Friday, July 07, 2017

Opioid-prescription rate fell, but rose in rural areas; CDC study has county-by-county maps

Opioid-prescription rates fell recently, but continued to increase in more than half of U.S. counties, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report that includes county-by-county maps showing ranges of prescription rates and whether the rates have increased or decreased since 2010. The national rate was still three times as high as it was in 1999.
Click on maps for a slightly larger version; MME is morphine milligram equivalents.
"While prescriptions rates fell nationwide between 2010 and 2015, their availability either remained steady — or actually increased — in just over half of the U.S. counties for which data were available," reports Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times. "The counties in the top quartile (top 25 percent) were largely rural places where residents are overwhelmingly white, low-income and in poor health."

The findings are based on where a prescription was dispensed, not the residence of the patient. CDC said rates were higher in "micropolitan" counties, those with cities of 10,000 to 50,000 people: "Reasons for higher opioid use in micropolitan counties might include less access to quality health care and other treatments for pain, such as physical therapy. In addition, persons in rural areas might travel to micropolitan areas, which often serve as an anchor community for a much larger rural region, to receive medical care and pick up medications."

Healy notes, "Florida, Ohio and Kentucky — all states that cracked down on high-prescribing doctors and clinics between 2010 and 2012 — saw opioid prescribing fall in 80%, 85% and 62% of their counties, respectively. Given that rates of opioid prescribing are closely linked to addiction and overdoses, the CDC said that counties and states can use its detailed breakout of prescribing trends to increase the availability of addiction treatment."
Charts from CDC report; click on image for a larger version

Jailer says repeal of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion could wreak havoc on jail budget

Anderson County, Kentucky, Jail
A rural Kentucky jailer says repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could cause big problems for the budget of her jail, reports Ben Carlson of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, in a story with potential national implications.

The operating budget for the Anderson County Jail is just under $1 million, but Jailer Joani Clark has been forced to request large funding increases in the past few years, mostly because of the opioid epidemic that has brought more inmates with attendant medical expenses.

"Since Obamacare kicked in, the jail's inmates are charged the Medicaid rate for payment of hospital, doctor bills, etc., when they're in custody," Clark said at a recent meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court. "If this all goes away, the county will be paying all hospital and doctor bills and any other type of medical at full regular prices."

According to Clark, inmate medical services cost local taxpayers almost $32,000 during the 2016-2017 fiscal year. But Medicaid coverage for some of those services saved the county almost $170,000. "If an inmate has to be admitted to the hospital for more than 24 hours, Medicaid will pay all the bills in full," Clark said, also noting that many inmates have taken advantage of free injections offered to help them keep their heroin addictions under control. The normal cost of the Vivitrol injection, given once every 30 days to control a heroin addition, is $700-$1,000.

N.C. passes bill to move public notice from newspapers to government websites in one county

The North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that moves public notices from local newspapers to government websites in a single county, a move some say makes the government less transparent and targets the local newspaper.

State Sen. Trudy Wade
Republican Sen. Trudy Wade of Greensboro, the seat of Guilford County, has tried to pass similar laws twice before, but succeeded this time by narrowing the scope of the bill, creating it as a "pilot program" in the county only, and attaching it to a separate measure she had introduced that declares that newspapers carriers cannot be presumed to be independent contractors, reports the Public Notice Resource Center.

Under the bill, which will become law by July 30 if not vetoed, court-ordered legal notices will be published on the county website instead of in the local newspaper, the Greensboro News & Record. Other local officials may decide whether to publish their notices in the newspaper or on their own websites instead, according to the article. The bill also allows the county government to charge $10 to $450 for notices published on its site.

Some think Wade wanted to hurt the Greensboro paper for what she feels is unfair news coverage. Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro says that Wade held up other pending Senate bills in order to get her bill passed. "I do think it's her vendetta against the News and Record," he told the paper's Taft Wireback.

Not so, Wade told Wireback: "It really doesn't have anything to do with the News and Record. It has to do with making sure the citizens have free access to legal notices. To be honest with you, technology changes. This is just another example of changing technology and people using that technology."

News & Record Publisher and Editor Daniel Finnegan worries that Guilford County residents will be less likely to see important notices that may affect their lives, saying "We reach far more people with the combination of our newspaper and website -- more than 100,000 per day -- than government websites."

States fight EPA's decision to allow pesticide

Several states are attempting to join a legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to keep a widely used pesticide on the market despite evidence it may be harmful.

Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia are seeking to join New York in the lawsuit pending in the appeals court in San Francisco, Michael Biesecker reports for The Associated Press. The lawsuit claims EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated the law by ending his predecessor's efforts to ban the popular pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been sold by Dow Chemical since the 1960s and is one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S.
Federal law requires the EPA to make sure that pesticides used on food are not harmful to consumers, but federal scientists reported that chlorpyrifos can damage the brains of fetuses and infants. A 2012 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found detectable levels of chlorpyrifos in 87 percent of newborns' umbilical-cord blood samples tested, reports Biesecker.

In addition to its effects on children, the pesticide is being blamed for causing 47 farmers around Bakersfield, Calif., to get sick on May 5. When the chlorpyrifos-containing pesticide Vulcan was sprayed on an orchard there, the wind caused it to drift over to nearby cabbage harvesters, who then complained of nausea and vomiting.

Some efforts have been made to mitigate the effects of chlorpyrifos. Dow stopped selling it for home insecticide in 2000, and the EPA mandated no-spray zones around schools and other vulnerable areas in 2012, but some advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network said those efforts are not enough and filed a federal lawsuit seeking a national ban.

