Friday, July 06, 2007

Maine law requires studies for big-box stores, sets criteria for rejection

Maine has become the first state to require developers of large retail stores to pay for studies of their impacts on local services, local businesses and the environment. "The proposed store can't be approved if the studies find it is likely to cause a quantifiable, 'undue adverse impact' on more than one of those fronts and is expected to have a harmful effect on the community overall," reports Kris Hudson of The Wall Street Journal. "Similar measures have been proposed in six other states in the past two years."

The Maine law was signed a week ago by Gov. John Baldacci. Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill applying to stores of more than 100,000 square feet. "A Montana measure mirroring the Maine law died in committee in the state's latest legislative session," Hudson reports. "Another measure is under review in New Jersey. The impact-study bills are the latest twist in efforts to use legislation to curtail the development of Wal-Mart and other chains, like Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp. , that commonly build large, stand-alone stores." (Read more)

Federal judge in Illinois slams door on last horse slaughterhouse in U.S.

A federal judge ruled yesterday that Illinois’ ban on slaughtering horses for meat is constitutional, “after a six-week legal battle between the state and Cavel International, a DeKalb slaughterhouse that was the only facility in the country still processing horse meat for overseas diners,” reports the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

Kapala had issued a statement June 25 saying he lacked jurisdiction until an appeals court decided whether The Humane Society of the United States could intervene as a defendant. “The appeals court said Tuesday that Kapala did have jurisdiction, and ordered him to make a final judgment before moving ahead on the appeal.” Cavel has indicated it will appeal and request expedited handling of the case. (Read more)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Rural areas still lag behind cities, suburbs in broadband Internet access at home and at work

Less than a third of rural American homes have high-speed Internet service, or broadband, while half those in metropolitan areas do, according to the latest survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Only 31 percent of rural homes have broadband, compared to 52 percent in urban areas and 49 percent in suburbs. Rural households are gaining on their metro counterparts, but slowly. "Between 2006 and 2007, high-speed Internet usage among rural adults grew by 24 percent, versus 18 percent for urban residents and just 7 percent for suburbanites," Pew's report said. "Broadband penetration among rural residents in early 2007 is now roughly equal to broadband penetration among urban/suburban residents in early 2005."

The rural-urban disparity is not quite so great in workplaces, on which some rural residents rely for Internet connections. In rural areas, 38 percent said they have access to a high-speed connection at their place of work. For suburban and urban residents, the workplace-access figure is 55 percent.

One reason for the rural-urban broadband gap is lower Internet usage of any kind among rural residents. "Internet usage in rural areas also trails the national average; 60 percent of rural adults use the Internet from any location, compared with the national average of 71 percent," the report said. (Read the report)

Recent closures stir fears for small newspapers, communities in Arkansas

The closure and merger of several small newspapers in Arkansas, in the space of a few days, signals losses of population, losses of local retailers, and in turn a loss of community.

"Newspapers folding, merging or cutting back production is nothing new, although three in one state in the span of a few days is unusual, and new startups have been a rare sight lately," writes Ben Leubsdorf of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The decline of local businesses and -- especially in the Delta -- dwindling populations pose serious challenges for community newspapers. As owners see their advertising base shrink, publishing a daily, semiweekly or even a weekly becomes more and more difficult, observers say."

Arkansas is home to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but the company advertises little in newspapers, and when it and other megastores enter a newspaper's territory, local retailerts "either go out of business or become so stressed financially that they can't really afford to advertise much anymore," newspaper analyst John Morton told Leubsdorf, who noted, "Falling population in many rural areas also hurts the local economy."

Leubsdorf gives the details: "The weekly DeValls Bluff Times folded after 53 years of publication, its content absorbed into The Grand Prairie Herald in Hazen, seven miles down the road. ... Within a few days ... the DeQueen Daily Citizen also folded and two newspapers in Monroe County, the Monroe County Sun in Clarendon and The Brinkley Argus, merged to form The Central Delta Argus-Sun." (The weekly DeQueen Bee, which has one of the cutest names of any newspaper anywhere, lives on, under Lancaster Management Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., which bought both papers from a family.)

Leubsdorf interviewed Arkansas native Liz Hansen, a former reporter in the state who studies rural papers as a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University. "She said some rural papers are experimenting with other options, such as a voluntary dues model like that which supports public television, or papers banding together to offer group advertising sales. But, she said, there is no 'one ready solution yet.'" The Democrat-Gazette, known for putting little free content online, will sell you this story for $1.95. To get it, click here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A story for Independence Day: Maine island creates its own government

"Most of the nation marks 231 years of independence today with parades, picnics and fireworks. But the people of Chebeague Island, Maine, are celebrating just three days of self-government," after being governed from the mainland for 260 years, reports National Public Radio, introducing a story by Howard Berkes.

