A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Amish booming; have communities in 28 states
Donald Kraybill of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, an expert on the Amish, found that their population is booming because they insist on marrying within their religious communities, have an average of five or six children and retain more youth than other groups -- perhaps because 90 percent have Amish-only schools available to them. Kraybill said his study included all Amish groups that use only horse and buggy transportation and claim the name Amish, but excluded Mennonites, who broke from the Amish in 1693.
"Amish numbers more than doubled in 10 states, and there was an 82 percent increase in the number of Amish communities throughout the United States," Jon Hurdle writes for Reuters. "There are now Amish communities in 28 U.S. states. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, the three states that together have most of the Amish population, their share of the total Amish population fell to 62 percent this year from 69 percent in 1992. They have been drawn to other states by fertile farmland at reasonable prices, work in specialized occupations such as cabinet-making or construction, and rural isolation that allows them to maintain their lifestyle, according to the study."
The next five states in Amish population are Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Missouri and Kentucky. For a state-by-state count from Elizabethtown's Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, click here. Kraybill is senior fellow at the center, an excellent source of information about the Amish and related groups.
Oregon Rural Congress meets during rough patch
The Oregon Rural Congress met for what was "largely an airing of perceived obstacles to rural prosperity," reports Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian of Portland. Nearly 200 people showed up for what Preusch says was "an effort to pioneer a common agenda" for a report to state and federal officials.
"The congress comes during a rough year for rural Oregon," Preusch notes. "Budget cuts closed the state Office of Rural Policy, the Oregon congressional delegation has been unable to win renewal of a county payment program crucial to many budgets, and a new state ethics law led to widespread resignations on local boards and commissions." There was a widespread view in the congress, which meets annually, that state government is an urban entity that largely dismisses the needs of state's rural population. (Read more)
The Oregonian said in an editorial the day the congress ended, "Too many urban decisions ignite wildfires of unintended consequence that ravage rural communities. ... As they drive home, they might do well to remember just how much of this state's wealth, plywood to pinot noir, remains tied up in rural lands." Ultimately both rural and urban Oregonians need to understand, the editorial said, "that Oregonians are in this together, and there's no future in deepening the political divide in this state." To read the editorial click here.
Shift from confined animal feeding operations would raise meat prices but cut other costs
Roberts' opinion piece is based in large measure on a report this spring from a study commission funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. He reminds us of some fundamentals that most rural residents may have forgotten or never knew because they don't live on farms: Confined cattle fatten faster because they don't burn calories, and corn has more calories than grass; and "small, steady doses of antibiotics kill the low-grade infections that normally plague livestock, dosed animals spend fewer calories fighting infection. ... When fed antibiotics, livestock can grow 25 percent faster on the same intake of feed."
Bu the antibiotics, used to combat "crowded, unsanitary conditions," have spawned resistant disease strains, and confined animal feeding operations can be major sources of water pollution. "Taxpayers spend $4.1 billion cleaning up livestock sewage leaks and $2.5 billion treating salmonella," Roberts writes. "According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs may be costing taxpayers $38 billion a year -- costs that aren't reflected in the retail price of meat." (Read more)
For state and county statistics on CAFOs, broken down by type and number of animals, from Food and Water Watch, click here.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Curing persistent poverty requires more social capital, not more federal grants, study suggests
"Contrary to expectation, higher federal grant funding per capita tends to exacerbate rather than ameliorate poverty rates in a locality," the researchers write in the Journal of Socio-Economics. In a footnote, they say, "This suggests the possibility of reverse causality – that federal grants are directed more to poorer places." But statistical regression analysis, using the change in poverty rates between 1989 and 1999, "yields the same result, even when we control for initial poverty rates." Very intriguing and, as researchers often say, worth studying more.
The researchers are Stephan Goetz of Penn State and its Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development and Anil Rupasingha of the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. They developed an index of social capital based on a county's number of bowling centers, public golf courses, membership clubs for sports and recreation, fitness centers, civic, business and social associations, religious, labor, professional and political organizations and tax-exempt, non-profit groups, as well as the percentage of eligible voters who voted in presidential elections and the county's response rate to the census.
"They found that rural places with more of these meeting places and organizations had lower levels of family poverty. Social capital seemed to reduce poverty in rural America. This wasn't true in the cities, where social capital had little effect on family poverty rates," Bishop writes. We still conder about cause and effect; the authors don't say whether they did a regression analysis to see if being poor discourages the development of social capital. But we do think persistently poor places need to think more about developing their social capital.
The study has many other facets; one is the effect of big-box stores. "The more big box retailers like Wal-Mart there are in a community, the higher the family poverty rate. Many rural communities try to attract big-box retailers. The two researchers conclude this strategy may be self-defeating," Bishop writes. The researchers note, "Jobs created by big box retailers are mostly low-paying jobs that may not help families escape from poverty, and these establishments tend also not to reinvest locally their profits earned."The study report, titled "Social and political forces as determinants of poverty," was published last year in the Journal of Socio-Economics (Number 36, 2007, pages 650-671). For access, click here.
For 50 years at the same station, Don Neagle has kept up the public-service traditions of rural radio
"Guests might be an author on the line from Louisville or New York about a new novel, or a Vanderbilt University Divinity School professor discussing Pentecostalism in South America, or, as on an especially memorable morning, one of Western Kentucky University’s aging Hilltoppers helping Don spin their music that went gold in the Fifties. ... An avid book reader, a longtime library trustee, and married to a former teacher, Don’s passion for reading compensated for whatever he missed as a college dropout. But his learning rests easily in the folksy, good-humored chatter of a man who can talk to anybody."
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Illinois papers closing, cutting statehouse bureaus
The latest example is the Rockford Register Star, which closed its Springfield bureau on Monday, "dumping bureau chief Aaron Chambers, who is generally considered one of the best reporters under the dome," Rich Miller writes on The Capitol Fax Blog.
“Frankly, I made a choice between the bureau in Springfield and local news in the Rock River Valley,” the paper's home base, Executive Editor Linda Grist Cunningham said. “It’s a loss, but losing another local reporter would have been worse.” The paper, which at last report had a circulation of 56,000, was bought by now-troubled GateHouse Media from Gannett Co. Inc. in April 2007. GateHouse also owns the State Journal-Register in Springfield, but the Rockford paper's story made no mention of using its sister paper for statehouse stories.
Miller adds on the blog, "The Champaign News-Gazette closed its bureau earlier this year, putting Kate Clements Cohorst out of a job. The [Chicago] Tribune eliminated one of its Statehouse positions on Friday, laying off the incredibly hard-working Jeff Meitrodt, who was recruited from New Orleans not long ago. And, as of yet, the AP has not filled the vacancy created when Ryan Keith was hired by the State Journal-Register. So, that’s two bureaus and four reporting slots gone from the Statehouse this year alone, and it’s only August." Miller's post had 59 comments as of this posting. (Read more)
Journalists invited to take part in wilderness medicine training class in upstate New York
The class will feature day hikes and peak scrambles and a multi-day canoe expedition. It will involve different scenarios in which “patients” will simulate being lost, ill and injured – ranging from a simple twisted ankle to complex multi-patient accidents involving trauma and major environmental threats. This photogenic opportunity, timed to coincide with peak fall foliage colors, will include “injured” students made up in fake blood and props. Their fellow students will need to find, assess, treat and transport them.
Participants must be prepared to handle rough terrain and inclement weather. To be considered, contact Blaine Friedlander, Cornell University Press Relations Office, at 607-254-8093 or email@example.com as soon as possible.
Va. mountain county requires residents to pay for sewer service if a line runs past their home
The county commissioners acted in the face of continued opposition. "James Neeley of Powell Valley told supervisors Thursday night that his septic tank works just fine, and that it’s unfair to ask people on a fixed income to pay fees for something they’re not using," reports Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton. For her story, click here. (Subscription may be required)
In Great Plains, boom continues, but residents remember that what goes up must come down
In the Great Plains, "The housing market is holding up just fine, the banks are making plenty of loans, and employers keep adding jobs," Irwin reports. "Retail spending in the middle of the country was strong even before the $600 tax rebates this spring, and low interest rates and a tax provision in the economic stimulus bill are helping to goose already booming sales of farm equipment and pickup trucks. The price of farmland in Nebraska has doubled in the past three years, primarily reflecting the boom in commodity prices. The increase also reflects the impact of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve that enabled buyers to bid up land with borrowed money. But if crop prices drop toward historical norms, it could mean sharp decreases in land prices that would devastate some farmers."
Irwin writes from Blair, Neb., where the mayor is Jim Realph, who worked in the farm credit system in the 1980s. "The biggest risk is the interest rates. If they swing up higher, it makes it much harder for a farmer to keep paying the debt," he said. "Things just don't go up forever. I don't know when this will end, or whether it will be bad when it does, but this will go the other way." (Read more)
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Deputy poses as big-time reporter, gets small-town scribe to give number of source, who is arrested
Thinking he was simply helping a fellow reporter from a larger news organization, a common favor performed by rural journalists, reporter Lindell Kay of The Daily News in Jacksonville gave the deputy the source's telephone number. Before doing that, Kay "called a source and told him about the request," the newspaper reported. "With the source's permission, Kay provided a phone number to the man he thought was a Newsweek reporter." Daily News Publisher Elliott Potter said Kay did not provide the source's name or any other identifying information.
The "favor" led to the arrest of Robert Sharpe, an intern for the district attorney's office, who is charged with embezzlement and larceny, "accused of offering to sell the undercover deputy confidential records from a 6,000-page file he'd been told to photocopy in the case of Cpl. Cesar Laurean. Laurean was tracked down to Mexico earlier this year and is charged with killing a pregnant Marine whose burned remains were found in North Carolina," Cullinan writes. "Sharpe has now identified himself to the media as a confidential source for The Daily News." (Read more)
Sharpe told Laura Vesco of WNCT, “I’m very disappointed with the Jacksonville Daily News. I’m supposed to be a confidential source. They screwed me over and offered no help or assistance afterwards. I put my trust in this organization.” The Onslow County Sheriff's Department "later asked Kay to reveal information about his sources, and he refused, citing North Carolina's 'shield law,' which gives news reporters the right to refuse to testify about news sources," Jennifer Hlad writes for The Daily News. The 19,700-circulation paper is one of six North Carolina dailies owned by Freedom Communications.
Why some of us stick to print: the feel and smell
I think the newspaper will survive in printed form, but Worth-Nelson makes a valid argument, and with recollections from the days of hot type in Keokuk, Iowa, that parallel my own in Kentucky, so here are some more:
"In the pressroom, language was machinery with exciting physicality. Words were three-dimensional and muscular. To me, the typesetters were heroes – men who loved the shape of words, the literal style of a line, the fonts, the spaces, the ens and ems. The newspaper of the pressroom was visceral, noisy, oily, and thrilling. I remember seeing typesetters pick up the first paper off the press, snap it open, still warm, and read it like a lover. You've never seen a reader as avid as a hot-type pressman. Sometimes they'd tell a reporter they liked some story or other. Getting praise from a typesetter was among the highest compliments." (Read more)
I was a pest to typesetter Phillip Allen, who ran the Linotype at the Clinton County News in Albany, Ky., because I wanted him to do box scores for the all-star games of the local Little League and Babe Ruth League, for which I was official scorer and correspondent. Why he gave in to a 12-year-old, I don't know. The smell and feel I remember most is taking the slug of hot type from Phillip, running an ink roller over it, laying down a strip of paper and using a heavy roller to pull a galley proof. There's nothing like helping produce your own story with ink, metal and paper, and that experience is part of the reason I will buy printed newspapers as long as they're produced – which I expect to be for the rest of my life. I'm 54.
In Des Moines, Gannett cuts lead to departure of veteran farm writer and one of two D.C. reporters
The Business Record of Des Moines reports that Farm Editor Jerry Perkins asked for and received a buyout, according to a newsroom memo, and "Sources also say that Jane Norman, a reporter at the Register's Washington bureau since 1988, has been laid off, with a severance package." We have confirmed that.
Remaining in the Washington bureau is Philip Brasher, who specializes in agriculture and trade coverage. Norman did most of the coverage of Iowa's congressional delegation. The paper is also losing veteran reporter Ken Fuson, who asked for and took a buyout, according to the memo from Editor Carolyn Washburn and Managing Editor Randy Brubaker.
"Perkins started with the Des Moines Tribune in 1978 and has been the Register's farm editor since 1993," the Record reports. "Fuson has been with the Register for 25 years and has won several awards, including the Register's top writing award and Gannett Co. Inc.'s 25th anniversary Outstanding Achievement Award for Writing." For the Register's newsroom memo, via Jim Romenesko, click here.
Jason Hancock of The Iowa Independent reports that Perkins and Fuson are "the first of what will be 15 jobs to be eliminated today from within the paper’s newsroom." The Register announced last week that it would cut 23 full-time positions, 11 by not filling them. At this posting, the Register's site is silent on the subject, and so is Gannett Blog, but the latter has been busy tracking Gannett's stock price, which rallied when the cuts were revealed but has now dropped to pre-layoff levels.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Carbon sequestration, the key to 'clean coal,' might produce more pollutants, study says
Barry writes, "Power plant emissions that cause acid rain, water pollution and destruction of the ozone layer may actually be made worse by capturing the CO2 and pumping it deep underground, a new study reported online and in an upcoming International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control suggests. This increase of other emissions is largely because collecting and burying CO2 ... requires additional energy, new equipment and new chemical reactions at the plants. And using current technology, meeting all of these requirements releases extra pollutants." (Emphasis added.)
The author of the study, environmental scientist Joris Koornneef of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said it is the first “trying to quantify the trade-offs” of carbon sequestration, which takes considerable energy to compress, transported and pumped into underground geological formations. And if that energy comes from coal, the burning of it will generate more sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
“The decision to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions is going to be intertwined with decisions about how to deal with these other emissions,” said Jim Dooley, an expert in carbon sequestration at the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md. (Read more)
Wind-power projects can lead to small-town graft
U.S. export boom helps farms, not factories
Also, "While the surge in commodities is a welcome relief, it is an unreliable prop for an industrial power," Uchitelle writes. "Manufacturing jobs are continuing to disappear by the tens of thousands and factories are closing."
Uchitelle writes from Indianapolis about corn farmers John and David Hardin, a father and son who are "counting on exports to absorb their harvest. ... The Hardins have every acre of their mostly rented land planted with corn, soybeans and wheat — devoting more acreage to corn in anticipation of huge demand. The nation’s corn exports, measured in tons, have risen nearly 20 percent this year, outstripping the gains of nearly every other commodity." (Read more)
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Tests for rural journalism, from a thoughtful editor
Brown recalled this month, “After a long, deep breath, I said, ‘Maybe not, but he would have been the first to defend my doing it that way.’ And there is the sweet kernel of truth. There is no one way, one absolute dead certain way, to do it. But there are tests of whether and how the job of community journalism must be done.”
Brown outlined her tests during a panel discussion, "Case Studies of Courage in Community Journalism," at this month's convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. It was one of the more inspiring commentaries on rural journalism we have ever heard. Here is part of it, starting with her tests:
"Is it true and factual? Have I asked the right questions? Have I given the truth every chance to tell itself? Have I listened?
"Is it honest? — which, strangely, is different from truth, in that it demands a gut check, a moment of naked reckoning with oneself. Can I live with the consequences? Am I willing to accept the costs? When I am accosted in the produce section of the grocery store, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and longing for the comfort of a home-cooked meal, can I defend it?
"Is it fair? Did I choose a truth and then find the facts I needed to support it? Or did the truth find me? When the young woman sits weeping at my desk for an hour begging me not to report the story that will change her life, can I justify what I am about to do? And when she flings rocks through my window the following night, can I walk away from anger?
"The hardest part of community journalism is also the most rewarding part. We live within what we write about. Either we know what we report, or we are called on the carpet within hours, if not minutes, to account for our mistakes. We look our stories in the face every day. We meet them eye to eye. And if we deny their humanity, if we feel no compassion, then we have failed to grasp the story’s essence, and will fail the story’s telling." For Brown’s full remarks, click here.
In introducing the panel, as director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, I said, "It is more difficult to practice ethical, hard-nosed journalism in smaller communities than it is in big cities. We all know the reasons: personal connections, organizational obligations, business pressures and so on. But if community journalism is to be more than the red-headed stepchild of our craft, if it is to fulfill the promise of the First Amendment for its readers, viewers and listeners, courage is essential. And one thing the Institute tries to do is lift up and exalt those community journalists who show courage – in order to inspire other community journalists and to remind the journalism community at large about the special challenges that face journalists who try to make the First Amendment a living document at the local level."
The panel began with a video about Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky. For more on the Gishes, click here. They inspired the meteoric career of Homer Marcum, who was editor and publisher of The Martin Countian in Inez, Ky., in the 1970s and 1980s and spoke about them on the panel. Speaking after Brown was Bernard “Buddy” Stein, right, until recently the editor and co-publisher of The Riverdale Press in The Bronx, N.Y. For details of the panel discussion, click here.