Friday, April 18, 2014

Push by weekly newspapers leads Newseum to change its policy and publish their front pages

The push by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors to encourage weekly papers to send their front pages to the Newseum paid off quickly. The site has rarely published front pages from weekly papers, but after 130 weeklies sent their fronts to the Newseum on Thursday, the site agreed to change "its policy to include weeklies in its Today’s Front Pages exhibit," Barbara Selvin reports for The Poynter Institute. Now, any newspaper can email frontpages@newseum.org for instructions on how to participate.

"The Newseum’s written policy limited participation to daily newspapers, a restriction that has long irked weeklies’ editors and publishers. The U.S. has approximately 1,380 daily and 6,000 weekly newspapers," Selvin writes. Dan Robrish, right, who started The Elizabethtown (Pa.) Advocate in 2010, told her, "The Newseum is supposed to be a museum about news, not about metropolitan news, not about daily news specifically. It seems like a ridiculous decision to make."

Selvin adds, "Especially, perhaps, since the Newseum had allowed newspapers that reduced their print publication schedules to three days a week to continue contributing to the exhibit." By industry convention, papers with a such a schedule have long been classified as weeklies.

Jonathan Thompson, the Newseum’s senior manager of media relations, told Selvin, “When people get together like this and feel strongly about a specific issue, and mobilize and make specific arguments, it does have an impact."

Chad Stebbins of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, executive director of the weekly newspaper society, "said the larger issue is respect for the passion and energy that community journalists bring to their work," Selvin writes. He told her, “We have forced them to at least start considering weeklies as real, legitimate newspapers that should stand aside their daily counterparts." (Read more)

Feds get money to eliminate destructive feral pigs

There are about five million feral pigs in at least 39 states that are costing farmers and ranchers an estimated $1.5 billion a year in damages and control costs, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The pigs, which are destroying native habitat and crops and eating endangered species, can "carry and transmit up to 30 diseases and 37 different parasites to other livestock, including the swine population raised for food." They also carry diseases that can affect people and water supplies. (USDA maps show spread of feral swine)

Dale Nolte, feral-swine initiative coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told Agri-Pulse, “Feral swine don’t know boundaries and what happens in one state affects neighboring states. Only through a concerted, comprehensive effort with the public and our state and federal partners can we begin to turn the tide on feral swine expansion and reduce their negative impacts on our economy and environment.”

The problem has gotten so bad that Congress this year appropriated $20 million to find a solution, which includes the 2014 International Wild Pig Conference held this week in Alabama, Agri-Pulse writes. "APHIS aims to have its program operating within 6 months, with about half of the funds going toward state projects. The rest will be used to set up procedures for disease monitoring, including the development of new surveillance and vaccination methods, research and administration. Funding levels for state projects will be based on current feral swine population estimates." Nolte said the goal is to eliminate the problem in two states every three to five years.

Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

After waiting out cold winter, Northeast producers jump into maple sugaring season

The unusually cold winter delayed the start of maple sugaring season in the Northeast. Now that the weather has warmed up, sugaring season is underway. In 2013, the U.S. produced nearly 3.25 million gallons of maple syrup, up 70 percent from 2012, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Forty percent of all maple syrup comes from Vermont, but maple trees can be tapped anywhere. New York produces 18 percent, Maine 14 percent, and Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Connecticut also produced commercial maple syrup. (Read more)

Will Parson, photographer for the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and white River Junction, Vt., chronicles the process of sugaring through a video of farmer Steve Killam, who has been sugaring for decades. (Read more)

Colder weather, rising natural gas prices led to a resurgence in winter demand for coal

A brutal winter and rising natural gas prices led to a resurgence in the coal market, Sean Cockerham reports for McClatchy Newspapers. U.S. coal use increased 4 percent last year and is expected to keep rising this year. International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in the agency’s most recent coal market report: “Like it or not, coal is here to stay for a long time to come. Coal is abundant and geopolitically secure, and coal-fired plants are easily integrated into existing power systems.”

Natural gas prices more than doubled "over the past two years in response to a tighter market," opening the door for coal to regain popularity, Cockerham writes. That led to the use of natural gas for power generation dropping in 2013 for the first time in five years. "The Arctic blasts of this year’s winter also pushed power plants to turn to coal in order to meet the nation’s record-setting heating requirements."

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/17/224755/old-school-coal-is-making-a-comeback.html#storylink=cpy\

"There’s serious doubt whether the resurgence in coal can last in America with stricter environmental rules coming. But the global outlook for coal is bright, and U.S. coal producers hope to take advantage by increasing exports to other countries hungry for cheap energy. The IEA believes coal will be the No. 1 fuel for meeting the worldwide increase in energy demand."

Illinois, Indiana and Western Kentucky have benefited from the increased demand for coal, with those areas producing 50 percent more than a decade ago, Cockerham writes. Montana and Wyoming have also fared well, but Central Appalachia, especially Eastern Kentucky, continues to struggle. (Read more)

Register by May 28 for free journalism workshop in Oregon, focused on covering rural health topics

The Association of Health Care Journalists has scheduled its seventh annual Rural Health Journalism Workshop for June 6 in Portland, Oregon. The free workshop, which will focus on covering rural health in America, "will bring journalists together with health care and policy experts who focus on the medical challenges of rural areas," AHCJ says.

The workshop, hosted by Oregon Health & Science University and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Missouri Foundation for Health, will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, and will include lunch and dinner. Some travel assistance is available. The deadline to register is May 28. For more information or to register click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coal Camp Documentary Project seeks to glean, share histories of company towns in Eastern Ky.

Lynch, Ky., lives on. (Photo from CoalCampsUSA.com)
The Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky has launched an interactive website that educates and gathers information about historic coal-company mining towns in Eastern Kentucky. The Coal Camp Documentary Project seeks memories or images related to experiences in company towns or villages in the region.

Coal companies constructed and managed the built environment, which shaped much of the social and economic life of the residents. Each coal camp had a similar structure (housing that residents did not own, stores that used company “scrip” for currency, and alignment with railroad tracks)  but its own way of life. Most coal camps have disappeared but are re-created at reunions of former residents and their descendants. Stories and images shared at those reunions may be found on the website, as well as archived materials.

The site was created in response to community requests for Appalachian Center faculty, postdoctoral scholars, staff members and documentarians to record the memories shared by former coal-camp residents. For more information about the site or to learn more about how to participate, visit the center online or contact program coordinator Shane Barton at shane.barton@uky.edu.

Do you live near a plant with dangerous chemicals?

