Friday, July 27, 2018

Concert Saturday in Annapolis will benefit the Capital Gazette Fund and first repsonders

The Timberjay, weekly in northern Minn., covers economic, environmental, and political issues with depth and tenacity

Boundary Waters Canoe Area; blue dots mark entry points
(Map from Boundary Waters Outfitters, Ely, Minn.)
The Timberjay, a weekly newspaper based in Tower, Minn., has long been known in rural-journalism circles as one of the best. This week it got written up by Stephanie Pearson of Columbia Journalism Review, the news peg being its coverage of "a controversial sulfide-ore copper-nickel mine near the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness" and President Trump's effort to oust a Democrat who represents the Iron Range in the U.S. House.

"The New York Times Magazine covered the increasingly polarizing issue last October," Pearson writes, "but no publication has covered it with the depth or tenacity of The Timberjay. While national publications tend to flare emotions by focusing on the 'us vs. them mentality' of the Iron Range, Helmberger drills down on the facts of the increasingly unethical federal process and the economic and environmental realities of what the new mine may bring."

Helmberger in his office (Photo by Stephanie Pearson)
Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Co., a canoe outfitter and retailer in Ely, nine miles from the the proposed mine site, told Pearson, “Marshall is one of the best reporters in Minnesota. His editorials are extremely well-written and influential, but he manages to remain objective and keep his personal views out of his reporting.” For example, Helmberger questioned a study done for Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness about the risks of mining, saying it was too broad.

Still, "Those in favor of the new mine—generally second-, third- and fourth-generation Iron Rangers whose fathers and grandfathers have worked in the mines—make their opinions about the paper known on The Timberjay’s Facebook page," Pearson reports. One said, “Timberjay supports worn out zealot-held beliefs, not science, engineering, the tax bases and quality of life for Iron Rangers. Just because you want the Range to go back to the Stone Age to somehow protect a declining-use Boundary Waters, doesn’t mean we have to support you!”

St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavinam a former miner who backs the project, gives Helmberger his due, telling Pearson: “I think Marshall has one of the finest weekly newspapers in Minnesota. While we agree on many issues such as fair taxes, school funding, helping the needy etc., we aren’t always on the same page when it comes to some environmental issues. However, I will give credit where it’s due, Marshall does his research and for a small weekly, he puts out a damn good paper, even when he’s wrong.”

Pearson recounts Helmberger's 30 years of journalism in the area, including his five-year investigation of a contractor on a school reconstruction project. His lawsuit for records failed at the state Supreme Court, but the legislature passed "the Timberjay bill," giving him and others the right to such information. But Helmberger knows what a community paper must also do: "I spend more time writing up high school sports than I do investigative pieces," he told Pearson. "That stuff that wins awards, most of our readers don’t really care about it."

Strip mining in Central Appalachia uses more land to get less coal as thicker seams are mined out

Satellite images from 1985 to 2015 show spread of surface mining across Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia (Wise County, Virginia, is at lower right). Most, but not all, disturbed areas are coal mines. (Map by Christian Thomas, SkyTruth)
Surface mining in Central Appalachia needs more land to produce less coal than in years past, as illustrated a study from Duke University featuring a new interactive mapping tool by SkyTruth, a nonprofit specializing in satellite imagery. The apparent reason is that available coal seams are getting thinner as thicker ones are mined out; mines have moved as much as 20 tons of rock and dirt to get a ton of coal; the ratio was once in the lower single digits.

"Researchers estimate that between 1985 and 2015, an average of 21,000 acres was converted to bare earth and rubble in central Appalachia each year -- an area about half the size of Washington, D.C.," says a report on the study. (Federal law requires the mined area to be reclaimed.) "This analysis places the total estimate since the 1970s at about 1.5 million acres. "That is an area 18 percent larger than the state of Delaware, and only 3 percent smaller than Everglades National Park," said first author Andrew Pericak, who conducted the research in the lab of biology professor Emily Bernhardt at Duke. Read more here.

