "Its essential wrongness is noted in history and ingrained in our Judeo-Christian values. See it referred to in unflattering terms in the books of Isaiah, Exodus, Ezekiel, Psalms and others. With this kind of moral clarity, it is perplexing that a biblically based society such as Alabama's would put up with such widespread sin in our midst."

In density of payday lenders by population, Alabama ranks second only to Mississippi, but the problem is national. "In 2006, approximately 19 million Americans used payday lenders, borrowing almost $48 billion from some 24,000 outlets nationwide," the Star said. Twelve states have limited annual interest rates to 36 percent, effectively outlawing the industry because the same interest rate generally applies to traditional small-loan companies. Several other states have limits between 36 and 456 percent. "In states where predatory lending is strongly regulated, the Center for Responsible Lending found that residents saved an estimated $1.4 billion in fees every year," the paper reported. For state-by-state information, click here.

In its final editorial, the Star offered some state and local solutions for the problem. It also published a supportive commentary from Alabama Arise, a leading critic of payday loans, and a rejoinder from Borrow Smart Alabama, which said it is "a group of more than 225 Alabama payday and title-lending stores that have joined together to encourage the wise use of short-term loans and to help the public better understand our services." The state has 1,164 payday lending outlets.

June 23, 2008

The Neshoba Democrat wins Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism

For its 40 years of community leadership, especially on civil rights and reconciliation, The Neshoba Democrat, a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Miss., is this year’s winner of the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The Institute established the award to honor the couple who have published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 51 years. The Gishes were the first recipients of the award. This year's will be presented to former Democrat publisher Stanley Dearman, right, and current publisher Jim Prince on Friday, June 27, at the Mississippi Press Association’s President's Banquet at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi.

The centerpiece of the newspaper’s work in civil rights and community reconciliation was its effort to bring to justice all the killers of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, civil-rights workers who were murdered in Neshoba County in July 1964. Though seven men allied with the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of federal conspiracy charges, none served more than six years, 11 others went free, and the case was never prosecuted by the State of Mississippi until Stanley Dearman, Jim Prince and others called and worked for action.

Dearman said he first began to believe that his readers would support a fresh attempt at justice in the case when they supported his efforts to rein in bootleggers who ran wide open, preyed on the local Choctaw Tribe and at one point tried to lure him into an ambush. “It had a direct effect,” he said, on his better-known crusade.

In 1988, the movie “Mississippi Burning” revived memories of the murders. On their 25th anniversary, in 1989, Dearman forced the issue by promoting a memorial service and publishing a lengthy interview with Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman. It took up more than a full page of the newspaper.

Prince, left, who was born in Philadelphia three months before the murders and worked at the Democrat during high school, left his job at an Alabama newspaper and came to work for Stan Dearman that summer. He wrote later that the interview “did more to change perceptions in Neshoba County than almost anything else. For the first time ever a human face was put on the civil rights workers, and over time, people — myself included, as a young man — began to accept Dearman’s premise that murder is murder.”

Jerry Mitchell of The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger, whose reporting also pressured officials to seek indictments for these and other killings in the civil-rights struggle, said of Dearman, “He called on his community to prosecute the very killers who shared the sidewalks he did in downtown Philadelphia. People in town told him to leave it alone. They told him to forget it, but the truth is, Stanley Dearman never forgot. He will never be forgotten in Mississippi history because Stanley Dearman never forgot.” Mitchell nominated the Democrat for the Gish Award.

David Goodman, the brother of Andrew Goodman, told Dearman in a letter, "You stood up to a lot of resistance to print the news even though it had economic consequences to your family's sole source of income and even through you putting yourself in physical harm's way. You are a brave man, amongst other special qualities, and a great patriot of our great society."

Mississippi officials began reviewing the case, but a key witness died and things moved slowly. In May 2000, three months before he sold the Democrat to Prince, Dearman wrote an editorial urging action. It concluded, “Come hell or high water, it’s time for an accounting.”

As the 40th anniversary of the killings approached without such an accounting, Prince and Dearman helped organize the Philadelphia Coalition, which scheduled an observance and adopted the motto “Recognition, resolution, redemption: Uniting for Justice.” Prince was co-chairman of the coalition. He said he felt obliged, as the Democrat’s owner, to follow the example Dearman had set. The coalition published a tour guide to the local sites that were linked to the murder and other locations tied to the civil rights movement.

Prince also pushed the issue in his newspaper. To mark the 40th anniversary of the murders, the Democrat republished some of its stories and pictures from 1964, which were often not friendly to civil-rights workers and their cause. The series was called “44 days in 1964,” the time between the killings and the discovery of the bodies. The series logo included pictures of the victims.

On June 21, 2005 — exactly 41 years to the day after the three were abducted, killed and buried — a local jury convicted former Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen of three counts of manslaughter. Dearman, who had predicted that a loc al jury would convict, cried as he heard the news.

Mitchell wrote, “Attorney General Jim Hood credited his September 2004 meeting with the coalition, where he talked with Goodman’s mother and brother as helping convince him the case should go forward. … I have no doubt in my mind this case would have never wound up in court if not for Prince, Dearman, the coalition and so many others, including the families of those slain, who never gave up believing justice would be done one day. What happened in Philadelphia in the summer of 2005 continues to serve as an example for this state and this nation as we continue to move toward redemption.”

“For the example it set, and its other strong journalism, such as taking on local bootleggers and hospital administrators, The Neshoba Democrat is a most deserving recipient of the Gish Award,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute. “It is testimony to the great good that a courageous newspaper can do.” Photo: Tom and Pat Gish

May 22, 2008

Twin dailies in Illinois recognized for helping their towns work together for economic development

Newspapers can play a key role in getting communities in their region to cooperate on economic-development efforts, and one that does that in Illinois was recognized this month for its efforts.

The Journal Gazette-Times Courier, of Mattoon and Charleston, won a Business Ethics and Social Involvement award from the East Central Illinois Development Corporation, which covers nine counties. Publisher Carl Walworth is at right in the photo from his paper, with Charleston businessman and Mayor John Inyart, left, and Jim Ryan, a civic volunteer from Marshall.

The Lee Enterprises paper was nominated by Scott Lensink, President of Lake Land College, who said at the awards banquet, “The Journal Gazette and especially its publisher Carl Walworth have really helped to bring Mattoon and Charleston closer together.” The towns are eight miles apart. While the newspapers are actually zoned editions of the same paper, the Journal Gazette remains identified with Matton and the Times-Courier with Charleston. Editor & Publisher lists them with circulations of 9,668 and 6,166, respectively; their Web site gives higher figures and says the combined circulation is 18,322. For more about the papers, click here. For their story on the event, by Managing Editor Bill Lair, click here.

Rural entrepreneur Jack Schultz wrote on his Boomtown USA blog, "Having observed Mattoon and Charleston from 30 miles away over the past several decades, I couldn’t agree with Scott more. One of the problems that I’ve observed of sister cities like Mattoon and Charleston is that they spend way too much time fighting each other rather than trying to figure out how best to work together. The local newspaper, especially under the leadership of Carl Walworth, has tirelessly championed a togetherness approach through such efforts as a quarterly leaders' breakfast for the entire county, a program to recognize young leadership in the county, a program to recognize volunteers, and several other innovative programs."

Schultz writes that Walworth was a journalist "and wasn’t necessarily the logical choice when the longtime publisher retired. However, under his leadership I’ve watched in awe as he has taken a very positive approach to reporting news and promoting the region. The example of the transformation of the Journal Gazette led by Carl is a lesson that other local newspapers would do well to study if they hope to positively impact their region. Virtually anyone who is looking to move to a town (business, doctor, professional, etc.) is going to subscribe to the newspaper prior to making the decision to move."

Schultz says sensational reporting of crime can create the wrong impression and suggests taking it off the front page. We can't agree with such a blanket rule, but there are good journalistic reasons, not just good community-development reasons, to make sure such coverage is measured in a way that accurately reflects its importance to the community. We would also add that newspapers that fall short on grammar, style, spelling and even presentation can create a bad impression, too.

May 14, 2008

Knight News Challenge awards include several intended to help rural areas in U.S., other nations

Several projects designed to help rural areas and journalists who serve them were among the winners in the second annual round of awards from the Knight News Challenge, which the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation started to help what it calls "digital information innovations that transform community life."

Some of the smaller awards may have some of the larger impacts. For example, Ryan Sholin, left, director of community site publishing at GateHouse Media, doing business as Reporting On, received $15,000 for a project to allow reporters working on similar topics to "communicate and share ideas using a social networking tool and a web site," which will show "how many journalists across the country are working on the same issue, such as declining tax bases or water problems," Knight Foundation said in a news release. "Reporters then could exchange resources and approaches, or use one another’s communities as examples in their own stories. Journalists in small newsrooms often feel isolated. Given the opportunity to communicate with others, a reporter can add context to articles and, perhaps most importantly, know when a seemingly small local story is part of a larger regional, or national, trend."

DataDyne of Washington, D.C., is getting $325,000 for a project to make it easy for cheap cell phones to "select and receive news feeds, expanding the news universe for those whose only digital device is a cell phone. Users, particularly in areas where Internet access isn’t affordable, will be able to receive news via text messaging. They also will be able to rate top stories in lists to be shared with friends. The project will be tested in the rural area of a developing country."

The University of Waterloo in Ontario was awarded $200,000 for a project to "connect rural radio stations to the Internet by using new software and computer-based FM transmitters. The innovations will significantly reduce the cost of creating the stations in India from an estimated $50,000 to $2,500.

Minciu Sodas, an online laboratory operated by Andrius Kulikauskas, right, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lithuania, got $15,000 for blogging "about different methods of getting digital information to rural areas that don’t have Internet access. He will discuss using a 'reader,' or a device for writing and reviewing text files stored on any USB flash drive. The device is meant for people in rural areas with marginal online access so that messages can be physically transported to and from places connected to the Internet. In this system, an individual would load a USB drive at an Internet café, then travel to a village where the information could be read with another device. This method will be discussed in contrast to the pros and cons of using the $100 wireless laptop."

Rhodes University in South Africa received $630,000 for a project in which "Local news reports disseminated through cell phones will help connect an all-black township in South Africa with the white population living in the urban center – giving everyone in Grahamstown equal access to news and information. Articles from the community newspaper, Grocott’s Mail, will be delivered to mobile phones, the only modern communications system available in the rural township."

Some other winners have potential for rural areas, though that angle was not mentioned in Knight Foundation's description of them. David Cohn, left, doing business as DigiDave.org, won $340,000 for Spot Journalism, a project that will seek small, online contributions to finance local investigative reporting by "independent journalists and residents" who will propose stories, Knight Foundation said. "If enough donors contribute the amount needed, a journalist will be hired to do the reporting. The money has to come from a variety of sources, though. Each project will need many small contributions before being approved in order to avoid personal crusades."

The Bakersfield Californian newspaper received one of the larger awards, $837,000, for Printcasting, which will allow easy creation of advertising-supported, "customized publications with a mix of local news and information. The software will help aggregate feeds from news organizations, bloggers or newsletters, for example, so that would-be publishers can pick and choose among them to create a niche publication. The Printcasting model then will guide users through placing articles, photos and ads onto a template that either could be delivered by e-mail or printed at home and distributed. For example, a publication for reef-diving photographers could include ads for nearby dive shops or underwater cameras. The idea is to pair localized ads and content to create targeted publications."

The awards totaled $5.5 million. Knight Foundation highlighted a $350,000 grant to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and Martin Moore for a project to create technology to give users more information about the sources of digital content and ways to easily access more detailed information. The project project "is a partnership between the Media Standards Trust and the British-based Web Science Research Initiative, of which Berners-Lee is a director. For a complete list of winners and descriptions of projects, click here.

April 25, 2008

Small Kentucky weekly holds sheriff's feet to fire

In southern Kentucky, a local sheriff has been making front-page news in the area's weekly newspaper, the Todd County Standard, for charges filed against him after an incident outside a store in neighboring Logan County. Since then, the story has been picked up by other newspapers in the state and elsewhere.

In the March 26-April 1 edition of the Standard (circ. 2,500), the top story was "Sheriff comes under fire." In that article, Ryan Craig reports:

A criminal complaint has been brought against Todd County Sheriff W.D. "Billy" Stokes by a disabled Logan County man who claims Stokes parked in a handicapped space at the Russellville Wal-Mart and then threatened to shoot him with a Taser when he asked Stokes to move.

Stokes told the Standard that he might have been parked improperly, but he only threatened to shoot the man with his Taser after he felt the man was "acting weird."

A week later, the story again dominated the front page of the Standard. In this April 2 update, Craig reports that Stokes had been charged with unauthorized parking in a handicapped zone, menacing and official misconduct. Alongside this story was the full transcript of the call placed by Dan Draper, the man who filed the complaint against Stokes, to the city's police dispatcher. The transcript began in the middle of the front page and ran on nearly half of two inside pages. The Standard also ran a column by Craig, which appeared next to his update on Stokes and the transcript on page one. In the column "Vendetta ... or just amnesia?" Craig writes:

I have been told that Sheriff W.D. "Billy" Stokes claims I, and my newspaper, have a vendetta against him.

To this I would respond with a question: Did he have a fall or get hit on the head?
Because I worry he must have a serious case of amnesia.

If I have a vendetta against him then how does he explain all the times this newspaper has called him to get his side of the story. (We'll get more into that later.)

No, Mr. Stokes, if anything I have taken serious criticism from your detractors that I'm too soft on you.

Ironically, I also take grief from your supporters who say I'm also unfair to you.

In the rest of the column, Craig recounts times the paper provided Stokes' side of the story, including times when he was given editorial space to respond in writing. The column, Craig explains, is a response to Stokes' appearance on WKDZ-FM in Cadiz. Stokes called the station right after Craig finished his weekly call-in report. "Because of who I am and the stand I'm trying to take for the right purposes here in Todd County I don't think that my story through Ryan Craig and his newspaper, the Todd County Standard, have been getting both sides," Stokes said. "It seems like it is hard for me to get my side of the story in with each issue that comes up with Mr. Craig so therefore I wanted to call and let you know the side of the story and anything you want to know about the incident I'll be glad to tell you." (The Standard is not online, but it does its own blog.)

This week, Stokes entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, an update which was reported in Logan County's twice-weekly newspaper, the News-Democrat & Leader, as well as by The Associated Press. (Read more)

April 21, 2008

Grayson, Ky., radio station gets third Crystal Award from National Association of Broadcasters

WUGO-FM of Grayson, Ky., won its third Crystal Award at the National Association of Broadcasters' conference last week. Each year, Crystal Awards recognize 10 radio stations for commitment to community service. Based in a town of 3,800, WUGO features 220 minutes of news daily. Last year it aired 32 live broadcasts, covered 70 local high school games and logged 10,320 minutes of public-service announcements. The station's news and public affairs programs, such as "County Conversations," allowed 320 locals to be heard on the radio. WUGO won the award in 2003 and 2005, while sister station WGOH-AM won it in 1999.

In a description of its 2007 accomplishments, WUGO also noted the station wrote and broadcast a 22-part series on county history, which was accompanied by a 75-page book published by the station. WUGO-FM distributed 2,100 free copes of the book as well. Those accomplishments also include active roles for the station in local charity efforts, such as Relay for Life. The station's "Nice GO0ing Grants" donated $9,850 to local causes.

General Manager Francis Nash accepted the award. He is a legend in Kentucky broadcast journalism and the author of "Towers Over Kentucky," a history of radio and television in the state. (Read more)

Newspaper series explores how prostitution and human trafficking ring took root in rural Iowa

In 2005 and 2006, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, covered the court cases arising from an Iowa prostitution and human trafficking ring. According to Gazette senior editor Lyle Muller, the cases, which involved a 13-year-old girl from suburban Minneapolis, led the newspaper to ask: "How could such crimes flourish in predominantly rural Eastern Iowa?"

After a year and a half, the paper's investigation into that question is being published in a special report called "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree." The narrative series began yesterday with an article by Jennifer Hemmingsen, right, who spent the past year working on the project after taking it over from former staff writer Zack Kucharski when he became the paper's Information Center manager. In that time, Hemmingsen interviewed 25 people at length, including criminal defendants, escort service clients, law enforcement investigators and attorneys, and the teenage Minneapolis-area girl forced into prostitution as part of ring based in tiny Cosgrove, Iowa (above in a Gazette photo by Brian Ray). Hemmingsen begins the narrative this way:

In the basement of an ordinary-looking Williamsburg home, the 13-year-old girl was given a choice. Either she would have sex with two men nearly twice her age or she would be given back to her kidnapper.

Already in the week since Demont Bowie told the suburban Minneapolis girl she belonged to him, he'd beaten and abused her, starved her and deprived her of sleep. He traded her body to his friends and even a mechanic. When Demont told her to do something to someone, she did. There was no refusing. He'd said he'd kill her, kill her family, if she tried to leave.
She believed him.

Somehow, she'd survived a week of hell at Demont's hands in Wellman, a Washington County town of 1,500 people. Now Demont was gone — had run away after a fight with his father at an Easter 2005 family gathering.

The girl was in the basement with Demont's half brother, Moosey Jones, who had put her in this double bind. She was bawling, begging him. But she was terrified of Demont, so she had sex with Moosey, his friend and another underage boy, not knowing that not going back to Demont would send her on a new, terrible path as a prostitute for a business advertising in Eastern Iowa as an escort service called Naughty-bi-Nature.

It's a harrowing account and an impressive piece of reporting. The series also includes a video report, an explanation of how the report was done, a chance for readers to offer feedback. The report's home page is here.

April 20, 2008

Competing weekly papers in small town clean up in annual Alaska Press Club awards contest

Homer, Alaska, is at the end of the road -- as far as you can go on the paved road system of the United States. But it has two fine weekly newspapers, as proven by the awards handed out last night at the end of the Alaska Press Club's annual conference. The Homer Tribune won the award for best weekly, which is judged apart from individual awards, but the Homer News won more awards for writing.

"The Trib offers readers a blend of punchy writing, informed skepticism and a real engagement with its community," wrote the judge, investigative reporter Nigel Jacquiss of Willamette Week in Portland, Ore. He said the paper's four-part series on a proposed mine in a prime salmon-fishing area "was an ambitious examination of a complicated proposition, and exactly the kind of public-interest reporting that papers of all sizes should strive to execute." For major-paper stories on the mine, click here and here. The Tribune won first place in investigative reporting for the series, and also won first in business and government reporting. Five of its awards, all second or third place, were for photography.

The Homer News won first place for environmental reporting, education story and editorial cartoon, and its columnists took all three places in column writing. Michael Armstrong, the second-place columnist, won the environmental award for "a most distressing story on our consumptive ways," on trash in an otherwise pristine area. "this really is journalism at its best: fun to report, fascinating to read, jaw-dropping in its findings," wrote judge Douglas Fischer of Boulder, Colo., an award-winning environmental reporter. The Tribune is independently owned; the News is owned by Morris Communications. Another Morris paper, the Alaska Star of Chugiak-Eagle River, was the other top winner in the small-newspaper division.

April 18, 2008

Alcohol coverage hits home in Nome; paper is firm

Last week, the headline atop The Nome Nugget in Alaska was "Community bands together to tackle underage drinking." The story by Diana Haecker began:

Imagine your life like this: Your parents are drunk most of the time. You are cold and hungry because nobody really cares for you. Your mom whacks you with a baseball bat because you drank her pop. Your sister punches you in the face and gives you a black eye. Your brother hits you so hard that your wrist is broken. And still nobody cares.

Sometimes, at night, you're forced to watch scary movies to keep you in bed. Your brother has brain damage from being hit and neglected just as you are. You are eight 8 years old. And you already tried to take your life because the pain gets so bad that you just want it to stop.

Without any help, you'll turn to alcohol or drugs as soon as possible to numb the hurt. And then there will be agencies holding town meetings about what to do with kids like you who are "minors consuming alcohol" and have a court record before you turn 21.

Such is the cycle of alcoholism in Nome, aggravated by the lack of any long-term alcohol treatment program or facility in the region . . .

Haecker's story and an editorial by Editor-Publisher Nancy McGuire were the latest in a series of hard-hitting pieces about alcohol problems in Nome, one of the farthest-flung towns in far-flung Alaska. One of the stories named victims of the plague, and that didn't sit well with one reader, whose letter was among several published this week in the subject.

The Nugget's editorial page this week is a model of rural journalism. The readers have their say, and so does McGuire, in a firm but short and caring editorial, worthy of relaying in its entirety:

Silence can be deadly. We have problems— problems with substance abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse. It may be a cultural thing to not want to talk about these problems. However, the fallout from these problems destroys communities, families, friendships and lives.

The time has come to speak out. It takes courage and resolve. These are problems that will continue to cycle from generation to generation and the toll gets higher and the pain more intense. It is not without deep concern that newspapers report on the problem. We care about our community and the well-being of our readers. We are part of the same community.

To solve the problem we must first recognize it and voice our concerns. We must resolve to listen and react. We have a lot of resources at our disposal and we have strength in numbers. Let's stop screaming in silence and break the chain that hurts so much.

Here's to McGuire for a great example of editorial leadership in rural journalism.

April 14, 2008

Smaller media outlets get Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists

The Society of Professional Journalists announced its annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism in 2007, and a few smaller newspapers an broadcast operations claimed wins over big-city news outlets.

The best example was the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Me., which won for editorial writing, a category that failed to produce a Pulitzer Prize winner this year. Located in one of the nation's smallest state capitals (pop. 18,500), the Journal has a circulation of only 15,000. Its opinion editor, Naomi Schalit, right, earned the award for her week-long, 13-story series "For I was hungry." It was a unique way of exploring a critical issue, hunger in Maine, and also taking a stand about it. John Christie, the newspaper's publisher, described the series this way:

Most series are written by news reporters or a team of reporters. But this series was researched and written solely by the opinion page editor and not only reports the facts of hunger in Maine, but also editorializes about what should be done about this sad and urgent problem.

Opinion page investigative series are rare at newspapers of any size, but nearly unheard of at small daily newspapers like ours. Usually, only metropolitan newspapers with opinion page staffs of half a dozen or more can free up a writer long enough to delve deeply into a single topic. But this newspaper made a commitment to the community three years ago when I published our vision statement. We want, I wrote at the time, to become “distinguished papers of our size; we go beyond standard news coverage with journalism that informs, probes and provokes.”

Mine and Safety Health News, based in Pittsford, N.Y., won for the second straight year for Public Service in Newsletter Journalism. This year's winning entry was on the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster in Utah; last year, it won for coverage of the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia.

In categories for newspapers with circulation of less than 100,000, the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison (circ. 87,547) won for public service with its week-long series "Elder abuse: A silent shame." Included in that series was an article about how the safety net for the elderly is often not as strong in rural areas. The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., (circ. 95,709) won two awards in the small-paper class, for deadline and non-deadline reporting. The Columbian (circ. 46,203) of Vancouver, Wash., next to Portland, Ore., won for investigative reporting.

BusinessWeek won the magazine investigative-reporting award for its "Poverty Series," which chronicled "U.S. companies' audacious drive to extract more profits from the nation's working poor," including those in rural areas. Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor won for public service in radio journalism with "Grading Michigan Schools," a comprehensive look at education in the state. Two small TV stations, KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., and WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss., won awards for stations outside the top 25 markets. KOMU-TV won for its documentary, "Mercy in Motion: The Culture that Crawls in Vietnam," while WLOX-TV won for public service with its report "Home Sweet Meth Home."