Exactly one year after the West Fertilizer explosion that killed 14 and injured more than 300, millions of Americans continue to "live near a site that could put them in harm's way if hazardous chemicals leak or catch fire," Jaeah Lee reports for Mother Jones. "The Environmental Protection Agency monitors roughly 12,000 facilities that store one or more of 140 toxic or flammable chemicals that are potentially hazardous to nearby communities. In late 2012, a Congressional Research Service report found that more than 2,500 of these sites estimate that their worst-case scenarios could affect between 10,000 and 1 million people; more than 4,400 estimated that their worst-case scenarios could affect between 1,000 and 9,999 people."

Do you live near one of these sites? (Read more) (Greenpeace map shows chemical sites that put more 100,000 or more people at risk. For a more detailed town-by-town interactive map of sites click here.)

Appeals court upholds new EPA rules on mercury and other toxins emitted by coal-fired power plants

More than three years after the Environmental Protection Agency issued limits on mercury and other toxic substances coming from coal-fired power plants, a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the decision. The three-judge panel denied "challenges from states, utilities and industry groups that argued the rules came out of a flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on power producers that will force dozens of power plants to shut down," Erica Martinson reports for Politico.

"The court upheld EPA’s decision to take into account environmental damage from the pollutants, rather than just health-based harms, when it decided to regulate. And the agency based its decision on the impacts of hazardous pollution broadly, rather than just emissions from power plants — a commonsense approach,' wrote Judge Judith Rogers, to 'statutory ambiguity' that was within the bounds of EPA’s discretion."

EPA originally determined in December 2000 "that it was 'appropriate and necessary' to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act," Martinson writes. "The George W. Bush administration reversed that decision in 2005, but . . . a court that ruled the move was unlawful." The Obama administration pushed for a new rule, which EPA issued in December 2011.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the ruling "will keep in place a rule the agency has said will eliminate 90 percent of coal-fired power plants’ mercury pollution, 88 percent of their acid gas emissions and 41 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions," Martinson writes. EPA says "The standards 'will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn.'" (Read more)

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other lines of work

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other professions, Max Kutner reports for Newsweek magazine, which recently revived its print edition. "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicides by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive."

The alarming trend can be tracked back three decades, Kutner writes. "The 1980s brought two droughts, a national economy in trouble and a government ban on grain exports to the Soviet Union. Farmers started defaulting on their loans, and by 1985, 250 farms closed every hour. That economic undertow sucked down farms and the people who put their lives into them. . . . Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population."

The problem is a global one. Since 1995 more than 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, and the suicide rate among French farmers is one every two days, Kutner writes. "In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government's seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought."

Robert Fetsch, a retired professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State University, told Kutner, "Farmers are extremely self-sufficient and independent and tend to work around whatever they have, because they are so determined to keep moving."

But even those farmers seeking help don't have many options. Sowing the Seeds of Hope, a network of agricultural phone hotlines, was created in 1999 through federal funding from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy. The service, which connected farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin with counseling specialists, received 75,000 calls and trained over 4,400 professionals, before shutting down in 2010 after running out of funds. New York has a state-funded service called NY FarmNet that assigns callers a consultant. Last year the hotline received 6,000 calls for assistance. (Read more)

More moves by Russia against Ukraine could have major impact on U.S. farmers, other exporters

Farmers are watching the clash between Russia and Ukraine because the latter is the world's third largest corn exporter and sixth largest wheat exporter, and Russia is fifth in wheat and a big purchaser of corn and poultry.

"From rising global commodity prices to potential supply disruptions, there’s a lot at stake in the conflict for American farmers and producers," Kevin Hall reports for McClatchy Newspapers. "Before the conflict, Ukrainian corn farmers had access to loans and were on a pace to eventually rival the U.S. corn belt as well as big producers such as Brazil. The loans now come with tougher conditions."

Thomas Sleight, the president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, told Hall, “This is a region where we have been facing stiff competition from Ukraine. Longer term, everyone is waiting to see what effect credit availability will have on Ukrainian farmers’ willingness to plant and continue expanding their acreage of wheat and corn.”

One concern is that Russian and Ukrainian currencies have sunk against the dollar, which makes U.S. exports more expensive there. "The most immediate impact is being felt in the futures market," Hall writes. Wheat futures for July delivery jumped sharply this week at the Chicago Board of Trade on concerns about the broadening Russia-Ukraine conflict. U.S. farmers get a windfall from the rising futures price. But disruption of the global supply is unwelcome and soaring prices mess up the broader planting cycle, since farmers rotate crops. Prices would go much higher if the conflict escalates into warfare, which would likely thwart grains from reaching export markets." (Read more)

Russia’s threat to Ukraine has already already cause wheat prices to soar "18.5 cents to $6.7875/bushel at their Monday close, while May KCBT wheat futures leapt 22.5 cents to $7.42, while May MWE futures jumped 15.5 cents to $7.1725," reports AG Professional.  "May corn closed 4.5 cents to $5.03/bushel Monday afternoon, while December added 4.25 to $5.035. May soybeans gained 13.25 cents to $14.7625/bushel in late Monday trading, while May soyoil edged up 0.16 cents to 42.26 cents/pound, and May soymeal rallied $6.2 to 479.1/ton." (Read more)

N.D. embraces drone use as test site; partnership with university has helped law enforcement

While some states are debating laws to limit drone use, North Dakota has embraced the technology. The state "lobbied to be a drone test site for the federal government, and was one of six sites (Alaska, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia) chosen in December by the Federal Aviation Administration to research how to integrate them into the national airspace," Sandy Johnson reports for Stateline. (Associated Press photo: A drone used at the University of North Dakota)

"So far this year, 35 states have considered bills and resolutions regarding unmanned aerial vehicles," Johnson reports. "Most of them are privacy protection measures that would restrict the use of drones and set limits on the collection and storage of data."

The University of North Dakota has expanded its program to airline-pilot training program to train students to operate drones. "It was the first university to offer a degree in this field," Johnson notes. "50 students have graduated and another 100 are enrolled in the program. In a partnership with the university, the Grand Forks sheriff and police departments are already using drones in the northeastern quarter of the state."

Drone flights are overseen by Alan Frazier, a UND associate professor in charge of the Law Enforcement Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Project, and a Grand Forks deputy sheriff, Johnson writes. "Frazier reports to a university compliance panel that specified five situations in which drones may be used: to search for lost people; perform post-disaster assessments; photograph crime and accident scenes; search for crime suspects who pose a risk to public safety; and assist with traffic control at major events."

"When a request comes in, Frazier gets FAA authorization for the flight," Johnson writes. "Then Frazier or another trained operator launches one of four small drones to aid law enforcement." He also trains pilots, "tests the drones during actual incidents and later assesses the effectiveness for the FAA and the two manufacturers."

Drones are cheap. "The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group for the drone industry, says the cost of a small UAV is less than $50,000, or about the price of a patrol car. It estimates operating costs at $25 to $75 an hour, compared to $200 to $400 per hour for a police helicopter."

