Friday, March 09, 2018

Va. daily has best small newsroom in Gannett for 5 years

Sperling's Best Places map
For the fifth straight year, The News Leader of Staunton (pronounced "Stanton"), Va., has been named the best small newsroom in Gannett Co. Inc., the nation's leading newspaper publisher in terms of circulation.

"A panel of outside judges made the determination based on the Staunton newsroom's community journalism and special projects in 2017, compared to more than 50 sites across the United States," the 10,000-circulation daily told its readers. "Transformation of the News Leader's sports coverage and an outreach project and series on suicide led the way, according to judges for the annual contest. Narrative writing about Mackenzie Gray of Staunton and about a trio of transgender residents was also honored."

News Leader President Roger Watson said Executive Editor Dave Fritz and News Director William Ramsey "maximize the potential of our reporting staff, using new tools and innovative methods to deliver information to our audience while not compromising on our ethical standards and values as an organization. I hope the people of Staunton recognize what we have been able to do during these turbulent times for media as a whole as our company has recognized us as a great small newspaper for the past five years."

The story also noted individual Gannett awards to staff members, including Laura Peters for community engagement with a story about suicide, and Ramsey for narrative writing: his story about Gray, a young mother killed as she tried to prevent the murder of her friend. The announcement said The News Leader was the best small paper in the "USA Today Network," using the brand Gannett has adopted. (The company puts "Today" in all caps, which we consider to be typographic tyranny.)

Minnesota governor has plan to protect water from pollution by nitrate fertilizers; apparently first in Mississippi watershed

Star Tribune map; click on the image for a larger version.
"In an effort to stem the rise of nitrate pollution in rural Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday laid out a plan to balance farmers’ use of fertilizer with the protection of groundwater and drinking water supplies," Josephine Marcotty reports for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

The plan follows a year of debate among farmers, environmentalists and other interested parties on how to best address the problem of nitrate contamination in drinking water. High nitrates levels have been found in dozens of municipal water systems and one-tenth of private wells, especially in southeastern and central parts of the state.

 Nitrate run-off in the Mississippi River, which originates in Minnesota, feeds a yearly algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico that sucks oxygen out of a lengthy swath of water along the coast, killing some aquatic life. In Minnesota, nitrates in drinking water can cause the potentially fatal "blue baby syndrome" and other health conditions.

"Yet curbing farm chemicals is not easy in a state where agriculture contributes $19 billion annually to the economy — much of it tied to the 800,000 tons of fertilizer farmers use on some 16 million acres," Marcotty reports. Dayton's proposal is apparently the first by the governor of a state in the Mississippi River watershed. This will be the first time the state has attempted to regulate farmers' use of fertilizer. The state already restricts the use of phosphorus on lawns.

In the newest version of the plan, released by Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Fredrickson, farmers' use of nitrogen fertilizers would be limited by both voluntary and mandatory means, especially in the fall and winter when nitrates are most likely to leach into groundwater because there are no crops to soak them up. Exceptions to the rule would be made for crops that require fall nitrogen, and for areas where there are few crops or the soil isn't prone to nitrate leaching.

Republican legislators panned the new version, calling it a "reactionary re-branding of a vastly unpopular rule" in a statement. The public will be encouraged to give opinions about the plan at public meetings to be scheduled this summer.

Survey shows Americans divided on protecting environment, but many more rate it a priority than they did in 2010

Pew chart; for larger, clearer version, click on the image.
A recent national survey by the Pew Research Center showed deep fractures in Americans' views on protecting the environment, but an increasing concern about it.

Partisan sentiment was a big indicator of differing opinions: "Although 81 percent of Democrats said protecting the environment should be a top priority, only 37 percent of Republicans agreed," Dave Rosenthal reports for Great Lakes Today. "And though 68 percent of Democrats said dealing with climate change should be a top priority, just 18 percent of Republicans agreed."

Among the 19 issues listed in the survey, Americans' top priorities were defending the country against terrorism, improving schools and strengthening the economy. But protecting the environment has become more important to Americans, especially Democrats, in recent years: the share of respondents who said protecting the environment was a top priority jumped from 44 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in the recent survey, "and seven points in the last year alone," Pew reports.

Addressing climate change is more important to younger people. In the Pew survey, 56 percent of people under age 30 said climate change was a top priority, compared to 37 percent of respondents age 65 and over, Rosenthal reports.

Rosenthal notes that there has been "significant" bipartisan support in the Great Lakes region for environmental protections. Last year Republicans and Democrats from Great Lakes states united to restore $300 million in federal funding that President Trump proposed eliminating. The funds pay for pollution cleanups, wetlands restoration, and other initiatives. The same bipartisan crew is vowing to fully fund those programs after President Trump's 2019 budget proposes eliminating $30 million for Great Lakes environmental programs.

West Virginia bill to allow oil or gas drilling with consent from 75 percent of owners heads to skeptical Gov. Justice

After a tumultuous week, the "co-tenancy" oil and gas drilling bill passed the West Virginia Senate and is headed to Gov. Jim Justice's desk.

"The bill, considered the oil and gas industry’s biggest priority of the session, would allow natural gas and oil companies to drill on land with the consent of at least 75 percent of the owners. It includes an amendment, introduced in the House, to give 50 percent of unknown owners’ interest on the minerals to a Public Employees Insurance Agency stability fund," Kate Mishkin reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. That is related to issues that resulted in a statewide teachers' strike.

It's unclear if Justice, who has many coal interests, will sign the bill. Last week he encouraged state Senators to kill the bill and pass a more controversial joint-development bill, which would allow drillers with old leases to drill wells across some individual property lines without signing a new lease. Justice also proposed a special session to vote on natural gas issues and resolve the teachers' strike. He later "moved back" on that proposal, Mishkin reports.

As Trump imposes tariffs, concern about trade war rises; Perdue acknowledges 'legitimate anxiety' among farmers

Some in the agriculture industry panned President Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, which he enacted yesterday. He exempted Canada and Mexico, but said that may change depending on negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Concern about the tariffs sparking a trade war are widespread among farmers, especially since China is pointedly investigating U.S. sorghum imports and will likely target soybeans next. American Soybean Association President John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer, said the tariffs were a "disastrous course of action," and "We have heard directly from the Chinese that U.S. soybeans are prime targets for retaliation." China is the top customer for U.S. soybean exports, buying $5 billion in 2017, which accounts for more than 60 percent of last year's sales, Ben Potter reports for Ag Web.

Farm-equipment manufacturers are also worried. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers said in a statement that the industry is "profoundly disappointed" in the tariffs because they put "manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage, risk undoing the strides our economy has made due to tax reform, and ultimately pose a threat to American workers' jobs." The statement also noted that steel accounts for about 10 percent of equipment manufacturers' direct costs.

At a recent meeting at Department of Agriculture headquarters, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the ag industry is "rightfully concerned" and that "there is probably some legitimate anxiety over the trade issues," Natalina Sents reports for Successful Farming.

Almost 100,000 public comments supporting sage grouse conservation appear to be missing from federal report

Two sage grouse roosters challenge each other for hens in Idaho. (Associated Press photo by Bill Schaefer)
Public comments are an important way for the federal government to assess citizens' feelings about agency proposals, but a Bureau of Land Management report summarizing public sentiment on sage grouse conservation released Friday appears to be missing about 100,000 comments.

"Sage grouse neared an endangered-species listing two and a half years ago, but federal and state plans to protect sage-grouse habitat staved off a listing," Heather Richards reports for the Casper Star Tribune in Wyoming. "The decision was hailed as a successful collaboration between states, federal agencies and private citizens, particularly in places like Wyoming, where a listing would have had dire impacts on the economy."

But last fall the administration ordered a review of the sage grouse habitat management plans to see if they were hampering energy development. The public was invited to comment on the issue by submitting comments electronically or by mail.

"Altogether, roughly 267,000 individuals submitted comments . . . at the behest of about 20 environmental groups, they say," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post. "But the BLM tallied far fewer comments received for its 'scoping' report: About 170,000 individuals submitted comments, according to a memorandum by David Bernhardt, the No. 2 top official at the department, sent to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke."

Phil Hanceford, conservation director of the Wilderness Society, told Grandoni the missing comments were "a glaring reminder that BLM has some pretty serious transparency issues." BLM spokesperson Don Smurthwaite told the Casper paper, "We're aware of the concern and are checking to ensure that all comments and issues are represented in the final scoping report."

Thursday, March 08, 2018

HD Media high bidder on Charleston Gazette-Mail as auction begins; Ogden Media says it won't counterbid

UPDATE, March 9: The auction ended with no other bidders and the judge has approved the sale. Robert Nutting said in a letter, "We believe that we bid a full and fair price . . . We are very pleased that another company has indicated a willingness to take on this challenge." An HD Media representative said "not everybody, but most people" would keep their jobs, Lacie Pierson reports.

"Among the investors in HD Media’s purchase of the Gazette-Mail are Brian Jarvis, president of NCWV Media, which publishes The State Journal and The Exponent-Telegram [of Clarksburg] and W. Marston 'Marty' Becker of Australia-based QBE Insurance Group." Pierson reports. "Becker partnered with Bray Cary in the early 2000s to create West Virginia Media, which operated The State Journal and several West Virginia television stations. The TV stations were sold in 2015, and NCWV Media assumed control of The State Journal in 2016, with Cary remaining a minority partner. It was unclear Thursday what kind of operational relationship those media entities would have with the purchase of the Gazette-Mail." The State Journal is focused on business and government.

UPDATE, March 22: The Nuttings apparently chose an alternative purchase. On March 6, it was announced that they had bought Virginia's Harrisonburg Daily News-Record and The Winchester Star, along with four weeklies, for an undisclosed price. "The acquisition gives the firm a continuous string of small-town newspapers from western Maryland to eastern West Virginia and south, into the Shenandoah Valley," including the Northern Virginia Daily, a Star rival, notes Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The owners of Ogden Newspapers have decided not to continue bidding on the purchase of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which leaves HD Media the highest bidder in the auction to buy West Virginia's largest newspaper. The auction began at noon today.

Ogden bid $10.91 million on the paper, which declared bankruptcy on Jan. 30. HD Media countered with an $11.4 million bid on Monday, Lacie Pierson reports for the Gazette-Mail. An attorney for Charleston Newspapers, Brian Audette, told Pierson that Ogden officials do not intend to place another bid.

"If HD Media is the successful bidder after the auction, the only legal step it will have before owning the Gazette-Mail will be a hearing Friday, when U.S. District Judge Frank Volk will make his final ruling on the sale of West Virginia's largest newspaper," Pierson reports. "After Volk hands down his order on the sale Friday, the sale should be closed on or before March 31, according to an order he handed down in February."

HD Media is the Huntington-based parent company of the Herald-Dispatch. It also owns the Wayne County News, the Logan Banner, Williamson Daily News, the Coal Valley News and the Pineville Independent Herald. "Doug Reynolds, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who was the Democratic candidate for West Virginia attorney general in 2016, is the managing partner of HD Media," Pierson reports. The company's papers are printed at the Gazette-Mail.

Start planning for Sunshine Week, which begins Sunday

This Sunday the American Society of News Editors kicks off the 12th annual Sunshine Week, a celebration of open government and the free press. At a time when public trust in the news media is at an all-time low, Sunshine Week is an important reminder to readers that journalism serves democracy.

Click here for a reporting package produced by The Associated Press. Columns, cartoons, public-records data, Sunshine Week logos, sample proclamations for adoption by government officials and a page for educators are available in the Sunshine Week toolkit.

Sunshine Week is scheduled each year to include national Freedom of Information Day, March 16. That is the birthday of James Madison, father of the First Amendment. Sunshine Week is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and this year by a donation from The Gridiron Club and Foundation of Washington, D.C.

West Virginia teacher strike highlights underpaid rural teacher crisis in other states

W.Va. teachers and supporters celebrate the end of the
strike. (Beckley Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero)
The teacher strike in West Virginia ended this week with a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees, but many rural teachers in other states are still underpaid. "If those issues are not resolved, we could see rural teachers in other states follow the example of the striking teachers in West Virginia, where over half of all schools are considered rural," Erin McHenry-Sorber reports for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

The issue of rural teacher pay is complex: in W.Va. the state legislature sets a statewide pay scale. Wealthier areas like those near Washington, D.C., can add more to the baseline salary to make their districts more attractive to teachers. But places like McDowell County, the poorest in the state, struggle to find teachers, especially in math and special education. North Carolina has the same problem: the rural teacher shortage is exacerbated by wealthy districts that poach more experienced teachers.

In Pennsylvania, where teacher salary scales are set at the local level instead of the county level, the pay disparity between rural and urban teachers is more dramatic. In the Turkeyfoot Valley Area School District in rural southwestern Penn., the average teacher salary is $36,709, but Lower Merion School District in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb has an average teacher salary of $97,480.

"Highly dependent on local tax revenue, rural school systems in Pennsylvania find themselves unable to compete with urban and suburban districts in terms of teacher pay – not just across the state, but within their own counties," McHenry-Sorber reports. "Unlike countywide systems, poor, rural community school districts in Pennsylvania see no benefits from economic growth in neighboring districts within their county borders."

Rural school districts face three disadvantages in attracting teachers, according to a 2003 study by the Rural School and Community Trust: rural teachers are paid less than other rural professionals like registered nurses or computer programmers, largely rural states pay less than largely urban states, and rural areas pay teachers less than urban areas within the same state, McHenry-Sorber reports.

The study is still relevant today, with the rural teacher shortage reaching "crisis levels" in states like Oklahoma and Arizona. "Numerous states, like West Virginia and Oklahoma, have attempted to deal with the lack of certified teachers through emergency certifications, alternative certification programs and diminished standards for teacher certification," McHenry-Sorber reports.

Government to increase drone use to fight wildfires

A federal drone (U.S. Bureau of Land Management photo)
Last year's wildfire season cost more than $2 billion to fight, straining the budgets of many Western states. When the next wildfire season starts, the federal government wants to fight it with increased use of unmanned drones, which it says allows missions to be done in one-seventh the time and at one-tenth the cost of a manned mission.

An incident last summer showed how useful drones can be. A Bureau of Land Management drone was flying over a blaze in the Umpqua National Forest in southwest Oregon in August when its infrared camera spied a nearby "spot fire" which was unconnected to the main fire and likely started by a windblown ember. A human pilot doing a flyover could not have seen the fire because smoke limited visibility to 100 feet. But because the drone caught it, firefighters were able to contain it before it became a big problem. "The BLM, a division within Interior, later estimated the early detection of the fire by the drone saved $50 million in land and infrastructure value that could have otherwise been lost," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post.

The Interior Department increasingly relied on drones to help firefighters last summer, sending them on 707 fire detection and monitoring missions over 71 wildfires. It plans to ramp up their use this year and is working on developing drones that can help extinguish fires. "The goal: To deploy retardant-dumping helicopters capable of being flown either manned and unmanned, so firefighting efforts can continue around the clock. At night and in the early morning, darkness and low-lying smoke, respectively, obscure the views of firefighters above, often making missions too dangerous to do," Grandoni reports. The University of Nebraska is also testing drones that can help fight fires by starting prescribed burns.

Though the Interior uses only its own drones right now, the department recently solicited bids from private companies to fly drones over forest fires for data collection.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

'Athens journalism institution' wins University of Georgia's new award for community journalism, named for him

Rollin M. “Pete” McCommons, editor and publisher of Flagpole magazine in Athens, Ga., is the namesake and first recipient of an award for distinguished community journalism from the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The school plans to present the award annually, thanks to an endowment funded by friends of McCommons.

The award will recognize "the best in community journalism, as represented by small- to medium-sized daily and weekly news organizations who provide exemplary service to their communities," the school said in announcing the award.

Charles Davis, dean of the college, said, “Pete McCommons is an Athens journalism institution, the man who gave the Athens Observer its verve [after co-founding it in 1974] and who created Flagpole as an important countercultural voice of progressivism in the city. His unflagging spirit, his devotion to Athens and to journalism make him the ideal namesake for this new award.”

McCommons has been publisher of Flagpole since 1994. He recently published his first book, Pub Notes, a collection of his Flagpole columns of the same name. In his latest, he thanked the college and those who endowed the award and said, "After almost 50 years making up community journalism as we go along, getting this award from the Grady College is like being certified. It is huge."

Mental health stigma can keep rural seniors from getting help, study says

"Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are common among older adults in rural areas, affecting 10 to 25 percent of that population. But many of those people with them suffer in silence rather than seeking treatment," Emily Gurnon reports for Next Avenue as part of a special report for the John A. Hartford Foundation.

A study by researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine shed some light on why rural seniors often forego treatment. They questioned 478 adults aged 60 or older in rural North Carolina, and found that the most common answer was "I should not need help." Other frequently cited reasons were not knowing where to go, distance to access treatment, mistrust of counselors or therapists, not wanting to talk about private matters with a stranger, and stigma.

The relative lack of anonymity in rural areas and small towns could contribute to a rural senior's refusal to seek treatment for mental health issues. Dennis Mohatt, vice president of the behavioral mental health program at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and director of its Center for Rural Mental Health Research, told Gurnon, "Your neighbors don’t have a clue in a city if you’re going to go get some help. But everybody [in a small town] will know if your pickup truck is parked outside of the mental health provider’s office."

Some seniors may believe that seeking help for mental illness may signal to others that they are weak or unable to be self-reliant. A study of rural veterans, half of whom were seniors, found this to be a potent barrier to seeking mental health treatment. The veterans rated independence and self-reliance very highly, and cited an emphasis on stoicism and concern about stigma as reasons that would make them less likely to seek help.

Mobile tele-hospitals can help rural areas after disasters

A collaboration between two companies could make it easier to treat people after natural disasters, especially in rural areas that don't have much medical infrastructure.

Most people are familiar with MASH units--Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals--from the long-running TV show: highly mobile prefab tents, surgeons, nurses, and medical supplies that could bring medical aid wherever it was needed.

Inside a MAST unit (AMD photo)
"Today, add telemedicine and community broadband support, and what you have is MAST," Craig Settles reports for The Daily Yonder. "AMD Global Telemedicine and Jenysis Global partnered to create MAST units to help in a variety of settings: disaster recovery, medically underserved communities, military installations, and remote work environments. These self-sufficient units can handle the medical issues that arise from disasters. The units get an extra punch when they are deployed with community fiber networks and gigabit horsepower."

AMD President Eric Bacon told Settles that MAST units (formally called Jenysis Healthcare Solutions) avoid the logistical headache of trying to give people modern treatment in remote areas with spotty or no telephone access. The units can be delivered by truck or helicopter and can be fully assembled in 15 minutes. They're completely self-contained with water, solar panels for power, HVAC, satellite communications, and broadband connection ports. The basic units are set up for easy access to telemedicine services. And communities can customize the units with other equipment for specialized needs such as pediatric care.

Jenysis has been deploying their mobile healthcare units in disasters and other areas in need of health care for more than 20 years, according to a company representative; the telemedicine component is new though. The representative could not say how much the units cost to deploy.

When 26,000 stinkbugs invade your home

Brown marmorated stinkbug
(Photo by
A few years back in October, Pam Stone went upstairs in her cabin just outside Landrum, South Carolina, to close the french doors that led from her bedroom to the deck. When she got to her bedroom, the walls were "crawling with insects—not dozens of them but hundreds upon hundreds. Stone knew what they were, because she’d seen a few around the house earlier that year and eventually posted a picture of one on Facebook and asked what it was. That’s a stinkbug, a chorus of people had told her—specifically, a brown marmorated stinkbug. Huh, Stone had thought at the time. Never heard of them. Now they were covering every visible surface of her bedroom," Kathryn Schulz writes for The New Yorker.

Stone's hair-raising example isn't unique or even extreme, Schulz writes: stinkbugs are an invasive species that has spread across 43 of the 48 contiguous U.S. states since it arrived. Brown marmorated stinkbugs are a particular nuisance, destroying crops as well as invading homes. Schulz's piece is a long one, but well-worth the read.

Read more here.

Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs could help some state and local economies, hurt others

Brookings Institution chart; click on the image to enlarge it.
Local and state lawmakers may be wondering how their economies will be impacted by President Trump's announced tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The tariffs could help metro areas and states that produce steel and aluminum.  "The argument in favor of the tariffs is that they are a counterweight against foreign producers of aluminum and steel that have flooded the U.S. market, putting American companies at a disadvantage. And for those metro areas and states that concentrate steel and aluminum production, this may represent a welcome relief," Max Bouchet and Joseph Parilla report for the Brookings Institution.

The tariffs could hurt state and regional economies in two different ways. First, because of retaliatory tariffs on key American exports. Canada, China and the European Union have already indicated that they will respond to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs by increasing tariffs on American-made products. Second, because higher prices on imported steel and aluminum could hurt industries that rely on them, like auto manufacturing, brewing and construction, as well as the state and regional economies that benefit from those industries.

"The states that rely most on steel and aluminum imports as a share of their total import base cut an interesting economic geography. In Missouri, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Maryland, aluminum and steel imports account for at least 5 percent of total state imports, double the share of the nation’s 2 percent total," Bouchet and Parilla report. "The impact of these tariffs on the U.S economy would be the strongest if Trump’s Monday tweet signals the inclusion of NAFTA. Canada and Mexico supply together 32 percent of U.S aluminum and steel imports. Canada alone accounts for one-fourth of U.S imports in these commodities."

Bristol Herald Courier wins Scripps Howard Award for Community Journalism with 'Addicted at Birth' package

The Bristol Herald Courier has won a Scripps Howard Award in the Community Journalism category for its "Addicted at Birth" package about how the opioid epidemic hurts babies. Judges commented: "The newspaper, with a circulation of 16,500, investigated the problem from all angles, outlined solutions and educated the community. The impact is wide-ranging for taxpayers, hospitals, families and schools. The Bristol Herald Courier not only reported what’s happening but foreshadowed what the community could face in the future."

The 65th annual awards were announced yesterday. The Scripps Howard Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of E.W. Scripps Co., will present more than $170,000 to the winners in a live ceremony in Cincinnati on April 19. The event will be live streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Tulsa-based online-only news outlet The Frontier was a runner up in the Community Journalism category for "Shadow Land: How Rape Stays Hidden in Oklahoma".

Also of rural interest, GateHouse Media was the runner up in the Multimedia Journalism category for "In the Shadow of Wind Farms". And the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon, was a runner up in the Distinguished Service to the First Amendment category for "Deadly Decisions – The Fight for Records".

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

April 1 is the deadline to nominate courageous rural journalists for the 2018 Tom and Pat Gish Award

Tom and Pat Gish
Nominations are due April 1 for the Tom and Pat Gish Award, which annually recognizes the courage, integrity and tenacity that is so often necessary to provide good journalism in rural areas. The award, named for the crusading couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years, is given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Nominations should measure up, at least in major respects, to records of earlier winners, available at For example, the Gishes withstood advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office to give their readers the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas, and were the first winners of the award named for them. The most recent winners, the Cullen family of Iowa's Storm Lake Times, overcame obstacles to persevere in covering and commenting on water-pollution issues in Iowa, often to the dislike of agribusiness interests that are sources of much of the pollution.

Other winners have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Tex.) Record, in 2007; James E. Prince III and the late Stanley Dearman, current and former publishers of The Neshoba Democrat of Philadelphia, Miss., in 2008; Samantha Swindler of The Oregonian in 2010 for her work as editor of the Corbin, Ky., Times-Tribune and managing editor of the Jacksonville (Tex.) Daily Progress; in 2011, Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; in 2012, Jonathan and Susan Austin of the Yancey County News in Burnsville, N.C.. in 2014, the late Landon Wills of Kentucky's McLean County News; in 2015, the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.; and in 2016, Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Missouri.

Nominators should send detailed letters to Institute Director Al Cross, explaining how their nominees show the kind of exemplary courage, tenacity and integrity that the Gishes demonstrated in their rigorous pursuit of rural journalism. Detailed documentation does not have to accompany the nomination, but is helpful in choosing finalists, and additional documentation may be requested or required. Questions may be directed to Cross at 859-257-3744 or

Reporting package on rape in Okla. up for Scripps Howard award for community journalism; announcement today

Tulsa-based digital newspaper The Frontier is in the running for a Scripps Howard Award for its five-part series "Shadow Land: How rape stays hidden in Oklahoma."

The Frontier's year-long investigation uncovered "a war within a war that requires some victims to fight for their own justice while government and private agencies fight for money, personnel and proven training methods to assist victims," Mary Hargrove and Kassie McClung report. "Victims can fall prey to overworked nurses, police and prosecutors in rural counties who do not have the time, training or manpower to thoroughly investigate. And their cases die."

Oklahoma's shortcomings are reflected in most states, and so are the possible solutions, Hargrove and McClung report.

The other two finalists in the Community Journalism category are "Home Sick" by the Capital News Service of the University of Maryland and "Addicted at Birth" by the Bristol Herald Courier in Bristol, Va., noted on The Rural Blog yesterday. All the award winners will be announced at 2 p.m. today.

Congress mulls seasonal worker visa cap as immigration raids leave California farmers short of laborers

Increasing immigration raids in California are hurting the state's $47 billion agriculture industry, which provides more than half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables in the country.

About 1.5 million of California's 2 million farm laborers are undocumented, and they're increasingly staying home for fear of deportation. "More than 55 percent of 762 farmers and ranchers surveyed in a California Farm Bureau Federation report from October 2017 said half of their land continues to go unattended because of an ongoing labor shortage directly related to U.S. immigration policy," Kartikay Mehrotra reports for Bloomberg.

Congress is considering capping annual seasonal workers' visas at 410,000, in hopes of forcing undocumented workers to return to their native countries and apply for visas. That would devastate California's already-reeling agriculture industry, according to Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association. California "is already losing acres of labor-intensive crops, including cherries, apples, peppers and berries to farms in Mexico, South and Central America and East Asia. After setting records for revenue every year in the six years to 2015, receipts fell 13 percent to $47 billion in 2016" because of the drought and the labor shortage, Mahrotra reports.

How much could European tariffs hurt U.S.? Ky.'s bourbon and auto plants are a case study, but so is aluminum

The European Union has threatened to retaliate with tariffs on American-made products like Harley-Davidsons, bourbon and Levi blue jeans if President Trump proceeds with his plan to place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, "said the plans to tax the American goods, produced in the home states of key Republican leaders, had not yet been finalized, but amounted to treating them 'the same way' that European products would be handled if the metals tariffs go through," Melissa Eddy and Chad Bray report for The New York Times.

A tariff against Levis would impact few American jobs, since most Levis are made in Thailand. Levis are only mad"e in America by one factory in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Harley-Davidson has four factories in the U.S. and another four in Australia, Brazil, India and Thailand. Shifting production to these foreign factories could help the company skirt tariffs. "Europe also accounted for 16 percent of Harley's worldwide motorcycle sales last year. . . making it the second biggest market behind only the U.S.," Rich Duprey reports for The Motley Fool. Many of Harley's new models are Softails, a line popular in Europe than in the U.S. Because the company is investing so heavily in those models, losing sales because of higher tariffs would hurt the company quite a bit. The bottom line, Duprey writes, is that Harley-Davidson might survive the tariffs, "but it would also take on heavy damage at a time it can ill afford to do so."

Tariffs on bourbon would hurt Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The drink has become more popular internationally, Mitch Herckis reports for Route Fifty. A 2017 study at the University of Louisville said the bourbon industry brought $190 million in revenue to the state and local economies in 2016. It said "The industry is responsible for between 15,000 and 17,500 jobs in the state, annual payroll of nearly $800 million, and total economic output of $8.5 billion" and added 2,000 jobs in the past two years.

Kentucky is also a leader in the automobile industry, which uses imported aluminum and steel, but is also the leading U.S. producer of aluminum and home to "a mostly idle aluminum plant [that] has become the poster child for President Trump’s decision," Chris Otts reports for Louisville's WDRB-TV. "Thus the Bluegrass State, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, now becomes a test case for his protectionist policies. . . . Chicago-based Century Aluminum Inc., which has two plants in Kentucky, has been among the most vocal supporters of Trump’s action. Once Trump finalizes the tariffs, Century Aluminum will invest $100 million in its aluminum smelter in Hawesville, Ky., and double the plant’s employment by adding about 300 jobs, said Jesse Gary, Century Aluminum’s executive vice president, in an interview Monday."

Monday, March 05, 2018

Republicans in Congress move to block Trump tariffs

"Congressional Republicans are maneuvering to stop President Trump from levying harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing the move strikes at the heart of their economic agenda and could even cause political blowback heading into the 2018 midterms," The Washington Post reports.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said in a prepared statement, “We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan. The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”

On Twitter this morning, Trump linked the tariffs with the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, thus increasing pressure on Canada and Mexico: “Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”

"Senior officials said Sunday they don’t expect key partner countries such as Canada and Mexico to be excluded" from the tariffs, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Those two countries and others were exempted when former President George W. Bush imposed broad steel tariffs in 2002."

The Journal said in an editorial Friday, “The economic damage will quickly compound because other countries can and will retaliate against U.S. exports. Not steel, but against farm goods, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Cummins engines, John Deere tractors, and much more.”

Trump wants to improve rural infrastructure, but what will be counted as 'rural'?

The Trump administration's infrastructure proposal calls for giving $40 billion to governors in block grants and $10 billion to states via competitive rural grants, "but the way Trump officials propose to do that is already raising questions on Capitol Hill, with some saying that the administration is seeking to use untested and potentially politicized means to dole out the federal funds," Michael Laris reports for The Washington Post.

A new formula calculates grant distribution "based on rural lane miles and rural population adjusted to reflect policy objectives," according to administration budget documents. The problem is that there's no single federal definition of "rural," so it's unclear what kind of results such a yardstick would give.

One congressional official told Laris that the formula was odd because it uses rural-road miles even though the funding isn't specifically for roads. Funds could be used for water and wastewater, electricity production and transmission, and broadband internet. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao supported the package in Senate testimony last week but said she couldn't recall what someone had told her about the rural measuring stick. He agency later told the Post, "The rural formula will ensure that funding is provided to the rural areas that need it most."

The package also aims to speed up projects by limiting environmental reviews. The overall budget has deep spending cuts for existing transportation and other infrastructure spending, but a White House official told Laris that "there's a front-loading of the rural funds." An unnamed Democratic congressional aide said Trump is playing to his rural base.

Interactive map shows county-level population change

Map by Benjamin Schmidt; click on the image to enlarge it or click here to see the interactive version

A new interactive map shows the change in population density at the county level from 1790 to 2010. Northeastern University assistant professor Benjamin Schmidt created the map using data compiled by Jonathon Schroeder of the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Population Center. Schmidt notes that the map is flawed because it relies on census data, which did not count most Native American populations in earlier years.

The upcoming 2020 census may be flawed too, since some areas will likely be difficult to count. Any area with large numbers of the poor, minorities, immigrants and children is at higher risk of being undercounted in 2020, especially the rural Deep South, according to Tony Pugh of McClatchy Newspapers. An accurate count would be more difficult if the census adds a question about citizenship, possibly causing the country's three most populous states (California, Texas and Florida) to lose seven congressional seats.

GateHouse Media package on the downsides of living near wind farms up for Scripps Howard multimedia award

GateHouse Media photo by Lucille Sherman
A GateHouse Media Inc. package on wind farms is a finalist in the Scripps Howard Awards competition, in the Multimedia Journalism category. "In the Shadow of Wind Farms" is about the downsides of living near a wind turbine and features a neat choose-your-own-adventure introduction that puts you in the shoes of disgruntled homeowners.

During the six-month investigation, "reporters interviewed more than 70 families living near three dozen current or proposed wind farms. They also spoke to 10 state and local lawmakers, read hundreds of pages of public-service-commission records about wind projects, reviewed court filings in seven wind-related lawsuits and inspected lease agreements from at least eight wind farms," Emily Le Coz and Lucille Sherman report.

The other two finalists in the Multimedia Journalism category are "Why Cops Shoot" by the Tampa Bay Times and "Sin Luz: Life Without Power" by The Washington Post. All Scripps Howard winners will be announced Tuesday, March 6 at 2 p.m.

Bristol Herald Courier package on opioid-addicted babies in Virginia and Tennessee up for Scripps Howard award

The Bristol Herald Courier is getting some well-deserved attention for its comprehensive news package "Addicted at Birth," about the effects of the opioid epidemic on its youngest victims. The package, up for a Community Journalism award in the Scripps Howard Awards, features stories, a glossary and Q&A sheet, photo galleries, videos, a word cloud, podcasts, charts and statistics.

Herald Courier City Editor Susan Cameron writes that she became interested in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome four years ago because of comments by Tennessee's Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus in an article she edited. She was "startled" when Staubus said northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia have some of the highest rates in the nation for infants born addicted to opioids. Since then, the Herald Courier has done dozens of stories about NAS, often interviewing Staubus, and in February he spoke to the paper's staff as they began researching the Addicted at Birth series. Check out the package here.

Every employee in the newsroom had a hand in the package, Cameron wrote: "Over the last seven months, the news team delved into every angle of the heartbreaking plight of these babies. Dozens of people were interviewed and much time was spent compiling and analyzing the numbers. The writers, photographers and editors spent hundreds of hours on the nearly 30 stories, compelling photographs, graphics, video and searchable databases."

The other two finalists in the Community Journalism category are "Home Sick" by the Capital News Service in College Park, Md., and "Shadow Land: How Rape Stays Hidden in Oklahoma" by The Frontier, an online startup in Tulsa. Scripps Howard winners will be announced on March 6 at 2 p.m.

Black Panther film's fictional Wakanda has lessons for Appalachia, Roanoke Times editorial says

A Roanoke Times editorial takes a whimsical turn, saying that the fictional Wakanda in the hit film "Black Panther" has some lessons for Appalachia. It's not that far-fetched a comparison: Wakanda is a tiny country whose wealth comes from minerals. Though Appalachia has no "vibranium," it does have coal, oil and natural gas, which leads the Times' editorial board to ponder: Can an economy based on resource extraction really become wealthy? Can an isolationist nation really become wealthy?

To the first question, the editorial notes that coal mining has historically enriched a wealthy few, while the miners were among the poorest in the country. "The fictional Wakanda has somehow created a resource extraction economy that re-invests its wealth in its own people. With the demise of coal, it’s too late for Appalachia to do that. Instead, the great challenge for the region now is to build a new economy that generates wealth here, not someplace else," the editorial board writes.

As for isolationism, the Times editorial board remains skeptical that any country would have everything it needs to build a society without trade. "That’s also the danger of Donald Trump’s isolationist trade policies," they write. "By withdrawing from the TransPacific Partnership, Trump basically made it harder for American businesses to profit from future growth in Asia. China is more than happy to step into that void."

Two things the board liked about Wakanda, and hopes Appalachia can replicate, are its focus on education and gender equality. Education matters because the biggest indicator of economic success is in the skill level of the population. And, it notes, getting girls involved in STEM fields is important because "you can’t build a modern economy with only half the population."