Summit in Appalachia to brainstorm ideas for expanding rural broadband internet access

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
A July 18 summit will bring together experts from across the country to brainstorm ways to expand broadband internet access in rural communities. The Appalachian Ohio-West Virginia Connectivity Summit will be held in Marietta, Ohio, and will feature panel discussions, breakout sessions, and speakers such as Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

The summit is the product of a partnership between the Center for Rural Strategies and Public Knowledge. The Center for Rural Strategies is a nonprofit that seeks to improve rural communities through spotlighting rural culture and reporting relevant news through its Daily Yonder blog. Public Knowledge, also a nonprofit, says it promotes "freedom of expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works."

"In 2017, broadband is essential," speaker Kate Forscey, government-affairs associate counsel for Public Knowledge, said in a press release. "Connectivity makes the difference in access to a solid education, healthcare, and a stable job. Connectivity is the difference between your 911 call connecting to a first responder, or going unanswered. Yet more than 20 million Americans in rural communities still lack basic access to high-speed broadband, which is necessary to participate in daily life."

Click here to register for the event or learn more.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

President Trump's criticism of the news media affects local journalists, some of them say

President Trump has had a notoriously hostile relationship with many of the national news outlets that cover him--a feeling his supporters have been quick to echo. But local papers who rarely cover national news say that the animosity toward the press as a whole has been affecting them too, as we reported here and here. And first, here.

A great deal of this is likely because rural areas voted overwhelmingly for President Trump, James Warren reports for The Poynter Institute. He notes Pew Research Center polling showing that there has been a corresponding drop over the past year in Republicans who believe the press is doing a good job with watchdog journalism.

Sioux City Journal reporter Nick Hytrek says he believes local media are being lumped in with their national counterparts. "It seems that any story someone doesn't agree with is labeled as 'fake news'," he told Warren. "This is especially true in any story on politics or local government."

Tom Kearney, who edits three small papers in Vermont, told Warren, "I think it's easy to rip people when you've never met them, but our folks have met with us, dealt with us, and understand what we're doing. And for the most part, they appreciate our work. One challenge is to overcome the image of a news organization as a monolithic, impenetrable, uncontrollable force and demonstrate that we're neighbors, trying our hardest to deliver information local people need to have."

Jeffry Couch, editor of the McClatchy Co.-owned Belleville News-Democrat in western Illinois,
told Warren that he hasn't had too many problems with Republican readers, but acknowledges that some complain about perceived negative coverage of Trump. But most of the complaints he receives are normal for any editor: "We have always had our share of local politicians who criticize the Belleville News-Democrat because of our aggressive coverage, particularly when the reporting is about their area of responsibility. That goes with the territory."

EPA's Pruitt to take on climate-change consensus with hand-picked experts

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced a program to critique mainstream climate science with pro-and-con debate teams of experts recruited by the Trump administration, a move many see as an effort to undermine the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. Pruitt said at a board meeting of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity that he's establishing a "specific process" to review climate science, a senior administration official told Emily Holden of Environment & Energy News.

Coal industry executives believe the move means Pruitt will review a 2009 finding that greenhouse gases emitted by industry, power plants and cars endanger human health and welfare. According to Holden, Pruitt assured Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy Corp., that he will review the endangerment finding within months.

The administration proposes to recruit "the best in the fields which study climate" and will create a process through which the experts can debate back and forth on new reports on climate science. Scientists usually go through a peer review process with new scientific reports, but the administration says that its government-recruited experts can also effectively evaluate new reports, writes Holden.

"Climate science, like other fields of science, is constantly changing. A new, fresh and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing," said the administration official.

States reduce coal mine inspections

Rickey Thorpe was killed in a 2015
mining accident in Western Kentucky.
A new law in Kentucky reduces state inspection requirements for underground coal mines, a move that follows similar changes in other states but concerns many miners and safety experts.

Three of the six required state inspections can now be replaced with a "safety analysis" visit that focuses on teaching miners better safety practices, Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press. Safety analysis visits have been done for years, but have never taken the place of mandatory inspections. Kentucky Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Allen Luttrell will also be allowed to reduce the number of required electrical inspections from two down to one.

West Virginia lawmakers proposed a similar law, AP notes, but it was shelved after backlash from locals. United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said Illinois and Alabama have reduced their state inspection requirements, Virginia only requires two annual inspections, and western mining states have mostly eliminated state inspections.

Federal inspectors are still required to conduct four inspections a year on underground coal mines, though President Trump is proposing deep cuts to the Department of Labor, which oversees the federal mine safety program.

Kentucky's Luttrell insists that mines will still be inspected more frequently if there seems to be a safety problem. "We can still do as many inspections as we want, and if there's a reason to be there more often than three inspections or four inspections, we're going to be there," he told Lovan. "If you've got a normal mining activity and things are going in compliance, then in my opinion, the time is better spent performing observations and coaching and talking to the individual coal miner."

Kentucky mine safety lawyer Tony Oppegard is skeptical of the new law, however, saying that most mine accidents are because of company negligence, not miner safety habits. Emphasizing coaching over compliance violations is "code for saying miners are too stupid to work safely," he says.

Kathy Bartlett criticizes the new law, saying her son, Rickey Thorpe, was killed in a coal mining accident in 2015 because of unsafe working conditions, not poor personal safety habits. A coal digging machine's 17-ton cutting head was propped up with wooden boards but gave out as he worked underneath, she says. Federal inspectors after the fact agreed that Thorpe's supervisors created an unsafe work environment by propping up the machine with boards, AP reports. Bartlett says that companies can deliberately put miners in unsafe situations, so coaching wouldn't have helped. "The night that my son got killed, if somebody would have looked and seen how the miner head was cribbed up, the fatality would have never happened," she said. "He was doing as he was told."

Wall Street downgrade of state college's bonds is another bad indicator for rural Georgia

Wall Street analysts downgraded $28 million in bonds funding South Georgia State College in Coffee County, a small school that rural Georgians had hoped would help rejuvenate the local economy.

The move is "is the latest indicator of the difficulties of maintaining communities in parts of the state that today’s economy is leaving behind," and rural Georgia has been declining rconomicalluy for years, reports David Pendered of Atlanta-based Saporta Report. Financial challenges have caused six hospitals in rural Georgia to close since 2012, and young adults are steadily leaving for more urban areas, a trend seen nationwide. Coffee County leaders hoped the college would keep teens closer to home, providing them with skills for higher-paying jobs they hoped to attract to the region. 

The college's financial outlook is stable, but not healthy, according to Wall Street analysts who downgraded the bonds. "The downgrade reflects ongoing enrollment challenges, decline in debt service coverage and need to tap system reserves to meet debt service commitments," they wrote. 

The college was created in 2012 when the University of Georgia System consolidated Waycross College and South Georgia College. The college serves about 2,650 students from all over Georgia, 22 other states and 13 countries, according to the school's website. College leaders have planned to renovate two dorms and a student center, and build a large dining hall with a convenience store, bookstore, and cafe inside. Now the work is up in the air, but the college itself should survive as long as the University System continues to support it. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wylies sell Oklahoma weekly, one of the best

John and Faith Wylie, publishers of one of the best weekly newspapers in America, the Oologah Lake Leader, have sold it, citing health reasons. "They plan to rest and travel after retiring, although John will continue working as a writer," reports The Oklahoma Publisher, monthly newspaper of the Oklahoma Press Association.

The buyer is Maria Laubach, who was managing publisher and owner of The Hennessey Clipper and published three other Oklahoma weeklies. "We believe she will be an incredible asset to oologah and someone who Will Rogers would thoroughly enjoy knowing," the Wylies said. Oologah is Rogers' birthplace.

"The Wylies represent the best of quality journalism in Oklahoma," said Terry Clark, director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, when they were inducted in 2012. John M. Wylie II, who studied at Grinnell College in Iowa, was part of the Kansas City Star team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Hyatt hotel disaster in 1982. He and his wife bought the weekly Leader in 1984. "His investigations for the Leader and national and international publications of McGraw-Hill have concentrated on energy regulation, attracting national attention" and winning many awards for their accountabilty journalism, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors reported in 2012. Faith Wylie has a degree in graphic design from the University of Kansas and won an ISWNE editorial writing award in 2014.

The Wylies have also been civic leaders and have received several local awards. John Wylie discussed their public service and approach to publishing in remarks prepared for the 2007 National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, titled "Independent Publishing Today: Thriving in a world of box stores and chain papers." He wrote, "Some publishers believe that the local newspaper should carry only good news and never offend anyone. We say a good local newspaper should carry all the news, and provide quality coverage of the good, the bad and everything in between. . . . You are the only newspaper in the world that gives a diddly about your town. Act like it. Your town includes the preacher and the pauper; the millionaire and the welfare mom; the teacher and the mentally handicapped child. Speak for all of them, meet their needs, help them realize their dreams and you will prosper." (Read more)

Consulting firm's study says health bills in Congress would put more rural hospitals into the red

Rural health care and related jobs will take a huge hit if Congress rolls back the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as Republicans have proposed, says an analysis from the Chartis Center for Rural Health, part of a national health-care advisory firm.

The report says 41 percent of the nation's 2,200 rural hospitals already lose money and any revenue loss "will further weaken their tenuous financial position." It estimates that the proposed cuts to Medicaid would push the percentage of rural hospitals operating in the red up to 48 percent. Further, it says hospitals will be forced to cut employees and costs to adjust to the decreasing revenue.

The analysis of the House and Senate bills estimates that between 34,000 and 37,000 health-care and related jobs would be lost as a result. It also estimates that proposed cuts to Medicaid will result in an annual $1.4 billion loss of revenue to rural health providers if the House bill is enacted, and an annual $1.3 billion loss under the Senate bill.

Most of the Medicaid cuts would come from phasing out the extra funding for the Medicaid expansion. Under the ACA, the federal government pays 90 to 95 percent of expansion funding. The House bill phases this out in 2020; the Senate bill keeps it until 2021, but then cuts it back to the traditional Medicaid level over the following three years. The federal government pays an average of 57 percent of Medicaid costs, but the rates vary between 50 and 75 percent, with poor states getting a higher percentage.

Long-term cuts to Medicaid would come from a change in how traditional Medicaid funding is calculated. Both bills would move funding to a formula that is based on population instead of reimbursing a state a percentage of what it spends, based on a formula that gives poorer states more money. The Senate bill could change on that point to get the votes needed for passage.

"Both pieces of legislation make significant cuts to Medicaid, which will have far reaching implications for the neediest communities and the providers who serve them," Michael Topchik, national leader for the Chartis center and senior vice president at iVantage Health Analytics, said in a news release.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2026, Medicaid spending under the Senate bill would be 26 percent less than projected under current law; the House bill would reduce it by 24 percent.

States that chose to expand Medicaid under the ACA would see nearly double the cuts in states that did not; states with larger Medicaid programs and larger rural populations would see a greater impact from the proposed cuts.

NPR finds many more black lung cases in miners in 4 Appalachian states than feds find in all of U.S.

Independent research from NPR shows that black-lung disease is still an epidemic among coal miners in Appalachia, despite much lower official numbers from federal officials.

NPR recently reported 1,000 new Appalachian cases of the most advanced form of black lung, progressive massive fibrosis. That brings its total findings to 2,000 cases diagnosed in the region since 2010, reports Howard Berkes for NPR. He uncovered the new cases by collecting data from black lung clinics, doctors and attorneys in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia; it notes that the numbers are probably higher because many clinics couldn't provide data.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported only 99 cases in the entire country for the same time period. NIOSH is reviewing medical records at four clinics in Virginia and Kentucky to begin getting a better idea of the true number of black lung cases. After members of Congress became worried about the spike in cases, NIOSH, the Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services promised to work together to get a more accurate number.
Sliced lung sections of lungs show exposure to coal and silica dust. The middle slide indicates simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or black lung. The right slide shows hardened and blackened tissue when the disease reaches its most advanced stage. (Slides from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, via NPR)
"There's a great deal of evidence ... that definitively demonstrates that we are in the midst of an epidemic of black lung disease in central Appalachia," epidemiologist Scott Laney said in a presentation to a National Academy of Sciences committee in Morgantown, W.Va. The committee is investigating efforts to keep miners from breathing in the coal mine dust that causes black lung.

Gregory Meikle of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said almost all mining companies have been compliant with tougher coal dust exposure limits for the past decade in an effort to keep miners from developing the lethal disease, according to NPR. Meikle acknowledged that a case of black lung can take longer than 10 years to show symptoms, though.

Laney said that mines may not be as compliant with safety measures as the books suggest. "I don't think there's any reason for me to believe that there's any exposure measurements on the books that can account for that level of impairment," he said in the NPR story.

EPA kept from suspending Obama-era rule to limit methane from wells on federal and tribal land

A federal appeals court ruled 2-to-1 Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency can't delay the effective date of an Obama-era rule restricting methane emissions from new gas and oil wells on federal and tribal land.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had imposed a 90-day (later changed to two-year) moratorium on enforcing the methane regulation, arguing that his actions weren't subject to court review, reports Lisa Friedman of The New York Times. But the appeals court for the District of Columbia ruled that Pruitt didn't have the authority under the Clean Air Act to block the rule. In May, the Senate had voted to uphold the Obama-era rule. 

The ruling serves as a signal to Pruitt and other Trump administrations that delaying a rule's effective date may be viewed by courts as tantamount to revoking or amending a rule. In their ruling, Judges David Tatel and Robert Wilkins said that the agency could change the methane regulations but would need to create a new rule to undo the old one, and couldn't delay the effective date of the old law while seeking to rewrite it. 

Trump's administration has used the delaying tactic on other rules as well. The Interior Department declared a two-year delay on a rule limiting methane emissions from wells on federal and tribal lands, the Times notes. It also reports: "The administration has also used the delay tactic to stop a Food and Drug Administration rule requiring restaurants to list the calories in the food they sell and a Labor Department regulation mandating that financial advisers put consumers' best interests ahead of their own."

Some states have pushed back against the current EPA's decisions. After they green-lighted the use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide found to be harmful for children, California and six other states challenged the rule.

Airbnb says its average rural host earns more per year than its average urban host

While the lodging service Airbnb "is often associated with a cheap lodging alternatives in major cities, those in rural areas seem to benefit almost equally," and perhaps even more so, Fortune magazine reports, citing a report from the San Francisco-based firm. It said the average yearly earnings for a rural host was $6,776, a bit more than the $6,674 median for hosts in urban areas. Part of that difference could be driven by a large rural-urban differential in Hawaii.

Airbnb says its hosts in U.S. rural areas grew by 1,800 percent since 2012, faster than in urban areas. "In the past year, rural hosts earned a total of $494 million by renting out their homes to strangers," Fortune reports. It says that offers economic-development opportunities for rural areas, which have lagged urban areas in recent job creation.

Fortune cites a study at University College London that concluded, “Airbnb can be used as an economic development tool. It has been shown that Airbnb guests spend a considerable part of their money in the hosting communities.” Fortune produced a chart showing the top 10 states where rural hosts make the most money:
Fortune chart of top 10 rural Airbnb states based on data from Airbnb

Charges dropped against teenage boys in Smoky Mountains fire; feds could act

Tennessee prosecutors have dropped charges against the two teenagers accused of setting the deadly fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last November, reports Jamie Satterfield of The Knoxville News Sentinel. However, they could still face federal charges.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, who represents one of the boys, said the state could not prove that the teens, ages 15 and 17, started the fire. District Attorney Jimmy Dunn wrote in a statement that he couldn't pin the fire on the boys, citing high winds that accidentally spread embers into Gatlinburg.

Dunn has been at the center of increasing controversy in the case, since critics say that local and state agencies have used his prosecution of the teens to keep from having to release public records about fire and emergency response to the disaster, the News Sentinel notes.

Furthermore, the newspaper found records showing that state authorities have not had the legal authority to prosecute crimes in the park since 1997. "Those records show the park was left out of a 1997 agreement giving both state and federal agencies authority to prosecute crimes committed on federal lands," reports The News Sentinel.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Governor's latest attack on news media, perhaps to divide urban and rural papers, prompts pushback

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin
Two weeks ago, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's chief of staff sent the state's newspapers a column accusing the two largest papers of working "in tandem" to promote "fake news" to "end Kentucky's progress" brought about by the Bevin administration, which began in 2015.

"It was just the latest salvo in a war the governor’s office has been waging against the Lexington Herald-Leader, The Courier-Journal and other media outlets that cover Frankfort and state government," wrote Forrest Berkshire, editor of The Kentucky Standard, a thrice-weekly in Bardstown. "Bevin’s administration has actively worked to circumvent reporters’ pesky questions about his actions by refusing to respond to specific journalists, attacking them on social media . . . and taking his message “direct to the people” on platforms like Facebook and Twitter."

To some, the column from the governor's office appeared to be an attempt to get the state's rural papers to side with the governor against the metropolitan papers. If so, it failed, according to Berkshire: "After we received the submission, I emailed every editor on the email list for the Kentucky Press Association and asked them if they had received the column and if they were running it," Berkshire reported. "Only one respondent said they would publish it. Every other said they would not." The Courier-Journal published excerpts, interspersed with its replies.

UPDATE, July 7-12: The governor's office says several papers ran the column, including dailies in Owensboro and Bowling Green. Weekly publisher Jeff Jobe, a Bevin ally, said his six Southern Kentucky papers ran it. So did the daily Frankfort State Journal and the twice-weekly Grayson County News-Gazette. The thrice-weekly Sentinel-Echo in London ran it, along with a column saying it was off base. John Shindlebower of The Spencer Magnet ran the column by his neighbor and Landmark Community Newspapers colleague Berkshire with a contrary one of his own, saying "Some in the state media have seemingly made it their objective to go after Governor Matt Bevin. It’s led Bevin to strike back and now he’s adopted a practice of avoiding some in the media. That’s not good for the Governor, not good for transparency, and ultimately, not good for Kentucky. There needs to be a truce in this battle, but Governor Bevin is not the only one who needs to come to the treaty table with a willingness to concede."

Berkshire wrote, "Perhaps the governor’s communications team thought they would find a sympathetic ear among the community newspapers located in Kentucky’s 120 counties. Most of them cover rural counties that are politically conservative, and so are their readers. What they might not realize, though, is that our reporting on local issues has angered powerful individuals in our communities. Many of us have been targeted in just the same way for nothing more than doing our jobs, asking tough questions and holding the powerful to account. It’s not about party affiliation or even political ideology. It’s what we do, and what our readers expect. Or, maybe the governor’s office thought us journalists in small towns don’t know how to ask probing questions, that we are just a bunch of unsophisticated hacks who will take any manure they shovel our way."

Earlier, there was a similar column from Steve Wilson, executive editor of The Paducah Sun, the main daily in far Western Kentucky, which usually has good things to say about Republicans. Not this time. Wilson wrote that the proffered column was "a gross distortion of the way journalists work," and "In Bevin's ideal world, journalists would do no critical reporting. They wouldn't question his decisions. . . . They would behave like reporters in Russia and North Korea and other nations with state-run media who tell citizens only what their government officials want them to know."

The Sun ran the column from the governor's office, but Wilson reported that the office had cut off Louisville's WAVE-TV after it aired two stories that annoyed Bevin, and had earlier done likewise with Ronnie Ellis, the statehouse reporter for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which has dailies in Ashland, Richmond, Corbin, Somerset and Glasgow, a thrice-weekly in London, a twice-weekly in Morehead and three other weeklies. The column from the governor's office criticized two of Ellis's stories but didn't name him or CHNI, perhaps an indication of its strategic intent.

The Todd County Standard, published by Kentucky Press Association President Ryan Craig, ran Wilson's column. Berkshire wrote, "It seems the journalistic community in Kentucky largely remains united, and will not aid a governor intent on undermining independent accountability reporting."

Monday, July 03, 2017

Weekly editors do D.C., give awards, offer critiques and hear presentations on a wide range of topics

From its early days, the group has conducted
small-group critiques of editorial pages.
Journalists from five countries got sources for health coverage, learned about the state of newspapers in Canada and a nonprofit's support of a weekly newspaper, handed out awards and critiqued each other's editorials last week at the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Editors from the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Nepal spent five days at the University of Maryland and in Washington, D.C., where they also toured the Newseum and the Library of Congress.

The group's main awards, the Golden Dozen for editorial writing, topped by the Golden Quill, were reported here Sunday. The group presented its Eugene Cervi Award to Bill Miller Sr., editor and publisher of The Washington Missourian for more than 60 years. Miller, 87, said he had lost advertisers because of his editorial stands, but "You've got to write editorials. That's the heart of a newspaper." Miller discussed editorial writing with Hank Waters, former editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, at the 2015 ISWNE conference in Columbia. The 45-minute video is on the ISWNE site via YouTube:

The award, named for the late publisher of a weekly newspaper in Denver, recognizes careers of outstanding public service in community journalism that adhere to the highest standards of the craft, including the conviction that good journalism begets good government. Gateway Journalism Review profiled Miller in 2014.

The Don Brod Award, named for the only person to serve as ISWNE executive director and president, went to Bill Reader, a journalism professor at Ohio University in Athens, a specialist and researcher in community journalism and very active member of the "hotline" list-serve for ISWNE members.

Health coverage, Canadian papers, nonprofit help

The group heard from several speakers. Rob Logan of the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, listed several useful websites, including, a gateway to information on more than 1,000 diseases and conditions, every drug and supplement, and how to sign up for clinical trials; and PubMedHealth, which reviews recent medical research and shows "the state of the art," Logan said.

Gordon Cameron talked about Canadian newspapers.
At the Newseum, the group heard from Gordon Cameron, group managing editor of Hamilton Community News, a group of four papers in the city at the west end of Lake Ontario, and past president of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association. He said most Canadian papers are making money, thanks mainly to advertising inserts, but circulation and run-of-press advertising continue to decline.

Canada's Public Policy Forum issued a "Shattered Mirror" report on the country's news media in January, saying "Real news is in crisis. Canadians need — and want — real news to make educated decisions about their governments and to keep the powerful accountable. Without it, we’ll be in the dark about our communities and our country. Without it, democracy itself is at risk." The report recommended more favorable tax treatment for news outlets, easing philanthropic support of news outlets, a fund to support digital innovation (already being done in a small way for community newspapers), a legal advisory service for small news operations (to encourage more aggressive journalism), and funding of 60 to 80 reporters for a new local service of the Canadian Press news service to provide more coverage of local governments (see Page 98 of the report). Cameron said the Canadian News Media Association has proposed tax credits for reporter salaries, "fairly broadly defined," but many publishers are wary and "concerned about the optics." Still, "Everyone agrees something needs to be done."

Nonprofit involvement in rural journalism is being pioneered by The Rappahannock News and the Foothills Forum in Rappahannock County, Virginia. The Rural Blog has reported on this project; the organizers reported that it has overcome initial skepticism. "The more we do, the more the community accepts that we don't have an agenda," said Larry "Bud" Meyer, president of the nonprofit and former vice president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. "Some form of nonprofit partnership might work in your community."

Lucy Dalglish, dean of journalism at
Maryland, welcomed the group.
In another presentation in a Senate office building, Tonda Rush, chief lobbyist for the National Newspaper Association, urged the editors to get involved with NNA and its efforts on postal reform and other issues. "People in this building don't have any idea what you're about, and you may have more power than you realize," Rush said "The interesting thing about community newspapers in Washington is, if we can find a way to connect you, things happen."

In official business, ISWNE members changed the group's mission statement to include "support of research that improves community journalism." Some academic journalists are members, including David Gordon, a retired journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who was president in the past year. The new president is Steve Ranson of the Lahontan Valley News in Fallon, Nevada.

The organization has 283 members, 39 outside the U.S. Executive Director Chad Stebbins of Missouri Southern State University told his board of directors that membership has declined in Canada and the United Kingdom due to a decrease in the number of independent, family-owned newspapers.

The group's next conference is set for July 11-15, 2018, in Portland and McMinnville, Oregon. At least four Pulitzer Prize winners are signed up for the program, Stebbins said. It will meet in the Atlanta area in 2019, Reno in 2020 and the Montreal area in 2021. Last year's meeting was in Australia.

Some rural hospitals hang by a Medicaid thread

Lincoln Community Hospital (NPR photo)
Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo, Colo., is exemplary of rural hospitals across the country. Residents are proud of their hospital, but changes to the Medicaid program could reduce its funding and force it to cut back services, reports John Daley of NPR.

"From the outside, Lincoln Community Hospital looks more like a small 1960s-era apartment building," Daley reports. "But it has all the essential high-tech health care equipment: modern imaging machines, tele-medicine links — even an AirLife helicopter. Rachel Smith, the assistant director of nursing, says the thing that really sets the hospital apart is the quality of its care."

Smith said, "It's definitely not treat 'em and street 'em. It's definitely somebody you're going to see — maybe even later that day, later that week."

Half of the hospital's patients are covered by Medicare, according to Daley. "One chronic problem for the hospital is that its reimbursement from Medicare doesn't cover the full cost of the services it provides. The hospital also receives — and depends on — Medicaid payments, and that program is facing deep cuts under the Senate health bill now under consideration," Daley writes.

Making the financial puzzle pieces fit is tricky for rural hospitals. "As Congress works to change the health system once more, many small town facilities like Lincoln Community Hospital are on thin ice," Daley says.

Innovative crop rotation can save money and help the environment, Iowa researchers find

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enhanced image shows Mississippi
River watershed and the "dead zone" from fertilizer runoff in the Gulf of Mexico.
This year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by fertilizer runoff from farms in the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio River watershed, is forecast to be the third largest ever. An editorial in The Des Moines Register shows how farmers in Iowa and other states can mitigate the problem.

Iowa farmers typically plant a field in corn one year and soybeans the next. Research at Iowa State University has studied "a three-year system that adds a cool-season small grain (such as oats) with a cover crop of red clover that acts as a 'green manure,' and a four-year system that includes a small grain (again, oats) with a green manure of alfalfa, followed by a second year of alfalfa for harvest," says the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The researchers have found that the longer rotations enhanced yields and profits while reducing pesticide use and pollution."

As an example, the Register cites Iowa farmer Seth Watkins, who said at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation's "Ocean Week" in Washington, D.C. last month, "My job as farmer is not to produce; my job is to care for the land. And when I do this properly, this provides for all of us." The Register says governments must provide better incentives to farmers who want to follow in his footsteps. "Federal farm policy got us into the two-crop system, and it can help get us out," the newspaper says. "Politicians and ag leaders claim that Iowa farmers are making progress in addressing water pollution, but too much evidence shows it’s shamefully inadequate."

Oregon implements different minimum wages for urban, suburban and rural areas

Oregon now has a minimum wage that divides the state into urban, standard, and rural areas, with different minimum wages for each area. The wage increased July 1 for the second year in a row, part of a multi-year plan to gradually bring up the minimum wage to account for cost-of-living increases, Anna Marum reports for Oregon Live.

In the Portland metropolitan area, where living expenses are higher, the wage increased to $11.25. In small city and suburban areas, called "Standard," the wage increased to $10.25. And in rural areas, the wage went up to $10.
Credit: Oregon Live 
Farmers are concerned about the wage increase, saying that they can't raise prices since their crops are part of a slumping global commodities market. Jenny Dresler, director of state public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau, told Marum in an interview that many farmers have been trying to cut costs since the first minimum wage increase under the tiered system in 2016.

"Some are scaling back employee hours and turning to family to pitch in, or doing more of the work themselves. Others have given up on crops that need to be hand-picked, such as tree fruits and berries, in favor of those that are less labor intensive," Dresler told Marum. "As the cost of production increases and the cost of commodities stays flat, they're going to have to automate more, or they're not going to make it."

Southern Co. gives up on 'clean coal' project

Citing significant scheduling delays, malfunctioning equipment and cost overruns, The Southern Co. suspended the coal gasification portion of its Kemper, Miss., power plant on June 28 and will run solely on natural gas.

The plant was meant to be a showpiece for proponents of clean coal, as well as bring thousands of jobs to rural Mississippi, but "equipment meant to turn the coal into gas and remove at least two-thirds of the carbon dioxide from it to keep it out of the atmosphere never worked as designed," reports Henry Fountain of The New York Times.

The plant had been running mostly on natural gas while engineers attempted to fix the coal gasification equipment. Because of that and other delays, the project was three years behind schedule and cost $7.5 billion, $4 billion over budget. Southern tried to secure additional funding with electric-rate increases, but regulators blocked the move, reports Nasdaq

Southern announced the suspension of the project in the wake of last week's ultimatum from the Mississippi Public Service Commission to redesign the project's plans and run the plant solely on natural gas, according to Nasdaq.

Southern CEO Tom Fanning said he stands by the project. "Carbon capture works; we've proved it," he said in an interview with E&E News. "While we've had a lot of financial challenges there, when you think about it, the technology works."

Story of Muslim doctor dealing with prejudice in rural Minn. puts you inside his head and heart

Ayaz Virji and his wife, Mussarrat
(Post photo by Salwan Georges)
When a Muslim became the third doctor in a small Minnesota town, “It felt right,” to him, he told The Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen. "But that feeling began to change after the election of Donald Trump," McCrummen writes, in a story that puts you inside the head and heart of Ayaz Virji, "the first Muslim to ever live in Dawson, a farming town of 1,400," she reports.

When Virji moved with his wife and three children from Harrisburg, Pa., "No one seemed to care that he was Muslim, of Indian descent, born in Kenya and raised in Florida. They just needed a good doctor," McCrummen writes. "He never thought Trump would win, much less in Dawson," which Barack Obama had carried twice. But Trump won the town by 6 percentage points and Lac qui Parle County in a landslide.

Virji was "shocked and angry . . . saying he hoped people realized that they just voted to put his family on a Muslim registry, and how would he be treated around here if he didn’t have M.D. after his name," McCrummen reports. He and his wife thought about leaving, but decided to stay, "and he tried to transform his anger into understanding." Then a patient asked him to talk about Islam at her Lutheran church, and 400 people came. In a county of 7,300. He won a semi-standing ovation.

Virji spoke in Dawson (green dot), Montevideo (B)
and Granite Falls, Minnesota. (Map Quest image)
But a few weeks later, in Montevideo, pop. 5,200, the seat of Chippewa County, pop. 12,500, which also flipped from Obama to Trump, things were different. "They yelled that they were praying for his salvation and called him the Antichrist. Their tone became so hostile that Musarrat, who had brought their 9-year-old daughter, moved to the back of the room, closer to the exit," McCrummen reports. "In the days after, people wrote letters to the local paper saying how embarrassed they were at the doctor’s reception, but Ayaz decided he was done with trying to explain Islam to rural Minnesota. Except that the invitations kept coming."

McCrummen went with Virji to Granite Falls, pop. 2,900, the seat of Yellow Medicine County, pop. 12,500, which voted Republican in 2012 and 2016. She describes in great detail his preparation, thoughts and his presentation, which was angry at times. During the question time, one man said, "I hear a lot of pain from you this evening. . . . I'm sorry." Virji won applause, but as he arrived back in Dawson, "He still felt different, more and more like a stranger in a rural Midwestern town," McCrummen writes. "He didn’t want to feel that way. He hoped in time he wouldn’t. He turned onto Pine Street, and then he was home."

Kentucky's Rural-Urban Exchange holds meetings around state to close rural-urban divide

Kentucky, perhaps more than most states, has a stark rural-urban split that experts are working to mend with the Rural-Urban Exchange.

With only two cities of more than 100,000, the rest of the state is dominated small, cozy towns and rural farmland and forest. The exchange, or RUX as it is informally known, works to bring people together from across the state in an effort to build a more connected Commonwealth, reports Jacob Ryan of WFPL, a Louisville Public Radio station.

"The group, in its work, examines the divisions that dissect the state – divisions that are rooted, largely, in perception . . . But whether they’re real or perceived . . . these divisions are barriers that impede progress for communities across Kentucky," Ryan reports. Savannah Barrett, a member of the RUX steering committee, told Ryan, "It’s a really unfortunate cartography of belonging."

The program got organized in summer 2014 and hosts three sessions each summer for 70 or so people who come from all over the state to participate at three locations, this year in Lexington, Bowling Green and Harlan. This month, participants will learn about folk studies at Western Kentucky University, tour a farm where organic produce is grown and visit the town of Horse Cave, Tonya Grace writes for the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville. The last session, in Harlan, is scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

Barrett said there are people in Louisville, the state's largest city, who voted for Trump, "just as there are people out in deep rural areas that advocate for LGBTQ rights and arts programming," Ryan writes. "The two areas depend on each other, too, she said. Louisville depends on (rural) Kentucky for fresh food and energy and cultural aspects, she said. Rural Kentucky depends on Louisville for its economic contribution. Without one, the other will falter, she said." Barrett added, "The idea that Louisville is some way removed from the state of Kentucky is ludicrous. It is a shared future."

Amish man gets six years in prison for misbranded herbal health products, blocking probe

A sampling of Samuel Girod's products
Samuel A. Girod of Bath County, Kentucky, was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday for selling homemade herbal health products that investigators say were sometimes dangerous, reports Greg Kocher of The Lexington Herald-Leader.

Girod, 57, a member of the Old Order Amish Faith, was convicted March 13 on charges of making misbranded products, impeding an investigation, and witness tampering.

From his Bath County business, Girod made and sold herbal medicines and salves, including one that he claimed cured cancer. One product, TO-MOR-GONE, contained an extract of bloodroot that was corrosive to skin, Kocher reports.

Prosecutors alleged that Girod refused to obey court orders to stop selling the products and would not allow Food and Drug Administration officials to inspect his business, notes a report from The Associated Press. Girod had been ordered by a Missouri judge to stop selling his products until he complied with federal labeling and advertisement guidelines.

Many people see Girod as a symbol of government overreach; more than 27,000 people signed a petition asking to have him released from jail. According to Kocher, about 75 of his supporters gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Lexington the day of the sentencing.

Girod, who represented himself in court, argued that requiring FDA inspection of his products is a violation of his religious freedom, since Amish people try to shun the modern world, including modern medicine. He also said that herbal remedies are not drugs, and therefore shouldn't be subject to FDA inspection.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Editorials on rural police behavior take spotlight in Intl. Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors awards

Editorials criticizing police behavior in rural areas took the spotlight at the annual Golden Quill Awards ceremony of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at the group's annual conference Saturday night. Awards concluded the group's conference at the University of Maryland.

Peter Weinschenk accepts his award.
Peter Weinschenk, editor of The Record-Review in western Marathon County, Wisconsin, became the first three-time Golden Quill winner in the competition's 56-year history, ISWNE says. His winning editorial criticized the county Board of Supervisors for "automatically" denying the abuse claim of a man who had been mauled by a police dog, noting that dash-cam videos showed the county sheriff's department had violated its own policy on the use of dogs. "We can't look the other way," the editorial concluded.

Weinschenk wrote in ISWNE's Grassroots Editor journal that the editorial "wrote itself" because of the life experiences he brought to it: "The issue, I said, was not whether you think Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter. It was only whether the police . . . followed their own rules. The stakes in such a case, I said, were whether we are willing to tolerate a police state where the Constitution is violated."

Murray Bishoff
Another opinion piece about rural police behavior was one of the 11 runners-up in the "Golden Dozen" of the contest. Murray Bishoff, news editor of The Monett Times in Missouri, wrote that an Aurora police officer shouldn't have shot and killed a fleeing suspect outside his jurisdiction, that the officer was "let down by his training," and "the Highway Patrol has taken too long to release information on this incident."

The entries were judged by Mary Kimm of Connection Newspapers in suburban Washington, D.C., who recently led an award-winning "multi-year editorial effort in support of police reform in Fairfax County, Virginia," and serves on the "implementation team" for the local Police Policies Review Commission, Grassroots Editor notes.

"These entries were evidence that weekly newspapers and weekly news editors are actively informing, protecting and bettering their communities, with a powerful connection to readers," Kimm wrote. "Many editorials spoke truth to power, holding public officials and law enforcement accountable to the people."

Other editorials in the Golden Dozen, some of which also touched on law-enforcement behavior, and one on an editor's civil disobedience, are:

• Marcia Martinek, editor of The Herald Democrat in Leadville, Colo., for an editorial replying to criticism of her for reporting 14 felony charges against the former police chief.

• Steve Bagwell, managing editor of the McMinnville News-Register in Oregon, for an editorial about the Yamhill County sheriff's complicity in the suicide of a jail inmate.

• John Hueston, publisher of the Aylmer Express in Ontario, for his second editorial objecting to the cutting of trees along a highway, which began with the fact of his arrest for joining a community protest that attempted to block the cutting.

• Diane Chiddister, editor of the Yellow Springs News in Ohio, for an editorial challenging the small town to welcome refugees from Syria.

• Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor of The Altamont Enterprise in New York, for an editorial saying that the issue of placing cell-phone towers should be decided on its merits, not "political maneuvering."

• Brian Hunhoff, contributing editor of the Yankton County Observer in South Dakota, for a column demanding that the state fix a highway that had been the site of many accidents.

• Bill Tubbs, publisher of the North Scott Press in Eldridge, Iowa, for an editorial explaining a complex zoning issue.

• Janine Kock, editor and publisher of The Observer in Westside, Iowa, for an editorial showing how school-funding mechanisms harm small, rural schools.

• Steve Bonspiel, editor and publisher of The Eastern Door in Kahnawake, Quebec, for an editorial about unequal treatment of First Nations children in Canada and news-media treatment of the issue.

• Declan Varley, editor of the Galway Advertiser in Ireland, for an editorial honoring a local fallen hero, a coast-guard officer on a mission.

ISWNE said the contest received 115 entries from 62 people, more than double last year's totals. The editorials and the judge's comments appear in the latest quarterly edition of Grassroots Editor, which is available to ISWNE members. Membership is $60 a year; a Grassroots Editor subscription is $25 a year.