Rural journalism that has won, should win, or should have won awards or that that we just like from The Rural Blog at http://irjci.blogspot.com.

For Good Works in Jan.-Aug. 2007, click here. For Good Works in 2006, click here.

Dec. 28, 2007

Obama, Huckabee may ride rural-newspaper endorsements to victory in Iowa caucuses

Rural newspaper favorites Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama would win the Iowa caucuses if they were held tonight, say the latest "power rankings" of the Iowa Independent, an online news site that is our favorite source of grass-roots information on Hawkeye State politics.

The Independent knows rural Iowa, and says Obama's "wave of small-town newspaper endorsements should enhance his second-choice support in rural parts of the state where he has been perceived as weak." Second choices are important because supporters of a candidate who doesn't get at least 15 percent of the vote in a precinct can then caucus for someone else. The Independent's rankings have Hillary Clinton and John Edwards tied for second.

[This paragraph was updated Dec. 30.] In the Republican race, which has no 15 percent rule, Huckabee had five newspaper endorsements, three from weeklies. John McCain had four dailies and two weeklies; Mitt Romney had three dailies and Fred Thompson had one, the Ottumwa Courier. For a listing of all the endorsements and the newspapers' circulations, click here.

The Independent's rankings put Romney in second and Ron Paul in third. Chase Martyn (in photo below) writes, "Paul broke double digits in at least two polls for the first time this week and he seems particularly strong in areas of the state where the media has less of an impact on political deliberations -- especially in rural northwest and southern Iowa." Because rural precincts tend to be smaller, the rural vote in the caucuses is amplified. For an Independent story on that by John Deeth, click here.

The Independent is spotlighted in the January issue of Wired magazine, in a story about Iowa blogs that quotes former Des Moines Register reporter Chuck Offenburger: "Many times I notice, like with the Iowa Independent or smaller papers, they'll be out in front of the media on some campaign appearance, and then the larger media then works their way around to it."

Sarah Lai Stirland writes, "Founded eight months ago, the Iowa Independent is staffed with a motley mix of part-time contributing bloggers and more-established local writers. Its sole full-time employee is Martyn -- a former Democratic field coordinator and student political blogger who graduated from Grinnell College earlier this year."

The Independent is one of four state political blogs "funded by the Center for Independent Media, a nonprofit group headed by former Wired magazine writer David Bennahum," Stirland writes. The others are Colorado Confidential, Michigan Messenger and Minnesota Monitor. (Read more)

Dec. 27, 2007

Iowa county bucks trend of rural decline, paper says

At least one Iowa county is bucking the trend of rural population decline in the state, thanks to low housing prices, government-backed home loans and relative proximity to urban hubs, reports Ken Black of the Times-Republican in Marshalltown, in the county to the west.

"Tama County is seeing an increase in population among those whose ages range from 15 to 49, a key demographic of economic health," Black writes, quoting Lindi Roelofse, executive director of the Tama County Economic Development Commission: "We really believe at least part of this may be attributed to the fact that relative to some of the surrounding counties, starter homes are cheaper, specifically in Tama County. Also, there are a lot of programs out there to help first-time home buyers."

Black notes that some of those programs, such as those under the Rural Development umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are available only in rural areas, and every town in the county is eligible for them. "Because of that, the county can be very attractive to young families who may be looking to purchase real estate, especially for the first time," he writes, also crediting the county's low cost of living and its location, "25 to 35 miles from an urban hub such as Marshalltown, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, or Cedar Rapids." The county seat of Toledo is at the junction of US 30 and 63, 23 miles north of Interstate 80. (Read more)

Dec. 18, 2007

Community newspapers still strong, especially if they have interactive Web sites, Calif. editor says

"The death of newspapers has been greatly exaggerated," and that's especially true when it comes to community papers, writes Jeff Pelline, right, editor of The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., population 11,000. That's in Nevada County, pop. 92,000, where Interstate 80 enters the state and cuts through the Sierra Nevada.

