Friday, October 04, 2019

A third way emerges in Confederate monuments debate: Keep them, but place signs explaining their racist history

A Confederate monument in Nashville was vandalized
in June (Associated Press photo by Mark Humphrey)
Monuments to Confederates have become more controversial in recent years, with some saying they celebrate racism and should be removed, and others saying they should stay because they're just a way of remembering history. Now some places "are exploring a new way to deal with the country’s Confederate monuments: place explanatory panels on or alongside the statues detailing the real history behind them," Hannah Natanson reports for The Washington Post. "It’s the latest frontier in the nation’s ongoing — and, in recent years, horrifically violent — reckoning with the statues, troubling testaments to the country’s racist past."

There are about 1,700 Confederate monuments. Most went up between the 1890s and 1920s with the rise of Jim Crow laws, and more were erected in the 1940s and 1950s after desegregation of the military and public schools, to assert white supremacy, says James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.

"Though many African Americans have disliked and protested against the monuments since their installation, Grossman said, opposition to Confederate symbols exploded into the mainstream following deadly racial violence in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and in Charlottesville in 2017," Natanson reports. "Towns and cities across the country have been struggling to decide how to handle their statues ever since."

The issue has been compounded in many states or localities by laws that protect the monuments. "At least seven states passed legislation in recent years to protect their Confederate monuments, a wave that began around the 2000s and includes a law passed as recently as 2017," Natanson reports. "Such statutes, which vary in language but generally prohibit removal of the monuments, are in effect in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia." Those were seven of the Confederate states; the others are Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

So, if the statues can't be removed, many support installing markers that note the racism of the Confederacy. "Proponents of installing explanatory markers say that — especially in states where removal is illegal — the tactic is realistic, inexpensive and swiftly achievable," Natanson reports.

Some outdoor recreation guides bring urban dwellers to enjoy—and spend money in—rural areas

David Radditz (left) with a client. (Photo courtesy of Radditz)
For adventure tourism guides like Drake Radditz, one of the best parts of the job is helping urban residents appreciate rural areas. "Radditz, 38, was born and raised in Portland. But growing up, his family spent most weekends elsewhere in the rural Northwest — fishing, hunting and reveling in the natural world. Those were the places Radditz felt most at home," Tim Trainor reports for the Capital Press in Salem, Oregon.

As a teen, Radditz began leading rafting and other outdoor-tourism trips and learned how to help clients feel comfortable even in unfamiliar situations. Some rural residents have been less than pleased with the increased traffic: Over the past decade, Radditz says he's had vehicles vandalized and tires deflated. And some locals who might hang out with him now sometimes refuse to share advice about fishing or other outdoors tips, Trainor reports.

"They think that (the river) is theirs and I’m an outsider trying to take that away from them," Radditz told Trainor. But Radditz says he believes the guided trips help city dwellers learn to appreciate rural beauty and bring more money to rural areas, Trainor reports.

"We’re taking people who wouldn’t normally come to a rural place to spend money," Radditz told Trainor. "Sure, as a guide, we’re making money off of that. But it’s also being spread into the communities."

White House disbands invasive species advisory board

On Tuesday, the Trump administration will disband a federal advisory board focused on battling invasive species. The Interior Department's Invasive Species Advisory Committee has been in operation for more than a decade, Miranda Green reports for The Hill. One of ISAC's key functions is overseeing efforts to prevent invasive species from getting into the U.S. through ports of entry.

In a June order, President Trump called on federal agencies to cut their advisory boards by at least one-third by Sept. 30. He recommended cutting boars that are redundant, have fulfilled their objective, study an "obsolete" topic, or cost too much to operate, Green and Rebecca Beitsch report.

ISAC advisers learned in a May 2 phone call that the panel would be disbanded. "Committee members were told that the advisory council was ending because the budget for the National Invasive Species Council, which oversees the advisory committee, was expected to be halved," Green reports. "Congress last month passed a continuing resolution that funded NISC’s budget to its full $1.2 million level."

Several committee members told The Hill that their recommendations on preventing invasive species from entering the country often annoyed some invasive-species staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and described an atmosphere of "overt antagonism" from USDA staff that has grown into "pretty transparent hostility," Green reports.

ISAC advisers also expressed frustration with a lack of coordination among agencies responsible for preventing entry of invasive species, and said they worry that disbanding ISAC will result in more entering the U.S., Green reports.

Quick hits: Violence against rural hospital workers; impact of parachute reporting on Appalachia, and more . . .

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

With the rise of the opioid epidemic, rural hospital workers have been subjected to an increase in violent behavior from patients. Workers have few protections against such violence, but some workplace initiatives are helping. Read more here.

A roundtable discussion in rural Kentucky discusses the impact and accuracy of parachute reporting on Appalachia. Read more here.

How do rural voters feel about Medicare for All? Liz Carey of The Daily Yonder has some figures.

Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham implores readers to stop treating rural white voters as a monolith. Ingraham was noted for moving to a rural Minnesota town after he offended residents by noting in a story that it was dead last in a nationwide ranking of most desirable places to live.

Outsiders generally think of Central Appalachians as white, but the region has surprising diversity. Scalawag magazine profiles the history of a Reconstruction-era black commune in western North Carolina: The Kingdom of the Happy Land. Read more here.

Hemp cultivation is increasing, but who's buying?

Hemp cultivation has grown rapidly in the U.S. since the 2018 Farm Bill made it legal at the federal level, with 13 states launching hemp programs this year to join the 21 that already had such programs before the Farm Bill's passage. This year there are more than 511,000 acres in 34 states licensed for hemp cultivation, according to a survey of state agriculture departments by advocacy group Vote Hemp. That's an increase of more than 455 percent over last year. But as growers rush to plant the popular crop, "many newcomers have no idea who will buy their crop or even who will prepare it for sale," April Simpson and Sophie Quinton report for Stateline.

