Saturday, March 01, 2008

Obama riding Democrats' partisan base; Clinton does best in counties (mainly rural) with more Rs

"Sen. Barack Obama campaigns against the blue-and-red ideological division in the country, but he is leading in the Democratic primary contest against Sen. Hillary Clinton because he has done a better job of turning out the Democratic base in the most partisan of Democratic communities," reports the Daily Yonder. "Clinton, meanwhile, is judged to be the more polarizing of the candidates. Yet she has found her strength among those who live in the counties with the most Republican voters" -- counties that are largely rural.

The Yonder's Bill Bishop and Tim Murphy analyzed primary and caucus results in "landslide counties," those where President Bush or Sen. John Kerry won by more than 20 percentage points in 2004. "Obama won 72 percent of the landslide Democratic counties from 2004," they write. "Clinton, meanwhile, has won 62 percent of the largely rural counties where Bush defeated Kerry in 2004 with landslide margins" -- counties where voters are "whiter, older and poorer" than in Democratic landslide counties. Obama lost such counties until the Virginia and Maryland primaries.

"Clinton's ability to pull votes from 'red' counties will be tested this coming Tuesday in the Texas and Ohio primaries, two states Bush won in both 2000 and 2004," the writers conclude. "The results of the Yonder study raise questions both about Clinton's strategy and Obama's ability to find a non-partisan compromise with Republican ('red') America. Clinton largely ignored caucuses in 'red' states, such as Idaho, North Dakota and Colorado. Obama won easy victories in these places where Clinton might have had an advantage.

"It's impossible to predict a vote in a general election based on the vote in the primary, but Obama has not yet shown an ability to pull voters from more conservative communities. He has been able to excite the most partisan of Democratic voters — the Democratic base that may be the least willing to compromise with Republicans should Obama be elected. It's interesting that the likely Republican nominee, John McCain, has done best in the cities — the same communities where Obama has excelled." (Read more)

Rockefeller backs Obama; could affect rural Ohio

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president yesterday, a move that could undercut Sen. Hillary Clinton's efforts to win Ohio partly on the strength of votes from that state's adjoining slice of Appalachia.

"Barack Obama was right about Iraq when many of us were wrong," Rockefeller said. "It was a tough call and the single greatest national security question, and mistake, of our time." Clinton and Obama are running ads on national security, and much of Appalachian Ohio gets its television from stations in West Virginia -- where Rockefeller's statement got strong coverage from stations such as WSAZ in Huntington, where reporter Scott Saxton pointed out that no other member of the Mountain State's congressional delegation had taken sides in the race. He appended the senator's full statement to the online version of his story.

Rockefeller's endorsement "has got to hurt on multiple levels," Al Giordano writes on The Field blog of RuralVotes. "His state of West Virginia was likely to be one of the next illusory 'firewalls' claimed by Clinton if she survived March 4. . . . This will help Obama dampen Clinton’s lead in Ohio’s 6th and 18th congressional districts -- each with five delegates at stake -- and The Field wouldn’t be surprised to see Rockefeller make an appearance there this weekend."

Tom Searls of The Charleston Gazette noted, "Rockefeller was one of the Clintons' main allies in the early 1990s, when they tried to push through legislation to create universal health care. He has been considered a friend of the New York senator, but indicated in his statement Friday that he believes Obama will be more successful in domestic policies, also." (Read more)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Locals regain media control in Brokaw's hometown

The decades-old trend toward media consolidation seems to be stalling in some places, and there's no better recent example than Yankton, S.D. In the past week, the Missouri River city of 13,500 saw its daily newspaper and a radio station go from chains to local hands. (Encarta map)

"When Yanktonians awoke this morning, the only media company not owned locally was the venerable WNAX Radio [so old that its call letters don't start with K]. Every other media in town is back in local hands. Few cities can boast of that," Bernie Hunhoff wrote today on Road Stories, the blog of Yankton-based South Dakota Magazine.

A group of local investors, including Publisher Gary Wood, bought the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, circulation 7,850, from GateHouse Media, which had bought it three months ago from Morris Communications. A week earlier, a local couple bought KYNT Radio, which "discovered" Tom Brokaw, Hunhoff writes. "The chain media have perfected bland and boring and made it into a recipe for how to run a business," he opines. "It will be interesting to watch how the local owners change their product through the months and years to come. I’m quite confident the changes will be good for our region."

Press and Dakotan Managing Editor Kelly Hertz seems to think likewise. She wrote, "I genuinely believe the best thing that could have happened here has occurred. . . . However, the greatest feeling I have now is a sense of relief. The last few months have reminded me of just how coldly businesslike our business can be. . . . I've learned a lot this winter about the newspaper industry, for better and for worse. I learned of the plans that some of these other prospective suitors had for us. . . . They would have ripped us apart, not because of how we have performed but in spite of it." The sale also included the Vermillion Plain Talk, The Missouri Valley Shopper, The Broadcaster and the Town and Country Weekly News.

Rural sound, urban setting: Roots music grabs NYC

"New York has lately become remarkably hospitable to musicians upholding more rustic ideals." than the "indie-rock upstarts, jazz improvisers and hip-hop survivors" for which it is more commonly known, Nate Chinen reports in The New York Times. He notes that the city has some history with bluegrass and other "roots music," such as the folk revival of the late 1950s, "but there has also been help from a couple of fairly recent surprise hits in the pop mainstream: the Appalachian-steeped soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Come Away With Me,” Norah Jones’s folk-pop debut. Both albums were game-changers, creating new opportunities and fan bases for bluegrass pickers and singer-songwriters."

Here's the booking that made us tingle and smile: Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys March 16 at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill. If you can't make that one, make a note: Guitarist Michael Daves, right, "leads a popular jam session at the Parkside Lounge on the first Monday of every month," Chinen notes. For more on bluegrass in the Big Apple, go to (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Daves, an Atlanta native who moved to Brooklyn five years ago, told Chinen that he finds the New York area liberating. “Bluegrass audiences in New York don’t have the same rigid expectations for the music that you find in the South,” he said. “People here don’t have those deeply ingrained perceptions of the music. I can say, ‘I think bluegrass is this iconoclastic, messy, raucous thing.’ And people are like: ‘O.K. Sure, sounds good.’ ” (Read more)

Although doomed, bill to end mountaintop removal mining in West Va. draws big crowd at hearing

Earlier this month, West Virgina state Sen. Jon Hunter (D-Monongalia County) introduced a bill that would effectively ban mountaintop removal strip mining for coal, a major and controversial activity in the Mountain State. He admitted the bill had no chance of passing, but as acting chairman of the Energy and Mining Committee, he called a hearing on the issue this week. It drew a large crowd of supporters and opponents, reports West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

In addition to providing a sampling of opinions from speakers at the hearing, the state network also provided an update on the Blair Mountain battlefield, near which Massey Energy and Arch Coal have been trying to mine. Recently, the State Archives and History Commission nominated the area for the National Register of Historic Places. Blair Mountain was the site of huge labor uprising in 1921, when more than 10,000 coal miners sought recognition for their labor union and clashed with troops. If Blair Mountain joins the list, mining could occur there but would be subject to review.

To watch the 3-minute video report, go here.

Permanent disaster-aid program proposal, and its price tag, are keys to agreement on Farm Bill

Two weeks before the current Farm Bill expires, negotiators are getting close to a compromise "that would provide $10 billion in new money for farm and nutrition programs and include some money for a new, permanent disaster-aid program," which is a key issue, reports Faith Bremner of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

House and Senate negotiators have been trying to a few key differences in their versions of the bill. Last year, the Senate passed a version that was $13.3 billion more than the baseline, including $5 billion for a permanent disaster program, after the House passed a version with $5.9 billion more than the baseline but without the disaster program. Now the House has begun to accept the program, but not the Senate's price tag. Under House rules, "all new spending must be offset by either reducing government spending elsewhere or by raising new revenues," so paying for the additional programs is the final hurdle, Bremner writes.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it exceeds the baseline by more than %$8 billion. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told Bremner he hopes the compromise will help the House pass the Farm Bill by a veto-proof margin. The Senate passed its version with more than enough votes to override any veto. (Read more)

Spanish newspaper proves profitable in rural Iowa

Across the country, growing Hispanic populations present largely untapped markets for newspapers. In Iowa, one company and its Spanish- language newspaper show one of those rural markets can be lucrative. In late 2007, Gargano Communications began publishing La Voz ("The Voice") in six Northern Iowa communities, and the free newspaper's success has the company considering expanding the publication, reports Douglas Burns of the Iowa Independent, an online publication.

"La Voz is published twice a month and distributed for free in the communities of Humboldt, Fort Dodge, Webster City, Eagle Grove, Clarion and Belmond," Burns writes. "The paper continues to grow in reach, and Gargano has his eyes on other communities in north-central Iowa for distribution."

Publisher Jim Gargano and editor Maria Hadar, a bilingual Costa Rican immigrant (in an Iowa Independent photo), told Burns they see La Voz as a traditional community newspaper and they try to fill it with local coverage. The paper is drawing advertising from both Spanish and Anglo businesses, they say. "Something like this is actually bringing the community together," Hadar said. (Read more) Here is a feature on Hadar that ran in La Voz's sister newspaper, The Humboldt Independent.

After missing 'The Simpsons', Springfield, Ky., makes another effort to land a big movie premiere

Last year, Springfield, Ky., population 2,600, competed with other Springfields across the nation to host the premiere of "The Simpsons Movie." The town lost out to Springfield, Vt., pop. 9,300, but the Kentuckians' effort was memorable enough to make 20th Century-Fox consider the town for another movie premiere contest, reports Jeff Moreland of The Springfield Sun.

Last Friday, the town received a call from the studio asking them to participate in a contest to find which town would host the premiere of the animated version of "Horton Hears a Who," the 1954 children's book by Dr. Seuss. "This contest, unlike the previous contest where the city of Springfield had to produce a short film, is a bit different, requiring only some noise," Moreland writes. "Actually, lots of noise. The object of the contest is to see which of the cities selected can be the loudest, proclaiming, 'We are here!'The phrase is spoken to Horton, an elephant who hears voices from a tiny planet on a speck of dust that features a city called Who-ville."

The deadline for towns to join the competition was yesterday, but no final list is available yet. Springfield was the only town from the Simpsons contest asked to participate, and this time it will go up against cities such as London, England, Moreland reports. Springfield will make its attempt on March 9 when audio technicians from the studio will come to judge. (Read more)

Editor & Publisher serves up comprehensive story on how rural and other community papers thrive

We've been reporting for a while about the good health of community newspapers, and now Editor and Publisher weighs in with a long takeout. Here's the nut graf: "While Wall Street analysts predict a future for newspapers in ever more apocalyptic terms, the fact is: Many small-market papers are not just surviving, but thriving."

Jennifer Saba and Mark Fitzgerald cite several examples and write, "All those headlines about newspapers' impending doom are, well, kind of irritating" to community editors and publishers like
Jeff Pelline, right, editor of The Union, a 16,000-circulation daily in Grass Valley, Calif., between Sacramento and Reno. "It's depressing to read so many stories about the industry dying," he told E&P. We reported Pelline's advice on the importance of the Web in December.

"Even some of the community publishers typically cited as examples of the industry slump are actually doing pretty well," Saba andFitzgerald report. "Consider GateHouse Media: In 2007, its first full year as a publicly traded company, GateHouse shares plunged 52.7 percent. But among its individual papers, the news is often a lot better. In Missouri, for instance, the aptly named 2,700-circ. Boonville Daily News and its weekly sibling The Record expected to end the year with ad revenues up 7 percent from 2006." (We presume the writers were alluding to boondocks; two demerits.)

As far as we know, no one compiles national circulation trends for weeklies, but Audit Bureau of Circulation figures analyzed by E&P show that circulation of dailies under 25,000 declined 2.4 percent from the year before, while those with 250,000 to 499,999 circ. fell 3.9 percent. In Kentucky, circulation of weekly newspapers actually increased, according to postal statements compiled by the Kentucky Press Association. Executive director David Thompson reports:

The totals for weekly circulation from the October 1, 2007, Statements of Ownership show an increase of 4,733. Since one of those, a new 3,000-circulation weekly, was filing its statement for the first time, a comparison of circulation of newspapers in 2006 and 2007, results in a net increase of 1,733. Overall, the 121 weekly papers with a Periodicals Class Mailing Permit had a total circulation of 490,209 in 2007, compared to 485,476 in 2006. The average circulation in 2007 for weeklies was 4,051, six copies per paper higher than in 2006.
Many of the newspapers or chains cited by E&P as bright spots are rural, but they also paraphrase National Newspaper Association executive director Brian Steffens as saying "that if a paper is in a rural community with a shrinking population and struggling business environment, they're probably not doing so hot." In a struggling or stagnant environment, we think the quality of the journalism matters, and E&P allowed us to make that point:
Getting editors and publishers who truly know their audiences -- personally, even -- pays off journalistically and financially, argues Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues. In early January, he still had on his desk a Christmas Eve column from Brad Martin, editor of the 5,700-circulation weekly Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn. He reads a few paragraphs filled with names and references that mean nothing to his listener. "Brad Martin is just presuming, correctly I think, that everybody reading this column will recognize these names," Cross says. "Now that's a home run. That's an editor communicating with a reader, and at the same time helping them understand he has a unique job, to use an overused word. Now Hickman County is not a growing place -- but that's a fat paper. Just judging on the number of pages, it's healthy."
At 3,400 words, the story is perhaps the longest look at the business of community journalism in a major publication since American Journalism Review did a couple of stories about eight years ago. To read it, click here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Texas weekly editor backs Obama, rebukes racists; time to nominate next winner of award she won

The editor of the weekly Canadian Record in Canadian, Tex., minced no words this week in supporting the presidential candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and rebuking two racists who had come by her office to disparage him.

"I’ve just been roused from post-publication stupor by back-to-back visits from two of my elders and fellow Democrats," Laurie Ezzell Brown, left, wrote in her "Field Notes" column. "Believing, I suppose, that I am a sympathizer, both men affirm their staunch opposition to presidential candidate Barack Obama — which is fine — in terms that raise haunting images of the Deep South, white sheets and burning crosses — which is not. I feel shame and rage, but I also feel the stirrings of resolve as my now-unwelcome guests depart."

And the rage shows in Brown's next paragraph: "Their vitriol and animosity infuse this office with a stink I had thought, hoped, and prayed — though never quite dared to believe — long gone from my hometown. My stomach roils in remembrance of similar words spoken to me as a child — words that lay like weights on my conscience, as if I myself had said them."

After quoting Obama, Brown concludes, "These are so much more than just words. They are ideas that light the darkness. They are a call to arms. They have power. Just as those old words of hate and fear held us down, these words have the power to lift us up, to awaken our resolve, to engage us, to make us whole. And now it seems possible to hope that they will also bring us back to the voting booth, to reassert our citizenship and to pledge ourselves to an active role our country’s renewal—and our own."

Whew. You can see why the Ezzell family and the Record won last year's Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. If you know of someone else who meets those criteria, be aware that the deadline for this year's nominations is Saturday, March 1. Supplemental information can be submitted after the deadline. Send your nomination to For more information about the Gishes and the award, click here.

For the full column and the rest of the Record's editorial page, which includes a handwritten letter from a child pleading for motorists to stop speeding and littering, click here.

Friends remember Rudy Abramson as role model for reporters, advocate for rural America

Rudy Abramson was a role model for reporters and an advocate for rural America who put on no airs and treasured his small-town roots, his friends and admirers said at his memorial service in Washington this week.

Abramson, 70, died Feb. 13 of injuries suffered in a fall at his home. After a stellar career with The Tennessean and the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times, he became an acclaimed author and a fighter for the public interest, usually through journalism. He co-founded the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and was chair of its national Advisory Board.

Above all, he was a storyteller, one who “understood the power of storytelling,” said Freedom Forum Chairman and CEO Charles Overby, who presided at Tuesday's service on the top floor of the Freedom Forum’s new Newseum. With the Capitol dome in the background, and a bluegrass band creating a sort of virtual, aural bridge to rural America, a group of storytellers told stories about a storyteller who never stopped reporting – and at the end of his life was still urging and helping others to report, to serve the public interest that is the core mission of journalism.

“I don’t think he ever thought of himself as a role model or an inspiration to young reporters, but he was,” said former Tennessean publisher John Seigenthaler.

Political commentator Mark Shields told the crowd, “He was a stranger to self-importance and a sworn enemy to smugness. Rudy never, never forgot where he came from, or the people from who he came. Rudy understood that the one demographic group that could be caricatured could be ridiculed and could be condescended to with total impunity, are the white working-class Americans that did not go to college, and who often live in the rural United States. He was truly the voice for the voiceless.” (Read more)

Knight Foundation and Ashoka create fellowships for journalism entrepreneurs

Journalism needs fresh ideas, but the daily grind can keep most from having any time to brainstorm. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which funds social entrepreneurs, have partnered to create 30 Ashoka Journalism Fellows, who will use three-year stipends to find new ideas for journalism.

Each fellow will work to create new kinds of news outlets, new ways of reporting, and other models that can be shared with the entire journalism community and copied. Fellows will also become lifetime members of Ashoka, which boasts more than 2,000 others working in field such as learning/youth development, the environment, health, human rights, economic development and civic engagement.

“Journalism must confront new media forms and technologies, uneven degrees of professionalism, threats to freedom of the press, and rapidly changing economics,” Diana Wells, president of Ashoka, said in a press release. “At this moment, journalism needs social entrepreneurs who turn challenges into opportunities. This partnership will help us identify new models for journalism that create transformative social impact.”

The partnership is funded by a $3 million, three-year grant, and it looks to add to the work Ashoka has done over the past 26 years. Recently, Ashoka fellows have created Magazine Viração, written by young people for young people, while in Indonesia, they helped create a public radio news agency.

“After five years, an astonishing 97 percent of Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs are still working on the projects they have created. Nine out of 10 of their ideas have been copied by others and half of them have changed public policy,” said Eric Newton, vice president of journalism programs at Knight Foundation. “We need to apply that kind of success record to the field of journalism.”

The first fellows will be chosen by Aug. 31. (Read more)

Obama advertising heavily on local news sites

Presidential campaigns have spent relatively little money with newspapers in recent years, but the new technology of videostreaming is bringing political advertising to some widely viewed newspaper Web sites in the critical March 4 primary states.

Erik Sass of MediaPost reports that Barack Obama has "sliding billboard" ads "with an embedded 30-second video across 26 high-traffic local sites in Ohio and Texas," where he could put Hillary Clinton's campaign into a tailspin with victories in primaries Tuesday. "Clinton has also utilized online efforts, but not on this scale."

Sass writes, "The campaign will run 39 different creative versions of the ads, including three different videos touting the candidate's various positions. The embedded video ads are re-purposed spots that are also running on TV in the same local markets. When users click on the ads, they are taken to a landing page with a personalized video message from Obama. This includes, for example, Spanish-language messaging on some sites in Texas." (Read more)

Hawaii panel OKs shield law with broad definition of 'journalist,' drops reference to SPJ ethics code

Journalists in Hawaii would get clear, statutory protection from having to reveal sources, under a measure approved by a state legislative committee Tuesday. The shield law would cover both traditional and online journalists, by applying to reporters who disseminate news in the "substantial public interest," as well as those who have ever worked in the news media.

"Lawmakers abandoned an idea that would have defined a journalist as someone who complies with the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics after the organization protested having its standard of conduct used to define who qualifies," reports Mark Niesse of The Associated Press."The measure contains exceptions that would require journalists to give in to the courts if they're a witness to or participant in a criminal activity." (Read more)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Brownfield reports Farm Bill deal near; questions remain about Bush veto and House override

"All of a sudden, a Farm Bill deal looks close at hand," reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network, citing unnamed "lawmakers from both sides of the aisle" who he writes told him that "the broad outlines of a farm bill agreement are coming together," but it remains to be seen whether President Bush will agree to the price tag.

"The deal would reportedly spend just under $10 billion over the congressional budget baseline for farm programs and would fund it without increasing taxes," Shinn writes. The White House had threatened to veto any version adding more than $8 billion, but Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told Shinn, "Once you have at least the House and Senate agreeing on a number, hopefully there would be room then for agreement between conferees and the White House." And Shinn adds that Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., "told Brownfield Wednesday if there’s a deal in place that most in Congress can live with, a presidential farm bill veto could become irrelevant" because two-thirds of each chamber would vote to override the veto. "The question would be if whether or not the House could get the votes to do that," Thune said.

But even if House and Senate negotiators agree on the price tag, "Thune added that the issue then becomes how quickly farm policy can be made to fit the available money, which he called 'the hard part.' That’s why Thune said he believes another one-month extension of the 2002 farm bill is likely, which would put a new farm bill in place by mid-April," Shinn writes. (Read more)

Job loss inspires rural entrepreneurs, but they may not be ready to run a business, Ohio study says

Over the past few decades, Ohio has seen the number of self-employed double, climbing to almost half a million. An Ohio State study finds an increasing number of them are motivated to become entrepreneurs by a recent job loss, and "the ramifications are startling" for rural areas, reports Paula Schleis of the Akron Beacon Journal.

"That increases the number of entrepreneurs who are said to be ill-equipped to handle the risks and challenges of starting a small business, and lowers the average income of the sector as a whole," Schleis writes. She also points out that in 1969 rural self-employed workers made 4 percent more than their traditionally employed counterparts, but now the self-employed make 50 percent less.

Ohio State professor Mark Partridge wrote the report, called ''Does Enhancing Ohio's Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs Provide the Key to Growth?'' He said technology has allowed more people to do "casual work" from home. He said that in rural areas where manufacturing jobs have disappeared, the decision to become self-employed is more a matter of desperation. Partridge explained, ''If people are kind of forced into starting their own business, they may not come at it at a systemic or dynamic way, and they probably won't be as successful as if they formed a business for creative reasons.'' (Read more)

Tyson Foods president says cattle cycle 'may have peaked forever' because of ethanol

Recently we reported one major bank's opinion that the cattle market may no longer be cyclical. According to Tyson Foods president and CEO Dick Bond, the nation's cattle industry should brace for major reductions in herds, reports Mark Lefens of

"Bond painted a new scenario for the U.S. beef industry where higher input costs force producers into a long-term herd reduction, packers reduce excess capacity and consumers pay more for beef," Lefens writes. "Bond singled out what he called the 'almost criminal' government mandates supporting ethanol production, which he said have doubled the cost of feed grains."

Bond said beef producers must move respond to the desires of consumers with newer products more in line with changing tastes and diets. He also called for increased traceability when it comes to cattle. (Read more)

Sluggish economy forces Tracy Press, a California daily, to cut back print publication to twice a week

While smaller newspapers have been able to avoid some of the financial troubles of their larger counterparts, none are immune. The Tracy Press, an 8,000- circulation daily in rural Tracy, Calif., is another sign of troubling times. The paper has decided to cut back its print publication to Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Encarta map) "Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of waiting out this slow period," publisher Robert Matthews told the paper. "The Press has been in business for almost 110 years, as a weekly and as a daily, and our family doesn’t plan to go away anytime soon. But to keep going, we have to make cuts at the same time that we strive for solutions."

The paper will continue to update its Web site offer breaking news and other content throughout the week. Users filled comments section below this staff report on the newspaper's decision with comments such as, "It is sad when a town this size cannot publish a daily paper," and "This is bad news." (Read more)

Clinton and Obama campaigns target southeastern Ohio's rural voters; former president a draw

In the final days before Ohio's March 4 Democratic primary, the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are devoting plenty of time to the rural voters of southeastern Ohio. The campaigns' schedules and press releases make it clear that both see the Appalachian region as key. Hillary and Bill Clinton both traveled the region for campaign events today, while former Sen. Tom Daschle and Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmer's Union, held a conference call with Ohio reporters to discuss Obama's agenda for rural America. (A growing crowd waited for Hillary Clinton today in Zanesville; photo from The Times-Recorder.)

Daschle and Logan praised Obama's support for country-of-origin labeling on food and a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock, as well as his proposals for increased renewable energy such as ethanol. Much of the call was spent on such broad issues, but the first question — from The Ironton Tribune — brought the focus back to southeastern Ohio and its laid-off factory workers. Daschle said Obama's plan to increase renewable energy could create jobs in Ohio, and that Obama understands investing in education is really the best thing to help transition workers and their children to the new economy. Logan called the region "the forgotten stepchild" of Ohio's economy and said Obama's plan could help by reconnecting rural farmers and local consumers through more investments to local entrepreneurs.

The campaign gave reporters time for two more questions. One returned the discussion to biofuels. Asked to respond to recent studies about ethanol increasing greenhouse gases, both Daschle and Logan said there have been plenty of other scientists responding to those claims. Logan said corn ethanol is a "bridge technology" to switchgrass or waste products. Asked to explain his claim that Obama and Clinton differed when it came to renewable energy, Daschle said renewable energy is "a central part of his reason to run," while Clinton "has talked about it in a more passive way." Just another reminder from the Obama campaign that words matter, perhaps -- or a sign that the plans aren't all that different.

Meanwhile, both Clintons continued touring Appalachian Ohio. Today, the senator had events planned for Zanesville, Saint Claresville and Belpre. She was scheduled to attend an "Economic Solutions" summit in Zanesville at 1:30 p.m. (The Times-Recorder is blogging live from the event.) She will head to rallies in the high school gymnasiums of Saint Claresville and Belpre. On Thursday, she will attend another summit in Hanging Rock, near Ironton. Earlier this week, Bill Clinton made a swing through the area, and he was going to return for more events in Findlay, Marion, Mansfield, Wooster and New Philadelphia on Friday.

David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers writes that Bill Clinton's stops in small-town Ohio keep him away from the national spotlight while still helping the campaign locally. "The appearance of a former president in places such as Marion and Mansfield could get voters excited and give them fresh incentive to vote for his wife," Lightman writes. "The local media are excited already. The Marion Star reported Tuesday that Clinton's visit will be the first by a president, incumbent or otherwise, since Richard Nixon stopped there 40 years ago. The Bucyrus Telegraph Forum ran a story that began with a local woman explaining that she was eager to secure a front-row seat." (Read more)

Study says switch to daylight-saving time in Indiana actually led to more use of electricity

Daylight Saving Time starts March 9. For years, most of Indiana refused to join the rest of the country in moving clocks ahead one hour, "in part because farmers resisted the prospect of having to work an extra hour in the morning dark," writes Justin Lahart of The Wall Street Journal. In 2006, Indiana began participating in the annual switch that has long been considered an energy-saver. Now, research using data from before and after the change says "springing forward may actually waste energy."

University of California-Santa Barbara economics professor Matthew Kotchen and Ph.D. student Laura Grant examined more than seven million monthly meter readings from Duke Energy for southern Indiana before 2006, including a control group of neighboring counties that had chosen to join daylight-saving time on their own because they were in the Central Time Zone.

"Their finding: Having the entire state switch to daylight-saving time each year, rather than stay on standard time, costs Indiana households an additional $8.6 million in electricity bills," Lahart writes. "They conclude that the reduced cost of lighting in afternoons during daylight-saving time is more than offset by the higher air-conditioning costs on hot afternoons and increased heating costs on cool mornings."

Other studies, including one last year in Australia, have found that daylight saving time increases energy use — challenging studies done in the 1970s, including the oft-cited 1975 Department of Transportation report that said an expansion of daylight time prompted a 1 percent drop in electricity use. The difference in then and now is the prevalence of air conditioning. (Read more; subscription may be required)

Alabama station's blackout of CBS report on ex-governor has some seeing another conspiracy

On Sunday night, the CBS News show "60 Minutes" aired a story suggesting that former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was wrongly convicted of corruption last year because of a politically driven agenda of the Bush administration. Instead of the segment, viewers of Huntsville's CBS affiliate, WHNT-19, "saw a blank screen . . . and the chance to declare yet another conspiracy," reports Patricia C. McCarter of The Huntsville Times.

The station's general manager said equipment problems caused the blackout and not the content of the report, called "The Prosecution of Dan Siegelman," which was favorable to the now-imprisoned Democrat. WHNT-TV has replayed the show in its entirety twice and posted links to the segment on its Web site, but the Alabama Democratic Party "is asking the Federal Communications Commission to seek a formal inquiry into the situation," McCarter writes.

"It has come to the attention of many Democrats in north Alabama and that the principal owners of WHNT are Bush Pioneers (people who have raised $100,000 or more for the President's election campaigns) and major Republican donors," Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Spearman said in a Monday press release."Many suspect that the enormous pressure was put on CBS to not air the Siegelman story. If CBS received political pressure to stifle the First Amendment rights of the network or affiliate, the FCC and Congress should take appropriate oversight into the matter." (Read more)

The New York Times, which once owned the Huntsville station, was skeptical in an editorial today. “After initially blaming the glitch on CBS in New York, the affiliate said it learned 'upon investigation,' and following a rebuke from the network, that 'the problem was on our end.' . . . If the blackout was intentional, it may also have been counterproductive. Rather than take attention away from allegations that Mr. Siegelman was the victim of a partisan campaign, WHNT’s technical glitch seems to lend support to the charge.” (Read more)

UPDATE, Feb. 28: The Press-Register of Mobile saw it differently, in an editorial today. The paper said the story "failed to present convincing evidence of corruption. The CBS program's descent into tabloid journalism consisted of uncorroborated and mostly repackaged charges about the prosecution . . . by career federal prosecutors who were spurred on by stories in the Press-Register." (Read more)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Charlotte Observer series on worker safety in poultry plants prompts Congressional hearings

U.S. Senate and House committees, "spurred by a Charlotte Observer report on North Carolina poultry giant House of Raeford Farms, are planning hearings on worker safety in the poultry industry," report Kerry Hall and Franco Ordonez of the Observer. (Observer photo: workers in processing plant.)

The six-part series, called "The Cruelest Cuts," began Feb. 10 with a story headlined "The human cost of bringing poultry to your table" by Hall, Ames Alexander and Ordonez. "The Observer series was based on examinations of government and company records and interviews with more than 120 current and former House of Raeford workers," write Hall and Ordonez. House of Raeford has seven processing plants in North and South Carolina.

"Employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job," Hall and Ordonez write. "Among the Observer's findings were that the company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, a top Occupational Safety and Health Administration official says, and that some seriously injured workers were brought back to the company's Greenville, S.C., plant hours after surgery."

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., called the series' findings "disturbing and heartbreaking," while Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the series showed the need to overhaul OSHA. U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., said immigration reform is necessary, since the series showed House of Raeford's reliance on illegal immigrant labor. (Read more) The full series is available here.

The News & Observer in Raleigh allowed The Observer's series to reach more readers in North Carolina by running the series on its front pages. That's because the two are sister newspapers within the McClatchy Newspapers family, writes Ted Vaden of The News & Observer. "For this collaboration, The Observer did the excellent journalism of uncovering patterns of abuse and neglect of employees of House of Raeford Farms, and The N&O provided the space and eyeballs to spread the story more broadly," Vaden writes. (Read more)

Local agencies in Kentucky plan dental clinic for Medicaid patients, often shunned by dentists

One of the biggest hurdles to improving oral health is that few dentists will take Medicaid recipients as patients, saying reimbursement often fails to cover costs. In Kentucky, which has some of the worst oral health of any state, local agencies are "planning to create a dental clinic for Medicaid recipients and people" in Owensboro, population 54,000, reports James Mayse of the local daily, the Messenger-Inquirer.

The group, which includes officials from the Green River District Health Department, former M-I Publisher Larry Hager's Hager Educational Foundation and former M-I Editor-Publisher John Hager's Owensboro Public Life Foundation, began the process of applying for nonprofit status last week and they hope to open the clinic next year. City and county school districts, the Owensboro Rotary Club, Citizens Health Care Advocates and the Goodfellows Club also have been involved in the effort. Mayes said the group was moved to action when it found about 25 percent of dentists accepted Medicaid patients.

"The clinic will provide basic dental care — such as cleanings, X-rays and extractions — and will refer patients to specialists when needed," Mayse writes. The health department's administrative service director "said many dentists don't accept Medicaid recipients because of the low state reimbursement rate and because patients on Medicaid seem more prone to skipping appointments. People without dental insurance will also be eligible for care. Fees will be assessed on a sliding scale, Mountjoy said."

The initial cost is $190,000, and Mayes reports the clinic has been promised donations from Hager Educational Foundation and the Goodfellows Club. "There's a great need, particularly for children, to see they have access to dental care early," Keith Sanders of the Hager Educational Foundation told Mayse. " ... There's a great amount of need there and there's a lot we can do with a modest investment." (Read more; subscription required)

EPA proposes to drop emission reporting by farms

Environmental Protection Agency scientists have found that emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from animal manure on large livestock farms pose a threat to human health, but under heavy legal and lobbying pressure from farm interests and farm states, EPA plans to drop regulations that require farms to report their emissions, reports Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post. (Associated Press photo by Michael Zachs)

EPA "says local emergency responders don't use the reports, making them unnecessary. But local air-quality agencies, environmental groups and lawmakers who oppose the rule change say the reports are one of the few tools rural communities have for holding large livestock operations accountable for the pollution they produce," Williamson writes. "Opponents of the rule change say agriculture lobbyists orchestrated a campaign to convince the EPA that the reports are not useful and misrepresented the effort as reflecting the views of local officials."

Williamson adds, "The livestock industry has lobbied for years for the rule change. The EPA posted the proposal in the Federal Register while Congress -- which is deeply divided on the issue -- was on its December holiday recess. The change would take effect in October." The period for public comment ends March 28. (Read more)

Here is the key wording of the EPA's proposal, which exempts all farms, regardless of size: "The proposed administrative reporting exemption is limited to releases of hazardous substances to the air where the source of those hazardous substances is animal waste at farms. Notifications must still be made when and if hazardous substances are released to the air from any source other than animal waste (e.g., ammonia tanks) at farms, as well as releases of any hazardous substances at farms to any other environmental media (i.e., soil, ground water, surface water) when the release of those hazardous substances is at or above its reportable quantity for 24 hours." (Read more)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ohio governor: Rural Appalachian voters could determine winner of state's Democratic primary

Rural residents in the hills of Appalachian Ohio have the same concerns as the rest of their mountain neighbors to the southeast — high unemployment, poverty, and the feeling that they often are forgotten by the urban parts of their state. Because of next week's Democratic presidential primary in Ohio, however, the region is getting attention, reports The Associated Press. (AP photo shows residents of Peebles, Ohio, discussing the election.) Former president Bill Clinton planned to spend today campaigning in the area for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, while Sen. Barack Obama was sending his surrogates to campaign for him -- including David Wilhelm, an Appalachian Ohio native who managed Clinton's 1992 primary campaign.

"Although the region traditionally leans Republican, Democrats have made inroads in recent elections, giving the party hope that it can continue to pick up votes outside of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and other urban areas," AP reports. "Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who grew up grew in the Appalachian region, said voters there may determine the outcome of the state's Democratic primary."

Strickland, who supports Clinton, told AP her stances on health care and other working-class issues will help her win votes, as will her past work with the region. In recent weeks, Obama has shown he can draw support from the demographics of regions such as this one. "In the Wisconsin primary last week, exit polls showed Obama running evenly with Clinton among lower-income, lower-education whites and drawing heavy support from white men without college degrees," AP notes. (Read more)

Bill Clinton "started today's swing through the southern part of state in Chillicothe, where he told a rally at a branch campus of Ohio University that his wife is the only candidate who has policies to help working class families," reports AP's Matt Leingag. Clinton also spoke at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, on the Ohio-Kentucky border), and had stops planned for Athens and Lancaster.

"A Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton with an 11 percentage point lead, down from 21 points in a poll released a week and a half ago," Leingag writes. "An Ohio Poll had Clinton leading 47-39, with an 18-percentage-point lead among women accounting for most of the difference." (Read more)

Wilhelm gave his first speech supporting Obama during an organizational campaign meeting in his hometown of Athens, reports reports Caitlin Zachry of The Post, the student newspaper of Ohio University. “I’m impressed by Barack Obama because of his rural development strategy,” he said at last week's meeting. “He has presented a philosophy that fits Southeast Ohio.” (Read more)

Bill Clinton was scheduled to appear at 2:45 p.m. at the Athens Community Centers, reports The Athens Messenger. "It's exciting," Susan Gwinn, chairwoman of the Athens County Democratic Party, told The Messenger. "I am glad we are getting so much attention. It shows the importance of Athens County to the Democratic Party." (Read more)

Last week, the paper's managing editor, Monica Nieporte wrote: "For all their 'I feel your pain' speeches, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama really has any idea what the pain of the middle class or lower-income class feels like. Perhaps one day in the distant past they did, but certainly not now. Most of the people who rise to this level of success in our country leave behind the working class that they love to champion in their rhetoric." (Read more)

Harkin: Congress likely to extend Farm Bill to 2009

The 2002 Farm Bill expires on March 15, and since negotiations might not yield compromise between Congress and the White House in time, the "most likely" outcome is an extension of the 2002 version through at least 2009, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network.

In Shinn's exclusive interview Sunday night, Harkin blamed the Bush administration for the impasse and noted the Senate passed its version of the bill with 79 votes, which could have been higher since “four people were out running for President.”Earlier in the week, new U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner suggested the Bush administration might be open to compromise, but Harkin said negotiations have not reflected that conciliatory language.

“Oh, I’m always encouraged by it, but every time we sit down nothing ever happens and we’ve been sitting down for the last couple of weeks,” Harkin said. “There’s got to be some movement from the White House and I have not seen that yet.” While Harkin said the extension seems likely, he said he has not given up on a new Farm Bill just yet. (Read more)

Entrepreneurs and their local businesses spark economy in rural Kansas county

Entrepreneurs and the businesses they lead are essential to successful rural communities. Kansas' rural Harvey County offers multiple examples of how local businesses can help their towns thrive, reports Amy Bickel of The Hutchinson News. Burrton, a town of 932 about an hour north of Wichita, is home to Lang Architectural Millwork Products (in an uncredited photo from the News), which after four years of expansions now boasts 160,000 square feet in two buildings and 100 employees. "It would be a lot easier for us to move to Wichita, but I wanted to stay here," owner Steve Lang told Bickel. "Our town needs jobs." He is also working to restore some buildings in the Burrton's decaying downtown, and he hopes his business can help increase enrollment in the town's small high school.

Bickel says Lang's entrepreneurial spirit is not unique in Harvey County, where five towns are seeing homegrown businesses provide an economic spark. "Eleven companies in these cities, all with populations of fewer than 4,000 people, have added $39.4 million in new manufacturing investment in the past 18 months, as well as 255,650 additional square feet of manufacturing space and 267 new jobs, said Mickey Fornaro-Dean, executive director of the Harvey County Economic Development Council," Bickel writes. (Encarta map)

These success stories — some of which owe much to the
Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program — are just another lesson in the value of local entrepreneurs and any efforts to encourage them. (Read more)

Des Moines Register analysis predicts rural Iowa faces major foreclosure problems

The nation's foreclosure crisis has been felt everywhere, but rural Iowa could "be hit much harder" than other areas, reports Paula Lavigne of The Des Moines Register. She explains that the cost of ownership will rise this summer when adjustable-rate mortgages are set to even higher interest rates. For this story (and others in this series on foreclosures), The Register used data from the Mortgage Bankers Association and First American CoreLogic, LoanPerformance, a private firm that tracks the lending industry.

"The Register's analysis found that the impact could be more acute in rural areas, where borrowers have been more likely than their urban counterparts to receive higher-interest loans," Lavigne writes. "Iowa State University economist David Swenson said thus far the state's growing foreclosure problem is not a statewide crisis, but it is creating 'pockets of stress' across the state. Foreclosures affect the larger economy as home values fall, and people lose equity and have less money to spend, he said."

Even just a few foreclosures can diminish property value in a small town, and problems such as addiction and divorce sometimes rise as well. "The value of every property in the town drops dramatically," John Baker, an attorney with Iowa Concern, a hot line for financial and legal assistance for Iowans, told Lavigne. "(Deterioration of vacant houses) has a cascading effect."

Lavigne presents a wealth of data, and she highlights the reasons why rural borrowers are more likely to have higher-rate mortgages and are more likely to struggle to make payments. The main reasons are the lower incomes of many rural Iowans, which lead to high interest rates, and the nature of rural housing market, where sales are less frequent and thus appraised values can fluctuate. (Read more)

The story is part of a larger package on foreclosures called "Distress Hits Home." In another story, Lavigne talks with homeowners who say they were tricked by mortgage brokers. The package also includes an interactive map that lets users search high-interest loans by census tract.

Small farming communities of California's Central Valley face growing gang violence

"The wide, tree-lined streets of California's agricultural heartland," the Central Valley, have seen "an explosion of gang violence in recent years," and the police in these small communities are straining to keep up, reports Tim Reiterman of the Los Angeles Times. (Times map)

"Up and down the valley, task forces have been formed as evidence mounts that street hoodlums are committing homicides, robberies and car thefts and trafficking in drugs," Reiterman writes. "Some communities have taxed themselves to pay for more police. Local, state and federal sweeps have produced thousands of arrests -- but tens of thousands more gang members remain on the streets, authorities say."

Law enforcement officials tell Reiterman that families from Los Angeles and San Francisco — lured by cheaper housing and available jobs — have been moving to the Central Valley in big numbers and some brought gang ties. These small communities have some of the state's highest numbers of gang killings. In 2006, 80 gang-related homicides were reported, up from 50 in 1997. The town of Selma (pop. 24,000) had five gang killings in the last three years, and its voters recently passed a tax increase to double its police force. (Read more)

Federal Reserve survey shows cropland values continue to climb across the nation's heartland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's fourth quarter Survey of Agricultural Credit Conditions finds the value of farmland has surpassed the highs set last quarter, reports Agriculture Online.

"In the survey of 268 banks in the seven-state Tenth Federal Reserve District (shown in map), both non-irrigated and irrigated cropland values surged at a record pace, rising 21 percent and 18 percent above year ago levels," the report says. "Bankers also cited more farmland sales in 2007 than in the previous year."

The survey concludes that cropland prices, specifically nonirrigated land, should continue to rise this year. (Read more)

In a related story, The Associated Press reports the price of nonirrigated and irrigated cropland in Kansas increased 20.4 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively, during the fourth quarter of last year, compared to the same period the year before. Values in western Missouri were up 24 percent and 13 percent, respectively. " Buyers have long valued rural property as an investment or for recreational uses," the AP reports. "But experts said the most recent surge is being driven by skyrocketing crop prices, especially for materials used in biofuels." (Read more)

Slaughter no longer a U.S option, surplus horses force tough decisions for owners; pet or meat?

Since the last American horse slaughterhouse closed late last year, the fallout from that decision has received plenty of attention. Michael Booth of The Denver Post gets to the heart of matter as well anyone when he begins his story this way: "A dying dog is 40 pounds of family sadness. A dying horse is a physics problem, and 1,000 pounds of emotional debate over what we should do with the iconic Western companion at the end of its useful life." (In a Post photo by Joe Amon, a quarter horse goes up for auction.)

Booth explains how overbreeding and rising feed prices, coupled with the end of horse slaughter for meat, have created a glut of horses. "More are being abandoned on public lands," he writes from the Western viewpoint. "Neglected horses crowd rescue shelters. The pool of farms willing to put Old Paint out to pasture is shrinking. Strains in the horse world prompt ranchers to accuse city folk of a patronizing ignorance for opposing slaughter, animal-rights groups to accuse horse sellers of intolerable cruelty, and all 'horse people" to argue about how an animal's life should conclude."

The options are shrinking, but the debate continues, as we have reported here. Congress is considering the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to prevent the trucking of American horses to Mexico (where conditions can be awful) and Canada for slaughter for meat, while in South Dakota, a lawmaker wants to reopen a horse slaughterhouse. Booth says the debate hinges on these key questions: "Is a horse a friend or a responsibility? A retired servant or a liability on the hoof? When it comes right down to it, pet or meat?"

Since the issue is an emotional one, some support other measures to control the horse population such as more neutering and more controlled breeding. Those are preventative measures, and they do not solve the issue of what to do with the 100,000 American horses that would have been slaughtered each year in the past. (Read more)