"At profitable community papers such as The Union, circulation is strong and Web traffic is growing sharply, because we provide unique local information that is now the "sweet spot" of journalism. Bigger papers are following suit in some cases, focusing on so-called hyperlocal journalism," writes Pelline, a former editor at CNET, a technology news outlet. "Though paid print circulation has been sliding (for decades, in fact), readership -- as measured by combined print and online audiences - in most cases is growing. In this sense, the Web has been a boon for newspapers (at least ones with interactive Web sites). . . .
Newspapers have to work harder to make their Web sites more profitable. But a growing, interactive readership is a big plus, compared with most radio and TV stations. "

The Union is owned by Reno-based Swift Communications, which publishes newspapers in California, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado, and farmer-rancher publications in Nebraska and South Dakota. Pelline is among a group of California editors and journalism professors who recently made recommendations for changes in journalism education to match "the changing media landscape," as he put it. "As a group, we conceded that too many journalists and journalism professors resist change, even though they teach and write about change almost daily." To read the recommendations and the rest of his column, click here.

Dec. 14, 2007

Okla. papers struggle to publish amid ice storm

The massive ice storm that tore through the Midwest last weekend, leaving hundreds of thousands of electric customers without power, posed considerable challenges for small newspapers in the region. In the hardest-hit state, Oklahoma, the daily Norman Transcript and the weekly Oologah Lake Leader, were among the papers that had to improvise to get issues out this week. Above, Lake Leader employees, with Editor-Publisher John Wylie at left, put out the paper on the dining-room table in a staffer's home.

While Transcript publisher David Stringer looked for a nearby press that still had power, the rest of the staff looked for a place to work, because the diesel-powered generator in the newsroom only could do so much. Managing Editor Andy Steiger had hoped to use his home as a temporary newsroom, but the power was off there, too. Advertising Director Saundra Morris drove to the parking lot of a Panera Bread outlet to take advantage of the store’s free wireless access. It was full, so she worked from her car, reporter M. Scott Carter writes.

Several reporters and editors found a temporary home in the public-relations offices of Norman Regional Hospital, where they wrote and edited stories and posted them to the paper’s Web site. Stringer managed to secure some time on the press at the Edmond Sun, and a few editors made the 30-mile trip to design the print edition. (Read more)

In northeastern Oklahoma, the office of 3,000-circulation Lake Leader was without power, as were the homes of all its staff members. “We were not sure we would publish at all,” Wylie said in an interview. On Tuesday, the power returned to the home of Marketing Director Carolyn Estes, so staff packed up its production computer and set up shop on a table there. the paper was a day late for the first time, and limited to eight pages. Wylie said its Web site, www.oologah.net, would be updated frequently. (Read more)

Dec. 9, 2007

Presidents need small-town values, columnist says

The first presidential caucus and two of the first three primaries occur in states with disproportionately rural populations, but "There are few small town economic issues being discussed," even though most presidents grew up in small towns, columnist Don McNay writes in the Richmond (Ky.) Register and other Community Newspaper Holdings papers.

"Small-town populations are getting older and their young people are moving to big towns for jobs. Large factories are moving to foreign countries and nothing is replacing them. Is anyone candidate talking about the small towns? If so, please let me know. I hear more debate about rooting for the Boston Red Sox than saving the beauty of small town life. I don't hear anyone talking about rural drug addiction and the dangers of Oxycontin."

After noting his recent column about Rudy Giuliani's work to keep makers of Oxycontin out of prison, McNay writes, "Oxycontin is a primary contributor to the decline of rural America. A whole generation of young people are addicted, dying, neglecting their children and not able to hold a job. For some reason, Oxycontin has been a small town problem. The drug is not as popular in urban areas. Thus, it is ignored by the national media and national candidates. It's more fun to argue about the Red Sox."

McNay, left, writes that a friend commutes 50 miles from his rural home to a large city because, as the friend said, "There are big-town values and small-town values." And that sets the stage for his closing argument: "Small-town people are used to accountability. Everyone knows each other and what they do. At my peak weight, I tried to buy a box of donuts. The grocery clerk looked at the donuts and said 'Aren't you the guy who writes about dieting for the newspaper?' I put back the donuts and got serious about weight loss.

