Friday, May 17, 2019

Editor of daily bought by GateHouse, suffering cuts in staff, reduces editorials to one per month; what do you think?

Should newspaper editorial pages go the way of Xacto knives and wax? Jeremy McBain, executive editor of the Petoskey News-Review in northern Michigan, wrestled with the question and decided that the daily, bought in February by GateHouse Media, needed to cut way back on its editorials.

Jeremy McBain
"Our staff has been cut. Reporters and editors have more duties on their plates. I have to start looking at areas to cut. Areas that will have the least impact on readers," McBain wrote May 17.

"We will not be cutting the columnists, the letters to the editor or the kudos on the opinion page. Those will remain. What you will see are fewer editorials. We are going to write only one of these a month, starting this month. However, we reserve the option to write more if a rare situation calls for it. It is hoped this will give the reporters on the editorial board more time each week to focus on our priority — unbiased, factual, news stories. And it is hoped this will give our editors more time to work with reporters on improving stories."

McBain concluded, "Let’s face it, you don’t read this newspaper to learn what our opinion on a community issue is on the opinion page. You read this newspaper to find out what is going on, how it impacts you and what you can about it. That is our priority. That is what we do best."

Earlier in his piece, McBain said of opinion pages, "Are they really needed anymore? In today’s digital media world, you can find and you can express opinion in thousands of different places. . . . But, where can you go to get solid facts today? Where can you get information that is not spun to get you to believe someone’s viewpoint? That seems to be getting harder and harder today when it comes to the digital world or television." McBain said his surveys in the past had shown that older readers said the opinion page was still valuable. Younger readers saw no use for it."

Readers of The Rural Blog are invited to comment on this item.

Longest-serving exec of a state press group wins award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckian

David Thompson
The longest-serving executive of any U.S. newspaper association, Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, is the 2019 winner of the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.

Thompson will receive the award Sept. 26, the 36th anniversary of taking the job. No other current member of the Newspaper Association Managers, which serves groups in the U.S. and Canada, has served so long as chief executive of an association.

“It’s been a real honor to serve alongside him,” said NAM Clerk Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association and former editor of the Glasgow Daily Times in Kentucky. "David is a dedicated, hard-working advocate for community journalism and freedom of information.”

In the last session of the General Assembly, Thompson led successful efforts to defeat bills that would have substantially weakened the Kentucky Open Records Act. In 1992, he coordinated the last major revision of the act, which was passed in 1976.

"David has been a tireless advocate for good journalism in Kentucky," said Tom Eblen, president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "He has not just supported Kentucky's newspapers. He has worked hard for their readers to make sure Kentucky's open-records and open-meetings laws are protected and enforced in the public's interest."

The SPJ chapter and the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues present the award, which is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission and the driving force for creation of the institute, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Thompson's work has sometimes meant legislative battles with groups such as the Kentucky League of Cities, over public-notice ads, but it was the league that nominated him for the award.

“KPA and KLC have sometimes been on opposite sides of a legislative issue,” KLC Deputy Executive Director J.D. Chaney wrote in his nomination. “Nonetheless, we have great respect for David’s integrity in all areas of his work. He is a fierce and respected advocate for journalism in Kentucky.” He added, “We can think of no one who has shown more journalistic leadership in serving the communities of Kentucky. . . . He has represented Kentucky’s small, local newspapers above all else.”

All but two of Kentucky’s 120 counties, many of them small, have a newspaper. The prevalence of small papers has helped give the KPA the largest board of directors of any U.S. press group. “It can be a challenge to work with such a large board, represent all valid interests and keep your eyes on the prize,” said Institute Director Al Cross, who has served on the board as a journalism-education representative. “David understands the newspapers of Kentucky better than anyone.”

Thompson, who lives in Georgetown with his wife Teresa, is a journalism graduate of the University of Kentucky and an Army veteran. He was a sportswriter for the Lexington Herald, where his father Billy also covered sports, and was publisher and editor of the Georgetown News and Times when he joined KPA. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2006.

At KPA, Thompson has overseen many innovations, including an open-government hotline for legal advice, a legal defense fund, an internship program for college students, a statewide open-records audit, a news bureau and story-sharing service, a move to a new headquarters funded by KPA’s business activities, and a website for public notices, better known as “legal ads.” His tenure also allowed him to manage both the 125th and 150th anniversaries of the association.

“David Thompson has invested his life working in, with, and for community newspapers,” KPA President Jay Nolan said. He wrote in seconding the nomination, “I cannot think of another journalist in the state who has consistently contributed so much to so many for so long.”

Sharon Burton, winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award, wrote in her seconding letter, “David may not have penned a local newspaper article since he accepted the role of KPA executive director in 1983, but he has certainly been a part of every community newspaper across Kentucky for the past 36 years.”

John Nelson, executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers and the 2013 Smith Award winner, said, "As past KPA presidents, many of us have been given credit for initiatives to hold government accountable, to advance efforts to expand transparency, and to support the First Amendment — all foundations in the practice of community journalism. Behind every one of those efforts for the past 36 years has been David Thompson, without whose imagination, support, encouragement and influence there would have been little success. David’s fingerprints are all over community journalism in Kentucky, his public service hidden between the lines of our newspaper columns."

Former print journalist's rural Iowa talk radio show puts local officials in the 'Danger Zone'

Sheri Melvold in the control room at KMAQ. (Daily Yonder photo by Julianne Couch)
If you want to see what great rural broadcast journalism can look like, look no farther than Maquoketa, Iowa. The town of 6,000 is home to KMAQ AM/FM, one of the state's few locally owned and operated radio stations. The rural Jackson County station plays a mix of music, a call-in auction, live reading of obituaries, bingo, and more. But one of its most distinctive offerings is "Just Talk", an interview and call-in show focused on local news, Julianne Couch reports for The Daily Yonder.

Though KMAQ already had a long-running talk show, local owner Dennis Voy decided in 1996 that he wanted a show from a female perspective. He and his wife Nancy immediately thought of Sheri Melvold to head up the show. "An Arizona native, she’d worked for newspapers such as the Phoenix Gazette and the Arizona Republic. Her then husband, Doug Melvold, was a journalist, too, and a Maquoketa native," Couch reports. "When he returned to take over the family-run Maquoketa Sentinel Press, she accompanied him and worked for the paper. Even after the couple divorced, she continued working there for several more years. She also contributed to other area newspapers on occasion and became well known in the community. Her local knowledge and journalism chops meant she was an obvious choice to take on a live interview and call-in show, even though she had never worked in radio before."
Sperling's Best Places map
Melvold signaled from the beginning that she was no pushover. She chose the Kenny Loggins hit "Danger Zone" as her show's theme song to remind any politicians who might drop in that they shouldn't get too comfortable. "Melvold knows her show isn’t a hard-hitting political news program. She tries not to press too much. But she does run the ship and reminds certain guests that it isn’t her job to present only the positive side of community stories," Couch reports.

Melvold covers plenty of non-political local goings-in, and reads local newspapers to make sure she has her finger on the community's pulse. Though the station's audience is aging, they're loyal. And Melvold believes KMAQ holds a unique place in the community as a rapid-response news source.

Registration open for Society of Environmental Journalists' 29th annual conference, to be held from Oct. 9-13

Registration is open for the Society of Environmental Journalists' 29th annual conference, which will be held from Oct. 9-13 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

"This year’s conference focuses on climate change, energy development, water scarcity and politics, public lands management, agriculture and social justice (and injustice)," write conference co-chairs Susan Moran and Joshua Zaffos. Click here for more information or to register.

U.S. bans Chinese telecom tech popular with rural carriers

"President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday designed to bar U.S. telecommunications networks from using equipment from foreign suppliers, a move apparently targeting Chinese telecom giant Huawei," Richard Gonzales reports for NPR.

The move could stymie rural broadband buildout, since many rural telecoms use Huawei's relatively low-cost equipment. Though such hardware makes up less than 1% of U.S. telecom networks, many small rural carriers use it.

The order says that "foreign adversaries" are increasingly committing economic and industrial espionage through telecommunications technology and services, and declares this a national emergency. The order instructs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to create rules restricting the purchase of telecoms tech from companies linked to or controlled by foreign adversaries.

Though no specific countries or companies are named in the order, the Commerce Department said Wednesday it's adding Huawei to a list that prevents it from buying components from U.S. companies without government approval. The administration has complained that the Chinese government could use Huawei tech to spy or snoop on Americans. In 2012 Congress banned the federal government from doing business with Huawei or another Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, Gonzales reports.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maine, the most rural state, to end religious exemptions for vaccines; bill sparks passionate debate on freedom, safety

Maine, the nation's most rural state, will soon no longer allow philosophical or religious exemptions to its school vaccination law. The state Senate passed a repeal bill Tuesday on an 18-17 vote, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills supports the repeal and is expected to sign it into law. If she does, "Maine would be the fourth state – following California, Mississippi and West Virginia – to ban all non-medical exemptions that allow parents to forgo school-required vaccines for their children," Scott Thistle reports for the Portland Press Herald.

The bill comes as measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases are making a major comeback in the U.S. because of low vaccination rates. "Maine has one of the worst vaccination rates for children entering kindergarten in the nation, and the country’s highest rate of pertussis," commonly called whooping cough, Thistle reports. "In the 2018-19 school year, 5.6 percent of Maine children entering kindergarten had non-medical exemptions for immunizations, state statistics show."

The bill sparked passionate debate on both sides. Opponents of the measure said ending religious and philosophical exemptions wouldn't improve public health and would drive thousands of families away from the state, or prevent religious families from moving to Maine. Many also said it decreased religious freedom and parental rights. But supporters said such exemptions put others' health at risk, such as children who are immunocompromised, Thistle reports.

It's unclear how much ending the exemptions will help increase vaccination rates. In California, vaccination rates increased from 92.8% to 95.1% within two years, but medical exemptions also increased dramatically in regions that once had high rates of philosophical exemptions, suggesting that some parents simply pressed doctors for a different excuse, Thistle reports.

Illinois editor resigns from GateHouse paper to spare layoffs

Angie Muhs
The editor of The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois, resigned Friday in hopes of preventing more layoffs. When the general manager escorted Angie Muhs from the building Monday, staff writers accompanied her as a show of respect. Muhs had been at the paper since 2014 and became the president of the Associated Press Media Editors last year.

According to Journal-Register staff writer Dean Olsen, Muhs hoped to save money on staff salaries in hopes that owner GateHouse Media would not make any more newsroom reductions. "Olsen said the newspaper had about 35 reporters when the union formed in 2012. Today, the newspaper has 15 editorial staffers, including part-timers, and three managers," John O'Connor reports for The Associated Press. The paper's sports editor was laid off in March, the photo editor was laid off this month, and many beats like city hall and education do not have full-time reporters, according to Olsen.

GateHouse got the paper in 2007 as part of its $380 million purchase of Copley Press's Midwest holdings. The largest owner of newspapers in the U.S., GateHouse has been frequently criticized for buying papers and laying off staff. Though it didn't respond to O'Connor's requests for comment, the company "in the past has rejected the notion that its motivations are strictly financial and has pointed to measures it’s taken to keep news flowing at newspapers across the U.S.," O'Connor reports.

Olsen said Muhs was an asset to the paper and would be missed. "It’s sad she felt she had to do this because GateHouse says its focus is local news," Olsen told O'Connor. "We’re waiting for them to show us how they’re going to fulfill that mission."

Fact-checking Trump on 'false or misleading' trade tweets

Glenn Kessler offers a blistering review of President Trump's recent tweets on international trade and trade policy in The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column.

"As we have noted for years, President Trump appears to have little understanding of trade and trade policy, even though it is an animating element of his presidency. As the trade war with China has heated up, the president’s itchy Twitter finger has been busy with a fusillade of false or misleading tweets," Kessler writes. "Whether the president knows these claims are untrue is unclear, but the overall effect is to create a distinct winner-takes-all narrative for his trade policy. Here’s a quick tour through some of the major themes." Read more here.

Life in Rural America Symposium, with reporter Ken Ward Jr. and author Sarah Smarsh, to livestream May 21

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will livestream its Life in Rural America Symposium in Charleston, W.Va., from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on May 21. 

The event will feature experts and community leaders from across the nation discussing how to solve rural challenges, the latest data on rural health and economic experiences, how to use research and data to bring change, and examples of rural communities and regions where important change is happening. The symposium will also premiere new data about the economic, social and health experiences of people living in rural and tribal communities. 

The keynote speakers will be Sarah Smarsh, author of the New York Times bestseller Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, and Ken Ward Jr., investigative journalist for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and recipient of the 2018 MacArthur "Genius" Award. Click here for more details about the symposium and how to tune in.

Radio stations in hurricane-devastated Fla. Panhandle to play Trump speech snippets every hour until 2020 election

"Two days after President Trump rallied his base in Florida’s Panhandle, vowing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the hurricane-devastated region, three local radio stations said they would air Trump speeches daily until the 2020 election," Tiffini Theisen reports for the Orlando Sentinel. "The stations will broadcast two-minute snippets of Trump speeches every hour of every day -- perhaps sometimes twice an hour -- until the end of the presidential race, owner Samuel Rogatinsky said."

Rogatinsky, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who owns Gulf Coast Media, bought three Panhandle FM stations late last year from Powell Broadcasting Co. Powell sold the stations after Hurricane Michael damaged facilities so badly that the stations were off air for several months, Theisen reports. 

Rogatinsky told Theisen he ran the notion of airing Trump speeches regularly by several locals and none objected because "It's Republican territory." He said Panhandle residents have felt forgotten in the seven months since the storm, and said the speeches could be uplifting. "Really, we just want to have inspirational type things because the community is so down," he told Thiesen. "Nobody else is really promising or doing anything. They want to hear what he has to say."

He told MSN that he would give equal airtime to other candidates if any requested it, to comply with Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

States get ranked for their health emergency preparedness; how does yours stack up?

Map by the National Health Security Preparedness Index; click the image to enlarge it.
The nation's overall ability to manage health emergencies has improved significantly over the past six years, though some regions lag behind, according to a nationwide study.

The 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzes 129 measures for each state and for the nation as a whole, such as the number of paramedics and whether bridges are in good condition. Such measures help determine how well states could respond to and recover from a health emergency caused by infectious diseases, terrorism, extreme weather, and more.

The index offers granular data for each state, including trends over time and how states stack up against others in measures that affect their preparedness, such as health security surveillance and incident and information management. Click here to see how your state stacks up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Republican senators feeling the heat from constituents over trade war, but Rubio says U.S. must hang tough

"Senate Republicans expressed growing concern Tuesday that President Trump’s escalating trade war with China is hurting their constituents in rural America, ratcheting up tension between the White House and Congress on a signature issue," Damian Paletta, Erica Werner and Taylor Telford report for The Washington Post.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said "I'm not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say," the Post reports. Grassley is one of Trump's main critics on trade, and has previously clashed with the president on the Renewable Fuels Standard.

The president has been unclear about what he believes will happen next. "On Tuesday, Trump offered conflicting forecasts of what would happen next, predicting that a deal could be reached in a few weeks but also saying the showdown could last much longer," the Post reports. "The resulting impression was that trade policy was sharply zigzagging between calls for a return to the table and more negotiation, and preparation for further tariff pain."

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are being tested in their public support for Trump after last week's tariff increase prompted angry calls from constituents who complain they're being hurt by the trade war. "Faced with the prospect that Trump will continue with his adversarial approach, Republican lawmakers are also looking for ways to provide a taxpayer bailout to farmers, perhaps adding billions of dollars to a disaster bill that has languished in Congress for weeks," the Post reports.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the trade war was more the fault of corporations who made bad deals with China than Trump's tariffs. "Rubio acknowledges that the trade war with China is harmful to the American economy in the short term and that the tariffs increase costs for U.S. consumers. But he says he believes it’s worth it," the Post's James Hohmann reports

"Surrendering to China will be devastating,” Rubio told Hohmann. "It will fundamentally alter our place in the world and the very nature of our economy for two generations or more."

The Post's Philip Bump, however, argues that the trade war is too expensive for America to maintain, and that American consumers are essentially subsidizing farmers, part of Trump's key political base: "A soybean farmer I spoke with last August in Pennsylvania described the tariff fight as 'a small loss for a big-time gain.' Whether that optimism holds nine months later — and whether it will last for another year — is unclear."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters this week that farmers' patience with the trade war was wearing thin, the Post reports. "I'm very hopeful we can get back to the table," Roberts said. "There's too much at stake."

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enters Democratic presidential race, touts his red-state and rural bona fides

Steve Bullock
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has entered the Democratic race for president, making him arguably the most rural candidate in the crowded field.

Bullock "has made his political calling card that of a Democrat who has flourished in the rural West: He has been elected statewide three times, once for attorney general and twice in his bids for governor, each time in a year that his party’s presidential nominee was losing Montana," Jonathan Martin reports for The New York Times.

Of particular note — and he notes it often — Bullock was elected in 2016 in a state that President Trump carried, making him the only Democratic governor to do so. He hopes that will position him as a candidate who can sway Republican and independent voters, Martin reports.

However, "with little name recognition beyond his native Montana, he’s got a climb as tall as Granite Peak ahead of him. Joe Biden, who leads in early polls, seems to have a firm grip on the White Moderate Dude role," Eric Lutz reports for Vanity Fair. "How Bullock, an obscure figure with a pretty cookie-cutter message to give everyone a “fair shot,” can make it where [Elizabeth] Warren, Kamala Harris, and others haven’t so far isn’t clear. But that hasn’t stopped a host of other long-shots from making their move — and it certainly isn’t stopping him.

Fentanyl, an added ingredient, drives increases in deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses

The same drug that is driving opioid-overdose deaths is also causing a surge in deaths from cocaine and overdoses of psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and legal drugs like Adderall.

"That’s according to a new analysis of death certificate data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that fentanyl — a cheap synthetic opioid that is a hundred times more potent than morphine — and other opioids were involved in nearly three-fourths of all cocaine overdose deaths and an increasing number of methamphetamine deaths," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline, the nonprofit, nonpartisan reporting arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Dealers are adding fentanyl to cocaine and meth.

Death rates from cocaine and psychostimulants increased from 2016 to 2017 in both rural and urban areas, and the most rural counties showed the biggest relative rate increase, the CDC study says. Efforts to fight the overdose epidemic have mostly focused on opioids, which have killed more than 700,000 Americans since 1999, but CDC officials say states and localities need to be more aware of emerging threats like fentanyl, Vestal reports.

Christopher Jones, strategy director at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told Vestal: "Broader awareness of emerging drug threats and how they intersect with the opioid-overdose crisis will help public health officials and the health care community better tailor their prevention and response efforts for all the substances and combinations of substances people are using in their community."

Four months in, Illinois Capitol coverage project is booming

Illinois newspapers were so understaffed that most of the state capitol press corps disappeared, so the Illinois Press Foundation launched a collaboration to help papers team up to share coverage and content. Four months later, Capitol News Illinois is doing well: "Nearly 300 papers around Illinois have already reprinted its content, and several editors say its coverage has become an invaluable fixture in their papers," Mari Cohen reports for Columbia Journalism Review.

The program's success "suggests that in the face of existential threats to the news industry, turning to collaboration—and away from traditional notions of competition—can pay off for local news," Cohen writes.

It is also a hopeful sign for political journalism. A Pew Research Center study found that Illinois went from 12 full-time statehouse reporters in 2009 to five in 2014, the sharpest such decline in the nation. That was especially troublesome in a state known for political corruption. The lack of reputable coverage was compounded when partisan and ideologically driven outlets tried to fill the void and provide coverage to Illinois papers. "Capitol News aims to offer a rigorous nonpartisan option," Cohen reports.

CNI, which has three reporters and a full-time intern, "roughly doubled the number of full-time print newspaper reporters working at the statehouse," Cohen reports. The project receives funding from the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation and the Illinois Press Association, parent of the foundation. All CNI content is free to IPA members.

Conflicting federal definitions of 'rural' muddy the waters

130 counties with mostly or entirely rural populations (based on density in census tracts) are located in the nation's major metropolitan areas. Click on the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version. (Daily Yonder map)
How do you define rural? It's a question that bedevils researchers, journalists, government and non-profit organizations, and even colleges (who gets a rural scholarship?), Amanda Kool writes for The Daily Yonder.

Kool, a lawyer and author, first noticed the weird disconnect in legal definitions of rurality when she moved from Boston to a rural area near Cincinnati a few years ago. "Bracken County, Kentucky is a long way from Boston in more ways than one," she writes. "And yet according to one of the most frequently used systems for defining what is rural and what is urban, both places are counted in the very same column of data, along with our nation’s other most urban locales."

That's because of differences in how different federal bodies define rurality. The Department of Agriculture splits counties into nine categories along a rural-urban spectrum by total population, market area and commuting time. "Three of them are based on census places, three others on census urban areas, one on designations of Office of Management and Budget Metropolitan Statistical Areas, one on USDA Economic Research Service rural-urban commuting area codes, and yet another based on the USDA Business and Industry Loan Program definition," Kool writes.

The Census Bureau, however, says "nonmetro" isn't the same as "rural," and more than half the people living in USDA-recognized rural areas really live in a metro area, Kool writes. That's because counties like Bracken have census tracts that classify as rural because of their low population density, but as metropolitan because at least a fourth of their labor force commutes to the metro's main county.

"The problem here is much bigger than a cultural crisis of identity," Kool writes. "Conflating notions of urban and rural with notions of metro and non-metro, and mixing usage of USDA ERS definitions with Census Bureau definitions, creates a muddy mess of what we think we know about broadband access, health care, employment, education, poverty, and so much else, both here and there. It means that the lines we use to separate the haves and the haves-not on any given topic appear less stark than human experience suggests, since under-counting the issues only serves to soften the statistics on either side of the line. From a programmatic perspective, it means that streams of funding for services intended to level the playing field do not reach some communities that might most need it, or that might best utilize it."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Editor of Tennessee weekly shows how to cover a suicide, especially of a young person and someone you know

Covering a death by suicide in a rural newspaper can be a tricky business. Many editors choose not to, mostly in an effort to show regard for the victim's family. Those who do cover such deaths may also face the difficult prospect of writing about someone they knew. The editor of a rural Tennessee weekly recently provided a good example of how to thread that needle, especially with the suicide of a teenager, something that has become more common in recent years.

Brad Martin
Brad Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, 50 miles west of Nashville, took a two-pronged approach: He wrote a straightforward story for the bottom of the front page, with the five Ws and several quotes from the friends and family of Jacob Hetherington, 17. On the opinion page, he wrote a long editorial about how he had met Jacob and his twin brother years ago while leading a Boy Scout troop.

Martin wrote that Jacob had seemed fine at a chance encounter a few weeks before his suicide, and cautioned that even sociable people like Jacob can fall prey to suicide if they don't have someone to talk to about difficult thoughts. He asked readers to reach out to others and make sure they have someone safe to talk to, and posted the phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline.

Martin is no stranger to the issue of rural suicide. In a 2016 article for The Daily Yonder, he wrote about how he became galvanized about the subject in 2003 when 13 people died by suicide in his town that year. That year he helped form the Hickman County Suicide Prevention Task Force, which has been a constant presence in the community with information on support and prevention.

Reaching out to others is an "inexact science," Martin wrote in his editorial, "but in a small place, where we know most of our neighbors, our job is to try, and to keep trying, isn't it?"

Some in rural Ill. want to shed Chicago; won't happen, but shows rural-urban divide that helped Trump win other states

Bureau of the Census map; click on it to enlarge
Illinois has become the latest state where rural lawmakers want to break it up to eliminate urban domination, but with a different twist. Instead of a relatively small rural area breaking off from the rest of the state, rural Illinois legislators want Congress to make Chicago the 51st state.

Their resolution "has eight Republican cosponsors in the state House (there are 44 Republicans in the lower chamber) and support among many of the state’s conservative activists. It’s the second such bill in as many years," Matt Vasilogambros reports for Stateline.

The chief sponsor, Rep. Brad Halbrook, "cites the many issues tearing the state apart," Stateline reports. "He listed Democrats’ 'overreaching' stances on abortion, guns, immigration, debt, pensions, Medicaid spending, property taxes, green energy and workers’ compensation as just some of the reasons" Chicago and Illinois should separate.

Chicagoland and Downstate Illinois have long had differences. They "hit a breaking point several years ago, when Illinois was mired in the longest fiscal stalemate in the United States since the Great Depression," Vasilogambros writes. "The budget battle between Democratic lawmakers and then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lasted more than two years, threatening public university accreditation, statewide road construction and 'junk' credit ratings.

Halbrook told Stateline the mess was the fault of Chicagoland Democrats: “Everywhere I go, people say we just need to get rid of Chicago. It gets rid of all of our problems. My constituency is serious about it. I’m trying to save the state.” He is from Shelbyville, pop. 4,600, in central Illinois.

Cook County, which includes Chicago, has 40% of the state's 12.7 million people. The broader Chicago metropolitan area has 9.5 million, or 75%, so "without the Chicagoland area, Illinois would have fewer people than Connecticut," Stateline notes.

John Jackson, author of a recent study about Illinois regionalism and a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University, told Stateline that a breakup is unrealistic. "But, he said, that doesn’t mean he thinks the movement is just a fool’s errand," Vasilogambros writes. "It’s about broader resentment."

“This represents a long-standing rural and urban divide that is serious in this state and prevents things from getting done,” Jackson told him. “It’s the same phenomenon all over the country, and drove the Trump vote in 2016 and will again in 2020.”

After Midwest flooding, hazards remain

Residents in Hamburg, Iowa, piled up ruined belongings and housing materials. (Photo: Des Moines Register, Brian Powers)
Record flooding has wreaked havoc in the Midwest this spring, but even where waters have receded, dangers remain. In addition to debris and infrastructure damage, "floodwaters overwhelmed private wells, sewage lagoons and public water systems, soaked over a million bushels of corn and soybeans, and picked up propane, anhydrous ammonia and fertilizer tanks," Donnelle Eller reports for The Associated Press. That has left "orphaned containers filled with industrial chemicals, pesticides, diesel fuel, oil and other potentially hazardous materials."

Local, state and federal officials are working together on the massive clean-up effort. Farmers, elevators and businesses have been ordered to destroy grain contaminated by river water, and state air-quality laws have been lifted to allow residents to burn crops, debris and damaged household items, Eller reports.

Officials are concerned about the raw sewage that many cities pumped into rivers for weeks after the floods hit. Mike Crecelius, the emergency management director in Iowa's Fremont County, is warning people not to go into the Missouri River without protection. "There are a number of municipalities north of us dumping raw sewage into the water. There are orphan tanks floating around, with valves coming off, losing pesticides, insecticides, acids and fertilizers," he told Eller. "You don’t know what’s in the water."

Though the volume of the floodwaters diluted some of the chemicals, environmental specialists also worry about the potential damage to fish and plants in the rivers, and the impact that could have on the larger ecosystem, including the people who eat the fish and get drinking water from the rivers, Eller reports.

Jury orders Bayer to pay more than $2 billion to California couple who claimed Roundup gave them cancer

On Monday a California jury ordered Bayer AG to pay more than $2 billion to a couple who said the Roundup gave them cancer. The verdict is the largest in U.S. history in litigation over glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in the herbicide.

"It was the third consecutive U.S. jury verdict against the company in litigation over the chemical, which Bayer acquired as part of its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto last year," Tina Bellon reports for Reuters. "Both other jury verdicts also came in California, one in state court and one in federal court." The company faces more than 13,400 similar lawsuits in the U.S.

The jury awarded $55 million in compensatory damages and $2 billion in punitive damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, on the grounds that Roundup was defectively designed and that the company acted negligently in failing to warn consumers about the risks. "The large punitive damages award is likely to be reduced due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9:1," Bellon reports.

Bayer argued that glyphosate has been studied for decades and found not to be carcinogenic, and said the Pilliods were both at high risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma because of other illnesses they had. The company said it will appeal the decision.

Journal of Appalachian Health begins publication, and it's about experiences in the region, not just research

Researchers in the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky have started the Journal of Appalachian Health, an online, peer-reviewed journal, saying their overall objective "is to improve the health status of the population of Appalachia through the rapid dissemination of knowledge of their health problems and evidence-based solutions to them." The journal is available free to all readers, and all users are free to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format; and can remix, transform, and build on the material for any purpose.

"There is knowledge in the pages of Appalachia’s hills," the editors write in the first issue. "This journal is positioned to find and publish those translations. It grows from a need to provide an outlet for scholarship about Appalachia’s health so that knowledge, and occasionally wisdom, is shared with those who care about and are committed to improving the region’s health."

The journal's first article reports that children 7 to 9 years old in parts of Appalachian Ohio are almost five times as likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke as children in the nation, and that parents likely under-report the prevalence of smoking in their homes, based on blood samples taken from 404 children.

The journal is open to essays and commentaries as well as research reports. Jill Crainshaw of the divinity school at Wake Forest University writes about the experiences of students who have taken "a multicultural contexts course that includes a 10-day sojourn in the mountains of North Carolina. . . . The health and well-being of human communities are connected to the health and well-being of the geographic places where people live, work, and play."

Monday, May 13, 2019

Apply by July 19 for free, expenses-paid workshop in NYC on 'cash register justice,' all about fines, fees, bail and jail

Policies of prosecutors and judges make the burden of fines, fees, bail and jail vary widely across the criminal-justice jurisdictions of the United States. Though some policies cause overcrowding of local jails, there has been relatively little reporting at the local level about such policies, and that "has helped to keep the costs, and their consequences, hidden to many Americans; and it has created a troubling gap in public understanding of the current state of our justice system," says the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of the City University of New York.

To help fill that gap, the center is conducting a two-year program of workshops for U.S. journalists. It held one workshop in March and is seeking at least 15 reporters to attend one on Sept. 26 and 27 in New York, offering to cover travel, hotel and related expenses, followed by mentoring and research assistance from center staff and experts as required. Reporters will be expected to publish or broadcast at least one story arising from their fellowship work within a reasonable time after the conference.

The selection will be based on project proposals related to the general theme of “cash register justice” that are either underway or contemplated. Applications must include a reference letter from an assigning editor or other commissioning editor who knows the applicant’s work and a short bio. (Freelancers are eligible.) Previous recipients of CMCJ reporting fellowships are eligible to apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, July 19. An application form isavailable here. Send questions to CMCJ Journalism Coordinator Maurice Possley at

The fellowship is supported by Arnold Ventures, formerly known as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

"Few Americans are aware that prisons and jails confine thousands of people whose main offense is that they are too poor," the center says. "Confronted with an accumulation of fees and fines associated with both felony and non-felony convictions as well as unpaid tickets and other civil penalties, they wind up behind bars in what amounts to a 21st century version of debtors’ prisons. . . .  Fines and fees imposed by local justice systems around the U.S. drive unemployment, family instability, recidivism and poverty in the most at-risk communities. Just as problematic: Two-thirds of all prison inmates have criminal justice debts, which complicates their successful reintegration into the community."

Oklahoma hospital's struggles illustrate dire situation of many rural hospitals, show local residents' dedication

A tip jar to help pay employees shows the town's dedication to its hospital. (Washington Post photo by Michael Williamson)
A rural Oklahoma town's battle to save its hospital illustrates the dire situation so many rural hospitals are in these days. "More than 100 of the country’s remote hospitals have gone broke and then closed in the past decade, turning some of the most impoverished parts of the United States into what experts now call “health-hazard zones," Eli Saslow reports for The Washington Post.

Fairfax Community Hospital was once one of the state's top-ranked rural health care facilities, but when local oil wells dried up and farmers got hit by drought, the town's fortunes declined, and with them, the 15-bed hospital. It survived a 2011 bankruptcy and a string of owners, and was purchased in 2016 by Florida-based EmpowerHMS, which owned more than a dozen Midwestern rural hospitals. "The company promoted itself as 'a savior for struggling rural hospitals,' but within months of taking over, its corporate office had begun defaulting on some of Fairfax Community’s bills and cutting its spending budget, Saslow reports. "Eventually, four of the company’s hospitals had shut down and nine more had entered bankruptcy, including Fairfax."

Fairfax, Okla. (Wikipedia map)
The hospital is the area's largest employer, so leaders in Fairfax are fighting hard to save it. The town spent "more than half its annual budget on legal fees to sue the hospital's owner, in a bid to retake control of the hospital. If the town could do that, there was a chance it could save the hospital by partnering with a new management company," Saslow reports. While the hospital's ownership was tied up in court, hospital employees struggled to keep the hospital's doors open. Employees had been working without pay for the past 11 weeks, computer software was shut down for non-payment, and staff was running low on essential supplies, Saslow reports.

Some hospital staff quit because they couldn't afford to keep volunteering, but others stuck with it, some working 16-hour shifts, hoping for good news from the courts, Saslow reports. "If we aren’t open, where do these people go?" asked a physician assistant. "They’ll go to the cemetery," another employee said. "If we’re not here, these people don’t have time. They’ll die along with this hospital."

The hospital's ownership and management remains tied up in court, and because of that, paychecks are still weeks away at best. The town's vice-mayor, Charlie Cartwright, advised the hospital to remain open as an emergency room only, with a nurse, a doctor and an aide to operate it. Other patients would be transferred out, and that way, the hospital could stay open as it waited for a resolution without incurring the costly fees associated with completely closing, Saslow reports.

China retaliates with tariff hikes on $60 billion in U.S. goods; very bad news for farmers, especially soybean growers

Deutsche Bank Securities chart shows that peak soybean exports last year were half those of 2017.
The U.S. hiked tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods on Friday, saying that China had reneged on promises made earlier in negotiations. Today, China announced retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods. "The Finance Ministry said Monday the new penalty duties of 5% to 25% on hundreds of U.S. products including batteries, spinach and coffee will take effect June 1," Joe McDonald reports for The Associated Press.

Though President Trump initially said Friday that the tariffs won't hurt American consumers, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said later that American and Chinese consumers and businesses will be affected. But of all Americans, Trump's voter base among agricultural interests has been hit hardest by the trade war.

"Of the top 10 states most affected by tariffs, all but two of them, Washington and Oregon, voted for Trump in the last election," Patti Domm reports for CNBC. The top 10 states hit hardest by tariffs as a percentage of state gross domestic product are, in order of most to least affected: Louisiana, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, Washington, Kentucky, Oregon, Mississippi, Michigan, and West Virginia. Louisiana is the nation's top exporter of soybeans.

Later on Friday, Trump said in a series of tweets that the government would try to ease farmers' pain by buying their crops: "We will buy agricultural products from our Great Farmers, in larger amounts than China ever did, and ship it to poor & starving countries in the form of humanitarian assistance." However, experts said that won't work, because the farm sectors most hurt by tariffs sell corn and soy meant for animal feed, oils, ethanol, and other products, Jessie Higgins reports for UPI.

"It's not as easy as people might think to buy a bunch of commodities and ship them somewhere," Todd Hubbs, a clinical assistant professor of agricultural commodity markets at the University of Illinois, told Higgins. "This is not sweet corn. People don't eat it. It's high in starch and low in sugars and it doesn't taste good."

Many corn and soy farmers were already stuck with unsold crops from last year, and some stockpiles were ruined in recent flooding. Since China was our biggest soy customer and other trading partners haven't made up the deficit, experts predict farmers won't be able to sell their beans again this year. 

"The demand from rest of the world combined is not as much as the Chinese market," Grant Kimberley, marketing development director for the Iowa Soybean Association, told Higgins. "It means we're going to have significantly more soybeans in storage again this year."

Some farmers say it's hard to feel optimistic about this year's harvest, Donnelle Eller reports for the Des Moines Register. Brent Renner, a 43-year-old soybean farmer from near Clear Lake, told her: "A lot of us think it can't get any worse, that it can only go up from here. But that's probably not a safe bet."

Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series coming up in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is offering a series of 20 farm tours, workshops and special events across Ohio, Indiana and Michigan this summer to promote sustainable farming. The first tour will take place on June 1.

Click here for a schedule and more information about the 2019 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.

Farm tour attendees can visit a wide range of agricultural operations, including dairies, heritage livestock farms, aquaponics farms, and farms producing everything from hops and herbs to grains and mushrooms. Workshops will cover topics such as gardening to decrease food insecurity, community outreach, and composting.

Third-largest U.S. coal company, Cloud Peak Energy of Wyoming's Powder River Basin, files for bankruptcy

The nation's third-largest coal company by production filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to make a $1.8 million loan payment despite several deadline extensions.

The move could signal the beginning of the end for Cloud Peak Energy, based in Gillette, Wyo., Greg Johnson reports for the Gillette News Record: "Unlike previous Powder River Basin coal bankruptcies, Cloud Peak seems to be looking to shed debt and sell its assets rather than emerge as an ongoing company. What that means for the more than 1,250 employees at Cloud Peak’s three PRB mines — Cordero Rojo and Antelope in Wyoming and Spring Creek in Montana — is that for now, their jobs are safe, said Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming."

The company said it will continue normal operation of its three mines throughout the bankruptcy process, but it's unclear what will happen after Cloud Peak sells its assets.

"The real question here is, will there be buyers for all those mines?" Godby told Johnson. "They have different qualities of coal, different customer bases. . . . There is not a core of assets they’re looking to reorganize around. They’re looking to spin these off to any potential bidder."

It's also unclear whether Cloud Peak will pay local taxes it owes, and continue paying employees' health-care and pension benefits. On Friday, Cloud Peak paid Campbell County "more than $617,000 for the last half of its 2018 property taxes," Johnson reports. "It hasn’t, however, paid $8.3 million owed for the last half of 2018’s ad valorem taxes on coal production."

Study shows rural residents are driving global rise in obesity

A newly published study found that rural residents are driving the global rise in obesity, contradicting previous research that linked obesity to sedentary urban dwellers, Doyle Rice reports for USA Today.

That's especially true in high-income and industrialized countries such as the United States, according to the study, which measured body-mass index averages in 200 countries from 1985 to 2017. "Researchers determined that BMI averages are rising for everyone," Rice reports. "However, they were rising more quickly for people who lived in rural areas."

The researchers wrote: "The lower urban BMI in high-income and industrialized countries reflects a growing rural economic and social disadvantage, including lower education and income; lower availability and higher price of healthy and fresh foods; less access to, and use of, public transport and walking than in cities; and limited availability of facilities for sports and recreational activity, which account for a significant share of overall physical activity in high-income and industrialized countries."