Friday, November 23, 2018

A newspaper without a town, the Paradise Post keeps printing, then goes looking for its displaced readers

Screenshot from report distributed to TEGNA stations
The town of Paradise, Calif., was destroyed by a huge wildfire this month, but it still has a twice-weekly newspaper: the Paradise Post. "Since the fire, they have been hand-delivering the newspaper to Paradise locals at evacuee shelters, hotels, trailers and wherever their readers may be residing," Andie Judson and Spencer Bruttig report for TEGNA television stations (formerly part of Gannett Co.).

The paper, owned by Digital First Media, has 7,000 subscribers in a town that had about 11,000 households. It gets help from the local DFM daily, the Chico Enterprise-Record. The Post has two staff members, including Editor Rick Silva, a native of surrounding Butte County.

“I know there’s the slogan, a newspaper without a town. Well we have a town! It’s just spread out everywhere,” Silva told Judson and Bruttig. “We just have to find out where they are, right? We still have a town. We still have the residents of Paradise. … They’re just not at their residences right now. So, we find them. . . . They’re not just our customers, they’re our neighbors and they’re our friends. … This has been their newspaper. Our voice is their voice.”

A print edition "is especially relevant now, as internet has been non-existent following the fire and many lost their phones while escaping the flames," Judson and Bruttig report. "The healing has just begun for the people of Paradise. And as the community rises from the ashes, Rick and the Paradise Post will continue to bring them the news."

And more. In a Nov. 13 editorial, titled "There are no words," Silva said "words like devastation, annihilation — even Armageddon as one co-worker described it as, don’t seem to be enough." After giving some examples of the destruction, he wrote, "How do you explain that in a way that both captures what happened accurately and gives people comfort? What are those words? I need to write those words. Does anyone know the dictionary, in which they exist so that I use them?"

Don't forget Small Business Saturday!

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, a nine-year-old, nationwide promotion to support small, independent retailers, many of whom have struggled to survive in rural areas in an age of big-box stores and online shopping. Sponsored by American Express, which owns the trademark, it's designed to counter Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It has a Twitter hashtag, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and is also observed in the United Kingdom.

Organizations and individuals are encouraged to sign up as "Neighborhood Champions, promoting and participating in community activities and events on Small Business Saturday," Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead reports for Small Business Trends. By 2017, the number of Neighborhood Champions across the country had grown to over 7,200. . . . Consumers remain supportive of the campaign, with 90 percent of shoppers believing it has a positive impact on their community."

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Republicans still won rural America, but the more rural a place, the more likely Democrats were to gain from 2016

"Republicans gained seats in the U.S. Senate in the last election, but it’s Democrats who gained in popularity among rural voters," compared to the presidential election in 2016, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.
"Midterm elections always attract fewer voters than presidential elections," they write. "So we expect the raw vote total to decline. But in rural counties, the raw number of voters who selected the Democratic candidate actually increased from 2016 to 2018." The trend was even plainer when comparing the increase in Democratic votes.

"Even though Democrats substantially improved their performance with rural voters in these states this year, they still lost the popular vote in rural counties," the Yonder notes. "Democrats trimmed the Republican margin of victory in the states we examined from 40 points to 22."

The Yonder looked at the available tabulations of votes in 28 Senate elections, grouping counties by metropolitan-to-rural categories, and found that "Democrats improved their performance across the board from 2016 and that the biggest gains came in the more rural counties." Bishop and Marema acknowledge that "Comparing presidential elections to midterm elections is a bit of an apples-to-oranges exercise." They omitted California because there was no Republican on the Senate ballot, and counted Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont as a Democrat.

States included in the analysis were Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Canadian government proposes much greater subsidies to help the country's struggling newspapers

In Canada, where newspapers seem to be in more trouble than in the U.S., the federal government this week proposed half a billion dollars in subsidies to news outlets. They would include "measures to facilitate fundraising by non-profit news organizations and tax breaks to fund the production of original content," and "a temporary 15 percent tax credit for Canadians on online subscriptions to some media outlets," Daniel LeBlanc reports from Ottawa for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

A tax credit would be granted for donations to non-profit news operations that "release content for free under a creative commons license, which the government hopes will have a knock-on effect for local news organizations that can post the stories or incorporate them into their own journalism," Stuart Thomson reports for the National Post.

"An independent panel comprised of members of the news and journalism industry will flesh out the application of the moves," LeBlanc reports. "The group will decide which journalism jobs and which news organizations are eligible for the new funding." However, "The issue of federal funding for news organizations has divided Canada’s media community and sparked heated political debate."

Terence Corcoran, a columnist for the Financial Post, disputed Morneau's assertion that the measures would be “arm’s-length and independent of the government.” He wrote, "They are not, and they represent a step backward for Canadian journalism. . . . There is no way Ottawa’s journalism-bailout scheme can pass any press-freedom test." Noting that the plan says "Benefits are expected to be shared by the diverse groups of men and women, including their families, working in this sector," Corcoran writes, "The supposedly independent panel of journalists and others from the 'news community' already has its first government directive. . . . The mere act of appointing a panel with objectives and instructions is a form of state interference. Which members of the news community will be selected?"

The government says Canada’s news industry needs help adapting to "new media-consumption habits and the migration of advertisers toward foreign digital platforms," LeBlanc reports. Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the House of Commons that the goal is to “protect the vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities.” The five-year proposal would cost $595 million in Canadian dollars; at the current exchange rate, that would be $452 million in U.S. dollars. That is about 10 times the amount of media subsidy in the current budget, Thomson reports.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Analysis: Individual Obamacare premiums higher in rural areas due to lack of competition among hospitals

Health care premiums on individual Affordable Care Act marketplace plans tend to be higher in rural areas, according to a new study by the Urban Institute with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The disparity has grown over the past several years; benchmark premiums in 2016 were 9 percent higher in rural areas ($26 more per month) and 10 percent higher in 2017 ($39 more per month). Some of the greatest rural-urban cost disparities were in Nevada, Colorado and Illinois.

"Lack of provider competition largely, if not predominantly, drove this disparity, the analysis says. Rural areas generally have fewer providers than urban areas to begin with, and the unyielding trend of consolidation is creating an even tighter market," Rose Meltzer reports for Fierce Healthcare. "As The Atlantic reported earlier this year, rural hospitals increasingly face a difficult choice: Be acquired or leave the community with no hospitals at all. In rural areas where the local hospital is the predominant employer, as is often the case, closure can mean economic ruin. And hundreds of rural hospitals are at risk of being shuttered, according to the National Rural Health Association" along with the dozens that have already closed in recent years.

The study's lead author, Erik Wengle, says reinsurance programs can help stabilize rural insurance polls in the long run, and says a permanent federal reinsurance program could help states but would likely have to be established through legislation.

Documentary examines black rural life

Hale County resident Willie takes a horseback ride through town in RaMell Ross's new documentary.
A new documentary examines a part of rural America often left out of the narrative: the experiences of black residents of rural places. Hale County This Morning, This Evening takes a poetic look at everyday life in a majority-black county in Alabama.

Hale County (Wikipedia map)
"Director RaMell Ross, a noted still photographer, has a keen eye for framing rousing shots for routine events – whether it’s falling raindrops, kids playing in a field, or friends just hanging out," David Lewis writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. "Many of his images have an intangible quality that’s marked by grittiness and economic desperation, yet also by a sense of dignity and community.

Though the film includes scenes of poverty and even tragedy, the overall tone isn't negative. "Much has been made of the decay of rural white America, and its attendant rage, so it’s a pleasant change of pace that 'Hale County' is not an angry film," Lewis writes. "Ross doesn’t gloss over the challenges facing the rural black county, but he finds a strong spirit there, even as the storm clouds hover."

Farm Bill may pass as part of year-end budget package

It seems likely that a new Farm Bill will pass by the end of the year, Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee predict in their latest "Policy Pennings" column. 

The big sticking point is proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The House version of the bill includes work requirements for some able-bodied SNAP recipients, while the Senate version doesn't. But House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, may want to get a bill passed before Democrats take control of the House in January, forcing a compromise on the issue, Catherine Boudreau reports for Politico.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also wants a bill, and predicted this week that a compromise measure could be attached to a year-end government spending deal that must pass by Dec. 7, Boudreau reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that passing the Farm Bill this year is a priority for him because of the Senate version's hemp-legalization provisions.

Turkeys pardoned by presidents have a short parole

President Trump pardons Peas, the National Thanksgiving Turkey. (Associated Press photo by Andrew Harnik)
The pardoning of the White House turkey is a light-hearted tradition, but something you might not know is that, pardoned or not, such turkeys won't likely live to see another Thanksgiving. Turkeys bred for human consumption put on pounds so quickly that they frequently suffer from bone and heart problems that limit their lifespan to about a year. Slower-growing wild turkeys often live from three to five years, Sarah Zimmerman reports for Politico.

It's interesting to see how much selective breeding has tailored turkeys to optimum efficiency as meat birds. Commercial turkeys are usually white, flightless, and weigh about 40 pounds, while their wild brethren are typically brown, able to fly a short distance, and weigh 20 to 30 pounds.

This year's pardoned turkey, Peas, along with alternate Carrots made it through an even more rigorous selection process. Both were in a flock of 50 candidates in Huron, S.D. "Since June, the birds underwent various tests to see which could best handle being around large crowds, bright lights and loud music," Zimmerman reports. "They were fed a diet of corn and soybean meal to fatten them up with the expectation that nearly all of them would be sent to the dinner table. Peas and Carrots were the pick of the flock, and Peas won the right to be the official National Thanksgiving Turkey via an online poll."

Peas and Carrots will spend their rest of their days roaming around the campus at Virginia Tech's Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences; the school will pay for their food and medical care.

Smoke from California fires streams from coast to coast, making for stunning sunsets in parts of the East

The sunset in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 19. (Washington Post photo by Joe Flood)
Ask an art buff about Edvard Munch's The Scream, and they'll likely know the lurid sunset colors came from smoke in the air from the 1883 eruption of Mount Krakatoa. The same sort of thing is happening today, as plumes of smoke from California's wildfires have created stunning sunsets as far away as Boston. In some areas, like Washington, D.C., high pressure is forcing some of the smoke particles toward the ground, which has increased air pollution, Angela Fritz reports for The Washington Post.

It's a beautiful but sober reminder of what's happening out West. "Ten large wildfires are burning in California this week, the largest of which is the Camp Fire near Chico. As of Tuesday, that blaze had burned more than 151,000 acres and was 70 percent contained," Fritz reports. "At least 79 people have died in the fire, and hundreds are missing. Nearly 13,000 homes have been destroyed, mostly in Paradise and Magalia, since the fire started on Nov. 8."
Smoke plumes snaking across the U.S. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Site creates connections between rural and urban journalists

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

It's an old professional practice for reporters from cities to ask for help from local journalists when they "parachute" into small, unfamiliar communities – and a common courtesy for the hometown journalists to help out. When I was a rural editor in Kentucky, I was always glad to help reporters from the Louisville Courier Journal; when I became a CJ regional reporter and then political writer, I often sought, and invariably got, local journalistic help.

But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes urban reporters are reluctant to make a cold call, sometimes for fear of sending a warning signal that can hinder their reporting. Sometimes, rural journalists may be suspicious of a visiting journalist's agenda, or chagrined that the visitor is working on a deeper, perhaps tougher, version of a story they've been covering. Now it's getting easier for help-seeking urban journalists and helpful rural journalists to connect, thanks to a new online database called Shoe Leather.

On the very simple site, local journalists list their names, towns, primary and secondary beats and social-media information, and visitors can search by those terms. "Since it was announced on Twitter in late September, more than 400 reporters representing all 50 states have registered," Matthew Sedacca reports for The New York Times, citing the site's founder and manager, Sarah Baird.

Baird, a widely published freelancer based in Richmond, Ky., told Sedacca that the site addresses a problem beyond individual stories and journalists: "As local news organizations have been decimated by layoffs and industry consolidation, communities across the country have complained that journalists who come into their towns and cities too often produce shallow or misrepresentative reporting," Sedacca writes. "Local journalists who know their hometowns could report the same stories more accurately and with more depth," Baird and others say.

Sarah Baird (Photo by Jessica
Ebelhar for New York Times)
“These stories cause actual consequences for these communities, not only in how the nation perceives them, but how they perceive themselves,” Baird told him.

And sometimes those stories get told too late. Christina Smith of Georgia College and State University, who specializes in community journalism, told Sedacca that Shoeleather could highlight subjects that would otherwise go uncovered. Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that has placed reporters in local newsrooms, agreed. “If there had been earlier coverage of the opioid problem and a better connection between national and local media, we would have seen this as a national problem sooner,” he told Sedacca.

Baird told Secdacca that she is funding the project herself and hopes to add employees, by turning the site into a resource hub with paid memberships. "Paying would give someone access to benefits like Shoeleather-organized journalism workshops or conferences," Sedacca writes. Baird told him, “The plan is always be around. To be a resource.”

Report shows how the rural economy fell behind urban areas, and offers ways to close the gap

new report from the Brookings Institution shows how the rural-urban economic divide developed and offers ideas for closing it. "For much of the 20th century, market forces had reduced job, wage, investment, and business formation disparities between more- and less-developed regions," Clara Hendrickson, Mark Muro and William Galston report. But the rising popularity of digital technology in the 1980s favored wired-up talent clusters in urban areas and left rural America behind — a divide that persists today in employment level, wages, and types of employment available, and may be partly responsible for the growing social divide between rural and urban areas.

The biggest metro areas account for 72 percent of U.S. employment growth since the recession in 2009 and 2010, and were the first to get back to pre-recession employment levels. The smallest rural communities still haven't gotten there, and the very smallest — rural areas not adjacent to metro areas — have actually seen employment declines since 2014.

Brookings Institution chart; click on it to view a larger version
Some believe rural America will naturally catch up sooner or later, but lawmakers, pundits, journalists, investors and scholars are increasingly considering how to close the rural-urban gap with new policies and new ways of thinking. Rather than relying solely on traditional regional development policies that favor big-city economic activity or try to ensure all rural areas in the region get a bigger piece of the economic pie, the Brookings report's authors recommends a third approach called place-sensitive distributed development.

That's a "mixed strategy that respects the efficiency of hubs of concentrated economic activity but seeks to extend this kind of dynamism to more regions by ensuring access to the basic prerequisites of high-quality growth," Hendrickson, Muro and Galston write. "This approach assumes that regional equity won’t occur without economic development but that excessive imbalances between regions can jeopardize such development. Our place-sensitive strategy seeks to mitigate uneven development by ensuring economic growth occurs in a wider swath of regions."
  • In practice, this approach might employ the following strategies:
  • Boost the digital skills of workers in rural areas
  • Make sure businesses in economically depressed areas have access to business funding
  • Make sure rural areas have broadband
  • Identify and strengthen "growth poles": promising rural communities whose growth could help the surrounding region 
  • Help Americans make long-distance moves to areas with better jobs

Program to help farmers hurt by trade war has aided few

"America’s farmers have been shut out of foreign markets, hit with retaliatory tariffs and lost lucrative contracts in the face of President Trump’s trade war. But a $12 billion bailout program Mr. Trump created to 'make it up' to farmers has done little to cushion the blow, with red tape and long waiting periods resulting in few payouts so far," Alan Rappeport reports for The New York Times.

The money is being released in two $6 billion installments: the first was made available in September and the second is expected to be available next month. Only $838 million has been given to farmers since the first $6 billion was available. The government probably won't offer any additional money, according to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. It comes from the USDA's Commodity Credit Corp., which can borrow up to $30 billion without approval of Congress.

The government also plans to buy about $1.3 million worth of some products like apples, oranges and pork to distribute through nutrition-assistance programs, Rappeport reports. Farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota have been the biggest beneficiaries of the program so far.

Though the president still enjoys broad support in agricultural states, farmers are getting more concerned about such basic needs ad the need to sell their soybeans. Adding to the pressure, Europe plans to impose more retaliatory tariffs on the U.S., and Canada and Mexico are still taxing American goods such as pork and cheese, Rappeport reports.

"Farmers had mixed feelings about the bailout when it was announced last summer, as they tend to prefer free enterprise over government intervention, but many are disappointed as the subsidies have not made up for their losses," Rappeport reports. "The dairy industry has been particularly critical of the program and, in a letter to Mr. Perdue, asked the administration to rethink how it calculates subsidies and to make them more generous to dairy farmers."

New 'opportunity zones' can help rural areas, unless they get beaten to the investors by urban real-estate developers

When Forbes magazine said in July that 8,700 federal “opportunity zones” where investors can get a tax break, and used Montrose, Colo., as an example, "The phone started ringing off the hook," Mayor Roy Anderson told Stephanie Quinton of Stateline. But few rural places are getting such a head start, and similar programs in the past have helped urban areas more than rural. And when tax breaks are granted to rural places, experts warn, "it’s more likely to flow to real estate projects" such as a planned housing does flow to rural places, they warn, it’s more likely to flow to real-estate developers "rather than to local startups desperate for capital," Quinton writes.

“I’m worried that none of this money is going to flow where it’s really needed,” Paul Major, president and CEO of the Telluride Foundation, a Western Colorado philanthropy, told Quinton. “You can see 99 percent of the money going to urban-redevelopment projects and accelerating gentrification.”

The record offers reason for such concern. "Past tax incentives intended to spur growth in distressed areas, such as the New Markets Tax Credit program, have had mixed success," Quinton reports. "About 83 percent of New Markets money from 2001 to 2015 went to cities, according to research by Rebecca Lester," of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "That may be because more people live in cities, because city projects are better-known, or because urban economies are stronger, Lester said. But she expects opportunity zone money to end up even more concentrated in cities than New Markets money, because there are fewer restrictions on how the money can be spent."

The Internal Revenue Service "has yet to clarify all the details of the tax break," so "many investors are holding off," Quinton reports. However, "In hot real estate markets such as the Denver area ... opportunity zones already have set off a fundraising frenzy. . . . Smaller towns west of Montrose haven’t gotten as much attention."

Residents work all night, risk lives to keep fire from town

Helltown residents worked through the night to
save their town. (Photo by Dharma LaRocca)
The New York Times offers a harrowing account of residents' battle to save Helltown, a small, tight-knit community just northwest of Paradise, the town destroyed by the Camp Fire still raging through Northern California.

When the fire began burning in Paradise, lifelong Helltown resident Dharma Tony LaRocca and  four other people, decided to act. They spent all night digging fire breaks around the town with an excavator and putting out hotspots in the dirt with shovels, Jill Cowan reports.

When friends relieved them the next day, said LaRocca, 47, his boots were melted and holes were burned into his sweatshirt. The whole canyon had burned, but "Helltown was the only sliver that survived," LaRocca told Cowan.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson Scott McLean said he understood why LaRocca and his friends did what they did, but cautioned others against doing the same, saying that this year's fires have been faster and fiercer than usual: "It’s not advisable — you will die."

EPA site replaces 'fracking' with 'unconventional oil and gas'

Screenshots by Environmental Data and Governance Initiative
The Environmental Protection Agency has largely replaced the terms "hydraulic fracturing" and "fracking" on its website, according to a report released last week by the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative. The replacement phrase, "unconventional oil and gas," is a common term in the industry but not in common parlance.

There are two ways to interpret the EPA’s change, Brian Kahn writes for the environmentalist publication Earther: "The benign take is that the term is inclusive of a variety of ways fossil fuels are extracted. Fracking is just one step in one process to get at hard-to-access oil and gas. Unconventional oil and gas include all sorts of things like tar sands, for example, though the new EPA pages don’t get into those or even defining what the term means. There’s another, less charitable read on the change, though. Anti-fracking sentiment has been on the rise for years, and majorities of Americans of all political stripes favor tighter regulation, according to Gallup polling done earlier this year. The Trump administration does not agree."

EPA made many other changes in the overhaul, Kahn reports. It removed the section that said the agency promoted transparency and conducted outreach to stakeholders; added a section highlighting partnerships with oil and natural-gas sectors and industry associations, and removed "a lot of details of oil and gas extraction on air quality (of which there are many)," he writes. "It also removed a sentence describing how 'prudent steps to reduce these impacts [from rapidly increasing gas extraction] are essential now even as further research to understanding potential risks continues.'"

Monday, November 19, 2018

Chico paper rises to the occasion to cover the Camp Fire

The Camp Fire as seen from the roof of the Chico Enterprise-Record. (Photo by David Little)
As the Camp Fire rages on in northern California, the staff of the Chico Enterprise-Record has risen to the occasion to provide local coverage. Chico is a city of 90,000 just a few miles away from Paradise, the small town that was destroyed by the fast-moving fire, now the deadliest in state history.

The paper has a staff of 10, with four part-timers helping, but journalists from other Digital First Media Group papers in the San Francisco Bay area have been sent to pitch in, Benjamin Oreskes reports for the Los Angeles Times. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Redding Record-Searchlight sent them pizzas too.

Editor David Little, a Chico native who has run the Enterprise-Record and several others nearby for almost 20 years, told Oreskes the fire has been like nothing he's ever experienced. That means something coming from Little, also the editor of the Oroville Mercury-Register, which covered the 2017 dam spillway failure that led to 180,000 people being evacuated.

The fire has been hard on the staff, but Little told Oreskes they've been nothing but professional in reporting the story with limited resources and figuring out logistical challenges like delivery: "Everyone has been dealing with evacuations, sheltering family and friends, and yet they’re down here working hard all the time. That’s why people are doing this, because they know people depend on it. It gives you hope that people appreciate newspapers in a time like this."

Project aims to help rural places create more digital jobs

A new program called the Rural Innovation Initiative wants to help rural communities create and support high-paying digital jobs, either for remote workers or entrepreneurs. It's the brainchild of Vermont nonprofit the Center on Rural Innovation and its sister organization, Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. The U.S. Economic Development Administration, part of the Commerce Department, is also supporting the initiative, Anna Hensel reports for Venture Beat.

CORI is looking for communities that will be most likely to succeed, such as those that have access to high-speed broadband, are located in a New Market Tax credit census tract or an Opportunity Zone so developers can get tax breaks, access to a nearby university or community college, and a nonprofit willing to help, Hensel reports. Interested communities must apply by January.

The communities selected for the initiative will then get help in creating a development strategy to bring in more digital and knowledge-economy jobs and show them ways to apply for funding, Hensel reports. Click here to learn more and apply.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council repeals freedom of press protections for its tribally-funded media outlet

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation's National Council passed a law on Nov. 7 repealing freedom of the press protections for the tribally-funded media outlet Mvskoke Media, dissolving the agency's editorial board, and putting the staff under the direction of the tribal government, Curtis Killman reports for Tulsa World.

Mvskoke Media comprises a newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News, plus television and radio outlets. Its manager, Sterling Cosper, resigned in protest after the measure passed 7-6. "I don’t want to be complicit in a non-independent press again," Cosper told Killman, referring to his time working for the tribe before 2015, when the National Council granted tribal media editorial independence with the passage of the Independent Media Act. "I saw what the previous model did . . . If you are going to say that you are going to give citizens access to information, the structure has to reflect it in something like a bill."

The move has been condemned by journalist groups like the Native American Journalists Association and Reporters Without Borders (the U.S. chapter of Reporters Sans Frontieres). In a joint statement, the two organizations and several others noted that, during debate of the measure, the National Council cited a desire to see "more positive stories" in the newspaper. Now, Mvskoke Media staff must receive prior approval from the tribal government on all published material.

NAJA President Tristan Ahtone of the Kiowa Tribe in Oklahoma, said he couldn't prove why the National Council passed the measure, "But I do think that we can probably say that those motivations don’t come from a very different place than other governments around the world that try to restrict press freedom," he told Cecily Hilleary of Voice of America. Ahtone also noted that, because non-Native media outlets rarely report on tribal governments, Native-run outlets are the only way tribe members can get unbiased information.

A group of concerned Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribe members are circulating a petition calling for a referendum on the decision, Hilleary reports.

Wind or solar power now cheaper than coal in some of U.S.

U.S. Department of Energy map; click the image to enlarge it
It's now cheaper to build a new utility-scale solar or wind farm than to keep operating an existing coal-fired power plant, especially in Texas and the Plains States, according to an analysis by investment bank Lazard. The bank analyzes the cost of different types of energy every year, factoring in the cost of operations, components, and other variables to determine the levelized cost of energy, which is the smallest dollar amount per unit of energy that would allow an investor in the project to get at 12 percent return, Irina Ivanova reports for CBS News.

For coal this year, the LCOE is between $27 and $45 per megawatt, a wind farm is $29 to $56, and a solar farm is $31 to $44. Wind power costs have dropped dramatically in the past few years because of advancing technology; the biggest turbines installed today can produce twice as much power as they could 10 years ago, and wind turbines accounted for 8 percent of the current electric generating capacity in 2016, the latest year measured,  according to the Energy Information Administration.

Texas had the most wind power capacity and generation in 2016, with Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas rounding out the top five, the EIA reports.

"The bank noted that this analysis applies to developed economies, and excludes places like India and China, parts of which are very dependent on coal," Ivanova reports. "But in the U.S., coal plant construction has ground to a near halt, and many utilities are successfully making the case for renewables to their customers. This year has seen the second-higher number of coal plant retirements on record.

Appalachian nonprofit gives books to inmates

Prison libraries are often barebones and outdated, but one nonprofit is trying to change that. The Appalachian Prison Book Project sends free books to prisoners in in six states: Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Tennesse, Virginia, and West Virginia, Sarah Baird reports for Buzzfeed

The all-volunteer project was founded by West Virginia University English professors Katy Ryan and Mark Brazaitis in 2004 (Brazaitis was recently elected deputy mayor of Morgantown, W.Va.). They conceived of the project after a class Ryan taught on prison literature. "While reading works from formerly incarcerated or currently incarcerated people, we learned how important books were to them," Ryan told Baird. "I mentioned to the students that I didn’t know if a prison book project existed in West Virginia. It turns out, there wasn’t one in the entire region. So, we carved out those six states, and committed ourselves to sending books to people who wanted them."

The inmates are hungry for the books: APBP gets about 100 letters a week from inmates requesting books, and has distributed about 25,000 books to date; about 90 percent of requests are fulfilled, and usually within a few days. Prisoners spread the word about the program by word of mouth or letters between prisoners in different locations. "Ryan says that even before the program was officially up and running, they received dozens of request letters from inmates all over the United States based solely on communication networks within facilities," Baird reports. "The incarcerated grapevine — and the need for books — is strong."