"I laugh at all media attention given to Giuliani and his mistress sneaking off to their fancy love nest. If Rudolph had lived in a small town, he wouldn't have been able to get away with cheating on his wife. Everyone would have known about the affair immediately. . . . Living life in public makes you think before you act. It's a moral compass that candidates need to have. I've been touting small-town candidates like Mike Huckabee and John Edwards. I don't know if they have a plan for rural America but they have a sense of what rural life is like. I want a president who grew up knowing that if they cheated on their spouse or cheated on their diet, someone would hold them responsible." (Read more)

Dec. 7, 2007

Maine paper reports on suicide of Iraq War veteran

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. 2, 2007

Weekly editor calls for calm thought on immigrants

As immigration became the leading issue in the Republican race for president, thanks in part to an undue emphasis by CNN in its recent YouTube debate, a weekly newspaper editor in Iowa asked his readers to step back and think about the issue and how it has affected their community and state for the better.

"Thousands of immigrants have worked in our town’s two meatpacking plants, working hard, hoping for a better life for their children, sending money home to Mexico and other nations to help their families left behind. They build businesses and churches, they add color and richness, they learn English as they can and they help an isolated rural community grow and prosper," wrote Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times.

"Yes, we need secure borders. We need to know just who is living and working in Storm Lake. We also need workers in our meatpacking plants as the first generation moves up the economic ladder. If we don’t cut the meat here, be assured that the meat will get cut somewhere else and those jobs are lost to us. What we really need is to open up the immigration quotas to fill our low-skilled, medium-skilled and high-skilled job shortages." (Read more)

Most of the Times' Web site is only for subscribers, but access to the editorial comes to us by way of Offenburger.com, which adds a brief biography of Cullen, right, and his paper: "Art Cullen, 50, is editor of the Storm Lake Times, a twice-a-week newspaper serving the diverse and growing community of Storm Lake, which in the 2000 Census topped 10,000 for the first time in the town’s history – while all other county seat towns around it continued to decline in population. Cullen grew up in the community when it was nearly all-white. He went on to St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minn. In his journalism career of nearly 30 years in Iowa, he first served as editor at the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance, then managing editor at The Daily Tribune in Ames, and news editor/editorial page editor at the [Mason City] Globe-Gazette, before returning home in 1990 to help his brother John Cullen launch the Storm Lake Times. John Cullen is the paper’s publisher."

Nov. 29, 2007

Paper's reporting inspires Ala. dam-safety program

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 Ariz. daily looks at cost 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 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. 22, 2007

Obama courts Iowa weeklies; Clinton not so much?

Iowa may be more important than ever in the Democratic presidential nominating process, because Sen. Hillary Clinton is considered likely to win the nomination if she wins the state's Jan. 3 caucuses, while a victory by Obama or former Sen. John Edwards could burst her balloon of inevitability. With such huge stakes, candidates "are scouring the state like never before," going to towns that have rarely if even been a campaign stop, Iowa veteran Jeff Zeleny reports on The New York Times' political blog, The Caucus. On that trail, Sen. Barack Obama is paying special attention to such towns' weekly newspapers -- while Clinton has given at least one weekly publisher a semi-stiff-arm.

"There is, perhaps, no better way to give an hour-long presidential visit far greater staying power than appearing on the pages of the weekly newspaper, particularly in an edition that is likely to be sitting on coffee tables at Thanksgiving time," Zeleny points out, reporting Obama's interviews in Clarion with The Wright County Monitor and in Grundy Center with four other weeklies in a 10-mile radius, three with circulations under 1,000.

Monitor Publisher Barb Mussman, a former elementary-school teacher whose paper has a circulation of 1,367, told Zeleny that no presidential candidate had ever offered her an interview, so "He's going to get a story," not just the usual picture. Her 794-word story focused on Obama's appearance at a local school (where the Monitor photo above was taken) and appeared to devote only 176 words to her interview, in which she asked about education and global warming. Its style was matter of fact, with one major exception: "The word, hope, keeps entering into Obama's remarks."

