Saturday, October 01, 2016

Missouri Press Association's 150th convention has a feel-good vibe about newspapers and journalism

Staff members of the Cassville Democrat, which won the
Gold Cup for small weeklies, posed with their awards and

MPA President Dennis Warden. The Christian County
Headliner-News won the weeklies' middle-circulation
class, and the St. Louis American won the large one.
There was a feel-good vibe at the 150th convention of the Missouri Press Association in Branson this weekend, as publishers, editors, reporters and others in the industry gave and received awards and made speeches upholding the idea that community journalism remains the strongest part of traditional journalism.

Chip Hutcheson of The Times Leader in Princeton, Ky., who just completed a year as president of the National Newspaper Association, noted that NNA still has "newspaper" in its name, without referring to the News Media Alliance, which until recently called itself the Newspaper Association of America. "We remain very bullish on newspapers," while realizing they need digital platforms too, he said. Adapting a daily statement by his old Army Reserve commander, Hutcheson said, "It's a great day to be a newspaper person in America. We have challenges, but we will meet those challenges."

A key to that is maintaining connections with communities newspapers serve, suggested Doug Crews, who retired recently as MPA executive director, and Platte County Landmark Publisher Ivan Foley, who received the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "Good journalism gives power to the people," Foley said.

Crews praised "hard-working journalists," saying, "They cover communities, not markets. They're not concerned about demographics; they're concerned about their neighbors." Crews was inducted into the MPA Newspaper Hall of Fame at the convention after 36 years with the association, including 25 as its highly regarded chief executive. "I remember the first convention I worked on was the 113th," he quipped,

Others inducted were the late Edward Heins, whose posts included managing editor of The Des Moines Register, editorial director of the Suburban Journals of St. Louis and general manager of the Columbia Missourian; Jim Hamilton, longtime editor of the Buffalo Reflex and Dallas County Republican; and Tad Bartimus, a longtime correspondent for The Associated Press and AP's first female bureau chief (Alaska, 1974-76).

Friday, September 30, 2016

Legal immigrant citizenship backlog could affect presidential outcome in battleground states

Francisca Fiero, a legal immigrant
from Mexico living in Nevada,
has been waiting since January
to receive notification of
her U.S. citizenship.
(NYT photo by Isaac Brekken)
A backlog in naturalizing the growing number of legal immigrants applying to be U.S citizens means that many won't be eligible to vote in November, Julia Preston reports for The New York Times. Last year 940,000 legal immigrants applied to be U.S. citizens, a 23 percent increase over the number of applications in 2014. "As of June 30, more than 520,000 applications were waiting to be examined, a pileup that increased steadily since last year."

A push to get immigrants to register to vote in battleground states could prove futile if many are not naturalized by their state's voter registration deadline. Three battleground states—Nevada, Florida and Colorado—have all seen significant increases in legal immigrants over the past year, Preston reports. Nevada has seen a 53 percent increase, Florida a 40 percent increase and Colorado a 30 percent increase.

Since immigrants are more likely to vote Democratic, the backlog could hurt Hillary Clinton, Preston writes. Polls in Nevada, Florida and Colorado all show that Latinos favor her by huge margins over Donald Trump. "In Florida, for example, more than 66,000 potential new voters stuck in the backlog could be enough to affect the outcome of a race that polls show is a virtual tie."

Some accuse the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of purposely taking its time processing applicants, Preston writes. Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of 37 groups that held citizenship workshops around the country, told Preston, “The agency has developed an acute case of the slows, and it could not be a more critical moment.” Raghuveersaid said the "groups scrambled to file applications before May 1, after the immigration agency originally advised them that the process would take four to six months."

"This year for the first time the naturalization drive also had high-profile backing from the White House, which sponsored ad campaigns, gave $10 million to community groups and made fixes to make it easier to apply," Preston writes. "But officials said the White House was not monitoring the results to confirm that the immigration agency was completing naturalizations in a timely way."

Rural white community fearful of Native American pipeline protest says activism is hurting harvest

The Dakota Access Pipeline runs
through Morton County, North Dakota
Farmers in a rural North Dakota county say the Dakota Access Pipeline protest is hurting them during one of the most critical times of the year, harvest season, Caroline Grueskin reports for The Bismarck Tribune. Morton County residents say they fear trespassers and vandals and that protesters are disrupting normal business operations. Residents in Morton County, which is 92 percent white and next to the state capital of Bismarck, have previously complained of safety concerns because of the protest.

"One man with pipeline on his farm said he has been staying there, instead of at home, so he can keep an eye on any protests that happen," Grueskin writes. "Another man said he's had 150 people on his property at a time and has been delayed by roadblocks and protests as he tries to harvest his crops."

Protesters say they have no interest in trying to intimidate locals, Grueskin writes. Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, which raises awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice, told Grueskin, "There's not a sentiment to go after private citizens. We understand the enemy is essentially the company that wants to put a pipeline through the river right next to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation."

Warren Zenker, president of the Stockmen's Association, which has endorsed the pipeline, said farmers have reported trespassers and "people have told him they're having trouble maintaining their farms and harvesting their crops because of roadblocks and protests." One resident, who said road conditions have kept a repairman from being able to fix his combine, said his land has been left vulnerable to weeds. He said "it also creates uncertainty about whether it will be available for farming and ranching next year."

State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has received 25 to 30 reports from producers ranging from fences being cut to hay being stolen to roads being blocked by masked activists, Grueskin writes. He told her, "There are numerous trespassing issues and just an overall lack of respect for property and the personal safety of our farmers and ranchers and their families." (Read more)

604,000 veterans could lack health insurance in 2017 if more states don't expand Medicaid

If no more states expand Medicaid, in 2017 about 604,000 veterans will be uninsured in 2017 and 54 percent—327,000—will be living in states that have yet to expand Medicaid, says an Urban Institute study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Of those 327,000 uninsured veterans, "39 percent will have financial assistance available through Medicaid or subsidized marketplace plans, while 38 percent would fall into the assistance gap and would only qualify for Medicaid if their state were to expand." (Urban Institute graphic: Projected rates in 2017)
Researchers used data from the 2011–2015 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They looked at three areas: Uninsurance (veterans who did not have comprehensive coverage or VA services at the time of the survey); problems paying medical bills over the past 12 months; and unmet medical needs due to cost over the past 12 months. (Urban Institute graphic: Rates of Uninsurance, Unmet Needs, and Problems Paying Medical Bills Among Nonelderly Veterans)
The study found that between 2013-2015, the uninsured rate for non-elderly veterans (those aged 19-64 who have ever served active duty but who were no longer on active duty) "fell by an estimated 42 percent, declining from 11.9 percent in 2013 to 8.5 percent in 2014, and falling further to 6.8 percent in 2015. Over this time, veterans also experienced fewer unmet health needs, suggesting that increased coverage translated into improved access to care."

Researchers found that the The American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that between 2013-2014, the veteran uninsured rate dropped 2.4 percent. At the same time the uninsured rate for family members of veterans declined. In 2014, an estimated 1.2 million veterans and family members—706,000 veterans, 503,000 family members—were uninsured.

Illinois court blocks same-day voter registration law only available to higher population counties

A federal judge in Illinois this week blocked a state law that allows same-day voter registration only in counties with 100,000 or more residents, on grounds the limit discriminates against rural voters. "The application of this legislation favors the urban citizen and dilutes the vote of the rural citizen," wrote District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan.

The Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, a conservative group, filed a lawsuit in August claiming the law favored urban voters over rural ones. The group "argued the population threshold unconstitutionally discriminated against voters in less populated counties and boosted Democrats in heavily Democratic Cook County, where Chicago is located," Timothy Mclaughlin reports for Reuters.

An appeal of the ruling by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, was denied on Thursday, reports The Associated Press. Her office argued "that yanking the option so close to the Nov. 8 election would unfairly deny some citizens voting rights." In his explanation of denying the appeal, Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan wrote: "This court did not restrict the rights of any voters. The legislation did."

Judge keeps feds from removing red wolves from private property in North Carolina

Red wolf recovery area (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service map)
A North Carolina federal judge has "temporarily restricted the federal government’s ability to remove red wolves from private property" in the state, Anne Blythe reports for The News & Observer. District Judge Terrence Boyle said "the government had failed to protect the wild red wolves that roam a five-county area in northeastern North Carolina. The order stops wildlife officials from removing red wolves from private property unless they can show the animals are threatening humans, pets or livestock."

Boyle wrote: “Following reintroduction, the wild red wolf population in the red wolf recovery area grew steadily, with a peak population of an estimated 130 red wolves in 2006 and as many as 20 breeding pairs in a given year. In November 2013, there were an estimated 100 red wolves in the wild with an estimated eight breeding pairs . . . In March 2016, defendants estimated there to be only 45-60 red wolves in the wild. Such rapid population decline has been described as a catastrophic indicator that the wild red wolf population is in extreme danger of extinction.”

Conservation groups had argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "failed to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves by authorizing private landowners to kill them on their land," Blythe writes. They also claimed that federal wildlife workers "have been capturing wolves and sometimes holding them for weeks or months before releasing them into unfamiliar territory where they are not with their mates and pack."

"Federal officials have proposed that beginning next year the wolves’ territory should be reduced to a federal wildlife refuge and adjacent land in Dare County, rather than the five-county territory where they currently are protected," Blythe writes. "Wildlife officials have proposed capturing and removing the wolves that stray beyond the refuge and Dare County." (Read more)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Police routinely misuse databases to get personal information, says AP investigation

A disciplinary report following an unauthorized search
a Miami-Dade County police officer did of a reporter
who did a story on how police officers taking official
vehicles home costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
An Associated Press investigation has found that police officers routinely misuse confidential databases "to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work," Sadie Gurman and Eric Tucker report for AP. The investigation found that no single agency tracks abuse, making it impossible to know how often violations occur.

"Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job," Gurman and Tucker write. "But the AP’s review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained."

An open records request of 50 states and about three dozen of the nation’s largest police departments, found that more than 325 times from 2013-2015 employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned, Gurman and Tucker write. "They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found."

"Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP," Gurman and Tucker write. "In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed."

"Some departments produced no records at all," Gurman and Tucker write. "Some states refused to disclose the information, said they don’t comprehensively track misuse, or they produced records too incomplete or unclear to be counted. Florida reported hundreds of misuse cases of its driver database, but didn’t say how often officers were disciplined. And some cases go undetected, officials say, because there aren’t clear red flags to automatically distinguish questionable searches from legitimate ones." (Read more)

Agriculture is a unique business, in which land tends to be used no matter what, researchers say

Agriculture is unique in that nearly every inch of farmland is utilized, unlike other industries where large portions of land often remained unused to save room for peaks in demand, opine Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, in their latest edition of "Policy Pennings."

While a building that houses a business may have previously held several other types of business, been altered to fit changing needs or excess space been idled or sold, "the same is not true for agriculture, particularly crop agriculture," Schaffer and Ray write. "Crop farmers tend to use all of their acres all of the time. Total planted acres remain remarkable stable over time. Farmers may change the mix of crops they grow, but they are unwilling to allow acres go unused. They typically will plant cropland to something."

"In response to several years of higher crop prices, farmers are relatively quick to convert some of their pasture land to cropland as we saw during the last decade," Schaffer and Ray write. "The shift in the other direction does happen, but historically the change has been exceedingly slow. When a farmer goes bankrupt or otherwise leaves the industry, the land does not. It is sold to another farmer and remains in production, often with higher yields."

"Unlike the building that can be used by businesses in different economic sectors, when land on the edge of town is converted to a subdivision or paved over for a shopping mall or small industrial plant, the change is virtually permanent. It would be very expensive to return it to agricultural production," Schaffer and Ray write. "Buildings can be put up most anywhere, but agricultural cropland is where you find it and it tends to be used no matter what." (Read more)

Workers' comp costs for major injuries in La., the fattest state, are more than double for the obese

State of Obesity report
Obese workers in Louisiana incur more than twice the costs of normal-weight employees for workers' compensation claims for major injuries—an initial reserve of at least $15,000—says a study at the University of Texas published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study, which looked at 2,301 injured workers reported to the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corp.—1,107 in 2011 and 1,194 in 2012—followed up on workers after three years. Researchers found that costs incurred for major injuries averaged $472,713 for obese workers, $270,332 for overweight workers and $181,413 for normal-weight workers.

Louisiana is the nation's fattest state, according to this year's "The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report found that Louisiana's adult obesity rate is 36.2 percent.

The UT study, which controlled for gender, age, marital status, and attorney involvement, found that "the logistic regression odds ratio for return to work by the end of the follow-up period for an overweight or obese individual versus a normal-weight individual was 2.95 and 3.58." The study also controlled for spinal surgeries and spinal injections, "which were found in previous studies to be associated with high workers’ compensation cost and claim duration."

Researchers did find that the increasing trend in costs for workers based on being obese, overweight or normal weigh was not evident for minor injuries with an initial reserve less than $15,000. While the average incurred cost for overweight workers was $187,801, costs for obese workers ($232,652) and normal-weight workers ($224,884) were similar.

U.S., Canadian tribes to sign joint treaty to block hunting of grizzly bears in Yellowstone area

National Park Service map shows bear range
Tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada will sign Friday a joint treaty "aimed at blocking the proposed hunting of grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming," Rob Hotakeainen reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Tribal leaders, who consider the grizzly bear a sacred animal, are angry that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March proposed removing the grizzly bear from the federal endangered species list from the area in and around Yellowstone National Park, which would let the three states manage the bears and allow hunting.

"Tribal officials said the new treaty will be only the third cross-border treaty between U.S. and Canadian tribes to be signed in more than 150 years," Hotakeainen writes. "More than 50 federally recognized tribes have lobbied President Barack Obama to intervene. They’re backed by The Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization representing the more than 900,000 First Nation citizens living in Canada."

Ranchers and state officials have argued for delisting of grizzly bears, saying numbers are up and "they constitute a threat to public safety," Hotakeainen writes. Numbers were estimated at as low as 136 in 1975, but are now estimated at more than 700. (Read more)

Stanford offers $160,000 to MBA grads who agree to work in under-served Midwest areas

Stanford University has launched a fellowship that covers tuition and other costs for master-of-business-administration students who agree to work in under-served areas in the Midwest. The Stanford USA MBA Fellowship pays for tuition and associated fees—about $160,000 over two years—for students with ties to the Midwest and who are in need of financial assistance. Students must agree that within two years of graduation they will hold a professional position for two years that contributes to economic development in under-served areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin.

To be eligible, students must "demonstrate strong ties to, and a commitment to the economic development of" one of the states, and have on the following: current residency in the region; prior residency for a minimum of three consecutive years in one of the states; a high school diploma from the region; or experiences that demonstrate a strong commitment to, and interest in, the development of the region. The application deadline is Jan. 10, 2017.

Simone Hill, an assistant director for MBA admissions at Stanford, told Zara Kessler of Bloomberg News that the program seeks “people who are interested in bringing everything that they learned back to their region to develop it. So we don’t have any specific stipulations on what we mean by ‘having an impact,’ because we know there are so many different ways you can do that.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Youth suicide rates up in at least 36 states; some blame decline in prescribing antidepressants

At least 36 states saw a rise in youth suicide rates from 2006 to 2014, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. The overall rate for suicides among people 19 and under rose during this period from 2.18 per every 100,000 teens to 2.72. The biggest increase was in Utah, where youth suicide rates rose from 2.87 for every 100,000 teens to 6.83. (Stateline map: Change in teen suicide rates from 2006-14)
Experts site a decline in psychiatric medicine for the increase in suicides, Ollove writes. In 2003 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in teens and adolescents, leading many doctors to stop prescribing them. A study in 2003-04 linked higher rates of teen suicide to the decreased prescribing of antidepressants. Experts say another possible cause for the rise in teen suicides is in increase of cyber-bullying.

One study in rural Wisconsin linked higher teen-suicide rates to rural areas, "where people are more likely to be depressed and mental health services may be less accessible," Ollove writes. In Utah, for example, "public schools are barred by law from 'advocating homosexuality," which, critics say, discourages any candid conversation on the subject" and leaves LGBTQ youth with no support system. Utah does not track suicides by sexual orientation, so little data exist on that theory.

Rural towns seek ways around state laws preventing cities' extension of high-speed internet

Local governments are trying to find ways around state laws prohibiting them form extending broadband to rural areas, Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, is known as "Gig City" for its mega-gigabit speeds, but neighboring rural areas are stuck in the technology Stone Age for uploads and downloads. Chattanooga wants to expand its service to rural areas, "but a state law bans cities from doing so, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last month rejected an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to block the state law."

"The court’s decision was limited to Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., another city that wants to expand its service," Fifield writes. "But about 20 states have laws that ban or restrict municipal broadband, and the ruling means that any city that attempts to get around the laws won’t be able to turn to the federal agency for help. The outcome sends the fight back to the local level, where cities are looking for ways to work within the laws so they can reach residents on the other side of the digital divide."

Overall, 39 percent of rural residents and 50 percent of the lowest-income residents lack access to high-speed internet, compared to 4 percent of urban residents and 23 percent of the highest-income residents, Fifield writes. Andy Berke, the Democratic mayor of Chattanooga, said expanding broadband from cities would not only increase those numbers, but would help rural areas create jobs and economic opportunities. (Stateline graphic: Broadband access)
"Advocates for restrictions on municipal broadband, including Republican state lawmakers and free-market think tanks, say the rules are needed to keep the government from unfairly competing with businesses, which are subject to state and local regulations and taxes that many cities don’t face," Fifield writes. Providers often want to avoid rural areas because they say demand is low and costs are high to build new networks.

