Friday, July 05, 2019

Higher-ed gap between rural and urban areas is growing, partly because of 'education deserts' with no colleges

Rural students are now just about as likely to complete high school as their urban counterparts, but they have become less likely to go to college, partly because the United States has "education deserts" with no colleges, Adam Harris writes for The Atlantic.

For example, Harris notes, "One in three Montanans lives more than 60 minutes from the nearest college campus. . .. Nearly 40 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen attend institutions fewer than 50 miles from home, and these statistics begin to sketch the outlines of a crisis."

Harris quotes a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: “The share of urban adults with at least a bachelor’s degree grew from 26 percent to 33 percent, while in rural areas the share grew from 15 percent to 19 percent.” He writes, "The gap could be due, in part, to students leaving rural areas after college—or to adults with college degrees moving to urban or suburban areas in search of jobs."

Successful rural publisher says newspapers need to tell their story: continuity, cooperation, credibility, commitment

Peter Wagner (Nevada Press Association photo)
One of the most successful newspaper publishers in rural America is Peter Wagner of Sheldon, Iowa. In a column for state press associations, to which he often speaks, he reflects on the challenges facing newspapers and offers advice:

"We need, as an industry, to believe in ourselves and tell our story. No other information source has the reach of our publications. Broadcast, digital and social media are targeted, and cannot," Wagner writes, then gives examples that apply to every community, but that are not often shared with readers and potential readers.

"The local paper provides much needed continuity. Locally written and edited papers are the most reliable link to the past, as well as the most dependable source of informative details regarding what is happening that day or week." That continuity also applies to "various community interest groups."

"The hometown paper also encourages local cooperation. As the media connecting with the greatest number of local families, the paper is in a position to educate, encourage and clearly explain why something is happening or needs to happen in the community. Through solid news coverage and editorials, the newspaper provides citizens with the reasons to cooperate to help make possible changes. Or, why they should not. Today’s electronic media are overloaded with as many differing opinion blog sites, ideas and voices, many of them shortsighted and biased, as there are stars in the sky. Local communities need their community newspaper to bring everyone’s ideas together.

"Newspapers also assure credibility. A newspaper’s future depends on earning and keeping the respect of local readers, advertisers and community leaders. Newspapers cannot afford to get the facts wrong or to take sides when reporting a story. A newspaper’s reputation depends upon its credibility. You will often hear someone saying with a scoff, 'It must be true, I saw it on the internet!' But when the same person says “I read it in the paper,” he is sharing the information as a fact.

"Finally, the men and women who own, manage and produce a local newspaper live and raise their families in the town where they are doing business. They are committed to making their town and region the best possible place to live, work and invest. The paper’s commitment to building a better community makes the local publication the town’s leading cheerleader for all important events and projects. Hometown newspapers support community with their stories, donated advertising space, time and often their own dollars. Now how can Google match that?"

Our friend Peter's full column is here. The only thing we would add is that the story of newspapers shouldn't be told only in newspapers. That's preaching to the choir. The story must also be told on social media, which are already the primary online gateway to newspaper stories.

Poynter Institute's News University offers 40% discount on any of its webinars for journalists through midnight Sunday

The Poynter Institute, the leading source of mid-career training for journalists, has a very special offer that expires at midnight Sunday, July 7.

Poynter's News University has dozens of webinars on editing, writing, fact-checking and digital tools. These typically cost $29.95, but this weekend you can get any of them for the special Independence Day weekend price of $17.76, by using the coupon code 19FREEDOM1776 at checkout. You will have one year to view any webinar.

"Need help choosing?" Poynter asks. "Here are some freedom-related webinar replays we recommend:"
Covering Immigration Enforcement
The Power of Public Records
How Newsrooms Can Use WhatsApp to Combat Fake News
Investigative Reporting: From Numbers to Narrative
Taking the Reins: Growing into Your Role as an Editor

Survey of Rural Challenges, open through July 30, helps widely scattered rural communities share ideas

Every two years, Deb Brown and Becky McCray of SaveYour.Town do the Survey of Rural Challenges, which gives them "data on the needs of rural communities that they believe will transform conversations about the challenges and futures of small towns," Wendy Royston reports for The Daily Yonder. The latest survey is open through July 30.

Becky McCray and Deb Brown (SaveYour.Town photo)
"They want to hear what your small community needs to thrive," the Yonder reports. The survey seeks "input from rural folks on two key questions: community challenges and business challenges."

McCray told Royston, “We’re looking to see how well-publicized issues like drug abuse and poverty rank versus other challenges, whether small business lending gets rated higher than the lack of usable buildings.” Each question includes an open-ended answer, “where you write in some other problem. Those are always fascinating. People give us a ton of information there about what’s going on in their communities.”

Royston writes, "This year, the rural gurus are working with a community-development specialist at Oklahoma State University, Dr. Dave Shideler, who suggested a third main question: “What things are you trying?” because “There’s very little research about what people are actually trying in their communities right now and how that is going,” McCray said.

"The survey has been taken by rural folks across the United States, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand," Royston reports. "The 2017 survey yielded 250 responses. In its first week, 228 people responded to the 2019 survey. . . . It’s inspiring a bit of oneness among people from various rural parts of the world."

McCray said, “When you read the list of challenges and you say, ‘These feel similar. I can identify with this’ . . . There is a sense of community that you are not alone in having challenges in your town. . . . We’re all in this together. We’re just in different towns. When you answer the survey, you put your voice with other rural voices and you … get to have your say.”

Study shows link between frequent exposure to insecticides and a higher risk of depression and anxiety in teenagers

Teenagers with frequent exposure to the most widely form of insecticide may have an increased risk of depression, according to a study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

The study was conducted in Ecuador by Dr. Jose Suarez-Lopez, an assistant professor at the University of California-San Diego. He and colleagues "have been tracking the development of children living near agriculture in the Ecuadorian Andes since 2008," a university press release said. "Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of roses, with much of the flower production located near the homes of participants. Like many other agricultural crops, flowers are routinely sprayed with organophosphate insecticides, which are known to affect the human cholinergic system, a key system in the function of the brain and nervous system."

Researchers measured blood levels in 11- to 17-year-olds of an enzyme that is inhibited by organophosphates. Studies in mice had shown that reduced levels of the enzyme were linked to "behaviors of anxiety and depression in mice, and a few existing studies in humans have also suggested such a link," the release says. "However, pesticide exposure assessment in past studies had been only established by self-report of exposure and not using biological measures."

The study found that teens who had reduced enzyme levels, suggesting greater exposure to , showed higher-than-normal symptoms of depression. "The association was stronger for girls, who comprised half of all participants, and for teens younger than 14," the release says. It quotes Suarez-Lopez:  “Agricultural workers and people in these communities have long offered anecdotal reports of a rise in adolescent depression and suicidal tendencies. This is the first study to provide empirical data establishing that link using a biological marker of exposure, and it points to a need for further study.”

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Nearly $2.5 million is being diverted from smaller national parks to help pay for President Trump's July 4 celebration

Some smaller national parks will not get long-delayed maintenance and repairs because the Interior Department is diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees to help pay for President Trump's Independence Day celebration in Washington, D.C., according to two sources with inside knowledge, Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey, and Dan Lamothe report for The Washington Post.

"By tapping entrance fees to cover the presidential event, Interior is siphoning money that is typically used to enhance the visitor experience either on the Mall or at smaller parks across the country, with projects ranging from road and bridge repair to habitat restoration. The transfer amounts to nearly 5 percent of the funds that less-profitable parks used last year for upgrades," the Post reports.

The entire Fourth of July celebration typically costs Interior's National Park Service about $2 million, according to a former NPS official. It's unknown how much this year's event will cost, but it's far more elaborate than in years past and will therefore likely cost much more, the Post reports.

As of March, the service had an almost $12 billion maintenance backlog because of chronic underfunding. Many parks are also still trying to recover from the federal shutdown earlier this year, since tourists trashed understaffed parks.