The move to create a new town, accomplished by passage of a bill in the state legislature, came in response to the possibility that the island's school would be closed. Berkes reports on the first town meeting (shown in photo by David Tyler): "Every folding chair was filled in the island gym and it was standing room only on the fringes. Registered voters held fluorescent green cards, ready to raise them high when it came time to vote. They had 110 items on the agenda, including the school and town budgets, establishing town jobs, and managing waste, traffic, boating, shellfish, elections, animals, cemeteries and more. It took four hours. But half the island’s voters had already spent months on developing this framework of government." Click here to read and listen. (Great sounds!)

Mabel Doughty, 85, told Berkes: "Before that, we felt that those people on the mainland, that somehow they owned the island. We’re going to be our own people. And it’s a little bit feeling what the people who did the Declaration of Independence. They fought so hard to get there. Just as we have. And I think from now on let’s say, the Fourth of July is going to have great meaning for those of us on the island."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Broadband makes upstate New York village less rural, says occasional visitor and media reporter

For many rural places in the Northeast, the July 4 holiday is the beginning of second-home season, when folks from the cities decamp to the woods. In many places the city is following them, in the form of high-speed Internet access that makes the Web fully useful but also may change the character of the locales — at least in the view of The New York Times and one of its media reporters, David Carr. He writes from Corinth, N.Y., a town of 6,000 on the narrow, upper Hudson River in the foothills of the Adirondacks:

“My family owns a cabin up the mountain, the kind of place city dwellers come to get off the grid. But the grid keeps finding me. Apart from the Barn [ice-cream stand], there is a good wireless connection at the public library, and if you don’t mind latching onto someone else’s signal, just everywhere else around town. . . . There’s a lot of talk in the gas stations and beauty parlors — some of it on cellphones while waiting in line — about who is scheduled to get hooked up next" to the digital world of flash video and 24/7 news.

“Places like Corinth have never been short on ‘community,’ so the addition of some pages on MySpace, Facebook, or a goofy video on YouTube is not going to knit the place together in some bold new paradigm. The picnic table outside Stewart’s will still be the best place to pick up local gossip. But a broader popular culture that many have rejected by leaving big cities now rides back toward them on a big fat pipe. If you live in Corinth and are jacked in, you could watch the final episode of ‘The Sopranos’ along with the rest of the country and click onto TMZ’s continuing ballad of Lindsay, Paris and Britney, there for the plucking. Indigenous culture is being supplanted by one where everybody is in on the same joke.”

Carr notes that the cable-TV business “has roots in the sticks . . . a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1940s. Today, the rural hunger for digital service represents a business opportunity for a mature industry that is going to run out of customers at some point.” Time Warner is “headed up the mountain” with its pckage of cable, phone and broadband, “and soon enough, there will be nodes for the likes of me — Mr. Off-the-Grid — to jack in. When that happens, we can take care of business amid the towering pines. But how will that be different from the place we drove three and a half hours to get away from?” (Read more)

Monday, July 02, 2007

International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors charges batteries at annual conference

It’s a small group with an imposing name, an unpronounceable acronym and a nameless newsletter, but the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors showed at its annual conference last week that it’s a resilient and inspirational bunch of journalists who uphold the finest ideals of the craft.

A record 107 people attended the conference in the Black Hills, and as many as a third of them (including this writer) were at their first ISWNE meeting. And unlike most gatherings of editors and publishers, the conference included no sessions on how to sell more papers or more advertising, or even on how to deal with the Internet. The society is about journalism, and mainly about editorial leadership in community journalism.

It was founded in 1955 with the goal of improving editorial pages at weeklies, and the only awards it gives are for editorial writing, with one exception – an award for public service through aggressive reporting and interpretation of local government. But even that award requires reverence for language, for which its namesake, the late Eugene Cervi of the Rocky Mountain Journal, was known.

This year’s winner of the top editorial-writing award, Lori Evans of the Homer News in Alaska, echoed the comments of many other attendees when she said the conference recharged her batteries. “Our papers may be very small, but I believe our spirit may be larger than most of us imagine,” she told the awards-dinner crowd.

At the heart of each annual conference are editorial-critique sessions, originally intended to make up for weekly newspapers’ lack of editorial boards. They have expanded to critiques of the editorial and op-ed pages, and sometimes other parts of a paper.

The give and take is often among editors and publishers who know each other well, but they welcome new blood – essential in a group that has about 200 dues-paying members. “ISWNE is a small organization, more like a family than an organization,” said Dick Lee of South Dakota State University.

But even if that is still the case, it’s a far-flung family. Many of those at the conference were from Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the group often meets outside the U.S. Years ago, ISWNE endowed a bursary, or stipend, in honor of a British editor to bring an editor “across the pond” for the conference and give a speech. This year’s recipient was Moira Sleight, managing editor of the Methodist Recorder, an independent paper that is published for Methodists in the U.K. but has a global readership.

Sleight told the audience about her paper and the current state of independent community journalism in Great Britain, which she said may be threatened by “hyper-local” publications that major newspaper chains have started for “small rural areas and city neighborhoods,” typically with a free circulation of 6,000.

