Friday, October 11, 2019

Electric co-ops lobby for tax-law change to keep outside aid (for disasters, broadband, etc.) from nixing tax exemptions

Rural electric cooperatives across the country have mounted a lobbying campaign to change a part of the recent tax reform that threatens their tax-exempt status, which helps keep their rates down.

"It's our number-one issue; all hands on deck. We're doing everything we can," Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in an interview.

Federal law has long required co-ops to get 85 percent of their income from their customer-members. Assistance from governments and other nonprofits wasn't counted in the remaining 15%, but the 2017 tax law changed that, in an effort to "end federal tax-free treatment of state incentives," reports Lydia O'Neal of Bloomberg News.

That created a problem for co-ops that need outside help to recover from disasters, expand renewable energy sources or build broadband networks, a service many of them have been moving toward. The Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative in Florida got two-fifths of its revenue from assistance to recover from Hurricane Michael, Matheson said. In New York, Otsego Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Johnson told Bloomberg that he is slowing down a broadband project to remain tax-exempt.

Otsego is in line for "nearly $4.3 million in federal funds over the next decade to extend broadband to over a thousand rural homes and businesses," Bloomberg reports. The project slowdown has to be limited because of contractual obligations, Johnson said, so its managers have "turned to debt for project financing, and found themselves having trouble paying the resulting interest," O'Neal writes.

“We see it as an economic development issue, as an existential issue,” Johnson said. “Explaining to our members that we’re going to become taxable because of the tax law is going to be a tough conversation” if the law isn't changed by the end of the year.

The conversations in Congress are favorable, with more than half of House members and 37 of the 100 senators co-sponsoring the co-ops' legislation "in a totally bipartisan way," said Matheson, who was a Democratic House member from Utah in 2001-2015. "If we get held up, it's going to be by the partisan gridlock." He said the likeliest vehicle is a bill that would extend "a number of very popular tax credits," including subsidies for wind energy, past Dec. 31.

Matheson said prospects are good, but he and co-op executives know that nothing in Congress is certain. “We’re dealing with the federal government, which is always problematic,” said Robert Cornell, manager of the Washington Island Electric Cooperative in Wisconsin, which is over the 15% limit due to state help to recover from storms, floods and the loss of its main transmission line.

USC journalism students will spend two weeks at a hard-nosed, successful weekly newspaper in Oregon

One of America's best rural newspapers will be a laboratory for several journalism students from the University of Southern California this summer. USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism chose the Malheur Enterprise of Vale, Oregon, which has become known for hard-nosed reporting that generates community support.

"Next May about half a dozen journalism students will spend two weeks in Malheur County learning about rural journalism and writing for the Enterprise," in the second iteration of a course titled “Outside the Bubble: Rural Reporting,”  Yadira Lopez writes for the weekly paper. The first was at the San Juan Record in Utah where students and professors "reported on a court-ordered special election to overturn gerrymandering in the county." 

Judy Muller
Lopez reports, "The initiative was developed after journalism students at USC expressed frustration with the national media coverage of rural communities, explained Judy Muller, retired USC professor and journalist who helps with the rural program." Muller, a former ABC News correspondent, wrote Emus Loose in Egnar, a book about rural papers.

“Many of our students come from urban, liberal backgrounds,” Muller told the Enterprise in an email. “By embedding students in a rural area, working with the local newspaper, they can learn more from first hand experience in two weeks than we could possibly teach them in a classroom for a full semester.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Failed libel suit by ex-police officer it probed costs rural Iowa weekly big legal bills and lost ads, so it seeks donations

Doug Burns
An award-winning twice-weekly newspaper in rural Iowa is in financial trouble after a failed libel lawsuit drained its coffers. Reporter Jared Strong and co-owner Doug Burns of the Carroll Times Herald spent more than two months investigating a tip that police officer Jacob Smith was having an inappropriate relationship with teenage girls. Just before they published their story in July 2017, Smith resigned—and immediately filed a libel lawsuit, Meagan Flynn reports for The Washington Post.

A judge dismissed the suit in 2018, but the paper's legal expenses were huge. Burns, whose family has owned the paper since 1944, created a GoFundMe page seeking $140,000 to cover expenses. Flynn writes, "In an interview Wednesday, Burns said the $140,000 represents expenses not covered by libel insurance as well as lost advertising revenue and subscribers, who doubted the paper’s reporting on Smith."

The Times Herald's troubles show why many rural papers avoid doing such stories. "Standing up to the patriarchy, particularly in a rural reach of the nation, and especially now, is a financially perilous choice, one fraught with pressures from a host of sources and power centers, many of whom sought to kill the story and then retaliated against the newspaper," Burns wrote on the GoFundMe page. "We published the stories, and would again, but the legal bills and other expenses and losses, even after our libel insurance, jeopardize the local ownership of the newspaper."

Burns and his staff are no strangers to gutsy reporting. The Times Herald received plenty of pushback in the town of 10,000 after covering a school superintendent who sent a sexually suggestive email to a teacher and then collected a large salary for months while on leave. Some of the blowback bordered on calls for violence to the reporters, but rural journalists owe it to their readers to keep local leaders accountable, Burns wrote in an editorial: "We think you deserve better."

The GoFundMe page had raised $44,127 as of 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday. "I am donating, and I encourage all supporters of good rural journalism to do likewise," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "It's more difficult to do good journalism in rural areas, especially accountability journalism, and those who take the risks often associated with that need the public's support."

UPDATE, Oct. 11: Burns writes on the GoFundMe page, "I had a tearful interaction Friday with a talented young reporter who can remain on our staff as a result of this funding. This reporter produces excellent accountability journalism and asked me for an expanded role in that regard. This not only boosts our paper but benefits others as the reporter has an enormously promising career and will no doubt excel at other newspapers someday." Just before noon Central Time on Oct. 11, $70,038 had been raised, just over half the goal.

At Kansas medical school meant to produce rural doctors, only three of eight grads went to the most rural areas

In 2011, the University of Kansas opened a small medical school in Salina to produce doctors willing to serve in rural areas. But the program isn't working exactly as planned, judging by their choices. "Of the eight graduates, just three chose to go where the shortages are most evident. Two went to small cities with populations of fewer than 50,000," and three went to Topeka and Wichita, Lauren Weber reports for Kaiser Health News.

The graduates' choices show how difficult it can be to recruit doctors to rural areas. "But the mission is critical: About two-thirds of the primary care health-professional shortage areas designated by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration in June were in rural or partially rural areas," Weber reports.

The situation is getting worse; more Baby Boomer doctors in rural areas are reaching retirement age, and there aren't enough younger doctors willing to replace them. "By 2030, the New England Journal of Medicine predicts, nearly a quarter fewer rural physicians will be practicing medicine than today. Over half of rural doctors were at least 50 years old in 2017," Weber reports.

Many medical schools warn students not to practice in rural areas, saying they'll be overworked and underpaid. "Only 40 out of the nation’s more than 180 medical schools offer a rural track," Weber reports. The federal government has "recently allocated $20 million in grants to help create 27 rural residency programs — programs where newly minted doctors go for practical training before they can be fully licensed. That’s a big jump from the 92 programs now active."

Bureau of Land Management's acting director said no land should be public; denied climate change and ozone hole

Acting BLM Dir. William Pendley
William Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, is under scrutiny for a history of controversial views about public lands, the environment and other issues. Now CNN reports that he "has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change and falsely claimed in a 1990s speech there was no credible evidence of a hole in the ozone layer."

Before Pendley was appointed in July, he was a "conservative activist, commentator, lawyer and served as the longtime president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation," Andrew Kaczynski, Paul LeBlanc and Nathan McDermott of CNN note. Trump has not nominated a permanent director for the agency since taking office in 2017.

"The BLM manages 244 million acres of federal lands in the United States -- one out of every 10 acres of land in the country -- along with 30% of the nation's minerals. As acting director of the BLM, Perry wields significant authority over the leasing and use of land for mining, recreation, and oil and gas exploration and development along with maintaining environmental protections for federal lands," CNN reports. "The agency is currently taking steps to move its headquarters and employees out west."

In a 2016 National Review article, Pendley opined that there should be no public lands. "The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," Pendley wrote. "Westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change."

In a 1992 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Pendley declared that the news media were pushing a false narrative about the environment, CNN reports: "Despite the total absence of credible scientific evidence, the media is convinced and is attempting to convince us that we have global warming, an ozone hole and acid rain and that it is all man's fault."

His dim view of environmentalism seems unchanged. "Speaking on 'The Americhicks' podcast earlier this year, Pendley said environmentalists were 'preaching fear' about climate change and claimed 'global cooling' was a widespread concern 'just a couple of years ago,'" CNN reports.

Two Ark. papers GateHouse closed revived by local owners

Two southeast Arkansas papers closed by GateHouse Media have found new owners.

The Stuttgart Daily Leader and the Helena-West Helena World both announced on Aug. 29 that their final editions would be published Sept. 6, but said they were looking for new owners. The closures were part of a larger wave of belt-tightening from GateHouse announced ahead of its merger with Gannett Co.

The World announced on Sept. 5 that GateHouse had agreed to sell it to local entrepreneurs Chuck Davis and Andrew Bagley, The Associated Press reported. Davis has lived in the area since 2014 and has owned several area businesses. Bagley is a political science instructor at nearby Phillips Community College. The duo have published two weekly print editions so far, and are trying to hire staff, Arkansas Publisher Weekly reports. The World was once twice weekly, but Davis says they will continue to publish weekly and will will focus heavily on local content, the World reports.

Arkansas County Broadcasters Inc. announced in mid-September that it had purchased the Stuttgart Daily Leader. The group owns six radio stations south central Arkansas. Like the World, the Daily Leader will switch from being a twice-weekly paper to a weekly paper, Stephen Steed reports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Register for Farm Foundation Forum, Oct. 22, on incentivizing conservation agriculture

Register to attend a free Farm Foundation Forum from 9-11 a.m. ET on Oct. 22 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. A live audiocast will be available, or you can download the audio later from the website.

A panel of experts will discuss where the farm economy stands right now, what's causing some of the changes, and whether this is the new normal for U.S. farmers. Click here to register.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

States crack down on opioid treatment scams that can kill

An opioid treatment scam is snaring young adult victims across the nation, sometimes leading to patients' deaths after enrolling in programs that provide poor or nonexistent treatment.

"Here’s how the scam works: Seemingly caring people join recovery-related online chat groups, answer addiction hotlines advertised online, or show up at fundraisers for addiction recovery. They typically say they’re in recovery themselves and are therefore uniquely qualified to help," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "People with addiction and their families often don’t want to ask their doctors or pastors for help because they’re ashamed and want to hide their illness. So, turning to a stranger can be appealing."

The scammers, who call themselves "patient brokers," usually sweeten the deal by offering free plane tickets and pocket money as well as waiving insurance deductibles. Patient brokers can make as much as $2,000 in commissions per patient, plus extra money when they re-enroll the same patients after relapse, Vestal reports.

"Within two to four weeks of a patient checking into a sober home where treatment is subpar or nonexistent, insurers may stop paying claims under standard protocols for that type of service, and the fraudulent operators dump their young clients on the street, prosecutors say," Vestal reports. Many then begin using drugs again and many end up homeless.

Some get lured into other fraudulent treatment programs, which insurers are required to pay for. "Past cases show that the cycle can continue until the insurance company stops paying on the patient’s 26th birthday, when the Affordable Care Act allows insurers to drop dependent care coverage under a parent’s policy," Vestal reports. In addition to spotty or nonexistent treatment, many of the fraudulent programs make extra cash by ordering excessive numbers of urine drug tests to extract more money from insurance companies.

Several states have enacted laws to outlaw patient brokering and crack down on the bogus treatment programs: Arizona, California, Florida, New York, Tennessee, and Utah. Donna Johnson, who lost her son after falling for a treatment scam in Florida, says she worries scammers are setting up shop in Maryland, and has persuaded state Rep. Karen Lewis Young to draft a similar bill, Vestal reports. Florida officials are talking to advocates in Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania about creating their own laws.

The anti-kickback laws work, according to Florida officials. The state enacted the nation's first such law in 2016, which has served as a template for other states' laws, Vestal reports. In Palm Beach County, for example, where fraudulent treatment programs were popular, drug overdose deaths dropped from 647 in 2017 to 400 in 2018, a nearly 40 percent decline.

There's a federal anti-kickback law, but it "only applies to federal health care programs and is not broad enough to address the full range of false marketing, insurance fraud and patient brokering that is occurring in the industry," Vestal reports.

Quick hits: Trump biofuel policy not as favorable to ethanol as he indicated; Dean Foods vs. plant-based products

Politico's Morning Agriculture has three items of particular interest today:

The Dakotas are expecting about a foot of snow starting tomorrow, and Minnesota and Nebraska could get some as well. The cold weather and snow could kill some crops that are still maturing or being harvested. Corn, wheat and other crops are particularly vulnerable to such weather because they were planted late, owing to the record wet weather this spring, Ryan McCrimmon notes.

Dean Foods, one of the largest dairy processors in the U.S., is leaving the International Dairy Foods Association, "faulting the industry group for not taking a firm stance against plant-based products using traditional dairy terms like 'milk' or 'butter' in their labeling, a Dean Foods spokesperson told MA," McCrimmon reports. "Dean Foods said it will divert its advocacy efforts to focus on the product labeling fight, which the company called 'one of our core priorities.'"

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler sought to clarify the administration's recently announced biofuels policy. "Donald Trump left some in the oil and agriculture industries scratching their heads when he proclaimed on Monday that the EPA will direct refiners to blend 16 billion gallons of ethanol in 2020," McCrimmon reports. "Wheeler has since offered some clarification during an interview on a North Dakota radio station: The agency will set the mandate at 15 billion gallons after taking into account its blending exemptions for small refiners."

Dust-up over small-town library makes returnee conclude that struggling rural areas will remain conservative

The nation's deepening political divide makes it difficult, sometimes, for one side to understand the other. Author Monica Potts attempts to convey to The New York Times' mostly urban audience how a rural Arkansas town sees the world, as illustrated by a dust-up about the local librarian's pay.

Potts moved back to her hometown of Clinton, pop. 2,500, to write a book about low-income women in Arkansas. She is frustrated not just by conservative politics, but conservative rural people, and displays that: "People like my neighbors hate that the government is spending money on those who don’t look like them and don’t live like them — but what I’ve learned since I came home is that they remain opposed even when they themselves stand to benefit," Potts writes. "Since coming back, I’ve realized that it is true that people here think life here has taken a turn for the worse. What’s also true, though, is that many here seem determined to get rid of the last institutions trying to help them, to keep people with educations out, and to retreat from community life and concentrate on taking care of themselves and their own families. It’s an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbor."

Clinton, Arkansas
(Wikipedia map)
Potts' main example is a local imbroglio over increasing the salary of the county's new head librarian to $25 an hour, since she had assumed far greater responsibilities. The library serves more than 16,000 people in Van Buren County and provides important services, Potts notes: "summer reading camps for children and services like high-speed internet, sewing classes and academic help. I grew up going to the library and visited it often when I returned. It was always busy. I thought people would be supportive."

However, Potts writes, many locals believed $25 an hour was far too much. One commented on a community Facebook page: "If you want to make $25 an hour, please go to a city that can afford it . . . We the people are not here to pay your excessive salaries through taxation or in any other way." Potts notes that other Clinton residents who make similar incomes, mostly teachers, kept quiet on the issue to avoid drawing their neighbors' ire.

When Potts wrote in the Facebook thread that librarians must have a master's degree, others responded by questioning that. "Call me narrow-minded, but I’ve never understood why a librarian needs a four-year degree," someone wrote. "We were taught Dewey decimal system in grade school. Never sounded like anything too tough." The library board withdrew its request.

Potts draws bitter conclusions: "I didn’t realize it at first, but the fight over the library was rolled up into a bigger one about the library building, and an even bigger fight than that, about the county government, what it should pay for, and how and whether people should be taxed at all. The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here. The answer was, for the most part, not very much."

That's troubling, she writes, because state governments don't step in to help financially troubled localities as much as before, so small-town residents must rely on each other more than ever. That drives an increasingly libertarian mindset: "The people left in rural areas are more and more conservative, and convinced that the only way to get things done is to do them yourself," Potts writes. "Especially as services have disappeared, they are more resentful about having to pay taxes, even ones that might restore those services."

That's why Potts believes rural areas will continue to be more conservative, and the impeachment scandal won't hurt President Trump in such places. "They believe every tax dollar spent now is wasteful and foolish and they will have to pay for it later. It is as if there will be a nationwide scramble to cover the shortfall just as there was here with the library," she writes. "As long as Democrats make promises to make their lives better with free college and Medicare for all sound like they include government spending, these voters will turn to Trump again — and it won’t matter how many scandals he’s been tarnished by."

Rural students with friends, trusted adults, less likely to try suicide; researchers call for broader prevention efforts

Researchers built maps of connections among students and teachers.
Teens with stronger connections and adult support are less likely to attempt suicide, according to a newly published study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The report "shows the importance of school community structure for youth in small towns, one of the study’s authors said," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.

Researchers studied 10,291 students at 38 high schools in North Dakota and upstate New York; two-thirds were in communities of fewer than 50,000. Students were asked to name up to seven of their closest friends and seven adults they trusted. Researchers used that information to build maps of the students' social networks, Carey reports.

The researchers found, as they expected, that students who were more isolated from their peers were more likely to commit suicide. But they found it particularly interesting that connections to trusted adults also made a big difference, Carey reports.

Suicides rates have been increasing across the country, and recent research has shown that rural residents and youth are more likely to attempt suicide than suburban and urban residents or adults. "Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children between the ages of 10 and 18, a rate that has been increasing nearly 2 percent a year," Carey reports. "In 2015, emergency rooms saw 1.12 million visits for suicidal action or thinking by children ages 5 to 18. That number is up from only 580,000 visits in 2007."

The study's authors say most suicide prevention efforts center on high-risk individuals, but that it's important for schools to consider prevention efforts at a broader level, Carey reports.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Rural Alabama jail delayed sending inmate to hospital to avoid paying her medical bill; she died the next day

Washington County
(Wikipedia map)
A rural Alabama jail waited hours before taking a critically ill detainee to the hospital while the administrator tried to figure out a way to keep the county from paying her medical bills. The detainee, Tracie Weaver, died in the hospital the next day from a stroke, Connor Sheets reports for, in partnership with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

Arthur Ray Busby, then the administrator of the Washington County Jail, was told on June 20, 2016, that Weaver had been vomiting for hours and had dangerously high blood pressure. The dispatcher said a county unit wasn't available to carry Weaver to the hospital, only a mile and a half away. Busby asked the dispatcher to see if Weaver had insurance or Medicaid. Sheets notes, "If Weaver was covered by Medicaid or private health insurance, then her medical bills would not be the county’s responsibility if the sheriff’s office released her from its custody."

Busby said twice in the conversation that Weaver should be released on medical furlough and handed over to a family member. "Typically, medical furloughs are granted to inmates who have terminal illnesses or require outpatient procedures or care for chronic conditions," Sheets reports. "But in this instance, Busby used the term to refer to a process much like that of the 'medical bond,' a tool that and ProPublica have found sheriffs throughout Alabama pursue to release inmates and avoid being on the hook for their medical bills."

Later that evening, a sheriff's office employee drove Weaver to Washington County Hospital in a sheriff's office vehicle. Doctors told her family she had suffered a stroke, and she was airlifted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center. She was dead by the next evening, Sheets reports. 

Weaver, 43, had been in jail for a week, awaiting trial on a charge of illegally possessing a credit or debit card, and had just completed a month of substance-abuse treatment. A lawsuit filed by her family claims other inmates said she appeared unwell and her health deteriorated for a week as jail staff failed to give her medication. When an inmate told staff that Weaver appeared to be having a stroke, a guard threatened to beat her and use pepper spray on her, then walked away. Sheriff Richard Stringer denied that any inmate has been denied medication, Sheets reports.

The jail has no medical professionals on staff or any who pay periodic visits to the facility. "Settlements have been reached in at least three lawsuits filed against the Washington County Sheriff’s Office over the past decade that claimed it failed to provide adequate health care in the jail, including ones in which inmates were bonded out just prior to hospitalizations," Sheets reports.

Some states are spending millions to improve the census count, to preserve House seats and funding; some are not

Fearing undercounts in the 2020 census, 23 states have set aside millions of dollars to try to ensure  more accurate numbers in rural areas and other hard-to-count places. States whose citizens are undercounted could lose federal aid as well as U.S. House seats, both of which are calculated based on census data, Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.

Ensuring a higher census count "is oftentimes more important than voting," Diana Crofts-Pelayo told Clark. "At the end of the day, it’s about money and power." Clark is the communications chief for the California Complete County Committee, an advisory panel that seeks to improve the census count's accuracy.

"The confusion, fear and uncertainty generated by failed efforts of the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, as well as the Census Bureau's host of preparedness problems, have prompted states, cities and nonprofits to take matters into their own hands to avoid a decade-long mistake," Clark reports. "After the last census, for instance, more than 200 jurisdictions around the country challenged federal census figures."

Rural areas are at particular risk of being undercounted because next year's census will be conducted primarily online, and many rural residents lack high-speed home internet connections. 

Some states with large rural populations haven't allocated funding to ensure a better count. That includes Oklahoma, which has a history of undercounts, according to former state representative Joe Dorman. Dorman, the CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, told NBC that undercounts lead to tax increases because the state loses funding.

Dorman "said his organization has partnered with dozens of other nonprofits in the state to pool together resources and money to do outreach to the hardest citizens to count, which are often immigrant, rural or tribal communities as well as those who are skeptical of giving the government personal data," Clark reports.

Texas, which has many Latino, immigrant, and rural residents, also has not set aside funding to improve the count. "Some cities, such as Dallas and El Paso, have stepped up the census efforts," Clark reports. "But in places such as Fort Worth and other smaller and rural parts of the state, nonprofits are trying to backstop federal efforts with philanthropy dollars and their own budgets, as well as by rallying local leaders to encourage people to fill out the census."

Wisconsin may join states that teach commercial truck drivers how to keep an eye out for human trafficking

A bill in the Wisconsin state Senate would give more long-haul truck drivers the tools to help fight human trafficking. A similar bill was introduced in 2017 but stalled in the Senate.

"At least eight other states have enacted similar policies, which one group says has led to a dramatic uptick in the number of trafficking reports from truckers—from sporadic calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline to more than 2,300 reports and counting," Katie Queram reports for Route Fifty. "Those calls opened 635 cases of sex trafficking involving 1,186 victims, according to the nonprofit organizationTruckers Against Trafficking."

In Wisconsin, "Senate Bill 25, introduced in February and recently approved by a committee, would require commercial motor vehicle driver education classes include information on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking," Queram reports. "Proponents said the measure makes sense because human trafficking regularly occurs along highways and at truck stops and rest areas, places populated primarily—and sometimes only—by truck drivers."

Many private truck-driving schools already warn drivers to be on the lookout for human trafficking, but students at state technical colleges may not get that training, according to Dan Johnson, vice president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association. Johnson testified in favor of the bill in March, telling lawmakers, "Education is the key to [fixing] this problem."

Wisconsin's more than 312,000 licensed commercial drivers are in a unique position to keep an eye out for human trafficking, according to Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat who is the bill's main sponsor. "This is a huge network of eyes and ears within the interstate trade industry that can support law enforcement in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of traffickers," she said in a recent public hearing.

Supreme Court won't hear cases on pipelines' eminent domain, ban on Calif. utilities putting wildfire costs in rates

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear two cases closely watched by environmentalists.

The first one concerns Mountain Valley Pipeline developers' use of eminent domain. "The high court declined to consider landowners' plea that the builders of the 300-mile pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia should not be able to begin construction on their property without first paying 'just compensation,' as guaranteed under the Constitution," Niina Farah and Pamela King report for Energy & Environment News.

The second case involves whether privately owned utilities that states have held liable for wildfires can recoup damages by raising rates on their customers. "The case stems from the California Public Utilities Commission's denial of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s request to recover $379 million in costs from wildfires that the company said have become the 'new normal' in the Golden State," Farah and King report.

Generation Z to the rescue: Harvard grads’ startup for public notices designed to save key income source of newspapers

By Buck Ryan
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

CHICAGO—Just when newspapers are suffering from declining circulations and plunging ad revenues, lawmakers in several states -- and even the Federal Communications Commission -- are trying to cut advertising income from public notices, which have become a much more important part of newspaper revenues.

As the legislative dust-ups rise and fall in places like Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, two young bloods are riding to the rescue, fresh out of Harvard University.

They hope to pick up new clients beyond their Kansas base for their startup company, enotice, which is described as "a digital platform intended to make public notices more accessible online while preserving print publication of the notices."

A public notice, also known as a legal notice or a legal ad, is required by law to be published in a local newspaper of record to let citizens know about proposed or past government actions or about legal proceedings, such as foreclosure sales and probate notices.

Legislators have attempted to cut government costs by lobbying for state laws and federal regulations that put the notices on government websites, not in newspapers.

Kevin King
"We just can’t let this industry die," entrepreneur Kevin King says as his face flushes with outrage. He grew up in Texas as a kid appreciating the importance and value of newspapers by reading the Dallas Morning News with his father.

King, 25, says his journalism experience is nothing compared with the storied history of the startup’s founder and CEO, Jake Seaton, whose family paper, The Manhattan Mercury in Kansas, goes back five generations. Seaton, 24, uses the words "broken" and "ludicrous" to describe what’s happening with public notices.

Seaton and King spoke at a Monday afternoon session at the 134th annual gathering of the Inland Press Association and the 117th meeting of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

(The organizations have merged; their new name, America’s Newspapers (, was announced Sunday evening. Now there are three national-level newspaper lobbying groups; the News Media Alliance is mainly for large dailies, and the National Newspaper Association is for weeklies and small dailies, most of which circulate through the U.S. Postal Service.)

Jake Seaton
Seaton told a story about the purchase of a $130,000 townhouse for one dollar at auction by the only bidder—the county clerk who placed the public notice announcing the foreclosure, in a newspaper that wasn’t the official newspaper of record.

Seaton invited King to be part of a 10-member team trying to solve the puzzle of preserving public notices as the domain of newspapers through computer science.

Conference organizers framed their session this way: "Protecting public notice revenue is a never-ending battle. Over the past decade, an average of 150 proposals have been introduced per year by state and local officials to change public notice laws. Often, these legislative efforts threaten the vital role newspapers play in distributing notice to their communities."

They were recommended as speakers by Richard Karpel of the Public Notice Resource Center, which reported this good news toward the end of the 2019 legislative season: "Bills were introduced in at least 10 states this year that would eliminate newspaper notice and move it to government websites. But with eight of those legislatures already adjourned and the two others set to wrap things up within the next three weeks, not a single one of those bills has even made it out of committee."

Monday, October 07, 2019

Programs encourage hunters to donate meat to food banks

Food banks don't usually get a lot of lean protein from donors, but some state programs are trying to help out with programs that encourage hunters to donate their kills.

"The meat—mostly venison, with some moose and bear—will be doled out by food pantries after being donated by hunters who participate in various state programs," Katie Queram reports for Route Fifty. "The details differ, and so do the names (there’s Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, Sportsmen Against Hunger, and Hunters For The Hungry, to name a few) but the premise is largely the same: hunters donate meat without having to pay processing fees, giving food pantries a much-needed source of nutrition for their clients."

Dairy, produce and protein are in high demand at food banks because most of the donations come in the form of canned or dried goods, according to Celia Cole, the CEO of Feeding Texas, which represents food banks in the state. Programs like Texas Hunters for the Hungry are funded through some state Parks and Wildlife funds and some money from hunting and fishing licenses. "The idea is to make it easier for hunters to contribute to the program without it costing them anything, and to encourage processors to participate by offsetting the cost for them as well," Cole told Queram.

The programs are especially popular with trophy hunters, or those who hunt for food but don't want to keep hunting once their freezers are well-stocked. Being able to donate their kills gives them a way to continue an activity they enjoy while helping the hungry, Queram reports.

"It’s difficult to know how much meat is donated nationwide, though some states have local estimates," Queram reports. "In Maine so far this year, hunters have forked over at least 5,000 pounds of meat. And last year in Texas, Hunters for the Hungry distributed 105,179 pounds of venison."

Project aims to make places in greater Mississippi Delta region, such as Paducah, Ky., into rural tech hubs

A project to grow tech talent in southeastern Missouri has received funding to expand in the region. 

Codefi launched in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 2014 with the goal of creating a "tech district" in the town of 40,000 through classes, co-working office space rental, start-up support and community get-togethers. In 2016, sister nonprofit Marquette Tech District Foundation formed, furthering Codefi's goals, Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder.

"Codefi and MTDF were selected as one of the first rural recipients of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies i6 Challenge," Oates reports. "The effort received $750,000 in federal grant funding and is matching the grant with nearly $1.5 million in local contributions to launch their project, which is called the Rural Delta Tech Innovation Network," in the watershed of the lower Mississippi River.

"In the 252 counties . . . from St. Louis to New Orleans, we have identified a huge need for tech talent," Chris Carnell, co-founder of Codefi and program director for MTDF, told Oates. "In the rural counties of the Delta, where our project is based, we have found that technology skills and talent are only available at one-seventh of the national average."

The project is focusing on creating a hub in Paducah, Kentucky, a town of 30,000 where the Tennessee River flows into the Ohio River. Carnell said they'll need to establish three "ingredients" to make it successful: create a physical space where people can gather, identify and educate tech-worker talent, and establish an "ecosystem of support" for entrepreneurs, Oates reports.

Carnell is hoping to replicate Codefi and MTDF's success in Cape Girardeau, where they've established fiber internet buildout, provided free wi-fi downtown, helped create 30 jobs, and have provided entry-level computer programming skills to more than 100 adults, Oates reports. 

EPA and USDA promise to increase ethanol in fuel supply, make it easier for gas stations to sell E15 fuel

The Trump administration proposed new rules on Friday to increase biofuels consumption starting next year, a move meant to assuage the increasing frustrations of corn farmers and ethanol producers.

The new rules, jointly proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture, "would require a yet unspecified increase in the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must add to their fuel in 2020, and would also aim to remove further barriers to the sale of higher ethanol blends of gasoline like E15," which is 15 percent ethanol, Reuters reports.

Though the amount of ethanol wasn't specified, the administration said it would be more than 15 billion gallons. All changes to blending volumes for 2020 must be finalized by Nov. 30. "Before Friday's proposal, the EPA had called for the refining industry to add 20.04 billion gallons of biofuels, including 15 billion gallons of ethanol, into their fuel in 2020," Pamuk and Kelly report.

Under the new rules, E15 fuel would be made available at pumps already in place at most gas stations instead of requiring the installation of new pumps. "The proposal also includes trade measures to increase the access of ethanol to foreign markets," Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times. "The move is widely viewed as an effort to relieve pressure on farmers at a time when the Trump administration is escalating its trade war with China and Europe."

Lawmakers from oil states objected. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said some refineries would shut down and their workers would lose their jobs because of the proposed rules. Barrasso chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which oversees the EPA, Reuters notes.

On the other hand, ethanol interests have also protested about shuttered plants and lost jobs because of the Trump administration's reluctance to continue increasing the corn-based ethanol ratio in the Renewable Fuel Standard, and because the administration routinely grants hardship waivers to small oil refineries, meaning they don't have to mix ethanol into their fuel, Friedman reports.

Editors, publishers urged to lobby, campaign for legislation to let papers negotiate collectively with Google, Facebook

By Buck Ryan
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

CHICAGO — Newspaper leaders across the American heartland, especially those with personal relationships with elected representatives in Congress, were urged Sunday afternoon to call, write letters and publish an op-ed in support of an antitrust “safe harbor” bill designed to recapture revenues from Facebook and Google.

There is “absolutely” a sense of urgency around passage of the bill to support the struggling newspaper industry, Danielle Coffey, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and counsel for the News Media Alliance, told editors and publishers at the annual joint meeting of the Inland Press Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, which are merging.

It’s an issue that has even entered the Democratic presidential primary election campaign, Coffey said, noting a conversation with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Warren came to us and said, ‘We want to help you’,” Coffey said.

Another candidate, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), introduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019, along with U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), on June 3 as S. 1700.

The bill aims “to provide a temporary safe harbor for the publishers of online content to collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which their content may be distributed.” 

In the House, Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, and Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins, introduced the bill as H.R. 2054 on April 3.

Danielle Coffey
“We want it to be bipartisan,” Coffey said. “It will have a better chance in the Senate if it comes out bipartisan in the House.”

Of Cicilline and Collins, Coffey said, “They’ll spar on impeachment, but not on this.”

Asked what passage of the bill would mean to newspapers, Coffey replied, “Money.” The act would provide publishers a four-year exemption from anti-trust laws to negotiate revenues with the large tech companies. “When money is on the table, people come together quickly,” she added.

How desperate are newspapers for revenue? “Some of us are on suicide watch,” said Chris Reen, president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, who led the discussion with Coffey at the conference’s opening session.

Coffey mentioned two other benefits if the bill becomes law. Publishers would gain access to more data on their readership for editorial and advertising purposes, and more knowledge of how their news stories surface in readers' online searches.

If editors and publishers can create “a groundswell” of support in their communities, Coffey said, then the odds of passage will improve. “The co-sponsors need help,” she said.

The campaign includes an op-ed piece that newspapers can use or adapt. More information on the campaign is here.

After tariff win, NNA fixes finances but needs members; outgoing chief calls for look at newspaper business models

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

MILWAUKEE – The National Newspaper Association, which represents more U.S. newspapers than any other group, and is the main lobby for rural and community papers, has turned around its finances despite a net loss of members in the last fiscal year.

NNA will resume monthly printing of its newspaper, Publisher's Auxilary, in January, and resume its annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., expanding it to include "bureaucracies," incoming President Matt Adelman of Wyoming's Douglas Budget announced to applause at the closing session of the group's convention in Milwaukee on Saturday: "We at NNA have stepped back from a financial cliff."

NNA scored a big victory last summer at one of those bureaucracies, the International Trade Commission, which overturned new tariffs on Canadian newsprint that supplies most of the U.S. market, levies that threatened many community newspapers with closure, outgoing NNA President Andrew Johnson of Wisconsin's Dodge County Pionier said before handing over the gavel.

Johnson said he got angry with pro-tariff arguments at the commission's hearing, where a friendly expert gave NNA a 30 percent chance of winning and its chief lawyer said Johnson's testimony was crucial. He said he told the commission, "This is not just a few cents," contrary to what "Wall Street lawyers" on the other side argued. "This is five dollars and 50 cents a page. This is going to take us out."

"Now our battles are different: our business models," Johnson said. "We can survive; we can thrive."

Adelman said NNA will create a new dues and membership structure to attract more participation. "We need members," he said. "When we go to D.C., we have to be able to say we have numbers. . . . It is critically important."

The latest monthly issue of "Pub Aux" (which has been printed quarterly this year) reports, "During the last fiscal year, NNA lost a net of 635 members," mainly because of the loss of 455 memberships from GateHouse Media, the largest owner of U.S. newspapers. "As of June 30, there were 1,806 members, as compared to 2,329 last year. We added 141 members this year."

A membership loss in the 2017-18 fiscal year led to an operating loss of $166,366. Treasurer Mike Fishman of the Citizen Tribune in Morristown, Tennessee, said NNA had an overall profit of $5,230 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, thanks to "a lot of hard work by NNA board and staff." He said the association retains about $380,000 in investments.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Publishers from rural Minnesota and South Carolina win top individual awards from National Newspaper Association

Two rural publishers, one with three papers and one who works for a chain, won the top awards for individuals at the 133rd National Newspaper Association convention in Milwaukee this weekend.

Reed Anfinson of Benson, Minnesota, and Susan Rowell of Lancaster, South Carolina, won the James O. Amos and Emma McKinney awards, named for long-ago leaders in the association. They recognize distinguished service and leadership to the community press and their communities.

Reed Anfinson
"America would be a far better place if every community had a Reed Anfinson at the helm of their newspaper," Georgia publisher Robert Williams, a recipient of the Amos award, wrote in his nomination of Anfinson, a former NNA president who heads the group's foundation.

Anfinson and his wife Shelly own the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, the Stevens County Times in Morris and the Grant County Herald in Elbow Lake. He is a partner in Quinco Press, a central printing plant. He has been president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and vice president of the old Minnesota News Council, has won freedom-of-information awards, and has been a member of several local statewide civic groups, including the Minnesota Center for Rural Policy and Development, which advises the Minnesota Legislature on rural issues.

Anfinson said in accepting the award that newspapers are important for five reasons: their reach, which gives them authority that "tells those in power that they will be held accountable;" their strength, shown by fights for open government; their persistence, showing up at meetings on citizens' behalf; their knowledge of the laws that govern public agencies; and "We're in print, which allows us to do all these things."
Susan Rowell

Rowell has been publisher of The Lancaster News and a regional manager for Landmark Community Newspapers since 2002. As NNA president and immediate past president, "She helped NNA make a successful transition to new management, which brought in a dedicated team to oversee the daily operations of the association," NNA said in the award announcement. "This transition also was critical in shoring up the association’s financial position."

Rowell said her years in NNA "changed my life." She is also a past president of the South Carolina Press Association and is active in state and local civic matters. “Susan Rowell is a consummate community newspaper leader," Virginia publisher Matt Paxton wrote in his nomination. Past winners are listed at

NNA announced winners in its editorial contest in June. For complete lists, click here.