Friday, March 19, 2010

Reporter quits to start paper in town that lost one

When Journal Register Co. went into bankruptcy and closed several newspapers last year, that left communities without a newspaper of their own. One was Elizabethtown, Pa. (star on MapQuest image), population 12,000 -- big enough to support a weekly paper, figured Dan Robrish, who was in his 12th year as a reporter with The Associated Press. So he quit and became a publisher, of the Elizabethtown Advocate.

“I had long been interested in running my own newspaper,” Robrish told Victor Fiorillo of Philly Mag, who writes, "For some, investing in a 'dying' newspaper industry and moving from Rittenhouse to a 2.6-square mile borough was a crazy move, but for Robrish, it was a no-brainer." Robrish told him, “The papers with the big problems are the metropolitan dailies. You can get that information from so many sources. But here, if you want to read a professionally written news story about what the Board of Township Supervisors did on Thursday, you really don’t have much choice but to pick up the Elizabethtown Advocate, because I was the only journalist at that meeting. I am the only game in town.”

Fiorillo concludes, "Word of his endeavor has spread to other newspaperless small towns in Pennsylvania, some of whom — including neighboring Mt. Joy, where the local newspaper was similarly canned by the Journal Register — have asked him to do the same so that they can know all about their school board, the wrestling team’s tragic defeat, and, of course, the Kiwanis Club’s Annual Spaghetti Dinner." (Read more)

Internet connection slower than advertised? FCC has a plan, and a test

The Federal Communications Commission's huge plan for broadband would require Internet service providers to disclose their average broadband speed, "rather than the current practice of promising speeds 'up to' a certain rate," David Lazarus writes for the Los Angeles Times. "What many consumers now get 'is often much less than the advertised peak speed,' the FCC says.

In an apparent first for a government agency, the FCC is offering a way for Internet users to test their connection speed. "All you have to do is go to and click the link for “consumer broadband test.” An important component of the test is that you have to fill in your address. This will enable the FCC to pinpoint locations with particularly slow or fast access speeds (and, by extension, to hold local service providers more accountable)," Lazarus writes.

Prospects improve for new energy-climate bill, including carbon offsets for agriculture

The demise of a broad "cap and trade" plan to limit greenhouse-gas emissions does not mean that agriculture will be left out of a new energy-and-climate bill being negotiated in the Senate, and it is looking more likely that such a bill can actually pass this year. "We are starting to see some actual movement in that direction," writes still-skeptical Chris Clayton, agricultural policy editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"It's been clear from the get-go that there would need to be agricultural offsets even if there were no cap-and-trade plan," Clayton writes. "It's likely that the bill relies on the language drafted last fall by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for the agricultural section," since Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., "has been resistant to climate legislation."

Under Stabenow's last plan, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture would “establish a program to govern the creation of credits from emission reductions from uncapped domestic sources and sinks” within one year of enactment of the bill. USDA would “administer as the lead agency” creation of "a list of eligible methodologies that can be used to reduce emissions, approving petitions and verifying emission reductions under practices going back to Jan. 1, 2001," Clayton writes.

Senate public-works chair says new highway bill should have 'targeted initiatives' for rural areas

In response to complaints from fellow senators, mainly Republicans, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said yesterday that the next highway bill should include "targeted initiatives focused on the needs of rural America." She is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is writing the bill.

"Boxer's comments came in response to concerns from Republican Sens. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and John Barrasso of Wyoming that their heavily rural states would be hurt by the addition of new programs aimed directly at combating urban congestion," John Voorhees of Environment & Energy Daily (subscription-only) reports.

Inhofe, the committee's ranking Republican, said "The Oklahoma Panhandle doesn't have the same problems as New York City or San Francisco." Boxer said California has almost as many miles of rural roads as urban ones. "I have more rural areas than you can imagine," she said. "We're going to work together; we all have common interests."

Interior wants to know about 'fracking' chemicals used in drilling for oil and gas on federal land

The Interior Department may force oil and gas drillers on federal land to reveal what chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing operations that have opened up tight shale formations for gas production and created concern about water supplies, Secretary Ken Salazar told lawmakers yesterday.

Noelle Straub of Environment and Energy News (subscription-only) reports, "Salazar told the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that the public must have a level of confidence that the technique is not harming public lands, adding that if people do not know what fluids are being put in the ground due to a faulty disclosure system, it will hurt the industry in the long run," an argument he has apparently made to oil and has executives. "Salazar said he had 'no definitive response' on whether the agency could use its authority to require disclosure, but added, 'It is something we're looking at.'"

Changes: Tobacco growers see little impact from FDA rules; big tobacco town banning smoking

The Food and Drug Administration issued tobacco regulations yesterday "nearly identical" to those fought by tobacco interests and struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1990s, Jim Carroll reports for The Courier-Journal. Now the rules are backed by federal law and drawing no fire from tobacco growers, who say the effect on them would be "very minimal," illustrating the huge transformation of the tobacco business in the past decade. (Read more) So does the coming adoption of a smoking ban by the main town in one of Kentucky's biggest tobacco counties. Glasgow would be the first Southern Kentucky town with such a ban, reports Robyn L. Minor of the Bowling Green Daily News. (Read more)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Army engineers' boss visits troublesome dam

The boss of the Army Corps of Engineers paid a visit this week to the agency's most-monitored dam, after detecting shifting and suspending repairs in the area where the dam's earthen section wraps around its concrete part.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, "newly appointed by President Obama" as assistant Army secretary for civil works, toured Wolf Creek Dam, which impounds 101-mile-long Lake Cumberland on the Cumberland River in Southern Kentucky, reports John Thompson of The Russell Register. "Asked whether she had concerns over the safety of the dam, she said, 'It’s not concerning, I think it’s being cautious.'" (Read more)

"Instruments indicated that the work was causing movement within the largest cave that is below that area of the dam," reports Greg Wells of The Times Journal, the other Russell County weekly. "Cracks in the blacktop of the roadway above that area of the dam have been widening slightly and that added to concerns." (Read more)

Montana board sells coal for development

The Montana Land Board voted 3-2 today to sell Arch Coal Inc. 570 million tons of state-owned coal for 15 cents a ton and billions of dollars in royalties to come -- plus severance taxes. "The St. Louis-based coal giant now owns the consolidated rights to more than 1.3 billion tons of coal in southeast Montana's Otter Creek tracts and has improved its position to build a controversial railroad through the rural Tongue River Valley," Phil Taylor of Environment and Energy News reports.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer cast the deciding vote after protesters who interrupted the meeting were arrested. "Environmentalists criticized the sale as a shortsighted attempt to plug critical gaps in the state budget and pointed to coal sales in neighboring Wyoming's Powder River Basin that have fetched an average of 79 cents per ton bonus bids," Taylor reports for E&E, a subscription-only service.

For a report from Mike Dennison of the Billings Gazette, click here. The state acquired the Otter Creek land from the federal government in the 1990s in an agreement than prevented creation of a gold mine near Yellowstone National Park. For more background, go here. (Gazette graphic by Victor Ady)

EPA to study impacts of 'fracking' for gas

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will study "the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment," raising to a new level the stakes involved in a drilling technique that is producing natural gas from deep shales.

"Fracking" with water, chemicals and abrasives under pressure is an old technique newly applied, usually through horizontal drilling that follows vertical drilling. It has started a major gas play in the Marcellus Shale (left) in the Eastern U.S., and the proximity to major metropolitan areas and their water supplies has raised concern.

"The new study is being praised by environmentalists who criticized a 2004 EPA probe whose results were skewed, they say, by data collected selectively from sources with a vested interest in the oil and gas industry," Katie Howell reports for Greenwire. "Industry also welcomed the new study, saying it would prove claims that fracturing technology is safe." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Rural senators question federal school reform plan

Is a rural revolt brewing against the Department of Education's school-reform plan? "Senate Republicans raised questions Wednesday about whether President Obama's plan to turn around struggling schools would fly in rural America. One Democrat [Patty Murray of Washington] said she worried that many states would be shortchanged of federal funding they need to improve teaching," Nick Anderson reports for The Washington Post.

"An Oklahoma senator complained that federal rules on teacher credentials had driven thousands of experienced educators out of rural schools. A North Carolina lawmaker complained that formulas for distributing federal education money favored big-city districts at the expense of poor students in small towns," Sam Dillon writes for The New York Times. "Lawmakers who represent rural areas told Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a hearing Wednesday that the No Child Left Behind law, as well as the Obama administration’s blueprint for overhauling it, failed to take sufficiently into account the problems of rural schools, and their nine million students."

John Hill, executive director of the National Rural Education Association, based at Purdue University, told the Senate Education Committee, “There are lots of bright people at the Department of Education, and they work very hard. But because most have not grown up or worked in a rural area, they find it difficult to see how things work in remote districts.” (Read more)

One Republican senator from a state with many rural schools, former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, called the proposal "a good beginning for a complex area." But Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., questioned the idea of "replacing at least half the teachers in a struggling school, or converting it to a charter school," Anderson writes. Enzi said those options "seem to be urban-centered [and] may not work in many areas of Wyoming." Duncan "replied that the plan would allow rural schools to be transformed in ways that would work in sparsely populated regions," Anderson reports.

"Duncan told Sen. Enzi that low-performing rural schools could try the so-called “transformation model,” which is widely considered the least drastic of the four options," Alyson Klein reports for Education Week. It requires schools to offer extended learning time, institute alternative pay plans, and try out new instructional programs, among other remedies." (Read more)

Proposed livestock-standards board in Ky. would only be advisory, under new version of bill

UPDATE, April 2: The final version of the legislation, contained in House Bill 398, has been passed and sent to Gov. Steve Beshear.

A new board dominated by farm interests would only recommend, not establish, standards for care of farm animals in Kentucky, under a new version of a Senate bill approved by a House committee yesterday. The state is one of several moving such bills to head off legislation that would establish strict standards like those enacted by a voter initiative in California in 2008. Kentucky, however, is not an initiative state.

The new board would recommend standards to the existing State Board of Agriculture, most of whom must be "experienced and practical farmers or agriculturalists" appointed by the governor, according to a 50-year-old law. That law does not require board members to be engaged in specific types of farming, as Senate Bill 105 would require for five of the 13 members of the new Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission.

One commission member each would have to be an active producer of beef, pork, poultry, horses and sheep or goats. The original version would have allowed industry lobbyists to fill those slots. Other members would represent the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the Kentucky County Judge-Executives Association, the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association and one of the state's two university veterinary centers. The other members would be the elected agriculture commissioner, the ag dean at the University of Kentucky and the chair of the Animal Control Advisory Board, or their designees.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, told Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader that it had to be changed to get through the Democratic-controlled House. He told the Agriculture and Small Business Committee that it would still protect animals from "bad actors" and the industry from animal-welfare groups that "wish to see all animal production done away with. . . . The goal is to protect our livestock-production industry from the extremes on both ends." (Read more)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reform bill would cut power of regional Fed banks

The financial reform bill introduced this week by Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut would shift power from regional banks of the Federal Reserve System to the New York bank and teh Fed's Washington headquarters, ending "a unique structure set up a century ago to distribute authority and ensure the central bank was not dominated by the nation's political and financial capitals," Neil Irwin and David Cho report for The Washington Post.

"The oversight of almost 6,000 small and midsize banks, one of the major tasks carried out at the 12 regional Fed banks, would be taken over by other federal agencies," the Post notes. "Regional Fed banks that do not have many large banks in their districts could see their staff and authority shrink, reducing these banks to something akin to regional economic think tanks rather than powerful overseers of the financial system." (Read more)

International Walking Horse Association replaces Ky. group as authority at shows in state

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted Tuesday to make the International Walking Horse Association eligible to get money from the Kentucky Walking Horse Breeders’ Incentive Fund and enforce the federal Horse Protection Act at Kentucky horse shows. The IWHA beat out the Kentucky Walking Horse Association, which was the sole payee of the fund until the commission expressed concern about “inadequate regulation and reporting of Horse Protection Act violations, specifically the act of soring,” the application of material that causes horses to have a high-stepping gait and another group. IWHA also beat out thye anti-soring group SHOW, whose acronym stands for Sound horses, Honest judging, Objective inspections and Winning fairly. (Read more)

According to a 2008 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, most walking-horse shows are not inspected by federal veterinarians but by paid inspectors paid by industry organizations. Janet Patton of the Herald-Leader reported recently that state Sen. Robin Webb filed legislation to take away control of some breeders' incentive funds from the commission. Webb said the commission, which regulates Thoroughbred, Standardbred and quarter horse racing, has been "heavy-handed" in dealing with the other breeds. (Read more)

For a story about the program for non-racing breeds, by University of Kentucky student Jennifer Whittle, click here.

The Data Mine wants your tips on federal records that should be more accessible to the public

As part of Sunshine Week, which runs through Saturday, March 20, the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation are looking for help with The Data Mine, a new online series identifying inaccessible or difficult to use information from the federal government.

The DataMine has shown how the Agriculture Department generally does a good job with data but "continues to omit the politically sensitive annual listing of subsidy payments to individual farmers (available from the Environmental Working Group) and how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration refuses to hand over the results of millions of workplace tests for toxic substances," writes Ellen Miller, executive director of the foundation.

The center is seeking tips on other federal government records, databases, and filings that should be more accessible. For example:

• Has the government denied your attempt to obtain certain information under the Freedom of Infiormation Act?

• Are you aware of any government reports or data that are unnecessarily hidden from public view?

• Have you successfully obtained government data, only to find it cumbersome or impractical to use in today's electronic environment?

Email all tips to Indicate if you want to be publicly credited on the Center's website for your suggestion.

Legislation to boost community foundations in Kentucky passes first test

UPDATE, March 26: The legislature has passed the bill and sent it to the governor.
UPDATE, March 18: The full Senate passed the bill but removed the tax credit, which could still be restored in budget negotiations with the House.
The Kentucky Senate's budget committee unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that would create a community endowment fund and a tax credit for donating to the fund. The Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved Senate Bill 227, which would establish the "Endow Kentucky" program and provide a means for communities to easily direct local contributions to local needs, through community foundations. Beth Musgrave reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader that the measure grew out of this summer’s legislative Poverty Task Force, which studied long-term fixes and policies that could chip away at key poverty indicators. (Read more)

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky told WEKU public radio station, "We have to do something to create a trustworthy place for people who have money and some attachment to rural areas to invest that money in a way that it will continue to work long after they're gone." (Read more)

Here is more information on community foundations from The Rural Blog.

Bee colony collapse disorder thought to have multiple causes

Beekeepers still have not solved the mystery of colony collapse disorder, three years after it first appeared. CCD is a condition which causes hives to fail, killing off more than 50 percent of the hives in some locations. One apiarist told Adrian Higgins of The Washington Post, "Bee health is in really bad shape, and we need to understand why."

An early suspect was a bloodsucking parasite called the Varroa mite. Another was a pathogen named Israeli acute paralysis virus, which showed up in collapsed colonies. After three years of research, scientists think the cause is not a single factor but a cocktail of maladies, including bad nutrition, stress from too much pollination and pesticides that together weaken and sicken the bees, Higgins reports. (Read more)

Here is more information from The Rural Blog about bees and their importance.

Rural papers might be safe from industry trend, but it depends on what their markets are like

"Publishers in small and medium communities largely think they are safe from the readership and advertising declines that are eating away at most metro newspapers. Are they? Yes, no and maybe," Alan Mutter asks and answers on his widely respected news-media blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur. Because each market is different, "There is no one-size-fits-all answer," Mutter writes, then lays out considerations that apply regardles of the circumstances. This is good reading not only for media people, but for anyone who appreciates the value of robust news media in a rural community. Some of the  comments are also illuminating. (Read more)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Water downstream from Appalachian coal mines is toxic, newly released federal data show

"Water quality downstream from surface coal-mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky greatly exceeds recommended toxicity limits, according to previously unreleased sampling data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette. "EPA scientists found toxicity levels as high as 50 times the federal guidelines in water downstream from mining operations. In-stream water samples from 14 of 17 sites EPA tested exceeded the agency's guidelines." All eight in Kentucky did so.

The samples were taken in 2007 and 2009, but the results weren't made public until environmental groups obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act, had a University of Maryland scientist analyze the data and attached it to a petition asking EPA to take over water-pollution permitting for coal mines in Kentucky, Ward reports. "The findings are important because the type of testing provides a more complete and accurate picture of the toxicity of water than sampling for any one pollutant alone." (Read more)

Harlan County, Kentucky, comes to TV again, this time in virtual form on FX's 'Justified'

UPDATE, March 18: The show drew nearly 4.2 million viewers, second most for a premiere on FX.
Harlan County, Kentucky, along the Virginia border, has had a national profile since the coal-mine wars of the 1930s. Now the latest in a series of media treatments makes the county home for “Justified,” a drama premiering tonight at 10 EST on the FX cable channel.

"Harlan will have a new shining television star to illuminate the way people in the country view this once violent town know as “Bloody Harlan,” Jason Edwards writes for the Harlan Daily Enterprise. The main character is U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, who is "transferred back to Kentucky following a shooting incident with a gun thug in Florida." (Photo: Olyphant with Joelle Carter, playing old flame Ava Crowder)

The show didn't have the budget to shoot in southeastern Kentucky, and FX bought it so quickly that Executive Producer Graham Yost didn't have time to travel to the state to condust research, he told Edwards. So, he said, he stuck close to "Fire in the Hole," the Elmore Leonard short story that was named for a coal-mining term and is the basis for the show. Leonard is also an executive producer.

"Yost said he hoped the series would not add to some of the negative stereotyping Kentucky and the area had received in the past, but said some stereotyping would take place," Edwards writes. Yost told him, "Undoubtedly, there will be some people in Harlan who might be offended by this, saying ‘Oh, it is the same old stereotype that we all live up in hollers and meth labs and stuff’ and that is not our intent." (Read more) For an earlier Edwards story, focused more on Yost and his development of the series, click here.

Jeffrey Lee Puckett of The Courier-Journal writes, "Nearly every major character from Harlan County in the first episodes is a thief, killer, white supremacist or all three. The show's Web site refers to Harlan as a “lawless town” and a “21st century wild west,” which prompted one Harlan native to post an eloquent defense of the area. Brandon Goins, who sits on the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce, said that he's reserving judgment until he sees more of the show." Yost told the Louisville paper, “The difficulty is that we're doing a crime show, so you end up with bad guys.” (Read more)

Tom Shales of The Washington Post gave the show a poor review. In it, he writes that "The population consists largely of rednecks and good old boys who speak their Elmore Leonard-like dialogue in an irritating hillbilly drawl" and "a pair of Neanderthals stages a bizarre daylight robbery." Nice.

UPDATE, March 26: Nancy DeWolf Smith writes in The Wall Street Journal, "It is not very often that a TV series invents a new look, or even a new genre. After only two weeks on the air, it may be too soon to gush that way about FX's new drama 'Justified,' but this is one cool show." (Read more)

Prescription-pill pipeline from Florida to Appalachia branches into the Bluegrass

The plague of prescription drug abuse in Appalachia has spread to Kentucky's Bluegrass region. So indicates the latest in a series of stories in The Winchester Sun about drug problems in Clark County, just east of Lexington. (It's in "official Appalachia," but is much more a Bluegrass county.)

"Officers from both the Winchester Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said they rarely see illegal drugs in the county. Instead, law enforcement agencies are fighting that never-ending battle against prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone," Rachel Parsons reports.

Winchester officer Tom Beall told Parsons that the main source of the drugs is the same as in much of Appalachia -- people who travel to Florida to get prescriptions and pills from pain clinics and pharmacies that are lightly regulated. “Cocaine and morphine was bad, but nothing is bad like these oxycodone 30s. This is terrible,” Beall said. “It would not be unlikely for us to start six investigations buying narcotics in a day’s time.” (Read more)

As meth seizures rise, states ponder prescription laws or tracking systems for key ingredient

UPDATE, March 17: Frank Johnson of The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown ha a good profile of a meth addict making her way through Drug Court and rehabilitation.

They hooted when Oregon sat down on methamphetamine ingredients, but soon they may be singing its tune. In 2005, it "became the first state to require a doctor’s prescription for tablets of Sudafed (right), Claritin-D and several other common cold and allergy medicines," John Gramlich of writes. "The law was panned by some as a huge hassle. . . . Five years later, Oregon’s law is raising eyebrows again. This time, it’s because the number of meth labs found in the state has plummeted from 192 in 2005, the year before the prescription law went into effect, to just 10 last year — even as they’ve surged in other states." So now some of those states are going Oregon's way.

Mississippi recently enacted a law requiring a prescription for the decongestant pseudoephedrine, which is required for making meth. "At least nine localities in Missouri have passed their own laws, and legislators and law enforcers in capitols from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., are paying attention," Gramlich reports. So are manufacturers of the chemical, who have mounted a lobbying effort against such laws. "If customers need a doctor’s prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine, they may not buy the drugs at all."

The drug makers argue that a better method is a computer tracking system that prevents individuals from making the multiple purchases needed for a batch of meth. "Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma have launched such tracking systems, while Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Washington are on their way, in most cases with the financial backing of the industry," Gramlich reports.  But meth makers can beat the systemjs by using multiple IDs, hire others to make the buys or cross state lines.

Gramlich's detailed story lays out the arguments on all sides and is a good resource for journalists who need to update their readers, listeners and viewers about a scourge that began in rural areas and still plagues them.

Wisconsin newspaper launches series of stories on rural health care, starting with hospitals

Wisconsin State Journal reporter David Wahlberg is taking a year-long look at rural health care. Installments on related issues will follow in the coming months. Joining Wahlberg on the project is State Journal photographer Craig Schreiner. The project is partly supported by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which awarded a fellowship to Wahlberg. (Read more)

The first report includes how rural hospitals, often "critical access hospitals" that get extra Medicare money in return for limiting admissions and stays, are dealing with hard economic times. Wahlberg reports, "A 10 percent cut to rural hospitals this year in Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor, brings an additional challenge. Hospital administrators are pushing for a tax that would bring in extra federal money to offset the state cut." Medicare accounts for about half of the budgets at most rural hospitals. But nursing homes, home-health care and mental health services don't qualify for the higher payments, so are often cut when budgets get tight. (Read more)

Small Texas daily newspaper, twice judged best in class, goes online only, except for Sunday

The Daily Tribune in Marble Falls, Tex., is converting to online-only on weekdays, "citing shrinking ad revenue and high newsprint costs," reports Editor and Publisher. It will only print its River Cities Sunday Tribune. Publisher Amber Alvey Weems said in an unbylined story in the Sunday paper, "Nothing is being shut down, only transformed." The Daily Tribune was twice named Texas' best small daily by the Texas Press Association, the paper noted. It started as a weekly in 1995 became a Tuesday-through-Friday daily in 2005 and started the Sunday paper in 2006.

The Editor & Publisher International Year Book lists a circulation of 3,381 for both the daily and Sunday papers, and a sister weekly, the Marble Falls Picayune, with a circulation of 36,000. Weems said much advertising had shifted to the weekly and Sunday papers. The papers, owned by Victory Publishing, compete with The Highlander, a nationally recognized twice-weekly that is based in Marble Falls and serves Burnet and Llano counties and has sister papers for each county. Marble Falls is in southern Burnet County, in the Hill Country about 50 miles northwest of Austin. Mondo Times says the Highlander has a circulation of 5,021; the E&P Year Book says it has 3,464. (MapQuest image)

FCC plans for rural broadband face opposition from broadcasters, rural telephone companies

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled Monday the National Broadband Plan, an "ambitious, decade-long project to make super high-speed connections available in every corner of the country," reports the Los Angeles Times.  The goal of the plan is to create "the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation." Genachowski said, "Broadband is indispensible infrastructure for the twenty-first century, the foundation for our new economy, the foundation for our democracy in the digital age."

A key component of the plan is to use wireless broadband access for rural areas. The agency is using wireless technology for unserved areas because it is a cheaper and quicker alternative to running wires or fiber-optic cables. The FCC wants to reallocate a huge chunk of radio-frequency spectrum to use for high-speed Internet service, but that spectrum is assigned to TV and radio broadcasters, who are already lobbying against the idea.  (Read more)

The FCC wants to fund its proposals by tapping an existing $8 billion annual fund that was created to ensure universal telephone service to rural areas. In the past, rural carriers that rely on the fund have successfully opposed attempts by lawmakers and the agency to redirect its resources. For a story from The Washington Post, click here. The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association said in a release that it supports using the Universal Service Fund for broadband, but said the plan would not let telecom companies recover all the costs involved in extending service to the most far-flung customers.

Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute reminds us why all this is important.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blogger who snared Obama's primary-season remark about small-town voters publishes e-book

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it's not surprising, then, that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

So said candidate Barack Obama at a fund-raiser in the San Francisco area in April 2008. We know that thanks to Mayhill Fowler, left, the citizen journalist who captured the remarks and took the photo, above, at the event. The words "will always be part of his public persona," she writes in her book Notes from a Clueless Journalist: Media, Bias and the Great Election of 2008. And when she reached that conclusion, she decided to write the self-published, electronic book.

The 280-page volume "is as quirky as Fowler's rambling posts for OffTheBus, the Web operation that got novices to write campaign dispatches that were posted on The Huffington Post," James Rainey writes in his Los Angeles Times media column.

Fowler, a native of rural West Tennessee, writes that she took Obama's remark as confirmation of "the mindset of the liberal, secular world in which I lived in Northern California. Since I had felt the anti-religious prejudice around me for 40 years, I was stricken by Obama's remark." Also, "I knew the anti-immigrant sentiment of some small-town Americans was in a fully human way much more complicated than Obama's sweeping description." In October, Obama called the remark "my biggest boneheaded move."

The book "reaches for a grand account of a historic presidential race," Rainey writes. "But it tells us more about Fowler -- a committed partisan coming to terms with being a journalist and a media rookie discovering the power and limits of her outsider status." (Read more) The book is available on and for Kindle readers.

UPDATE, 9/28/10: When The Huiffington Post refused to pay her, Fowler quit.