Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tom Wicker, who rose from rural North Carolina to the top ranks of journalism, dies at 85

Tom Wicker, who never lost the cadence, culture and memories of the southeastern North Carolina sandhills where he was raised in poverty and began a journalism career that reached the top ranks of reporting and commentary, died yesterday of an apparent heart attack at his home in Rochester, Vt. He was 85. (Photo from The New York Times)

Wicker "started in journalism in 1949 at the weekly Sandhill Citizen in Aberdeen, N.C., where he was paid $37.50 a week to report on such local news stories as the discovery of "the first beaver dam in anyone's memory on a local creek," he later recalled. He moved on to the Winston-Salem Journal, which sent hm to Washington, and to The Tennessean in Nashville, then the Washington bureau of The New York Times, where he became a White House correspondent -- the only one in President John F. Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. His "precise, fact-heavy" account of the day, as the BBC called it, "vaulted him to prominence overnight." A year later, he became bureau chief, and in 1966 began a column, "In the Nation," that continued until his retirement in 1991.

Wicker's friends surely liked this description of him by Robert McFadden in the Times: "Mr. Wicker was a hefty man, 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a ruddy face, jowls, petulant lips and a lock of unruly hair that dangled boyishly on a high forehead. He toiled in tweeds in pinstriped Washington, but seemed more suited to a hammock and straw hat on a lazy summer day. The casual gait, the easygoing manner, the down-home drawl set a tone for audiences, but masked a fiery temperament, a ferocious work ethic, a tigerish competitiveness and a stubborn idealism, qualities that made him a perceptive observer of the American scene for more than a half century."

"He was attacked by conservatives and liberals, by politicians high and low, by business interests, labor leaders and others, and for a time his activism — crossing the line from observer to participant in news events — put him in disfavor with many mainstream journalists," McFadden notes, pointing out Wicker's role as observer-cum-mediator at the Attica, N.Y., prison riot in 1971.

Tom Wicker means something to us at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues because was "an engaged journalist" like institute co-founder Al Smith, as Wicker's former colleague at The Tennessean, Jim Squires, wrote. The institute's other co-founder was the late Rudy Abramson, who worked with Wicker and Squires in Nashville before joining the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau.

Mug-shot tabloids make a buck off of crime

The first time your humble servant ever paid $1 for a weekly newspaper, I asked the store clerk, "Is this paper worth a dollar?" She thought for a couple of seconds and replied, "Yeah, for the court news."

Print readers' taste for crime news is now being fed by a new kind of $1 weekly paper "popping up in convenience stores around the country. The papers are nothing more than a compendium of mug shots letting readers keep up with who's been arrested every week," Debbie Elliott reports for NPR and Southword, a project of The Oxford American.

Daniel Schroeder, publisher of The Slammer, which covers central Arkansas, said the mug-shot tabloids are "modern-day stockades or stocks," medieval-to-colonial devices that held offenders' necks and wrists and subjected them to public humiliation. "The crazier the mug shot, or the meaner looking the people are, the more likely they are to end up on the cover."

The Slammer bears a disclaimer: ""Not every arrest leads to a conviction. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." Just Jailed, a colorful tabloid in southeastern Kentucky, says "All pictured are presumed innocent until proven guilty." It puts pages of sex offenders and missing children on its center spread.

Still, the papers raise issues. Schroeder admitted that The Slammer appeals to voyeurism, and Russell Carpenter of Little Rock told Elliott, "It's just someone exploiting, making a buck off of other people's miseries." The notion of stocks suggests the papers are a disincentive to crime, but Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay (no kidding) said he sees no upside to The Slammer. Holladay said he resisted providing mug shots, but had to because they are open records. And there could be a question of racism, because the papers appear to be most popular in the South and African Americans may be disproportionately represented among offenders. (Read more)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rural station, 'glue' for Eastern Kentucky, is being undermined by satellite television and its rules

A rural television station that has created a stronger regional identity and connections among isolated counties in Eastern Kentucky is being undermined because "a combination of federal regulations and business decisions keep WYMT off satellite," reports Ivy Brashear, a graduate assistant for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

"As people in Eastern Kentucky increasingly choose satellite TV, the number watching WYMT decreases," writes Brashear, a former reporter for the Hazard Herald, a weekly newspaper in the same town as the station. “It’s the glue that sticks the Eastern Kentucky counties together,” U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican whose 5th District includes all 24 counties the station reaches, told Brashear.

WYMT is not on satellite because "Satellite companies don’t have to carry more than one affiliate of a network in a market, and WYMT and its parent, WKYT of Lexington, are both CBS affiliates," and because their parent company, Gray Television, has been unable to get Direct TV or Dish Network to budge, Brashear writes. The situation is complicated by the station's location at the far end of the Lexington TV market and near three other markets. Here's a map; for the full story, click here.

Studies show organic farming makes economic and environmental sense over the long term

"Organic crop systems can provide similar yields and much higher economic returns than a conventional corn-soybean rotation," because they "fetch a premium price on the market and eliminate the need for expensive inputs like herbicides and synthetic fertilizers," researchers at Iowa State University announced this week after 13 years of comparison at the university farm. And they noted a longer study elsewhere that showed similar results.

ISU's Long-Term Agroecological Research Experiment "is one of the longest running replicated comparisons in the country," a university news release said. “The transitioning years are the hardest years,” said Professor Kathleen Delate, who leads the project. "To sell a product as organic, the crop must be raised on land that has received no synthetic chemicals for three years prior to harvest," the release notes. But the study showed organic crops "can remain competitive with conventional crops even during the three-year transition."

The study resulted in yields of organic corn, soybean and oats "equivalent to or slightly greater than their conventional counterparts," averaged over 13 years, the release said. "Likewise, a 12-year average for alfalfa and an 8-year average for winter wheat also show no significant difference between organic yields and the Adair County average."

“I think there’s a strong future for organic agriculture,” Delate said. “My phone is ringing off the hook.” The economic side of the study was led by Craig Chase, an extension farm management specialist. He found that "organic systems return roughly $200 per acre more than conventional crops," the release said. "In addition to its profitability, organic agriculture helps build healthy soils."

But how do organic farmers control weeds? With “a whole suite of practices,” including timely tillage and longer crop rotations, Delate said. "Chemicals from rye and alfalfa help keep weed populations under control, as does growing an alfalfa cover crop in winter, which provided cover for beneficial insects and animals," the release said.

The findings concur with those seen over 30 years in Pennsylvania by the Rodale Institute, which "calculated that organic crops required 45 percent less energy, and contributed significantly less to greenhouse gas emissions," the Iowa State release said. For that study, click here. A brochure about the Iowa project can be downloaded here.

Rick Rojas of the Los Angeles Times reports on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, "a loose global network that hooks up those willing to work with farmers eager to take them for a few weeks, or even a few months."

'Climate' seems to be a dirty word to lawmakers, who nix a Climate Service even as threats mount

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to create a National Climate Service similar to the agency's National Weather Service in order to meet "skyrocketing" demand for climate information. Even though the agency said it would shuffle existing staff and didn't ask for any additional funds, Republican members of Congress "barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a 'one-stop shop' for climate information," reports Brian Vastag of The Washington Post.

Vastag reports that over one year, the amount of climate data obtained from NOAA's website increased by 86 percent. Calls to the agency about climate information rose by 4,000 over the same period. But even the word "climate" can be polarizing one, drawing ire from Republican representatives like Andy Harris, who said in June: "Our hesitation is that the climate service could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source." Rep. Ralph Hall, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, launched an investigation of NOAA, saying they were "operating 'a shadow climate service operation' without congressional approval," even though NOAA's climate data has been public for decades.

The idea of a climate service has received much support from scientific, weather and industry groups, Vastag reports, along with insurance companies, who use climate information to set rates. They've realized what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to say in a report today: "Climate change is likely to cause more storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events." Flona Harvey of The Guardian reports that the IPCC has conducted "the most authoritative review yet of the effects of global warming."

The Democratic-led Senate approved most of the climate service in its budget, but the Republican-led House approved none of it. A news release from the House Appropriations Committee "implied Congress saved $322 million" by not allowing the climate service. But as Vastag reports, NOAA will still receive that amount for climate research, just not under "an umbrella climate service." (Read more)

Are 'paperless papers' the future of newspapers?

Yes, says John Paton, right, chief executive of the Journal Register Co., MediaNews and parent company Digital First. Paton reinvented two struggling newspaper chains, making them the second-largest newspaper chain in America, with more than 800 print and digital products in 18 states, David Carr of The New York Times reports. The companies' annual revenue is over $1.4 billion and they employ 10,000. Paton attributes their success to his push for "paperless papers." (Times photo by Matthew Staver)

In Paton's new model of newspapering, content sources should be local content by professional journalists; readers and community input, and aggregated services, roughly one-third each. At the Journal Register, Paton gave reporters Flip pocket video cameras, created a community newsroom cafe in Torrington, Conn., and moved to free, Web-based publishing tools, Carr writes.

"Choosing digital revenue over print revenue is like choosing dimes over dollars," Paton told Carr. Over the last five years print dollars have dropped by over half, so it's time to start "stacking the dimes." The move to digital is not entirely smooth. The Journal Register staff is down 16.5 percent with layoffs and outsourcing, and MediaNews revenue is down 2 percent, but that is still less than the newspaper industry average, over 6 percent, Carr reports.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A prayer for Thanksgiving

"Thanksgiving requires a (turkey) wing and a prayer," writes Curtis Seltzer of Blue Grass, Va., writer of the "Country Real Estate" column, recalling the "Saints," whom we now call "Pilgrims," who started the tradition: "In the interest of recapturing a smidgeon of that old-time religion, I offer this Thanksgiving prayer."

We are thankful today for those who are with us,
and for those with whom we once shared this meal.
We are thankful today for what’s good in the world,
and for when we’ve done the right thing in the right way.
We are thankful today for what we have,
and for what we don’t need.
We are thankful today for any help we’ve received,
and for any we were able to give.
We are thankful today for the freedom we have,
and for the times we’ve used it.
We are thankful today for those who love us,
and for those we have loved.
We are thankful today for today,
and for the possibility of tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Editor at weekly putting heat on secretive energy projects says county official assaulted him

A thrice-weekly newspaper's watchdog reporting about local-government support of two secretive energy projects got physical this week, as the county's energy and development director punched an editor in the arm, according to a story in today's Appalachian News-Express of Pikeville, Ky. The criminal complaint by News Editor Chris Anderson said Charles Carlton "approached me and hit me with a closed fist in the left arm above the elbow" as he opened the newspaper's front door for Carlton, who said, "You son of a bitch; what are you people harassing me for?"

"According to court documents, Anderson said the incident occurred shortly after he had sent an open- records request to Pike [County] Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford’s office, which would have been forwarded to Carlton for fulfillment," News-Express Editor Russ Cassady wrote. His story said Carlton issued a statement repeating a denial that he hit Anderson, but said "It was a reaction through frustration because it seems every time I spend considerable amounts of time and energy negotiating with large national and international companies the newspaper intervenes at critical moments and makes it very difficult for me to get anything accomplished."

Cassady wrote that Carlton "has been at the center of controversy since late last month, when the News-Express released the results of an investigation of a pair of coal-to-liquid fuel plants proposed for Pike County. Carlton, in his capacity as director of energy and community development, figured heavily in both the projects and in the News-Express investigation, which found that the county may have illegally provided equipment and labor to a private company working on private property." For that story and two sidebars, click here.

Today's story notes, "This incident is the second in less than two years in which a News-Express staffer was involved in an altercation regarding a news story." In the first, Pikeville Mayor Frank Justice hit former editor Jerry Boggs in the face and later issued a public apology. The online News-Express is subscription-only, but the pages containing today's story are posted here and here.

Small Business Saturday will follow Black Friday

Saturday, Nov. 26, will be the second annual Small Business Saturday. The day, sponsored by American Express, is dedicated to supporting small businesses during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, the Small Business Saturday website says. The impact on local economies is very significant.

Last year, sales were 28 percent higher than the same Saturday in 2009, Mary Ann Fitzmaurice, American Express's senior vice president, told Kate Rogers of FoxBusiness. This year, 89 million customers are expected to shop at small businesses. (Read more)

Small Business Saturday may be more important to local economies than Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Peralte Paul of East Atlanta Patch writes. The 177,445 small businesses in Georgia, reported by the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy in 2006, accounted for 98 percent of employers in the state and 46 percent of Georgia's private-sector employment, the Bureau of the Census reports. "That means the lion's share of Georgia's total economic output," projected by JP Morgan Chase to be $364 billion for 2011, "will come from small businesses." (Read more)

Penn State sexual abuse scandal hits home in rural areas where the victims live

In the wake of child sexual abuse allegations against Penn State University's football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the media has focused mainly on Centre County, where Penn State is located. But some reporters are reminding us that victims in this case live in some of Pennsylvania's most rural areas.

"In these remote places, nestled between the graceful ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, almost everyone knows someone who was affected by the scandal, and whether they felt comfortable talking about it publicly or not, Penn State's pain is their pain, too," reports Curtis Tate for McClatchy Newspapers. The university has more students than the entire population of Clinton County where Sandusky volunteered at Central Mountain High School as a football coach for three years. Tate details the grand jury report about "Victim 1," who attended the school and alleges sexual abuse by Sandusky. He also reports about the fall-out in the community after the scandal made news.

Elizabeth Regan of The Express in Lock Haven, Pa., reports that Sandusky's case, along with presidential candidate Herman Cain's sexual harassment case, created media storms about everyone but the victims. This is changing, though, and Deb Zinck, who works at the Clinton County Women's Center, told Regan this is a good thing, especially since the community can help the victims cope. Zinck told Regan: "If anything can come out of this, people can become aware that many kids are living this day in and day out. We need to educate our community members on how to stop abuse and look for the flags."

Delay of vote on Delaware Basin drilling shows Obama administration in another political bind

The Obama administration is again caught between environmental and energy interests, much as it was during debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the Midwest. The latest rock-and-a-hard-place situation is in New York and Pennsylvania, where a vote to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin was postponed Monday. The administration controls the tie-breaking vote on the Delaware River Basin Commission, which consists of governors from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. It controls decisions about development in the river basin, and the four governors are split on the issue. (New York Times map)

Drilling has been on hold while regulations were being written, reports Mike Soraghan of Environment & Energy News. When they are decided, drilling can start. Proponents promise jobs and economic development, but environmentalists want the commission to conduct a "cumulative impact statement" before approving the rules, which could delay drilling for a year. Soraghan reports that no reason was given for the delay in the vote on regulations, but it suggests the commission wouldn't have gotten a majority vote to begin drilling. The administration's position on the matter is not clear.

The Delaware River Basin provides drinking water to 5 percent of the U.S. population, including Philadelphia and New York City. The proposed rules would allow 300 wells to be drilled in the 13,539-square-mile area. Soraghan reports the Army Corps of Engineers, which is representing the administration, is relying on consultations with staffers and other federal agencies to make its decision. The delay was praised by some lawmakers in Northeast states who had called for a delay so more research could be conducted on drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shake and other deep deposits. It was criticized by those who said the delay was "driven more by politics than sound science." (Read more)

Journalists across the Northeast have covered this issue extensively. Bob Jordan of the Parsippany, N.J., Daily Record reports that commission support for drilling has eroded and "fallen apart." Sandy Bauers of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports about drilling protests in Trenton, N.J., where more than 800 people celebrated the decision to delay the vote. In a magazine story highlighting Pennsylvania's struggles with natural gas drilling, "The Fracturing of Pennsylvania," Eliza Griswold of The New York Times puts a human face on the controversy surrounding natural gas well drilling in the region.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Agroforestry advocates try to debunk conventional wisdom that farming and trees don't mix

A demonstration project to help spur the growth of agroforestry - growing trees on the same land as crops to improve land values - has started in Montana. Gloria Flora, environmental consultant and former U.S. Forest Service supervisor, planted more than 300 trees on her farm north of Helena among crops of berries, edible flowers, grapes and medicinal plants. She says "the extensive tree canopy and the use of native plants make the garden more resilient in the face of a changing climate, needing less water, no chemical fertilizers and few, if any, pesticides," making the farm more sustainable than conventional agriculture, reports Jim Robbins of The New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made a push in August to encourage agroforestry because it's a great way to "harness the ecological services that trees provide," Robbins writes. Experts say trees provide "all sorts of contributions to agriculture," like erosion prevention, fertilizer production, water filtration and species diversification. Cattle farmers can also improve income by selling timber and cooling cows in shade. When placed properly, studies have shown that trees can filter out 95 percent of sediment run-off from farm fields.

"There are several approaches to agroforestry," Robbins reports. "Grazing livestock under a canopy of trees is called silvo-pasture. In alley cropping, an ancient technique becoming more common in the U.S., rows of commercially valuable hardwood trees like oak are alternated with rows of corn, wheat or grasses for biofuel." He also reports the method is helping raise specialty crops like shiitake and oyster mushrooms and truffles. This method is a sophisticated form of land management, though, and advocates face an uphill battle to break down the conventional wisdom that trees and farming don't mix. (Read more)

Native American 'Shadow Wolves' help track drug smugglers along Ariz.-Mexico border

A group of eight Native Americans is helping the U.S. Government hunt Mexican drug smugglers in the rural Tohono O’odham Nation on the Arizona-Mexico boarder. Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times reports The Shadow Wolves "spend their days traversing the most isolated parts of the reservation" tracking smugglers in an area where there are no street signs and few paved roads. (L.A. Times map)

The smugglers' operations moved to this desolate region five years ago when the U.S. Border Patrol increased drug searches east of the reservation. Bennett reports "two billion dollars worth of marijuana, cocaine and heroin have moved through the reservation since then, according to Immigration Control Enforcement estimates." The Shadow Wolves use GPS, ATVs, and high-powered radios, but "it is their tracking skills and their feel for the hidden box canyons, caves and seasonal watering holes that make them formidable counter-narcotics agents."

Tohono O'odham Native Americans were first hired by the U.S. government to track smugglers in 1972. To increase numbers, they began hiring from outside the tribe. Bennett reports they are driven not only by a duty to the government, but also by a duty to their tribe because they are protecting ancestral lands and cemeteries in their hunt for drug runners, whom they've become adept at tracking. (Read more)

What is rural impact of supercommittee's failure?

Yesterday the congressional "supercommittee" on deficit reduction failed to reach a deal before its Nov. 23 deadline, meaning sequestration or automatic $1.2 trillion cuts in defense and domestic programs is set to start in 2013. The question remains whether another congressional agreement can be reached before then and if not what programs are likely to get the automatic cuts.

The failure spared Medicaid and Medicare temporarily until the 2 percent automatic cuts designated for health care and defense take effect in 2013, David Nather of Politico reports. Social Security, a disproportionally rural program, is also safe temporarily as the supercommittee's new consumer-price-index model that would have reduced payments to seniors is now off the table, John Allen of Politico reports.

The military did not fare so well, since the debt-ceiling deal creating the supercommittee requires half the cuts to come from defense. The defense industry's chances of blocking the cuts are slim, Allen reports. To read his summary of the winners and losers in the supercommittee failure, click here. To read Bob Cusack of The Hill's breakdown of winners and losers, click here.

The agriculture industry, safe for the moment, must wait as Farm Bill negotiators focus on producing their own legislation before the current authorization expires next September, David Rogers of Politico reports. The agricultural committees proposed $16.7 billion in "outlay savings," or a 27 percent reduction, which would include an end to direct payments and the related Average Cost Revenue Election program giving farmers three options instead. (Read more)

Click here to read The Washington Post's guide to the deficit-and debt rhetoric, by Glenn Kessler.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Police are encrypting scanners; journalists say the move prevents coverage of developing news

The days of reporters relying on police-radio scanners for early tips on breaking stories may come to an end as police around the country move to encrypt radio communications. Departments say the measure will prevent criminals from listening in and evading capture, but journalists say "open communications ensure that the public receives information as quickly as possible that can be vital to their safety," The Associated Press reports. (Kentucky New Era photo)

Police are responding to new technology that allows scanning by smart phones. Officers in Washington, D.C., the most recent department to start encryption, provide two instances of criminals getting away because they were scanning. Journalists say departments have the ability to encrypt sensitive communications and shouldn't shut out the news media, which rely on scanners to learn of developing crimes and threats to public safety. Scanner hobbyists have followed police activity from their homes for years and oppose encryption saying it makes government less transparent.

Some departments have tried to compromise with media outlets by leasing them radios and increasing efforts to update developing stories through Facebook, Twitter and email. Journalists have thus far been able to bypass encryption in D.C., AP reports, and the news director of local station WTTG-Fox 5 defended the media's right to hear police communication: "It is our jobs to inform the public in times of emergency." (Read more)

Coal mining jobs in Appalachia increase despite industry concern about federal 'war on coal'

Mining jobs in Appalachia have increased by 10 percent since the Environmental Protection Agency intensified efforts to reign in mountaintop removal mining in 2009, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data. The current 59,059 jobs in the region are the most since 1997, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. This data runs counter to complaints about the Obama Administration's "war on coal" eliminating coal mine jobs.

United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith told Ward the union has seen more jobs for union members in Northern Appalachia and Alabama. Though mountaintop-removal mines are in Central Appalachian and most are non-union, the UMW says it hasn't seen job loss at unionized surface mines. Whether or not those mines will see losses depends on the extension or renewal of permits, which could be blocked by EPA. Ward reports that West Virginia operator Alpha Natural Resources isn't worried about permitting problems, citing comments from CEO Kevin Crutchfield in which he said "there's nothing in 2012 that is contingent upon any sort of regulatory relaxation or need."

Ward reports "the current increase in jobs comes amid government projections that coal production in Central Appalachia, meaning Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, will decline rapidly through the rest of the decade." He writes that West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley told a U.S. House subcommittee there is evidence that one form of stricter regulations might actually increase jobs. He asked the subcommittee to see "why federal and state agencies have not enforced post-mining land development requirements for mountaintop-removal mining operations if they're concerned about coalfield jobs." (Read more)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Retailers besides Walmart eye primary-care prize

Last week, a document leaked showing Walmart's intention to become the country's largest provider of primary health services, but the company's interest is not unique. Drug retailers like CVS Caremark and Walgreens are eyeing the same prize: "the millions of Americans with costly illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease," reports Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News. CVS already has 550 retail clinics, the most in the country. Walgreens has also set up programs aimed at diabetic customers, which includes counseling with pharmacists.

The retail industry is looking at ways it can use its clout to save money and offer a primary care infrastructure that experts say will be short by 21,000 doctors by 2015, largely because of the 30 million more people becoming insured by 2014 under the federal health-care reform law. "It's sad that the existing health care establishment has not figured out a way to make primary care affordable and accessible," said Jerry Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard University. "We should not be surprised if someone outside of our world comes in and does it for us."

Costs at retail clinics are "roughly 30 percent to 40 percent less than similar care at a doctor's office and 80 percent cheaper than at an emergency room," Appleby reports, referring to a study in the American Journal of Managed Care. Those savings appeal to insurers. Retail clinic use by people with health insurance increased tenfold from 2007 to 2009, with clinics accounting for 7 percent of all medical visits for 11 common acute conditions, the study found. "If these trends continue, health plans will see a dramatic increase in retail clinic utilization ... particularly among young, healthy and higher income patients living close to retail clinics," the study concluded.

Patients like the clinics for the predictability, with costs made clear ahead of time. And employers — who under the new health law could get incentives to provide wellness programs for their employees — may partner with the clinics to provide blood testing, nutrition counseling and diabetes management. However, there are still many unknowns. While the clinics have proved useful for acute care, it remains to be seen how they will deal with complicated issues like diabetes management.

Some states prevent clinics from employing physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. "Other states cap the number of nurses each doctor can oversee," Appleby reports. The vast majority of clinics are staffed not by doctors, but physician assistants and nurse practitioners. A report by the Convenient Care Association shows 95 percent of the clinicians are nurse practitioners. With these practitioners able to provide basic care, part of the fear among doctors is they will be left to treat only the sickest patients and won't be reimbursed accordingly.

Most of the clinics are in the South and Midwest. In January, Merchant Medicine listed 40 retail clinics in Kentucky, with more to open in 2011. The clinics "are more likely to be in areas with lower overall poverty and only 12.5 percent were in medically underserved areas," Appleby reports, though 21 percent of the U.S. population lives in those areas.

The clinics have typically offered vaccinations and simple physical exams and treatment for strep throat and ear infections, but plan to expand their services and enlarge retail's foothold in the medical world. "Think about Toyota; they didn't start off by competing with Cadillac and BMW. They started with cheap little cars but got better and better over time," said Mark Smith, president and CEO of the California Healthcare Foundation. (Read more)

Small, weekly newspaper gets best of stonewalling state agency in case of adopted child's murder

When a 9-year-old girl was found beaten to death and her adoptive brother was charged with murder, the local newspaper wanted to know what the state child-welfare agency had done, or not done, with the family in the four years Amy Dye, left, had been placed there. The Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children stonewalled the Todd County Standard, but the small, weekly newspaper fought in court and a judge found that the agency had violated the state open-records law -- and prevented further stonewalling on appeal by putting the records in his ruling.

The records paint "deplorable picture of what happens when those who are assigned to protect a child fail," Editor-Publisher Ryan Craig wrote in his Nov. 9 paper. Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd of Frankfort "said that Amy was put in the Dye home despite there being a 'substantiated' incident of child abuse prior to her placement" and the case is an "example of the 'potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny'."

In his Nov. 16 edition, Craig wrote that a closer look at the records showed "that the cabinet made a choice within a few days of Amy Dye’s death and a day after the Standard filed an open records request to declare the scope of the investigation in a way that would keep the files from becoming public," by classifying its probe as a "neglect investigation" instead of a "fatality investigation," which by law must be public. His story noted that "Officials with the Cabinet delayed nearly two weeks — violating open-records laws — before even responding to the Standard’s initial request for records. Then when the Standard received a response, it was told there were no files whatsoever on Amy Dye."

The Standard is not online, but we have posted PDFs of its Nov. 9 front and jump pages here and here and its Nov. 16 pages here and here. The photo of Amy is from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, which reported on the case in detail today. For the story by Deborah Yetter, go here. University of Kentucky journalism professor Mike Farrell wrote about this and related cases for KyForward, giving a good summary of details, concluding, "We know all of this only because the Todd County Standard sued the cabinet for the records, and in ruling for the newspaper, the judge laid out the story." (Read more)

Local paper broke Penn State story in March; reporter calls it 'a huge testament to local news'

Uncovering the story of a former Penn State football coach's alleged rapes of boys "was all local journalism," Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim told Howard Kurtz this morning on CNN's "Reliable Sources." (CNN image)

"Its a huge testament to local news," the 24-year-old Penn State journalism graduate told Kurtz, who initially referred to the 71,000-circulation Advance Publications newspaper as "The News-Patriot." Ganim said, "It was all local journalism, going to my sources. ... I spent a lot of time knocking on doors and getting shooed off properties."

Ganim said the newspaper "did have some pushback" to her stories that first reported the investigation, starting March 31, but "I actually expected a lot more than we got. . . . For the most part people were happy that we were bringing this out." The stories didn't get much play beyond Pennsylvania until ex-coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted this month, perhaps because they were based on interviews with people who had testified before a grand jury, reporting that was difficult for non-local media to match, Ganim said.

The story of Sara Ganim "is also the story of a family-owned media company, Advance, of a second-generation newspaper editor, David Newhouse, of a publisher, John Kirkpatrick, who understands what a newspaper means to a community, and of a newsroom that has the deep local connections and also the courage to keep going no matter what the potential cost to its own reputation," Carl Lavin writes on his 07newsroom blog.

For Ganim's original story, click here. For her latest summary, focusing on authority figures and "What did they know and when did they know it?" go here. Her last-Sunday story about why the probe took so long is here.