Saturday, April 05, 2008

Daily editor leaves corporate journalism for his and his wife's own, 'mostly unfettered' weekly in N.Y.

Jim Kevlin, who wrestled with newsroom budgets as a daily editor for 15 years, has a message for his former counterparts: "There is an alternative, an exciting one, where you can practice, mostly unfettered, whatever type of journalism you believe in." It's buying a weekly newspaper, as he did almost two years ago.

Kevlin, publisher of the Freeman's Journal in Cooperstown, N.Y., writes about his experience in the current edition of American Journalism Review. Chris Stadelman, editor and publisher of the weekly Parsons Advocate in West Virginia, tells us his experiences after daily journalism were eerily similar. Much of the story is about the business aspect of the paper, which now has a circulation of 2,500, up from 1,800 when he and his wife bought it. (Photo of paper's storefront from its Web site)

"Coming out of the newsroom, much of the work — ad sales, distribution, bookkeeping — was new to me," Kevlin writes. "It was exciting to find that the survival skills developed by the harassed and haggard daily editor — strategizing, adapting, budgeting, schmoozing and occasionally acting on a creative idea or two — were transferable. ... To set an interviewee or a shopkeeper at ease, you need to establish common ground. But none of that speaks to the joy of weekly newspapering. Foremost, this is pure journalism. You can cover what you want the way you think it should be covered. You can free yourself from the corrosive union that's developed between journalism and marketing — two warring animals — in the past quarter-century. To the degree you can tolerate the consequences, you can speak truth to power."

Ah, yes, to the degree you can tolerate the consequences the ever-looming link between news and the business side, always closer in community journalism. Kevlin writes, "Often, you can put a price tag on an editorial decision. One potentially major advertiser, for instance, wants access to the news columns as well. That was a $2,000 decision to say no. The jingoists are right: Freedom isn't free. I can put a dollar value on what it's cost me to exercise the First Amendment — but it's been worth every nickel. And the paper is profitable, we're making a living and in five years we'll have the note paid off." (Read more)

Universal health coverage plan in Massachusetts runs into national shortage of primary-care doctors

"In pockets of the United States, rural and urban, a confluence of market and medical forces has been widening the gap between the supply of primary care physicians and the demand for their services, Kevin Sack writes for The New York Times. "Modest pay, medical-school debt, an aging population and the prevalence of chronic disease have each played a role."

Sack's story focuses on rural Western Massachusetts, where the state's new universal health care system -- based on requiring residents to have health insurance -- has created a demand for care that is far exceeding the supply of primary physicians. "About 340,000 of Massachusetts’ estimated 600,000 uninsured have gained coverage," Sack reports. "Many are now searching for doctors and scheduling appointments for long-deferred care."

The problem affects most states. "With its population aging, the country will need 40 percent more primary care doctors by 2020, according to the American College of Physicians," Sack writes. "Community health centers, bolstered by increases in federal financing during the Bush years, are having particular difficulty finding doctors. ... Studies show that the number of medical school graduates in the United States entering family medicine training programs, or residencies, has dropped by 50 percent since 1997. A decade-long decline gave way this year to a slight increase in numbers, perhaps because demand is driving up salaries."

The Government Accountability Office has recommended changes in a fee-for-service reimbursement system that rewards "expensive procedure-based medicine" and shortchanges primary care, Sack notes. "Numerous studies, in this country and others, have shown that primary care improves health and saves money by encouraging prevention and early diagnosis of chronic conditions." (Read more)

Weak dollar keeps sheep shearers Down Under, creating demand for Americans to learn the skill

As the numbers of American sheep ranches have declined and shearers have been harder to find, ranchers have depended on shearing companies from Australia and New Zealand. But "In a strange local backwash of global capitalism and the weak United States dollar," those companies "are staying home this spring, unable to justify the exchange-rate loss," The New York Times reports.

"This is a fortunate year to become an American shearer," Kirk Johnson writes. "A good shearer can finish a sheep in two or three minutes and earn upward of $70 to $80 an hour, minus expenses." To get the story up close and personal, Johnson joined Montana State University's sheep-shearing school in Norris, Mont., which offers a three-day class in the basics. (Photo by Jamie Osborne for the Times)

Johnson reported shearing only seven sheep in a day and a half. "When you have a squirming 100-pound yearling between your knees, a roaring set of power shears in one hand, and a completely blank mind because everything your instructor just told you about which stroke comes next has faded into a white noise of panic and muscle fatigue, getting the wool off is not an academic question." (Read more)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Clinton, Obama even in Indiana, a 30% rural state

Two weeks ago we reported that Hillary and Bill Clinton were turning Indiana, which many pundits had presumed to be a Barack Obama state, into a pivotal battleground in the Democratic race for president. Now a poll confirms it: Clinton 49 percent, Obama 46 percent, with an error margin of 5 percentage points for each result.

The May 6 Indiana primary "is anybody’s ball game right now, said Del Ali of the Rockville, Md.-based Research 2000, which conducted the poll," writes Ed Ronco of the South Bend Tribune, a poll sponsor. "The winner, Ali said, will depend on a variety of factors, including the candidates’ abilities to hold on to certain demographic groups."

Stories on the poll offered no intelligence on Indiana's rural voters, who comprise about 30 percent of the state's electorate. But rural voters tend to be older, and among those over 60, Clinton led 60 percent to 34 percent. She had marginal, single-digit leads among those aged 30 to 59, while Obama led among younger voters, 63 percent to 36 percent.

"Some 39 percent of respondents said a candidate’s stand on the economy or job creation would most determine their vote," Ronco reports. "That’s followed by 22 percent who said they were most concerned about pulling troops out of Iraq," but Ali cautioned, “That Iraq number is so volatile.” He also questioned the result showing 22 percent of Clinton voters would support Republican John McCain if Obama were nominated, and 16 percent of Obama backers would choose McCain over Clinton. “I would be shocked if it was over 5 percent either way,” Ali said. “Those numbers display the passion that voters have for their candidate.” (Read more)

A Survey USA poll in Indiana, taken March 29-31, showed Clinton leading 52 percent to 43 percent, with an error margin of 4.3 percentage points for each result. Survey USA uses automated, recorded questions and telephone-pushbutton responses. (Read more)

Administration ramps up fight against federal shield law that would protect journalists' sources

The Bush Administration ratcheted up its opposition to a shield law for journalists Thursday, launching a Web site to coordinate and push its point of view. The Society of Professional Journalists replied today with a broadside.

