Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Telemedicine can't help rural America very much until broadband access improves, researchers conclude

University of Pittsburgh maps; click on the image to enlarge it. CEAC is a county with extreme access considerations.
Telemedicine, whether the patient is is a health-care facility or at home, has been lauded as a way to increase rural health-care access, but a newly published study suggests that it can't help very much until rural broadband access improves.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health mapped out areas where residents might have to drive an hour or more to access a primary care physician or specialist. "Then, to determine access to broadband, the researchers turned to data from the Federal Communications Commission to find out whether people who lived in counties with distant drives to doctors had a way to download data at a speed of at least 25 megabits per second, which is sufficient to support video-based telehealth visits," Linda Carroll reports for Reuters.

The researchers found that, in counties with inadequate access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists, the broadband subscription rate was 38.6%. And even if the broadband problem were solved, there are other barriers to telemedicine, according to lead author Coleman Drake: "Medicare, with few exceptions, doesn’t reimburse for telemedicine visits from home."

EPA bans 12 pesticides linked to deaths of honeybees

As part of a legal settlement, the Environmental Protection Agency is banning 12 insecticides containing neonicotinoids, chemicals known to be toxic to honeybees. Ten are sold in the U.S.

"For years, beekeepers and wildlife conversationalists alike have voiced concern that the widespread use of neo-nics, as the chemicals are commonly called, is imperiling wild and domesticated bees crucial to pollinating commercial fruit, nut and vegetable crops," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post.

EPA has pulled other neonics from the market before, but this is a rare action. "The decision follows five years of litigation in which the beekeepers and environmentalists pressed the agency to mount a response to the use of neonics as regulators in Europe and Canada have taken steps toward banning the chemicals," Grandoni reports. "Finally, at the end of 2018, three agribusinesses — Bayer, Syngenta and Valentagreed to let the EPA pull from shelves the 12 pesticide products used by growers ranging from large-scale agricultural businesses to home gardeners. The legal settlement also compels the EPA to analyze the impacts of the entire neo-nic class on endangered species."

Difficulty in hiring and keeping doctors helps drive rural health care shortage; being a rural physician is a calling

The recently released Life in Rural America survey found that rural Americans are having a harder time these days accessing health care. Part of the problem is pure distance: "One out of every four people living in rural areas said they couldn't get the health care they needed recently. And about a quarter of those said the reason was that their health care location was too far or difficult to get to," Kirk Siegler reports for NPR.

Local health care isn't available to many rural residents because so many rural hospitals have closed -- more than 100 since 2010, with hundreds more in dire financial straits. Of the more than 7,000 areas in the U.S. with health professional shortages, almost 60% were in rural areas, Siegler reports.

Another big problem is that it's hard to find replacements for retiring rural doctors. "As baby boomer doctors retire, independent family practices are closing, especially in small towns. Only 1% of doctors in their final year of medical school say they want to live in communities under 10,000; only 2% were wanted to live in towns of 25,000 or fewer," Siegler reports. "Taking over a small-town practice is too expensive, or in some cases, too time-consuming for younger, millennial physicians. And a lot of the newly minted doctors out of medical training are opting to work at hospitals, rather than opening their own practices."

Being a rural doctor also requires a different mindset. Christopher Wong, a family practice physician in Ogallala, Nebraska, said it was a difficult transition. "Being a doctor in a small town, you're always on, even when you're not. It's not like you can just clock out and leave work. Wong will bump into a patient at the grocery store who politely asks about this ailment or that problem. Everyone knows him and there's no anonymity," Siegler reports.

"I think that's why it's also hard to get physicians into rural practice, because it's hard to maintain a personal life," Wong told Siegler.

How rural areas can become more hurricane-ready

Seven months after Hurricane Michael hit Florida's Gulf Coast, rural areas of the Panhandle still haven't recovered: many people are still living in tents and relying on food banks, and many businesses have left the area for good. Those rural areas suffered more severe damage because they were unprepared for the Category 5 storm, Eren Ozguven writes on The Conversation. Ozguven is a Florida State University engineering professor who has studied hurricane resilience for 13 years.

Though it's challenging to prepare for large, fast-moving storms like Michael, Ozguven and some of his FSU colleagues are working with Panhandle communities to help them improve their response plans ahead of the 2019 hurricane season. That includes planning for emergency communications if cell-phone towers get knocked out. "It also is important to assess which demographic and socioeconomic groups will be most affected by damage to power lines and roadways – for example, aging populations," Ozguven writes. "Studying power outages and roadway closures during hurricanes, together with a region’s physical features, reveals vulnerable locations that will be at high risk in future events."

It's especially important to create strong community training programs in rural areas and make sure neighbors can count on each other in emergencies. , Ozguven says planners must also make sure they have up-to-date information on rural populations to make sure no one is left behind, and involve rural communities in the planning.

ARC report provides an update on trends in Appalachia

The Appalachian Regional Commission has released an extensive report detailing trends in Appalachia from 2013 to 2017, including population, education, employment, income, poverty, and broadband access. Most data comes from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Among the ARC report's key points:
  • Much of Appalachia has lost population since 2010, but some southern parts of the region – East Tennessee and northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia – have grown. (There have long been significant economic and demographic differences among ARC's five sub-regions; Central Appalachia has most of the region's economically distressed counties.)
  • The overall Appalachian poverty rate is declining slightly overall, but is still higher than the U.S. average and is increasing in Central and North Central Appalachia.
  • The unemployment rate for working-age adults is lowest in Northern Appalachia and highest in Central Appalachia.
  • The median household income in Appalachia is $47,836, or 83% of the nationwide average of $57,652.
  • Minorities made up 18.6% of Appalachia's population in 2017, up from 16.4% in 2010. In that same timespan, the nation's minority population rose from 36.2% to 39.3%.
  • African Americans are the largest minority population in Appalachia at 9.7%, but Latinos are the fastest-growing (from 4.2% in 2010 to 5.1% in 2017).
  • The percentage of Appalachian adults from 25 to 64 with a high-school diploma (88.5%) is almost the same as the nationwide average of 88.6%. 
  • Appalachian adults are more likely than the national average to have an associate's degree but less likely to have a bachelor's degree.
  • 30.7% of Appalachian adults with a bachelor's degree have one in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field, compared to 34.8% nationwide.
  • 94.6% of Appalachia's labor force is employed, the same as nationwide.
  • 31.7% of Appalachian workers work outside the county they live in, compared with 27.6% of U.S. workers.
  • 82.2% of Appalachian households have access to a computer, compared to the nationwide average of 87.2%. 
  • 63.8% of Appalachian households have access to a smartphone, but only 42.8% have a cellular data plan subscription.
  • 72.3% of Appalachian households have a broadband subscription, compared to the U.S. average of 78.1%. Broadband subscriptions are highest in Northern Appalachia and lowest in Central Appalachia.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Lay midwives won't solve gap in rural maternity care, according to GateHouse Media analysis of data

Access to obstetric care has been dwindling in rural America for years. Midwives have been touted as a way to help close the coverage gap, but a new data analysis by GateHouse Media shows that may not be the case. 

"An estimated 5 million women live in maternity care deserts, defined as a county with neither an obstetric provider nor a hospital offering obstetric care, according to the March of Dimes, which links lack of access to maternal mortality and poor birth outcomes," Lucille Sherman reports for GateHouse. Nearly 1,100 maternity care deserts exist nationwide, but a GateHouse analysis of more than 3,000 non-nurse midwives showed that very few live in those deserts. 

"There are so many counties that don’t have a single health care provider. A big part of obstetric care is the prenatal care, preconception care and postpartum care," Jeffrey Goldberg, legislative chair for the Kentucky Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Sherman. "Lay midwifery is not going to be a solution for that."

The analysis features excellent data presentation through multimedia maps and is well worth a read.

Major dairy processors invest in dairy-free products such as oat milk, leaving small farmers increasingly in the lurch

One reason the American dairy industry has been struggling in recent years: People just don't drink as much milk anymore. Instead, more consumers increasingly favor substitutes made from nuts, flax, hemp, and more. Major dairy processors have tried to fight the trend by lobbying to ban non-dairy products from using dairy-associated words like milk, yogurt or cheese. But many have also been investing or launching their own plant-based dairy alternative product lines. "The fight, which is now playing out in Washington, pits smaller dairy farmers against some of the country’s largest milk producers, which have been increasingly looking to work both ends of the dairy aisle," Janelle Nanos reports for The Boston Globe

Major dairy processors like HP Hood, Dean Foods and Danone North America have launched or invested in plant-based brands in recent years. Hood, especially, has embraced the trend. The company has been producing Almond Breeze nut milk in its facilities for the past decade, and in January became the first major dairy to market its own oat milk, Nanos reports.

Oat milk, made by straining oats and water, is the current darling of the alt-milk world. It first became popular in 2016 when Oatly, a 25-year-old Swedish oat milk brand, hit American coffeehouses in 2016. The product quickly became popular because it was rich, creamy, free of common allergens, and foams up like real cow's milk, Nanos reports. Hood executives say their effort to get an oat milk product to market has paid off, and that its Planet Oat is so popular that Amazon regularly runs out. 

"That one of the nation’s major dairy producers considered it a coup to introduce an oat milk to America was yet another sign that the traditional milk market is at a crossroads," Nanos reports. "Americans bought $16.16 billion of cow’s milk in the year ending in late March 2015, the market research firm Nielsen found, but that number dropped to $12.13 billion at the same time this past year. Meanwhile, sales of alternative milks were up 8 percent year-over-year, as of January of this year, hitting $1.7 billion, according to Nielsen data."

10-part series explores rural-urban divide in central Missouri

The Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri has launched a 10-part series that aims to explore the division between rural and urban communities in Central Missouri, and the changes those communities have seen over the past few decades.

The Rural Divide project is "the culmination of hundreds of hours of work by more than a dozen staff members in four GateHouse Missouri newsrooms," writes Daily Tribune Managing Editor Charles Westmoreland. "This series is one of the most aggressive projects I’ve been a part of, and it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the tireless work of our journalism teams."

Westmoreland takes readers behind the scenes on the series in his explainer, discussing how the reporting teams gathered information, what metrics and data they mined, and what inspired the series in the first place. "In the coming weeks the topics we will explore include jobs, education, municipal funding, health care, agriculture, crime, infrastructure, poverty and the role of local sports," Westmoreland writes. "The series will conclude June 19 with a look at how everything we’ve reported so far connects to Columbia and Boone County."

The first article in the series, published May 18, provides readers with an overview of the project. The next article will be published May 22.

Report ranks best, worst states to live in; how did yours do?

Washington is the best overall state to live in and Louisiana, for the third year in a row, is the worst, according to U.S. News & World Report's annual Best States Rankings.

The rankings draw on more than 70 metrics in eight main categories such as health care, education, economy, infrastructure; some measures are weighted based on what people said matters most to them. "Health care and education were weighted most heavily," U.S. News says. "Then came state economies, infrastructure, and the opportunity states offer their citizens. Fiscal stability followed closely in weighting, followed by measures of crime & corrections and a state's natural environment.

"At a time when the federal government is attempting to hand more responsibility for spending and policymaking to the states, these rankings offer the first comprehensive view, state by state, of how some states already are performing best," the report says. "This highly interactive platform enables users to explore thousands of important benchmarks and easily draw state-to-state comparisons. Build a chart, share it, and ultimately learn what all the states can learn from one another."

The overall top five states are, in descending order: Washington, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah, and Vermont. The overall bottom five states are, in descending order, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Most rural Americans, broadly defined, are happy with their quality of life, but many face problems getting health care

Most rural Americans, broadly defined, are satisfied with their quality of life. But most also say their local economy isn't in good shape, and 40% say they've had trouble affording food, housing or medical bills in the past few years. So says the second part of the "Life in Rural America" survey by NPRHarvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released today. The first part was released last October.

The second survey was conducted via cell phones and landlines from Jan. 31 to March 2, among a nationally representative sample of 1,405 adults living in the rural U.S. The poll defined rurality as areas outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area, which must have a city of at least 50,000 people.

Almost half of the survey respondents reported being financially insecure: 49% said they couldn't afford to quickly pay off an unexpected $1,000 expense. 

Health-care access remains a problem in rural America, too. Though most rural Americans have health insurance, about a quarter of respondents said they haven't been able to get health care they needed at some point in the past few years. And nearly one in 10 said their local hospital has closed in the past few years. 

Homelessness and inadequate housing are also recurring issues for rural Americans. One in three respondents said homelessness is a problem in their local community, and more than one in 10 have experienced problems with their housing such as mold or unsafe drinking water. 

One-fifth of respondents said they have difficulty accessing broadband internet. Most respondents who use the internet said they mostly used it to get health-related information, for personal finance, and for job-related activities. 

People with disabilities, racial/ethnic minorities, people with a lower education level and people with disabilities all reported greater difficulties across many parts of their lives.

Though the survey found many areas of concern in rural America, it also reflected a populace that is highly civically and socially engaged, who value their rural lifestyle and see their communities as safe. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Jails, especially in rural areas, struggle to fulfill their increasing role as opioid detoxification centers

As opioid addiction has spread in the past decade, county jails have struggled with their increasing role as de facto detox centers. "The problem is particularly hard for jails in more rural and semi-rural counties, which often have limited access to medications, to physicians who will administer it, and to follow-up programs that inmates can tap into upon release," reports Eric Westervelt of NPR. Between half to two-thirds of today's jail population has a drug problem, and in some counties it's higher.

"To get a handle on the problem, more jails are adding some form of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, to help inmates safely detox from opioids and stay clean behind bars and after release," NPR reports. "But there are deep concerns about potential abuse of the treatment drugs, as well as worries about the efficacy and costs of programs that jails just weren't designed or built for."

States with the biggest opioid problems, including several Ohio Valley states, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, are expanding jail MAT programs the fastest, but only 10% to 12% of the nation's 4,000 jails offer it. Though a few jails offer long-term addiction "maintenance" drugs buprenorphine and methadone to inmates, "the majority of jail-based medication-assisted treatment programs today are limited to injectable naltrexone, given upon an inmate's release," Westervelt reports.

Jails could soon be under greater pressure to expand treatment, since a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that a rural jail in Maine must provide an inmate MAT for her opioid-use disorder. The inmate had been taking buprenorphine twice a day for five years, but the Aroostook County Jail didn't want to give her the meds, arguing that the drug is often trafficked among inmates. The inmate's attorneys argued successfully that withholding treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, Willis Arnold reports for NPR.

Farmers seem to be sticking with President Trump in trade war with China, but they want him to win it soon

Farmer Tim Bardole sticks with Trump. (Photo by Zach Boyden-
Holmes of the Des Moines Register, via The Associated Press)
Though his fight with China over trade "has been devastating to an already-struggling agriculture industry, there's little indication [President] Trump is paying a political price," report Sarah Burnett and Scott McFetridge of The Associated Press. "There's a big potential upside if he can get a better deal — and little downside if he continues to get credit for trying for the farmers caught in the middle. It's a calculation Trump recognizes heading into a reelection bid where he needs to hold on to farm states like Iowa and Wisconsin and is looking to flip others, like Minnesota."

The story's example is Iowa farmer Tim Bardole, who "survived years of low crop prices and rising costs by cutting back on fertilizer and herbicides and fixing broken-down equipment rather than buying new." When Trump "made a miserable situation worse, Bardole used up any equity his operation had and started investing in hogs in hopes they'll do better than crops. A year later, the dispute is still raging and soybeans hit a 10-year-low. But Bardole says he supports his president more today than he did when he cast a ballot for Trump in 2016, skeptical he would follow through on his promises."

"He does really seem to be fighting for us," Bardole says, "even if it feels like the two sides are throwing punches and we're in the middle, taking most of the hits."

After citing March polling, the story notes, "Many farmers are lifelong Republicans who like other things Trump has done, such as reining in the EPA and tackling illegal immigration, and believe he's better for their interests than most Democrats even on his worst day. They give him credit for doing something previous presidents of both parties mostly talked about. And now that they've struggled for this long, they want to see him finish the job — and soon."

"We are the frontline soldiers getting killed as this trade war goes on," Paul Jeschke, who grows corn and soybeans in northern Illinois, told AP. "I'm unhappy and I think most of us are unhappy with the situation. But most of us understand the merits. And it's not like anyone else would be better. The smooth-talking presidents we've had recently -- they certainly didn't get anything done."

When newspapers move printing elsewhere, it gives them a chance to relocate; southwestern Ky. daily goes downtown

Left to right: Landlord Hal McCoy, Editor Zirconia Alleyne and Publisher Brandon Cox in front of the building in downtown Hopkinsville, Ky., that will be the new home of the Kentucky New Era, a small daily newspaper. (Photo by Tony Kirves)
All over the country, small daily newspapers no longer need the real estate and buildings they once did, mainly because they have moved their printing to another location, usually in the same ownership group, to save personnel and equipment-maintenance costs.

That happened when Paducah-based Paxton Media Inc. bought the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville and moved the printing to Owensboro. The company didn't buy the newspaper's real estate, so it's moving to a downtown building that once housed a J.C. Penney & Co. store and is directly across the street from City Hall. The paper moved from downtown in 1971.

"Publisher Brandon Cox likes the idea of getting closer to the action," writes Jennifer P. Brown, an online news entrepreneur and former New Era editor whom the paper hired to write the story of the move. Cox told her, “From an editorial perspective, we support what’s going on in downtown Hopkinsville, and we think we should put our money where our mouth is.” That took some finagling.

Brown writes, "There was only one available building with a loading dock to handle distribution of the papers when they arrive on trucks around 2:30 a.m. on the New Era’s five publication days. Hopkinsville businessman Hal McCoy made a deal to buy the former J.C. Penney building and will renovate two vacant bays on the main floor. One bay will be for McCoy, who owns and manages several residential and commercial properties in Hopkinsville. The other bay will house the New Era. . . . The news staff will have a view of Main Street through the building’s storefront window."

“It’s so important, I think, for the local news to be intimately ingrained and connected to the heart of the community it serves,” Cox told Brown. “There’s no better way to do that than to be a part of the downtown.”

InsideClimate News reporting project with 14 Midwest newsrooms includes stories on farmers, rural energy use

Reporters in 14 newsrooms across the Midwest teamed up with InsideClimate News to explore local solutions to climate change, and the result is a package of stories called "Middle America's Low-Hanging Carbon," implicitly arguing that there are many relatively simple steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in a politically pivotal region vulnerable to a warming world.

"Summers will warm faster in the Midwest than in any other American region, according to the National Climate Assessment," John J. Cushman of ICN notes. "​And these states form the hinge of the nation's intensifying political debate over climate change. Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, devoted to saving coal and hostile to the Paris climate accord, succeeded in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa—all won by Barack Obama in 2012. Two years after Trump's victory, in the 2018 midterms, lots of upper Midwest congressional districts and governorships flipped the other way, putting in place new leaders with high climate ambitions."

The package includes stories about a beef-cattle farmer in Illinois offsetting his climate footprint, a small dairy farm in Iowa doing likewise, Wisconsin dairies wary of investing in digesters to make energy from manure, and stories about energy use in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and other states.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Trump and Democrats ignore farmers' biggest issue, five years of low crop prices, agricultural policy experts write

President Trump and his Democratic challengers are ignoring "the critical issue facing the agricultural sector: low farm income brought on by five years of falling crop prices," Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray of the University of Tennessee write for The Daily Yonder.

"While there are alternate policies preferred by different farmers and farm organizations, there is virtually no dissension on identifying the problem," they write. "At the same time, farmers from left, right, and center agree that the current low prices are disastrous. Some see echoes of the 1980s in the rising level of farm bankruptcies."

Trump and the Democrats need to visit "rural, agricultural areas and listen and learn," write Ray and Schaffer, of UT's Agricultural Policy Research Center. "The candidates need to understand that the current low-price situation is no anomaly; agriculture is characterized by long periods of low prices punctuated by single years and short periods of higher prices."

And what should the politicians do? "From the perspective of social stability and humanitarian concerns, the objective should be to cultivate and maintain an agricultural sector in which productive capacity always exceeds current demand. To do otherwise would be ethically unacceptable." And what are political leaders doing to accomplish that? "From our perspective: not much."

"The Democrats have been silent" on such issues, the Trump administration wants the government to pay a smaller share of crop insurance, and the 2018 Farm Bill "does little to address the current price/income problems," with no new policies, they write, and existing programs "are simply inadequate to address the multi-year price problem that farmers are facing."

Friday, May 17, 2019

Editor of daily bought by GateHouse, suffering cuts in staff, reduces editorials to one per month; what do you think?

Should newspaper editorial pages go the way of Xacto knives and wax? Jeremy McBain, executive editor of the Petoskey News-Review in northern Michigan, wrestled with the question and decided that the daily, bought in February by GateHouse Media, needed to cut way back on its editorials.

Jeremy McBain
"Our staff has been cut. Reporters and editors have more duties on their plates. I have to start looking at areas to cut. Areas that will have the least impact on readers," McBain wrote May 17.

"We will not be cutting the columnists, the letters to the editor or the kudos on the opinion page. Those will remain. What you will see are fewer editorials. We are going to write only one of these a month, starting this month. However, we reserve the option to write more if a rare situation calls for it. It is hoped this will give the reporters on the editorial board more time each week to focus on our priority — unbiased, factual, news stories. And it is hoped this will give our editors more time to work with reporters on improving stories."

McBain concluded, "Let’s face it, you don’t read this newspaper to learn what our opinion on a community issue is on the opinion page. You read this newspaper to find out what is going on, how it impacts you and what you can about it. That is our priority. That is what we do best."

Earlier in his piece, McBain said of opinion pages, "Are they really needed anymore? In today’s digital media world, you can find and you can express opinion in thousands of different places. . . . But, where can you go to get solid facts today? Where can you get information that is not spun to get you to believe someone’s viewpoint? That seems to be getting harder and harder today when it comes to the digital world or television." McBain said his surveys in the past had shown that older readers said the opinion page was still valuable. Younger readers saw no use for it."

Readers of The Rural Blog are invited to comment on this item.

Longest-serving exec of a state press group wins award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckian

David Thompson
The longest-serving executive of any U.S. newspaper association, Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, is the 2019 winner of the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.

Thompson will receive the award Sept. 26, the 36th anniversary of taking the job. No other current member of the Newspaper Association Managers, which serves groups in the U.S. and Canada, has served so long as chief executive of an association.

“It’s been a real honor to serve alongside him,” said NAM Clerk Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association and former editor of the Glasgow Daily Times in Kentucky. "David is a dedicated, hard-working advocate for community journalism and freedom of information.”

In the last session of the General Assembly, Thompson led successful efforts to defeat bills that would have substantially weakened the Kentucky Open Records Act. In 1992, he coordinated the last major revision of the act, which was passed in 1976.

"David has been a tireless advocate for good journalism in Kentucky," said Tom Eblen, president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "He has not just supported Kentucky's newspapers. He has worked hard for their readers to make sure Kentucky's open-records and open-meetings laws are protected and enforced in the public's interest."

The SPJ chapter and the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues present the award, which is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission and the driving force for creation of the institute, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Thompson's work has sometimes meant legislative battles with groups such as the Kentucky League of Cities, over public-notice ads, but it was the league that nominated him for the award.

“KPA and KLC have sometimes been on opposite sides of a legislative issue,” KLC Deputy Executive Director J.D. Chaney wrote in his nomination. “Nonetheless, we have great respect for David’s integrity in all areas of his work. He is a fierce and respected advocate for journalism in Kentucky.” He added, “We can think of no one who has shown more journalistic leadership in serving the communities of Kentucky. . . . He has represented Kentucky’s small, local newspapers above all else.”

All but two of Kentucky’s 120 counties, many of them small, have a newspaper. The prevalence of small papers has helped give the KPA the largest board of directors of any U.S. press group. “It can be a challenge to work with such a large board, represent all valid interests and keep your eyes on the prize,” said Institute Director Al Cross, who has served on the board as a journalism-education representative. “David understands the newspapers of Kentucky better than anyone.”

Thompson, who lives in Georgetown with his wife Teresa, is a journalism graduate of the University of Kentucky and an Army veteran. He was a sportswriter for the Lexington Herald, where his father Billy also covered sports, and was publisher and editor of the Georgetown News and Times when he joined KPA. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2006.

At KPA, Thompson has overseen many innovations, including an open-government hotline for legal advice, a legal defense fund, an internship program for college students, a statewide open-records audit, a news bureau and story-sharing service, a move to a new headquarters funded by KPA’s business activities, and a website for public notices, better known as “legal ads.” His tenure also allowed him to manage both the 125th and 150th anniversaries of the association.

“David Thompson has invested his life working in, with, and for community newspapers,” KPA President Jay Nolan said. He wrote in seconding the nomination, “I cannot think of another journalist in the state who has consistently contributed so much to so many for so long.”

Sharon Burton, winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award, wrote in her seconding letter, “David may not have penned a local newspaper article since he accepted the role of KPA executive director in 1983, but he has certainly been a part of every community newspaper across Kentucky for the past 36 years.”

John Nelson, executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers and the 2013 Smith Award winner, said, "As past KPA presidents, many of us have been given credit for initiatives to hold government accountable, to advance efforts to expand transparency, and to support the First Amendment — all foundations in the practice of community journalism. Behind every one of those efforts for the past 36 years has been David Thompson, without whose imagination, support, encouragement and influence there would have been little success. David’s fingerprints are all over community journalism in Kentucky, his public service hidden between the lines of our newspaper columns."

Former print journalist's rural Iowa talk radio show puts local officials in the 'Danger Zone'

Sheri Melvold in the control room at KMAQ. (Daily Yonder photo by Julianne Couch)
If you want to see what great rural broadcast journalism can look like, look no farther than Maquoketa, Iowa. The town of 6,000 is home to KMAQ AM/FM, one of the state's few locally owned and operated radio stations. The rural Jackson County station plays a mix of music, a call-in auction, live reading of obituaries, bingo, and more. But one of its most distinctive offerings is "Just Talk", an interview and call-in show focused on local news, Julianne Couch reports for The Daily Yonder.

Though KMAQ already had a long-running talk show, local owner Dennis Voy decided in 1996 that he wanted a show from a female perspective. He and his wife Nancy immediately thought of Sheri Melvold to head up the show. "An Arizona native, she’d worked for newspapers such as the Phoenix Gazette and the Arizona Republic. Her then husband, Doug Melvold, was a journalist, too, and a Maquoketa native," Couch reports. "When he returned to take over the family-run Maquoketa Sentinel Press, she accompanied him and worked for the paper. Even after the couple divorced, she continued working there for several more years. She also contributed to other area newspapers on occasion and became well known in the community. Her local knowledge and journalism chops meant she was an obvious choice to take on a live interview and call-in show, even though she had never worked in radio before."
Sperling's Best Places map
Melvold signaled from the beginning that she was no pushover. She chose the Kenny Loggins hit "Danger Zone" as her show's theme song to remind any politicians who might drop in that they shouldn't get too comfortable. "Melvold knows her show isn’t a hard-hitting political news program. She tries not to press too much. But she does run the ship and reminds certain guests that it isn’t her job to present only the positive side of community stories," Couch reports.

Melvold covers plenty of non-political local goings-in, and reads local newspapers to make sure she has her finger on the community's pulse. Though the station's audience is aging, they're loyal. And Melvold believes KMAQ holds a unique place in the community as a rapid-response news source.

Registration open for Society of Environmental Journalists' 29th annual conference, to be held from Oct. 9-13

Registration is open for the Society of Environmental Journalists' 29th annual conference, which will be held from Oct. 9-13 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

"This year’s conference focuses on climate change, energy development, water scarcity and politics, public lands management, agriculture and social justice (and injustice)," write conference co-chairs Susan Moran and Joshua Zaffos. Click here for more information or to register.

U.S. bans Chinese telecom tech popular with rural carriers

"President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday designed to bar U.S. telecommunications networks from using equipment from foreign suppliers, a move apparently targeting Chinese telecom giant Huawei," Richard Gonzales reports for NPR.

The move could stymie rural broadband buildout, since many rural telecoms use Huawei's relatively low-cost equipment. Though such hardware makes up less than 1% of U.S. telecom networks, many small rural carriers use it.

The order says that "foreign adversaries" are increasingly committing economic and industrial espionage through telecommunications technology and services, and declares this a national emergency. The order instructs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to create rules restricting the purchase of telecoms tech from companies linked to or controlled by foreign adversaries.

Though no specific countries or companies are named in the order, the Commerce Department said Wednesday it's adding Huawei to a list that prevents it from buying components from U.S. companies without government approval. The administration has complained that the Chinese government could use Huawei tech to spy or snoop on Americans. In 2012 Congress banned the federal government from doing business with Huawei or another Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, Gonzales reports.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maine, the most rural state, to end religious exemptions for vaccines; bill sparks passionate debate on freedom, safety

Maine, the nation's most rural state, will soon no longer allow philosophical or religious exemptions to its school vaccination law. The state Senate passed a repeal bill Tuesday on an 18-17 vote, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills supports the repeal and is expected to sign it into law. If she does, "Maine would be the fourth state – following California, Mississippi and West Virginia – to ban all non-medical exemptions that allow parents to forgo school-required vaccines for their children," Scott Thistle reports for the Portland Press Herald.

The bill comes as measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases are making a major comeback in the U.S. because of low vaccination rates. "Maine has one of the worst vaccination rates for children entering kindergarten in the nation, and the country’s highest rate of pertussis," commonly called whooping cough, Thistle reports. "In the 2018-19 school year, 5.6 percent of Maine children entering kindergarten had non-medical exemptions for immunizations, state statistics show."

The bill sparked passionate debate on both sides. Opponents of the measure said ending religious and philosophical exemptions wouldn't improve public health and would drive thousands of families away from the state, or prevent religious families from moving to Maine. Many also said it decreased religious freedom and parental rights. But supporters said such exemptions put others' health at risk, such as children who are immunocompromised, Thistle reports.

It's unclear how much ending the exemptions will help increase vaccination rates. In California, vaccination rates increased from 92.8% to 95.1% within two years, but medical exemptions also increased dramatically in regions that once had high rates of philosophical exemptions, suggesting that some parents simply pressed doctors for a different excuse, Thistle reports.

Illinois editor resigns from GateHouse paper to spare layoffs

Angie Muhs
The editor of The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois, resigned Friday in hopes of preventing more layoffs. When the general manager escorted Angie Muhs from the building Monday, staff writers accompanied her as a show of respect. Muhs had been at the paper since 2014 and became the president of the Associated Press Media Editors last year.

According to Journal-Register staff writer Dean Olsen, Muhs hoped to save money on staff salaries in hopes that owner GateHouse Media would not make any more newsroom reductions. "Olsen said the newspaper had about 35 reporters when the union formed in 2012. Today, the newspaper has 15 editorial staffers, including part-timers, and three managers," John O'Connor reports for The Associated Press. The paper's sports editor was laid off in March, the photo editor was laid off this month, and many beats like city hall and education do not have full-time reporters, according to Olsen.

GateHouse got the paper in 2007 as part of its $380 million purchase of Copley Press's Midwest holdings. The largest owner of newspapers in the U.S., GateHouse has been frequently criticized for buying papers and laying off staff. Though it didn't respond to O'Connor's requests for comment, the company "in the past has rejected the notion that its motivations are strictly financial and has pointed to measures it’s taken to keep news flowing at newspapers across the U.S.," O'Connor reports.

Olsen said Muhs was an asset to the paper and would be missed. "It’s sad she felt she had to do this because GateHouse says its focus is local news," Olsen told O'Connor. "We’re waiting for them to show us how they’re going to fulfill that mission."

Fact-checking Trump on 'false or misleading' trade tweets

Glenn Kessler offers a blistering review of President Trump's recent tweets on international trade and trade policy in The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column.

"As we have noted for years, President Trump appears to have little understanding of trade and trade policy, even though it is an animating element of his presidency. As the trade war with China has heated up, the president’s itchy Twitter finger has been busy with a fusillade of false or misleading tweets," Kessler writes. "Whether the president knows these claims are untrue is unclear, but the overall effect is to create a distinct winner-takes-all narrative for his trade policy. Here’s a quick tour through some of the major themes." Read more here.

Life in Rural America Symposium, with reporter Ken Ward Jr. and author Sarah Smarsh, to livestream May 21

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will livestream its Life in Rural America Symposium in Charleston, W.Va., from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on May 21. 

The event will feature experts and community leaders from across the nation discussing how to solve rural challenges, the latest data on rural health and economic experiences, how to use research and data to bring change, and examples of rural communities and regions where important change is happening. The symposium will also premiere new data about the economic, social and health experiences of people living in rural and tribal communities. 

The keynote speakers will be Sarah Smarsh, author of the New York Times bestseller Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, and Ken Ward Jr., investigative journalist for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and recipient of the 2018 MacArthur "Genius" Award. Click here for more details about the symposium and how to tune in.

Radio stations in hurricane-devastated Fla. Panhandle to play Trump speech snippets every hour until 2020 election

"Two days after President Trump rallied his base in Florida’s Panhandle, vowing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the hurricane-devastated region, three local radio stations said they would air Trump speeches daily until the 2020 election," Tiffini Theisen reports for the Orlando Sentinel. "The stations will broadcast two-minute snippets of Trump speeches every hour of every day -- perhaps sometimes twice an hour -- until the end of the presidential race, owner Samuel Rogatinsky said."

Rogatinsky, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who owns Gulf Coast Media, bought three Panhandle FM stations late last year from Powell Broadcasting Co. Powell sold the stations after Hurricane Michael damaged facilities so badly that the stations were off air for several months, Theisen reports. 

Rogatinsky told Theisen he ran the notion of airing Trump speeches regularly by several locals and none objected because "It's Republican territory." He said Panhandle residents have felt forgotten in the seven months since the storm, and said the speeches could be uplifting. "Really, we just want to have inspirational type things because the community is so down," he told Thiesen. "Nobody else is really promising or doing anything. They want to hear what he has to say."

He told MSN that he would give equal airtime to other candidates if any requested it, to comply with Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

States get ranked for their health emergency preparedness; how does yours stack up?

Map by the National Health Security Preparedness Index; click the image to enlarge it.
The nation's overall ability to manage health emergencies has improved significantly over the past six years, though some regions lag behind, according to a nationwide study.

The 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzes 129 measures for each state and for the nation as a whole, such as the number of paramedics and whether bridges are in good condition. Such measures help determine how well states could respond to and recover from a health emergency caused by infectious diseases, terrorism, extreme weather, and more.

The index offers granular data for each state, including trends over time and how states stack up against others in measures that affect their preparedness, such as health security surveillance and incident and information management. Click here to see how your state stacks up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Republican senators feeling the heat from constituents over trade war, but Rubio says U.S. must hang tough

"Senate Republicans expressed growing concern Tuesday that President Trump’s escalating trade war with China is hurting their constituents in rural America, ratcheting up tension between the White House and Congress on a signature issue," Damian Paletta, Erica Werner and Taylor Telford report for The Washington Post.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said "I'm not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say," the Post reports. Grassley is one of Trump's main critics on trade, and has previously clashed with the president on the Renewable Fuels Standard.

The president has been unclear about what he believes will happen next. "On Tuesday, Trump offered conflicting forecasts of what would happen next, predicting that a deal could be reached in a few weeks but also saying the showdown could last much longer," the Post reports. "The resulting impression was that trade policy was sharply zigzagging between calls for a return to the table and more negotiation, and preparation for further tariff pain."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are being tested in their public support for Trump after last week's tariff increase prompted angry calls from constituents who complain they're being hurt by the trade war. "Faced with the prospect that Trump will continue with his adversarial approach, Republican lawmakers are also looking for ways to provide a taxpayer bailout to farmers, perhaps adding billions of dollars to a disaster bill that has languished in Congress for weeks," the Post reports.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the trade war was more the fault of corporations who made bad deals with China than Trump's tariffs. "Rubio acknowledges that the trade war with China is harmful to the American economy in the short term and that the tariffs increase costs for U.S. consumers. But he says he believes it’s worth it," the Post's James Hohmann reports

"Surrendering to China will be devastating,” Rubio told Hohmann. "It will fundamentally alter our place in the world and the very nature of our economy for two generations or more."

The Post's Philip Bump, however, argues that the trade war is too expensive for America to maintain, and that American consumers are essentially subsidizing farmers, part of Trump's key political base: "A soybean farmer I spoke with last August in Pennsylvania described the tariff fight as 'a small loss for a big-time gain.' Whether that optimism holds nine months later — and whether it will last for another year — is unclear."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters this week that farmers' patience with the trade war was wearing thin, the Post reports. "I'm very hopeful we can get back to the table," Roberts said. "There's too much at stake."

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enters Democratic presidential race, touts his red-state and rural bona fides

Steve Bullock
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has entered the Democratic race for president, making him arguably the most rural candidate in the crowded field.

Bullock "has made his political calling card that of a Democrat who has flourished in the rural West: He has been elected statewide three times, once for attorney general and twice in his bids for governor, each time in a year that his party’s presidential nominee was losing Montana," Jonathan Martin reports for The New York Times.

Of particular note — and he notes it often — Bullock was elected in 2016 in a state that President Trump carried, making him the only Democratic governor to do so. He hopes that will position him as a candidate who can sway Republican and independent voters, Martin reports.

However, "with little name recognition beyond his native Montana, he’s got a climb as tall as Granite Peak ahead of him. Joe Biden, who leads in early polls, seems to have a firm grip on the White Moderate Dude role," Eric Lutz reports for Vanity Fair. "How Bullock, an obscure figure with a pretty cookie-cutter message to give everyone a “fair shot,” can make it where [Elizabeth] Warren, Kamala Harris, and others haven’t so far isn’t clear. But that hasn’t stopped a host of other long-shots from making their move — and it certainly isn’t stopping him.

Fentanyl, an added ingredient, drives increases in deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses

The same drug that is driving opioid-overdose deaths is also causing a surge in deaths from cocaine and overdoses of psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and legal drugs like Adderall.

"That’s according to a new analysis of death certificate data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that fentanyl — a cheap synthetic opioid that is a hundred times more potent than morphine — and other opioids were involved in nearly three-fourths of all cocaine overdose deaths and an increasing number of methamphetamine deaths," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline, the nonprofit, nonpartisan reporting arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Dealers are adding fentanyl to cocaine and meth.

Death rates from cocaine and psychostimulants increased from 2016 to 2017 in both rural and urban areas, and the most rural counties showed the biggest relative rate increase, the CDC study says. Efforts to fight the overdose epidemic have mostly focused on opioids, which have killed more than 700,000 Americans since 1999, but CDC officials say states and localities need to be more aware of emerging threats like fentanyl, Vestal reports.

Christopher Jones, strategy director at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told Vestal: "Broader awareness of emerging drug threats and how they intersect with the opioid-overdose crisis will help public health officials and the health care community better tailor their prevention and response efforts for all the substances and combinations of substances people are using in their community."

Four months in, Illinois Capitol coverage project is booming

Illinois newspapers were so understaffed that most of the state capitol press corps disappeared, so the Illinois Press Foundation launched a collaboration to help papers team up to share coverage and content. Four months later, Capitol News Illinois is doing well: "Nearly 300 papers around Illinois have already reprinted its content, and several editors say its coverage has become an invaluable fixture in their papers," Mari Cohen reports for Columbia Journalism Review.

The program's success "suggests that in the face of existential threats to the news industry, turning to collaboration—and away from traditional notions of competition—can pay off for local news," Cohen writes.

It is also a hopeful sign for political journalism. A Pew Research Center study found that Illinois went from 12 full-time statehouse reporters in 2009 to five in 2014, the sharpest such decline in the nation. That was especially troublesome in a state known for political corruption. The lack of reputable coverage was compounded when partisan and ideologically driven outlets tried to fill the void and provide coverage to Illinois papers. "Capitol News aims to offer a rigorous nonpartisan option," Cohen reports.

CNI, which has three reporters and a full-time intern, "roughly doubled the number of full-time print newspaper reporters working at the statehouse," Cohen reports. The project receives funding from the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation and the Illinois Press Association, parent of the foundation. All CNI content is free to IPA members.

Conflicting federal definitions of 'rural' muddy the waters

130 counties with mostly or entirely rural populations (based on density in census tracts) are located in the nation's major metropolitan areas. Click on the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version. (Daily Yonder map)
How do you define rural? It's a question that bedevils researchers, journalists, government and non-profit organizations, and even colleges (who gets a rural scholarship?), Amanda Kool writes for The Daily Yonder.

Kool, a lawyer and author, first noticed the weird disconnect in legal definitions of rurality when she moved from Boston to a rural area near Cincinnati a few years ago. "Bracken County, Kentucky is a long way from Boston in more ways than one," she writes. "And yet according to one of the most frequently used systems for defining what is rural and what is urban, both places are counted in the very same column of data, along with our nation’s other most urban locales."

That's because of differences in how different federal bodies define rurality. The Department of Agriculture splits counties into nine categories along a rural-urban spectrum by total population, market area and commuting time. "Three of them are based on census places, three others on census urban areas, one on designations of Office of Management and Budget Metropolitan Statistical Areas, one on USDA Economic Research Service rural-urban commuting area codes, and yet another based on the USDA Business and Industry Loan Program definition," Kool writes.

The Census Bureau, however, says "nonmetro" isn't the same as "rural," and more than half the people living in USDA-recognized rural areas really live in a metro area, Kool writes. That's because counties like Bracken have census tracts that classify as rural because of their low population density, but as metropolitan because at least a fourth of their labor force commutes to the metro's main county.

"The problem here is much bigger than a cultural crisis of identity," Kool writes. "Conflating notions of urban and rural with notions of metro and non-metro, and mixing usage of USDA ERS definitions with Census Bureau definitions, creates a muddy mess of what we think we know about broadband access, health care, employment, education, poverty, and so much else, both here and there. It means that the lines we use to separate the haves and the haves-not on any given topic appear less stark than human experience suggests, since under-counting the issues only serves to soften the statistics on either side of the line. From a programmatic perspective, it means that streams of funding for services intended to level the playing field do not reach some communities that might most need it, or that might best utilize it."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Editor of Tennessee weekly shows how to cover a suicide, especially of a young person and someone you know

Covering a death by suicide in a rural newspaper can be a tricky business. Many editors choose not to, mostly in an effort to show regard for the victim's family. Those who do cover such deaths may also face the difficult prospect of writing about someone they knew. The editor of a rural Tennessee weekly recently provided a good example of how to thread that needle, especially with the suicide of a teenager, something that has become more common in recent years.

Brad Martin
Brad Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, 50 miles west of Nashville, took a two-pronged approach: He wrote a straightforward story for the bottom of the front page, with the five Ws and several quotes from the friends and family of Jacob Hetherington, 17. On the opinion page, he wrote a long editorial about how he had met Jacob and his twin brother years ago while leading a Boy Scout troop.

Martin wrote that Jacob had seemed fine at a chance encounter a few weeks before his suicide, and cautioned that even sociable people like Jacob can fall prey to suicide if they don't have someone to talk to about difficult thoughts. He asked readers to reach out to others and make sure they have someone safe to talk to, and posted the phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline.

Martin is no stranger to the issue of rural suicide. In a 2016 article for The Daily Yonder, he wrote about how he became galvanized about the subject in 2003 when 13 people died by suicide in his town that year. That year he helped form the Hickman County Suicide Prevention Task Force, which has been a constant presence in the community with information on support and prevention.

Reaching out to others is an "inexact science," Martin wrote in his editorial, "but in a small place, where we know most of our neighbors, our job is to try, and to keep trying, isn't it?"

Some in rural Ill. want to shed Chicago; won't happen, but shows rural-urban divide that helped Trump win other states

Bureau of the Census map; click on it to enlarge
Illinois has become the latest state where rural lawmakers want to break it up to eliminate urban domination, but with a different twist. Instead of a relatively small rural area breaking off from the rest of the state, rural Illinois legislators want Congress to make Chicago the 51st state.

Their resolution "has eight Republican cosponsors in the state House (there are 44 Republicans in the lower chamber) and support among many of the state’s conservative activists. It’s the second such bill in as many years," Matt Vasilogambros reports for Stateline.

The chief sponsor, Rep. Brad Halbrook, "cites the many issues tearing the state apart," Stateline reports. "He listed Democrats’ 'overreaching' stances on abortion, guns, immigration, debt, pensions, Medicaid spending, property taxes, green energy and workers’ compensation as just some of the reasons" Chicago and Illinois should separate.

Chicagoland and Downstate Illinois have long had differences. They "hit a breaking point several years ago, when Illinois was mired in the longest fiscal stalemate in the United States since the Great Depression," Vasilogambros writes. "The budget battle between Democratic lawmakers and then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lasted more than two years, threatening public university accreditation, statewide road construction and 'junk' credit ratings.

Halbrook told Stateline the mess was the fault of Chicagoland Democrats: “Everywhere I go, people say we just need to get rid of Chicago. It gets rid of all of our problems. My constituency is serious about it. I’m trying to save the state.” He is from Shelbyville, pop. 4,600, in central Illinois.

Cook County, which includes Chicago, has 40% of the state's 12.7 million people. The broader Chicago metropolitan area has 9.5 million, or 75%, so "without the Chicagoland area, Illinois would have fewer people than Connecticut," Stateline notes.

John Jackson, author of a recent study about Illinois regionalism and a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University, told Stateline that a breakup is unrealistic. "But, he said, that doesn’t mean he thinks the movement is just a fool’s errand," Vasilogambros writes. "It’s about broader resentment."

“This represents a long-standing rural and urban divide that is serious in this state and prevents things from getting done,” Jackson told him. “It’s the same phenomenon all over the country, and drove the Trump vote in 2016 and will again in 2020.”

After Midwest flooding, hazards remain

Residents in Hamburg, Iowa, piled up ruined belongings and housing materials. (Photo: Des Moines Register, Brian Powers)
Record flooding has wreaked havoc in the Midwest this spring, but even where waters have receded, dangers remain. In addition to debris and infrastructure damage, "floodwaters overwhelmed private wells, sewage lagoons and public water systems, soaked over a million bushels of corn and soybeans, and picked up propane, anhydrous ammonia and fertilizer tanks," Donnelle Eller reports for The Associated Press. That has left "orphaned containers filled with industrial chemicals, pesticides, diesel fuel, oil and other potentially hazardous materials."

Local, state and federal officials are working together on the massive clean-up effort. Farmers, elevators and businesses have been ordered to destroy grain contaminated by river water, and state air-quality laws have been lifted to allow residents to burn crops, debris and damaged household items, Eller reports.

Officials are concerned about the raw sewage that many cities pumped into rivers for weeks after the floods hit. Mike Crecelius, the emergency management director in Iowa's Fremont County, is warning people not to go into the Missouri River without protection. "There are a number of municipalities north of us dumping raw sewage into the water. There are orphan tanks floating around, with valves coming off, losing pesticides, insecticides, acids and fertilizers," he told Eller. "You don’t know what’s in the water."

Though the volume of the floodwaters diluted some of the chemicals, environmental specialists also worry about the potential damage to fish and plants in the rivers, and the impact that could have on the larger ecosystem, including the people who eat the fish and get drinking water from the rivers, Eller reports.

Jury orders Bayer to pay more than $2 billion to California couple who claimed Roundup gave them cancer

On Monday a California jury ordered Bayer AG to pay more than $2 billion to a couple who said the Roundup gave them cancer. The verdict is the largest in U.S. history in litigation over glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in the herbicide.

"It was the third consecutive U.S. jury verdict against the company in litigation over the chemical, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto last year," Tina Bellon reports for Reuters. "Both other jury verdicts also came in California, one in state court and one in federal court." The company faces more than 13,400 similar lawsuits in the U.S.

The jury awarded $55 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, on the grounds that Roundup was defectively designed and that the company acted negligently in failing to warn consumers about the risks. "The large punitive damages award is likely to be reduced due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9:1," Bellon reports.

Bayer argued that glyphosate has been studied for decades and found not to be carcinogenic, and said the Pilliods were both at high risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma because of other illnesses they had. The company said it will appeal the decision.

Journal of Appalachian Health begins publication, and it's about experiences in the region, not just research

Researchers in the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky have started the Journal of Appalachian Health, an online, peer-reviewed journal, saying their overall objective "is to improve the health status of the population of Appalachia through the rapid dissemination of knowledge of their health problems and evidence-based solutions to them." The journal is available free to all readers, and all users are free to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format; and can remix, transform, and build on the material for any purpose.

"There is knowledge in the pages of Appalachia’s hills," the editors write in the first issue. "This journal is positioned to find and publish those translations. It grows from a need to provide an outlet for scholarship about Appalachia’s health so that knowledge, and occasionally wisdom, is shared with those who care about and are committed to improving the region’s health."

The journal's first article reports that children 7 to 9 years old in parts of Appalachian Ohio are almost five times as likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke as children in the nation, and that parents likely under-report the prevalence of smoking in their homes, based on blood samples taken from 404 children.

The journal is open to essays and commentaries as well as research reports. Jill Crainshaw of the divinity school at Wake Forest University writes about the experiences of students who have taken "a multicultural contexts course that includes a 10-day sojourn in the mountains of North Carolina. . . . The health and well-being of human communities are connected to the health and well-being of the geographic places where people live, work, and play."

Monday, May 13, 2019

Apply by July 19 for free, expenses-paid workshop in NYC on 'cash register justice,' all about fines, fees, bail and jail

Policies of prosecutors and judges make the burden of fines, fees, bail and jail vary widely across the criminal-justice jurisdictions of the United States. Though some policies cause overcrowding of local jails, there has been relatively little reporting at the local level about such policies, and that "has helped to keep the costs, and their consequences, hidden to many Americans; and it has created a troubling gap in public understanding of the current state of our justice system," says the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of the City University of New York.

To help fill that gap, the center is conducting a two-year program of workshops for U.S. journalists. It held one workshop in March and is seeking at least 15 reporters to attend one on Sept. 26 and 27 in New York, offering to cover travel, hotel and related expenses, followed by mentoring and research assistance from center staff and experts as required. Reporters will be expected to publish or broadcast at least one story arising from their fellowship work within a reasonable time after the conference.

The selection will be based on project proposals related to the general theme of “cash register justice” that are either underway or contemplated. Applications must include a reference letter from an assigning editor or other commissioning editor who knows the applicant’s work and a short bio. (Freelancers are eligible.) Previous recipients of CMCJ reporting fellowships are eligible to apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, July 19. An application form isavailable here. Send questions to CMCJ Journalism Coordinator Maurice Possley at mauricepossley@gmail.com.

The fellowship is supported by Arnold Ventures, formerly known as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

"Few Americans are aware that prisons and jails confine thousands of people whose main offense is that they are too poor," the center says. "Confronted with an accumulation of fees and fines associated with both felony and non-felony convictions as well as unpaid tickets and other civil penalties, they wind up behind bars in what amounts to a 21st century version of debtors’ prisons. . . .  Fines and fees imposed by local justice systems around the U.S. drive unemployment, family instability, recidivism and poverty in the most at-risk communities. Just as problematic: Two-thirds of all prison inmates have criminal justice debts, which complicates their successful reintegration into the community."

Oklahoma hospital's struggles illustrate dire situation of many rural hospitals, show local residents' dedication

A tip jar to help pay employees shows the town's dedication to its hospital. (Washington Post photo by Michael Williamson)
A rural Oklahoma town's battle to save its hospital illustrates the dire situation so many rural hospitals are in these days. "More than 100 of the country’s remote hospitals have gone broke and then closed in the past decade, turning some of the most impoverished parts of the United States into what experts now call “health-hazard zones," Eli Saslow reports for The Washington Post.

Fairfax Community Hospital was once one of the state's top-ranked rural health care facilities, but when local oil wells dried up and farmers got hit by drought, the town's fortunes declined, and with them, the 15-bed hospital. It survived a 2011 bankruptcy and a string of owners, and was purchased in 2016 by Florida-based EmpowerHMS, which owned more than a dozen Midwestern rural hospitals. "The company promoted itself as 'a savior for struggling rural hospitals,' but within months of taking over, its corporate office had begun defaulting on some of Fairfax Community’s bills and cutting its spending budget, Saslow reports. "Eventually, four of the company’s hospitals had shut down and nine more had entered bankruptcy, including Fairfax."

Fairfax, Okla. (Wikipedia map)
The hospital is the area's largest employer, so leaders in Fairfax are fighting hard to save it. The town spent "more than half its annual budget on legal fees to sue the hospital's owner, in a bid to retake control of the hospital. If the town could do that, there was a chance it could save the hospital by partnering with a new management company," Saslow reports. While the hospital's ownership was tied up in court, hospital employees struggled to keep the hospital's doors open. Employees had been working without pay for the past 11 weeks, computer software was shut down for non-payment, and staff was running low on essential supplies, Saslow reports.

Some hospital staff quit because they couldn't afford to keep volunteering, but others stuck with it, some working 16-hour shifts, hoping for good news from the courts, Saslow reports. "If we aren’t open, where do these people go?" asked a physician assistant. "They’ll go to the cemetery," another employee said. "If we’re not here, these people don’t have time. They’ll die along with this hospital."

The hospital's ownership and management remains tied up in court, and because of that, paychecks are still weeks away at best. The town's vice-mayor, Charlie Cartwright, advised the hospital to remain open as an emergency room only, with a nurse, a doctor and an aide to operate it. Other patients would be transferred out, and that way, the hospital could stay open as it waited for a resolution without incurring the costly fees associated with completely closing, Saslow reports.