Knight Center fellows and staff
(far left, Laura Abramson; standing from far right, Asst.Dir. Peggy
DeBona, Joan Countee, Director Carol Horner; Al Cross, director,
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues)--Photo by Lisa
published each day in The Rural Blog from the conference programmed
by the Institute for Rural Journalism and
Community Issues for the Knight
Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland,
June 12-17, 2005
June 13, 2005
rural conference for journalists opens with call for a rural policy
"We need a rural policy. We need
a thoughtful rural policy," Dee Davis, president of the Center
for Rural Strategies, said last night in the keynote speech
for "Rural America, Community Issues," a five-day conference
on rural issues for journalists at the Knight
Center for Specialized Journalism at the University
Rather than a rural policy, Davis said, the United
States has a farm policy that fails to sustain and develop rural
communities -- where fewer than 2 percent of the people earn their
primary living by farming. He suggested that the billions in subsidies
to farmers could be phased out and the money redirected to rural-development
programs, contending that some of Amercia's poorest counties get
heavy agricultural subsidies.
Davis gave a litany of statistics that
define the problems of rural America, such as: 195 of the nation's
200 poorest counties are rural; rural children are 50 percent more
likely than others to lack health insurance; and rates of certain
drug use are much higher in rural areas than the rest of America.
Yet, he said, the federal government's community-development programs
invest more than twice as much in urban areas as in rural, and only
$100 million of the $30 billion in U.S. charitable contributions
last year were targeted to rural areas.
Davis also offered a definition for
"rural" and a reason for the conference: "Rural is
where the market ends," because rural people are harder to
reach and have less purchasing power, but "they still need
real journalists looking into things that matter to them."
He said surveys for his group have shown rural Americans are "feeling
alone out there," and "Mostly, they felt that when the
media got to them, they got it wrong." He challenged the journalists
to "Come into the countryside and get some shit on your shoes."
For the whole speech, click here.
June 14, 2005
voters, key to Bush, could turn on GOP in 2006, bipartisan panel
Rural voters were key to President Bush's election
and re-election, but some "buyer's remorse" is showing
up in recent polling, and that could pose problems for Republicans
in next year's election, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and
Republican consultant Bill Greener said yesterday at "Rural
America, Community Issues," a five-day conference at the Knight
Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of
Greener said his fellow Republicans should not get
"smug" about where they stand with rural voters, because
"All it takes is somebody who is able to connect at a very
human level," such as former President Clinton. But Greenberg
said she blames Clinton for her party's "terrible job of iterating
an economic narrative that would be popular in rural areas."
She said he abandoned the party's populist streak after the 1994
While polls show rural voters being driven by social
issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, "something
they think they know about and understand," Greener said, they
also are concerned about education, health care, job retraining
for displaced workers, and access to technology.
"We need a national strategy for rural America.
This is not something that can be attacked in piecemeal fashion,"
Greener said, echoing the remarks of the conference's keynoter,
Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies, which
sponsored polls by Greenberg in rural areas of battleground states
in the 2004 presidential election.
Both speakers said organization through churches was
very important for Republcians last year. For the first time, Greener
said, his party, which once expressed activism "only with a
checkbook," matched the grass-roots intensity of Democrats.
Greenberg said the GOP's use of local volunteers talking to neighbors
was more effective than the Democrats' importation of groups of
volunteers into key areas.
rural coverage can connect people, places and issues, drive policy
Journalists interested in rural issues discussed better
ways to tell the stories of rural America with Ali Webb, communications
manager for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, yesterdat
at the Knight Center conference, which is being programmed by the
the Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues.
Kellogg, the largest private funder of rural enterprises,
has sponsored research into coverage of rural America by major national
media in 2002 and 2004. Webb said it shows the coverage is disproportionately
episodic -- single stories relying entirely on ordinary individuals
-- rather than thematic, an approach that ties together issues and
larger trends, with the addition of authorities and advocates who
help make the connection. "What we all need are these bridges,"
said Kathyrn Stearns, editor of The Valley News
in West Lebanon, N.H.
Webb noted that Kellogg has a list of rural resources,
some of them nontraditional, on its
Web site. “This isn’t an either/or, but instead
it's both,” she said. News managers and news consumers want
to see ordinary citizens in stories, she said, but limiting stories
to that approach makes the stories seem less important to policymakers,
and thus makes it more difficult for them to tackle rural problems
ranging from health care, education, land use to development and
the decline of family farming.
