Saturday, August 11, 2018

Man who won Pulitzer with photo on his last day with Charlottesville paper says he thinks about it every day

The photograph that won Ryan Kelly of The Daily Progress the Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography
One year ago today, Ryan Kelly took a picture that would win him the Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, an image of a white nationalist's car slamming into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va, killing one. But he took it on last day with The Daily Progress, where he "loved shooting local news and sports," Steve Hendrix reports for The Washington Post. "But after four years, he was burned out. The long hours and low pay at a shrinking paper had become too hard on his young marriage; the growing hostility to journalists had worn on his psyche."

Hendrix writes of the photo, "In that microsecond of frozen mayhem, human bodies hang above a car in poses of almost balletic violence, a killing force portrayed as chilling stillness. Glasses and cellphones are suspended midair, bottles spout contrails of water, shoes are flung from splaying legs. It's a photograph both revelatory and cryptic. The image appears to offer a wrenching glimpse of Heather Heyer's last moments as she was killed. But it's notable for what it hides — others being injured behind the flying bodies. To this day, Kelly knows little about most of the people in the picture, even those captured upside down, their lives in peril. He doesn't know their names or how badly they were injured."

"It's still hard to look at," Kelly told Hendrix. "So much is contained in that moment." Kelly is now the social-media manger for a craft brewery. The story is not just about him, but about Heyer's mother and others affected by the incident. But it ends with Hendrix reporting that the Pulitzer "leaves him both proud and pensive." Kelly told him, “I’ve also been very aware that it came at the expense of the death of Heather Heyer, of dozens of other people being injured, of Charlottesville being torn apart. I think about that every day.”

Ryan Kelly(Washington Post Photo by Julia Rendleman)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Even if you're not in a 'news desert,' that doesn't mean the information needs of your community are being met: study

With daily newspapers shrinking their circulation areas, going less than daily, or even (very rarely) going out of business, there's been a lot of talk in news and journalism-school circles about "news deserts," places (usually defined by county) without a daily local news outlet. Just where they are is still a subject for debate. But a well-documented study shows that even if you're not in a news desert, it's likely that your community's information needs aren't being met.

“Journalistic output is falling very short of serving the important information needs of many communities in America,” Phillip Napoli says in a Duke University news release. He and Matthew Weber of the University of Minnesota and two research assitants took a random sample of 100 cities with populations between 20,000 and 300,000. Twenty cities "received no local news stories in the seven days that we analyzed," Napoli reports in Columbia Journalism Review. "Twelve communities received no original stories during this time period; and eight received no stories addressing a critical information need," as determined by the researchers.

The four looked at more than 16,000 news stories, and coordinated their analysis of them; "44 percent of the stories were original; only 17 percent were local; and 56 percent addressed what we call a critical information need—they provided hard news or information in the public interest, as opposed to soft news like celebrity gossip," Napoli writes. "When we apply all three criteria to the stories we gathered, we find that, on average, only about 11 percent of the stories are local, original, and address a critical information need." You can read the full study here.

What sort of communities have the most robust journalism? Big ones, of course, but when the researchers controlled for size, they found that "Communities that are further from a large media market see more stories overall, and more stories addressing a critical information need," Napoli writes. "This suggests that, to some extent, large-market journalism can flow into surrounding communities and undermine local journalism." It's probably more than that; local papers near larger towns often have trouble competing for circulation with larger papers, and are short of personnel.

The researchers did their work online, with the help of the Internet Archive, which created a custom database with many local news outlets that it hadn't archived before. That means other researchers, or anyone curious about the performance of local news outlets, has a greater trove of information.

Stand up for journalism with newspapers next week

Newspapers across the country are joining an effort by state press associations to encourage newspapers to fight back against President Trump's attacks on journalists as the "enemy of the American people" and purveyors of "fake news."

The Boston Globe, which started the effort, "proposes to publish an editorial on or as close as possible to Thursday, Aug. 16, on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date," says the News Media Alliance, a lobbying group, and Michelle Rea, president of the Newspaper Association Managers and executive director of the New York Press Association. "Publications, whatever their politics, could make a powerful statement by standing together in the common defense of their profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people."

NMA says, "The impact of Trump's assault on journalism looks different in Boise than it does in Boston. Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming. A free and independent press is one of the most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution. Join the Globe to help make sure it stays so. Please email Marjorie Pritchard, deputy editorial page editor at the Globe, at if you'll be participating."

Need some help, or inspiration? The NYPA has provided a draft editorial, written by Judy Patrick, its vice president for editorial development, that can be republished with attribution, or used as a guide to writing your own your editorial. Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association and a former local publisher, has a 750-word editorial that begins "Enough already."

During a panel discussion at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications convention in Washington this week, Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and publisher of The Rural Blog, said this:
We should reassure students about the work of journalism. Take a lesson from Leonard Pitts, the Miami Herald columnist who spoke here yesterday and accepted an award from the Critical and Cultural Studies Division. He wore his L.A. Lakers hat and talked about how the Lakers and the news media are hated, and then made his point: “Nobody hates you unless you’re having an impact.”

He reminded us what journalists do: “You upset the status quo, you cause things to change . . . Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world if you’re in the business of news.” Later, he said, “Our mission statement requires us to find the truth and tell it. But we operate in a nation where increasingly, lies not just tolerated, but embraced. And ask yourself, why shouldn’t such people hate us? If lies are your meat, if lies are your business, then people whose business is truth are by definition your natural enemies.”

And what do we tell them about the president? That he’s a politician running a daily campaign to win the news cycle, and he thinks he has to keep saying “fake news.” And we need to say anyone who uses that term as a habit is saying the news is fake, and that is a falsehood. Then we also need to remind them that these circumstances make it all the more important that what we report is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The 75-minute panel discussion was telecast and recorded by C-SPAN. To view it, click here.

Newsroom safety is an issue, but being accessible helps make you more accountable, and perhaps more accurate

By Al Cross, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

Part of remarks at "Journalists in the Hot Seat: Staying safe in a hostile political climate," a panel discussion at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications convention Aug. 9. To view the discussion on C-SPAN, click here.

This panel was scheduled before the recent mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where a man upset with the newspaper’s coverage of his court case walked into the newsroom and shot five people to death. I once worked in newsrooms much like the Capital Gazette’s, where anyone coming in the door could spot you. In Monticello, Kentucky, where I was running the second paper in a one-paper town, my desk was right next to the front door; I was from the next town, Albany, and I wanted to meet as many people as I could.

In community journalism, you’ve got to be part of the community or you won’t succeed. Community journalism is relationship journalism; you have a closer and more continuing relationship with your subjects, your sources and your audience. So it’s good to be accessible.

In Russellville, Kentucky, where I worked for the great weekly publisher Al Smith, he liked to tell the story about how a farmer walked into his office to complain about his editorials for school consolidation, which would raise property taxes. As the farmer talked to him, Al turned to his typewriter and pecked out what the man was saying. He whipped the paper out, handed it to him and said, “You just wrote a letter to the editor. Read it, sign it and we’ll put it in the paper.”

My friend Jock Lauterer at UNC-Chapel Hill, who has also run community papers, did a study that confirmed what he suspected – that the smaller the newspaper, the more accessible its staff was to the public. The good thing about being accessible is that it makes you more accountable. And when you’re more accountable, that tends to make you more accurate. Jock calls those the Three As of community journalism. It’s one of the many community-journalism principles that work in all kinds of journalism; you’ve got to be engaged with your audience, for journalistic reasons and for business reasons.

That being said, the Capital Gazette shooting, in a town of 40,000, shows how vulnerable journalists can be – not just in newsrooms in small towns, but on the street in big towns. Journalists and their news outlets deal with just about everything and every walk of life, and that makes them targets for people like the Capital Gazette shooter.

In the wake of the shooting, one of the largest owners of community papers, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., asked their papers to have local law enforcement come in and give a training seminar for employees on what to do in such a situation. One police officer told one newsroom in Kentucky, “You’ve got to have it ingrained in your head what’s best for you at all times. Know your doors and exits. You have to know when to run, hide and fight.”

The American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Managing Editors put out a list of best newsroom safety practices, from planning to prevention to response to the aftermath.
To download it, click here.

Sinclair's bid to become a big national voice is dead

Photo by Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg
The sale of Tribune Media TV stations, mostly in big cities, to Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is mostly in small markets and aspired to a stronger national voice for its conservative views, is dead. And Sinclair now faces a lawsuit from Tribune over its handling of the politically charged case.

The preliminary sale agreement "allowed either party the option to withdraw if the sale did not close by Aug 8," Forbes magazine reports. "The Federal Communications Commission had put the sale on hold last month, referring the proposal to review by an administrative court. Tribune executives were wary of the notoriously long wait time for such reviews and the FCC’s history of killing similar deals."

FCC rules required Sinclair to sell 21 of the Tribune stations, including those in Dallas, Houston and Chicago, but Sinclair planned to sell those stations "to related business entities for significantly reduced prices and allowed Sinclair to retain control of them," Forbes reports. "Tribune’s lawsuit alleges that Sinclair received numerous warnings to follow contract and sell the stations in 10 different markets, minimizing financial conflicts of interest, and consistently failed to comply." The suit says Sinclair was “unnecessarily aggressive” toward the Department of Justice, threatening legal action over the agency's anti-trust reviews.

Sinclair apparently thought it had friends in the White House, since it had struck a deal in 2016 with the Trump campaign for special access and broadcasts (a deal the Clinton campaign says it turned down). But last month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai sent the issue to an administrative law judge, "often viewed as a deal-killer," Margaret McGill reported for Politico. Pai, a Trump appointee, had been friendly to the deal, reviving a regulatory loophole that would have allowed Sinclair to duck federal limits on media ownership. Sinclair already has 173 TV stations, more than any other firm, and the 42 Tribune stations would have given it access to almost three-quarters of U.S. households.

Newsprint tariffs hurt newspapers across the country

"The Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on Canadian newsprint is hastening the demise of local newspapers across the country, forcing already-struggling publications to cut staff, reduce the number of days they print and, in at least one case, shutter entirely," Catie Edmondson and Jaclyn Peiser report for The New York Times.

Last week the Commerce Department ruled that it will continue imposing tariffs on Canadian newsprint, at a lower rate on most companies but higher on some. The U.S. International Trade Commission could overturn or alter Commerce's decision, but it's too late for at least one newspaper. The Jackson County Times-Journal in Ohio recently shut down, citing declining print readership and the tariffs.

Many newspapers have cut publication days, usually Mondays, and, according to a new study, newsprint prices will increase more than 30 percent within the next two years and costs for newspapers and printers will increase about half a billion dollars, the Times reports.

At The Blackshear Times, a rural weekly in southeast Georgia, "Tariffs have prompted a hiring freeze, and about 25 percent of its open positions remain unfilled. The paper serves a community of about 19,000 people with a weekly print circulation of about 3,700 and a total readership of 7,000," the Times reports. "The paper has seen a stark rise in printing costs of 20 to 25 percent," and has reduced its page count, "something readers have noticed and complained about." (The motto of the Times is "Liked by many, cussed by some, read by them all.")

The higher newsprint bill is “a whopping increase particularly for a small business that is already trying to combat decreased revenues and increased costs,” Publisher Robert Williams said. He said Blackshear is in a daily “news desert,” with no local TV station. Blackshear is in the Jacksonville, Fa., media market. "Residents rely on the paper to stay informed on Georgia politics and connected with their community, Williams told the Times. “There are no alternatives for The Blackshear Times in Blackshear, Ga.”

Southern Baptist Convention distances itself from the GOP

J.D. Greear, new president
of Southern Baptist Convention
Out of a mix of "pragmatism and principle," the Southern Baptist Convention is distancing itself from the Republican Party and making serious efforts to reach out to minorities and women. Without a fresh infusion of members, it fears that its future is in jeopardy:

"For more than a decade, the denomination has been experiencing precipitous decline by almost every metric. Baptisms are at a 70-year low, and Sunday attendance is at a 20-year low," Jonathan Merritt reports for The Atlantic. "Southern Baptist churches lost almost 80,000 members from 2016 to 2017 and they have hemorrhaged a whopping 1 million members since 2003. For years, Southern Baptists have criticized more liberal denominations for their declines, but their own trends are now running parallel. The next crop of leaders knows something must be done."

In the last 30 years, SBC leaders have purged moderate cultural and political viewpoints from the denomination and become a powerful ally to the Republican Party. But two leaders of that movement have been shunned because of recent scandals: several men accused Paul Pressler of sexually abusing them or soliciting them for sex, and Paige Patterson was dismissed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after being accused of not properly reporting rape allegations (more than 3,000 Southern Baptist women signed a petition calling for his resignation). Patterson was also criticized for encouraging abused women to submit to their violent husbands, Merritt reports.

Patterson's ouster signaled a sea change in the SBC, as its membership continued shifting to younger Southern Baptists who think differently about culture and politics than older members. With the backing of such young members, 45-year-old megachurch pastor J.D. Greear of North Carolina won 69 percent of the vote in June to become the convention's new president. In a campaign video, Greear called for a "new culture and a new posture" in the SBC, and promised to listen to, honor, and include in top leadership roles women and minorities, Merritt reports.

The convention made some strides in that direction at this year's meeting. "This included resolutions that condemned the abuse of women, affirmed the importance of women’s contributions to churches, and offered a confession that Baptists have often “wronged women, abused women, silenced women, objectified women," Merritt reports. "The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is the denomination’s public-policy arm, hosted a packed #metoo panel discussion. And several leaders publicly suggested that women must be included in top levels of leadership. Multiple prominent leaders even insinuated that it may be time to elect a woman as SBC president, a notion that would have been considered unthinkable, if not heretical, even a decade ago.

The convention took steps to increase minorities' role as well: the SBC pastors' meeting was led by an African American, and half its speakers were people of color. That could be a step toward political change. "This predominately white denomination knows that it must reach out to Baptists of color, but if it takes Baptists of color’s concerns seriously, it is going to have to change in other ways, including politically," says Bill Leonard, a professor of Baptist studies and church history at Wake Forest University.

It's unclear how such a change would play out. Though many Southern Baptists believe endorsing President Trump puts their moral credibility at risk, most are still politically and culturally conservative. But, "this shift away from a more culturally strident and politically partisan stance is significant," Merritt reports. "In Trump’s America, where the religious right wields outsized influence, the shifts among Southern Baptists could be a harbinger of broader change among evangelicals."

Head of online publishers' group says his members 'fill the gaps' in local news coverage of California wildfires

Four photos of the Mendocino wildfire by Elizabeth Larson, editor and publisher of the Lake County News.
The historic wildfires in California have spawned online news outlets to deliver information that "fill the gaps" in local news coverage, Matt DeRienzo, executive director of Local Independent Online Publishers, writes for the Poynter Institute.

The Mendocino
Voice "has been updating residents almost around the clock about shifting evacuation zones, services for the displaced and efforts to contain the fires since they broke out," DeRienzo reports. "A typical audience of about 15,000 people tuning in for news about local planning commission or school board meetings has swelled to more than 76,000 during the wildfire coverage."

In an adjoining county, Lake County News, Editor-Publisher Elizabeth Larson told DeRienzo,
"It's primarily my husband, John Jensen, and me. We're also evacuated from our home office in Lucerne, and are staying at a friend's home." To the southeast, Sierra News Online, near Yosemite National Park, "are providing crucial and exclusive wildfire coverage in their communities this week," DeRienzo writes. "Downstate, Berkeleyside and Santa Barbara’s Noozhawk provide journalistic and business model inspiration as longer-established online news sites that have achieved financial sustainability and added reporting resources over the years."
The Mendocino Voice was started two years ago by two former Willits News reporters, with support from a LION program "made possible with support from the Democracy Fund, that is helping local news sites figure out local advertising sales by pairing them with veteran local online news publishers who’ve been successful at it," DeRienzo reports.

DiRienzo writes hopefully, “There’s a framework in sight for replacing — and in some cases exceeding — the local journalism we’ve lost.”

Federal appeals court tells EPA to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

A three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency endangered public welfare by ignoring extensive evidence that a widely used pesticide is harmful to children, and ordered the agency to ban the sale of chlorpyrifos within 60 days.

"In March 2017, just a month after he was confirmed as the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt rejected a petition by the health and environmental groups to ban the pesticide," Eric Lipton reports for The New York Times. "He did so even though the agency’s own staff scientists had recommended that chlorpyrifos be removed from the market, based on health studies that had suggested it was harming children, particularly among farmworker families."

Chlorpyrifos is used in more than 50 crops, and its leading manufacturer DowDuPont, along with others, lobbied the EPA extensively to keep it legal. EPA spokesperson Michael Abboud said the agency will review the court's decision, mentioning that it had remaining questions about one of the studies cited to support the ban.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Rural telcos say Verizon lied about rural 4G LTE coverage

"Verizon 'grossly overstated' its 4G LTE coverage in government filings, potentially preventing smaller carriers from obtaining funding needed to expand coverage in underserved rural areas, according to the Rural Wireless Association, a trade group that represents rural carriers, Jon Brodkin reports for Ars Technica.

Last year the Federal Communications Commission required wireless carriers to file maps and data that showed their 4G LTE coverage, in order to help the FCC determine where to distribute up to $4.5 billion in funding over the next 10 years to rural areas that lack unsubsidized 4G service. In the RWA's filing with the FCC, the group claimed that, if Verizon said areas were covered that really weren't, its rural competitors wouldn't be able to get that funding, Brodkin reports.

Specifically, Verizon claims to cover almost all of the Oklahoma Panhandle, but the RWA says that's false. According to their investigation, not even half of Verizon's claimed LTE coverage area has 4G service. Verizon disputes RWA's methodology and says its map is accurate. The FCC has not yet said whether it will investigate RWA's claim.

Moody’s says $12 billion aid package is unlikely to help farmers in long term, may hurt high-export states

President Trump's $12 billion aid package, meant to help farmers hurt by the trade war with China, won't help agriculture in the long term and will likely hurt most in top export states such as Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota, according to a report from Moody's Investors Service.

"These states are most vulnerable to trade disputes, due to their high volumes of farm exports and extreme economic dependence on agriculture, according to the report. The four states specialize in pork, soybeans, beef and wheat—among the top exports to China," Dave Nyczepir reports for Route Fifty. "All four states also have aging, slow-growing populations that limit labor force growth into other sectors, though their strong credit profiles could help them weather short-term economic uncertainty, the report said." Read more here.

Rural editor: Why do Americans care about Thai boys in cave but not undocumented kids separated from parents?

When 12 Thai boys were trapped in a cave a few weeks ago, the news captured the world's attention.

"Why did we care so deeply? We didn't know them. We didn't know their names or their families. We didn't speak their language. We didn't really understand why they had entered that cave, or ventured so far inside. Most of us had never been to Thailand. Many of us still probably couldn't point to it on a map. And yet, there we were, trapped in a dark cave along with them," Editor-Puiblisher Laurie Ezzell Brown writes for The Canadian Record in Canadian, Texas. "During the long ordeal, we prayed for those children, wept for them, eagerly followed every report of the effort to find them--and then, to rescue them before the monsoon rains could seal their fates. We cheered the rescuers' bravery and cunning, and mourned the death of one diver who sacrificed his life to save them. Heroes, all."

But America's public outpouring of love for those Thai boys contrasts sharply with the nation's attitude toward immigrant children separated from their parents back in the U.S., Ezzell writes.

"We don't know these immigrant families. We don't know their names or where they come from, Most of us do not speak the same language. We don't really understand why they came here illegally, or what sacrifices they made to do so. We may never have visited their native country, and probably, if asked, could not pinpoint the hometowns they left on a map," Ezzell writes. "But if we try, we might be able to imagine what could cause us to make such a desperate decision. We can imagine leaving our homes, our loved ones, and all that is familiar, to embark on a difficult and dangerous journey."

Rural/urban political divide visible in Tuesday's elections

It's impossible to know whether the turnout in Tuesday's special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District has broader implications for the November midterm elections, but if so, Republicans could have reason to feel concerned.

The 12th comprises most of the northern Columbus suburbs in Franklin County, suburban/rural Delaware County and five rural counties. It has been deep red for more than 30 years and voted solidly for President Trump in 2016. But in Tuesday's election between Democrat Danny O'Connor and Republican Troy Balderson, suburban voters had a 42 percent turnout, while rural turnout ranged from 27 to 32 percent, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin write for The New York Times. The race is still too close to call but Balderson seems very likely to be declared the winner.

"This is an ominous sign for Republicans: The highest-income and best-educated elements of the electorate — those deeply uneasy with President Trump — are showing the most interest in voting," Burns and Martin write. "Defending a few dozen districts that are either more heavily urban or feature a similar demographic mix as Ohio’s 12th District, Republicans will need to find a way to win back suburbanites or better galvanize rural voters. If they do not, their House majority will slip away."

Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post digs a little deeper into the historic rural/urban political divide, writing that it's not a phenomenon limited to the modern age or the United States.

"Modern politics have been historically shaped by the tensions between the dynamism of cities and the relative stasis of the provinces, hidebound by feudalism and poverty. Town and country divisions — and the cultural enmities they foster — stretch back to antiquity," Tharoor writes. "But the inexorable urbanization of the world means that cities are, more than ever, the center of gravity in global politics, culture and the economy. In many democratic European societies that shift has bred marginalization and resentment."

Tharoor writes a detailed and fascinating historical analysis that's well worth your time. Read it here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Most farmers, but fewer than before, say they back Trump on trade; map shows China’s trade impact by House district

According to a poll released Monday, one in seven farmers who voted for President Trump would not vote for him today, mostly because of the escalating trade war with China. Though 60 percent of farmers overall still support him, that's down from 75 percent in 2016. And 40 percent of the 924 respondents to the Farm Futures poll say Trump's trade actions have permanently damaged agriculture, Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming.

Nevertheless, a large majority of farmers said they were willing to give Trump more time to work out trade deals, and believe that he will benefit their farms in the long-term, even if they're suffering in the short term, Abbot reports. The poll was done from July 20 through Aug. 2; Trump announced $12 billion in aid for farmers on July 24.

One reason so many farmers support Trump's trade policies may be that the Republican Party's attitude on trade has been shifting toward a more protectionist, anti-China stance over the past two decades (75 percent of the poll's respondents self-identified as Republican). The shift was triggered by China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which hurt the U.S. manufacturing industry even though it benefitted the U.S. economy overall, John Kuk, Deborah Seligsohn, and Jiakun Zhang report for The Washington Post.

And Republican politicians in hard-hit districts were more likely to blame China, not overall trade policy, for local woes in their posts, speeches and other communications with constituents. "Scapegoating China for the negative externalities of trade was convenient and let Republican legislators respond to voter concerns while continuing to support their party’s position on free trade," the Post reports.
Negative impact of Chinese competition per worker by congressional district, 2000-07. A value of 3.89, for example, means the value of Chinese imports increased by $3,890 per worker over that period. (Washington Post map)
It's not clear how much the trade war is hurting farmers, though the Department of Agriculture estimated $59.5 billion in net farm income for 2018 earlier this year, lower than 2016 and 2017, and less than half of the farm-income high in 2013, David Widmar notes for Successful Farming.

But soybean growers may see some relief soon: German oilseeds analyst Oil World said this week that China may have to start buying some U.S. soybeans again because other countries can't supply enough to meet its needs, Reuters reports.

Rural Arkansas educators tell DOE commission that rural areas, too far from law enforcement, need armed teachers

"Proposals to arm teachers and school staff have stirred controversy since the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., but such plans are sometimes the best options for rural schools far from first responders, state and school officials told the Federal School Safety Commission at a site visit in Arkansas on Wednesday," Elvie Blad reports for Education Week.

Lake Hamilton Schools Supt. Steve Anderson, who carries a gun at school, told the commission that sheriffs said they would be 20 to 30 minutes away during an active-shooter situation, and that the district needed someone closer to protect the students. Another superintendent told the panel of a time when, after hearing three gunshots on an elementary playground, she ran to respond as the gunman ran away. She said she felt relieved and empowered to know that she had a gun and could protect her students, Blad reports.

"The federal task force, chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has held public comment hearings, convened panels of experts, and visited schools of various sizes to hear about how they prevent and respond to school violence since it was formed in the spring. DeVos was not present at Wednesday's meeting in Pearcy, Arkansas, which was led by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions," Blad reports. "The commission heard testimony from local supporters of armed school staff, but it did not hear from any of the groups who have opposed such proposals."

Jay Barth, chair of the Arkansas Board of Education, told the commission that armed school staff shouldn't include teachers, since he said they need to concentrate on educating children, Blad reports. But hiring trained officers might not always be possible because the state already struggles to hire and retain enough officers, according to Jami Cook, director of the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.

Manufacturers try to woo workers to rural areas

Rural manufacturers, desperate for employees, are facing a huge shortage of workers. "Shortages may seem counterintuitive, given the widespread fear that automation, robotics and offshoring have all reduced employment in manufacturing," Ellen Rosen reports for The New York Times. "While jobs in absolute numbers have declined from a decade ago, the sustained economic recovery, a lack of skilled workers and the retirement of many baby boomers have led to open positions. Even though the gyrating tariff environment is causing anxiety across industries, manufacturers are still hiring."

About a third of companies surveyed by the Manufacturing Institute said they had had to turn away new work because they didn't have enough workers. So companies and state and local governments are increasing recruiting efforts to lure workers to rural areas, offering higher wages, tax incentives for relocation, enhanced training, and even student-loan forgiveness. Long-term, some are partnering with local schools to try to grow and retain local talent. Some companies are offering incentives to keep older employees from retiring, or re-hiring them as consultants or part-time contractors, Rosen reports. And some companies are hiring skilled foreign laborers, though the work visas can be difficult to get and unpopular with local residents.

No results are yet available to show the efficacy of such efforts, but the shortage is likely to be a problem for years to come: up to 2 million skilled jobs could go unfilled by 2025, according to a 2015 report from the Manufacturing Institute.

Register for free Aug. 13 media briefing about climate change and extreme weather

Science journalism source SciLine will hold an online briefing on climate change and its role in extreme weather from 1-2 p.m. ET, Aug. 13. The briefing "will explain in clear terms the latest findings in climate attribution science, and help you communicate accurately about these complex relationships," according to the event page.

The briefing, which is only open to members of the news media, will feature Dr. Timothy Brown of the Desert Research Institute, Dr. Stephanie Herring of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Dr. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia, and will be moderated by SciLine director Rick Weiss.

Register here to attend.

SciLine is a philanthropically supported, editorially independent, free service for reporters who cover science, health, and the environment, and is based at the non-profit organization the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Lyme disease is now found in all states; meanwhile, a new tick species threatens U.S. livestock

Asian long-horned tick (CDC photo)
Lyme disease has now officially spread to the entire nation: Every state "has residents who have tested positive for Lyme, a bacterial infection that can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including joint aches, fatigue, facial palsy and neck stiffness," Linda Searing reports for The Washington Post.

The news comes from clinic laboratory Quest Diagnostics, which analyzed the results of 6 million diagnostic blood tests ordered by doctors. Pennsylvania had the most positive cases last year at 10,001; it, combined with the six states of New England, accounted for about 60 percent of all cases, Searing reports.

Between 2016 and 2017, positive results spiked in states traditionally linked to the disease — by 50 percent in New England and 50 percent in Pennsylvania — but also in states that aren't. "Florida, for instance, had 501 infections, up 77 percent since 2015. California had 483 people with positive test results — a 194.5 percent increase from 2015," Searing reports. A May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes tripled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2016, aided by warm winters that keep pests alive longer.

The spread of ticks is especially concerning because, for the first time in 50 years, a voracious new tick species has been identified in the U.S. The Asian long-horned tick was first found last summer in western New Jersey, and is now rapidly spreading in the eastern U.S. Specimens have since then been reported or sighted in New York, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Donald McNeil Jr. reports for The New York Times.

The tick hasn’t been found to carry any human diseases in the U.S., but does threaten livestock and other animals. "Known in Australia as bush ticks and in New Zealand as cattle ticks, long-horned ticks can multiply rapidly and suck so much blood from a young animal that it dies. The ticks bloat up like fat raisins until their tiny legs are barely able to support them," McNeil reports. "After a blood meal, females can lay hundreds of fertile eggs without mating."

Scientists say people should use the same precautions to protect against both domestic and long-horned ticks: wear long pants and sleeves, use repellent, and check for ticks after walking in the woods or tall grass.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Coal pile at Appalachian power plant shows power of gas, even as Central Appalachian output hits nearly 3-year high

UPDATE: The Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that coal production in Central Appalachia in the second quarter was the highest in nearly three years, 20.4 million tons. That was the highest since the third quarter of 2015, when it was 22.6 million tons. Platt's has details.

"A utility that serves Eastern Kentucky and burns coal to produce electricity has sold $17.6 million worth of coal it didn’t need, offering yet another example of how the relatively low cost of natural gas has undermined the region’s economy," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The coal was meant for the Mitchell Power Plant in West Virginia, which is co-owned by Kentucky Power and has 168,000 customers in Eastern Kentucky, but the plant couldn't generate electricity as cheaply as competitors that used natural gas. Because Mitchell's energy was more expensive, the regional power-grid manager, PJM Interconnection, didn't order electricity as often from the plant. But the plant had to keep buying coal, under a long-term contract. At one point in late January, "there was a 53-day stockpile of one type of coal at the plant, while the company's target level was a 15-day supply," Estep reports.

Kentucky Power applied for and received permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to sell extra coal. A Connecticut-based trading company has agreed to buy 400,000 tons of coal for $44 a ton by the end of the year, Estep reports.

The episode illustrates both the rising use of gas to make electricity, and the hardship faced in coal country. "By the end of 2017, coal’s share of national electricity generation had dropped to 30 percent and the share for natural gas had grown to 32 percent, while renewable sources such as wind energy had climbed to 17 percent," Estep reports. "As coal-fired power plants have closed in the face of greater use of natural gas, the number of coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky dropped from 14,000 at one point in 2011 to just 3,835 in the first three months of this year, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet."

Georgia nonprofit looks to market telehealth to rural America

The Georgia Partnership for Telehealth wanted to help more rural providers and patients access telehealth care, but was frustrated when potential software wasn’t up to snuff. That led to a radical decision for the 12-year-old non-profit: create a spinoff organization called the Global Partnership for Telehealth and create its own software. The spinoff “recently unveiled Pathways, a web-based videoconferencing platform designed primarily for small and resource-thin healthcare providers, as well as schools and other entities looking to launch a telehealth platform but hesitant to wade into the commercial market,” Eric Wicklund reports for Healthcare Initiative.

CEO Rena Brewer said GPT never intended to get into software development, but that they needed to meet the needs of their more than 600 partners who were moving from server-based telehealth to web-based tech and didn’t have a lot of money to spend. Pathways helps with that, since “the original intent of telemedicine is that it was geared toward the underserved,” Brewer told Wicklund.

How to keep rural young people from fleeing to the city?

Young adults in record numbers are fleeing their rural hometowns and heading for the city. “This economic and demographic hollowing out is changing our nation,” Gracy Olmstead writes for The Week. “The people who stay feel left behind. One could argue the most visible repercussions of this shift can be found in our politics: President Trump's win in 2016 was largely tied to discontent and frustration throughout rural America, in places that felt stagnated, overlooked, and unheard, which only exacerbates our urban-rural divide.”

Olmstead, herself a rural transplant to Washington, D.C., from a town of 3,000, questions how to reverse this trend. One major part would be fixing the problems that drive many to leave: lack of affordable housing and decent jobs. But another part is changing the way rural areas raise and train youth: “These communities need to foster opportunities for youths across a spectrum of backgrounds — seeking to proffer mentorships, apprenticeships, and job opportunities that will make hometowns attractive and economically sound places to settle.” Read more here

Judges say new pipeline can't cross Blue Ridge Parkway

"A federal appeals court on Monday revoked the right-of-way that the National Park Service had granted the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia," Craig Jarvis reports for The Herald Sun in Durham, N.C. "The decision by the three-judge panel will cause some delay for the project, which has already begun construction in North Carolina and West Virginia but not Virginia."

The plaintiffs, The Sierra Club and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, argued that the NPS didn't have the right to grant the right-of-way for the natural gas pipeline because it violated the agency's mandate to conserve the environment. "It remains to be seen how much of a delay the ruling will cause," Jarvis writes.

"Chief Judge Roger Gregory, in a footnote to his written opinion, scolded the park service, calling its issuance of a permit 'arbitrary and capricious' for invoking laws that weren’t applicable, and for not explaining how approval was consistent with its mission," Jarvis reports. Gregory wrote in the opinion that Duke Energy and its partners must have a valid permit from the park service to continue construction, and to do so without it would violate previous authorization from the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission.

The ruling comes days after the same three judges of the Fourth Circuit Court rescinded permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management hadn't fully vetted the project for its environmental impact.

Bluegrass legend Dean Webb, influence on many, dies at 81

Dean Webb, on "The Andy Griffith Show," left, and playing his mandolin.
Bluegrass mandolin legend Dean Webb died on June 30 at the age of 81. He first began playing bluegrass and country music in honky-tonk bars across the rural Midwest, but in the early 1960s began playing with The Dillards. After the group got a recording contract in 1962, they released several albums and began to gain some notoriety. But their big break came from their appearances on The Andy Griffith Show, in which they played bluegrass as members of the fictitious Darling family. Besides that, "The Dillards have had television exposure on Nashville Now, The Johnny Cash Show, Hollywood a Go-Go and Hootenanny, among other programmes," Richard Thompson reports for Bluegrass Today. They also opened for Elton John on his first tour of the U.S. in 1972.

The Dillards' musical influence ranges far beyond what one might expect: Webb's mandolin playing helped influence Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones to pick up the instrument, and his harmony arranging skills helped The Byrds figure out the complicated harmonies on "Mr. Tambourine Man," Thompson reports.

"What an enormous influence he had on musicians out here," longtime bluegrass DJ Wayne Rice told Thompson. "I don’t think I ever heard anyone play the mandolin quite like he did. He held it like a machine gun and just blew us all away."

Ronnie Ellis, Kentucky statehouse correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., remembers Webb on a more personal level. He writes in the Richmond Register that Webb was his best friend and an uncommonly loving, patient and methodical man. "Dean loved deeply those he loved at all. He loved as well to share his friends, impatient to introduce one to another. Because he was that way, I met an extraordinary number of exceptionally interesting people, a couple of whom also became life-long friends," Ellis writes. "I've often told my children I am the richest person I know. Not for what I possess but because of the people I'd been given to love and enjoy. Dean enriched my life more than I can describe. His was one long adventure and he kindly took me along for the ride."

Monday, August 06, 2018

Award-winning rural editor Les Zaitz will bring an online-only news site to Oregon’s capital city

Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz, the editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Ore., is creating an online news organization for Salem. He wasn't open to the idea at first, but decided to go for it after repeated urging from Salem investor Larry Tokarski. "On Sept. 17, the Salem Reporter will go live with Zaitz as CEO and editor and three full-time reporters who will cover 'local government, schools, business, nonprofits and state government,' according to a press release," Kristen Hare reports for the Poynter Institute.

It's not surprising that Tokarski pursued Zaitz so doggedly: Zaitz brings 45 years of reporting to the table along with a slew of awards for his work at The Oregonian and the Enterprise, including the 2018 Tom and Pat Gish Award and a 2017 Investigative Reporters & Editors Award. He will remain publisher of the Enterprise.

Zaitz says the Reporter will have a paywall and, along with an investment of an undisclosed amount from Tokarski, will be funded by subscriptions. A subscription is $10 per month and $100 per year, and though the Reporter will accept advertising, he doesn't think ads will bring in much revenue. About 400,000 people live in the publication's market, and Zaitz is hoping enough will subscribe to make it sustainable, Hare reports.

Zaitz says he intends to focus on credibility and quality content, instead of clicks. Though the area already has other media, including Gannett Co.’s daily Statesman Journal, the Salem Weekly, and the Salem Business Journal, Zaitz said he's not going to base coverage on holes left by other news outlets. "I'm pretending there's no other media there, let's put it that way," he told Hare. "Otherwise, you handcuff yourself."

Kentucky media forum tackles fake news

(L-R) Al Cross, Jennifer Brown, Richard Nelson, Mike Alexieff, and Ron Sanders (Messenger photo by Laura Harvey)
"In today's digital age, it can often be challenging for consumers to determine what information is truly reliable. But whether it goes by the name of 'propaganda,' 'hype' or 'spin,' it is possible for news readers to identify 'fake news' and avoid it entirely," Laura Harvey reports for The Messenger in Madisonville, Ky., in her story about a panel last week at Madisonville Community College, giving attendees tips on how to tell fact from fiction. 

Panel moderator Al Cross, who is the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, publisher of The Rural Blog, said the concept of fake news was nothing new, and that America's first newspaper was shut down in 1690 for printing falsehoods. But though society began to demand more truthful journalism in the 1700s, most American newspapers during the Revolutionary War were partisan and spurred a rise in sensationalist news. Public backlash helped create the idea of journalism schools, which, along with the Associated Press, helped codify standards of ethics for journalists, Cross explained.

But with the rise of the internet and social media, it has become easier for anyone to publish "news" and more difficult for readers to identify fake news. "Fake news reports have caused damage to reputations and diminished trust, Cross said. The effect on the 2016 election is still being studied. Local news media scores better on trust than national news media, according to national studies," Doreen Dennis reports for SurfKY News in Madisonville, Ky. "BuzzFeed reported the top 20 fake stories received more engagement than 19 major media outlets in 2016, and the jury is still out on whether unverified news articles affected the election. Russia’s alleged involvement would be hard to prove at this point, he added."

Jennifer P. Brown, programming chair of the rural-journalism institute and former editor of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, said readers could check any of the following sources to help verify whether a news story is truthful:
Richard Nelson, the director of the socially conservative Commonwealth Policy Center, said the presence of click-bait stories in publications have driven people to seek other news sources, and advised journalists not to identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats to reduce even the appearance of bias, Harvey reports.

Messenger Editor Mike Alexieff said he wants readers to know that local newspapers don't have a political agenda, and only aim to offer fair, accurate local news. Ron Sanders, owner of SurfKY News, said he believes some newspapers do have a political bias, and defended coal, long a major industry in the region, from reports that he said were biased, Dennis reports.