Zeleny's post spurred dozens of comments. "Everybody here thinks that it’s the blogosphere that is sooooo important - but these small newspapers, I bet they can make a real difference in a community. Why? Because everybody knows the journalists who write them," wrote a poster identified only as Petra. "In the case of Ms. Musmann, readers probably learned how to read in her classroom. Smart move indeed."

David Bordewyk, who identified himself, but not as general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, wrote, "Midwestern community newspapers are plugged in to the communities they serve. The weekly gets a story and Obama gets a better sense of the local pulse. Go one better: Scrap all the TV ads, buy ads in the community newspapers and the campaign will win big."

That, of course, is not Obama's strategy, not Edwards', and certainly not Clinton's. She has yet to grant an interview to John Beaudoin, publisher of the Logan Herald-Observer and Woodbine Twiner, who has gone public with his problem. In a comment on Zeleny's post, Beaudoin wrote, "Barack Obama and his handlers have been extremely professional to work with during this campaign. I have interviewed 21 candidates for President, including Mr. Obama, and I have been impressed with how his people have delivered information to our newspapers. I am the Publisher of two small newspapers in Southwest Iowa and have promised my readers as much information as possible on the candidates. Mr. Obama’s campaign has been top notch (which is something I unfortunately cannot say about Hillary Clinton’s campaign)."

Beaudoin has posted interviews with candidates on this page of his Web site. He said in an interview with the video site Current that the Clinton campaign has offered him a group interview with other journalists, but he has declined because of the success he has had with other candidates. "Once we got that going I thought we were building up some credibility with the Hillary campaign," he said. "This is not an entitlement thing ... I promised my readers I was going to bring them every presidential candidate, and by God, I still feel like I'm going to. Her campaign, bar none, has actually been the most defiant as far as trying to make thet interview happen." But when asked who he thinks the next president will be, he said, "I have a hard time saying it will not be Hillary."

UPDATE, Nov. 27: A survey by NBC News of 15 weekly and small daily papers in Iowa found they had "mixed experiences with all the campaigns, Democratic or Republican," the NBC political unit reports in First Read. "Most papers said that their inboxes were flooded by e-mails from all the campaigns and many received phone calls before an event to remind them to attend. The majority of newspapers reported being able to get a few minutes with a candidate either immediately after the event during the rope line or with a one-on-one interview. Senator Clinton was the exception in this case. Both Edwards' and Obama's staff were praised for their efforts to reach out to reporters and provide access to the candidate." (Read more)

Nov. 20, 2007

TV station in Grand Rapids, Mich., investigates aging rural housing

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

Small Newspaper Group's series compares, state by state, how Illinois deals with 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. 16, 2007

Native of southeastern Kentucky town describes its 'culture of addiction' for national audience

Natasha Watts, right, left tiny Blackey, Ky., to go college four years ago. When she returned, she found almost all her friends and acquaintances addicted to prescription drugs such as OxyContin. The problem is bigger than that drug, she explains in an Appalachian Media Institute essay that aired on National Public Radio. She says more must done for Blackey and other towns like it in Eastern Kentucky than just taking OxyContin away:

It's not hard to see how we got to this point. With hundreds of injured coal miners, this area has one of the highest chronic pain rates in the country. For generations we've suffered from all kinds of pain — without the kinds of health services we needed to deal with addiction, poverty, and depression.
She recalls watching her fellow high school students crush pills and snort them on their desks, and she says that now she has no "social circle" in her hometown. This "epidemic" has ravaged the community, she says.
We're going to live with the human costs of addiction here for generations. Addicts who get clean still won't be able to find jobs in our coal-dependent economy. The mother who finally gets her kids back from the courts won't be able to make up for all the years apart. We have paid for the addiction epidemic with our sisters', brothers', mothers', fathers', grandparents' and friends' lives.
The piece is one of the many multimedia presentations produced by Watts for AMI, and more can be viewed at its Web site. To listen to Watts' full essay on addiction, go here.

Oct. 15, 2007

North Dakota journalism students help rural newspaper and 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. 14, 2007

End of horse slaughter in U.S. increasing number of abandoned and starving horses, council says

The end of American horse slaughter for human consumption, through legislation and legal action, is sending horses to abbatoirs in Canada and Mexico, which ship horsemeat to other countries. It also has increased the problem of abandoned and starving horses, an American Horse Council official told Brownfield Network.

“Today we are facing over 212,000 documented, starving horses in the United States,” Dave Howell, chairman of the State Horse Council Advisory Committee, told Dave Russell. “We have cases where they have been turned loose in parks, they’ve been turned loose in coal-mine areas, they’ve been turned loose on private property, but until the public becomes aware we have a crisis I don’t think we’re going to get any reaction because most people feel like, 'Hey, this animal is a beautiful animal, it’s a pet and we need to protect it,' not realizing it weighs 1200 pounds, takes a bale of hay a day, takes and acre and a half per horse to feed, what are we gonna do with the unwanted horse, we don’t know, we don’t have an answer.”

The council has formed an Unwanted Horse Coalition to address the issue. "Too many owners are unaware of, or do not give enough thought to, the available options, services and assistance available in the industry to help them ensure that their horse has caring and humane support throughout its life," the coalition's Web site says. It also says, "No accurate figures document how many unwanted horses actually exist," but is certain of this: "The number of unwanted horses exceeds the resources currently available to accommodate them. The estimated cost of providing basic care for a horse ranges from $1,800 to $2,400 annually."

For Brownfield's story, click here. For audio of Russell's interview with Howell, click here.

Oct. 2, 2007

Fla. paper founded to advocate better growth management wins battle with 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. 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.

Oct. 1, 2007

Small daily newspaper in Minnesota publishes series to chronicle 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. (The older articles require a subscription fee.)

Sept. 30, 2007

Kingsolver makes us think about connections between work and 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

Rural publisher's homefront columns an important part of '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 documentary that began on PBS tonight.

Al McIntosh ran the Rock County Star Herald in Luverne, Minn., at 4,600 the smallest of the four towns that are the foci for the personal lenses through which 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.” (Encarta map)

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 community and his 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 Friday. 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 newspaper's advance story on the protest, its report on recent court action involving one of the Jena Six, and its chronology of the 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)

Sept. 17, 2007

Rising ammo prices mean changes for police, recreational shooters

Several media outlets have reported on an ammunition shortage facing police departments, and many pointed to the fighting in Iraq as the main culprit. However, National Public Radio reported that rising prices and demand have come from increases in copper. Regardless of the cause, the spike in prices has hit recreational shooters as well, and The Daily Courier of Prescott, Ariz., reports on how they are dealing with it.

Jason Soifer writes that shooters are shunning commercial bullets in favor of cutting costs by making their own. Soifer writes that for about $800, a shooter can buy reloading equipment and “recoup that money in about a year” in saved bullet costs. For other recreational shooters, the only choice is to reduce the number of bullets they use.

Law enforcement officials, however, don’t have those two options, and so they must order well in advance to ensure they have enough bullets when it comes time for training sessions. (Read more)

Sept. 14, 2007

Alabama editor's varied series on state constitutional reform wins commentary prize

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

Rural activists in Ky. stirring opposition to McConnell, U.S. Senate's Republican leader

Rural votes have been key to many Republican victories, but three activists from rural Kentucky are helping lead growing grass-roots opposition to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell in his home state, mainly based on his support of Presudent Bush and his Iraq policies, Bob Moser reports in The Nation. McConnell is up for re-election next year, and conservative pundit Robert Novak said in his column yesterday that he "could be in danger."

The rural trio is Yale University graduate student Matt Gunterman, 30, who was the Democratic nominee last year for McLean County judge-executive, the top local administrative post; New York University law student Shawn Dixon, 24, a native of Columbus, Ky., a tiny town on the Mississippi River; and Jim Pence, 68, a "Salem-smoking, pickup-driving, self-proclaimed hillbilly" from Hardin County who has built a following for his HillbillyReport.com blog, Moser writes.

Gunterman, the creator of DitchMitchKy.com, wants to "fire up an Internet-based 'Ruralution,' connecting grassroots progressives from rural America to spur political action," Moser writes. Gunterman "sees Pence as a prime example of the passion and wit that generally go untapped by Democrats and urban progressives. 'There's no one like Jim in the entire United States,' says Gunterman. 'Not with his age and his ornery attitude. He is very much a hillbilly, and he's reinvigorated the term.' In his three years of crisscrossing Kentucky to publicize its antiwar and progressive insurgencies, Pence has also stirred up the state's traditionally timid left-wingers," reports Moser, a North Carolina native who is writing a book on the South and "purple America," states that are neither red nor blue.

The trio has "also pushed the state's more established media to take notice of the progressive groundswell," Moser writes. "In 2004, when Dixon was working as deputy policy and communications director for Democrat Daniel Mongiardo's uphill Senate challenge to Republican Jim Bunning, he spent much of the campaign in a state of frustration over Kentucky newspapers' assumption that the incumbent would cruise to victory." Bunning won by only 1.4 percent of the vote, after some unusual behavior that turned off urban voters. But with President Bush providing coattails, Bunning's rural margin made up for his urban deficit. (Read more)

With editor-publisher laid up, N.C. journalism students ride to rescue with 'bucket brigade'

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. 11, 2007

Ky. principal bans editor from press box, cites paper's story on racial incident

On Friday The Winchester (Ky.) Sun ran a story about the arrest of four white high school students on terroristic-threatening charges stemming from a black student's receipt of a racist note that contained threats and images of a lynching and a Confederate battle flag. That night, the newspaper's sports editor, Keith Taylor, went to cover the high school's homecoming football game but was barred from the press box by Principal Gordon Parido, who cited the story as the reason, The Sun reported.

On Monday, Parido apologized, reported WTVQ-TV in Lexington. "I get a phone call saying, you're banned from the press box tonight, and I said you're kidding right?" Taylor told WTVQ's Erika Harsh. The Sun later posted a short story saying "Parido called Managing Editor Randall Patrick to apologize for banning Taylor from the game and for taking 'the tone' he did. He said that Superintendent Dr. Ed Musgrove informed him that he did not have the authority to ban Taylor in the first place. Parido said he also intended to personally apologize to Taylor. The principal maintains that the story was inaccurate, but has twice declined to say what the inaccuracies were." (Read more)

The paper's original story on the incident marked the second time the racist note had been in the news that week. WLEX-TV in Lexington ran a story four days earlier, two days before the youths were arrested. The TV story prompted a threatening phone call to the student, reporter Katheran Wasson wrote. The students are juveniles; Wasson confirmed their arrest by interviewing one of their parents.

Wasson's story was accompanied by a copy of the note, provided by the black family, and an editor's note saying that the mother of one of the boys accused of drawing the pictures told the paper that the words and names were added later, not by the boys accused of passing the note. "The Winchester Sun covered those words, including names, with black bars in this printed version because of the disagreement between the parties over whether they were in the original document, which was given to police for evidence," Patrick wrote, noting that the original note is not public under state law on juvenile proceedings. "The Sun decided to publish the note to allow readers to decide for themselves the seriousness of the complaint."

Sept. 10, 2007

Hispanic Iowa editor says Clinton, Edwards won Spanish forum, but leans toward Obama

"The editor of an influential newspaper in western Iowa's Latino community ... thinks Hillary Clinton and John Edwards had the strongest performances in the Univision debate in Miami," reports the Iowa Independent. But Lorena Lopez of La Prensa, in photo with her son, is leaning toward an endorsement of Barack Obama, whom she interviewed in Spanish recently, after first leaning to Clinton, Doug Burns reports in the Web-only Independent and the newspaper where he works, the Daily Times Herald of Carroll -- where La Prensa is also based.

Lopez "says Clinton appeared to command issues and seemed 'calm' in her approach to the questions on issues of concern to the Latin community," Burns writes for the Independent. "She thinks Edwards may have made some inroads with his debate performance as well. Lopez is writing an article for her paper on the details of these views, and we'll get a translation of some of that when it is published." (Read more)

The free, twice-monthly tabloid, which claims a distribution of 6,800 after 16 months in business, is "one of the more influential venues for discussion and debate in western Iowa's burgeoning Hispanic community," Burns writes in the Times Herald. Assisting Lopez, a former television personality in Nicaragua, is her son, Carlos A. Arguello, 23, a graduate of the local high school and the University of Northern Iowa. (Read more)

In the "Destino 2008" debate from Miami, Edwards "made his health care plan seem cheaper than it would actually be. He assumed it was in effect right now, rather than the soonest it could possibly be implemented, which is 2009 or 2010," reports Annenberg Political Fact Check, or FactCheck.org.

Sept. 7, 2007

'Music of Coal' chronicles the history of Appalachian mining in song

With 48 songs on two CDs and a 76-page hardcover book, the "Music of Coal" offers a comprehensive look at "labor struggles, union organizing, unemployment, economic depression, environmental impacts, mining lifestyles and the heritage of mining," reports The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va.

Hannah Morgan writes that the compilation came from three years of work across the region that began in 2005 when Paul Kuczko, executive director of the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth, had students collect information about local coal camps for a book to celebrate the 150th birthday of Virginia's Wise County.

Morgan reports the process identified the desire for such a CD. A group of about 20 people from the nearby regional arts center Appalshop, the Ralph Stanley Museum, the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority and other agencies "joined with county officials, historians and various colleges and foundations to form a committee to turn the idea into a reality," she writes.

Along the way, the group found the songs were born from sorrow. "We were all about ready to commit suicide because they were so depressing," Kuczko told Morgan. To balance the blues, she writes, the group added some upbeat tunes as well as some work from current local artists. The "Music of Coal" is available at $35 each, and Kuczko said he profits from the project will go toward helping local youth record their own music, Morgan writes. (Read more)

In another piece, Morgan continues to explore the music of Appalachia, this time as she finally learns to play a mandolin that had been sitting in her home for a year. (Read more)

Cheryl Truman of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader wrote a review of the collection called "Mountain songs in a miner key," which includes audio clips of a few of the songs.

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.

Sept. 4, 2007

Joel Wilson retires after 50 years at the Glasgow (Ky.) Daily Times

In his time at the Glasgow (Ky.) Daily Times, Joel Wilson, right, served as editor for more than 40 years and spent the last four as editor emeritus, and throughout it all all, "He practiced community journalism long before the term was in fashion," writes Ronnie Ellis of the Kentucky statehouse bureau of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Such longevity and loyalty are rare these days, and Wilson deserves recognition and the gratitude of his community, Ellis writes.

Ellis, who worked for Wilson at the Daily Times before staffing CNHI's Frankfort bureau, writes that, "neither the paper nor the community will ever seem quite the same" now that Wilson has retired. To read the entire column, go here.

Sept. 3, 2007

Ind. students do local radio reporting in community journalism class

Mike Conway, an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University, led a community journalism class this spring that was charged with developing five to eight minute radio broadcasts about long-term issues in the Bloomington community by the end of the semester.

"There are not a lot of classes that teach radio news," Conway said. "Sadly, there are not a lot of jobs. We want to build it back in because NPR and some outfits are building it back in." In photo: Senior Erica Ballard (left) and junior Elle Lissitzyn.

