Friday, October 05, 2007

Grand Junction, Colo., turns to YouTube to attract newcomers

Grand Junction, Colo., is trying an unusual way to attract new residents: using testimonials on to advertise the community. Local economic-development groups say the area needs more workers, so they have partnered to make Web videos showcasing the opportunities for employment in health care and construction, reports The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, a city of 42,000.

“Businesses are desperate for employees, and this is one way to fulfill that need,” Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland told reporter Le Roy Standish. “It is a good avenue that I think we need to pay attention to. The Generation X and Ys, that’s where they are.” Residents will offer their testimonials about life in the area in the videos, which will be filmed at no cost at the local cable-access channel. The idea came from a similar effort by the chamber of commerce in Des Moines, Iowa, which used "man-on-the-street" interviews in its videos.

In a related story, The Omaha World-Herald describes the work of the Generation Iowa Commission, a group created by Gov. Chet Culver to brainstorm ideas about attracting and retaining young professionals.

Rural development programs work, Rural Policy Research Institute says

The Rural Policy Research Institute continues to argue for a stronger rural-development title in the Farm Bill, saying the latest numbers from the Department of Agriculture show that such investment effectively improves economies of rural areas.

RUPRI's report highlights the USDA's Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, and it says that every dollar invested in the program brought a return of $28 for rural economies. In 2005, the program, which cost $304 million, "leveraged over $6 billion in guaranteed loans, which contributed over $8.5 billion annually to the GDP of rural economies, and created nearly 98,000 full-time equivalent jobs," according to the RUPRI report.

The essence of RUPRI's argument is that commodity payments cannot impact rural economies the way investment in development can. The state of overall rural economies are important, as most farming households' income comes from off-farm sources. When the Senate Agriculture Committee tackles the Farm Bill in two weeks, this argument could play a role in debate over the level of funding for development.

Federal shield-law bill moves closer to a floor vote in the Senate

Legislation that seeks to protect reporters from revealing their sources has taken another step toward a full vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to send the federal shield bill to the floor, reports The Associated Press. The debate over the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 has pitted media outlets and their supporters against the Bush administration and others who fear such a law would endanger national security.

A similar proposal is in the House, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would bring it to a vote this year. "This is fundamental to our democracy and fundamental to the security of our country," she said in a speech to the AP Managing Editors meetign in Washington.

More than 50 news outlets support the bill, as does the Society of Professional Journalists, which issued a statement endorsing the legislation.
“Ultimately, a shield protects the public and the free flow of information that is essential to holding government, corporations, institutions and individuals accountable for their actions," said outgoing SPJ President Christine Tatum.

Senate panel OKs farm disaster aid; ag committee may nix House meat idea

In beginning work on the Farm Bill, the Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved the creation of a $5.1-billion fund that would help farmers who are hit hard by weather-related problems. Under the plan, farmers would have to purchase crop insurance to qualify for the relief. The source of funding for the disaster relief program would come from new restrictions on corporate tax shelters, reports The Des Moines Register from its Washington, D.C., bureau. The changes would bring in about $10 billion over 10 years.

These tighter tax rules, however, could mean a fight with the White House and in the Senate, as some Republicans said the new restrictions amounted to a tax increase, Philip Brasher writes.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, remained a strong supporter of the disaster relief, he disagreed with othe characterization, and he emphasized the importance of having a permanent fund to help farmers, reports the Omaha World-Herald from its D.C. bureau.

"We won't have to go through the trouble of setting up a new way to administer it every time we do (a) disaster package," Grassley told Jake Thompson. "Also, what's most important to me is that this is tied directly to crop insurance. Tying the two together was the only way it will work. "

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, prefers the creation of a broad safety net instead of one focused on disaster relief, reports The Washington Post. Harkin told Dan Morgan that the disaster program is "a priority for three or four states, but not for the country."

In addition to the proposed disaster fund, the committee also agreed to expand subsidies for cellulosic ethanol to $1.28 in tax credits per gallon by reducing the 51-cent per gallon tax credit for corn ethanol to 46 cents. The Agriculture Committee plans to wait to begin work on the rest of the Farm Bill until the week of Oct. 22, right after Congress' week-long holiday for Columbus Day.

Harkin said that when the Senate does begin marking up the House bill, one provision might not make the cut — a change that would allow some state-inspected meat to be sold in other states, reports Currently, smaller meat processing operations must pass federal inspection before being allowed to ship across state lines. This provision "would allow some state-inspected meat to cross state lines if the state's inspection procedures were identical to those performed by federal inspectors," Janie Gabbett writes. She reports that the provision has drawn the attention of consumer groups and opposition from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (Read more)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Edwards takes campaign to tiny Columbus, Ky., winner of online contest

Far more than the 229 residents of Columbus, Ky., greeted presidential candidate John Edwards when he made a campaign stop in the Western Kentucky town on the Mississippi River today. "At least 1,500 people showed up," reports Jose antonio Vargas of The Washington Post. "As unlikely as it seems, this event in the heart of rural America was the result of online grass-roots organizing."

Earlier this year, the Web site had hosted a contest to decide the location of such a stop, and native Shawn Dixon rallied support to help the the town grab 1,817 votes and take the prize. "I think people in the western part of the state and rural America really pulled together to have their voice heard on a national level," Dixon told the Lexington Herald-Leader in July. Dixon made the trip back to Columbus from New York City where he is attending law school.

Edwards spoke at Columbus-Belmont State Park, which is built on a Civil War site known as the "Gibraltar of the West" due to its location on the Mississippi River. In speaking to the crowd, Edwards downplayed recent fundraising and polling numbers that had him well behind his opponents, The Associated Press reports. He said stops such as this one showed his concern for rural America. "Electability goes way beyond money," he said. "My campaign will not be limited to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago." (Read more)

The editorial page of the nearest daily newspaper, The Paducah Sun, posted the cartoon at right a list of 10 snarky questions for Edwards, starting with one about his new mansion and ending with, "You say there are two Americas, 'one for wealthy insiders and one for everyone else.' Question: Could we live in your America for a day?" (Read more)

As more veterinarians chose small animals over large ones, farmers face a 'crisis'

In recent years, fewer and fewer veterinarians have chosen to work with large animals, and that means trouble for farmers. Since 1990, the number of large-animal vets has shrunk to fewer than 4,500, The New York Times reports. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, but it is clear there are just not enough large-animal vets (such as Dr. Becky Myers, in a Times photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik).

First, many current large-animal vets are nearing retirement, such as in Michigan, where the Ionia Sentinel-Standard reports that more than half of the state's food animal vets are approaching retirement age. Secondly, small-animal practices are far more lucrative than large-animal ones. “For Fifi the family dog, you’ll spend $1,500 or $2,000,” Don Armes, a state representative in Oklahoma, told the Times. “That old cow — at some point economics kick in and you say if she’s going to cost $1,500, I can buy two cows for that, so I should have shot her.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports the median starting salary of large-animal veterinarians to be $60,500 — $11,000 less than that of small-animal veterinarians, writes the Times' Pam Belluck. For vets with 25 years or more experience, the median is $98,500 for large-animal practitioners and $122, 500 for small.

The face of veterinary schools also has changed. Women have come to dominate the enrollment of veterinary schools, reports The Boston Globe. Currently, 79 percent of these students are women, compared to the 1960s when women accounted for 6 percent of enrollment. Of these students, few want to work with large animals. And even those that had that interest find the money of small-animal practices too good to turn down, especially since most new vets have about $100,000 in debt.

Not only does the shortage mean headaches for farmers — and often a loss of livestock when medical help is unavailable — it presents problems for food safety and the detection of diseases. “We look at it as a crisis,” Dr. Roger Mahr, the AVMA president told the Times. “Of all the emerging diseases in people in the last 25 years, 75 percent of those were transmitted from animals. Veterinarians are the ones to identify those diseases in animals first.”

Summer drought means fewer, smaller pumpkins in much of U.S.

Nothing says fall like a trip to the pumpkin patch to pick out that perfect jack-o-lantern, but in many places there will be fewer pumpkins this year. The summer's drought means pumpkin production has fallen for the second straight year, reports The Frederick News-Post in Maryland. Eight states in the Northeast and Midwest have reported problems with their pumpkin crops to the Department of Agriculture, and many expect lower than normal yields, writes Ike Wilson. So it might be wise to plan that trip to the patch (like the one at right in a News-Post photo by Doug Koontz) sooner rather than later.

Proposed ethanol plant struggles to break ground in Wisconsin

In recent days, we've seen more and more newspapers ask whether the ethanol boom can keep going. Those have taken a big- picture view, but The Weekly Home News of Spring Green, Wis., reports on how the changing ethanol economy has hampered plans to build a $75 million ethanol plant in Arena, Wis.

Town and Iowa County officials approved the Hartung Brothers Inc. project last year, but rising costs have outpaced the rate of fundraising and thus the plan has been delayed by at least a year, reports David Giffey in the Sept. 26 edition of the 2,700-circulation weekly. The groundbreaking had been planned for the spring of 2007, and the plant originally was scheduled to open in the summer of 2008. And the original $75-million price tag has been raised to at least $100 million. The investors say it's due to recent fluctuations in ethanol and corn prices, with the former going down and the latter rising.

“The bigger issue is does it make as much sense as it did two years ago,” Daniel Hartung, president of the agri-business firm, told Giffey. “No,” he continued, but still maintaining that the plans for the plant with a 40-million gallon per year ethanol output remained viable. During a recent Iowa County planning meeting, Hartung's conditional use permits to produce ethanol there on the agenda, but the future of the possible ethanol plant remained in doubt. (story not online)

UPDATE, Oct. 5: VeraSun Energy has stopped construction of an ethanol plant in Reynolds, Ind., citing current market conditions, Brownfield Network reports.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Knight Foundation offers millions in awards for digital innovations in community news

It's no secret the digital age has changed journalism — the fact that you're reading a blog devoted rural issues and journalism is just one sign. Last year, Adrian Holovaty, left, won $1.1 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Knight News Challenge, designed to spark the next wave of innovations that use digital technology to improve community journalism.

This is the second year of the program, which plans to invest $25 million over five years to inspire new ideas. Winning entries will involve digital media, the delivery of news on a shared basis and be applicable to a geographically defined community. Holovaty won for his idea to create, test and release open-source software that links databases to allow citizens of a large city to learn and act on civic information about their neighborhood or block. Knight awarded 25 grants to ideas such as the cell-phone distribution of video news reports from mobile young journalists on the 2008 presidential election and online games to inform and engage players about key issues confronting New York City.

The deadline for this year's challenge is Oct. 15, and the online entry form is available

Virginia cracking down on smoking, substance abuse in coal mines

To fight smoking and the abuse of controlled substances and alcohol in Virginia's coal mines, the state has added tougher drug testing policies and required all mines to have substance -abuse policies.

In September, 32 cases related to substance-abuse charges and two cases involving smoking materials came before the Board of Coal Mining Examiners, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Twenty-two miners lost their mining certification when they failed to show for the hearing. On Sept. 20 a miner from Lee County was sentenced to two years in the Virginia State Penitentiary for possessing smoking materials in an underground mine.

“Substance abuse has reached near epidemic proportions in our society, and the introduction of such behavior into the mining workplace significantly raises the risk of accidents, injuries and fatalities,” said DMME Division of Mines Chief Frank Linkous.

In addition to the aggressive prosecution, Virginia has passed changes to coal mine safety laws. As of July, a state mine safety inspector can order a miner to take a drug test if the inspector believes the miner is impaired or was impaired during an accident. Each mine must also have a written substance abuse policy and program, which at least must include a pre-employment 11-panel urine test. The DMME says that while it will work with miners who seek treatment, it will not hesitated to revoke the certification of those that endanger their coworkers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Another federal agency warned three years ago of potential dangers at Utah coal mine

Testimony during a mine-safety hearing yesterday led to questions about why federal agencies had not shared their concerns about Utah's Crandall Canyon Mine.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., asked
Kevin Stricklin, Mine Safety and Health Administration administrator for coal mine safety and health, why the agency had "missed the warning flags about serious safety problems" at the Utah mine where six miners and three rescue workers were killed, reports James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

Kennedy pointed to a report by the Bureau of Land Management that noted structural problems at the Crandall Canyon mine, but Stricklin said MSHA had no contact with that agency. "This is like the CIA not getting information from the FBI when we're getting attacked by terrorists," Kennedy told Stricklin.

The November 2004 BLM report said that the mine's pillars of coal were not stable and advised against attempts to remove them, reports The Associated Press. Still, MSHA did not get this report. While questioned by Kennedy, Stricklin did admit that such information likely would have influenced the agency's decision to approve mining at Crandall Canyon. (Read more)

Tribes, New York governor say Interior secretary is biased against off-reservation gaming

Indian tribes contend Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is letting his personal beliefs dictate policy when it comes to off-reservation gaming, reports the Legal Times. Tribes say they have submitted applications for gaming facilities, only to see lengthy delays in the processing — delays they say are costing them millions of dollars, writes Carrie Levine. Some tribes, such as the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York, have been outspoken with their complaints about Kempthorne, but others are holding back publicly — at least until after the next presidential administration takes control.

Tribes and others have asked Congress to correct these delays. The Native Americans' allies include New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who sent a strong letter to Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a fellow Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, asking for a hearing. Writing on behalf of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, he said Kempthorne, “as a government official, should not be able to hold up a project by a continuing failure to reach a decision,” and notes that the tribe’s application has been complete for about seven months. “I am aware that Secretary Kempthorne does not like off-site Indian casinos, but this cannot be the basis of a refusal to act.”

When he was governor of Idaho, Kempthorne, a Republican, opposed nonreservation casinos, a stance that many say is guiding his work at the Interior Department, Levine writes. “As secretary, he has a different role to play, and he has to reconcile his public policy stance with his role as a trustee," an Interior spokeswoman told Levine. "So he’s looking at past precedents and decisions, and the circumstances in individual cases, in order to come up with a proper, well-founded, balanced decision." (Read more; registration or subscription required)

Fla. paper founded to advocate better growth management wins battle with election agency

A Florida Panhandle newspaper founded to advocate better management of growth in rural, coastal Wakulla County, and published occasionally, has won its legal battle with the Florida Elections Commission -- but no reimbursement of $80,000 in legal fees for its American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.

Responding to a complaint, the commission said in 2005 that the Wakulla Independent Reporter might have to report its finances if deemed to be an "electioneering communication," not a "newspaper" as defined in the law. "Investigators questioned [Publisher Julia] Hanway's failure to print the name of a publisher or to include obituaries, wedding announcements and ads from local businesses," and said the paper was campaigning against certain county commissioners, writes Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times.

The commission found no probable cause to believe that the paper knowingly broke the law, but Hanway and the ACLU "took the state to federal court, charging a violation of the First Amendment," writes Jim Ash of the Tallahassee Democrat, published in the county just north of Wakulla. "Regulators vigorously fought the suit, but dramaticaly changed course and acknowledged that Hanway was publishing a newspaper after they lost an initial round in court." In his order dismissing the case last week, federal judge Robert Hinkle said the commission's executive director “saw the light only on the courthouse steps, indeed, only in the courtroom itself.” (Read more)

Morgan said the case "effectively shut down" the Reporter for more than a year, and openly questioned the judge's denial of legal fees in the first sentence of her story: "Sometimes a courtroom victory leaves one wondering about the cost of justice." She quoted Hanway as saying, "It's a mystery to me how Hinkle could have come up with this determination, because the FEC would never have relented if I had not had attorneys who were willing to fight the FEC's original decision." She told Morgan the next Reporter "will be out shortly." (Read more)

Editor of small daily in Louisiana reflects on covering the "Jena Six" as a local story

Long before CNN and The New York Times came to Louisiana to cover what became known as the "Jena Six," The Town Talk of Alexandria, about 30 miles away, had been reporting the whole story — and doing it in way only a local newspaper could. The 32,000-circulation daily had the story first, and for the last 12 months it has published more than 110 articles about the case and the surrounding events. Even as the story exploded, this local newspaper kept its coverage grounded in the context of the community.

Executive Editor Paul Carty, above, offers what he's learned from the experience in a Q&A with Poynter Online's Al Tompkins. It's an interesting read that shows how the paper (owned by Gannett Co. Inc.) made its choices in coverage.

During the e-mail interview, Carty offered what he sees as the clear differences between the local and national coverage. "It's much easier for journalists who come into the story from a distance to arrive at conclusions that are based on less information, or to agree with someone else's conclusions (prepackaged and e-mailed, thank you very much)," he said. "The probability of assuming information and drawing conclusions increases significantly with physical and chronological distance from any story."

In addition to the extensive coverage the newspaper has done in print, its Web site has great resources as well, including a section that answers readers' basic questions about the "Jena Six." The newspaper also has archived each of the articles related to case, as well as video and audio clips, and all are available to readers.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekly newspaper in Kentucky prints its editorial again to rebut local official's letter

When it comes to debate on the editorial page, The Licking Valley Courier, a weekly newspaper in West Liberty, Ky., knows how to get in the last word.

On Sept. 20, the 4,500-circulation newspaper ran an editorial denouncing the aborted prosecution of Morgan County Judge Executive Tim Conley, who was the first Republican elected (now twice elected) to that position in 70 years. The editorial called a special grand jury that indicted Conley "the product of an ill-advised and destructive political vendetta." The charges, of using county assets on private property, were dropped but could be refiled.

In its Sept. 27 edition, the paper published a letter from County Attorney Steve O'Connor, saying the editorial "missed the point and seeks in its own way to influence the pending legal proceeding for political purposes — the same sort that the Courier claims to dislike." The letter was followed by an editor's note saying, "Last week's editorial was about fairness and decency and common sense and human judgment, and it did not miss the point. It is reprinted elsewhere on the page." And so it was, with the identification of Editor and Publisher Earl W. Kinner as a Democrat. Also on the page was "The Judge's Corner," a letter from Conley, in which he discussed the biggest story of the week in Morgan County, the upcoming Sorghum Festival. The front page had a color photo of the nominees for Sorghum Queen, wearing overalls.

Salisbury, N.C., police challenge New York Times reporter's account of arrest

In Sunday's New York Times, reporter Solomon Moore described anti-gang tactics of law enforcement in North Carolina, reporting that he experienced those measures firsthand in Salisbury, population 26,000, in August. (Times photo, by Chris Keane, shows a Charlotte officer checking an identification.)

In his article, which reported allegations that police are using racial profiling, Moore wrote that he came to a corner in Salisbury after midnight on Aug. 9, and observed several drug deals. The crowd dispersed when alerted that police were coming. Moore stuck around, and that's when the trouble started. When the police arrived, Moore said he was grabbed, handcuffed and slammed on the hood of a police car "without so much as a question."

Moore's story, headlined "Reporting While Black," drew fire from Police Chief Mark Wilhelm and City Manager David Treme. They told Salisbury Post reporter Mark Wineka that the three police officers acted appropriately, since Moore verbally resisted arrest and refused to remove his hands from his pockets. In Wineka's article, Wilhelm said that given the high-crime area and Moore's unknown identity, "Any officer in the same situation would have done the same thing." They said that once Moore's identity had been confirmed, officers offered to let him accompany them as they continued to target high-crime areas as part of their special operation, but he declined.

Salisbury has stepped its effort against gangs as a result of the gang-related shooting death of a 13-year-old in March. Mayor Susan Kluttz said she apologized to Moore during a 45-minute conversation in which she detailed the efforts taken by the city to curtail gang violence. She said she was proud of her police but disappointed that Moore's article focused on this incident and not the positive efforts made by Salisbury.

Western Carolina University makes rural community contributions part of tenure process

At American colleges and universities, tenure is the ultimate prize for professors. At Western Carolina University, faculty members have a new way to earn tenure and promotions -- how they apply their scholarship to real problems in the rural areas near its campus.

With an enrollment of 9,055, WCU is located near Cullowhee, N.C., a small community about 50 miles west of Asheville, N.C. It is one of the 16 universities in the North Carolina system, and the first to adopt the reward system that recognizes multiple forms of scholarship, especially those with real-world applications. The system is based upon the “Boyer Model of Scholarship,” a system named for Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as its recognition of the "scholarship of application” connects with university’s vision, said WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo.

“The scholarship of application is not merely service to the community,” said Bardo. “Instead, it is a rigorously designed project of scholarship or research that is intended to answer critical questions in the surrounding community. It requires faculty members to engage with the broader community, to understand the community’s needs, and to gain sufficient knowledge of the situation so that they are able to design and execute research to address those specific needs.”

Examples include a program from WCU psychology professors that is designed to curb childhood obesity, as well as the work of business professors who are guiding students as they help Canton, N.C., recover from flooding in 2004. Biologists are working with Cherokee scholars to restore rivercane, which has long played an important in the tribe's culture. WCU's program, and others like it, could spark good things for rural areas, especially since the work will have more than just intrinsic rewards for those on the academic side.

N.Y. Times notes circulation reductions by metro papers, including cutbacks in rural areas

Many metropolitan newspapers have sacrificed certain categories of readers and potential readers because they are too expensive to solicit, serve and retain, writes Richard Perez-Pena, the media reporter for The New York Times. Pena's story focuses on urban circulation, but at the end he mentions cuts by papers that said rural circulation was too expensive to maintain.

You've read here about rural circulation cuts by papers in Portland, San Francisco, Louisville and Atlanta. Pena writes, "The most striking recent example is The Dallas Morning News. Last year, it stopped distribution outside a 200-mile radius, and weekday circulation tumbled 15 percent to a little over 400,00o. This year, the paper imposed a 100-mile limit. It expects to show another drop in sales when new figures are reported this month."

Jim Moroney, the paper's publisher and chief executive, told Pena, “We were distributing in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, way down in south Texas. It cost too much money getting the papers to those places, and this clearly wasn’t anything our advertisers were giving us value for.” Though many rural readers have complained, “I have no regrets,” Moroney said. “The people who really want to read The Dallas Morning News can still get it online.”

Yes, if they use the Internet and have decent access. And what about the paper's coverage in those areas? Usually, when a paper stops circulating in an area, it has less interest in news coverage there. On today's Texas/Southwest page of the Morning News' site, only two of the 10 stories are staff-written: Our friend Bob Garrett's story about foul-ups in a state program for foster children and a two-reporter article about shrinkage of a federal guest-worker program.

When metro papers become more metro, those in smaller cities and rural areas need to pick up the slack, covering the issues and providing the watchdog journalism envisioned by the First Amendment. That's one of the reasons for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Small daily paper in Minnesota runs series to chronicle attempts to curb youth suicide

Beltrami County in Minnesota has the state's highest suicide rate for people under 35, but a recent series from The Bemidji Pioneer showed signs of progress in dealing with a problem that can be a touchy one for community newspapers.

The latest entry in this continuing coverage highlighted Beltrami Middle School's prevention program and its effects. Since the program's inception more than two years ago, no students have committed suicide and fewer have been hospitalized for suicide attempts, writes Michelle Ruckdaschel. "The suicide prevention program provides suicide awareness training to staff and students and offers students the opportunity to participate in coping skills, stress management, problem-solving and chemical awareness groups," she writes, adding that it includes education for parents as well.

The program came as result of a study done by the Minnesota Department of Health that showed Beltrami County's suicide rate for people under 35 was twice the state's average. In response, staff at the middle school proposed the program and helped hire a part-time suicide prevention specialist to run it.

The article comes on the heels of others done by 9,500-circulation daily paper that explore the issue of youth suicide and how Beltrami County has responded to it. Reporter Molly Miron wrote an article about how grieving families worked to raise the issue during Suicide Awareness Week. She wrote another article explaining the work of the Beltrami Area Suicide Prevention Task Force. The Pioneer followed these stories up with an editorial that said suicide prevention should remain a priority. The pieces provide a solid series as well as an example for other smaller daily newspapers. (The older articles require a subscription fee.)

Editor at well-regarded paper in California leaves to become assistant to the city manager

When Greg Clark, left, took a job with his hometown newspaper, the Record Searchlight in Redding, Calif., he never expected to stay too long. That plan changed, but after 31 years at the 34,000-circulation daily paper, he is moving to "the other side" to become assistant to the city manager. His new job will involve handling the budget for the city manager's office, working with the state legislature and conducting hearings.

“The Record Searchlight, to a great extent, reflects three decades of Greg Clark and his work as a journalist here,” Silas Lyons, the paper’s editor, told Record Searchlight reporter Dylan Darling. After earning a journalism degree from the University of Oregon, Clark was hired as an education reporter in 1976. He became assistant city editor in 1981 on his way to being named managing editor in 1996. In his time there, Clark helped guide the well-regarded newspaper's addition of a Sunday edition and its move from afternoon to morning delivery. (Read more)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ethanol glut, price drop, transport issues make some wonder if the boom is over

Lots of people have been writing about the possibility that the ethanol boom will go bust, because of overproduction, and that prospect is now in the minds of many more people, since it is the subject of a New York Times story that was published in many newspapers today.

"Companies and farm cooperatives have built so many distilleries so quickly that the ethanol market is suddenly plagued by a glut," partly because it can't be transported in pipelines from the Midwest to the more populated coasts. "The average national ethanol price on the spot market has plunged 30 percent since May, with the decline escalating sharply in the last few weeks," Clifford Krauss writes from Nevada, Iowa.

Iowa State University economic professor Neil Harl told Krauss the boom may have already ended, but "Some analysts outside the industry think the current market upheaval may be more than simply a hiccup," Krauss writes. One is Aaron Brady at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, but even he says, "If Congress doesn’t substantially raise the renewable fuel standard, then this is not just a short term problem but a long term issue, and there will be more of a shakeout in the industry." The Senate-passed energy bill "would require gasoline producers to blend 36 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline by 2022, an increase from the current standard of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012," but it is unclear whether the House will follow suit, Krauss writes. (Read more)

Barbara Kingsolver makes us think about the connections between work and food

"In my neighborhood of Southwest Virginia, backyard gardens are as common as satellite dishes," author Barbara Kingsolver, right, writes for The Washington Post. But elsewhere, "My generation has absorbed an implicit hierarchy of values in which working the soil is poor people's toil. Apparently we're now meant to rise above even touching the stuff those people grow. The real labors of keeping a family fed (as opposed to the widely used metaphor) are presumed tedious and irrelevant. A woman confided to me at a New York dinner party, 'Honestly, who has time to cook anymore? My daughter will probably grow up wondering what a kitchen is used for.' The lament had the predictable blend of weariness and braggadocio, unremarkable except for this woman's post at the helm of one of the nation's major homemaking magazines. . . . On the other side of the world from that New York dinner party, another influential woman gave me an opposite perspective on leaving behind the labor and culture of food: that it's impossible. We only transform the tasks, she claims -- and not necessarily for the better."

Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, which operates Navdanya, a farm-based institute that helps rural Indians "learn how to free themselves from chemicals, indebtedness and landlessness," Kingsolver writes. "Shiva's research has shown that returning to more traditional multi-crop food farms can offer them higher, more consistent incomes than modern single-crop fields of export commodities."

Here is Kingsolver's main point: "Industrial farming -- however destructive to the land and our nutrition -- has held out as its main selling point the allure of freedom: Two percent of the population would be able to feed everyone. The rest could do as we pleased. Shiva sees straight through that promise. 'Most of those who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers: as cashiers, truck drivers, even the oil-rig workers who generate the fuels to run the trucks. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system. And many of those jobs are menial, life-taking work, instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land. The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50 to 60 percent of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population. Industrial agriculture did not 'save' anyone from that work, it only shifted people into other forms of food service.' Waiting tables, for instance, or driving a truck full of lettuce, or spending 70 hours a week in an office overseeing a magazine full of glossy ads selling food products. Surprise: There is no free lunch. No animal can really escape the work of feeding itself." (Read more)

Legal actions against polluters have declined sharply during Bush administration, Post reports

The day before President Bush was re-elected, high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency official Stephen L. Johnson, right, told a group of farmers in Georgia, "The days of the guns and badges are over." Johnson is now the administrator of EPA, and his line has proved accurate. EPA prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions of polluters are all down by more than a third, write John Solomon and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

"The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s," the Post reports. "The EPA now employs 172 investigators in its Criminal Investigation Division, below the minimum of 200 agents required by the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act," and the number available at any particular time is even less "agents said, because they sometimes are diverted to other duties, such as Johnson's security staff of eight.

"Administration officials said they are not ignoring the environment but are focusing on major cases that secure more convictions against bigger players," but "acknowledge taking a new approach to environmental enforcement by seeking more settlements and plea bargains that require pollution reductions through new equipment purchases or participation in EPA compliance programs," the Post reports.

Wendell Berry says he will resume voting, though land issues he cares about have gotten worse

Wendell Berry, the author-farmer who is a leading advocate of conservation and sustainable agriculture, "struck a nerve with voters" when he wrote a letter to The Courier-Journal in July, saying that he had stayed away from the polls in Kentucky's May gubernatorial primary because he couldn't "submit again to the indignity of trying to pick the least undesirable candidate," since the only one who talked about land use and questioned mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal had dropped out of the race.

But Berry told The C-J's Peter Smith that he will vote in the Nov. 7 general election. "I'm going to vote for the Democrats, because it seems to me that the Republicans have such an abysmal record that some kind of change needs to be made," he said. "On the other hand -- and the problem with this conversation is that there's always another hand -- I'm not excited about voting for the Democrats." Berry's brother, John Berry Jr., was Democratic leader of the state Senate more than 25 years ago.

Berry, 73, told Smith that the issues he wrote about 30 years ago, in the seminal book "The Unsettling of America," such as industrialized agriculture and strip mining, "have all gotten worse." Still, Smith writes, some "compare the book with the environmental manifesto of the 1960s, Rachel Carlson's 'Silent Spring,' citing its impact on those seeking more say in where their food comes from." Norman Wirzba, a Georgetown (Ky.) College philosophy professor and editor of a collection of Berry's essays, told Smith, "He was a voice crying in the wilderness. A lot of people are listening now." (Read more) For L. Elisabeth Beattie's C-J review of "Wendell Berry: Life and Work," a collection of essays and articles about Berry, edited by Jason Peters, click here.

Growers, law-enforcement officers fight out another marijuana-harvest season in Appalachia

It's harvest time for most crops, including marijuana, and that means big money for some rural people and danger for the law-enforcement officers who risk boobytraps to catch them. The Courier-Journal's Chris Kenning of takes a look at the industry in Kentucky, where more pot is confiscated than in any state but California -- mainly in the state's Appalachian counties and particularly on public land in the Daniel Boone National Forest. (Photo of state police by Matt Stone, The C-J)

"Authorities say their efforts keep drugs off the streets and illicit profits out of criminal hands," Kenning writes for the Louisville newspaper. "But critics call it a waste of time and money that has failed to curb availability or demand." Eastern Kentucky University criminal justice professor Gary Potter, a longtime student of the phenomenon, told The C-J, "Trying to eradicate marijuana is like taking a teaspoon and saying you're going to empty the Atlantic Ocean."

Kenning writes, "Many of the small towns of Eastern Kentucky, steeped in a tradition of bootlegging moonshine, also have high rates of unemployment, poverty and in some cases, public corruption, according to federal drug officials. . . . Over time, growing pot has become an 'accepted and even encouraged' part of the culture in Appalachia, according to a recent federal drug intelligence analysis. Authorities complain that in some counties it is difficult to get a jury to indict, much less convict, a marijuana grower."

"I think it's the lack of economic opportunities that's really driven this beast," Lt. Ed Shemelya, head of the Kentucky State Police marijuana unit, told Kenning in a four-minute video that accompanies the story. The new enforcement wrinkle this year is that the Department of Justice has dropped its "usual 100-plant threshold used as a guideline to bring federal cultivation charges. . . . The idea is to push more growers onto private land, which can be seized."

Most of the region is part of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (map below), 68 counties in Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee and West Virginia that "have less than 1 percent of the country's population, but were home to roughly 10 percent of the marijuana eradicated nationwide in 2006," Kenning writes. (Read more) For a map of other HIDTAs around the country, click here.