Major Appalachian coal producer declares bankruptcy

"Revelation Energy LLC, and its affiliate Blackjewel LLC, West Virginia-based companies that employ about 1,100 people in their Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia mines, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of West Virginia, according to court documents," Will Wright and Bill Estep report for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The companies also employ an additional 600 workers in Wyoming mines, making them one of the nation’s largest coal producers."

Revelation has reportedly shut down some mines in Kentucky since the filing, and workers say the company told them the closure would last at least two weeks. Revelation has had a complicated impact on Kentucky. It's a major employer in the southeastern part of the state, but it has also been the state's top violator of reclamation and environmental rules for the past three years, according to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Wright and Estep report.

Revelation owner Jeff Hoops said in an affidavit that the bankruptcy was due to tough market conditions, citing "declining demand for thermal and metallurgical coal, declining commodity prices, and increasingly strict regulatory oversight, in addition to heightened competition from natural gas and renewable energy." The companies have considerable debt, and "owe millions to state and federal agencies, including $60 million to the U.S. Department of the Interior and $6 million to the Kentucky state treasurer," Wright and Estep report. They also owe around $10 million to private debtors in Kentucky, such as vendors and suppliers.

Administration stops fighting for citizenship question on 2020 census after adverse Supreme Court decision

The 2020 census won't include the controversial citizenship question. Last week the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration's stated reason for including the question but left open the possibility that another reason might be offered and accepted. Tuesday, Trump administration officials threw in the towel, ordering the Census Bureau to start printing forms for next year without the question, Michael Wines reports for The New York Times.

UPDATE, 8 p.m. July 3: “In a course reversal, a Justice Department attorney on Wednesday said the government is looking for a way to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, one day after it said it would drop that effort and was printing the form without it,” The Washington Post reports. 

A citizenship question would likely reduce responses among Latinx populations, which are prevalent in some agricultural areas, affecting many things, from political maps to federal funding.

The move to stop fighting for the question's inclusion is an abrupt about-face. "Just last week after the Supreme Court’s decision, President Trump said he was asking his lawyers to delay the census, 'no matter how long,' in order to fight for the question in court. He reiterated his unwillingness to give up in a Twitter message posted late Tuesday, saying he had asked administration officials 'to do whatever is necessary' to get a citizenship question on the census form," Wines reports. "Word of the administration’s decision to stop fighting came in a one-sentence email from the Justice Department to lawyers for plaintiffs in a New York lawsuit that sought to block the question’s inclusion."

The email didn't explain the decision, but the administration may have been concerned about getting the forms printed in time. The Census Bureau had said it needed to start printing questionnaires by July 1 to meet an April 2020 deadline for conducting the census, Wines reports.

Youngstown paper's death is a bad sign for others, because no chain or family group was willing to buy it, writer says

Mahoning County, Ohio, and
Youngstown (Wikipedia map)
The scheduled Aug. 31 death of The Vindicator, which will make Youngstown, Ohio, the first "decent-sized American city with no daily newspaper," is "a very bad sign" for the business and the communities it serves, Joshua Benton writes for Nieman Lab.

Why? Because the family that owns the paper couldn't find anyone willing to buy it, Benton writes: "There are, broadly speaking, two groups that are going to determine the near-term futures of local newspapers: on one hand, family and small-scale chain owners, and on the other, the big national chains seeking to maximize scale and efficiencies on the cheap. And neither of those groups could see a way to keep a daily newspaper alive in Youngstown."

Benton notes, "The energy in the newspaper business for the past half-decade-plus has all been toward consolidation: roll all these individual papers and small chains into one giant GannettHouseDFMTribClatchyCorp and let corporate efficiency buy everybody a little more time. But in at least in this one case, the consolidators have decided that financially there’s nothing of value left to consolidate. The tricks they’ve been using — cut staff, outsource editing, outsource production, regionalize ad sales — apparently weren’t worth trying in Youngstown. And that’s scary as hell."

