Saturday, August 24, 2019

Family research in old community newspapers in Ind. shows the value of the printed page and granular local reporting

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

When Jim Phillips of Lexington, Ky., started poring through microfilm copies of old newspapers to research his family history, he thought it would be "a legacy to be left for my family and others, documenting the world of my parents’ youth and their home Pulaski County, Indiana," as he writes in a research paper for an independent-study course I supervised at the University of Kentucky.

Jim Phillips
But Phillips experienced something that may make printed newspapers last longer than many think: the serendipity that often manifests itself in scanning the pages of a newspaper, discovering and digesting information that you aren't specifically seeking.

He also discovered a fundamental element of community newspapers that may also make them survive, in whatever form: the granular coverage of individual lives that weave together to form a community. That led him to expand his work to the independent-study course in journalism.

"When this project started, I was merely looking for items mentioning my family, but it soon expanded to other items that interested me," Phillips writes. "This occurred – as my journalism professor, Al Cross, aptly pointed out – because of the wide variety of information displayed on each newspaper page."

Wikipedia maps, adapted
Newspaper serendipity was well described in The New York Times by Bill McKeen, chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, when he held the same job at the University of Florida (after teaching at my alma mater, Western Kentucky University). Bill required his students to read the Times in print, not online, when you "find only what you're looking for." He defined serendipity as "the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally" and called it "a historian's best friend, and the biggest part of the rush that is the daily magic of discovery. It's one of those small things that make life worth living, despite all the torment, pain, tragedy and stifling Interstate traffic."

As Phillips scanned the pages of the Pulaski County Democrat and the Winamac Republican, he found not only things that he didn't know about his family, but many other happenings -- some of which constituted narratives about individuals and families, and economic, technological and cultural trends from 1924-25, the years his parents were born, to 1947, the year he was born. It's all there: the Ku Klux Klan, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II and so on.

Click on image for larger version
The project showed the value of newspaper archives in researching trends, some of which Phillips notes with striking examples, such as Chet Reynolds, who wrote a letter to Santa Claus in 1925, when he was 7, asking for "an electric moving picture machine." In October 1947, as manager of the Home Appliances and Radio Store, he ran an ad announcing that it had a "telivision," and in May 1948 one of the papers pictured him installing the antenna for "the first home television set in Pulaski County."

Phillips writes in the first paragraph of his research paper, "I came to know my hometown just before my birth, because the reporting of these weeklies was relentlessly local."

And granular. In those days, there was no enterprise reporting, but plenty of personal reporting. "Births, marriages, deaths, and courthouse reports were front-page staples," he writes. "In each issue, Sunday dinners, family visits, short trips and parties were routinely reported by correspondents for each of the county’s five to eight communities and their adjacent farms. Hospitalizations and long trips were also announced, without concern for confidentiality and burglaries."

This amounted to a lot of information. "The number of people mentioned in an issue was about 2,500," Phillips estimated, including as one of his many illustrations a house ad that bragged about 2,630 names in one edition. "Although it included visitors from outside the county, that number is significant in a county with a population of about 11,000."

Community correspondents are much less common today, but are still seen in some rural newspapers. I wish there were more of them. Times have changed, and most of the information a weekly correspondent might report would already be known, but the best correspondents also include insightful personal observations and valuable background knowledge of their communities.

I like to say that every American has the First Amendment right to commit journalism. At a time when every American has the ability to publish, without understanding the responsibilities of journalism, it would serve us well to have a cadre of correspondents in every county, citizen journalists, serving as connectors to the local newspaper and helping their neighbors identify with it.

Escalating trade war is bad for U.S. pork industry, which had hoped for more sales to China; grain markets are shut off

Markets Insider chart Aug. 24; click on it for a larger version
American agriculture is suffering again from the escalating trade war with China, and hog farmers are taking the biggest hit. "Pork and beef will face 10 percent higher tariffs as well on Sept. 1," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "If the new tariffs go into effect, U.S. pork would face a 60% retaliatory tariff along with a 12% standard duty from China."

That was a blow for the U.S. pork industry, which "has been anticipating even more demand from China because of African swine fever devastating China's hog herd," Clayton notes. The National Pork Producers Council said, "China, the largest pork-consuming nation in the world, is seeking reliable sources of pork as it deals with African swine fever."

China said it would raise tariffs on U.S. soybeans to 30%, from 25%, on Sept. 1. "Corn, sorghum and wheat also will be hit with 10% higher tariffs, but those will not begin until Dec. 15. Tariffs on those crops right now are 10%, and the U.S. has effectively been shut out of the market," Clayton reports. "China had already announced earlier in August that it will stop buying U.S. agricultural products for now," but the moves appeared to affect markets. "November soybeans fell 13 cents on Friday to $8.55 a bushel, and December corn fell four cents to $3.67 a bushel."

"This escalation will affect us not because of the increasing tariff on our sales, which have been at a virtual standstill for months, but through time," said Davie Stephens, president of the American Soybean Association. "The longevity of this situation means worsening circumstances for soy growers who still have unsold product from this past season and new crops in the ground this season, with prospects narrowing even more now for sales with China, a market soy growers have valued, nurtured, and respected for many years."

Clayton notes, "The tariffs hit U.S. agriculture as farmer frustrations have risen over trade, the Trump administration's handling of refinery waivers for biofuels, and a challenging crop year. Future prices for the November soybean and December corn contracts peaked in mid to late June and have steadily declined since then."

The Trump administration has tried to mitigate the damage with billions of dollars in "market facilitation" payments from the Commodity Credit Corp., which can spend $30 billion without additional appropriations. On Friday the Department of Agriculture released its analysis of trade damage to specific crops: $2.05 a bushel for soybeans; 26 cents a pound for cotton; 14 cents a bushel for corn; 41 cents a bushel for wheat; and $1.69 a bushel for sorghum, Clayton reports.

Much as in Appalachia, opioids flooded Utah coal country

Wikipedia base map, adapted
Utah's coal country stands out in the federal database showing where opioid pills were distributed from 2006 through 2012, reports Yue Stella Yu of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Carbon County got enough pills for each resident to receive 105 per year, "the highest per capita rate among all Utah counties, and rivals rates in some Virginia counties in the Appalachian mining region," according to an analysis by The Washignton Post, which fought to get access to the Drug Enforcement Administration data. Adjoining Emery County’s ranked second in the state, at 64.9 pills per resident per year.

Also, "Carbon County had the highest opioid prescription rate in Utah every year between 2006 and 2017, hitting its peak in 2008 at 194.2 prescriptions for every 100 people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Yu notes.

