A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Novel about mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal is about what we see and choose not to see
In a book review for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Zaring writes, "Though there is an unmistakable agenda here -- Pancake's voice rising out against mountaintop removal, nearly every chapter spotlighting some aspect of strip-mining's destructive effects -- the story never falls into sentimentalism or didacticism. Through the unique, convincing viewpoints of multiple characters, Pancake manages to edify without preaching -- or judging. The coal companies' employees, for example, are just trying to put bread on the table, the coal companies themselves the embodiment of humanity's age-old thirst for power. And we are made to see our own culpability in each character's refusal to see, at one point or other, what they feel helpless to fix. ... Strange As This Weather Has Been is not just a story about Appalachians or mountaintop removal. It is a story about vision -- what we choose to see and not to see." (Read more)
Do Huckabee's GOP critics think he's too rural?
"Huckabee, despite an inept last week of campaigning, has forced the Republican Party to face the Wal-Mart shoppers that they have long taken advantage of," Egan writes. "He’s here. He’s Gomer. And he’s not going away. Huckabee revels in the class war. He’s Two-Buck Huck, and darn proud of it. He likes nothing better than playing the Hick from Hope. He and his wife lived in a trailer for a while, he points out. His son killed a dog one summer, 'a mangy dog' at that, as Huckabee explained to the befuddled national press corps. He said he used to eat squirrels, cooking them up in his popcorn popper. Ewwwwhhh!"
More from Egan, who once covered the rural West for the Times: "It’s okay to have faux rubes, a la Bush senior and his pork rinds, or George W. and his Midland malapropisms. But when something that looks like the real thing comes along, the Republican royalists get apoplectic. They were appalled at the recent YouTube debate because it looked like a parody of one faction of their party – complete with Bible-waving wackos, trigger-happy gun nuts and Confederate-flag enthusiasts." (Read more)
Landmark chairman says decision to sell was his
Batten said his idea was approved by other family members, including his father, Frank Batten Sr., who built the company into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. "Although Batten, who will turn 81 next month, has suffered from a number of ailments in recent years, his son described him as healthy and fully recovered from a broken hip," Walzer writes. Batten Jr. said he would avoid selling the company to “inappropriate buyers,” but did not elaborate.
Walzer tells more about the company and the prospective sale: "The several hundred shareholders include family members, some longtime employees and executives, and former Landmark workers, with about 15 individuals or personal trusts having 1 percent or more outstanding stock. The announcement, coming during a depressed period for the newspaper industry, confounded some media researchers. But John Morton, a veteran newspaper analyst and president of Morton Research Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., said the Battens might have chosen to act before profit margins erode further." Others agreed.
Here is more on the company's community-newspaper subsidiary.
Bristol Herald-Courier opposes new coal-fired power plant proposed for southwest Virginia
"Pollution from the plant still poses a threat to the health of those who will live in its shadow. Their lives are every bit as valuable as the health of a forest 100 miles away -- even if they don’t have the clout and influence of the U.S. Forest Service to make their case," opined the 38,000-circulation Media General paper on the Tennessee- Virginia line. For a blog item on Dominion's deal with USFS, click here.
"Dominion argues that its plant will use the newest technology and be much cleaner than the older plants" in the region, the editorial says. "This is true. If the Dominion plant replaced the older plants, that might be a decent trade. But such a swap isn’t in the cards. This is addition, not subtraction. Dominion, which doesn’t even provide power to this region, wants to construct the Wise County plant to meet energy demands in fast-growing Northern Virginia."
The fight over the plant is "one of what will likely be dozens of battles between and power companies planning to build new plants in rural areas," says the Daily Yonder, which has this picture of the plant site.
Local, state officials will fight to restore 67 percent cut in federal grants for drug, other enforcement
The Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program "helps pay for a host of law enforcement initiatives in states and cities, including drug task forces, anti-gang units and overtime for police officers," writes John Gramlich of Stateline. "Drug enforcement agents in Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Montana, and North Carolina have warned their agencies face cuts and possible closure." For the first Rural Blog item on that, with examples, click here.
David Steingraber, president of the National Criminal Justice Association, told Stateline, “Congress has just made the job of every police officer in this country more difficult.” Gramlich adds, "The association has blamed the funding shortage on members of Congress who favored pet projects over anti-crime dollars." (Read more)
Obama and rural Iowa: signs of weakness?
A detailed map of the caucus results suggests that Mr. Obama's argument was not convincing to Democrats in many rural stretches of the state," writes Zeleny, a former reporter for Iowa newspapers. "Had he not won in Iowa’s largest three counties, in addition to a strong showing along the Mississippi River in the east, the outcome would almost certainly have been different. Over the last year, Mr. Obama’s reception in rural Iowa counties seemed to steadily improve, judging by listening to more enthusiastic applause from his audiences. At many stops, though, he would face questions from conservative Democrats about gun control and immigration, and his answers did not always meet the approval of voters."
But Obama did get many rural votes, at least one from a man who was turned off by what may have been racial or ethnic prejudice against him, Zeleny reports. He quotes an e-mail from a woman in a rural area whose husband was originally for Hillary Clinton: "He changed before the count as he heard people stating they could not vote for someone with a last name like Obama," and "heard not one negative bit of talk" in the Obama preference group at the caucus. (Read more)
McCain leads in rural counties in New Hampshire
The Jan. 3-4 poll found Mitt Romney, former governor of adjoining Massachusetts, leading the Arizona senator 30 percent to 26 percent, within the poll's error margin of 4.4 percentage points for each result. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani each had 11 percent. McCain had surged to a clear, 9-point lead a week ago.
In Rockingham and Hillsborough counties -- the urbanized southeast and the Boston media market -- Romney led McCain 39 percent to 20 percent in the latest poll. In the more rural counties to the west and north, McCain led Romney, 30 to 20. "It would seem that the voters in the two counties that border Massachusetts have adopted . . . Romney as their favorite son,” David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said in a release. Giuliani and Huckabee ran about the same in rural and urban areas.
There were no statistically significant rural-urban differences among candidates in the Democratic primary, in which New York Sen. Hillary Clinton had 36 percent to 29 percent for a surging Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 13 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. For details, click here.
UPDATES: McCain leads Romney 33 to 27 percent in the latest University of New Hampshire poll for WMUR-TV and CNN, taken yesterday and today. Three days ago, they were tied. Obama and Clinton are tied at 33 percent, with Edwards at 20 percent. The poll's error margin is plus or minus 5 percent. (Read more) The Concord Monitor reports that its polling yesterday and today shows McCain leading Romney, 35 to 29 percent, and Obama leading Clinton, 34 to 33 percent -- all within the poll's error margin of 5 percentage points for each result. Read blog post from 4:13 p.m.; story is pending as of 7:25 p.m.
Friday, January 04, 2008
San Angelo editor emeritus, sacked, hits media biz
"Today, instead of serving primarily as watchdogs, we deliver entertainment fodder interspersed with glitzy ads for consumers. The newspaper's value is measured not by how well it reflects and elevates its community, but by how much money it makes," Flippin wrote.
"How do CEOs earn fat bonuses? In part, by putting loyal and talented employees such as me on the street. As an owner of company stock, I am conflicted. Without drastic measures, the value of my stock will plummet. Yet the salvation of newspapers may come only when Wall Street gets out of the news biz and puts presses back in the hands of private owners -- as it was before this roller coaster ride began." (Read more) For more on Flippin's career, from The Associated Press, click here.
Reducing farms' fertilizer runoff has big price tag
Perry Beeman of The Des Moines Register writes, "It would cost $613 million per year to cut farm-field phosphorus runoff by 40 percent and nitrates by 25 percent," as the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed. The study by ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development "also found that the seven most common conservation techniques already used in Iowa cost a combined $435 million a year."
"Water quality has become a huge issue in Iowa," where streams "have some of the highest fertilizer concentrations in the world, leaving the water green with algae and with a lower diversity of fish than clean water would support," Beeman writes. "EPA is requiring states to come up with the nation's first limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, which occur naturally and also are main ingredients of fertilizer. . . . Nitrates are a health threat at high levels in drinking water, and cause a low-oxygen 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico each summer. Phosphorus feeds algae blooms that can stress or kill fish when the algae suck up oxygen as they decompose." (Read more)
Indiana county considers restrictions on confined and concentrated animal feeding operations
“Agriculture is under attack,” said Joe Russell, a farmer and member of the county council. “The confidence and trust in farmers is no longer there. It seems like we’re being attacked quite a bit.” He said the change would amount to Indiana's tightest restrictions on CAFOs and prevent any more from being established in the county, reports Seth Slabaugh of The Star Press.
The story didn't mention any arguments for the proposal, but a photo caption said Marita Fields of Albany, a town of 2,400 near Jay and Randolph counties, was "concerned about the property value of the rental home she owns." (Read more)
Isolated county involves residents in economic plan
They had some help, from the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation in Logan, pop. 603, also in Phillips County. A man who served on the boards of both entities got the foundation to give the institute a grant to prepare a new model for community development in the county, based on leadership and entrepreneurship.
The project included two components: Outreach to entrepreneurs and a county-wide community engagement process," Institute Director Ron Wilson writes. "Hundreds of citizens came to meetings at the Huck Boyd Community Center and provided great input on their hopes and goals for the future. A core group of volunteers stepped forward to serve on the steering committee for Discover Phillips County. They developed a vision statement and identified strategic focus areas plus action steps to be implemented. One goal was a county-wide cleanup implemented in spring 2007." (Read more)
Rural votes are key to Huckabee's victory in Iowa
In the Democratic race, winner Barack Obama's votes came mainly from urban counties, while Hillary Clinton and, especially, John Edwards got most of their votes from rural counties. "Obama, the young Illinois senator from Chicago, won rural Iowa, but he did considerably better in the cities," Bishop and Ardery report. Obama got 34 percent of the rural vote, while Edwards had 32 percent and Clinton 31 percent.
The Yonder counts nine of Iowa's 99 counties as urban. They have a little less than half the state's population. For more figures and analysis, and caucus reporting from a small newspaper in northern Iowa, click here.
Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network reports that both winners touched on agriculture issues in their victory speeches, but Huckabee had more to say: "One of the country's greatest needs is to make sure that we not only can fuel ourselves, but we can feed ourselves, and that's why farmers in states like your's and mine are important. I don't want us to have to wait until we have to let the Chinese send food over to us. My friends, if you think it's bad to depend on foreign oil, wait until this country messes up and has to depend on foreign food - that should never happen in the United States of America!" (Read more)
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Landmark, a leading rural publisher, explores sale
“We are exploring strategic alternatives, and that can entail a number of possibilities, one of which is the sale of the company’s businesses,” Richard Barry III, the parent firm's vice chairman, told The Virginian-Pilot, the company's flagship paper. It also owns The News and Record of Greensboro, N.C., and The Roanoke Times. "Officials are holding a series of meetings this afternoon with Virginian-Pilot employees to discuss plans to explore selling the Norfolk-based company," Bill Choyke, Jim Washington and Philip Walzer write for the Norfolk daily, quoting an e-mail from Chairman Frank Batten Jr.: "At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead."
Landmark's best known and most profitable property is The Weather Channel, "one of the last privately owned cable channels in the United States," they write. (Read more) "It ranked 42nd in total viewers among all advertising-supported cable networks" during the third quarter, reports Jon Lafayette of TV Week. The channel's Web site, Weather.com, had more than 32 million unique users in November, making it the 18th largest media site by traffic, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
The company's community newspaper subsidiary, based in Shelbyville, Ky., has "54 paid newspapers in 13 states, 40 free newspapers and shoppers, 16 offset commercial printing plants, seven collegiate sports publications, and 30 special publications such as real estate guides and homes magazines," according to its Web site. The papers are known for their quality and local editorial autonomy.
UPDATE, Jan. 4: The sale of Landmark's papers would be "the largest sale of Kentucky media properties" ever, as far as the number of markets affected, Al Cross of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues tells Jim Jordan of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The Herald-Leader map shows LCNI has 17 weeklies, a daily and a publication that follows University of Kentucky sports. More Cross, via Jordan: "Landmark's Kentucky newspapers would probably be sold as a group because they are clustered in adjoining counties to reduce business costs, such as printing, he said. 'The most immediate threat' to strong news coverage would occur, Cross added, if a new owner decided to consolidate news operations and report news for several local papers from only one location. 'These are distinctive local editorial voices, which I think is important,' he said. 'If you run into clustering and consolidation on the editorial side to save money, there is probably going to be a decline in quality.'" (Read more)
Iowa caucuses put spotlight on farm and rural vote
Chozick reports two reasons for the shift: Democratic support for a Farm Bill that includes "controls on big agribusiness companies and subsidies for farmers," and the poll's finding that "nearly 60 percent of all rural U.S. citizens are close to, or related to, someone serving in Iraq." For such people, "This is not a television war, " Chris Peterson, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, told the reporter. For the pollsters' memo about the survey, click here.
Chozick reports that former Sen. John Edwards has "the advantage for farm votes" in Iowa. "He draws huge support in agricultural areas, where fans relate to his background and anti-corporate message," she writes, but adds, "Mr. Edwards's opponents aren't ceding the rural turf." New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has farmers from her state touring Iowa to say how she has helped them, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama "has introduced a package of farm- and rural-development policies, including plans to rejuvenate rural communities by cultivating alternative energies such as wind farms and ethanol." But she adds, "Mr. Obama raised eyebrows in Adel when he asked a crowd of poor farmers: 'Anybody gone into a Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?' The upscale organic-supermarket chain doesn't have a single store in Iowa." (Read more; subscription may be required)
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Bill bolstering Freedom of Information Act is law
The bill, S. 2488, also creates a tracking system for FOIA requests, makes it easier for requesters to recover legal costs when agencies improperly deny requests, limits fees agencies can charge when time limits for a response are not met, requires agencies to explain which exemptions to disclosure are being used to justify deletions from records, and requires reports to Congress that will help oversight committees judge the effectiveness of executive-branch performance.
The bill defines "representative of the news media" as "any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term 'news' means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. ... A freelance journalist shall be regarded as working for a news-media entity if the journalist can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that entity, whether or not the journalist is actually employed by the entity. A publication contract would present a solid basis for such an expectation; the Government may also consider the past publication record of the requester in making such a determination."
Bush signed the bill without comment, other than a brief summary from his press office.
Southern Political Report poll suggests 15% rule, rural skew will give Edwards victory in Iowa
The Jan. 28-29 poll had Edwards trailing New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, 30 to 29 percent, but SPR reports, "Critically, Edwards was the second choice of 62 percent of those who supported other candidates that did not receive the required 15 percent of the vote." (In most precincts, those with four or more delegates, voters can switch if their candidate doesn't reach 15 percent.) Using "reallocation methodology" that it said predicted the results of the 2004 caucuses, SPR said that if this round had been held Dec. 29, Edwards would have received 41 percent of the vote, with Clinton at 34 percent and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at 25.
Matt Towery, CEO of Insider Advantage, which publishes SPR, said the delegate allocation in the caucuses "gives rural areas, where Edwards is running strong, the opportunity to have a disproportionately significant impact on the ultimate outcome. Regardless of geographic areas of support, the Edwards ‘second choice’ percentage has remained well over 50 percent since we first released a second-choice survey in early December."
Towery, an ex-Republican activist, said he was "not comfortable releasing numbers" from SPR's poll of Republican caucusgoers. "I’ve seen enough GOP polls in 28 years to know when some sort of shift is taking place," he said. "The Republican numbers right now are all over the place and, in my experience, that means the numbers probably won’t settle until immediately prior to the voting." (Read more)
"What's clear from being on the ground here in Iowa is that Edwards's surge over the past week is real," writes Chris Cilizza in The Washington Post's political blog, The Trail. "Edwards is also relying heavily on his personal story -- his father's work in a mill, his humble upbringing -- to speak to rural voters who are already inclined to be for him. Edwards appears to be be running strongest in rural areas in the western part of the state." Cilizza analyzes other campaigns, too. (Read more)
Monday, December 31, 2007
Fundamentalists, small towns keep Huckabee ahead in Iowa, Des Moines Register's last poll says
Huckabee had 32 percent of likely caucusgoers, to 26 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 13 percent for Arizona Sen. John McCain and 9 percent each for former Sen. Fred Thompson and Rep. Ron Paul. The poll's margin of error was 3.5 percentage points, so Huckabee's lead was within the margin. The error margins for geographic subsamples were much greater, but the results do indicate the sources of each candidate's support. Small towns were Huckabee's main base; in them, he led Romney 36-25. Among rural residents, he led Romney 30-26; in metro areas, 31-26. The race was tightest in small cities: Huckabee 29, Romney 28.
The key to Huckabee's lead is "born-again or fundamentalist Christians," reports the Register's Jonathan Roos. Almost half of Republican caucusgoers fit that category, and among them, "Huckabee outpolls Romney, 47 percent to 20 percent. Romney has faced questions about his religious standing as a Mormon. Among those who think it's more important for the next president to be a social conservative than a fiscal conservative, Huckabee leads Romney 48 percent to 24 percent. "
There was no major trend during the Dec. 27-30 polling period, but some observers, such as the Register's David Yepsen, think Huckabee slipped badly today with a "goofy press conference ... in which he promised not to run attack ads against Mitt Romney while producing them and showing them to reporters anyway. " (Read more) Roos reports, "The poll shows there remains enough indecision among likely caucus participants to scramble both the race for first place between Huckabee and Romney, and the battle for third. Nearly one-half of caucusgoers say they could still be persuaded to support another candidate." (Read more)
Obama leads in Register's final poll, appears to take Iowa's small towns; Edwards has rural areas
The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, so while Obama probably led during the polling period, that is not a statistical certainty -- contrary to the suggestion in the Register's story, which said Obama had "a lead larger than the survey's margin of sampling error." Error margins apply to each result, not the difference between two results.
The newspaper did not give the sample sizes of error margins for its temporal or geographic subsamples, but by definition their error margins would be much larger. The results among rural residents were Edwards 30, Clinton 25, Obama 24. Obama's other results were 32 percent in small towns, 35 percent in small cities and 37 percent in metro areas. In small cities, Edwards and Clinton were tied at 25; in the other categories, Clinton was running second and Edwards third. Clinton took issue with the poll, noting that 40 percent of the respondents were independents, and the Register's David Yepsen sounded skeptical.
The polling trend shows Edwards with the greatest current momentum, and his increasingly strong, populist message is aimed mainly at small-town and rural voters, reports Dan Balz, chief political writer for The Washington Post. "It is a call to arms that is raw and angry, populist and pugnacious. It is a message that is as exhausting as it is confrontational. It is a message that makes Al Gore's 'people versus the powerful' seem timid by comparison," Balz writes. "One Edwards supporter, departing after a big rally in Des Moines on Saturday night, said he hasn't heard a message as passionate or strong since Bobby Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. . . . That message is strong brew and not for everyone, but it has found a following. Edwards is counting on enough Iowans -- those in small towns and rural areas especially -- to buy into it to put him over the top on caucus night." (Read more)
Meanwhile, Obama said in a Dec. 30 conference call with family farmers that he had been more consistent on agricultural and rural policy than Edwards, and made a subtle dig at the fact Clinton's rural organization "is headed by a large scale pork producer of the kind that family farmers want better controls placed upon," reports Al Giordano in his blog, The Field. Giordano also questions the validity of polling in Iowa at a time when many caucusgoers, according to reporting by Balz, have stopped answering their phones because of the onslaught from campaigns and pollsters. (Read more)
Sunday, December 30, 2007
All-terrain vehicles damaging national forests
"The federal government has been struggling to come up with plans to accommodate the growing numbers of off-highway vehicles — mostly with proposed maps directing them toward designated trails — but all-terrain-vehicle users have started formidable lobbying campaigns when favorite trails have been left off the maps. Even with the plans, federal officials describe an almost impossible enforcement situation because the government does not begin to have the manpower to deal with those who will not follow the rules."From Durango, Colo., the writers add, "The temptation to go off-trail, legally or not, comes from the desire for variety, federal land managers say. 'The more a route is used, the less challenging it becomes,' said Mark Stiles, the San Juan [National] Forest supervisor. 'You end up getting lots of little spurs off the main route.' Even a few errant riders, he said, 'can do a lot of damage.'" (Read more)
Lack of state trauma systems kills rural Americans
"Trauma systems are designed to get injured patients the care they need as quickly as possible within a 'golden hour' in which survival is more likely," Ungar writes for the Louisville newspaper. "In states with trauma systems, more hospitals are encouraged to develop certain levels of expertise, paramedics and emergency medical technicians are trained in where to take patients, medical professionals coordinate services and a registry tracks trends."
States without trauma systems are Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Indiana and Alabama recently started state systems. For a detailed, state-by-state rundown from the American College of Surgeons, click here.
Ungar reports that a bill to start a system in Kentucky "faces obstacles -- legislators wary of spending the millions it would require, rural hospitals concerned about the costs of becoming trauma centers and already-overburdened rural doctors worried that their on-call workloads would increase." (Read more)