Matt Cyrus, a hemp farmer and president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau in Oregon, told Stateline: "It’s a high-risk crop — it’s hard to find markets . . . It’s not like corn, or wheat or other commodities, where you just go down to the local grain elevator." Some growers and others in the industry are trying to set up marketplaces and co-operatives that can help connect growers and buyers, Simpson and Quinton report.

Hemp growers are seeing bigger profits right now than they might reap from corn or other crops, but the hemp boom will likely flood the market and result in lower prices, according to Ian Laird of industry data provider Hemp Benchmarks, Simpson and Quinton report.

Adding to newcomers' woes, it turns out that hemp is harder to grow than many had realized, especially since, as a new crop, there's little established wisdom on how and when to best plant it, fertilize it, and keep it free of diseases. But it's critical for farmers to figure it out quickly in order to ensure the plant's THC content stays under 0.3%, especially in states where marijuana cultivation remains illegal, Simpson and Quinton report. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the pyschoactive chemical that distinguishes marijuana from hemp; the two plants are otherwise indistinguishable.

There's a lot of confusion over how to regulate THC content, to ensure that hemp farmers aren't secretly growing marijuana. "USDA is under pressure to overwrite a patchwork of state regulations on measuring THC by setting a national testing standard. The department has yet to produce federal guidelines that will shape how the new commodity is grown and sold, though USDA has said it plans to do so ahead of the 2020 growing season. A proposed rule is still pending at the Office of Management and Budget," Liz Crampton reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture.

Hemp is more expensive to grow than many realize, too, and harder to finance. "Getting a hemp farm started can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and harvesting isn’t cheap. Hemp farmers can start seeds in a greenhouse, lay down a sheet of plastic mulch, and plant the seeds and harvest the crop by hand. Growers are scrambling to find field workers amid a broader farm labor shortage," Simpson and Quinton report. "Meanwhile, banks are still leery of lending to customers who are growing a form of cannabis — which at certain levels of THC is still illegal under federal law — and entering a brand-new, risky market."

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Blackjewel miners get $3.7 million grant to go back to school

Laid-off coal miners who worked for Blackjewel LLC in southeastern Kentucky have been awarded a $3.7 million grant from the federal government to help them train for new jobs.

The money comes from the Department of Labor as a National Dislocated Worker Grant, given to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. "This money will help laid-off miners and their spouses train in a new field. Many of the miners are choosing expedited short term training in jobs such as machinists, linemen, and truckers," Emily Bennett reports for WYMT-TV in eastern Kentucky.

EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead said many miners are unsure of themselves, but will flourish and do well in second careers if given the opportunity. The program is for any laid-off coal miner, not just the Blackjewel miners. More than 450 Blackjewel miners have enrolled for training with the program and 100 of them have already gone back to school, Bennett reports.

When Blackjewel abruptly declared bankruptcy in July, about 1,800 workers at its mines in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming were left unpaid. On July 29, laid-off Blackjewel miners blocked railroad tracks to keep the company from transporting coal out until it had paid the miners. After nearly two months, the protest ended last week as the last of the miners left the tracks. They still haven't been paid, but the miners said they needed to move on to new jobs or job training, WYMT reports.

A Blackjewel attorney has proposed in West Virginia bankruptcy court a deal that could provide the company with about $5.5 million that it would use to pay its former Kentucky employees. "While the deal has yet to be finalized, officials with the U.S. Department of Labor said during Wednesday’s court hearing that they expect to come to an agreement with Blackjewel as early as next week," Will Wright reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Though the miners are no longer blocking the tracks, the coal train still hasn't moved out because of a court order.

Farmers' case against huge dairy co-op to go to trial

"A collection of dairy farmers who allege anti-competitive conduct by the nation’s largest dairy cooperative will take their case to a jury trial. A U.S. district court judge late last week denied a motion for summary judgment — which would have wrapped the case up without trial — from defendant Dairy Farmers of America," Leah Douglas reports for Successful Farming. DFA is the largest dairy co-op in the nation, representing about 30 percent of the fluid milk market in the U.S.

More than 115 Northeastern farmers sued DFA, alleging that the company and its marketing arm, Dairy Marketing Services, illegally conspired to corner the fluid milk market and that their growing business as a milk processor has created a conflict of interest in how they generate income, Douglas reports.

"Specifically, farmers allege that DFA and other cooperatives upheld an agreement not to poach one another’s farmer-members; shared information about how much they were paying farmers for raw milk in order to discourage competition, resulting in lower prices; and ensured that those low prices were maintained across the market by entering into supply agreements with top dairy processors, including Dean Foods, H.P Hood, Kraft, and others," Douglas reports.

A favorable verdict for the farmers could have big implications for dairy and other ag co-ops. Such co-ops are exempted from some anti-trust scrutiny under the Capper-Volstead Act, but a ruling in favor of the farmers would mean DFA's actions violate their end of the deal that allows them that immunity. "Dairy cooperatives have increasingly been under scrutiny from farmers who say that they operate more like profit-seeking corporations than entities intended to insure farmers’ livelihoods," Douglas reports. "DFA reported net income of over $108 million in 2018, even as more than 2,700 dairy farms went out of business across the country. Cooperative executives’ salaries can reach into the millions."

Irrigation drying up some waterways in the western U.S.; study warns it will get worse without preventative measures

Farming irrigation is drying up some of the streams and rivers in the western U.S., especially those fed by groundwater bubbling up into natural springs. But farmers have been obliged to dig ever deeper irrigation wells because the region has been seeing less and less rain.

"Farmers have pumped so much water that in some places, the water table has fallen by more than a hundred feet," Dan Charles reports for NPR. "The water is now so deep underground that it can't flow into streams and rivers anymore. Streams dry up, and as a result, fish and plants and birds around those streams also disappear."

It's happening in Kansas, Colorado, and California's Central Valley in the U.S., as well as in India and China. According to a newly published study in Nature, the problem will continue if global warming continues unchecked. A computer simulation of worldwide fresh water sources in such a future, with a warmer planet and less rainfall, means farmers will have to rely even more on groundwater. In the simulation, the flow of freshwater streams and rivers falls dramatically, and about half of them become so dry that the surrounding ecosystems are destroyed, Charles reports.

Inge de Graaf, the lead researcher, puts it bluntly: "The plants and the fish that live in the rivers or the lakes, they will die." She says she doesn't want people to panic, even though the projections are alarming, but says actions like cutting greenhouse gas emissions can help prevent such a scenario from coming to pass, Charles reports.

"In addition, some places, including California and parts of Kansas and Texas, are moving to reduce the amount of groundwater that farmers can extract from the ground," Charles reports.

More Texas small towns declare themselves anti-abortion 'sanctuary cities' at suggestion of conservative activists

Only a few months after a small Texas town outlawed abortion and declared itself the nation's first "sanctuary city for the unborn," five more towns in the state have passed similar laws, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports for The Washington Post.

In June, the five-member city council of Waskom, Texas, pop. 2,189, unanimously voted for an ordinance and resolution criminalizing abortion. There was no abortion clinic in the town (or any of the other towns that passed such laws), but the Waskom townspeople wanted to keep it that way, and were concerned that one might set up shop to cater to women from nearby Louisiana.

The bans were proposed, in Waskom and other towns, by anti-abortion activist group Right to Life of East Texas. "Five towns have adopted the restrictive ordinance, which outlaws emergency contraception such as Plan B, criminalizes reproductive rights groups and fines doctors $2,000 for performing the procedure. A sixth East Texas town has adopted a more lenient version of the ordinance," Wax-Thibodeaux reports. None of the towns have more than 3,000 residents.

Right to Life of East Texas leader Mark Lee Dickson said he and fellow antiabortion group Texas Right to Life plan to pitch the law to more than 400 Texas towns. Dickson and others like him are disappointed by the lack of anti-abortion laws on the state level, so they're trying the local approach. "Dickson also hopes to attract a legal challenge that forces the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade," Wax-Thibodeaux reports. That's because "the ordinance is only criminally enforceable if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. But, in civil cases, Dickson said, local courts could enforce the ordinance in a lawsuit against someone who provides emergency contraception or performs an abortion in the town limits."

Invasive species that ruins grapes, hops, fruits, nuts and hardwoods is spreading from Pennsylvania

A spotted lanternfly. (Penn State photo by Michael Houtz)
The spotted lanternfly, a pest that munches on grapes, hops, fruit, nuts and some hardwoods, is spreading in the eastern U.S. Though the insect is native to China, it was first seen in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has been spreading since then, Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty.

As of this year, the spotted lanternfly has been found in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey. They don't bite, sting, or carry human diseases, but they do post a serious threat to farmers, especially those with vineyards, Lucia reports. Some Pennsylvania vineyards have reported up to a 90 percent crop loss.

"With this in mind, state and federal agencies have been waging a pricey war against the insect, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture allotting about $50 million—roughly $30 million of it in the past fiscal year—and Pennsylvania budgeting $3 million annually during the past two years for anti-lanternfly efforts," Lucia reports. "California’s agriculture department is also funding lanternfly research, including a project exploring the possibility of deploying small wasps as potential combatants. The spotted lanternfly has yet to establish a population in the major agricultural—and wine producing—state, but has turned up ominously on airplanes landing there."

Heather Leach, a spotted lanternfly expert at Pennsylvania State University's extension office, said the lanternfly will almost certainly keep spreading because of its lack of natural predators in the U.S. Predictive models show that it could most easily spread in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but that it would also probably thrive in the Midwest and West Coast, Lucia reports.

Researchers are trying to figure out safe ways to kill the pest with natural methods like fungi and wasps, but say there's probably not a silver bullet solution. Some enterprising Philadelphia residents have even tried to gamify killing the bugs with an app called Squishr where Philly residents can compete to see who can log the most kills. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Appeals court upholds FCC's repeal of internet neutrality, but opens the door to state and local regulations

A federal appeals court upheld the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of Obama-era net-neutrality protections, but said the agency can't keep state governments from passing their own neutrality rules.

"The agency had attempted to do so through a 'preemption directive' included in the text of its 2018 Restoring Internet Freedom Order, but hadn’t properly explained how state laws would undermine it," Dell Cameron reports for Gizmodo.

The ruling will likely "embolden some states and local governments to pursue their own regulations. California, a trendsetter in Internet policy, adopted its own rules last year, though they were quickly challenged by the Justice Department and have not yet been enforced," Tony Romm reports for The Washington Post. "In doing so, the ruling threatened to spell even more legal wrangling at the FCC, which must reconsider elements of its net neutrality repeal, and in the court system, where the federal agency may still retain the ability to challenge states that adopt open-Internet rules, officials there signaled Tuesday."

As it stands now, legal and legislative fighting over net neutrality could go on for years; since the president appoints FCC commissioners, the outcome of the 2020 election could have an outsized impact on the issue in years to come, Romm writes.

UPDATE, Oct. 9: Caitlin Chin of the Brookings Institution looks ahead.

Lawmakers ponder how to help rural groceries survive; surge of rural dollar stores is a new challenge

Rural residents often have a harder time getting to a grocery store than their suburban and urban counterparts. It's an even bigger problem for the rural poor, including seniors and those with disabilities, since they may be unable to drive to the store.

"The median distance to the nearest food store for rural populations in 2015 was 3.11 miles, and a shade farther for rural households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, according to a May 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program," April Simpson reports for Stateline. "A slightly larger share of rural SNAP households than rural non-SNAP households, 8% as opposed to 7%, were more than 10 miles from the nearest store."

Some states are trying to figure out a way to fix, or at least reduce, the problem. Rural-grocery advocates say tax incentives and subsidies have helped large supermarkets, but have squeezed out local, independent grocers. The surge of dollar stores in rural areas is also posing problems for small grocers, since the stores of Dollar General Corp. and smaller chains often have lower prices. However, critics say most dollar stores aren't a good substitute for grocery stores since they generally don't have fresh meat or produce, Simpson reports.

On the federal level, the Agriculture Department's Healthy Food Financing Initiative, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, supports healthy-food grocery projects in more than 35 states, but some rural grocery owners say it's difficult to access those funds, Simpson reports.
Mountainair, New Mexico
(Wikipedia map)

Nancy McCloud, who owns a grocery in rural New Mexico, told Simpson: "I couldn’t find any that was applicable for a for-profit business . . . If I were a co-op, yes, but a co-op wouldn’t survive in this particular town. There wouldn’t be enough [people] to help."

McCloud had no experience running or even working in a grocery, but decided to buy and reopen the local store in 2017 after it closed. Without her store, the 863 residents of Mountainair, New Mexico, would have to drive 47 miles to get fresh food. She told Simpson she felt that the town's continued existence depended on having a grocery store. "When you have a small rural town and the grocery store dies, the town dries up and it just blows away," McCloud said. "There are six towns east of here — they just lost the grocery store, then they lost the gas station, and then they lost the bank and now they’re nothing."

Grassley breaks with Senate Republicans and President Trump by supporting impeachment whistleblower

Sen. Chuck Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, broke with other congressional Republicans this week by defending the whistleblower who prompted the impeachment investigation of President Trump. The president "has sought to delegitimize the report, saying it should not have been filed because much of it is based on second-hand information rather than the whistleblower's direct knowledge of events," notes Robin Opsahl of the Des Moines Register.

In a press release Tuesday, Grassley said that protections for whistleblowers don't depend on how the person got the information they've reported. He acknowledged that complaints based on second-hand information "do require additional leg work to get at the facts and evaluate the claim’s credibility," Opsahl reports.

Grassley has been at odds with Trump over the recent Renewable Fuel Standard dust-up, a major issue in Iowa, and the president's failure to deliver a promised deal to settle disputes over ethanol. But he has also been a long-time defender of whistleblowers, "beginning in 1986 when he authored amendments to the False Claims Act encouraging whistleblowers to come forward with reports of fraud and abuse," Opsahl reports.

Grassley called for the public to respect the whistleblower's confidentiality and said media reports with revealing details about their identity "don't serve the public interest". Grassley also criticized Democrats for moving to impeach Trump without waiting for more evidence, and said they were motivated by an inability to accept Trump's election rather than evidence of wrongdoing, Opsahl reports.

Iowa is proving a source of pressure for Trump on more than one front. Grassley's constituents—and Corn Belt voters in other states—have been agitated over the RFS dispute, which threatens political consequences for the president's reelection bid, David Lynch reports for The Washington Post. Trump has tried to assuage corn growers' frustrations by promising that Japan will buy enough corn to make up for the loss of China as a customer, but Japan doesn't need that much corn, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Agriculture secretary offers little hope for small dairy farmers

Sonny Perdue spoke at a town hall during the World Dairy
Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP photo by John Hart)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue predicted a rocky future for family dairy farms during the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin Tuesday, Todd Richmond reports for The Associated Press. He said the 2018 Farm Bill should help farmers stay in business, but warned that smaller farms will struggle to compete.

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," Perdue told reporters. "I don't think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability."

Dairy farmers have been hit with increasing pressures over the past decade: declining consumer taste for cow's milk, unfavorable international trade conditions and declining milk prices; and those issues have added to depression among farmers, Richmond reports. Small dairy farmers are dealing with additional problems on top of that: major dairy distributors find it more cost-effective to buy milk from large dairy farms, often leaving family farms without customers.

"It's very difficult on an economy of scale with the capital needs and all the environmental regulations and everything else today to survive milking 40, 50, or 60 or even 100 cows," Perdue said Tuesday.

The avalanche of financial pressures has led many dairy farmers to leave the business. Wisconsin has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019, on the heels of losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, Richmond reports. Some farmers left the town hall feeling discouraged. Jerry Volenc, a fifth-generation dairy farmer with 330 cows, told reporters: "What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there's no place for me . . . Can I get some support from my state and federal government? I feel like we're a benefit to society."

Long drive times may stymie rural opioid addiction treatment

Drive times to opioid treatment programs can be as much as six times longer for people living in rural counties compared to urban counties, according to newly published research.

"In a study that looked at drive times to opioid treatment programs in urban and rural counties in the five states with the highest rates of opioid-related deaths, researchers found that it could take nearly 50 minutes to get a clinic that could dispense methadone," Linda Carroll reports for Reuters. "Currently methadone can be dispensed only from U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration certified opioid treatment programs, which are in short supply in rural areas."

The study's lead author, Yale University medical school professor Paul Joudrey, proposed allowing some primary care clinics to prescribe methadone, which would expand rural access. Other countries like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom allow this, but U.S. regulators have consistently opposed such a measure because of concerns that too-easy access would encourage methadone overdoses, Carroll reports. "But what is more dangerous, methadone or heroin and fentanyl?" Joudrey said.

The drive time can be a daunting barrier to rural residents with an opioid addiction, since new patients must be present at the clinic six days a week; only patients who have been in treatment for a longer amount of time can qualify for longer-acting medications that wouldn't require them to drive to the clinic every day, Carroll reports.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Nov. 15 workshop in Ashland, Ky., will help rural journalists cover the difficult topic of substance abuse and recovery

The epidemic of opioid use and other substance abuse has hit many rural communities hard, but rural news media have a hard time covering this difficult subject, for various reasons. On Nov. 15 in Ashland, Kentucky, a workshop for journalists will try to change that.

Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery: A Workshop for Journalists will be held at the Marriott Delta Downtown by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Registration is now open; space is limited, and the earlybird registration rate of $50 is good until Nov. 1. Registration will close Nov. 8.

The workshop is designed to help rural journalists cover a subject that needs covering, in order to help their communities deal not only with substance abuse, but to know how recovery is possible.

The agenda is packed with a variety of experts in the field including award-winning journalists, authors, researchers, officials, and people in recovery. Several award-winning journalists who have been leaders in covering these topics in Appalachia and adjoining areas are among the speakers:
  • Beth Macy, award-winning author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America, recently released in paperback. She will appear via Skype.
  • Terry DeMio and Cara Owsley, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists from the Cincinnati Enquirer; DeMio has been the newspaper’s opioid beat reporter for five years, and Owsley is photography director; they worked on the Pulitzer-winning series, "Seven Days of Heroin."
  • Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, who won a Pulitzer in 2017 for revealing county-by-county patterns of opioid distribution in West Virginia.
  • Sharon Burton, editor and publisher of the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., a national leader in substance-abuse coverage by small newspapers and winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism in Kentucky.
  • Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley, who is a former legislator, attorney and television journalist.
Attendees will learn about the issues from a variety of experts in the field including award-winning journalists, authors, researchers, officials and people in recovery. The goals are to help journalists:
  • Understand the depth and breadth of the problem and how it affects local communities
  • Know how to get reliable data and other local information for reporting
  • Develop local, state, regional and national sources for stories and story ideas
  • Hear reporters explain how they cover the problem and the people affected by it
  • Appreciate the role of local news media in reducing the stigma that inhibit local action
Research by Oak Ridge Associated Universities has shown that the stigma attached to drug use and addiction are major obstacles to news coverage of the problem, which makes it harder for communities to find solutions.

The workshop will begin with an informal gathering at the Delta hotel on Thursday evening, Nov. 14, and run from 8:30 a,m. to 5:15 p.m. Nov. 15. Online registration is required, and a room block with a favorable rate of $109 a night is available at the Delta. The registration site has a link to the hotel reservation site. Please contact Institute Director Al Cross with any questions:

Daily paper in Waycross, Georgia, closes, increasing the number of 'news desert' counties in the state to 29 of 159

News deserts in the U.S.   University of North Carolina map; click it to enlarge or click here for the interactive version.
The 105-year-old Waycross Journal-Herald in southeast Georgia published its last edition Sept. 30. In the announcement on its website, Editor Jack Williams III attributed the decision to reduced print subscriptions and advertising revenue because of the encroachment of the internet and other news sources. The Williams family has owned the daily since 1916.

Publisher Roger Williams, the editor's brother, said it was a difficult decision, but revenue fell during the recession and hasn't fully recovered since. They tried to sell the paper twice but both deals fell through. To keep the paper going, he said, would have required the family and other stockholders to use personal funds. "Williams said he regrets it for everyone, but at 71 he couldn’t risk his personal finances in hopes things would somehow turn around," Terry Dickson reports for The Brunswick News, a nearby daily.

Waycross in Ware County
(Wikipedia maps)
The Journal-Herald's closure adds Ware County, population 36,000, to the significant number of counties with no newspaper in the state. Georgia now has 29 news-desert counties, the highest number of any state, according to University of North Carolina journalism professor Penny Abernathy's research. The state has 159 counties, more than any state but Texas, which has 22 news-desert counties out of 254. Most of the news-desert counties are poor and/or small, lacking a strong economic base for local news media.

"The Journal-Herald has been the primary daily paper for Brantley and other neighboring counties, especially in face of pullbacks by the Florida Times-Union [in Jacksonville] and Atlanta Journal-Constitution," Dickson reports. Brantley County, which has no local paper, is between Waycross and Brunswick.

Not only does the Journal-Herald's closure leave Ware County residents without a local paper, it poses decisions for governments that need to publish paid public notices for everything from foreclosures to public hearings. In some cases, legal action cannot be taken until an ad is published, Dickson notes. Clerk of Court Melba Fiveash told him that the notices must be published in a paid-circulation newspaper, and should be the one with the most subscribers in the jurisdiction.

The prospect of legal advertising could encourage someone to open a weekly paper, which sometimes happens after a daily closes, but there has been no word yet on any such plans. 

Rural West Texas doctor served 11,000 square miles all alone; took five years to line up a potential replacement

It's getting harder and harder to find doctors willing to work in rural towns. Though rural America has, by one count, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, it has less than 10% of the doctors, and the federal government considers almost 80% of it as "medically under-served," Eli Saslow reports for The Washington Post.

The situation will likely get worse in coming years as more rural physicians retire. "Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60," Saslow reports. "Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat."

Saslow illustrates the trend neatly with a profile of Ed Garner, a 68-year-old doctor in Van Horn, Texas. Until another physician was hired recently, Garner was the only working doc serving three rural counties east of El Paso, 11,000 square miles (about as big as Maryland) mostly home to oil drillers and highway towns. Garner, a family doctor by training, wears many hats: head physician for a nearby immigration detention center, director of a rural health clinic, chief of staff for Culberson Hospital, and medical director for the hospital's emergency room, Saslow reports.

Ed Garner (Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson)
"During the eight years he’d spent in Van Horn, hospital managers had done whatever they could to extend Garner’s career as one of the few country doctors left in West Texas," Saslow reports. "They’d increased his pay and recruited traveling physicians to take occasional shifts in the ER so he could go back to his ranch . . . hired a full team of nurses and physician assistants to share his patient load and help in the ER. They’d even lobbied the state of Texas to change its laws regulating telemedicine and then installed video cameras and fiber optic cables in the ER so that, on some nights, the only doctor on call in Van Horn was actually a doctor from out of state who appeared on a video screen."

Only 2% of medical school students are willing to work in a small town, so finding another doctor to help Garner, and eventually succeed him, took five years. Eric Cummings was courted by rural hospitals all over the country with promises of high pay and a peaceful life surrounded by natural beauty. He picked Van Horn because it was fairly close to his family, the federal government would forgive most of his student loans for working in an under-served area, and the salary was 50% higher than what he could make in a big city, Saslow reports.

Cummings is nervous about flying solo once Garner retires in a few years. He asked Garner how he dealt with being the only doctor around, and Garner's replied: "Mostly, try not to think about it . . . You operate in denial. You treat one patient and move on to the next."

Oct. 18 webinar will show why print weeklies are still viable

Christina Smith discussed her research at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors conference in July.
Why do some small-town weekly newspapers that rely on print continue to be viable in the digital era? A webinar Oct. 18 from 2 to 3 p.m. ET, by a scholar who spent half of her 15-year newspaper career at weeklies, will offer some answers.

In "The Community's Perception(s): State of U.S. Print Weekly Newspapering in the 21st Century," Christina Smith of Georgia College and State University "argues that U.S. print weekly newspapers continue to be perceived by their audiences as the most relied upon news sources for the communities in which they serve because community members believe the local newspaper and its journalists and owners serve as community builders, produce relevant, truthful, local information, and are highly motivated by community needs in order to do their jobs – all of which have long been the foundational rules guiding community journalism," according to the webinar website.

Smith told the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors convention at Emory University in Atlanta this summer that her research focuses on newspapers of less than 5,000 circulation, which includes most U.S. papers. Her exploratory work in Georgia and Illinois asked readers their perception of their local newspaper's role, the relevancy of its content, and its level of trust, which was high. Most said their paper does a good job covering issues that are important to them, but most also wanted their paper to have a stronger online presence.

Smith will also share with viewers a survey tool she produced for her research that she believes other publishers can use in their own communities to better understand their readers' expectations.

Smith is an assistant communication professor who teaches journalism and researches rural journalism. She is an academic partner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. For more information or to register for the webinar, click here.

Rural libraries help improve rural health as hospitals shutter

As rural hospitals close or are stretched thin, libraries are becoming a key partner in helping small-town residents learn about health and nutrition and maintain a healthier lifestyle, Sarah Baird reports for Stateline.

Rural libraries offer everything from free healthy-cooking and Zumba classes to seminars on how to prevent diabetes or administer Narcan, the overdose-reversal drug. In Somerset, Kentucky, the Pulaski County Public Library offers a nutrition class with a registered dietitian and will soon offer chair yoga. In nearby London, the Laurel County Public Library works with a local hospital to offer learning lunches, "an event that pairs a free box lunch with an hour-long lesson on a relevant health topic, from migraines to sepsis. The lunches, launched in 2014, see attendance as high as 40 people. Topics planned for 2020 run from urology to shingles," Baird reports.

Having such offerings in rural areas can make a difference, where residents are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions and drug addiction rates are high, but there are fewer medical resources.
Libraries can also serve as a source of information for seniors or caregivers, an important function in rural areas since thet tend to have a higher proportion of seniors, many with age-related ailments. Also, rural residents may feel more comfortable coming to the library, than, say a gym, for a yoga class, especially if that person is self-conscious. "Especially in small towns, public libraries serve as a neutral ground, allowing patrons to seek out information or attend classes that they might feel uncomfortable pursuing in a more traditional setting," Baird reports.

However, libraries sometimes lack the funds to implement public-health efforts, and often lack the staff to write grants that could net them more funding, Baird reports.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Top reporters on coal industry accept Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity in rural journalism

Paul J. Nyden (deceased), Ken Ward Jr. and Howard Berkes
Three leaders in coverage of the coal industry in Central Appalachia and elsewhere received the nation's only award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism Thursday night.

The Tom and Pat Gish Award, named for the late editor-publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., went to Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail; his mentor at the Gazette, the late Paul J. Nyden; and Howard Berkes, who retired this year as NPR's rural correspondent.

"Our three honorees join a long list of rural journalists who have demonstrated the courage, integrity and tenacity that is so often necessary to do good journalism in rural areas. In their own special ways, they live up to the example set by Tom and Pat Gish," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which presents the award (and publishes The Rural Blog).

The presentations at the institute's annual Al Smith Awards Dinner had a strong West Virginia presence. West Virginia University law professor Pat McGinley accepted for Nyden, and Berkes talked about how he uncovered an epidemic of black-lung disease among coal miners in eastern Kentucky, Virginia and southern West Virginia that federal regulators had ignored or even denied.

Ben Gish, right, presents a Gish Award to Howard Berkes
Berkes said he had received many awards in his career, but puts the Gish Award at the top of the list because it is named for the Gishes, whom he knew. The awards were presented by their son, Ben Gish, publisher of The Mountain Eagle.

Ward is "the nation's best reporter on the coal industry," Cross told the crowd of 235 at the dinner in Lexington, Ky.

Ward said Nyden believed there were only two rules in journalism: Number one, "You find out who the bad guys are and you screw 'em." Number two? "You screw 'em again."

Cross said that might make non-journalists in the crowd wonder about objectivity in journalism. He said true objectivity is an impossible goal, but good journalists follow an objective method, testing all the information they get and putting it through a rigorous editing process.

Nyden's "hard-hitting reporting was matched by his kind personality," Cross said. "When he died last year, one former Gazette journalist wrote, 'Paul Nyden had an extraordinary talent I’ve never seen in a reporter, before or since. He could excoriate people in print one day and have them as guests at parties the next.' And that, of course, is a key to developing good sources, which produce good stories."

David Thompson, center, with KPA President-Elect Jeff Jobe,
left, and KPA President Jay Nolan (Photo by Claudia Nolan)
The Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian went to Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, who has been in the job for 36 years, longer than any other current newspaper-association executive in North America. He was recognized for his long service and his recent lobbying to preserve state open-government laws. For a story on Thompson by Mike Scogin of the News-Graphic of Georgetown, his hometown, click here. He also wrote an editorial.

The guest speaker at the dinner was political commentator Howard Fineman, who covered coal and energy for the Louisville Courier Journal 40 years ago. A Pittsburgh native, he fondly recalled his reporting experiences in Eastern Kentucky. He filled in for Chuck Todd of NBC News, who was forced to stay in Washington because of the presidential impeachment news.

Encourage people of all ages to interact with the news on News Engagement Day, Oct. 1

Encourage people of all ages to get more involved with the news on News Engagement Day, which will be on Oct. 1.

"Imagine a day where everyone engages with news in some form or fashion. That's the idea behind News Engagement Day, a day to encourage people of any age to read, watch, like, post, tweet, text, email, listen to, or comment on news," says the website. 

Click here for more information, resources or ideas about how to promote News Engagement Day. The program is sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

More schools serving vegan meals; meat industry objects to California bill helping schools expand such offerings

A cafeteria worker in Portland, Maine, shows a traditional pizza lunch along with a vegan version topped with
hummus and fresh vegetables. (Pew Charitable Trusts photo)
Meat producers are already on high alert because of the increasingly popularity of meat analogues in restaurants and grocery stores. Now, that battle is being fought on another front: the school cafeteria, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline.

At least one school in 14 percent of school districts nationwide provided vegan lunches in 2017, up from 11.5% in 2016, according to the School Nutrition Association. Schools have generally offered such alternatives to accommodate those who follow such a diet, or observant Jews and Muslims with dietary restrictions surrounding meat and/or dairy. Though the decision to offer vegetarian or vegan meals has received relatively little pushback on the local level, meat industry groups (mostly the beef industry) have objected to legislation that expands such programs, Povich reports.

"In California, a bill to provide $3 million to school districts across the state to include plant-based options for lunch was whipping through the legislature before being brought up short this year over money and objections from the beef industry," Povich reports. "The money would have paid for grants of up to $100,000 to participating schools, to cover the costs of training, advertising, creating menus, technical assistance and student engagement efforts." Each school would be allowed to choose whether or not to participate in the program.

Justin Oldfield, the vice president for government relations of the California Cattlemen's Association, who testified against the bill, said meat is essential for meeting children's nutritional requirements in school lunches. Food service workers who testified against the bill said it's hard to get kids to eat their vegetables, Povich reports.

Probe, map detail struggles of rural Midwest hospitals; Ky. hospital shows value of diversification, expanded Medicaid

At least 155 rural hospitals have closed since 2005, as shown on this map. Dots are sized by the number of beds in each hospital. (Map by The Conversation; click on the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version.)
"Small rural Midwest community hospitals, squeezed by financial and regulatory pressures, are scaling back on services, merging with larger hospital systems and searching for other creative ways to survive in the short term," Jennifer Hemmingsen of IowaWatch reports, in part of an Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news organizations in seven states.

Nationwide, 113 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, including 16 so far this year. Most of the closures have been in Southern states, especially those that rejected Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "But even in the Midwest, 16 percent of rural hospitals rank high or mid-high on a financial stress index developed by University of North Carolina Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research," Hemmingsen reports. "Navigant, a consulting firm with clients that include hospitals and state hospital associations, crunched the numbers in a different way – looking just at operating margins, cash on hand and debt — and concluded that 18% of rural hospitals in 12 Midwestern states were at high risk of closing unless their finances improved."

The series looks at strategies some rural Midwestern hospitals are employing to stay open, including merging with larger health systems or bringing in specialists like obstetricians a few times a month. It also looks at the economic impact hospitals have in rural areas, where they're often the largest local employers. And, the series examines policy proposals that could help rural hospitals.

Meanwhile, Taylor Sisk reports for The Daily Yonder on the contrast between two Appalachian-foothills hospitals separated by 24 miles and the border of Kentucky (which expanded Medicaid) and Tennessee (which didn't). The Tennessee hospital recently closed, but the Kentucky hospital is doing well -- not just from Medicaid expansion, but diversification into a pharmacy and doctors' practices. And Parker Schorr of Wisconsin Watch reports that a critical-access hospital in Nellisville survived by becoming part of the huge Marshfield Clinic Health System.

After 18th ethanol plant idles, state corn-grower associations ask Trump to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard

As corn growers await a biofuels deal President Trump has promised, another ethanol plant has shut down: the 90-million-gallon-a year plant of Siouxland Energy Cooperative in Sioux City, Iowa. "To date, 18 ethanol plants are known to have idled production with many more cutting back," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The biodiesel industry has seen nine plants close and others cut production, as well."

Siouxland "cited lost ethanol demand from the most recent round of 31 small-refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard as the reason, the final straw in what has been a tough margin environment in the past year," Neeley reports.

Corn farmers and corn-based ethanol producers have been angered by the exemptions, which they see as the Trump administration's effort to appease oil interests, Neeley reports. On top of that, the administration announced in July that it would not increase the amount of corn-based ethanol required to be mixed into the nation's fuel but would increase the amount of cellulosic ethanol produced from grasses and woody plants.

"In recent weeks, it was reported Trump had reached a tentative agreement with lawmakers from ethanol-producing states that included reallocating biofuel gallons waived, among other things," Neeley reports. "The announcement of that agreement was expected soon, only to be put on hold following last week's White House meeting with senators from oil-producing states."

On Friday, leaders of corn-grower organizations in 23 states sent Trump an open letter saying the exemptions have cost 2,700 rural jobs and hurt demand for more than 300 million bushels of corn when the agriculture sector is already struggling.

The letter more or less suggests that the Environmental Protection Agency increase the amount of ethanol in the fuel mix to account for projected small-refinery exemptions in 2020. Doing that would allow the administration to keep granting waivers without hurting the program or corn interests, the letter says. Though the letter thanks the administration for allowing year-round sales of E15 fuel (15 percent ethanol), it contains what could be construed as a warning for Trump's 2020 re-election bid: "Frustration in the countryside is growing."

University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs writes, "The prospect of substantial growth in corn use for ethanol this marketing year seems limited. Barring a significant change in policy surrounding the RFS, a trade deal, or an unexpected jump in gasoline consumption, the prospects for corn use in ethanol appear set to match current USDA projections of 5.45 billion bushels, at best."

Fact-checking presidential claims about Ukraine, Bidens

The whistleblower scandal has dominated American news for the past week, and given the importance of the issue, it's worth clarifying the underlying facts. This is necessary, writes Glenn Kessler, editor of The Washington Post's Fact Checker, because complex stories like this "frequently confuse ordinary Americans. Trump appears to be counting on that confusion to offer a fog of claims and allegations to make it appear as if Biden had done something wrong." So, Kessler provides an omnibus fact-check on Trump's statements regarding the whistleblower issue. 

Trump has falsely claimed that then-Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukraine government to fire top prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2015 because Shokin was investigating Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where Biden's son Hunter was a board member. However, Kessler writes, Shokin was not investigating Burisma or Hunter Biden, and many Western officials had pushed for Shokin's ouster because he wasn't investigating extensive corruption in the country.

Trump has also falsely claimed that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars from China or that he "walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund" after riding with Joe Biden on Air Force Two. But there is no evidence to support either of those claims, Kessler reports. 

Joe Biden told reporters that he has never spoken to his son about his overseas business dealings, but Trump said that was a lie, and that Biden had already said he had spoken to Hunter about such things. Trump appeared to refer to a line in a New Yorker story in which Hunter Biden said his dad had discussed Burisma with him only once, and even then only said, "I hope you know what you are doing." On those grounds, Trump's assertion is false, Kessler writes.

Trump said three Democratic senators had threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine if it did not do what the senators wanted. "Trump suggested this was the 'real deal,' unlike allegations that he held up military aid to force the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens," Kessler writes. "Trump is referring to a letter written in 2018, and it does not say what he claims." Instead, the letter to the Ukrainian special prosecutor expresses concern that Ukraine had stopped cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference in order to avoid upsetting Trump. The letter doesn't threaten to withhold aid, but notes that a New York Times article said that Ukraine's move was motivated by the fear that Trump would cut off aid. The letter asks whether the Times report was correct and whether the Trump administration had encouraged the Ukrainian government not to cooperate with Miller; the prosecutor never responded. Since the letter was sent, the senators have voted for almost $870 million in additional aid to Ukraine. Trump held up part of that aid before asking Ukraine's president to "do us a favor, though," by investigating Biden.

Don't forget: National Newspaper Week starts Sunday

Cartoon by Marc Murphy of the Louisville Courier Journal; not
in the National Newspaper Week resource package, but apropos.
Just a reminder: National Newspaper Week starts Sunday, and this year's theme is "Think F1rst — Know Your 5 Freedoms," a celebration of freedom of the press and its role in supporting democracy. The event is sponsored by Newspaper Association Managers, the consortium of North American trade associations representing newspapers on the state, regional and national level.

Organizers have provided a host of free resources you can use to help your local paper observe the week, including editorials, editorial cartoons, studies about the importance of journalism, and links to related sources like Trusting News and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

"It's more important than ever to promote the importance of newspapers as the primary fact-finders for a republic that has become confused about what the facts are, and the difference between fact and opinion," says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog. "And newspapers need to remember that difference, too, as they present their material to readers."

The "Think F1rst" theme is an extension of a campaign developed in 2018 by Media of Nebraska; a number of other state broadcast and press associations adopted and expanded the program, relaunching it on a nationwide level in August 2019.