The leading example during the discussion was a
story last October by National Public Radio rural-affairs
correspondent Howard Berkes, one of the 31 Knight Center fellows
at the conference. The story was a 7-minute piece from rural Louisiana
on proposed relaxation of rules requiring banks to make loans to
low- and moderate-income lenders in their communities. Berkes enlivened
the topic by talking with individuals who would be affected, and
an articulate advocate for rural residents who was able to help
make the connection to the larger picture.
rural? It depends on your interests and conceptions, expert says
The first question a journalist asked at the "Rural
America, Community Issues" journalism conference this week
was "What is rural?" There is no definite answer, partly
because the face of rural America is changing, but some valid options
were offered at the conference's first daytime session: Calvin Beale,
senior demographer for the Economic Research Service of the Department
of Agriculture and a USDA employee for more than 51 years.
"It depends so much on what your interest is,
and what your perceptions are," Beale told the journalists.
Various laws establish as many as 75 definitions of "rural"
for different federal programs, which often include more than the
59 million people classified as rural by the 2000 census. For example,
102 million that are eligible for rural-development assistance from
the federal government.
One of the broadest definitions of "rural"
is any place outside one of the nation's metropolitan areas, which
have citires of 50,000 or more. However, some metro areas include
rural census tracts or block groups. For example, the U.S. county
with the most rural population is Worcester County, Massachusetts,
with 144,000 residents around a metropolitan center. Beale noted
that the Census Bureau does not identify whole
counties as urban or rural, but the Office of Management
and Budget defines the counties that make up metropolitan
A much narrower definition, perhaps borrowed from
Europe before Wolrd War I, says any incorporated place or densely
settled area of 2,500 or more is urban. Before that definition was
adopted, the threshhold was 8,000. Beale's personal dividing line
is a populated place of 10,000 or more, but he acknowledged, "In
terms of the upper limits of 'rural,' that is a subjective thing."
Beale also offered observations on rural population
trends, in the nation as a whole and several individual counties
in various parts of the country. He said the growth rate in rural
areas has been rising since 2000 while that in metropolitan areas
has been falling, but the rural rate is still half the metro rate.
Sources of growth include retirement communities; immigration of
Hispanics; movement of white-collar tasks to small towns, often
via technology; and prison construction, which not only adds employment
but put prisoners into local census counts. In the 1990s, he said,
a prison opened in a non-metro county every 15 days.
The states with the largest rural rate increases from
2000 to 2004 were North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Texas. The
largest declines were recorded in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and North
Dakota, reflecting a regional decline. "You could drive from
the Canadian border to the Mexican border and never go through a
county that was growing in population," Beale said.
June 15, 2005
areas need broadband to compete economically, researcher explains
High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury for
rural communities because they need it to compete economically,
an expert on rural broadband said at “Rural America, Community
Issues” at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism
at the University of Maryland yesterday.
"If you don't have broadband, certain things
don't fall into place as easily," said Sharon Strover, director
of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the
University of Texas. Not only do businesses use
the Internet to buy, sell, distribute and control inventory, but
health care increasingly uses Web-based forms to deliver information,
and governments are interested in providing services online because
it is cheaper, she said.
“What we’ve also heard from rural communities
is that telecommunications was important to them because they are
losing population," Strover said. Broadband access can entice
young people to "stick around a little longer" and explore
career options closer to home. She said terms like “the knowledge
economy” can “create a lot of fear in rural areas because
they feel like they’re gonna fall behind; they’re not
there yet and the rest of the world is.”
When some local governments got into the broadband
business, telephone companies began lobbying legislatures to pass
laws making municipal broadband more difficult or impossible. The
companies say "Get rid of government and we’ll compete,"
Strover said. “In fact, competition doesn’t just occur
after government is no longer there. ... Everybody talks a good
line about competition, but in fact, companies hate it." For
more of this view, click
Strover said the national extent of broadband monopolies
is difficult to determine, partly because the Federal Communications
Commission signed confidentiality agreements with providers.
Journalists may know who their local broadband providers are, but
Strover said they face other obstacles writing about the issue:
It is "filled with jargon," the technology changes constantly,
and the business is regulated at all three levels of government.
Recent data from the census and the Pew
Internet and American Life Project show that Internet
use by rural Americans is about 10 percent less than for the nation
as a whole, but rural broadband use is 50 percent less.
health needs growing, says National Rural Health Assn. president
Amid all the special needs of rural health care is
a growing need for services for rural veterans -- a need that is
increasing with the conjunction of aging Vietnam Veterans and returning
military from Afghanistan and Iraq, the president of the National
Rural Health Association told the national rural journalism seminar
Hilda Heady, associate vice president for rural health
at the West Virginia University Health Sciences
Center, said that while the federal government has several ways
of getting health care to veterans, "Most health care for veterans
comes from primary care physicians," a resource that is scarce
in America’s rural areas.
“The baby-boomer Vietnam veteran’s average
age is 58, and the coping mechanisms they had 20 to 30 years ago
to help them deal with their experiences are collapsing,”
said Heady. “Many are only now beginning to deal with Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms,” which Heady said
is partly responsible for the increase they are seeing in the need
for mental health care services.
Heady said traumatic brain injury, in which the brain
is bruised by sudden shock, is the “signature injury”
for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “We have advanced so far
with armoring vehicles and body armor that soldiers are surviving
blasts that previously would have killed them,” she said.
“The injuries range from temporary memory loss, to a persistent
She said funding for rural veterans’ services
is hampered by competition between service networks that favor areas
with higher population density. She also noted that the National
Guard and Reserve troops generally do not qualify for veterans'
health benefits, though legislation has been introduced to make
Heady suggested that reporters interested in telling
the rural veterans' story start with the state office of rural health
policy, which can provide access to experts and information on each
told to chronicle rural schools' struggle with No Child Left Behind
Rural schools are having trouble coping with the No
Child Left Behind law, and journalists need to write about the issue,
the only reporter who covers rural education full-time told a national
rural journalism conference yesterday.
Alan Richard of Education Week said
the challenges include school choice, the ability of students to
transfer to another school in the same district if their school
is failing; the requirement that failing schools offer tutoring,
which he said all rural schools need; and recruiting and retaining
teachers who have college majors in the subjects they teach and
are certified at the grade level they teach, long an obstacle to
quality education in rural schools.
"It's important to ask rural school leaders how
they're spending their money," Richard said. "Do they
really need that third assistant superintendent? Maybe they ought
to pay their teachers more." Richard told journalists at the
seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues. On the larger scale of the No Child
Left Behind law, he said, "We need to help our country determine
whether this is going to help states and schools do better by students."
Richard said many rural schools will not meet the
goals the law sets for 2014, but he said the law has forced schools
to focus on minority groups that lag in student achievement. He
said that may be the best part of the law. "No Child Left Behind
is a gold mine for stories," he said. Other issues in rural
education, he said, include finance, with lawsuits over funding
in several states; questions about school size, with misgivings
in West Virginia about the closing and consolidation of more than
200 public schools; and segregation and demographic shifts.
Richard offered several sources for journalists, including
his own publication, which he said will soon start charging for
access to its archives at www.edweek.org;
Rural Education Association; the National
Dropout Prevention Center; the Institute
for Education Leadership, which has an education-policy
fellows program in about 16 states; the Alliance
for Excellent Education, which aims to transform high
schools; and the Rural
School and Community Trust, which he said is a liberal
group that advocates for small schools and publishes annual state-by-state
rankings of rural education.
June 16, 2005
demands changes in the way rural America develops economy
Rural America must change the way it seeks jobs in
a globalized economy, and journalists should help public and private
policymakers at all levels realize the challenges and choices they
face, a leading student of the rural economy said yesterday at the
"Rural America, Community Issues" seminar at the University
The journalists heard from Mark Drabenstott, vice
president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and
director of its Center for the Study of Rural America.
He said globalization means that rural America can no longer use
cheap labor, low taxes and cheap land to compete, because "there
are legions of places around the world" with those advantages.
"We are going to move away from a model of recruiting
businesses to rural America to growing businesses in rural
America . . . gardening vs. hunting, if you will," Drabenstott
said. But he added that he sees "very little discussion"
of the challenge. "There is a tremendous opportunity for you
to improve the economic literacy of our nation on some of these
issues," he told the journalists.
Drabenstott said one key to being competitive is thinking
regionally, from town to town and even across state lines. He said
people in a self-defined region should ask themselves: What are
our distinct economic assets? What market opportunity can we tap
that no one else can? How do we exploit our assets to seize that
opportunity? To answer such questions successfully, he said, a region
needs the fuel of innovation and the engine of entrepreneurs.
To function regionally, Drabenstott said, there must
be public-private partnerships; regional assets must be understood
and measured, competitive advantages must be identified, and entrepreneurs
must be developed.. A big question, he said, is whether the tools
of measurement and analysis will be private or public: "Do
we leave it to the consultants, or is it a job for the [Cooperative]
Extension Service?" he asked.
One effort at entreprenurship was mentioned by Al
Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and
Community Issues, which is programming the conference for
the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He
mentioned the Kentuucky extension service's creation, with tobacco-settlement
funds, of an institute to train not just entrepreneurs but coaches
to train entrepreneurs in the state's most tobacco-dependent region.
Drabenstott had a charge for journalists: "There’s
a tremendous opportunity for the press. How you build bridges across
your region as a public voice seems to me to be terribly important.
… Do you want to simply trumpet your home town and bash all
the other towns around you?" He challenged rural journalists
to "foster a climate for partnership by public and private
leaders" and focus coverage on long-term successes, not short-term
Drabenstott said such processes call for patience,
but he quoted an unnamed Texan on the urgency of the challenge facing
rural America: “Time is short, the stakes are high, and the
alternative is a Third World economy.” A longer report on
Drabenstott's presentation will be posted in the Reports section
of this Web site next week.
Agriculture still matters, partly because it provides rural leadership
Though agriculture accounts for less than 1 percent
of America's gross domestic product, it remains important because
of its relationship to the environment and, more intriguingly, to
the culture and politics of America. So said David Freshwater, director
of graduate studies in agricultural economics at the University
of Kentucky, at the national conference for journalists
on rural issues yesterday.
Farmers are still "a key part of the social elite"
in rural areas, as leaders in civic, school and political groups,
and at the national level they exploit the agricultural roots of
the United States and do not align themselves closely with either
political party, giving them more leverage on both parties, Freshwater
said. "They have an effective voice that greatly outweighs
their numbers," he said, attributing that partly to leadership
training rural youth get in the Future Farmers of America
and 4-H Clubs.
Asked about the effect of the tobacco buyout on Kentucky,
the state with more tobacco growers than any other, Drabenstott
said it is"incredibly important" because "the tobacco
program froze the structure of agriculture in Kentucky in the 1930s,"
preserving it as a state of small farms and small towns. Without
the program, he said, Kentucky will produce as much tobacco, but
for less money, and "We'll see a lot of small-town dry-up."
stores draining, reshaping economies, character of small towns
When Wal-Mart Supercenters come to
towns across America, they drain about 70 percent of their trade
from local merchants and reshape the character of the communities,
retired Iowa State University economist Kenneth
Stone told the national rural journalism conference yesterday. Stone's
research also shows that the Supercenters have helped some local
businesses that don't compete with Wal-Mart, by generating traffic
from a wider area.
Stone, who has become known in some circles as “the
Wal-Mart Man” because of his studies, conducted some of the
first and most extensive research on the economic impacts of malls,
discount stores and big-box building materials stores and various
forms of Wal-Marts. A study in Iowa showed Supercenters hurt grocery,
specialty and apparel stores but helped restaurants and service
businesses because of the “spillover” effect of extra
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer with
about 4,000 stores nationwide, had sales of more than $288 billion
last year, and is forecasting more than $416 billion by 2008. But
Stone said there are some signs that its growth is beginning to
taper off, as Wal-Marts become located more closely together and
drain traffic from each other.
When one journalist at the conference said some localities
are offering incentives to attract Wal-Mart supercenters, Stone
said he strongly opposes such deals.“It takes money from taxpayers
to give to big companies who then take it from the local merchants,”
Stone said Wal-Mart, under fire for its business practices,
is becoming more media-savvy in its public relations, providing
information that it once told journalists was proprietary, and has
started to buy run-of-paper advertsing in newspapers. A top Wal-Mart
official is scheduled to address this year's National Newspaper
Association convention in Milwaukee on Sept. 30. For more
on the convention, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1, click
For reports by the Institute for Rural Journalism
and Community Issues on two TV documentaries about Wal-Mart
last November, one of which featured Stone and his research, click
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps
non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities,
through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader
issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central
Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a
statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators
at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University,
Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University,
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle
Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri
State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill,
the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University,
West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows
Program at the University of Alabama. It is funded by the John S.
and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with
additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To
get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click