Friday, March 08, 2019

Sunshine Week starts Sunday; is your newsroom on board?

It's almost time for Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government and journalism's role in it. If your news outlet hasn't planned any coverage or commentary yet, don't worry: the Sunshine Week website has a bank of free-for-use stories and visuals from major publications along with an idea bank to get you started.

Observing Sunshine Week is worth the effort. With public trust in the news media at an all-time low, it's more important than ever to remind readers of the role that independent news media play in keeping the government accountable, and not just next week. In the current environment, every week could be Sunshine Week. Here's an idea for regular reminders to readers, listeners and viewers.

The observance is led by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Check the Sunshine Week website for coverage ideas, a social media schedule and other resources.

FDA and USDA agree on how to regulate cell-based meat, but the big question remains: can it be called meat?

The federal government's top food-safety agencies agreed Thursday on how to share regulatory responsibility for cell-based meat, the laboratory-grown animal protein frequently called "fake meat." The Food and Drug Administration will regulate cell collection and growth, and the Department of Agriculture will oversee harvesting, processing and labeling.

"Despite farm groups’ opposition to cell-based meat, the FDA-USDA agreement was welcomed across the board as a wise collaboration that will take advantage of the expertise of both agencies," Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming. "Ag groups generally cloaked their objections in statements that called for accurate labels and maintaining consumer confidence in the food supply."

The move is an effort to get a handle on cell-based meat before it hits markets; it's not yet approved for sale anywhere in the world, but more than three dozen companies are working on products and some will likely begin limited sales soon, Abbott reports. The agreement could provide a road map for states considering their own laws on the product, like the one passed this week in Kentucky.

Whether the products should be called meat remains the biggest issue for farm and meat groups. The North American Meat Institute, speaking for the meat industry, said cell-based meat is probably in-line with the USDA's definition of meat and meat products. But "an array of farm groups say such terms as meat, beef, poultry, and roast should be used only for flesh from livestock. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, an early advocate of restricting traditional meat terminology to livestock, said the USDA ought to create a new inspection stamp for cell-based meat so that there won’t be any confusion about the source," Abbott reports. "The larger National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said, 'Ensuring that all lab-grown fake meat products are safely and accurately labeled remains NCBA’s top priority.' The two largest U.S. farm groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, say cell-based products should not be called meat."

Ewell Balltrip, a civic leader who published daily papers in challenging circumstances the heart of Appalachia, passes

Ewell Balltrip
Ewell Balltrip, who was an outstanding reporter, editor and publisher in his native Harlan, Ky., neighboring Middlesboro, and Dyersburg, Tenn., died yesterday in Lexington of chronic illness. He was 68.

Balltrip was "an effective and persistent community journalist, often under difficult circumstances," says the plaque prepared for his induction into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame at the University of Kentucky on March 25. "He was known for covering the coal industry and the War on Poverty, earning the confidence of especially sensitive local audiences."

Balltrip was publisher of the Harlan Daily Enterprise, the Middlesboro Daily News and the State Gazette in Dyersburg, all under ownership of the New York Times Co. After the company sold the Dyersburg paper in 1995, he returned to his native state to be executive director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission for Gov. Paul Patton. In 2004 he founded the National Institute for Hometown Security in Somerset. He ran it until shortly before he died.

During both of his public-service careers, Balltrip was a leader in many local, state and regional nonprofits in Appalachian Kentucky. For example, he was a founding board member and officer of Forward in the Fifth, an education support and promotion group in the Fifth Congressional District.

The funeral will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday at Southern Oaks Funeral Home in Somerset, with visitation from 1 to 5; the obituary, with memorial-gift options, is here.

Certain coal seams have strategically important rare earths; research aims to keep China from cornering the market

Coal, it turns out, isn't the only useful thing you can extract from a seam of the black rock. You might also be able to find lanthanides, the 15 rare-earth elements that can be found in coal seams, coal-mining waste, and byproducts of coal-fired power plants. China is the world's leading producer of lanthanides, but researchers in Kentucky are hoping to change that, Matt Hughes reports for The Journal Enterprise in Providence, in the state's western coalfield.

University of Kentucky mining-engineering professor Rick Honaker is leading a team to study lanthanide extraction from a particular seam in an inactive mine in Webster County. A U.S. Department of Energy grant is funding the work, and Alliance Resource Partners is pitching in to do the digging, Hughes reports.

The work is a matter of national security, Honaker said, since China is not only the world's largest producer of lanthanides, but is trying to buy up all the rare earths from other countries. The U.S. government would be uncomfortable with China cornering the market since lanthanides are a critical component in many electronics, he said.

Quick hits: Rural boxing gym puts up fight; hazelnut trees touted for ecology; can midwives replace lost hospitals?

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email

A boxing gym in rural Wisconsin puts up a fight for survival at a time when such places are dwindling nationwide, The New York Times reports. Read the story here.

A project called the Million Hazelnut Campaign is trying to pair up farmers and environmentally conscious citizens by providing hazelnut rootstock to farmers across the Midwest. Read more here.

As the coal industry dwindles in Central Appalachia, locals lose access to basic services, Southerly reports. Read more here.

As hospitals close in rural America, rural women are losing options for giving birth. Midwives could help make a difference, Modern Healthcare reports. Read more here.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

USDA predicts net farm income will stay under $70 billion for third year in a row; debt and assets are both going up

Net farm income is expected to reach $69.4 billion this year, up $6.3 billion from 2018,
according to the forecast released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The ERS releases and updates the forecast three times a year; this is the first such prediction for 2019.

"If accurate, the total would be the third year of net income below $70 billion since 2015," Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming. "Farm income in 2019 will be far below the halcyon levels of early this decade, when a seven-year commodity boom propelled income to a record $123.4 billion in 2013 before collapsing due to abundant harvests worldwide."

The figures could signal a new normal, a much lower one, for American farms. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last week that expanding global trade and other "trade challenges" (possibly read: the tariff war) will continue to keep commodity prices low in the U.S., Abbott reports.

Despite this, the farm sector is financially sound, some analysts say. "In this, its first forecast of 2019 farm income, the USDA said that higher market prices would mean larger crop and livestock receipts for producers than last year. Livestock production also is expected to rise, helping to generate revenue," Abbott reports. "Production expenses will rise fractionally, and government payments, which hit a 12-year high of $13.8 billion in 2018, are projected to fall by $2.3 billion. Termination of the so-called Trump tariff payments would account for most of the decline in government payments."

Farm debt is increasing, but so are farm assets, as land prices remain strong. The USDA predicts the debt-to-asset ratio will be 13.9 percent this year: still an increase, but "comparatively low," Abbott reports. The next net farm income forecast will be released on Aug. 30.

One reason fewer rural high school graduates go to college: Colleges don't recruit them, but that's changing

Only 59 percent of rural high-school graduates attend college, compared to 67 percent of suburban grads and 62 percent of urban grads. One big reason: colleges don't recruit rural grads as much, Aaron Gettinger reports for The Hechinger Report, a nonpartisan education publication.

It's partly a matter of time management and limited resources. "When we think about an urban high school, a college recruiter can hit 1,500 students at a time," Andrew Koricich, an assistant professor of education at Appalachian State University, told Gettinger. "To do that in a rural area, you may have to go to 10 high schools."

It's also about money. Rural households tend to be lower-income, so more rural students need financial aid. "New research backs this up. Colleges and universities prefer to recruit at high schools in communities where the average family income is above $100,000, while forgoing visits to those where it’s $70,000 or lower, according to a study of 140 institutions conducted by researchers at UCLA and the University of Arizona," Gettinger reports. "They also concentrate disproportionately on private schools. Rural areas usually have neither wealthy families nor private schools."

However, ensuring that rural teens get college degrees could mean a more educated rural workforce and an improved rural economy. "Providing greater postsecondary opportunities for rural residents isn’t simply a matter of equity or moral obligation — it’s a matter of continued national prosperity," Koricich told Gettinger.

Colleges and universities are trying to do better, in general, some to great effect. To some extent it's because they want a wider cross-section of America represented in the student body, but also because enrollment has declined recently and they need more students, Gettinger reports. Universities are also aware of the reputation they have in rural areas as being liberal bastions, and want to counteract that with increased outreach.

Examining rural-urban political divide in Western Europe can shed light on U.S. divide, political scientist writes

The growing rural-urban political divide is well-known in America, but it's also a phenomenon in Western Europe, and along the same lines: more conservative people tend to live in more rural areas. There are some theories as to why such a divide exists, and why it cuts the way it does, but Rahsaan Maxwell, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says his research in Western Europe shows that it's because different types of people choose to live in different geographic areas. "People live in urban and rural areas for reasons that are associated with political preferences. My research suggests that these sorting processes drive urban-rural political polarization," he writes for The Washington Post.

For instance, highly educated professionals tend to live in big cities because that's where the jobs are, meaning rural residents tend to be less educated. That matters politically because higher education is correlated with more progressive political views, in both Western Europe and the U.S. But political views may be a cause of such self-sorting, not an effect.

In his research on Switzerland, Maxwell found that people in rural areas with liberal views often move to large cities. "However, it does not work in reverse: Conservatives are not moving into rural areas, at least in Switzerland. Swiss people who move to rural areas are more liberal than the people already living there," Maxwell writes. "This may arise simply because people who make major geographic moves tend to have a higher socioeconomic status and thus more liberal attitudes regardless of where they move."

Some believe that urbanites tend to be more liberal because they're surrounded by diversity, while the opposite is true for more homogeneous rural communities, but Maxwell disputes this. "If this were true, people's political views should change after they move to a different geographic areas. I found that no evidence of this in both Germany and Switzerland. Moving to urban or rural areas did not affect people’s attitudes on immigration, the European Union or support for radical right-wing parties," Maxwell writes. "And in Switzerland, I found no evidence that people became more liberal as their local area became more ethnically diverse."

The bottom line is that differing economic opportunities help create diverging political opinions, not differing geographies, Maxwell's research shows: it just so happens that rural areas tend to have fewer economic opportunities. "If economic opportunities continue to be geographically divided, political divides across space will likely deepen. And if geographic mobility declines overall, as it has in the United States, urban-rural divides are likely to remain," Maxwell writes.

Site Selection announces 2018's top micropolitan areas

Selecting a site for a new government or business facility can involve the mundane (population size, demographics, highway access) and the unexpected (an IKEA representative once told this writer that it looks for, among other things, a certain threshold of locals who subscribe to Food & Wine Magazine). Bringing in new businesses can make a world of difference for small towns; a list by Site Selection magazine details the micropolitan areas that were most attractive to site selectors in 2018. A micropolitan area, as defined by the Census Bureau, has a population of 10,000 to 50,000.

For the fourth year in a row, Ohio had the most micropolitans (17) in the top 100, and four in the top 10. "Perhaps most impressive of all, micropolitan Ohio’s 109 qualifying investments dwarfed those of second-place Kentucky, which totaled 40. The remainder of the Top 10 include Georgia, North Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Alabama and Pennsylvania," Gary Daughters reports for the magazine.

Findlay, Ohio, pop. 41,000, claims the top spot on the list for the fifth year in a row. It's such a powerhouse for bringing in new businesses and expanding existing ones that Tim Mayle, director of Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development, said he's frequently asked what the town's secret is. "What sets Findlay apart is our ability to collaborate within the community to solve problems. We have the ability in Findlay to pull everybody together," Mayle told Daughters.

The town boasts three major repeat investors: Whirlpool, Marathon Petroleum, and Cooper Tire. Dale Laws, Whirlpool's vice president of manufacturing, told Daughters that Findlay's can-do spirit sets the town apart: "I’ve seen how people work together to truly try to find the ideal 'win-win' for Findlay . . . It’s been that mindset that has contributed to the great success that Findlay has seen."

The Top 10 list in total, by number of projects:
1. Findlay, Ohio (23)
2. Wooster, Ohio (17)
3. Batavia, N.Y. (13)
4. Shelby, N.C. (12)
5. (tie) Tupelo, Miss. (11)
5. (tie) Ashland, Ohio (11)
7. Cullman, Ala. (10)
8. Defiance, Ohio (9)
9. Wilson, N.C. (8)
10. (tie) Angola, Ind. (7)
10. (tie) Danville, Ky. (7)

Retiring rural school superintendents leave big shoes to fill

Touchet School District Superintendent Susan Bell reads to kindergarteners. (Union Bulletin photo by Sheila Hagar)
Rural school superintendents are used to wearing many hats, frequently acting as principals, handling district finances, navigating complicated state regulations, subbing for sick teachers or bus drivers, and even performing maintenance. Plus, they attend students' sporting events and competitions to show respect and care for students and their families.

"Like many things in education, it revolves around money," Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. "Fewer students equals fewer state dollars, meaning many jobs that would be parceled out to department heads in larger districts land in the superintendent’s lap in small communities." But, though smaller districts routinely share resources like counselors or speech therapists to stretch education funding, each district must have its own superintendent.

It takes a special skill set, a tolerance for extra-long work days, and a love of small towns to be a rural superintendent, which is why rural school districts have such a hard time hiring them. And though rural principalships have some of the highest turnover rates in education, rural natives tend to stick around longer in rural education jobs. Rural educators and administrators are frequently graduates of the schools they work for as adults, or graduates of other rural schools, Hagar reports.

It’s the latter for Susan Bell, 60, the retiring superintendent for the Touchet School District in southeast Washington, near Walla Walla. She was an assistant superintendent in another rural Washington district when the Touchet job opened eight years ago, but was eager to tackle the challenges in Touchet. And though her days routinely stretch past 14 hours, she knows she’s making a difference. "Every kid is known and supported," Bell told Hagar. "We have strong graduation rates because of that."

Palestine Herald-Press in Texas wins Scripps Howard Award for opinion with 'What Are They Hiding?' package

Multi-platform reporting and news outlet collaboration are big trends among winners of the 2018 Scripps Howard Awards, announced yesterday by the Scripps Howard Foundation. Here are the winners with rural resonance:

The Palestine Herald-Press in Texas brought home the prize in the Opinion category for "What Are They Hiding?", editorials that examined two issues with local impact: how an athletic commission treated a football player, and the state’s seeming rush to execute death-row prisoners. The judges commented: "In their clarity and detail, the editorials would be worthy of the best efforts of the largest metro newspapers in America. The fact that they were all published by a small Texas paper with less than a 10,000 circulation is an example of journalism that speaks truth to power when doing so could invite truly unpleasant consequences." Community Newspaper Holdings owns the paper.

The Knoxville News Sentinel , owned by Gannett Co., won the Community Journalism category for "The Devastation of TVA’s Coal Ash Spill", which covered the struggle of workers who were sickened or killed cleaning up the worst coal-ash spill in U.S. history. "Reporter Jamie Satterfield delivers excellent watchdog work that truly holds the powerful accountable," judges wrote. "Her investigation is deeply reported and swarms all the important angles. The series of stories were well sourced and contained videos with on-the-record accounts that hit viewers between the eyes. Satterfield's extraordinary efforts result in change-inducing and life-saving journalism."

The foundation, the philanthropic arm of E.W. Scripps Co., will present more than $170,000 in prize money to the winners on April 18 in Cincinnati. The awards show will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook and rebroadcast on April 21 on Newsy.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Non-fiction book award finalists have rural angles on the opioid epidemic, hydraulic fracturing and for-profit prisons

Three of the five finalists for the 2019 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism have significant rural resonance. The prize, established in 1988, is awarded by the New York Public Library for journalists "whose work brings clarity and public attention to important issues, events, or policies," Gwen Glazer writes for the NYPL. The winner, who receives a $15,000 cash prize, will be announced on April 16.

In American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (Penguin Press), award-winning investigative journalist Shane Bauer offers a "blistering indictment of the private prison system, and the powerful forces that drive it," Glazer writes. Bauer details the history and politics of for-profit prisons, punctuated with anecdotes from his four-month stint as a private prison guard.

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) tells the story of how a natural-gas boom driven by hydraulic fracturing affected a small Appalachian town. Award-winning poet and journalist Eliza Griswold draws on seven years of immersive reporting to bring the story to life.

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America (Little, Brown and Co.), by former Roanoke Times reporter Beth Macy, is a comprehensive history of the opioid epidemic in America over the past 20 years that provides "an unforgettable portrait of the families and first responders on the front lines," Glazer writes.

Ky. and S.C. nature photographer James Archambeault dies

One of the many James Archambeault photos of horse farms in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, a favorite subject for him.
Famed Kentucky and South Carolina nature photographer James Archambeault died Monday at the age of 76 in South Carolina. His wife Lee said he had become ill on Jan. 30, possibly because of his heart condition, and had been unconscious since Feb. 1, Janet Patton and Cheryl Truman report for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Funeral arrangements are pending.

James Archambeault
Archambeault published his first book of photos in 1982, and published five more over the years, plus a slew of calendars, postcards, and more. He was most famous for his shots of rural Kentucky and Pawleys Island, S.C. He helped others see nature in a new light, his wife told the Herald-Leader: "I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they passed something and thought of Jim because his vision had taught them how to see things differently."

In an interview last year, "Archambeault said his gift as a photographer was patience: He scouted his shot and waited for the light. Some days he got nothing. Other days were full of photographic wonder," Patton and Truman report. "Archambeault’s style was no-filter, all-film, cultivated on long periods of waiting, alone with his thoughts, for the right shot to come. Many of those shots made Kentucky seem like a place descended from the heavens, gently touched by mankind." See some of his photography at his website.

Roadkill ratatouille? Why not? More states encourage use

Roadkill cuisine sounds unappetizing to most, but more states are recognizing that it can make a perfectly good meal. Officials in several states are allowing, even encouraging, people to salvage roadkill in an effort to reduce collisions with carcasses and keep good meat from going to waste.

"Between 1 million and 2 million large animals are hit by vehicles every year in the United States in accidents that kill 200 people and cost nearly $8.4 billion in damages, according to estimates from the Federal Highway Administration," Matt Vasilogambros reports for Stateline. Why not use some of that meat?

Some supporters of the notion say it's a good way to feed the hungry; others say it makes sense from a conservation aspect. Idaho restaurateur Nate Lindskoog told Stateline that eating roadkill venison is the "most respectful thing to do if wild game dies. It's the best way to dignify its death." He stressed that he only eats roadkill at home, and does not serve it in his restaurant.

Within 24 hours of butchering roadkill, Idaho law requires salvagers to visit the state Fish and Game website to describe it. "State officials use the information to identify animal migration patterns, feeding areas and dangerous stretches of road. Their goal is to protect animals, but also people and their vehicles," Stateline reports. Click here for tips on how to safely harvest roadkill.

Rural Philanthropy Toolkit launched to help rural communities create, run, and fund health organizations

The Rural Health Information Hub has launched a Rural Philanthropy Toolkit to help rural communities learn how to plan, create and fund community health programs.

The toolkit includes six detailed modules that break down the process: creating a program, developing it, implementing it, evaluating its effectiveness, planning for long-term sustainability, and best practices. It also includes toolkits with more information on issues such as aging in place, HIV/AIDS, food access, and diabetes.

"The online toolkit was developed through the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in partnership with the National Rural Health Association," which has convened an annual philanthropy meeting for the last five years, Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder.

Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service showed the need for such a toolkit. Rural people, broadly defined, are 19 percent of the population, but rural-based organizations get only 5.5 percent of the real value of domestic grants from large foundations and a little more than 7 percent from smaller foundations. "On average, large foundations awarded $88 per person to non-metro counties, almost half the average provided to organizations in metro counties, according to ERS," Bryce reports. "Rural grants were more likely to be awarded for higher education, the environment and outdoor recreation. Urban organizations, in contrast, received more grants for health, science, technology, arts, culture and humanities."

Medicare penalizes 800 hospitals with highest rates of hospital-acquired infections, injuries; here's a link to a list

Medicare will pay 800 hospitals less this year because of high rates of patient infections and injuries. That's the highest number since the government established the Hospital Acquired Conditions Reduction Program five years ago under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the past five years, 1,756 hospitals have been punished at least once, and 110 are being penalized for the fifth straight year, Jordan Rau reports for Kaiser Health News. Click here to see if your local hospital is on the list.

"Under the latest round of sanctions, each hospital will lose 1 percent of its Medicare payments for patients discharged between last October and this September. That comes on top of other penalties created by the health care law, such as annual payment reductions for hospitals with too many patients being readmitted," Rau reports. "Each year, the quarter of general hospitals with the highest rates are punished, even if their records have improved from the previous year." Critical-access hospitals and specialty hospitals like those for veterans, psychiatric patients, or children are excluded from consideration.

The hospital industry argues that the program creates an arbitrary cut-off for penalties. The American Hospital Association, a lobbying group, calculated that about 59 percent of the 768 hospitals punished in 2017 had HAC scores that were barely worse than hospitals not punished. "Hospitals also complain that the ones that do the best job testing for infections and other threats to patients appear to be among the worst based on statistics, while their more lackadaisical peers look better than they might be," Rau reports. However, the program's supporters argue that the threat of losing money motivates hospitals to improve.

Has the program helped decrease hospital-acquired conditions? Mostly: a June report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found an 8 percent decrease in such conditions from 2014 to 2016, but also found an increase in bedsores and urinary tract infections in catheterized patients during that time. The HACRP program bases its penalties on some of the conditions examined in the AHRQ report, Rau reports.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Analysis tries to measure political polarization by county; older, highly educated urbanites seem the most intolerant

Map by The Atlantic; click on it for a larger version; click here to view the interactive version.

America has become increasingly politically polarized in recent years, some places much more so than others. The Atlantic wanted to find out which U.S. counties were most polarized, and did so with the help of polling and analytics firm PredictWise. The result is a county-level map ranking counties based on partisan prejudice and intolerance.

Some of the results were surprising. "We might expect some groups to be particularly angry at their political opponents right now. Immigrants have been explicitly targeted by the current administration, for example; they might have the most cause for partisan bias right now. But that is not what we found, report Amanda Ripley, Rekha Tenjarla, and Angela He. "In general, the most politically intolerant Americans, according to the analysis, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves."

That tracks with previous research by University of Pennsylvania political science professor Diana Mutz; she found that highly educated white people don't frequently talk to people who disagree with them politically, so it's easier for them to mischaracterize ideological opponents. "By contrast, many nonwhite Americans routinely encounter political disagreement. They have more diverse social networks, politically speaking, and therefore tend to have more complicated views of the other side, whatever side that may be," The Atlantic reports.

The most politically intolerant county in the U.S. seems to be Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston. Nine out of 10 couples agree with each other politically and eight out of every 10 neighborhoods are politically homogeneous, The Atlantic reports.

With so much political polarization, "The irony is that Americans remain in agreement on many actual issues. Eight out of 10 Americans think that political correctness is a problem; the same number say that hate speech is a concern too," The Atlantic reports. "Most Americans are worried about the federal budget deficit, believe abortion should be legal in some or all cases, and want stricter gun regulation. Nevertheless, we are more and more convinced that the other side poses a threat to the country. Our stereotypes have outpaced reality, as stereotypes tend to do."

E&P's '10 Newspapers That Do It Right' include 5 with large rural audiences; smallest has augmented reality apps

Editor and Publisher has released its annual list of "10 Newspapers That Do It Right", which honors "innovative revenue strategies, impactful journalism, and creative audience growth." Here are the smaller or rural papers mentioned:

The Ledger Dispatch in Jackson, Calif., the smallest paper on the list, at 5,000 circulation, made the cut because of Publisher Jack Mitchell's efforts to help papers make more money with augmented reality. "Partnering with Strata, a developer of AR platforms, he created Interactive News (, software that works with newspapers to create their own AR app and publish augmented reality content over any article or advertisement," E&P reports. "So far, Interactive News has been successful for not only the Ledger Dispatch, which has increased its revenue by 30 percent, but for several other newspapers using the app as well," 30 apps "with 50 to 60 products."

The Cape Cod Times in Hyannis, Mass., is on the list for its creative multimedia projects. Those include "Life With Gwen, a lifestyle Facebook program and podcast hybrid; CCT Live, also a hybrid and weekly news roundup; Cape League Corner, a podcast that highlights the summer basketball league in the country; Cape Cod Fun Show, a lighthearted show that highlights activities in town; and Curious Cape Cod, a reader engagement program that allows readers to submit questions and topics online for journalists to investigate and report on." Executive editor Paul Pronovost told E&P that such programs help reach new audiences or existing audiences in a new way.

The Herald & Review in Decatur, Ill., was honored for its dogged investigation of local officials by digging through public documents. "In a time of shrinking resources and limited bodies to attend meetings, these documents are gold mines of material that, with the right mindset and patience, can spark meaningful watchdog journalism," said Central Illinois Editor Chris Coates.

The Idaho Press in Nampa, which changed its name from the Idaho Press-Tribune last June, was recognized for overcoming hardship. After it lost its biggest printing customer in early 2018, the paper could have reduced its footprint through cutting circulation, reducing coverage and laying off staff. Instead, it expanded coverage, offered home delivery, and hired a slew of reporters and editors to make the paper more valuable to readers. It also acquired an alternative weekly in Boise and transformed it into a Boise bureau. Since March 2018, circulation increased 22 percent daily and 31 percent Sunday.

The Sumter Item in South Carolina made the list for creative money-making after it created a video production company run by newsroom videographers. "Launched in February 2018, Studio Sumter produces local commercials and handles video contracts with the city, county, chamber, economic development board, school system and various other regional groups and businesses. It also produces a daily news show called 'Sumter Today,' hosted by Kayla Robins, the paper’s executive editor. The show comes out Monday through Friday, with an occasional video on the weekend." The venture has been profitable since day one and Sumter Today is popular with locals.

Coal ash contaminates groundwater around most of nation's coal-fired power plants, according to plant data analysis

More than 90 percent of the nation's coal-fired power plants that must monitor groundwater quality near their coal-ash retention ponds show unsafe levels of toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lithium. That's according to an analysis of the data by green advocacy groups the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters.

"The environmental groups reviewed data reported from 4,600 groundwater monitoring wells near coal ash dumps of two-thirds of the coal-fired power plants in the United States," Volcovici reports. "Data made public by power companies showed 241 of the 265 plants, or 91 percent, that were subject to the monitoring requirement showed unsafe levels of one or more coal ash components in nearby groundwater compared to EPA standards, according to the analysis by the groups."

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal burning and is commonly dumped into retention ponds. Because of spills that contaminated rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Obama administration created minimum national standards for coal ash disposal in 2015, including a requirement that companies monitor groundwater and publish the data, Volcovici reports.

"Amid strong pressure from utility and coal companies, the EPA under President Donald Trump last July revised the 2015 rule to suspend groundwater monitoring requirements at coal ash sites if it is determined there is no potential for pollutants to move into certain aquifers," Volcovici reports. "The rule also extended the life of some coal ash ponds from early 2019 to late 2020."

Some Republican lawmakers invoke hamburgers as a symbol of opposition to proposed Green New Deal

Congressional Republicans have employed a curious symbol in their rhetoric opposing the Green New Deal: the hamburger.

Because the non-binding House resolution calls for lower greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock are a significant source of methane, many Republican lawmakers have made it out to be an anti-beef campaign, Dino Grandoni writes for The Washington Post. The aim seems to be to appeal to farmers, ranchers, and the middle-class Americans who are most likely to eat fast food.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a speech last month that, if the resolution passed, "American favorites like cheeseburgers and milkshakes would become a thing of the past. Millions of American workers will lose their jobs."

The resolution, proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), doesn't specify how lawmakers should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. "The rhetoric is among the latest instances of those on the political right fixating on Ocasio-Cortez as they search for a winning message in 2020 by casting the Green New Deal as a socialist fantasy," Grandoni writes. "Every Democratic senator running for president has so far supported the freshman representative's climate resolution."

The hamburger strategy was triggered by an erroneous fact sheet Ocasio-Cortez's office published, then quickly withdrew, that wryly said "We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast." Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee made fun of the line in a Feb. 7 tweet: "Democrat 2020 message: Elect us. We'll let caravans of MS-13 gang members come right in our open borders, but we'll stop cow farts! Sounds like a winning strategy. I think @realDonaldTrump will be reelected."

In an interview last week, Ocasio-Cortez said the resolution isn't meant to end agriculture or force people to stop eating meat, but rather to address factory farming, Grandoni reports.

Atmospheric methane has been rising for more than a decade; could accelerate global warming, climate change

Carbon dioxide is the biggest driver of climate change, but environmental scientists are increasingly worried about a second atmospheric gas: methane. Though there's a lot less of it in the air, it's much better at trapping heat; a ton "causes 32 times as much warming as one ton of CO2 over the course of a century," Julia Rosen reports  for the Los Angeles Times. However, it dissipates faster than CO2.

Methane is produced by a number of things, about half of them human-caused, like agriculture (cow burps, flatulence and waste), fossil-fuel operations and gas emissions from landfills. Atmospheric methane levels stopped increasing 20 years ago, but began rising again in 2007 and accelerated in 2014. Scientists aren't certain why, but they know the surge will likely speed up global warming, Rosen reports. It's probably a combination of many factors, some of which humans can influence; one could be that global warming is releasing more methane from wetlands and other natural features.

Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, said that plugging leaks from oil and gas wells needs to be a priority. Since methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas, companies have a financial incentive to stop leaks, he told Rosen.

A few of the nation's fossil-fuel operations are the biggest culprits for methane leaks, which Debra Wunch, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto, says is "both scary and a good thing" possibly because it's easier to convince a few operations to change than all of them. "At the Barnett Shale in Texas, 2 percent of the facilities produce half of the field’s methane emissions. In Southern California, the Aliso Canyon leak released roughly 100,000 tons of methane in 2015 and 2016 — the equivalent of burning 1 billion gallons of gasoline," Rosen reports.

Scientific experiments indicate that ranchers could reduce livestock methane emissions by feeding them more fats or seaweed. "Capping landfills and using the methane they produce for electricity would help too," Rosen reports.

Monday, March 04, 2019

News media need to keep explaining how they work; many people don't understand the 3 types of information media

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

At last week's Knight Media Forum, conservative author and commentator Charlie Sykes offered considerable wisdom. Two points stood out for me: The news media need to do a better job of explaining what they do, and how they do it; and they are often too imprecise with terminology. We need to say "We are journalists, this is media; we are not the same thing."

The proliferation of media has left many Americans confused about what journalism is, or what it is supposed to be. That was driven home by a Reuters-Ipsos poll taken in December for Columbia Journalism Review. It found that 60 percent of Americans (54 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans) believe reporters are sometimes or very often paid by their sources. The question may have been suggestive, but when even a substantial share of Americans don't understand a fundamental principle of journalism, we're in trouble.

Typically, journalists have explained their craft in high-flown language about dedication to truth and service to democracy. We need to espouse those aspirational values, but we also need simpler points that are easier to understand and more likely to be believed -- lines that can fit on a bumper sticker and an elevator speech.

Here's a bumper sticker, aimed at reminding people that someone has to pay for journalism.

Here's an elevator speech about what journalism is, or should be:

We practice journalism, which reports facts. To do that, we verify information, or we attribute it to someone else. That is called the discipline of verification, and it is the essence of the news media. There are two other types of information media: social media, which have no discipline, much less verification; and strategic media, which try to sell you something: goods, services, ideas, politicians, causes, beliefs, etc. 
Newspapers once relied on one form of strategic media, advertising, for most of their income. Today, social media get more of the ad money, so newspapers must get more income from the only other reliable place they can get it: their readers, in the form of subscriptions or single-copy sales. As you might guess, we prefer subscribers, so we hope to earn your respect and loyalty. 
How do we do that? By being honest and straightforward about our business. 
That means we must separate fact from opinion, reserving our own views for the editorial page. Of course, our views have some influence over what news we choose to cover, so if you think we’re not covering what should be covered, or have failed to separate fact from opinion, or make another mistake, we want you to tell us.

There's more; you can read the rest in my latest monthly column for the National Newspaper Association, which suggests that news media keep such an explanation on their websites as a button labeled “How We Work,” and that newspapers run shorter versions of it in print every day, usually on the editorial page. A longer version could be a letter from the editor, ideally using timely local examples. If we demand transparency from officials and institutions, we must practice it ourselves.

Rural nursing homes closing, creating hardship, heartbreak

"More than 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged over the last decade, according to the Cowles Research Group, which tracks long-term care, and each closure scattered patients like seeds in the wind," Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "Instead of finding new care in their homes and communities, many end up at different nursing homes far from their families."

Ramona Labrensz with a photo of her husband Harold
(Photo by Kristina Barker, The New York Times)
Healy's story begins with the tear-jerking tale of Harold Labrensz, an 89-year-old man in South Dakota who has to move to a North Dakota nursing home 220 miles away because his 87-year-old wife Ramona "could not find any nursing home nearby to take him, and she could not help him if he took a fall at home." Then he shows the problem's broad scope in rural America: "There are few choices for an aging population. Home health aides can be scarce and unaffordable to hire around the clock. The few senior-citizen apartments have waiting lists. Adult children have long since moved away to bigger cities."

Healy gives the business side: "Thirty-six rural nursing homes across the country have been forced to close in the last decade because they failed to meet health and safety standards. But far more have collapsed for financial reasons, including changing health care policies that now encourage people to choose independent and assisted living or stay in their own homes with help from caregivers. Some nursing homes cannot find people to do the low-paying work of caring for frail residents. Others are losing money as their occupancy rates fall and more of their patients’ long-term care is covered by Medicaid, which in many states does not pay enough to keep the lights on."

Healy adds, "On paper, South Dakota and other rural states still have enough long-term care beds for people who need round-the-clock care. The problem is where they are. When a nursing home closes in a small town, the available beds are often so far away that elderly spouses cannot make the drive, and the transferred residents become cut off from the friends, church groups and relatives they have known all their lives."

Tenn. town braces for economic impact after hospital closes

Cumberland River Hospital employees leave just before the hospital officially closed at 7 a.m. March 1
(Photo by Ben Wheeler of the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville, home of the hospital's parent hospital)
Friday morning, the staff of Cumberland River Hospital in Celina, Tennessee, walked out the doors for the last time, as the hospital closed and left the rural community bracing for more bad news.
The hospital is "the 11th rural hospital in Tennessee to close in recent years — more than any state but Texas," Blake Farmer reports for WPLN 90.3 FM in Nashville. "Now the remote lakeside community of 1,500 people is bracing for inevitable ripple effects, which include a blow to the city's economic development plan to attract retirees."

Seniors generally need more medical care, and the nearby hospital was a big selling point for potential new residents. But Susan Scovel, who has led efforts to attract retirees to relocate to Celina, says she now can't in good conscience recommend the town to a senior with health problems. "I'd say look elsewhere," she told Farmer.

Celina and Clay County, Tennessee (Wikipedia map)
"The closest hospital is now 18 miles away, in the town of Livingston," over roads that wind through the Highland Rim hills bordering the river valley, Farmer reports. "That adds another 30 minutes ... for those who need an X-ray or blood work. For those in the back of an ambulance, it could make the difference between life or death."

Not only could the town miss out on potential residents, it is likely to lose many who are employed in health care, a well-paying line of work, and may want to live closer to a new job at another hospital. The hospital was the second-largest employer in town, behind the Clay County Schools.

The town could lose non-emergency medical services too, since Celina's three practicing physicians now don't have admitting privileges at a hospital. At least one of the doctors, Jessie Lee Copeland, says he plans to continue practicing in Celina despite that, Farmer reports.

Cookeville Regional Medical Center, two counties away, owns Cumberland River Hospital, and said in January that it would close it after it couldn't find a buyer. Hospital officials told Farmer that "declining reimbursements and lower patient volumes" were to blame for the closure. Rural hospital closures are concentrated in states such as Tennessee and Texas that did not expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Tune in for March 6 webinar on USDA farm income forecast

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service will host a free webinar Wednesday, March 6, to discuss its latest Farm Income Forecast, being released that day. The webinar's host, economist Carrie Litkowski, will go over the status of the farm economy.

A forecast is released three times a year, usually in February, August and November, but the partial government shutdown delayed the latest report's release. Look for the new report here, as well as past reports. The webinar will take about an hour and will begin at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Click here to register or for more information.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

'Tis Sweet to be Remembered': Mac Wiseman, who did just about all of it in music and the music business, gone at 93

Mac Wiseman in 2014, when he entered the Country
Music Hall of Fame. (Photo by Mark Humphrey, AP)
Funeral services were held Wednesday in Nashville for Mac Wiseman, who died at 93 on Feb. 24. He "did just about everything a person could do in the music business: worked as a disc jockey, promoter and record executive; recorded more than 65 albums; helped found the Country Music Association and served as its first treasurer; received a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship; and influenced greats like Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Alison Krauss," recounted Juli Thanki of The Tennessean.

The list of Wiseman's honorary pallbearers in Bluegrass Today illustrated his ecumenical, eclectic music history. They included Krauss, Marty Stuart, Bill Anderson, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill and Sonny Osborne. His "hallmark was crossing musical genre lines," Bill Friskics-Warren wrote for The New York Times. Thanki notes, "He collaborated with artists ranging from big band leader Woody Herman to singer-songwriter John Prine [another honorary pallbearer] to funk master Bootsy Collins."

Born along the Blue Ridge in Northern Virginia, Wiseman made his way south in the Great Valley of Appalachia, to Roanoke, Bristol and Knoxville before jumping the Cumberland Plateau to Nashville, where he became an institution. "Wiseman was the last surviving original member of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys," Thanki notes. "Yet, until his last days, he remained active in Nashville's music scene." After Flatt and Scruggs, he was with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, and as musical genres were sorted out in the 1950s and '60s, he was stuck with the bluegrass label.

“Not to sound too critical, but the ‘bluegrass’ classification was the worst damned thing ever happened to me,” Wiseman told the roots-music magazine No Depression in 2006. “Up until then I was getting as much airplay as Marty Robbins or Ray Price,” two country crooners who had crossover pop hits. Wiseman's biggest hit as a songwriter and performer was "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy," a 1959 tune that reflected his deep roots in traditional music that preceded bluegrass. His "signature song, '’Tis Sweet to Be Remembered,' was written in 1902, and his version owed as much to vintage pop and swing music as it did to country or bluegrass," Friskics-Warren writes.