Friday, December 24, 2010

The Rural Blog and its publisher seek your help

The Rural Blog is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which needs your help.

Over the last 20 years, “Few academically based individuals or institutions have made a truly lasting impact upon our nation’s rural policy framework. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is in this very small cadre,” says Charles W. Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute. He calls the blog “one of the most critical institutional developments in our field over the last decade,” because of its impact “on the national rural policy and journalism communities.”

The Institute has been able to conduct a wide range of activities and have a national and even international impact (for details click here) because of support from individuals, foundations and the University of Kentucky, which embraced the idea from the start. The university helped raise key operating grants, created a faculty line for the Institute director, picked up other costs when grant money ran out, and set aside $1.5 million in a state matching fund for an endowment.

That match will expire in April, all too soon because of poor economic conditions in the nation and even worse conditions in the news business, from which we had hoped to gain most of our support. Perhaps ironically, the financial squeeze on metropolitan newspapers and other changes in the news media have made all the more important the Institute’s vision of helping rural America through journalism, because most major papers and broadcast outlets have abandoned coverage of rural areas. That has left a vacuum that rural news media must fill, covering issues and setting the public agenda in their communities. The Institute helps them do that with the blog, its website and its network of academic partners at 28 universities in 18 states, from Maine to Texas to Alaska. For recent details on that work, click here.

The Institute has raised $600,000 for its endowment. Not only has that money been matched by the state, we have been allowed to use earnings from the unmatched state funds, thanks to a pledge by supporters to raise the remaining $900,000 allocated for the Institute. However, any unmatched money will revert to the state this summer, so we face the prospect of a serious budget cut next year unless the endowment gets a substantial boost.

Please consider making an end-of-the-year gift to the Institute. Your gift will allow us to continue the important work of supporting rural journalists and citizen involvement in public policy. You may send a check to 122 Grehan Bldg., Lexington KY 40506-0042, or donate online at Go to the gift-designation box and select Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Thanks for your support and your readership of The Rural Blog. We wish you happy holidays and a great new year. --Al Cross, director, IRJCI, and assistant extension professor, School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Horse vets call for reopening of abattoirs, as taxpayers pay to care for mistreated, forsaken

The keynote speaker at the 56th Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 4-8 in Baltimore, was verterianian Tom Lenz. His address was titled "Horse Welfare Wars: When Emotion and Fact Collide," reports Erica Larson, News Editor for The Horse. Citing the closing of American equine processing plants as a central issue that led to the proliferation of unwanted horses and equine welfare situations, Lenz said it is "complicated by a worldwide love affair with the horse. Uninformed people with few to no ties to the equine industry care for horses and want to have a voice in how they are treated."

The equine practitioners' group "is not pro-slaughter," Lenz said, noting that AAEP supports the Horse Transportation Safety Act of 2009 but opposes HR 503, "which would outlaw the processing of horses for human consumption, because there are no provisions in the bill to provide for the care of unwanted horses, to designate an agency to enforce the law or funding to support them." He said reopening the plants might not be the ideal option, but would aid greatly in controlling the number of unwanted horses until the industry can take other steps to reduce the problem. He said one of the simplest solutions to abandonment and neglect is responsible ownership. But mass behavior modification is never simple. (Read more)

Snohomish County, Washington, is trying to decide how much to spend caring for abandoned horses, reports Noah Haglund for Horse cases are more expensive compared with puppy mills or cat-hoarding, said county animal-control manager Vicki Lubrin. Beyond food and shelter, horses often require pricey veterinary care and foot trimming that Lubrin said costs about $18 a day.

The county had to deal with three recent incidents for which it was not prepared. Last year, 19 horses were seized in one location, costing $60,000 for upkeep until they were adopted. In 2008, the county seized five horses from one owner and it cost the county $55,000. In a third case, 45 horses were reported to authorities as neglected, but animal-control officers worked with the owner to disperse the horses to better care.

Councilman Dave Somers, who owns two horses, worries that the county will become hesitant to step in because of the costs. Somers suggests the county consider forming partnerships with nonprofit horse-rescue groups. Governments "have the authority to do something, the rescuers have the knowledge," said Katie Merwick, founder of Second Chance Ranch, where up to 100 unwanted horses are housed. (Read more)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Midwest states wrestle with rules for raw milk

States continue to look at regulation of raw dairy products. Kathryn Tormey, writing for the Midwestern Legislative Conference, reports that in most of the Midwest, raw milk must be sold directly to consumers by farmers; in South Dakota, home delivery is permitted. Minnesota is home to a recent outbreak of E. coli that was attributed to consuming raw milk. It is one of the six Midwestern states that allow farmers to sell raw, unpasteurized milk to the public. The others are Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota has struggled with a lack of resources to properly inspect facilities and ensure public health, reports Tormey. Wisconsin has regulations similar to Minnesota's, but the legislature is hoping to rework the 50-year-old law that bans most raw-milk sales. Some lawmakers hope to change the law to allow farmers, under certain guidelines, to regularly sell raw milk on the farm where it was produced in hopes to boost small farm incomes. An earlier version of the legislation passed this spring, but Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it, citing health concerns.

In Iowa, not much legislative sentiment exists to allow raw-milk sales. State Sen. David Johnson says it could boost farm income, "but not at taking the risk of being sued, and certainly not at the cost of having health risks to the consumer." That rings bells in Iowa, which was was the source of this year's huge egg recall, so Johnson says policymakers are unlikely to consider opening up raw milk sales. (Read more)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

L.A. Chapter of SPJ names editor of small Calif. daily one of year's five distinguished journalists

The editor of a small daily newspaper in the northern, rural section of Los Angeles County has been named one of five distinguished journalists to be honored by the Los Angeles Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in March.

Dennis Anderson, right, became editor of the Antelope Valley Press , the only family-owned independent daily newspaper in Los Angeles County, in 1999. Since then, the newspaper has earned six general excellence rankings from the National Newspaper Association, one from Suburban Newspapers of America and a first place Freedom of Information award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Anderson came to the paper after 18 years with wire services in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. In 2004, SNA and the American Press Institute named Anderson Journalist of the Year for his articles, written while embedded with the California National Guard in Iraq, about local citizen soldiers. Anderson and his son, Garrett, a Marine who was in the second battle of Fallujah, are writing a book about Marine Corps casualties from World War I to Iraq. (Read more)

FCC enacts Internet rules that fall short of 'net neutrality' and draw fire from left and right

"The Federal Communications Commission approved a set of net neutrality rules today, and nobody is happy," Dan Lyons reports for The Daily Beast. "While liberals claim the FCC has caved to pressure from carriers, right-wingers are calling the new rules a government takeover of the Internet." The Beast's headline says the 3-2, party-line vote "boils down to one fact: There will soon be a fast Internet for the rich and a slow Internet for the poor." (Read more)

Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said the rules fell short of protecting rural consumers by limiting regulation of wireless providers. "Wireless technology is the future of the Internet, and for many rural Minnesotans, it’s often the only choice for broadband," Franken said. Wireless providers say they need more freedom to regulate traffic because they have less bandwidth than wireline companies. For the FCC's order, click here.

Milo Yiannopoulos writes for The Telegraph that he no longer thinks pure net neutrality is a great idea. "Net neutrality is simply not practical given the level of consumer demand for high-quality video and music," he writes. "The net-neutrality debate is as much political -- based, like so many laments from the Left, on vague 'what-if's -- as it is technical." (Read more)

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, whose position on the issue is closer to the middle than the other two Democratic appointees, "has argued that Internet access rules would protect companies just starting out on the Web, as well as consumers who are increasingly relying on the Internet for news, entertainment and communications," Cecilia Kang writes for The Washington Post.

The rules "are designed to ensure that the Internet is not dominated by major telecommunications and cable companies," David Hatch reports for National Journal. Hatch reported earlier today, citing several sources, that Verizon Communications Inc., the nation's No. 2 telecommunications company, might try to overturn the rules in court. Telecoms might also try to get that done in Congress, but that is unlikely to happen without a Republican president.

Amy Schatz of The Wall Street Journal gives examples, saying the rules "would prevent a broadband provider, such as Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc. or Verizon ... from hobbling access to an online video service, such as Netflix, that competes with its own video services" and "prohibit Internet providers from 'unreasonably discriminating' against rivals' Internet traffic or services on wired or wireless networks. The rules would allow phone and cable companies to offer faster, priority delivery services to Internet companies willing to pay extra. But the FCC proposal contains language suggesting the agency would try to discourage creation of such high-speed toll lanes." (Read more)

Arik Hessledahl writes on New Enterprise for All Things Digital that critics on the right are wildly exaggerating the FCC's move. He calls it "a dramatic step back from a far more ominous one," noting that when Comcast mounted a successful court challenge to the agency's Internet authority, "Genachowski considered reclassifying the Internet under the FCC’s Title II authority, which governs regulation of the phone system. This was an extreme response, thankfully abandoned, that would have certainly warranted the nickname. The current proposal is by no stretch of argument so extreme that it amounts to a seizure. But rules they are, and no one likes new rules where none existed before, least of all multibillion dollar corporations like Comcast and Verizon. Having established in the courts that they have the right to control the use of certain applications that impact the performance of their network–or, more precisely, the fact that the FCC has no legal authority to tell them not to exercise such control–they’re now going to be required to disclose how and why they exercise such controls. . . . Another court challenge is probably likely." (Read more)

Wild pigs are now an invasive species in Michigan

Michigan Natural Resources and Environment Director Rebecca Humphries classified feral swine as an invasive species in the state, saying they "pose a significant risk to Michigan’s wildlife, ecosystems and agricultural resources and they are a serious disease threat to humans, wildlife and domesticated pigs."  (Steve Davenport with the estimated 400-pound wild hog he shot in a neighbor's cornfield between Lansing and Flint. He first thought it was a bear.)

Agricultural and environmental groups blame the proliferation of pigs on game ranches, which are allowed to breed and hunt the animals, reports Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press. The Michigan legislature has until July to come up with regulations for game ranches to continue breeding the animals. (Read more)

How can the White House have a Council on Community Solutions without a rural member?

Our friend Bill Bishop, co-editor of the Daily Yonder, seems pretty fed up with what he calls "the Obama Administration’s single-minded allegiance to urban, credentialed experts," the latest example being the lack of any rural person on the 25-member White House Council for Community Solutions, which the president appointed last week.

"It's all a big bunch of nothing ... except that, once again, the Obama Administration has forgotten all about rural America," Bishop writes. He says it reminded a friend what then-House Speaker Sam Rayburn reportedly said about the whiz kids of the Kennedy administration: “I’d feel a lot better if just one of them had ever run for sheriff.”

The legendary Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tennessee, in our part of the country, and grew up in culturally similar northeast Texas, which he represented in Congress. But just about anyone who has run for local office in a rural area knows what he meant. Bishop cites former University of Oregon president David Frohnmayer, who was a state House member: "He said running for sheriff teaches you things you can’t learn in school or in a Washington, D.C., think tank. You find out that there are a lot of people sitting around democracy’s table and that they all have a voice." For Frohnmayer's remarks, click here.

Composting becomes more common solution to increasing problem of dead-animal disposal

Disposal of dead animals has become a bigger issue since the horse crisis started and regulations to fight mad-cow disease chased many companies out of the carcass-pickup-and-processing business. In Kentucky, more people are composting carcasses, with the help of advice from the University of Kentucky and repeal of a law that required large carcasses to be quartered before composting.

Steve Higgins, environmental-compliance director for the university's College of Agriculture, told Andrea Uhde Shepherd of The Courier-Journal that more than 600 farmers or groups started composting livestock before $25 state permits for the process became available in 2008. Shepherd reports that a permit "is required to ensure that it's done correctly, officials said." (C-J photo by James Crisp: Higgins with an animal compost pile)

Doing it correctly means putting the carcass on a layer of wooden material on an impervious surface that keeps liquids from soaking into the ground, then covering the carcass with "wooden material similar to chips, which has micro-organisms that eat the carcass and generate heat," Shepherd writes. "That both sterilizes and speeds up decomposition. Complex chains of smelly gases break down so no smell is emitted — only water in the form of steam. There also is some carbon dioxide emitted and a hint of ammonia. Within six months, the animal carcass turns into a dark mulch-type material; all that's left are a few brittle bones. It can be used as mulch or used on future composting piles." (Read more)

UPDATE, 1/15/11: After Higgins promoted composting to officials in Nelson County (Wikipedia map), which has a free service that takes carcasss to the county landfill, Erin McCoy of The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown reported that only one county in the state, adjoining Washington County, has adopted composting for large animals. She began her story by writing about a local dairy and hog farmer who has been composting his dead animals for more than seven years, despite the county's free service. The county's solid-waste director is skeptical of the idea. "He said he isn’t convinced no odor would be produced by such a facility," and fears that composting wouldn't eliminate disease oraganisms. Sounds like Higgins is having a hard time educating people who ought to know more about the process. (Read more)

Monday, December 20, 2010

More ad money will be on Web this year than in printed newspapers, digital-marketing firm says

eMarketer, a digital marketing research firm, estimates U.S. advertisers will spend more on Internet ads this year than on print newspaper ads -- $25.8 billion to $22.8 billion, respectively. The data appear to exclude figures for weekly papers, many of which are rural.

"The eclipse has been on the horizon for years as consumers have migrated en masse to the Internet, where there are many more options for news, and where newspaper publishers can't charge nearly as much for ads as they can in print. So even while the total audience for many newspapers has grown, they have been unable to stem revenue declines," reports Russell Adams of The Wall Street Journal. (WSJ chart)

Meanwhile, Forrester Research reports that "U.S. consumers, on average, now spend as much time online as they do watching television," Adams writes. "But they aren't spending less time in front of their TVs. What they are doing less of is listening to the radio and reading newspapers and magazines offline, Forrester says." (Read more; subscription may be required)

The trend is expected to continue: "While total ad spending in the U.S. is expected to bounce back for the full year, growing 3 percent in 2010 to $168.5 billion, newspaper spending is expected to continue its decline next year. eMarketer estimates that print newspaper ad spending will slide to $21.4 billion in 2011, down 6 percent from 2010. On the other hand, online ad spending is expected to grow 10.5 percent in 2011 to reach $28.5 billion." The estimates and forecasts are based partly on data from the Newspaper Association of America, which typically does not gather data on weekly papers. (Read more) The National Newspaper Association, comprising mainly weeklies, says community newspapers are doing better than most publications. Here's a column about it, from Ken Blum.

Study develops hard data on reasons for increasing problem of unwanted horses

A new study published in the Journal of Animal Science takes a close look at the problem of unwanted horses and the nonprofit equine rescue groups and sanctuaries that care for them. Using a database of registered equine-rescue organizations, researchers K. E. Holcomb, C. L. Stull and P. H. Kass collected responses to a survey by 144 of 326 eligible groups in 37 states. Some of their findings:
  • 84 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of requests received by rescue groups to accept horses since January 2008.
  • Most horses at the facilities (61 percent of 279) were voluntarily relinquished or donated. Horses seized by law enforcement agencies and impounded at the facility accounted for 15 percent.
  • Owner-related issues were more likely to contribute to the relinquishment of a horse to a nonprofit organization than horse-related characteristics or unknown factors.
  • The most oft-cited reasons for giving up a horse were financial hardship and the physical condition of the owner to care for the horse, including the death of the owner (in five cases). Within the horse-related factors, health problems accounted for almost half, followed by horses that were unsuited for the purpose of the owner, then those relinquished for behavioral issues.
  • At the time of the survey, 69 percent of horses still resided at the facility of the organization, while 26 percent had been placed in new homes, and 5 percent had been euthanized.
  • Just over half of the horses in the survey were considered unhealthy, which strengthened anecdotal claims that horses become unwanted in many cases due to medical problems. However, 47 percent of the horses were reported to be healthy, supporting statements by the nonprofit organizations that many unwanted horses are healthy or can be rehabilitated and are simply in need of good homes.
The practice of rescuing horses goes back to Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866, who established farms where old horses could be retired. The survey found that nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities in the U.S. appeared to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet increasing demand for accepting, caring, and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses. Most owners who gave up their horses were financially or physically unable to continue caring for them. The nonprofit organizations invested money and time rehabilitating horses to health, and provided training to increase their marketability to potential adopters. But for every four horses that entered a nonprofit facility, only three were adopted or sold. The researchers concluded that without additional resources, the nonprofit equine organizations cannot predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more than 13,700 horses, only a fraction of the estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the United States. (Read more)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tuesday is deadline to apply for expense-paid trip to crime and justice conference in NYC

Tuesday, Dec. 21 is the deadline to apply for an expenses-paid fellowship to the sixth annual H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, to be held Jan. 31 and Feb 1 in New York City. The overall theme of the symposia are "Law & Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice."

The symposium is presented by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. Fifteen fellows will be an awarded an all- expense-paid, three-day trip to attend, and those chosen will be required to attend both days of the conference in its entirety. Meals and local travel will be provided for all fellows.

The center seeks applications from journalists in a variety of beats (education, politics, health, crime, courts, etc.) to submit project or research ideas based on the major theme of the upcoming conference: "Criminal Justice Reform: What Works? What Doesn't? What Don't We Know?" The topics could include: crime and punishment (sentencing; prisons); science and crime (forensic issues, etc.), issues linking crime with environment, the economy, urban affairs or education trends; race and criminal justice; juvenile justice; homeland security and civil liberties; courts; new crime prevention and policing strategies, etc.

Applications should focus on the intersection of reporters' assigned beats with criminal justice, and be related to work in progress or proposed work slated for publication. The project should be supported by a senior editor, with a letter attesting to the commitment. Freelancers are encouraged to apply. The project pitch should be 300 words and the application should also include a 150-word biography. Apply online at by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 21.

Journalists can access applications, contest rules and contact information at Fellowships will be announced Jan. 6. The fellows' work will be published on, a criminal-justice news service published by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice and Criminal Justice Journalists. For more information, contact Deputy Director Cara Tabachnick at 212-484-1175 or