Saturday, February 09, 2008

Noted Mississippi weekly reports new competitor

The Neshoba Democrat, the oldest business in Philadelphia, Miss., and a factor in helping bring a racist killer to justice after 40 years, got some competition this week -- after reporting to its readers on the competitors' plans. (Encarta map)

The first editions of The Philadelphian appeared this week, preceded by a press release saying "A community newspaper should tell the happenings of a place, but more than that, serve the readership in a positive, constructive manner." Managing Editor George Yates said in the release, "The City of Philadelphia, the County of Neshoba and all the surrounding communities are ready for a positive voice in news reporting. The Philadelphian will be that voice."

The weekly Democrat quoted all that and more in its Jan. 30 edition, in a story by Managing Editor Debbie Burt Myers. It noted that the other principals of the new corporation, Red Barn Media, which is also an advertising agency, were "all former marketing or advertising executives at Pearl River Resort," the local casino of the Choctaw Tribe. Myers interviewed Yates, who told her, "We're not out to put anybody out of business like some of the rumors out there. We are doing it just to have fun with it."

Perhaps that depends on the definition of "fun." The day after The Philadelphian appeared, the local hospital administrator told the county-owned nursing home to stop free distribution of the Democrat, "a practice that has been going on for at least three decades," Myers wrote. "Administrator Karin Fiducia did not return telephone calls to a Democrat reporter." Fiducia had already crossed swords with the paper, after not providing all the necessary data for a study of the hospital's future, and that week, an editorial in the Democrat criticized her for that. The hospital reduced its advertising in the Democrat and ran a full page in the first Philadelphian.

Last year, the paper endorsed the re-election of the Choctaw chief, who lost to a candidate the paper said was supported by outside gambling interests. "The Tribe is, without a doubt, driving the local economy," the editorial said. "Outside gaming interests should not be running the Tribe."

The Democrat has a reputation of strength and independence. As the 40th anniversary of the murders of three civil-rights workers in Neshoba County neared, without a conviction, some local folks thought there needed to be one final effort to see that justice was done. Democrat Publisher Jim Prince co-chaired a committee to make the effort, and went beyond editorializing to active crusading. As his committee sought justice, his paper marked the anniversary with a series that included pages of the Democrat from 1964 – pages that often didn’t reflect well on the paper because 40 years ago, it was reflecting the prevailing community opinion. In the end, with the help of more reporting from Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, charges were brought and a killer was convicted.

Minn. rural economic effort "something of a mess"

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's main program for rural economic development lacks oversight and gives large tax breaks to places and businesses that may not need them while doing little for the neediest rural areas, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said yesterday.

"The 100-page evaluation of JOBZ that the state government watchdog issued is the first official examination of Minnesota's four-year-old business tax-break program -- the largest state-run business subsidy program in Minnesota's recent history," Jennifer Bjorhus writes in The Pioneer Press of St. Paul. She says it is "something of a mess," and delivers quite a litany:

"The program doesn't target the rural areas most in need, the standards for eligibility are too loose and the subsidy agreements themselves often don't require companies to add a meaningful number of jobs or even retain existing ones, the report concludes. There's so little oversight of the program, which is largely left to local communities to run, that some companies have continued to receive subsidies even after they exit the program. . . . JOBZ hasn't created that many new jobs, either, according to the report." (Read more)

The report isn't wholly critical of the program. The auditor "credits it with attracting some business into Minnesota and keeping other businesses from leaving," writes T.W. Budig, state-capital reporter for ECM Publishers of Coon Rapids. (Read more) In any event, the report counds like might offer some ideas for evaluating other states' rural economic-development programs. To read it, click here.

Why did Obama lose Calif.? Look to its heartland

As Super Tuesday approached, Barack Obama's momentum in California strongly indicated that he would carry the state and become the Democratic front-runner for president. But Hillary Clinton won the state by almost 10 percentage points, and analysts focused on her strength among women and Hispanics. But there was another reason: Her strength in the state's interior.

"Obama, for all the interest he generated in wealthy coastal precincts, was failing in a frantic effort to gain traction in the California heartland: the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, and the Central Valley stalwarts, Fresno and Kern counties," Joe Mathews writes in the Los Angeles Times. "There lies a different Democratic California, less known to outsiders than the gilded coast but no less important . . . the unofficial capital of the working class."

Mathews begins his piece with a Dust Bowl-Depression ditty: "Dear Okie ... if you see Arkie .. . tell 'im Tex's got a job for him ... out in Californy." He seems to argue that The Grapes of Wrath are still producing political juice. "We're two states: a coastal blue state and an interior red state," he writes. "The phrase that used to describe this phenomenon is 'California, 50 miles inland, is Arkansas.' It is, politically speaking, Oklahoma and Tennessee too. And while inland California is conservative and mostly Republican, there are millions of Democrats there as well. They cast their ballots in a way that closely resembles the voting patterns of the conservative Dust Bowl states whose job-seeking migrants settled the interior of Californy." Mathews, a grandson of Dust Bowl migrants, notes that Clinton's vote in those states (allowing for her roots in Arkansas) was similar to those in the four big interior counties. He acknowledges the Hispanic factor; the counties have very high Latino populations.

California's interior was once mainly rural, but no longer. By the Daily Yonder's county-by-county calculation, 96.7 percent of California's vote is urban, with 0.8 percent exurban and 2.6 percent rural. Clinton's margin over Obama in the state's rural counties was only 1.1 percent. The National Election Pool exit poll, based on precinct location, has it 50 percent urban, 42 percent suburban and 7 percent rural. Clinton's support in the poll showed no statistical difference among those categories. Her standout poll numbers were among Latinos (67 percent), women (59 pct.) and the poor and less educated, which supports Mathews' theory. Income categories below $100,000 all went for Clinton; those higher went for Obama. They tied among college graduates; he won those with postgraduate education and she won the rest, with increasing majorities as the level of education declined.

The Yonder's latest cut of the data says "Clinton has pulled more votes from counties that voted for George Bush in 2004 — while the Obama campaign has done best in the bluest of blue communities."

Friday, February 08, 2008

Clinton, McCain carried Super Tuesday's rural vote; Democratic battle escalates in rural Southwest Va.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain won the most votes from rural Americans on Super Tuesday, according to a county-level analysis just published by the Daily Yonder.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama "won the urban vote, but lost in rural and suburban areas. Nationally, Clinton won 55.3 percent of the rural vote. Obama took 38.1 percent," the Yonder reports. "The span between them was greatest in the South. There, Obama won 62 percent of the vote in metro areas while Clinton took just 35.1 percent. In the rural South, however, Clinton won 58.1 percent of the vote to Obama's 33.2 percent."

Bill Bishop and Tim Murphy write, "The candidate who found the biggest advantage in rural America was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The ordained Baptist minister won only 16.2 percent of the vote among urban Republicans. He took nearly 31 percent of the vote in rural counties and over 34 percent in exurban counties. ... McCain's percentage dropped as the election moved from metro areas to the exurbs and rural counties."

