Saturday, September 12, 2009

Clean Water Act increasingly violated, N.Y. Times reports, offering database of local information

The New York Times has performed a major public service, and given journalists all over the country an opportunity to do likewise, by publishing a report saying that "Violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation ... in recent years" and "The vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene." (Times photo by Damon Winter: Polluted water in West Virginia)

The Times makes it easy to localize this story with detailed, interactive maps of each state, showing permittees and their water-pollution violations. The newspaper compiled a national database of violations "that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the EPA," Charles Duhigg reports. "That research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways." For the story, click here. Here's one of the interactive state maps; click on it to open an active version.

Obama nominates an advocate for change at Tennessee Valley Authority to utility's board

President Obama surprised observers of the Tennessee Valley Authority Thursday by nominating Neil McBride, a public-interest lawyer from East Tennessee, to be a director of the federal utility. Obama also nominated Middle Tennessee State University economics professor Barbara Haskew, a former manager of TVA's rate staff, to the part-time, nine-member board.

Anne Paine and Bill Theobald report for The Tennessean, "Haskew's name had been mentioned as a possible candidate in an earlier Tennessean article. McBride's selection came as more of a surprise to some following the process." His brief, official biography says "McBride has been involved in TVA issues for 35 years. He is general counsel with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, a nonprofit law firm that gives free legal help in civil cases to people who have nowhere else to turn. He was one of the region’s earliest advocates for more transparency in TVA decision-making and advocated for TVA to provide more effective energy efficiency programs to its customers and for environmental policies that would better serve the long-term interest of the Tennessee Valley."

The nominations are subject to confirmation by the Senate, but Tennessee's two Republican senators appeared to be among those who were surprised. "The White House made us aware of the nominations this morning," Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga said Thursday. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Maryville would say only that he looked forward to "learning more about their views on TVA." But Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville said the nominees would "bring some much-needed accountability to TVA." Paine and Theobald note that the agency "drew scathing criticism from the public and the TVA inspector general for a lack of accountability after one of its coal ash landfills broke, unleashing sludge across hundreds of acres and into the Emory River in East Tennessee." (Read more)

Legendary Appalachian broadcaster Jim Morgan, who won Peabody Award for flood coverage, dies

James T. "Big Jim" Morgan, a legendary Kentucky broadcaster who won a George Foster Peabody Award for coverage of the 1977 Cumberland River flood, died yesterday, hours before he was to be honored at the annual Harlan County Heroes celebration.

Morgan, who was 84 and had been in poor health recently, worked at WHLN Radio for 62 years. He became president and general manager in the 1950s and owner in 1986. His flood coverage was a great example of public service through community broadcasting, said Neil Middleton, news director of WYMT-TV in Hazard. (Image from WYMT)

"I was a junior in high school and I remember listening to him and Everett Jones provide flood coverage, and he really was the calm in the storm," Middleton told the Harlan Daily Enterprise. "He was just a true friend and someone I have always looked up to and respected he and will be sorely missed." For the Enterprise story by John Middleton, click here. For a longer report by WYMT's Ashley Reynolds, with archival footage and photos, click here.

UPDATE, Sept. 14: "His voice was the one generations of Harlan Countians wanted to hear in times of trouble," Editor John Henson, a former Morgan protege, wrote in the Harlan Daily Enterprise. The Kentucky Broadcasters Association reports that Morgan "was believed to be the oldest active broadcaster in Kentucky," and has funeral arrangements: Visitation 5-7 p.m. Monday at Harlan Christian Church, followed by the service; burial 11 a.m. Tuesday at Resthaven Cemetery.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Feds say this time they'll clean the Chesapeake

"The federal government said Thursday that it would seek an unprecedented role as the environmental police of the Chesapeake Bay -- enforcing new rules on farmers and keeping a closer eye on state-level bureaucrats -- in an effort to halt the estuary's long decline," David Farenthold reports for The Washington Post.

Cleaning up the bay will be a huge job that will affect agriculture, especially poultry farmers, over a 64,000-square-mile watershed (map) that is larger than most states. The Environmental Protection Agency says this effort will be more effective than those in the past.

"In 1983, 1987 and again in 2000, government leaders promised to clean up the Chesapeake by reducing the sewage and manure that wash downstream and help create 'dead zones- in its waters," Farenthold notes. "Every time, they failed: 25 years into the government-led cleanup effort, only about 58 percent of the required anti-pollution measures are complete. On their watch, the numbers of bay oysters and blue crabs fell into abyssal declines, devastating a centuries-old watermen's culture." (Read more)

EPA says all 79 mountaintop-removal permit applications with Army Corps need further review

The Environmental Protection Agency is objecting to all 79 pending permit applications for mountaintop-removal mines in Appalachia, signaling that the agency plans to block dozens of mining plans, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports. The list, originally due last Tuesday, is part of the Obama administration's plan to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. (Read more)

The list includes 49 permits in Kentucky, 23 in West Virginia, six in Ohio and one in Tennessee. It is accompanied by a question-and-answer sheet about the process. EPA will spend the next 15 days further evaluating the permits before submitting a final list to the Corps. Individual permit applications will be discussed during a 60-day window triggered when the Corps informs the EPA that a particular permit is ready for discussion. (Photo by Michael Williamson, The Washington Post)

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear wrote EPA today "urging swift action," according to a press release from his office. “The issue is not whether the decision on any particular permit application is positive or negative,” Beshear wrote. “My concern is the unacceptable delay in making any decision at all, thereby preventing businesses from effective planning and management.” For the release, click here; for the letter, here.

In a follow-up analysis on his Coal Tattoo blog, Ward writes, "EPA withstood what had to be incredible political pressure from the mining industry and its friends in Congress to drop this whole thing." Noting the lack of comment from West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, both pro-coal Democrats, and the United Mine Workers of America, Ward says it's likely that "how strongly Byrd, Rahall and the UMWA respond later in this process depends in large part on what EPA ends up doing with permits that Patriot Coal desperately wants to continue mining with the dragline at its unionized Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln County line."

Ward also observes, "Maybe a few West Virginia political leaders are starting to realize that there’s no immediate danger that President Barack Obama is going to wake up one day soon and shut down all surface mining in Appalachia. Maybe they’re starting to see what’s going on as some sort of process. EPA has said it isn’t outlawing mountaintop removal, but is worried about the rising damage from this sort of mining and wants to take strong steps to reduce that damage." (Read more)

Jiff Biggers writes for The Nation, "For many in Appalachia, the announcement is a watershed of sorts, a strong signal that the Obama administration intends to consider scientific data in its decision-making rather than simply to succumb to century-old pressure by the Big Coal lobby and entrenched coalfield politicians." (Read more)

Small towns join movement for 9/11 memorials

The principal images from Sept. 11, 2001, are of urban skyscrapers and government buildings, but rural America has also taken an active role in remembering the national tragedy. Pieces of steel from the World Trade Center have been made available to cities, towns and organizations across the country, Michael Wilson of The New York Times reports. Communities like Windermere, Fla.; York, Pa.; Westerville, Ohio; and Richmond, Ky., have already placed requests with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a piece of steel for their own 9/11 memorial. (Times photo by Michael Nagle)

Available are 1,800 to 2,000 artifacts, from small ones like the 18-inch-long piece requested by Eastern Kentucky University to the 600-pound piece requested by Wichita, Kan. The Port Authority requires a detailed description of how the piece will be used, and the federal judge overseeing the wrongful-death lawsuits from the attacks must approve each request.

"The best way we can honor the memory of those we lost on 9/11 is to find homes in the W.T.C. Memorial and in cities and towns around the nation for the hundreds of artifacts we’ve carefully preserved over the years,” Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward told Wilson. The Sept. 11 Families' Association has also said that it would behoove them to accommodate any "bona fide city, town, county, state, corporations or other countries" that would like a piece of steel. (Read more)

Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Ind., was chosen as one of the pilot schools for a 9/11 history curriculum developed by Anthony Gardner, whose brother died in the World Trade Center's North Tower, but the material isn't having a profound affect on Lincoln High students, Eli Saslow of The Washington Post reports. He writes: "Eight years later, this is an example of what Sept. 11, 2001, has become for a generation that's too young to remember much, if anything, about that day: It is an educational DVD, a 167-page textbook, a black binder of class handouts titled 'A National Interdisciplinary Curriculum'." (Read more)

Maryland blocks new power line, raising possibility huge substation would be built in West Virginia

We reported more than a year ago that West Virginia had approved the plans for a massive electric transmission line that would stretch across most of the northern part of the state. Now the Maryland Public Service Commission has stalled construction of the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highway with a Wednesday ruling that Allegheny Energy subsidiary Potomac Edison could not get approval for the project because it wasn't going to be operating the line, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports.

The ruling does not prevent PE from refiling the petition on its own merit, Ward reports. Allegheny Energy said in a statement that it and American Electric Power "continue to move forward with approval proceedings in West Virginia and Virginia as options concerning the Maryland segment of the line are considered."

Ward quotes Bill Howley of The Powerline blog: "West Virginians should consider what would happen if AEP/Allegheny pulled out of Maryland completely and ended the line in Jefferson County. The planned substation that is currently the eastern end of PATH at Kemptown, Md., is planned to take in about 50 acres, and would be one of the largest substations of its kind in the world. That would be a great addition to historic Shepherdstown."(Read more)

Wolf hunters bag few in Idaho; judge suggests feds wrongly removed species from endangered list

The history of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies has been anything but steady. The animal, once shot on sight for killing livestock, went from prevalent predator in the 1930s to endangered species in 1974, William Yardley reports for The New York Times. Federal wildlife officials reintroduced wolves to the region in 1995, and by 2008 the wolf population was five times the goal set for reintroduction. "After years of studies and lawsuits wolves were removed from federal protection in Idaho and Montana in May," Yardley writes. The first Idaho wolf-hunting season began Sept. 1. (Times photo by Paul Hosefros)

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy declined to give 13 environmental groups an injunction that would have halted hunting in Idaho and Montana, Rock Barber of the Idaho Statesman in Boise reports. However, the judge said he thought he would eventually rule in favor of the groups, and said the federal government erred when it chose not to delist wolves from the endagered species list in Wyoming as well. (Read more)

Hunting wolves, which ranchers complained were once again killing livestock, hasn't been as easy as thought, Yardley reports. Idaho has sold more than 14,000 permits, but in the first 10 days of the season only three legal kills were reported.

State Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Boise, "is among many people who say the long, bitter fight over the wolf has really been a fight over the West and how to live in it," Yardley writes. Hagedorn tells Yardley that the federal government took too much power from states like Idaho to restore the natural balance disrupted by early settlers. He says livestock haven't been the only things to suffer from the wolf; the hunting industry has suffered from a belief that wolves have made hunting less worthwhile. (Read more)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Marijuana seizures up in major production areas

Marijuana seizures are up in key growing areas such as California and Central Appalachia, reports Roger Alford, a Kentucky correspondent for The Associated Press. (Alford photo: Kentucky State Trooper Trooper Mac McDonald carries a bundle of marijuana along railroad tracks near Barbourville, Ky.)

A federal official says hard economic times and tighter border controls preventing importation of Mexican marijuana are probably responsible for the surge in seizures, but our experience with agriculture and the pot business lead us to think that the wetter-than-usual growing season in Central Appalachia also has something to do with it. National figures for seizures this year aren't available yet.

Alford writes, "Growers in Appalachia are often hard-luck entrepreneurs supplementing their income by growing marijuana, authorities say. ... The plants' street value of about $2,000 each creates an often irresistible draw in communities where long-standing poverty has been fed over the years by the shuttering of factories and coal mines. ... Troopers thrashing through the thick mountain brush there typically find plots that could easily be tended by a single grower, while officers in the two western states have focused on larger fields run by Mexican cartels with immigrant labor." (Read more)

EPA blocks permit for mountaintop-removal job that would be the largest coal mine ever in W.Va.

The Environmental Protection Agency has blocked the permit for Arch Coal's huge mountaintop-removal mine in Logan County, W.Va. The EPA cited clear evidence of likely environmental damage, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports. The decision is more evidence that the Obama administration is taking a middle ground on mountaintop removal in Appalachia: not trying to stop or severely limit it, as the president and John McCain suggested in their campaigns, but putting the brakes on projects that pose the greatest threats.

EPA sent a five-page letter to the Army Corps of Engineers outlining concerns that the project, which would be the largest mine in West Virginia history, had the "potential to degrade downstream water quality" and that valley fills would be too large. Corps attorneys asked a federal judge to delay legal proceedings so the agency could have more time to revise the permit. "The EPA move comes as a self-imposed deadline expired Tuesday for EPA to submit to the corps an 'initial list' of mountaintop-removal permit applications that EPA officials want to more closely examine before they are issued," Ward writes. (Read more)

“It’s not the death of mountaintop coal mining,” Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club's campaign to limit the use of coal, told Jim Efstathiou Jr. of Bloomberg News. “But it’s clear that it’s not just going to be blanket approval of anything the Corps wants to do, which was essentially the case under the Bush administration.” Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, told Estathiou: “They’ve been looking at these permits for a long time and suddenly the new cop comes to town and says the work they’ve done heretofore is questionable. They seem to be moving the goalposts around so that you can’t score a touchdown.” (Read more)

Wind energy not only requires turbine towers and transmission lines, but electric substations

Expansion of wind-energy projects means expansion of other facilities to handle the electrciity they generate. Residents of Boulevard, Calif., say a proposed electric substation will disturb their peaceful community and uncluttered landscape. The 58-acre substation would send wind energy from eastern San Diego County and northern Baja California to the Southwest Powerlink, a power-transmission line along the Mexican border, Anne Kruger of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. told the residents at a meeting that the substation would provide transmission lines for six wind projects, including one proposed by the Campo Indian Tribe for 100 turbines, Kruger reports. Residents argued that the substation would primarily benefit residents of urban San Diego County, despite assurances from the utility that the substation would create better power stability for the "backcountry," as Kruger calls it.

“You're claiming we're a high-risk area, but you're going to put more risk on us,” Jacumba resident Lorrie Ostrander said at the meeting. The utility is considering a plan to shut off power to the backcountry during high-wind days to reduce the risk of wildfire. (Read more)

Rural Americans face critical shortage of primary care providers

Rural Americans account for about 20 percent of the U.S. population, but are served by only 9 percent of the country's physicians, and the discrepancy is expected to increase as fewer medical students choose primary care or have an appreciation of rural life, Melissa Florell of the Center for Rural Affairs reports.

"Rural America faces a critical shortage of primary care providers, jeopardizing the nation’s ability to meet the health care needs of the rural population," Florell writes. She adds that shortages exist in every sector of the primary care workforce (doctors, nurses, physician's assistants) in rural America. Rural residents also require care for diabetes and heart disease in greater numbers per capita than urban residents.

Health-care homes, where clinicians can account for a large number of health care needs in the context of family and community, have been suggested as a solution for the rural health crisis by the National Rural Health Association, Florell reports, adding these homes would not eliminate the need of rural residents to travel to see specialists but would provide a home base for their health care." The Health Access and Health Professionals Supply Act of 2009," currently being discussed in the Senate, would provide opportunities and incentives for health care in rural areas. (Read more)

New series of quarters will feature national parks

The U.S. quarter-dollar still hasn't found a long-term design. Fresh off the 2008 completion of the decade-long program that honored each state with its own quarter, the U.S. Mint has announced a new program that will honor 56 national parks or federally preserved areas, Environmental News Service reports.

The "America the Beautiful Quarters Program" will feature one national park or preserved area from each state and territory. The program will begin in April 2010 with a quarter honoring Arkansas' Hot Springs National Park and will continue till 2021, ending with Alabama's Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. The quarters will be released in the order the site was placed under the control of the U.S. government; Hot Springs became a "federal reservation" in 1832, four years before Arkansas became a state. (Read more)

The Appalachian Mountains will receive their fair share of recognition, with quarters honoring the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire and the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. You can see the full list of quarters here.

Arkansas' Lincoln, strong subsidy backer, replaces Iowa's Harkin as chair of Senate Ag Committee

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., has accepted the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who took over the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, vacated by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. The promotion of Lincoln, a strong supporter of farm subsidies, has clouded the future of some issues before the committee and brightened that of others, reports Keith Good of Good has assembled several reports about Lincoln's new role, writing that cap-and-trade legislation appears to have taken a hit with her promotion, but the cotton and rice industries have received a major boost. (Read more)

"Lincoln's opposition to passing a climate bill this year could have a significant impact on the legislation's future in the Senate," Lisa Lerer of writes, noting that Lincoln plans to revisit the renewable-fuels standards in the House version. Despite environmentalists' concerns, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Cal., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, told Lerer the move was good news because of Lincoln's agricultural expertise. Lincoln's voting record on cap-and-trade has been far from consistent, Environment & Energy Daily reports, adding senators and lobbyists said her new role may not significantly alter how the Senate deals with farm concerns in the climate bill.

Cotton and rice, two of the largest industries in Arkansas, stand to benefit from Lincoln's new power as she runs for re-election in 2010. Republicans have targeted Lincoln because of her sagging poll numbers, Rachel Kapochunas of reports. Lincoln, the Democratic chair of rural outreach, has been active on other rural issues, speaking at the National Rural Assembly in 2008 and announcing the Democratic rural agenda in March.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Colorado weekly keeping promise to stay independent under historical-society ownership

When the editor of the Silverton Standard and the Miner learned that the paper's owner was likely going to close the weekly, 1,100-circulation newspaper, he approached a group others might not have considered: the local historical society. We first reported on the donation in May, but an AARP Bulletin Today video has updated the transition of the paper under San Juan County Historical Society ownership. (Wikipedia photo of Silverton by Deb Spencer)

"When the board of the Historical Society met to discuss taking on such a huge responsibility, the one thing that everyone agreed on was that we would act as trustees for the paper," Bev Rich, president of the society, wrote in an editorial published in July. "The Silverton Standard & the Miner will be the fourth estate the way it always has been, completely independent editorially." (Read more)

In Silverton, The Standard & the Miner is the only newspaper you can buy, Doctorian reports; merchants in the town stopped selling urban Colorado dailies after the switch in ownership. The paper boasts its own Facebook fan page, and its Web site was the first newspaper site developed by Colorado-based E7 Systems. According to a Facebook note, the paper solicited $10,000 in start-up costs after the ownership switch, $2,000 of which came from local students.
The newspaper appears to be following its promise to remain independent, featuring stories about controversy surrounding a proposed housing project and a ballot issue to raise taxes for school renovations in its latest issue. The most visible presence of the historical society appears in the paper's "Caboose" section on its back page, where editor Mark Esper highlights historical news items and pictures each week.

Food producers, eaters, environmentalists talking 'food democracy,' local food, related issues

The latest issue of The Nation draws focus to an emerging grassroots movement to establish "food democracy," an issue rural journalists can follow in their own communities. The editors of the unabashedly liberal magazine quote the Small Planet Institutes's definition of food democracy: "the right of all to an essential of life: safe, nutritious food. It also suggests fair access to land to grow food and a fair return for those who labor to produce it." In the issue labeled "Food for All" writers remind Americans that even if you don't farm, you eat, and therefore you have a stake in agriculture. (Cover illustration by Tim Robinson)

"Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago," Michael Pollan writes, giving credit for that conversation to Kentucky author-farmer Wendell Berry. Environmentalism has too long focused on leaving nature alone rather than using it well, Pollan writes, adding Berry's work has started a "more neighborly conversation between American environmentalists and American farmers, not to mention between urban eaters and rural food producers." (Read more)

"A new breed of eater is awakening to the fact that food is not just something of convenience," writes Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now! He advocates Americans banding together to ensure that basic rights of the Constitution extend to something as fundamental as food. Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Foundation, argues for reconnecting our children with an "edible education" centered on local food, and food advocate LaDonna Redmond writes that "fertile soil is the cornerstone of a vibrant community, urban or rural." (Read the entire issue)

Mileston, Miss., in the poorest county in the country's poorest state, has become home to a growing farmers' market, Habiba Alcindor reports in the magazine. The West Holmes Community Development Organization developed the market to enlist high school students to grow crops on donated land. (Photo by Alcindor) Students earn as much as $700 a month, but Alcindor writes they are learning a more valuable lesson, one rural journalists could follow: "Wherever their efforts eventually take them, the struggle must begin in their own backyard." (Read more)

Almost half of serious U.S. hazardous-materials spills go unreported, feds find

Between 2006 and 2008 nearly half of serious hazardous-materials spills on U.S. highways, railroads, airstrips and waterways went unreported to the U.S. Department of Transportation, reports Peter Eisler of USA Today. The newspaper was provided the list of 1,199 unreported spills gathered by the DOT through emergency response agencies. The list details 21 spills in our home state, Kentucky; how many went unreported in your area?

The DOT says accurate incident data is important to ensuring haz-mat carriers operate safely, but it has fined only seven carriers since 2006 for not reporting a spill, Eisler writes. "It is (the agency's) responsibility to take some type of enforcement action," Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told Eisler, adding he plans to explore the issue at a hearing Thursday.

American Trucking Association Vice President Rich Moskowitz tells Eisler that smaller carriers may not know the reporting rules and better outreach to the industry is needed. The DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began compiling unreported serious incidents that caused substantial evacuations, major road closures, serious injuries or release of especially dangerous materials in 2005. (Read more)

Horse breeders' incentives will exclude those who intentionally injure Tennessee Walking Horses

Breeders who intentionally injure their Tennessee Walking Horses will no longer be eligible for benefits from the Kentucky Walking Horse Association's breeders incentive fund. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's new standards seek to eliminate the practice of "soaring," intentionally injuring a horse to exaggerate its showy gait, reports Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The new guidelines will allow the fund, suspended since February, to be reinstated, but also call for inspectors from one of three anti-soaring activist groups to be used in determining eligible recipients. The Herald-Leader and state investigations discovered that despite assurances from Earl Rogers, head of the KWHA incentive fund, a dozen fund recipients had been cited for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act in 2008. Rogers would not comment to Patton about the new regulations.

Donna Bennefield, administrative director of the Horse Protection Council, told Patton, "I think this is going to be a huge, huge incentive to fix a very long problem." Kentucky Horse Racing Commissioner Ned Bonnie said, "It [new rules] puts Kentucky in the leadership position with respect to how you treat horses." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Small daily publisher, like many, says his paper is not just surviving but making progress

The publisher of a small daily newspaper in California has written a column with "all the topics you'd need for either a civic speech or a newspaper message about the vitality of newspapers," reports the California Newspaper Publishers Association Bulletin. Perhaps, but the Auburn Journal has had some good news to work with, despite decreased revenue because of the recession. Similar stories are being told by many rural papers, whose local-news and classified-ad franchises have remained largely unmolested by Internet competition.

Tony Hazarian, right, wrote that his paper's circulation, about 10,000, "grew nicely in the second quarter, and continued to grow in July. Our Web sites hit new highs in viewer traffic." The paper was redesigned in May; its paper width was narrowed to save money, but the press was retooled to improve print quality, and "We increased the size of our type to help readers with aging eyes," he wrote. Also, he acknowledged, "We’ve reduced our staff strategically."

Hazarian went on to note national survey data arguing for newspaper advertising, and a survey of his own readership showing even better evidence in his market, in the Sierra Nevada foothills northwest of Sacramento. "While the Web is a key piece of every business’s marketing program, and has become a cog in our 'anywhere, anytime' culture," he wrote, "newspapers remain the most viable advertising medium, as viewed by consumers themselves – despite exaggerations of our imminent death." (Read more)

Gannett D.C. reporters check rural views of Obama

How is President Obama, whose background as an urban community organizer was emphasized during the election, relating to rural Americans? Rural opinion of Obama is mixed and incomplete, report Ledyard King and Bill Theobald of Gannett Co. Inc.'s Washington news bureau. The administration's "Rural Tour," favorable appointments and focus on rural improvement in the stimulus plan have earned the president points with rural Americas, the story says, but his plan to limit agriculture subsidies, reform health care reform and pass climate-change legislation haven't been popular.

Obama has tried to reassure rural Americans by emphasizing his support for agriculture through alternative energy production. He also "talked about the importance of computerized health services for remote communities, devoted resources to improving safety on Indian reservations, and initially backed rules by former President George W. Bush allowing concealed, loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges,"King and Theobald write.

The reporters examine health care, the stimulus and other spending, climate change and agriculture policies -- issues they say rural Americans will be watching closely this year. "What happens next will tell the tale about whether or not the administration is a friend or foe of rural America," Pat Wolfe of American Farm Bureau says. (Read more)

As demand grows for rural transportation, funding decreases, at least in Minnesota

Amid increased demand from Minnestota's aging population and workers without automobiles, but a budget shortfall has forced rural transportation providers to turn some customers away, Dan Olson of Minnesota Public Radio reports. We expect a similar story could be told in other states.

The state is home to 61 public rural transit agencies that provided 12 million rides last year, and ridership is up 10 percent in each of the last three years. But cuts in state and other funds for rural transit have cause some services to eliminate routes. State Department of Transportation transit planner Tom Gottfried tells Olson that surveys show a jump in demand in the near future despite a $400,000 budget cut to rural transit providers. He anticipates another cut of $1.5 million on the way.

Budget cuts have also affected non-profit providers' ability to obtain grants. Rather than increase taxes, Richard Covey, a volunteer driver for a non-profit, sees charity as the solution. "I can't take care of the people up in Minneapolis; I can't take care of the people over in Ethiopia, but I can take care of the people in Vernon Center and in the surrounding community," he told Olson. (Read more)

Pro-coal rally draws smaller crowd than expected

Organizers of yesterday's "Friends of America" coal-industry rally prepared for 100,000 spectators, but the attendance appeared much lower. A spokesman for chief sponsor Massey Energy estimated close to 70,000 attended, Jessica Lilly and Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Radio report, but West Virginia State Police did not provide an independent attendance estimate. Davin White of the Charleston Gazette termed the attendance as "well below the 100,000 expected to show." (Gazette photo by Chip Ellis)

Regardless of the attendance figures, organizers called the rally a success. Emcee Ted Nugent began by evoking the memory of the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution as examples of Americans fighting back against oppressive governments. "I particularly like it when the British came to get our guns so we went to Concord Bridge and shot them," Nugent said. "I like dead tyrants."

Massey CEO Don Blankenship told the crowd he spent over $1 million to fund the rally and spoke against cap-and-trade legislation, called global warming "pure make-believe," and said the idea that Washington officials knew more about mine safety than he did was as "silly as global warming." (Read more)

Much of the rally focused on the impact of cape-and-trade legislation on the coal industry. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., worked with the Waxman-Marley bill's sponsors to protect the coal enabling coal usage to grow as demand for electricity increases, White reports, but despite those assurances, some of the rally audience feared the legislation would result in the mass loss of coal mining jobs. (Read more)

Oregon farmer says Twitter a business necessity

A seventh-generation farmer in northwest has adopted social networking to promote her Yamhill farm and says it has become essential to her marketing efforts. Heather Walters uses Facebook, a blog and Twitter, Pamela Price reports for the Daily Yonder. The farm's Twitter account started as a vehicle for Walters to find customers but expanded to an educational tool for proper hog farming after the farm purchased a few piglets.

Twitter doesn't appealing to all demographics equally. Price reports 53 percent of Twitter users are female, and a Pew Internet & American Life Project report says rural residents account for only nine percent of Twitter regulars. Walters' use of Twitter paid off after Joey's Restaurant at The Allison Inn in Newberg, Ore., expressed interest in buying the farm's pork via the micro-blogging site, Price reports.

Walters tells Price that while Twitter has helped her farm, it isn't becoming a common practice among farmers. "I have had one farmer in McMinnville ask me about Twitter and how to use it, but then she backed off saying she didn't have enough time ... so that hasn't gone anywhere yet,” Heather said. "I think that social media is so important to my farm's success that I have to make time for it.” (Read more)