“The Administration’s concerns with this bill are absolutely unfounded,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “We’ve been working with key Senate staff on compromises to ensure that the bill contains all necessary safeguards to protect national security. This is the Administration’s transparent attempt to use national security as an excuse to continue to use journalists as an additional arm of law enforcement. Rarely are there times when a journalist is the last resort for the government to get information that could not be tracked down elsewhere. The job of a journalist is to keep a check on government and to hold the Administration accountable.”

Rural news outlets have a stake in this bill, perhaps more than they might think. Defending a subpoena "could be catastrophic" for a small newspaper or broadcast station, says the National Newspaper Association, which lobbies for weeklies. "For small media, subpoenas are particularly disruptive and can cripple a newsroom."

The battle is over S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create in federal law a qualified privilege for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources, like statutory and case law in almost all states. With bi-partisan support from 71 co-sponsors, the bill has progressed further than any shield bill to date. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2035 on Oct. 4. By a vote of 398-21 on Oct. 16, the House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 2102.

As drafted, the shield would apply not only to traditional print, television and radio journalists, but also cover freelancers and bloggers "regularly engaged in journalism." A Senate vote has not been scheduled. To show support for the bill, SPJ leaders are encouraging journalists and citizens to contact senators. For more information on the bill, go to this SPJ Web page.

Oregon latest example of growing rural-urban splits

"A growing partisan gap between rural and urban America is creating resentment," reports the Daily Yonder. "In Oregon, it resulted in legislation that cut funding for rural programs" for development and Gov. Ted Kulongoski's closure of his four-year-old state Office of Rural Policy. Yonder Co-Editor Bill Bishop writes:

There are arguments in rural Oregon about whether any of this matters. The newspaper in The Dalles has a good series about how rural development spending has helped its region of rural Oregon. The Baker City Herald concluded (in an editorial headlined "Dollars, Not Symbols") that the Office of Rural Policy never did much anyway — that what rural Oregon really needed was money, not an office in the governor's mansion.

The real story here, however, was discovered by the Eugene Register-Guard. When the legislature cut rural programs and the governor closed his rural policy office it was a reminder to "rural Oregonians that they stand on the other side of an economic, cultural and political divide from those who govern the state, and it sends the message that state leaders aren't interested in closing the gap."

This is familiar ground for Bishop, author of the forthcoming book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. In every state, he writes for the Yonder, "Central cities have grown more Democratic and rural and exurban areas have become increasingly Republican. ... Counties voting for George Bush in 2004 averaged 110 people per square mile. John Kerry counties, however, had, on average, 836 people per square mile. A generation ago, there would have been no difference at all."

Social issues seem largely responsible for the change, but in Oregon people cite a conflict between rural areas' natural-resource economies and environmental interests generally aligned with Democrats. Bishop's example is Crook County, a timber-industry county that voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. It gave more than 60 percent of its vote in 2004 to George W. Bush. (Read more)

Mississippi orders training for school board members in under-performing districts

Mississippi continues to have one of the nation's worst records in education — just yesterday The New York Times reported that the state ranked last in a national writing proficiency test — but lawmakers are trying another way to make the grade. Last week, Gov. Haley Barbour signed into law a bill requiring training for school board members in low-performing school districts, reports Sheila Byrd of The Associated Press.

"The members would undergo training geared toward improving learning and promoting effective financial management," Byrd writes. "The training would be provided annually by the Mississippi School Boards Association." The law goes into effect July 1. (Read more)

The Hattiesburg American wrote an editorial saying the law does not go far enough in improving Mississippi schools.
Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, a former teacher and a member of the Senate Education Committee, told the newspaper the training should be required for all school board members because all members "don't exactly understand their responsibilities." The newspaper said legislators should consider a pending bill that calls for superintendents to be fired if their school districts are low-performing two years in a row. (Read more)

Massey Energy chief threatens to shoot ABC journo

"Massey Energy Co.’s chief executive threatened to shoot an ABC News producer and tore his shirt collar when the newsman made an unannounced attempt to interview him in a parking lot at his office in Belfry, Ky., a network spokesman said Thursday. But CEO Don Blankenship (above, in ABC image) said the scuffle happened after the producer put a camera too close to his face," writes Tim Huber of The Associated Press.

ABC said Blankenship told producer Asa Eslocker, “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot.” Network spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said Blankenship grabbed Eslocker's camera "and snapped off a microphone before putting his hands to the man’s throat and tearing his shirt collar," Huber writes.

"Blankenship said Eslocker grabbed his arm and he grabbed the producer’s chest to keep his balance. Blankenship said he moved Eslocker toward his car and repeatedly asked him to leave. ... Blankenship said he would have reacted differently had he known Eslocker was a newsman. ... Schneider said the producer attempted the parking lot interview after unsuccessful attempts to arrange a face to face meeting. " Asked if he threatened to shoot Eslocker, Blankenship said, "I probably did." (Read more)

ABC said it plans to air a report Monday about Blankenship's relations with the West Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled in Massey's favor yesterday in a $76 million contract dispute. In the 3-2 vote, the justice Blankenship elected with a multimillion-dollar campaign in 2004 voted with him, notes Paul Nyden of The Charleston Gazette. For ABC's story on the incident, click here. For its slideshow of the encounter, click here.

Bill Clinton campaigns in the town of Hillbilly Days

Signs and stereotypes stood out when former President Bill Clinton came to Pikeville, Ky., the heart of Central Appalachia, yesterday in his wife's presidential campaign.