In a city of 65,000 and a metropolitan area of 540,000, The Vindicator has a circulation of 25,000, by any measure a weak household penetration, but it still has 24 reporters, adhering to the old industry standard of one per 1,000 circulation, Benton writes, so there was the opportunity for cutting staff. But Youngstown is not an attractive market; its population is less than half what it was in 1970, and "If you had to come up with the single American city that best evokes the phrase 'Rust Belt decline,' Youngstown would probably be your choice," Benton writes. "But I don’t think this is a Youngstown story. I fear we’ll look back on this someday as the beginning of an important (and negative) shift in local news in America."

Impact of wet spring on 2019 plantings visible from space

Composite satellite images from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show the Midwest
during the same week in late June in 2018 and 2019. (Image composite by The Washington Post)
You've likely heard how much this season's record-breaking rains have slowed planting in the Midwest, but to paraphrase, a GIF is worth a thousand words.

This time of the year, satellite images usually reflect a sea of green as corn and soybeans shoot up, but right now the Midwest is "more brown belt than farm belt," John Muyskens, Laris Karklis, and Andrew Van Dam write for The Washington Post. The difference is clear in the GIF above, which contrasts NASA satellite images from the same week in June 2018 and June 2019.

"Unplanted, drowned or late fields have two things in common: They look brown from space, and they mean farmers will probably harvest less corn and soybeans this year than they had planned," the Post reports. "For corn, planting is effectively over and the die has been cast, although we won’t know the results until late fall. Soybean acres are not likely to be fully planted, either — the end of the planting window, unofficially considered to be July 4 — looms large."

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Newspapers dodge many public-notice bullets; still worry in Texas, not much in Nebraska; Indiana, Nevada also noted

The beginning of July means the end of legislative sessions in many states, and in some the end of the latest round of newspapers' battle to preserve public-notice advertising by governments, which has become a larger share of papers' revenue as their tradition advertising base shrinks. Richard Karpel of the Public Notice Resource Center has a report on action in four states:

Donnis Baggett
Texas Press Association Executive Vice President Donnis Baggett described the Lone Star State's session as “hellacious,” but Karpel writes, "Aside from some end-of-sessions shenanigans that saw the passage of a bill that eliminated a few minor notices, newspapers in the Lone Star State have much to celebrate. . .. They were the major force behind a series of bills that will reverse recent state court rulings that diminished government transparency. Like many other states, they also had a pretty good year on the public notice front," defeating bills "that would have moved all official notice in the state to other venues" and "a number of other bills that would have eliminated narrow categories of newspaper notice."

Still, TPA worries. “It feels like there’s a thin sheet of ice over the lake we’re walking on,” Baggett told Karpel, surely recalling the battle over "a high-profile property tax reform measure that served as a late-session vehicle to eliminate a few notices," by way of a conference committee. “The fact they would take such extraordinary measures to eliminate a couple of minor notices worries me,” Baggett said. “It suggests the move was orchestrated with the approval of legislative leadership.”

Allen Beermann
Nebraska Press Association Executive Director Allen Beerman worries less. “People here are beginning to realize if newspapers go away, there’s nobody left to chronicle the news,” said Beerman, who will retire at 80 in January, after 25 years in the job -- preceded by 24 years as Nebraska's elected secretary of state.

Karpel reports, "The only Nebraska bill signed by the governor that reduced newspaper notice was LB 103, which authorizes political subdivisions with annual budgets under $10,000 or biennial budgets under $20,000 to post notice of hearings on property-tax resolutions or ordinances at their principal headquarters instead of a newspaper. In other words, a bill that nobody in their right mind would oppose."

Indiana legislators turned a bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts publish their annual financial reports in local newspapers into a study of how schools can streamline fiscal and compliance reporting, Karpel writes. "The Hoosier State Press Association also helped to defeat other bills that would have moved government and foreclosure notices out of newspapers. We covered those battles here and here."

Nevada Assembly Bill 270 "requires regional transportation commissions to publish newspaper notice to advertise the sale of property acquired through eminent domain that is no longer needed for public use," Karpel reports. "AB 79 requires county treasurers to publish newspaper and government website notice before determining that tax-delinquent property has been abandoned. It also allows them to publish notice in a newspaper (“at least once a week for four consecutive weeks”) to advertise the sale of such property as an option in lieu of the physical posting of the notice in at least 'three public places in the county.' AB 345 eliminated publication of summaries of statewide referendums but required notice of poll locations where people can by personal appearance and photo identification is not required). "Election officials are also still required to publish newspaper notice of election dates, and the location and hours of polling places, but under AB 345 they will no longer include the names of candidates and the offices they are seeking," Karpel reports.

Study that showed increasing air-ambulance charges may bolster Senate bill that cracks down on surprise medical bills

In 2016, nationwide median charges for air ambulance services, which are used disproportionately in rural areas, were 4.1 to 9.5 times what Medicare paid for the same services, according to a recently published study. The billing disparity is much higher than for physicians or ground ambulance services. "Median charges for air ambulance services compared to Medicare rates soared by 46% to 61% from 2012 to 2016," Harris Meyer reports for Modern Healthcare. "For Medicare patients, the median charge per trip increased from $24,000 to $39,000."

Since many air ambulance providers aren't in insurance networks, patients get stuck with unexpected "balance bills" for thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars for services they believed were in-network. The study may bolster a new Senate bill that would crack down on surprise bills. "Last month, the Senate health committee shocked the air ambulance industry, which is made up heavily of private equity-owned companies, by including a balance-billing ban for air ambulance services in its broader legislation to regulate surprise out-of-network billing," Meyer reports.

Because of a federal law that governs air carriers, courts have blocked states from regulating air ambulances, so experts say only the federal government can address the problem. "Congress last year ordered creation of an advisory committee of stakeholders to examine air ambulance price-transparency measures and consumer protections against excessive charges," Meyer reports.

"The Association of Air Medical Services, the industry's lobbying group, blamed inadequate Medicare and Medicaid payment rates for the out-of-network billing controversy," Meyer reports. "It said air ambulance services are essential for Americans, particularly in rural areas, and that the federal government needs to conduct a study to develop rates that cover actual costs in order to preserve these services."

Journalism schools advise students to embrace all types of work, expand their job searches beyond metro areas

"The news business is on pace for its worst job losses in a decade as about 3,000 people have been laid off or been offered buyouts in the first five months of this year," Gerry Smith reports for Bloomberg. "The cuts have been widespread. Newspapers owned by Gannett and McClatchy, digital media companies like BuzzFeed and Vice Media, and the cable news channel CNN have all shed employees."

The trend has been driven by several factors: "Local newspapers have seen much of their advertising revenue vanish as readers move online. They’ve also struggled to attract many digital subscribers after past rounds of layoffs and buyouts eroded their quality," Smith reports. "Digital-media startups, funded by venture capitalists seeking growth, aggressively hired journalists, then scaled back to focus on profitability. Almost everyone is struggling to compete with Facebook and Google, which accounted for three-fourths of U.S. online ads sales last year."

The changing market has led journalism schools to adjust their instruction. Researchers interviewed 113 faculty, staff and administrators from 44 U.S. journalism programs, and found that J-schools have been increasingly encouraging students to not think of journalism as "coherent career path," Amy McCaig reports for Futurity, a nonprofit university research news site. "The post-Watergate media era, where you would work for a local paper or TV station and work your way up to retirement with a nice pension, is behind us," study coauthor Max Besbris of Rice University in Houston told McCaig.

Instead, Besbris and coauthor Caitlin Petre of Rutgers University found that journalism professors are advising students to accept the fact that they may need to do temporary or freelance work for news organizations, or work in public relations, McCaig reports. Students are also advised to hone their skills in photography, social media, graphic design, editing, and recording. Such skills can make students more marketable, especially if publications are looking for a "one-man-band" journalist.

Any edge can help in such a tight journalism job market. Al Cross, a University of Kentucky journalism professor and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, advises job hunters to widen the scope of their search beyond urban areas: "Many people looking for journalism jobs should consider small newspapers. We still get inquiries from them, looking for staff. And refugees from metros should consider buying a small paper if it’s financially viable. Many have closed because they couldn’t find buyers. There are some bargains out there, and the non-financial rewards of community journalism can be great."

Feds postpone anti-abortion 'conscience rule' for medical providers that could disproportionately affect rural areas

The Trump administration has agreed to postpone a rule that would allow medical workers to decline to participate in abortions "or other treatments on moral or religious grounds while the so-called 'conscience' rule is challenged in a California court," The Associated Press reports. "The rule was supposed to take effect on July 22, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its opponents in a California lawsuit mutually agreed Friday to delay a final ruling on the matter until Nov. 22."

Though such a rule is likely more popular in rural areas, which tend to be more socially conservative, it could also disproportionately affect rural residents since there are fewer pharmacies and medical providers. Women who want to fill a prescription for birth control pills or abortifacients, or be provided emergency contraception after a rape from a hospital, may not have the means to travel to get those things if they are denied at facilities closer to home.

The Trump administration's proposed rule "would require institutions that receive money from federal programs to certify that they comply with some 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights," the AP reports. The California lawsuit  "alleges that the department exceeded its authority with the rule, which President Trump announced in May."

Rainy spring boosts invasive cheatgrass in Western U.S., increasing risk of wildfires on rangelands

Map shows types of reports of cheatgrass. Click on the image for a larger version, or click here for an interactive version with number of reports by county. (Map by University of Georgia's Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health)
"After a wet spring, Western states are experiencing a massive bloom of cheatgrass, a yellowish, knee-high and highly flammable grass that carpets rangelands across 13 states," Sophie Quinton reports for Stateline. "Experts say there’s a clear link between cheatgrass, which covers more than 100 million acres across the West, and rangeland megafires." Rangeland fires don't usually threaten homes like forest fires do, but they affect farms, watersheds, wild animals' habitats, and air quality. 

Cheatgrass in Nevada (Photo by Elizabeth Leger)
Federal, state and local officials are trying to figure out how best to fight cheatgrass, but success will require them to cooperate on a sustained, well-funded effort. "It can be hard to muster political will to spend money on addressing an invasive species that typically fuels wildfires in remote areas, far from major towns and cities," Quinton reports.

Ken Mayer, a former Nevada Department of Wildlife director who's working on a cheatgrass action plan on behalf of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, acknowledged that it's difficult to help people understand the issue's urgency. "We have an uphill battle trying to get the attention of the public," he told Quinton.

"The Western Governors’ Association is forming a cheatgrass working group and has agreed to address the issue with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Quinton reports. "Mayer’s fish and wildlife group has been rallying state agency associations and nonprofits to support an invasive species action plan they will present to members of Congress and federal officials this fall."

Range managers spray cheatgrass with herbicides, try to crowd it out by planting more native vegetation, or bring in more cows and sheep to graze it down, Quinton reports.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Soybean trader says industry skeptical of Chinese promises, and trade war has forever damaged market for U.S. beans

The trade war with China has forever damaged the market for American soybeans, and the industry is dubious of the latest Chinese promise to buy more, a prominent soybean trader told Kai Ryssdal of the radio show Marketplace on Monday.

Al Kluis, soybean trader
"The trade is very skeptical," said Al Kluis of Kluis Commodity Advisors of Wayzata, Minn. He noted at the time of the interview that soybean prices had declined 14 cents a bushel since Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to buy more U.S. farm products in exchange for President Trump postponing another $300 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. "We need to see some real orders," Kluis said, not just talk.

Kluis told Ryssdal that the global supply chain for soy has changed permanently, and not to Americans' benefit.  "We're gonna be seeing a lot fewer acres" planted, he said. "We're giving away a lot of our hard-earned markets that we've been developing in China" to other nations such as Brazil, he said. "We will never be as dominant producing soybeans for China as we were before."

UPDATE, July 5: "The U.S. has made spectacular gains in soybean exports to the rest of the world" in the marketing year that ends Aug. 31, Dan Looker reports for Successful Farming. "They’re up by 36%, or 7.4 million metric tons, according to data provided by the Iowa Soybean Association. But that doesn’t make up for the 19 mmt tons of sales lost to China this year. So far, China has imported about 8 mmt of U.S. soybeans. In the previous marketing year, it bought 28.4 mmt of soybeans."

Trump shelves tariffs, eases Huawei ban; China agrees to buy more U.S. soybeans but hasn't fulfilled prior promises

This weekend Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to buy more U.S. farm goods in exchange for President Trump postponing another $300 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. The announcement came after an 80-minute meeting this weekend at the G20 Summit in Japan, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's "Morning Agriculture." Trump also promised to ease up on his trade ban of Chinese company Huawei, whose equipment many rural telecoms carriers rely on.

China bought about 544,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans last week, the largest purchase since March. The move, along with the announcement, signals a renewal in trade talks, which had fallen apart in May. However, "China hasn’t fulfilled its previous promises to buy about 14 million tons of soybeans as part of prior short-term trade deals with Trump," McCrimmon reports. "And, as Bloomberg notes, a Chinese government summary of the truce makes no mention of renewed food and farm purchases." Nor does the agreement mention a deadline to conclude talks.

Postponing the tariffs will likely be a relief for U.S. businesses and consumers. Increased soybean sales to China would also be a big help to U.S. farmers, who "are on track to plant 80 million acres this year, the fewest since 2013, while stockpiles of the crop are swelling as a result of Trump’s trade war," McCrimmon reports. Prices have declined so much that farmers are losing money on the crop.

Youngstown to be largest U.S. city without a daily paper; meanwhile, rural weeklies not in county seats keep closing

Just days after its 150th birthday, The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, announced Friday that, due to financial hardships, its final edition will be Aug. 31. That will leave Youngstown as the largest U.S. city without a daily paper, according to the American Press Institute. The paper reaches 100,000 readers a day online and in print, and serves a region in northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania with twice that many people, including some in rural areas.

The Vindicator says it tried hard to cut costs and increase revenue in recent years, but when that wasn't enough to keep the paper open, it tried to find a buyer and was unsuccessful. The Maag and related Brown families have owned the paper since 1887, which makes the decision to close the paper "gut-wrenching," write Publisher Betty Brown Jagnow and General Manager Mark Brown. "Our family’s lives have revolved around and been defined by this newspaper for 132 years . . . As the saying goes, we have ink in our veins."

When the paper closes, 144 employees and about 250 paper carriers will lose their jobs, WFMJ-TV reports. "It’s another hit for a region that’s suffered 40 years of industrial job losses and is still reeling from GM’s shutdown of its giant Lordstown assembly line, but there’s a much deeper significance to this news," Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch writes: "The closing of Youngstown’s only daily paper is a blow not just to a struggling city that needs information, but to American democracy."

Residents in communities with no paper or reduced coverage are less likely to get accurate information and more likely to fall prey to deliberately biased or faked info. They're also less likely to vote in local elections, and limited research indicates that fewer candidates tend to run for local office in such communities, and local governments pay more to borrow, perhaps due to less scrutiny, Bunch writes.

Menno and Hutchinson County, S.D.
Almost all the newspapers that have closed in the last 15 years have been weeklies, mainly in suburbs or small rural towns that are not county seats, like Menno, S.D, pop. 608, where the Hutchinson Herald published its final edition last week, citing "rising costs, diminishing advertising support and declining population and readership. The publishers, who own the weekly Freeman Courier, said they will add Herald subscribers to their list and plan to continue have a weekly section about Menno and Olivet (pop. 74), the seat of Hutchinson County (pop. 7,300), but "Support from the business community, as well as the city of Menno and Menno School District, will determine at what level."

David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, told the Herald, "Many small weekly newspapers in South Dakota are facing very significant economic pressures. Those pressures are related, not necessarily to the growth of the internet and social media, but more so to the demographic and economic trends in the rural communities and rural areas of our state. The loss of population, farms, businesses and institutions such as schools and health-care facilities are making it more and more difficult for many of our state’s smallest newspapers to continuing publishing." The story lists some of the papers that have closed recently.

"When we’ve seen the demise of a small newspaper, the trend has been for a neighboring newspaper or a newspaper nearby that has the same ownership to incorporate coverage of the newspaper-less community into its own publication," Bordewyk said. "In other words, more and more newspapers are covering, not only the community where they are based, but nearby communities, as well. That seems to be the model for sustainability of community journalism in South Dakota and elsewhere."

Rural Alabama car dealership promotion is a viral hit; dealer promises buyers a Bible, a shotgun and an American flag

Sales Manager Koby Palmer poses with a truck, a Bible, a shotgun and an American flag. (Chatom Ford photo)
A Fourth of July promotion at a rural Alabama car dealership has gone viral. Chatom Ford's "God, Guns and Freedom" sale offers a Bible, a 12-gauge shotgun and an American flag to any qualified buyer who purchases a car in July, Jordan Culver reports for USA Today.

The dealership's June 26 Facebook video announcing the promo has been viewed more than 27,000 times. Chatom has about 1,200 residents. General sales manager Koby Palmer, 29, who is featured in the video, suggested to Culver that the promotion is a local hit because residents of the southwest Alabama town "lean on their religious beliefs, their pride in America and they love to hunt."

Palmer clarified that the dealership isn't handing out shotguns to just anyone; buyers are given a certificate that can be taken to a certified firearms dealer and traded for a shotgun, as long as the buyer is at least 18 and otherwise qualified to purchase a firearm in any state, Culver reports. 

Palmer also stressed that buyers don't have to take the flag, Bible and shotgun voucher if they don't want one. But, he said, the promo has been successful. Within the first three business days of the promotion's run, the dealership sold five cars. For a small town, "business is booming," Palmer said.

Agriculture health and safety workshop seeks volunteers; see if the program is coming to your area

A child in the U.S. dies in an agriculture-related accident every three days, according to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. An educational program, now in its 25th year, aims to bring that number down, but needs volunteers to help run sessions.

Since 1995, more than 1.7 million rural children in hundreds of North American communities have learned about farm and ranch safety on Progressive Agriculture Safety Day. Click here to see if one is coming to your area this year.

The Progressive Agriculture Foundation puts on the workshops throughout the year in different communities as schedules permit, providing lessons in a fun, age-appropriate and hands-on way for children ages 4 to 13. Topics such as tractor and grain bin safety are covered, as well as non-farm rural health-and-safety issues like vaping, bullying, and how to be careful around railroads or natural gas pipelines. 

Progressive Agriculture Safety Day is the largest rural health-and-safety program in North America, but depends on trained volunteers to run its one-day sessions. It is accepting applications through July 15 for volunteers to coordinate next year's sessions. Click here to volunteer or learn more about PAF.

Updated agriculture injury database could help journalists

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Farming is a dangerous job; here's a website that can give you a better idea of just how much.

There is no official data set of agricultural injuries and fatalities, but information about such things can often be found in news stories, obituaries, coroner reports, social media posts, and other sources. compiles farming injury and fatalities from all these sources and more, in hopes of raising awareness and providing stakeholders a way to monitor trends.

The National Farm Medicine Center established the website in 2015, but the newly updated version has new features and data, including an interactive map display, more data granularity for search and filters, and customizable email alerts. It isn't perfect: a click for injuries in Winchester, Ky., gets you a news article about an injury that happened in Winchester, Ind.

Bryan Weichelt, an NFMC associate research scientist, "acknowledges that there are limitations to gleaning injury data from news reports, including the fact that not all agricultural fatalities are reported in the media. Non-fatal injuries are thought to be particularly underreported," according to a press release about the updated website from the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, which operates the NFMC. However, the website could be a valuable tool for journalists writing about agriculture, policy, and workplace safety. is funded by the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health & Safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America, the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, and through NFMC donors.