Since May 2013 drones in North Dakota have "helped search a flooded river for drowning victims, photographed a train collision, photographed river bank erosion and damage to historic buildings, helped search for two suspects accused of auto theft and child molestation and took photos of an outdoor murder scene," Johnson writes. Approval was granted last month to fly drones at night. Frazier told Johnson, “A lot of significant crime activity occurs at night. Now this allows us to respond to incidents, whether it be a search or disaster assessment or a crime scene at night.” (Read more) (University of North Dakota video)

Company that makes some pesticides linked to bee deaths opens $2.4 million bee research center

For years honeybees, which pollinate many crops, have been dying off in record numbers from a deadly virus and probably other causes. The bees are losing about a third of their population each year, with U.S. beekeepers losing 45 percent of their colonies during the 2012-2013 winter. Factors include the Varroa mite, pesticides, lack of genetic diversity, declining forage areas and diseases. Some groups have called for a ban on pesticides.

 Bee Care Center
In an attempt to reverse the deadly trend and save the bees Bayer CropScience, a maker of pesticides linked to bee deaths, on Tuesday held the grand opening of its $2.4 million, 6,000-square-foot Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Bayer will develop products and technology to control parasitic mites in honey bee hives, help manage a healthy-bees program, and assess the safety of crop protection products to bees." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

"According to a news release, the company’s new bee center has a laboratory with a teaching and research apiary, honey extraction and hive maintenance space, a learning center, a meeting area, presentation areas, and office space for staff- or student-researchers," reports Laura Oleniacz for the Durham Herald-Sun. David R. Tarpy, an associate professor and extension beekeeper at North Carolina State University, told her, "The overall problem is that colonies are dying off at a greater rate than what is sustainable, and because we need them for pollinators, we need a sustainable honeybee population.” (Read more)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stories on mining, Brian Mann's radio double are rural standouts in Sigma Delta Chi Awards for 2013

Some great rural journalism is included in the Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Excellence in Journalism in 2013, presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Samantha Wright and The Watch of Telluride, Colo., won the award for deadline reporting for non-daily newspapers for her story about miners who risked their lives in an unsuccessful effort to save two co-workers following an accident at a silver, gold and sulfide minerals mine near Ouray.

Also on the mining front, among daily newspapers with circulations of up to 50,000, Joe O'Sullivan and Daniel Simmons-Ritchie of the Rapid City Journal won the public-service award for their series, "South Dakota takes a hands-off approach to uranium mining." The award for online investigative reporting went to “Out of Breath: The Untold Story of Big Money, Black Lung and Doctors for the Coal Companies,” by Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News. The series won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting earlier this week, but only for Hamby; ABC complained, and CPI replied.

Jim Steinberg, Rachel Luna and Paul Penzella of the San Bernardino Sun won the award for non-deadline reporting by a small daily, for "Ghost Town," a story about Hinckley, Calif., fading away after toxins from a utility company polluted its groundwater. The award for newspapers of up to 100,000 circulation was won by Dave Philipps of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, who won the Pulitzer for national reporting for his series on treatment of veterans with "other than honorable" discharges.

The San Bernardino Sun also won the award for editorial writing in newspapers of up to 100,000 circulation for Jessica Keating's editorials on the city's recovery from bankruptcy. In the same size category, Mark Harmon of the Knoxville News-Sentinel won for column writing.

Louise Knott Ahern, Dave Wasinger and Rod Sanford of the Lansing State Journal won the award for feature reporting by small dailies for "Silence of the Wolves," about the plight of inbred wolves in Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior.

John Partipilo of The Tennessean won the feature-photography award for dailies up to 100,000 for a package illustrating how rural ways of life are fading in fast-suburbanizing Middle Tennessee. The story by Duane Gang was good, too, and informed the caption below.
In broadcasting, Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in New York was a double winner among journalists in small markets. His report with David Sommerstein, on the dangers of oil trains in the wake of a catastrophic explosion in nearby Quebec, won the award for public service in small markets, Nos. 101 and larger. He and Natasha Haverty also won for their investigative report “From Birth to Death Behind Bars.” The award for public-service radio in large markets was won by environmental reporter Erica Peterson of WFPL in Louisville for a series on black carbon.

Other rural radio winners included breaking-news coverage of the Moore, Okla., tornado by KGOU, KOSU, StateImpact Oklahoma and Oklahoma Public Media Exchange; investigative reporting of an Oregon county's budget problems by Amelia Templeton, Eve Epstein and Michael Clapp of Oregon Public Broadcasting; small-market by Natasha Haverty and Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in New York; feature reporting, “Wild Goose Church,” by Robbie Harris and Connie Stevens of Nashville's WVTF and Radio IQ; and the documentary “Kentucky Dam: Power for the People,” by Todd Hatton and Chad Lampe of WKMS-FM in Murray.

Television winners in small markets (Nos. 51 and above) included the staff of KWTX-TV in Waco for breaking-news coverage of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex.; for public service, “The Compassion Project,” by Jennifer Livingston, Mike Thompson and Anne Paape of WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., Alex Rozier, Gabe Ferguson and Jordan Caskey of KHQ in Spokane for “The Climb For Closure,” a documentary about a mountain climber; and Mary Sturgill, Patrick Owens, Vanessa Holmes and Chase Conner of KBMT in Beaumont, Tex., for “Asher's Story,” a documentary about a small boy overcoming child abuse.

The award for public service in online journalism by an affiliated site went to John Sutter and Edythe McNamee of CNN for “The Most Unequal Place in America,” about income inequality in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. The winners will be honored at an awards banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Hablas español? Rural Virginia school chosen to test innovative online foreign language class

Highland County High School, located in the least populated county in Virginia, faced budget cuts last year that forced the school, which has about 100 students, to eliminate several positions, including the foreign language teacher. That made the school an unlikely but perfect place for the Virginia Department of Education to unveil a prototype Tuesday for online language classes, David Kaplan reports for WDBJ in Harrisonburg. Virginia students will be the first in the country to use the program, which will be introduced into classes in the fall.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright told Kaplan, "Student's don't always have the same opportunities in these localities as they have in other places." Highland County Principal April Goff said, "We had to reduce our force last year, and we lost our live foreign language teacher. So this online is the only opportunity our students have to earn that advanced diploma and to get their exposure to world languages." (Read more)

Courses for beginning, intermediate and advanced Spanish will be available through the education department's Virtual Virginia online learning program, reports The Associated Press. "Wright says the courses are expected to be especially popular in rural school divisions around Virginia. The courses are based on a nationally recognized series developed by John Conner, a long-time Spanish teacher and current dean of faculty at Groton School in Massachusetts. (Read more)

Studies that used same data differ on changes in obesity among children ages 2 to 5

A pair of studies on childhood obesity that examined the same data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for children ages 2 to 5 resulted in different conclusions, with one study saying child obesity has significantly declined and the other saying that's not the case, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. A federal study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association claims that child obesity in that age group has fallen dramatically since 2004. While researchers at the University of North Carolina don't dispute that claim, they point to a spike in obesity in 2003 that makes it look like numbers have significantly dropped, and that if one goes back to 1999, there has been no significant change in the past 15 years.

The federal study found that obesity among children ages 2 to 5 dropped from 2004 to 2014 from 14 percent to 8 percent, which is "the first statistically significant decline for any group," Tavernise writes. The North Carolina study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, counters that in 1999-2000 the obesity rate among those ages 2 to 5 was 10.3 percent, meaning the drop from 1999 to 2012 was significantly lower than the drop from 2004 to 2012. The rate was 10.6 percent in 2001-02, then jumped to 13.9 percent in 2003-04, before dropping back to 10.7 percent in 2005-06 and 10.1 percent in 2007-08.

“The bottom line is that there is still a huge amount of obesity,” Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta, told Tavernise. “There may be isolated, individual places where there are decreases, but it’s very hard to interpret that until you get more data points. From a public health action perspective, this debate doesn’t change anything we might do.” (Read more) (NYT graphic)

Poultry industry objects to NLRB plan to cut time between unionization petitions and elections

A proposed rule by the National Labor Relations Board that would reduce the collective-bargaining election process from 42 days to between 10 and 21 days is drawing opposition from the poultry industry, which claims workers won't have enough time to be properly educated about unions, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter: "Supporters claim the current amount of time employers have is being used to essentially 'browbeat' employees into voting against unionization."

The U. S. Poultry & Egg Association, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation, which "represent 95 percent of the nation’s poultry producers, and their members generate more than 1.3 million U.S. jobs," said the proposed rule would lead to "quickie" and "ambush" elections, Agri-Pulse reports. They say the rule "carries 'the unmistakable appearance of a denial of due process and certainly will serve to increase litigation and delay timely elections rather than speed the election process.'”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka "argues that the proposed rule is needed to reduce delay in the NLRB election process," Agri-Pulse reports. Trumka told the newsletter, “When workers petition for an NLRB election, they should receive a timely opportunity to vote. But the current NLRB election process is riddled with delay and provides too many opportunities for employers to manipulate and drag out the process through costly and unnecessary litigation and deny workers a vote.” Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Midwest farmers prepare for expected drop in income, from lower corn and soybean prices

The federal government estimates that this year's U.S. farm income will drop 26.6 percent from last year as a result of reduced corn and soybean prices. In Iowa, farmers' income will be around $7.4 billion this year, dropping 31 percent from the $10.9 billion record in 2011, Donnelle Eller writes for The Des Moines Register.
Register photo by Charlie Litchfield

"We're figuring our break-even prices pretty closely," said Craig Boot, who farms several hundred acres near Pella. Mike Duffy, an Iowa State University farm economist, said when expected income increases, farmers will more likely replace equipment, but when income is lower, they'll wait. Deere & Co., a large manufacturer, expects a 5 to 10 percent reduction in farm machinery sales this year.

Besides the projected income drop, farmers also worry about drought conditions affecting approximately 75 percent of the state and the undesirably cold temperatures causing a frost. "There are a few planters in yards, but it's been cold enough that most are waiting for soil temperatures to get warmer," said Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture.

"As much of the nation shifts to adding soybean acres, many Iowa farmers say they're sticking with their typical rotation schedule," Eller writes. "Experts say the increase of corn and soybean acres represents a return to production land that wasn't planted last year because conditions were too wet."

Iowa farmers plan to plant 400,000 more acres of corn than last year and 300,000 more acres of soybeans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only six states other than Iowa will be planting more corn acres than last year. Julius Schaaf, a farmer in southwest Iowa said deciding a price for selling corn and soybeans is the "toughest part of farming."

"Paying attention to the market will be critical this year to maintain profitability on the farm," said Schaaf. "If a person sees some level of profitability, they should be sure to take some of that off the table, to hedge against the risk of lower prices."

In recent years, corn has sold from about $8 per bushel and soybeans for $18. Schaaf said that "procrastination was about the best marketing tool you had. But I don't think that will be the case this year. I might be wrong. I'd hate to bet my whole crop on prices going up this fall." (Read more)

Tennessee Senate passes anti-meth bill that sets lower limits than recently passed House bill

The Tennessee Senate passed an anti-methamphetamine bill Tuesday night that sets lower monthly and yearly limits than the one passed last week by the House. The Senate bill limits monthly purchases of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making meth, to 4.8 grams, and in one year to 14.4 grams. The House bill set limits of 5.8 and 28.8 grams.

Under the House bill, the number of tablets that can be purchased without a prescription is limited to 48 per month and 240 per year. The big difference in the Senate bill is that the yearly limit is 120 tablets, a number favored by Gov. Bill Haslam. He is a Republican, and the GOP controls both legislative chambers. (Read more)

Weekly editors urges weeklies to send front pages to Newseum Thursday, promote community journalism

More than 900 newspaper front pages from 90 countries are available for viewing every day on Newseum. But few community newspapers are represented, notes Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. That's why ISWNE is urging community newspapers to send their front pages to Newseum on Thursday, in honor of the birthday of legendary Kansas community journalist Huck Boyd.

"We are doing this because the Newseum has a terrible record on the topic of community journalism," Stebbins said in a email. "We hope to get some good publicity out of this and raise the awareness of community journalism."

Pages can be emailed to frontpages@newseum.org. Participants are also asked to email ISWNE member Steve Thurston at heraldtrib@GMAIL.COM so that he can get a count of how many newspapers take part.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pulitzer winners with rural angles include stories on veterans, black-lung disease, food stamps

April 16: The Center for Public Integrity deserved its award, but West Virgina politicians should have addressed black lung disease and the top lawyers, doctors, coal operators and hospitals who "are paying big bucks to each other to defeat these sick and voiceless miners and their families" long before the story was exposed by the national media, West Virginia resident and Appalachian author Betty Doston-Lewis writes for the Daily Yonder. (Read more

Stories that focused on issues of rural importance were some of this year's winners and finalists in the Pulitzer Prize competition. Winning stories focused on investigations into coal miners' black-lung disease, food stamps and the treatment of veterans, while finalists included Iowa's licensing laws, the 19 Hotshot firefighters killed in Arizona and photos accompanying the food stamp story. Winners receive $10,000.

David Philipps of The Gazette in Colorado Springs won the Pulitzer for national reporting for his "three-day investigative series last year that examined how soldiers injured during war were being discharged without benefits," Rich Laden reports for the Gazette. The series, "Other Than Honorable," used data from the Army "to show that the number of soldiers being discharged for misconduct annually had surged to its highest level since 2009 at posts with the most combat troops." (Read more)
The Center for Public Integrity won the investigative reporting prize for Chris Hamby's year-long investigation into black lung disease and its effects on miners and family members in West Virginia. The series, entitled “Breathless and Burdened: Dying from Black Lung, Buried by Law and Medicine,” previously shared the Goldsmith Prize with ABC News. Hamby told CPI, “This was more than just a project to me. I spent a lot of time in West Virginia with people who were slowly suffocating to death,  and they had been essentially screwed by a system that was completely stacked against them, and they had no recourse. These are some of the most voiceless people in the country." (Read more)

Washington Post writer Eli Saslow won the Explanatory Reporting prize "for a series of stories about the challenges of people living on food stamps," Paul Farhi writes for the Post. "Saslow said the genesis of his stories about food stamps came from news reports about the quadrupling of the federal program over the past 10 years. At first, he said, he wanted to write just one article—about the food stamp 'economy' on the first of each month, when millions of Americans receive their benefits. But the story grew from there, into pieces about a Florida recruiter for the program, a bread truck in rural Tennessee and the health of South Texans on food stamp diets." (Read more)

Finalists included the Arizona Republic staff for its coverage of the Yarnell Hill wildfire, Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register for her series of editorials on Iowa's job licensing laws and Post photographer Michael Williamson for his portfolio of pictures that accompanied Saslow's story, including the one above of 1-year-old Austin Davis.

States cracking down on for-profit colleges and student-loan companies for alleged abuses

Beware of those commercials for for-profit colleges claiming their school has a high rate of placing graduates in jobs. Many students have found out the hard way that the only thing waiting for them after earning a degree from such a school is a mountain of debt  they can't afford. (To view an interactive state-by-state map from the Institute for College Access and Success, click here)

"Thirty-two states are now working together under the leadership of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate potential abuses in the for-profit college industry, which saw enrollment more than triple between 1998 and 2008, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau," Adrienne Lu reports for Stateline. "One reason for the concern is the amount of taxpayer dollars involved: Some for-profit colleges receive 90 percent or more of their revenue from the federal and/or state governments in the form of student aid." Students at for-profit colleges account for 13 percent of all college students, but 31 percent of student loans and about half of loan defaults.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley told Lu, “While some for-profit schools offer quality training and legitimate diplomas, we have found that this industry often markets sub-par programs to veterans and low-income students who depend on federal aid. When students don’t receive the training they sign up for or default on their loans, it not only greatly impacts their future but it also impacts taxpayers who have backed these loans in the first place.”

In January, 13 states issued subpoenas to four for-profit colleges "over concerns about possible misrepresentations to students about financing, recruitment practices and graduates’ employment rates," Lu writes. "Also in January, Coakley’s office in Massachusetts held hearings on proposed regulations for for-profit colleges and occupational schools. The rules would require schools to disclose accurate information about tuition and fees along with placement statistics and graduation rates; prohibit them from using high-pressure sales tactics such as repeated phone calls and text messages; and bar them from calling recruitment personnel 'counselors' or 'advisers.'”

In February, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in 2010, filed suit against for-profit ITT Educational Services, which operates about 150 institutions in nearly 40 states, "alleging predatory student lending," Lu writes. "The lawsuit was the bureau’s first public enforcement action against a for-profit college. Last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman won a $10.25 million settlement with the for-profit Career Education Corp. over inflated job placement rates."

"In January, New York state’s Student Protection Unit issued subpoenas to 13 student-debt-relief companies as part of its investigation into whether the companies might be charging improper fees to enroll students in debt relief programs that are already available free through the federal government," Lu writes. 

Last month the U.S. Department of Education "proposed new 'gainful employment' rules which would require for-profit colleges that benefit from federal student aid to meet certain standards relating to student debt and income," Lu writes. "California was the first state in the nation to require for-profit colleges to meet standards beyond those required by the federal government for its grants and loans, passing a law in 2011 prohibiting schools with high borrowing and default rates from receiving Cal Grant funds. In 2012, the state further tightened standards for institutions, eliminating 154 schools from receiving Cal Grant funds." (Read more)

Amount of methane released from non-fracked wells much higher than EPA estimates, study says

Federal regulators may have severely underestimated the amount of methane from natural gas wells being released into the atmosphere,suggests a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study of gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania found rates were 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, Neela Banerjee reports for McClatchy Newspapers.

"Using a plane equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average," significantly higher than EPA estimates of between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second, Banerjee writes.

"Over two days in June 2012, they detected 2 grams to 14 grams of methane per second per square kilometer over the entire area. The EPA's estimate for the area is 2.3 grams to 4.6 grams of methane per second per square kilometer," Banerjee writes. "The researchers determined that the wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a period that has not been known for high emissions. Experts had thought that methane was more likely to be released during subsequent phases of production, including hydraulic fracturing, well completion or transport through pipelines."

"Last year, researchers from Stanford, Harvard and elsewhere reported in PNAS that methane emissions in the continental U.S. might be 50 percent higher than the EPA's official estimates," Banerjee writes. "Another study by Stanford researchers, published in February in the journal Science, also concluded that the EPA underestimates methane leakage from the natural-gas industry and other sources." (Read more)

Rural unemployment rates rose in February, especially in the most rural counties

Rural unemployment rates have been on the rise, with the share of jobless in the most rural counties increasing from January to February from 7.9 percent in January to 8.6 percent in February, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data processed by the Daily Yonder. Unemployment in counties with 10,000 to 50,000 residents rose from 7.4 percent to 8 percent, and unemployment in metro areas rose from 6.9 percent to 7.4 percent.

"During the early years of the recession, which began in late 2007, rural areas often had lower unemployment rates than cities. In the last few years, however, unemployment rates in rural America have surpassed those in metropolitan counties," Bill Bishop writes for the Yonder. "The reason the unemployment rates in micropolitan and rural counties dropped at all over the last year, despite only a slight gain in the number of jobs, is that there are fewer people looking for work."

Since February of last year, rural and micropolitan counties have gained 140,000 jobs, Bishop writes. "Metropolitan counties have have added more than 1.75 million jobs. Meanwhile, the total number of workers in rural and micropolitan counties has dropped by more than 100,000." (Read more) (To view the interactive Yonder map click here)

Ohio officials say fracking is the probable cause of a recent rash of earthquakes in one county

On Friday the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that hydraulic fracturing and injection wells are the probable cause of earthquakes in the Poland Township of Mahoning County. This seems to be the first time state officials have gone on record connecting the recent upsurge in earthquakes in fracking areas to the practice, Bob Downing reports for the Akron Beacon Journal. Mahoning County doesn't have a history of seismic activity but had five earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater on March 10 and 11.

As a result of the decision, "New permits for drilling within three miles of a known underground geologic fault or area of seismic activity greater than 2.0 magnitude will require companies to install seismic monitors," Downing writes. "The order would affect any quakes since 1999 that were recorded at magnitude 2.0 or greater. If those monitors detect a quake of 1.0 magnitude or greater, drilling activities would be halted while the cause is investigated. If that investigation reveals a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing, all well completion operations will be suspended."

James Zehringer, director of the Department of Natural Resources, told Downing, "While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment." Earthquakes in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have been linked to fracking, but state officials have either denied those claims or are in the process of conducting studies. (Read more)

Rural communities get a jump start on 'Click it or Ticket' campaign to increase safety on roads

Most highways are located in rural areas, and rural drivers are often the ones least likely to wear seat belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual "Click it or Ticket" campaign to encourage drivers to wear seat belts isn't scheduled until May, but some rural areas got a head start with local campaigns focused on their areas.

Colorado ran a Click It or Ticket rural enforcement period from March 31 to April 6. The partnership between the state Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and 29 rural law enforcement agencies netted more then 1,700 citations in 25 rural communities for not buckling up, Erin Udall reports for the Coloradoan. While the state patrol gave out the most citations, 957, the most given by a local organization was the Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office, which issued 87. During last year's campaign 1,578 people were ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, with 88 percent over the age of 21, reports KKTV in Colorado Springs.

Minnesota also held a similar campaign in March, with state troopers giving out "more than 500 tickets in Southeast Minnesota alone for people who didn't buckle up," Hannah Tran reports for KAAL-TV. The Minnesota campaign was started in response to statistics that found that 75 percent of Minnesotans don't use child seats properly, and 50 percent of all traffic fatalities involve drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts, reports WDAZ in Grand Forks, N.D.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pat Gish, surviving partner of a team that crusaded with their newspaper for over half a century, dies

Gishes at rural journalism institute rollout in 2004
Rural journalism lost a champion with Sunday's passing of Pat Gish at the age of 87. She and her husband Tom, who passed away in 2008, published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., together for more than 51 years

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes the Rural Blog, established the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism in honor of the Gishes, who "withstood advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office to give their readers the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas." (Read more)

"Tom Gish was the publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper, but Pat Gish was his inseparable partner in putting out the publication, which bucked entrenched local powers, exposed corruption and was the first newspaper in Eastern Kentucky to seriously challenge the abuses of surface mining," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader's Bill Estep, who briefly worked for the Gishes. "Along the way, the newspaper was recognized as one of the best rural newspapers in the nation."

The Gishes bought the paper in 1956 and published their first issue in January 1957. "At the time, the county fiscal court and school board met in private," Estep writes. "Tom and Pat Gish pried open the meetings, then went on to cover everything from poor education and housing to poverty, corruption and safety and environmental problems in the coal industry, the reigning power in the mountains at the time. The newspaper's tough coverage cost them advertising, and after stories in 1974 about local police mistreating young people, a police officer paid arsonists to throw a kerosene firebomb through a window at the newspaper, destroying the building. It didn't shut down the paper, however." The next week, its motto, "It Screams," was changed to "It Still Screams."

Tom and Pat Gish in the 1970s (Photo by Tom Bethell)
Tom Bethell, who worked at The Mountain Eagle in the 1960s, said at the time Tom Gish died in November 2008, told Estep, "They were breaking new ground — no one had ever seen a weekly newspaper in this part of the world that actually covered the news." Their son Ben has continued their legacy as editor of the paper, and the family won the Eugene Cervi Award for public service from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 2010. (Read more)

Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian Record in Texas, part of a family that won the Gish Award after the first one, which went to the Gishes, said: "We are diminished today by the death of Pat Gish. She and her husband, Tom, were real journalistic warriors of the kind too rarely seen in this age in which news is 'monetized' and valuable reporting resources are allocated according to page clicks. Pat and Tom Gish reported the real news, regardless of whether it was either profitable or popular—and despite considerable risk to both life and livelihood. We need many more just like them." UPDATE: For a nice tribute to Pat, by Daily Yonder Publisher Dee Davis, click here.

Rural Broadband Association study finds that rural access still lags far behind urban access

Rural broadband access not only lags behind urban areas, but it is also falling steadily behind the rest of the world. A Rural Broadband Association study found that 98.2 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband, while only 76.3 percent of rural residents do, reports Civ Source, a news and information site for civic leaders. Overall, the U.S ranks 15th among 34 developed countries in broadband access. (Rural Broadband Association graphic differentiates among slow, medium and fast broadband speeds)
"Rural Americans are more than 13 times more likely to lack access to fixed broadband than Americans in non-rural areas,” the study states. “One of the more challenging realities of striving for ubiquitous broadband adoption is that the final third of the population will be the hardest to reach. This remaining group of non-­adopters tends to be older, less educated and at lower income levels than those who have already embraced the online world. Yet, in many ways these are the very segments of society that have the most to gain from the Internet, whether through obtaining higher quality health care or pursuing a more rewarding job. Encouraging more of them to become broadband adopters will benefit all.” (Read more)

Closures of rural hospitals hurt local economies

Some rural hospitals in states that chose not to expand Medicaid under federal health reform have struggled to remain open. When a hospital closes, residents not only lose their local source of medical services, but the closing also adds to the financial woes of the area, Adam Ragusea reports for Marketplace. (Ragusea photo: An overgrown sign at the closed Hancock Memorial Hospital in Sparta, Ga.)

University of North Carolina professor Mark Holmes studied the economic impact of 140 rural hospital closures nationwide, finding that "Three years out, losing a hospital costs a community, on average, 'about 1.6 percentage points in unemployment, about $700 in per capita income, and that was in 2000 dollars, so that’d be probably about $1,000 currently,'" Ragusea writes.

After four rural hospitals closed in Georgia in the past year, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal proposed a plan to help ailing hospitals—and those that were recently shuttered—to offer only more limited services such as emergency care. State Community Health Commissioner Clyde Reese "says America’s healthcare system doesn’t provide enough ways for the operator of that kind of place to get paid," Ragusea writes. Reese told him, “They’re not going to be hospitals; they won’t be reimbursed as hospitals; they won’t be able to charge a facility fee; they won’t get the Medicaid add-on rate, etc.” (Read more)

West fertilizer explosion survey omits dozens of injuries; could skew redrafting of rules, groups say

Volunteer fireman Eddie Hykel lost sight
in one eye from; the injury wasn't included
in the survey. (Nathan Hunsginer/DMN)
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex., that killed 14 and injured more than 300. In the year since the explosion the government has studied ways to improve regulations in storing chemicals. But health and public policy experts argue that a substandard survey on the number of injured will hamper the government's ability to make informed public safety decisions in creating the regulations, Sue Ambrose reports for The Dallas Morning News.

"They limited their survey to those treated at hospitals and urgent care clinics. They did not canvass private medical practices, where blast victims were also treated. Nor did they track problems that may have surfaced later, such as brain injuries, hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder," Amrbose writes. "State and local health officials say their survey was designed to record only acute—or immediately apparent—physical injuries from the blast."

Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, told Ambrose, "We’re entering a debate over how much regulation is needed to prevent this kind of thing in the future and to balance that against other interests. Well, one of the interests that desperately needs to be represented in there is a full accounting of what the health effects are.”

Officials say 262 people were injured in the explosion, but the Morning News said that through phone calls it was easily able to find more people not included in the survey. "Using the Texas Medical Board’s registry, The News found 432 private-practice doctors within 60 miles of West who could have treated blast injuries," Ambrose writes. "There were an additional 28 neurologists and psychiatrists in the same area who could treat patients."

Not included in the survey was The West Oak Medical Clinic. Physician’s assistant Paula Snokhous "said the clinic saw about 40 patients who did not go to area hospitals," Ambrose writes. "About half of them had ringing in their ears or other hearing problems. Four or five had lacerations stitched or bandaged, and the rest had wounds cleaned, she said. About 30 other clinic patients were also treated at hospitals. Other patients visited the clinic for mental issues, and about 10 were referred for pyschological evaluations, she said; some were diagnosed with PTSD." (Read more)

Group opposing Keystone XL draws line in wheat

The Cowboy and Indian Alliance is sending a message to President Obama urging him to reject the controversial $5.4 billion TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry heavy tar-sands oil across the U.S. The group has created a crop-art image the size of 80 football fields near Neligh, Neb., right in the proposed pipeline path, Mark Hefflinger reports for Bold Nebraska, a citizen advocacy group fighting the project. Last year Republican Gov. Dave Heineman endorsed legislation to allow the pipeline to cross the state, but in February a state court invalidated the decision.

Landowner Art Tanderup told Hefflinger, “This land has been in our family for over 100 years. We have always been stewards of the land. The soil is very sandy here; any leak would leach into the Ogallala Aquifer, contaminating our water without any concrete plan to clean up the pollution. With this crop art we are literally drawing a line in the sand and asking President Obama to stand with our families.”

Artist John Quigley told Hefflinger, “Americans always go big when they’re pushed to their limits. This image, which may well be the largest crop art ever, sends the message that the good people of the Heartland have the courage to stand up for their rights to clean water. They reject the bullying of TransCanada and will defend their land." (Read more) (The proposed pipeline goes across several states, including Nebraska)

Navy Times reports rural homeless U.S. veterans are older and less cared for than urban ones

The Housing Assistance Council report that homeless U.S. veterans in rural areas suffer from geographic isolation, making it difficult for them to get help, Leo Shane reports for the Navy Times. Another problem is that veterans in rural areas are, on average, 18 years older than those in urban areas and "face challenges in paying for property upkeep and modernization, which can force them into substandard living conditions." In 10 years 70 percent of all rural veterans will be over 65 years old, according to the council's report, "From Service to Shelter."

Though the number of homeless veterans was down to 57,849 in January 2013, and President Obama wants no U.S. veterans to be homeless by the end of 2015, "declaring victory in rural areas is much more difficult," Shane writes. "In many towns far from urban centers, housing options are sparse," and Department of Veterans Affairs services are harder to get. Eric Oberdorfer, research associate at the council, told Shane, "Because many live far away from VA offices and other resources, they can’t access them, or they might not even be aware that programs exist.” About 5.6 million veterans, or 25 percent of all veterans, are from rural areas as of 2010, the report states.

Over the past five years, nearly 60,000 Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers have been issued to help provide stable housing for at-risk veterans and their families, Shane writes. "But Oberdorfer said only about 3 percent of those vouchers have been allocated to VA medical centers in rural regions. Rules for the vouchers stipulate that veterans must apply them toward housing 'within a reasonable distance from a VA facility' so case managers can provide assistance and oversight." (Read more) (Housing Assistance Council graphic)

Friday, April 11, 2014

A woman dies because a rural county skimps on its ambulance service; weekly digs deep, points way

The need for better emergency services in rural areas is illustrated in the tragic story of Rita Sue Jenkins. The Western Kentucky woman lived just four miles from an ambulance station in the small county seat of Elkton. But when her family called 911 on March 24, it took the ambulance 43 minutes to get there. She never made it to the hospital, dying five minutes later in her home, reports Tonya Grace of the Todd County Standard, a weekly paper that has earned the title of best small newspaper in the state for seven straight years.

The problem, which is one that many rural areas face, is a lack of services. Todd County only has two ambulance crews. One was at a call in a neighboring county because that county's services were already occupied, and the other was sent out to another call that came within minutes of the call for Jenkins, Grace writes. That meant that despite Jenkins' close proximity to the ambulance station (a relative said it took him four minutes to drive there) the ambulance that responded to her call came from another county.

Jim Duke, owner of the Todd County service, told Grace that anytime two calls are received at the same time, dispatch personnel and the ambulance crew decide which is worse and respond to that one, arranging for another crew to get the second one. Since the other caller reported a cardiac arrest, and Jenkins' family reported weakness and someone sick, the other call got top priority.

Since the incident, suggestions have been made to improve service, such as having one truck on duty all the time with a paramedic and emergency medical technician, and the other to have two trucks, a 24-hour and a floater crew truck on duty for 12 hours during the day, with an crew on call the other 12 hours, Grace writes. One ambulance is staffed 24 hours a day and another one floats between Todd County and adjoining Logan County. Todd County can't afford two full-time ambulances, Judge-Executive Daryl Greenfield told Grace. In her long, richly detailed story, she notes that the service, whose contract is up for renewal, has been "criticized for not hiring local people who would be familiar with the local community, its roads and neighborhoods."

But if rural residents in places like Todd County want better services, they're going to have to pay for it, writes Ryan Craig, editor and publisher of the Standard. "What we see as the real issue is the funding of, not only this service, but other services in the county," Craig opines in a front-page column. "For too long we have kept our funding levels about the same while other counties around us have upped their level of services through smart funding."

Craig concludes: "It is time we no longer condemn and threaten to run off our local officials at even the mention of higher taxes, especially if it is to improve our lives. As the old sayings go, we are at the nub, and all the blood is out of the turnip. The family of Rita Jenkins told the Standard that they don't want something like this to happen again. I couldn't agree more. It is time we became serious about our services. We owe that to Rita Jenkins and her family."

To read both articles click here.

Study finds decline in property value of homes supplied by wells and located close to fracking sites

A study by researchers at the University of Calgary and Duke University found that property values of groundwater-dependent homes near shale-gas developments have suffered from being located near the sites, Jeff McMahon reports for Forbes.

Researchers studied property values in 36 Pennsylvania counties and seven New York counties from 1994 to 2012, mapping "sales against the locations of shale-gas wells" and comparing "homes connected to public drinking-water systems to homes with private wells," McMahon writes. "Properties with private wells suffered a loss in value compared to properties connected to a municipal water system, they found, offsetting gains in value from mineral-rights royalties. The loss varied with distance from the nearest shale-gas well. At 1.5 kilometers, properties with private wells sold for about 10 percent less."

"Within 1 km of shale gas wells, properties with private drinking water wells dropped 22 percent in value. Properties connected to public water suffered no losses, but also showed no net gains," McMahon writes. Lucija Muehlenbachs, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, told him, “If you get closer, if you look at the properties that are only 1 km from a shale-gas well, then for the ones that are on groundwater we see a 22 percent loss in property values, and for the ones that have access to pipe water, there’s zero gain, so essentially all of the positive benefits get wiped out by these negative externalities of having this well pad nearby.” Negative externalities include truck traffic, noise, light, and air pollution.

"At distances greater than 2 km from shale gas wells — what Muehlenbachs calls the vicinity level — the researchers found a net increase in property values that declines over time — evidence of a small boom-bust cycle at the vicinity level," McMahon writes. (Read more)

Family Dollar to close 370 stores, slash prices; company says bad winter hurt sales

It was only last year that dollar stores, a staple in rural areas, were experiencing a boom, as shoppers sought cheaper alternatives to the ever-increasing prices of grocery and department stores. The boom appears to be over for Family Dollar, which announced Thursday it is closing 370 stores "in response to falling sales and business disruptions caused by bad winter weather," Roger Yu reports for USA Today. The chain, which has 8,100 stores in 46 states, also plans to cut prices on about 1,000 items. (Associated Press photo) 

The move "could generate about $40 million to $45 million in annual operating profit benefit" for the company, which said its net income for 2014 fiscal second quarter, which ended March 1, was 35 percent lower than the same quarter last year, Yu writes. Annual sales were down 6 percent. "Performance was affected by one fewer week of business during the quarter and disrupted merchandise deliveries caused by harsh winter weather, the company said." (Read more)

Writer examines how a pair of national magazines recently covered the topic of clean coal

A story about clean coal in the latest edition of Wired magazine overstated its conclusions, while one on the same topic in the latest National Geographic, did not, writes Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post on the paper's Wonkblog.

"The article in Wired by Charles Mann is thoroughly reported and makes for a fascinating read, but nothing in it supports the magazine's thesis about clean coal: 'Because it could allow the globe to keep burning its most abundant fuel source while drastically reducing carbon dioxide and soot, it may be more important—though much less publicized—than any renewable-energy technology for decades to come'," Ehrenfreund writes.

"According to a recent estimate from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a new clean-coal plant built now costs about as much as a new solar plant per unit of electrical generation—and that estimate looks optimistic next to the even higher costs Mann reports in Wired. Wind and natural gas are much less expensive sources of electricity. Meanwhile, the cost of solar panels is falling steadily and predictably, and solar energy is no more expensive than the market price for electricity in parts of Europe."

Ehrenfreund says "National Geographic's editors handled the story well, being careful not to overstate their conclusions. It would have been great to read a piece in Wired about any of the various fascinating new energy projects that truly aren't well publicized: supercapacitors, fusion reactors, batteries made out of air. These technologies might not be as far along in their development as clean coal, but their implications are arguably just as broad. Then again, stories that are uncomfortable for the environmental movement have always been popular with editors and their audiences, probably because they give a publication an aura of iconoclastic thinking, however undeserved it may be." (Read more)

Local Media Assn. allows non-newspaper members

The Local Media Association, formerly Suburban Newspapers of America, is expanding its membership to allow non-newspaper members "such as TV stations, radio stations, directory publishers, pure plays and more to join the association," LMA says in a news release.

LMA is a business-oriented organization that refers to itself as "the only non-profit, professional trade association specifically serving the local news-media industry," but it has offered little to newsrooms beyond an annual contest, winners of which include some rural news outlets.

LMA President Nancy Lane said in the release,"We are thrilled to welcome all local media companies into LMA membership. We can quickly showcase new revenue streams and sustainable business models by being all-inclusive. There is common ground on the digital side; we can all learn from each other.” (Read more)

April 16 deadline for journalists to register for free climate-change seminars April 23-25 in D.C.

Two free climate-change seminars for journalists are scheduled April 23 and April 24-25 in Washington, D.C. The seminars, sponsored by the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will focus on economic and public-policy issues and the marine and coastal effects of climate change.

The first seminar, designed for political and business reporters, is described as "a top-level summary of the state of climate-change science, underscoring global and regional observations, predictions and social and economic impacts from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, as well as an overview of domestic policy and politics related to climate change mitigation and adaptation."

The second seminar "is open to all journalists who want to improve their coverage of climate change and will provide a foundational understanding of the most critical climate change impacts affecting the ocean and coastal communities. This seminar will include an interactive session with award-winning environment reporters who will provide guidance on how to craft compelling stories for local and regional audiences out of globally significant climate change research, an extraordinarily challenging topic for both reporters and news audiences."

The registration deadline is April 16. For more information or to register, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

States look to unload local roads in rural areas; localities want states to keep sending road money

A battle over responsibilty for roads is brewing in some states, especially West Virginia, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where states own a large percentage of roads, some of which they want to transfer to local communities because they are getting too expensive to maintain, Daniel Vock reports for Stateline. Nationally, state governments own about 19 percent of roads, but the number is 89 percent in West Virginia, 84 percent in Delaware, 78 percent in Virginia, 75 percent in North Carolina and 63 percent in South Carolina.

"Each state amassed its huge network in a different way. But generally, state officials took over county roads and other farm-to-market routes because localities did not build enough of them or failed to maintain them adequately," Vock reports. "Decades later, states that gobbled up local roads no longer have the appetite to keep them. In growing areas, highways that once linked distant towns are now major local arteries."

"States increasingly see their shorter, less-traveled roads as a drain on resources at a time when resources are increasingly scarce. Inflation and fuel efficiency are sapping revenues from state and federal gas taxes," Vock writes. "The federal government, which provides a third of the money that states spend on transportation, expects to run short of road money as early as July. This year’s brutal winter, which added expenses for snow plowing and pothole repair, further strained state transportation budgets."

Some local communities are more than willing to take over the roads, and want the freedom to control their fate, as long as they keep receiving assistance, Vock writes. Beaufort, S.C., city manager told Vock, "Our council feels there should be some quid pro quo. If we take the roads, we should be able to do what we want with them in a reasonable and responsible manner. Secondly, we should have funds that come with it.”

Leslie Wollack of the National League of Cities told Vock that designating federal money for maintenance is another concern. Federal laws channel more transportation money through states, which then decide how much to turn over to their cities. “That creates a very large problem for the local governments, because they’re not getting the money,” she said. “They may not have chosen to build these roads in the first place, yet they are suddenly being given the responsibility to spend a lot of money.” (Read more)