Reflecting the town's upcoming Hillbilly Days festival and recent observations that Hillary Clinton is relying on a "hillbilly firewall" of Appalachian Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky to keep her in the race, one supporter held up this sign, in a Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Randy Snyder.

Clinton pointed out another sign: "I'm for the woman," and said "That's a pretty good one. I like that," Herald-Leader reporter Cassondra Kirby writes. "Several in the crowd of more than 3,000 -- including construction workers, steelworkers and coal miners still in their uniforms -- said they will do something in this election they never thought they would: vote for a woman."

Clinton knew his crowd, as Kirby reports:

Clinton promised that "she won't forget what you look like" -- she won't forget the poor and the working middle-class.

When you become president, he said, it's easy to get caught up in the job -- "to think you are somebody." The president zips along in a bulletproof limo, hears Hail to the Chief and has an airplane so cool that movies are made about it, Bill Clinton said.

"But the president is nothing more than the most fortunate public servant," he said. "Hillary won't forget that."

Russ Cassady of the daily Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville reports:
Clinton also touched on a topic important to Eastern Kentucky — energy — promising that Hillary Clinton would make the country energy independent with clean forms of energy that will create jobs here.

“This is the only strategy that will bring jobs to every state, to every rural area, to every small town, to every suburb and to every city,” Bill Clinton told the crowd.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rural foreclosure rate may be as much as urban

The frequency of foreclosures in rural areas may be closer to the level seen in urban areas, especially when mobile and prefab homes are taken into account, reports Evelyn Nieves of The Associated Press. (Late last year, we mentioned a report that said rural lending practices might insulate smaller communities, and in February, we cited a report that predicted more foreclosures in rural Iowa.)

"Mobile and prefab homes make up at least 15 percent of the nation's rural housing, and three-quarters of them were financed with installment or personal property loans rather than mortgage loans, according to the Housing Assistance Council," Nieves writes. "When the owners default, it leads to repossession rather than foreclosure, and these defaults are not included in the foreclosure data."

Nieves focuses her report on rural Merced County in California, which has been hit hard:

Driving around depressed developments ringed by almond orchards, John Pedrozo, a Merced County supervisor who represents Planada, could not contain his distress.

"I've lived here 50 years and I've never seen anything like it," said Pedrozo, who grew up on a dairy farm. "Businesses are closing, people going bankrupt. And the empty houses are vandalized." A common problem, he said, is that on weekends, vacant, foreclosed houses are crashed for wild parties and trashed.

In small towns, even one or two foreclosed properties can have a big effect on the community, Pedrozo said. "It's not just that property values go down," he said. "But also that people lose their neighbors and their community." (Read more)

Virginia makes a felony of cockfighting, so West Virginia could see more of the illegal fights

Recently, Virginia joined the 36 other states that make cockfighting a felony. Since cockfighting remains a misdemeanor in West Virginia, officials with the Humane Society of the United States warn that the crime could be on the rise there, reports Tom Searls of The Charleston Gazette.

"The national Humane Society rates West Virginia's laws among the most lax, along with neighboring Ohio and Kentucky," Searls writes. John Goodwin, the national Humane Society's manager of animal fighting issues, told Searls that the majority of cockfighting goes on in rural areas — such as the mountainous region along the Virginia-West Virginia border — where locals know what's going on. Thus, there need to major deterrents, Goodwin said.

Two bills dealing with cockfighting failed to gain traction in the West Virginia Legislature, one of which would have made any participation in cockfighting a felony. Ohio and Tennessee have considered strengthening cockfighting laws, but Kentucky has not. (Read more)

This week, a bill making cockfighting a felony passed the Tennessee House Criminal Practice Subcommittee, reports Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "The bill, HB2143, would increase the penalty for active participation in cockfighting from the current Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, to a Class E, punishable by up to a prison term of between one and six years and a fine of $3,000," Humphrey writes. "A spectator at a cockfight can now be punished for a Class C misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine. The bill would raise the crime of being a spectator to a Class A misdemeanor."

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director of the Humane Society, told Humphrey that supporters of cockfighting have been lobbying legislators to oppose the change. "We feel like they are cowering to the loud voices of the minority of people in this state who enjoy cockfighting," she said. (Read more)

The Humane Society ranks the states in order of cockfighting laws, with Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Mississippi and Alabama at the bottom.

Disaster and food-stamp programs at center of what could be final obstacle to passing Farm Bill

Sen. Tom Harkin, the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, said Thursday that the Farm Bill is all but done, reports Peter Shinn of the Brownfield Network. There is one final obstacle: "How to come up with the roughly $10 billion over the Congressional Budget Office baseline for farm programs that lawmakers have agreed to spend on the measure."

About $4 billion of that money is slated for a permanent disaster relief program, and Harkin said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York City might want some of that for food stamps, which are part of the bill's nutrition title. "We've got a new disaster program for $4 billion that's going to a few states," Harkin told Shinn. "So Rangel's looking at that and saying, 'Why should it go there? Why shouldn't it go to nutrition?'" (Read more)

Harkin said yesterday that the dispute needs to be solved in the next 48 hours, reports Dan Looker of Agriculture Online. "That's necessary for Ag Committee staffers to have time to put a final draft of a bill in writing and get a conference committee of House and Senate Ag Committee members to approve it before the latest Farm Bill extension runs out on April 18," Looker writes. (Read more)

For more perspective on the Farm Bill, check out this report from Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register.

Mud makes rural roads so bad in Iowa that state Farm Bureau seeks fuel-tax increase

Iowa's rural roads are so bad -- mud is actually stopping mail service and keeping students from getting to school -- that the state Farm Bureau is asking the legislature to raise fuel taxes, even at a time of record fuel prices. (Photo by Brian Chambers, Albia Newspapers)

"Secondary roads in Iowa always get a little soft and gooey this time of year as the ground thaws and temperatures rise," writes Dien Judge of the Iowa Independent. "But the brutal winter that Iowa just endured seems to have created a perfect storm for country roads around the state. Now many rural Iowans have been left stuck in the mud. For several weeks in March, many rural roads in southern Iowa were literally impassable."