This year’s winners were chosen from more than 1,000 entries in 48 categories including print, radio, television and online. The lesson from the smaller winners, especially the Kennebec Journal, is that smaller news outlets can tackle major projects successfully.

April 11, 2008

Photographer from The Concord Monitor, circulation less than 20,000, wins Pulitzer Prize

With a daily circulation of less than 20,000, The Concord (N.H.) Monitor was the smallest papers to win a Pulitzer Prize this year, thanks to Preston Gannaway's win for feature photography. Gannaway, 30, won "for a series of photographs of Carolynne St. Pierre, a nurse who was dying of liver cancer; her husband, Rich; and their three children as they cared for her at home," reports Richard Maschal of The Charlotte Observer. (Gannaway is a Charlotte native.)

One of the photos from the two-year series shows Carolynne St. Pierre surrounded by her family in her final days (above). "It's the only sharp frame of three or four because I was shaking and crying," Gannaway, right, told Maschal. Family members allowed Gannaway to photograph them as long as she made all the photos available to them, so they could remember their loved one. Gannaway said she plans to share the $10,000 award with family as well.

Gannaway now works for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. To see her Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, go to www.prestongannaway.com and click on "Stories & Essays" and then "Remember Me." (Read more)

April 10, 2008

Texas Country Reporter travels state's back roads, finding stories wherever he goes; going national

Bob Phillips, 56, has spent more than 35 years traveling Texas' back roads in search of stories, and along the way, he has become the Texas Country Reporter, a "Lone Star Charles Kuralt," reports Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times. On each weekly broadcast — of which there have been more than 2,000 — Phillips presents stories such as the reopening of The Tee Pee Motel after 23 years. (Above, Phillips, in blue, interviews the new owner in a Times photo Michael Stravato.)

The program airs on 25 Texas stations and are later rebroadcast on cable and satellite channel RFD-TV, which reaches 30 million households, mostly in rural areas. Phillips receives his ideas from viewers — his inbox has at least 100 suggestions a day — and from just driving around.

"The programs, usually composed of three stories each, include seven minutes of commercial time, which the Texas stations and Mr. Phillips split for sale to sponsors — in his case, companies like a farmers' credit cooperative, a metal roofer and a sausage-maker," Blumenthal writes. "The Texas Country Reporter plans to go fully national in January with a second show called 'On the Road with Bob Phillips.' Shooting starts next month. One of his first stories? 'The person whose sole job is to fill the cracks in Mount Rushmore.'" (Read more)

April 2, 2008

Senate panel looks into allegations raised by newspaper series on poultry-worker injuries

The Charlotte Observer's six-part series on injured poultry processing plant workers, "The Cruelest Cuts," made headlines in other newspapers, with its allegations that processor House of Raeford underreported injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The report prompted Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to hold a hearing on the matter yesterday, reports Alicia Karapetian of Meatingplace.com.

"Tuesday's Senate hearing included testimony from a representative from union group Change to Win, a former OSHA chief, a representative from an injury-prevention consulting firm and a worker from a Tyson Foods Inc. facility in Robards, Ky., who was representing her local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union," Karapetian writes. "There were not, however, any processing companies represented."

House of Raeford has said many of the cases highlighted by the Observer report were "factually incomplete or inaccurate." Kennedy said he plans to hold another hearing in the spring. (Read more, subscription required)

April 1, 2008

Reasons for concern, but also many reasons to cheer, as Kentucky honors Hall of Fame journalists

Honorees gave reasons for concern, and reasons to cheer, about journalism yesterday as the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame inducted new members.

Veteran farm broadcaster Jack Crowner of Louisville, left, said coverage of rural Kentucky has suffered "because of the consolidation of radio stations and newspapers," and recalled how he once did a weekly show for WAVE-TV from a farm owned by the station, illustrating where food and fiber came from Since then, he said, "We've had about two of three generations of food illiterates."

Crowner also recalled how the head of a large station in Chicago told him almost 40 years ago that "Radio is local, local and local," something else that has changed with satellite technology and consolidation of ownership -- and not just in radio. "My concern is we've lost the touch of locally owned radio and television and newspapers," he told a luncheon crowd in Lexington.

Virginia "Ginny" Edwards, editor of Education Week and president of Editorial Projects in Education, said nonprofit news outlets like hers are becoming more important, even as the Internet increases the number of news sources. "Very few of these new enterprises are engaged in original, in-depth reporting," she said, calling for more support "from the world of philanthropy" for nonprofit journalism.

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit that owns the for-profit St. Petersburg Times, played off the earlier speakers and recalled his roots at a 250-watt station in Princeton, Ky. "There's been a lot of talk today about the demise of journalism," he said, proposing that the audience "do what we did in Caldwell County -- have a revival."

Tompkins, right, cited recent example after recent example of important investigative reports by newspapers and television stations and asked, "Is that good journalism?" The crowd responded with "Amen" to those examples and Tompkins' follow-up points: Journalists must "tell a better story" about the importance of their work. They must "fight for better access" to courts, records and meetings of public agencies. "We need to keep fighting because the blowback is unprecedented" from government, especially federal officials. And, Tompkins said, "Can we just cover the damn news," instead of the latest Britney Spears underpants story? "Let's knock off the foolishness."

To journalists and academics feeling burnout partly because they question the worth of their work, Tompkins cited the current environment of war, recession and a presidential election and asked, "Can you imagine a time in our lives when journalism was more important?" To watch a video of Tompkins' speech, click here.

Others joining the Hall of Fame yesterday were T. George Harris, founding editor of Psychology Today and award-winning executive at other magazines; Don Edwards, retired columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader; and two posthumous honorees: Kent Hollingsworth, longtime editor of The Blood-Horse, the premier Thoroughbred magazine; and William Ray Mofield, who developed broadcast journalism programs at Murray State University and Southern Illinois University.

The hall recognizes those who have made significant contributions to journalism and are natives of Kentucky or spent a significant part of their careers in Kentucky. It is overseen by the University of Kentucky Journalism Alumni Association and the School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

March 7, 2008

Editor, cartoonist at small papers in S. Appalachia among finalists in National Journalism Awards

An editorial writer from a 35,000-circulation newspaper and an editorial cartoonist from a paper with only 18,000 circulation, both in Southern Appalachia, were among the finalists in the National Journalism Awards announced today by the Scripps Howard Foundation.

Bonnie Williams, editorial page editor of the Anderson Independent- Mail, an E.W. Scripps Co. paper in South Carolina, was a finalist in the editorial-writing competition, won by Sonni Efron of the Los Angeles Times. The other finalist was Tom Condon of The Hartford Courant. "Williams' moving voice resonates with her region's readers," the judges said. "She gets the tone right time after time." Most of the editorials she entered were in local or state issues, the paper reported.

A cartooning finalist was Mike Lester, left, of northwest Georgia's independently owned Rome News-Tribune, who won last year's Sigma Delta Chi Award for cartoons. The winner was Steve Kelley of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans; the other finalist was Michael Ramirez of Investor’s Business Daily. "The judges praised Lester's modern humor, calling his work 'more cultural than political' and 'personable and accessible'," his paper reports.

The awards, which include cash prizes, will be presented April 18 during a dinner at the National Press Club in Washington. Congratulations to all the winners, especially those who proved you don't have to be at a big paper to do big work.

Anniston Star's 'Compressed Air' series explores decline of small-market broadcast news

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 brought major changes to TV and radio, and to broadcast journalism. Investigating the legislation's impact in northeastern Alabama, The Anniston Star finds that local broadcast news has lost its local flavor, thanks to sharp reductions in the number of reporters since 1996. The Star examines the state of local broadcasting in a series called "Compressed Air," and it is a story that could be told almost anywhere in America.

"The northeast Alabama picture before 1996 was different," John Fleming writes. "Anniston was awash in local news media. As recently as the mid-1990s, the public could find local news across the spectrum, from this daily newspaper to radio stations staffed with journalists to locally produced television newscasts." Since then, things have changed because the law opened the door to the consolidation of broadcast outlets. "Thanks to the 1996 act, some communities saw local media coverage continue and salaries and benefits for local journalists improve, according to media observers," Fleming writes. "Numerous scholars and broadcasting insiders insist, however, that for many other communities the changes have meant that less local news goes on the air and that they now may be served by media interests that are headquartered outside the community." (Read more)

The rest of the four-part series highlights just how much the loss of local news means:

What's on TV?

Fleming explores the changes in local TV news since 1996. Just months after the act became law, Anniston's Channel 40 merged with Tuscaloosa's TV 33 and created ABC 33/40, which is based in Birmingham and has viewers all across northern Alabama, from state line to state line. The station has a small Anniston office and one full-time photographer/reporter who focuses on three east Alabama counties. The shift has meant fewer stories about Anniston, and Fleming's review of the 16 stories filed from January to July found "nearly all of these stories to be negative."

"In our opinion, media consolidation has been a disaster," Jen Howard, of the public-interest group Free Press, a non-partisan organization dedicated to media reform, told Fleming. "In the market we've seen a depletion of news by 25 percent. Communities have less local news and hear fewer local voices." (Read more)

Local radio news a dying art

In radio, the loss of reporters has been even greater. "A local newsman with intimate knowledge of the area often has been replaced by canned programs that never touch on local concerns," Fleming writes, noting that in Calhoun County, there is only one radio station, Alabama 810, with a journalist who reports from outside the studio.

Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University and author of "Fighting for Air," told Fleming that Alabama 810 is delivering what audience members want: local coverage. "Ironically," Klinenberg said, "media executives everywhere now recognize that their audience demands local content, because they can get national and international news and entertainment online. The trouble is that original content is expensive to produce, and too often chains and conglomerates skimp on staff and hope that no one will notice."

When local media aren't there for the public

Consolidation has meant more computers deliver canned programming, and one consequence has been a change in the way stations deliver information in times of emergency. The reality is that many won't, unless the Emergency Alert System takes over, Fleming reports. He notes that on a recent night in Anniston, when sirens sounded weather warnings, listeners of WDNG-AM/1450 got a syndicated talk show but no weather information.

"The storm blew over, causing only heartburn," he writes. "But the incident again raises the question: "If local media no longer is local, how does it fulfill one of its most essential roles: informing the community in times of peril?" (Read more)

This series addresses plenty of important questions for local news media in small markets and rural areas. We challenge other newspapers to do similar stories.

March 5, 2008

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin package explores rural reality for gay and lesbian teens

Growing up as a gay or lesbian teen in a rural area can be a tough challenge. In seven stories for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Sheila Hagar explores how some teens and activists are facing those challenges in the Inland Northwest. (A youth group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens meets in U-B photo by Joe Tierney)

Hagar's package highlight various aspects of the rural reality for gay and lesbian teens, especially the lack of resources in many small towns. Hagar highlights one of the few places offering such resources, the Vista Youth Center in the Tri-Cities — the towns of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, which have a combined population of about 80,000 and are about an hour northwest of Walla Walla. Executive Director Mark Lee told Hagar that after moving to the area from Portland he realized teens had few places to feel safe.

Hagar wrote: "What he found when he visited a Spokane center with the same mission spoke volumes, he said: teens willing to travel by bus more than an hour one way to be somewhere they felt safe, kids who had come from Idaho, kids who couldn't tell anyone they knew about being queer, Lee said." His direct quote: "The tone I got was being in a rural area and being 'out' was not safe. Expressing themselves was not safe."

Hagar added, "Those are children perhaps most in need of help. Nearly half of that demographic reports using drugs and alcohol, and a quarter say they are currently being sexually or physically abused, he said, citing figures from internal surveys done at Vista." (Read more)

In the rest of the series, Hagar addresses how some local schools are trying to curb harassment and she speaks with local teens about what they think. Here are the other stories in the series:

This is serious reporting, and it is worth a look. The series also includes some key statistics about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens, which could be a good place to start similar reporting.

Ky. journalists keep drawing attention to diabetes

In January, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues hosted the Kentucky Diabetes Summit to bring together newspaper representatives from the state's 20 most diabetic counties. Some of those newspapers have been highlighting diabetes and offering advice about preventing and treating the disease.

Last week, the Casey County News in Liberty wrapped up a four-part series called "Unite in the fight against diabetes." In the third part of the series, editor Donna Carman profiled a three-year-old coping with juvenile diabetes. A sidebar addressed myths surrounding diabetes

In the fourth part, Carman profiled a woman who went from Type 2 diabetes to Type 1 and in doing so presents the symptoms and treatment of diabetes, the importance of screening, and educational classes and support groups available. (The first and second parts, by Brittany Emerson, are available here and here.)

The Middlesboro Daily News also has started a series. In its second installment last week, Tabitha Webb answered common questions about diabetes. "Knowing about diabetes is one of the first steps in understanding what can be done to fight this chronic disease that is so prevalent in Bell County," Webb writes. "The Daily News cares about its readers. Visit your healthcare professional and ask the important questions. Listen to what they have to say, follow their recommendations. Diabetes is a serious disease but it is controllable." (Read more)

March 4, 2008

Iowa journalist examines potential impact of a Wal-Mart Supercenter; it's not all bad, experts say

A Wal-Mart Supercenter changes a community, and Carroll, Iowa, surely will not be the same after one opens there tomorrow. Economic experts, however, say life can go on for local businesses who face tougher competition with the retailing giant, reports Douglas Burns of the Iowa Independent. Burns' report takes a common event — the opening of a Wal-Mart in rural America — and investigates just what it may mean for the local economy, beyond the usual dire forecasts for local, small businesses. (Encarta map)

Iowa State University professor Kenneth Stone, who has researched the impact of large retail stores, said the Supercenter will hurt local stores, but they are strong enough to handle the competition. "Stone said that retail trade centers such as Carroll generally have Supercenters. Without one, the business community loses traffic to nearby Supercenter communities like Atlantic and Fort Dodge," Burns writes. Carroll has 10,000 people, the county 21,000. Carroll's old Wal-Mart is in an unusual location, downtown. The new one isn't.

Jack Schultz, author of Boomtown USA, writes on his blog of the same name that the Supercenter could generate more business in Carroll. "There is a life with Wal-Mart ... I see it over and over as I travel around the country," he writes. "Generally, small towns appreciate their Wal-Marts and the most complaints are from towns that don't have one or that didn't allow one to build in their town years ago and today regret having let the big fish swim to a neighboring town."

Stone said the competition brought by Wal-Mart can be good for local business. "Wal-Mart's really made a lot of merchants a lot better than they had previously been just simply because they upped the competition to the point where you have to get better or you don't make it." He added, "Anybody that's selling something different from what Wal-Mart's selling is subject to benefit from the additional traffic that Wal-Mart will draw." (Read more)

Feb. 23, 2008

Roanoke Times explores a touchy question: Should ministers evangelize at funerals and weddings?

The Rev. Kenneth Wright of First Baptist Church in Gainsboro, Va., preached during a recent funeral service. The photo by Jared Soares of The Roanoke Times illustrates a story that gets to a basic question, rarely discussed in public, about one of the most emotion-laden moments in life: Should evangelical ministers evangelize at funerals and weddings?

"In an era when church attendance in many denominations is in decline, some pastors see funerals and weddings as increasingly important venues for oratory that can border on revivalism," reports the Times' Rob Johnson. "The one place nonbelievers will step into a church in our day is at weddings and funerals," the Rev. Quigg Lawrence, pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican evangelical congregation near Roanoke, told Johnson.

On the other hand, "Some pastors say that although a bit of preaching is acceptable, they're wary of a message that puts pressure on guests at weddings or funerals to examine and perhaps affirm their faith then and there," Johnson writes. "After all, they reason, nonbelievers should be allowed to share grief or joy for loved ones and friends."

The Rev. Bryan Smith at First Baptist Church in Roanoke "believes that all pastors will someday have to answer to God on whether they took every chance to spread their faith," Johnson reports. "But when it comes to the standard evangelical punchline, extending an invitation for those present to either affirm their commitment to Christ, or make one for the first time, he asks permission ahead of time from the family of the deceased or the wedding couple. He's rarely denied."

Johnson has other good interviews, and a nice back-and-forth box giving pros and cons of preaching at funerals and weddings. It's a good example of how to tackle a touchy subject. To read it, click here.

Feb. 12, 2008

Mississippi weeklies tackle government secrecy

"Secrecy in Mississippi," a collaborative, eight-day series by the state's news organizations to focus attention on the flaws, loopholes and omissions in the state's open-government laws, is now running in weekly newspapers after starting in dailies.

"These articles represent an extraordinary effort by reporters and editors who are concerned that the lack of transparency in Mississippi is harmful to the state's well-being," wrote Stan Tiner, executive editor of The Sun Herald in Biloxi, which was among the papers running an overview of the series Sunday. The paper also ran an editorial saying, "Don't wait until a government door is slammed in your face or you are tossed out of a public meeting or you are denied a public document of vital importance to you to become concerned about these issues. The time to concern yourself is now."

In addition to the overview, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson ran a column by David Hampton on the topic. "Until 1975, there were no laws in Mississippi requiring that government meetings be open to the public," he writes. "Public officials routinely closed meetings at every level of government. Tax money could be spent and public policy decided behind closed doors. Officials decided just how open they wanted to be."

Yesterday's installment examined high legal costs citizens face when they fight for records and challenge closures of meetings. "In Mississippi, a state with a long history of government secrecy, it can be difficult, expensive, time-consuming -- and sometimes all but impossible -- to know what government leaders are up to and what special interests pull their strings," write The Clarion-Ledger's Emily LeCoz and Geoff Pender. "That's because enforcement of the state's Public Records Act and Open Meetings Act falls not on the shoulders of the state but on those of the public itself."

Ink Blots, the blog of the Mississippi Press Association, has plenty of links to stories related to this series, and it is being updated throughout the week. (Read more)

Feb. 8, 2008

Ky. weekly doing series on local impact of diabetes

Kentucky ranks high in diabetes, and some places are estecially high, so a few weeks ago, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues made personal invitations to the newspapers serving Kentucky's 20 most diabetic counties to attend the Kentucky Diabetes Summitt. Starting this week, the Casey County News, a 6,000- circulation weekly in Southern Kentucky, began a series on diabetes and its impact in the county.

In the first installment, Brittany Emerson reports on how Bobby Foster manages his diabetes, and provides an overview of the situation in Casey County. (Emerson also took the photo of Foster.)

"The current rate of diabetes in Casey County is nearing 16 percent, one of the highest in Kentucky, according to 'The Health of Kentucky 2007,' a report published by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine," Emerson writes. "Diabetes is a chronic disease that has become a significant health problem in Kentucky, affecting 9.9 percent of the state's population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 267,000 adults in the state have been diagnosed with the disease while another 109,000 have it, but have not been diagnosed." (Read more)

Small weekly in Colorado tells the story of a farm family's loss and resolve

We like to highlight great work from small newspapers, and here's some from The Johnstown Breeze. An independent, 1,800-circulation weekly in northern Colorado, The Breeze covers the farming community of Johnstown (pop. 4,000). In this November article he just sent us, editor Matt Lubich tells the story of a farm family coping with the unexpected death of Alan Rieder, 54 (in family photo).

Lubich recounts how Rieder’s wife, Lori, and sons, Chad and Travis, are going on with the farm, because "that’s what farm families do."

"So much has changed in the past nearly three weeks since Alan Rieder died, and so much has remained the same," Lubich writes. "There is still work to be done to get ready for another season, and Rieder brothers will again be out in the fields doing it. In a decade that has seen so many changes in Johnstown, the family’s field along North Second Street, just east of the high school, remains a rural vista unchanged by the growth. A place where the only thing growing this summer will be another crop, planted by another generation of Rieders." (Read more)

It's a prime example of community journalism, and it's worth a look. If you see other work worth highlighting, send it our way.

Feb. 5, 2008

Ky. town honors longtime editor and her column

The best community journalists forge strong bonds with the areas they cover, and that is clear in the case of Betty Smith, a longtime editor at The Winchester Sun in central Kentucky. After 31 years as lifestyles editor at the 7,200-circulation daily, Smith retired Thursday at a crowded reception at Winchester City Hall, reports the Sun's Mike Wynn. Thanks to a mayoral proclamation, it was "Betty Ratliff Smith Day" in the town of about 20,000. In the state Capitol, a resolution honoring Smith was passed.

"For three decades she has written about their births, their achievements, their marriages, the deaths of their loved ones," Wynn writes of Smith (above in a Sun photo by James Mann). "She was stationed at the front of the newsroom so they could drop off their church notices and then 'come have a seat' to unload their burdens."

Smith started working at The Sun in 1957 as the society editor and left in 1962 to work in city, state and federal government. She returned to the newspaper in 1982 to be the lifestyles editor and to write "Betty's Babblin's" — column about small-town life in Winchester. In her time at the Sun, she had many roles — archivist, receptionist, crime reporter and more — and she took part in major community organizations and groups as well.

"I have never, ever seen the connections between a community and its newspaper through one person like I have here," said Sun Publisher Dave Eldridge, recently appointed to his post by Schurz Communications, which bought the paper in 2005. (Read more)

Jan. 30, 2008

Paper chases story about police chases, overcomes city's roadblocks of efforts to get records

When the town of Oak Grove, Ky., population 7,000, refused to give the Kentucky New Era of nearby Hopkinsville a copy of a police report of an accident that ended a police chase, "the paper began a lengthy investigation of police pursuits in Oak Grove," writes Julia Hunter, whose stories on the subject appeared in the 11,000-circulation daily last weekend. (Photo of Oak Grove cruiser by Danny Vowell of the New Era)

"It was one of at least 12 high-speed Oak Grove police pursuits in a six-month period between March and December 2007," Hunter wrote in her main story. "Five of these resulted in wrecks and four people were injured. . . . Eleven reports were issued to the New Era as a result of the request. It is unknown how many are still under investigation, and, therefore, how many were omitted."

In her sidebar about the difficulty of obtaining records from the city, overcome with help of the state attorney general's office, Hunter illustrated why such stories are worth pursing (no pun intended). First, she quoted a telling statistic from the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that one person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit. Then she quoted PursuitWatch.org, a group that pushes for safer police pursuits: “When an innocent is killed, most reporters are spurred to ask the questions that need to be asked, to do the research that needs to be done. Unfortunately, if they had done this in the cases they reported previously, where no fatality resulted, they might have prevented the death of an innocent bystander.”

Police chases are big news in small towns. In our mailbox today, with the weekend edition of the New Era, was the nearby McLean County News from last week. Its main headline: "Police chase leads to arrest." The weekly is not available online.

Jan. 24, 2008

Small daily in Ky. uncovers county's improper tax

A small daily newspaper in southeastern Kentucky revealed this week that a county government has been improperly using a tourism tax to fund an airport. Whitley County has a reputation of making its own rules, and The Times-Tribune, a 6,200-circulation daily in Corbin, has found the county up to its old tricks after checking with the state attorney general.

"Since 1999, Whitley County has allocated its transient room tax revenues to the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport — but an informal opinion from the state attorney general’s office states the tax is improperly instituted because the county has no tourism commission," Managing Editor Samantha Swindler wrote for the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper.

The 4 percent transient room tax is paid by visitors to the county's hotels and motels. Revenues within the city limits of Corbin and Williamsburg go to the cities' tourist commissions, but revenues from Cumberland Falls State Resort Park — $50,995.15 in 2007 — go to the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport, under a 1999 county ordinance. (Read more)

Jan. 12, 2008

Southern Kentucky paper reveals ripoff of retirees by builder, suggests need for stronger local code

One of the most controversial steps that an isolated, rural community can take is to impose restrictions on the use of property, such as zoning and building codes. While such measures are a fact of life for most Americans, they are not for many in rural areas, and sometimes those folks pay an unexpected price, as Sharon Burton of the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., wrote this week:

"Wayne and Connie Feese visited Columbia numerous times spanning several decades to research their genealogy. When it came time to retire, they purchased a lot ... and [built] a house in Day Lily Meadows. Their dream retirement plan has since turned into a nightmare, and the Feeses would love nothing more than to be able to sell their home and leave town."(Encarta map)

The Feeses, who lived in Illinois, presumed the county had a building code for single-family homes and required a certificate of occupancy. It does not, despite pleas from the state and local building inspectors. Their home has major flaws that they are still spending to fix, though “We were told the inspector approved the house, the building inspector approved everything,” Wayne Feese told Burton.

Burton's analysis: "Forcing restrictions on citizens is never popular and shouldn’t be done lightly, but victims like Feese believe it’s also the county’s responsibility to protect its citizens. ... The lack of restrictions also costs the county. According to the Adair County Tourism Commission, every retiree who moves into Adair County is equal to 3.5 jobs." (Read more)

Jan. 10, 2008

At 100, Nebraska newswoman keeps on reporting

Mildred Heath's journalism career began at Linotype machine in 1923, and she has been on the job ever since. Last Friday, she celebrated her 100th birthday at her office, the newsroom of the Beacon-Observer in Elm Creek, Neb., reports Paul Hammel of the Omaha World-Herald (who also took the photo). Heath is a former co-publisher of the Beacon- Observer, and is now the 1,400-circulation weekly's correspondent for the town of Overton.

"Today, Heath may well be the oldest working journalist in the country, said Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association," Hammel writes. "A National Newspaper Association official offered no contrary evidence, and Internet search found one contender, Dina Sundby, who was a correspondent for the Hillsboro (N.D.) Banner until her death at age 97 in 2003."

Heath's career began when she worked the Linotype machine for the Curtis (Neb.) Enterprise, and she still carries the burns from the machine's hot lead. In 1938, she founded the Overton Observer with her husband, Blair. In 1948, they bought the Elm Creek Beacon and later merged the two papers. Today, Heath works five days a week at the Beacon-Observer answering phones, filing photographs and writing an "Overton News" column.

"People tell me to keep at it. I enjoy people and I enjoy life," Heath told Hammel. "I enjoy the work. And I'm needed." (Read more)

Dec. 7, 2007

Maine paper, then AP, report on suicide of Iraq vet

Local news media can tell many stories others cannot. Since the war in Iraq, they have taken on one of the toughest: the suicides of American soldiers while they are overseas or after they return home. Editor & Publisher has highlighted the newspapers that have addressed the issue, and the Sun Journal, a 34,000-circulation daily in Lewiston, Me., is the latest to do so.

Daniel Hartill, a reporter from the Sun Journal, wrote an in-depth article about one local veteran's story who took his own life on Thanksgiving. The article has been picked up by The Associated Press, which reported in October that at least 147 soldiers had committed suicide while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that at least 283 combat veterans who left the military between the start of the war and the end of 2005 had taken their own lives. To read the AP story based on Hartill's reporting, go here.

Dec. 4, 2007

Oregon paper doing big series on invasive species

For an excellent example of environmental reporting, check out the work being done by The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore. In September, the state-capital newspaper began a 10-month series investigating the impact of invasive species on the state.

This month's focus is on aquatic plants (at left in Statesman Journal photo by Diane Stevenson) that take over lakes and streams after being discarded from aquariums. Henry Miller reports on the spread of the plants and the state's fight against them.

In the first two installments of the series, the 50,000-circulation newspaper offered an overview of this "biological pollution" and then coverage of invasive mammals. The series has a great presence online, and its site includes searchable databases, photo and video galleries, as well as educational materials.

Nov. 29, 2007

Anniston Star's reporting helps inspire Alabama officials to seek inspection program for dams

After noticing stories on Kentucky's Wolf Creek Dam and its problems, Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star, wondered about the conditions dams in the newspaper's home state of Alabama. A few days later, the 25,000-circulation daily reported that Alabama is the only state that does not inspect its dams, and it does not even know exactly how many dams there are.

Since January, The Star has been following the story, and this week the Alabama Water Resources Commission passed a resolution asking for a statewide inspection program. To read a recent story on the situation, go here. To read a recent editorial about the state's dams, go here.

Davis wrote about the recent resolution and The Star's ongoing coverage on the Behind The Star blog, which offers an "inside look at the operations of The Anniston Star." (Read more)

Nov. 26, 2007

Small daily in Arizona offers week-long look at the local costs of illegal immigration

The Daily Courier of Prescott, Ariz., circulation 18,000, has begun a week-long series on the cost of illegal immigration in Central Arizona.

"Northern Arizona University Economist Ronald Gunderson argues that those people are a key benefit to the American economy, especially as the baby boom generation retires and fewer Americans are standing in the wings to fill the jobs the 'boomers' are vacating," says a long editor's note. "Local Hispanic leaders contend illegal immigrants benefit society far more than the few who commit crimes. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and others argue that those immigrants represent substantial costs to society through law enforcement, education, health care and social services. The Daily Courier began this series of articles to put a local price tag on costs and benefits of illegal immigration and to examine how it affects local institutions and the economy. Our reporters found out quickly that it's a difficult task because even though illegal immigration is a hot political issue locally and nationally, many local institutions lack the means to separate out the costs illegal aliens generate from the expenses of serving American citizens."

In the first story, "Illegal immigrants drive up medical costs," Derek Meurer explains that Yavapai Regional Medical Center (in a Courier photo) and other local hospitals incur major costs for treating immigrants, and that those costs do not get reimbursed fully by Medicare. The costs extend to county departments. "According to a 2007 report to Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer, illegal immigration cost the Community Health Service department $1,067,615 annually," Meurer writes. "The report estimated that county departments lose $7,633,557 total each year due to illegal immigrants."

Nov. 20, 2007

TV station in Grand Rapids, Mich., investigates aging rural housing projects

In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversaw a program to subsidize the construction of apartments for needy rural residents. Now, some of those structures are showing their age, and residents want to see more repairs, reports WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich.

There were 15,000 small apartment projects in all, and WOOD-TV took a look at the inspection reports for the dozen rural housing projects in Kent County after residents complained about inadequate maintenance.

"In general, the inspection reports reflect signs of aging buildings," Henry Erb reports. "Worn and stained carpets, cloudy windows, pieces of siding or soffit missing. The inspector noted that at one place the owner said they didn't have enough money to replace the worn carpet. Small examples of what is happening on a nationwide scale -- a struggle to keep such federally-backed housing from becoming rural slums."

A 2004 report from the USDA found that "no property has adequate reserves or sufficient cash flow to do needed repairs," and so recently the department has tried to add funding, Erb reports. In Michigan, the USDA approved $22 million for 15 projects, but Erb writes that funding remains far below the levels of the 1980s. (Read more)

S.C. paper puts county employee credit-card records online for readers

In Aiken County, S.C., two emergency medical employees recently were fired after allegations they misused their county funds. As a result, the local newspaper, the Aiken Standard, filed an open record request for the credit-card reports of the 60 employees with county-issued cards.

The paper found no "widespread or gross misuse" in its "cursory study of the files," Haley Hughes wrote. "The County's own internal review of its employee credit card statements is ongoing. The information is public record and as such, the Aiken Standard has posted the documents to its Web site for review by members of the public." (Read more)

So, the paper is letting readers decide for themselves if county employees have misused their credit cards. Not a bad idea, as far as we can tell. The records can be seen here. Thanks to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute for the heads up on this story.

Nov. 16, 2007

Reporter for small Wyoming daily wins national Science Journalism Award

Jennifer Frazer's stories for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle of Cheyenne on mysterious deaths of elk in 2004 won this year's Science Journalism Award among small newspapers from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It had the allure of a detective story and an unlikely culprit: a small green lichen that most people wouldn’t notice even if they walked right over it,” Frazer said. Here's more, including judges' comments, from the AAAS release:

Frazer described the steps by which researchers determined that a poisonous lichen was the likely cause. In a two-part series, Frazer also described efforts to save the remaining elk and help the species recover. Calling her series an example of “superb local science writing,” Robert Lee Hotz of The Wall Street Journal said Frazer “opens a window into the mysteries of field epidemiology, turning a story of doomed elk into a page-turner of a lethal botany and the consequences of ecology.” Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer formerly with The Washington Post, said the series was a “compelling narrative detective story that shows how science can be put at the service of a community and why it matters.”

Frazer is now a science writer for the National Center for Atmospheric Research. To read her elk series, click here.

The locally owned Tribune-Eagle has a daily circulation of 15,681, according to Editor & Publisher. It circulates in southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska, and has a Sunday edition which claims a circulation of 18,500. It says it is part of the Wyoming Newspaper Group, "an affiliation of newspapers with joint ownerships and interests, along with the Laramie Daily Boomerang, the Rawlins Daily Times, the Rock Springs Daily Rocket-Miner and the Northern Wyoming Daily News in Worland." For more background on the paper, click here.

Nov. 3, 2007

Tupelo paper asks the right questions of candidates for state legislature

The Mississippi Legislature is an unusual one, because it has a somewhat nonpartisan character. Members run as Democrats, Republicans or independents, but don't hold party caucuses. That may change after Tuesday's election, because heavily favored Gov. Haley Barbour and his state GOP are spending big to elect Republicans to legislative seats and a Democratic lawmaker is trying to form a coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats to unseat the Democratic speaker of the House.

With the powerful speaker's chair up for grabs, many voters want to know how candidates would vote if elected to the House, and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo is asking the question of candidates in the 16-county area it covers. That's the first time Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, can recall such a question being asked of legislative candidates, reports Tom Baxter of Southern Political Report.

The Daily Journal, whose circulation of 35,000 makes it the largest U.S. paper based outside a metropolitan area, has a reporter in the state capital of Jackson, Bobby Harrison. He reported recently that no members of the Legislative Black Caucus would support Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, who is trying to unseat Speaker Billy McCoy, a Democrat from Rienzi in northeast Mississippi. The Republican Caucus had already voted likewise, but the election of new legislators could turn the tide.

With the speaker running in the Daily Journal's coverage area, Lena Mitchell of the paper's Coirinth bureau reported this week on McCoy's race for re-election to his House seat. "The House speaker appoints the committee chairman and sets the agenda for House business," she explained, adding that Smith "has support among legislators who favor a more conservative leader."

Oct. 26, 2007

Small Ky. daily starts online pages dedicated to environmental reporting

The Daily Independent in Ashland, Ky., has expanded its Web site to include a new section dedicated to environmental issues, including local content such as the story and audio-enhanced slide show about a Russell, Ky., teacher, Doug Keaton, (in a Daily Independent photo by John Flavell) whose class built a wind turbine.

Flavell, the 18,000-circulation paper's chief photographer, and Mark Maynard, the managing editor, are the main editors of the site. It includes a collection of stories and agency reports about climate change, renewable energy and conservation. In an e-mail announcing the section, Flavell wrote that the paper hopes the section will be "a resource for world wide research on the climate crisis and possible solutions."

The section is worth a look, and it is another sign that community journalists can do great work on the Web, too. The Independent is the largest Kentucky paper owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (Read more)

Oct. 25, 2007

Georgia paper's series on prescription drug abuse shows a rural scourge

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia is running an impressive series on the issue of prescription drug abuse, a scourge in many parts of rural America. It ranges from additiction to teenagers to that of pharmacists and physicians.

The 44,000-circulation daily began the series on Sunday with a story called "Shackled" that offers both local and national perspective. Reporters Larry Geirer and Brad Barnes write that three in 100 Americans are addicted to prescription drugs and that "48 million people in the United States -- some 20 percent of the population -- have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse." This well-reported story explores responses to the issue in Columbus and elsewhere.

In an accompanying story, Gierer writes that the addiction is a problem among those who prescribe the drugs: "The American Medical Association estimates that 10-15 percent of doctors and pharmacists suffer from prescription drug addiction. By comparison, less than 5 percent of U.S. residents use a painkiller nonmedically in a year, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."

In another story, Gierer examines drug abuse by teenagers, some of whom throw "trail mix parties" during which they dump pills into bowls and then take whatever they fish out. The series is definitely worth a look, because it is a great example of blending statistics with anecdotal examples.

Oct. 19, 2007

Series by Small Newspaper Group compares states on problem teachers

In 2005, Scott Reeder, left, the Springfield, Ill., bureau chief for Small Newspaper Group, won multiple awards for his investigation into teacher tenure in Illinois, called "The Hidden Costs of Tenure." This week, the newspaper chain published Reeder's latest investigative effort, which compares teacher discipline in Illinois and the rest of the country does it. This series is called "Hidden Violations," and it used data compiled from records requests in all 50 states. On the Web site that hosts the report, Reeder summarizes his key findings about Illinois' record disciplining teachers:

Of the 50 states, only Virginia revokes or suspends fewer teaching certificates than Illinois.

  • No investigators are employed by the Illinois State Board of Education, so reports of teacher misconduct are often not investigated or acted upon.
  • The Department of Children and Family Services has found 323 cases providing credible evidence of abuse by teachers, but none have had their licenses suspended or revoked.
  • Teachers hired before 2004 have not had to undergo a state-mandated national criminal background check.
  • Physicians are 43 times more likely than the state's teachers to have their license suspended or revoked.
  • Lawyers are 25 times more likely than teachers to have their license suspended or revoked.
  • None of the tenured teachers fired in the last decade have also lost their teaching certificate and certification officials are not notified when a school district disciplines an educator.

In Illinois, Small Newspaper Group owns The Daily Journal in Kankakee, The Dispatch in Moline, The Rock Island Argus and The Times of Ottawa and Streator.

Oct. 15, 2007

N.D. journalism students help local paper, town devastated by tornado

On Aug. 26, a tornado swept through Northwood, N.D., killing one person, injuring 18 others and destroying 90 percent of the single-family homes in the rural community of less than 1,000 people. The local weekly newspaper, The Gleaner, circulation all of 700, was in trouble after the disaster, but it got some help from journalism students from the University of North Dakota, which is about 40 miles away.

The students decided to "adopt" the newspaper, writes their UND professor Dr. Jacquelyn Lowman, and so they have been contributing articles to each issue of The Gleaner throughout this semester. The articles and photos (such as the one above by by student Jackie DeMolee) tell the stories of how residents survived the tornado, and how they are trying to deal with the destruction. The effort is a great example of community journalism, and it is a reminder of the importance of hometown newspapers to their communities. (Read more)

Oct. 2, 2007

Editor of small La. daily reflects on covering the Jena Six as a local story

Long before CNN and The New York Times came to Louisiana to cover what became known as the "Jena Six," The Town Talk of Alexandria, about 30 miles away, had been reporting the whole story — and doing it in way only a local newspaper could. The 32,000-circulation daily had the story first, and for the last 12 months it has published more than 110 articles about the case and the surrounding events. Even as the story exploded, this local newspaper kept its coverage grounded in the context of the community.

Executive Editor Paul Carty offers what he's learned from the experience in a Q&A with Poynter Online's Al Tompkins. It's an interesting read that shows how the paper (owned by Gannett Co. Inc.) made its choices in coverage.

During the e-mail interview, Carty offered what he sees as the clear differences between the local and national coverage. "It's much easier for journalists who come into the story from a distance to arrive at conclusions that are based on less information, or to agree with someone else's conclusions (prepackaged and e-mailed, thank you very much)," he said. "The probability of assuming information and drawing conclusions increases significantly with physical and chronological distance from any story."

In addition to the extensive coverage the newspaper has done in print, its Web site has great resources as well, including a section that answers readers' basic questions about the "Jena Six." The newspaper also has archived each of the articles related to case, as well as video and audio clips, and all are available to readers.

Fla. paper concerned about growth wins battle with state election agency

A Florida Panhandle newspaper founded to advocate better management of growth in rural, coastal Wakulla County, and published occasionally, has won its legal battle with the Florida Elections Commission -- but no reimbursement of $80,000 in legal fees for its American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.

Responding to a complaint, the commission said in 2005 that the Wakulla Independent Reporter might have to report its finances if deemed to be an "electioneering communication," not a "newspaper" as defined in the law. "Investigators questioned [Publisher Julia] Hanway's failure to print the name of a publisher or to include obituaries, wedding announcements and ads from local businesses," and said the paper was campaigning against certain county commissioners, writes Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times.

The commission found no probable cause to believe that the paper knowingly broke the law, but Hanway and the ACLU "took the state to federal court, charging a violation of the First Amendment," writes Jim Ash of the Tallahassee Democrat, published in the county just north of Wakulla. "Regulators vigorously fought the suit, but dramaticaly changed course and acknowledged that Hanway was publishing a newspaper after they lost an initial round in court." In his order dismissing the case last week, federal judge Robert Hinkle said the commission's executive director “saw the light only on the courthouse steps, indeed, only in the courtroom itself.” (Read more)

Morgan said the case "effectively shut down" the Reporter for more than a year, and openly questioned the judge's denial of legal fees in the first sentence of her story: "Sometimes a courtroom victory leaves one wondering about the cost of justice." She quoted Hanway as saying, "It's a mystery to me how Hinkle could have come up with this determination, because the FEC would never have relented if I had not had attorneys who were willing to fight the FEC's original decision." She told Morgan the next Reporter "will be out shortly." (Read more)

Oct. 1, 2007

Small daily in rural Minnesota runs series on attempts to curb youth suicide

Beltrami County in Minnesota has the state's highest suicide rate for people under 35, but a recent series from The Bemidji Pioneer showed signs of progress in dealing with a problem that can be a touchy one for community newspapers.

The latest entry in this continuing coverage highlighted Beltrami Middle School's prevention program and its effects. Since the program's inception more than two years ago, no students have committed suicide and fewer have been hospitalized for suicide attempts, writes Michelle Ruckdaschel. "The suicide prevention program provides suicide awareness training to staff and students and offers students the opportunity to participate in coping skills, stress management, problem-solving and chemical awareness groups," she writes, adding that it includes education for parents as well.

The program came as result of a study done by the Minnesota Department of Health that showed Beltrami County's suicide rate for people under 35 was twice the state's average. In response, staff at the middle school proposed the program and helped hire a part-time suicide prevention specialist to run it.

The article comes on the heels of others done by 9,500-circulation daily paper that explore the issue of youth suicide and how Beltrami County has responded to it. Reporter Molly Miron wrote an article about how grieving families worked to raise the issue during Suicide Awareness Week. She wrote another article explaining the work of the Beltrami Area Suicide Prevention Task Force. The Pioneer followed these stories up with an editorial that said suicide prevention should remain a priority. The pieces provide a solid series as well as an example for other smaller daily newspapers. (Older articles require a subscription fee.)

Sept. 30, 2007

Barbara Kingsolver makes us think about connections between work, food

"In my neighborhood of Southwest Virginia, backyard gardens are as common as satellite dishes," author Barbara Kingsolver, right, writes for The Washington Post. But elsewhere, "My generation has absorbed an implicit hierarchy of values in which working the soil is poor people's toil. Apparently we're now meant to rise above even touching the stuff those people grow. The real labors of keeping a family fed (as opposed to the widely used metaphor) are presumed tedious and irrelevant. A woman confided to me at a New York dinner party, 'Honestly, who has time to cook anymore? My daughter will probably grow up wondering what a kitchen is used for.' The lament had the predictable blend of weariness and braggadocio, unremarkable except for this woman's post at the helm of one of the nation's major homemaking magazines. . . . On the other side of the world from that New York dinner party, another influential woman gave me an opposite perspective on leaving behind the labor and culture of food: that it's impossible. We only transform the tasks, she claims -- and not necessarily for the better."

Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, which operates Navdanya, a farm-based institute that helps rural Indians "learn how to free themselves from chemicals, indebtedness and landlessness," Kingsolver writes. "Shiva's research has shown that returning to more traditional multi-crop food farms can offer them higher, more consistent incomes than modern single-crop fields of export commodities."

Here is Kingsolver's main point: "Industrial farming -- however destructive to the land and our nutrition -- has held out as its main selling point the allure of freedom: Two percent of the population would be able to feed everyone. The rest could do as we pleased. Shiva sees straight through that promise. 'Most of those who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers: as cashiers, truck drivers, even the oil-rig workers who generate the fuels to run the trucks. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system. And many of those jobs are menial, life-taking work, instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land. The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50 to 60 percent of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population. Industrial agriculture did not 'save' anyone from that work, it only shifted people into other forms of food service.' Waiting tables, for instance, or driving a truck full of lettuce, or spending 70 hours a week in an office overseeing a magazine full of glossy ads selling food products. Surprise: There is no free lunch. No animal can really escape the work of feeding itself." (Read more)

Sept. 23, 2007

Minn. publisher's poignant homefront columns play key role in 'The War'

The columns of a rural newspaper publisher who "poignantly tried to explain the unexplainable to his neighbors" play a key role in "The War," the PBS documentary.

Al McIntosh ran the Rock County Star Herald in Luverne, Minn., at 4,600 the smallest of the four towns that provide the focus for the personal lenses through which filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story. Burns, the leading producer of historical documentaries, said finding McIntosh's columns was "in some ways ... the single greatest archival discovery that we have ever made."

The opening segment of the film quoted a McIntosh column about a local woman in London who had seen her friends killed in the blitz, and when she came home and looked out over the peaceful countryside from her family's front porch, she found it hard to believe that the rest of the world was at war. That's a paraphrase; we weren't recording. Trust us, McIntosh's writing was better than ours.

McIntosh would have played a smaller part in the program "had it not been for Tom Hanks, who encouraged Burns to use more in the film," and asked to read his words for the film, Steve Gansen of MBI Publishing Co. told the Star Herald's Lori Ehde. The company recently published McIntosh's wartime writings in in a book, Selected Chaff, taken from his column, "More or Less Personal Chaff." (Read more)

"Luverne was about as far away from the action as any place in America, but each day the war’s reality grew closer and closer," says a PBS press release. McIntosh reported "on war bond drives, victory gardens, rationing of essential commodities and the difficulties families faced trying to keep their farms going with so many young men in the armed forces," and chronicled "the travails of every family in town," says the guide to each episodes. Even as victory neared, he cautioned his readers to keep their heads down and keep working “until there is no doubt of victory any more” because “lots of our best boys have been lost in victory drives before.”

McIntosh wrote inspiring words, and his career was an inspiring one for rural journalists. He was a North Dakota native and University of Nebraska journalism graduate who worked at one of the Lincoln dailies and turned down jobs at the Kansas City Star and The Washington Post to fulfill his dream of running his own, small-town paper. fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning and editing a small-town newspaper. In 1949, he was president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, which gives an annual Al McIntosh Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. He sold his paper in 1968 and died in 1979.

The first button on the Star Herald's home page is "THE WAR." Burns gave the Star Herald an interview last month, and came to town Sept. 6 for a premiere of the documentary. "Some ... say the fact that Luverne is part of such a historically significant film is the biggest thing to happen here since the Cardinal basketball team won the state championship in 1964," Ehde wrote in that week's advance story.

