Friday, November 08, 2019

New generation of hunters includes urban foodies, women, and younger adults seeking free-range, organic meat

Hunting and fishing licenses fund conservation and wildlife programs and keep wildlife populations manageable, but the number of hunters has fallen sharply over the past few decades, so state officials have been trying to recruit new hunters who don't fit in the usual demographic of older white males.

"U.S. hunters have dwindled from nearly 17 million in 1980 to just more than 11 million in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ninety percent of hunters are male, 97% are white and most are 45 and older — leading to steeper losses as more participants age out and the country diversifies," Alex Brown reports for Stateline. "States have begun targeting new groups to fill the ranks of hunters: foodies, city-dwellers, young adults and women. Rather than counting on family heritage and cultural ties to carry the hunting message, they’re preaching the gospel of ethically sourced food, healthy protein and respect for wildlife."

The need for new hunters is great: nearly 60 percent of state wildlife conservation and wildlife programs comes from hunting and fishing revenue. The decline in such revenues has forced some states to freeze hiring and/or cancel some programs, Brown reports. Wildlife officials acknowledge that recruiting new hunters can be difficult. The equipment and licensing can be expensive, land access is often challenging, and sometimes cultural stereotypes make would-be hunters feel as if they wouldn't fit in around other hunters.

Some hunting advocates note that some minorities have strong hunting traditions, such as African Americans in the rural South and Hispanics in the Southwest. Camilla Simon, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s group Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors, told Brown that hunting culture must be more inclusive of newcomers. "If you want more hunters, make it more welcoming," Simon told Brown. "Is this about the activity and shared common values, or am I going to have to pass some political test to be an authentic hunter? I think that is in question."

Retired Vanderbilt dean, now a farmer, lauded for helping the LGBTQ community at the Nashville university

K. C. Potter
K.C. Potter lives on a farm in rural Tennessee these days, but the 80-year-old retired college professor and administrator has been seeing some excitement lately. Potter, the dean emeritus for residential and judicial affairs at Vanderbilt University, was recently declared a Trailblazer by the college for his longtime efforts to help LGBTQ students, Brad Martin reports for The Hickman County Times.

Potter, who is gay, created a policy at the school that protects LGBTQ students from harassment and mentored gay students. In 2008, the college established the K.C. Potter Center, which houses the university's Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Life, Martin reports.

"I was humbled," Potter told Martin. "And I felt maybe it should have been named for somebody else, or a group. . . . There were a lot of courageous students that I dealt with over the years." He was featured in the 2015 documentary "A Secret Only God Knows", which chronicled the lives of LGBTQ residents who reflect on life in Middle Tennessee before 1970.

A native of Eastern Kentucky who attended Berea College, Potter said he began advocating for LGBTQ students' rights because he saw how homophobic the culture was during much of his 33-year career, which began in 1965. It was so toxic that Potter didn't come out of the closet for years. But after a string of suicides from gay students, he began holding weekly support meetings for LGBTQ students in the late 1970s and from that, the drive to create a policy protecting them was born. After several years of dogged pursuit, Potter convinced the faculty senate to approve the policy in 1993.

Potter says he continues to mentor those who need support. "There is no greater reward in the world, as far as I'm concerned, than to help somebody grow," Potter told Martin.

As a resident of rural Hickman County, southwest of Nashville, Potter also told Martin that all  LGBTQ residents in the county, not just students, need more support. Many fear they'll lose their jobs if they come out of the closet, which Potter attributes partly to religious beliefs and unfounded fears that gay people are pedophiles. It's important for LGBTQ people to find acceptance and support in their community, Potter said, noting that the "overwhelming majority" of people who attempt but fail to complete suicide are gay.

Why not give a struggling newspaper to the community instead of closing it? Quebec paper is giving it a shot

Canadian newspapers are facing most of the same problems as their American counterparts: more than 250 Canadian media outlets closed between 2008 and 2019. A small paper in Quebec, The Gleaner, was almost one of them, but instead of closing the financially struggling paper in November 2018, owner Gravité Media decided to try and give the paper's rights to the community it served, Karen Longwell reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab.

The Gleaner, an English-language paper, was established in 1863 and serves several rural towns in the Chateauguay Valley west of Montreal. Gravité reached out to Stéphane Billette, the local National Assembly of Quebec member at the time. Billette then spoke with Hugh Maynard, chairperson of The Gleaner's steering committee, who called a public meeting, Longwell reports.

Nearly 40 people showed up to the meeting, and non-profit organization Chateauguay Valley Community Information Services was created, with Maynard at the helm. As a symbolic gesture, Gravité sold the newspaper rights to CVCIS for $1, Longwell reports. The paper's sale to CVCIS marked its return to local ownership. It was locally owned until 1985, then was sold to a succession of media chains, ending with Gravité in 2017.

"An 11-member steering committee got to work publishing the paper again. The committee consisted of former Gleaner journalists and editors, along with a retired secretary, an artist, a cartoonist, a retired teacher, a website designer, and a farmer," Longwell reports. "Many of the community volunteers had some background in media but several had no journalism experience."

Chantal Hortop, a former Gleaner editor, told Longwell that some people stepped in because they valued the newspaper, even though they had no experience in journalism or communications. "They just felt strongly that The Gleaner had to keep going, and if there was a way to do it with community effort, we were going to make it happen," Hortop told Longwell.

The newly owned paper relaunched with its first print edition of 5,000 copies on June 5. Volunteers distributed the paper for free from a booth at an area carnival. The paper has published monthly issues since then, and on Oct. 9 formalized the nonprofit and elected a board of directors. Though advertising and community fundraising has more than covered printing costs, the board hopes to find a way to start paying contributors. The board plans to move The Gleaner toward a biweekly print schedule starting in January with weekly updates online, and hopes to secure 1,500 subscribers.

The reaction to The Gleaner's comeback has been positive. "I have seen more than one person hug the newspaper," CVCIS committee member Lorelei Muller told Longwell. "It is our valley news. It is what connects us. If something big happens in the area, sure CTV or CBC or whoever is going to cover something big, but they don’t have our day-to-day stuff, our regular community news."

USDA webinar on latest rural trends at 4 p.m. ET Nov. 13

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service will host a free webinar from 4 to 5 p.m. ET Nov. 13 to discuss its annual "Rural America at a Glance" report. The report has not been published as of this post's publishing, but when the report does come out you will find it here.

In the webinar, ERS economist John Pender will highlight the most recent indicators of social and economic conditions in rural areas, focusing on county-level population trends, employment, income and poverty. Click here to register. A recording will be posted here.

Quick hits: Midwest has propane shortage, rural New York town finally repeals Prohibition laws, lots more . . .

Map locates two newly "wet" counties
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

Nearly 86 years after the end of Prohibition, a New York town voted Tuesday to overturn its Prohibition-era ban on alcohol sales, and the last two "dry" counties in New Mexico (which had "wet" towns) did likewise. Dry jurisdictions all over the country are increasingly voting this way as moral objections to alcohol use have decreased in recent years, perhaps in comparison to abuse of other controlled substances; also, small towns want to be more tourist-friendly. Read more here.

A late harvest, wet grain, and chilly weather are driving a propane shortage in the rural Midwest. Read more here.

How struggling Appalachian towns in coal country were sold on the promise of private prisons. Read more here.

Freddie Mac recently held a symposium on current trends and the future of rural housing. Read more here.

How does the public's perception of rural America match up with its reality? Read more here.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Truth at risk: Study finds people have hard time identifying 'fake news' on social media, even with Facebook flags

The proliferation of partisan websites masquerading as local news is a troubling trend, and one that may threaten the credibility of real local journalists. It's all the more concerning because even those familiar with social media—both Democrats and Republicans—seem to have a hard time identifying fake news stories because of confirmation bias, the desire to confirm what you already believe.

So says a recent study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Indiana University, Andrew Sheeler reports for The Sacramento Bee.

The researchers put 83 undergraduates (all familiar with social media) on wireless headsets and had them read political news headlines, some fake, as if they were on Facebook. "Despite being social-media savvy, the participants successfully identified fewer than half, 44 percent, of the fake news stories," Sheeler reports. The students overwhelmingly believed to be true headlines that aligned with their personal political beliefs.

"The study found that fact checking made no difference in the findings," Sheeler reports. "Much as Facebook now uses fact-checking flags to highlight stories that are false or misleading, researchers attached similar flags to the fake news headlines which participants read." Though the flag made participants study headlines more carefully, it didn't change their initial response to a headline. The students' political affiliations didn't influence their ability to detect fake news, and neither did any pre-existing skepticism about the news, the researchers wrote.

"This study comes as the 2020 election heats up, with the first elections of the 2020 primary just months away, and the general election less than a year off. It also comes as social media giant Facebook refuses to remove false or misleading political ads from its service," Sheeler reports. "The report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller III found that misleading and incendiary ads were a key part of Russia’s strategy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election."

Tuesday's elections show increasing rural-suburban polarization; President Trump's pull seems mostly rural

Tuesday's elections showed an increasing rural-urban divide, with suburban areas serving as battleground areas that trend increasingly blue.

Suburbs helped unseat Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and gave Virginia Democrats control of both legislative chambers, putting the state under full Democratic control for the first time since 2003. Rural areas of the Old Dominion continued voting Republican, but it wasn't enough, David Montgomery reports for CityLab.

In Kentucky on Monday, Trump held a huge rally for Bevin, one of the nation's least popular governors, who appears to have lost to Attorney General Andy Beshear by about 5,000 votes. However, Republicans won almost all of the down-ticket state races, many with more votes than Bevin, Politico notes. The top of the ticket usually gets the most votes and influences lesser races, but in Kentucky many voted Republican in every race but governor.

Bevin's long-standing feud with teachers influenced the race; teachers were key to Democrats' strong get-out-the-vote effort, and many rural Republican teachers reported voting for Beshear, who chose a teacher as his running mate, Moriah Balingit notes for The Washington Post. Bevin's antagonistic comments about teachers on a sickout "lost the support of many Kentuckians," said Al Cross, director of The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Most Ky. counties shifted left since the last gubernatorial
election. (Washington Post map; click to enlarge it.)
Kentucky remains Trump country, but its county-by-county shifts from 2015 to 2019 reflected some of the same suburban shifts that helped Democrats in 2018, the Post's Philip Bump writes. Democrats carried only 19 of the 120 counties, but won most urban counties, which had big increases in turnout.

Another big difference between Bevin's first and second gubernatorial runs: his support in 2019 was much more polarized on rural-urban lines than in 2015. Bump says the rural-urban split in 2019 looked much like the state's split during the 2016 presidential election. Hardcore rural Trump voters still showed up for Bevin Tuesday, but higher Democratic turnout carried the day.

Though Mississippi went mostly for Republicans for statewide offices this year, the race for governor was much closer than in 2015, despite Trump holding a rally there last week. Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, lost by less than 50,000 votes to current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. In 2015, Republican incumbent Phil Bryant (who couldn't run again this year because of term limits) clobbered Democratic challenger Robert Gray by more than 245,000 votes. Republican performance in the suburban counties near Memphis, Tenn., was considerably lower than in 2015.

Nevetheless, analysts say Trump "remains an asset to GOP incumbents and candidates in Republican strongholds . . . meaning the Trump brand could be key in driving up turnout in deeply red counties there and in a handful of swing states," John Bennett reports for CQ Roll Call.

On that front, Louisiana will be a state to watch. Trump recently held a rally there in support of Republican gubernatorial challenger Eddie Rispone, who will face Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in a Nov. 16 runoff election.

Tomorrow is deadline to register for Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery journalism workshop in Ashland, Ky.

Tomorrow, Nov. 8, is the deadline to register for Covering Substance Abuse and Recovery: A Workshop for Journalists, to be held in Ashland, Ky., on Nov. 15. Space is limited. Details and registration are here.

The workshop has been designed with rural journalists in mind, because research at Oak Ridge Associated Universities has found that the stigma still attached to drug abuse keeps people from seeking help. “The increasing news media reports of opioid-related overdoses and crimes has led many to overlook the fact that prevention programs are working and that many people are entering treatment and living in active recovery,” ORAU said in a report on its study.

It also said local news media could help by reporting more success stories from people in recovery. "We think stigma also discourages some news outlets from reporting on substance abuse and recovery, and that’s why we’re holding this workshop," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

"We have a national-quality lineup of reporters who have won Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage, a weekly newspaper editor-publisher who has tackled the subject head-on, a recovering addict who writes a newspaper column about his experiences, and several experts on the subject," Cross told editors in an email this week. "We don’t know of another such workshop having been held anywhere, and we want you to be part of it."

The workshop will be held at the Marriott Delta Downtown from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 15. Early arrivals have an informal gathering at the hotel the night before, and a special room rate of $109 is available through today. The registration fee is $60.

Cross wrote, "As we planned this workshop, I thought of one of the best-known lines from the play Death of a Salesman: 'He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.' Let's pay attention to these people and their problem, and help solve it."

McConnell on bipartisan bill to protect coal miners' pensions

A bipartisan Senate bill introduced Wednesday would "secure the pensions for nearly 90,000 retired coal miners as a recent wave of coal company bankruptcies threatens the solvency of the federal pension fund," Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. "If passed, the bill would secure the pensions of around 92,000 retired and working coal miners and ensure health care for 12,000 retirees."

The telling news was that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky joined fellow Republican Shelly Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia to sponsor the bill. It would use money from the federal Abandoned Mine Land program, funded by a coal tax, to prevent the United Mine Workers of America's pension plan from becoming insolvent.

"A bankruptcy filing last week by one of the largest coal mining companies, Murray Energy, was expected to hasten the insolvency of the pension fund - estimated to occur by 2022, Volcovici reports. "Eight other coal companies have filed for bankruptcy over the last two years as natural gas has taken over as the primary fuel for U.S. power plants."

The miners' union has been asking Congress to pass such legislation for years, and called the bill a breakthrough. However, the bill does not address the future solvency of health insurance for miners with black-lung disease. "Manchin had included a measure to restore a higher coal excise tax to boost the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund in an earlier version of a pension bill, but said Wednesday he would introduce a separate bill to tackle that issue," Volcovici reports. "For now, he said the Senate has a path forward to address the looming crisis facing the pension fund."

U.S. ethanol producers look to Mexico, Asia to boost sales

The American ethanol industry, reeling from lower demand and some of President Trump's policies, has been trying to increase sales in Mexico and South Asia. "Corn growers and ethanol producers have grown increasingly frustrated that Trump’s blending waivers for oil refiners are deflating the domestic biofuel market," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture. "While they continue pleading with the White House for a solution, the industry is hoping foreign buyers can help make up for the sales they’re losing back home."

Specifically, trade groups like the U.S. Grains Council and the American Coalition for Ethanol are trying to promote the use of E10 fuel, which has 10 percent ethanol, with workshops targeting Mexican gas-station owners, fuel-equipment sellers and Mexican agriculture and energy officials. "U.S. ethanol exports to Mexico have largely been used for producing other goods, rather than as transportation fuel. But retailers in border cities are increasingly buying pre-blended E10 at U.S. terminals and reselling it at Mexican stations," McCrimmon reports.

E10 fuel is legal everywhere in Mexico except in the three largest cities, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey. Ryan LeGrand, CEO of the Grains Council, told McCrimmon he thinks Mexican regulators will propose legalizing E10 in those cities by the end of 2019, and that there's a potential market for 1.2 billion gallons of annual ethanol exports to Mexico if those cities allow E10.

"Beyond Mexico, biofuel producers are aiming to grow sales in South Asia. And corn growers are hoping that China could make a significant purchase of U.S. ethanol as part of the limited trade deal that officials are expected to finalize this month," McCrimmon reports.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

New map shows detailed flow of food among U.S. counties

University of Illinois map shows flow of food among U.S. counties; click  on it to enlarge.
A team of University of Illinois researchers has just developed the first high-resolution map of the U.S. food supply chain; it includes the flow of all food between U.S. counties, including grains, fruits and vegetables, animal feed, and processed foods. The map and accompanying database reveal 9.5 million links between U.S. counties. The research shows that "All Americans, from urban to rural are connected through the food system. Consumers all rely on distant producers; agricultural processing plants; food storage like grain silos and grocery stores; and food transportation systems," Illinois researcher Megan Konar writes for Route Fifty.

"To build the map, we brought together information from eight databases, including the Freight Analysis Framework from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which tracks where items are shipped around the country, and Port Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows the international ports through which goods are traded," Konar writes.

The map doesn't just show origin and final destination; it also shows how it gets there. "For example," Konar writes, it "shows how a shipment of corn starts at a farm in Illinois, travels to a grain elevator in Iowa before heading to a feedlot in Kansas, and then travels in animal products being sent to grocery stores in Chicago."

The map illustrates flows of produce and milk from California, sugar and rice from Louisiana, and so on. The secondary transportation element shows up most strongly in western New York, from Niagara County to Erie County. "That’s due to the flow of food through an important international overland port with Canada," Konar explains.

Is Chinese broadband equipment a national security threat?

The Federal Communications Commission is proceeding with plans to stop telecommunications companies from buying equipment from foreign countries considered a security threat, and in some cases rip out existing equipment. That would have an outsized impact on rural America, which disproportionately relies on tech from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. But is such equipment a real security threat?

Christopher Mitchell, who monitors community broadband at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told NPR Marketplace's Jack Stewart that the FCC's plans may be justified. The gear lasts from three to five years, and many networks will upgrade in the next few years anyway. "In some ways, it’s an opportunity for some," Mitchell said. "I certainly think that there’s a real threat if we’re expecting these rural providers that operate on very thin margins, if we’re going to force them to bear the cost of ripping that out, then I think that’s the mistake. But ripping it out to me seems reasonable in a number of cases."

Mitchell told Stewa that China has been essentially subsidizing broadband buildout in rural America by selling the equipment so inexpensively, and said the U.S. government must step in and provide more funding.

Florida county commissioners bar library from digital NYT subscription; one because he said it's 'fake news'

County commissioners in rural Florida refused to allow the library to buy a digital subscription for The New York Times last week; though three of the four commissioners blocked it because they believed it was an unnecessary expense, the fourth commissioner, Scott Carnahan, said he agreed with President Trump that the Times is "fake news" and didn't want the newspaper in Citrus County, Mike Wright reports for the Citrus County Chronicle. Citrus County has a population of over 141,000, but it's spread over small communities.
Citrus County, Fla. (Wikipedia map)

The Citrus County library system already pays $3,000 a year for a print subscription available at all four locations. The three-year digital subscription would have cost $2,657 per year for the first two years and $2,714 the third year; it would have provided free digital access to the Times for 70,000 library cardholders, Wright reports. Library director Eric Head said the digital subscription would not replace the print subscription, though they would consider canceling the print subscription if the digital one proved popular enough.

Public reaction to the decision was mostly negative. Commissioner Brian Coleman said he thinks they should discuss the matter more. "Do I think I made a mistake? Yes," Coleman told Wright. "Our decision should have been impartial, instead of having it become a personal thing."

Carnahan said he still believes the county should not pay for the subscription, but said it's because of the expense, not his personal views about the paper. "I’m open to a free press . . .  Not at the taxpayers' expense," Carnahan told Wright.

"The Citrus County Special Library District Advisory Board, comprised of members appointed by the county commission, will schedule a special meeting in early November to discuss the issue," Wright reports.

Class-action lawsuit filed against T-Mobile and others over fake ringtones on calls to rural areas

A group of local telephone companies have filed a class-action lawsuit against T-Mobile because of the carrier's previous practice of inserting fake ring tones in some calls to rural areas, which misled many to believe their calls were going through. T-Mobile paid a $40 million fine in 2018 as part of a settlement with the Federal Communications Commission, Bevin Fletcher reports for Fierce Wireless, a wireless industry publication.

"However, the proposed class action lawsuit, filed Friday in an Illinois federal court by Indiana-based Craigville Telephone Company, which does business as AdamsWells Internet Telecom TV, and Minnesota-based Consolidated Telephone Company, asserts the FCC consent decree did nothing to compensate local carriers for harms from T-Mobile’s 'deceptive practices,' arguing it violated the Communications Act, among others, and seeks a judgement of at least $700 million," Fletcher reports.

The lawsuit also names Chicago-based intermediate provider Inteliqunet in allegations of wire fraud and racketeering. According to the suit, the company wanted to reduce expenses on access charges, which it pays to local phone companies for using their networks to terminate calls made by T-Mobile subscribers, Fletcher reports. Inteliqunet, T-Mobile, and several unnamed companies are accused of conspiring to deter or prevent customers from making high-cost phone calls (such as those in rural areas) by strategies such as forcing failed calls. 

"The new lawsuit comes as the operator awaits a significantly more visible court case to get started. Next month the trial to decide T-Mobile’s pending merger with Sprint will kick off, unless a settlement is reached with the more than dozen state AGs suing to block the deal," Fletcher reports. "In its efforts to promote the merger, T-Mobile has pledged to expand wireless coverage, particularly in rural areas." A coalition of rural telecommunications companies and lobbying groups opposes the merger, and the Communications Workers of America has said that T-Mobile hurt rural customers in Iowa after acquiring a major carrier in the state.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Grocery closures turn rural towns into food deserts (10 mi. from a store) but some reopen old ones or start new ones

From unincorporated Winchester, Iowa, Jack Healy of The New York Times reports, "Farm towns like Winchester that produce beef, corn and greens to feed the world are becoming America’s unlikeliest food deserts as traditional grocery stores are forced out of business by fewer shoppers and competition from dollar-store chains. Their exodus has left rural towns worried about how they can hold on to families, businesses and their future if there is nowhere to buy even a banana."

"It’s the story of every small town," said lawyer John Paul Coonrod, 35, who started a community grocery store. "It’s a domino effect, and it starts with the grocery store." Noting closures of hospitals close and schools consolidation of schools, Healy writes, "Residents say losing their grocery stores amounts to losing a de facto town square where they catch up on gossip and check on their neighbors."

Nancy McCloud, "who scraped together $200,000 in personal loans and crowd-funded contributions to buy and reopen a closed supermarket in Mountainair, N.M.," told Healy: "It’s more important than just my little grocery store. It adds to the destruction of rural America — not supporting rural farmers or rural people."

Healy writes, "The loss of grocery stores can feel like a cruel joke when you live surrounded by farmland. About 5 million people in rural areas have to travel 10 miles or more to buy groceries, according to the Department of Agriculture. Dollar-store chains selling cheap food are entering hundreds of small towns, but their shelves are mostly stocked with frozen, refrigerated and packaged foods. Local health officials worry that the flight of fresh foods will only add to rural America’s health problems by exacerbating higher rates of heart disease and obesity."

Healy adds, "Many of the places losing their grocery stores are conservative towns that value industrial agriculture and low taxes. About 75 percent of the people in the county containing Winchester voted for President Trump. But people in these communities have also approved public money to kick-start local markets, and they are supporting co-ops whose cloth-bag values and hand-stuffed packs of arugula can feel more Berkeley than Mayberry."

Study: Rural college enrollment and graduation still lags

The gap in college enrollment and degree completion has narrowed between rural and non-rural students since the 1990s, but a new study found that the gap persists, Elin Johnson reports for Inside Higher Ed.

The University of Massachusetts study, published in the American Journal of Education, shows not just how the gap has changed since the 1990s, but notes the context in which it changed. It notes that "in the late '90s to early 2000s rural areas were facing complicated and contradictory economic and demographic factors, such as the recession," Johnson reports. "Researchers said that not all rural youth have leaving for college on their minds or in their plans, and that rural job markets have shifted over time to become more service-oriented."

At the same time, rural economic growth has brought more jobs to rural areas that require a college degree, which has encouraged more rural students to go to college, Johnson reports. Because rural students tend to have stronger ties to their communities, they could be more likely to come back to their home town to work after college than someone from a city or suburb.

Cedar Rapids Gazette offers to remove stories about old, minor crimes from its website, with some limitations

The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is inviting people who have committed minor crimes and paid the penalty to ask the newspaper to remove stories about them from its website.

"News of a simple mistake, poor decision or minor crime can appear in search results and impact lives for a long time," Executive Editor Zack Kucharski wrote. "The Gazette has been receiving an increasing number of requests from people we’ve written stories about who say they’re being impacted long after charges were dropped or their court case has been completed. Whether it’s a job search, housing or growing kids Googling their parents’ names, many find it difficult to fully put the incident behind them."

The new policy has limits: "The case needs to have worked its way to resolution through the courts, meaning charges were dismissed or a judgment of some sort was imposed. Jail or prison time associated with the charges must have been completed," Kucharski writes. The Gazette will not consider removal requests from celebrities, local or elected officials. We will not remove articles where the actions resulted in the death of another individual."

The policy calls to mind the Anniston Star's 2007 decision to not even report the name of a high-school football player whose transgression caused the Alabama High School Athletic Association to rule him ineligible, meaning that the Oxford High School team had to forfeit seven of its 10 wins. Bob Davis, editor at the time, said "We wanted to treat him with the respect of someone who is underage. It’s the same reason we withhold the names of minors — there shouldn’t be something that follows you forever."

Policy brief notes economic differences among rural areas, suggests ways to use assets to grow jobs and population

Most rural areas are struggling with population loss and slow job growth, but a policy brief from a left-leaning think-tank, the Center for American Progress, aims to counter stereotypes and misconceptions about rural America and show that rural areas have assets they can leverage to encourage economic development, Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty.

"What we’re trying to drive home is that rural America is not an economic liability," Zoe Willingham, co-author of the brief, told Lucia.

Some of the brief covers well-trod ground: "For example, the authors emphasize how immigrants moving into rural areas can help fill jobs and offset population declines, while noting the economic development potential of outdoor recreation on public lands and renewable energy programs," Lucia reports. "They also suggest that there are positive developments with farmers finding new ways to market their goods through local and regional 'food hubs,' and that there are options for small and medium-sized manufacturers to tap into global markets to sell specialty goods."

The brief is notable for taking into account the economic variation in rural areas. After the Great Recession, rural areas in the Great Lakes region, Nevada, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest fared better than the Great Plains, New York, and northern Pennsylvania. "Similarly, population declines in rural counties vary by region, Lucia reports. "Counties in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and Northeast have seen some of the biggest losses, while rural counties around the western U.S. and pockets of the Dakotas with energy-industry jobs posted gains."

Perdue's family farmer gaffe sounded heartless but didn't deserve as much criticism as it got, writes former ag editor

Urban Lehner
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue caught a lot of grief after he suggested a rocky future for small farmers at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin last month, but he could have dug himself out of that hole a little if he had followed his grim prediction with a promise that the government will do more to help family farmers survive, writes Urban Lehner, editor emeritus of DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," Perdue told reporters. He said the 2018 Farm Bill should help farmers stay in business, but warned that that larger farms will be better able to comply with environmental regulations and weather lean times, and said no small business owner has a guaranteed income or profit, Lehner writes.

"That may be true of small businesses in many industries, but it ignores the broad array of financial assistance Uncle Sam provides farmers both small and large. Perdue has to know that rightly or wrongly, small farmers think those government programs favor the big farmers and don't do enough for small ones," Lehner writes.

Perdue's comment was a classic gaffe, which Lehner says can be defined as "when a politician accidentally tells the truth." Though Lehner writes that he has no wish to defend Perdue overall, he believes some of the criticism of the remark was "over the top" and ignored the context of the remark. But Lehner also takes Perdue to task for sounding unfeeling: "With his experience in politics Perdue should have known he was putting his foot in his mouth. Precisely because small farms do have a hard time competing, with some struggling to survive, to say so without expressing sympathy for those affected by the trend made the secretary seem heartless."

Monday, November 04, 2019

N. Carolina weekly offers measured, balanced and robust coverage and commentary about Confederate statue issue

Front page of the current edition
A weekly newspaper in North Carolina has offered robust coverage and commentary of one of the most divisive issues that can arise in the South: the fate of a prominent Confederate monument.

Chatham News + Record Editor and Publisher Bill Horner III told University of Kentucky journalism professor Buck Ryan that the paper's coverage has been "measured and balanced, and not overblown." For many weeklies, that would mean eschewing commentary, but Horner said after protests "attracted activists and extremists from outside Chatham County," population about 75,000, southwest of Chapel Hill, he wrote an editorial titled, "A message to the agitators: when enough is simply enough."

The 988-word editorial began with four sentences, each its own paragraph: "We get it. You made your point. You came, you did your thing. Now please take your mess somewhere else." The longest paragraph of the editorial read:

"You’re opportunists. You’re angry. You’re soldiers of circumstance. You’re looking for a fight. You live in an agitated world of rabble-rousers, of troublemakers. You yell. You curse. Some of you even spit, push, shove, trespass, confront, harangue, insult, threaten, belittle, accuse. You’d like nothing more than to throw an elbow — proverbial or literal — into someone, anyone, who has a different worldview than you. 'That’ll teach ‘em,' you think. You thrill in nothing more than 'getting your back up,' as our moms used to say, or hoping to record some video of a tangle, a skirmish, a dust-up that will prove to those like you that the other guys are the bad ones, that you’re in the right. You’re right, everyone else is wrong, and that’s that. But you’re in the wrong place, and you’re doing it the wrong way, in a way that’s hurting us."

The statue stands in front of an old courthouse, now a museum.
"They needed to be called out on it," Horner told Ryan in a Q and A. "Our photographer would take pictures of groups of protesters and longtime residents would say, 'I don’t recognize one person in that picture.' . . . The statue issue is going to come down to a legal ruling; it’s not a popularity contest and it won’t be settled with a public vote. These Saturday protesters from outside Chatham County aren’t adding to the conversation. They’re bringing more anger and more hate into an already volatile situation, which accomplishes not one thing. That’s what drove me to write this latest editorial."

Asked how readers have reacted to the paper's coverage, Horner cited two emails: "One woman railed about how it’s so obvious we’re in favor of having the statue removed. Another said we were horrible journalists because it was so clear we’re in favor of letting the statue remain. Both messages were referring to the same exact news story. We got a very angry call from one elected official berating us for — and this is what he said — publishing stories that were 'too balanced, too fair.' He thought our stories should have been slanted toward the statue’s removal."

Apply by Nov. 30 for Poynter Institute's 2020 Leadership Academy for Women in Media; scholarships available

The Poynter Institute is now accepting applications for its sixth annual Leadership Academy for Women in Media, which will take place at its campus in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2020. Applications are due by Nov. 30.

Women at any stage of their journalism career who have leadership potential or responsibilities are encouraged to apply. A 2018 Poynter survey of graduates from the first three years found that 81 percent got promoted or have more job responsibilities; 83% make more money, with half making substantially more money; and 76% have a clearer vision of what's important in their career.

Attendees can choose from three sessions: Winter (Feb. 23-28), Spring (April 19-24) or Fall (Oct. 4-9). Each session will accept up to 30 participants. Cost is $1,095 and includes lunches, snacks and some dinners; some need-based tuition scholarships and travel support are available through funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Fish & Wildlife employs bubbles, noise to thwart Asian carp

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials are testing some creative tactics in the battle to keep Asian carp out of Barkley Lake in Kentucky and Tennessee, with an eye toward using the system elsewhere if it works. The new Bio-Acoustic Fish Fence (BAFF) at Barkley Lock will use flashing white lights, low-level noises and streams of bubbles to frighten the fish away. FWS officials say the deterrents pose no threat to boaters, Shelley Byrne reports for The Waterways Journal Weekly.

"The fish fence is part of a three-year experiment in which biologists will track bighead silver carp fitted with transmitters to see if the BAFF limits their passage from the Cumberland River into Barkley Lake," Byrne reports. West Coast fisheries use a similar system with trout and salmon.

Rob Simmonds, a fish biologist at the regional FWS office in Bloomington, Minn., told Byrne that officials are still installing some survey parts and other last-minute actions, but the primary structures are in place and working. FWS "turned on the fence Oct. 21 on the downstream side of the lock in Grand Rivers, Ky. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ended navigation closures that were in conjunction with the construction Oct. 30," Byrne reports. "The structure’s christening is scheduled for Nov. 8," this Friday.

Simmonds said Lake Barkley was an ideal place to test the system since there is already an Asian carp population and Kentucky has been aggressive in trying to address the problem. If it works well, other agencies will likely want to replicate it, Byrne reports.

"The project cost roughly $7 million and was funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee’s Asian Carp Action Plan" and FWS base funding, Byrne reports. "The project involves multiple agencies and partners, including USFWS, the Nashville Engineer District, the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency."

Tips on getting a higher rural count in the 2020 census

Urban Institute chart based on analysis of return rates from 2010 Census
The 2020 census will be the first ever to rely primarily on digital response; that puts many areas with limited high-speed internet access, including rural ones, at a much higher risk of being undercounted. "As of 2017, more than 12 million people living in rural areas do not have access to broadband internet, according to estimates from the 2013–17 American Communities Survey. That total accounts for around 26 percent of the rural population," research associates Amanda Gold and Yipeng Su write for The Urban Institute.

Gold and Yipeng recommend that rural leaders take these steps to ensure a higher local count:
  • Become a census partner to help increase awareness of the importance of an accurate count. That means working with community leaders who can influence others, such as pastors or business owners. The Census Bureau has some tips for increasing community engagement in a Community Outreach Toolkit.
  • Use data to understand your community and how vulnerable it is to undercounting, including this interactive map of hard-to-count areas.
  • Provide safe, secure internet access in community spaces like libraries or post offices so people without home internet access can fill out the census.
  • Partner with schools and employers to reach hard-to-count populations so they can respond to the census on-site, possibly with translators.

Report: farm bankruptcies rose 24% over past year, and growers increasingly depend on federal aid and programs

Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies, Sept. 2018-Sept. 2019 (American Farm Bureau Federation map)
"U.S. farm bankruptcies in September surged 24 percent to the highest since 2011 amid strains from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and a year of wild weather," Mike Dorning reports for Bloomberg. "Growers are also becoming increasingly dependent on trade aid and other federal programs for income, figures showed in a report by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest general farm organization."

The Department of Agriculture projects 2019 net farm income to hit $88 billion, the highest since 2014's $92 billion, but it's still 29% lower than 2013's record high. "Nearly 40% of that income – some $33 billion in total – is related to trade assistance, disaster assistance, the farm bill and insurance indemnities and has yet to be fully received by farmers and ranchers," says the report. "Moreover, farm debt in 2019 is projected to be a record-high $416 billion, with $257 billion in real-estate debt and $159 billion in non-real-estate debt. The repayment terms on this debt, according to data from the Kansas City Federal Reserve, reached all-time highs for a variety of categories."
Change in Chapter 12 bankruptcies, Sept. 2018-Sept. 2019 (American Farm Bureau Federation map)
In short, the report says, farmers are taking longer to pay off their debt. With such record-high debt, it's unsurprising that Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies remain high. "Data from the U.S. Courts reveals that for the 12-month period ending September 2019, Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies totaled 580 filings, up 24% from the prior year and the highest level since 676 filings in 2011. For the third quarter of 2019, Chapter 12 bankruptcies decreased slightly to 160 filings, down 2% from the previous quarter." Oklahoma had the most bankruptcies and the sharpest increase in such filings.
Farm bankruptcy filings by region from September 2018 to September 2019 (American Farm Bureau Federation map)

Learn in Thursday webinar how to submit an FOIA request

The National Newspaper Association is hosting a webinar Thursday, Nov. 7, that promises to teach you everything you need to know about submitting a request to the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act, including use of the federal FOIA ombudsman's office as a resource.

NNA General Counsel and former Freedom of Information Service Center director Tonda Rush will moderate the webinar. She will be joined by Kirsten Mitchell, a national expert on FOIA requests from the Office of Government Information Services.

The webinar starts at 3 p.m. ET. It's free for members of NNA or the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, and $30 for non-members. Click here for details, or to register.

Livestream Nov. 7 conference on preparing rural areas for climate change

The Aspen Institute will hold a forum on helping rural communities prepare for economic and climate change from 2:30-4 p.m. CT on Nov. 7. The actual event will be at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center in College Station, Texas, but the event will be livestreamed online.

The event will showcase examples of rural innovation and a wide range of ideas communities can adopt in areas like emergency response to natural disasters, weatherization, improving energy efficiency, and encouraging jobs in renewable energy industries (as well as jobs at companies that run on renewable energy). Click here to learn more.

Patricia Layton, the Director of Clemson University’s Wood Utilization + Design Institute, will moderate the panel. She is also a professor in the university’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.