Friday, June 25, 2010

Hearing shows rural concerns about Saturday mail; has implications for many rural newspapers

Rural areas are among those poised to be hardest hit by a potential end to Saturday mail delivery, said participants in a Postal Regulatory Commission hearing in South Dakota about the proposal. Rural mail carriers at the meeting argued that the 50 percent of South Dakota and North Dakota addresses being served by rural mail routes will be hurt by a five-day delivery schedule, Emilie Rusch of the Rapid City Journal reports. "There are rural routes in South Dakota that are 150 to 170 miles long," Gary Evenson, a rural mail carrier in Rapid City, said "Without Saturday delivery, some customers would have to drive 30, 40 or 50 miles or more roundtrip to go to the post office."

The South Dakota event was the sixth of seven PSC public hearings being conducted nationwide, with previous stops in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Dallas, Memphis and Chicago. Marie Therese Dominguez, vice president of government relations and public policy for the Postal Service, told Evensopn that eliminating Saturday mail delivery would save $3 billion annually. "We've known for a long time that our business model was broken," Dominguez said. "If we do absolutely nothing, if we make no efforts to cut costs, we're going to face a $238 billion deficit by 2020."

"Rural carriers also expressed concern about the job losses that would follow the elimination of Saturday mail delivery," Evenson writes. Brad Duffy, president of the South Dakota Rural Letter Carriers Association, reported that 43,000 rural carriers deliver mail on Saturdays. Clem Felchle, manager of the Dakotas District for the U.S. Postal Service, said if Saturday delivery is ended rural carriers will adjust. "When I lived in rural America, did I expect the same exact services I got living in a big city?" Felchle said. "You make those choices. The more remote you are, the fewer services you have." (Read more)

The end of Saturday mail could disrupt many newspapers; some have recently switched to the mail as their primary delivery service. Christopher Huckle of the Cadillac News in Michigan told the commission at a hearing in Chicago that "Loss of Saturday mail will force his company to face either major revenue loss or the need to create a new private delivery service—a tough assignment for a family-owned newspaper," the National Newspaper Association reports.

Iowa study suggests big farms good for small towns

The Obama administration's focus on small farms and rural development has been questioned by some Republicans and agribusiness interests. A new study from Iowa State University, which suggests that large farms are a net benefit to small towns, may increase those criticisms. The study, conducted by ISU sociologists, looked at the effect of large farms on the social fabric of small towns, Ken Anderson of Brownfield reports. "We wanted to know, is large-scale agriculture—are large-scale hog confinement operations—a negative influence on the quality of life in these communities?" said Steve Sapp, ISU professor of sociology and coordinator of the study. "We found that there are small favorable effects—not a boom—but at least not negative, so far."

The ISU study, which looked at income growth, unemployment rates, crime and several other factors that help define the quality of life in a community, was conducted in small towns in all of Iowa’s 99 counties during the decade from 1994 to 2004. Sapp said while the positive effects found were modest, they were not the negative effect some may have expected. "This is not talking about the immediate neighbors that have to suffer the consequences of living near large hog confinement operations," Sapp told Anderson. "This is looking at the community and the overall quality of life in the community—and the census figures, as well as survey data from the residents shows—at least it’s not a strong negative." (Read more)

Supreme Court reverses lower court's ban on genetically engineered alfalfa

In its first ruling on genetically modified crops, the U.S. Supreme Court this week overturned a lower court ruling that had prohibited the planting of alfalfa seeds to engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide. "The decision was a victory for Monsanto and others in the agricultural biotechnology industry, with potential implications for other cases, like one involving genetically engineered sugar beets," Andrew Pollack of The New York Times reports. "But in practice the decision is not likely to measurably speed up the resumption of planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa." The court reversed a lower-court ruling 7-1.

A San Francisco federal district judge ruled in 2007 that the Department of Agriculture had approved the genetically altered alfalfa without properly considering its environmental impact. The judge vacated USDA's approval and implemented a nationwide ban on planting those seeds. The court decided the lower court "national ban prevented the Agriculture Department from considering a partial approval," Pollack writes. "That avenue, the court said, would have allowed some of the alfalfa to be grown under certain conditions; for example, isolating it from conventional alfalfa."

"The district court barred the agency from pursuing any deregulation — no matter how limited the geographic area in which planting of RRA would be allowed," Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in the opinion, referring to Roundup Ready alfalfa. The Supreme Court did not remove the lower court's rejection of approving the alfalfa crop, meaning USDA will have to fully or partially approve it before planting can resume. "Monsanto and farmers in the United States are thrilled with this decision, which is far-reaching in its look at the regulatory framework that should govern biotech crops," David F. Snively, Monsanto’s general counsel, said. George A. Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, one of the groups challenging the crop's approval, disagreed, saying "I think the practical impact is nil." (Read more)

Marcellus Shale drilling sites are piling up too fast for West Virginia agency to keep inspected

Most of the focus of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling has been on New York and Pennsylvania, but now the West Virginia Department of Environmental Regulation says the number of gas wells being permitted in the state's portion of the formation is growing faster than the agency's ability to keep pace. DEP records show "the number of permits issued for unconventional drilling operations more than tripled between 2007 and 2009, but the number of inspectors increased by only one," Vicki Smith of The Associated Press reports.

Four more inspectors are on the payroll this year, but DEP Secretary Randy Huffman "acknowledges 18 people are not enough to handle not only more than 1,000 new Marcellus wells, but also tens of thousands of traditional, shallow gas wells," Smith writes. "We simply do not have the number of people necessary to do the job," Huffman told AP. "It's easy to issue a permit. What I think we're doing is issuing permits faster than we have the ability to keep up with them on the ground." The DEP plans a "comprehensive, top-down look" at its Division of Oil and Gas within the next few months to present to Gov. Joe Manchin in November.

"Any rush to judgment would be a mistake," Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, told AP. "It's not like there's some tremendously critical issue out there that should be driving this. I think everyone concerned will be better off if we take our time and do it right as opposed to reacting quickly." Burd called the DEP's timeline for the agency review "very aggressive." (Read more)

MIT says natural gas will continue to displace coal

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has good news for the natural-gas industry and dire predictions for coal. The report released today projects "Natural gas will provide an increasing share of America’s energy needs over the next several decades, doubling its share of the energy market to 40 percent, from 20 percent," Matthew L. Wald of The New York Times reports. "The increase, the report concluded, will come largely at the expense of coal and will be driven both by abundant supplies of natural gas — made more available by shale drilling — and by measures to restrict the carbon dioxide emissions that are linked to climate change."

The report does project a dimmer future for natural gas over the long term if President Obama is successful in passing his recommended stricter regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The authors concluded, "although lower in carbon than coal, natural gas is still too carbon-intensive to be used under such a target absent some method of carbon capture," Wald writes. The report was financed in part by natural-gas industry group the American Clean Skies Foundation.

The report was part of a series on energy resources, including others about nuclear power and coal, and "is the result of a two-year effort by 14 prominent energy experts, led by Ernest J. Moniz, an MIT professor who is a former undersecretary of energy," Wald writes. "T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman, said that the study paid too much attention to the electricity sector and not enough to using natural gas as a substitute for gasoline and diesel in transportation," Wald writes, while Gregory C. Staple, chief executive of the ACSF, concluded "There is no longer any doubt that we have the capacity to repower our electricity sector and move away from dirtier fuels." (Read more)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weekly editors' group explores Kentucky's Bluegrass and Appalachian coalfield

The annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors spent the day in Kentucky's Appalachian coalfield today, after starting the annual event yesterday in the Bluegrass Region at a distillery, the state capital of Frankfort and the horse farm of former Gov. Brereton Jones. The first stop today was International Coal Group's Rowdy Mine, a 3,000-acre mountaintop-removal job north of Hazard, where a 150-ton rock truck dwarfed Bruce Chomma of the Zambian Institute of Mass Communication. ICG and Kentucky Coal Association officials answered many questions about mountaintop removal and the coal industry.

The group went to Whitesburg to visit The Mountain Eagle, a nationally honored weekly, and then to Appalshop, the 41-year-old media-and-arts cooperative, where filmmaker Elizabeth Barret discussed "Stranger With a Camera," her popular documentary centered on a local man's killing 43 years ago of Hugh O'Connor, a Canadian who was filming renters in the man's substandard housing. The film explores media representations of Appalachia and local reactions to national media; Barret discussed with the editors the reactions of local people to her film, released in 2000.

The conference continues today with a day of programming from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues on "Weeklies and the Web." Tomorrow are the editorial critiques, the longest-running feature of ISWNE conferences, and the awards banquet. The conference is headquartered at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. For a story by Ivy Brashear of the Hazard Herald on the Eastern Kentucky trip, click here.

N.C. has little regulation of guns in plain sight, but some advocates want even less

Gun-rights advocates are divided about open-carry laws that would allow individuals to openly display weapons, and their division may be most prevalent in North Carolina, where little regulation exists for plain-sight weapons. "A national pro-gun Internet group,, ranks the state among the friendliest to those who wear a weapon for all the world to see," Josh Shaffer of the Charlotte Observer reports. "Unlike concealed weapons, plain-sight guns are almost totally unregulated in North Carolina, where only a misdemeanor 'going armed to the terror of the public' speaks to the issue."

Before 1995 it was legal in North Carolina to openly carry a gun almost anywhere, but the state concealed weapons law restricted carrying guns, concealed or otherwise, in schools and government buildings. Private businesses also have the right to post signs prohibiting guns on their premises. "For some gun rights advocates, carrying an unconcealed gun is an opportunity to vigorously exercise their Second Amendment rights," Shaffer writes, adding "There is nervousness about open carry, even among lifelong gun folks."

Paul Valone, president of nonprofit firearms group Grass Roots North Carolina, even has his own doubts about open-carry laws, Shaffer reports. Valone advocates removing many of the restrictions attached to North Carolina's concealed carry law but notes if somebody were robbing a convenience store in which he were buying a soda, he would rather they not know he was carrying a gun. But still the right to openly carry a weapon is among the most important to some. "The Constitution doesn't say I have the right to keep and bear arms if I keep them concealed," Eric Shuford, an instructor at the Wake County gun range, told Shaffer. "It says I have the right to keep and bear arms." (Read more)

Western Kentucky man finds largest Clovis point ever found in North America

For lifelong artifact hunter Darrel Higgins, finding an arrowhead was nothing new, but the one he found recently in Western Kentucky was special: It is bigger than any other ever found in North America. "The item, described as a Clovis point made of Buffalo River chert, was submerged in a creek bed when Higgins stumbled upon it," Kyser Lough of the Murray Ledger & Times reports. Eastern Kentucky artifact expert Tom Davis dated the point back to the days when prehistoric man roamed the earth and hunted large game, perhaps 15,000 years ago, and reported the 9 3/4 inch by 2 3/4 inch specimen sets a new North American record by measure.

"As soon as I picked it up, I knew what I had," Higgins, who declined to say where exactly he found the arrowhead, told Lough. "It's usually a long walk back to my truck. Not that day, I was walking on air." He added "There are some skeptics because of the size of it. But it's a record. There's one as long found in Washington state but it's not as wide." Higgins lives in Hickman County but "said he has found items in the Lynn Grove area of Calloway County and knows people who have uncovered artifacts in the Clarks River," Lough writes. He hasn't decided whether to sell the arrowhead. (Read more)

Massey Energy sues mine-safety agency in battle over underground ventilation plans

Massey Energy, owner of the West Virginia mine where 29 workers were killed in an April explosion, has filed a lawsuit against the Mine Safety and Health Administration for failing to approve ventilation practices that would have benefited the safety and health of miners. The company, which is under investigation by MSHA for the explosion, said its constitutional rights were violated because it couldn't challenge agency's ventilation-plan rules under federal law, Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal reports.

In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, Massey said MSHA "prevented the company from using dust scrubbers in its mines that would filter out dust that is dangerous for miners to breathe," Maher writes. Shane Harvey, Massey's general counsel, explained "The goal of the lawsuit is pretty simple. It's to retain some control of the ventilation plans our mines operate under."

An MSHA spokeswoman told Maher the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation, but the agency has said previously "It restricted the use of scrubbers at Massey mines because the equipment wasn't cleaning the air adequately," Maher writes. Ventilation issues are at the heart of the civil probe the MSHA is conducting into the April 5 explosion, Maher reports, but Harvey said the lawsuit is unrelated to the explosion. (Read more)

Wendell Berry yanks papers from U.Ky. after coal donation puts mineral into basketball dorm name

In October we reported the University of Kentucky had accepted a donation from a group led by Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft to fund a new dormitory for the men's basketball team and add "Coal" as a middle name to the current one, Wildcat Lodge. In response to that decision and other university policies, Wendell Berry, left, one of the state's most famous authors, is removing his personal papers from the university's archives. "Berry excoriated his alma matter in a Dec. 20, 2009, letter, saying the decision . . . 'puts an end' to his association with the university," Cheryl Truman of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The paper obtained the letter through an open records request.

"The university's president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary 'gift,' granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the university's basketball team," Berry wrote in the typewritten letter. He also faulted the school's emphasis on becoming a "Top 20" research university and President Lee Todd's "exclusive 'focus' on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics." Berry concluded, "It is now obviously wrong, unjust and unfair, for your space and work to be encumbered by a collection of papers that I no longer can consider donating to the university." They will go to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.

Berry, a UK alumnus and former professor there, told the Herald-Leader that the UK trustees' decision to accept the Coal Lodge donation was the "final straw" and said "If they love the coal industry that much, I have to cancel my friendship." UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton said in a statement, "We do regret that our students and researchers who wish to study his life and works will now be unable to access all of his previously donated works in one archive that contains the papers of many of Kentucky's greatest writers." The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is based in the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Only 2 percent of climate scientists doubt mainstream research, but have much influence

"The vast majority of climate scientists believe that humans are driving global warming, according to a new study," ClimateWire reports, but the study says the small remainder have "received large amounts of media attention and wields significant influence in the societal debate about climate change impacts and policy."

"Between 97 and 98 percent of the world's top climate researchers agree with the major conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- that it is 'very likely' that greenhouse gases produced by human activity have produced 'most' of the 'unequivocal' warming of Earth's average global temperature during the latter half of the 20th Century," Lauren Morello writes for ClimateWire, a service of Environment & Energy News.

The study, published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by a team of scientists led by Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider. They analyzed the publication records of 1,372 climate scientists, divided them into those who agreed or disagreed with the IPCC's major conclusions, then reduced the field to 908 subjects by removing those who had published fewer than 20 climate-change studies.

The skeptics "account for just 2 percent of the top 50 climate researchers, which the study authors determined by looking at how many scientific papers each researcher had published," Morello writes. "Moreover, the study found that a majority of climate skeptics -- 80 percent -- had each published fewer than 20 papers on climate change. Just 10 percent of scientists who agree with the IPCC's conclusions fell into the 20-papers-or-less category." (Read more, subscription required)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nebraska town's proposed ordinance displays small-town tensions over immigration

UPDATE: The ordinance passed, 57 percent to 43 percent, the Fremont Tribune reports.

Arizona has garnered most of the recent headlines about illegal immigration, but the issue has come to the heart of the country as Fremont, Neb., votes today on a controversial proposed ordinance. "Residents will decide whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them," Monica Davey of The New York Times reports. "Residents demanded the vote, fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the state Supreme Court." The Fremont law was written with help of one author of the Arizona anti-immigration law.

Locals on both sides of the debate report instances of violence and threats against them for speaking out in favor of or against the proposed law. "The Hispanic population, while growing, still makes up less than 10 percent of Fremont, yet some say they blame illegal immigrants for what they see as a rise in crime here, the loss of good jobs for local residents and a shift in the culture," Davey writes. "After Fremont’s political leaders rejected an ordinance intended to keep illegal immigrants out, residents fought back and insisted, finally getting approval in the Nebraska Supreme Court to take the matter straight to voters." John Wiegert, a local supporter of the initiative, explained, "We have to start somewhere. Hiding under your desk in a city office isn’t going to help."

Fremont, a "1850s-era railroad and farming town, about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, included 165 Hispanic residents in 1990 by some estimates," Davey writes. "The number is closer to 2,000 now. No one really knows how many illegal immigrants live here, but peoples’ claims about statistics vary wildly." Dean Skokan, the city attorney, told Davey he knows of no data compiled here on crimes by ethnicity or national origin. "City officials have said the cost of fighting court challenges — presumably, claims that the law would improperly infringe on federal authority — would probably run into the millions," Davey writes. (Read more)

Cindy Gonzalez of the Omaha World-Herald reports, "At least 40 cities across the country have considered illegal immigration laws similar to the one" proposed in Fremont. "In most cases, the measures died before they got out of City Council chambers or later were repealed. Two high-profile ordinances that did advance — in Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas — have yet to be enforced because they've been tied up in costly court battles for four years. So without a U.S. town that actually has gone the distance and implemented a local immigration law dealing with housing or employment or both, Fremont essentially is in uncharted territory." (Read more)

The Fremont Tribune notes that the polls close at 8 p.m. CDT and "Results of the election will be posted as soon as possible on the Fremont Tribune's website."

Departing editor spanks local officials in print, says she's been doing it for years

Samantha Swindler is leaving her job as managing editor of the Corbin Times-Tribune in southeastern Kentucky to become general manager of the Tillamook Headlight-Herald on the Oregon coast, west of Portland. She will leave behind a strong four-year record of holding accountable local officials who often view their public offices as private possessions, and she delivered an exclamation point of sorts over the weekend with a column that dressed down the leaders of the town of 8,000.

The column began, "I wasn’t particularly surprised with how Corbin city commissioners voted Monday night because, like all major decisions, it was made long before the public meeting." Having implicitly asserted that the commission routinely violates the state Open Meetings Act, Swindler then pulled up the rope that city officals provided for their own hanging, not on issues of legality but of courtesy and public policy.

"What was surprising is how the commissioners and city manager reacted when a room full of citizens and business owners came to participate in the democratic process," specifically to object to making the city's Main Street program manager part time, "ensuring [she] will be forced to find another job," Swindler wrote. "In a town where so much government goes wrong, her program and minimal budget actually produced results for the community." The city manager dismissed the speakers, eventually saying “I’m through.”

As for the reason cited for the cut, a tight budget, Swindler suggested the commission wasted money by giving $50,000 to the local economic-development agency, "an organization which, for the life of me, I can find no reason for its existence. ... The members of those boards don’t even know what the director is working on because of “confidentiality” of potential businesses. The director’s reports are notoriously vague and don’t even offer the slightest hint of what we might be getting for his $78,000 salary. ... Economic development isn’t just about luring in a 100-person factory every five years. It’s also about improving the community to make it attractive to both potential businesses and tourists," in the town where Col. Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In closing, Swindler noted the prospect of an uncontested election for the city commission this fall. "If you’re not happy with those choices, I suggest someone start a write-in candidate campaign and challenge those who, occasionally, ought to be challenged. Because we really need a new kind of politics here." (Read more)

We asked Swindler if she was less inhibited with the editorial because she is leaving town. She replied, "I was careful not to write anything that I wouldn't be proud to stand behind long-term. I didn't want to do one of those angry, finger-wagging, 'and another thing...' going-away columns that comes across as bitter. I tried to make it a positive piece, at least in the aspect of creating community through Main Street. But that economic development agency? That's a darn joke. I've written stuff about them before ... and I've been writing columns like that for years. That stuff needed to be said, and I hope I said it strongly without coming across as simply spiteful." Tillamook's gain is Corbin's loss.

Corn ethanol has become clearly energy-efficient

Corn growers are raising crops that have more starch and thus produce more ethanol, and they are also getting better yields per acre, giving the fuel a much more positive energy balance than it once had, according to an Agriculture Department report released today.

"Corn ethanol supplies twice the amount of energy that is required to make it," Katherine Ling summarizes for Environment & Energy News. "For every British thermal unit (Btu) of energy required to make corn ethanol, 2.3 Btu is produced, the report says. The ratio is higher, it adds, if companies use biomass energy in ethanol production." (Read more, subscription required)

The report is based on surveys of corn growers in 2005 and ethanol production plants in fall 2008 and winter 2009. "Ethanol has made the transition from an energy sink, to a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, to a substantial net energy gain in the present, USDA said in a press release. "And there are still prospects for improvement." For a PDF of the report, go here.

Internet helping boost rural entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is up across the country, but with the help of non-profit organizations and the rise of broadband Internet access, rural areas may getting more than their usual share of business startups. "From 2008 to 2009, the number of self-employed Americans increased by 200,000 to 8.9 million, according to Challenger Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm," Wade Hilligoss of ABC News reports. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, which helps entrepreneurs, reports U.S. startups reached their highest level in 14 years in 2009, with entrepreneurship in rural areas spiking too.

"Places like Nebraska, Iowa ... there's a lot of growth in that area," E.J. Reedy, a manager in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, told ABC. Before the rise of the Internet, one of the biggest barriers to success for rural entrepreneurs was "the sheer distance from buyers and suppliers," Hilligoss writes, "but that is no longer an issue because they can reach customers online anywhere in the world." Katrina Frey, above, who expanded her home-based gourmet jellies and syrups business from the local western Nebraska farmers' market online, explained, "The Internet has expanded my borders. It's made it so I can be in a little town of 300 and still operate a business beyond those borders. It's made it so I'm just not limited to those county lines." (Photo by Frey)

Janell Anderson Ehrke, founder and CEO of Grow Nebraska, a non-profit educational organization that helps startup business owners in the state, cautions, "while the Internet has opened the doors for many rural entrepreneurs, it also has created a very competitive marketplace," Hilligoss writes. Now her group, funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others, spends most of its time educating businesses about the fine points of online marketing. "Getting involved on the Internet is a little bit of everything. You can't be afraid to take a chance or think outside the box," Frey told ABC. "Whether you are rural or in big cities, you can be a little guy and still look like a big guy." (Read more)

Agriculture Department invests in mobile slaughterhouses to support local-food movement

"The slaughtermobile, a stainless steel industrial facility on wheels, is catching on across the country, filling a desperate need in a burgeoning movement to bring people closer to their food," reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. "It is also perhaps one of the most visible symbols of a subtle transformation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, long criticized for promoting big agribusiness." (The News Tribune photo by Dean J. Koepfler)

"There is unbelievable consumer interest in local agriculture that we haven't seen in decades," Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is overseeing the USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program, told Layton. The number of federally inspected slaughterhouses has dropped from 1,627 in 1980 to 1,051 in 2010, Layton reports, and now only four corporations slaughter 80 percent of U.S. cattle. In Wyoming, there isn't a single federal- or state- inspected slaughterhouse. USDA is hoping to promote small meat producers by "funding and approving more mobile slaughter units, staffing each one with a federal inspector, educating farmers and USDA employees about the units, and setting clear guidelines for farmers who want to build one," Layton writes.

"There are farming operations that are really big and do huge volumes of food and that's part of American agriculture and that's good," Merrigan told Layton. "But there are a lot of people who want to do alternative markets, and we want to find a way to help them find a living and stay in rural America and help those towns and villages thrive. This really is a rural development strategy." USDA approved the first mobile slaughterhouse in 2002 and has since certified eight others for large animals. Still mobile slaughterhouses face their own challenges: they are subject to the same costly federal sanitary standards as permanent facilities, they need potable water and a way to dispose of animal waste and farmers must form cooperatives to purchase and operate the units. (Read more)

Website hopes to fill gap it sees in news coverage of 3-state rural region 'filled with smart people'

Two former New York City journalists have launched a website aimed at serving a four-county, three-state rural region they say is underserved by traditional, mainstream media. Rural Intelligence is the brainchild of Marilyn Bethany and Dan Shaw, who have both worked as editors and reporters at The New York Times and New York magazine. They say they hope to provide "reliable information source for people like themselves, who routinely do business and seek recreation and entertainment in four counties: Berkshire in Massachusetts, Columbia and northern Dutchess in New York, and northern Litchfield in Connecticut. (MapQuest image: star on Millerton, N.Y., biggest town near junction of the three states)
Bethany and Shaw "have taken their combined 40 years of experience in print journalism with the technology of the day to create this Rural Intelligence, which treats this uniquely sophisticated region as one big neighborhood," the site says. "Their hope is that sharing information will foster a sense of community that transcends county and state boundaries. Rural Intelligence is the place where full-time residents and weekenders can come together to share their passion for culture and country life." The seven-person staff divides its content into sections about food, arts, style, road trips, community, kids and, perhaps of most interest to the national audience, an AgriCulture blog.

We asked Shaw if the site's name was chosen to confront or refute the notion of many uirbanites that "rural" is a synonym for "unsophisticated." He replied, "It was chosen not as a political statement so much as for the fact that the region we call home is very rural, which is quite amazing considering it is 100 miles from Manhattan. And it is filled with smart people; thus, Rural Intelligence." Visit the site here.

Wal-Mart buying more local food, but shipping much of it due to supply difficulties

Wal-Mart is ramping up its local food selections, in an effort to help support small and midsize farms as well as improve its corporate image, but some are questioning the program's logistics. As part of its "Heritage Agriculture" program, "The company is building up smaller farms to get more local produce into stores for both economic and environmental reasons," Kelly Macneil of National Public Radio reports. "A surprising percentage, on many crops, of the cost of the goods is the freight," Ron McCormick, the head of the program, told Macneil.

"McCormick says most local farmers just aren't prepared to supply the retail giant with the huge quantity and consistent quality of produce it requires," Macneil reports. "[It] seemed to be a win all across the board if we could use our buying power to reinvigorate some of those old agricultural areas that had been abandoned over time," McCormick added. Randy Clanton, a southern Arkansas tomato grower and owner of a farm where Wal-Mart has taken a vested interest, says the retail giant has "helped make his operation more professional, especially in the area of food safety," Macneil writes.

"It gives us a sense of security whenever we go out here and start kicking the dirt out here and cranking up ole John Deeres up to get ready," Clanton said of Wal-Mart's investment. "If you know you've got a market out there — that gives you a reason to get up out of bed every morning." While many welcome the ripple effect of any local food investment by Wal-Mart, some have questioned if the Heritage Agriculture program is actually a local-food initiative. "You can do a Heritage Agriculture program and buy certain products grown in Connecticut for your Connecticut stores," Jim Prevor, who used to work in produce distribution but now writes the blog Perishable Pundit, told Macneil. "But in the end it's not going to be a significant part of that Connecticut store's produce sales because most of the months of the year you can't grow anything in Connecticut." (Read more)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Brandy Ayers, journalist for 50 years, looks back and ahead – and sees a future for newspapers

Anniston Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers, whom we know as "Brandy," is marking his 50th year in journalism with colums reflecting on the past, present and future of the craft and of his small daily newspaper, which has won far more than its share of awards and set an example for enlightened ownership. His latest piece touts the virtues of family-owned papers and their critical role in smaller towns and cities.

Ayers reminds readers that he is gradually transferring ownership of his Consolidated Publishing Co. to "a foundation that will preserve a community-owned and managed newspaper for as long as Fate and technology allow. The family paper, once the dominant form of ownership, is disappearing. There are fewer than 250 left out of roughly 1,500 dailies. Their disappearance is part of a vast and growing depersonalization of society."

Ayers says the difference between his paper and "a corporate chain paper" is that "a corporate publisher is a manager dangling at the end of a long corporate chain; he or she either doesn’t care or can’t act independently. I care, deeply. I was born here. The Star is a family legacy. . . . If we were gone, there’d be a near-total news blackout. Radio news is dead, Birmingham TV doesn’t cover us. We’re the only game in town. That is profoundly important because our society is becoming more isolated and depersonalized and suffers a deficit in leadership. The presidents of local banks were generals of a civic army; their officers and directors were the officer corps of that army. That army is gone, replaced by massive corporations who do not see or care about the civic health of a city."

Saying "Big-box stores aren’t gathering places that foster community," Ayers says the Star tries to fill the vacuum, "by using the new electronic press to allow mothers to chat with other mothers about their children and their lives, to offer each other encouragement and exchange pictures and tips," and by "reviving an intense form of local reporting" based in neighborhoods. He hopes readers will use the website "as a town square or back porch where people can drop by and pass the time of day about local affairs or cordially argue with each other."

For the community as a whole, the local paper is the only place "where 4-H Club winners can be seen by their parents and friends," and "As long as there are mothers to cry at their daughters’ weddings, as long as there are fathers to swell with pride at their sons’ exploits on the football field, as long as people fear crime, are suspicious of local politicians, cheer for the economic boost of a new industry, want to know what’s for sale at the mall or mourn the death of beloved citizens, as long as people want to share with others, there will be a need for someone to connect them." (Read more)

Blowout puts Salazar on hot seat, in spotlight

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a son of rural Colorado's San Luis Valley, is very much on the hot seat and in the spotlight as he deals with the Gulf of Mexico oil blowout (which is a rural disaster, Dee Davis reminds us in the Daily Yonder) and the Minerals Management Service that probably helped cause it. Today he is the main subject of major stories in two national newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

John Broder and Gardiner Harris note in the NYT that President Obama recently gave Salazar "a powerful new deputy, Michael R. Bromwich, a veteran investigator and former prosecutor, to supervise the remaking of the minerals service" even though "Salazar had appointed two aides to do the same job just a month before, and that Mr. Bromwich’s new assignment essentially reversed not only that move but also perhaps Mr. Salazar’s entire overhaul plan for the minerals service," which was tarred by corruption in the Bush administration.

The story notes that on May 27, Obama "scolded Mr. Salazar for his cowboy rhetoric," about keeping the federal boot on BP's neck, "and acknowledged his impatience with the pace of change at the minerals service." Since then, Salazar "has become noticeably less visible" than other memnbers of the administration's "Green team," Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and Obama environmental adviser Carol Browner, who headed EPA under Bill Clinton. Salazar's former colleagues in the Senate defended him. (Read more)

Jim Tankersley of the Tribune Co. Washington Bureau writes in the LAT that Salazar and others in the team "must find ways to stop the leak, clean up millions of gallons of crude and take steps to reassure the public it won't happen again. But the means it has chosen, a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling, risks the fiscal health of the offshore oil industry that sustains much of the Gulf Coast economy. It is in some ways typical territory for Salazar. As Colorado's attorney general, a U.S. senator and now Interior secretary, Salazar has sought out the sort of compromises that rarely leave anyone completely happy." (Read more)