Christopher Mitchell, policy director at Next Century Cities, a nonprofit that advocates for more high-speed internet, said there are ways around the laws, Fifield writes. One way is through cooperatives, where customers own the network. "A city could build the fiber optic network and agree to lease it to the co-op at a low rate. Or, it could take out a bond and make a loan to the co-op to build the system."

Appalachian-state voters favor shifting away from coal, says poll taken for Sierra Club

Voters in in Appalachian coal states favor transitioning away from coal, and a bill in Congress to help fund the effort, says a poll conducted by the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The poll in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia surveyed 150 registered voters in each state. It was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm.

Brian Willis, of the Sierra Club, told The Rural Blog in an email: "We did not capture demographic information about whether or not a respondent lives near a coalfield. We did ask whether or not the respondent or someone in their household has ever been employed in coal mining or a company that provides products or services to a coal company. Eleven percent of the total sample said 'yes', and support for RECLAIM is high among this group (87 percent)."

Asked about policymaking choices by elected officials and decision-makers, 62 percent said they should concentrate on helping "attract new employers, diversify the economy, and ensure workers get new jobs in growing industries," and 32 percent said they should prioritize "fighting government regulations that have made it harder to produce coal, to ensure the good‐paying jobs in mining come back."

The highest number was in Virginia, where 72 percent said the state should move away from coal. But only a small part of Virginia has coal. West Virginia, most of which has coal, had the lowest number (54 percent). In the two-coalfield state of Kentucky, it was 59 percent. The poll did not separate results for those who live in a coalfield and those who do not.
At least 85 percent of respondents in each state agreed that it was time for coal communities to diversify their economies. When asked if it was time to emphasize efficiency and clean energy over coal, at least 68 percent of respondents in every state except West Virginia agreed. There, it was 54 percent.
The bill in Congress, titled the RECLAIM Act, would take $1 billion in previously collected taxes on coal from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help revitalize coal communities hit hardest by the downturn in the coal industry. It drew overwhelming support, with at least 87 percent of respondents in every state supporting it and no real difference by party.
At least 74 percent of respondents in each state rated the rural economy as fair or poor, with 94 percent in Kentucky and 96 percent in West Virginia saying the rural economy is fair or poor. Only 10 percent of respondents rated their state's rural economy as excellent or good, compared to 38 percent who rated their overall state economy as excellent or good. In every state respondents rated the economies of rural coal mining areas as being far worse than the overall economy of the state.

USDA grant creating telemedicine network to fight opioid addiction in rural Virginia

Rural Virginia will soon see the benefits of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to create telemedicine networks to fight the opioid epidemic. Funding is part of $1.4 million USDA announced in June for five rural Appalachian projects. Virginia was awarded $587,000 for two projects. One, which received $434,182, will help the Carillon Clinic's Roanoke-based Carilion Medical Center "deliver health care in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia, including 18 sites—15 of which are in StrikeForce counties" targeted for special help, says a USDA press release. Other projects are in Kentucky and Tennessee.

In Virginia, 4.6 percent of residents—about 380,000 people—are estimated to have abused opioids last year, Shefali Luthra reports for Kaiser Health News. Between January 2015 and March 2016, the state medical examiner's office recorded almost 600 deaths from prescription -opioid overdoses.

The epidemic has been particularly bad in rural areas, mostly because there are few options for help, Luthra writes. For example, in Giles County ( map) which has 17,000 people spread over 360 square miles, there are no treatment programs. The nearest ones are one county over, "more than 24 miles from Pearisburg, where the Giles County mental health clinic offers only basic counseling and child psychiatry. With no closer option for an adult psychiatrist, some local physicians have turned to telemedicine."

Giles County family physician Robert Devereaux said "the nearest physician who can prescribe suboxone is 30 miles away," Luthra writes. "That's an immense distance for patients of limited means, who may not be able to afford gas or may not even have a car. But given that Devereaux sees between 25 and 30 patients a day, many with multiple chronic illnesses, handling the medication regimen required to treat drug addiction is a responsibility he's not sure he could add."

Carillon, which runs the Carillon Giles Community Hospital in Giles County, "is pushing its doctors in rural counties to get licensed to prescribe suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction," Luthra writes. "Medical residents at the system's flagship hospital in Roanoke are required to get DEA certification, and the hospital is sending two specialists to its clinics to train interested providers."

Invasive Asian carp being served up as gourmet dishes, or as 'fish hot dogs'

(Photo by Jere Downs, The Courier-Journal)
A growing number of fine-dining restaurants in Kentucky are serving up locally-sourced invasive Asian carp as trendy dishes, while some grocery stores are now stocking hot dogs made from fish, Jere Downs reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. "Humans are the only predators capable of making a dent" in the exploding population of carp, "a fish so fertile it lays one million eggs a year, a starvation threat to native fish like bluegill, crappie, bass and shad in 45 of 50 states."

So, what better way to reduce the species than to eat it. Louisville chef Shawn Ward told Downs, "Anything you can do with a fish that you spend quite a bit of money on, you can do with carp. Our biggest venture is to get people willing to try and eat carp.” Asian carp, which weigh between 45 to 70 pounds, are much cheaper than more expensive fish like bass, often costing $10 per pound, compared to $23 per pound for bass, said Louisville chef Dean Corbett.

The trend isn't exclusive to Kentucky, because carp have invaded most of the Mississippi River watershed and are threatening the Great Lakes, so one strategy is to harvest and eat them. The owners of processing plant Fin Gourmet in far Western Kentucky say they are "shipping 20,000 pounds of boneless filets each week to restaurants in Louisville, Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans and Las Vegas," Downs writes. Fin CEO Lan Chi Luu told Downs, "A shift is happening in the conversation. This is the new U.S. wild-caught fish."

But Asian carp isn't just for foodies. "While top chefs in Kentucky are starting to plate up Asian carp for gourmet diners, Asian carp hot dogs might be one of the first products to land the invasive fish inside supermarket carts," Downs writes in a separate story. Ward said he has created teriyaki and jalapeno-and-cheese flavor "fish hot dogs" that are now being sold in stores. He told Downs, "It tastes like a grilled hot dog. It’s not as strong. It’s good."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Waters family selling Columbia Daily Tribune, a well-known community paper, to GateHouse

Columbia, Missouri, has long been known among journalists as the best-covered small city in America, since it has the daily Columbia Missourian of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Columbia Daily Tribune, owned for 111 years by the local Walters family. Now the Tribune has been sold to GateHouse Media Inc., a burgeoning chain backed by venture capital.

"GateHouse Media is owned by New Media Investments Inc. and operates 125 daily newspapers across the country," Rudi Keller wrote for the Tribune. "Overall, the company owns 620 publications in 520 markets in 35 states. Its 14 daily newspapers in Missouri include the Boonville Daily News, the Mexico Ledger and the Moberly Monitor-Index." All are in towns smaller than Columbia, population 119,000.

Andy Waters
Jason Taylor, president of GateHouse's Western Division, said the paper's 200 employees, except Publisher Vickie Russell and company President Andy Waters, will keep their jobs during the transition. "An interim publisher will be named on the day the sale closes," on or about Oct. 1, Keller reported. Russell's husband and Waters' father, Hank Waters, "will continue to write daily editorials as he has since taking over from his father on May 25, 1966," Keller wrote, quoting Waters: “It is probably a world record. I don’t know if it is something that anyone should aspire to.”

Andy Waters and his sister, Elizabeth Reifert, bought out their four siblings in 2011. Waters and Russell said in an interview that after years of spurning offers, the cost of maintaining a modern news operation made independent ownership impossible. “Bigger companies can absorb research and development, for example, and spread costs out across the entire company while we were constantly being challenged to do that by ourselves,” Russell said.

For GateHouse, the purchase is "part of an aggressive acquisition strategy it has pursued since emerging from bankruptcy in 2014," Keller notes. "On July 28, New Media reported second quarter net income of $9.4 million, the purchase of Journal Multimedia, a Pennsylvania company, for $18 million and an agreement to buy Fayetteville Publishing Co., owner of North Carolina’s oldest newspaper, also for $18 million. . . . While New Media overall is profitable, GateHouse is not."

GateHouse wants to maintain the Waters family traditions, Taylor said: “We owe it to them to shepherd this business for decades to come.” Andy Waters said that was important to the family. “They have told us over and over again, and we believe, that they have a plan for being successful in the future and that plan includes doing quality journalism, having a commitment to the employees here and a commitment to the community, and we expect that to continue.”

Rural areas still trail pre-recession employment numbers; biggest job growth in largest metro areas

Rural areas continue to struggle to reach pre-Great Recession employment numbers, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for the Daily Yonder. Among 1,969 non-metro counties, 1,326—67.3 percent—had fewer jobs last year than before the recession started in 2008. Only 49.8 percent of urban counties, 580 of 1,165, had fewer jobs in 2015 than in 2008. Most of the job growth occurred in areas with one million or more residents.

The Yonder sorted counties using the rural-urban continuum code, used by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to divide counties into nine categories, with 1 being the largest (one million residents or more) and 9 being the smallest (not more than 2,500 residents living in a city), Bishop and Marema write. When using this system "the top two largest categories gained gained 4.5 million jobs since 2008," while "every other county category had fewer jobs in 2015 than in 2008." (Yonder chart: Job status based on the rural-urban continuum code; click on it for a larger version)

Fact-checking the presidential debate on jobs, tax plans, climate change, trade: both made errors

The first presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton contained plenty of factual errors. We only have room here for a few. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and for full context and things you may want to add.

Trump said, “So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Ford is moving its small-car production to Mexico, but the expansion will not affect U.S. workers. The company has said that while production of Ford Focus models will shift to Mexico, its plant in Michigan will build other, larger vehicles. Ford and many other automakers are finding Mexico more attractive for several reasons."

Clinton said that under Trump's tax plan "we would lose 3.5 million jobs and maybe have another recession," while under her plan, "we will have 10 million more jobs because we will be making investments where we can grow the economy.” While one report by an economist did state that Trump's plan would cost 3.5 million jobs, it also said his plan was unlikely to get passed by Congress, Kessler and Lee write. The report also said Clinton's plan would add 3.2 million during her first four years, with an additional 7.2 million from anticipated growth. The report also said her plan would face roadblocks to get through Congress. Trump has since released a new tax plan.

Trump denied that he ever said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, reports FactCheck.Org. In 2012 "he tweeted that the Chinese had created global warming but later said he was joking." Trump also "claimed 'the record shows' he was opposed to the Iraq War before it started, but there is no record of that."

Clinton stretched the truth on her statements about her 2012 praise of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, Kessler and Lee write. When Trump said she called it "the gold standard of trade deals," she claimed she said, "I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated.” Kessler and Lee write, "But the fact is she never used the word 'hoped.' Instead, she was more declarative, using the phrase 'gold standard' when she was secretary of state."

Landowners dispute shrinking natural-gas royalties, say companies are breaking lease agreements

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia map
A decline in natural-gas prices has some landowners seeing red over reduced royalty checks. They have filed lawsuits in several states claiming deductions are too high and break terms of the lease, Michael Rubinkam reports for The Associated Press. "Chesapeake Energy Corp. alone is facing royalty lawsuits in Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Pennsylvania—including one filed by the Pennsylvania attorney general—and says it has received subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Service and states over its royalty practices."

Landowners in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region have seen royalty payments decline to almost nothing, including a few instances where statements have been issued for negative amounts, Rubinkam writes. That goes against "a 1979 state law that mandates a landowner royalty of at least 12.5 percent of the value of the gas." Drillers contend that "royalty is properly calculated based on the market price, less post-production deductions for transportation and processing, a method permitted in most states."

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "sided with the gas companies—but also noted that state lawmakers are 'best suited' to deciding how the royalties should be paid," Rubinkam writes. State lawmakers have scheduled a procedural vote on a state House bill to keep deductions from reducing royalties below the one-eighth minimum, an industry standard for decades. "The gas industry has been lobbying against it, asserting it would unconstitutionally interfere with tens of thousands of existing private contracts. Any contractual disputes should be decided in the courts, not through legislation, the drillers argue," Rubinkam reports.

Critics say big companies' monopoly of seeds and chemicals would hurt small farmers

Consumer, environment and anti-trust groups say a trio of mega-mergers could hurt small farmers, John Vidal reports for The Guardian. The deals—Bayer is looking to acquire Monsanto, Chem China is acquiring Sygenta and DuPont and Dow are merging—would mean that the three companies would control nearly 60 percent of the world's seeds and 70 percent of chemicals and pesticides used in agriculture to grow food.

Critics say "the three mega-deals have the potential to concentrate political and financial power dangerously and could force more countries to adopt a single model of farming that excludes or impoverishes small farmers," Vidal writes. "With seeds, chemicals, research and lobbying power in the hands of a tiny group of immensely powerful companies, they say, the small farmer will inevitably be blown away, competition could be stifled, and food and farm input prices will rise."
A soon to be published report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems "is expected to say that “an unprecedented wave of corporate consolidation is under way," Vidal writes. An early draft given to The Guardian says: “New technology and data-driven synergies could lead to three companies controlling 60 percent of seeds and 70 percent of agrochemicals worldwide with still greater oligopoly possible — a historic power shift throughout global agricultural inputs and even greater crop and livestock vulnerability through uniformity."

Pat Mooney, director of the ETC Group, a global agribusiness and agricultural technology watchdog, said "the mergers are linked to companies wanting control of big data and access to patents, gene traits and intellectual property," Vidal writes. Mooney told him, “These deals are not just about seeds and pesticides, but also about who will control big data in agriculture. The company that can dominate seed, soil and weather data and crunch new genomics information will inevitably gain control of global agricultural inputs – seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and farm machinery." (Read more)

Missouri Farmers Union President Richard Oswald wrote in June about the dangers of the mergers to farmers.

Rural employers failed to meet breastfeeding needs of workers in study of one Missouri town

Rural employers are not adhering to health-reform requirements allowing women to breastfeed at work, says a study of one rural town by the University of Missouri. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "requires employers of more than 50 employees to provide sufficient space and time for mothers to breastfeed during the first year of their babies’ lives," Sheena Rice reports for the MU News Bureau. But a study led by Wilson Majee, assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions, "found a lack of compliance with the law, inadequate breastfeeding information for mothers and lack of support from co-workers and supervisors."

The study focused on 17 rural Missouri mothers—six had college degrees and six were married—20-30 years old in a town with a population of 21,500. The poverty level was 17.2 percent, compared to 15 percent statewide, 15.9 percent of residents 25 and older have a college degree, compared to 25.8 percent statewide, and 18.5 percent of the town's residents worked low-paying manufacturing jobs.

Researchers found many women felt their breastfeeding needs were a burden to employers, rather than a right of employees, Rice writes. "A majority of large employers, particularly those employing primarily women, were aware of the federal regulations; however, they mainly offered accommodations only when requested. Many mothers also said that they were met with direct ridicule from their managers and coworkers when attempting to pump milk at work. The researchers say this unsupportive and reactive work environment made pumping during work hours difficult for mothers."

Majee told Rice, "While we found that most employers were tolerant, and at least attempted to be flexible in the permitting of pumping milk in the workplace, none were proactive in the sense of encouraging the practice of breastfeeding. In our case study, we found that employers often saw breastfeeding as a personal decision, and therefore were unwilling to bring up the issue to their employees, even at crucial moments, such as when mothers file the required paperwork for family medical leave. To help these young mothers, proactive discussions should occur at all levels—family, workplace and community.”

Ballot-measure campaigns raise a lot; have no limits, little regulation on contributions

About $379 million has been raised for and against 165 state ballot measures—74 are the result of citizen petitions— in 35 states, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. Nearly half of all funds—$155 million—has gone to healthcare issues. Coming in a distant second is energy ($19.7 million), followed by marijuana ($19.2 million), firearms ($12.4 million), law enforcement ($6.8 million) and minimum wage ($3.2 million).

The state ballot campaigns are attracting widespread interest from corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and special interest groups, "as referendums increasingly replace legislatures as a battleground for people who want to make state policy, on issues ranging from legalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage to gun control and drug pricing, and from tobacco taxes to solar energy and education," Povich writes. The main reason is that  "there’s no limit and little regulation on contributions to referendum campaigns." (Stateline chart)
California has attracted the majority of money, $313 million, with more than $96 million for "a drug pricing initiative, which would require that state agencies pay no more than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for prescription drugs," Povich writes. Most of the money, $86 million, has come from the opposition, mostly from drug makers.

While minimum wage ranks seventh in money raised, it's an issue on ballots in five states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, South Dakota and Washington, Povich writes. The measure on every state except South Dakota would increase the minimum wage. (Read more)

Monday, September 26, 2016

A put-out Vilsack tried to resign, but then Obama made him a point man to fight the opioid epidemic

Tom Vilsack (Photo by Matt McClain, The Washington Post)
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, "frustrated with a culture in Washington that too often ignored rural America’s struggles and dismissed its virtues," tried to resign in late 2015, Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post, noting that the former governor of Iowa and mayor of Mount Pleasant often said, “I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place.”

Instead of letting Vilsack go, "Obama asked him to take over the administration’s response to the opioid crisis that was ravaging rural America," the Post reports. In recent interviews, "He did not blame the president for the lack of attention to rural America, though his last one-on-one meeting with Obama had taken place 10 months earlier, when he tried to resign. His frustration was with the rest of the country — the media, Congress and the private sector — which he felt had ignored the struggles and contributions of a region that produced most of the country’s food and, during 15 years of war, had disproportionately filled the ranks of its military."

Jaffe and Eilperin write, "The new assignment would force Vilsack to confront not only the immediate drug crisis in the country but also the frustrations and feelings of economic hopelessness that had taken root and allowed the epidemic to flourish." Also, it was "the kind of crisis that too easily escaped the attention of powerful people in Washington. It had developed slowly, over the course of decades, in parts of rural America that were isolated, poor and often overlooked."

And it was personal for Vilsack, who "had spent his adult life fighting for rural America," the reporters note. "He was also the child of an alcoholic and prescription drug addict. The story of his mother’s addiction and her suicide attempts had long been a part of his political identity; one that he had told hundreds of times on the campaign trail." There's a lot more; it's a great story. Read it.

National Newspaper Week, Oct. 2-8, touts papers' leading role in providing news on all platforms

The theme of the 76th annual National Newspaper Week, to be celebrated Sunday-Saturday, Oct. 2-8, is "Way to Know!" The site says "the aim is to applaud and underscore newspaper media's role as the leading provider of news in print, online or in palms via mobile devices." Free materials, including editorials, columns, editorial cartoons, and promotional ads tailored to most states are scheduled to be made available today on the NNW website. If you're in a hurry to get something in a weekly paper this week, you can use materials from previous years. New and archived materials will be available on the site year-round.

Study: Immigration has positive long-term impact on economy, little effect on wages of Americans

"Waves of immigrants coming into the U.S. in recent decades have helped the economy over the long haul and had little lasting impact on the wages or employment levels of native-born Americans, according to one of the most comprehensive studies yet on the topic," Jeffrey Sparshott reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The study by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, looked at immigrant trends over the past 20 years and found that immigrants have a very small effect on wages of American-born workers, with most of that coming among low-skilled workers who are most likely high-school dropouts.

The study found that "immigration also can lead to more innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change across the economy," Researchers found that “the prospects for long-run economic growth in the U.S. would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants" and "that 'over a long time horizon (about 75 years)' the fiscal impacts of immigrants 'are generally positive at the federal level and negative at the state and local levels.'” (WSJ graphic: Jobs held by immigrants)
In 2014 there was an estimated 42.3 million immigrants in the U.S., mostly working as unskilled labor, in the service industry or agriculture, Sparshott writes. In 2012 more than half of all immigrants—53 percent—had some college and 16 percent were college graduates. (WSJ graphic: Education level of immigrants)
The study did find that "immigration can burden government finances, especially education budgets at the state and local levels," Sparshott writes. The report, citing a lack of data, doesn’t distinguish between the impacts of documented and undocumented immigrants.

More than half of 2.2 million people who need opioid-addiction treatment are not receiving care

More than half of the 2.2 million Americans who need treatment for opioid addiction are not getting it, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "A fragmented treatment system, widespread bias against addiction medications and a shortage of trained workers often thwart those seeking help. Instead, they show up in emergency rooms, or reach out to local doctors, nurses and clergy."

Opioid and heroin addiction can be treated with methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol, drugs "that have proven more effective at keeping people from abusing drugs than abstinence and 12-step therapies that don’t include the medications," Vestal writes. But not everyone is in favor of using medication to treat addiction, which has led some to turn to spiritual-based recovery programs.

Dr. James Becker, medical director of West Virginia’s Medicaid program and professor of family medicine at Marshall University, told Vestal, "Many people believe that substance abuse is a weakness of personality and that a person needs to get a handle on their disease, and in that sense, they think that relying on a drug that replaces the drug of abuse is somehow a weakness. That’s not the view of most people in the medical community. We understand that addiction is a disease, and that there are a lot of treatments out there that work for some and not for others.” (Stateline graphic; click on it for a larger version)
West Virginia, which has the nation's highest rate of overdose deaths, "is one of the 17 states where Medicaid does not pay for methadone, and it has had an adversarial relationship with methadone clinics for decades," Vestal writes. "Methadone clinics weren’t allowed in the state until 2001, and after nine for-profit clinics set up shop in West Virginia, the Legislature in 2007 placed a moratorium on opening any more."

Becker said that of the state's 300 physicians with a license to prescribe buprenorphine about 100 serve Medicaid patients, Vestal writes. He said that while most doctors who prescribe buprenorphine, typically sold as Suboxone, "do a good job of providing counseling, group classes and drug screenings to ensure patients are using it as prescribed and staying in recovery" the state has a number of cash clinics that "provide little counseling and fail to adhere to national protocols requiring drug screenings . . . These practices require a monthly cash payment of $300 or more in advance and usually give patients more medication than they need. That allows many of them to end up selling their extra doses on the street." (Read more)

Education, religion top indicators of presidential vote, followed by population density (rural-urban)

Religion and education are the demographics most likely to determine how white people will vote in the presidential election, Milo Beckman reports for FiveThirtyEight. A survey by FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey shows that white voters are more likely to lean to the left if they are "more college than church" and will lean right if they are "more church than college." What it boils down to, when looking at equal influence from church and college, is that "urban voters lean left while suburban and rural voters lean right." (FiveThirty Eight graphic)

"College whites and church whites are taught different moral values in their respective houses of learning, values which trickle up into policy preferences," Beckman writes. "Members of white Christian congregations are more likely than any other racial-religious group to rank personal responsibility above structural factors, such as unequal access to education, in explaining racial disparities in income. And while secular universities rarely purport to give moral teachings to their students, research has found that college education increases tolerance."

"Republican ideology seems to be aligned with the values taught in historically white churches," he writes. "For instance, black and Hispanic members of interracial congregations hold the same individualistic social attitudes as white churchgoers, suggesting that they may adopt these conservative views after extended exposure to white church values." (FiveThirty Eight graphic: How people are more likely to vote)
Another possibility is that more educated people are more likely to agree with scientific explanations, meaning they believe in climate change as opposed to a less educated person who denies the existence of climate change, Beckman writes. Also, people tend to associate with like-minded individuals, where they reinforce each other's beliefs.

Colleges not preparing teachers for teaching multiple subjects and grades in rural areas

Colleges are not preparing teachers for jobs in remote rural areas where they might be asked to teach multiple subjects or grades, Matt Hoffman reports for The Missoulian. While nationally most elementary school teachers teach one grade and high school teachers one subject for several classes, "in Montana’s smallest elementary schools, teachers are asked to juggle multiple grades in the same classroom, sometimes with only one student per grade. In small high schools, teachers might teach every class within a subject, or even multiple subjects."

While having instructors teach multiple subjects helps the school it can be tough for teachers, Hoffman writes. "Teachers need to prepare more lesson plans for different classes or grade levels. There are often no colleagues within a department to seek advice from. It’s simply not what most teachers envision when they’re in college."

Being overworked or in over their heads can lead to teachers not sticking around long, Hoffman writes. Jilyn Oliveira, a Helena administrator who studied recruitment and retention at Montana's smallest schools in 2015, said "she found that a major indicator of teachers staying in a rural school was feeling that their own education prepared them for the job. But only about a third of teachers she surveyed said their own education prepared them for a rural school."

Teachers in small towns like Circle
might be asked to teach multiple
subjects and grades (Best Places map)
One problem is that Montana's colleges have seen drops in bachelor's degree graduates in almost every program since 2010-11, Hoffman writes. John Demming, a science teacher in rural Circle, Mont., said "the quick answer for whether teachers are prepared for a rural setting coming out of college is 'no.' Teacher prep programs are designed to teach best practices to students for an environment that they’re likely to teach in. Nationally, teachers are much more likely to end up in a school district like Missoula, Bozeman or Billings than one like Circle." (Read more)

Southwest Virginia towns turning to tourism to revitalize economies hurt by loss of coal jobs

Haysi, Va., is hoping to attract tourists and new businesses.
(Voice of America photo by Nadeem Yaqub) 
Appalachian mountain towns in Southwest Virginia hurt by the downturn in coal are hoping tourism will revitalize local economies, Nadeem Yaqub reports for Voice of America. Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, told Yaqub, "For the last 100 years or so many of these communities have had one source of employment, one source of income. And as coal has moved away and declined dramatically, now it’s important to take the next step and to work with counties to make this transition."

Cleveland, Va., has lost most of its businesses and all of its schools, Yaqub writes. "But what Cleveland does have that no downturn in the coal industry can touch is scenic mountain trails and the Clinch River, which runs through town. The local community, along with local and state partners, is implementing an action plan to develop tourism in the area. And recently, an entrepreneur opened a rental store for kayaking and rafting enthusiasts near the city’s Town Hall."

Other towns are thinking along the same lines, Yaqub writes. The nearby town of Haysi has been improving its infrastructure—new signs, paint, windows, doors, lighting—with the hopes of attracting visitors and businesses, while in Tazewell County, Virginia, a 37-mile trail is being developed for all-terrain vehicles near a mine site.

500,000 U.S. homes lack sewage disposal systems; problem especially bad in rural Black Belt

Lowndes County, Alabama
(Wikipedia map
About 500,000 U.S. homes—mostly in poor, rural areas—lack basic plumbing, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. Numbers are especially high in some areas of the Black Belt, "so called more for its soil than its demographics." In Lowndes County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the nation, only half the population is on municipal sewers and a University of South Alabama survey found that "about 35 percent of homes had septic systems that were failing, with raw sewage on the ground. Another 15 percent had nothing."

Many residents are unable to afford to pay thousands of dollars for septic systems, Tavernise writes. Another problem is that the hard clay soil in this county is bad for burying things—in particular, septic tanks. Lacking a septic tank, many residents instead run a plastic pipe from their toilet under their yards and into the woods behind their houses.

Parrish Pugh, an official with the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the problem with that is that state law "forbids the use of 'insanitary sewage collection,' and the responsibility for that rests squarely with the homeowner," Tavernise writes. "Resisting is not only illegal, but could have health consequences: Raw sewage can taint drinking water and cause health problems." He told Tavernise, “My parents had a pipe that ran into the woods, and that’s good enough for me. But we didn’t know as much about disease back then. People are more educated nowadays. They are more concerned.”

Tavernise writes, "The state health department begs, cajoles, and eventually cites people who have problems and do not fix them. In the early 2000s, the authorities even tried arresting people. That prompted a public outcry and the practice soon stopped, but one person spent a weekend in jail and others were left with criminal records. The department cited about 700 people in the 12 months that ended in March, often because someone complained."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vermont weekly publisher extends essay contest for sale, adds crowdfunding campaign to fill gap

Ross Connelly
(AP photo: Toby Talbot)
A Vermont weekly newspaper publisher's effort to sell his paper through an essay contest has fallen short, so he has extended the contest again and started a crowdfunding campaign for $100,000 to fill the gap. Both will end Oct. 10. "If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, all entries received by Oct. 10 will be assessed by a panel of judges and a new owner chosen," Hardwick Gazette Editor-Publisher Ross Connelly announced. "If the combined contest and Kickstarter campaign do not succeed, all entry fees and donated money will be returned."

"In one sense, this contest is too big to fail," writes Connelly, who is 71 and wants to retire. "Transiting the Gazette to a new owner is asking people to consider the value of independent journalism and to consider that citizenship and democracy start in people’s homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, with elected officials – on the local level. Local, independent newspapers are the foundation blocks of the country's democracy and are necessary to keep it solidly in place."

Connelly has believers, and friends. "A number of readers already submitted 'I don’t want to win' essays, including the fee and a note expressing the importance of the Gazette’s survival," he reports. "A pledge was also made by an anonymous benefactor to make a substantial donation as part of a crowdfunding effort. The readers who already contributed want to see the Gazette endure. They recognize the value of the independent voice — socially, culturally and politically. It’s a sentiment being felt broadly, even internationally."

The essay contest, which began in June, seeks 400-word essays explaining why the writers want to own a rural weekly newspaper, outlining their "skills and vision." The entry fee is $175. Connelly had hoped for 700 entries, producing $122,500, a little more than half the paper's annual gross revenue. Many small, rural weeklies sell for the annual gross or slightly more. For the Gazette's news story and editorial, click here.