Feds scrap policy for mining and drilling cleanup costs

This week the Bureau of Land Management announced that it will scrap a longstanding policy that requires drillers and miners to pay to offset damage caused by their activities on federally owned lands. "A new memorandum published Tuesday by BLM, a division of the Interior Department that manages 245 million acres of land or about one-tenth of the nation's landmass, seeks to strike the practice entirely," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post.

"Except where the law specifically requires, the BLM must not require compensatory mitigation from public land users," the memo reads. "While the BLM, under limited circumstances, will consider voluntary proposals for compensatory mitigation, the BLM will not accept any monetary payment to mitigate the impacts of a proposed action." The memo also says that the BLM should not authorize any activity that will cause "unnecessary or undue degredation."

Grandoni reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke criticized the practice of compensatory mitigation in a June speech for the Western Governors Association, saying "Some people would call it extortion . . . I call it un-American."

Census of Agriculture ends Tuesday, July 31

If you haven't responded to the latest Census of Agriculture, now's the time, since the National Agricultural Statistics Service ends all data collection on July 31. Anyone who received the questionnaire is required by law to respond; you can do that by calling 1-888-424-7828, or by completing the form online at

The agriculture census is conducted once every five years and is the only comprehensive source of agricultural data for every state and county in the U.S. The data gathered will influence lawmakers' decisions about farm policy, disaster relief, insurance and loan programs, infrastructure improvements and agribusiness setup, says NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer.

Data from the Census of Agriculture is scheduled to be released in February 2019.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump’s farm bailout to offset trade-war impacts doesn't set well with some Republican lawmakers

President Trump’s $12 billion plan to help farmers hurt by the trade war with China is getting a chilly reception from many congressional Republicans.

The backlash has “raised new questions about how much more typically pro-Trump lawmakers will abide,” Tory Newmyer writes for The Washington Post. “Most have spent months dodging the issue as the president moved to rip up the party’s once-bedrock commitment to freer trade. President Trump appears intent on testing their breaking point. He's ramping up confrontations with the European Union, China and others even as the pain of counter-punching tariffs starts to bite in critical swing states and beyond.”

According to Everett Burgess of Politico, Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., said “Taxpayers are going to be asked to initial checks to farmers in lieu of having a trade policy that actually opens and expands more markets. There isn’t anything about this that anybody should like.” Read more here.

Bipartisan bill tackles national parks’ maintenance backlog

“House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., on Wednesday introduced legislation to earmark some $5.2 billion over five years to fix aging roads, trails and other basic needs at national parks and wildlife refuges that have been piling up for decades,” Thomas Burr reports for The Salt Lake Tribune.

The parks have an almost $12 billion maintenance backlog because of chronic underfunding of the National Park Service. The House bill and its Senate counterpart aim to repair sewer systems, bridges, paths and other structures at 400 national parks via royalties from gas and oil extracted on public lands. Repairs would also be made at Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.

“Our parks are national treasures. Let’s start treating them that way,” Bishop said in introducing the legislation, Burr reports.

How 5G may widen the urban-rural digital divide

Major wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon say that new fifth-generation wireless networks will deliver gigabit speeds—up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE networks. But this new service could widen the already significant digital gap between rural and urban households.

“According to FCC data, 31 percent of rural residents don't have fixed broadband service, compared to 2 percent of city residents. Despite the hype around 5G, there's still little financial incentive for the major telecom firms to spend the billions of dollars necessary to serve rural communities, experts say,” Kim Hart reports for Axios.

The infrastructure for 5G is more expensive to install: the high-frequency airwaves capable of delivering such speeds can only travel a few hundred feet at best, so hundreds of thousands of cell towers could be needed to bring the service to far-flung areas.

“Gigabit-level speeds also require antennas to link back to an immense amount of fiber in the ground,” Hart reports. “Digging hundreds of miles of trenches for fiber-optic cables alongside long country roads already makes it tough to get basic broadband connections to remote areas. About 14 million rural Americans lack mobile LTE broadband at download speeds of 10 megabits per second, per FCC data.

However, Sherif Hanna, director of product marketing at Qualcomm, told Hart that real-time speed differences between rural and urban areas may not be so dramatic because rural cell towers are less crowded with digital traffic. And Steven Steele, CEO of Peoples Telecom, which has 3,000 wireless customers in eastern Texas, told Hart he is optimistic that 5G equipment will become cheaper as more it becomes more common, and therefore more affordable for smaller providers like his company, especially in small towns where homes are clustered near each other. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Weekly editors are asked to write about communities having enough people to perform necessary civic duties

In many rural communities there is a growing shortage of young people to perform the collective civic duties that make a community work: civic clubs, government boards, volunteer fire departments and other emergency services. Rural journalists, if you have noticed this trend in your community and haven't written about it -- or have, and think you need to again -- here's a prompt from Brian Wilson, news editor of The Star News in Medford, Wis., and Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Wilson, left, "suggested that we devote either the Fall or Winter issue of Grassroots Editor to the topic of service and leadership for the next generation," Stebbins told ISWNE members today. "His premise: As part of a generational shift, rural communities are not seeing younger people step up to participate in service organizations (Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.), which is leaving a leadership gap. Examples include longtime community organizations and events disappearing, seats on local boards and councils going unfilled, and a decline in civic ownership."

Wilson, a winner of ISWNE's Golden Dozen award for editorial writing, asks, “Basically, who is going to run the Kiwanis Club popcorn stand when Bob gets too old to stand there for 10 hours at the 4th of July or who is going to stand up and take a place on a local town council?”

Stebbins urges rural journalists to "write a column or editorial addressing the issue as it applies to your own community and offering a possible solution" and email it to him by Sept. 7. His invitation was originally to ISWNE members, but at our request he has broadened it to include readers of The Rural Blog. We'll excerpt and link to some of the best.

Newsprint tariffs' biggest hit is on small and independent papers, striking at heart of their main competitive advantage

The recent tariffs on newsprint may be the most existential threat ever faced by some newspapers. Printing is usually second only to personnel in newspaper costs, and the tariffs on Canadian newsprint have increased printing costs as much as 30 percent, with independent newspapers taking the biggest hit, "Newsonomics" columnist Ken Doctor writes for Nieman Journalism Lab.

More papers are printing on fewer days, and even more are talking about it. “If these tariffs are removed, you’re not going back to seven days,” for dailies, Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the News Media Alliance, the dailies' main lobby, told Doctor.

Some are largely abandoning print. In London, Ohio, between Columbus and Springfield, The Madison Press, owned by AIM Media, stopped printing daily and went digital, while boosting its total-market-coverage weekly. the Papers are also losing revenue because the tariffs have made inserts more expensive for advertisers to print, said Tonda Rush, public policy director of the National Newspaper Association, which lobbies for weeklies and small dailies.

Ken Doctor
Independents and smaller chains are at a disadvantage, Doctor writes, because they have no partial ownership in newsprint companies and shorter-term newsprint deals. And for very small weeklies, with little staff, the printing bill is relatively larger, leaving less room to adjust.

The tariffs also strike at the heart of smaller newspapers' main competitive advantage. Weeklies and small dailies have been the healthiest part of the traditional news business, partly because their readers remain loyal to print, which returns much more revenue than digital. "Newsprint itself is still what makes newspaper companies possible," Doctor writes. "For most companies, more than 70 percent of all revenues in 2018 still remain print-based, with too many companies still seeing only 15 to 20 percent in digital revenue." That's for dailies; weeklies' numbers are generally lower.

Doctor asks, "Are these dailies much more ready in 2018 than they were in 2012 to 'go digital?' Can they transform their businesses and still keep any semblance of sufficient news-producing capacity in place?" If not, he writes, the tariffs could be a "black swan" event like those described by Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan: "causing, exacerbating, or proliferating great change," especially among "those individuals or companies already ailing," Taleb wrote.

Newspapers are fighting the tariffs in Congress and at the Commerce Department and its International Trade Commission, but appeals either way mean “You got two years of litigation,” Boyle told Doctor, “You’re going to see more newspapers cut pages. They’re going to cut days of delivery. They’re going to lay people off.”

Doctor looks at the broader landscape: "In an era when the foundations of democracy and press meet daily new challenges in the homeland, we may encounter one of the hallmarks of non-democracies — a scarcity of the very stuff that newspaper printing depends upon. Here, even as a president assails the press nationally as the enemy of the people, and as Congress members now use the same mantra against publications like the Fresno Bee, that’s just collateral damage. Yet, it’s damage nonetheless, with the same impact of such newsprint-restricting moves in Russia and Turkey: less newsprint, less news, fewer journalists. Publishers now find themselves even more boxed in than they were six months ago. What will that prompt? More selling by independent publishers, for sure."

FCC map may not show how fast your broadband really is; here's a way to check it out and expand knowledge

Just how fast is the broadband service in your rural area? It may not be as fast as the new broadband map of the Federal Communications Commission, and there's a way you can test your connection and help generate a more reliable figure for your community, The Daily Yonder reports.

The FCC's new map "relies on the self-reported data of Internet service providers," write Brian Whitacre, Sharon Strover and Colin Rhinesmith. The old map "was compiled by different entities in each state with only voluntary participation from providers. . . . Providers are required to detail all census blocks where their service is available, along with the speeds available (from eight possible tiers) and technology type." Census blocks contain 30 to 500 people; the U.S. has 11 million blocks.

That would seem to be an improvement over the old map, but the new one has been widely criticized, the writers note: "Citylab released a bruising critique that focused on the imprecision associated with the search-by-address function, the lack of pricing data, and the fact that new Internet providers are left out completely. Motherboard described numerous problems that users faced, including duplicative listings of providers and inaccurate descriptions of the speeds they can provide. A piece in The Daily Yonder worried that defining satellite as broadband was problematic for rural areas. And, a Slate article emphasized that the FCC map only includes fixed (not mobile) data, and that the map does not track actual speeds – only the maximum advertised speeds, which are not necessarily representative of what customers experience."

The last point is the focus of the latest Yonder piece, which says "The map’s listing of maximum advertised download speeds does not mesh with true, on-the-ground experiences for many rural areas. This was made clear to us as we conducted focus groups of people who took advantage of rural library hotspot lending programs (we visited 24 small communities in Kansas and Maine with such programs, and conducted focus groups in nine of those. Our research, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, examines the information and connectivity environment for rural areas of Maine and Kansas. The focus group participants commonly pointed out that only relatively slow speeds (less than 10 megabits per second) were available from their local provider, despite the FCC’s broadband map depicting the area as having access to speeds of 25 or even 50 Mbps."

There's a way for anyone to determine their actual broadband speed: the Measurement Lab of the Open Technology Institute. "This lab is a consortium of research, industry, and public-interest partners focused on providing verifiable Internet speed measurements," the authors explain. "Essentially, Internet consumers run speed tests through the lab’s website, and the data is compiled by city to paint a picture of 'true' speeds." The lab "allows tests from both mobile and fixed connections, but in our experience with rural locations the entries are dominated by the local fixed provider."
Part of table comparing speeds on FCC map with those found by Measurement Lab. Yonder article has entire table.
In most places, the lab shows the maximum speed as close to, or greatly exceeding, the speed reported to the FCC, but "These speeds are far from the typical experience for most users in these locations," the authors report. "It may be that the high-speed observation was via a dedicated network (such as a university or library) that is not available to residential customers." The Yonder notes, "Small towns and rural areas may lack representation in the open-source speed test. You may participate in the study here."

More about the authors: Whitacre is an economics professor at Oklahoma State University; Strover is a Regents Professor at the University of Texas, where she directs the Technology and Information Policy Institute; Rhinesmith is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College.

Two-day workshop in Washington will explore changes in use of antibiotics on food animals, and the ramifications

Antibiotic use in food-animal production and related issues will be the focus of a workshop Sept. 6 and 7 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service is organizing the workshop in collaboration with Farm Foundation.

"In the last two years, private companies and producers have been considering when and how antibiotics are used to satisfy consumer demand for products from food animals that have been raised with few or no antibiotics, as well as to comply with the new rules the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has implemented regarding antibiotic use in food animal production," notes a Farm Foundation press release. "This rapidly-changing landscape has also sparked discussion about how to incentive the development of new animal pharmaceutical products to which antibiotic resistance is less apt to develop. Often lacking in these discussions is information about the economic costs and benefits of such initiatives."

ERS Research Economist Stacy Sneeringer says, "In order to be able to make good policy and management decisions, public and private decision makers may benefit from information on the volume of antibiotics used, the costs of reducing antibiotic use and the demand for products produced with fewer antibiotics. But there are challenges surrounding confidentiality, costs and benefits of reducing antibiotic use, as well as in defining appropriate metrics."

The agenda is designed for academics, federal analysts, policymakers, non-profit representatives and industry stakeholders. Here is a tentative agenda. The workshop will include presentation of new research on the economic aspects of changing antibiotic use on U.S. farms, as well as information on collection of data on the sale and use of antibiotics in U.S. food animal production. Other topics to be addressed include: Changes in costs, practices and structures in the U.S. livestock sector and associated industries due to the recent FDA policy changes on antibiotic use in food animal production; consumer demand for products raised without antibiotics and the associated price premiums; challenges of supplying U.S. beef raised with fewer antibiotics; the potential applicability to animal pharma of incentive mechanisms used in human pharma; and analysis of ongoing efforts to collect data on antibiotic use in U.S. food animal production. 

The workshop is free, but registration is required by close of business on Aug. 30. For more information, call Sneeringer at 202-694-5504 or Mary Thompson at Farm Foundation, 630-601-4152.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

USDA announces $12 billion plan to help farmers hurt by trade war: cash, purchases of products, trade promotion

The Department of Agriculture has announced "a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war," The Washington Post reports, calling it "the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon." President Trump plans to talk about trade issues in a trip to Illinois and Iowa on Thursday. "The administration announced the package weeks earlier than initially planned," notes Chuck Abbott of "During a briefing, USDA officials said details would be released in the next couple of weeks."

The package includes payments to soybean, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and pork farmers, and purchase of fruits, nuts, rice, legume, beef, pork, and milk for charitable donation. Signups are expected to begin by Labor Day, "just as voters in some of the most heavily impacted states are preparing to cast votes in the midterm elections," the Post notes. "There are several key Senate races in farm-dependent states like Missouri, North Dakota, and Indiana this November, and the outcome of those races could determine who controls the chamber next year. . . . White House officials hope it will temporarily quiet some of the unease from farm groups, but the new plan could revive debates about taxpayer-funded bailouts and the degree to which Trump’s trade strategy is leading to unforeseen costs."

The package will also "provide funds to outside organizations to build overseas markets for U.S. food and ag exports," Abbott reports. Payments will depend on prices farmers get for their products. It will use USDA's existing Commodity Credit Corp. so it will not require approval by Congress, though the CCC has not been used to mitigate the impacts of trade disputes. "Some Republicans several months ago had warned against using the CCC as part of a trade-war related bailout, saying it could distort market forces and pay farmers for products they don’t produce," the Post reports. "And there was bipartisan criticism from Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday to what the White House was trying to do. At least two Republicans said the plan equated to a type of welfare program for farmers:" Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Billing issues with air ambulances explored by Rural Health News Service, which needs more support to continue

Logo for Lieberman's column
A few years ago the Nebraska Press Association, with the help of other state newspaper groups and some philanthropic donors, established the Rural Health News Service, a series of reports by Trudy Lieberman, a nationally outstanding health journalist, and other writers. Lieberman's latest column is about the abusive practices of air-ambulance services, which have capitalized on the willingness of governments and private insurance companies to pay for their runs and have meant financial ruin for patients when their insurance didn't cover the five-figure bills.

"The trouble regulating air ambulances stems from a 1978 law that deregulated the airlines," Leiberman writes. "Under the Airline Deregulation Act, air ambulance operators are considered to be air carriers – like Delta and American - and the states have no power to regulate them. States have their hands tied and cannot regulate rates or their billing and collection practices."

The Rural Health News Service is a real service for people living in rural America, but it needs help from state newspaper associations and their member newspapers to continue, because its philanthropic funding is running out. For more information, contact Dennis Berens at

Appalachian health researchers name 42 'bright spot' counties, publish case studies on 10, data for all 420

This map spotlights the 10 counties in the case studies. For all the 42 counties identified as "bright spots," see below.
Appalachia's major problems include poor health, but in the 420-county region there are counties that have better health than you might expect, given their socioeconomic status. The Appalachian Regional Commission issued a study Tuesday that points out 42 "bright spots," 10 of them with case studies, that may suggest strategies for others in the region.

The 10 counties are Hale, in Alabama; McCreary and Wayne in Kentucky; Noxubee in Mississippi; Tioga in New York; Madison in North Carolina; Potter in Pennsylvania; Sequatchie in Tennessee; and Grant and Wirt, in West Virginia.

The "bright spots" range from low rates of death from strokes in the Kentucky counties, to low rates of congestive-obstructive pulmonary disease in the far-Southern counties (both part of the Black Belt region, originally named for its soil but now for its population). All 10 case-study counties "performed better than expected on premature mortality, injury mortality, and the prevalence of depression in Medicare patients," the report says. Only four did better than expected on diabetes.

Researchers at PDA Inc., a health management consultancy in Raleigh, N.C., and the University of North Carolina analyzed 19 health indicators in the 420 counties, identified 42 top performers, and chose 10 of the 42 (two from each of official Appalachia's five sub-regions) for in-depth analysis, which included discussions with eight local journalists, who are named in the report. The 10 case studies are at Data for all 420 Appalachian counties are at The data can be mapped at

While there are vast differences among the counties, the researchers identified common threads in the 'bright spots:" Community leaders engaged in health initiatives, collaboration by public, private and nonprofit sectors; a tradition of sharing resources; local providers committed to public health; active communities of faith; and grassroots initiatives to combat substance abuse, which is especially prevalent in the region.

"This research offers evidence that local communities, even with modest resources, can influence in a positive way the health and well-being of their citizens," ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas said in a press release. "All the counties profiled in this research share a sense of strength and resiliency. They offer concrete examples for other communities that may be encouraged to similarly leverage their own available assets to advance health and quality of life."

Funding for the study also came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Town rallies to help weekly's staff get the paper out after fire

Publisher Phillip Camp thanks Production Manager Lisa Wright.
(Photo by Erin Clark, The Boston Globe)
"In the smoky chaos of the fire that devastated the offices of the Vermont Standard on Monday [July 16], two things quickly became apparent: This historic town would rally around its newspaper, and the paper would go to press this week, as it had each week for 165 years," reports Amelia Nierenberg of The Boston Globe. "As firefighters fought the blaze, editors asked them if they could save just two computers — the main server and the graphics computer. They could make do with just those. They got all 12. Residents started a relay . . . handing them down the line to a safe location."

The Woodstock library gave the staff of the weekly (Vermont's oldest), the workspace to put together last week's edition, which was published on Friday instead of the usual Wednesday. "At a time when many newspapers are struggling to survive, Woodstock’s support of the Standard was a reminder that community papers in some areas remain viable," Clark writes. "The Standard distributes over 5,000 copies every week, and says that over half of all households in the surrounding area subscribe."

The fire, which started in an adjoining building, is under investigation. Publisher Phillip Camp told Nierenberg that to his knowledge, the paper missed its deadline only once before, in 2011, when the remnants of Hurricane Irene put six feet of water into its building. "Such a desire to soldier on, come what may, resonates in the picturesque town in the middle of Vermont, with its classic village green, gracious inns, and covered bridges," Nierenberg writes, quoting Mary Reilly, who worked at Woodstock Town Hall for more than 20 years: “You can count on Phil Camp to get that paper out. You can count on the Vermont Standard.”

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rising J-student passes up big cities to intern at hometown paper: 'You feel like you need to serve your local community'

Nash Weiss (Journal Sentinel photo by Bill Glauber)
Nash Weiss, 21-year-old journalism student, "probably could have had his pick of internships after recently completing one with NBC-TV," Bill Glauber writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. So why is he editing his hometown's weekly newspaper?

"You feel like you need to serve your local community," Weiss told Glauber in the office of the Mondovi Herald-News, circulation 3,000. "I grew up here, I care about the community, I always will. This is the way I could give back."

The paper's editor, Beth Kraft, is on maternity leave for the summer. That left a big hole, because there are two other employees, ad salesman Patrick Milliren and 49-year-employee Bobbi Tiegs, a graphic designer, typesetter and copy reader.

Map adapted from Sperling's Best Places
Weiss is a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's doing the usual summer stories about fairs and other events, "but he's also written some fascinating human interest stories, including one on a local couple reunited with the son they gave up for adoption 45 years ago," Glauber reports. "Weiss admired the couple's willingness to come forward, especially in such small a community."

"It's sometimes an ethical dilemma being with a small-town newspaper," he told Glauber, who notes, "Weiss' first cousin is Mondovi's mayor. He's also related to the previous mayor."

"Tiegs has known Weiss his whole life and is proud he returned home," Glauber writes. "As they sat and talked one day, Tiegs turned to Weiss and told him: 'Nash, you have really come in and stepped up.'"

Dicamba is still damaging soybeans, and weed scientist says Monsanto still hasn't solved its volatility problem

Dicamba damage (Photo by Gil Gullickson)
New rules on the herbicide dicamba have fallen short. "University weed scientists estimate at least 1.2 percent of U.S. soybean plantings have been damaged accidentally by the weedkiller," Chuck Abbott reports for "Damage was highest in Illinois, the No. 1 soybean-growing state, where 500,000 acres of the U.S. total of 1.1 million damaged acres are located. Arkansas was second with 300,000 damaged acres. By comparison, an estimated 2.5 million acres of soy damage were reported at this point in 2017." Several states enacted regulations limiting use of dicamba to certified applicators and banning it after certain dates and above certain wind speeds.

Dr. Kevin Bradley of the University of Missouri issued an estimate based on cases under investigation by state agriculture agencies and estimates from university weed scientists. "Hopefully everyone on all sides of this issue can appreciate that much more happens than what actually gets turned into the state Departments of Agriculture; that is the reason for the map of estimates," he writes.

University of Missouri maps; click on either for larger version
The central issue with dicamba, made by Monsanto Co., appears to be that it is too volatile: it turns into a powder and drifts onto crops that have not been genetically modified to be resistant to it. Last year, when scientists tested a new "low-volatility" version of dicamba, they found that damage to nearby crops came from such powwder, not windblown droplets from spraying,

Bradley writes, "Can you look at the scale and the magnitude of the problem on these maps and really believe that all of this can collectively be explained by some combination of physical drift, sprayer error, failure to follow guidelines, temperature inversions, generic dicamba usage, contaminated herbicides, and improper sprayer clean out, but that volatility is not also a factor?"

Black lung hits a 25-year high in Central Appalachia

NPR chart by Vanessa Qian
One in five coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia who have worked at least 25 years has black-lung disease, according to a new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That’s the highest reported rate in a quarter-century.

"We can think of no other industry or workplace in the United States in which this would be considered acceptable," NIOSH epidemiologist Cara Halldin and her colleagues wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.

“The study's researchers reviewed nearly 50 years of coal miner X-rays taken as part of a national NIOSH effort to identify disease among working coal miners. They compared the last five years of X-rays with those taken earlier,” Howard Berkes reports for NPR. “In addition to the heightened rates of disease, the study found that the most severe form of disease – progressive massive fibrosis – now occurs in 5 percent of veteran miners in the region, the highest rate ever recorded.”

A former federal mine-safety regulator, Celeste Monforton of Texas State University, told Berkes that the study proved that underground-mine regulations and their enforcement are not rigorous enough. A spokesperson for the National Mining Association called the study "troubling" but noted that stricter dust-exposure standards were enacted only two years ago by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Some mine operators have been accused of ducking those rules

Publisher of Marshalltown, Iowa, Times-Republican tells readers how it dealt with 'catastrophic' tornado Thursday

An aerial photo by the T-R's Garry Brandenburg shows the damage to Marshalltown's business district.
Abigail Pelzer
When Marshalltown, Iowa, was alerted by a tornado warning Thursday afternoon, staffers of the daily Times-Republican took shelter in the basement, then "We heard it and we all knew it was going to be bad," Publisher Abigail Pelzer writes.

When the storm had passed and she went to the street, "The first wave of devastation hit us square in the face. Then I knew I had to get our news editor Emily Barske out of the basement and onto the streets with me. I kept drawing my hand close to my chest, seeking some sort of security from the shock of each passing step. We walked, gasped and shot photos."

The paper wanted to get the news out, but there was a higher priority, Pelzer writes: "Family comes first. It was vital to make sure our T-R family was safe and out of danger. Nearly all of our employees live in Marshalltown, own homes here, raise their families here. Nothing was more important that knowing, despite car damage, downed limbs and absent roofs, that they were OK. Then we did what we do best. We got boots on the ground and began collecting stories and photos. While posting to social media with spotty cell phone connections, we put a plan together to get out a newspaper. Without power, we relocated to the Tama News-Herald office, which houses our weekly papers. We mobilized our reporters and asked for help from our readers. We sought help from our colleagues in Webster City, who waited patiently to print this edition of the T-R. Our gracious friends in the newsroom at The Messenger in Fort Dodge are is sending two of their best to help us with coverage on Friday. Our former assistant copy editor, Pam Rodgers Pratt, joined us from Newton to work well into the night designing pages for us. Media friends from across the state have reached out and cheered us on. Without the generosity of our colleagues, friends and families we couldn’t have got work done, we couldn’t have printed a paper today."

The T-R's main online headline read, "Marshalltown devastated by catastrophic tornado." Here's the story. The T-R and the Messenger are owned by Ogden Newspapers.

Deadline is today to apply for ‘What’s Next in Food and Agriculture’ journalism training program Sept. 23-26 in KC

Today is the deadline to apply to the National Press Foundation for participation in its "What’s Next in Food and Agriculture" training program Sept. 23-26 in Kansas City.

"Journalists will hear from experts on the ways food is grown, marketed, sold and, unfortunately, often wasted. They will learn about labeling, growing methods, GMOs, pesticide and herbicide use, as well as organic farming. The program includes field trips to labs and farms," the NPF says. "The all-expenses-paid fellowship covers airfare, ground transportation, hotel costs and most meals. NPF offers this professional development opportunity for journalists to enhance skills, increase knowledge and recharge their reporting on one of today’s most critical issues. This program is for U.S.-based journalists only.” Click here for more information or to apply.