Even the British Broadcasting Corp. has gotten into the act, creating Web sites with similar agendas that threaten local papers’ sites, prompting strong lobbying by the newspaper industry against it. “No local paper has the resources to compete with an organization like the BBC,” Sleight said. “If it goes ahead, it will have a very negative effect on many community newspapers.” For the full text of Sleight's prepared remarks, click here.

The learning experiences at ISWNE conferences are not limited to journalism. Tours and local presenters give attendees a taste of the locale, broadening editors’ perspective. The Black Hills gathering included an obligatory trip to Mount Rushmore, but an even more extensive visit to Crazy Horse (above), where a much larger memorial, this one to the legendary Native American leader, is slowly being blasted out of a mountain.

The group sat in on the most extensive interview ever granted by Ruth Ziolkowski, 81, widow of Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor who started the project in 1948 and died in 1982. The interview was conducted by Jack Marsh, diversity vice president of the Freedom Forum, who also moderated a panel discussion with Native American journalists.

In South Dakota, a state with a large Indian population, Marsh and Larry Atkinson of the Mobridge Tribune have created a journalism diversity program like none in any other state. Their annual conference at Crazy Horse attracts 150 or more Native American students and 35 to 40 mentors, and the American Indian Journalism Institute brings Native American students to University of South Dakota for one of four courses, then places them in internships.

“Native Americans are the most under-represented group in journalism,” Marsh said. Of the 58,000 journalists at U.S. daily newspapers, only 300 are identified as Native Americans, he said, and the number who are actually enrolled as tribe members – which requires at least 25 percent Indian blood in many tribes – is probably about 100.

Back at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, headquarters for the editors’ conference, one agenda item for the group’s business meeting was “Future of ISWNE.” The outgoing president, retired editor Harry Hix of Oklahoma State University, said the group is “making progress” after doubts about its survival a few years ago.

Membership topped 200 this year, thanks in part to trial memberships and other recruitment efforts of Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute for International Studies at Missouri Southern State University, who is the group’s executive director.

Stebbins said the organization has improved its publications – a monthly newsletter and the quarterly Grassroots Editor magazine – and is providing more services, such as a hotline for members to ask each other questions about issues that arise at their newspapers, few of which are chain-owned.

“The people who have sent in their questions have been amazed by the responses they’ve received,” often as many as 50 in a 24-hour period, Stebbins said.

The hotline also helps maintain a sense of community among the widely scattered membership. For rural journalists, often hampered by the isolation that defines rurality, ISWNE can provide valuable networking and inspiration. For more information, go to

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Freedom Of Information Act reform bill needs editorial support, especially in Kentucky

The federal Freedom of Information Act is 41 years old, and like most folks in their 40s who haven't been well cared for, it is showing its age. Most state open-records laws are better, providing a quick, inexpensive appeal to the attorney general or some other authority if an agency refuses to cough up records or fails to respond in the required time. Under FOIA, many records requests have languished for years, and going to court to dislodge them is too expensive for the citizens or news outlets that want the documents.

A bill in the Senate would restore meaningful deadlines for agency action, and and create a FOIA ombudsman as an alternative to costly litigation. It would also impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing the deadlines; clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors, and establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies. For details of the bill, click here.

The Department of Justice opposes the bill, and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is putting a hold on it, preventing the Senate from considering it. Supporters of the bill are asking news outlets to write or air editorials urging their senators to ask Kyl to let the bill be heard. Any editorial would be helpful, but Kentucky media outlets could be especially influential, because Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the Senate Republican leader and the Kentucky open-records law is one of those that provide a quick, inexpensive appeal.

The Kentucky New Era said in an editorial, "Sen. McConnell, we ask that you let your long-standing reputation for support of open government remain stainless by persuading your colleague to drop the hold and let this bill go forward toward a vote." Citing findings by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government that responses to FOIA requests dropped by 31 percent last year, the editorial said the Bush administration "has allowed lax FOIA enforcement and a near-obsession with secrecy to undercut the public’s right to know,” and asked, "How would you feel if someone else had something you own, and you had to file a written request to get it, and then there were delays upon delays getting it to you?" (Read more)

Second West Virginia county approves casino table games at local racetrack

Voters in a second county in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle have voted to allow the local racetrack to become a full-scale casino by adding table games to its slot machines. The unofficial results yesterday in rural Hancock County, at the state's northern tip, were 5,021 for and 3,506 against, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

The vote sought by Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort follows a similar one in Ohio County, which authorized table games at Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center. Voters in Jefferson County, in the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle, rejected the idea. The fourth and final referendum will be held for Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming in Nitro, in Kanawha County, which includes Charleston.

The West Virginia Legislature authorized table games, subject to local referenda, to help the tracks compete with slot machines recently authorized statewide in Pennsylvania. "Mountaineer plans to install 90 table games, with about half of those to be poker tables. Instructors have been trained by West Virginia Northern Community College, which also is training workers for Wheeling Island," reports Paul Giannamore of the Sunday News-Register of Wheeling. For his story, click here.

Weekly newspaper editors' group gives awards for editorial writing and public service

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

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

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

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