Sept. 22, 2007

Editor-publisher in Jena. La., says his town and newspaper are not racist

The editor and publisher of The Jena Times wrote this week that he and his son stopped giving interviews to national news media after the British Broadcasting Corp. "twisted everything that was said to make us look like fools" and an unnamed U.S. news outlet's report of a later interview "was twisted to the point that we did not even recognize it."

In an editorial headlined "Editor addresses a world audience," Sammy Franklin, right, defended his town and LaSalle Parish against media representations of racism in light of the "Jena Six" case that prompted protesters from all over the nation and journalists from much of the globe to converge on the town of 3,000 on Thursday. He said racists in the parish, which is 12 percent black, are "few and far between." He also defended his weekly newspaper, saying it had reported the truth about the controversy and treated African Americans with equality since he bought it in 1968. (Read more)

For the paper's advance story on the protest, its report on recent court action involving one of the Jena Six, and its chronology of events, click here. Franklin's son, Assistant Editor Craig Franklin, wrote in his column, "Lost in all of the racial headlines is the fact that the school, despite all the distractions it has faced in the past year, managed to exceed all projections for academic growth and is listed with the highest academic rating that a school can achieve." (Read more) For a balanced and comprehensive profile of Jena, from Todd Lewan of The Associated Press, click here. For an update of events since Thursday, from Abbey Brown of The Town Talk, the daily paper in nearby Alexandria, click here. UPDATE: For an interview with Paul Carty, executive editor of The Town Talk, by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute, click here.

Sept. 14, 2007

Anniston Star's pieces on constitutional reform win prize for commentary

Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston (Ala.) Star, circulation 25,000, has won the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize for newspapers with less than 50,000 circulation. The award, presented by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, encourages thoughtful, courageous and constructive editorial page leadership" on local issues, says the latest SNPA eBulletin.

Contest judges said "Davis managed to take what might be a dry, yet important, topic – constitutional reform – and turn it into interesting reading with new angles each time he wrote about it. . . . His employment of a variety of writing styles, including poetry, was successful at surprising readers over time, in a persuasive way.”

Davis wrote on his entry form that Alabama's 1901 constitution was written to establish white supremacy in the state. "Though much of the Jim Crow is now rendered a dead letter, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the part that locked all but the rich and powerful out of state and local government is still very much alive," he wrote. "The editorial mission of The Anniston Star when it comes to constitutional reform is to explain the problem on a personal level. If finger-wagging was the cure, the document would have been rewritten years ago. Our attempt is to use a variety of styles to urge reform."

For examples of Davis's work, and that of other winners, click here. Second place in the small-circulation division went to David Klement of the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, circulatrion 47,000.

Sept. 13, 2007

With editor-publisher laid up, journalism students ride to paper's rescue

In days of yore, a bucket brigade was the hand-to-hand predecessor of firefighting equipment. This month, it is a rescue mission, by journalism students, for weekly newspaper editor-publisher Ken Ripley, reports the director and namer of the brigade, Jock Lauterer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The photo shows Lauterer (with hand on table), Ripley and the students who are commuting an hour or more each way to help publish the Spring Hope Enterprise, circulation 4,100, while Ripley is out of the office for surgery and a long recovery this fall.

Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications, writes in his Blue Highways Journal that he got the idea before Ripley's need arose -- from the recent tornado that virtually destroyed Greensburg, Kan., and its newspaper: "It occurred to me: Hey Lauterer, what would YOU do if an North Carolina community paper took a direct hit from a hurricane? How prepared are you? Do you have a Rapid Response Journalism Team primed and ready?"

Lauterer worked up a plan, "But then my thinking took another turn. Why sit around and wait for disaster to strike? Find a community paper right now that needs help. And that led us to Spring Hope, where I knew my long-time pal and veteran editor and publisher, Ken Ripley, was going in this month for a double hip replacement, a process that will require two separate operations and a lengthy recovery at home. Knowing the unstoppable Mr. Ripley, he refuses to miss an issue, putting out his paper via laptop from his bedside."

Sept. 6, 2007

Small Ky. weekly solicits, gets 'big ideas' from readers for local progress

The Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., has a circulation of about 2,500, but does a better job than many larger weeklies of putting items on the public agenda. On May 17 we noted its four-story package about the need for broadband Internet service in the county, part of the paper's year-long "Focus on the Future" series, which continued with "Some BIG Ideas" for the county of 12,000, which we noted July 11.

The paper presented ideas without regard to what they might cost, but none were outlandish. "Let's just talk about what might be possible and perhaps someday someone with the resources or the drive might just succeed," said the staff-written story. The paper planted seeds, giving them a first dose of water and hoping others will agree to take over. Then it invited readers to submit their own ideas, published this week.

The ideas included a Corvette raceway and resort, linked to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, where the sports car is made; improvements in the current Jeff Davis Days festival (the Confederate president was born in the county) and making sure that visitors know that the county is also the birthplace of Robert Penn Warren, America's first poet laureate. The Standard has no Web site, but click here to see the story.

Aug. 30, 2007

The Cullman (Ala.) Times makes Web video part of the routine

As many smaller newspapers only have just begun to use the Web, The Cullman (Ala.) Times has started posting daily video updates on its site. The 10,000-circulation daily drew praise for its innovation from Editor & Publisher's Pauline Millard, who said the paper showed the new technology could be used on a budget. (At right: An image from one of the recent Web videos available daily on the paper's site.)

In her column, Millard writes that the staff uses "simple equipment, such as cheap work lights from Wal-Mart, a light diffuser made from PVC and clearance-rack fabric, and an ancient Macintosh computer that serves as a TelePrompTer" for a studio, while the images and sound are captured with "a $300 consumer video camera and a $100 shotgun microphone."

Above all, the newscasts are "hyperlocal," Millard says, and thus give readers and viewers want they want. Called "The Update," the video follows the format of a TV news program, complete with an opening tease of the day's top stories followed by a montage of the newspaper's staff in action and a nod to The Update's sponsor. After the top stories, The Update divides the remaining time among feature and sports stories. In all, it is concise 11-minute video that does far more than the "talking head" format of some newspaper Web video. To view a recent Web video update from The Cullman Times, go here.

Coal industry should share blame for mine-safety problems, Ky. weekly says

Utah mine owner Robert E. Murray's "recklessness" and the Mine Safety and Health Administration's "failure to rein him in" are to blame for the recent tragedy, but others should face congressional inquiry next week: "Murray's co-conspirators in the coal industry," opines The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

In the latest in a series of detailed, hard-hitting editorials on the safety issues raised by the disaster, the Eagle declares, "We continue to be haunted by the still largely unexamined story of how the industry fought -- successfully -- to keep MSHA from requiring modern mine communications technology in underground coal mines," the Eagle writes. MSHA's excuse, from the Federal Register: "Since technology is constantly changing, newer systems that may be as, or more, effective than [current technology] may be developed."

"We've never seen a worse excuse for fatal inaction or a better example of what's wrong with the coal industry and mine safety enforcement," the Eagle editorial concludes. (Read more)

Aug. 22, 2007

Coal industry could have prevented mine deaths, weekly's editorial says

As the rescue effort at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah remained halted, leaving six miners trapped and probably dead, The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., continued to offer some of the sharpest criticism about the current state of mine safety in the United States.

In this week’s edition, an editorial listed the names of the 63 miners killed nationwide since Jan. 1, 2006, as well as the six miners still missing in Utah. “It's a terrible toll -- 70 miners in all -- and one that should be unacceptable, because fatality-by-fatality reviews show that most of these deaths could have been prevented by a combination of systematic risk assessment, conscientious mine management, diligent regulatory enforcement, and adoption of technologies that are taken for granted elsewhere,” the editorial said.

The editorial suggested key links between recent coal mining deaths: a lack of advanced emergency breathing and communication devices in mines. The Eagle said miners aren’t given adequate training with breathing devices, called Self-Contained Self-Rescuers, and that the models in use in these mines have been rendered “obsolete.” In addition, the editorial said miners lack a system for two-way communication in mines. Legislation passed after the Sago Mine disaster of January 2006 has mandated the installation of such r]systems, but not until 2009, and the editorial said progress has been slow on that front. (Read more)

Meanwhile, a friend of one of the miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine confronted mine co-owner Bob Murray yesterday at a funeral for one of the three rescue workers killed at the mine, The Associated Press reports.

The man "handed Murray a dollar bill" and said, "This is just to help you out so you don't kill him." AP reports, "Murray's head snapped back as if slapped." For video from CNN, click here.

The episode "revealed more than just the frustration of people in this mining community in central Utah's coal belt, where most still speak in whispers when criticizing the officials whose businesses pay their bills," AP reports. "Critics are now openly calling the mine a disaster waiting to happen and pointing fingers at Murray Energy Corp. and the federal government as the agents of the tragedy." (Read more)

Today, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Murray and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration made a risky change to the mining plan of the previous owner, contrary to statements by Murray. MSHA approved the change in only seven business days, Robert Gehrke reports. (Read more)

Aug. 15, 2007

From the Appalachian coalfield, an editorial rebuke for Utah mine owner

As The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., went to press yesterday, the weekly newspaper looked far west to another coalfield, where rescue efforts continued at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah. "We join with mining communities throughout the coalfields in praying for their rescue, even as time grinds away at the odds of achieving that outcome," the Eagle's editorial said. "Meanwhile, everyone anxious about the fate of the miners has had to endure a week of watching the mine’s owner, Robert Murray, demonstrating why he doesn’t deserve to be trusted with the facts, let alone the lives of thousands of people who depend on him for their livelihoods." (Photo of Murray by Ramin Rahimian of Reuters, via the Daily Yonder)

The editorial accused Murray of several misstatements. "Particularly galling to us were his off-the-wall rants about former federal mine safety officials Davitt McAteer and Tony Oppegard, both of whom we know well," who worked for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton era and "have been among the most effective advocates miners have ever had – a distinction Bob Murray would no doubt claim for himself, but one that wouldn’t seem likely to withstand a moment’s scrutiny."

After reports that cast Murray as "bumptious but benevolent . . . his Berlin Wall of bluster began crumbling," the Eagle notes. "The first blows came from seismologists who reported that the 'seismic event' at Crandall Canyon was the violent cave-in itself, not an earthquake triggering it. Then MSHA contradicted him, confirming that Crandall Canyon was indeed doing retreat mining in the area of the cave-in. Then . . . came reports that miners who had been working in the area had been fearful about their safety."

The Eagle explained to its readers the differences in the mines they know and the one in Utah, and questioned MSHA's approval of retreat mining in an environment where high pressure and seismic activity can cause "'bumps' or 'bounces' in which the mine ribs or floor can suddenly give way with explosive force, firing chunks of coal like bullets and reducing solid coal pillars to rubble." It said the investigation of the accident should not be left to MSHA, but also include a group of outside experts. (Read more)

Aug. 8, 2007

Mountaintop-removal foes, rebuffed at state and local levels, look to D.C.

Opponents of mountaintop-removal coal mining like Sam Gilbert, above, "have found some allies in their fight, but most come from outside the Appalachian coalfield – activists, authors and journalists who write stories for national and regional newspapers and magazines," Mary Jo Shafer writes for The Mountain Eagle and other newspapers. "Much the same has been said in the legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, where efforts to limit mountaintop removal have failed or never gotten off the ground. So now the debate is moving to the halls of Congress, where opponents think they have a better chance for change."

Shafer's story includes polling done by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, showing that opinion about use and conservation of natural resources is deeply divided in southeastern Kentucky's Harlan and Letcher counties, part of the area where mountaintops are mined. The Eagle is published in Letcher County, where Gilbert lives. (The report does not name the two counties, but their inclusion was confirmed for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues by Mil Duncan of Carsey.)

Shafer, now the assistant city editor at The Anniston (Ala.) Star, did the report for the Institute as part of an internship to earn a master's degree in community journalism from the University of Alabama, through the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Shafer's report also includes stories about a Kentucky legislator who is trying to limit mountaintop removal and also interviewed coalfield residents and an industry official who see mountaintop mining as a source of jobs and land for development or tourism. Another story examines the state of the United Mine Workers of America in Eastern Kentucky -- no working miners, but members in other fields and a strong heritage.

Paper's coverage helps capture escapee, holds Okla. authorities accountable

John Wylie, left, publisher of Oklahoma's weekly Oologah Lake Leader, was reading the nearby Vinita Daily Journal on June 5, and knew something was wrong when he saw that his neighbor editor was replying to a reader's complaint about a mental patient who had "walked away from a picnic." Wylie was in an excellent position to have heard about such an incident, and had heard nothing.

He did some digging and learned that the patient had walked away from a picnic at Oologah Lake, in the adjoining county, and that the escapee "had a two-state felony record including aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and had repeatedly threatened to kill law enforcement officers, jailers and friends," Wylie told Stan Schwartz of the National Newspaper Association. Escapee Randy Thweatt "had an escape history and had tried to kill a McCurtain County woman with a rifle."

"The only call the hospital made after discovering Thweatt was missing was to the McCurtain County Sheriff's Office in Idabel so it could warn the woman. In Rogers County, where Thweatt had escaped, authorities were not notified," Schwartz writes in the latest edition of NNA's Publisher's Auxiliary. Wylie broke the news, alerted a TV reporter in nearby Tulsa, and "Thweatt was apprehended by two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers within 48 hours of the Leader's story," Schwartz writes. (For a PDF of the story's jump, click here.) "Oklahoma Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinta, issued a statement praising Wylie: 'I believe had it not been for the vigilance of the press -- in this case John Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader and Lori Fullbright of KOTV-Tulsa -- this dangerous criminal may have remained at large.'"

Wylie reported the capture (story and jump) but the story wasn't over. He learned that "At that same lake just a week later, while Thweatt was still at large, more than 100 Girl Scouts held a campout," Schwartz writes. "It was also the 30th anniversary of the Locust Grove Girl Scout murders. Three young girls had been raped and killed at that site. The community still remembers that time." Click here for Wylie's story. Finally, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health apologized for the incident, and put a six-month suspension on all outings, but when Wylie asked for a copy of the order, he found that it it wasn't in writing.

Wylie wrote an editorial about dealing with the mentally ill, and related his own experience: When he was a big-city reporter, he covered a mentally ill veteran "who held police at bay for a day with volleys from high-powered weapons," then "got past security at The Kansas City Star, and pled his case with a .45-caliber handgun aimed straight and true at our heart through the pocket of his raincoat." (Read more)

Aug. 3, 2007

W.Va. publisher takes on other papers, local officials over public-notice ads

Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Radio reports, "There’s a fight going on for the hearts and minds of newspaper readers in Lincoln County – and that struggle could affect small newspapers all across West Virginia. Dan Butcher, a Lincoln County native who moved to Florida and made a fortune ... is challenging an established newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, with a start-up called the Lincoln Standard. He’s alleging that the Lincoln Journal and local politicians are in cahoots with each other – and taxpayers are footing the bill."

Newspapers are paid to print public-notice advertising for many legal matters, including a list of locals who haven't paid their taxes. The law calls for the list to be printed once; the Journal printed it more than once, and after the Standard pointed that out, the county got a refund. The law also "says you only have to print people’s names and what they owe," Finn reports. But Journal Publisher Tom Robinson "says it makes sense to print extra information -- like addresses -- especially in a county where more than 500 people are listed in the phonebook under the name 'Adkins'." A story by the Journal's Richard Tipton points out that the listings also included "property descriptions, rows of dots and ticket numbers."

Here's the larger issue: In West Virginia, rates for public-notice ads are set by law, according to a paper's circulation, at specific rates per word. Butcher's newspapers (he bought two more and started another in the area) recently noted that no one audits newspaper's certifications of their single-copy sales, and suggested that some papers are falsifying them in order to get higher rates for ads, because their percentage of household penetration -- 89 percent in one case -- is too high for counties with low income and education. Butcher was once a community newspaper executive for a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. (Read the story.)

Gloria Flowers, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, told Finn, "I do not feel there are any publishers in the state that fudge a tremendous amount on their circulation numbers." (Read more) Butcher says he was spurred to start his paper when the Journal wanted to charge a woman $59 to publish an article seeking sign-ups for the county's first youth soccer league. For his broader reflections on the how and why of his newspapers, which operate under the umbrella of West Virginia Standard, click here.

UPDATE: In its Aug. 9 edition, the Lincoln Standard reported on citizen protests at the county commission meeting and Butcher's federal-court lawsuit to remove the Lincoln Journal and the Lincoln News Sentinel as the county's newspapers of record. (Read more)

July 25, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 21, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14, 2007

John Edwards already making headlines in Appalachia with planned visit

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2007

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

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

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

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

July 9, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

June 25, 2007

Institute founder one of six Rural Heroes at National Rural Assembly

Al Smith walked down Main Street in Russellville, Ky., one Sunday morning in the late 1950s, past the Logan County Courthouse, where the county singing convention was in full sing. He thought for a moment that he belonged there, but kept walking, down the street to the bootlegger -- and, perhaps, to oblivion.

It was a small piece of a life's journey that he recounted for the first National Rural Assembly tonight, as he accepted one of its six Rural Hero awards for his work in journalism -- most recently the establishment of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

Smith, now 80, never joined the singers, but he did kick liquor, with the help of the people in Logan County, and his journalism career began looking up. He began writing articles for big-city papers, and "It was soon evident I could go back to the city," he said. But then he realized: "These people took me in when I didn't have a friend . . . and I decided I'd stay with them."

His decision was confirmed by the woman he soon married. Martha Helen Smith told him that living in a rural town was OK "as long as that city-limit sign doesn't obscure your vision of what lies beyond the border." And after he built a small chain of rural newspapers and sold it, that outlook helped inspire the Institute, which helps rural journalists define the public agenda in their communities -- including reporting and commentary on state, regional and national issues that have a local impact on such things as education, health care, the economy and the environment.

The idea was planted by Smith's friend Rudy Abramson, a former Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and found support in 2001 from Dr. Lee Todd, who had just become president of UK. "Without Todd's acceptance of our vision, it never would have worked," Smith told the National Rural Assembly. The Institute operated on an ad hoc basis until 2004, when grants enabled UK to hire Al Cross as its director. It recently held a National Summit on Journalism in Rural America and presented programs in Iowa and Tennessee, but its work remains grounded in Kentucky and Central Appalachia. It works with policy experts like those at the Rural Assembly to illuminate issues for rural journalists. Smith saluted the work of the advocates for rural America and said, "I'm just happy to be part of the choir."

Other rural heroes recognized at the Assembly in Chantilly, Va., were Bill Bynum of Jackson, Miss., founder of the Enterprise Corp. of the Delta, for leadership in investment and entrepreneurship; Dr. Forrest Calico of Stanford, Ky., former director of the Appalachian Regional Health Corp., for health; Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation in South Dakota, for advocacy; Sharon King of New York City, president of the F.B. Heron Foundation, for philanthropy; and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for government. Details? Click here.

The National Rural Assembly is designed to "strengthen rural America by giving its leaders a platform to be heard, raising the visibility of rural issues, organizing a national network of rural interests, and developing specific rural policy initiatives," says the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the chief co-convener, with the Ford Foundation. It continues today, then tomorrow with a congressional hearing on rural issues. (Read more)

McCain unaware of disproportionate casualties of rural soldiers in Iraq

Iowa journalist Douglas Burns writes in the Iowa Independent, an online news forum, that Arizona Sen. John McCain was unaware that rural America is bearing a disproportionate burden of the fighting and casualties in Iraq. “Most of us in western Iowa, regardless of position on the war or political affiliation, just know this,” Burns, a reporter and columnist for the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, wrote June 3. “We see it in our small towns, anecdotally — and The Associated Press and other reliable sources have documented it. . . . Barack Obama gets this. John McCain doesn’t. I asked them both the same question, and was stunned with the response from McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona an GOP candidate for the presidency.”

In an interview, McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, told Burns, “I don’t think the numbers bear out that assertion. I think they’re from all over America. They’re not from the wealthiest Americans. I will admit that. I have no statistic that indicates they’re mostly from rural America.” Burns notes, “The premise of the question was not that rural kids are doing "most" of the fighting but rather a "disproportionate" amount of it. McCain should be angry about this gulf in sacrifice, which has some roots in a socio-economic status.”

In contrast, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama showed familiarity with the subject when Burns asked him about it. “One of the things I’ve been distressed about is the way folks in southern Illinois and rural western Iowa, that those are the folks that are disproportionately affected,” Obama told Burns in an interview in Denison, Iowa., left, in photo from the Daily Yonder. Burns interviewed McCain in LeMars. (Read more) For background on the casualty pattern, click here. For the conservative Heritage Foundation's take on the issue, courtesy of the Daily Yonder, click here.

June 21, 2007

Montana Journalism Review: The Challenges of Rural Journalism

Much of latest issue of the Montana Journalism Review, including the title above, is devoted to rural journalism, and we're happy to highlight it here because the state has innovators in the field, three of whom attended our National Summit on Journalism in Rural America this spring -- Keith Graham of the University of Montana, Courtney Lowery of the online news source New West and John Q. Murray of the Clark Fork Chronicle, in photo at right. They and their ideas are among the featured articles in the review.

Graham and Lowery started Rural News Network in 2006 when they saw a need for a rural news connection and got it funded by the New Voices program of J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism. The network began in Lowery's hometown of Dutton, Mont., which lost its newspaper several years ago. "Lowery and Graham hope the RNN Web site will allow people in Dutton to publish their own news," Eleena Fikhman reports. For her interview with Graham and Lowery, click here.

In Murray's piece, which we recommend you read, he analyzes the challenges facing newspapers in rural areas that have seen "traditional natural resource industries decline and families move away in search of work." He is assembling a Corporation for Public Community Newspapers, "an independent non-profit organization with a dues-paying membership. Members attend regular meetings to: (1) review the progress of the local community newspaper toward its agreed-upon goals; (2) identify special reporting projects that the newspaper should undertake; and (3) vote to provide funding for specific special projects. . . .The supplemental funding provided by the nonprofit means the newspaper can increase its news hole to provide that coverage, regardless of the amount of advertising sold that week. The nonprofit is its own distinct organization, completely separate from the for-profit newspaper, but the two enter into a binding contract that gives the nonprofit full budget authority over the special projects. The members of the nonprofit vote on the special projects and provide the funding. The newspaper is free to turn down the project and the funding. In that case, the nonprofit can seek to contract with freelancers or other citizen journalists to produce the special projects. Conversely, the newspaper can choose to implement all special projects recommended by the non-profit, even if they are not fully funded." (Read more)

June 20, 2007

TV station in eastern N.C. presses open-court case on principle and wins

When the judge in a school-funding lawsuit between the school board and commissioners of Pitt County, N.C., slapped a gag order on the elected officials and refused to hear a TV station's appeal, he probably thought he had given the station the old stiff-arm. But even after the trial, WNCT-TV pressed the case in an effort to make sure it didn't happen again. Yesterday, the state Court of Appeals said the judge was wrong.

We learned about this from Al's Morning Meeting, the daily online column by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. He writes, "Over the last several years, many journalism executives, print and broadcast, have told me how difficult it is these days to get corporate backing to take on a legal fight like this, especially when the decision has more to do with principle and precedent than anything else. I wish journalism organizations would pick more legal fights on behalf of the public." This case set a statewide precedent.

Tompkins interviewed WNCT News Director Melissa Preas, right, by e-mail. "We really felt this was wrong on every level. particularly when dealing with two public entities fighting over public money," she said. "If we didn't pursue this appeal, then in our opinion that just left the door wide open for it to continue to happen." She said Media General, the station's owner, was very supportive. To read the interview, click here.

June 11, 2007

Politics with a laugh: Ky. columnist begs to be saved from New Yorkers

Larry Webster is a lawyer in Pikeville, Ky. To call him a maverick Republican would be understatement, and such does not become him. You will not find understatement in his "Red Dog" newspaper column, named for acid drainage from coal mines. He's often over the top, and sometimes bewildering, but his latest take on the presidential race has some vintage paragraphs. Here are three:

"If we all stick together and get us a smooth actor who talks the talk to be elected president, just maybe Keith Whitley's little widder woman [country singer Lorrie Morgan] will be the first lady. Fred Thompson, in a gesture of self-sacrifice, will give up being Paul Harvey's successor in radio riches and give up pretending to be someone else on television in order to save this country from the ruin of having to pick between two New Yorkers.

"One is the Hall Monitor Girl who slept once with Bill Clinton. You remember the hall monitor girl with the fluorescent crosses swathing her bosom holding up her little sign and ordering you around. She had no principles, but, to remain hall monitor girl, fought her way right to the middle of the pile, no matter what it was a pile of. If there is a God, He will spare us eight years of having to stay off television to keep from seeing her every night at suppertime. That would be torture.

"Upon which the other New Yorker would approve given that he believes in torture as a technique in international relations. She is the Hall Monitor Girl and he is the Call Monitor Boy. He goes by "Rudy," so as not to be confused with the red-nosed Rudolph, who at least knows how to lead. We do not want him to play in our reindeer games. Rudy will lead us forward on our current path to a security state ruled by a single person who claims two things, one, that while we are at war nobody has any rights, and two, that we are in a permanent war." (Column not available online)

June 8, 2007

War at home: A weekly's editorial makes local and global connections

One of the most important things rural news media can do for their readers, viewers and listeners is connect them to the world at large and help them understand the local impact of faraway events. Brad Martin of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., did that this week with an editorial titled "War at home."

“As June arrives and you prepare for another ballgame with your kids, here’s a thought worth remembering: Soldiers are still preparing to go to the war zone known as Iraq. Soldiers from Hickman County,” Martin began, following that with the latest list of seven names, all volunteers for the assignment. Such reminders are important in a nation where no broad sacrifice has been required for the Iraq War, which has a low profile.

Martin addressed the war's controversial nature: “Go ahead, argue politics -- that Bush is whacked and Congress has no guts and things aren’t getting better. Or maybe they are and the media just isn’t telling us, and terrorism will soon be eradicated from the Earth, so help me God. Don’t do it on the soldiers’ nickel, though.”

The key to the 5,800-circulation weekly's editorial is John M. Wilson, family-assistance specialist for the Army National Guard's 771st Maintenance Company, based in Centerville. Referring to the seven men's volunteering to go to Iraq, most for return trips, he told Martin, “They’d rather do that than try to find a job here. It’s difficult to find a job here.” From there, Martin made another connection, to the economic needs of the 22,500 people in Hickman County and the responsibility of local officials to address them.

He noted that a manufacturing plant, “a 33-year cornerstone of this county’s economy — will let all of their 68 employees go home, starting in July, and most of them still need to work. Where do they go in a county where 60 percent leave for elsewhere every morning?” Centerville, population 3,800, is 60 miles southwest of downtown Nashville. The Times is not online, but the editorial is posted on our site. To read it, click here.

June 4, 2007

Illinois reporter knows how to tell story of broadband access, or lack of it

Jeremy Pelzer of the State Capitol Bureau of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., circulation 55,000, knows how to sharply illustrate the lack of broadband in rural areas. Check out this lede: "When Guy Sternberg wants to open an e-mail attachment from friends, it helps if he's hungry."

Sternberg, of Menard County, explains in terms of kilobytes: "If we try to send things back and forth that are attached documents and so forth that are over three or four hundred K or five hundred K at most, I just can't even open them, I'll hit 'Open,' I'll go eat lunch and to come back before I get it done."

Pelzer also cites a very illustrative nugget of data, or forecast data: "Dial-up service has become increasingly inadequate as Web sites and Internet applications, particularly video, require unprecedented amounts of bandwidth. By 2010, the Web traffic generated by only 20 homes will be equal to the information transmitted over the entire Internet in 1995, according to Cisco Systems."

And no story on broadband access is complete without touching on these subjects: "Many rural Illinois advocates worry that areas of the country that don't have affordable high-speed Internet will lose jobs and people to cities that do. . . . Satellite Internet service offers faster speeds, but the needed satellite dish and equipment usually cost hundreds of dollars, and monthly subscriptions often cost twice as much as ground-based broadband. Those prices are often too steep, said Rex Duncan, executive director of ConnectSI, an initiative seeking to help Internet providers extend broadband access throughout Southern Illinois." And an online commenter on the story noted, "Satellite Internet also has limitations on bandwidth usage." Weather can also be a problem. Click here for the story, and here for a sidebar on state efforts to extend access.

Sunshine efforts earn former weekly editor Virginia SPJ's top award

Lawrence K. “Lou” Emerson, former co-owner and editor of two weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia, will receive the George Mason Award, the highest honor presented by the Virginia Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, at the chapter's annual banquet Thursday, June 7. The award is presented for significant, lasting contribution to Virginia journalism.

Emerson, who founded The Fauquier Citizen in Warrenton in 1989 and The Culpeper Citizen 14 years later, is a longtime advocate of open government. He "spearheaded a successful legal challenge against the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors over an illegal closed meeting. The court case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, which issued a landmark ruling last year concerning reasons for, and content of, closed meetings," reports the Virginia Press Association, in which he remains active.

Awards are old hat for Emerson, who sold his papers to Times Community Newspapers in January 2006. The Fauquier Citizen consistently won top honors from VPA, and in 2005 the Inland Press Foundation named it the best weekly of its size in the U.S. Last year, he received the D. Lathan Mims Award, VPA’s highest individual honor for an editor. In March, he won the association's First Amendment Award. He and his wife, Ellen, operate Emerson2, a newspaper consulting business in Warrenton.

The awards banquet will be held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Hanover Production Facility in Mechanicsville. For more information about the banquet, click here.

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.”

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.”

“Cheney countered that U.S. forces must remain in the country to fight terrorists who have decided to take on the U.S. military in the Middle East,” Dewell wrote. The story ended with a verbatim excerpt of the interview. A White House transcript of the full 20-minute interview is posted on the paper's Web site. The paper's package also included a personality-oriented sidebar, headlined "Family, friends sustain Cheney's career" and a "Reporter's Notebook" about Dewell's experiences at the White House. Here are excerpts:

"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)

May 23, 2007

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.

May 22, 2007

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.

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)

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.

May 14, 2007

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)

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.

May 9, 2007

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.

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.

"I have been devastated by what I have seen, and am wondering if I still have a job," Editor Mark Anderson told Strupp. "I have not been as affected by it as [local residents]. But knowing so many of them, I feel like I owe it to them to try to give them perspective." Anderson, who lives 30 miles away in Pratt and has run the paper for three years, said he didn't know if it would survive, since its readers have been displaced and its advertisers are out of business. He is the sole news employee of the weekly, which is owned by GateHouse Media and is a satellite of the daily Pratt Tribune. His wife, Laurie Anderson, is the advertising manager.

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 Greensburg today, repprts Peggy Kuhr, Knight Chair on Press, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas.

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.

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.

April 27, 2007

Small weeklies win kudos for environmental reporting in Alaska contest

The ennvironmental reporting category in the Alaska Press Club's annual contest had no winners among large newspapers or broadcasters, but a full complement among smaller papers. "Given the astounding challenges on virtually every aspect of the environment in Alaska – and the exemplary efforts extended to cover them by the state’s small-market papers – this dearth of quality reporting from Alaska’s papers of record is inexcusable," wrote the judge for the category, Douglas Fischer of the Oakland Tribune. "Kudos to Alaska’s smallest papers for aggressively and ambitiously tackling the environment in 2006. Had any of these stories appeared under the masthead of the state’s largest papers, I would have been thrilled."

The first-place winner was “Global warming threatens Northwest Arctic coast,” by Susan B. Andrews and John Creed of The Arctic Sounder of Barrow and Kotzebue, a weekly with a circulation of 2,400. Fischer called it "a stellar example of how an amorphous, difficult-to-report issue like climate change can be made extremely relevant for local readers." In second was “Tanker flow long noted as risky,” by Carey James of the Homer Tribune, which Fischer called "a clear-eyed analysis" of a looming issue. Taking third was “Humpback spends six hours caught in gillnet” by Klas Stolpe of the Petersburg Pilot, a weekly with a circulation of only 1,834. "Stolpe did a marvelous job describing the urgency, confusion and anxiety among fishermen and rescuers alike as they struggled to free a humpback tangled in 75 fathoms of gillnet, lead and cork line," Fischer writes. He also handed out some honorable mentions Ben Stuart of the Homer News, circulation 3,300, and Sarah Hurst of Petroleum News, a trade weekly based in Anchorage.

To read the Press Club's full account of its newspaper awards, click here. In the broadcast category, no environmental awards were given by the judge, National Public Radio producer Jessica Goldstein.

April 17, 2007

Weekly editor in Calif. thinks his reporting may have put him in danger

Early in the morning of March 7, Sanger (Calif.) Herald Editor Dick Sheppard "was nearly hit by a car. The editor believes the incident could be retaliation for reporting on city officials' ties with local developers," and the police chief says it appears to have been intentional, says The Fresno Bee.

"Sanger authorities asked the Fresno County Sheriff's Department to look into the . . . incident," saying an outside agency should do the investigation, Tim Eberly reports. "Sheppard, 70, said he believes the incident was not an accident. Since he took the job two years ago, he said, he has been threatened in other ways. He says he has fielded two threatening phone calls, and his office was broken into and ransacked, although nothing was taken. He reported one of the calls and the break-in to police." (Bee photo by Kurt Hegre)

Sheppard said in a March 22 story, headlined "A drive by message to the editor of the Sanger Herald," that the incident "might have been an intentional act of intimidation in response to aggressive reporting in the Herald . . . investigating city officials' involvement and relationships with developers." He told Eberly that some stories have bene publushed and some are still being reported.

Sanger is a town of 19,000 on the border of the urbanized area east of Fresno and the farmland that borders the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in eastern Fresno County. Sheppard, a former broadcast reporter, said he is the only full-time journalist at his newspaper, circulation 17,000, but employs some Fresno State University journalism students. (Read more)

April 14, 2007

Weekly gives Virginia town detailed update on controversial proposal

The city council of Lexington, Va., voted 4-2 late Thursday night to invite the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond to move to the Blue Ridge town. "In the end, economic realities triumphed over emotions" like those voiced by Marilyn Alexander (left) and other foes, writes Roberta Anderson on the Web site of The News-Gazette, Lexington's weekly paper, circulation 8,600. (News-Gazette photo by Geoff Dudley)

Anderson's story focuses on history teacher and senior Councilman Jim Gianniny, whose motion "was accompanied by an emotional statement stating he had spent many sleepless nights considering the positions of those both for and against the MOC. . . . Gianniny said he has always tried to educate his students about the failures and injustices committed by the country, the state and Rockbridge County when it came to granting equal rights to African Americans. But the harsh economic realities of the future financial obligations of the city, including millions that must be spent on a new school, new courthouse, upgrades to the sewage treatment plant, additions to the jail and upgrades to the water system, as well as a downtown currently with many empty storefronts, swayed him."

Anderson conveys the tension at the meeting, centering on the Confederate battle flags that are sold at the museum and for many people are a badge of racism and slavery. One man "wondered if the MOC has been honest about its verbalized intention to drop its image as the museum of the Lost Cause and take on a broader historical perspective," Anderson writes of George Pryde, without revealing his race.

“They seem to be telling us one thing and their members another,” Pryde said. “This flag has become the divisive point. It has become the lightning rod. If you bring the museum to Lexington, don’t bring this flag with it.” Anderson reports, "Somehow, that flag ended up on the floor and was retrieved by Michael Pursley, who identified himself as the commander of the local unit of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. 'I am graciously going to pick this sacred flag off the floor,' Pursley said, a comment that caused an African American man sitting in the front row to declare 'I gotta go,' and abruptly left."

The council vote came "despite unified opposition from the black community" in Lexington, reports Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Opponents " said putting the museum there "would open racial wounds in the city's small black community. About 10 percent of Lexington's 7,000 residents are black," Bowman reports. Lexington was "among a dozen Virginia localities to formally invite the museum to consider moving from its cramped quarters in downtown Richmond," reports Jay Conley of The Roanoke Times. Bowman, however, reports only that more than a dozen, including some outside Virginia, have "expressed an interest." Sunday is the deadline for proposals.

April 12, 2007

Cartoonist at 18,500-circ. paper in Georgia wins Sigma Delta Chi Award

Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia is the winner of the Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial cartooning in 2006, the Society of Professional Journalists announced at noon today.

Few papers with less than 20,000 circulation have editorial cartoonists, a point noted by the judges. "We felt Mike Lester's editorial cartoons for the Rome News-Tribune showed a unique, breezy and consistent style," they wrote. "Each panel was strong and wry while commenting on important social issues. There is humor but it is not disrespectful. The cartoons have broad appeal. We applaud the Rome News-Tribune, a small newspaper, for having a fulltime editorial cartoonist on staff."

The News-Tribune is part of News Publishing Co., owned by the Mooney family of Rome. It also publishes seven editorially independent weeklies in northwest Georgia and Cherokee County, Ala. It hired Lester as its first cartoonist in 2002, and he tackles local, state, national an international topics.

"Being able to do cartoon commentary on purely local matters adds a dimension otherwise missing from syndicated offerings," the paper's editorial-page editor, Pierre-Rene Noth, said in an e-mail interview. "Promoting and sparking reader participation in the day's topics is very much a function of a newspaper editorial page and cartoons are great way to get something going quickly, at a glance. Besides, word editorials poking fun at life's foibles are far more difficult to do than a sketch … and harder to plow through. Cartoons are a tool born in newspapers and still largely unique to them."

Lester is generally conservative, but has an independent streak. The newspaper "tends to be what is considered conservative on economic matters and liberal on social issues," Noth says.

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards were established in 1932 by the organization now known as SPJ. The current program began in 1939, when Sigma Delta Chi presented its first Distinguished Service Awards. When Sigma Delta Chi changed its name to SPJ in the 1980s, the original name was retained for the awards and SPJ's foundation. The awards will be presented July 20 during the annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards banquet at the National Press Club in Washington. Here's a cartoon from Lester's entry:

April 11, 2007

Ken Ward Jr. explains how he reports and writes about coal-mine safety

If coal-mine safety is an issue in your area, perhaps the best reporter to learn from is Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette, circulation 48,000. His series on safety, focusing on individual fatalaties rather than disasters, won a medal in the annual contest of Investigative Reporters and Editors. In an interview with Leann Frola of The Poynter Instiute, Ward told how he did the series and offered many tips, including several that apply to media outlets of all sizes, even weekly newspapers and small radio stations.

Reporting: The Mine Safety and Health Administration posts the fatality reports on every death in every mine on its Web site, and Ward examined every report for 10 years -- 1996 to 2005. "I read through all of those three times. One to get a feel, two to look for common trends to investigate further and three to build my own database," which he did by filing Freedom of Information Act requests for "data that was behind the online look-up system. Then I put it on Microsoft Access and played with it for a while. I looked at cases where miners were killed and how often those produced citations -- and if the mine had violated some rule that led to the deaths, what kind of fines were paid. No one had done that before in terms of fatality cases. . . . It's not really heavy lifting computer-assisted reporting. I just used Access and Excel."

Ward also examined lawsuits stemming from fatalaties and used West Virginia's interlibrary loan system to get specialized information on a host of coal-mine safety issues. "I've always thought one of the first things editors should do when a new reporter walks into a newsroom is say, "Do you have a library card?"

Interviewing: "We really felt that our paper did not intrude on privacy and felt for what they were going through. My personal policy is I didn't call [families]. They knew how to get in touch with the media, and if they wanted to talk, they knew people would listen. I didn't go out of my way to try to bother them. I let the lawyers of the families know we were interested. Some folks wanted to talk and some didn't. It's kind of a difference between the national media folks who parachute in to West Virginia. It doesn't matter if people trust them, because they're doing one story and moving on. But we live here and work here. ... It's just a matter of listening to what they have to say. Usually the folks that want to talk have something to say, and just listening rather than trying to get them to say something that helps your story really works better."

Writing: "The Gazette's writing coach, Kate Long; my editor, Rob Byers; and I made a deliberate decision to smack people in the teeth with the way these guys die. It's often very gruesome. But we just thought it was important to see how brutal it was. We had pictures of miners and their families so that people would have to see them. I think that that's really, really important." (Read more)

April 4, 2007

Lancaster, Pa., paper wins fairness award for coverage of Amish shooting

This year's Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers goes to the Lancaster New Era for a series of stories about the shooting of 10 girls in an Amish school in rural Pennsylvania.

"The judges praised the staff of the New Era for its sensitivity in respecting the cultural and religious traditions of the Amish community as it wove a compelling narrative about the girls’ lives, police heroism, the personal anguish of the killer and the forgiveness offered by the families of the five girls who died," said a release from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, which administers the award for the Taylor family, former publishers of The Boston Globe. The award includes a $10,000 prize. "The newspaper demonstrated an impressive ability to gain the trust of the people who are part of this tragic story," the judges said. "The stories shed light on worlds usually hidden from public view."

The New Era, circulation 46,000, was the smallest and most rural-oriented newspaper to be a finalist in the competition since the first award was made in 2002. It beat big-time competition: The New York Times and reporter Tim Golden for his stories exposing secrecy about treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and reporter John Mangels for his account of how new homeland-security rules led to the imprisonment of a respected expert on plagues. Click here to read the release. For the paper's story today on repoening of the Amish school at Nickel Mines, by Brett Lovelace, click here.

April 3, 2007

Weeklies in two small towns cover same issue: centers for troubled people

One reason a rural area can be a nice place to live is a low crime rate. For some, who is and who is not your neighbor can make all the difference, prompting resistance to facilities like prisons and rehabilitation facilities. Two rural communities in western Kentucky and Tennessee, about 125 miles apart, are having similar debates over two Christian-based facilities, one “a rehabilitation center for men with life-controlling problems,” the other a retreat for “aimless and apathetic young men.” Each local weekly newspaper is taking in-depth looks at the issues, amid debates of zoning and preservation of community.

Kentucky's McLean County News, circulation 2,500, is running a three-part series on Harvest House and examining other residential treatment facilities. Part one presented the issue from the side of those proposing the facility. Part two looked at a similar facility in Paducah, hometown of Paxton Media Group LLC, the paper's owner. The proposed home for men recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and other problems has petitioned twice to rezone the former Charles Chips potato-chip factory in the county seat of Calhoun, population 836, last spring and last month. A program called Celebrate Recovery aids recovering individuals by offering free and reduced rent at an apartment building in town. Residents are required to attend two or three meetings a week and go to the church of their choice every Sunday. However, problems have arisen from not being able to control outside influences. The proposed center would not be importing a problem to the small town, since the facility would serve only men from the area, said Eric Girvin, director of Celebrate Recovery. (Read Part 1)

Editor Brad Martin of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., circulation 5,700, reports a louder outcry against Narrow Gate, a retreat designed to turn young men lacking direction in life into disciples of Christ. This paper ran a full-page spread on the topic, presenting the opposition to the facility and the history behind it. The young men of Narrow Gate do not necessarily have any criminal history or drugs problems, founders Bill and Tracy Spencer say, but local residents have become outraged after reading testimonials on the group’s website from those who faced such problems before entering the program. The Times reports on a series of protest signs that have appeared in the town as well as a suit filed by a resident. The property that the center is situated on is zoned A-1, which does not usually permit full-time religious retreats, but Narrow Gate was grandfathered because it took over Leatherwood Forge, a former retreat center, and their usages were deemed similar. (Read front page) (Continuation, top half of page) (Bottom half of page)

Zoning is pressed as a major point by those who wish to keep these facilities out of their communities, the underlying issue appears to be whom residents don’t want living next door. The chaiin-owned McLean County News and the independent Hickman County Times (neither of which are online) present readers an opportunity to understand what these centers are and what they aren’t and to consider the full ramifications of their presence in their communities.

March 22, 2007

Sago Mine stops running; its legacy so far is more state action than federal

The West Virginia coal mine where 12 men died in January 2006 has stopped production. High production costs from “adverse geologic conditions” and weakening coal prices “made the Sago Mine unprofitable in the current coal market,” International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., confirmed yesterday to Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

A skeleton crew will stay on to maintain the mine so it could resume production if the coal market improves, and the other workers at the mine are being offered jobs elsewhere, the company said. “ICG had previously cut the workforce at the mine from about 85 in early 2006 to 48 at the end of December, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration,” Ward reports. “Last year, ICG reported a net loss of $9.3 million, compared to a net income of $31.8 million in 2005.(Read more)

The disaster, and one that killed five at the Kentucky Darby Mine a few months later, prompted stronger mine-safety laws from Congress and the legislatures of Kentucky and West Virginia. "Most of the progress has been at the state level," says an editorial in The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky.

MSHA "remains an agency in alarming disarray, despite its urgent, life-and-death responsibilities," the Eagle opines. "Veteran inspectors are leaving the agency, and they're either not being replaced or are being rep laded by new hires with, in many cases, very little practical mining experience. Morale in MSHA district offices is distressingly low, and there's a reluctance to take strong stands for fear of the possible consequences" from the "industry-cozy" Department of Labor, MSHA's parent agency. (Read more)

March 20, 2007

Rural editor an example of investigative journalism's key role in democracy

All across America, there are rural editors like Tim Crews of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, Calif., who take on local officials, "print the news and raise hell," as Crews likes to say. Every now and then, they get written up by big-city colleagues, as Crews was yesterday by Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle, but with a new angle -- as an example of the essential role investigative journalism plays in American democracy, and how that role is being undermined by newspapers' falling circulation.

"Crews won't have any of it. He is a country editor whose little paper is influencing public opinion on a shoestring budget," Fimrite wrote. "A maverick, old-school muckraker, Crews is notorious in this rural farming community of 6,220 people and the governmental center of Glenn County. In 2000, he was jailed for five days after refusing to name his sources for a story about a former California Highway Patrol officer charged with stealing a gun, a case that received national attention. Depending on who is talking, his financially strapped newspaper is either a beacon of journalistic integrity or an unsavory scandal sheet run by a scoundrel. . . . Despite the criticism, the twice-weekly Mirror is surprisingly influential for a paper with a circulation of 2,944. Almost everybody in the community reads it, more than pick up the Willows Journal and Orland Press Register, which have a combined circulation of 2,122 and are distributed twice a week by the Tri Counties Newspapers chain." (Chronicle photo by Lance Iversen)

Crews once managed those papers, but lost his job when he angered officials by publishing questionable concealed-carry permits. (See item below!) He started his own paper. He told Fimrite, "We're shit disturbers. It's what a small county needs." (The Chronicle used hyphens for most of the vulgarity.) "For his efforts, he has been snubbed and threatened, and seen advertising pulled and his beloved dog die in 2004, apparently with poisoned meat that he believes was left by an angry sex offender he named in the paper. An arson fire was set recently in an office adjacent to his newspaper," Fimrite reports. "There have been several attempts to silence Crews, but he has moles virtually everywhere, and the plots themselves invariably end up in print" -- most notably a strategy session by local school officials on how to do battle with the paper.

"Critics claim Crews mixes his opinions so liberally with the facts that it is impossible to decipher the truth," Fimrite notes, and quotes them. "Even some of Crews' supporters acknowledge that his prose often reflects his point of view. . . . But Jim Bettencourt, a landscape contractor and former Glenn County supervisorial candidate, said Crews' aggressive reporting has kept the public involved in government." He told Fimrite, "Tim is the conscience of our community. He addresses issues that others choose not to. He has empowered the downtrodden and instilled fear in the majority of the old guard in this community." (Read more)

In the most recent Mirror, the paper pulls no punches on itself. One story reports that an occasional contributor to the paper was charged with possession of crack cocaine, and suspended from the paper "until his court issue is resolved." There's a mug shot, and a tough headline: "Mirror contributor busted with crack."

For Sunshine Week, under an editorial headline heading, "New Mirror policy: We shall be good and print what we are told to print," Crews writes, "Well, not really. Although there are people hereabout, notably water carriers for the Glenn County Office of Education, who believe it is a newspaper’s job to print what they are told to print rather than to report what they learn, we shall not go down that path. We note with some amusement that our competition suspends its “no personal attacks” letters policy when it comes to assaults on this newspaper and that’s their prerogative, to a point. But there are the issues of responsibility to the public and suppression of facts involving misconduct on the part of government officials." (Read more)

Rural crime and vandalism prompt consideration of urban-type remedies

Rural crime and vandalism are on the rise. In Blue Earth County, Minnesota, "Rural residents fed up with thefts and vandalism that are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (the overturned grain cart, left, dumped its load into a drainage ditch) are considering some big-city solutions for their problems," reports Dan Nienaber of The Free Press in Mankato. Options "include having farmers park their equipment in consistent locations at night so passing deputies would know if something is amiss."

Farmers, sheriffs, implement dealer Ron Kibble and Commissioner Will Purvis "talked about installing surveillance cameras and alarms in their buildings, on their property or even in their equipment," Nienaber writes. "Alarms can alert deputies so they’re able to respond immediately when buildings or tractors have been broken into and cameras can catch criminals in the act, Purvis said. Technology that’s been used to solve several high-profile crimes in Mankato is becoming affordable enough for farmers to use as well. . . . The cost of those products is easily offset by the expenses farmers face during unwanted planting or harvesting delays while equipment is being repaired or replaced, Kibble said." (Read more)

March 18, 2007

Sunshine Week ends; Vermont editor urges Senate to open government

Today ends Sunshine Week, the news media's annual effort to build public support for openness in government. It included progress in Washington, where the House passed four open-government bills, including one to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, and the Senate heard testimony from a small-town editor on the front lines of getting access to, and publishing, public records.

Sabina Haskell, editor of the 10,000-circulation Brattleboro Reformer and president of the Vermont Press Association, joined media and FOIA experts in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by her senior senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy. He and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have introduced a bill to create more enforceable deadlines for agencies to respond to FOIA requests.

Haskell told the committee that when the Reformer asked for financial records of the Vernon Volunteer Fire Co. last week, the fire chief told the reporter who asked, "If you print any of this, I will assure you there will be some retaliation." That request was made under state law, but reflects the "culture of resistance" that Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive said many officials have toward open-records laws. "The handling of FOIA programs at some agencies suggests that the public is considered the enemy, and any effort to obstruct or interfere with the meddlesome public will be tolerated," Fuchs told the committee.

Leahy said FOIA "faces challenges like never before," and called the Department of Homeland Security's ability to deny requests for records related to "critical infrastructure" the "biggest single rollback" since the law was passed in 1966.

Evan Lehmann of the Reformer wrote, "In 2002, the government had about 138,000 unanswered public records requests, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. That number grew 45 percent by 2005, to about 200,000, the GAO reported. Federal agencies are required to respond to a request within 20 days," but the law can be enforced only by going to court. " In many legal cases, federal agencies provide the documents at the last minute, just before a judge is about to rule, thereby avoiding having to pay attorneys' fees incurred by news outlets."

The Leahy-Cornyn bill "would make federal agencies pay a news outlet's legal fees even if a judge never rules on the case. It would also provide disciplinary action for agencies that fail to turn over documents, hasten responses by tracking FOIA requests, and create an ombudsman who could mediate disputes and minimize lawsuits." (Read more) To listen to Haskell's testimony, click here. For video if it, click here.

March 13, 2007

Ezzells of The Canadian (Tex.) Record win Gish Award for rural journalism

The Ezzell family of The Canadian Record, a weekly newspaper in Canadian, Texas, are this year’s winners of the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. Pictured at left are the editor, Laurie Brown Ezzell, and her mother, Nancy Ezzell. Pictured below are Tom and Pat Gish, owners of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues established the award to honor the couple who this winter celebrated their 50th anniversary of publishing the Eagle. The Gishes were the first recipients of the award. Their son, Eagle Editor Ben Gish, was among the judges who unanimously voted to give the award to the Ezzell family.

“The Ezzells clearly demonstrate the tenacity, courage and integrity I've been privileged to witness in growing up around and working with my parents,” Gish said. Other judges agreed.

Author and former Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent Rudy Abramson, chairman of the Institute’s advisory board and a longtime friend of the Gishes, said “One cannot but notice a number of similarities between the Ezzell family and the Gish family, not the least of which is the continuity their newspaper represents in their community.”

Retired publisher Al Smith, an Institute founder and its steering-committee chair, said: “The story of this gutsy Texas family is as comparable to the Gishes of Kentucky as anyone could imagine.” The Canadian Record has held local, state and national politicians accountable, fought political extremism, opposed unwise military adventures and helped protect the environment, often against organized and violent opposition. All are “great examples of courage, tenacity and integrity,” Smith said. To read more about the Ezzells, click here.

Laurie Ezzell Brown will receive the award on behalf of her family at a dinner Friday, April 20, at the Crowne Plaza Lexington - The Campbell House, 1375 Harrodsburg Road. Other finalists for the award, and Tom and Pat Gish, will be recognized at the dinner. The guest speaker will be John Seigenthaler Sr., founder of the First Amendment Center.

The Gish Award Dinner is part of the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, which the Institute is holding at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill between Lexington and Harrodsburg. Attendance at the summit is limited, but there will be plenty of additional seating at the dinner. Tickets are $75. Proceeds will support the work of the Institute, which has academic partners at 16 universities in 12 states. For more information on the dinner, the Gish Award or the Summit, contact Institute Director Al Cross at 859-257-3744.

March 10, 2007

Tobacco migrating off mountains in N.C.; a local story in several states

The end of the federal tobacco program is concentrating production among large-scale growers and reducing the amount grown in hilly areas where large tracts are more difficult to assemble. That trend is illustrated by figures on production of burley tobacco in North Carolina and its Watauga County, reported by Scott Nicholson of The Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C. This is a story that can be done by any news outlet in a tobacco-growing county, with data from the local office of the federal Farm Service Agency.

“Local tobacco production continued to decline even though last year the state had a historic high production of burley tobacco, the kind most often grown in the High Country,” Nicholson reports. “Statewide burley tobacco production totaled 6.46 million pounds last year, a 31 percent increase. Yield per acre averaged 50 pounds more than the 2005 crop, suggesting large-scale farmers were achieving more efficiency.”

“Those boys down East ... picked up the slack,” FSA man Bud Smith told Nicholson. “Burley just migrated off the mountain.” Eastern North Carolina production has been almost entirely flue-cured, but the end of federal quotas has allowed growers in the region to adopt burley, which is in higher demand by cigarette companies. Those growers were already large-scale, making it relatively easy for them “to find barns and other covered, dry buildings” for burley, which is air-cured, Nicholson explains, quoting Smith. “They’re not growing two or four or six acres like we did up here. They have 50 or 80 or 100 acres.” (Read more)

March 9, 2007

Inflatable underground safety shelter for coal miners demonstrated

An inflatable safety room developed after the January 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia was demonstrated for coal officials Tuesday at an industrial park in Esserville, Va., reports Jeff Lester of the Coalfield Progress. The Progress’s stories are good examples of coal reporting by weekly newspapers.

The technology would give miners a shelter providing clean air and food in the case that they may become trapped. “LifeShelter” was presented by A.L. Lee Corp., a West Virginia and Illinois mine equipment manufacturer. The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act was passed by Congress in June 2006. One Mine Safety & Health Administration rule that stems from the act requires “a pre-arranged, pre-surveyed area for barricading or other location that would isolate the miners from contaminated environments, located within 2,000 feet of the working section,” Lester notes.

Leonard Urtso, president of the Lee firm said the refuge facility is designed to sustain dozens of miners for up to four days. Lester writes, “The inflatable room is stored in a reinforced-steel box that is either 32 or 40 inches high and weighs about five tons… The shelter itself is made from five layers of tear- and puncture-resistant material with inflatable high-strength ‘air beams’ for support… The steel box contains a four-day supply of oxygen, food (military-style meals ready to eat) and water, a repair kit, a chemical toilet and a first aid kit. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide scrubbers and air quality monitors are used to keep the internal air clean, Urtso said.” (Read more)

This technology might prove too expensive for smaller mining operations, reports Lester. Virginia Division of Mines Chief Frank Linkous said small mines could encounter problems trying to meet new safety demands. The MINER Act requires establishing a foolproof two-way wireless communication system in mines, although none exist. The law will also require each mine to have two rescue teams, but funding to help pay for those teams is to be eliminated, Lester reports. (Read more)

UPDATE, March 15: International Coal Group, owner of the West Virginia mine where 12 miners died in January 2006, is ordering shelters, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

March 4, 2007

Just in case you think you have it tough: A rural journalist in Darfur

Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post writes from El Fasher, Sudan: "For the past 10 years, Awatif Ahmed Isshag (in photo by McCrummen) has handwritten monthly dispatches and commentary about life in El Fasher and hung them on a short, wiry tree that scatters shade along the yellow-sand lane by her house. For the past four years, the dispatches have included items about the conflict in Darfur that appear to represent the only independent local reporting about the fighting in a region where most media hew to the official government line."

Isshag, 24, "has satirized the local governor and described the suffering of displaced families and gun battles in the markets of El Fasher," McCrummen writes. "Recently, she found financial supporters abroad who had heard about her work and sent a computer and printer. In the next week or so, she plans to launch a printed newspaper that she will distribute around town for free. For now, her articles sometimes appear in a newspaper about Darfur published by the African Union, which has troops deployed in the region to enforce a failing peace agreement."

The tree newspaper, Al Raheel, which translates loosely as "moving," was started by Isshag's sister, who died in 1998, when Isshag was 15. She took over, using experience she had doing interviews for a student radio program. "From the beginning, I liked journalism," she told McCrummen. "I wanted to discover those who are intelligent and have talent, and I wanted to talk to them." (Read more)

Feb. 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 27, 2007

Iowa newspaper prompts broad, lively discussion with immigration summit

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 11, 2007

Mountain Eagle and Pikeville daily fight competition from hospital paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 8, 2007

Rural news outlets increasingly in need of Spanish-speaking journalists

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

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

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

Jan. 29, 2007

State press association begins handing out awards for papers' Web sites

With newspapers putting more resources and attention into their Web sites, state press associations are beginning to include the sites in their awards programs. Last week, the Kentucky Press Association handed out its first awards for sites, as judged by the Illinois Press Association.

The winners among weeklies were: Multi-weekly, The Pioneer News of Shepherdsville; large-circulation weekly, The Oldham Era; and medium circulation, The Springfield Sun, all published by Landmark Community Newspapers. No small-circulation papers entered. Among dailies, the winners were the The Kentucky Enquirer, The Advocate-Messenger of Danville; and the Times-Tribune of Corbin. The associate-member winner was the Fort Campbell Courier, published by the Kentucky New Era.

The judging was based on the Web sites' content (quality and quantity), consistency, currency, ease of navigation, use of links, and visual design. Judges were required to access each entered site at least three times during the first full week of November. KPA Executive Director David Thompson said only a few state press associatins give awards for Web sites.

Jan. 26, 2007

Five named to Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame; induction in April

Five journalists have been named to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications announced today. The five will be inducted April 10, in conjunction with the school's annual Joe Creason Lecture, which this year will be given by photojournalist Molly Bingham. The five are:

Ron Boone, who died in 2004 after a distinguished 31-year career as news director of radio stations in Elizabethtown; Glen Kleine, founder of the journalism program at Eastern Kentucky University; Kenneth Kurtz, retired news director of WKYT-TV in Lexington, who remains active in the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism groups; Nancy Green, a Lexington native who is vice president of circulation for Lee Enterprises and publisher of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier and former adviser to college newspapers, including The Kentucky Kernel, UK's independent paper; and

Ron Jenkins, who recently retired after 33 years as editor of The Gleaner in Henderson, one of the most consistently good daily newspapers in Kentucky. He recently saw the newspaper through two changes in ownership, and research by Community Journalism students at UK showed that the paper’s commitment to local news remained strong, and that The Gleaner is one of the few community newspapers in Kentucky that endorse in local elections. Jenkins also held together a veteran staff, which has helped keep The Gleaner in touch with its community and give readers good journalism.

Kentucky publisher, papers honored for community service, journalism

At the Kentucky Press Association convention in Louisville Friday, Hancock Clarion Publisher Donn Wimmer received the Lewis Owens Community Service Award, named after a highly regarded publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader. We were happy to see Donn win, because we agree with the nominator that he is "the very epitome of a Kentucky publisher" -- and anywhere, not just our home state.

Donn bought the Clarion in 1956, when he was 21. He was the founding director of a local industrial-development group that brought major industries to rural Hancock County, on the Ohio River upstream from Owensboro. A pilot with a commercial rating, he headed the lcoal airport board and published many aerial photographs in the Clarion, circulation 3,600. He was president of the local Chamber of Commerce, which named him Citizen of the Year, and helped organize a Jaycee chapter and a Little League.

KPA's Better Newspaper Contest produced these winners for general excellence in weekly newspapers, based on their awards in a host of categories: Small weekly, the Todd County Standard; mid-size weekly, the Spencer Magnet; large weekly, The Oldham Era; multi-weekly, The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown. The last three are published by Landmark Community Newspapers. In the daily classes, the winners were The (Madisonville) Messenger, The (Henderson) Gleaner and the Herald-Leader.

We like to spotlight papers that show editorial leadership. The winners for weekly editorial pages were: Small, the Todd County Standard (double kudos to Ryan Craig); mid-size, the Henry County Local; large, the Grant County News; and mutli-weekly, the Kentucky Standard. The last three are Landmark papers. The winners among dailies were the Richmond Register, The Gleaner and The Kentucky Enquirer.

Jan. 2, 2007

Harlan paper tells local, human stories and issues of coal-mine safety

The Rural Blog carries a lot about coal, because it's a big and often controversial industry in many rural regions, especially Appalachia, our initial focus area. Most of the stories we excerpt come from metro newspapers, mainly because they have the staff resources for deep coverage of a topic that can be complicated and players who can be contentious. But when coal takes a human toll, the local papers have human stories to tell and issues to explore. The Harlan Daily Enterprise, circulation 6,900, knows that.

The Harlan Daily, as it is known, is published in a town and county whose name became synonymous with the conflicts of coal seven decades ago. Scores of local residents who died in the county's mines are memorialized in black granite on Harlan's courthouse square. Miners are still dying in Harlan County, Ky., usually one at a time, but last May five died in one accident, reaching the threshold to be called a disaster.

At year's end, the Daily published a two-part story by Deanna Lee-Sherman on legislation spurred by one of coal's deadliest recent years, "what industry officials and safety advocates are anticipating for 2007 and what families are sharing from their losses," as the paper put it. The story began with widow Stella Morris:

"A coal miner's wife, she felt a fear that can only be experienced by the families who send their loved ones into the coal mines each day with the unspoken understanding that one phone call could change life indefinitely. Her husband, Bud, understood, too. . . . David “Bud” Morris Jr., a shuttle car operator with four years of mining experience, was the last coal mining fatality of 2005. He brought the nation's 21 deaths to 22 after he was struck by a loaded coal hauler at the No. 3 mine of H&D Mining Inc. one year ago today. It was just before the closing of a remarkable year for the coal mining industry, and the beginning of a disastrous one to come." Click here for the rest of Part 1. Click here for Part 2.

Dec. 31, 2006

Mountain Eagle publishers celebrating 50th anniversary of their purchase

On New Year's Day, Tom and Pat Gish will have published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for 50 years. They "have survived floods, death threats, arson and theft. They've covered poverty, corruption and mining disasters. And when they weren't hunched over typewriters and printing presses, they fought for the First Amendment," reports Samira Jafari of The Associated Press.

"These people have demonstrated more tenacity than almost any crusading rural newspaper in the country," Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, told Jafari. "Fifty years is a long time to ride a white horse." Photo shows the Gishes at the 2004 announcement that the Institute was establishing the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. They were the first recipients. The next award will be given in April at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America in Lexington, Ky. Click here for an article adapted from a tribute to the Gishes when they got the first award.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the weekly Eagle published "scores of stories that attracted national attention to Appalachia, serving as an impetus for the War on Poverty and the 1977 Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. They covered the lack of health care in the hills, the dilapidated schools, jobs lost to the mechanization of the coal industry and dangerous mining conditions," Jafari writes. "And in an unusual move for most rural weeklies, they followed stories that took them beyond the county line. Cross cited The Mountain Eagle's stories that held the Tennessee Valley Authority -- established as a federal natural-resource agency -- responsible for encouraging large-scale strip mining without adequate reclamation."

Jafari notes that the Gishes have won several national journalism awards. Mimi Pickering, an Appalshop filmmaker who is doing a documentary about the Gishes, told the AP reporter, "I think they've set the standard for what high-quality journalism should be, whether it's in a small town or big city." (Read more)

Dec. 24, 2006

When ignorance begets fear, rural news media need to shed light

When Rep.-elect Keith Elliston, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, said he would use a Quran for his ceremonial oath, Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., wrote constituents, "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

Goode has Muslim constituents, and they want an apology. “This is a country of immigrants,” Sarwat Ata, chairman of the Danville Masjid Islamic Center, told Bernard Baker of the Danville Register & Bee. "Ata said he voted for Goode in the November election," Barker reports. "Ata said Goode should sit down with local Muslims and learn more about them if he won’t apologize. Ata said Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding. They want to be free and share many of the values Goode supports, such as the Ten Commandments, he said." Goode not only refused to apologize, but repeated his words for local TV.

Baker quoted a Danville resident calling Goode's letter an embarassment, but Brian Todd of CNN reports that in Goode's home town of Rocky Mount, "Nearly everyone we spoke with stands by Virgil Goode. Does that make them racist? Not neccesarily, but their comments reflect the gray areas of race, religion and demographics in small-town America." Todd followed that with interviews of the misinformed and the uninformed at a Rocky Mount restaurant. "I'm not against the Muslim faith," a man said, "but I'm against him forcing his rules, his opinion, upon us." A woman said everyone who takes the congressional oath should use the King James Version of the Bible. You have to wonder if those folks know that last winter, a Muslim cleric from Roanoke, next to Goode's district, gave the invocation in the state House. (View story)

In Danville, The Register & Bee published an editorial that made more sense. The newspaper called Goode's remarks "mean-spirited . . . because in the 5th District, Muslims are an easy group for him to pick on. Their numbers are small and their influence is nil." Then the paper explained why rural Americans need to learn more about Muslims: "The only way to defeat radical Islam is to recognize that it’s not the same thing as the mainstream branches of that faith. Some of the people Goode would bar from this country are part of the force we need to defeat radical Islam. Insulting Muslims won’t hurt Goode in the 5th District, but it makes it harder for his views on immigration to be taken seriously in a big, complex, diverse and dangerous world. Pandering to hometown fears and unfounded worries by attacking a defenseless local minority is certainly no way to make this country safer." (Read more) For the Bee's news story, click here.

We'd like to see some other papers in Goode's largely rural district follow the 21,000-circulation Bee's lead. They could take some cues from The Washington Post, which verbally horse-whipped Goode for what it called "colossally stupid . . . bigotry," and concluded: "Mr. Goode was evidently napping in class the day they taught the traditional American values of tolerance, diversity and religious freedom. This country's history is rife with instances of uncivil, hateful and violent behavior toward newcomers, be they Jewish, Irish, Italian or plenty of others whose ethnicities did not jibe with some pinched view of what it means to be American. Mr. Goode's dimwitted outburst of nativism is nothing new. No, the real worry for the nation is that the rest of the world might take Mr. Goode seriously, interpreting his biased remarks about Muslims as proof that America really has embarked on a civilizational war against Islam. With 535 members, you'd think that Congress would welcome the presence of a single Muslim representative. Whether it can afford a lawmaker of Mr. Goode's caliber is another question." To read the entire editorial, click here. For a Post story today giving background on Goode, immigration and his district, click here.

Dec. 20, 2006

Miss USA's hometown editor reflects on how his weekly did the story

"World media uproar . . . " How many times have you seen those words above a local story in a weekly newspaper? Greg Wells used them in a secondary headline this week in The Times Journal of Russell Springs, Ky. (population 3,000), hometown of Miss USA Tara Conner, who got a reprieve from pageant owner Donald Trump after expecting to be fired for misbehavior in New York City.

Wells told that story, and didn't sugarcoat it, relaying most of the reports about Conner's scandalous behavior, including a local connection: "Since winning the national pageant, Conner has broken off her engagement to Russell County's Adam Mann and has been linked to club owners, disk jockeys and television personalities in the New York club scene." The Times Journal's cutline for the photo above in a local bank read, "Life in Russell County halted momentarily as news networks carried live the news conference at which Donald Trump agreed to keep Tara Conner as Miss USA, following a week of allegations about her New York lifestyle."

In an article written at the request of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, Wells offered this advice to rural editors in similar situations: "Tell the story, tell the feelings of the people involved if you can, and let others tell all the not-so-nice details about the allegations. But take those and add them to the story. Remember, at the end of the day, or in our case the end of the week, you’ll have to live in your town. Be fair, honest, up front and nice. That makes life better all around, and it’s good for business."

Wells expressed disdain for many out-of-town journalists who called him: "They all wanted the same thing, my sources. They are more than my sources, though. These are my people. They are the people that look to us for the news, and the community that looks to this paper for support and comfort when troubling things come along. I can categorize these callers in two groups: Those who were amazed that the first words out of my mouth weren’t “Howdy” or “Hey y’all” and those who acted like trained, experienced professionals. It was so easy to hear the contempt in some of the voices at having to call the lowly country folks, and, heaven forbid, a weekly newspaper editor." The paper's circulation is 5,000.

Wells added, "During all of this was the first time I’d ever heard anyone say, “Name your price” when talking about a photo. It was a little surreal. I didn’t name a price. I didn’t have to wrestle with that ethical problem, since I don’t think the kind of photos they wanted exist." His story in the newspaper said they wanted photos of "anything of her less than fully clothed or with a beer at a party."

Amid the uproar, Wells had another big story to chase, the quick recovery of a drowning victim in Russell County's signature feature, Lake Cumberland, with special, rarely used sonar equipment from Idaho. "I’d also been trying to chase a story on a murder from last Wednesday," he wrote. "So now there were three major stories working, and there was only one of me, and the calls were still coming in." (Read more)

The sonar story, big news in a county that has many drownings, shared the top of the Times Journal's front page with the headline “Tara: 'I will not let you down'” and the above photo. A secondary photo showed a Lexington, Ky., television reporter doing a stand-up. The story quoted Conner's parents, who had rebuffed national media. The headline above the story's jump read, "TARA: She has a second chance, the praise of her father for facing the music, and media from all over the world buzzing." For a PDF of the newspaper's front page, click here. For the jump page, click here.

Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006

Rural editors sometimes need to look well beyond the county line

Decades ago, many rural editors opined on national and international events. Some, like William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette in Kansas, became nationally known for their editorials. But with the advent of national TV networks and national circulation of major newspapers, rural and other community papers tended to their local-news franchises and observed the maxim "The world ends at the county line." Larry Timbs of Winthrop University even wrote a good book about community journalism with that title.

But the world does not end at the county line -- especially now, when American workers compete in a globalized economy and American youth are sent to all parts of the world to risk and lose their lives defending the nation's interests, real or perceived. So from time to time, we like to see rural editors have their say about bigger events. It brings the events home to their readers -- many of whom don't read a daily newspaper and get little substance from the sound bites of radio and television. But those readers are just as much citizens of the United States as readers of metropolitan papers, and they discuss the same big issues with each other, so the local editor ought to join that conversation and bring knowledge to it. We believe that if you pay money for a newspaper, you deserve to know what the editor thinks.

One rural editor who often goes past the county line is Ben Chandler of The Woodford Sun in Versailles, Ky. This week, in his column (which is not online), he started with the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and took readers to current conflicts, calling the war in Iraq "one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a U.S. president." He said President Bush, "a decent, patriotic man," took a "cowboy approach, and his foreign-policy team either didn't or couldn't give him the correct advice -- or he wouldn't take it."

But Chandler rejected suggestions for talks with Iraq's neighbors-- in vivid, personal terms. "It makes me sick to see pictures of the beanpole from Syria hugging and kissing the little squirt from Iran," he wrote. Suggesting a withdrawal of troops to Kuwait and Kurdistan, he concluded, "I say get our people out of harm's way without the humiliating 'hat in hand' approach to Syria and Iran. When we regain our military strength, spending on our own self-interest rather than throwing billions to the winds trying to fashion a democracy where there has never been one, then we will be able to talk to those skunks as equals."

As you may know, Ben Chandler is the father of the Democratic congressman of the same name, and son of the late A.B. "Happy" Chandler, who was governor twice, senator, and baseball commissioner. But it doesn't take a political pedigree to write about national and international issues and help rural readers think about them. --Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

Weekly editor in rural Oklahoma shares tale of grief, blame, and courage

Sharon Johnson came under fire after writing an article about a kidnapping and assault, when two days later the man came back to kill his wife and himself. Johnson is the editor of the weekly Stigler News-Sentinel in Stigler, Okla., population 2,731. In the latest issue of the Oklahoma Publisher, from the Oklahoma Press Association, she summed up the original incident: “The man held his wife hostage in their home, struck her in the stomach and later vandalized the home, taking many of her personal items.” She wrote a story about the incident, and “Everything in it was based solely on the D.A.’s report. I was satisfied that it was beyond legal reproach,” she said. “What it was not beyond, however, was reproach from the public.”

An in-law of the couple, who handles advertising for his family’s car dealership, called the paper immediately, saying angrily about the husband, “We’re afraid this is just going to set him off.” The ads were cut, but Johnson said that was “the least of our concerns.” The murder-suicide occured two days later, and some local residents said the article triggered it. “We have been told that we need to ‘watch our backsides’ and even had some that said they were praying something would happen to us,” said Johnson. She said the paper probably would have been accused of a cover-up if it had not reported the first incident.

Some questioned why the paper did not publish her husband’s suicide six years earlier. She said she didn't understand how people could compare the incidents, because her husband was alone when he killed himself and “It is not our policy to publish stories about suicides. If the man involved had simply shot and killed himself that first night, there would have simply been an obituary.”

Johnson said the National Newspaper Association convention in Oklahoma City in October came at just the right time for her. “It allowed me to share my heartache and fears with those who understand it best – fellow journalists,” she wrote, adding that that “journalists do bleed like everyone else. They also hurt like everyone else. No one but other journalists understand this.” (Read more)

Small daily helps resort town deal with population boom, new industry

The Post Independent, a daily with a circulation of 12,000, is helping its community of Glenwood Springs, Colo., adjust to rapid population growth created by natural-gas drilling. Most residents of the ski-resort town of 8,564 work in tourism. The gas industry has brought new jobs and a newcomers who have filled schools and increased housing demand. The incidence of crime and methamphetamines has also risen, reports Jeremy Weber of The Inlander, the monthly newspaper of the Inland Press Association.

Andrea Porter, publisher of the Independent, told Weber that the paper has learned how to deal with the impact on the community -- “how to report it, and how to take different approaches to it. It’s fun – it makes the day and what you’re reporting on very interesting.” Monday papers have reader-submitted photos, and a section called “Community Faces” features residents nominated by readers. The Independent has begun offering an online edition this year to give extra coverage and provide fast access to breaking stories.

The Independent is one of 16 papers in Swift Newspapers’ Colorado Mountain News Media group. “The 36-page tab highlights local news and entertainment, produces 20 special sections and regularly seeks reader input,” writes Weber. The paper is unusual in that it has both a paid circulation and distribution on free racks, brought on by the merger of a paid daily and a free paper. Porter said that their paid and free circulations are about evenly split. (Read more)

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006

Mountain Eagle says taking of its election-eve edition was a theft of rights

The Mountain Eagle, the nationally known weekly newspaper in Whitesburg, Ky., came out a day early last week to give its readers last-minute election news and one last round of advertising from candidates. But soon after the paper was distributed, it disappeared from news racks, either bought or stolen. The paper's countered by posting election-related articles online, marking the Eagle's first appearance in cyberspace.

"The community consensus, as we hear it, is that every copy of the Eagle that could be found was taken off newsstands to keep voters from reading information that refuted false statements circulated on radio, television and in other publications against Letcher County Judge-Executive Carroll Smith," Eagle Publisher Tom Gish said in an editorial this week. Most Eagle readers get their copies on the newsstands, and the mailed copies arrived in boxes on Election Day, presumably after many voters had been to the polls.

Smith, a progressive Republican, lost to Democratic Magistrate Jim Ward by 347 votes out of 8,039 cast, or 4.3 percentage points. The paper's lead story, headlined "Smith, others answer attacks in radio, TV ads," reported records refuting claims by Smith's foes that he was lax in seeking money for water and sewer lines in the mountainous county, and that a prosecutor had discredited Ward's claim that Smith's "billing practices" were being investigated. A sidebar gave Smith's reply to a Ward ad on another issue.

Gish called the thefts "an effort . . . to put The Mountain Eagle out of business. Take the paper away from the people who read it each week and the paper will die a quick, short death." He said 4,000 of the paper's 7,000 circulation is through single-copy sales. When readers discovered that the election-day issue had disappeared from groceries, convenience stores and other outlets, "Large numbers of readers came to the Eagle office to buy copies of the paper, but we had only a few left for sale. But we did hear countless descriptions of events from angry citizens who had been denied their God-given and American Constitution-guaranteed right to liberty and the freedom to read, to gain information, to think for themselves."

Then, like any good rural publisher, Gish turned to the business side, to the rights of the advertisers who make the paper possible: "That issue of the Eagle contained a number of advertisements from automobile dealers, furniture stores, groceries and other merchants who wanted to reach the thousands of Letcher Countians who read the Eagle each week. . . . The right of those merchants to benefit from that advertising was stolen. And you, dear readers, might have missed a rare buy on a good car."

The Eagle found itself at odds with a major advertiser, Abingdon, Va.-based Food City, which first told the paper that it had removed its news racks for cleaning, then said it put the copies on a nearby counter because a customer complained about "caustic information" on the front page. The Eagle's story on the controversy quoted a reader as saying another store kept the papers in a lpocked room until the day after the election, and said "a publication in Cromona, Ky.," the competing Letcher County Community News-Press, "reported the Democrat Party was responsible for the plan to get the papers off the stands."

Gish's editorial concluded, "We think it will all trace back to a handful of very powerful interests who want to control every single thing in the county, no disagreements, no opposition, no hints of dissent to be tolerated — the old way of doing things — fire the coal miner who wants a union, don't re-hire the teacher who disagrees, take away the food stamps, the free medications, the welfare checks of anyone who dares express a thought of his own. Shoot and kill the famed Canadian television producer who shows a casual interest in Letcher County problems, burn down The Mountain Eagle, make The Mountain Eagle disappear from the newsstands." The newspaper's office was firebombed in 1974, and a city policeman was convicted of arranging the arson. "We are troubled now by the effort to take the paper from the hands of its readers. But we are determined to continue doing what we do: Give you readers the facts on the things that happen in the county and sometimes elsewhere. We don't have the time, the reporting staff, to report it all, but we do what we do with good intentions, determination, and a lot of love for the mountains and mountain people. And, yes, let's hope no one person, no organization, can keep you from this week's paper and another 100 years of The Mountain Eagle."

Gish and his wife, Pat, will mark 50 years of Eagle ownership on Jan. 1. The newspaper will mark its centennial about 10 weeks later. Tom Gish appears at right, speaking at the October 2005 announcement of the establishment of the Tom and Pat Gish Award, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism.

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006

Rural papers net distinguished reporting awards in Pacific Northwest

Rural dailies in the Pacific Northwest cover everything from methamphetamine addiction to locals dying in Iraq, and those efforts brought several papers C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting.

"Frank Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times, presented this year's awards at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association. It marked the 30th year the awards have been given in memory of the man who published The Seattle Times," reports The Associated Press.

Among papers with a circulation of under 50,000, reporter Peter Zuckerman and the staff of the Post Register in Idaho Falls won for the investigation called "Scouts' Honor," a series about the Boy Scouts program in eastern Idaho and its decade-long problem with child molesters. (Read more)

Other winners among newspapers with under 50,000 circulation included: The Chronicle in Centralia, staff, for Distinguished Deadline Reporting with "Iraq ambush kills Centralian"; the Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Nicole Stricker, for Distinguished Feature Writing with "Of meth and motherhood"; The Daily News of Longview; Tony Lystra, for Distinguished Enterprise Writing with "Living in the Highlands" (click here to read); and the Yakima Herald-Republic, Philip Ferolito, for Distinguished Coverage of Diversity with "Native Sons." Many of the articles were not online or the newspapers charge fees for access.

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Rural Danish paper tries to build bridges between natives, refugees

In rural Denmark, the newspaper Nordjyske Stiftstidende is trying to integrate Muslim refugees with native Danes with a series called “Kontakt.” Reporter Lars Hofmeister came up with the idea after another Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, raised international controversy last September by publishing editorial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Inger Lise Kobber-Jønsson, assistant managing editor of Nordjyske Stiftstidende, told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that the series is designed partly to help dispel negative images of Denmark and Danes that the cartoons may have created.

To foster understanding between “new Danes” and “old Danes,” the paper ran a story last month inviting a native family to have dinner with a family of Afghan immigrants. The Afghans were refugees from the country's civil war before getting permanent-residence permits in Denmark. Hofmeister's story describes their dinner with a family in the town of Sæby (population 18,000), the food they ate, their conversations and how the children played. It occupied a two-page spread with six color photographs. The story talked little of politics, and focused on the interactions between the families and their new friendship.

Nordjyske Stiftstidende is a daily with a circulation of about 70,000, with six local editions. We think this series is an excellent example of how rural newspapers anywhere can become engaged in their communities, to interact with the public and build bridges across cultures. To read the article, click here. (Article in Danish, and for subscribers only; for a translation, contact the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, address below.) To visit Nordjyske Stiftstidende’s home page, click here.

Monday, Oct. 16, 2006

Journalism class at Indiana U. covering local elections in several counties

Students in Carol Polsgrove's Public Affairs Reporting at Indiana University in Bloomington are getting out of the classroom to cover this fall's elections and news in largely rural southern Indiana. The stories have been sent to local newspapers, and at least one has been published.

The first package of stories, on the elections, is available on the class blog, Southern Indiana News. Students talked to candidates and officials in several counties, including Dubois, Jackson, Owen, Greene and Lawrence, to cover election issues and races. Click here to read the stories.

Student Benjamin Weller wrote, "Dubois County, with towns like Jasper and Huntingburg, is by all accounts a deeply conservative community. A large German Catholic population, rural industries like farming and furniture manufacture, and scores of churches make up the backbone of the county. Pro-life billboards dot the countryside, and the county consistently votes for Republican presidential candidates. Most of the local elected officials, however, are Democrats, with several running in uncontested races. This contradiction reveals a more dynamic electorate than partisans on either side would care to admit."

Students also just returned from one of what will be several visits to Orange County in preparation for the semester's centerpiece project -- reports on the changes in West Baden and French Lick as those towns prepare for the opening of a new casino and renovated hotels.

Polsgrove is the newest academic partner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Before starting the course, she consulted Director Al Cross, who gave her copies of stories his students at the University of Kentucky did on judicial elections in a Special Topics course last spring. Next semester, Cross's students will cover the primary elections for governor of Kentucky.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Miss. publisher spurs economic boost for rural area via paper, foundation

George McLean, the owner of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., population 34,211, is committed to economic development in rural America, and he became one of the first people to adopt a regional approach through his Community Development Foundation. The paper's circulation of 35,490 is larger than the population of its home city, so it has a truly regional role, as its name indicates.

David Rumbarger, the foundation's CEO, recently told economic consultant Jack Schultz of Boomtown USA about how McLean began his effort: “He would rent recent movies and go out with his projector into some of the rural towns on Saturday night. He would give a 20-minute talk before he would show the movie. He also had a tote board in each town to show them how they compared to other towns in the region. He had them cooperating as a region but also competing with each other to try to do better."

The paper's Web site says the foundation aims "to be a catalyst for positive change in Northeast Mississippi by committing its resources to projects that will improve the quality of life for all citizens of Northeast Mississippi and by helping individuals and groups of providing financial support to meaningful projects."

McLean elaborates on his regional approach and the role played by the newspaper in a column: "The good newspaper is its community's encourager which by making known what groups and individuals are doing brings mutual support for each other's projects and invites still greater personal initiative. It is a community's semi-official provider of pats on the back through news stories, pictures or editorials. The good newspaper can contribute perhaps more than any other institution to development of an active, mutually serving citizenship." (Read more)

Friday, September 8, 2006

Publisher doesn't hide unflattering description of him from his readers

It's not often that you find a newspaper publisher described as follows in his own column: "A dilettante and effete snob who imports Ivy League reporters just to bedevil the community, and cares mainly about unnamed famous friends." But that's how H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers translated for his readers the image of himself presented by a new book about his town of Anniston, Ala., and his paper, The Anniston Star.

The book, My City Was Gone, was written by Dennis Love, a former Star feature writer. Ayers called it "an entertaining, well-written, sometimes funny and sad, gripping account of the titanic struggle to wring justice and good sense out of Anniston’s environmental crises," such as pollution by a chemical plant and the fight over disposal of nerve gas stored at the local Army post -- a fight that ended with the alternative favored by the Star, incineration on site.

"Love couldn’t quite make up his mind about The Star," Ayers wrote. "He quotes it dozens of times, calls it progressive, an experience that gave him a larger, more mature picture of his city, but through some languid, mysterious path reached the wrong conclusion about burning nerve gas. He is more certain about the editor and publisher, me. In his pages, my nearly 50-year career is reduced to a cartoon," quoted above.

"My liberal view of the world, constructed from inheritance, education, experience with enlightened Southern governors and presidents, wide reading and travel, is reduced to flighty 'contrariness'. Frankly, when I read that, the raging bull of ego flooded my mind, its horns aimed straight for the soft fanny of my former feature writer," Ayers wrote. "In defense I will call only two witnesses: Time magazine, which twice named us one of the nation’s best newspapers, and Columbia Journalism Review, which named us among America’s 30 best. I rest my case." (The 25,000-circulation Star recently became the teaching newspaper for the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program of the University of Alabama.)

Then Ayers went back to praising Love's work, ending with two requests to readers: "Read Dennis's book . . . but . . . please clip this column and stick it back with the index — just to keep him fair and balanced." (Click here to read more; the Star's Web site is for subscribers, but it offers a one-day free trial.)

Friday, September 1, 2006

Veteran rural journalists win awards from National Newspaper Assn.

Donald Q. Smith and Diane Everson will be honored at the 120th annual convention of the National Newspaper Association, where Smith will recieve the James O. Amos Award and Everson will accept the Emma C. McKinney Memorial Award.

"Recognized as the highest and most dignified tributes in community journalism, the Amos and McKinney awards are presented to a working or retired newspaperman and woman who have provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and their community," NNA says..

Smith, retired publisher and editor of the Monticello Times in Monticello, Minn., will receive the Amos award, established in 1938 in honor of Gen. James Amos, a pioneer Ohio journalist. Everson, co-owner and co-publisher of the Edgerton Reporter in Edgerton, Wis., will receive the McKinney Award, established in 1966 to honor Emma McKinney, co-publisher and editor of the Hillsboro (Ore.) Argus for 58 years. (Read more)

Aug. 8, 2006

Wis. writer wins CapitolBeat award for story on developmentally disabled

Tom Sheehan, who covers Wisconsin state government for the mostly small-circulation Lee Newspapers of Wisconsin, recently won the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors (CapitolBeat) award for a single report in a newspaper of less than 75,000. His winning story was about families who resist moving their developmentally disabled relatives out of state institutions.

"For about three decades, the state has mirrored a national trend in encouraging a shift in care for the developmentally disabled from public and private institutional settings to community-based residential settings, such as group homes. The transition has been slow and steady. But political, legal and budget pressure to empty the state centers, as well as county-run and private institutions, known as intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded (ICFs/MR), has never been greater," wrote Sheehan, who has been the Lee Newspapers' statehouse bureau reporter for five and a half years.

Sheehan interviewed both families and industry experts, many of whom agreed that the push toward community-like settings does not work for all patients. "Some developmentally disabled people who have moved into community settings have unnecessarily died, been injured or placed in jeopardy in situations that could have been avoided, said Carolyn Kaiser, a field representative for the state union employee district, which includes Northern Center," he reported.

Sheehan's story appeared in about five newspapers including the LaCrosse Tribune.

New Mexico writer wins AP award for probing illegal campaign donation

When David Giuliani of The Las Vegas Optic in New Mexico learned the Luna Community College Foundation gave $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, in July 2004, he started investigating because charitable nonprofit groups are not supposed to give such donations. Guiliani's efforts recently earned him the New Mexico Associated Press award for an investigative story in 2005.

Giuliani described his investigation in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: "Late on a Saturday afternoon in November 2005, I was surfing the Internet and visited the followthemoney.org Web site, which tracks contributions to candidates across the country. I noticed that a local educational foundation had contributed to a local state senator's re-election campaign. I believed that a foundation couldn't make such a donation with its federal nonprofit status. I then visited the IRS Web site and found educational foundations, indeed, couldn't make such donations.

"I knew I had a story. I had the donation confirmed with the foundation's director on Monday morning; she said the IRS had fined the group. But when I started calling foundation board members, several were in the dark and had no idea such a contribution was made. In the last of my three stories, I had an indication that the state senator returned the money, although he didn't confirm it. As you know, it can be hard for a small paper to do enterprise reporting. That's why we must be strategic with our resources."

To read Guiliani's initial story, click here. To conduct your own such investigation of monetary contributions to legislative candidates, visit the National Institute on Money in State Politics Web site. It's a good starting point for reporters in any state, with links to each state's campaign-finance agencies.

July 31, 2006

Small Newspaper Group wins another prize for teacher-tenure series

Scott Reeder, the Illinois state capital reporter for the Small Newspaper Group, has won a fifth major award for a series on "The Hidden Costs of Tenure" for teachers in Illinois public schools.

Reeder's latest prize is the Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting, sponsored by the Institute on Political Journalism, part of the Fund for American Studies, a Washington-based educational foundation that advocates democracy and free markets, and co-administered by Georgetown University. It carries a $10,000 cash prize, and it advises judges, "Since there is only one annual award, a light thumb on the scale should be awarded to smaller publications that produce strong investigative entries despite limited resources."

Reeder's employer has this image of him and the Illinois Capitol on its Web site. The company's name reflects both its family ownership and the size of its seven daily newspapers, five of them in Illinois -- The Dispatch of Moline (circulation 32,000); The Daily Journal of Kankakee, home of the company headquarters (28,000); The Rock Island Argus (13,000), The Daily Times of Ottawa (11,650) and the Times-Press of nearby Streator (9,000) -- plus the Herald-Argus of LaPorte, Ind. (12,000) and the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn. (44,000). The chain also has weeklies and two reporters in Washington, D.C., where it has had a bureau since 1978.

Reeder's six-month investigation relied on more than 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests with almost 900 government entities, with which he followed up to get a response rate of 100 percent. He found that "of an estimated 95,500 tenured educators in Illinois, only two on average are fired each year for poor job performance. ... Reeder faced obstacles from an entrenched school-system bureaucracy and powerful teachers' unions," reports Illinois PressLines, the newspaper of the Illinois Press Association.

Reeder beat out the Copley News Service investigation that led to the bribery conviction of California congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham and a New York Daily News probe of wasted 9/11 relief. Reeder's project was "a testament to the power of open records," said Investigative Reporters and Editors, which gave him its Freedom of Information Reporting Award this year. It also netted a finalist slot for the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting, a special citation from the Education Writers Association and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. To read the series, click here.

July 28, 2006

Without federal program, big tobacco growers boom, small ones fade

"Domestic tobacco production was not supposed to flourish in the absence of a quota system," part of the federal tobacco program that was repealed almost two years ago, wrote Joe Parrino in the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville. "Growers lacked the guarantee of a decent price and lost any leverage on tobacco companies, the critics said. . . . The naysayers were half-right. Plenty of Kentucky producers have quit or are on their way out of the business. But there are many midsize to large growers in Pennyrile region, that are discovering an unprecedented business opportunity."

Parrino's story focuses on Jeff Davis, who is raising 205 acres of tobacco, 108 in a single field -- “the biggest single tobacco plot I’ve ever seen,” University of Kentucky extension agent Gary Palmer (at left in above photo, with local extension agent Jay Stone; photo by Danny Vowell), who is helping Davis with a cultivation experiment, told Parrino. Davis hopes his acreage will produce 600,000 pounds.

"Under the federal tobacco program, Davis was limited to as little as 12,000 pounds of burley on his own land. He could lease quota from other farmers. But that cut deeply into profits," Parrino wrote. Without the burden of leasing costs, which were reported as high as 90 cents a pounds contracts, "Davis can still manage a decent profit . . . even with prices dropping down from more than $2 per pound to $1.30 per pound or less," without the price supports that were the other major part of the federal program. The end of the program was accompanied by a buyout -- payments to farmers for their quotas. “The buyout gave me the opportunity to farm it,” Davis told Parrino.

But the story can be much different for smaller growers like Todd Long, who moved to the area from Lancaster, Pa., in 1991. "About 2001, quota restrictions began to tighten. After several years, Long was allowed just 2.5 acres to grow his burley. Quota leasing was not a profitable option. He sold his farm in 2004 and invested in real estate instead," Parrino writes, quoting Long: “The small-time farmer is done for. There was a time when you could see a light at the end of the tunnel. But that is diminishing.” (Read more)

As the number of farmers declines, so does tobacco's political clout. In the same edition, the New Era called for a ban on smoking in publicly owned buildings in Christian County, long one of the state's leading tobacco producers, and sad city officials in Hopkinsville are contemplating such a ban. (Read more)

July 27, 2006

Columnist's mother lives on, or so creditors claim to collect debts

"My mother allegedly died on April 2. I say allegedly because a collector representing MBNA said he talked to her on June 21. Until I saw a letter from Dale Lamb, I felt pretty certain my mother was dead. I viewed her lifeless body at the hospital. A funeral director I have known since the second grade gave me an urn that supposedly contained her ashes. I have a death certificate from the state of Kentucky," writes Don McNay, "the business columnist with a rock-and-roll attitude."

McNay writes that despite the overwhelming evidence of his mother's death, "Lamb claims to have talked to her on June 21. You can find a copy of the letter from Lamb and my mother's death certificate at www.donmcnay.com. Thanks to MBNA and their collector -- the ironically named, True Logic Financial Corp. -- mom is now in a category with Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison. She has been deemed alive despite tremendous evidence to the contrary."

"The story about my mom and MBNA is an example of why credit card companies need more regulation. I was named administrator of mom's estate after she supposedly died. I then received a letter from a company called Mann Bracken, saying MBNA had obtained an arbitration award against mom. No one in my family knew anything about a debt to MBNA or had seen notice of an arbitration hearing," continues McNay, who hired an attorney to look into the matter.

"Instead of responding to my attorney, MBNA shifted the alleged debt to True Logic. The True Logic people didn't claim that MBNA actually had an arbitration award -- only that they might get one. Taking MBNA and True Logic at their word, I'm curious as to what mom said to Mr. Lamb. I hope they have a tape recording. Mom was known to use salty language, and I'm sure Mr. Lamb would have heard some," McNay concludes. (Read more)

McNay's journalistic base is The Richmond (Ky.) Register, which announced yesterday that it will publish a bilingual column "to facilitate cross-cultural communication," Editor Jim Todd said. (Read more)

July 26, 2006

Kentucky weekly probes background, aftermath of prayer dispute

Adam Gibson writes for The Times Journal of Russell Springs, Ky.: "For a short time in May, because of two very different teenagers, this community was turned into a microcosm for the debate on the separation of church and state when a federal judge ruled to block prayer at the 2006 Russell County High School graduation." That's the lead of a story that is a good example of a rural, weekly newspaper delving deeper into a highly charged issue and revealing the lives and feelings of the main protagonists.

The story revealed that after Megan Chapman talked about her faith in God during a graduation speech, Rev. Jerry Falwell was so impressed that he offered Chapman and her twin sister Mandy a scholarship to his Liberty University. The picture is not so rosy for Derrick Ping, the student who got the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit blocking the traditional prayer at the commencement -- and who has since been subjected to verbal and physical harassment, reports Gibson.

Gibson chronicles how Ping's personal convictions, both before and during the graduation period, made him an outcast in Russell County, on the shores of Lake Cumberland: "Ping is a 19-year-old whose personal convictions run counter to his community's strong religious framework. When Ping decided to act on his own convictions he created a firestorm of controversy that both enraged and united a community."

Ping told Gibson his acknowledged lack of Christian faith caused him to be singled out and ridiculed by classmates throughout his schooling. Nevertheless, he found it important to speak out about officially sanctioned prayer before the graduation. "I was trying to take away a little power from the religious regime here. They've gone unchecked for a good while now and if I didn't speak out, nothing was going to happen," he said, adding that one of his middle-school science teacher once summarized the theories of evolution and the Big Bang in 30 seconds, then read from Genesis "for quite a while."

Chapman told Gibson that if a majority wants prayer, it should get it, and if someone wants to complain about it, they should not be surprised by the backlash. "I hate to say it, but I'm sorry, the minority doesn't win," she said. To read a PDF of the newspaper's front page, including the beginning of the story, click here. For the rest of the story, continued to an inside page, click here. For a one-page version, which has much lower resolution, click here.

July 13, 2006

At least 14 rural counties expelled blacks over six decades, research finds

"It is America's family secret. Beginning in 1864 and continuing for approximately 60 years, whites across the United States conducted a series of racial expulsions, driving thousands of blacks from their homes to make communities lily-white. In at least a dozen of the most extreme cases, blacks were purged from entire counties that remain almost exclusively white, according to the most recent census data," writes Elliot Jaspin of Cox Newspapers' Washington Bureau in a remarkable report.

"It is impossible to say exactly how many expulsions took place. But computer analysis and years of research . . . reveals that the expulsions occurred on a scale that has never been fully documented or understood. The incidents are rarely mentioned in the numerous books, articles and movies about America's contentious racial past."

Census records revealed that in about 200 counties, mainly in border states, black populations of 75 or more disappeared from one decade to another. Jaspin narrowed his probe to identify expulsions that were documented through contemporaneous accounts and where few if any blacks ever returned. "Within those narrow parameters, Cox Newspapers documented 14 countywide expulsions in eight states between 1864 and 1923, in which more than 4,000 blacks were driven out," reports Jaspin.

Expulsions took place in the counties of Whitley, Laurel and Marshall in Kentucky; Washington and Vermillion in Indiana; , Polk and Unicoi in Tennessee, Sharp and Boone in Arkansas, Forsyth and Dawson in Georgia; Lawrence in Missouri, Comanche in Texas, and Mitchell in North Carolina.

In Kentucky, Whitley and Laurel are adjoining counties that each lost about half their black population between 1910 and 1920. In 1919, in the railroad town of Corbin, in the northeast corner of Whitley, "Whites, believing that the arrival of a black railroad construction crew had spawned a crime wave, rounded up blacks at gunpoint, herded them to the train station and forced them to leave," Jaspin writes. (Read more) News of the Corbin expulsion may have generated repression and departures in Laurel.


July 6, 2006

When rumors harm, not humor, a newspaper steps in -- and wins

A editorial attempt by a newspaper publisher in Vandalia, Mo., population 2,500, to turn his community's focus away from rumors about local school officials has earned the Golden Quill Award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Gary and Helen Sosniecki own The Vandalia Leader, circulation 2,200. In the winning editorial, headlined "Stop the rumor-mongering," he wrote, "In The Leader that was published the morning after last year's school-board election, I editorialized that it was time for the community to put its disagreements behind it and move forward. That prompted a visit from an unhappy reader who informed Helen that nobody who had lived in the community for only six months -- she meant Helen and me -- was going to tell her to move forward. She then canceled her subscription. It's obvious now that our critic knew the community better than we did. Despite the best efforts of many, the community has not moved forward. Rumors about what has or hasn't happened at the school this year with regard to administrative performance have festered below the surface all year."

"After more than 30 years in the newspaper business, it's no surprise to Helen and me that we have been drawn into the controversy. The 'side' that didn't appreciate our attempts at objective coverage a year ago sends us 'I-told-you-so' e-mails. The 'side' that liked our attempts at objective coverage last year but doesn't like us being so objective this year simply snubs us and complains about us behind our backs. Every other small town we've lived in has taken up 'sides' over one thing or another, often involving the school, and the newspaper gets the blame whenever one of those sides doesn't get its way."

Sosniecki said the town is prone to rumors about all sorts of things. "Let's find something to talk about instead of hurtful rumors," he concluded. "If we must spread rumors, let's not be so gullible as to believe those that couldn't possibly be true. Vandalia is a good community with good people. Stopping the rumor-mongering would make it even better." (Read more)

Author and journalism professor David Dary, who judged the contest, said, "Newspapers can make a community better. In this case, the writer had earlier observed how a school administrator was run out of town and a high-school principal replaced because of unfounded rumors. When critical rumors of the new principal's efforts began, the paper realized it was time to comment on the obvious."

Sosniecki is one of only five people to win the award twice in its 45-year history, having notched it at Seymour, Mo.'s Webster County Citizen in 1998. In the society's Grassroots Editor, he wrote of his latest winner: "Both sets of rumors contributed to divisiveness in the community that broke up longtime friendships. They also could be blamed for the failure of a bond issue to build new science rooms at the high school, a step backward for the community that, fortunately, was corrected recently in a second election. Sometimes the news in a small town is bad enough without it being embellished by rumor. When rumors reach a point that they harm rather than humor, they need to be reeled in."

Other finalists included Jim Painter of the West Valley View in Litchfield Park, Ariz., with "A bureaucrat is stomping on your rights" (click here to read); Elliott Freireich of the West Valley View with "Would you do whatever it took?" (click to read); Richard McCord of the El Dorado Sun of Santa Fe, N.M., with "The Mansions That Ate Santa Fe" (click to read); and Betta Ferrendelli of The Observer of Rio Rancho, N.M., with "What about diversity?" (click to read).

July 5, 2006

Small-town newspaper investigates fatal drug overdoses in its county

A small daily newspaper in Kentucky investigated the fatal drug overdoses that plague rural America, and a reporter emerged with the harrowing stories that so often get lost in superficial coverage of the subject.

Winchester Sun Managing Editor Randy Patrick wrote in a column about the project, “Tim Weldon's three-part series on drug overdose deaths, 'Clark County's Secret Scourge,' is community journalism at its best. It is the kind of hard work and hard-edged investigative reporting that many papers our size rarely attempt, either because it's too difficult or because they fear the public reaction that might come from uncovering what lies beneath the surface of a pleasant community. But exposing problems is a necessary part of what good newspapers do. It is at least as important as providing publicity for local groups and events or recording the details of government actions.”

“It has often been said that the role of a newspaper is to 'comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.' . . . I've always felt that it's a good motto for editors and other journalists to live by. We should speak the truth, especially to those in authority, and make people uncomfortable enough to want to change things. And we should help those in dire situations by revealing their suffering so that others might help,” Patrick continues. To read the rest of Patrick's column in the 7,200-circulation paper, click here.

In part one, Weldon, wrote that between January 2005 and March 2006, Clark County averaged one drug-overdose death every 32 days. During 2005, 11 people, ranging in age from 19 to 52, died from overdoses in the county, compared to seven in 2004 and six in 2003. Weldon found that prescription drugs may deserve blame for the increase, despite a Kentucky law that prohibits shipments of prescription drugs by companies not registered with the state. (Read more)

For part two, Weldon explored how injuries can cause people to get hooked on drugs. He described how a mother discovered her son's secret habit: “Every week her son would receive a check from his injury settlement, but he never had money after cashing his checks. In the months leading to his death, Joey also became friends with a group that Linda didn't know. She is convinced one or more of them convinced Joey that cocaine would help him feel better and rid him of his constant pain.” (Read more)

In part three, Weldon, a former Lexington TV reporter, discussed the lack of addicts getting treatment: “Professional Associates operates clinics in four Kentucky cities: Lexington, Morehead, Paducah and Corbin. There are half a dozen other methadone clinics in Kentucky. In all, [Medical Director Stephen] Lamb estimates approximately 2,000 people, including about 50 in Clark County, receive regular methadone treatments for their addictions. Yet, he says, that number represents only about 10 percent of the people believed to be addicted to opioids in the state.” (Read more)

Thrice-weekly keeps sharp eye on promotional mailers from Congress

It happens every summer in even-numbered years: The local member of Congress uses federal funds to send full-color, promotional brochures to all households in the district, with an eye toward the fall election. Congressional rules prohibit unsolicited mass mailings within 90 days of a congressional election, so July is a prime month for them. Members might think twice about their mailings if more of them got the kind of criticism that The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown gave Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky's 2nd District.

"I was appalled. . . . It proved to be just a bunch of Republican and administration tripe," wrote Ron Filkins, publisher of the paper, published three times a week. "The tab for all of this being picked up by the public, including mailing, in part is the result of the congressional franking system, which is virtually as old as the Republic. It is a system used and abused by incumbents of all political stripes." (Read more)

The rules for such mailings are available at http://cha.house.gov/services/memberhandbook.htm. Want to know how much your congressman is spending on such mailings? Members' reports for the second quarter of the year are due July 14 at the House Committee on Administration.

June 27, 2006

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 2006

Virginia editor calls for slavery apology during acceptance of SPJ award

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

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

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

June 7, 2006

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

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

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

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

June 6, 2006

Rural journalists in Pakistan organize to advance press freedom, ethics

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2006

Texas writer finds many violations in open-records audit of schools

Many state press associations and other media groups have conducted open-records audits in most states, but it's unusual if not unprecedented for an individual reporter to focus one on a particular type of public agency in a region. Keith Plocek of the alternative Houston Press offers an example to follow.

Ploeck writes, "In February and March, I drove 1,683 miles in Harris and its surrounding seven counties, visiting 63 school districts to test for compliance with the Texas Public Information Act, which is designed not just for reporters like me but for everyone." Houston is in Harris County.

His findings included: "44 percent of districts violated the part of the public information act that prohibits them from inquiring why the information is being requested; 30 percent of districts incorrectly said they had ten business days to fulfill the request. The public information act does mention ten days, but requests should be fulfilled 'promptly'; and 10 percent of districts did not respond at all." As for being asked why he wanted the records, Plocek writes, "Many of these violations were just the product of small-town curiosity." To read an extensive account of his encounters, click here.

May 11, 2006

FBI investigates 2,000 cases of public corruption, gets help from press

Here's a reminder that journalists everywhere need to be on the lookout for wrongdoing by local officials, and by state legislators, who are locally elected: The FBI says it is finding a lot of corruption in local and state governments.

"Bureau officials believe that the investment in corruption cases is easily worth the cost. In 2004 and 2005, more than 1,060 government employees were convicted of corrupt activities, including 177 federal officials, 158 state officials, 360 local officials and 365 police officers, according to F.B.I. statistics. The number of convictions rose 27 percent from 2004 to 2005," reports The New York Times.

"Almost every one of the F.B.I.'s cases has been the subject of widespread news reports by local news organizations, and Time magazine has reported on the national scope of the effort. In some instances, . . . reporters appear to have been the first to uncover some aspects of possible wrongdoing. Agents regard such articles as tips for which they can claim success if they succeed in bringing a case," writes David Johnston. (Read more)

People can provide the F.B.I. with tips on corruption at this Web site. The tips cannot be anonymous.

May 10, 2006

Sacramento Bee wins Taylor Family Award for newspaper fairness

A series in The Sacramento Bee about the misuse and abuse of Latino immigrants who work in America's forest industry has won the 2006 Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers. The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, was established through gifts for an endowment by members of the Taylor family, which published The Boston Globe from 1872 to 1999. Judges praised The Bee's series, "The Pineros: Men of the Pines," for including "all the groups affected by this timely issue and for the way the pictures and stories gave a voice to people who are rarely heard." The contest is administered by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. --California Newspaper Publishers Association

April 28, 2006

Charlotte Observer illuminates shadowy lives of illegal immigrants

An ongoing Charlotte Observer series that started in February is revealing startling insights about illegal immigrants' presence in the U.S. and is shining new light on legal problems. This newspaper's investigative approach can serve as an example for all journalists, even those at small newspapers in rural areas where minority immigrant populations have been growing fast.

The most recent installment of the Observer's "Hiding in plain sight: Illegal immigration in the Carolinas" exposes a problem that may exist in many areas. "Federal immigration agents say they arrest a document counterfeiter every few weeks in the Charlotte area. Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Julie Myers called the buying and selling of counterfeit documents 'an epidemic' that has turned into a multimillion-dollar criminal industry," writes Franco Ordonez. (Read more)

By pursuing the rise in illegal immigration and not turning a blind eye to the story, Editor Rick Thames wrote in a column, the newspaper was sure it "had uncovered the classic news exclusive -- clear, decisive and complete. There were a few loose threads, however. So we pulled. And pulled. And pulled." (Read more)

In part one, Liz Chandler and Danica Coto wrote about the tragic stories that exist in many communities populated with illegals: "Their rising numbers bring rising tension: An immigrant driving drunk kills a schoolteacher; Hispanic gangs clash in shootouts; and public schools and health departments struggle to accommodate the newest Carolinians."

Coto spent part of her time in a van packed with illegal immigrants hoping to cross the border. As she describes in part one, those attempts can sometimes be deadly: "Nearly 1,000 of them have died in the Arizona desert since 2000 from dehydration, injuries and illness and clashes with authorities, smugglers and thieves. The death toll is dwarfed, though, by the hundreds of thousands who make it." (Read more)

In part two, Chandler and Coto explored the debate about how to handle immigrants. (Read more) Part three took a look at illegal immigrants who return to their homelands for visits (Read more). Part four began the examination of the market in illegal Social Security numbers: "In fact, several million immigrants here illegally have likely hijacked Americans' numbers. But don't count on the Social Security Administration to alert you if you become a victim," wrote Tim Funk, Liz Chandler and Stella M. Hopkins. (Read more)

Columnist offers index to ethanol as starting point for journalists

Readers of The Rural Blog have seen many items about ethanol, which is boosting the economies of many rural areas. Journalists who want to do stories on the subject can take some guidance from Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institiute.

In today's Morning Meeting, Tompkins offers an "index to ethanol" with legislative news, explanations of terms, stock and investment information and details about building "your own ethanol still." With President Bush urging the nation to become less energy-dependent, all of this information proves timely.

A certain percentage of all fuel sold must be ethanol-based in Washington, Minnesota, Montana and Hawaii, and several other states are considering similar requirements. Is your state one of them? Journalists should take up the story. Click here to read Tompkins' column at Poynter Online.

April 20, 2006

Virginia weekly shows value of independence, community focus

The Smithfield Times of Virginia won the small-paper category of the Virginia Press Association's annual award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service, the group's highest honor. The paper also won the award in 2003.

The Times, circulation 6,219, beat out many other papers in the category, for those with less than 30,000 circulation -- a threshold that we think best defines the upper limit for "community journalism." "The quality of coverage underscores what several other entries in this size class demonstrate as well: You don't have to be a big-city newspaper to serve readers with strong, vigorous citizen-based journalism that initiates and facilitates community discussion of important issues and helps citizens find solutions to community problems," the judges wrote.

Its winning formula was a combination of "event coverage and enterprise reporting, backed up with editorial-page campaigning that offered citizens choices and ways of taking action as well as a forum for their own viewpoints, The Times undertook and encouraged strident discussion of issues ranging from the newest developments--not all call them advances--of agriculture, the symbiosis of public and private organizations for the public good, and the performance and responsibility of governmental agencies designed to help citizens but not always able--or willing--to fulfill their missions," the judges wrote.

The Times began 80 years ago covering the Isle of Wight and Surry counties in southeastern Virginia. John and Anne Edwards bought it in 1986 from Thomas Phillips. Click here to see the paper's Web site.

April 17, 2006

Charleston Gazette wins SDX award from SPJ for mental-health series

A Charleston Gazette staff series on mental health has won a Sigma Delta Chi Award in Public Service ,for newspapers with less than 100,000 circulation, from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards honor radio, magazines, newspapers, television and other outlets for excellence in journalism. The Charleston Gazette series, titled “Brothers Keeper: West Virginia’s Mental Health Crisis," attempted to answer the question "Is the state failing the estimated 50,000 West Virginians with severe mental illness?" To read the stories from January and February 2005, click here.

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards will be presented July 14 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. For a complete list of the award winners, click here. This year's Pulitzer Prize winners are slated to be announced Monday afternoon.

April 12, 2006

Rural topics present in awards from business journalists' society

Stories on rural topics were among award winners in the Society of American Business Editors and Writers contest, announced recently.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, at 140,000 circulation considered a "small" paper by SABEW, won recognition for two pieces. The first, "Wrong Side of the Track," by Janet Patton, exposed the lack of workers' compensation in the horse industry, which draws heavily on migrant workers. The second, "Win, Lose or Draw: Gambling for Jobs" by John Stamper, Bill Estep and Linda Blackford, looked at lack of accountability for Kentucky's incentives for job creation, a key tool for rural economic development.

A Des Moines Register piece, "On New Ground," by Philip Brasher, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Anne Fitzgerald and Lee Rood, investigated a new trend in farm ownership with over half of Iowa's farmlands owned by residents over the age of 65. Because of this trend, massive transfer of ownership when the current owners pass is looming over the state economy.

The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., produced "Tiny Town a Roost to Big Bamboozles," a story about Champlain, N.Y., pop. 5,967, along Lake Champlain in the northeastern corner of the state. Because of its proximity to Canada and its remoteness, the town has become a breeding ground for scams run by Canadian companies. These companies like the town's easy access to the border and a U.S. post office box, which they think gives them more credibility, the paper reported. For more, click here.

April 5, 2006

Arizona weekly spotlights local problems with No Child Left Behind Act

We've written a good bit about the impact on rural schools of the No Child Left Behind Act, but there's nothing like an object example to put the issue in clear focus. The weekly Payson Roundup in central Arizona did that with a story and editorial in Tuesday's edition, and the situation it covered will almost surely be repeated in hundreds of school districts across the nation in the next couple of months.

The Roundup's story by Max Foster reported hat six special-education teachers at the local high school would not be rehired "because none met the No Child Left Behind mandate that requires all teachers must be 'highly qualified' in their subject areas by June 30, 2006. The teachers . . . are qualified and certified in their core areas but not in Special Education."

The six could be rehired if the district cannot find "highly qualified" teachers to replace them, but recruitment could be difficult for local officials because they must compete with salaries in the Phoenix metropolitan area, about 50 miles away, and "they must find instructors who have bachelor's degrees or college majors in each core teaching area plus Special Education," Foster reports. "In other words, certification mandates are doubled, sometimes tripled, for teachers of Special Education students."

The situation prompted an editorial which began, "Few of us can imagine the nightmare of watching a lifelong career disappear in an instant with the passage of sweeping federal legislation." It went on to say, "NCLB is an awkward fit for small towns, and we are feeling the squeeze as a new portion of the legislation goes into effect in June of this year."

The editorial said the certification requirement "is logical in the classrooms of Chicago and New York City where the hiring pool is deep and the wages are competitive, (but) destroys the very system that has kept rural schools running since the beginning of public education. In small towns across the country, 'pitching in' is the tradition. Teachers often teach numerous subjects and multiple grade levels."

The Roundup's Web site says it was judged best in the nation last year by the National Newspaper Association. The paper's latest edition indicates that it doesn't just have a good site, it has excellent content in print and online. Its lead story, by Felicia Megdal, does a good job of localizing an important story -- "Arizona's rate of underage alcohol, drug and tobacco use ranks among the highest in the nation, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."

March 28, 2006

Small Newspaper Group reporter wins FOI reporting award from IRE

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2006

Weekly editor conducts Sunshine Week records audit; criticizes police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilton Head newspaper calls for 'defensible, documented' stories

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

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

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

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

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


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Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
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Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu