Friday, June 15, 2012

Rural youth commit suicide twice as often as their urban counterparts; 'gun culture' blamed

Rural Americans between the ages of 10 and 24 are twice as likely as their urban counterparts to commit suicide, reports Brian Resnick for The Atlantic. "And while youth suicides have declined across the country in recent years, suicide rates in sparsely populated areas have remained steady." Resnick writes that while it is hard to pinpoint exactly why there is such a disparity -- access to mental health treatments is a major contributor -- one reason clinicians are giving for the decided difference "may be tied to gun culture."

According to a recently published survey of Midwestern mental health clinicians, "one of the challenges rural therapists face is telling parents of troubled youths to lock up their guns." The Midwestern counselors in the survey "agreed that nearly everyone owned and used guns, and said that in a lot of their clients' homes, guns were so commonplace that they became part of the furniture." As a result, the clinicians made a point of saying that parents in rural areas often need to be reminded that guns are involved in half of all youth suicides, and that having them in the home makes it easier for young people to end their lives.

The West's trees being decimated by pine beetle fungus; some say they're telling us something

North America is witnessing the largest pine-beetle epidemic in recorded history, reports Sophie Quinton of the National Journal. From Canada’s Yukon Territory to New Mexico, pine trees by the hundreds of millions are succumbing to a fungus that the beetles carry. Jeff Mitton, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado (Boulder), has been studying the mountain pine beetle for more than 30 years. “The question is, why has this gotten so much worse?” Mitton said. Among the scientific community, a consensus is growing that changes in climate have propelled the outbreak. (AP photo of Colorado state park)

It's natural that beetles kill, die off, and regenerate, but human activity has helped to set the stage for the current epidemic. Writes Quinton: "Decades of fire suppression have left the West with dense stands of vulnerable, elderly trees. Frigid winters that usually kill the beetles have become, over the past 20 years, the exception rather than the rule. Earlier snow-melt and longer summers have altered the beetles’ range and life cycle; they now attack pines at higher altitudes and latitudes, and they reproduce twice a year instead of once. Earlier springs and a series of dry years have also weakened trees, turning them into ideal beetle food."
The devastation of the forest has been vast. The infected trees first turn a violent red, then they fall, and, finally, the tree falls. "Year by year, communities have watched a scourge advance across mountainsides and through neighborhoods, trees turning from green to red to gray. The beetles now attack 12 pine species, from the high-elevation whitebark pine to the lower-elevation ponderosa and piƱon." The blight has overtaken 3.3 million acres in Colorado alone since the 1990s. “To a large degree, our nation’s parks are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to on-the-ground effects of a warming climate,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said at a 2009 hearing on climate change at held at Rocky Mountain National Park with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. At the same park, John Mack, the chief of resource stewardship told Quinton: “These trees are dead; they just don’t know it.”

Report: Rural manufacturing, once so hard hit, looks to be rebounding with global growth

According to the Census Bureau, rural communities have lost roughly a third of their factory jobs since 1995. The recent recession has only made this worse, with one out of every eight rural factory jobs disappearing in 2009 alone. But, writes Jason Henderson in The Main Street Economist's report: Rebuilding Rural Manufacturing, rural manufacturing has rebounded  with a vengeance in the past two years. "Stronger global economic growth and a drop in the value of the dollar from its highs a decade ago has boosted U.S. manufactured exports. Rural factories have tapped global markets and a booming agricultural sector to spur rising employment and incomes. While the prospect of additional strength at rural factories remains promising, the rebuilding of rural America's manufacturing base rests on the retooling of rural factories with skilled workers for competition in global markets," Henderson writes.

Henderson, who is vice president and Omaha branch executive at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, reports that "economic growth in developing countries has spawned demand for commodity-based products." Rural manufacturing jobs have jumped 3.8 percent in 2011, double the national rate, with workers putting in more than 40 hours a week through the first quarter of 2012. Such strong labor demand has fueled strong wage growth making weekly earning rise more than 7 percent over the past year. Read the report.

Editor of 1½-year-old, prize-winning weekly tells how and why

The Yancey County News, a weekly founded just last year, recently won two major journalism awards  -- the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.  On the Burnsville, N.C., newspaper's masthead are only two people, Jonathan and Susan Austin. In a Q&A with The Awl, an online journal, reporter Dan Cooper asked Jonathan Austin, right, about the prestigious prizes, both awarded for stories reporting on corruption in the county’s official channels. In one series, the paper revealed that the county’s deputy-sheriff had pawned county-owned firearms for personal gain; another series uncovered absentee ballot fraud, voter coercion, and voter anonymity rights violations in the county.

Austin told Cooper that he came to Yancey County after working for 30 years for various media companies and after a family decision was made that he should come and live with his aging father and stepmother. He said he also had read the competition and knew there was a lot of room for some better news coverage in the county. As for the awards, he said he was just trying to write "about what was going on. In many ways, it's just what you learn in Journalism 101. It's not investigative aggressive; it's showing-up aggressive. It’s covering as many of the items of what goes on in a community in any given week. We're storytellers so when I’m talking to journalists, I try and remind them that we come up with scripts for the things we don’t necessarily want to tell our grandma and I remind them — who, what, when, where and why. That community I felt didn’t have anything aggressive enough.”

His guiding principles of community journalism: He relies on "almost 30 years of experience; that’s where the editorial process gets going, where the rubber hits the road. As Garrison Keillor would say, "that’s righteous time." I try and subscribe to the theory that everything is important to someone. I doubt that anyone not in school bothers to read the lunch page but I bet they understand the purpose for it being there."

Fellowships send rural journalists to IRE Computer-Assisted Reporting Boot Camp; apply by June 22

Friday, June 22 is the deadline for rural journalists to apply for a competitive fellowship to attend the Investigative Reporters and Editors Computer-Assisted Reporting Boot Camp Aug 5-10 in Columbia, Mo. The fellowship includes a one-year membership in IRE and up to $350 reimbursement for expenses.

These fellowships are made possible through the generosity of Daniel Gilbert, left, who used the skills he learned at a CAR Boot Camp to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of the mismanagement of southwest Virginia natural-gas royalties for the Bristol Herald Courier. That work also won him the Scripps Howard Award for community journalism, and he donated its $10,000 prize to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues to create a fund for the fellowships. The Scripps Howard Foundation matched his gift, and the state of Kentucky matched both gifts, allowing two fellowships per year. Gilbert now covers oil and gas for The Wall Street Journal.

Kate Martin of the Skagit Valley Herald, in Mt. Vernon, Wash., was the inaugral IRE fellow. She says thanks to the CAR boot camp "I am no longer at the mercy of my sources to look up a figure or fact for me. I can have them send me the source file and work with it on my own." (Read more)

The fellowship is available to journalists who work for news organizations with daily circulation less than 40,000 whose geographic coverage or circulation is primarily rural, or a broadcast station not in the top 100 markets as defined by Nielsen Inc. and has a mainly rural coverage and circulation area; or an online publication that has demonstrated an abiding interest in covering issues in rural areas. “Rural” is defined as outside a standard metropolitan statistical area.

Applicants must submit a resume, a letter of support from the news organization, three clips showcasing investigative work, and a statement of interest. Preference will be given to applicants to outline a project that include the need to analyze databases. For more details and an application form, click here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weekly paper develops its own ads to promote the value of public-notice advertising by governments

The young publisher of a weekly newspaper in West Texas came up with some ideas to increase readership and public support of public-notice advertising, which is under threat from local governments and state agencies that are trying to persuade legislatures that putting the legal ads on government websites would save money. The counter-argument is that people don't read government websites like they read newspapers, and many of them don't use the Internet.

Tiffany Waddell
The Texas Press Association reports, "Tiffany Waddell, the co-owner and one-woman staff of The Western Observer in Anson, started her own public notice campaign early this year, drawing from recent events affecting Jones County residents. Her first ad -- 'They Just Sold Your Cattle. Or Didn’t You Know?' -- was published after local ranchers expressed frustration in finding out the county had sold loose livestock without publishing notices in the newspaper that strays had been found. The Jones County sheriff’s office had posted the information on its website instead." Waddell told TPA that she and her husband own cattle, and "When you own 100 head, you don’t always know that one’s missing, so you don’t think, ‘Okay, I need to go look online,’ but you see the notice when you read the newspaper.”

Waddell, who is 29, has published three more ads about public notice, each one emphasizing important public information that was not readily made public or published in the Observer, the county's largest paper by circulation. “We want Jones County residents to have the information and not be left in the dark, like a mushroom,” she said. “We’re definitely not in it to make money, and the money we do make we put back into the community.” Losing public notices from the county would not be a big financial loss for the the Observer, she said, but added that they would take a big hit if the state were to stop publishing legal notices in newspapers.

Historian and rural advocate sees growing distrust in government, less involvement in civic affairs

The Daily Yonder has excerpted historian and noted rural advocate Helen Lewis's Living Social Justice in Appalachia, just released by University Press of Kentucky. The book includes a smattering of her work -- scholarly, personal, a few essays, a few gardening tips, a recipe or two -- all to give you a flavor of her life in the hills she has loved and fought for. In this excerpt, she argues for rural community development that is only attainable if its economy is morally based.

"In this new phase of capitalist expansion, we find that Appalachia and rural America become like Third World economies and share their problems, high unemployment, lower wages, environmental degradation, community destruction, increasing poverty. Structural adjustment policies imposed on Third World countries took the form in this country of welfare reform, lowering wages and cutting social services in order to compete in the world economy. There has been a decline in democracy, growing distrust in and alienation from government and less participation in civic affairs. In the 1930s when the social contract of the New Deal was being formed, people looked to the government to provide some protection and security from the failures of the economic system. This is now questioned. Public schools and social security are in danger of being privatized. For some, the government is an enemy to be destroyed." (Read more)

Paper puts cases' starting date in court news as a nod to possible changes in offenders' behavior

The first time I ever paid $1 for a weekly newspaper, somewhere in Ohio, I asked the store clerk, "Is this paper worth a dollar?" She thought for about three seconds and replied, "Yeah, for the court news."

Seeing who's been misbehaving, and caught doing it, is one reason people buy community newspapers. But by the time a case appears in the paper, the offender's behavior may have changed. That's why the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., recently began adding the year that the case began to each listing in its court news.

"We first discussed the idea because we noticed numerous cases being postponed and a few cases that were several years old," Editor-Publisher Sharon Burton, right, told us in an email. "Then, the mother of a man who was facing drug charges called and said her son was no longer using drugs but his name kept appearing in court record and it was discouraging to him to think everyone who read it would believe he was in trouble again. Cases often get continued numerous times. Because we run the next scheduled court date, we go ahead and run the item again, saying it was continued to another court date. His case had been continued several times, which is not unusual. We decided that listing the year a charge was originally filed would give readers additional information. It was easy to provide, because case numbers include the year."

When Burton started her paper a decade ago, she immediately began publishing circuit and district court records, land transfers, marriages, divorces, building permits and health inspections. "Public record had not been published in Adair County in recent history so people quickly took notice," she says. "Some loved it, others didn't. From the beginning we've tried to educate readers why having access to government is important and we have used public record as a learning tool. We knew we could publish records, but we wanted readers to understand why we should. It allows us and our readers to look for trends and to get a glimpse at what their elected judges and prosecutors are doing. We've noticed that more people convicted of dealing drugs are being sentenced to longer times in jail since temporary judges replaced our elected circuit judge who became ill two years ago and recently died. Those are the types of things readers can look for if they are interested. We have tweaked how we publish court record over the years to make it more informative. We are always looking for ways to make our court records more informative and a reflective picture of what is taking place in the courtroom."

Immigration policy changes under consideration could have major impacts on U.S. agriculture

Four writers for the Amber Waves publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have dissected the variety of proposed changes to U.S. immigration law as it relates to foreign-born farm workers. Steven Zahniser, Tom Hertz, Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer of USDA's Economic Research Service comprehensively analyze current law and what possible changes might mean.

"Some of these proposals would create additional opportunities for persons from other countries to work legally in U.S. agriculture, while others would use different methods to enforce existing U.S. immigration restrictions. Any of these proposals, if enacted, are likely to have a substantial impact on U.S. agriculture and the market for hired farm labor. Labor is a major input for many agricultural sectors, and persons not authorized to work legally in the United States constitute a large share of the farmworkers employed by U.S. agriculture."

They note that labor accounts for about 17 percent of agriculture's variable production expenses and roughly 40 percent for fruit and vegetable farms and nurseries." The chart below is helpful in understanding how that is substantial for some crops.

The ethanol slowdown has begun; corn prices expected to decline at least 20 percent

After a visit to Walhalla, N.D., where Archer Daniels Midland Co. had just closed an ethanol producing plant that was the town's largest employer, Mark Peters writes in The Wall Street Journal that America's ethanol boom is stalling. Further, Peters reports that "the effects are starting to spread across a Farm Belt that had grown accustomed to soaring growth." Annual U.S. production of ethanol more than tripled from 2005 to 2011, driving up crop prices and pumping money into rural communities from Nebraska to North Dakota. Now, the demand for the corn-based fuel additive appears to have topped out. The amount used in gasoline is near federal mandates, and gasoline consumption is declining. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's May forecast, after 15 straight years of growth, ethanol production this year will fall slightly and will be roughly flat next year. (Most of the story is behind a paywall.)

"The ethanol industry expanded based partly on expectations that gas consumption would keep rising, and that ethanol's share of that would continue to grow," Peters writes. "Instead, gas demand this year is projected to be 6.7 percent below its peak in 2007, and efforts to expand ethanol's share face challenges." U.S. plants now face excess capacity, producing less than 14 billion gallons of ethanol a year, with capacity of 14.7 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade association.

What does this mean for farmers? Writes Peters: "The slump is weighing on prices American farmers get for corn, which rose to record highs in recent years based partly on ethanol demand. The ethanol industry now consumes about 40 percent of corn produced in the U.S., up from around 14 percent in 2005. The Agriculture Department projects corn prices for this year will decline at least 20 percent to an average of $4.20 to $5 a bushel, partly because of flat demand from ethanol producers."

Rural communities in Ga., Ky., Maine, N.C., Wis. get public-private grants to create spaces for artists

Several rural communities are getting grants for "creative placemaking" from ArtPlace. a collaboration of eleven large foundations, six large banks and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Artplace has singled out Chattooga County, Georgia, for a grant in an effort to help restore artist and preacher Howard Finster's Paradise Gardensright. The $445,000 grant will be used to maintain Finster's home and art environment in Pennville, a press release said. Finster, who said he was divinely inspired, made works that combined naive, folk and visionary art. He died in 2001.

Other rural communities gettimg grants include Sitka, Alaska, $350,000; Cumberland, Ky., $273,000; Eastport, Maine, $250,000 and Sauk County, Wisconsin, $75,000. Siler City, Sanford and Greenville, N.C., will share $485,000 to house artists at under-capacity manufacturing plants.

“Across the country, our communities are using the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “In rural settings, where people live far apart from one another, the arts can offer an opportunity to come together and share a common experience." The full list of 47 grants is here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

State parks in dire financial straits; some saved by local communities, nonprofits, wealthy individuals

Several states have proposed closing some state parks, mostly in rural areas, because of shrinking budgets, and residents in surrounding communities are fighting to keep them open. California officials plan to close 70 parks next month. Supporters have raised $200,000 to keep California's China Camp State Park (above) open, and need $50,000 more from communities in wealthy Marin County, Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times reports. (Photo by Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle)

In poorer counties, it's harder to raise funds for parks. Officials and supporters are struggling to raise $80,000 to save the historic home of the state's last Mexican governor, but Los Encinos State Historic Park, just 35 miles away, was saved by a single $150,000 donation. State Parks Director Ruth Coleman told Megerin that about half of the 70 parks slated for closure will remain open, operated either by local governments or nonprofit organizations. Arizona was planning to close all its parks in 2010, but most have been kept open by agreements with local governments and nonprofits.

To stay afloat, state parks are trying new things. Nevada has added vending machines to draw revenue; Idaho officials want companies to advertise on park signs; Colorado is allowing oil and gas drilling in St. Vrain Park to generate funding. Kentucky state parks now sell alcohol at some locations and cut worker hours in an effort to save $6 million a year, reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Though none of the state's 51 parks will be closed, private concession companies will be allowed to operate food services at seven resort parks, and parks will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Study finds rural health care only a notch behind, with certain advantages over urban care

A new report has found a narrow gap between the quality of health care in rural and urban settings, but the study does recognize the "significant differences" differences between urban and rural care.

The report is an update to "Rural Relevance Under Healthcare Reform: A Tracking Study," by iVantage Health Analytics, and evaluates performance measures across physician, outpatient, hospital and emergency room settings. According to a press release, the report reveals that in Medicare could save about $7.2 billion if costs per patient were the same in rural and urban settings. The report also finds that for rural patients, physician payments are 18 percent lower and hospital payments are 2 percent lower than in urban areas, but outpatient payments are 14 percent higher. The overall cost per Medicare patient is 3.7 percent lower for rural patients.

Rural emergency care is faster overall than urban emergency room care, with rural patients seeing a doctor 30 percent faster (once the patient gets to the hospital, we should add). This results in fewer hospital admissions. The full report can be accessed here.

Local-food advocates, small ranchers trying to revive local slaughterhouses

Almost all small slaughterhouses have gone out of business because they've been unable to compete with large, consolidated abattoirs. Just four corporations in the U.S. slaughter about 80 percent of the country's cattle. The loss of small slaughterhouses, mostly in rural places, has cost jobs in those communities and in many cases creates a lie of the "locally produced beef" label, reports Beth Hoffman of National Public Radio.

Some rural communities and groups are trying to change this by building their own slaughterhouses. The Cattle Producers of Washington will build a new facility in Odessa, Wash. (MapQuest image), exclusively serving small Eastern Washington ranches. Most grass-fed beef in the region had to be transported 400 to 600 miles into Oregon to be processed, but CPOW President Willard Wolf hopes the new plant will change that. "The whole idea is to have quality control and humane processing for local cattle, hogs, sheep and goats that provides consumers in the state with the locally produced products they are demanding," he told Hoffman. "Having a producer-owned plan will help keep dollars, ranchers and farmers in our communities."

Other communities are trying also to keep beef processing local. In Sullivan County, New York, officials say they want to maintain the rural "agrarian feel" of the county. Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency Director Jennifer Brylinski said the county is building the plant 90 from New York City on otherwise undesirable land to see the county's "farmland kept as farmland." The plant will cater to small ranchers in the region. (Read more)

Farmers flock to federal wetlands-reserve program, mainly along the Mississippi River

Interest among farmers and landowners in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program has significantly grown over the last three years since the program's enactment, according to the USDA. Natural Resources Deputy Undersecretary Ann Mills said the program was ready to fund $25 million in projects before a new request for proposals was sent out earlier this year.

The focus of the program is in the Mississippi River basin, which has constantly flooded in the past several years. Mills told Julie Harker of Brownfield that many farmers in the watershed are dealing with flooded land and the program allows them to make money while gaining better flood protection, improving water quality and increasing habitat for migratory birds.

More than 7,000 acres between the Mississippi River and its levees are enrolled in the program this year, with the potential for 30,000 acres to eventually be protected. Wetlands projects are funded in Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. (Read more)

Ohio river town's revitalization could be example to U.S.-based companies: buy American

Corporate labor out-sourcing has hurt the economies of many rural towns across America, but the revitalization of one Ohio River town could become an example to other U.S.-based companies about the value of the rural American workforce.

East Liverpool, Ohio, was once the pottery capital of the U.S. when four dozen pottery factories were all at full operation, but when global competition became cheaper, the industry almost died, reports Stephanie Strom of The New York Times. The American Mug and Stein Company was near closing last year when Ulrich Honighausen, owner of tableware company Hausenware asked the Ohio company to make mugs for Starbucks. American Mug owner Clyde McClellan, right, agreed.

The pottery maker's mugs went on sale in Starbucks across the country this week as part of the corporation's new line of American-made merchandise branded Indivisible. The partnership has kept American Mug running, prevented four people from losing their jobs and created eight more positions. Money from the sale of the mugs, and other Indivisible products, will be put into Starbuck's "Create Jobs for USA Fund," which helps small businesses stay afloat. (Read more)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Historic post offices up for sale or already sold; National Trust, communities want them preserved

The U.S. Postal Service has been selling off post-office buildings as a way to save money and "downsize its retail network," Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office writes. But The National Trust for Historic Preservation is stepping in to try and save some historic offices by collectively placing the buildings on its list of the most endangered historic places. The post offices include those in Geneva, Ill., La Jolla, Calif. (left), Gulfport, Miss. and Fernandina Beach, Fla.

The Trust said on its website that city officials and preservationists "find themselves frustrated by a lack of information and guidance from the U.S. Postal Service" when they find buyers for historic offices. "Local post office buildings have traditionally played an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many are architecturally distinctive, prominently located, and cherished as civic icons in communities across the country. Unless the U.S. Postal Service establishes a clear, consistent process that follows federal preservation law when considering disposal of these buildings, a significant part of the nation’s architectural heritage will be at risk."

The USPS owns about 9,000 of its 32,000 offices, Hutkins writes. The others are in leased spaces. Of those it owns, about 2,500 are either on the National Register of Historic Places or are eligible to be listed. More than 1,000 post offices were built during the New Deal, including the one in La Jolla, and are significant for the murals and sculptures they contain, which Postal Service Historian Dallen Wordekemper said are "often prized more than the buildings themselves."

Many of the New Deal post offices have already been sold as of last year, Hutkins reports. USPS partnered with the largest commercial real-estate company in the world, CB Richard Ellis, to manage sales. About 80 post offices are listed for sale on a USPS real-estate website, and many are historic. At least 38 historic post offices in 19 states have been sold or put on the market, most of them in rural places. Eleven are in California, 4 are in Connecticut, and three each are in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Weekly and daily newspaper work together to give update about national story in their area

Large daily and small rural weekly newspapers don't often work together to write special reports, but when they do, the results can be well worth the effort. The Pueblo Chieftain and the weekly Johnstown Breeze collaborated on an update about the "Mortal Kombat" killing, in which Heather Trujillo, left, and her boyfriend were charged with the murder of Heather's seven-year-old sister, Zoe Garcia, by acting out moves from the video game.

When the story broke in 2007, it got national attention and was lauded as the example for why children shouldn't play violent video games. Steve Henson of The Chieftain and Matt Lubich of the Breeze report that the story is actually more complex, starting with the fact that Garcia's death had nothing to do with Mortal Kombat. It was more about Heather's violent boyfriend and her inability to stop his drunken rage that led to the beating death of Garcia.

The reporters write that the case was also about Heather's troubled upbringing, which included being born to a 13-year-old mother, at times raising some of her 10 younger siblings, many of whom had different fathers, and her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. Henson and Lubich also report the story is about how the system sometimes fails those born into poverty with drug-addicted and neglectful parents. "To understand" this story, they write, "you need to come to terms with children having children, the numbing of logic brought on by reliance on bureaucracy, poverty, drug abuse and parental neglect." Heather is now 21 and is scheduled for release from the Colorado Department of Corrections Youthful Offender System in December.

Read part of Henson and Lubich's joint report here. The Breeze has the full story behind a pay wall, but it can be accessed for $1.

Small theaters seeking residents' financial help to convert to digital, as moviemakers demand

Moviemakers are making the switch from 35-mm film to digital, and are forcing all theaters to make the change within the next two years. It will save Hollywood movie producers about $2.5 million per movie, but it costs small, rural movie theaters sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to convert, a price most can't afford. Several towns have held fundraisers to save their downtown theaters, which would otherwise likely be forced to close.

Tom Cherveny of the West Central Tribune in Willmer, Minn., reports that a block party in downtown Madison, Minn., recently raised more than $20,000 from 650 people, almost half of the town's 1,500 residents, toward saving its two-screen Grand Theatre. The theater is now more than $75,000 closer to its $100,000 goal to buy digital conversion equipment. Maynard Meyer, owner of KLQP Radio in Madison and leasee of the Grand, told Cherveny he and office manager Kris Kuechenmeister are lucky to break even on the theatre operations, but that the theatre's importance lies in the quality of life it brings to Madison residents.

Other small theaters in rural America are dealing with similar financial issues, including the Capital Cinemas in Princeton, Ky. Owner Heidi Boyd, left, told the Princeton Times Leader's Stacey Menser that she needs to raise about $200,000 for the conversion. The town's residents are pitching in to help (link requires subscription). Theater owners in North and South Dakota said they are facing similar financial issues. UPDATE, 2/22/14: The Princeton theater's fund drive succeeded and it has gone digital.

Coal critic Jeff Biggers posts an online archive

Author and journalist Jeff Biggers has written extensively about coal mining in Central Appalachia and other coalfields for several national media outlets, including Salon, The Nation, The Washington Post and National Public Radio. His work focuses on the anti-mountaintop removal movement and the cultural and environmental impacts of strip mining. An online archive of all his coalfield writings has been compiled. "His work is often polemical, but all great causes need a polemicist," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. You can access it here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Obama makes pitch to rural voters in eight states

If President Obama shows up in an interview on your local television news tonight, you can be certain (with two exceptions) that he considers your state, and probably your TV market, important to his re-election. The markets include Green Bay, Roanoke, Jacksonville, Sioux City, Colorado Springs and Reno, plus Fresno, Calif., and Greenville, S.C. -- in a solid blue state and a solid red state, perhaps included so the White House can say it wasn't all political.

Obama scheduled interviews "in mostly Republican-friendly parts of swing states to promote his Democratic administration’s efforts for rural communities," Margaret Talev reports for Bloomberg News. He also announced "investment of about $2 billion through 2016 for rural businesses" and touted a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House Rural Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Strengthening Rural Communities: Lessons from a Growing Farm Economy."

The "lessons" are a but hard to discern, but the report says "A strong agricultural economy is critical to a strong rural economy," that progress in the farm economy is driven by innovation, more exports, promotion of diverse industries, "supporting rural communities" and "building a clean energy economy," a section that touts Obama's efforts in that area. To download a PDF of the 32-page report, click here.

Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder analyzed the report, saying it's mostly about agriculture, leaving out the environment, worker safety, education and the hearings the administration had across the country about the lack of competition in the agriculture business. "Four times in the first four sentences, we are told that people who live in rural America are 'hard working' or 'work hard' or are accustomed to 'hard work.' Alright already," Bishop writes. "It's also not very hard to see how members of the Obama administration sees rural America. To them, it's one big farm."  

Economic woes of rural Pa. may have figured in Sandusky's alleged crimes, and may in his defense

Sandusky arrives for trial today.
(Inquirer photo by David Swanson)
As testimony begins today in the sex-abuse trial of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, "The economic disparities that made his purported victims vulnerable . . . are also likely to prove central to Sandusky's defense," write Jeremy Roebuck and Jeff Gammage of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

They cite a comment made last year by Sandusky attorney Joseph Amendola: "I can think of nine million reasons boys like these would claim to be a sex-abuse victim," he said. "What better motivation than money - the financial gain that could come from saying, 'I'm a victim'?"

Centre County (Wikipedia map)
"State College is a cultural island," Matt McClenehen, a Centre County defense attorney, told the newspaper. "You have some of the most intelligent, educated people in the world around Penn State. But once you leave the confines of State College, you're practically in Appalachia." Officially speaking, the county is in Appalachia, as defined by Congress and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

"In Clinton County, where Victim 1 lives, 15.5 percent of the population falls below the poverty line, compared with 12.4 percent statewide," the reporters note. "The percentage of single-parent households is nearly twice that of neighboring Centre County," just to the south. (Read more)

Editor makes sure her readers know that she was charged with DUI in another county

Terri Likens of the Roane County News in Tennessee is not the first newspaper editor to publish a prominent story about being charged with driving under the influence, but she is the first editor we know of (there are surely others) who did that about her arrest by a deputy sheriff in an adjoining county, where word of it might have been contained.

"I regularly talk to people who have ended up on the wrong side of the law and want to keep the incident out of the newspaper," Likens began her front-page column on May 2. "My answer is invariably a polite no-can-do. If the situation is a matter of our usual public record, it all goes in the paper. We make no exceptions."

Likens wrote that she couldn't give all the details, but "My blood-alcohol test was below the legal limit, and I respectfully and fully cooperated with everyone involved." She said the story was on Page One because "I can be considered a public figure," and "As someone whose newspaper has to publish the troubles of others, it is only fair that I have to publish my own, when circumstances warrant it."

Likens said she would plead not guilty and tell readers how the case turned out. She told us today what she will report in Friday's paper: "After the Cumberland County prosecutors reviewed the field test video, looked at the report and talked to the sheriff's deputy, the charge was dismissed on Thursday, June 7, cost to the state. It still cost me $1,200 in lawyers fees and bond, though." And she wanted us to tell you that she won the annual Max Heath Gold Star award for editors last month from Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. for day-to-day excellence in journalism: "The decision was made well before the DUI. But they did hold that up as an example of integrity during the presentation." A good punctuation mark, we think. (You can quote me in your column, Terri.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Community editor, group executive win Ky. award for public service through community journalism

Two rural newspaper journalists with very different but equally distinctive careers will receive the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism at a dinner in Richmond, Ky., on July 20.

The honorees are Jennifer P. Brown, left, opinion editor and former editor of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, and Max Heath, below, retired vice president and executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., based in Shelbyville, Ky., and a subsidiary of Landmark Media of Norfolk, Va.

The Al Smith Award, named for the rural newspaper publisher who was founding producer and host of Kentucky Educational Television’s “Comment on Kentucky,” is presented by the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Smith is a national SPJ Fellow and co-founder of the Institute, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky.