Good Works

This is a collection of journalism that has won, should win, and should have won awards -- taken from The Rural Blog, a Web log of rural issues, trends and events that is regular reading for hundreds of journalists who cover rural issues and need story ideas, sources, comparisons and inspiration.

Aug. 30, 2007

The Cullman (Ala.) Times makes Web video part of the routine

As many smaller newspapers only have just begun to use the Web, The Cullman (Ala.) Times has started posting daily video updates on its site. The 10,000-circulation daily drew praise for its innovation from Editor & Publisher's Pauline Millard, who said the paper showed the new technology could be used on a budget. (At right: An image from one of the recent Web videos available daily on the paper's site.)

In her column, Millard writes that the staff uses "simple equipment, such as cheap work lights from Wal-Mart, a light diffuser made from PVC and clearance-rack fabric, and an ancient Macintosh computer that serves as a TelePrompTer" for a studio, while the images and sound are captured with "a $300 consumer video camera and a $100 shotgun microphone."

Above all, the newscasts are "hyperlocal," Millard says, and thus give readers and viewers want they want. Called "The Update," the video follows the format of a TV news program, complete with an opening tease of the day's top stories followed by a montage of the newspaper's staff in action and a nod to The Update's sponsor. After the top stories, The Update divides the remaining time among feature and sports stories. In all, it is concise 11-minute video that does far more than the "talking head" format of some newspaper Web video. To view a recent Web video update from The Cullman Times, go here.

Coal industry should share blame for mine-safety problems, Ky. weekly says

Utah mine owner Robert E. Murray's "recklessness" and the Mine Safety and Health Administration's "failure to rein him in" are to blame for the recent tragedy, but others should face congressional inquiry next week: "Murray's co-conspirators in the coal industry," opines The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

In the latest in a series of detailed, hard-hitting editorials on the safety issues raised by the disaster, the Eagle declares, "We continue to be haunted by the still largely unexamined story of how the industry fought -- successfully -- to keep MSHA from requiring modern mine communications technology in underground coal mines," the Eagle writes. MSHA's excuse, from the Federal Register: "Since technology is constantly changing, newer systems that may be as, or more, effective than [current technology] may be developed."

"We've never seen a worse excuse for fatal inaction or a better example of what's wrong with the coal industry and mine safety enforcement," the Eagle editorial concludes. (Read more)

Aug. 22, 2007

Coal industry could have prevented mine deaths, weekly's editorial says

As the rescue effort at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah remained halted, leaving six miners trapped and probably dead, The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., continued to offer some of the sharpest criticism about the current state of mine safety in the United States.

In this week’s edition, an editorial listed the names of the 63 miners killed nationwide since Jan. 1, 2006, as well as the six miners still missing in Utah. “It's a terrible toll -- 70 miners in all -- and one that should be unacceptable, because fatality-by-fatality reviews show that most of these deaths could have been prevented by a combination of systematic risk assessment, conscientious mine management, diligent regulatory enforcement, and adoption of technologies that are taken for granted elsewhere,” the editorial said.

The editorial suggested key links between recent coal mining deaths: a lack of advanced emergency breathing and communication devices in mines. The Eagle said miners aren’t given adequate training with breathing devices, called Self-Contained Self-Rescuers, and that the models in use in these mines have been rendered “obsolete.” In addition, the editorial said miners lack a system for two-way communication in mines. Legislation passed after the Sago Mine disaster of January 2006 has mandated the installation of such r]systems, but not until 2009, and the editorial said progress has been slow on that front. (Read more)

Meanwhile, a friend of one of the miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine confronted mine co-owner Bob Murray yesterday at a funeral for one of the three rescue workers killed at the mine, The Associated Press reports. The man "handed Murray a dollar bill" and said, "This is just to help you out so you don't kill him." AP reports, "Murray's head snapped back as if slapped." For video from CNN, click here.

The episode "revealed more than just the frustration of people in this mining community in central Utah's coal belt, where most still speak in whispers when criticizing the officials whose businesses pay their bills," AP reports. "Critics are now openly calling the mine a disaster waiting to happen and pointing fingers at Murray Energy Corp. and the federal government as the agents of the tragedy." (Read more)

Today, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Murray and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration made a risky change to the mining plan of the previous owner, contrary to statements by Murray. MSHA approved the change in only seven business days, Robert Gehrke reports. (Read more)

Aug. 15, 2007

From the Appalachian coalfield, an editorial rebuke for Utah mine owner

As The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., went to press yesterday, the weekly newspaper looked far west to another coalfield, where rescue efforts continued at the Crandall Canyon Mine of Murray Energy Corp. in Utah. "We join with mining communities throughout the coalfields in praying for their rescue, even as time grinds away at the odds of achieving that outcome," the Eagle's editorial said. "Meanwhile, everyone anxious about the fate of the miners has had to endure a week of watching the mine’s owner, Robert Murray, demonstrating why he doesn’t deserve to be trusted with the facts, let alone the lives of thousands of people who depend on him for their livelihoods." (Photo of Murray by Ramin Rahimian of Reuters, via the Daily Yonder)

The editorial accused Murray of several misstatements. "Particularly galling to us were his off-the-wall rants about former federal mine safety officials Davitt McAteer and Tony Oppegard, both of whom we know well," who worked for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton era and "have been among the most effective advocates miners have ever had – a distinction Bob Murray would no doubt claim for himself, but one that wouldn’t seem likely to withstand a moment’s scrutiny."

After reports that cast Murray as "bumptious but benevolent . . . his Berlin Wall of bluster began crumbling," the Eagle notes. "The first blows came from seismologists who reported that the 'seismic event' at Crandall Canyon was the violent cave-in itself, not an earthquake triggering it. Then MSHA contradicted him, confirming that Crandall Canyon was indeed doing retreat mining in the area of the cave-in. Then . . . came reports that miners who had been working in the area had been fearful about their safety."

The Eagle explained to its readers the differences in the mines they know and the one in Utah, and questioned MSHA's approval of retreat mining in an environment where high pressure and seismic activity can cause "'bumps' or 'bounces' in which the mine ribs or floor can suddenly give way with explosive force, firing chunks of coal like bullets and reducing solid coal pillars to rubble." It said the investigation of the accident should not be left to MSHA, but also include a group of outside experts. (Read more)

Aug. 8, 2007

Mountaintop-removal foes, rebuffed at state and local levels, look to D.C.

Opponents of mountaintop-removal coal mining like Sam Gilbert, above, "have found some allies in their fight, but most come from outside the Appalachian coalfield – activists, authors and journalists who write stories for national and regional newspapers and magazines," Mary Jo Shafer writes for The Mountain Eagle and other newspapers. "Much the same has been said in the legislatures of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, where efforts to limit mountaintop removal have failed or never gotten off the ground. So now the debate is moving to the halls of Congress, where opponents think they have a better chance for change."

Shafer's story includes polling done by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, showing that opinion about use and conservation of natural resources is deeply divided in southeastern Kentucky's Harlan and Letcher counties, part of the area where mountaintops are mined. The Eagle is published in Letcher County, where Gilbert lives. (The report does not name the two counties, but their inclusion was confirmed for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues by Mil Duncan of Carsey.)

Shafer, now the assistant city editor at The Anniston (Ala.) Star, did the report for the Institute as part of an internship to earn a master's degree in community journalism from the University of Alabama, through the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Shafer's report also includes stories about a Kentucky legislator who is trying to limit mountaintop removal and also interviewed coalfield residents and an industry official who see mountaintop mining as a source of jobs and land for development or tourism. Another story examines the state of the United Mine Workers of America in Eastern Kentucky -- no working miners, but members in other fields and a strong heritage.

Paper's coverage helps capture escapee, holds Okla. authorities accountable

John Wylie, left, publisher of Oklahoma's weekly Oologah Lake Leader, was reading the nearby Vinita Daily Journal on June 5, and knew something was wrong when he saw that his neighbor editor was replying to a reader's complaint about a mental patient who had "walked away from a picnic." Wylie was in an excellent position to have heard about such an incident, and had heard nothing.

He did some digging and learned that the patient had walked away from a picnic at Oologah Lake, in the adjoining county, and that the escapee "had a two-state felony record including aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and had repeatedly threatened to kill law enforcement officers, jailers and friends," Wylie told Stan Schwartz of the National Newspaper Association. Escapee Randy Thweatt "had an escape history and had tried to kill a McCurtain County woman with a rifle."

"The only call the hospital made after discovering Thweatt was missing was to the McCurtain County Sheriff's Office in Idabel so it could warn the woman. In Rogers County, where Thweatt had escaped, authorities were not notified," Schwartz writes in the latest edition of NNA's Publisher's Auxiliary. Wylie broke the news, alerted a TV reporter in nearby Tulsa, and "Thweatt was apprehended by two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers within 48 hours of the Leader's story," Schwartz writes. (For a PDF of the story's jump, click here.) "Oklahoma Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinta, issued a statement praising Wylie: 'I believe had it not been for the vigilance of the press -- in this case John Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader and Lori Fullbright of KOTV-Tulsa -- this dangerous criminal may have remained at large.'"

Wylie reported the capture (story and jump) but the story wasn't over. He learned that "At that same lake just a week later, while Thweatt was still at large, more than 100 Girl Scouts held a campout," Schwartz writes. "It was also the 30th anniversary of the Locust Grove Girl Scout murders. Three young girls had been raped and killed at that site. The community still remembers that time." Click here for Wylie's story. Finally, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health apologized for the incident, and put a six-month suspension on all outings, but when Wylie asked for a copy of the order, he found that it it wasn't in writing.

Wylie wrote an editorial about dealing with the mentally ill, and related his own experience: When he was a big-city reporter, he covered a mentally ill veteran "who held police at bay for a day with volleys from high-powered weapons," then "got past security at The Kansas City Star, and pled his case with a .45-caliber handgun aimed straight and true at our heart through the pocket of his raincoat." (Read more)

Aug. 3, 2007

W.Va. publisher takes on other papers, local officials over public-notice ads

Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Radio reports, "There’s a fight going on for the hearts and minds of newspaper readers in Lincoln County – and that struggle could affect small newspapers all across West Virginia. Dan Butcher, a Lincoln County native who moved to Florida and made a fortune ... is challenging an established newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, with a start-up called the Lincoln Standard. He’s alleging that the Lincoln Journal and local politicians are in cahoots with each other – and taxpayers are footing the bill."

Newspapers are paid to print public-notice advertising for many legal matters, including a list of locals who haven't paid their taxes. The law calls for the list to be printed once; the Journal printed it more than once, and after the Standard pointed that out, the county got a refund. The law also "says you only have to print people’s names and what they owe," Finn reports. But Journal Publisher Tom Robinson "says it makes sense to print extra information -- like addresses -- especially in a county where more than 500 people are listed in the phonebook under the name 'Adkins'." A story by the Journal's Richard Tipton points out that the listings also included "property descriptions, rows of dots and ticket numbers."

Here's the larger issue: In West Virginia, rates for public-notice ads are set by law, according to a paper's circulation, at specific rates per word. Butcher's newspapers (he bought two more and started another in the area) recently noted that no one audits newspaper's certifications of their single-copy sales, and suggested that some papers are falsifying them in order to get higher rates for ads, because their percentage of household penetration -- 89 percent in one case -- is too high for counties with low income and education. Butcher was once a community newspaper executive for a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. (Read the story.)

Gloria Flowers, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, told Finn, "I do not feel there are any publishers in the state that fudge a tremendous amount on their circulation numbers." (Read more) Butcher says he was spurred to start his paper when the Journal wanted to charge a woman $59 to publish an article seeking sign-ups for the county's first youth soccer league. For his broader reflections on the how and why of his newspapers, which operate under the umbrella of West Virginia Standard, click here.

UPDATE: In its Aug. 9 edition, the Lincoln Standard reported on citizen protests at the county commission meeting and Butcher's federal-court lawsuit to remove the Lincoln Journal and the Lincoln News Sentinel as the county's newspapers of record. (Read more)

July 25, 2007

Clinton, Obama square off in the Quad-City Times, bewildering NBC

"The two Democratic front-runners have finally engaged, rather than simply allowing their staffs to go back-and-forth," NBC News Political Editor Chuck Todd says in this morning's "First Read," analyzing the back-and-forth that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had in the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa. (Can you name the four Quad Cities? See the bottom of this item for the answer.)

The Democratic candidates "tangled Tuesday in some of their sharpest terms yet over how to deal with countries that are antagonistic to the United States," reports the QCT's Ed Tibbetts. "In an interview with the Quad-City Times, U.S. Sen. Clinton, of New York, labeled as “irresponsible” and “naive” Obama’s statement that he was willing to meet, without precondition, the leaders of five countries hostile to the United States during the first year of his presidency. U.S. Sen. Obama, of Illinois, countered in a separate interview with the Times, accusing the Clinton campaign of hatching a “fabricated controversy” and suggesting that her position put her on the same track as the Bush administration."

Tibbets notes, "The exchange sprang from a questioner on a YouTube/CNN television debate Monday night asking whether Obama would be willing to meet in the first year of his presidency, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Obama said he would." Clinton said she would not without an understanding of what any such meeting would be about, to avoid being used for propaganda.

NBC's Todd writes, "The only thing that strikes us odd about yesterday’s skirmish is that the candidates launched their attacks and counterattacks via such a small media venue (the Quad City Times). It's like two major deciding to go to war . . . over the Falkland Islands. Yesterday our producers in New Hampshire tried to get Clinton to say her criticism on camera and she demurred. And neither candidate granted an interview to any other media on this issue. If neither candidate chooses to put their words on camera today, does this mean the skirmish is over?" (Read more)

No, Chuck, it doesn't. Folks in Iowa do care about foreign policy and how the president deals with those who are our foes or cast themselves as such. What we see here is a measured escalation by the candidates, willing to go at it in print but not in the hotter medium of TV, or even radio. Sound bites hit harder. Hats off to Ed Tibbets for getting the story. (The QCs: Davenport and Bettendorf, Ia., and Moline and Rock Island, Ill.)

July 21, 2007

Sigma Delta Chi Awards have rural connections, including a cartoonist;
his publisher sees provocative editorial page as a way to boost circulation

There were several winners with rural connections at last night's Sigma Delta Chi awards banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, but none so rural as Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia, circulation 18,500, who won the for editorial cartooning in 2006. Few papers with circulation under 20,000 have editorial cartoonists, a point noted by the judges, who said, "We applaud the Rome News-Tribune, a small newspaper, for having a full-time editorial cartoonist on staff."

Publisher Burgett Mooney III said in an interview that he wanted a cartoonist because he sees a "provocative" editorial page as a way to build and maintain circulation. "It gives us a place to really drive people to the newspaper," he said. Lester has been cartooning for the paper for five years. He was living in Rome and doing cartoons for an online news service until the dot-com bubble burst, then Mooney recruited him.

Lester tackles local, state, national and international topics, but said in an interview that he tries to make two of five cartoons a week have some local connection, often through a setting that is not identified but that local will recognize as a locale in the town of 35,000. Lester is generally conservative, but has an independent streak. The newspaper "tends to be what is considered conservative on economic matters and liberal on social issues," said the editorial-page editor, Pierre-Rene Noth.

The News-Tribune is part of News Publishing Co., which also publishes seven weeklies in northwest Georgia and Cherokee County, Alabama. The Sigma Delta Chi Awards were established in 1932 by the organization now known as the Society of Professional Journalists. The current program began in 1939, when Sigma Delta Chi presented its first Distinguished Service Awards. When Sigma Delta Chi changed its name to SPJ in the 1980s, the original name was retained for the awards and SPJ's foundation. Its board includes Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Several awards were handed out last night for coverage of rural issues by urban media. Marx Arax of the Los Angeles Times won in the magazine-writing category for a series of stories on a California raisin picker. Todd Melby and Duane Richard of Chicago Public Radio won in radio documentary for "Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students." Two awards were given for coverage of the Sago Mine disaster: to NBC Nightly News, for breaking news coverage on TV, and Mine Safety and Health News, for public service in newsletter journalism. For a complete list of this year's and past winners, click here.

July 17, 2007

Here are the best community papers, says the National Newspaper Assn.

The National Newspaper Association has announced the top placers in the general-excellence competition of its annual Better Newspaper Contest. The general-excellence awards are based on placement in detailed contest categories. NNA has about 2,500 members. More than 85 percent are weekly papers, but its contest also has categories for dailies. The first-, second- and third-place winners will be announced at the NNA Convention and Trade Show at the Waterside Marriott in Norfolk Sept. 25-30.

Among dailies with circulation of 16,000 and larger, the top three papers in the contest (in no particular order here or in any category) were the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., and two from Colorado: the Greeley Tribune and the Daily Times-Call of Longmont. Under 16,000, the top three were the Lebanon (Mo.) Daily Record, The Journal Review of Crawfordsville, Ind. and The Daily Record of Baltimore.

NNA listed six winners among non-dailies with circulation over 10,000, indicating that the judges gave three honorable mentions in the category as well as first, second and third places. The six are The Taos (N.M.) News; The Ellsworth (Me.) American; the San Francisco Bay Guardian; the Idaho Mountain Express of Sun Valley; The Independent Weekly of Lafayette, La.; and The Peninsula Gateway of Gig Harbor, Wash. We're most familiar with the Ellsworth paper, which acts like a daily; it covers the state capital and regularly does project reporting, currently on Maine's program to give all students laptop computers.

Among non-dailies with circulations of 6,000 to 9,999, two of the three winners are from favorite spots for recreation and second homes: The Eastern Edition of the Southampton Press, which serves the Hamptons area at the end of New York's Long Island; and the Jackson Hole News & Guide of Jackson, Wyo. The other winner was a perennial, the N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon, Ia. The paper carves its own niche in many ways. It is a regional weekly that is fanous for publishing scores of special sections each year, it doesn't put content online, it doesn't spell out "Northwest" in its name, and would like us to put "Review" in all capital letters, but we don't approve of such typographical tyranny. However, we do approve of the job that Peter Wagner, his sons and staff do with the Review and their local weekly, the Sheldon Mail-Sun.

The winners among non-dailies 3,000 to 5,999 include some well-known, quality papers: The Hutchinson (Minn.) Leader, the Litchfield (Minn.) Independent Review and the Hood River (Ore.) News. Under 3,000, the winners are the Curry County Reporter of Gold Beach, Ore.; The Community News of Aledo, Tex., just west of Fort Worth; and the Mount Desert Islander of Bar Harbor, Maine, a paper that has the same ownership as The Ellsworth American. They make quite a pair Down East.

July 14, 2007

John Edwards already making headlines in Appalachia with planned visit

A planned visit by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was the lead story in this week's edition of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., and a planned stop on the other side of Pine Mountain in Wise, Va., won Edwards a story in the Coalfield Progress of Norton, Wise County's main paper. The Big Sandy News, named for far Eastern Kentucky's main river, had three articles pegged to Edwards' planned stop in Prestonsburg, Ky., including an editorial headlined "Visit is welcome but could have negative impact." (MapQuest route map)

The Eagle said Edwards would be the first presidential candidate in Letcher County since Robert Kennedy came in 1968, as an "unannounced candidate" exploring poverty. Edwards is retracing the Appalachian part of Kennedy's route Wednesday to conclude a tour focused on poverty. The Eagle ran a large Associated Press color photo of Edwards on its front page, and continued its story to the editorial page, with a Tom Bethell photo of Kennedy in the town of Fleming-Neon. The paper noted that "President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in 1964 from Eastern Kentucky." The Big Sandy News, a regional, twice-weekly paper, noted with more specificity Johnson's visit "to Martin and Johnson counties," which it serves.

"While we're pleased that a presidential candidate is showing an interest in Eastern Kentucky, we're a little cautious about Edwards' visit since the theme of his tour is poverty," opined Tony Fyffe of the News, predicting "news footage of rundown homes, trash-ridden roads and streams, etc. . . . We don't deny that thousands upon thousands of Eastern Kentuckians live in poverty, but that's the one negative image the region and the state have had to overcome for decades. Forget about the wealth and all of the successes, Kentucky is nothing more than a poverty-stricken state, according to the national media. . . . If he wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we hope Edwards returns to the region and puts his poverty action plan to work. Something tells us, however, that we'll be just a memory as soon as the tour bus leaves the region next Wednesday." The Big Sandy News has a subscription-only Web site.

Bonnie Bates of the Progress, citing a campaign release, says the former U.S. senator from North Carolina "will arrive in Wise sometime on July 17. . . . On July 18, Edwards will make an appearance at the county fairgrounds as volunteers prepare for this year’s Remote Area Medical health outreach, according to a media contact for Edwards’ campaign." Then Edwards will to to Whitesburg to answer questions from young people at the Appalshop media and arts center, and finally to Prestonsburg for a major speech at the old Floyd County Courthouse. The Progress has a subscription site. The Mountain Eagle is not on line.

July 10, 2007

Both Lancaster dailies, in Ohio and Pa., among E&P's '10 that do it right'

Only two U.S. daily newspapers have "Lancaster" in their name, both serve many rural communities, and both are on Editor & Publisher magazine's annual list of "10 That Do It Right," papers "shattering the perception that this is a slow-moving dinosaur of an industry that refuses to adapt to rising needs and fresh opportunities," the magazine says. "This is never a '10 Best' list, thankfully, but rather a tip of the hat to a handful of news-papers of widely varying size that have made great strides, and can serve as a model, in one or more important areas: technology, marketing, reporting, design, online, photography, community awareness, diversity, advertising, even blogging and social networking." E&P says of the Lancaster papers:

"The Lancaster (Pa.) New Era was doing something right long before the past year. It won state awards, and was the rare afternoon daily with almost as much circulation as its morning counterpart. But the New Era, founded in 1877, received national attention when its coverage of last October's tragic shootings of five Amish schoolgirls won honors including the Pulliam prize and the Religion Communicators Council's Wilbur Award." Its circulation is 41,306; Lancaster's 2000 population was 56,348, the county's 470,658.

"Lancaster, Ohio, pop. 35,335, won't ever be confused with Manhattan. Columbus is the nearest big city, about 35 minutes away. Go north, says Lancaster Eagle-Gazette Publisher Rick Szabrak, and you're in new suburbia. Go south, and you're in farmland. So when Managing Editor Antoinette Taylor-Thomas is interviewing any young person — especially a candidate of color — she stays 'blatantly honest' about homey Lancaster, where racial and ethnic minorities make up just 5.3 percent of the community." The Gannett Co. Inc. paper's circulation is 13,166. (Details available on E&P's subscription-only Web site)

July 9, 2007

Kentucky newspaper holds McConnell's feet to the fire on FOIA reform bill

The Kentucky New Era, an 11,000-circulation daily in Hopkinsville, Ky., continues to take a leadership role in trying to get the U.S. Senate to consider a bill that would improve the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The paper published an editorial June 27 asking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to get Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to release his “hold” on the bill, which the Justice Department opposes. Last week, when McConnell was in town, New Era reporter Joe Parrino buttonholed him on the subject.

“McConnell defended a move by his colleague Sen. Jon Kyl to hold back legislation on the release of public information," Parrino reported. "McConnell said he hadn’t yet discussed the matter directly with Kyl but understood his colleague’s reservation to be about the bill’s national-security implications. McConnell dismissed any notion that Kyl is trying to bury the bill.”

“All Sen. Kyl is saying is that we need to bring it up, debate it and he may need an amendment,” McConnell told Parrino. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to pass.” Parrino noted, “Kyl placed the hold secretly and owned up to it only when the Society of Professional Journalists queried every single U.S. senator about the matter.” (Read more)

July 1, 2007

Weekly editors' group gives awards for editorial writing, public service

Twelve editors of weekly newspapers won awards for editorial writing last night from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, and one got the Golden Quill Award for best editorial of 2006. She is Lori Evans, editor and publisher of the Homer News in Alaska, a Morris Communications paper.

Evans' Sept. 14 editorial called for an end to unlimited property-tax exemptions for homeowners 65 and over on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, where second homes and retirement homes are becoming popular -- so much so among senior citizens that their total property exemptions last year totaled $404 million, almost double the 2001 figure of $210 million. "Given the borough's changing demographics -- more seniors, fewer young families -- the exemption is just not fair," Evans wrote. The Borough Assembly didn't follow Evans' advice, but this fall voters will decide whether to put a $300,000 cap on each exemption.

Other "Golden Dozen" award winners at the ISWNE annual conference in Rapid City, S.D., were Steve Dills of the Sylvan Lake News in Alberta; Gary Sosniecki of The Vandalia Leader in Missouri; Luke Klink of The Star News in Medford, Wis.; Betta Ferrendelli of The Observer in Rio Rancho, N.M.; Dick Crocford of the Big Horn County News in Montana; Bill Schanen of the Ozaukee Press in Port Washington, Wis.; Charles Gay of the Shelton-Mason County Journal in Washington; John Wylie II of the Oologah Lake Leader in Oklahoma; Mike Buffington of the Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga.; Tim Waltner of the Freeman Courier in South Dakota; and Mo Mehlsak of The Forecaster in Falmouth, Me.

The Eugene Cervi Award for public service in community journalism went to Guy and Marcia Wood, publishers of the Sangre de Christo Chronicle in Angelfire, N.M., from 1984 to 2006. "They constantly battled village government to keep meetings and records open," the presentation said. The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting and interpretation of local government, and reverence for language, for which the award's namesake is known. Cervi, of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver, died in 1970.

June 25, 2007

Institute founder one of six Rural Heroes at National Rural Assembly

Al Smith walked down Main Street in Russellville, Ky., one Sunday morning in the late 1950s, past the Logan County Courthouse, where the county singing convention was in full sing. He thought for a moment that he belonged there, but kept walking, down the street to the bootlegger -- and, perhaps, to oblivion.

It was a small piece of a life's journey that he recounted for the first National Rural Assembly tonight, as he accepted one of its six Rural Hero awards for his work in journalism -- most recently the establishment of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

Smith, now 80, never joined the singers, but he did kick liquor, with the help of the people in Logan County, and his journalism career began looking up. He began writing articles for big-city papers, and "It was soon evident I could go back to the city," he said. But then he realized: "These people took me in when I didn't have a friend . . . and I decided I'd stay with them."

His decision was confirmed by the woman he soon married. Martha Helen Smith told him that living in a rural town was OK "as long as that city-limit sign doesn't obscure your vision of what lies beyond the border." And after he built a small chain of rural newspapers and sold it, that outlook helped inspire the Institute, which helps rural journalists define the public agenda in their communities -- including reporting and commentary on state, regional and national issues that have a local impact on such things as education, health care, the economy and the environment.

The idea was planted by Smith's friend Rudy Abramson, a former Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and found support in 2001 from Dr. Lee Todd, who had just become president of UK. "Without Todd's acceptance of our vision, it never would have worked," Smith told the National Rural Assembly. The Institute operated on an ad hoc basis until 2004, when grants enabled UK to hire Al Cross as its director. It recently held a National Summit on Journalism in Rural America and presented programs in Iowa and Tennessee, but its work remains grounded in Kentucky and Central Appalachia. It works with policy experts like those at the Rural Assembly to illuminate issues for rural journalists. Smith saluted the work of the advocates for rural America and said, "I'm just happy to be part of the choir."

Other rural heroes recognized at the Assembly in Chantilly, Va., were Bill Bynum of Jackson, Miss., founder of the Enterprise Corp. of the Delta, for leadership in investment and entrepreneurship; Dr. Forrest Calico of Stanford, Ky., former director of the Appalachian Regional Health Corp., for health; Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation in South Dakota, for advocacy; Sharon King of New York City, president of the F.B. Heron Foundation, for philanthropy; and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for government. Details? Click here.

The National Rural Assembly is designed to "strengthen rural America by giving its leaders a platform to be heard, raising the visibility of rural issues, organizing a national network of rural interests, and developing specific rural policy initiatives," says the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the chief co-convener, with the Ford Foundation. It continues today, then tomorrow with a congressional hearing on rural issues. (Read more)

McCain unaware of disproportionate casualties of rural soldiers in Iraq

Iowa journalist Douglas Burns writes in the Iowa Independent, an online news forum, that Arizona Sen. John McCain was unaware that rural America is bearing a disproportionate burden of the fighting and casualties in Iraq. Most of us in western Iowa, regardless of position on the war or political affiliation, just know this, Burns, a reporter and columnist for the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, wrote June 3. We see it in our small towns, anecdotally — and The Associated Press and other reliable sources have documented it. . . . Barack Obama gets this. John McCain doesn’t. I asked them both the same question, and was stunned with the response from McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona an GOP candidate for the presidency.

In an interview, McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, told Burns, “I don’t think the numbers bear out that assertion. I think they’re from all over America. They’re not from the wealthiest Americans. I will admit that. I have no statistic that indicates they’re mostly from rural America.” Burns notes, “The premise of the question was not that rural kids are doing "most" of the fighting but rather a "disproportionate" amount of it. McCain should be angry about this gulf in sacrifice, which has some roots in a socio-economic status.”

In contrast, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama showed familiarity with the subject when Burns asked him about it. “One of the things I’ve been distressed about is the way folks in southern Illinois and rural western Iowa, that those are the folks that are disproportionately affected,” Obama told Burns in an interview in Denison, Iowa., left, in photo from the Daily Yonder. Burns interviewed McCain in LeMars. (Read more) For background on the casualty pattern, click here. For the conservative Heritage Foundation's take on the issue, courtesy of the Daily Yonder, click here.

June 21, 2007

Montana Journalism Review: The Challenges of Rural Journalism

Much of latest issue of the Montana Journalism Review, including the title above, is devoted to rural journalism, and we're happy to highlight it here because the state has innovators in the field, three of whom attended our National Summit on Journalism in Rural America this spring -- Keith Graham of the University of Montana, Courtney Lowery of the online news source New West and John Q. Murray of the Clark Fork Chronicle, in photo at right. They and their ideas are among the featured articles in the review.

Graham and Lowery started Rural News Network in 2006 when they saw a need for a rural news connection and got it funded by the New Voices program of J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism. The network began in Lowery's hometown of Dutton, Mont., which lost its newspaper several years ago. "Lowery and Graham hope the RNN Web site will allow people in Dutton to publish their own news," Eleena Fikhman reports. For her interview with Graham and Lowery, click here.

In Murray's piece, which we recommend you read, he analyzes the challenges facing newspapers in rural areas that have seen "traditional natural resource industries decline and families move away in search of work." He is assembling a Corporation for Public Community Newspapers, "an independent non-profit organization with a dues-paying membership. Members attend regular meetings to: (1) review the progress of the local community newspaper toward its agreed-upon goals; (2) identify special reporting projects that the newspaper should undertake; and (3) vote to provide funding for specific special projects. . . .The supplemental funding provided by the nonprofit means the newspaper can increase its news hole to provide that coverage, regardless of the amount of advertising sold that week. The nonprofit is its own distinct organization, completely separate from the for-profit newspaper, but the two enter into a binding contract that gives the nonprofit full budget authority over the special projects. The members of the nonprofit vote on the special projects and provide the funding. The newspaper is free to turn down the project and the funding. In that case, the nonprofit can seek to contract with freelancers or other citizen journalists to produce the special projects. Conversely, the newspaper can choose to implement all special projects recommended by the non-profit, even if they are not fully funded." (Read more)

June 20, 2007

TV station in eastern N.C. presses open-court case on principle and wins

When the judge in a school-funding lawsuit between the school board and commissioners of Pitt County, N.C., slapped a gag order on the elected officials and refused to hear a TV station's appeal, he probably thought he had given the station the old stiff-arm. But even after the trial, WNCT-TV pressed the case in an effort to make sure it didn't happen again. Yesterday, the state Court of Appeals said the judge was wrong.

We learned about this from Al's Morning Meeting, the daily online column by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. He writes, "Over the last several years, many journalism executives, print and broadcast, have told me how difficult it is these days to get corporate backing to take on a legal fight like this, especially when the decision has more to do with principle and precedent than anything else. I wish journalism organizations would pick more legal fights on behalf of the public." This case set a statewide precedent.

Tompkins interviewed WNCT News Director Melissa Preas, right, by e-mail. "We really felt this was wrong on every level. particularly when dealing with two public entities fighting over public money," she said. "If we didn't pursue this appeal, then in our opinion that just left the door wide open for it to continue to happen." She said Media General, the station's owner, was very supportive. To read the interview, click here.

June 11, 2007

Politics with a laugh: Ky. columnist begs to be saved from New Yorkers

Larry Webster is a lawyer in Pikeville, Ky. To call him a maverick Republican would be understatement, and such does not become him. You will not find understatement in his "Red Dog" newspaper column, named for acid drainage from coal mines. He's often over the top, and sometimes bewildering, but his latest take on the presidential race has some vintage paragraphs. Here are three:

"If we all stick together and get us a smooth actor who talks the talk to be elected president, just maybe Keith Whitley's little widder woman [country singer Lorrie Morgan] will be the first lady. Fred Thompson, in a gesture of self-sacrifice, will give up being Paul Harvey's successor in radio riches and give up pretending to be someone else on television in order to save this country from the ruin of having to pick between two New Yorkers.

"One is the Hall Monitor Girl who slept once with Bill Clinton. You remember the hall monitor girl with the fluorescent crosses swathing her bosom holding up her little sign and ordering you around. She had no principles, but, to remain hall monitor girl, fought her way right to the middle of the pile, no matter what it was a pile of. If there is a God, He will spare us eight years of having to stay off television to keep from seeing her every night at suppertime. That would be torture.

"Upon which the other New Yorker would approve given that he believes in torture as a technique in international relations. She is the Hall Monitor Girl and he is the Call Monitor Boy. He goes by "Rudy," so as not to be confused with the red-nosed Rudolph, who at least knows how to lead. We do not want him to play in our reindeer games. Rudy will lead us forward on our current path to a security state ruled by a single person who claims two things, one, that while we are at war nobody has any rights, and two, that we are in a permanent war." (Column not available online)

June 8, 2007

War at home: A weekly's editorial makes local and global connections

One of the most important things rural news media can do for their readers, viewers and listeners is connect them to the world at large and help them understand the local impact of faraway events. Brad Martin of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., did that this week with an editorial titled "War at home."

“As June arrives and you prepare for another ballgame with your kids, here’s a thought worth remembering: Soldiers are still preparing to go to the war zone known as Iraq. Soldiers from Hickman County,” Martin began, following that with the latest list of seven names, all volunteers for the assignment. Such reminders are important in a nation where no broad sacrifice has been required for the Iraq War, which has a low profile.

Martin addressed the war's controversial nature: “Go ahead, argue politics -- that Bush is whacked and Congress has no guts and things aren’t getting better. Or maybe they are and the media just isn’t telling us, and terrorism will soon be eradicated from the Earth, so help me God. Don’t do it on the soldiers’ nickel, though.”

The key to the 5,800-circulation weekly's editorial is John M. Wilson, family-assistance specialist for the Army National Guard's 771st Maintenance Company, based in Centerville. Referring to the seven men's volunteering to go to Iraq, most for return trips, he told Martin, “They’d rather do that than try to find a job here. It’s difficult to find a job here.” From there, Martin made another connection, to the economic needs of the 22,500 people in Hickman County and the responsibility of local officials to address them.

He noted that a manufacturing plant, “a 33-year cornerstone of this county’s economy — will let all of their 68 employees go home, starting in July, and most of them still need to work. Where do they go in a county where 60 percent leave for elsewhere every morning?” Centerville, population 3,800, is 60 miles southwest of downtown Nashville. The Times is not online, but the editorial is posted on our site. To read it, click here.

June 4, 2007

Illinois reporter knows how to tell story of broadband access, or lack of it

Jeremy Pelzer of the State Capitol Bureau of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., circulation 55,000, knows how to sharply illustrate the lack of broadband in rural areas. Check out this lede: "When Guy Sternberg wants to open an e-mail attachment from friends, it helps if he's hungry."

Sternberg, of Menard County, explains in terms of kilobytes: "If we try to send things back and forth that are attached documents and so forth that are over three or four hundred K or five hundred K at most, I just can't even open them, I'll hit 'Open,' I'll go eat lunch and to come back before I get it done."

Pelzer also cites a very illustrative nugget of data, or forecast data: "Dial-up service has become increasingly inadequate as Web sites and Internet applications, particularly video, require unprecedented amounts of bandwidth. By 2010, the Web traffic generated by only 20 homes will be equal to the information transmitted over the entire Internet in 1995, according to Cisco Systems."

And no story on broadband access is complete without touching on these subjects: "Many rural Illinois advocates worry that areas of the country that don't have affordable high-speed Internet will lose jobs and people to cities that do. . . . Satellite Internet service offers faster speeds, but the needed satellite dish and equipment usually cost hundreds of dollars, and monthly subscriptions often cost twice as much as ground-based broadband. Those prices are often too steep, said Rex Duncan, executive director of ConnectSI, an initiative seeking to help Internet providers extend broadband access throughout Southern Illinois." And an online commenter on the story noted, "Satellite Internet also has limitations on bandwidth usage." Weather can also be a problem. Click here for the story, and here for a sidebar on state efforts to extend access.

Sunshine efforts earn former weekly editor Virginia SPJ's top award

Lawrence K. “Lou” Emerson, former co-owner and editor of two weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia, will receive the George Mason Award, the highest honor presented by the Virginia Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, at the chapter's annual banquet Thursday, June 7. The award is presented for significant, lasting contribution to Virginia journalism.

Emerson, who founded The Fauquier Citizen in Warrenton in 1989 and The Culpeper Citizen 14 years later, is a longtime advocate of open government. He "spearheaded a successful legal challenge against the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors over an illegal closed meeting. The court case went all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, which issued a landmark ruling last year concerning reasons for, and content of, closed meetings," reports the Virginia Press Association, in which he remains active.

Awards are old hat for Emerson, who sold his papers to Times Community Newspapers in January 2006. The Fauquier Citizen consistently won top honors from VPA, and in 2005 the Inland Press Foundation named it the best weekly of its size in the U.S. Last year, he received the D. Lathan Mims Award, VPA’s highest individual honor for an editor. In March, he won the association's First Amendment Award. He and his wife, Ellen, operate Emerson2, a newspaper consulting business in Warrenton.

The awards banquet will be held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Hanover Production Facility in Mechanicsville. For more information about the banquet, click here.

May 28, 2007

Community journalists examine the Guard and the home front in Alabama

A greater share of Alabama citizens have been deployed to Iraq than those of any state except Texas, so the Knight Community Journalism Fellows in the University of Alabama’s master’s degree program at The Anniston Star did a large-scale reporting project examining the Alabama Guard and how its members, their families and the state have been affected by the war. The project, which included a poll of Guard members, ran in the Star yesterday and is a fine example of how community journalism can bring home big issues that come from far away but have a local impact. (Photo of Jim Priest of the 2025th Transportation Company, in training in Alabama, by Joel Hume)

“Soldiers say those living outside the war do not – possibly cannot – notice the change it has brought to thousands of Alabama homes and businesses. In six years, it has slipped into churches and schools. It has left its mark in pharmacies and hospitals. With all but two of Alabama’s 67 counties hosting Guard units, the war is an ongoing epic for the entire state. It’s one that Guard family members can’t turn off,” Markeshia Ricks writes in the lead story, with contributions from Amanda DeWald and Mary Jo Shafer. Ricks also wrote a story about the help some soldiers will need to recover from their experiences, and one of seven profiles of individual soldiers.

The survey of Guard members “uncovered feelings of a Guard stretched past its intent, past its training and recruitment abilities. Their ideas about readjusting to civilian life, and why they joined the Guard in the first place, shift as the war on terror drags on,” Ricks writes. Here are some survey findings in her story:

“More than half of the 420 Guard members surveyed have been deployed to Iraq for at least a one-year tour. Another 33 percent have been to Afghanistan. . . . Of those who have been deployed, almost 66 percent reported coming under mortar attack, machine gun fire or being in vehicles blown up by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. . . . 85 percent said people were "very appreciative" or "somewhat appreciative" of their job. . . . Though the U.S. Department of Defense has had difficulty recruiting and retaining soldiers, on average these members have spent at least four years in the Guard. More than half say they will re-enlist. . . . Only 18 percent reported that they’d experienced a change in employment because of their Guard service. Of those who had a change, 24 percent had been deployed for combat.” (Read more)

A story by Shafer examines equipment shortages in Guard units and brings it home: “The 167th Infantry Battalion of Talladega County should have 42 M-60 machine guns,” she writes. “It has seven.”

In a story headlined "The war at home," Joan Garrett writes of the trials and tribulations of Guard families. One wife, Suzy Sexton, “has learned to love a changed man. She’s learned to make muted sounds and speak careful words. She’s learned to live through her husband’s nightmares.”

Nevertheless, for the first time in 14 years, the the Alabama guard grew last year, thanks to strong enlistments. DeWald interviewed administrators and enlistees like Priest to find out why. Click here for her story.

DeWald and the university's Dr. Ed Mullins teamed up on a story about how Guard members balance tasks and training for home and abroad: “About 60 percent worry that war duty compromises their abilities on the home front "seriously or somewhat." Frustration rises like steam from many of the comments.”

May 24, 2007

Jackson Hole editor, inside the Beltway, interviews Cheney -- and Pelosi

You might have expected Tom Dewell, co-editor of the weekly Jackson Hole News & Guide, circulation 10,000, to take advantage of a trip to the Washington, D.C., area to interview Vice President Dick Cheney, perhaps the most powerful resident of Teton County, Wyoming. Dewell did that, after attending an American Press Institute seminar last week, but before the seminar he snagged a briefer interview with Cheney's opposite number, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and did a story on her, too. (Official White House photo, by David Bohrer)

The Pelosi material provided useful counterpoint in the Cheney story, which began,“Vice President Dick Cheney, in a White House interview Friday, criticized the Democrats’ redeployment strategy for Iraq and explained the underpinnings of the Bush administration’s surge plan. In a 20-minute conversation in his West Wing office, Cheney also addressed the creep of gas development toward northwest Wyoming, supported the Wild and Scenic designation for Snake River headwaters and offered his views on global warming.”

That was a good mix of topics, from international to local. The Pelosi material in the story offered counterpoint to Cheney's views on Iraq. “Pelosi explained the redeployment strategy she and her colleagues have offered,” Dewell wrote. “The speaker wants to extract American troops from the middle of a civil war, have them protect U.S. interests in the region, fight terrorists and protect the embassy.” Pelosi told him, “It’s a mess there now whether we stay or whether we go. It’s a mess.”

“Cheney countered that U.S. forces must remain in the country to fight terrorists who have decided to take on the U.S. military in the Middle East,” Dewell wrote. The story ended with a verbatim excerpt of the interview. A White House transcript of the full 20-minute interview is posted on the paper's Web site. The paper's package also included a personality-oriented sidebar, headlined "Family, friends sustain Cheney's career" and a "Reporter's Notebook" about Dewell's experiences at the White House. Here are excerpts:

"For my trip to the White House I had only one outfit choice: The blue suit I wore to my wedding rehearsal dinner and the one I wear to funerals and weddings. For the record: I am not wearing my most expensive suit, my Orvis, Simms, Cloudveil fishing gear. . . . I ask if I can go to the bathroom but not because I have to go. My palms and fingers sweat from excitement and feel somehow greasy. I don’t want to shake Vice President Cheney’s hand and have him think I just finished a plate of baby back ribs." (Read more)

May 23, 2007

Knight News Challenge makes $11 million in grants; $25 million planned

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today the first grants in its Knight News Challenge, a five-year contest offering $25 million in awards for ideas and projects that use digital news or information to build and bind community in specific geographic areas. As Eric Newton, the foundation’s vice president of journalism programs, describes it, the contest combines “nerds, news and neighborhoods.” And Knight's “neighborhoods” includes some rural places.

The largest grant with rural impact is $885,000 to Richard Anderson, right, president and owner of VillageSoup Inc., a company that provides places for residents to learn, share and shop in their neighborhoods or towns. The grant will be used to create an open-source version of VillageSoup’s successful community news software, combining professional journalism, blogs, citizen journalism, online advertising and “reverse publishing” from online to print. Anderson says his goal is “Turning independent weekly newspaper companies and entrepreneurs into an imposing, lively, worldwide creative energy that is competitive with media company chains.” Before establishing VillageSoup, Anderson spent five years teaching and 29 years developing and publishing elementary and high school textbooks. He and his wife Sandy live in Camden, Maine.

The next largest grant with rural impact is $244,000 to Ethan Zuckerman, left, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. With Rebecca MacKinnon, he is the cofounder of Global Voices (www.globalvoicesonine.org), an international community of bloggers and citizen journalists that has introduced readers around the world to the brilliant, funny, insightful and touching voices of bloggers from developing nations. The grant will be used to introduce thousands of new developing world bloggers to the world, helping students, journalists, activists and people from rural areas to the blogosphere. “It’s becoming clear that the world is listening, so now we’re trying to get new groups of people talking.”

A grant with potential rural impact is $222,000 to Lisa Williams, right, founder of Placeblogger, the largest live site of local weblogs and of H2Otown, a nationally recognized citizen journalism site and online community for Watertown, Mass. The grant will help make it easier for people to find hyperlocal news and information about their city or neighborhood through promotion of “universal geotagging’’ in blogs. “Placeblogger wants to make it so simple to know what’s fresh, interesting and compelling about where you are right now, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it,” she says. For the Knight Foundation news release about the program and the largest grants, click here. For the program's home page, click here.

Among eight winners of $15,000 News Challenge grants for blogging is G. Patton “Pat” Hughes of neomax.com LLC and Paulding.com, a hyperlocal news site for Paulding County, Georgia. (county seat, Dallas, just west of Cobb County and Marietta). While editing a local weekly newspaper, Hughes saw the opportunity for the site and obtained the domain name in 1997. The site reaches about 30 percent of local households. It aims to involve the community, offering tutorials on how to upload images and avoid libel. “Because of the passion and dedication required to create a hyperlocal media site,” Hughes says, “My goal is to classify this work as an art form – and make my art worth something in my lifetime.” For a complete list of all News Challenge winners, biographies and project descriptions, click here.

The second round's application period begins July 1. The largest grant in the first round, $5 million, went to Chris Csikszentmihályi and Henry Jenkins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the Center for Future Civic Media, a leadership project designed to encourage community news experiments and new technologies and practices. “We are moving to a Fifth Estate where everyone is able to pool their knowledge, share experience and expertise, and speak truth to power,” says Csikszentmihályi (pronounced Cheek-sent-me-hi). He has worked in the intersection of new technologies, politics, media and the arts for 15 years, lecturing, working to create new technology that embodies a social agenda. For example, he designed his piece “Afghan Explorer” to defend the First Amendment by creating a tele-operated robot reporter to bypass American military censorship. Jenkins is author and/or editor of nine books on various aspects of media and popular culture, the newest books of which include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.

Nieman Foundation names 30 fellows, a few with rural connections

One rural journalist and one who works at a newspaper with a large rural circulation have been named Nieman Fellows at Harvard University. Other fellows plan research that could have rural resonance.

Dean Miller, right, executive editor of The Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, circulation 24,000, will study the role of faith and pluralism in American communities. Miller is the Donald W. Reynolds Nieman Fellow in Community Journalism, funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Alicia Anstead, a reporter with the Bangor Daily News in Maine, circulation 62,000, will study the imaginative, political and historical underpinnings of art in a consumer culture. Anstead is the Arts & Culture Nieman Fellow.

Fellows with research projects that could involve rural areas in the United States include Stuart Watson, an investigative reporter for WCNC-TV in Charlotte, who will study criminal sentencing inequities and factors influencing the disparities in criminal sentencing, to gain a better understanding of the connections between crime and punishment; Walter Watson, senior supervising producer for National Public Radio, who will study how the new media will affect communities that lack access to the changing way news and information are delivered; Dallas Morning News reporter Joshua Benton, who will explore the impact of school rating systems such as the No Child Left Behind Act on classroom instruction and the effects they can have on the way schools operate; and Kate Galbraith, freelance correspondent, who has written for The Economist, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, who will study how government policy fosters or impedes the development of alternative-energy technologies such as solar power or bio-fuels.

Half of each year's fellows come from outside the U.S., and some have research projects that involve rural areas. The most notable is Siew Ying Leu, a Malaysian who is Guangzhou correspondent for the South China Morning Post and will study the role China’s rural population will play in the political and economic future of the country. Leu is the Barry Bingham Jr. Nieman Fellow, a fellowship named for the former editor and publisher of The Courier-Journal in Louisville. For the full list of fellows, click here.

May 22, 2007

Pair get five years in prison for beating up editor in Centerville, Iowa

So, you write what seems to be a routine story about a council meeting, and two guys beat you unconscious. That's what happened to Centerville Daily Iowegian Managing Editor Dan Ehl last September. On May 11, his attackers were each sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to willful injury.

Wade Adams, 27, and Jeffery Horn, 26, punched, kicked and stomped Ehl, who had written what he called a routine city council story that included a discussion of Adams' liquor license. The attack occurred outside a Centerville bar. Ehl suffered a broken leg and facial injuries. He blamed the attack on the story.

“I’m glad justice has been done,” Ehl told the Ottumwa Courier, a sister paper. “I don’t think anyone should be ambushed and beaten no matter what their profession is. I know it got more attention because I’m a journalist, but I don’t think that should happen to anyone.” (Read more) For the 2,800-circulation Daily Iowegian's story about the attackers' plea on its editor, click here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Weekly editor gets exclusive access as Giuliani mends fences in Iowa

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has mended fences with an Iowa farm couple, and their local newspaper editor was the only journalist present for the reconciliation. He apologized in person to Deb and Jerry VonSprecken Monday for his campaign's cancellation of an event at their farm, on grounds that they weren't wealthy enough to be affected by the federal inheritance tax, which he wanted to campaign against. (Photo: Deb VonSprecken holds a young calf as Giuliani feeds it.)

“I found out what had happened a couple of days ago,” Giuliani told Michelle Phillips of the weekly Anamosa-Journal Eureka, who broke the first story and was the only journalist who spoke to the candidate during his makeup visit. “It was reported to me that we canceled an event and the family was upset. It should have never happened. It’s my campaign and I take full responsibility. This is not the way I think this should’ve been handled or people should be treated.” (Read more)

The cattle farmers turned down Giuliani's request to reschedule the event on their property, but Deb VonSprecken agreed to be his campaign chairman for Jones County, just east of Cedar Rapids.

Giuliani's "still got some explaining to do" about the inheritance tax, The Des Moines Register said in an editorial. "The Giuliani campaign would have found it nigh on to impossible to turn up an example of an Iowa family that is severely affected by the tax. There are many myths about the estate tax. One of them is that heirs have to sell off the family farm to pay the inheritance tax. In fact, the estate tax kicks in only after the first $2 million in the estate's value, which misses most family farms unless they happen to be owned by the very wealthy. Indeed, last year, 99 percent of estates paid no estate tax at all, and the exemption is scheduled to go up to $3.5 million ($7 million for a couple) in '09." (Read more)

Kentucky weekly puts the issue of broadband access on the public agenda

The Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., doesn't have a Web site. It has less need for one than most papers, because hardly anyone in the Southern Kentucky county has high-speed Internet, or broadband. And the weekly, owned and edited by Ryan Craig, did a bang-up job of putting that issue on the county's public agenda recently, with three A-1 stories and a sidebar by reporter Melony Leazer. We've scanned and posted these stories so you can read them and use as examples for your own reporting and writing.

Click here for the top of the front page, with an excellent graphic and the beginning of the main story. Click here for the bottom, with the start of two more stories. Click here for jumps and sidebar.

May 14, 2007

Court gives Montana weekly access to student records in BB-gun shooting

The Montana Supreme Court ruled last week that the Cut Bank Pioneer Press “has the right to see documents dealing with the punishment given to Cut Bank High School students involved in a BB gun shooting,“The Associated Press reported. School trustees had withheld the information, citing privacy.

“The discipline imposed by the board on students of the school, particularly students involved in potentially injurious actions, is a matter of public concern,” the unanimous court said. “The board’s assertion that unidentified students have a privacy interest in the disciplinary measures imposed upon them which would prohibit a general report to the public about the board’s action in the matter is unpersuasive.”

The ruling also clarified a Supreme Court decision last year "that endangered the public and press’s ability to sue school boards for open-meetings violations," AP reported. "The Montana School Boards Association told school boards around the state that the previous decision, in which a woman unsuccessfully challenged the openness of a Darby School District meeting to hire a superintendent, could make it difficult for a newspaper to show any “personal stake in the decision of a school board.”

The court touched on that case, Fleenor v. Darby School District, in saying that the 1,600-circulation weekly, which claimed a personal interest in the records, had a right to the information. The court said in Board of Trustees v. Pioneer Press, “The interest was personal to Pioneer because the records were necessary for Pioneer’s work.” The paper had argued that the public needs to know how officials are dealing with such violent situations.

“School trustees, who handed out the punishment behind closed doors, argued that the privacy interests of the students trumped the public’s right to know,” AP reported. “A lower court sided with the school district, arguing that federal privacy law restricted release of the disciplinary records. But the newspaper never requested the names of the students, the high court pointed out. It only wanted to know the punishment. And the state Supreme Court said the Montana Constitution holds sway in the matter. The court also dismissed an argument from the school district that the newspaper already knew the names of the students involved based on gossip around town. The trustees had said newspaper editor LeAnne Kavanagh could piece together the punishment handed down with the names of the students she knew were involved.”

“The identifying information in Kavanagh’s prior possession was disclosed to her, not by governmental action, but by small-town rumor mill,” Rice wrote. “Although possibly a superior conduit of information, such revelations do not factor into the constitutional balancing test nor mitigate the government’s constitutional obligations.” (Read more, via the First Amendment Center)

May 12, 2007

Giuliani campaign snubs farmer, who tells weekly; world finally finding out

Rudy Giuliani, whose successes as New York mayor included cleaning up Times Square and 42nd Street, is suffering some embarrassment today because of a mistake his campaign made in dealing with some folks on another 42nd Street, near Olin, Iowa. That's in scenic Jones County, where Grant Wood of "American Gothic" fame grew up.

After Deb VonSprecken, in photo at right, contributed to Guiliani's campaign, it called her, asking her to host an event. “We started making phone calls. We got the sheriff and fire department and Olin school was going to let out early. We were also expecting kids from the Anamosa school,” Jerry told the weekly Anamosa Journal-Eureka. “Deb even went around and personally invited people.” They moved cattle to another field to make room, and invited relatives from out of state.

But then the campaign called and asked their assets, and when told how modest they were, it called the event off. “Tony [Delgado, of the campaign] said, ‘I’m sorry, you aren’t worth a million dollars and he is campaigning on the death tax right now,Deb VonSprecken told Journal-Eureka Editor Michelle Phillips, who got the story in her May 3 edition and headlined it "Guiliani snubs Jones County." Click here to read it. (The "death tax," of course, is the federal inheritance tax -- opponents of which often cite family farmers as victims but have short of evidence that the tax, with large exemptions, really affects farmers.)

Phillips wrote that Deb VonSprecken “got a call from New York later the same day asking her to introduce Giuliani at a rally in Cedar Rapids, also scheduled for May 4. They offered her one-on-one time with Giuliani and to have her photo taken with him. ‘My feeling is that they’re trying to cover their butts,’ said Jerry.” Deb said, “I may go and give him a piece of my mind, but I’m not going to introduce him.”

That's some pretty hot political material, but it seems that few if any people outside Jones County heard about it until Thursday afternoon, when Greg Sargent of The Horse's Mouth political blog called VonSprecken and the Journal-Eureka to confirm what he called the "unbelievable story" posted it on his blog at TalkingPointsMemo.com. Sargent quoted Deb VonSprecken: “I told [Rudy's aide] from day one that we were poor folks, just trying to scrape by. ...When they [asked us to host the event], I was just ecstatic. We were honored. It was an honor and a privilege. We worked so hard. ...Why would Rudy Giuliani not come speak to the average Americans that live in eastern Iowa, instead of qualifying you as a millionaire before he will show up to your place?”

The blogosphere erupted, and the Des Moines Register picked up on the story. Across the top of this morning's front page was a headline reading "We're not rich enough for Giuliani" with the subhead, "Olin farmers say he pulled out of event at their home after checking their assets." The Register story had some problems. The main head was not supported by a quote in the story, and you had to get to the jump before the inheritance tax was mentioned. It mistakenly attributed Deb VonSprecken's quote above to "her local newspaper" and did not mention the Journal-Eureka -- whose efforts deserved mention. So we do.

May 9, 2007

20 years after he left, friends and colleagues remember a great rural editor

Steve Lowery, former editor and publisher of newspapers in Central Kentucky and a former president of the Kentucky Press Association, died April 29 at his home near Westciffe, Colo. The coroner said Lowery died of natural causes. He was 54. Lowery first made his mark as publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise, now edited by his daughter, Stevie L. Daugherty. Last night, Lowery's colleagues, friends and family gathered to remember him.

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and a longtime friend of Lowery, told the crowd at Bosley Funeral Home, "The best rural editors play two institutional roles: that of the journalist, independent to a fault, and the role of civic leader. You must be willing to call them as you see them, show courage and speak truth to power. But whatever passion you show in criticizing what you think is wrong, you must show that same passion in promoting what you think is right.

"Steve did both -- and he did it, to be frank, in a place where that may have been a little more difficult than most. He held up a mirror to Lebanon and Marion County. He helped this place face its problems, and in doing so he helped it realize its potential. He was always urging me to come to [Marion County Country] Ham Days, and always disappointed in those years I didn't show up. He wanted me to see Lebanon at its best, and he wanted this place, his adopted home, to be its best.

"I believe that when Steve left The Lebanon Enterprise 20 years ago -- and the fact we have such a good crowd tonight is testimony to his impact -- that he left Lebanon and Marion County a better place, and he could take some credit for that. That could be a great epitaph for any newspaper editor, but especially one in a small town." To read the rest of Cross's remarks, and a story about Lowery by Central Kentucky News-Journal Publisher Richard Robards, click here.

May 7, 2007

Kansas newspaper's survival in doubt despite extraordinary efforts

The efforts to keep the Kiowa County Signal going (see item from Sunday) after the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., have gained attention from Editor & Publisher and the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

"Despite having its offices flooded and portions of its roof torn off, the three-person staff of the 1,200-circulation paper has kept up with the story all weekend, posting stories and photos to its Web site, as well as planning a six-page special edition slated for later today," Joe Strupp reports for E&P from New York.

"I have been devastated by what I have seen, and am wondering if I still have a job," Editor Mark Anderson told Strupp. "I have not been as affected by it as [local residents]. But knowing so many of them, I feel like I owe it to them to try to give them perspective." Anderson, who lives 30 miles away in Pratt and has run the paper for three years, said he didn't know if it would survive, since its readers have been displaced and its advertisers are out of business. He is the sole news employee of the weekly, which is owned by GateHouse Media and is a satellite of the daily Pratt Tribune. His wife, Laurie Anderson, is the advertising manager.

Anderson spoke to Strupp "via cell phone as he drove in slow traffic along State Highway 54 Monday morning along with hundreds of others seeking to return to the community that has gained international attention following the tragic tornado," Strupp writes. "It was unbelievable devastation, the whole scene," Anderson said. "I had taken pictures Thursday of two ribbon-cuttings for new businesses that no longer exist." He said he started taking pictures immediately, "but I didn't want to interview people because it had been so much for them. It has been hard for me to deal with it objectively." (Read more)

The Community Journalism Interest Group is using its blog to solicit help for the Signal. On the blog, Stephanie Mulholland of the Kansas Press Association reports that the paper has computers, "but no power is expected for a few weeks. A generator may be on its way." The KPA president, executive director and technical consultant are helping with coverage in Greensburg today, repprts Peggy Kuhr, Knight Chair on Press, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Tornado levels Kansas town and newspaper office, but not the newspaper

What do you do when your town is leveled and your weekly newspaper's office is destroyed? The Kiowa County Signal in Greensburg, Kan., put whatever news it could on its Web site as soon as it could, and asked citizens to post photos and videos online. The work was done with the help of its parent paper, the daily Pratt Tribune, circulation 2,100. Both papers are owned by GateHouse Media. The papers "were not set up to file stories remotely," and because "the Greensburg office was destroyed . . . nobody had login information for the web site," Howard Owens, GateHouse's director of digital publishing, wrote on his blog. GateHouse moved the site to allow remote posting, but Owens said coverage was complicated because "state officials were not letting local media into Greensburg. The Pratt staff had no information beyond what we could get from The Associated Press (from which the above photo was obtained) or The Weather Channel."

But at 5:09 p.m. Saturday, news of the Friday night tornado began appearing on the paper's site, with an invitation to post photos and video on Flickr.com and YouTube.com and tag submissions "Greensburg07." At 8 p.m., Owens posted a roundup of that coverage: "You can find a video Jburtonstone with dramatic pictures of debris and destroyed buildings. Sabian2323 posted a video apparently shot Friday night of first-responders checking the damage. Another video compiles several radar images taken from various internet sites and sets the video to an Elvis Presley song. In the blogosphere, coverage has ranged from providing updates for readers to remembrances of Greensburg by former residents."

Sunday evening, the Signal's site gained stories by Editor Mark Anderson about survivors, including the newspaper's circulation manager, and an overall update from AP. Staff writer Gale Rose reported, "The people of Greensburg are scattered to the four winds. Some are in shelters in Haviland or are staying with family and friends. Their homes, their businesses, their town have all been destroyed. Eight of their neighbors are dead and dozens are injured from a monster tornado that relentlessly made its way across the entire city of 1,400 on Friday night and smashed Greensburg to bits." (Read more)

The Web site of the Pratt Tribune, which publishes Monday through Friday, was not updated over the weekend. (UPDATE, May 7: "Our site is much clumsier for posting," Tribune Editor Conrad Easterday told Editor & Publisher.) The towns are about 30 miles apart, in adjoining counties in southern Kansas. "The staffs of both papers are working on a special Monday print edition," the Signal reported in its first story.

May 1, 2007

NPR and David Letterman, on the same day, talk about rural journalism

The latest reports of circulation declines at metropolitan daily newspapers prompted a different take at National Public Radio yesterday. NPR aired a story by Brian Mann of North Country Radio in New York state, about the relative health of small-town papers and the special challenges they face.

Mann cited the recent research by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, calculating that the circulation of newspapers based outside U.S. metropolitan areas is more than 20 million. "One in three small-town papers actually gained circulation last year. And the papers that lost circulation saw much smaller declines than urban dailies," Mann said. "That success has inspired the big media conglomerates to buy in."

His example was Landmark Communications, which is best known for owning The Weather Channel but has been in the newspaper business for a long time, with dailies in Norfolk, Roanoke and Greensboro. Its Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. subsidiary, based in Kentucky, "owns more than 100 small newspapers in 16 states" and hopes to buy up to four more each year, Mann reported, quoting LCNI Editorial Director Benjy Hamm, former editor of a 55,000-circulation daily: "We see community newspapers, in many ways, defying the trends that you see at the larger metros."

For his most specific example, Mann went to his hometown daily, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, circulation 4,100, in Saranac Lake. For the downside, he interviewed another fellow panelist at last month's National Summit on Journalism in Rural America -- Jenay Tate, editor and publisher of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va. Tate and her brother sold to American Hometown Publishing 15 months ago. She stayed on, but told Mann that selling a paper her grandfather bought in 1924 "was like losing my heart."

"Many small-town papers face spiraling debt as they struggle to modernize," Mann reported. "As the value of rural papers skyrockets, Tate says more families are tempted to sell out, sometimes triggering nasty ownership disputes. Growth pains aside, small papers face some big challenges. In the past, these rural towns had less access to the Internet, which meant less media competition. That’s changing fast, and more mom-and-pop papers are rolling our their own online editions in a bid to keep pace." Click here to listen to the story. Click here for an annotated transcript.

Even as the NPR was airing the story on “All Things Considered,” David Letterman was taping last night's edition of “The Late Show” for CBS, which included the frequent feature, “Small Town News,” a collection of funny and often strange clips from newspapers in far corners of the country. Then he announced that the most famous feature of the show that evening would be “Top Ten Signs Your Newspaper Is In Trouble.”

Letterman noted the declining circulation of newspapers, without noting that the big declines in circulation are among metropolitan dailies, not smaller dailies and weeklies. But he was setting up a laugh line: “What happens if all newspapers go out of business and we won’t be able to do 'Small Town News'?” For our money, the Top Ten weren't all that funny. We thought the best was No. 3: “Under Weather, it just reads Yes.” For the whole list, courtesy of Jim Romenesko at The Poynter Institute, click here.

April 27, 2007

Small weeklies win kudos for environmental reporting in Alaska contest

The ennvironmental reporting category in the Alaska Press Club's annual contest had no winners among large newspapers or broadcasters, but a full complement among smaller papers. "Given the astounding challenges on virtually every aspect of the environment in Alaska – and the exemplary efforts extended to cover them by the state’s small-market papers – this dearth of quality reporting from Alaska’s papers of record is inexcusable," wrote the judge for the category, Douglas Fischer of the Oakland Tribune. "Kudos to Alaska’s smallest papers for aggressively and ambitiously tackling the environment in 2006. Had any of these stories appeared under the masthead of the state’s largest papers, I would have been thrilled."

The first-place winner was “Global warming threatens Northwest Arctic coast,” by Susan B. Andrews and John Creed of The Arctic Sounder of Barrow and Kotzebue, a weekly with a circulation of 2,400. Fischer called it "a stellar example of how an amorphous, difficult-to-report issue like climate change can be made extremely relevant for local readers." In second was “Tanker flow long noted as risky,” by Carey James of the Homer Tribune, which Fischer called "a clear-eyed analysis" of a looming issue. Taking third was “Humpback spends six hours caught in gillnet” by Klas Stolpe of the Petersburg Pilot, a weekly with a circulation of only 1,834. "Stolpe did a marvelous job describing the urgency, confusion and anxiety among fishermen and rescuers alike as they struggled to free a humpback tangled in 75 fathoms of gillnet, lead and cork line," Fischer writes. He also handed out some honorable mentions Ben Stuart of the Homer News, circulation 3,300, and Sarah Hurst of Petroleum News, a trade weekly based in Anchorage.

To read the Press Club's full account of its newspaper awards, click here. In the broadcast category, no environmental awards were given by the judge, National Public Radio producer Jessica Goldstein.

April 17, 2007

Weekly editor in Calif. thinks his reporting may have put him in danger

Early in the morning of March 7, Sanger (Calif.) Herald Editor Dick Sheppard "was nearly hit by a car. The editor believes the incident could be retaliation for reporting on city officials' ties with local developers," and the police chief says it appears to have been intentional, says The Fresno Bee.

"Sanger authorities asked the Fresno County Sheriff's Department to look into the . . . incident," saying an outside agency should do the investigation, Tim Eberly reports. "Sheppard, 70, said he believes the incident was not an accident. Since he took the job two years ago, he said, he has been threatened in other ways. He says he has fielded two threatening phone calls, and his office was broken into and ransacked, although nothing was taken. He reported one of the calls and the break-in to police." (Bee photo by Kurt Hegre)

Sheppard said in a March 22 story, headlined "A drive by message to the editor of the Sanger Herald," that the incident "might have been an intentional act of intimidation in response to aggressive reporting in the Herald . . . investigating city officials' involvement and relationships with developers." He told Eberly that some stories have bene publushed and some are still being reported.

Sanger is a town of 19,000 on the border of the urbanized area east of Fresno and the farmland that borders the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in eastern Fresno County. Sheppard, a former broadcast reporter, said he is the only full-time journalist at his newspaper, circulation 17,000, but employs some Fresno State University journalism students. (Read more)

April 14, 2007

Weekly gives Virginia town detailed update on controversial proposal

The city council of Lexington, Va., voted 4-2 late Thursday night to invite the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond to move to the Blue Ridge town. "In the end, economic realities triumphed over emotions" like those voiced by Marilyn Alexander (left) and other foes, writes Roberta Anderson on the Web site of The News-Gazette, Lexington's weekly paper, circulation 8,600. (News-Gazette photo by Geoff Dudley)

Anderson's story focuses on history teacher and senior Councilman Jim Gianniny, whose motion "was accompanied by an emotional statement stating he had spent many sleepless nights considering the positions of those both for and against the MOC. . . . Gianniny said he has always tried to educate his students about the failures and injustices committed by the country, the state and Rockbridge County when it came to granting equal rights to African Americans. But the harsh economic realities of the future financial obligations of the city, including millions that must be spent on a new school, new courthouse, upgrades to the sewage treatment plant, additions to the jail and upgrades to the water system, as well as a downtown currently with many empty storefronts, swayed him."

Anderson conveys the tension at the meeting, centering on the Confederate battle flags that are sold at the museum and for many people are a badge of racism and slavery. One man "wondered if the MOC has been honest about its verbalized intention to drop its image as the museum of the Lost Cause and take on a broader historical perspective," Anderson writes of George Pryde, without revealing his race.

“They seem to be telling us one thing and their members another,” Pryde said. “This flag has become the divisive point. It has become the lightning rod. If you bring the museum to Lexington, don’t bring this flag with it.” Anderson reports, "Somehow, that flag ended up on the floor and was retrieved by Michael Pursley, who identified himself as the commander of the local unit of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. 'I am graciously going to pick this sacred flag off the floor,' Pursley said, a comment that caused an African American man sitting in the front row to declare 'I gotta go,' and abruptly left."

The council vote came "despite unified opposition from the black community" in Lexington, reports Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Opponents " said putting the museum there "would open racial wounds in the city's small black community. About 10 percent of Lexington's 7,000 residents are black," Bowman reports. Lexington was "among a dozen Virginia localities to formally invite the museum to consider moving from its cramped quarters in downtown Richmond," reports Jay Conley of The Roanoke Times. Bowman, however, reports only that more than a dozen, including some outside Virginia, have "expressed an interest." Sunday is the deadline for proposals.

April 12, 2007

Cartoonist at 18,500-circ. paper in Georgia wins Sigma Delta Chi Award

Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia is the winner of the Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial cartooning in 2006, the Society of Professional Journalists announced at noon today.

Few papers with less than 20,000 circulation have editorial cartoonists, a point noted by the judges. "We felt Mike Lester's editorial cartoons for the Rome News-Tribune showed a unique, breezy and consistent style," they wrote. "Each panel was strong and wry while commenting on important social issues. There is humor but it is not disrespectful. The cartoons have broad appeal. We applaud the Rome News-Tribune, a small newspaper, for having a fulltime editorial cartoonist on staff."

The News-Tribune is part of News Publishing Co., owned by the Mooney family of Rome. It also publishes seven editorially independent weeklies in northwest Georgia and Cherokee County, Ala. It hired Lester as its first cartoonist in 2002, and he tackles local, state, national an international topics.

"Being able to do cartoon commentary on purely local matters adds a dimension otherwise missing from syndicated offerings," the paper's editorial-page editor, Pierre-Rene Noth, said in an e-mail interview. "Promoting and sparking reader participation in the day's topics is very much a function of a newspaper editorial page and cartoons are great way to get something going quickly, at a glance. Besides, word editorials poking fun at life's foibles are far more difficult to do than a sketch … and harder to plow through. Cartoons are a tool born in newspapers and still largely unique to them."

Lester is generally conservative, but has an independent streak. The newspaper "tends to be what is considered conservative on economic matters and liberal on social issues," Noth says.

The Sigma Delta Chi Awards were established in 1932 by the organization now known as SPJ. The current program began in 1939, when Sigma Delta Chi presented its first Distinguished Service Awards. When Sigma Delta Chi changed its name to SPJ in the 1980s, the original name was retained for the awards and SPJ's foundation. The awards will be presented July 20 during the annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards banquet at the National Press Club in Washington. Here's a cartoon from Lester's entry:

April 11, 2007

Ken Ward Jr. explains how he reports and writes about coal-mine safety

If coal-mine safety is an issue in your area, perhaps the best reporter to learn from is Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette, circulation 48,000. His series on safety, focusing on individual fatalaties rather than disasters, won a medal in the annual contest of Investigative Reporters and Editors. In an interview with Leann Frola of The Poynter Instiute, Ward told how he did the series and offered many tips, including several that apply to media outlets of all sizes, even weekly newspapers and small radio stations.

Reporting: The Mine Safety and Health Administration posts the fatality reports on every death in every mine on its Web site, and Ward examined every report for 10 years -- 1996 to 2005. "I read through all of those three times. One to get a feel, two to look for common trends to investigate further and three to build my own database," which he did by filing Freedom of Information Act requests for "data that was behind the online look-up system. Then I put it on Microsoft Access and played with it for a while. I looked at cases where miners were killed and how often those produced citations -- and if the mine had violated some rule that led to the deaths, what kind of fines were paid. No one had done that before in terms of fatality cases. . . . It's not really heavy lifting computer-assisted reporting. I just used Access and Excel."

Ward also examined lawsuits stemming from fatalaties and used West Virginia's interlibrary loan system to get specialized information on a host of coal-mine safety issues. "I've always thought one of the first things editors should do when a new reporter walks into a newsroom is say, "Do you have a library card?"

Interviewing: "We really felt that our paper did not intrude on privacy and felt for what they were going through. My personal policy is I didn't call [families]. They knew how to get in touch with the media, and if they wanted to talk, they knew people would listen. I didn't go out of my way to try to bother them. I let the lawyers of the families know we were interested. Some folks wanted to talk and some didn't. It's kind of a difference between the national media folks who parachute in to West Virginia. It doesn't matter if people trust them, because they're doing one story and moving on. But we live here and work here. ... It's just a matter of listening to what they have to say. Usually the folks that want to talk have something to say, and just listening rather than trying to get them to say something that helps your story really works better."

Writing: "The Gazette's writing coach, Kate Long; my editor, Rob Byers; and I made a deliberate decision to smack people in the teeth with the way these guys die. It's often very gruesome. But we just thought it was important to see how brutal it was. We had pictures of miners and their families so that people would have to see them. I think that that's really, really important." (Read more)

April 4, 2007

Lancaster, Pa., paper wins fairness award for coverage of Amish shooting

This year's Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers goes to the Lancaster New Era for a series of stories about the shooting of 10 girls in an Amish school in rural Pennsylvania.

"The judges praised the staff of the New Era for its sensitivity in respecting the cultural and religious traditions of the Amish community as it wove a compelling narrative about the girls’ lives, police heroism, the personal anguish of the killer and the forgiveness offered by the families of the five girls who died," said a release from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, which administers the award for the Taylor family, former publishers of The Boston Globe. The award includes a $10,000 prize. "The newspaper demonstrated an impressive ability to gain the trust of the people who are part of this tragic story," the judges said. "The stories shed light on worlds usually hidden from public view."

The New Era, circulation 46,000, was the smallest and most rural-oriented newspaper to be a finalist in the competition since the first award was made in 2002. It beat big-time competition: The New York Times and reporter Tim Golden for his stories exposing secrecy about treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and reporter John Mangels for his account of how new homeland-security rules led to the imprisonment of a respected expert on plagues. Click here to read the release. For the paper's story today on repoening of the Amish school at Nickel Mines, by Brett Lovelace, click here.

April 3, 2007

Weeklies in two small towns cover same issue: centers for troubled people

One reason a rural area can be a nice place to live is a low crime rate. For some, who is and who is not your neighbor can make all the difference, prompting resistance to facilities like prisons and rehabilitation facilities. Two rural communities in western Kentucky and Tennessee, about 125 miles apart, are having similar debates over two Christian-based facilities, one “a rehabilitation center for men with life-controlling problems,” the other a retreat for “aimless and apathetic young men.” Each local weekly newspaper is taking in-depth looks at the issues, amid debates of zoning and preservation of community.

Kentucky's McLean County News, circulation 2,500, is running a three-part series on Harvest House and examining other residential treatment facilities. Part one presented the issue from the side of those proposing the facility. Part two looked at a similar facility in Paducah, hometown of Paxton Media Group LLC, the paper's owner. The proposed home for men recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and other problems has petitioned twice to rezone the former Charles Chips potato-chip factory in the county seat of Calhoun, population 836, last spring and last month. A program called Celebrate Recovery aids recovering individuals by offering free and reduced rent at an apartment building in town. Residents are required to attend two or three meetings a week and go to the church of their choice every Sunday. However, problems have arisen from not being able to control outside influences. The proposed center would not be importing a problem to the small town, since the facility would serve only men from the area, said Eric Girvin, director of Celebrate Recovery. (Read Part 1)

Editor Brad Martin of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., circulation 5,700, reports a louder outcry against Narrow Gate, a retreat designed to turn young men lacking direction in life into disciples of Christ. This paper ran a full-page spread on the topic, presenting the opposition to the facility and the history behind it. The young men of Narrow Gate do not necessarily have any criminal history or drugs problems, founders Bill and Tracy Spencer say, but local residents have become outraged after reading testimonials on the group’s website from those who faced such problems before entering the program. The Times reports on a series of protest signs that have appeared in the town as well as a suit filed by a resident. The property that the center is situated on is zoned A-1, which does not usually permit full-time religious retreats, but Narrow Gate was grandfathered because it took over Leatherwood Forge, a former retreat center, and their usages were deemed similar. (Read front page) (Continuation, top half of page) (Bottom half of page)

Zoning is pressed as a major point by those who wish to keep these facilities out of their communities, the underlying issue appears to be whom residents don’t want living next door. The chaiin-owned McLean County News and the independent Hickman County Times (neither of which are online) present readers an opportunity to understand what these centers are and what they aren’t and to consider the full ramifications of their presence in their communities.

March 22, 2007

Sago Mine stops running; its legacy so far is more state action than federal

The West Virginia coal mine where 12 men died in January 2006 has stopped production. High production costs from “adverse geologic conditions” and weakening coal prices “made the Sago Mine unprofitable in the current coal market,” International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., confirmed yesterday to Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

A skeleton crew will stay on to maintain the mine so it could resume production if the coal market improves, and the other workers at the mine are being offered jobs elsewhere, the company said. “ICG had previously cut the workforce at the mine from about 85 in early 2006 to 48 at the end of December, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration,” Ward reports. “Last year, ICG reported a net loss of $9.3 million, compared to a net income of $31.8 million in 2005.(Read more)

The disaster, and one that killed five at the Kentucky Darby Mine a few months later, prompted stronger mine-safety laws from Congress and the legislatures of Kentucky and West Virginia. "Most of the progress has been at the state level," says an editorial in The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky.

MSHA "remains an agency in alarming disarray, despite its urgent, life-and-death responsibilities," the Eagle opines. "Veteran inspectors are leaving the agency, and they're either not being replaced or are being rep laded by new hires with, in many cases, very little practical mining experience. Morale in MSHA district offices is distressingly low, and there's a reluctance to take strong stands for fear of the possible consequences" from the "industry-cozy" Department of Labor, MSHA's parent agency. (Read more)

March 20, 2007

Rural editor an example of investigative journalism's key role in democracy

All across America, there are rural editors like Tim Crews of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, Calif., who take on local officials, "print the news and raise hell," as Crews likes to say. Every now and then, they get written up by big-city colleagues, as Crews was yesterday by Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle, but with a new angle -- as an example of the essential role investigative journalism plays in American democracy, and how that role is being undermined by newspapers' falling circulation.

"Crews won't have any of it. He is a country editor whose little paper is influencing public opinion on a shoestring budget," Fimrite wrote. "A maverick, old-school muckraker, Crews is notorious in this rural farming community of 6,220 people and the governmental center of Glenn County. In 2000, he was jailed for five days after refusing to name his sources for a story about a former California Highway Patrol officer charged with stealing a gun, a case that received national attention. Depending on who is talking, his financially strapped newspaper is either a beacon of journalistic integrity or an unsavory scandal sheet run by a scoundrel. . . . Despite the criticism, the twice-weekly Mirror is surprisingly influential for a paper with a circulation of 2,944. Almost everybody in the community reads it, more than pick up the Willows Journal and Orland Press Register, which have a combined circulation of 2,122 and are distributed twice a week by the Tri Counties Newspapers chain." (Chronicle photo by Lance Iversen)

Crews once managed those papers, but lost his job when he angered officials by publishing questionable concealed-carry permits. (See item below!) He started his own paper. He told Fimrite, "We're shit disturbers. It's what a small county needs." (The Chronicle used hyphens for most of the vulgarity.) "For his efforts, he has been snubbed and threatened, and seen advertising pulled and his beloved dog die in 2004, apparently with poisoned meat that he believes was left by an angry sex offender he named in the paper. An arson fire was set recently in an office adjacent to his newspaper," Fimrite reports. "There have been several attempts to silence Crews, but he has moles virtually everywhere, and the plots themselves invariably end up in print" -- most notably a strategy session by local school officials on how to do battle with the paper.

"Critics claim Crews mixes his opinions so liberally with the facts that it is impossible to decipher the truth," Fimrite notes, and quotes them. "Even some of Crews' supporters acknowledge that his prose often reflects his point of view. . . . But Jim Bettencourt, a landscape contractor and former Glenn County supervisorial candidate, said Crews' aggressive reporting has kept the public involved in government." He told Fimrite, "Tim is the conscience of our community. He addresses issues that others choose not to. He has empowered the downtrodden and instilled fear in the majority of the old guard in this community." (Read more)

In the most recent Mirror, the paper pulls no punches on itself. One story reports that an occasional contributor to the paper was charged with possession of crack cocaine, and suspended from the paper "until his court issue is resolved." There's a mug shot, and a tough headline: "Mirror contributor busted with crack."

For Sunshine Week, under an editorial headline heading, "New Mirror policy: We shall be good and print what we are told to print," Crews writes, "Well, not really. Although there are people hereabout, notably water carriers for the Glenn County Office of Education, who believe it is a newspaper’s job to print what they are told to print rather than to report what they learn, we shall not go down that path. We note with some amusement that our competition suspends its “no personal attacks” letters policy when it comes to assaults on this newspaper and that’s their prerogative, to a point. But there are the issues of responsibility to the public and suppression of facts involving misconduct on the part of government officials." (Read more)

Rural crime and vandalism prompt consideration of urban-type remedies

Rural crime and vandalism are on the rise. In Blue Earth County, Minnesota, "Rural residents fed up with thefts and vandalism that are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (the overturned grain cart, left, dumped its load into a drainage ditch) are considering some big-city solutions for their problems," reports Dan Nienaber of The Free Press in Mankato. Options "include having farmers park their equipment in consistent locations at night so passing deputies would know if something is amiss."

Farmers, sheriffs, implement dealer Ron Kibble and Commissioner Will Purvis "talked about installing surveillance cameras and alarms in their buildings, on their property or even in their equipment," Nienaber writes. "Alarms can alert deputies so they’re able to respond immediately when buildings or tractors have been broken into and cameras can catch criminals in the act, Purvis said. Technology that’s been used to solve several high-profile crimes in Mankato is becoming affordable enough for farmers to use as well. . . . The cost of those products is easily offset by the expenses farmers face during unwanted planting or harvesting delays while equipment is being repaired or replaced, Kibble said." (Read more)

March 18, 2007

Sunshine Week ends; Vermont editor urges Senate to open government

Today ends Sunshine Week, the news media's annual effort to build public support for openness in government. It included progress in Washington, where the House passed four open-government bills, including one to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, and the Senate heard testimony from a small-town editor on the front lines of getting access to, and publishing, public records.

Sabina Haskell, editor of the 10,000-circulation Brattleboro Reformer and president of the Vermont Press Association, joined media and FOIA experts in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by her senior senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy. He and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have introduced a bill to create more enforceable deadlines for agencies to respond to FOIA requests.

Haskell told the committee that when the Reformer asked for financial records of the Vernon Volunteer Fire Co. last week, the fire chief told the reporter who asked, "If you print any of this, I will assure you there will be some retaliation." That request was made under state law, but reflects the "culture of resistance" that Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive said many officials have toward open-records laws. "The handling of FOIA programs at some agencies suggests that the public is considered the enemy, and any effort to obstruct or interfere with the meddlesome public will be tolerated," Fuchs told the committee.

Leahy said FOIA "faces challenges like never before," and called the Department of Homeland Security's ability to deny requests for records related to "critical infrastructure" the "biggest single rollback" since the law was passed in 1966.

Evan Lehmann of the Reformer wrote, "In 2002, the government had about 138,000 unanswered public records requests, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. That number grew 45 percent by 2005, to about 200,000, the GAO reported. Federal agencies are required to respond to a request within 20 days," but the law can be enforced only by going to court. " In many legal cases, federal agencies provide the documents at the last minute, just before a judge is about to rule, thereby avoiding having to pay attorneys' fees incurred by news outlets."

The Leahy-Cornyn bill "would make federal agencies pay a news outlet's legal fees even if a judge never rules on the case. It would also provide disciplinary action for agencies that fail to turn over documents, hasten responses by tracking FOIA requests, and create an ombudsman who could mediate disputes and minimize lawsuits." (Read more) To listen to Haskell's testimony, click here. For video if it, click here.

March 13, 2007

Ezzells of The Canadian (Tex.) Record win Gish Award for rural journalism

The Ezzell family of The Canadian Record, a weekly newspaper in Canadian, Texas, are this year’s winners of the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. Pictured at left are the editor, Laurie Brown Ezzell, and her mother, Nancy Ezzell. Pictured below are Tom and Pat Gish, owners of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues established the award to honor the couple who this winter celebrated their 50th anniversary of publishing the Eagle. The Gishes were the first recipients of the award. Their son, Eagle Editor Ben Gish, was among the judges who unanimously voted to give the award to the Ezzell family.

“The Ezzells clearly demonstrate the tenacity, courage and integrity I've been privileged to witness in growing up around and working with my parents,” Gish said. Other judges agreed.

Author and former Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent Rudy Abramson, chairman of the Institute’s advisory board and a longtime friend of the Gishes, said “One cannot but notice a number of similarities between the Ezzell family and the Gish family, not the least of which is the continuity their newspaper represents in their community.”

Retired publisher Al Smith, an Institute founder and its steering-committee chair, said: “The story of this gutsy Texas family is as comparable to the Gishes of Kentucky as anyone could imagine.” The Canadian Record has held local, state and national politicians accountable, fought political extremism, opposed unwise military adventures and helped protect the environment, often against organized and violent opposition. All are “great examples of courage, tenacity and integrity,” Smith said. To read more about the Ezzells, click here.

Laurie Ezzell Brown will receive the award on behalf of her family at a dinner Friday, April 20, at the Crowne Plaza Lexington - The Campbell House, 1375 Harrodsburg Road. Other finalists for the award, and Tom and Pat Gish, will be recognized at the dinner. The guest speaker will be John Seigenthaler Sr., founder of the First Amendment Center.

The Gish Award Dinner is part of the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, which the Institute is holding at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill between Lexington and Harrodsburg. Attendance at the summit is limited, but there will be plenty of additional seating at the dinner. Tickets are $75. Proceeds will support the work of the Institute, which has academic partners at 16 universities in 12 states. For more information on the dinner, the Gish Award or the Summit, contact Institute Director Al Cross at 859-257-3744.

March 10, 2007

Tobacco migrating off mountains in N.C.; a local story in several states

The end of the federal tobacco program is concentrating production among large-scale growers and reducing the amount grown in hilly areas where large tracts are more difficult to assemble. That trend is illustrated by figures on production of burley tobacco in North Carolina and its Watauga County, reported by Scott Nicholson of The Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C. This is a story that can be done by any news outlet in a tobacco-growing county, with data from the local office of the federal Farm Service Agency.

“Local tobacco production continued to decline even though last year the state had a historic high production of burley tobacco, the kind most often grown in the High Country,” Nicholson reports. “Statewide burley tobacco production totaled 6.46 million pounds last year, a 31 percent increase. Yield per acre averaged 50 pounds more than the 2005 crop, suggesting large-scale farmers were achieving more efficiency.”

“Those boys down East ... picked up the slack,” FSA man Bud Smith told Nicholson. “Burley just migrated off the mountain.” Eastern North Carolina production has been almost entirely flue-cured, but the end of federal quotas has allowed growers in the region to adopt burley, which is in higher demand by cigarette companies. Those growers were already large-scale, making it relatively easy for them “to find barns and other covered, dry buildings” for burley, which is air-cured, Nicholson explains, quoting Smith. “They’re not growing two or four or six acres like we did up here. They have 50 or 80 or 100 acres.” (Read more)

March 9, 2007

Inflatable underground safety shelter for coal miners demonstrated

An inflatable safety room developed after the January 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia was demonstrated for coal officials Tuesday at an industrial park in Esserville, Va., reports Jeff Lester of the Coalfield Progress. The Progress’s stories are good examples of coal reporting by weekly newspapers.

The technology would give miners a shelter providing clean air and food in the case that they may become trapped. “LifeShelter” was presented by A.L. Lee Corp., a West Virginia and Illinois mine equipment manufacturer. The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act was passed by Congress in June 2006. One Mine Safety & Health Administration rule that stems from the act requires “a pre-arranged, pre-surveyed area for barricading or other location that would isolate the miners from contaminated environments, located within 2,000 feet of the working section,” Lester notes.

Leonard Urtso, president of the Lee firm said the refuge facility is designed to sustain dozens of miners for up to four days. Lester writes, “The inflatable room is stored in a reinforced-steel box that is either 32 or 40 inches high and weighs about five tons… The shelter itself is made from five layers of tear- and puncture-resistant material with inflatable high-strength ‘air beams’ for support… The steel box contains a four-day supply of oxygen, food (military-style meals ready to eat) and water, a repair kit, a chemical toilet and a first aid kit. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide scrubbers and air quality monitors are used to keep the internal air clean, Urtso said.” (Read more)

This technology might prove too expensive for smaller mining operations, reports Lester. Virginia Division of Mines Chief Frank Linkous said small mines could encounter problems trying to meet new safety demands. The MINER Act requires establishing a foolproof two-way wireless communication system in mines, although none exist. The law will also require each mine to have two rescue teams, but funding to help pay for those teams is to be eliminated, Lester reports. (Read more)

UPDATE, March 15: International Coal Group, owner of the West Virginia mine where 12 miners died in January 2006, is ordering shelters, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

March 4, 2007

Just in case you think you have it tough: A rural journalist in Darfur

Stephanie McCrummen of The Washington Post writes from El Fasher, Sudan: "For the past 10 years, Awatif Ahmed Isshag (in photo by McCrummen) has handwritten monthly dispatches and commentary about life in El Fasher and hung them on a short, wiry tree that scatters shade along the yellow-sand lane by her house. For the past four years, the dispatches have included items about the conflict in Darfur that appear to represent the only independent local reporting about the fighting in a region where most media hew to the official government line."

Isshag, 24, "has satirized the local governor and described the suffering of displaced families and gun battles in the markets of El Fasher," McCrummen writes. "Recently, she found financial supporters abroad who had heard about her work and sent a computer and printer. In the next week or so, she plans to launch a printed newspaper that she will distribute around town for free. For now, her articles sometimes appear in a newspaper about Darfur published by the African Union, which has troops deployed in the region to enforce a failing peace agreement."

The tree newspaper, Al Raheel, which translates loosely as "moving," was started by Isshag's sister, who died in 1998, when Isshag was 15. She took over, using experience she had doing interviews for a student radio program. "From the beginning, I liked journalism," she told McCrummen. "I wanted to discover those who are intelligent and have talent, and I wanted to talk to them." (Read more)

Feb. 28, 2007

Toyota picks Tupelo; regional approach, pushed by publisher, is credited

Toyota Motor Corp. will build a $1.3 billion assembly plant 10 miles northwest of Tupelo, Miss., officials announced yesterday. It was big news for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, which by our count is America's largest rural newspaper, with a circulation of 35,000. The plant may make the area metropolitan.

The factory "likely will forever change the landscape of the region" when it begins production in 2010, Business Editor Dennis Seid writes for the Journal. "The plant, which will build Highlander sports utility vehicles, will employ some 2,000 workers by the time production starts. Another 2,000 construction jobs will be created to build the facility, and several thousand related jobs are expected. The $1.3 billion investment by Toyota doesn't include the state incentive package worth about $296 million, less than the $363 million package offered to Nissan seven years ago." (Read more) Nissan's plant is near Jackson.

The Journal has three other stories today: A backgrounder by Seid says Toyota picked Tupelo over Marion, Ark., and Chattanooga "not because of money, but because of the area's people. And most important was how well everyone worked together to bring the project to fruition." (Read more) A story by Leesha Faulkner credits the regional approach taken by Tupelo and Lee County. "The actual property is located in Union County, but Pontotoc and Lee counties will share in the profits," she reports. (Read more) And Emily Le Coz says hiring for the plant won't begin until mid-2008: "Pay can climb as high as $20 per hour with very generous benefits packages." (Read more)

The Journal doesn't say it, but the newspaper can probably take some credit, too. It is owned by the Create Foundation, created by the late George McLean, right, a visionary publisher who helped bring the area into the economic mainstream in the mid-20th Century. The paper alludes to its history in an editorial, calling the coming of Toyota "a transformative opportunity -- the long-sought next day of a new manufacturing level, building on the internationally noted success of the Community Development Foundation, started in 1948." (Read more)

McLean pushed a regional approach, now favored by experts in rural economic development, and extended the paper's circulation area. His foundation serves 16 counties and is to be "a catalyst for positive change in Northeast Mississippi by committing its resources to projects that will improve the quality of life for all citizens of Northeast Mississippi," says the paper's Web site, which includes McLean's operating philosophy:

"The Journal is one of the important agencies in the development of this community.  It does not seek to do this work by itself or for its own glory but it has a vital role to play in cooperation with all other institutions in this area.  The Journal consciously strives to be a good player on a strong community team. The Journal has the special responsibility of providing news and advertising messages as well as editorially expressing the honest convictions of its Editor and Publisher without fear or favor.  It has always endorsed the slogan adopted many years ago by its founder, "Be Just, Fear Not.'' The statement goes on at length, but it is inspiring reading. (Read more) For the foundation's Web site, click here.

Feb. 27, 2007

Iowa newspaper prompts broad, lively discussion with immigration summit

When Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents detained more than 1,000 workers at meat packing plants in the Midwest in December, including nearly 100 at Swift & Co.'s plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, the local daily Times-Republican, circulation 10,500, called for an "immigration summit . . . to spark a national dialogue on the issue, and give elected officials a chance to understand what the issues are at the grassroots level in order to formulate policy in Washington that better addresses the needs and concerns of the country." The summit was held yesterday, starting with remarks by U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, shown at left with Mayor Gene Beach in photo by the T-R's Ken Black. Here are excerpts from the Times-Republican's staff report:

Marcy Forman, ICE's investigative director, joined the first session via telephone. "She was unable to attend because the weekend storm interfered with her travel plans. The panelists, which also included U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and Marshall County Sheriff Ted Kamatchus, informed the crowd about issues relating to enforcing immigration law. Several times, a call for cooperation between law enforcement and the immigrant community was mentioned as a key toward a better relationship."

"In the second session of the day, local education representatives talked about how recent immigrants have impacted the schools in Marshalltown, and how the population has resulted in opportunities and challenges for students and teachers. . . . Panel members were not the only participants getting attention Monday morning. Two individuals were escorted out of the building by the police for repeatedly violating the rules of the summit during the 10:45 a.m. session. Mayor Gene Beach, who moderated the event, had asked the members of the audience in question numerous times to refrain from blurting out responses."

The third session was on employers' rights and responsibilities. A local hospital spokeswoman "said the existing immigration and work visa laws handcuff hospitals’ abilities to adequately staff their medical teams. She said Iowa is chronically in want of doctors, but because each state receives permission from the federal government to bring in 30 doctors or specialists, those 30 visas are scooped up immediately, still leaving the state short of its need." All the panelists agreed "Iowa is going to be losing much of its work force in the coming years, making it imperative that the country accept and train and keep workers, regardless of how it happens. Each emphasized the importance of congressional action in enacting change."

The final sessions dealt with individual rights and responsibilities, and overall immigration policy. To read the Times-Republican's full report, click here.

Feb. 20, 2007

High Country News writer wins George Polk Award for political reporting, for tracing money that financed referendums against land-use regulation

Ray Ring, Northern Rockies editor for High Country News, won the prize for political reporting in the annual George Polk Awards for revealing that a libertarian group, Americans for Limited Government, and its chairman, New York real-estate tycoon Howie Rich and his Fund for Democracy, were the chief financiers of referendum campaigns designed to scuttle land-use regulations in six Western states.

"Word spread of his report, which detailed the role of a wealthy Eastern libertarian as well as the concerns of environmentalists," the awards program said in its announcement. "The once-popular referenda were defeated by voters in three states, and the courts eliminated one and key provisions of another, with only Arizona approving the full measure.

The release identifies High Country News as "a bi-weekly news magazine founded by a rancher in Wyoming 37 years ago and now based in Paonia, Colo.," and notes that it won the Polk Award for environmental reporting in 1986. The magazine's Web site says it is "a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the best news and information on issues affecting the American West."

Click here to read Ring's story, which was published on July 24. Click here to read the release from Long Island University, which sponsors the awards in honor of George W. Polk, who was killed while covering the civil war in Greece for CBS News in 1948. The criteria are "discernment of a significant news story, resourcefulness and courage in gathering information, and skill in relating the story."

Feb. 11, 2007

Mountain Eagle and Pikeville daily fight competition from hospital paper

The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., which has given the people of Letcher County crusading journalism despite advertiser boycotts, personal ostracism and the firebombing of its office, now has a foe from a very unusual and unexpected source -- a regional hospital that publishes a newspaper and uses a non-profit mailing permit to send it to all households in three counties.

The Eagle filed suit Thursday in state court, claiming that the Medical Leader, published by Pikeville Medical Center, "misrepresented itself as a non-profit organization to gain reduced mailing rates and take away advertisers by offering them cut rates 'or almost no rates at all'," the Lexington Herald-Leader reports today. The chief example is an insert from Abingdon, Va.-based Food City, which the Medical Leader recently took from the Eagle, the Appalachian News-Express and the Floyd County Times.

The Eagle and the Times are weeklies; the News-Express, in Pike County, went daily last April. Its owner, Lancaster Management Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS "told Pikeville Postmaster Darrell Rose on Wednesday that the Food City insert . . . makes it ineligible for non-profit mailing rates," reports Lee Mueller, the Herald-Leader's Eastern Kentucky reporter. "Rose said the Medical Leader accepted the decision and will pay a standard bulk-mailing rate, which he said is about 33 percent higher than the non-profit mail rate."

Eagle Editor Ben Gish told Mueller that he was unaware of that ruling, but will pursue his lawsuit "because that's just one area we're concerned about." He and the Pikeville publisher, Marty Backus, "say competing against a publication owned by a large hospital -- which in 2004 received $75 million in federal Medicare and Medicaid revenues, according to a tax document -- is like competing against the government. The 261-bed hospital has about 1,000 employees and revenues of about $150 million a year, records show."

Gish told the Herald-Leader, "In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd wake up one morning with a hospital being my biggest competitor." The hospital is run by Walter May Jr. of Pikeville, who owns nine radio stations, was mayor of the town and won a long struggle for control of the hospital. (Read more)

The Medical Leader covers public meetings, local sports and prints obituaries, but its coverage of political figures appears to be generally friendly. For example, when state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Floyd County plea-bargained a federal vote-fraud charge down to a misdemeanor and was re-elected to his party leadership position, the Eagle's front page carried an Associated Press story laying out those facts. The Medical Leader published a press release from Turner's office that ignored his legal troubles.

Feb. 8, 2007

Rural news outlets increasingly in need of Spanish-speaking journalists

There is a growing need for Spanish-speaking journalists in rural areas, which increasingly are home to immigrants. Many farm and factory workers from south of the border might not have their voices heard without someone who can understand their tongue. A recent example comes from Laura Noeth, editot of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, a city of about 30,000 in the southwest part of the state:

“On her first day on the job here Monday, Chris Harris, a recent grad of the University of Memphis, was assigned to do a story on the people affected by the layoff of 556 workers at Flynn Enterprises, which makes blue jeans,” Noeth said in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “The first people she found coming out of one of the two local plants spoke only Spanish. No problem -- Chris interviewed them in Spanish. Just shows how there's an urgent need for Spanish-speaking residents of small cities and rural areas.”

Harris wrote for the New Era, ”Jorge Hernandez and Sonia Juan Perez moved to Hopkinsville last spring to work for Flynn Enterprises. They started work in June. Both of them — along with 554 other Flynn employees — received letters last week telling them that as of April 3, they will no longer be working for the textile company that brought them to Kentucky. Hernandez said his parents also received layoff notifications last week, putting the entire household out of work. They moved to Hopkinsville last spring and Hernandez said he does not plan on moving again. ‘I will look for other work,’ he said, adding, though, he does not know where he will go.” (Read more)

Jan. 29, 2007

State press association begins handing out awards for papers' Web sites

With newspapers putting more resources and attention into their Web sites, state press associations are beginning to include the sites in their awards programs. Last week, the Kentucky Press Association handed out its first awards for sites, as judged by the Illinois Press Association.

The winners among weeklies were: Multi-weekly, The Pioneer News of Shepherdsville; large-circulation weekly, The Oldham Era; and medium circulation, The Springfield Sun, all published by Landmark Community Newspapers. No small-circulation papers entered. Among dailies, the winners were the The Kentucky Enquirer, The Advocate-Messenger of Danville; and the Times-Tribune of Corbin. The associate-member winner was the Fort Campbell Courier, published by the Kentucky New Era.

The judging was based on the Web sites' content (quality and quantity), consistency, currency, ease of navigation, use of links, and visual design. Judges were required to access each entered site at least three times during the first full week of November. KPA Executive Director David Thompson said only a few state press associatins give awards for Web sites.

Jan. 26, 2007

Five named to Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame; induction in April

Five journalists have been named to the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications announced today. The five will be inducted April 10, in conjunction with the school's annual Joe Creason Lecture, which this year will be given by photojournalist Molly Bingham. The five are:

Ron Boone, who died in 2004 after a distinguished 31-year career as news director of radio stations in Elizabethtown; Glen Kleine, founder of the journalism program at Eastern Kentucky University; Kenneth Kurtz, retired news director of WKYT-TV in Lexington, who remains active in the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism groups; Nancy Green, a Lexington native who is vice president of circulation for Lee Enterprises and publisher of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier and former adviser to college newspapers, including The Kentucky Kernel, UK's independent paper; and

Ron Jenkins, who recently retired after 33 years as editor of The Gleaner in Henderson, one of the most consistently good daily newspapers in Kentucky. He recently saw the newspaper through two changes in ownership, and research by Community Journalism students at UK showed that the paper’s commitment to local news remained strong, and that The Gleaner is one of the few community newspapers in Kentucky that endorse in local elections. Jenkins also held together a veteran staff, which has helped keep The Gleaner in touch with its community and give readers good journalism.

Kentucky publisher, papers honored for community service, journalism

At the Kentucky Press Association convention in Louisville Friday, Hancock Clarion Publisher Donn Wimmer received the Lewis Owens Community Service Award, named after a highly regarded publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader. We were happy to see Donn win, because we agree with the nominator that he is "the very epitome of a Kentucky publisher" -- and anywhere, not just our home state.

Donn bought the Clarion in 1956, when he was 21. He was the founding director of a local industrial-development group that brought major industries to rural Hancock County, on the Ohio River upstream from Owensboro. A pilot with a commercial rating, he headed the lcoal airport board and published many aerial photographs in the Clarion, circulation 3,600. He was president of the local Chamber of Commerce, which named him Citizen of the Year, and helped organize a Jaycee chapter and a Little League.

KPA's Better Newspaper Contest produced these winners for general excellence in weekly newspapers, based on their awards in a host of categories: Small weekly, the Todd County Standard; mid-size weekly, the Spencer Magnet; large weekly, The Oldham Era; multi-weekly, The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown. The last three are published by Landmark Community Newspapers. In the daily classes, the winners were The (Madisonville) Messenger, The (Henderson) Gleaner and the Herald-Leader.

We like to spotlight papers that show editorial leadership. The winners for weekly editorial pages were: Small, the Todd County Standard (double kudos to Ryan Craig); mid-size, the Henry County Local; large, the Grant County News; and mutli-weekly, the Kentucky Standard. The last three are Landmark papers. The winners among dailies were the Richmond Register, The Gleaner and The Kentucky Enquirer.

Jan. 2, 2007

Harlan paper tells local, human stories and issues of coal-mine safety

The Rural Blog carries a lot about coal, because it's a big and often controversial industry in many rural regions, especially Appalachia, our initial focus area. Most of the stories we excerpt come from metro newspapers, mainly because they have the staff resources for deep coverage of a topic that can be complicated and players who can be contentious. But when coal takes a human toll, the local papers have human stories to tell and issues to explore. The Harlan Daily Enterprise, circulation 6,900, knows that.

The Harlan Daily, as it is known, is published in a town and county whose name became synonymous with the conflicts of coal seven decades ago. Scores of local residents who died in the county's mines are memorialized in black granite on Harlan's courthouse square. Miners are still dying in Harlan County, Ky., usually one at a time, but last May five died in one accident, reaching the threshold to be called a disaster.

At year's end, the Daily published a two-part story by Deanna Lee-Sherman on legislation spurred by one of coal's deadliest recent years, "what industry officials and safety advocates are anticipating for 2007 and what families are sharing from their losses," as the paper put it. The story began with widow Stella Morris:

"A coal miner's wife, she felt a fear that can only be experienced by the families who send their loved ones into the coal mines each day with the unspoken understanding that one phone call could change life indefinitely. Her husband, Bud, understood, too. . . . David “Bud” Morris Jr., a shuttle car operator with four years of mining experience, was the last coal mining fatality of 2005. He brought the nation's 21 deaths to 22 after he was struck by a loaded coal hauler at the No. 3 mine of H&D Mining Inc. one year ago today. It was just before the closing of a remarkable year for the coal mining industry, and the beginning of a disastrous one to come." Click here for the rest of Part 1. Click here for Part 2.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, 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 here.

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