|Les High (photo provided)|
|The Border Belt (NNA map)|
|Les High (photo provided)|
|The Border Belt (NNA map)|
The workshop is open only to AHCJ members, but it's easy to register, and memberships are $60 a year for most. "Judging from past such workshops, it will be worth the price of membership," says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, and editor and publisher of Kentucky Health News. Click here for more information about the workshop and how you can sign up.
Police reform is a hot topic. Metropolitan police departments have gotten most of the attention, but most police forces serve smaller communities, and the smaller size may make reform more difficult.
"Experts say that while smaller departments have their benefits, including being able to adapt to their communities and hire officers with local ties, these agencies also are typically able to avoid the accountability being sought as part of the national movement to restructure and improve policing," Mark Berman reports for The Washington Post. "These departments’ often limited resources and the decentralized structure of American law enforcement complicate efforts to mandate widespread training and policy changes, experts say."
At 3 p.m. May 11, the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service will host a free webinar to go over the newly released Commodity Costs and Returns estimates. From the website: "Updated twice a year, these estimates are useful for informing stakeholders, including policymakers, agribusiness, and researchers, of current and historical costs and returns associated with major U.S. commodities. The estimates are also featured in numerous ERS reports and serve as the basis for research."
During the webinar, ERS economist Samantha Padilla will provide an overview of the Commodity Costs and Returns data and walk participants through accessing and using the data product. Click here for more information or to register for the webinar.
|Hall is the subject of this book, published in 2013. In the cover|
photo, she stands in her clinic's ruins after a fire destroyed it.
For an Appalshop film about Hall and her clinic, chick here.
|Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez for The Economist|
|Chart by The Economist; for a larger version, click on it.|
The network is Boost Mobile. It was once a Sprint service, but was sold to Dish Network so T-Mobile and Sprint could begin merging last year without running afoul of anti-trust laws. As part of the merger, T-Mobile agreed to help set up Dish as an independent wireless carrier, but now T-Mobile wants to shut down the 3G network that many Boost/Dish customers rely on by early next year, Allison Johnson reports for The Verge. In essence, T-Mobile was forced to create a future competitor, and is now kneecapping that competitor.
That will likely hurt many low-income rural residents. More than half of Boost's 9.4 million customers use its very low-cost prepaid service, which allows them access to older, slower 3G wireless. Boost customers using the 3G service "are likely doing so not because they prefer it, but because they can’t afford a new phone. In less than a year, they’ll be forced to choose between making that purchase or losing their current cell service altogether," Hill reports. "Bearing disproportionate effects of the pandemic and related economic fallout, it’s likely not a great time for these customers to be shopping for a new phone. Dish also points out that the global chip shortage makes it an especially bad time to try to secure a large number of new devices for customers."
|Wind turbines loom over Okarche Elementary in Oklahoma. (Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman)|
Wind power is increasing. In 2020, more than 1,600 farms with nearly 68,000 turbines generated over 100 gigawatts of electricity—about 7 percent of U.S. energy needs. "The industry is continuing to grow rapidly, with another 200 gigawatts of projects applying for grid connections as of the end of 2020," Brunner, Hoen and Hyman report. "With all this rural development come property tax revenues. Wind projects paid an estimated $1.6 billion in property tax revenues to states and local jurisdictions in 2019."
The money is welcome in cash-strapped rural school districts, but Brunner, Hoen and Hyman wanted to find out how much it was really benefitting schools. Their research found a mixed bag: "Wind energy installations led to large increases in local revenues to school districts," they write. "Schools dramatically increased spending on capital outlays, such as buildings and equipment, but made only modest increases to their operating budgets, like hiring more teachers to reduce class size."
The authors note that smaller class sizes improves student achievement, and wanted to know why many districts spent new revenue on building or repairing facilities instead of hiring more teachers to reduce class size. They discovered that local and state tax laws often give schools a strong financial incentive to put new revenue into construction and renovation instead of teachers and operations. Read more here.
|Want a snack? Cicadas could be on the menu. |
(Washington Post photo by Allison Dinner)
President Biden has a 23 percent approval rating among white evangelicals, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. In general, Biden's approval rating among various religious affiliations is nearly the reverse of former President Trump's at the same point in his presidency. Read more here.
Insects could be the wave of the future for cheap protein in animal feed. But if you want to give it a whirl yourself, here's how to catch and cook cicadas (which will soon be plentiful as the Brood X batch surfaces after 17 years). Read more here.
A new study evaluates how laws banning tobacco-product sales to people under 21 have affected electronic cigarette use in rural and urban youth. Read more here.
The Agricultural Economic Insights team lists of the top 10 "front burner" issues that could affect the farm economy for years to come. That includes the pandemic, lingering effects of African swine fever, child nutrition policy, and immigrant-related farm-labor issues. Read the rest here.
A lawsuit by doctors who advocate plant-based diets claims Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines are driven by meat and dairy marketing concerns, not nutrition. Read more here.
More small towns are offering cash bonuses and more to attract new residents. Read more here.
Kids with a desk and a quiet place to study do better in school, research shows. Read more here.
Research shows that California's carbon-credit system actually allowed polluters to add millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Read more here.
The Smoky Mountain Air podcast is kicking off a new series exploring Black Appalachian music. Listen to the first episode here.
Apply for one of these science, health and environmental reporting fellowships by 6 p.m. ET May 10.
New author Rainesford Stauffer reflects in The Atlantic on how she couldn't wait to move away from Owensboro, Ky., pop. 55,000, when she was a teenager, but has found herself longing for it ever since. Many small-town natives move to big cities in their 20s, she writes, but wonders if they might find just as much fulfillment from staying home. Read more here.
The Justice Department says the federal government never instructed Tyson Foods to keep its plants open in the early months of the pandemic. That's according to documents in a federal lawsuit against the department from four relatives of meatpacking workers who died from Covid-19. It many have broad implications for similar lawsuits elsewhere. Read more here.
Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and vaccination efforts:
Many police are refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine, and departments aren't making them. The low immunization levels could put public health at risk, experts say. Read more here.
Fully vaccinated seniors are 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19, according to newly released findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more here.
White House officials and public-health experts recently held an online focus group aimed at better understanding what motivated former vaccine skeptics to get immunized. Read more here.
Real-world data from 385,000 vaccinated people in Qatar shows that the Pfizer vaccine offers strong protection against key variants of concern. Read more here.
Cities and states are using oddball incentives in an effort to get more people vaccinated, offering freebies that range from alcohol, donuts and marijuana to free target practice at a shooting range. Read more here.
The Daily Yonder reports on efforts to deliver vaccine information through extension offices.
"Renters across the U.S. are facing increased rent debt, with 14 percent of all renter households behind on payments. That is significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels based on an analysis released by the National Equity Atlas and Right to City Alliance," Brent Woodie reports for Route Fifty. "Among those who have fallen behind on rent payments, 76% are people who lost employment during the pandemic. Plus, 78% of low-income households making less than $50,000 per year have struggled to keep up with rent payments along with 63% of renters of color. This makes renters more vulnerable to eviction and a rise of other forms of debt like credit cards, utilities and car payments, according to the report."
More than 5 million Americans are behind on rent, owing an estimated $3,400 in renters' debt per household, or $19.75 billion nationwide. "When examined by state, renters in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Alaska and Georgia have the highest percentage of housing debt. On the other hand, Utah, Maine, Ohio, Idaho and Kansas are states with the lowest," Woodie reports. The share of renters with debt appears to be declining as the nation reopens.
You can see regularly updated national-, state- and county-level data for the project on an interactive data visualization tool called the Rent Debt Dashboard.
The December stimulus-and-relief package had $25 billion to help pay up to a year of back-rent, and the recent $1.9 trillion package gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to help people pay one month's utilities and mortgage or rent to help prevent evictions and service cut-offs.
|Rep. Elise Stefanik|
|New York U.S. House District 21 (GovTrack map, adapted)|
In a recent survey, local government leaders from mostly small and midsize communities said they believe the coronavirus pandemic "will have a lasting impact on the way they deliver services to constituents. But the day-to-day work of municipal governing probably won’t change forever," Kate Queram reports for Route Fifty.
The New Normal Survey, conducted online from March 24 to April 7, asked local government officials to share their predictions about how public services will evolve because of the pandemic; 599 officials completed it. They were asked about their government's priorities and how those changed, the pandemic's impact on the local economy, adoption of new technology, and general questions about the future, Queram reports. The survey is a collaborative effort from organizations that work with local governments: The Atlas, Engaging Local Government Leaders, CivicPulse, CivicPlus and Route Fifty. It's a follow-up to a similar survey from last summer that asked about initial changes in service delivery during the early months of the pandemic."According to the results, priorities in local government agencies have shifted dramatically since 2020. Last July, for example, 43 percent of survey respondents said they were prioritizing 'work from home and workflow management;' by last month, that number had dropped to 28%. By contrast, 44% of respondents this year said they were focused on community engagement, a 14% jump from last year," Queram reports. "Despite those shifts, most respondents said they expected their governments to continue to prioritize pandemic-related issues up to a year from now, including community engagement (50%), small business support (38%) and public health and wellness (33%)."
|Ouita Michel (Photo by Rob Bolson)|
I live on a small lake. On Sunday afternoon, my next-door neighbor (a Trump supporter) came over to help us back our boat trailer into the woods. The first thing he said was, “I’m vaccinated! I can hug you now!” After we finished with the trailer, as we talked about coming out of the pandemic and having an outdoor party to celebrate, he said, “Okay, what’s this whole thing about wearing masks outside — outside! — after the shots? It’s such complete bull----. For crying out loud, if they want people to trust the vaccine, they need to give people a reason to get the vaccine besides how much it will help everybody else.”
|Percent of rural population completely vaccinated|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version
The University of Michigan has announced the finalists for its 2021 Livingston Awards, which honor outstanding reporting and storytelling by young journalists. Here are some with rural resonance:
The opioid epidemic has hit Appalachia particularly hard, so it's perhaps fitting that the first federal trial against drug companies in the epidemic began Monday in West Virginia. "Cabell County and its seat, Huntington, will test a legal claim made by thousands of cities, counties, Native American tribes and other plaintiffs that drug companies ignored red flags and flooded their communities with addictive pain pills, causing a 'public nuisance' and fueling an epidemic of substance abuse, overdoses and deaths," Meryl Kornfield reports for The Washington Post. "The landmark trial in West Virginia against drug distributors known as the 'Big Three' — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — comes after an 11th-hour settlement averted an Ohio trial in October 2019 and coronavirus-related delays stalled opioid cases across the country."
In the trial, described as the most complex civil case in the nation, "Thousands of local governments and jurisdictions are arguing that the companies had a responsibility to ensure that the billions of pain pills pumped into their communities were not diverted for illegal use," Kornfield reports. "The distributors say they complied with the law, delivering drugs approved by the government to pharmacies." The verdict could lay the groundwork for settlements in other such cases.
There's only been one other opioid epidemic trial: in 2019 in a Cleveland courtroom, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $465 million after the other defendants, Teva Pharmaceuticals and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma settled, Kornfield reports.
Speaking of Purdue, attorneys general from 24 states and Washington, D.C., are trying to block the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, from gaining legal immunity from future opioid lawsuits. "In exchange for what amounts to a legal firewall for the Sacklers and their remaining empire, members of the family have offered to forfeit control of their bankrupt drug company and pay $4.2 billion from their private fortunes," Brian Mann reports for NPR.
Though such a settlement could prevent years of expensive litigation and get struggling communities financial aid more quickly, "a growing group of public officials and activists is mounting a last-ditch effort to derail the plan, describing it in legal briefs as an unethical, and possibly unlawful, use of the bankruptcy court's power," Mann reports.
After more than a year of classroom disruptions due to the pandemic, a paper highlighting ways states and educators are accelerating student learning was released by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers," Brent Woodie reports for Route Fifty. "The preliminary analysis shows ways states and school leaders have helped K-12 students make up for gaps in learning. Available state plans, websites, media reports and gubernatorial State of the State addresses for most states were reviewed."
The report highlights four major steps some states are taking to accelerate learning:
You may have difficulty getting chicken in grocery stores and restaurants these days; pandemic supply-chain problems and a nationwide craze for fast-food fried chicken have caused a nationwide shortage.
"Chicken has for years been the most popular meat in the United States, and experts and analysts have cited several reasons for the current deficit," Reis Thebault reports for The Washington Post. "Some are related to the coronavirus — pandemic-spurred disruptions in the market and supply chain and an increased demand for a comfort food that is takeout- or delivery-friendly. Others, industry watchers say, include increased competition, volatile feed prices and even the deadly winter storms that swept over the South in February, halting the work of chicken processors."
Fast-food trends are partly responsible for the shortage, after some major chains increased their chicken-sandwich offerings in 2019. But pandemic pressures on meatpacking plants are another major cause. "Nearly 60,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 291 have died, according to data compiled by the Food and Environment Reporting Network," Thebault reports. Industry lobbying kept poultry plants open, but increased line-speed limits meant to boost production made social-distancing more difficult for workers and appears to have accelerated coronavirus spread.
|The Citrus County Chronicle in Crystal River, like|
most newspapers, also puts public notices online.
A collaboration of radio stations in the Western U.S. aims to bring more local and regional news coverage to areas poorly served by other news media.
Finding an analog radio station has always been a challenge in the Mountain West, partly because of sparse population and partly because of Federal Communications Commission rules that once limited how many stations a company could own. "But as the events of the past year have shown, when people need information about what’s happening in their communities, radio is one of the first places they’ll go. Kate Concannon, managing editor of the Mountain West News Bureau, a consortium of NPR stations that serve New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, cites the region’s 'shared issues' as the reason why her team has found success and relevance across such a broad area," Rachel Del Valle reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab. "She manages six reporters embedded in public radio stations, plus one roving reporter who travels the region, sometimes by bike."
During the pandemic, the bureau began making its content free to smaller, community radio stations without a news budget and with small newspapers; small affiliates that want access pay for content on a sliding scale. "We’ve continued that," Concannon told Del Valle. "We’re really trying to get the content out, we’re all about collaboration and sharing."
It's an ideal partnership for news media in the rural Mountain West. "Despite the trend toward syndication nationally, a localized approach really does play to FM radio’s strengths, both for advertisers and listeners," Del Valle reports. "By design, it’s a localized medium — signals can only travel so far. As a technology, radio matches the expectations the internet has set for modern media consumers. It’s free to use and — in most parts of the country — easy to access. You don’t even need an internet connection to consume it. You just turn on the tap and it’s there. In this way, radio is uniquely positioned to fill in local news gaps. And when shared on digital platforms, stories can go beyond individual communities and into larger regional and national conversations."
|Rep. Cheri Bustos|
Find out more about World Press Freedom Day here, including a press kit and information about the 2021 Global Conference.
|Appalachian Regional Commission map, highlighting Harlan and Greene counties|
Hoffman turned up some nuggets that vividly illustrate the problem with vaccination in a significant segment of rural America: A nurse practitioner who says she's still undecided about vaccination and doesn't mention it to her patients. A retired professional couple who still haven't been vaccinated even after a discussion with their doctor, which Hoffman witnessed and quotes from.
That's the end of her story, which begins with another conversation, more uncomfortable: among a new pastor's wife and members of her church, one of whom greeted her by asking, “So, have you gotten the vaccine yet?” She “fumbled through a non-reply . . . sensing a chilly blast of judgment from a never-mask, never-vax companion.”Hoffman's long story is a stark contrast to another recent long dispatch from another, even more rural county on the coal-bearing side of Appalachia's 100-mile-wide Ridge and Valley Belt: Alex Acquisto's report for the Lexington Herald-Leader about pastors in Harlan County who are gently working to get their parishioners vaccinated. In Greene County, the pastor in question told Hoffman, “Honestly, I wish people wouldn’t ask. I think it’s none of their business. And it’s just dividing people.”
The stories are two sides of the same coin. We need stories that tell both sides of the coin. That is especially true for community newspapers, which have a higher level of trust than their national or metropolitan counterparts but are typically reluctant to do enterprise reporting about deeply divisive issues, or lack the time do do it. But I think most community newspapers, after a few weeks of listening to their neighbors, could write the sort of summary paragraph that Hoffman did:
"People say that politics isn’t the leading driver of their vaccine attitudes. The most common reason for their apprehension is fear — that the vaccine was developed in haste, that long-term side effects are unknown. Their decisions are also entangled in a web of views about bodily autonomy, science and authority, plus a powerful regional, somewhat romanticized self-image: We don’t like outsiders messing in our business."
The other side of the coin is science and public health, which say we need to get as many people as possible vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which will provide a significant level of protection even for those who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated. That's how Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News, another of our publications, began her main vaccination story last week. She included many of the concerns (which include myths) and the experts' responses to them.
But as I told Kentucky news outlets in our weekly KHN update, "We offer you this story with the knowledge that many vaccine-hesitant people are not likely to take the word of experts, but at our level, that’s the best we have. At your level, you have more trusted sources: physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, health-department leaders, local officials, civic leaders, faith leaders and more, so we urge you to do your own story, with what such folks have to say about Covid-19 vaccination."
"After blasting the Environmental Protection Agency for '13 years of interminable delay,' the federal appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday set a 60-day deadline for the agency to either ban agricultural use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos or set newer and safer exposure levels for the chemical. The dissenter in the 2-1 decision said the short time frame 'virtually guarantees' a ban.
Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network, "Regulators cut off residential use of the organophosphate pesticide two decades ago. First marketed in 1965, chlorpyrifos is commonly used in agriculture, most prominently on corn but also on soybeans, cotton, vegetables, and fruit and nut trees. It has been linked to learning disorders and can cause nausea, dizziness, and confusion." Read more.
Rejection of the 2020 presidential election result "has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party," The Washington Post reports, with small-town examples.
Reporters Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor note the division among Republicans in Congress, but report local and state officials "are facing censure and threats" as "local party organizations have fervently embraced the falsehood" of Donald Trump that he lost unfairly.
They begin their story with Debra Ell, Republican precinct delegate from Frankenmuth, Michigan, a town of 5,200 near Saginaw: “I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified,” so she's circulating a petition to remove the state Republican Party's executive director, who told Politico that “the election wasn’t stolen” and that “there is no one to blame but Trump.”
Grassroots embrace of what Democrats call "the Big Lie" was seen at Utah's Republican convention Saturday, where a resolution to censure Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, for voting to convict Trump on impeachment charges got 47 percent of the vote, losing 798-711.
"Several local Republicans have either stepped down or been forced out of their party positions for not supporting Trump’s baseless election claims or for criticizing the former president’s role in inciting the deadly Capitol riot," the Post reports. "In Iowa — after telling a local newspaper that Trump should be impeached for his 'atrocious conduct' in egging on the Jan. 6 attacks — Dave Millage was called a 'traitor' and forced to step down as chair of the Scott County Republican Party."
The Appalachian Basin surpassed the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico to became the biggest source of methane emissions in the U.S. last year, according to analytics firm Kayrros. That's largely because falling energy demand hit the Permian a little harder than Appalachia: emissions fell by 20 percent in Appalachia and 26% in the Permian in 2020, Jamison Cocklin reports for Natural Gas Intel. It's the first time methane emissions from coal have been comprehensively quantified."Kayrros said recent data show emissions from fossil fuel production in the Appalachian Basin hit 3 million tons (Mt) in 2019 and 2.4 Mt in 2020," Cocklin reports. "Excluding emissions from coal mines, emissions from natural gas produced largely from the Marcellus, Utica and Upper Devonian shales declined from 1.9 Mt in 2019 to 1.4 Mt in 2020. Methane from oil and natural gas production in the Permian declined from 2.7 Mt to 2.0 Mt over the same time." Some of the methane is from oil and gas, but some is from coal. It's tricky to figure out the source of Appalachian methane emissions since coal, gas and oil extraction sites are intermingled throughout the basin.