"Behind those high rates are families in Utah’s mining heartland who saw their loved ones and friends become dependent on the pills, addicted residents who searched for hard-to-find treatment, strapped parents who sometimes drained retirement funds to pay for it, and those who have grieved losses," Yu writes. "The death rate for Carbon County’s 20,000 residents, calculated from 2011 to 2016, rose to more than three times the state average, according to data compiled for the Utah Legislature last year."

The county "once prospered from its rich coal and oil reserves, but the heavy labor required by the industries takes a physical toll on many workers," Yu notes, citing Debbie Marvidikis, health promotion director of the Southeast Utah Health Department. "The acute need for pain treatments and a lack of access to alternative therapies contributed to the county’s opioid use, she said." Marvidikis said users “were trying to take care of their health needs. What they didn’t know was how addictive opioids are, and how dependent you can become on them in just a matter of a few weeks.”

Friday, August 23, 2019

DEA, state and local agents seize over 800 pounds of meth in three states, arrest 375 in seven-month investigation

DEA map shows location of agents and amounts of methamphetamine and arrests in each state.
If you were looking for proof that methamphetamine has resurged in Central Appalachia and adjoining regions, here it is. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced this week that more than 800 pounds of meth were seized 375 arrests made in "Operation Crystal Mountain," a seven-month investigation in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

DEA said 235 people had been arrested on federal drug-related charges since January, and another 140 on state-level charges. "The operation also included the seizure of more than $800,000, 52 firearms and significant quantities of heroin, fentanyl and other drugs," reports Hayes Hickman of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"Several large swaths of the U.S. see meth as their primary drug threat," D. Christopher Evans, special agent in charge of the DEA Louisville office, said in a news release. "The majority of methamphetamine in the U.S. is produced in Mexico and trafficked by Mexican DTOs (drug trafficking organizations). However, the DEA continues to work to disrupt and dismantle all components of both foreign and domestic organizations which produce and traffic methamphetamine."

Owner of a leading rural weekly worries about GateHouse-Gannett merger leaving vacuum for agenda-driven 'news'

Peter Wagner (Nevada Press Association photo)
Peter Wagner, publisher of the N'West Iowa Review, one of America's most successful weeklies, is a longtime student of the newspaper business. In an essay for newspaper associations, he says he hears rumors that the merger of GateHouse Media and Gannett Co. will lead to the sale or closure "of many of their small, less-profitable, weekly publications."

Wagner sees that as a chance for renewed local ownership by people "interested in investing in and upholding the local hometown newspaper. There is a need for locally managed community newspapers. But operating a small, local, weekly paper has become financially difficult. Many local communities no longer have a retail base large enough to support a local paper." As The Rural Blog noted recently, some rural weeklies have closed because their owners couldn't find buyers.

"The national Democratic Party appears to be responding to this cultural change in a way that could be dangerous to the future of local and national media," writes Wagner, a Republican. He notes that Priorities USA, a Democratic group, "plans to spend $100 million messages in key swing states that have lost numerous local newspapers," Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin.

As The Rural Blog noted in reporting that plan, it could resemble Yellowhammer News, a partisan news outlet in Alabama owned by Republican operatives, as well as other pro-Republican outlets like The Maine Examiner. Priorities says its effort is a reaction to Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting and other information sources friendly to President Donald Trump.

"News generated and reported by any source with an agenda is not a good thing for our nation or our individual rights and freedom," Wagner writes. "It is important that local community papers survive if we are going to keep balance and consensus in our communities and across our nation."

Weekly gets attention, praise for hard-hitting package on local cost of opioid epidemic, 'the elephant in the room'

Sharon Burton
A weekly newspaper in Southern Kentucky recently published a hard-hitting package on the local impact of the opioid epidemic. And to make sure everyone read it, Editor and Publisher Sharon Burton mailed free copies of the Adair County Community Voice to all 8,000 households in the county, Al Tompkins reports for The Poynter Institute.

The stories included one about how social workers failed to prevent the death of an infant who, along with his mother, tested positive for methamphetamines. Another story talked about how drug cases were overwhelming local courts and jails, and a third story told of a local mom whose 23-year-old daughter died from a fentanyl overdose after she couldn't get an opioid prescription refill, Tompkins reports. 

"This is the elephant in the room. It is here and it is something we have to, we will discuss," Burton told Tompkins. "For people who are thinking, 'Hey, you are writing a bunch of negative stuff about our town,' I say it is because we love our town." Burton won the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, which Tompkins reads.

Adair County (Wikipedia map)
The package is unusual for a weekly, Institute Director Al Cross told Tompkins: "Weeklies don’t like to cover this topic — it reflects poorly on the community. When they cover stuff like this, it is only from a criminal justice point of view. It is a health story. It’s a community well-being story. It is the kind of thing communities ought to work together to solve."

It's notable that Burton chose to cover addictions as a community issue, and not just as court cases and criminal complaints; that tends to stigmatize the issue, Cross said: "Community newspapers need to step up … to bring awareness to the problems, not sweep them under the rug."

Analysis: Rural disasters get less attention, federal funding

Supportive messages adorn a fence in Oso, Wash., on a still-blocked street
where 43 people  died in a 2014 landslide. (News21 photo by Allie Barton)
Major disasters like Hurricane Katrina get the lion's share of headlines and federal funding, but hundreds of smaller disasters actually accounted for most of the federally declared disasters between 2003 and 2018, and recently fewer of the smaller ones have qualified for assistance to individuals, according to an analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.

"From 1999 to 2008, almost 60 percent of disasters met the requirements needed to pay individual assistance to affected survivors, while in the following decade, 29% of all declared disasters met those requirements," Justine Coleman and Isaac Windes report for The Fairfield Sun Times in Montana. "As more expensive storms become more frequent, these hazards paint a picture of a steady, pervasive and growing threat in areas that are often less prepared for storms and disasters."

Coleman and Windes report, "Since 1999, 651 declared disasters did not receive individual assistance. In addition to public assistance, which pays for restoring roads, bridges and other public facilities, uninsured people whose homes or businesses are damaged by larger disasters also qualify for direct individual assistance to pay for temporary housing, repair costs and replacement costs."

FEMA gives individual assistance to survivors who can't afford their needs, but obtaining it is slower and more complicated than getting the community-wide assistance offered after disasters. The individual assistance is often not enough to completely rebuild a home, which can be devastating to those already living in poverty, Coleman and Windes report.

Rural hospitals use creative strategies to lure doctors

A local hospital CEO lures doctors to rural Idaho with the area's natural beauty (Photo by Thomas Hawk)
Rural areas have notorious difficulty in getting doctors to turn their backs on urban areas and practice in the country, but some have seen success with creative recruitment strategies.

"For some rural hospitals, that dire need is the basis of their recruiting pitch: Come here. Make a difference," Yuki Noguchi reports for NPR. That's part of how Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kansas, reversed its fortunes over the past few years.

CEO Benjamin Anderson appeals to doctors who feel driven to relieve suffering and pursue justice and equity, he said. He also pitches the benefits of a close-knit, caring community to prospective hires. "But the cornerstone of the hospital's recruitment pitch is 10 weeks of paid sabbatical a year, which allows time for doctors to serve on medical missions overseas," Noguchi reports. "It's a compelling enough draw that every couple of weeks, Anderson gets a call from physicians saying they want to work in Lakin, despite its remoteness."

Lost Rivers Medical Center, in the central Idaho community of Arco, takes another tack: CEO Brad Huerta tries to bring in doctors by selling them on the natural beauty of the area. "You like mountain climbing, we're gonna go mountain climbing," Huerta said. He sometimes even takes prospective hires on ATV tours or small plane flights to show them around the back country. Huerta's strategy has taken Lost Rivers from bankruptcy and nearly closing six years ago to fully staffed today, Noguchi reports.

'Radically Rural' event Sept. 19-20 in Keene, N.H., will explore rural entrepreneurship, journalism and more

Head up to Keene, New Hampshire, next month for the annual Radically Rural summit. The Sept. 19-20 event aims to bring together entrepreneurs, journalists, rural leaders and more to promote rural economic development and innovation. The summit is presented by the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and The Keene Sentinel.

This year's focus will be on "major challenges, like labor force attraction and retention, facing rural communities all over the country, as well as ways to boost local economic development and what conference co-founder Mary Kristiansen calls 'the building blocks' of community," Anne Field reports for Forbes. "Last year about 500 people from 21 states attended."

The summit will feature 19 sessions across six program tracks: Arts & Culture, Community Journalism, Entrepreneurship, Main Street, Renewable Energy, Working Lands. Wendy Guilles, president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation will present the opening keynote address, and Art Markman, executive director of the IC2 Institute, will present the closing keynote address. Click here to learn more about the summit or to register.

School for makers of stringed instruments in tiny town is starting a nonprofit to manufacture them, hopes to hire 60

Doug Naselroad, director of the  Appalachian School of Luthiery in Hindman, Ky., population 777, plays a butternut travel guitar made by Paul Williams, a member of the luthiery's staff. (Photo by Kim Kobersmith for The Daily Yonder)
A small Appalachian county seat that has never had a factory is getting a different sort of manufacturer: a luthiery, which will make guitars, mandolins and other stringed instruments.

"The nascent Troublesome Creek Instrument Co. will build high-end guitars in a small manufacturing facility out of Appalachian hardwoods, some of which have never been used in instruments before, like black locust and red spruce," Kim Kobersmith reports for The Daily Yonder.

“These Appalachian trees produce some of the best tone wood in the world. They really make beautiful, resonant instruments,” said Doug Naselroad, director of the Appalachian School of Luthiery, which was founded to maintain and develop the craft. It is part of the Appalachian Artisan Center, created with local efforts and government grants.

The not-for-profit company is getting its main funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic-development agency.

Knott County (Wikipedia map)
"This is a place in need of more economic opportunity," Kobersmith writes. "Nine of the 30 poorest counties in the United States in 2017 were in Aastern Kentucky, according to the Census Bureau. Naselroad says there are few jobs and no help-wanted section in the newspaper. There has never been a manufacturer in Hindman, and an outside company is not likely to build one any time soon."

The company will use "a hybrid of digital fabrication and old-world hand skills," Kobersmith reports. "The goal is to create 60 well-paying, highly skilled jobs for the community." Naselroad said the company will support other local businesses such as a the lumberyard.

"Naselroad said he also hopes Troublesome Creek Instrument Co. can be part of addressing another pressing problem in the region – addiction recovery," Kobersmith reports. "Each week, the School of Luthiery opens its doors to participants in the Culture of Recovery, an arts-based recovery program run by the Artisan Center. He said promising candidates from the Culture of Recovery program will be encouraged to apply for employment with the instrument company. Crucially, a felony conviction – a frequent result of opioid addiction – will not automatically disqualify job applicants. One person who completed county drug court has already been hired in the first handful of employees."

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rural areas can invite innovation by welcoming diverse 'creative class' talent, groundbreaking study says

Though rural America has still not regained the jobs it lost in the Great Recession, rural places can be hubs of talent and innovation too thanks to the rural creative class, a new study shows.

"The study by researchers at Oklahoma State University and Purdue University uses detailed data from the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service." Richard Florida reports for CityLab. "It is the first nationally representative survey of innovation in rural businesses and communities, covering more than 10,000 businesses in some 2,200 counties, with nearly three-quarters of the responses coming from businesses in rural areas (defined as non-metropolitan counties)."

The study creates an Innovation Index from factors like the presence of intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trademarks), accomplishments like new services and products, and customer feedback. It also assesses how innovation affects rural businesses' performance and other related factors like income levels, unemployment rates, and presence of creative workers, Florida reports.

Then, the study applied the Innovation Index to the nine types of rural and urban counties (as measured by the USDA's rural-urban continuum codes). Businesses in the six rural types of counties indexed below the national average for innovation, but this is mostly because rural areas simply have a lower share of innovative firms, Florida reports.

Innovation correlates with low unemployment rates and higher pay, and it has an outsized effect on the surrounding community, the study found: "places that are adjacent to areas with high levels of innovation appear to experience higher levels of creative class employees than would be expected." In other words, Florida reports, "Innovation invigorates talent and the creative class which in turn spills over to nearby places."

The key takeaway for lawmakers is that policy should focus on growing, attracting and keeping talent, which can be done by "adding to amenities and ensuring that communities are open to, and inclusive of, talent across the lines of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation," Florida reports. "These policies and approaches, which have typically been viewed as more appropriate for larger cities and urban areas, may have even more to offer smaller rural communities."

Aug. 30 webinar will discuss new farm-income forecasts

Tune in at 1 p.m. ET on August 30 for an hour-long discussion of the newest federal projections of 2019 farm income and other finances. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service releases new estimates each year in February, August and November (this year's first update was delayed until March because of the partial federal shutdown).

The March forecast predicted that 2019 net farm income would stay below $70 billion for the third year in a row, and that such low figures were likely the new normal. ERS economist Carrie Litkowski will host the webinar. Click here to register or for more information.

Federal audit: $1 billion in fines hasn't made mines safer

Fines of more than $1 billion over 18 years for unsafe conditions have not improved mine safety, according to a four-year long audit from the Labor Department's inspector general.

"The audit was prompted by a 2014 NPR investigation of thousands of mines and mining companies that did find such a connection. Specifically, NPR found that mines that persistently ignored their penalties had injury rates 50 percent higher than mines that paid their fines," Howard Berkes and Robert Benincasa report for NPR. "In total, NPR examined the safety records of mines that had failed to pay nearly $70 million in penalties, some with delinquent fines that were decades old.

The auditors took a different tack, though: They measured data for mining companies instead of individual mines, which the OIG said made sense because mine operators must pay penalties for unsafe conditions. They also assessed safety by comparing raw numbers and averages of serious accidents and violations. That differs from the Mine Safety and Health Administration's primary metric, which is usually the rate of incidents and injuries during hours worked, NPR reports.

"The audit doesn't say whether the measures of safety and violations applied only after mines or mining companies failed to pay safety fines or while they continued to be delinquent. NPR's analysis of delinquent fines and safety applied only to mines while they were delinquent."

Wes Addington, director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky;, told NPR the audit shows that "violations are just a cost of doing business." Addington, who once conducted an independent analysis of overdue mine safety penalties and their impacts on safety, also calls the audit "superficial" and "poorly designed" because it conflates coal mines with other kinds of mines. That skews the data, he said, because metal and nonmetal mines have lower injury and violation rates.

"The auditors did recommend that MSHA not permit mining companies to operate new mines if they have outstanding penalties at existing operations," NPR reports. But "MSHA says it does not have the legal authority to deny mine operators the ability to open new mines due to unpaid fines."

Ky. health foundation makes available to anyone TV and radio spots with youth talking about electronic cigarettes

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has released four new public service announcements in its campaign to show the dangers young people subject themselves to by using electronic cigarettes. The spots are part of the foundation's "I Just Didn't Know" campaign and feature Kentucky teens. The campaign materials are free to anyone who would like to use them.

The new PSAs include two 30-second videos for television and a 30-second and 60-second audio PSA for radio. Additionally, the campaign can provide PSAs that were released in April.

In one PSA, Hayley, from Grant County in the rural part of Northern Kentucky, says, "A lot of people don't know that one little pod of this e-cigarette is equal to a whole pack of cigarettes."

Research shows that public health campaigns can play a crucial role in reducing tobacco use among teens. A 2018 federal report said one in five high-school students and one in 20 middle-school students used e-cigarettes, a 78 percent jump for high schoolers over 2017 and a 48% jump for middle schoolers.

E-cigarettes do not release harmless vapors, but instead contain substances such as: ultrafine particles, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious, irreversible lung disease; volatile organic compounds, which are known to be carcinogenic; other cancer-causing chemicals; and heavy metals, including nickel, tin and lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E-cigs also contain high levels of nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm young people's brain development and reduce attention span and impulse control. Nicotine use in adolescence can also prime the brain for future addiction to other drugs, says the CDC.

On Aug. 7, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was investigating 127 reports of seizures, tremors, fainting or other neurological symptoms that may be related to electronic cigarettes, and have asked anyone who has experienced such symptoms to report them.

All the PSAs can be found at Contact Alexa Kerley at 877-326-2583 or for broadcast-quality copies.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

State regulators say EPA has stopped asking for reports of injuries alleged to be caused by drifting dicamba herbicide

States continue to collect complaints of injuries due to dicamba, a controversial pesticide that turns to powder and drifts onto nearby fields. Two states have reported record numbers of alleged dicamba injuries, but the Environmental Protection Agency may not officially know about them.

"Unlike last year, the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs is not getting routine updates from state regulators on these injury reports," Emily Unglesbee reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Last year, representatives from the federal agency participated in weekly conference calls with state pesticide regulators on dicamba injury complaints and investigative findings throughout the summer and fall. EPA officials also visited multiple states to tour dicamba injury and hold public forums on the topic. This year, this regular communication and canvassing has dried up."

Several states have banned or restricted use of the chemical, and many stakeholders have urged the EPA to ban it at the federal level. However, last year the agency chose to approve it for the next two years with additional restrictions.

"In an emailed statement to DTN on July 31, an EPA spokesperson said the agency was still working with states to 'determine the extent and frequency' of communications on dicamba injury in 2019," Unglesbee reports. "But, with the spray season mostly behind them, state regulators told a different story."

Regulators from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota told Unglesbee that the agency has not requested any information this year. "While most states are making informal reports on their experience with dicamba to the representatives in their regional office of the EPA, the national Office of Pesticide Programs, which oversees the dicamba registrations, has had little to no direct communications with most state regulators on this issue," Unglesbee reports. "Only the Arkansas Department of Agriculture reported sending 2019 injury statistics to EPA headquarters recently."

The EPA sought to replace last year's weekly calls with a one-time dicamba survey for states to fill out and submit at the end of the 2019 season. "However, state regulators demanded more information on the purpose of the survey, noting that their efforts to communicate dicamba injury to EPA in 2018 had resulted in few substantial changes to the dicamba registrations," Unglesbee reports. "Since those concerns were voiced, EPA has been silent on the topic of a survey or any dicamba information-gathering."

Leading Iowa soy farmers say trade war makes times 'pretty dire' and only billions in special aid keeps them with Trump

"Things are getting pretty dire" for soybean farmers who planted beans expecting the the trade war with China would be over, Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer, chairman of the American Soybean Association, told Sophie Quinton of Stateline, who writes, "The trade fight couldn’t come at a worse time for American farmers, who have endured over five years of low commodity prices."

Quinton notes, "China’s 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans remains in place, and trade tensions are rising. The Trump administration is planning an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods and Beijing announced this month that Chinese companies would stop buying all U.S. agricultural products." China once bought a third of the U.S. soy crop.

And it's not just China, Quinton points out: "Between April 2018 and mid-June, China, Canada, the European Union, India, Mexico and Turkey have levied tariffs on more than a thousand U.S. agricultural items — from pork and cheese to fruit juice and whiskey — in response to tariffs the United States levied on their goods, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency that advises Congress. The tariffs imposed by Canada and Mexico were lifted."

Most farmers appear to be sticking with Trump; their trade-related losses have been eased by billions of dollars "market facilitation payments" that the administration was able to make from the Commodity Credit Corp. without congressional approval. Iowa Soybean Association President Lindsay Greiner told Quinton, “If it wasn’t for market facilitation payments, we would be losing a lot of money, and I think a lot of that support would probably start to go away pretty fast.”

Anti-abortion rule prompts rejections of family-planning funds; CVS squeezes mail-order contraceptive sellers

Rural residents may soon find it more difficult to access some forms of reproductive health care.

Planned Parenthood and some other reproductive-health providers, including some governments, have announced they will stop taking about $60 million in annual federal funding for low-income women's reproductive health services because a new Trump administration rule bars grantees from making referrals for abortions. "That loss in federal funding could deliver a heavy blow to already cash-strapped, non-profit clinics that are often the only providers in their communities offering low cost services," particularly in rural areas, Jessie Hellman reports for The Hill. "Other organizations, including Maine Family Planning, have dropped out of the program because of the new rule. Governors in Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Washington have all stated they will withdraw . . . and state legislatures in Maryland and Massachusetts have passed laws saying they would."

The family-planning program, Title X, has provided birth control and other reproductive care to young, poor women for almost 50 years. It serves about 4 million patients a year, most of them black or Hispanic, and sends $260 million a year to clinics. "The program has helped fill gaps in health care access including cancer screenings, STD testing and annual exams for women who are poor or don't have health insurance. It does not fund abortion care," Nicquel Ellis reports for USA Today. "Planned Parenthood has been the largest provider, serving 40 percent of all Title X patients."

Program participants had to submit statements to the government by Monday saying they would comply with the new rule, which will be enforced starting Sept. 18. "In addition to the ban on abortion referrals by clinics, the new Title X rules include financial separation from facilities that provide abortions, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients," Ellis reports. "Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions."

Planned Parenthood is the only Title X recipient in some areas—such as the entire state of Utah—and serves a disproportionate amount of the poor in other places, including many rural areas. Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that if Planned Parenthood facilities are forced to scale back or close, it will be impossible for other health centers to fill the gap, Ellis reports.

"Planned Parenthood and a host of states are suing the administration, with an appeals court holding hearings next month," Hellman reports.

Meanwhile, in July CVS Caremark began reimbursing mail-order prescription delivery companies less, including birth-control service Pill Club. Pill Club protests that the rate change threatens its ability to keep operating, Garnet Henderson reports for Vice.

Mail-order services like Pill Club, Nurx, and Pandia Health allow patients to get a prescription via virtual consultation with a doctor, then deliver the meds by mail. It's popular in rural areas, especially for women who don't have insurance or have other difficulties finding reproductive care. "According to Pill Club, 70 percent of its users previously had difficulties obtaining birth control, and 55 percent said they would have to stop taking birth control without Pill Club," Henderson reports.

CVS Caremark is a pharmacy-benefits manager, a third-party company that manages prescription benefits on behalf of insurers and Medicaid programs. It's a subsidiary of CVS Health and sister to the ubiquitous CVS Pharmacy chain. A CVS Caremark spokesperson confirmed the rate change, but said Pill Club's accusations were "extremely misleading" and that the decision was not specifically aimed at, nor would have any impact on, access to contraceptives, Henderson reports.

Sophia Yen, CEO and co-founder of Pandia Health, said small pharmacies (which is essentially what such services are) are threatened because they can't get discounts by buying in huge volumes like the top three or four pharmacy benefit managers can. She also noted that CVS offers its own mail-order service, and suggested the move might be an attempt to undercut competition, Henderson reports.

Ethanol company cuts production after EPA grants slew of small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard

"One of the nation's largest ethanol companies announced on Tuesday it will idle a 92-million-gallon plant in Cloverdale, Indiana, following EPA's decision to grant 31 new small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2018," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Since 2016, President Donald Trump's administration has issued 85 exemptions totaling 4.03 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent gallons not being blended with gasoline."

A spokesperson for POET said the company has already cut production at half of its plants, with the largest cuts at plants in Iowa and Ohio, and that shuttering the Indiana plant will hurt the local economy, Neeley reports.

"In addition, the company said numerous jobs will be consolidated across POET's 28 plants and corn processing will be reduced by an additional 100 million bushels across Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri," Neeley reports.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

All of U.S. has climate issues, and decisions made now will determine conditions in 30-40 years, ag-policy analysts write

By Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray
Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee

The widespread flooding of this spring and early summer that resulted in delayed and prevented planting along with the extreme dry conditions and devastating fires last summer in California have raised the visibility of the issue of climate change for many people.

While this is a controversial issue in some agricultural circles, it is an issue that must be dealt with. All indications are that the annual average global temperature is rising to levels that will affect local rainfall and temperature patterns and thus have a significant impact on agricultural production.

On Aug. 7, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special report, “Climate Change and Land” that includes a Summary for Policymakers. This report covers the issues of “desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.” These issues are of concern not just for farmers in vulnerable areas of the world, but for farmers and consumers in every corner of the U.S. as well.

We may think that desertification is something that concerns those living along the edge of the Sahara, but farmers from California to Texas to points north are facing increasingly dry conditions as well. Sustainable land management is an issue that has moved from a small cluster of innovative farmers to a concept that has to be at the heart of the daily work of every farmer.

Making sure that we produce and distribute food in ways that eliminate hunger is a responsibility that moves beyond the individual farmer to the whole of society and to the nature of the food and agricultural policy that we adopt as a nation and world.

We may think about greenhouse gas fluxes when a whiff of anhydrous ammonia burns our nasal passages, but the concept includes everything from the photosynthesis that removes carbon dioxide from the air to the respiration of all plants and animals.

The conditions people will face 30 or 40 years from now depend on the decisions we make today. These decisions include the way we tackle the post-harvest loss of “25 to 30 percent of total food produced” and the sad fact that 2 billion adults are obese or overweight while 821 million are still undernourished. These involve not farm-level decisions but ones that have to be made at the individual and societal levels.

There are critical issues that face the agricultural community:
  • Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 10 to 20 times (no tillage) to more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate.
  • Global warming has led to shifts of climate zones in many world regions, including expansion of arid climate zones and contraction of polar climate zones
  • Agriculture, forestry and other land-use activities accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane (CH4), and 82% of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016, representing 23% … of total net anthropogenic emissions of [greenhouse gases].
  • The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases. Increased atmospheric CO2 levels can also lower the nutritional quality of crops.
But none of this is chiseled in stone. There are multiple ways we can respond. We can make choices that mitigate the risks we face. The first step in this process is to understand the risks.

With that in mind, the IPPC report is not a lecture designed to shame us into action. Rather it describes the current situation and lays out the potential consequences of the choices we make.

It's a buyer's market for community weeklies, but buyers are needed; how about it, refugees from metropolitan papers?

Margie Stedman, Shirley Davis and Lou Taylor enjoy a print edition of
the Midway Messenger outside the post office, with Lou's dog Molly.
By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Most days this summer, I've written a story about goings-on in Midway, a small Kentucky town where my University of Kentucky students and I publish the Midway Messenger. When students aren’t around, I pick up the slack, but it’s a labor of love, to provide coverage for a proud community that once had a paper of its own and has adopted ours, even though after 11 years I’m still something of a parachute publisher.

I’ve been in the newspaper business most of my life, but never as an owner, and our mainly online, non-commercial enterprise is as close as I am likely to get. But there are plenty of opportunities out there.

“It’s a buyer’s market right now for weekly newspapers,” former weekly publisher Gary Sosniecki writes, in a package of stories that we’re publishing to attract potential owners to community newspaper. This article introduces that package.

You might have chuckled at the “buyer’s market” line, since all the bad news about metropolitan newspapers may lead you to think that a newspaper is no longer a good investment. That’s not true of most community newspapers, because they are the sole, reliable source of news about their communities, and most of them “are doing fine financially,” says Kevin Slimp, the leading consultant to community papers. The Economist so reported last fall.

“In areas where decreased population, diminished area businesses and other forces beyond our control are at work, it might not be viable to sustain a local newspaper,” Slimp acknowledges. “Having said that, I’ve worked with many newspapers in the past year in towns with fewer than 600 residents who are finding ways to be successful.”

Helen and Gary Sosniecki
Gary and Helen Sosniecki found success with weeklies in three Midwest towns, the first with only 900 people. “If the population is stable, if most storefronts on Main Street are filled, if the town has its own school and the all-important sense of community, the prospects for a weekly newspaper succeeding long-term are good,” he writes.

But this is a buyer’s market with not enough buyers. When the West Virginia Press Association voiced concern that some newspapers in the state might close because their owners couldn’t find buyers, Maryanne Reed, then dean of the West Virginia University College of Media and now the university provost, got some foundation money and started a program called NewStart to develop the next generation of community newspaper owners.

The program's director, Jim Iovino, writes in this package about the success that Michael E. Sprengelmeyer found in a New Mexico weekly, the Guadalupe County Communicator, after the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where he was a political correspondent and had the byline M.E. Sprengelmeyer.

Jim Iovino says his first group of fellows in the program are expected to start in June 2020.

That will be none too soon for the Texas Press Association, which has seen a rash of closures and mergers, and hears talk of more. As in West Virginia, buyers are hard to find. We suspect it’s much the same in most of the country. “Many owners of our generation waited too long to sell and – unable to find buyers – are shutting down their papers,” Gary Sosniecki writes.

Those of us in this informal group see at least two potential groups of buyers who need to be recruited: local business people who never thought about becoming publishers, but know their communities and the value of a newspaper, and know how to make a profit; and the thousands of journalists who have been laid off by metro newspapers.

“It’s a conundrum that independently owned weekly newspapers are closing for lack of buyers at the same time that journalists who would make good weekly-newspaper owners are being laid off in record numbers by metro newspapers and national newspaper groups,” Gary writes. “The challenge for our industry is to convince these unemployed journalists to explore the joys and rewards of owning a small-town newspaper.”

Helen Sosniecki gets down to the nitty-gritty of that in another article, giving advice on how to go about buying a newspaper and testifying about the experience.

“It won’t be all fun and games, “ she writes. “The hours are long. The financial payback may be less than your corporate salary. But the rewards in your accomplishments as a community newspaper owner can overshadow those drawbacks. . . . You live there. You chronicle the town’s history. But you’re also one of them. It’s your town, too. It will fill you with pride when the school basketball team wins that first state championship. It will bring you to tears when you and your neighbors bury that young volunteer fireman with the pregnant wife who died along with another volunteer on the way to a brush fire. It will be your job, your business and your life – and you’ll likely love it more than anything you’ve ever done.”

Kevin Slimp and I agree that the keys to success as a community newspaper publisher are the right market, the right management and the right content. “Job number one is to put out a good product,” he told The Washington Post recently. He told me in an email, “It’s time we began to focus on publishing the best newspapers we can.”

There are thousands of Americans who could put out a good newspaper. They need to give themselves the chance. We’re here to give advice if you need it. Now read the package of stories.

Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before working 26 years for the Louisville Courier Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. For 15 years, he has directed the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, where he is professor of journalism.

Oregon weekly irks local officials with after-hours calls and emails; they seek a harassment investigation by police

UPDATE, Aug: 21: The Enterprise reports, "Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said an inquiry by his staff into allegations of possible criminal conduct by the Malheur Enterprise is over. His conclusion: No evidence of a crime."

The Malheur Enterprise spent months investigating a state lawmaker's business deals in Malheur County, Oregon, and now the county wants to investigate the paper for harassment. County Counsel Stephanie Williams confirmed last week that she asked Sheriff Brian Wolfe to investigate whether reporters' persistent phone calls and emails violated the law. Wolfe said he hasn't decided whether to open a criminal investigation. Pat Caldwell reports for the Enterprise.

The official complaint is that reporters made calls outside of business hours and emailed county Economic Development Department officials' personal email addresses. EDD director Greg Smith said he had asked reporters to limit requests to office hours and to a single county email address. Williams told the Enterprise that 'we are looking into whether or not there was a violation, especially when Mr. Smith previously asked it not be done and it was disregarded,'" Caldwell reports.

Enterprise reporters had contacted Smith's office several times in recent weeks while investigate a tip alleging that Smith had lured a new car wash to the area with promises of a tax exemption that was never delivered. Smith did not respond to any of the emails, including a draft of the story offered before publication so he could cite any errors, until after the story had been published, according to Enterprise editor and publisher Les Zaitz.

Further muddying the waters: Smith is a private contractor and a state legislator, but is not a county employee. Moreover, he gave out his cell phone number at a government meeting last fall, and told the audience he was available "24/7" for any questions or concerns. That same phone number is listed on Malheur County press releases and has been given out in his communications as a state legislator, Caldwell reports.

Zaitz said the newspaper was alarmed about a possible investigation, and said the staff has used "standard and professional methods" to seek information from officials about important public business. "At no time has anyone from the Enterprise abused any personal cell number of a government official," Zaitz told Caldwell. "Suggesting that professional journalists are behaving as criminals in gathering vital information for the community appears to be an effort to silence and intimidate the Enterprise."

Trump administration delays ban on Huawei Technologies because of concerns about disruptions in rural service

"The Trump administration is extending a reprieve for Huawei Technologies and U.S. companies working with the telecom giant by 90 days, the Commerce Department announced Monday," Bobby Allyn reports for NPR. The new deadline is Nov. 19.

As part of the trade war with China, in May President Trump announced that, within 90 days, U.S. telecoms networks had to stop buying or using equipment from "foreign adversaries". However, the move drew immediate protests from rural wireless carriers who rely on the less expensive Huawei equipment. Monday's extension is meant to give them "a little more time to wean themselves off," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Fox Business Network.

Despite the extended deadline, the Commerce Department is still pressuring Huawei, and has banned another 46 of the company's subsidiaries from doing business with U.S. companies because of national security concerns; that brings the total number of Huawei affiliates on the "Entity List" to more than 100. Commerce officials alleged that the companies engaged in activities including "providing financial services to Iran and obstructing justice in connection with a probe into violations of U.S. sanctions," Allyn reports.

Huawei protested the move, saying in a statement that the decision was politically motivated and unrelated to national security, Allyn reports.

Democrats seek to regain traction in rural areas, but are presidential candidates' proposals what rural voters want?

Mindful of Hillary Clinton's failure to connect with rural America in 2016, the current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls are expending considerable energy on reaching out to rural voters in hopes of closing a long-time gap.

"Democrats are climbing out of a deep hole in rural America. In 2008, Obama lost rural voters by 17 points, and by 23 points in 2012. Rock bottom arrived in 2016, when Clinton ran 34 points behind Trump among voters, according to data collected by Catalist, a Democratic data platform," Elena Schneider and Catherine Boudreau report for Politico. "Democrats clawed back some gains in rural counties in the 2018 midterm elections, and they want to build on that momentum in 2020."

Democratic candidates' plans include things like broadband expansion and expanded or universal Medicare. But are these policy proposals, which include greener farming practices, what rural people want? The Daily Yonder and its affiliated Rural Assembly talked to a dozen experienced rural-policy advocates about what top measures they would like to see 2020 presidential candidates address. "New or increased funding for rural programs is on the agenda, the Yonder reports. "But other themes include a call for inclusion, cultural parity, redirecting programs for more community impact, and holding large institutions accountable for the way they serve rural America." Here are a few highlights from what the rural-policy advocates told the Yonder:

Federal housing policy mostly benefits cities and suburbs right now, and must be revamped to help rural areas. That means investing heavily in local non-profits that know local housing issues best, and funding community development finance institutions to deploy in places banks can't reach, according to David Lipsetz, executive director of the Housing Assistance Council.

Increased access to health care is critical in rural America, where more than 100 hospitals have closed since 2010 and more are in danger of closing, according to Alan Morgan, president of the National Rural Health Association. Medicare cuts and the lack of Medicaid expansion contribute to rural hospital closures. Three in five rural voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who makes rural health care access a priority.

Rural areas need significant funding to support arts programming, better broadband to share that art with the world, and spaces dedicated to showcasing the arts. Making space for rural people to create and share art validates their identities and helps instill pride, according to Carlton Turner, the director and lead artist of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production.

For a complete list of issues and rural advocate recommendations, read the Yonder story here.

U.S. farmlands far more toxic to honeybees these days because of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides

According to a newly published study, American farmland is 48 times more toxic to honeybees than it was 25 years ago because of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. "This enormous rise in toxicity matches the sharp declines in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well as birds, says co-author Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth US," Stephen Leahy reports for National Geographic magazine.

Klein and other researchers made their determination using a new tool that measures an area's toxicity to honeybees, how long a pesticide remains toxic, and how much of it is used in a year, following procedures established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study found that "neo-nics" accounted for 92 percent of the increased toxicity. "Neonics are not only incredibly toxic to honeybees, they can remain toxic for more than 1,000 days in the environment," Leahy reports.

Honeybees aren't the only animals affected; they are often a proxy for effects on other insects. And as insect populations have declined recently, so have the numbers of insect-eating birds, Leahy reports.

Neonics are used in more than 120 countries on over 140 different crops. In the U.S., it's most popular for coating seeds like corn or soy. But only 5 percent of the toxin stays on the plant; the other 95% builds up in the soil and environment, and has contaminated streams and other water sources, Leahy reports.

Monday, August 19, 2019

States increasingly allowing dental therapists to practice, which can help bring more dental care to rural areas

It can be difficult to find adequate dental care in rural areas, since there usually aren't enough dentists and many rural residents lack money and/or dental insurance. One solution, adopted by dozens of countries, is to let dental therapists to practice in rural areas. Roughly speaking, the therapists are to dentists what nurse practitioners are to doctors. But in the U.S, dentists and their powerful lobbies have argued for years that dental therapists should not be allowed to set up shop in rural areas.

"Therapists can fill teeth, attach temporary crowns, and extract loose or diseased teeth, leaving more complicated procedures like root canals and reconstruction to dentists," Marina Villeneuve reports for The Associated Press. "But many dentists argue therapists lack the education and experience needed even to pull teeth."

In the U.S. right now, dental therapists practice in four states, "on certain reservations and schools in Oregon through a pilot program; on reservations in Washington and Alaska; and for over 10 years in Minnesota, where they must work under the supervision of a dentist," Villeneuve reports.

But more states have passed, or are in the process of passing, laws to authorize dental therapists. Arizona, Maine and Vermont have passed such laws; Connecticut, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico did so since December, and Idaho and Montana's governors signed laws this spring that allow dental therapists to operate on reservations. "Legislation failed in North Dakota and Florida this spring. Bills are pending in Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, where therapists could be authorized to practice outside reservations," Villeneuve reports.

The American Dental Association and its state chapters spend more than $3 million a year on lobbying, some of it in opposition to dental-therapy laws. ADA chapters in Connecticut and Massachusetts supported legislation in those states that satisfied their concerns about safety. "The Massachusetts proposal, not yet law, would require therapists to attain a master's degree and temporarily work under a dentist's supervision," Villeneuve reports.

Education could be an obstacle to increasing the ranks of dental therapists. Some start out as hygienists, who usually have a two-year associate's degree. And though some advocates say dental therapists should only need the same education level as a hygienists, many opponents say therapists need more training. However, only Alaska and Minnesota have dental therapy educational programs, and Minnesota's program is the only one that offers a master's degree—an expensive proposition for prospective therapists, Villeneuve reports. Vermont is creating a dental therapy program at Vermont Technical College set to launch in the fall of 2021. The program, funded with the help of a $400,000 federal grant, will have distance-learning options.

North Dakota Highway Patrol and a sheriff's department in the state get federal permission to fly drones over people

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department in North Dakota the permission to fly drones over people and populated areas. "The North Dakota patrol is the first state highway patrol agency in the country to receive the permission," Blake Nicholson reports for the Bismarck Tribune. "The Burleigh County Sheriff's Department is only the second county law enforcement agency in the nation to obtain it." In June, the North Dakota Transportation Department became the first state government agency to get an FAA permit to fly drones over people.

According to Col. Brandon Solberg, the highway patrol's superintendent, the waiver will allow troopers to safely document complicated vehicle crash scenes. The agency says the drones will also aid in finding missing people and fleeing suspects, Nicholson reports.

The patrol is in the process of buying a drone, and has already bought a parachute recovery system that makes it safer to fly over populated areas; if the drone falls, the system deploys a parachute, shuts down the rotors, and emits a buzzer to warn bystanders. If the patrol is satisfied with the drone, it plans to buy three more and base one in each quadrant of the state, Nicholson reports. The state legislature approved one-time funding of almost $100,000 for the program over the next three years.

Rural issues get more attention from presidential candidates this time, indicating that rural advocates are being heard

Though the 2020 presidential election is unlikely to hinge on rural policy positions, rural America is getting a lot more attention from Democratic presidential candidates than in recent elections. Bryce Oates writes for The Daily Yonder: "Last week I spent a lot of time reading and comparing statements and policy positions among the diverse field of Democratic candidates. Unlike any time I’ve seen in 20 years of rural advocacy and economic development work, many of the candidates are developing serious and innovative rural policy ideas that deserve more attention."

Many Democratic campaigns are championing rural infrastructure and telecommunications with specific budget and policy proposals. And many are "calling for aggressive changes in the health-care sector to address a crisis in rural health care facilities and availability. Most of them support agricultural reforms and conservation programs that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions," Oates writes.

Eight of the Democratic candidates have released comprehensive rural policy plans, as noted in the Yonder's running policy tracker. A few proposals stick out from the pack for "innovation and scope," Oates writes:
  • ARPA-Ag, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's proposed research and development initiative to encourage more environmentally friendly agriculture practices and share results of innovation. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan to increase rural broadband by allowing public-sector internet providers such as local governments, Native American tribes, rural electric cooperatives and rural telephone cooperatives to compete with private companies.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Rural Future Partnership Fund, $50 billion in public financing for multi-year, flexible block grants to local communities for rural revitalization projects. 
  • Sen. Cory Booker's proposed expansion of the Renewable Energy for America Program, which provides grants and loans to farmers and small rural business owners for installing and operating renewable energy systems.
Though many if not most rural policy proposals will face formidable challenges in actually being passed and implemented, Oates looks on the bright side: "While partisan and electoral politics are an ever-present barrier, rural people and organizations should take note that their consistent calls for more funding, resources and attention are working. Huge investments in rural broadband have been embraced by all of the Democrats in the race . . . Nearly all the candidates have called for aggressive antitrust action to curtail the market power of corporate agribusiness, a clear rejection of the hands-off approach during the Obama administration. The rural hospital closure crisis is being mentioned on the nationally televised debate stage. The climate crisis is being treated as a serious issue, with a 'just transition' to cleaner agriculture, forestry and mining practices in the spotlight."

Washington State J-school rural reporting project evaluates effect of community support on 'parachute' reporting

Washington State University map; click on the image to enlarge it.
Student journalists from Washington State University began an ambitious rural reporting project last October: to investigate whether community guidance and involvement can improve "parachute" reporting and create meaningful coverage in rural areas.

The project kicked off with a 48-hour "Rural Reporting Plunge," in which teams of four student journalists visited 12 small towns to covered local issues. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, more than 60 students traveled to 26 rural communities within 100 miles of the college in Pullman.

According to the report on the project, community members, news media, educators and students discussed the project at the Rural Journalism Education Roundtable in April 2019. Some key points:
  • Resources, particularly financial, are a major barrier to rural coverage. Small newspapers can't hire as many employees, and have trouble retaining reporters because of low pay.
  • Resources are also a barrier to professional collaboration with student journalists because it requires a lot of time to mentor students. Hiring one university employee to serve as an editor-advisors for student journalists could substantially increase how much student work is published in local media and improve learning outcomes for students. 
  • Rural journalism is a low priority in the news industry. Along with closing papers, closing bureaus, and ghost newspapers, universities often show disregard for rural and local news by praising alumni who work at large newspapers, urging talented students to pursue internships at big city newspapers, and choosing projects with national awards in mind rather than local information needs.
The Reporting Plunge was supported by the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment at WSU. The yearlong project was administered by the Online News Association with support from the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rural coroner made the tough call on local opioid epidemic

Coroner Steve Talbott, in his funeral home
(Photo by Michael S. Williamson, The Washington Post)
How many rural coroners, witnessing death after death from opioid overdoses, would call police in an effort to see how their county was being inundated by the misused prescription drugs? We don't know the answer to that question, but we do know what funeral director Steve Talbott, the elected coroner of Clinton County, Kentucky, for the last 25 years, did. He made the calls, and one result was the conviction of a local physician who shared a building with the pharmacy that dispensed more opioids per person per county in 2006-12 than any in the U.S.

Jenn Abelson, Andrew Ba Tran, Beth Reinhard and Aaron C. Davis of The Washington Post reported the story last week, following the Post's publication of other stories drawing on the Drug Enforcement Administration database for those years. Their story is a look at the opioid epidemic from the bottom up, in Albany, Paintsville and Booneville, Ky.; Kanab, Utah; and Carthage, Tenn., where pharmacies were funnels for large volumes of painkillers.

When Talbott responded as coroner to an overdose death, the Post reports, "Friends and relatives of the dead rarely had answers to Talbott’s questions: What kind of pills did they take and where did they come from? A toxicology report often answered the first question. It was the second one that typically eluded Talbott. As overdose deaths soared, Talbott repeatedly called the state police, hoping they could identify the source of opioids poisoning his community."

Clinton County (Wikipedia map)
Since 2006, 41 people have died of prescription opioid overdoses in the county of 10,000. Talbott told the Post that law enforcement took far too long to pay attention. "The federal investigation began in 2015 after Talbott noticed multiple overdose deaths involving patients of a local physician, Michael L. Cummings, and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure expert found Cummings’s treatment of several patients fell below minimum standards of care, court records show," the Post reports. "In 2017, Cummings was charged in federal court with the illegal distribution of controlled substances, which resulted in the deaths of three patients." He pleaded guilty in March to 13 counts of illegally prescribing controlled substances, and was sentenced July 24 to 30 months in prison and fined $400,000. Cummings had his medical practice in the same building as Shearer Drug.

The Post reports, "The 6.8 million opioid pills bought by Shearer Drug from 2006 through 2012 accounted for 66 percent of the total ordered by the county’s five pharmacies, according to The Post’s analysis." When Talbott heard those figures from the Post, he told the newspaper: “It’s a lot of pain medication for this little town.”

"Talbott, who said he grew up with [pharmacist Kent] Shearer and attended the same school, hasn’t talked to the pharmacist in a few months," the Post reports. "Talbott said the overdose deaths have waned since Cummings was indicted in 2017, but the epidemic is far from over." He told the paper, “There were just too many people dying from these drugs in such a small place. I hate these drugs. They are awful.”