State Rep. Richard Arnold, former chair of the state House Transportation Committee, told Judge, "A lot of our roads are in bad shape, not just the rock roads. But for the past few years the highway commission has put a lot of the Department of Transportation money into building bypasses around larger cities. They've forgotten about us out here." (Read more)

Soaring precious-metals prices spur a new wave of gold prospectors, reopen Idaho silver mines

Soaring prices for precious metals have prompted the reopening and expansion of silver mines in Idaho and spurred a new wave of gold prospectors elsewhere in the West, The New York Times reported in separate stories this week.

Driven also by "a suburban thirst for new outdoor activities, tens of thousands ... are taking to historically rich streams and hills all across the West in search of nuggets, flecks and — more often than not — specks of gold," Jesse McKinley writes from Colfax, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada. McKinley's numbers come from the Gold Prospectors Association of America, which says its membership is up almost 40 percent from "a few years ago, to more than 45,000.

Another number: Last year, McKinley reports, "The California Department of Fish and Game issued nearly 3,000 permits for dredging, even as it began to look into whether dredging was causing 'adverse environmental effects' or harm to fish. A coalition of sport and tribal fishermen asked Monday for a two-year moratorium on dredging till the environmental impact could be determined."

And here's the large economic angle: "The one gold-digging law that hasn’t changed over the years is this: If you want to make money during a gold rush, don’t mine the hills. Mine the miners," McKinley writes, citing businesses that have cropped up to serve the new generation of prospectors. (Read more)

Northern Idaho's Silver Valley was evolving into "another Western confection of ski slopes and condos for newcomers with money, [then] the real estate market slowed, and the price of silver soared" to $17 an ounce from $5, William Yardley writes from the town of Wallace. Shoshone County, which had gone from one of the state's richest counties to one of its poorest, now has 700 miners, 200 more than last year, and their average annual pay is $57,000, "more than double the average of all other jobs."

And, Yardley reports, "For now, at least, the new mining boom does not appear to be creating a culture conflict between miners and those nurturing a new Silver Valley. ... There is talk of reopening a local mining training site (it is a mine-it-yourself tourist attraction now), and an industry that declares itself cleaner and safer than ever is reaching out across the West to find workers." (Read more)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rural Democrats feel pain of 'pay as you go' as another Farm Bill deadline looms this month

David Rogers of Politico writes:
Could “pay-go” mean “no-go” for a new farm bill this spring? That’s the question that tortures rural Democrats who pressed hardest in Congress last year for the tougher anti-deficit rules but now find themselves tied in knots, trying to write a plan for producers at home. . . . Failure to meet the next deadline, April 18, will surely increase pressure to punt past this growing season. And the next few weeks could see a desperate endgame in which each side plots to jam the other on how to pay for new spending. If it weren’t so embarrassing, it would be laughable: a Washington comedy of errors that stars warring Senate committees, a farm lobby stubbornly resistant to change and a set of budget baselines that seem to change all the time.
"Pay-go" is short for pay as you go, a rule that requires "Congress to come up with new revenues or savings to pay for any new funding above the baselines prepared by its official scorer, the Congressional Budget Office," Rogers explains. When the House used a "relatively modest tax provision" to pay for its version of the bill, that set off a jurisdictional battle in the Senate, one piece of which is over whether to give disaster benefits as tax credits.

Here's our favorite paragraph in the story: "Government’s whole role in agriculture begins with the notion that the very unpredictability of farming justifies some safety net to help producers manage their risks. Pay-go begins at the opposite end: demanding predictability and requiring detailed cost forecasts five or 10 years in advance from CBO. The task is that much harder, given the ethanol boom and swings in commodity prices."

There's a lot more good stuff that explains a complex topic, with a cherry on top: Rogers writes about proposed tax breaks for "timber interests, farm machinery sales and, yes, race horses." Hey, since the tobacco program was repealed, horses have been Kentucky's No. 1 farm product! But Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has allies on the measure, such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Rogers notes. His 1,250-word story is a fine read.

In rural Kansas, landowners with small oil wells cash in on rising crude prices

Thanks to climbing prices for crude oil, some rural landowners in Kansas are finding their small oil wells might be quite profitable again, reports Rick Montgomery for The Kansas City Star.

"With the value of a barrel of oil around $100, "the word 'boom' is back in rural places like Barton County, Kan., where more than 1,600 oil wells operate," Montgomery writes. "Some produce 50 barrels daily, but most are so-called stripper wells, yielding fewer than 10 barrels. Last year, the assessed value of the county’s oil and gas properties topped $32 million. That’s about five times their 2000 value, and enough to pump millions of extra tax dollars into local coffers."

The prospect of such profits has investors such as Tim Cain, at right in Star photo, willing to spend $35,000 to drill a shallow well that might only produce a half barrel a day. He might even drill 20 wells on his land. Landowners who aren't willing to put up that money for their own drilling operations can cash in by leasing land to independent outfits such as Cain. Montgomery writes that "economic ripples" are easily seen in the "Land of Little Oil": "A repaved road with fresh stripes. A family’s new Denali. In Great Bend, no vacancy at the Angus Inn because of out-of-town crews laying pipe. A farm-implement dealership sold out of combines." (Read more)

Tennessee governor gets rival counties to cooperate for economic development in rural areas

Experts agree that regional cooperation can spur economic development in rural areas, but getting counties that have long been rivals on the football field, the basketball floor and the job-chasing circuit takes some doing. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is doing it, or at least trying to, and took his program on the road this week. (Photo from The Leader, Covington)

"The program is designed to acquaint veteran site selectors with development opportunities in Tennessee's rural communities and to give those communities the opportunity to gather feedback from veteran business consultants," reports Gary Nelson of the tri-weekly Crossville Chronicle, who covered Bredesen's "Orange Carpet Tour" stop in an adjoining county. Bredesen's program also "includes an expanded series of tax incentives for companies investing in rural communities with historically high unemployment and the Rural Opportunity Fund, a new source of capital available to rural Tennessee businesses."

Nelson reports that the mayors of three adjoining counties on the somewhat mountainous Cumberland Plateau "
signed a memorandum of understanding requiring the counties to provide preliminary data for the Orange Carpet Tour, present an economic development project presentation to the site-selection consultant in order to receive suggestions and feedback, seek out opportunities for regional collaboration, work with [state] regional jobs development specialists and community development specialists to implement action items identified by the site selection consultant, and submit quarterly reports ... regarding progress of implementing action items identified during the Orange Carpet Tour. The reports must be available for a period of two years."

"Officials say some counties were reluctant to sign on to the Orange Carpet program because the agreements require local governments to try to implement any improvements recommended by the consultant," The Associated Press reported. But Cumberland, Morgan and Roane counties "have already entered into the Plateau Partnership Park on a piece of land in the three counties consisting of more than 1,000 acres," Nelson reports. (Read more) The area is near an airport and an Interstate 40 interchange.

Bredesen made four other stops to recognize tri-county groups:
Clay, Pickett and Fentress in north-central Tennessee; Coffee, Franklin and Lincoln in east south-central; Lewis, Wayne and Lawrence in west south-central; Lauderdale, Haywood and Tipton in the west. For his news release on the tour, click here.

Illinois Senate passes bill preserving press rights to photograph high-school sports

The Illinois Press Association and the Illinois High School Association have fought for months over who has the right to shoot — and sell — photographs at high school athletic competitions. As part of a deal with Visual Image Photography Inc. of Cedarburg, Wisc., the IHSA has barred newspaper photographers to preserve the commercial company's "exclusive rights" to images from high school events. The Illinois Senate, however, is stepping in to protect the rights of the press, reports the National Press Photographers Association.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate voted 47-5 in favor of bill that would stop the IHSA "from regulating the use of news photographs and the media's access to public high school competitions," NPPA reports. "An identical bill is pending in the state's House of Representatives."

The IPA, which has sued the IHSA several times over the past few months for its attempts to keep newspapers from championship events, helped draft the legislation. "The IHSA should not be able to monopolize photography" of high school sports, said Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. James A. DeLeo (D-Chicago). "That should be open to anybody."(Read more) For our past coverage of the controversy, and similar disputes in other states, go here.

Va. coal plant gets near-final OK; activists arrested at N.C. plant that recently won expansion permit

For the past few months, we been watching the debate over Dominion Power's $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant proposed for southwestern Virginia's Wise County. That debate is almost over, since the State Corporation Commission approved the plant's construction plans on Wednesday, reports The Roanoke Times.

One hurdle remains, because "the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board has to issue a general air pollution control permit and another one addressing mercury emissions before construction can begin, said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality," The Times reports. "The board likely will address the issue at its May 22 meeting, but it's unclear whether members will take final action, said board Chairman Richard Langford." Opponents of the 585-megawatt plant said they had collected 30,000 signatures of people opposed to the plant and said more than 60 religious leaders in the state have come out against the proposal. (Read more)

The air board, in "an unusual move," voted 3-2 to take over the permitting process from the DEQ staff, noted The Coalfield Progress in Norton. "Hayden said the board expressed concerns that all options aren’t being addressed and DEQ’s proposed emissions limits aren’t stringent enough," reports Wise County's main newspaper. (Read more)

Meanwhile, in North Carolina yesterday, four protesters of an expansion of a Duke Energy power plant were arrested for chaining themselves to a construction equipment at the Cliffside Steam Station, reports Bruce Henderson of the Charlotte Observer. "The protest was part of what the international Rising Tide network calls the 'Fossil Fools Day of Action,' which blames coal-fired power plants' carbon dioxide emissions for global warming," Henderson writes. "Four protesters chained themselves to construction equipment at Cliffside at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Abigail Singer of Rising Tide in Asheville. Critics have faulted Duke for advocating reduced carbon emissions while expanding the plant." (Read more)

Senate panel looks into allegations raised by newspaper series on poultry-worker injuries

The Charlotte Observer's six-part series on injured poultry processing plant workers, "The Cruelest Cuts," made headlines in other newspapers, with its allegations that processor House of Raeford underreported injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The report prompted Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to hold a hearing on the matter yesterday, reports Alicia Karapetian of

"Tuesday's Senate hearing included testimony from a representative from union group Change to Win, a former OSHA chief, a representative from an injury-prevention consulting firm and a worker from a Tyson Foods Inc. facility in Robards, Ky., who was representing her local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union," Karapetian writes. "There were not, however, any processing companies represented."

House of Raeford has said many of the cases highlighted by the Observer report were "factually incomplete or inaccurate." Kennedy said he plans to hold another hearing in the spring. (Read more, subscription required)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reasons for concern, but also many reasons to cheer, as Kentucky honors Hall of Fame journalists

Honorees gave reasons for concern, and reasons to cheer, about journalism yesterday as the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame inducted new members.

Veteran farm broadcaster Jack Crowner of Louisville, left, said coverage of rural Kentucky has suffered "because of the consolidation of radio stations and newspapers," and recalled how he once did a weekly show for WAVE-TV from a farm owned by the station, illustrating where food and fiber came from Since then, he said, "We've had about two of three generations of food illiterates."

Crowner also recalled how the head of a large station in Chicago told him almost 40 years ago that "Radio is local, local and local," something else that has changed with satellite technology and consolidation of ownership -- and not just in radio. "My concern is we've lost the touch of locally owned radio and television and newspapers," he told a luncheon crowd in Lexington.

Virginia "Ginny" Edwards, editor of Education Week and president of Editorial Projects in Education, said nonprofit news outlets like hers are becoming more important, even as the Internet increases the number of news sources. "Very few of these new enterprises are engaged in original, in-depth reporting," she said, calling for more support "from the world of philanthropy" for nonprofit journalism.

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit that owns the for-profit St. Petersburg Times, played off the earlier speakers and recalled his roots at a 250-watt station in Princeton, Ky. "There's been a lot of talk today about the demise of journalism," he said, proposing that the audience "do what we did in Caldwell County -- have a revival."

Tompkins, right, cited recent example after recent example of important investigative reports by newspapers and television stations and asked, "Is that good journalism?" The crowd responded with "Amen" to those examples and Tompkins' follow-up points: Journalists must "tell a better story" about the importance of their work. They must "fight for better access" to courts, records and meetings of public agencies. "We need to keep fighting because the blowback is unprecedented" from government, especially federal officials. And, Tompkins said, "Can we just cover the damn news," instead of the latest Britney Spears underpants story? "Let's knock off the foolishness."

To journalists and academics feeling burnout partly because they question the worth of their work, Tompkins cited the current environment of war, recession and a presidential election and asked, "Can you imagine a time in our lives when journalism was more important?" To watch a video of Tompkins' speech, click here.

Others joining the Hall of Fame yesterday were T. George Harris, founding editor of Psychology Today and award-winning executive at other magazines; Don Edwards, retired columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader; and two posthumous honorees: Kent Hollingsworth, longtime editor of The Blood-Horse, the premier Thoroughbred magazine; and William Ray Mofield, who developed broadcast journalism programs at Murray State University and Southern Illinois University.

The hall recognizes those who have made significant contributions to journalism and are natives of Kentucky or spent a significant part of their careers in Kentucky. It is overseen by the University of Kentucky Journalism Alumni Association and the School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

Analyst says Clinton banking on 'hillbilly firewall'

Hillary Clinton is banking on a "hillbilly firewall" to preserve her chances for the Democratic presidential nomination, says Chris Stirewalt, political editor of The Eaxminer in Washington and a former reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia.

"Stirewalt points out that of the remaining 566 Democratic delegates left to be won, 352 come from Appalachian states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky," reports Scott Finn of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. (We are obliged to note that only West Virginia lies entirely in Appalachia, and that the region covers only minority parts of the other states.)

"Clinton is favored to win all those states except North Carolina," Finn notes. "If previous races in Ohio and Tennessee are a guide, she’ll enjoy heavy support from Appalachian counties. Clinton is behind in delegates and popular votes. Stirewalt says she has to win big in Appalachia to have any chance at the nomination." Stirewalt told Finn, "As the number of options for Hillary Clinton winnows down to a very few, you have to see that path takes her right through Appalachia."

Finn notes that Clinton and Obama differ little on the issues, "so it comes down to, who do we feel more comfortable around." University of Louisville political-science professor Laurie Rhodebeck told him, "We want our candidates to be people who would sit down and have a cup of coffee with us. We’re talking about race now, but if you think about the 2004 election, there was a lot of discomfort with Senator Kerry, because people just felt that he wasn’t quite like them. Whether it was the wealth, or the worldliness, the education, or the stiff demeanor, I’m not sure. And Al Gore got a bit of that in 2000. It may be that some of that hesitance is just playing out in a more extreme form with an African-American candidate."

Finn continues, "Stirewalt says it’s not exactly racism, but something more subtle…a feeling of, “I know who you are, and he doesn’t.” That’s why, he says, Hillary Clinton could beat John McCain in West Virginia, but Obama can’t. That's what polls suggest in both West Virginia and Kentucky. To read Finn's story, click here. To listen to it, click here.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Energy industries draw workers to rural Wyoming, spur state's population to all-time high

An "abundance of jobs" in Wyoming, especially in the energy industries of coal mining and natural gas drilling, "is driving up the state population, including some rural areas not normally associated with growth," reports Jared Miller of the Casper Star-Tribune.

Miller reports that the state's population reached an all-time high of 522,830, up by more than 10,000 people or 2 percent between 2006 and 2007. It was the ninth-largest growth rate in the country, but Wyoming is still the nation's least-populated state.

The state's energy centers saw the most growth, especially the coal country of Campbell County in northeast Wyoming. “People of working age are coming here and bringing their families and starting families,” Amy Bittner, economist with the state Economic Analysis Division, told Miller.“That was a component of the population change that we hadn't seen in Wyoming for a while now.” (Read more)

Rural Development programs would get no new money under latest budget framework for Farm Bill

"The latest budget framework released on March 25 for the 2008 Farm Bill provides zero new resources for community and economic development in rural America," writes Matthew D. Chase, executive director of the National Association of Development Organizations. "Out of the more than 10 titles of the Farm Bill, Rural Development is the most prominent issue area provided a big, fat goose egg."

Chase calls that "an ominous strategic mistake . . . at the worst possible time, as the United States is now falling further behind our global competitors in investing in the fundamental building blocks for sustainable economic growth and competitiveness – community and physical infrastructure." USDA Rural Development programs already have a project backlog of more than $2 billion, Chase writes.

Passage of a Farm Bill has been complicated by the Bush administration's threat to veto any measure above a certain price tag, putting Rural Development in competition with commodity, nutrition and conservation programs. "Rural Development in the Farm Bill context shouldn’t be viewed as a competitor, but as a complementary component," Chase writes. "The agricultural sector is a primary beneficiary of just about every investment made by USDA Rural Development, whether related to improved water and water treatment facilities, improved housing options for workers, more affordable access to business financing, assistance for value-added production marketing or cheaper and reliable services from rural electric and
telephone cooperatives." (Read more)

Many eyes on freshman mountaineer as N.C. superdelegates prepare to endorse Obama

On March 8, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina's 11th District, right, told the Times-News of Hendersonville, "I do not plan on endorsing another candidate prior to the convention." Last week, Shuler said "He is not excited about any of the three presidential candidates left in the race," James Shea reported, quoting Shuler as saying, "I don't think any of the three gives me a sense that we can come together." Today, though, The Wall Street Journal reported that the former John Edwards supporter, who represents a district that likely favors Hillary Clinton, would join the other Democrats in the state's congressional delegation in endorsing Barack Obama.

"North Carolina's seven Democratic House members are poised to endorse Sen. Obama as a group -- just one has so far -- before that state's May 6 primary, several Democrats say," reported Jackie Calmes. But lower in the story, she seemed to leave Shuler an out: "One North Carolinian confirmed that at least several of the state's House members would go public in favor of Sen. Obama before long." (Read more) And Lisa Zagaroli of the News & Observer in Raleigh reports Shuler "remains neutral, his spokesman Andrew Whalen said. Still, endorsements may be imminent." (Read more)

NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said in First Read this morning that a Shuler embrace of Obama might be "the biggest blow to Hillary Clinton's prospects in the state." Todd noted that Shuler, first elected in 2006, is "a conservative Democrat from a traditionally Republican district" ( map) and "was reportedly one of several superdelegates wined and dined at a recent schmancy dinner chez Hillary, is the only Democrat who represents a congressional slice that currently polls in the New York senator's favor. His constituents are mostly white (over 90 percent of residents are white, per the 2000 census) and rural -- making them one of the most important symbolic demographics being targeted by both candidates in the race." Bill Clinton spoke in Asheville Friday night and "energized the crowd," reports John Boyl;e of the Citizen-Times.

Shuler, of Waynesville, was a star quarterback at the University of Tennessee and recently blamed presumptive Republican nominee John McCain for killing an immigration bill Shuler sponsored, Shea reported last week. His campaign has received $10,000 from Obama's political action committee and nothing from Clinton's, Shea reported.

Christian Science Monitor's online 'Patchwork Nation' redraws campaign map

Since the 2000 presidential election, red-and-blue colored campaign maps have become a fixture of television and newspaper coverage. The Christian Science Monitor has created a unique online campaign map by adding a lot more color-coded categories and offering more nuanced information than simple party affiliation or recent polling trends. "Instead, the online feature divides the entire nation up by counties, offering descriptions of each as a 'community' based on income, economy, population, race, religion and some past voting trends," reports Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher. "The site then monitors which counties the top three candidates are visiting and offers data on which kinds of communities they are targeting."

Patchwork Nation is funded by a $250,000 grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and as part of that grant, the feature's information is available free to any news outlet. "You can take it and apply it to your state, your metro area and even your county," Dante Chinni, a former Project for Excellence in Journalism staffer who is running the Web map, told Strupp. "We hope this lets journalists in general use this data and lets the citizens on the street know more about it, too." (Read more)

The name comes from the title of a book by scholars James Gimpel and Jason Schknecht on the connections betwe
en geography and voting choices, reports Jennifer P. Brown of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, one of the communities highlighted by the Monitor. Gimpel, a University of Maryland professor, provided much of the data used by the online feature. (Read more)

Here are the 11 categories and their representative communities, as well as some links to local newspapers in the smaller ones
  • Boom Towns: Eagle, Colo. (pop. 49,500)
  • Campus and Careers: Ann Arbor, Mich. (pop. 346,550)
  • Emptying Nests: Clermont, Fla. (pop. 291,197)
  • Evangelical Epicenters: Nixa, Mo. (pop. 70,823)
  • Immigration Nation: El Mirage, Ariz. (pop. 3,721,082)
  • Industrial Metropolis: Philadelphia, Penn. (pop. 1,455,065)
  • Military Bastions: Hopkinsville, Ky. (pop. 69,533)
  • Minority Central: Baton Rouge, La. (pop. 410,665)
  • Monied 'Burbs: Los Alamos, N.M. (pop. 18,783)
  • Service Worker Centers: Lincoln City, Ore. (pop. 46,591)
  • Tractor Country: Sioux Center, Iowa (pop. 32,317)
    • Sioux Center News, a 2,000-circulation weekly (not online)
The site is useful, especially its tracker of candidate appearances and the varying speeches they give based on audience. And since it's meant to be used by all news outlets, by all means take a look. The Web site is

Holocaust survivors offer first-person accounts of history in small-town classrooms in Appalachia

In April 1945, Allied soldiers first discovered Nazi concentration camps and the horror of the Holocaust. In recent weeks, some of the survivors of those camps have shared their stories with students in grade schools and on college campuses in Appalachia, and The Roanoke (Va.) Times and The Daily Independent in Ashland, Ky., have passed those stories on to readers.

Ferrum College, a private school of about 1,000 students in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, has been offering an elective class on the Holocaust for 10 years, reports Ruth L. Tisdale of the Times. During the semester-long course, a different teacher lectures each session on a different aspect of the Holocaust. This week, the class had a visit from Nathan Kranowski, whose parents had been confined in a concentration camp and later executed while he was child during World War II, facts he did not learn until he was 25. (Kranowski shows photos to the class, in a Times photo by Josh Meltzer.) (Read more)

In Russell, Ky., middle school students heard from Ann Klein, who as a child survived Auschwitz, reports Mike James of the Ashland daily. Of the 1,600 people taken from her hometown in Hungary, "seven men and 21 survived to be liberated" from the concentration camp and the infamous Josef Mengele, James writes. Klein, now 86 and living in Louisville, was taken to Auschwitz in June 1944. Klein spoke to the middle schoolers about her experiences, and James recounts one:
“When we got out of the train, there was Mengele. He was pointing to the right and to the left,” Klein remembers.

At the time she didn’t know what that meant. Prisoners who went to the right lived, at least for a while, to work and suffer. Those who went left went to the gas chambers.

Mengele looked at her and pointed right. Moments later Klein looked over her shoulder for her mother. She wasn’t there.

“Later we wondered where the old people were and the children and the babies,” she said. “The inmates who had been there knew exactly where they were. They pointed to the dark smoke coming out of the crematorium chimney and said, ‘That’s where your family is.’”
In addition to the interview with Klein, James also spoke with John Rosenberg, who visited Russell Middle School to talk about growing up Jewish in Germany and then escaping to America in 1940. In a third story, James explains how the visits came about, and how a Russell Middle School teacher, Benji Adkins, filmed the talks as well as student reactions afterward. Adkins sent both to Channel One News, an advertising service that airs news programming in schools.

Federal agency debuts Web site that allows comparisons of hospital care and costs

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services unveiled a new Web site on Friday that allows consumers and journalists to compare hospitals based on patient satisfaction surveys, quality information and pricing information for specific procedures.

The Hospital Compare Web site draws information from the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Hospital Survey (HCAHPS). According to a news release, HCAHPS is the first national, standardized, publicly reported survey of patient perspectives on hospital care, and it includes information from more than 2,500 hospitals around the country.

“Medicare beneficiaries tell us that just like the information they receive about other products and services they consume, they want to know what their neighbors are saying about the care they received while in the hospital; they want to know how much it costs; and they want to know about the quality of that care. We are now sharing that information,” CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems said in a statement. “The nation’s hospitals and others who work with patients share our goal of improving the quality of care for all. Our quality improvement efforts include a wide-ranging set of tools and data to do just that.”

The Web site is fairly easy to use. Users can search for hospitals by name, city, county, zip code or state. Searches can also be narrowed based on the distance between a hospital and a given location. From there, users can search for information on specific surgical procedures or health problems. The result is a lot of good, clear data about how patients were treated from beginning to end, and how much Medicare covered.

West Virginia native Kathy Mattea, prompted by mine disaster, issues an album about coal miners

After the Sago Mine disaster, Kathy Mattea, a West Virginia native and musician, decided to record an album about coal miners. In an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Mona Segatoleslami, Mattea (in photo from her Web site) describes that album, Coal, as well as her recent environmental activism.

"I just had a lot of emotion about it," Mattea said of the Sago mine explosion that killed 12 people in 2006. "I mean, I sat in my office reading the news stories and weeping. I hadn't realized that I had been saving a list of songs in the back of my mind, of coal-mining songs. And I thought, you know, you've thought about this record for years. This is the place to channel this emotion, into this record."

The album includes covers of songs such as "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," "Coal Tattoo," "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" and "Black Lung," which span many decades and genres. Mattea grew up in Cross Lanes in Kanawha County around coal, and she wanted the album to cover everything from "union organizing to songs of injustices that were going on, and all the different nuances of that lifestyle."

About the same time as the Sago tragedy, Mattea became involved with former Vice President Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." She saw him give the famous slide show at Vanderbilt University and later enrolled in one of the first classes to become a traveling presenter of the material. It's an interesting interview, complete with clips from the new album (which comes out tomorrow), and worth a listen. (Read more)

Leader of Internet industry group says broadband gap mainly a matter of customers, not availability

The rural-urban digital divide is caused mainly by lack of customers willing to pay for broadband and other Internet service, not a lack of service availability, according to David McClure, CEO and president of the United States Internet Industry Association, a lobbying group.

"While deployment is advancing rapidly, adoption of broadband by consumers – even to those who have it readily available – lags," McClure said in a report this month. "Although he says that the government must play a role in speeding up the Internet and continuing to ensure deployment across the nation, he insists that these efforts are far less important than educating residents about the availability of existing broadband," says Broadband Reports. (Read more)

West Virginia wildlife agency buys editorial control of 'news' segments on Sinclair stations in state

"West Virginia Wildlife" is a recurring segment on WCHS-TV and WVAH-TV, and it won a regional Emmy in 2007 in the category of "Health/Science/Environment - News." The weekly segment, however, is not news. It's sponsored — and controlled editorially — by West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources, reports Andrew Clevenger of The Charleston Gazette. WCHS-TV and WVAH-TV both broadcast to the Charleston and Huntington markets.

Sinclair Media, which owns the two stations, "receives $90,000 annually to produce and air 52 90-second 'West Virginia Wildlife' segments, as well as 30-second ads that lead into the segment," Clevenger writes. "In return, the state agency maintains editorial control over the final product." The agency's Wildlife Resources Section must approve scripts and the promos ahead of time, and it provides segment topics and interview locations. The contract also includes the provision that the stations cover National Hunting and Fishing Days celebration at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park and the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association Hunt Show in Charleston.

"While the station does acknowledge the sponsorship, there is no indication during the news broadcast that 'West Virginia Wildlife' is any different from other news segments," Clevenger writes. "But unlike other advertisers, who might sponsor the station's weather coverage every night, DNR dictates its own coverage."(Read more) According to the Web site of WCHS-TV, the station "has teamed exclusively with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, who will be our guide to the West Virginia's wildlife programs and activities." To watch archived segments, go here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Democrats equivocate on mountaintop removal

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both equivocate on the controversial issue of mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The presidential primaries in the state where the issue is biggest, West Virginia and Kentucky, are May 13 and May 20, respectively.

Clinton told The Courier-Journal of Louisville yesterday that if elected president, she would serve as a mediator to help find solutions to the problem. She was interviewed by C-J Indiana statehouse reporter Lesley Stedman Wiedenbiener, who covered the senator's stop in New Albany, Ind., on her way to stops in Kentucky. Wiedenbiener asked, "Mountaintop mining has been a big issue in Kentucky. How would you approach that issue?"

Clinton replied, "This is one of these areas where we've got to get everybody together and come up with some solutions. I understand the argument that it's a cost-effective way to get at the coal, but I also understand and sympathize with the concerns people have about stream and river pollution, about the effects on the environment and the livelihoods of people who are in other walks of life in the economy. My administration would serve as a mediator and conciliatory presence in trying to figure out what we're going to do." For the rest of the interview, on other subjects, click here.

Clinton's position contrasted with the initially reported position of Obama, who told the anti-mountaintop-mining group Appalachian Voices in January, "Strip mining is an environmental disaster. We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains." (Read more)

But in Beckley, W.Va., last week, Obama also equivocated: "My job as president, and one of the keys of federal government, is to listen and work with local and state officials who are knowledgeable about these issues, whether it’s a governor, or a mayor, or senators, so that we can make this work properly. One thing I can promise you I won’t do, though, is I’m just going to take a bunch of contributions from the coal industry and then just do their bidding, any more than I would just listen to the environmentalists. I want to listen to everybody, get everybody’s point of view, and then make the best decision for the people of West Virginia." For a transcript by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, click here. For audio, click here.