What does the analysis say about potential general-election matchups with McCain? "Obama and McCain did the best in the cities and both did less well in rural counties. Clinton, meanwhile, was less popular in deep blue counties but did better in counties that normally lean Republican.

For the Yonder's regional and state-by-state breakdowns of the Democratic vote, click here. For the Republican tallies, click here.

UPDATE, Feb. 9: The next big rural battleground is southwest Virginia, as first reported here. "A day after Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign announced plans to visit Roanoke, her chief Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, said he too would come to Roanoke on Monday," writes David Harrison of The Roanoke Times. "Later Friday, the Clinton campaign said that former President Bill Clinton would be in Blacksburg today." He is scheduled to speak in Chesapeake at 9:30 a.m., then head to the southwest, speaking in Abingdon at 4:30 p.m. and in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. Hillary Clinton has scheduled town meetings Sunday in Roanoke and Manassas, and she and Obama will speak at Saturday night's Democratic Party dinner in Richmond. (Read more) UPDATE, Feb. 11: Bad weather led to the cancellation of the Clinton and Obama events in Roanoke. (Read more)

UPDATE, Feb. 10: Obama led Clinton 53 to 37 percent in a poll taken Thursday and Friday for Virginia newspapers by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. "Southwest Virginia is the only part of the state where Clinton leads," Laurance Hammack writes for the Times. "Forty-seven percent of the voters surveyed in the region supported Clinton, compared with 43 percent for Obama, the poll found." And that lead would be well within the error margin for such a small sample. On the GOP side, "The poll showed McCain running well ahead in every part of the state except Southwest Virginia, where the Arizona senator was dead even with Huckabee."

Disputes over photography at high-school athletic events continue, even at cheerleading contest

For the past few months, the Illinois High School Association and the Illinois Press Association have battled in court and athletic venues over who has the right to shoot — and then sell — photos of high-school athletic events. That even includes cheerleading competitions, which are just the latest front in the fight -- which has also flared in other states.

At issue is the contract IHSA signed in 2001 with VIP, a Wisconsin-based photography company. The firm gets exclusive rights for sale of photos and agrees to shoot all events — not just football and basketball, but competitions such as bowling and chess, which newspapers are unlikely to cover. IHSA does not get a cut of the photo sales, but no longer has to hire photographers. To protect VIP's exclusivity, IHSA has barred newspaper photographers from events unless they sign a deal saying they won't sell images they capture.

"I don’t think I’ve seen a single issue that has inflamed the passions of my members more than this one has,” David Bennett, executive director of the IPA, told Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader. “Most see it as an example of a quasi-government agency trying to tell them how to run their product. This is unbelievable. Government can’t do this! That’s blatantly unconstitutional. There’s no backing down from this one now. The toothpaste is out of the tube.”

Last Saturday, IHSA barred Carlos Miranda, a photographer from The Pantagraph of Bloomington from the sidelines of the state's cheerleading competition when he refused to promise not to sell reprints. He bought a ticket and shot from the stands instead, and reporter Edith Brady-Lunny wrote an article on the dispute for the paper's Sunday edition. The fight has moved to the statehouse, too. "With the case still in court, late last month state representative Joseph Lyons, a Chicago Democrat, introduced a bill intended to make the IHSA’s position illegal," Miner writes. (Read more)

Ky. weekly doing series on local impact of diabetes

Kentucky ranks high in diabetes, and some places are estecially high, so a few weeks ago, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues made personal invitations to the newspapers serving Kentucky's 20 most diabetic counties to attend the Kentucky Diabetes Summitt. Starting this week, the Casey County News, a 6,000- circulation weekly in Southern Kentucky, began a series on diabetes and its impact in the county.

In the first installment, Brittany Emerson reports on how Bobby Foster manages his diabetes, and provides an overview of the situation in Casey County. (Emerson also took the photo of Foster.)

"The current rate of diabetes in Casey County is nearing 16 percent, one of the highest in Kentucky, according to 'The Health of Kentucky 2007,' a report published by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine," Emerson writes. "Diabetes is a chronic disease that has become a significant health problem in Kentucky, affecting 9.9 percent of the state's population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 267,000 adults in the state have been diagnosed with the disease while another 109,000 have it, but have not been diagnosed." (Read more)

Federal appeals court strikes down EPA's relaxed emissions rule for power plants

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has struck down a Bush administration cap-and-trade policy for coal- and oil-fired power plants that would have let some plants avoid meeting tighter emissions standards, reports The Associated Press.

The Environmental Protection Agency policy would have allowed "power plants that fail to meet emission targets to buy credits from plants that did, rather than having to install their own mercury emissions controls," AP reports. The rule was to take effect in 2010.

Many states brought the legal challenge, saying the EPA did not have the right to exempt plants from reducing mercury emissions. The states "argued that the cap-and-trade system would endanger children near some power plants that pollute but which also use credits to do it legally," AP reports.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin brought the lawsuit. (Read more)

Small weekly in Colorado tells the story of a farm family's loss and resolve

We like to highlight great work from small newspapers, and here's some from The Johnstown Breeze. An independent, 1,800-circulation weekly in northern Colorado, The Breeze covers the farming community of Johnstown (pop. 4,000). In this November article he just sent us, editor Matt Lubich tells the story of a farm family coping with the unexpected death of Alan Rieder, 54 (in family photo).

Lubich recounts how
Rieder’s wife, Lori, and sons, Chad and Travis, are going on with the farm, because "that’s what farm families do."

"So much has changed in the past nearly three weeks since Alan Rieder died, and so much has remained the same," Lubich writes. "There is still work to be done to get ready for another season, and Rieder brothers will again be out in the fields doing it. In a decade that has seen so many changes in Johnstown, the family’s field along North Second Street, just east of the high school, remains a rural vista unchanged by the growth. A place where the only thing growing this summer will be another crop, planted by another generation of Rieders."
(Read more)

It's a prime example of community journalism, and it's worth a look. If you see other work worth highlighting, send it our way.

Sharp drop in N.E. bat population could hurt crops

Thousands of bats are dying in caves of the Northeastern U.S., and while scientists aren't sure why, they do know that a lack of bats could hurt the area's agriculture, reports Beth Daley of The Boston Globe.

"A mysterious illness is sickening and killing thousands of hibernating bats in New York and Vermont, baffling scientists who fear that tens of thousands more may be dying in abandoned mines and dark caves throughout the Northeast," Daley writes. "Humans are not believed to be at risk from the disease, but the death of large numbers of bats could indirectly affect New Englanders: Bats devour crop pests, midges, and mosquitoes."

Scientists first spotted the disease in Albany, N.Y., in January 2007. By March, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation had found 11,000 bats had died from what scientists dubbed "white nose syndrome," called that "because of a flaky white fungus on the nose of many of the sick and dead bats," Daley writes. (Above, bats afflicted with the illness in a photo by DEC's Nancy Heaslip.) Recently the disease has been spotted in more places, including Vermont, and it has been affecting the Indiana bat, an endangered species. The affected area is growing: sick bats have been found as much as 135 miles apart.

Many labs are searching for answers to the mystery, and the best theory so far is that the disease has been spread by humans since the affected caves are popular with cavers. (Read more) Hat tip to Al Tompkins and his "Morning Meeting" for the link.

Great Backyard Bird Hunt kicks off next week

The Great Backyard Bird Count needs you to help tally the nation's bird population. The 11th annual event begins Feb. 15 and runs through Feb. 18, during which citizen volunteers can participate by observing their backyard, park or any other wildlife area for 15 minutes and recording the number of each species they see. Participants can enter results online at

Last year, volunteers submitted 81,003 lists, counted 11,082,387 birds and spotted 613 species. The event also includes a photo contest for images of birds submitted by volunteers. At right is the 2007 overall winner, a photo of a hooded merganser by James Hendrickson of New Jersey.

For instructions on how to record and submit observations, birdwatching tips and other information, go here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lack of sirens probably led to some tornado deaths, but sirens aren't the whole answer

Lack of warning sirens probably led to some fatalities from the storms that swept across the Southeast this week. This photo from the Macon County Times in Lafayette, Tenn., shows the ruins of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, once "a sturdy brick landmark in the Galen community." Jerry Greenway, the Times' editor and publisher, reported on "a savage picture of death and destruction never seen before in this area." A tornado killed 14 residents, and four died in adjoining Allen County, Ky. Neither county has warning sirens. But communities shopping for sirens should consider alternatives.

Sirens are "not made to warn you inside, and at one o'clock in the morning, most people are indoors asleep," Buddy Rogers of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management told Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal. "That's why it's crucial for people to buy a $40 NOAA weather alert radio. They're battery backed up and coded for particular counties." Crawford's column is mainly about warning whistles, the makers of which say reach farther than sirens.

"In some rural areas hit by the storms, warning systems have significant gaps, making it difficult to alert residents about an approaching storm," Judy Keen and others wrote in USA Today. "A couple and their teen son were killed Wednesday in Aldridge Grove, Ala., which is out of earshot of warning sirens. In Allen County, Ky. ... there are no sirens, said emergency management director Gary Petty. Officials there offer residents discounts on weather radios." Tri-County Electric Membership Corp., which serves both counties, got a $70,000 Rural Utilities Service grant in 2002 to install a weather radio transmitter, antenna, and backup generator.

Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop channel USA Today's story in the Daily Yonder, with a quote from Harold Brooks, of NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory: "Wealthier communities tend to have (sirens) and poorer communities tend not to have them. Channeling a report by Cara Restelli of Springfield, Mo.'s KYTV, the Yonder reports "sirens cost about $20,000 apiece, with the added expense of regular maintenance. Franklin, Kansas, bought a $18,000 system two years ago; one third of the cost was handled by a rural development grant. Yet another source priced emergency sirens at $25,000. But any of these price tags is high for a small community."

Ardery and Bishop add, "The newest idea in emergency communications -- one that could work especially well in rural communities -- is to use text-messaging, computers and cell phone technology. Lake County, Florida, which has no sirens, hopes to implement a text warning system; it's waiting for federal funds to follow through. Residents would still need to put themselves on a call list. For more on Lake County's plans, see this story," by Fried Hiers in the Ocala Star-Banner. Another option is a Reverse 911 system, which calls phones in geographic areas that need to receive a warning.

Community newspaper readership went up, or at least held stable, in the last two years

Readership of community newspapers held stable or increased slightly in the last two years, "in stark contrast to news reports purporting to chronicle the decline, if not demise, of newspapers," reports the National Newspaper Association, composed mainly of weekly papers.

The survey in markets of fewer than 25,000 people showed that last year's readership rate was 83 percent, up from 81 percent in 2005. That's within the margin of error, but error margins are based on a 95 percent confidence level, so chances are that community newspaper readership is rising. Even if it was stable, that would be in contrast to metropolitan papers.

"There are plenty of community newspapers that are maintaining or growing double-digit profit margins, and many that are also growing circulation and readership," NNA Executive Director Brian Steffens said. "I get more calls about new papers starting up than I get from publishers who are considering shutting down. The pace of community papers being bought and sold the past two years indicates a healthy and vibrant community newspaper market."

Steffens added, "I'm not immune to some very significant challenges facing the newspaper industry, but these numbers don't quite support 'the sky is falling' mantra. Part of the problem with reporting on the health and welfare of the newspaper industry is that virtually all of the previous research has been focused on large daily newspapers serving the top 100 markets. There are more than 1,400 daily newspapers and about 8,000 non-daily community newspapers across America."

The surveys were done with the help of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, where NNA has its headquarters. The group is seeking funds to conduct the research annually, and results of a 2008 update are expected to be unveiled in September, during the Missouri School of Journalism's celebration of its 100th anniversary."We know community newspapers have a different story to tell than some of the big dailies," says Steve Haynes, president of NNA and Haynes Publishing Co. in Oberlin, Kan. The survey also found that:

  • * 73 percent of community newspaper readers share their paper with friends, colleagues or family members, more than doubling the number of people who see the paper.
  • * On average, readers spend 41.8 minutes reading an issue of their paper, an increase of nearly four minutes from the 2005 survey.
  • * Nearly one-third of readers keep their paper for more than six days, enabling them to revisit a story or advertisement at their leisure.
For much more from the survey, click here.

Major daily newspapers face another rough year; smaller paper in Madison, Wis., moving to the Web

The outlook for daily newspapers this year is not much better because advertising and circulation numbers are both falling, but a company with many rural papers is doing better than most big newspaper firms, reports Richard Perez-Pena for The New York Times.

"Advertising, the source of more than 80 percent of newspaper revenue, traditionally rose and fell with the overall economy," he writes. "But in the last 12 to 18 months, that link has been broken, and executives do not expect to be able to repair it completely anytime soon. In 2007, combined print and online ad revenue fell about 7 percent. In the last six decades, only one other year — 2001, when there was a recession — had a steeper decline, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Adjusted for inflation, 2007 ad revenue was more than 20 percent below its peak in 2000." NAA is an organization of daily papers.

This NYT chart shows the steep decline in advertising many newspaper companies experienced on 2007. Of those featured, Lee Enterprises had the smallest loss at 1.1 percent. The company owns 55 daily newspapers — many in small, rural markets — in 23 states.

Lee owns half of The Capital Times of Madison, Wis., which announced today it will focus on the Internet and print only two days a week. Lee owns the larger, morning paper in the city, the Wisconsin State Journal. The news departments are separate; The Capital Times is more liberal and calls itself "your progressive news source."

Perez-Pena writes, "Now that some major papers have several times as many readers online as in print ... more people than ever read newspapers. . . . And papers sell more ads than ever, when online ads are included. But for every dollar advertisers pay to reach a print reader, they pay about 5 cents, on average, to reach an Internet reader." As a result, papers likely will continue cost-cutting procedures such as reduced paper size, smaller staffs and reduced delivery routes -- perhaps in rural areas. (Read more)

Ted Turner says he is nearing goal of owning 2 million acres of American ranchland

Ted Turner made a name for himself as the founder of CNN and owner of Atlanta sports franchises. Those roles are in the past, and much of his focus is now on his bison ranches in Nebraska, reports Paul Hammel of the Omaha World-Herald. (OWH photo by Laura Inns)

Turner, "the largest private landowner in Nebraska and the United States and the nation's largest bison rancher, said Wednesday that he is about done buying new ranches," Hammel writes. "He said he would like to reach 2 million acres nationwide before he dies — about 40,000 acres more than he currently owns."

Turner was in Omaha for the renaming of one of his 54 bison restaurants to Ted's Nebraska Grill (the rest are known as Ted's Montana Grill) and sat down for a half-hour interview that covered "his political preferences, the profitability of bison, his shrinking fortune and conspiracy theories that he is buying Nebraska land to corral the best chunks of the Ogallala Aquifer," the vast reservoir of water under the Great Plains, Hammel writes.

Turner told Hammel he has never sold water rights and has no plans to do so. Neighboring land owners said they get along with Turner, but they worry his land "eventually will become a buffalo park, taking it off the tax rolls and shifting more of the tax burden to them," Hammel writes. (Read more)

States prepare new pitches for emissions-free generating plant orginally planned for Illinios

After last week's announcement that the U.S. Department of Energy had withdrawn its funding support for a zero-emissions coal plant near Mattoon, Ill., several states have made plays to become the home for the $1.8 billion FutureGen Industrial Alliance Inc. plant (at left in a DOE rendering). Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has "put together a team of economic and energy staffers to help develop proposals aimed at bringing a FutureGen project to Kentucky," reports Roger Alford for The Associated Press.

Kentucky failed in its original bid to land the plant, "which would convert coal to clean-burning synthetic gas and pump the carbon dioxide emissions into the ground rather than releasing them into the atmosphere," Alford writes. State lawmakers passed incentives for such plants last summer, and want to capitalize on them if the Illinois plant is not built. "That, along with our vast natural resources, clearly makes Kentucky more ready than ever to take advantage of future federal investments in innovative energy development," Beshear said. (Read more)

On Wednesday, FutureGen CEO Mike Mudd said the group of coal and utility companies would work with the White House and Congress to keep the plant in Mattoon, AP reports. On Capitol Hill, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman fielded questioning about the DOE's decisions to withdraw funding. (Read more)

Two studies say expanding biofuels production worldwide will raise greenhouse emissions

Two recent studies say increased biodiesel and ethanol production worldwide could "increase greenhouse gas emissions more than than the fossil fuels they displace because of the impact of converting forests and grasslands worldwide to crop production," reports Philip Brasher of the Washington bureau of The Des Moines Register.

Earlier studies have suggested biofuel use could reduce emissions by 20 percent compared to gasoline, but they did not consider the impact of clearing forest and other land for crops. These new studies — one released by Science magazine today, and the other from the Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota — focus on the effects of such land conversion as well as the use of switchgrass and palm oil, Brasher explains.

The Science study, which included researchers from Iowa State University, "said that the grass-derived fuel results in 50 percent higher carbon emissions than gasoline because additional corn acreage would have to be found somewhere else," Brasher writes. The second study said that "converting rain forests to palm oil production for biodiesel can release as much as 420 times more carbon dioxide than is saved by displacing petroleum diesel."

Biofuel production can cut carbon dioxide emissions when abandoned farmland is used for growing or when corn stover and similar waste products are used as feedstock. (Read more)

Final dairy closes on Oahu; only two left in Hawaii

Even more of the milk in Hawaii will have to travel a long way before it reaches refrigerators there. The final dairy on the island of Oahu, site of Honolulu, closed recently. That left the state with only two dairies, which are on the big island of Hawaii, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Now residents of Oahu must look to the mainland for most of their dairy products. "In the past eight years, four Oahu dairies and three on the Big Island have shut down," according to the report. "Up until the 1980s, Hawaii had nearly two dozen diaries which produced all the milk needed in the islands." (Read more)

Bill promoting horse slaughterhouse in S.D. dies

The issue of horse slaughter has received plenty of coverage over the last few months as the last American facilities have closed, and the debate is not slowing down. In South Dakota, a state senator recently introduced a bill to allow $1 million in state loans to fund the building of a horse slaughterhouse there, and the response against it was overwhelming, reports Bill Harlan of the Rapid City Journal.

The bill died in a Senate committee last week, "but not before lawmakers sounded off about the hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls they received from out-of-state opponents," Harlan writes. The Animal Welfare Institute, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., led the campaign against the bill. The group's Web site listed the numbers and e-mail addresses of the committee members and provided talking points. The committee's chairman said he received more than 1,000 e-mails and 600 calls in the space of two days. The bill was defeated after state officials testified against it, saying that it was unclear whether such a facility is even legal anymore in this country.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland, defended his proposal, telling Harlan, "There's a market for it and a need for it." Kloucek said that because of the end of horse slaughter in the United States, there is more neglect and humane societies are "overwhelmed." (Read more)

Rural schools are diverse, complicated and growing

Stereotypes and misconceptions abound when it comes to rural areas, and to rural schools. It's time politicians and pundits stop listening to generalizations and learn the complicated truth about rural schools and the issues they face, writes Rachel Tompkins, the president of The Rural School and Community Trust.

Tompkins' editorial, "Rural Schools: Growing, Diverse, and ... Complicated," first appeared in the Jan. 16 edition of Education Week. It seeks to dismiss notions that rural education means "white, well-off, withering away, and wonderfully simple.”

Citing information that has appeared here and here, she points out that rural schools grew at a rate of 15 percent between 2003 and 2005, that 23 percent of rural students are members of minority groups, and that almost half of English-language learners are in rural schools. She recalls the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy in her native West Virginia, and she says that if today's candidates spent more time in rural areas "they would get an earful" about education. She hopes that would motivate them to start addressing the problems that arise because the poorest rural students go to school in the poorest states. (Read more)

Cattle market may no longer be cyclical, bank says

For those of us who grew up raising cattle, there was one overarching rule of the business: Sometimes it was up, sometimes it was down. The cattle market ran in cycles. Perhaps no more.

"The days of fairly predictable cycles could be over, agribusiness financial services provider Rabobank said in a report on the U.S. beef industry," writes Janie Gabbett for Meatingplace, a magazine for the red-meat industry.

"The report noted that the last identifiable cycle for the U.S. beef cow herd occurred between 1981 and 1995," Gabbett writes. "Since then, the beef cow herd has been declining, even as more beef has been produced through increased slaughter weights." The report said, "It is now possible to argue that the traditional cattle cycle may have been permanently replaced. It would appear that significant changes in the beef cow herd during the cattle cycle are a trend of the past."

Supporting those observations is Rabobank's prediction that "The U.S cattle inventory will likely remain flat through the end of the decade." (Read more)

Clinton focuses on Southwest Virginia; later-voting states looking forward to being part of the process

Rural Southwest Virginia is one of the new battlegrounds in the Democratic race for president. Barack Obama was once thought to have the edge in the state, as well as adjoining Maryland and the District of Columbia, all of which vote next Tuesday, but Hillary Clinton plans to contest the state by focusing partly on "the state's economically struggling rural southwest, where unemployment is high among white working-class voters," The Washington Post reports.

Clinton strategists "see conditions in the region as similar to those in neighboring Tennessee, which Clinton won Tuesday, and in rural Missouri, where she also did well, though she narrowly lost the state to Obama," Bill Turque and Anne Kornblut report. "She was endorsed this week by Democrats in Wise County in southwest Virginia, though the area's congressman, Rick Boucher, is supporting Obama."

Others making arguments for Obama in rural Virginia include former John Edwards strategist Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, who told the Post that Clinton might encounter difficulty with southwest Virginians on economic issues. "He said many people there blame the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993," the Post reports. "Saunders said Obama will also have to work hard to introduce himself to that region, an uphill feat in what amounts to a five-day campaign."

As for Clinton, the other major focus of her strategy is the fast-growing Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia. Obama's advisers have a different strategy, which has "broken Virginia into four parts -- Northern Virginia, Richmond, Charlottesville and the Tidewater area -- all of which are filled with the voters they seek," Turque and Kornblut report. "Virginia ... is expected to be the most heavily contested turf over the next six days in what has been variously dubbed the Potomac, Chesapeake or Beltway primary." (Read more)

UPDATE, Feb. 8: Saturday, former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak in Chesapeake at 9:30 a.m., then head to the southwest, speaking in Abingdon at 4:30 p.m. and in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. Clinton has scheduled town meetings Sunday in Roanoke and Manassas, and she and Obama will speak at Saturday night's Democratic Party dinner in Richmond, reports The Roanoke Times. (Read more)

"Obama is looking to sweep the Feb. 12 primaries," reports Bloomberg News, citing a confidential campaign memo. "Obama's advisers are anticipating the possibility of a Democratic presidential race deadlocked past the last primary, and the outcome may hinge on a fight over whether delegations from Florida and Michigan get seats at the party's national convention." The memo anticipates that Clinton will win West Virginia May 13 and Kentucky May 20. (Read more)

Such a memo might be part of an expectations game, but it looks legitimate to NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, who writes in First Read: "Their analysis seems to be based on the number of working class and/or Hispanic Democrats in various states; check out the states Obama's team believes it will lose: Maine, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Kentucky. All of those states have a lot more blue-collar Democrats than white-wine drinking Democrats. So it's a very realistic assessment." (Read more)

The prospect of a fight through the rest of the primary schedule prompted Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer to write, "North Carolina will matter after all. The stressfully tight race for the Democratic -- and, to a lesser extent, Republican -- presidential nomination makes it almost a mathematical certainty that neither nominee will be selected by the time North Carolina holds its primary on May 6, a whimsical improbability a month ago." (Read more)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus has a consensus in a poor region that still has a long way to go

The annual conference of the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus in Little Rock developed a consensus for cooperation, bipartisanship and "maintaining a we-can-do-it attitude," writes Constance Alexander in the Murray Ledger and Times of southwestern Kentucky, part of the Delta Regional Authority's territory.

"Funding of $30 million is also crucial," Alexander writes. "Being proactive is essential, particularly in areas like health care and infrastructure. Housing needs and transportation also demand initiative, with sub-prime loans and the current economic downturn presenting problems of immediate concern."

For economic development, "Thinking outside the proverbial box and taking holistic approaches is advised," Alexander writes. Other strategies include "developing and promoting education as a process of lifelong learning, from pre-kindergarten to post-retirement [and] taking charge of change through innovation, creativity and technology. Moreover, the importance of broadband cannot be ignored, as entrepreneurship relies on access." The group also agreed to take steps toward "energy independence, including alternative fuels, and sustainable and renewable fuels."

Alexander reports, "Speakers and panelists included corporate executives and Washington, D.C., operatives, as well as elected officials, university administrators, community organizers and program officers from a range of non-profits. The common ground they share is the stark reality that the Mississippi Delta region has a poverty rate 55 per cent higher than the rest of the nation, a plight as dire and entrenched as that of Appalachia." The headline on her story is "Still a long way to go." (Read more)

Bush makes direct threat to veto Farm Bill as it is

Following signals from the White House and the Department of Agriculture that President Bush would veto any Farm Bill he does not like, Bush confirmed that threat today himself. “I’m confident we can come together to get a good farm bill, but if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or (does) not make needed reforms, I’m going to veto it,” Bush said during a ceremony to swear in the new agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer.

The administration objects to the inclusion of tax language in the bill and wants tighter limits on crop subsidies. "The administration wants the income eligibility limit for subsidy recipients lowered from $2.5 million to $200,000 a year," reports Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register. "Individuals with incomes over $200,000 don’t need farm subsidies, administration officials say. Farm groups say that is too restrictive. Democrats say the veto threat is delaying enactment of a new Farm Bill." (Read more)

Jeff Caldwell of Agriculture Online points out that if a new bill is not passed by March 15, by law the farm program would return to the 1949 Farm Bill, or "permanent law." (Read more)

Bush used the ceremony to highlight other key agriculture issues, reports Peter Shinn of the Brownfield Network. He mentioned opening foreign markets for American beef, and he talked about renewable fuels, which he did not specifically mention during his State of the Union address. "We recognize that farmers also have the potential to help our nation solve one of the greatest challenges, and that is our dependence on foreign oil," Bush said. "I'd much rather our farmers be growing energy than trying to buy it from other parts of the world, so we will continue to work on - for renewable fuels, including a new generation of ethanol and biodiesel." (Read more)

Ky. class blends science, drama, rural outreach

At the start of the 20th century, the Chautauqua movement used traveling shows to bring education and entertainment to rural American communities. An Advanced Placement physics class at Rockcastle County High School in Mt. Vernon, Ky., is following in that tradition by producing their own Chautauqua series on great scientists, which was highlighted in this month's Rural Policy Matters, the publication of the Rural School and Community Trust.

"Students write a research paper on an important scientist and then turn their findings into a dramatic portrayal-complete with props that help demonstrate one of the concepts or principles pioneered by the scientist," according to the feature. "Then the students take their portrayals 'on the road' to fourth and fifth grade classes in the district, where they also read excerpts about the scientist from children's literature."

The idea came from the class' teacher, Stephanie Harmon, who started the project in 2005 as way to help her students develop the technical writing and speaking skills they would need in college. In addition, she said the project sparks an interest in science for the elementary classes that see the presentations. (Read more)

N.Y. paper defends request for gun-permit list

The Glens Falls Post-Star is at the center of controversy — all about something that has not even run in its pages or on its Web site. Ken Tingley, the editor of the 32,000-circulation daily in upstate New York, wrote to readers this week to explain the situation, which was turning into a fight between gun owners and the paper.

Tingley writes that a month ago, a reporter filed an open-records request "to the county clerks in Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties asking for the names and towns of residence of all gun permit holders in their counties." He explains the concerned response of gun owners, especially those who want to know what the paper was planning to do with that information. He emphasizes that the paper would do nothing "to endanger private citizens or make information conveniently available that might lead to a safety concern." The purpose of the request was to aid in computer-assisted reporting. One of the possible stories to come out of the research would be to cross-reference a database of convicted felons with the database of gun permit holders to see if there were any felons who had guns who shouldn't.

Tingley wrote, "We consider this newspaper an institution that is an important part of each and every community as a news source, a watchdog of government and an entity that seeks to serve our readers and make our communities better." Since being published online Feb. 4, the column has received more than 50 reader comments, with a fairly even split between those for and against the permit request. (Read more)

Bush budget confirms his plan to undercut Freedom of Information Act bill he signed

President Bush's budget proposal confirmed that his administration is trying to undercut the bill he signed to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, in particular a part of the bill that is most helpful to rural newspapers and broadcast stations.

Bush's budget would move the newly created position of FOIA ombudsman from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Justice Department, which opposed the bill. "Because the ombudsman would be the chief monitor of compliance with the new law, that move is akin to killing the critical function, some members of Congress and watchdog groups say," writes Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post.

In a letter to Bush today, 43 organizations that lobby for open government objected to the proposal, first revealed by U.S. Sen. Patruck Leahy (D-Vt.) on Jan, 23. The following day, National Newspaper Association lobbyist Tonda Rush wrote that the group, which represents mainly weekly newspapers, sought an independent ombudsman "because FOIA and its legal mechanisms are often too slow and costly for community newspapers." With an ombudsman, smaller news outlets could avoid paying lawyers to push their requests, which are often delayed far beyond the 20-day response period mandated by the law.

The article quoted NNA Government Relations Chair Liz Parker, co-publisher and executive editor for Recorder Community Newspapers in Stirling, N.J.: "We specifically endorsed housing it in an agency separate from the Justice Department because that agency acts as the government's lawyer. It can hardly be both an advocate for withholding information and an ombudsman for the public to enforce the law's strong mandate that records are presumed to be public." (Read more)

A White House spokesman told the Post that the administration strongly supports "the timely and fair resolution of FOIA requests" but that "only the Department of Justice, as the government's lead on FOIA issues and mediation in legal matters, is properly situated and empowered to mediate issues between requestors and the federal government." (Read more)

Rural vote by states goes to Obama; polls closer

"Barack Obama won rural America tonight," rural Democratic talk-show host Ed Schultz proclaimed on CNN just after midnight, but poll data from Democratic primaries and caucuses were inconclusive, just like the overall results. The Republican race was likewise. (Photo of Clintons by Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times)

Exit polls for the National Election Pool showed Obama and Hillary Clinton each winning the rural vote in seven of the 14 mostly larger states where polling was conducted. Not allowing for the difference in sizes of states, Clinton's average rural vote in those polls was 50 percent, Obama's 42 percent. John Edwards continued to get some votes despite leaving the race; Schultz said much of Edwards' vote seemed to be going to Obama.

But exit polls aside, the more rural a state's population, the more likely it was to go for Obama. Among the 11 most rural states where Democrats voted yesterday, Obama carried them all except Arkansas, a base state for Clinton, and two adjoining states, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Obama won every state that is more rural than the nation at large except New Mexico, which remains a tossup. "His continued victories in rural states -- in some winning two-to-one and even three-to-one -- are in part a reflection that he, his wife, his surrogates and his army of community organizers are able to, in those circumstances, establish a personal relationship and connection with more people as individuals, and not as blocs or demographic groups," Al Giordano writes in The Field. (Read more)

Obama's best rural performance in a state with a sizeable rural vote was 61 percent in Georgia; in his home state of Illinois, he got 60 percent of the rural vote in the poll. In the key state of Missouri, which Obama won narrowly, he carried cities and suburbs, with 50 and 52 percent, respectively; Clinton won the rural vote (26 percent of the state total) by 58 to 28. (Photo of Obama and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, his key endorser there, via The Field) In Clinton's home state of New York, she got 65 percent in the "rural Upstate," which the poll said accounted for 9 percent of the Democratic vote.

In California, the night's big prize, Clinton won overall but the poll gave Obama the rural vote, 49 to 43. Among Republicans, John McCain won statewide and among rural voters, 41 to 39 over Mitt Romney. The poll classified as "rural" 8 percent of the state's Democratic vote and 11 percent of the Republican vote; the 2000 census figure was about 5.5 percent, but the exit poll uses a different classification system, based on site of precincts (except in New York). No national figures on rural vote from the polls were available on the CNN Web site early this morning.

The polls showed Mike Huckabee continued his good showing among rural Republicans, mainly in the South, carrying them in six of the 12 states where exit surveys were conducted. McCain won the rural vote in five states, but his average rural-vote percentage was 34, compared to Romney's 31 Huckabee's 28. Remember, those figures don't allow for differences in sizes of the states; Romney got 87 percent of the rural vote in Utah, home of his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For our spreadsheet of these results, click here.

Tim Murphy and Bill Bishop at the Daily Yonder are doing a county-by-county analysis, still in progress. Looking ahead, the Dallas Morning News sees trouble for Clinton in her declining support among white voters in the South yesterday. "If it keeps sliding, she could be in trouble as the Democratic presidential slugfest comes to Texas, which votes March 4," Robert T. Garrett writes from Oklahoma, noting: "To take Texas, Mr. Obama must peel away more whites and Hispanics -- especially women -- from Mrs. Clinton, experts said." (Read more)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Columnist offers advice to hometown Iowa paper, its office destroyed by fire

In late January, fire destroyed the offices of the Valley News Today, a 2,500-circulation daily in Shenandoah in southwest Iowa. No one was hurt, but the century-old building (at left in a VNT photo by Craig Pulley) and its contents — computers, old volumes, photo negatives — were lost. Since then, the newspaper, part of the Omaha World-Herald group, has been printing in Bellevue, Neb., and continuing to update The fire and the paper's response to it led Chuck Offenburger, who grew up in Shenandoah and worked for the paper in high school, to remember his time there and offer encouragement.

In a column on his Web site, Offenburger recalls a time when he watched as the press foreman modified a tractor to power the printing press and get the paper out."I got one of my best lessons in journalism: 'Whatever it takes.'" he writes. "Come what may, the press must roll. The newspaper must be produced and delivered to its readers. When you’re in the news business, you do it in good times, you do it in bad times, you do it all the time."

That's his advice for the staff of the newspaper, to pull together and move forward, because the newspaper is about people, not a building. "Knowing small towns like I do, particularly my hometown of Shenandoah, I know that while the Valley News Today crew is scrambling to get back to good newspapering, there will be thousands of people across the area cheering them on," he writes. (Read more)

The Web site of Valley News Today reflects that connection as it includes a photo gallery filled with photos submitted by readers as well as locals' remembrances of the paper's old home on Main Street. (There is also a central page for coverage of the fire.) Sports editor Kevin Slater also wrote a feature on the building's place in the history of the community.

Ky. town honors longtime editor and her column

The best community journalists forge strong bonds with the areas they cover, and that is clear in the case of Betty Smith, a longtime editor at The Winchester Sun in central Kentucky. After 31 years as lifestyles editor at the 7,200-circulation daily, Smith retired Thursday at a crowded reception at Winchester City Hall, reports the Sun's Mike Wynn. Thanks to a mayoral proclamation, it was "Betty Ratliff Smith Day" in the town of about 20,000. In the state Capitol, a resolution honoring Smith was passed.

"For three decades she has written about their births, their achievements, their marriages, the deaths of their loved ones," Wynn writes of Smith (above in a Sun photo by James Mann). "She was stationed at the front of the newsroom so they could drop off their church notices and then 'come have a seat' to unload their burdens."

Smith started working at The Sun in 1957 as the society editor and left in 1962 to work in city, state and federal government. She returned to the newspaper in 1982 to be the lifestyles editor and to write "Betty's Babblin's" — column about small-town life in Winchester. In her time at the Sun, she had many roles — archivist, receptionist, crime reporter and more — and she took part in major community organizations and groups as well.

"I have never, ever seen the connections between a community and its newspaper through one person like I have here," said Sun Publisher Dave Eldridge, recently appointed to his post by Schurz Communications, which bought the paper in 2005. (Read more)

Iowa, Ky. and W. Va. each place two rural communities in list of nation's best places for kids

In the "100 Best Communities for Young People for 2008," 15 were in rural communities, and Iowa, Kentucky and West Virginia each placed two among the 15. It's the third time the Kentucky cities, one of the Iowa towns and one of the West Virginia counties has received the honor from America’s Promise Alliance, a creation of former Secretary of State and Gen. Colin Powell that unites businesses, non-profits and local governments.

The top 100 were selected from nominees from 300 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Mt. Sterling and Murray, Ky., were two of the 44 communities that were also selected in 2005 and 2007. Mt. Sterling is in Montgomery County, which has a population of about 23,000 and is in the east-central part of the state, about 35 miles east of Lexington. Murray is in Calloway County, which has a population of about 34,000 and is at the southeast corner of the Jackson Purchase, Kentucky's western extension.
It is home to Murray State University.

"Mt. Sterling was chosen, according to America’s Promise, in part, 'because of their work to ensure students have the best problem- solving skills to manage their future,'" reports Tom Marshall of the Mt. Sterling Advocate. "It also made note of the school system’s Reality Store, 'which provides mock life experiences for eighth- graders, where they are issued jobs, salaries and checkbooks, and must face costs and problems associated with daily living.'" (Read more)

"Murray and Calloway County were named because of its commitment to young people and their support," according to a staff report from the Murray Ledger & Times. "The release especially notes efforts with the Laker After School Educational Resource (LASER) program for K-5 students in the Calloway County School System, and the Angels Community Clinic, which provides free medical and dental care for uninsured but working families." (Read more)

Like the Kentucky towns, Lamoni, Iowa is a three-time winner. The town of fewer than 3,000 near the Missouri border on Interstate 35 made the list for its SAFE Coalition that brings together youth-serving agencies and businesses, according to the profile by Cynthia Hobgood of America's Promise (which also provided the photo of Lamoni above). Lamoni is in Decatur County, which has the state's lowest per capita income, but it is also home to Graceland University. (Read more) The other representative from Iowa was Storm Lake and Buena Vista County, a community of about 20,000 in the northwest part of the state, about 80 miles west of Sioux City. It's home to the weekly Storm Lake Times, which we have written about.

West Virginia's winners were Mercer and Monroe Counties, both on the Virginia border where the New River enters the state. Mercer County (pop. 65,000), another three-time winner, drew praise for its Creating Opportunities for Youth Coalition, which works to keep kids away from alcohol, drugs and tobacco, reports Charles Owens of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. To the east, just outside the Appalachian coalfield, Monroe County (pop. 15,000) drew recognition for its universal preschool. (Read more) The Daily Yonder has a quick rundown of the 15 rural communities on the list. (Read more)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Kansas governor signals veto of bill to circumvent her regulator's rejection of coal-plant expansion

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has signaled that she may veto a bill written to help a large rural electric cooperative in Western Kansas because its provisions aimed at reducing greenhouse gases "are so weak compared to other states that it could lead to rejected plants elsewhere coming to Kansas," report Jim Sullinger and David Klepper of The Kansas City Star.

The bill could make Kansas the nation's “coal capital,” said Sebelius, a Democrat who rarely comments on legislation before it reaches her desk. She said the “very troubling components of this bill (would) put Kansans at risk, and would put our state at odds with the rest of the country … I cannot support these components.” In Kansas, overriding a veto takes a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers.

The Star reports, "Sunflower Electric Power Corp. had asked the state for permission to expand its Holcomb plant, but the state’s top regulator, appointed by Sebelius, rejected the plans because of the project’s estimated emissions of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide. Lawmakers vowed to get the plant built anyway, and introduced legislation last week to take away the discretion the regulator used." (Read more)

FCC, USDA launch one-stop site for broadband info

Having a hard time figuring out the complexities of high-speed Internet access in rural areas? Well, the federal government is here to help you. Really. In the form of two agencies that rarely have much to do with one another. The Federal Communications Commission, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, has launched a Web site about broadband services that "makes available the expertise and resources of the FCC and USDA in a single, easily-accessible location and user-friendly format," reports Government Technology.

"The site provides information on the different technology platforms that can be used to provide broadband service, how to access spectrum necessary for delivery of wireless broadband services, government funding for broadband services, relevant FCC and USDA proceedings and initiatives, and data on broadband deployment," GT reports. The site also has "instructions on how to locate companies already licensed to provide wireless services in or near specific rural communities, as well as helpful links to other government and private resources related to encouraging broadband opportunities in rural America."

Why is broadband important? "Broadband technology is a key driver of economic growth," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says on the site's home page. "The ability to share increasing amounts of information, at greater and greater speeds, increases productivity, facilitates interstate commerce, and helps drive innovation. But perhaps most important, broadband has the potential to affect almost every aspect of our lives."

Duluth paper runs front-page candidate appeals

Community newspapers often seek first-person editorials from candidates running for local offices, and The Duluth News Tribune has applied the practice to presidential politics. Today, the newspaper ran front-page pleas from Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and it will do the same for the Republican contenders tomorrow, reports Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher.

In 2004, the 40,000-circulation daily in northeastern Minnesota also ran front-page columns from President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry before the general election. "This is what America is all about — you want to hear from the persons themselves why they should be elected," Editorial Page Editor Robin Washington told Fitzgerald. "Washington gave the candidates a pretty tight deadline for the pieces, asking on Friday for something by noon Sunday," Fiztgerald writes. "The Clinton people got her article in early, while the Obama campaign, like a typical reporter, begged for some more time, finally delivering at 4 p.m. And, like a typical editor, Washington bounced the Obama piece back, asking for more references to issues important to northern Minnesotans."

Washington said the articles from Clinton and Obama were an improvement from those by Bush and Kerry in 2004.
"I'm encouraged that in both cases they didn't talk about snowmobiling and hunting, which is what Kerry and Bush hit on," he said. "Not that we don't do those things, but snowmobile and hunting rights just don't seem like the main issues the next leader of the Free World should be concerned with." (Read more)

UPDATE: The New Tribune ran articles from Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday. The paper said the campaigns of former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul chose not to participate.

Arson blamed for fire that destroyed the radio home of a top Southern gospel disc jockey

On Friday, a fire gutted a Morganton, N.C., radio station that is home to three-time Southern Gospel DJ of the Year John Whisnant Jr. Whisnant said authorities blame the fire on arson carried out possibly to hide a burglary at WCIS (760 AM), reports Mark Price of The Charlotte Observer.

"News of the fire has become the talk of the Southern gospel music industry nationwide, due to postings on popular Web sites like and," Price writes. "As a result, offers of financial assistance have come from radio stations across the United States and Canada, Whisnant says." The building was valued at about $119,000, but the station also lost 3,000 CDs and DVDs in the fire. (Read more)

The Whisnant family, which has performed Southern gospel music around the country for four decades, bought the station in 1993. The station broadcasts seven days a week, including a live morning show as well as live airings of local church services. Whisnant told Tracy Farnham of The News Herald in Morganton that the station would recover. "We will be back," he said. "Make no mistake about it. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when." The station already has received plenty of offers of help, including from neighboring station WMIT-AM, which sent an engineer to discuss how to get the station back on the air. (Read more)

States expand use of unclaimed-property laws to collect billions in assets that owners forgot

Unclaimed-property laws aim to return forgotten assets to owners, but states have expanded their use of such laws to find and hold those assets for themselves, report Scott Thurm and Pui-Wing Tam of The Wall Street Journal. The article includes a state-by-state chart of unclaimed property that would be a great place to start reporting a localized story.

"States have broadened laws to cover unredeemed gift cards and uncashed corporate checks to employees and suppliers," the reporters write. "They've required businesses to turn over assets more quickly, and curtailed efforts to locate owners. And they've strengthened enforcement by hiring private auditors to examine corporate books in search of "lost" property. The auditors' reward: 10 to 15 percent of proceeds."

The Journal reports that as of June 2006, the 50 states together held $35 billion in unclaimed property. On average, they return about a third of it. States vary in their definition of unclaimed property and in their efforts to notify owners. California stopped running lists of seized, unclaimed property in newspapers, but a judge stopped that program temporarily after a former Intel Corp. employee sued after 200,000 shares of his stock were sold by the state. Delaware, a favorite legal domicile for corporations, is another aggressive collector and holder. It returns only 5 percent or so of unclaimed property it collects, and auctions off some assets on eBay. (Read more)

Major banks tie environmental standards to financing for coal-fired electric generating plants

The first wave of tougher environmental standards for coal-fired power plants is coming from Wall Street, not the federal government. If companies want private financing for coal-fired power plants, they must show they are ready for whatever limits on pollution could be coming, reports Jeffrey Ball of The Wall Street Journal.

"Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase Co. and Morgan Stanley say they have concluded that the U.S. government will cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants sometime in the next few years," Ball writes. "The banks will require utilities seeking financing for plants before then to prove the plants will be economically viable even under potentially stringent federal caps on carbon dioxide, the main man-made greenhouse gas."

About half of the electricity in the United States comes from coal, and these standards would apply to "all but the smallest plants," Ball reports. The banks want to make sure their investments won't be jeopardized if plants must spend more to upgrade emissions-capturing technology or to buy extra pollution allowances under a cap-and-trade system. Ball explains that the banks' standards came from negotiations with some major utilities and environmental groups. More than anything, the new standards would make building conventional coal-fired practical only if the utility could raise rates enough to offset the cost of pollution. (Read more)

Mississippi newspapers partner for series on lack of openness in state's government agencies

Open meetings and open records laws are only good if followed, and the task of keeping tabs often falls on newspapers. In Mississippi, newspapers have joined forces with The Associated Press and the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information to produce a series that investigates the state's open-government laws — both in writing and in practice. The eight-day series, called "Secrecy in Mississippi" began today. (Above is its logo, produced by The Sun Herald of Biloxi)

"Mississippi's Open Meetings and Open Records laws were designed to protect citizens' access to the workings of government, but are rife with exemptions that perpetuate a culture of secrecy," according to a series overview from the Mississippi Press Association. "Private citizens, organizations and media outlets have long pushed for more open government, but the Legislature has largely ignored these appeals. Bills are being filed this year to try to tighten some of the exemptions and to give people a better chance to see the workings of their local and state governments – the governments that taxpayers support with their hard-earned dollars."

Topics in the series include enforcement, campaign finance, crime statistics and investigative records. The series will run in MPA daily member newspapers this week, and it will be available for weekly newspapers starting Feb. 10. (Read more)

Budget would cut local anti-crime grants again

President Bush's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2008, "calls for more FBI funding but less for state and local anticrime grants," reports Ted Gest in the daily news digest of Criminal Justice Journalists.

The Drug Enforcement Administration would get "a slight increase," but the Justice Department budget "would gut the Office of Justice Programs, which oversees state and local anticrime grants, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office for Victims of Crime," CJJ reports.

"The White House would give the agency only $813 million, compared to the $2.3 billion appropriated by Congress this year. Advocates are seeking more funds for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program in a supplemental appropriations bill for the current fiscal year after Congress cut funding in December. The budget again proposed $200 million for a violent crime reduction partnership initiative, but Congress has not provided full funding for that in recent years."

Bush "seeks more than $7.1 billion for the FBI, compared with this year's $6.5 billion appropriation," CJJ reports. "The proposal includes $361 million in new money for intelligence and counterterrorism programs."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Writer calls for ethanol-fired locomotives, reserve

One of the main problems with ethanol is that it can't be shipped in pipelines. That's why the nation needs a strategic reserve of the fuel and a new kind of locomotive that runs on it, and can deliver it, Michael Bugeja writes in The Des Moines Register.

Bugeja is director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, and an academic partner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. He writes, "In the 1970s, I worked in Nebraska for United Press International, covering ethanol and debates about storage, pipelines and train transportation. We're still discussing the same things."

Bugeja refers to an Aug. 3 article by Dien Judge in the Iowa Independent, reporting that "Alternative Hybrid Locomotive Technologies, or AHL-Tech for short, is working on perfecting a 2,000 horsepower ethanol-electric locomotive. And the company would like to build them in Iowa." Bugeja writes that Tom Mack, CEO of the Ohio-based company, told him that "He hopes to sell two engines this year in Iowa and will announce that when the deal closes."

Bugeja says Iowa and federal lawmakers should support the idea. "Our U.S. senators should request Homeland Security funds to found a national reserve in Iowa with a fleet of engines running on and delivering ethanol to all points in a crisis.," he writes. "In the past, America was known for that kind of self-reliance. The future depends on it again." (Read more)