Friday, October 08, 2010

Broker says weekly newspaper prices rising; another is not quite so optimistic

A newspaper brokerage firm tells Editor & Publisher that "For the first time in three years, the valuations for weekly newspapers are beginning to rise," Mark Fitzgerald reports. It could be both a sign of an improving economy and the greater strength of community newspapers compared to metropolitan papers.

W.B. Grimes & Co. says in its latest newsletter that recent sales of weeklies have been for five to seven times their cash flow, “with several deals completed at the higher end.” However, “Another broker with a speciality in community newspapers does not see the market quite so optimistically,” Fitzgerald writes. “John Cribb, managing director of Cribb, Greene & Associates, said he believes the valuations for weeklies will remain in the 4 times to 8 times area, with most deals in the 5 to 6 times EBITDA,” which stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and is not exactly the same as cash flow. “The number of deals may rise if we can get banks to loan money,” Cribb told Fitzgerald. (Read more)

'Shake and bake' meth labs spread in Iowa

"Shake and bake" methamphetamine labs using 2-liter bottles are becoming more prevalent in Iowa, Pat Curtis of Radio Iowa reports: "The one-pot lab doesn’t give off the strong odors associated with bigger operations."

But Gary Kendell, Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, told Curtis, “That’s also one of the things that makes it more dangerous, because you have a dangerous chemical reaction happening in a container that’s not intended for that purpose.” (Read more or listen)

USDA e-mails show Vilsack and deputy fired Sherrod knowing they didn't know the full story

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials knew they did not have all the facts before they fired department official Shirley Sherrod over the summer but moved ahead with the decision anyway, internal e-mails revealed. "The day after Sherrod's ouster, even as USDA officials acknowledged in internal memos that they had not seen the full video," released by a conservative blogger that painted Sherrod as a racist, Peter Nicholas and Kathleen Hennessey report for the Los Angeles Times. "A White House senior aide e-mailed them to commend the department for moving quickly so the story would not gain 'traction'," though no e-mail indicated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted at the White House's direction. Some e-mails were redacted.

"Within the USDA, the messages show, government officials had moved at breakneck pace to try to beat the news cycle, leaving little time to ask questions, seek legal advice or consider Sherrod's side of the story," the reporters write. The e-mails, which the Times and The Washington Post obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, show USDA asked Sherrod to resign even after she told the department there was a full video of the speech that would show the full context of her comments. She wrote in her resignation, typed on a BlackBerry."I feel so disappointed that the secretary and the president let a misrepresentation of my words on the part of the tea party be the reason to ask me to resign. Please look at the tape and see that I use the story from 1986 to show people that the issue is not about race but about those who have versus those who do not."

The initial 2½-minute clip, posted online by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, showed Sherrod telling a Georgia NAACP meeting she had been reluctant to provide a white farmer with help in 1986 because of his race. The NAACP subsequently released the full video, in which Sherrod "said the encounter with the white farmer taught her that poor people of all races need help, which she resolved to give." Vilsack and President Obama both apologized to Sherrod, who declined their offer of a a higher-ranking job in the department. (Read more)

UPDATE, Oct. 9: Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California tells Nicholas that he wants to meet with Vilsack to discuss Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan's statement in an e-mail that political appointees have a duty to "protect the president." (Read more)

U.S. Department of Education officials visit poor, rural Alabama school district

U.S. Department of Education officials visited rural Greensboro, Ala., this week to examine rural school programs in one of the most impoverished regions in the nation. "John White, deputy secretary for rural outreach, said the purpose of the three-day visit to the Greensboro, Ala., area was to talk about ways to train and place high-quality teachers in local schools and to tout the administration's 2020 college completion goal, highlighted at a White House summit this week," Mary Schulken of Education Week reports on the Rural Education blog.

"Discussion included expanding degree and certificate achievement in community colleges that serve high-poverty areas, as well as the role community colleges play in training teachers for high-need rural areas," Schulken writes.  Greensboro is the county seat of Hale County, which is on the Rural School and Community Trust's list that identifies the country's rural schools districts with the highest poverty rates. Hale County and 19 other Alabama counties are in the Black Belt, a poverty- stricken area that was named for the color of its soil but has a heavy African American population. (Wikipedia map)

Earlier this week representatives from several rural community colleges attended or participated online in the White House Summit on Community Colleges. White said community colleges are key resources in rural communities, Schulken reports. "Community colleges are often the closest access to college, career training, dual-enrollment, and school and economic development partnerships for many rural students," he said. (Read more)

Murray Energy responsible for Ohio slurry spill

Thousands of fish and aquatic animals were killed in an eastern Ohio creek last week after a slurry burst from a pipeline carrying the waste to a storage pond. "In all, more than 4,000 animals died in the spill that fouled nearly a mile of Captina Creek in Belmont County," Frank Thomas of The Columbus Dispatch reports. "A subsidiary of Murray Energy owns the pipeline that broke beneath a farm field about 250 feet from Captina Creek." The Cleveland company shut off the pipeline and built dikes to keep more slurry from spreading. (Dispatch map)

"The water's all black, and the rocks are covered with a gooey black substance," Greg Lipps, a herpetologist and contractor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources who visited the creek yesterday, told Thomas. "Dead fish. Dead crayfish. Pretty devastating." The creek is also home to endangered Eastern hellbender salamanders, though no dead hellbenders have been found yet. Cleanup crews did relocate three farther from the spill, but Lipps said those may not survive in their new habitat.

Murray Energy will pay cleanup costs and fines assessed for each animal that was killed. "Fines are based on values attached to individual species," Thomas writes. "Endangered species, such as the hellbender, cost $1,000 each." Murray Energy had to pay fines for previous slurry spills in 2000 and 2005, and is still under investigation for a 2008 spill. "This is like the drunk driver that keeps hitting kids in the crosswalk, yet the state keeps giving him his license back," said Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group. (Read more) The company also had a mine collapse in Utah in 2007, killing six miners.

Call it 'bear baying' or 'bear baiting,' it's only legal in South Carolina, and maybe not for long

South Carolina is the only state that allows bear baying or bear baiting, a controversial training practice for bear hunting, and a push from national animal-rights groups and state lawmakers to outlaw the practice is highlighting a rural-urban divide. "South Carolina is debating a legal ban on the practice of restraining a captive black bear while hunting dogs surround it and bark feverishly," Robbie Brown of The New York Times reports. "The training, still popular in rural areas of this state, is designed to replicate the conditions of a wild bear encounter and to familiarize dogs with the animal’s behavior." The Humane Society of the Unites States recently released hidden-camera footage of four baying events where dogs appeared to bite a captive bear.

"This is uncivilized and barbaric to a totally defenseless bear," Joel Lourie, a Democratic state senator, told Brown. He plans to introduce a ban on the activity when the Legislature reconvenes in January. But to bear owner Robbie Grumbles, who owned one of the bears in the HSUS video, the notion he would allow his bears to be harmed is absurd. Grumbles, who lives in Travelers Rest, population about 5,000, said bears only participate in three or four baying events a year. "This has all gotten political," he told Brown. "The Humane Society has got millions of dollars, and I’ve got maybe 35 cents." (Times photo: Grumbles feeds one of his bears honey.)

"The Humane Society says bears are declawed and defanged, which owners deny," Brown writes. "The animal rights group says the goal of the activity is to force a bear onto its hind legs, making it easier to shoot in the stomach, but hunters say that stance would actually make a bear harder to kill." Even without a ban, bear baying is likely to fade away, since the state has banned capture or captive breeding of bears. For Grumbles, the controversy is an example of urban people not understanding rural life. "People raised on the concrete don’t understand people raised on the dirt," he told Brown. "I just don’t know how to explain it to them." (Read more)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rural New Englander battles beavers

New Englander Catherine Grow took on group of industrious beavers who had completely stopped the brook in her yard with a massive, beaverly lodge. "Twig by twig, branch by branch they slowed, then virtually stopped, the fast-flowing water. By mid-autumn, they'd built a significant structure, creating behind it a deep, clear pool that caused water to overflow the banks of the brook and into neighbors' fields. Upon breaching the barrier, our neighbor found a canoe oar among the debris and gladly took it home," Grow writes for the Christian Science Monitor. Grow made several attempts to dismantle the lodge. (Photo by Newscom)

Yet, the beavers kept building "higher and sturdier. ... The beavers had become a problem," writes Grow.  The beaver occupation went through the winter, causing power outages, water outages, and stripped forests. The town's road crew came with a front loader and dismantled the beaver lodge, assuming the critters would move. They did move,  but only to the adjacent mill pond where the lodge grew so big state officials had to set traps to get rid of them. "By early summer, the millpond was covered with algae: a solid, chartreuse mass unbroken by a single ripple of movement. The brook ran unobstructed; saplings and brush re-grew in the nearby woods. I stared wistfully at the mound that had once housed such industrious – if destructive – interlopers, as their dwelling increasingly became obscured by the steady creep of lush, green foliage. It was quiet on the waterways. Too quiet." She eventually found her industrious friends a little further upstream. (Read more)

W.Va. sues EPA to protect mountaintop removal

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin announced Wednesday the state Department of Environmental Protection had filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try and stop EPA's crackdown on mountaintop removal coal mining. Manchin, a Democrat who is running for the Senate seat formerly held by Robert Byrd, "said the suit is aimed at stopping the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 'attempts to destroy the coal-mining industry and our way of life,'" Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

"The state has worked as hard as it could to resolve these issues with EPA without resorting to litigation," Manchin told reporters. "It's a shame when you have to take action against your own government, but sometimes it has to be done." The 52-page lawsuit "targets EPA's tougher reviews of Clean Water Act permits for mining operations and the federal agency's new water quality guidance aimed at reducing pollution from coal-mining sites," Ward writes. The lawsuit alleges EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson wrongly implemented the new policies without first seeking necessary public comment.

"With these actions, EPA and the Corps have demonstrated a brazen disrespect for the notice-and-comment rule making that forms the backbone of proper regulatory action by giving the states and interested parties an opportunity to comment upon proposed rules before implementation," the suit states. EPA responded in a statement that state officials "have not engaged in a meaningful discussion of sustainable mining practices that will create jobs while protecting the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing." (Read more)

Montana researchers and the Army find likely cause for bee Colony Collapse Disorder

In May we reported U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists were pointing to the combination of a fungus and family of viruses as the probable cause for the devestating Colony Collapse Disorder affecting bee populations across the country. Now additional research from Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana has identified the fungus tag-teaming with a virus that researchers believe causes CCD, Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports. The report was published in the online science journal PLoS One.

Researchers said their joint effort may be "the first time that the defense machinery of the post-Sept. 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own," Johnson writes. Scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula had previously worked for the military in bee-releated research, including a way to use honeybees in detecting land mines. "Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at," Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s "Bee Alert" team, told Johnson.

Bromensenk's team, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, concludes in the paper "the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied," Johnson writes. "Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal." Still further research is needed to determing how the fungus and virus interact. "It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first," Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — "nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power," Johnson writes. "They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment," he said. "They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies." (Read more)

Ohio governor announces plan for solar array on former strip mine

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland earlier this week announced a plan for one of the country's largest solar arrays to be built on reclaimed strip-mine land in southeastern Ohio. "Construction of the 239,400-panel solar array, called Turning Point Solar, would start in early 2012 adjacent to The Wilds nature conservancy in Muskingum and Noble counties and be completed by the end of 2014," Mark Niquette of The Columbus Dispatch reports. Two companies based in Spain, Isofoton and Prius Energy S.L., would open manufacturing operations in Ohio to make the solar panels and trackers for the array as part of the project. (Dispatch map)

"Columbus-based American Electric Power has agreed to invest $20 million and signed a memorandum of understanding with the project's developers yesterday to negotiate an agreement to buy the electricity produced by the array for 20 years," Niquette writes. Estimates project the creation of 300 permanent manufacturing jobs, 300 jobs for construction of the array and 10 jobs to operate it. "One of the largest solar farms in the nation is going to be built here in Ohio, with solar panels and solar trackers made in Ohio, built by Ohioans with the know-how taught in Ohio colleges," Strickland said.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $250 million, and officials said it "will require a federal loan guarantee or other financing, as well as tax incentives and other aid," Niquette writes. "All of these things are in motion," David Wilhelm, a partner in New Harvest Ventures, part of a joint venture developing the array and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told Niquette. "None of them are certain as we speak here today, but we are confident on all scores." Sam Randazzo, a Columbus lawyer who represents a coalition of major industrial energy users, was less optimistic about the plan. "There have been a lot of these kinds of announcements, more of them around election time, and most of them never turn into anything," he said. (Read more)

EPA objects to 11 E. Ky. surface mining permits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has objected to 11 Eastern Kentucky water discharge permits associated with surface mining, saying they fail to protect waterways from further degradation. "The letters from the EPA office in Atlanta to the Kentucky Division of Water detailed the state’s own assessment of poor water quality and said state regulators did not conduct analyses to determine whether the proposed discharges from new surface mining would likely violate state water quality standards," James Bruggers of the Courier-Journal reports.

R. Bruce Scott, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection, told Bruggers EPA's action marked the first time in 20 years the agency made such a move in Kentucky. Scott added that EPA's objection "sets up the potential for the federal government to take over the issuing of those permits and any future permits," Bruggers writes. An EPA spokeswoman did not immediately respond for comment. (Read more)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Maine island town latest to complain about wind turbine noise

Wind power is key to transitioning U.S. electricity to renewable sources, but those living near wind farms don't always agree. The latest example of that conflict comes from Vinalhaven, Me., a small town on an island in Penobscot Bay. "Art Lindgren and his wife, Cheryl, celebrated the arrival of three giant wind turbines late last year. That was before they were turned on," Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times reports. "In the first 10 minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground," Art Lindgren said. "Nobody in the area could believe it. They were so loud." (Times photo by Matt McInnis)

The Lindgrens and their neighbors are "among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power — a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels — is not without emissions of its own," Zeller writes. Complaints about wind turbines have also surfaced in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. "The quality of life that we came here for was quiet," Cheryl Lindgren told Zeller. "You don’t live in a place where you have to take an hour-and-15-minute ferry ride to live next to an industrial park. And that’s where we are right now."

Complaints about the turbines range "from routine claims that they ruin the look of pastoral landscapes to more elaborate allegations that they have direct physiological impacts like rapid heart beat, nausea and blurred vision caused by the ultra-low-frequency sound and vibrations from the machines," Zeller writes. A panel of doctors and acoustic professionals assembled by the American Wind Energy Association concluded "there is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects."

About a dozen of the 250 wind farms that went online in the last two years have generated significant noise complaints, Jim Cummings, founder of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, told Zeller. Research suggests communities already accustomed to ambient noise are less likely to have an issue with turbine noise. Even in Vinalhaven not everyone has a problem with the noise. Zeller notes, "Deckhands running the ferry sport turbine pins on their hats, and bumper stickers seen on the island declare 'Spin, Baby, Spin.'" (Read more)

Texas governor refuses to meet with editorial boards

Texas governor and re-election candidate Rick Perry has refused to meet with any of the editorial boards of newspapers across Texas. Perry told Jay Root of The Associated Press, "It was a calculated decision, but you know the world is really changing, I mean, the way people get their information, who they listen to, etc. Put it all on the balance beam and the balance was toward not doing the editorial boards." (Photo of Rick Perry, by Laura Skelding, Austin American-Statesman)

Editorial boards have "responded to Perry's snub with fury, accusing him of doing a disservice to voters by refusing to submit to unscripted questioning," writes Root. The Texas Press Association and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association issued a joint statement: "Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to meet with editorial boards or debate his opponent says a lot more about him than the state of the newspaper industry. He’s made a cynical campaign calculation to duck the hard questions he knows he would face in these settings. That’s not fair to millions of Texans that want to gather as much information as possible before making tough decisions at the ballot box that affect their families and communities. Whether Governor Perry wants to acknowledge it or not, newspapers, either in print or online editions, remain a major news source for Texans. The more than 500 community and metro newspapers in Texas remain relevant and are still the original source of information seen by Texans online and on the airwaves."

At least one other candidate has refused to meet with editorial writers. Florida GOP gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott shunned editorial boards in the primary and has yet to schedule any meetings as he faces Democrat Alex Sink, according to the AP report. One Republican strategist calls the meeting between candidate and editorial board the "second most stressful thing a campaign has to go through," behind debate preparation. (Read more)

Interior Department approves first solar projects on public land

The Interior Department on Tuesday approved two California solar energy projects, which would be the first constructed on public lands. The move is "aimed at shifting the type of energy development on federal property in the years to come," Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson of The Washington Post report. The department approved two projects in the Californian desert -- the Imperial Valley and Chevron Lucerne Valley solar projects -- which could supply energy four hundreds of thousands of homes. Neither project will go online for at least a year.

"We have opened up a new chapter on renewable energy on our public lands in America," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters in a conference call, adding that when it came to producing energy on federal lands, "the president asked me to change the game." The projects still face hurdles, including a multibillion-dollar transmission line that would cross sensitive habitats needed for the Imperial Valley project. Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy at advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, called the Imperial Valley project "far from ideal" but added that, "viewed as a pilot project, we can live with it." (Read more)

Republican leader says cap-and-trade is over if GOP controls Congress

If Republicans gain control of Congress in the upcoming election it would signal the end of cap-and-trade legislation, said minority leader John Boehner of Ohio. "This election is going to be a referendum on their job-killing policies, one of which is cap and trade," Boehner said in an interview with Fox News. President Obama "himself has appeared to acknowledge the diminished likelihood for a 2011 debate on a broad cap-and-trade system for limiting U.S. emissions," Elana Schor of Environment & Energy Daily reports.

"There'll be no tax increases; there'll be no cap and trade," Boehner said of a Republican-controlled Senate. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Obama said while climate change would be one of his top priorities next year, "we may end up having to do it in chunks." Not every Republican agreed that winning election results for Republicans means an end to energy legislation. "Several GOP senators predicted recently that a more evenly divided Congress could pave the way for consensus next year on smaller-scale environmental measures, such as a renewable electricity standard or incentives for alternative fuel vehicles," Schor writes. (Read more, subscription required)

Momentum builds for national rural teaching corps

Last week we reported several regional rural teaching corps could serve as the model for a national program. Now, a leading rural education advocate says momentum for such a program is growing. "The non-profit Rural School and Community Trust has been having exploratory talks with faculty and administrators at seven universities that have an interest in enhancing rural teacher preparation programs and in being part of an invigorated national effort, said Gary Funk, director of the new Ozarks Teacher Corps in Missouri," Mary Schulken of Education Week reports on the Rural Education blog.

Funk, who also serves on the board of the Rural School and Community Trust, told Schulken the Trust would like to hear from other institutions or philanthropic organizations about this effort. "What we need is a movement that serves as a national catalyst for building regional infrastructure that, in turn, supports and drives local action," Funk said. Rural education advocates "see a national rural teacher corps emerging as a coalition of regional efforts, built upon strong working relationships between philanthropic organizations, public schools, and teacher education programs," Schulken writes.

Funk said he doesn't envision federal funding for the program, but the Department of Education could help by spotlighting programs that successfully provide good rural teachers. "The beauty of the Teacher Corps concept is its ability to address rural capital flight by building local philanthropic assets, rural brain drain by proactively recruiting the best and brightest and preparing them to be rural 'activists' and teacher/leaders, and teaching effectiveness by immersing participants in place-based education activities and developing a supportive peer network," Funk told Schulken. Funk said the Trust would ideally like to first focus on the most economically challenged rural regions, including the Mississippi Delta, the Appalachian corridor, the South, southern Texas and New Mexico, and the Great Plains states. (Read more)

Lack of access, public opinion can push rural women to dangerous abortion alternatives

A lack of access to abortion clinics and outspoken opposition to the procedure in rural America may be pushing rural women to dangerous alternatives. In the Rio Grande Valley, "Items said to be abortifacients —including pills, teas and shots — are well-known to be cheap and accessible just across the bridge" in Mexico, Laura Tillman reports for the Daily Yonder. "Misoprostol, a pill that makes up half of the two-drug combination prescribed for medical abortions in the United States, is easy to purchase over the counter in Mexico because of its effectiveness in treating ulcers. When used alone and taken correctly, it will produce a miscarriage between 80 and 85 percent of the time."

The closest abortion clinic is in Harlingen, Texas, 30 miles from the border. "That might not sound like much, but without a car it is difficult to make the trip discreetly," Tillman writes. Access isn't the only barrier for rural women seeking abortions; local opinions often act as another deterrent. "Widespread opposition to abortion in the Rio Grande Valley may not be obvious at first: it is not discussed in polite conversation," Tillman writes. "But spend a little time here and the bumper stickers that cry out from cars, the messages that dot billboards on the expressway and the rhetoric inside many churches resoundingly confirm an antiabortion message."

"In fact, abortion is so stigmatized, many women don't even realize it is legal," Tillman writes. Many women along the U.S.-Mexico border appear to be turning to Mexican drugs as an alternative to abortion but whether their actions represent "a broader trend is difficult to say, given the lack of data and the underground nature of self-induced abortions," Tillman writes. In Texas, Medicaid doesn't cover abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, meaning costs can run between $450 to over $900. Comparatively, Misoprostol costs costs between $87 and $167 at a Mexican pharmacy.

"What we're dealing with now is thirty-five years of women being very publicly shamed by antichoice protesters," Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood, told Tillman. "Underground abortion is one of the consequences." If used incorrectly, Misoprostol can cause the uterus to rupture and bring about internal bleeding. "Logically, you should go to a clinic," one woman who used Misoprostol told Tillman. "If you have the money, you should. It's safer. But the whole thing of being in a clinic like that is, it traumatizes people, too. Really, the more private thing and the more convenient thing to do would be to just take the pill." (Read more)

New SPJ president urges journalists to fight official secrecy, says it's growing at all levels

Journalists must redouble their efforts to fight growing secrecy, the new president of the Society of Professional Journalists told the organization's convention as it wrapped up last night in Las Vegas.

"We are under attack, from the smallest communities to the federal government," Hagit Limor, left, a reporter for Cincinnati's WCPO-TV, told the crowd at her installation banquet. She quoted a report from Freedom of Information Committee Chairman David Cuillier, saying that in many communities "We have the equivalent of a police state."

Cuillier, right, a journalism professor at the University of Arizona, made an "Access Across America" tour to 33 states this spring and summer, funded by SPJ's Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. It won him two awards and much recognition at the convention. In his report he cited cases of "no access to jail logs, arrest reports, 911 logs, incident reports or scanner traffic," but said the biggest FOI problem "isn’t that government is denying record requests. The problem is that not enough journalists are submitting record requests. Small news organizations need much more training in access. In some newsrooms the reporters didn’t know they could ask for public records."

Limor, whose father survived the Buchenwald concentration camp and saw her sworn in as president, said the Holocaust wasn't reported for years though governments knew about it. "Ask him why we have to fight for press rights, for access to government records," she said. "We are part of something that is bigger than all of us, that depends on all of us." For her remarks, go here. For more on the convention and SPJ see

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Police training falters as city budgets are cut

Basic training for police officers is taking a hit because of the financial problems of local cities who must pay for it, reports Kevin Johnson for USA Today. Washington-based think tank Police Executive Research Forum says nearly 70% of police agencies cut back or eliminated training programs this year as part of local government budget reductions, according to a survey this fall of 608 agencies.

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan told Johnson that his department's entire in-service training program was shuttered for a year, beginning in June 2009. Jordan faced cutting training or laying off staff. According to Jordan, the training cut was a "no-brainer. ... We needed to keep people on the street and saw the cuts to training as a bridge to better times."

The cost of cutting or eliminating training may be felt later. "When you pull away the support beams of a building, it doesn't fall down immediately," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Johnson. "But eventually, it's going to have an impact." (Read more)

The census may cause big changes for rural legislative districts

When results of the census are finally tabulated, rural legislators are likely to feel the greatest change, reports David Harrison for Early census data released last week show that "the recession has not stopped a century-long movement of people out of rural areas and into cities and suburbs, a trend that will have significant impact in next year’s redistricting debates," writes Harrison. "The rural districts get geographically bigger as more and more population has to be absorbed in the urban and suburban districts," Gary Moncrief, a political scientist at Boise State University in Idaho, said to Harrison.

As the U.S. population has grown, all legislators, urban, suburban and rural, are going to represent more people, writes Harrison. That will affect everything from the cost of campaigns to legislators’ workloads and travel time.  In anticipation of the changes from re-districting, some states are already making changes. In Alaska, a constitutional amendment will ask the state's voters to increase the size of the state legislature adding two state senators and four House members. (Read more)

Appalachian activist garners national attention after D.C. rally

Last week we reported on the Appalachia Rising protest in Washington, D. C., and now one of the organizers of that event is gaining national attention. Bo Webb, 61 of Peachtree, W.V., "first heard about mountaintop removal soon after retiring in 2001 as a machine shop owner in Cleveland to move to Clay's Branch hollow in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia," Peter Slavin of The Los Angeles Times reports. Webb's activism against mountaintop removal began with an open letter to President Obama about conditions near his home and eventually lead him to the environmental group Coal River Mountain Watch.
(Photo of Bo Webb, by Ben Droz, Appalachia Rising)

Webb videotaped the effects of blasting from a Massey Energy mine near his home, "took the tape to Washington, and showed it to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement," Slavin writes. "Back home, three federal officials drove out and went up the mountain with him, and made state blasting personnel join them." State regulators issued citations to Massey, including two for blasting, and told the company it would have to abide by special restrictions if it were to blast in the area again. Massey has since avoided the area.

Webb's "relentless fight to save the mountains, communities, culture and people of Appalachia has inspired me more than I can ever describe," coal field activist Wendy Johnston told Slavin. Webb claims coal mining near his home is also contributing to elevated cancer levels among Coal River Valley residents, though mining groups were quick to note there is no proof mining causes cancer. "Webb remains undeterred, and he believes it's now or never to end mountaintop removal," Slavin writes. Webb doubts Obama will be re-elected and thinks any successor will be much less sympathetic to his cause. "We've got two years to end this," he told Slavin. (Read more)

Advertising for medical marijuana helps newspapers' bottom line

Several states legalization of medical marijuana has been a boon to an unlikely group of companies: local newspapers. "In states like Colorado, California and Montana where use of the drug for health purposes is legal, newspapers — particularly alternative weeklies — have rushed to woo marijuana providers," Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times reports. "Many of these enterprises are flush with cash and eager to get the word out about their fledgling businesses." The benefit has also gone to daily newspapers including The Denver Post and The Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana.

"My point of view is, for the moment at least, it’s legal," said Stephanie Pressly, publisher of The Daily Chronicle, adding that the paper generates about $7,500 a month in advertising from medical marijuana businesses. "The joke around here is that it’s a budding business." Medical marijuana advertising money helped The Colorado Springs Independent hire a new reporter and promote three staff members to full time. The paper also added a column called CannaBiz, which follows news from the industry across the country, and is written by the new marijuana beat writer. (Photo of Independent's pullout supplement "ReLeaf")

Many states have allowed legal allowances for medical marijuana for almost a decade, but an Obama administration decision to not prosecute users and suppliers of the drug as long as they complied with state laws "freed more people to market and sell it as a medical product," Peters writes. Some in the industry feel the medical marijuana advertising bubble is about to burst. The Montana legislature is expected to take up proposals to strictly regulate the drugs' use leaving The Missoula Independent, where medical marijuana advertising makes up 10 percent of the paper's revenue, fearful of a bust. "It’s been stressful for us for several years," Matt Gibson, president of The Independent, told Peters. "There’s no question that they’ve been good for our business. And we’re worried about 2011, if the state revises the statute, which it appears is all but certain." (Read more)

Rural Iowa schools growing the state's local food movement

The local food movement is catching on at Iowa schools, and advocates say rural districts are the ones catching onto the movement most quickly. East Elementary School in Independence, Iowa, has 13 raised-bed gardens and has become the symbol of a "small but budding local-food movement in Iowa schools," Reid Forgrave of the Des Moines Register reports. "In the past few years, this northeast Iowa district has cooked more lunch items from scratch with healthier ingredients, invited farmers to classrooms to explain where food comes from, and built gardens where students plant and harvest food used in lunches."

Obtaining local food for school districts can be easier in theory than practice. Andrea Geary, the local-food program manager with the University of Northern Iowa's Buy Fresh, Buy Local program, told Forgrave the transition from government-subsidized commodity foods to local products is easiest for small rural school districts. "They know they want healthier food, they know they want local food, they know they're not happy with the current broken food system," Geary told Forgrave. "But they don't know where to go." The Iowa Farm to School program now has 11 chapters.

In Independence, custodians "converted old bleachers into raised-bed gardens, filled with dirt from nearby wetlands," Forgrave writes. "A Farm to School coordinator developed a network of local growers." The school district, which became Iowa's first Farm to School chapter three years ago, purchased 30 pounds of local strawberries for yogurt parfaits during the first year of the program, but demand had increased so much by the second year the district purchased 300 pounds.

On the same morning that Forgrave observed first-graders digging for potatoes, "a local orchard owner visited third-graders, explained how an orchard works, showed them how to peel the fruit and let them sample Cortland apples," Forgrave writes. Food services director Kelly Crossley explained, "We could put fruits and vegetables in front of them until the cows come home, but until we reinforce it in the classroom and with parents, they're not going to touch it." (Read more)

Seed giant Monsanto faces dropping stock price and problems with some new products

This year hasn't been kind to seed-giant Monsanto, which has seen its stock drop about 42 percent since the beginning of the year. "The giant of agricultural biotechnology has been buffeted by setbacks this year that have prompted analysts to question whether its winning streak from creating ever more expensive genetically engineered crops is coming to an end," Andrew Pollack of The New York Times reports. The company's stock, which peaked at $145 a share in mid 2008, closed at $47.77 a share on Monday.

Dropping stock prices haven't been the only problem for Monsanto as the company faces disappointing returns from a couple of new products. Last week the company learned its newest product, "SmartStax corn, which contains an unprecedented eight inserted genes, was providing yields no higher than the company’s less expensive corn that contains only three foreign genes," Pollack writes. "Monsanto has already been forced to sharply cut prices on SmartStax and on its newest soybean seeds, called Roundup Ready 2 Yield, as sales fell below projections." The company also faces an antitrust investigation from the Justice Department and growing reports of Roundup resistant weeds.

Additionally, sales of Monsanto’s Roundup are down this year under an onslaught of low-priced generics made in China, Pollack reports. "My personal view is that they overplayed their hand," William R. Young, managing director of ChemSpeak and a consultant to investors in the chemical industry, said of Monsanto. "They are going to have to demonstrate to the farmer the advantage of their products."

Brett D. Begemann, Monsanto's executive vice president for seeds and traits, said the company is already making changes under the advice of farmers, including changing the pricing formula for the company's newer products. "Technologically, they are still the market leader," Laurence Alexander, an analyst at Jefferies & Company, told Pollack. "The main issue going forward is do they get paid for the technology they deliver. The jury is still out on that one. It’s going to take a year or two of data to reassure people." (Read more)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Community newspaper group elects officers, says 'Real newspapers are not dead,' just changing

The leading organization for U.S. community newspapers announced today that it would create "a marketing council of newspaper executives" to spread the word that "real newspapers are not dead." The National Newspaper Association, a lobby for weeklies and small dailies, formulated the plan at its 125th anniversary convention in Omaha, which concluded Saturday.

While NNA didn't say so, available data and anecdotal evidence show that community papers have suffered much less from the Great Recession and the Internet than their metropolitan counterparts. Its new president, Liz Parker of Recorder Newspapers Inc. in Stirling, N.J., acknowledged the lingering effects of the recesssion and the changes being wrought by the exponential expansion of digital media.

"We are not blogs, but we have blogs. We are not websites, but we have websites. We are whole, real newspapers in print and other media and we continue to serve,” Parker said in a press release. "Readers are changing. Markets are changing. But local journalism is as much needed as ever. We are the ones who provide the glue that holds our communities together. We are the trusted voice."

Parker, right, is a second-generation community publisher who said she met her husband “covering meetings and murders against each other” while working for competing dailies on the Jersey Shore. She succeeds Cheryl Kaechele, at left in photo, a Michigan publisher on whose watch NNA decided to put its staff at the University of Missouri under the supervision of Washington lawyer-lobbyist Tonda Rush, a longtime attorney and employee of the association. The other national officers are Vice President Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, Minn., who had been treasurer, and Treasurer Merle Baranczyk, publisher of the Salida Mountain Mail in Colorado. For a list of regional directors, other officers and other NNA news, click here.

Columnist Parker leaves her small towns behind to join the ranks of talk-show pundits

Kathleen Parker, Pulitzer prize winner and a widely syndicated columnist, has joined former New York governor Eliot Spitzer as co-host of a talk show starting tonight on CNN, "Parker Spitzer." Parker told Keach Hagey of that she grew up in "smallish town" Winter Haven, Fla., and has spent most of her life in the South. She describes her most recent move from Camden, S.C., to New York City as coming to "the humongous city," and the bureaucracy required for high-density living as "a fresh sort of hell."

Parker originally planned to become a Spanish professor, but after graduate school she started a career as a reporter at the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post. Subsequent jobs at the Florida Times-Union, the Birmingham Post-Herald and The Mercury News in San Jose took her all over the country. Her columnist career began at The Orlando Sentinel writing a column called "Women," as a counterpoint to a column called, "Men." She moved on to politics and public policy but in 2008 published a book, Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care.

"Not only did I move from a small town in South Carolina via a relatively quiet neighborhood in Washington, I also left a solo writing operation to join CNN, an international organization with layers upon layers of human management,” she wrote in her Sept. 29 column. "Not that I'm complaining. Just sayin'." (Read more)

Ethanol industry working to present united front to keep federal subsidy from dying at year's end

As ethanol producers fight to preserve their government subsidies, they are trying to present a united front after infighting within the industry emerged during the summer. "Representatives of groups representing the ethanol industry and corn growers have been meeting weekly, including several times at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, or talking by phone to resolve differences and strategize how to save the biofuel's federal subsidy," Phillip Brasher of The Des Moines Register reports. The industry "is kind of a dysfunctional family at the moment," David Nelson, longtime board member of the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, told Brasher.

The industry split emerged when "Growth Energy proposed to phase out the 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit and use the money to build ethanol pipelines and retrofit service stations to sell higher ethanol blends," Brasher writes. Groups including the RFA opposed Growth's plan, "saying that the subsidy is still needed and that there wasn't time for Congress to deal with the Growth Energy proposal," Brasher writes. The subsidy is scheduled to expire at year's end unless renewed by Congress.

"Growth Energy is now calling for an extension of the subsidy," Brasher writes. "But some of the subsidy's critics have used the original proposal as ammunition." Darrin Ihnen, outgoing president of the Corn Growers, told Brasher all the Growth Energy proposal did was "confuse the message." He explained, "What (Growth Energy) said is that we don't need the tax credit anymore, if we get market access," Ihnen said, referring to the need for ethanol pumps. "The media really didn't pick up on that part of the message." (Read more)

Farm Aid concert shines spotlight on family farms

A variety of motivations brought around 35,000 people to Farm Aid 25 in Milwaukee last week, but all the crowd "seemed to leave with a sense of pride in their country and an overflowing love and for the traditional family farmer," University of Kentucky student Alexandria Sardam reports. The concert, started in 1985 by Willie Nelson, featured Neil Young (photo by Sardam), Kenny Chesney, Norah Jones and many other artists, and attracted farm families and supporters from all over the nation.

"I think that it’s so important that we reach an understanding as a society that if we want a healthy future and healthy planet and healthy children then we have to think globally but act locally," said musician Dave Matthews, who has been a Farm Aid board member and performer since 2001. Matthews owns Maple Hill Farm, an organic farm that is a contributor to the Best of What’s Around Community Supported Agriculture Program located near Charlottesville, Va. Young left the crowd with a strategy for helping U.S. farmers: "Look at the label," he said. "Don't buy from other countries. Buy American." (Read more)

"Combining music and activism, Farm Aid has carved out an interesting history," Karen Herzog and Bill Glauber of the Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel report. "It began as a musical plea to save the family farm in America and morphed into a platform for the good-food movement and sustainable agriculture, starring family farms." Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid's executive director, explained the event is based on a simple truth: "Supporting family farmers and family farm-centered food systems can jump-start a fragile economy, improve public health and create a cleaner environment for future generations," the reporters write. (Read more)

Guns and alcohol are a growing legal mix

We've been following Tennessee's steps toward allowing guns in bars, most recently here, but the Volunteer State isn't the only one moving in that direction. "Tennessee is one of four states, along with Arizona, Georgia and Virginia, that recently enacted laws explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars," Malcolm Gay reports for The New York Times. "The new measures in Tennessee and the three other states come after two landmark Supreme Court rulings that citizens have an individual right — not just in connection with a well-regulated militia — to keep a loaded handgun for home defense." (Times photo by Josh Anderson)

In addition to the four states allowing guns in bars, 18 other states allow guns in restaurants that serve alcohol. "The new laws have also brought to light the status of 20 other states — New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts among them — that do not address the question, appearing by default to allow those with permits to carry guns into establishments that serve alcohol, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a nonprofit group that promotes gun control and tracks state gun laws," Gay writes. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, explains, "A lot of states for a long time have not felt the need to say you could or couldn't do it. There weren't as many conceal-carry permits out there, so it wasn't really an issue."

Now, he said, "the attitude from the gun lobby is that they should be able to take their guns wherever they want," Helmke told Gay. "In the last year, they’re starting to move toward needing no permit at all." Under Tennessee's law, gun permit holders are not supposed to actually drink alcohol while carrying their weapons. Critics of the laws say "The provision is no guarantee of safety, pointing to a recent shooting in Virginia where a customer who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon shot himself in the leg while drinking beer at a restaurant," Gay writes. (Read more)

Data from early-childhood programs are needed to help track individual educational progress

A new issue brief from the nonprofit public-policy group New America says states need to incorporate information from early-childhood programs like Head Start to better analyze childhood progress over time. In the brief, "Many Missing Pieces: The Difficult Task of Linking Early Childhood Data and School-Based Data Systems," New America's Early Education Initiative says states are "still a long way from collecting early-childhood data (birth to age 8) that can inform teachers and parents about needed changes in instruction, improve learning opportunities in each year of a child's educational journey,and guide policy decisions related to early childhood programs."

In the past five years the federal government has invested roughly $515 million to help states expand longitudinal data systems to collect data across the full span of a child's educational experience, including $250 million from the stimulus package, New America reports. The stimulus money requires states to link early-childhood programs with the traditional K-12 system. "A growing number of states now have the ability to collect and use information on individual children attending state funded pre-kindergarten programs," New America writes. "But state's education departments are less likely to be capturing data on children who attend Head Start, the federal government's pre-K program for children in poverty."

The report argues early childhood data are essential to multiple stakeholders. "Teachers need longitudinal data on students in their classroom from their previous years of school to help them target their instruction and identify students who need additional help as early as possible. Researchers need data on how students have progressed over time to analyze the effectiveness of programs. State and local policymakers need data to determine where future investments should be made. State officials need data to evaluate how well teacher preparation programs equip teachers of young children with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective." (Read more)

Tennessee governor moves to protect state land in Cumberland Mountains from surface mining

If granted by the federal government, a petition by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen would make state-controlled sections of the scenic Cumberland Mountains northwest of Knoxville (state photo by Byron Jorjorian) off limits to surface coal mining.

"At issue is Northern Cumberland ridgeland that the state owns or holds easements on but that others own the mineral rights to," Anne Paine of The Tennessean reports. "The ridges and 600 feet on either side would be declared 'unsuitable for mining' under the request made to the federal Office of Surface Mining." The area in question lies on either side of Interstate 75 north of Knoxville, in the stretch where the northbound lanes first run southeast after running southwest along the top of Pine Mountain. (PDF map of the area)

"These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities," Bredesen said in an announcement. "This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources." Bredesen contends surface mining would be "inconsistent with uses specified in the Wildlife Management Area and Conservation Easement, including hunting and recreation, depriving future generations of these special resources."

Coal groups were quick to condemn the proposal, saying it was a violation of property rights. "The state could only afford that land because they only bought the property surface rights," Chuck Laine, president of the Tennessee Mining Association, told Paine. "They didn’t buy the mineral rights." Laine said his organization had not reviewed the entire petition yet, but the group is "strongly opposed to this." Coal could still be mined below the ridgelines, but Laine said that wasn't enough. "We’ve got coal up there," he said. "If you can’t mine it up there you can’t mine it." (Read more)

Bredesen leaves office at the end of the year, so the petition could become an issue in this year's race for governor between Democrat Mike McWherter, son of former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter, and Republican Bill Haslam, mayor of Knoxville, which lies between the Great Smoky Mountains (which have no coal) and the Cumberlands. Haslam generally opposes mountaintop-removal mining but has also said he doesn't want to discourage coal mining in Tennessee.