Thanks to a grant from Indiana Campus Compact, the students were able to use the studios of local nonprofit station WFHB in the process. The final project turned out so well that the station signed on to broadcast the student work this summer. Th students examined the issues facing Bloomington’s homeless and hungry and informed listeners about what area food banks and soup kitchens are doing to keep up with the increasing demand for meals; the Monroe County Jail’s overcrowding and rehabilitation problems and efforts to decrease recidivism; the university ’s outsourcing and its effect on Bloomington’s workforce. And the last segment will look at why some in the community live without health insurance and discuss the funding problems facing our developmental disabled. (Read more) Broadcasts are archived on the WFHB Web site.

Sept. 2, 2007

Kansas papers ask if farm subsidies have led to rural economic decline

Have federal farm subsidies hastened the consolidation of farms, and thus the decline of population and small towns, in rural Kansas? Some experts there think so, Harris News Service reports in the first installment of a six-part series examining the effects of agricultural subsidies on rural Kansas. The service is part of Harris Newspapers, seven papers in Kansas and The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa.

"Subsidies are at the heart of the debate as Congress works to write a new farm bill this fall. Among the provisions sought by President Bush and many lawmakers are limits on federal commodity subsidies paid -- especially to the biggest farms," Mike Corn writes. "The massive scale of federal farm payments further perpetuates an ever-increasing growth in the size of farms," in the view of Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.

Bailey said subsidies allow large farmers to raise rents, bid up land prices and expand. Corn writs, "Subsidies encourage farms to grow because farmers can obtain additional payments by further increasing their acreage, he said. When the size of farms grows larger, there are fewer farms for individuals to work on, leaving fewer opportunities in farming, he said. As a result, there are fewer business opportunities directly linked to farming. Bailey told Corn, "People who don't have the resources then are sort of left out of the equation."

Bailey also also said there is evidence that larger farms "they take their business to larger, regional hubs instead of locally owned shops," Corn writes. Mary Fund, communications director at the Kansas Rural Center, told him there is evidence in the harm of subsidies in a 2005 study done by economist Mark Drabenstott for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. "In many of the counties whose farmers receive the most in subsidy payments growth in employment and new businesses is the weakest. Cornelia Butler Flora, an Iowa State University professor of agriculture and sociology, concurs. She said it is essential that the biggest subsidies be capped because they are contributing to the decline of rural of communities." (Read more)

Harris has posted columns on the farm bill here. For the chain's special-projects page, click here.

Roanoke reporter, who ranged to the coalfield and the far tip of Virginia, retires

Paul Dellinger, at left with photographer and fellow Roanoke Times retiree Gene Dalton, retired Friday after 44 years as one of the hardest and longest working reporters in Appalachia. His career illustrates changes in the region and newspapers over four decades.

Dellinger (pronounced with a hard "g") hired on at the Times' Southwest bureau in 1963. He was 25. "For the next four decades, Dellinger covered Southwest Virginia like a blanket -- in the beginning with reporter Hazel Brown (now deceased), and in later decades alone. One of his rare criticisms of his longtime employer is that it cut back coverage of the far southwest in the 1990s. "The Roanoke Times got all sorts of accolades for its coverage" of coal in the late 1980s, he said. "The next year, they stopped covering anything out there." But Dellinger still lives in Wytheville, site of the now-closed bureau.

When Dellinger was nearing 62, the age at which he could begin collecting limited Social Security benefits, his wife, a former reporter, asked him what he might do after newspapers. "He said, 'What I'm doing,' " she told Times writer Kevin Kittredge, who summed it up this way: "Translation: There was no 'after newspapers.'

"Seven years later, changes in the newspaper world, and recent inducements offered to older workers to retire, have convinced him otherwise. All newspapers face a murky future these days, as they try to balance the print edition with the Internet, and The Roanoke Times is no exception. Ask Dellinger what he thinks about such changes, and his answer is succinct: "I think it's time to retire." And what does a man who has written news stories for 44 years do when he retires? He keeps on writing, of course." Dellinger writes science fiction, and has written radio scripts and a play. (Read more) For a video showing Dellinger at work, and reflecting on his career, click here. For his farewell piece, click here.

For earlier Good Works in 2007, click here. For Good Works in 2006, click here.

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
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu