Thursday, August 18, 2022

As threats of political violence increase, leaders need to take it seriously and tone down their rhetoric, expert writes

Darrell West
OPINION By Darrell West
Vice president and director, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution

Following the FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago last week, one of his supporters tried to attack an FBI office in Cincinnati. After being repulsed, there was a high-speed car chase that resulted in shots being fired at the police and the suspect being killed.

Members of Congress have been getting death threats that have forced a number of them to obtain security details to safeguard their personal safety. Representatives such as Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, and Nancy Pelosi have received detailed threats of violence that necessitated enhanced protections.

In response to these threats, Rep. Kinzinger noted that “threats of violence over politics has increased heavily in the last few years. But the darkness has reached new lows.” According to news reports, one caller “threatened to come to Kinzinger’s house and go after his wife and his newborn baby.”

A GOP gubernatorial candidate in New York was attacked onstage while giving an election speech. In front of startled attendees, a man with a knife jumped onstage and sought to stab Lee Zeldin, before on-lookers subdued the individual and prevented serious harm to the candidate. Academic experts are not immune to this onslaught either. One-quarter of my Governance Studies residential scholars have been the object of credible death threats.

Others warn that the possibility of armed conflict is real. “There is suddenly a very real risk of violent political instability in this country for the first time in more than 150 years,” noted Joel B. Pollak of the conservative Breitbart News. It does not help that some Republican leaders have fueled public outrage by pledging if they regain majority control of the U.S. House, they will hold legislative hearings on the Department of Justice, FBI, members of the January 6 Select Committee, and private organizations critical of the former chief executive as that escalates political rhetoric and encourages GOP supporters to think something amiss is happening that justifies a strong response.

The rise both of threats and actual violence shows the dangerous levels of polarization, extremism, and radicalization that we face in America today. In the current period, people see opponents as enemies and many do not trust the motives or actions of opposition leaders. The lack of civility has reached such a dangerous level that it threatens the safety of leaders, the functioning of law enforcement, and our society’s ability to address major problems.

Given the variety of contemporary threats, it is important to take political violence seriously and undertake actions that mitigate these risks. For example, the Department of Homeland Security needs to expand its domestic terrorism unit to monitor violent threats. A 2022 DHS report recommended the federal government improve its case management capabilities, train workforces on how to deal with violent activities, and work with local officials on reducing domestic terrorism.

The FBI should increase its enforcement actions against people in organizations who foment violence. Federal agents should enforce current laws and direct resources against those who encourage violence. Many violent incidents are presaged by online rhetoric so keeping track of dark web chatrooms would help law enforcement identify those with violent tendencies.

Our intelligence agencies must be alert regarding possible foreign support of extremist groups. News reports have suggested that foreign entities might have provided money to alt-right figures who were part of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. In addition, there has been evidence that “Russian state and proxy media outlets ‘have amplified themes related to the violent and chaotic nature of the Capitol Hill incident, impeachment of President Trump, and social media censorship.’”

Social-media companies need to be a better job of policing violent content on their websites. Firms are using artificial intelligence to slow the dissemination of violent threats, but some are making money from organizations that advertise on their sites. It is fool-hearty and short-sighted for businesses to profit from the rise of violence in America.

Ultimately, political leaders need to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric. Reacting to various events with divisive rhetoric or threats of retaliation encourages people to act on that language. Leaders should understand that words have consequences and how they lead has major ramifications for the health of our polity.

This article has been edited. For the full original, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

New business models for newspapers are emerging in non-metropolitan and small metro areas, Northwestern reports

New business models for newspapers are emerging in "improbable" places, Tim Franklin writes in the latest installment of The State of Local News 2022 report from Northwestern University.

Richland County (Wikipedia map, adapted)
Franklin's first object example is Richland County, Ohio, center of the Mansfield metropolitan area but "a mostly rural enclave." Some may question that use of "rural," but its characteristics are similar to most rural places in the U.S.: "The median household income and the percentage of adults with college degrees are well below the national average. Richland also lags the rest of the country in broadband internet penetration."

Nevertheless, the county has "one of the more successful local, for-profit digital news startups of the past decade," Franklin reports. "The Richland Source is defying the odds of its demographic deficits and has found a profitable journalistic niche in a community of 125,000 residents that is also home to two local dailies and a weekly newspaper. The Source’s financial elixir is a committed local ownership, a highly diversified revenue stream, a clearly defined editorial mission focused on solutions journalism, a cost structure unburdened by legacy print and award-winning journalism."

He adds later, "Other examples include The Pilot, a hundred-year-old twice-weekly newspaper in central North Carolina that serves a community of similar size to Richland County, and the Shawnee Mission Post, in the suburbs of Kansas City. The common characteristics of all three are local owners who are invested in both the news outlets and the markets where they are located. They have developed business models that stress diversified revenues sources, a laser-like focus on readers’ needs and behaviors, high-touch engagement with the community and trustworthy journalism."

The owner of the Richland Source says 27 percent of its revenue comes from marketing services for "brands throughout the U.S.," and philanthropy (three national funders are cited) provides 21%. Advertising accounts for 35% and 1,100 reader memberships 17%. "On its news side, the Source is differentiating itself by practicing solutions journalism, a rigorous form of reporting that explores both community problems and potential answers. The Source also has adopted tools in which readers can easily submit questions and story ideas," Franklin writes. "As a result, the Source’s website says, stories on the home page are typically about "progress, entertaining events, and the accomplishments of people, organizations and businesses in our area'."

This newspaper produces just
26% of its company's revenue.
Pilot Publisher David Woronoff "is demonstrating how legacy newspapers in mid-sized communities can also transform themselves," Franklin writes. Woronoff "created and acquired a statewide business magazine and four lifestyle magazines – of which three are in the largest cities in the state – that now make up the majority of his company’s revenue. Buying and operating the local independent bookstore provides both new revenue and a way to directly engage with residents in his community. He also established a full-service, in-house marketing agency, and even published phone directories. Now, The Pilot news organization represents just 26 percent of his company’s total revenue." Moore County's population is 100,000.

These and other examples "illustrate how the local news ecosystem in the U.S. has entered a phase of robust experimentation," writes Franklin, senior associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism and director of its Local News Initiative. "At the same time, however, the unabated loss of local newspapers in the U.S. is a shrill-sounding alarm about the urgency to reinvent the local news business model. Indeed, the continuing secular declines in print, combined with high inflation and weakening consumer demand, could further accelerate the loss of local news in the U.S. in coming months."

An Appalachian storyteller's account: What the floods take

JoAnn and Alvin Davis, the author's parents, in a photo salvaged
from the 1957 flood, which they survived and about which he writes.
The disastrous flood in Eastern Kentucky has defied adequate description in a broad sense, but as residents tell their own stories in their own words the catastrophe is becoming clearer, and reaching us not just our heads, but in our hearts, and sometimes in our guts. One of the region's top storytellers, filmmaker-turned-grantsman Dee Davis of Whitesburg, holds forth in The Daily Yonder, published by the Center for Rural Strategies, which he runs.

The piece is mainly Dee's long, sad, heartfelt goodbye to the last identified victim of the flood, Dennis Stacy, a close friend in their youth. Those memories are worth your time, as an example of meaningful memory, but they largely set up the gut punches the end:

"Small wonder that more did not perish. First responders rescued 1,400; National Guard helicopters hoisted 650 on dropped cables. So many neighbors waded through swift water to pull less able people to safety. A guy at the city hall next to my office — I only know him as Red — saved 12 people. He can’t swim, but he got a life jacket, borrowed a kayak, and went house to house. He lifted old people and a mother and child up out of the water and into the kayak. . . . 

Dee Davis
"They say it is the 500-year flood. Let’s hope. My house on the hillside was spared, but so many people lost all they owned. Sopping wet couches, bent up appliances, and battered knickknack shelves are still piled on the sidewalks. The flood mud is so toxic with septic drainage and mine runoff now that you can’t dig a potato that was under the water or eat an apple from a tree that withstood it. And what’s true here is the same for 50 other communities downstream. The choice to build back seems harder now, but even if that horse goes off at 7 to 2, it is still the best bet on the tote board.

"Things get covered up in the flood. And if you see them again, they’ve changed. Maybe they are mud caked and putrid smelling, or maybe they are washed eight miles from where they are supposed to be, but they are different. Forever. And as witnesses we are changed too. We refocus as the water recedes. We see the before and the after. And we figure out what of it we take from here."

Census says in the most rural areas it missed over 4% of housing units, mainly trailers and single-occupancy rentals

Screenshot of Census Bureau map shows the most rural tracts in yellow and light green.
For a larger version of the map, click on it; for the original map on the Census Bureau site, click here.

The 2020 census missed about 1 in 25 housing units in the most rural areas of the country, and 1 in 20 on Native American reservations, says the Census Bureau's latest report on the decennial count.

"Experts have said census miscounts will impact the distribution of the more than $1.5 trillion federal funds annually based at least in part on census results," reports Michael Macagnione of Roll Call. "Tuesday’s report analyzed census results based on the type of housing units counted and showed the census as largely accurate for owner-occupied housing as well as small multi-unit buildings, but the census missed those living in trailers and rural areas." The mobile-home undercount was 4.3%; for the most rural census tracts (not including "Remote Alaska") it was 4.2%.

While most of the country is counted through self response, the most rural areas without regular mail access or reliable internet access were counted through a different process. There, census workers went to individual households to drop off census forms or count residents themselves, but missed about 4 percent of the housing units."

Those results come from the bureau's post-enumeration survey, questionnaires sent to a random sample of households. The bureau explains that it accounts for housing units in a "slightly different" way than it counts population: "The key difference is that the Census Bureau works throughout the decade to build a list of all the housing units in the nation. This address list, called the Master Address File, is then used to invite people living at those addresses to respond to the census and to follow up with them if they do not. The list is also used to ensure the population is tabulated to the right location. This means that housing-unit coverage relies more on an accurate address list than on obtaining responses required for counting people."

The report said the census overcounted housing units in Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah. An earlier report estimated that there were undercounts of population in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, and overcounts in New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah. This is the first report on rural undercounts.

Pandemic influx of city-dwellers triggered housing shortages in many resort towns, pricing out the locals

Early in the pandemic, many city dwellers moved to rural areas. Communities with vibrant tourist economies were especially attractive for such people, according to a recent report from the Economic Innovation Group. Housing was frequently in short supply even before the pandemic in many small towns, but the new residents have triggered soaring housing prices that price out mid- and low-income workers critical to the local economy, Molly Bolan reports for Route Fifty.

Exclusive ski-resort town Sun Valley, Idaho, and surrounding communities offer an extreme example. "It is not just service workers struggling to hold on. A program director at the YMCA is living in a camper on a slice of land in Hailey," Mike Baker reports for The New York Times. "A high-school principal in Carey was living in a camper but then upgraded to a tiny apartment in an industrial building. A city-council member in Ketchum is bouncing between the homes of friends and family, unable to afford a place of his own. A small-business owner in Sun Valley spends each night driving dirt roads into the wilderness, parking his box truck under the trees and settling down for the night."

The housing shortage now threatens the once-thriving local economy in the area: "The hospital, school district and sheriff’s office have each seen prospective employees bail on job offers after realizing the cost of living was untenable. The fire department that covers Sun Valley has started a $2.75 million fund-raising campaign to build housing for their firefighters," Baker reports. "Already, restaurants unable to hire enough service workers are closing or shortening hours. And the problems are starting to spread to other businesses." However, when Ketchum officials sought a tax increase to build hundreds of affordable housing units over the next decade, voters wouldn't approve it.

Resort towns have long grappled with how to house their workers, but in places like Sun Valley those challenges have become a crisis as the chasm widens between those who have two homes and those who have two jobs. Fueled in part by a pandemic migration that has gobbled up the region’s limited housing supply, rents have soared over the last two years, leaving priced-out workers living in trucks, trailers or tents.

More than just housing prices are affected, Bolan reports: "Local officials in smaller communities that have seen an influx of residents are dealing not just with squeezed housing markets, but also added pressure on infrastructure like water systems, crowded backcountry destinations, and increased traffic congestion."

And Summit County, Colorado, another ski area with a booming pandemic population, "has had a lot of 'churn' in its schools, as new students enroll and others move away. As property values have increased, some families who can’t afford the higher prices are being pushed out," Bolan reports.

FEMA uses text messaging to communicate with Ky. flood survivors; exact number of homeless is still unknown

"Three weeks after a catastrophic flood hit Eastern Kentucky, local state and federal officials say they are still unable to determine exactly how many people are homeless or how many homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed," Sam Adams reports for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg. "At least 700 people are in shelters provided by the state, but there is still an untold number of people who are staying in shelters provided by the Red Cross or other relief agencies, and still more who are not in shelters all."

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has echoed complaints that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is denying too many claims, but the vast majority of refusals are because they're missing documents and can't reach claimants to get them, FEMA coordinator Brett Howard told Adams. He said the agency has approved 73 percent of overall relief applications and 63% of emergency housing applications. Part of the problem is poor cell-phone reception and demolished roads and bridges.

In a press conference Monday, Beshear said many people aren't answering when FEMA agents call them, perhaps because they don't want to answer calls from an unfamiliar number, Josh James reports for WUKY. "Thus far, FEMA has tried to call 4,006 applicants. 1,508 have picked up," Beshear said. "We are talking to them about the numbers of times that they call, but please pick up your phone." Beshear said that for the first time, FEMA is using text messaging to communicate with claimants

Howard advised people whose claims have been denied to appeal. Since most denials are due to missing documents, "the state has placed employees from Cabinets that can help in the Disaster Assistance Centers with FEMA to streamline the process of appeals," Adams reports. Those state employees can probably print needed documents for claimants to submit to FEMA, Howard said.

Drought and heat roundup: Arizona and Nevada face new water restrictions; corn and cotton harvests weak; how heat disproportionately targets the vulnerable

Heat and drought are gripping much of the Western U.S. Here's the latest news:

"With water levels in the Colorado River near their lowest point ever, Arizona and Nevada on Tuesday faced new restrictions on the amount of water they can pump out of the river, the most important in the Southwest," Henry Fountain reports for The New York Times. "And the threat of more cuts looms. This week, those two states along with five others failed to meet a deadline for agreement on much steeper cuts in water use, raising the prospect that the federal government will step in and mandate further reductions." 

The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department agency which oversees water resource management, "announced it would withhold 592,000 acre-feet, or about 21% of Arizona's annual water allocation, out of the river for 2023. Nevada would see an 8% cut in its allocation -- 25,000 acre-feet -- and Mexico would see a 7% reduction in river flows across the border, or about 104,000 acre-feet," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

The drought has triggered the weakest cotton harvest in more than a decade and sent prices soaring. "U.S. agricultural forecasters expect drought-struck farmers to walk away from more than 40% of the 12.5 million acres they sowed with cotton and harvest the smallest area since Reconstruction," Ryan Dezember reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Back then, in 1868, yields per acre were less than a fifth of what they are today, but the market for cotton was vastly smaller too."

Drought and heat have also been hard on U.S. corn, production of which is expected to be 5% less than last year. In Kentucky, the forecast is down 26% even though most of the state got sufficient rain when the corn was tasseling; farmers say excessive heat in June stunted growth.

People who live in mobile homes comprise a disproportionately high percentage of indoor heat deaths, according to a paper recently published in the Washington Journal of Social & Environmental Justice. Residents typically don't own the land beneath their homes and often lack resources to bring down indoor temperatures or a meaningful voice in driving policy changes that could help them. Read more here. Heat hurts the most vulnerable in other ways: people of color, seniors, those with underlying health conditions, people addicted to opioids, and people without consistent housing are all more likely to die from extreme heat, Arianna Skibell reports for Politico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Want to improve your editorial page? Here are expert ideas

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors was founded mainly to advance the cause of editorial leadership in rural newspapers. It remains journalistically focused, and the hallmark of its annual conference is still the small-group sessions in which attendees critique each other's editorial pages and editorials. After the 2022 conference in Lexington, Ky., editorial-critique coordinator Tim Waltner gathered up a list of "best practices" from the session leaders for the August ISWNE newsletter. Here are most of them, with a few adds from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which hosted the conference, in parentheses:
• If you’re serious about improving your editorial page, make it a priority.
• Build slowly. A strong editorial page requires patience and a methodical and consistent approach that will appeal to readers and gain their confidence.
• Package content appropriately. Clearly label editorial pages.
• Avoid having news and editorial copy on the same page, but if it can’t be avoided, clearly label news and opinion. (If you're short of opinion material, local-history articles can work.)
• Content should drive editorial page layout/design. Editorial pages are serious content and shouldn’t have fonts/design that make it look like a feature page.
• Use a different font or point size for editorials. (Or a wider measure, set ragged right.)
• “Sell” your page through effective headlines/pull quotes/photos/graphics.
• Local, local, local draws readers to the editorial page(s).
• Lead the community discussion; others will follow.
• Look at moving away from submitted columns by politicians unless they’re addressing a specific and relevant issue. These should be rare and possibly not in the editorial pages. Or just take the politicians off the page and get local commentary.
• Be sure that all readers, including those who just moved to town, can understand the basics of what you’re talking about, even if it means rewriting the same boilerplate you’ve used a thousand times.
• Don’t write too long. It’s better to write two short pieces that are tight, insightful and/or entertaining than one longer piece that is stretched to fill the space.
• There is no need to add a disclaimer at the end of the editor’s column, such as this one: “The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of
the newspaper staff.”
• Encourage letters to the editor. They matter. Letters show how a community interacts and feels it can interact with the newspaper and other readers.
• Give a word limit and put an address at the end of all letters. (One paper requires and runs the full address of all letter writers, but there wasn’t consensus as to requiring a street address.)
• Make sure you indicate where readers can submit letters, the requirements and the process.
• Suggest promoting letter writing at the end of the year by recognizing all letter writers and the number of letters written that year.
• All editorial page items written by staff and others should be tagged at the end of the item with contact information: name, title/position, email and phone.
• Editor and staff contact information should be in an easy-to-find location on a consistent basis on the editorial page.
• Consider including contact information for elected officials (local, state, federal).
• Easy-to-add items that readers might enjoy: Quote of the week from a news story. Poll questions on current issues (but in publishing results, note that the sample is self-selected and thus not scientific).
• If you include your membership in a state or provincial press association (or a national one) in your masthead, add ISWNE and use our quill logo.
• Look for ways to add artwork onto the editorial page, such as mugshots of column writers. Syndicated cartoons are OK, but if you can find a local cartoonist, such as a high school art teacher, that’s even better.

Stories from three states show higher risk of pregnancy and childbirth in rural areas, as abortion laws pose complications

Pregnancy-related mortality per 100,000 live births
(Daily Yonder graph, adapted by The Rural Blog)
"Rural women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy complications than women in large metropolitan areas, federal data shows," Sarah Melotte reports for The Daily Yonder. The lack of pregnancy and childbirth care in rural hospitals, especially for high-risk cases, contributes to the problem. And rural women of color and their babies face even worse odds. Stories out of Montana, Nebraska and Texas illustrate the overall trend, made more worrisome fears that that eroding abortion rights will increase the number of high-risk pregnancies. Montana State University sociologist Maggie Thorsen told Melotte that the U.S. is already "the only industrialized country in the world that has a growing maternal mortality rate."

Fewer than half of the nation's rural counties had obstetric services in 2019, a Commonwealth Fund study found. Many hospitals have shuttered them (a trend the pandemic has accelerated), citing expense, lack of personnel, and declining rural birthrates. "Women unable to reach obstetrics units in time to give birth can end up delivering in an emergency room en route to the desired hospital. This can have deadly consequences for individuals with high-risk pregnancies," Melotte reports. "Common complications associated with these births include hemorrhaging, preterm birth, and preeclampsia."

A recent study of Montana maternity deserts illustrates the trend. Thorsen and others found that pregnant Montanans drove an average of 42 minutes from home to give birth, but that trips of several hours were not unusual. About 44% of the state's population lives in rural areas, more than twice the national average, Melotte reports. About half of its counties are maternity-care deserts, and 10% of the state's population—some 93,000 people—live in those deserts.

Native American women in Montana have even higher rates of complications or death in childbirth. Indigenous women (who tend to live in rural areas) are less likely to live within an hour's drive of high-level obstetric services than white women; not many Indian Health Services hospitals in the state provide such services, Thorsen told Melotte.

A story from Nebraska highlights other facets of the issue. Emergency help can be hard to access in rural areas. One rural woman who had preeclampsia called an ambulance, but it took so long to get there that she ended up giving birth in the ambulance, assisted by an EMT who had never delivered a baby, Addie Costello reports for the Flatwater Free Press. Local primary-care physicians can provide some obstetric services, but many are retiring and not enough doctors are replacing them.

Many rural hospitals can't afford to maintain obstetric units since rural births are more likely to be covered by Medicaid than by private insurance. Nebraska Medicaid reimburses at half the private rate, Costello reports. The story also emphasizes health disparities for women of color and their babies.

In Texas, which leads the nation in maternity-ward closures, a recent story presents one of the more extreme examples of a maternity desert: Big Bend Regional Medical Center is the only hospital in 12,000 square miles. It has an obstetric unit, but for more than a year that unit "has closed routinely, sometimes with little notice. Some months it’s been open only three days a week," Claire Suddath reports for Bloomberg. "Big Bend doesn’t really have a choice. In the past two years, almost all its labor and delivery nurses quit. The hospital has tried to replace them, but the national nursing shortage caused by the pandemic has made that impossible. When Big Bend is too short-staffed to deliver a baby safely, its labor and delivery unit has to close."

The staffing shortages also extend to Big Bend's ambulances; the county has two, but only enough EMTs to run one. And when the hospital can't deliver babies, the ambulance must drive a patient to the nearest hospital that can. That means the area's only ambulance is out of pocket for at least five hours.

Aspen Times is trying to recover from self-censorship flap

A 140-year-old rural daily in Colorado is trying to stage a comeback from a recent self-censorship scandal, Jack Healy reports for The New York TimesThe Aspen Times made headlines across the state in early summer after its new outsider owners withheld two opinion pieces they worried might upset a billionaire Russian developer who was suing the paper for defamation. Locals were outraged and most of the paper's staff—including the new editor—quit. Ogden Newspapers, a family-run company out of West Virginia, bought the Times and several other resort-town newspapers in December.

"Officials in Pitkin County, upset at the turmoil, recently voted to designate Aspen’s younger, locally owned newspaper, The Aspen Daily News, as the official 'paper of record' that publishes all of the county’s legal notices," Healy reports. "A handful of other advertisers have pulled back."

But last week the paper "published a column by its latest editor, who said he hoped to rebuild the staff and 'rise from the ashes,'" Healy reports. Two days later the paper ran "a long-delayed story that delved into the finances of the developer who had sued the paper. The article, based on public records and court documents, raised questions about the developer’s statements that he had stopped doing business in Russia in 2014." Still, with the paper down to one reporter and public trust at low tide, it's unclear whether the Times will be able to recover.

Federal funds can help relocate those increasingly in danger of repeated disasters, but help can be hard to come by

"More than 13 million Americans may need to move by the end of the century because of sea-level rise. Add the effects of hurricanes, riverine flooding and wildfires, and millions more will need to seek out safer parts of the country — or remain trapped in damaged, dangerous conditions," Alex Lubben, Julia Shipley, Zak Cassel, and Olga Loginova report for the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations, and Type Investigations. But "communities across the country in the greatest need of government assistance receive less of it — if they get anything at all." Most are small, rural, and have disproportionately high populations of racial minorities.

"For decades the federal government has known that climate change will force people in the U.S. to relocate. And the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, recommended in 2020 that the government form a 'climate migration pilot program' to help people who want to relocate due to climate change — a recommendation it reiterated in March. But in the absence of such a program, communities across the country must try to cobble together funding from across federal agencies through programs that weren’t designed for the climate crisis," Lubben, Shipley, Cassel, and Loginova report. The reporting project "spent a year digging into the growing need for climate relocation across the United States. Little organized government assistance exists for preventing the loss of homes and lives before a disaster, the investigation revealed — and there is no comprehensive focus on helping people escape untenable situations."

The analysis showed dozens of communities nationwide that have suffered repeated disasters. See how your county stacks up in the searchable database here.

Meth use dramatically increases odds of nonfatal overdose among rural drug users, whether used with opioids or alone

Nearly 80 percent of recreational drug users in rural areas have taken methamphetamines in the past month, according to a newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That's concerning, because meth use greatly increases the risk of non-fatal overdose—whether it's used alone or with opioids—and because rural drug users are more likely to suffer consequences from meth use but less likely to have access to treatment or prevention measures. Other studies have found that opioids were involved in about two-thirds of overdose deaths, and that fentanyl contamination increasingly drives opioid and meth-associated overdose deaths.

Overall, 22% of survey participants who co-used opioids and meth had survived an overdose in the past six months, compared to 14% of those who used opioids alone and 6% who used meth alone. Participants who co-used most often (44%) were also more likely to have tried and failed to access drug treatment measures than those who used opioids alone (36%) or meth alone (30%).

The researchers noted that meth use has been endemic in rural areas for decades, and that meth-related hospitalizations nationwide skyrocketed 270% from 2007 to 2015. Even so, not much research has focused on the characteristics of purely rural meth use, or meth use combined with opioid use.

Researchers gathered data for the study from January 2018 to March 2020, surveying drug users in rural communities in the 10 states participating in the Rural Opioid Initiative Research Consortium: Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The findings suggest that harm reduction and drug treatment programs must address meth use as well as opioids to decrease overdoses in rural communities, the researchers write.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Making the case to the community for your news operation

Rural newspapers are shrinking, in pages and staff, but they also shrink from asking their readers for help. One good way to do that is to make them think about what life in their community would be like without the paper. John McGary of The Woodford Sun in Versailles, Ky., did that last week in a column headlined "Why we need the Sun," making an implicit plea for support.

Ernest Yanarella, Ph.D.
McGary began by quoting an eloquent but concise letter from retired University of Kentucky political-science professor Ernie Yanarella: "The Sun is the city’s glue, its civic adhesive, that comes to our homes and provides the latest news on the community’s politics, its high school sports, its religious institutions, its notable personages and local celebrities, its historical and cultural oddballs and idiosyncrasies; its past history and emerging developments, and, yes, its recorded crimes and on-going disputes – and so much more. That such a small office with just a few dedicated reporters and gracious staff brings us the news of the week should embarrass the big-city newspapers in Central Kentucky for the Sun’s ability to keep their pulse on community news and latest doings and share them in clear and concise journalese, sometimes with a creative, even humorous, twist."

McGary wrote, "I couldn’t have said it better myself, and believe me, I’ve tried. The Sun is one of the last family-owned, independent newspapers in the commonwealth. Should that change – and I certainly hope it doesn’t – here’s what will happen: A chain more interested in stockholders than our community will come in, fire at least one of our two reporters and farm other work out to someone in a faraway place. Then, school board, city council, fiscal court and planning and zoning meetings will go uncovered. While I think by and large we’ve got a good group of elected and appointed representatives, some will take liberties – and odds are, you’ll never find out. Interesting people and places will not be written about, or photographed. We will know a good bit less about each other."

Editor John McGary
After listing several newsy stories in one recent edition of the weekly, McGary continued, "I agree with our elected officials and civic boosters who say there are a lot of great things going on in Woodford County. But I’ll say this, politely I hope, to folks who’d rather send their advertising dollars to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and other Internet billionaires than the Sun: A good community needs a good newspaper.

"A few years ago, mostly to amuse myself, I suppose, I looked into an editor’s job at a Central Kentucky chain-owned paper. Actually, two papers. I withdrew my name from consideration after a pleasant but pointless interview, during which I was told the chain had one reporter covering two counties. I’d have been the second, and the editor for each paper. The interviewers told me there was no need to actually attend government meetings – that I could take a look at the agenda and fast-forward to the good parts via Zoom. Thanks, but no thanks. To all those who subscribe to the Sun or pick up a copy at their local newsstand, thank you. Thanks also to the people who purchase ads. We’re planning new ways to cover news via the internet – hey, it owes us – but in the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best to inform and, on a good day, even entertain you."

Gannett lays off dozens after losing money in 2nd quarter

"Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain with more than 250 papers, executed a round of layoffs Friday, a week after the company announced its second quarter results: a loss of $54 million on revenues of $749 million," Angela Fu reports for The Poynter Institute.

It's unclear how many many were laid off, but at least some were from papers with large rural audiences such as the Monroe News-Star in Louisiana, the Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia, and the Billerica Minteman in Massachusetts. "The NewsGuild, which represents more than 1,500 Gannett journalists across roughly 50 newsrooms, had tracked 35 layoffs across 20 newsrooms by Friday afternoon, according to president Jon Schleuss. Two of them were from unionized papers," Fu reports.

Former St. Cloud Times reporter Andy Rennecke noted in a tweet that the Minnesota paper "once had four full-time sports writers, a sports editor, a sports desk chief and usually four part-timers" in the sports department. "Now, it's down to one person. F--- Gannett for everything it has done to my old paper. I loved my co-workers and we loved what we did."

"The union has called on Gannett to reduce executive pay and 'frivolous spending' instead of cutting jobs," Fu reports. "Last year, CEO Mike Reed made $7.7 million while the median salary at Gannett was $48,419. The company also instituted a $100 million stock buyback program in February. Earlier this week, Reed bought 500,000 shares of the company’s stock, worth $1.22 million. Gannett has also invested in anti-union lawyers to counter union drives and delay contract negotiations, according to the NewsGuild. The company currently faces 14 open unfair-labor-practices charges, according to a National Labor Relations Board database."

U.S., especially the South, could see heat-index temps above 125 degrees by 2053; see how your area may fare

Predicted days with a heat index of 100° F. (Map by The Washington Post; data from First Street Foundation)
"An 'extreme heat belt' reaching as far north as Chicago is taking shape, a corridor that cuts through the middle of the country and would affect more than 107 million people over the next 30 years, according to new data on the country's heat risks," Denise Chow and Nigel Chiwaya report for NBC News. "The report, released Monday by the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation, found that within a column of America's heartland stretching from Texas and Louisiana north to the Great Lakes, residents could experience heat index temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit by 2053." The heat index includes temperature and humidity to create a more accurate measure of how hot it feels outside, rather than measuring temperature alone.
Counties expected to gain the most days with a heat index above 125° F. (NBC News map)

Heat will become an increasing threat as climate change worsens. "A Washington Post analysis of the group’s data found that today’s climate conditions have caused an estimated 46 percent of Americans to endure at least three consecutive days of 100-plus degree heat, on average, each year. Over the next 30 years, that will increase to 63 percent of the population," the Post reports. "Nowhere is the danger more widespread than in the South, where global warming is expected to deliver an average of 20 extra days of triple-digit heat per year. In some southern states, such as Texas and Florida, residents could see over 70 consecutive days with the heat index topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

See what the report predicts for your community with the Post's interactive map. It shows how many days the heat index is expected to top 100 degrees in 2023, in contrast with 2053.

W.Va. radio show is often Manchin's first stop because of host's integrity, canny questioning, and broad rural reach

Hoppy Kercheval
In an evenly divided Senate, moderate Democrat Joe Manchin plays the key role in passing top-priority Democratic legislation—including the bill Democrats named the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden plans to sign this week. That means pundits, legislators, and other stakeholders spend a fair amount of time trying to divine the West Virginia senator's mindset. One of the best ways to do that is by tuning in to "Talkline," a MetroNews radio show from Morgantown. Its host, Hoppy Kercheval, "has the keys to the political castle" this year because Manchin is his frequent guest, Scott McFarlane reports for CBS News.

Manchin often reveals many of his big decisions to Kercheval. "When I'm on Hoppy, everyone's listening to Hoppy . . . because they know he can get me to say exactly the purpose of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it," Manchin told CBS. In the nearly 40 years he's been hosting the show, "Kercheval has learned the art of trying to pin down Manchin," McFarlane reports.

But it's more than respect for Kercheval's integrity and canny questioning that keep Manchin coming back; it's the fact that "Talkline" reaches almost every nook and cranny of the Mountain State. "In an era of 24-hour cable news and social media, radio remains king in West Virginia, the most effective way to reach voters in a state which still has areas lacking broadband, in which 60 percent of the population lives outside metro areas," McFarlane reports. Manchin told him: "I talk to Hoppy first because I know I'm talking to West Virginia when I talk to Hoppy."

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Rural news outlets need help from colleges and universities and local funders, Center for Community News director says

"Leveraging resources from colleges and universities" is one way that rural communities can sustain local journalism that supports local democracy, says the director of a new center that is trying to track down all available examples of such partnerships and help them be succesful.

Richard Watts
Richard Watts of the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont has been helping local newspapers for three years by training citizens to report for them. “More importantly, they're getting more young people involved in newspapers, and that value is inestimable,” Tim Calabro, editor and publisher of The White River Valley Heralda weekly in Randolph, Vt., told Buck Ryan, a University of Kentucky journalism professor.

Ryan's report for The Rural Blog includes a Q-and-A with Watts, beginning with the question about sustainability of rural journalism, which was the focus of the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America held by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes TRB.

In addition to help from academics and their students, Watts said rural news outlets also need to "diversify their revenue streams, train citizen reporters and encourage local ownership." Citing Watts's success at getting a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ryan asked him what he could share about building "profitable partnerships."

First, "Go where the money is in local foundations. and look for companies that have an interest in seeing local news continue," Watts said. He said an electric utility and the Vermont Humanities Council gave his Community News Service $10,000 each to cover energy and the arts, respectively. "They don’t tell us what to write, just to write more" on those topics, he said.

"An organization focused on Lake Champlain gave us funding to seed more stories about the lake region," Watts added. "Our biggest success, however, has come from individual donors who care about local news, democracy and involving young people. Together we have raised more than $200,000 in the last few years to support community news from individuals." For Ryan's full report, with details about from Watts about working with student and citizen journalists, go here.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Couple who persevere with weekly win Kentucky's Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism

Allison Mick-Evans and Chris Evans at of their newspaper, The Crittenden Press
The owners of a weekly newspaper in West Kentucky, who have persevered for almost 30 years in the face of increasing challenges to the industry – and to them and their community – are the winners of the 2022 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians.

Chris Evans and Allison Mick-Evans own The Crittenden Press in Marion, a town of 3,000 and the seat of Crittenden County, pop. 9,000. It is one of Kentucky’s smaller newspaper markets, and is losing population, but the Press shows that a paper doesn’t have to be big to be good, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Media. (The Institute publishes The Rural Blog.)

“The Crittenden Press has long been a standout newspaper in West Kentucky, from the days when Allison’s family, the Micks, owned it,” Cross said. “It has always punched above its weight and set an example for others to follow.”

The Institute presents the Smith Award with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Chapter President Tom Martin said, “The Press is the embodiment of a vital community newspaper.”

That has been especially evident in the last few months, as the City of Marion has endured a water shortage. The Crittenden Press has been a lifeline of information for citizens, digging into the reasons for the crisis, broadcasting City Council meetings, doing live interviews with emergency responders and giving news updates in real time.

The paper was an early adopter of online journalism, as evidenced by its URL, the-press.com; during a major ice storm in 2009, Editor-Publisher Chris Evans ran it on generator power and published a special news flyer with updates on electricity status and aid stations. The paper's innovations are cited in a Publishers' Auxiliary column by Chip Hutcheson, a retired publisher in the area.

During the pandemic, Evans found discrepancies in data from the district health department and coordinated with it to correct the numbers, and the Press was one of 14 Kentucky papers to publish a special vaccination section sent to all households in the county, in cooperation with the Institute, the Kentucky Press Association and UK’s Cooperative Extension Service.

A 2006 episode is an example of Evans’s investigative reporting. He revealed misuse of more than $200,000 by the local economic development director, who was indicted and forced to repay most of it.

When a drug bust prompted false, online rumors of shootings and murder, Evans countered them with online postings that carried credibility because they were not anonymous, and because people respect him and his newspaper. “Our task is to be in a position to provide credible information in whatever form people want it in,” he said in 2011. “You’ve got to embrace technology, understand where your audience is at, and get there—and the credibility you have will draw people back to you.”

Chris Evans “is everything to this paper, and the paper is everything to him,” Allison wrote. “He insists that content in The Crittenden Press be hyperlocal. No canned news, no state filler. It’s time-consuming, but it’s important to him.” Away from the paper, he has served nearly 30 years on the local park board, where he “essentially serves as the volunteer maintenance man: and orchestrated a major lighting renovation of the park with city, county and school partners to complete the project,” she wrote. “He has also served in various leadership capacities in his church.”

Cited as a community-journalism exemplar in Harvard University’s Nieman Reports in 2011, Chris described his journalism philosophy simply: “We are here to serve people. Then he quoted Bryant Williams, the Tennessee publisher for whom he had worked: “The only higher calling is the ministry.”

At a time when most newspapers are owned by chains that are struggling to meet profit goals and still provide public service, Chris and Allison have continued their local, independent ownership, even as they have had to reduce staff due to declining revenue, a burden for almost all local newspapers.

“We have never had any desire to sell, but I have to admit that with Chris’s retirement not too many years away, we’ve been talking about an exit plan,” said Allison, who is the paper’s advertising manager. “Sadly, seeing the decline of papers in our region that have sold to large conglomerates makes us uneasy. It’s like a parent thinking they, and only they, can adequately take care of their child.”

The sustainability of rural journalism, and the maintenance of local, independent newspaper ownership, are newly adopted goals of the Institute for Rural Journalism, which was founded in the UK College of Communication and Information 20 years ago.

Al Smith, 1927-2021
The Smith Award is named for the late Albert P. Smith Jr., who was the driving force for creation of the Institute, headed its advisory board and was its chair emeritus until his death in March 2021 at the age of 94. He published newspapers in Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the first winner of the award.

The award will be presented at the Al Smith Awards Dinner Nov. 3 at the Embassy Suites Lexington on Newtown Pike, near Interstate 64/75. Winners of the Institute’s national Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, to be announced soon, will also be recognized at the event.

Previous winners of the Smith Award, and their affiliations at the time, are:
2011: Al Smith
2012: Jennifer P. Brown, Kentucky New Era; and Max Heath, Landmark Community Newspapers
2013: John Nelson, Danville Advocate-Messenger
2014: Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery, The Daily Yonder
2015: Carl West, The (Frankfort) State Journal
2016: Sharon Burton, Adair County Community Voice and The Farmer’s Pride
2017: Ryan Craig, Todd County Standard, and the late Larry Craig, Green River Republican
2018: Stevie Lowery, The Lebanon Enterprise
2019: David Thompson, Kentucky Press Association
2020: Becky Barnes, The Cynthiana Democrat
2021: WKMS News, Murray State University

Recent Ky. disaster the deadliest non-tropical flash flood since 1977; FEMA criticized for being too stingy with relief

The flooding in Eastern Kentucky last week was the nation's deadliest non-tropical flash flood since 1977 (meaning one not tied to a tropical storm or hurricane), Jonathan Erdman reports for The Weather Channel. At least 39 people died and more than 1,300 people had to be rescued. 

Most who survived the flood will have a long road to recovery—one likely made longer by limited government assistance and lack of flood insurance.

On Thursday Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency for denying too many requests for assistance from flood survivors. Specifically, "The governor criticized the application process, saying flood victims were being denied assistance when lacking necessary documents," Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press. "FEMA Press Secretary Jeremy Edwards responded Thursday night that agency personnel will be in the flood-stricken region 'as long as it takes' to help Kentuckians recover. Edwards said the agency’s leadership is working to 'reduce barriers and cut red tape'."

Meanwhile, most survivors will have a hard time rebuilding because only 2.3 percent of the population in the 10-county disaster area had FEMA flood insurance. Many decline to buy the insurance, which costs about $1,000 a year, because they think the premiums are too expensive in relation to the risk of flooding. "Flood coverage is sold separately from homeowners’ insurance policies and is considered vital to disaster recovery because policyholders can collect up to $250,000 in claims payments," Thomas Frank reports for Energy & Environment News. "Federal disaster aid, on the other hand, typically pays residents just a few thousand dollars and covers only temporary home repairs."

Quick hits: Q&A on Mar-a-Lago search; 'corn sweat' boosts Midwest heat wave; rural German gun culture different

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at heather.chapman@uky.edu.

FactCheck.org has a Q&A on the search of Mar-a-Lago. Read more here.

Many suspected the story of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who sought an abortion in Indiana was a hoax, but local journalists were the key to proving it wasn't. Read more here.

One more reason for the heatwave in the Midwest: 'corn sweat' is making the air incredibly humid. Read more here.

Westerners struggle to manage booming wild horse populations. Read more here.

Nearly 40% of Americans in a recent poll said they're tired of the two-party political system. Read more here.

A writer who grew up in rural Germany says guns were ubiquitous there but mass shootings weren't. That's because of key differences in gun culture and government regulation, she writes. Read more here.

New rural coronavirus infections down last week; deaths up

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Aug. 2-8
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The number of new coronavirus infections "fell significantly last week, resulting in rural and metropolitan counties have virtually the same rate of new infections over a seven-day period," Sarah Melotte reports for The Daily Yonder. "New infections in rural counties dropped by about 3% last week compared to two weeks ago, while the number of new infections in metropolitan counties fell by about 9%. Rural counties reported 107,000 new infections while metropolitan counties reported 664,000 new infections. The rate of new infections in metropolitan counties has been higher than the rural rate since early April."

Meanwhile, "Covid-related deaths, a trailing indicator, jumped by 26% in rural counties last week, while metropolitan counties reported a 1.4% rise in deaths. Rural counties reported 625 deaths, up 130 from two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties reported 2,700 deaths, up 38 from two weeks ago," Melotte reports. "The rural death rate was 42% higher than the metropolitan death rate last week. The weekly death rate has been higher in rural counties for all but one week in the last year. The cumulative rate of deaths from Covid-19 is about 37% higher in rural counties than metropolitan ones."

As farmland values rise, so do fears of a price bubble

"Flush with cash, farmers and investors have driven up farmland values this year at breathtaking rates — a 12% gain nationwide and more than 20% in three Farm Belt states. 'Given recent experiences with fluctuations in the broader economy and prior farmland price dynamics, many market participants express concern that the rapid increase in farmland prices is a signal of a speculative bubble,' said three Purdue University economists," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Energy Reporting Network. "While two-thirds of the agricultural professionals who took part in Purdue’s annual land-value survey said prices for top-quality farmland in Indiana were too high, 27% of respondents said they expected prices to climb higher still this year and through 2027." Read more here.

    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    More Americans are going hungry than last summer, due to inflation, but 16 states have ended pandemic food-aid boost

    States in gray opted out. (Stateline map; click to enlarge.)
    More Americans are going hungry than last summer because of soaring food prices, but at least 16 states are refusing extra federal money meant to help the hungry, who are disproportionately rural.

    This July, food costs rose an average of 10.9 percent from the previous July, the biggest single-year jump since 1979, Molly Smith reports for Bloomberg. Eggs and grain-based foods saw some of the biggest increases, owing to the recent avian-flu epidemic that took out millions of laying hens and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has stalled grain shipments. Overall food prices rose 1.14% from June to July, the highest month-over-month increase since April 2020.

    In July, more than 15 million Americans sometimes went hungry because they couldn't afford food, and nearly 6 million often did, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. In July 2021, nearly 12 million sometimes went hungry because they couldn't afford food and 3.6 million often did.

    "Those numbers would have been higher if millions of families hadn’t received extra food aid through a pandemic-related expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps," Kristian Hernández reports for Stateline. "At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic . . . Congress temporarily increased SNAP benefits by raising all benefits by 15% and boosting every household to the maximum benefit allowed for its household size. In April 2021, the Biden administration bumped up the extra aid to a minimum of $95 for all households."

    The 15% increase expired last September, but the maximum-benefit boost will continue as long as a state is still in a state of emergency or disaster due to the pandemic. "As of mid-July, 30 states had ended or allowed their health emergency orders to expire, but 18 of those states continued to qualify for emergency SNAP benefits because they are citing disaster declarations. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency website, every state has at least one active disaster declaration due to Covid-19," Hernández reports. "But at least 16 states now have opted out of providing the emergency allotments, with Republican leaders in some of those states arguing that the extra food aid and other pandemic-related help are contributing to worker shortages across the country."

    Three-quarters of households getting SNAP benefits had at least one adult working in 2018, the most recent data available, "and some researchers have long argued that while Medicaid and other welfare programs might include disincentives to work, SNAP does not," Hernández reports, adding that even with the recent increases in benefits, recipients in over 20% of counties still couldn't afford three modest meals a day last fall—and that was before inflation sent food prices skyrocketing.

    Georgia cut off the extra benefits in June; a spokesperson for Gov. Brian Kemp said Georgians don't need it because of the strong economy and low unemployment rate. "But food banks across Georgia say they have seen an increase in clients since the emergency benefits were cut off," Hernández reports. "Danah Craft, executive director of Feeding Georgia, a network of food banks across the state, said food banks are so overwhelmed they are no longer able to feed people with their usual donations, forcing them to buy food instead." The CEO of another Georgia food bank nonprofit — one which serves mostly rural counties — said households reported getting an extra $89 per month in emergency benefits, but it's not helping much because of higher food prices, Hernández reports.

    "I think some of these benefits are ending because there is an assumption that as we're emerging from the pandemic, that things have returned to normal," Craft told Hernández. "But the reality is that people are faring worse than they did pre-Covid."

    Election security webinar for Ky., N.C., Tenn., Va. and W.Va. set Aug. 18; agency issues guide to digital election threats

    "Promoting elections accuracy and bolstering voter roll maintenance and cybersecurity" is one of six major policy trends to watch in state governments, Bloomberg Government reports, and local, state and federal elections are less than three months away. Next week, five Appalachian states will be the focus of a webinar for journalists and others interested in the topic.

    The Election Cybersecurity Initiative of the University of Southern California will hold the webinar aimed at Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 18. Zoom login information will be provided upon registration, available here.

    Topics of the webinar will include cybersecurity, cyber safety, disinformation, misinformation, and crisis response. Scheduled speakers are:
    • Sarah Mojarad, lecturer, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
    • Clifford Neuman, director, USC Center for Computer Systems Security
    • Dave Quast, adjunct faculty, USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism
    • Marie Harf, international elections analyst, USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative
    • Maurice Turner, election security analyst, USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative
    • Michael Coden, associate director, cybersecurity, MIT Sloan School of Management
    The webinar will be hosted by Adam Clayton Powell III, executive director of the Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Questions? Email truevote@usc.edu.

    Meanwhile, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has released a guide to digital threats facing election officials and how to mitigate them. The Cybersecurity Toolkit to Protect Elections "aims to help election administrators and their staffs protect themselves against threats including phishing, ransomware, email scams, denial-of-service attacks and other vectors that could potentially disrupt the voting process or confuse voters," StateScoop reports.

    More farmers are switching from herbicide dicamba, but that leaves their crops vulnerable to those who still use it

    "Among the many moving targets to keep an eye on this season is off-target dicamba injury in soybeans. And it’s already evident in Midwestern states," Megan Schilling reports for Successful Farming. Agronomists and others in Iowa say they've seen what appear to be dicamba injuries to soybeans that aren't genetically modified to resist the herbicide. "There are reports of widespread damage to soybeans in southern Illinois and complaints of pesticide misuse that specifically mention damage to trees. The signs are cupping in soybean leaves and bare trees in July and August."

    Agronomists had hoped to see less off-target damage this year since many farmers switched from using dicamba-based herbicides to Enlist, a Dow Chemcial system developed to replace Roundup (both contain glyphosate), Schilling reports. The widespread adoption of Enlist means that, even though less dicamba has been sprayed overall, more acres are vulnerable to it.

    "As long as we have dicamba, it's not a question of if we ever will see off-target injury in a year, the only unknown is how extensive it will be," Aaron Hager, associate professor and faculty Extension specialist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told Schilling.

    The heat doesn't help, Hager said: "When there is widespread use of a volatile product like dicamba at times of the growing season where temperatures are much higher than normal, we continue to see the effects across the landscape." Researchers have found that plenty of rain or weekly irrigation are the best ways to help dicamba-injured soybeans recover, but drought can put those options out of reach. Windbreaks with multiple rows of perennial trees and shrubs have also been found to minimize damage, Schilling reports.

    Heat roundup: States help farmers in drought; industries resist mitigation for workers; mountain snowpack shrinks

    While Central Appalachia struggles to recover from record flooding, parts of the western U.S. face the opposite problem: a searing drought that's drying up water sources, killing livestock and withering crops. Here's some of the latest related news:

    Farmers in rural Arizona and Minnesota complain that mega-dairy operations (both owned by the same Minnesota company) are depleting and polluting the aquifers they rely on for irrigation. Read more here.

    As of last week, 234 million acres of crops in 42 states were in varying levels of drought. Route Fifty looks at how three states—Iowa, Kansas, and Utah—are trying to help their farmers. Read more here.

    Extreme heat is making outdoor work more dangerous, but most industries are pushing back against efforts to ensure safe working conditions in the heat. Read more here.

    Experts say climate change threatens farmworkers' health in several ways. Not only is working in extreme heat dangerous, but the heat increases the risk of wildfires; even farmworkers hundreds of miles away can be injured from inhaling the smoke. Read more here.

    Heat and drought are drying up the mountain snowpack that feeds rivers vital for irrigation and drinking water. Losing that snowpack threatens to upend the lives of 76 million Americans. Read more here.

    FCC denies funding to Starlink and LTD, which won rural broadband subsidy auction but don't meet requirements

    "LTD Broadband and SpaceX subsidiary Starlink emerged as two of the top 10 winners in the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund broadband subsidy auction, but the Federal Communications Commission announced they won’t be taking home any winnings," Diana Goovaerts reports for Fierce Telecom. "In a decision issued a year and a half after the auction’s close, the FCC concluded neither would be able to provide the services they promised when bidding in the proceeding."

    LTD was in line for $1.3 billion to bring gigabit internet to 528,000 locations in 15 states, but critics questioned whether a small company could provide services at such a scale, Goovaerts reports. Then LTD was unable to complete the paperwork to show it was an eligible telecommunications carrier in seven of those states by the June 7, 2021, deadline. FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel warned auction winners that they would lose the funding if they couldn't meet their obligations.

    With Starlink, which was to get $885.5 million to provide broadband to nearly 643,000 locations in 35 states, the FCC had several concerns. "In a public notice, the FCC cited recent Ookla data which showed Starlink speeds declined" from the fourth quarter of 2021 and the second quarter of 2022, "well below the promised 20 megabits per second," Goovaerts notes. Though signal reliability doesn't appear to have been a factor in the FCC's decision, a telecoms consultant recently warned that Starlink's satellites are too low in the sky to provide an unobstructed signal to many houses.

    Starlink's affordability was also a key issue for the FCC, Emma Roth reports for The Verge, "Starlink increased the price of its starter kit and internet service earlier this year. To get set up, Starlink users now have to pay a $599 upfront fee for the satellite dish . . . on top of the $110 per month price for internet service. (It previously cost $499 for the starter kit and $99 per month.)"

    Rosenworcel said Starlink's technology is promising, but not ready for large-scale development: "We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future that demands ever more powerful and faster networks. We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements."