Friday, December 27, 2019

Christian magazine editorial denouncing Trump continues roiling evangelical community

A Dec. 19 editorial in a Christian magazine denouncing President Trump has prompted heavy backlash from many in the evangelical community. The Christianity Today piece, written by outgoing editor-in-chief Mark Galli, called on readers to support President Trump's impeachment.

On Dec. 22, nearly 200 evangelical leaders slammed the editorial in a co-signed letter to Christianity Today president Timothy Dalrymple, Melissa Barnhart reports for The Christian Post. The Post published the full text of the letter.

"The signatories include Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty College; Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council; Ralph Reed, the president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; and Paula White Cain, Trump's longtime spiritual adviser who recently joined the White House staff," Veronica Stracqualursi reports for CNN.

"Your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations," the letter read. "We are proud to be numbered among those in history who, like Jesus, have been pretentiously accused of having too much grace for tax collectors and sinners, and we take deeply our personal responsibility to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's --- our public service." 

The Christian Post, an evangelical website, published its own editorial on Dec. 23, criticizing the Christianity Today piece and accusing Galli's writing of coming from a "toxic emotional and spiritual stew."

The Post editorial "apparently proved too much for an editor at The Christian Post, Napp Nazworth, who wrote on Twitter on Monday that he was 'forced to make the difficult choice' to leave the site, where he had worked since 2011, most recently as politics editor," Karen Zraick and Elisha Brown report for The New York Times.

Galli said that, though the editorial prompted some readers to unsubscribe, the magazine has gained many more new subscribers than it lost. "We have lost subscribers but we’ve had three times as many people start to subscribe," he told MSNBC on Dec. 22.

The Rural Blog's publisher stands up for journalism, and helps it; you can help us in honor of one who helped you

Writing some year-end checks or clicking some online buttons to make charitable contributions? Please consider The Rural Blog's publisher, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. Our online donation site is here.

No one else does what we do: a daily digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism, from and about rural America, to thousands of rural journalists who want to look beyond the county line and help their audiences understand broader issues and how they affect them.

The institute does much more than the blog; it serves as a resource for rural journalists all over the country and for metropolitan journalists doing rural stories; conducts seminars and workshops on covering issues, most recently on substance abuse; conducts research on rural journalism; makes presentations at national and state news-organization meetings and universities; does an "Into the Issues" column for the National Newspaper Association and state press associations; co-sponsors with Investigative Reporters and Editors a fellowship to IRE's Data Journalism Boot Camp (for 2020, in March and August); presents the annual Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism; co-hosts the hotline of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and stands up for the essential role of journalism in democracy.

At a time when some people question the very concept of independent journalism, the institute takes opportunities to explain, defend and promote it. One example is our bumper sticker that makes the point that someone has to pay for journalism. In The Rural Blog, we write about the challenges facing community newspapers and journalism, including ways to explain and defend the profession.

Some of our contributors make donations in honor of those who helped them in their careers. Sheila Hagar of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin donated in honor of her high-school journalism teacher, Darrell Gomsrud. "He really believed in me," she wrote. "He walked our class through Watergate in a completely unbiased way. He bought me books about writing. When I worked on the school paper (co-editor in my junior year), Mr. Gomsrud taught me I should expect to be treated with equality. When I wrote fiery op-eds, he gave me fair warning of the reaction I could expect. When I got what I asked for, he told me no tears allowed for those able to put their opinions in front of readers. He retired just before my own kids got to high school and I was devastated." When she made the gift in his honor, the University of Kentucky notified him, and he wrote Hagar a letter of thanks, saying "I assure you that many readers enjoy your writing and trust your byline." She told us, "I'm not sure any award could be sweeter."

The institute's work is only partly supported the university. We're able to publish The Rural Blog because we have an endowment that generates money for year-round travel, programming and a half-time assistant. But we rely increasingly on gifts that go directly into our operating budget of about $200,000 a year, so we need your support. Please give here.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Spending bill erases potential problem for electric co-ops

The omnibus spending bill that passed Congress last week eliminated a potential threat to the tax-exempt status of rural electric cooperatives.

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. Co-ops called that a "glitch" in the law, because many of them need outside help to recover from disasters, expand renewable energy sources or build broadband networks, a service many of them have been moving toward.

"Some co-ops would have had to raise their electric rates to pay new taxes," wrote Chris Perry, CEO of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, in an op-ed thanking the state's congressional representatives who voted for the omnibus. "In standing up for Kentucky’s local communities, these lawmakers proved that Congress still works for the people. Notably, the legislation drew the bipartisan support of more than 300 representatives in the House and more than half of the Senate before it was passed. That’s a rarity in Washington these days."

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Energy agency sides with coal and gas over other sources for electricity, says it's leveling the field; consumers will pay

PJM Interconnection's service areas
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved rules "for the nation's largest electricity market that effectively prop up fossil-fuel power plants and discourage new investments in renewable power, demand-response and energy-storage projects," Rod Kuckro and Jeremy Dillon report for Energy & Environment News.

FERC changed the rules for PJM Interconnection, the largest electric-power manager in North America, "508 days after the agency issued a decision calling the current market rules unjust and unreasonable and directing PJM to devise a fix," E&E reports. "The decision is among the most consequential by the commission since it created regional power markets 20 years ago this week. It's certain to be challenged. . . .The agency gave PJM 90 days to file a response on how it will comply."

The vote was 2-1, along party lines. Dissenting Commissioner Richard Glick called it "a bailout, plain and simple" to the power industry and its suppliers of coal and natural gas. The PJM area has more electric-generating capacity than it needs, and "cheaper renewables and nuclear plants have been crushing conventional fossil fuel resources on price" there, E&E notes. PJM had asked FERC not to force it to buy electricity from aging coal plants.

FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee denied that the move favors fossil fuels over renewables. He and the other Republican commissioner, Bernard McNamee, "argued that state subsidies for nuclear and renewables artificially give those resources a leg up," and said FERC was "leveling the playing field," E&E reports. Glick said the move would cost the 65 million consumers in PJM's area $2.4 billion a year; other estimates were as high as $8 billion.

Journalists and other readers reply to NYT's request to tell how the loss of local papers has hurt their communities

This item has been expanded from its original version.

“Over the past 15 years, more than one in five newspapers in the United States has closed or merged with another paper, and the number of journalists working for newspapers has been cut in half, according to research by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism. That has led to the rise of hollowed-out ’ghost papers’ and communities across the country without any local paper,” Lara Takenga reports for The New York Times.

The Times asked those who live in such communities about how the loss of local coverage has affected them. Mount Dora, Florida, a town of 14,000 northwest of Orlando, lost the weekly Mount Dora Topic in 2006 because local advertisers chose to buy as space in larger nearby metro papers. But financial pressures have caused those metro papers like The Orlando Sentinel to pull back coverage of outlying; a small part of Mount Dora is in Orange County, whose seat is Orlando.

“After years without a strong local voice, our community does not know itself and has no idea of important local issues or how the area is changing and challenged by growth and the impact of climate change. We are a nameless and faceless town defined only by neighborhoods,” wrote Mount Dora resident David Cohea. “A few local blogs pick up commercial events that are relayed on Facebook, but aside from that, we only hear of murders and fires and hot-button controversies — the stuff of TV news.”

Most closed or merged papers are in suburbs, but include than 500 rural weeklies. In Sidney, N.Y., a town of 5,800 on Interstate 88 between Binghamton and Oneonta, The Tri-Town News "ended publication a year ago," Barbara Renton reports from Bainbridge. "There is no way to reliably learn about decisions of local governments, or even about the issues being raised. School news, religious news and upcoming and recent events are all lost. Even local advertisements that were helpful in planning for home improvements and gift-giving, not to mention posting local jobs, are gone."

In Millbrook, N.Y, between Poughkeepsie and the Connecticut border, The Millbrook Independent "closed its print operation after an eight-year run," editor-publisher Stephen Kaye wrote. "We started two weeks after the preceding paper closed, taking local news to a higher plane. We found circulation shrinking and tried migrating to the web, which worked for us but not for readers who didn’t regularly go to our web pages. School boards, town and village boards, county news, local news — it all disappeared. We were a check on governments, on endless environmental and zoning hearings, on budgets that we often published in detail, on misdoings and good doings. There is now a void. No one took up the slack."

Some rural papers are on the verge. "I’m on the cliff, about ready to close," wrote Caroline Titus, "the editor, publisher, reporter and office manager for probably one of California’s smallest newspapers, The Ferndale Enterprise," on the state's northern coast. "We’ve won a boatload of state and national awards, but I, too, am spitting into the wind. We’ve been through costly First Amendment battles, been told we were fake news long before you-know-who started muttering those two words. We’re currently cleaning toilets at two Airbnbs at our newspaper office to keep the presses printing. If we decide to shut the doors after 141 years, it’ll take us a year to wind down, we figure. We have to run out people’s subscriptions: can’t afford to give refunds!"

Monday, December 23, 2019

Outdoorsy clothing brand based in Morehead, Ky., gets recognized for spreading 'Appalachian chic' worldwide

Jesse Wells, a fiddle player for Tyler Childers, wore
the yellow trucker hat seen here during their recent
performance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers."
A clothing company based in Eastern Kentucky received an Excellence in International Trade Award on Dec. 12 from the Kentucky World Trade Center, an organization that promotes Kentucky-made products abroad.

New Frontier Outfitters, "started by brothers Jared and Josh Ravenscraft, has been spreading Appalachian chic worldwide thanks in part to the brand’s popularity among country music artists and a surprising following in the Netherlands," Alfred Miller reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. The company has also shipped orders to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Celebs spotted wearing the retro-inspired clothing include country music star Tyler Childers and actor Channing Tatum.

Josh Ravenscraft said they were surprised by the award. "From our mom’s kitchen table to being on stage with the former governor — it was a surreal moment," he told Miller.

Increase in rural jail population disproportionately female

Hamblen County, Tennessee
(Wikipedia map)
A story in The New York Times reports that the increase in rural jail populations is often driven by incarceration of women, and discusses some of the reasons rural jails are full, using data from The Vera Institute of Justice. The article illustrates the trend with a portrait of the jail in Morristown, Tenn.

"The Hamblen County Jail has been described as a dangerously overcrowded 'cesspool of a dungeon,' with inmates sleeping on mats in the hallways, lawyers forced to meet their clients in a supply closet and the people inside subjected to 'horrible conditions' every day," Richard Oppel Jr. reports for the Times. "Like a lot of Appalachia, Morristown . . . has been devastated by methamphetamine and opioid use. Residents who commit crimes to support their addiction pack the 255-bed jail, which had 439 inmates at the end of October, according to the latest state data. Many cities have invested in treatment options and diversion programs to help drug users. But those alternatives aren’t available in a lot of small towns."

'Meet the Press' to air special episode Sunday, Dec. 29, about spread and weaponization of 'fake news'

This coming Sunday, Dec. 29, NBC's "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd will air a special episode about the role of "fake news" in politics.

"The use of 'alternative facts,' a term first heard on Meet the Press in 2017, has become a common occurrence in American politics. From 'whataboutism' and gaslighting to unsubstantiated claims of fake news and attacks on the Fourth Estate, 'Meet the Press' will take an in-depth look at the techniques of spreading disinformation, how it’s designed to create chaos and confusion, and its negative effects on the public," says an NBC news release.

Click here to see which guests will weigh in on the issue and for more information about the episode.

Can mutton make a comeback in the United States?

A number of dishes are likely to appear on American tables this holiday season: turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, latkes, kugel and more. Mutton, not so much.

Mutton and lamb are popular dishes worldwide, including in the United States, but around World War II it essentially dropped off American menus, Lisa Fogarty reports for NPR.

That's no coincidence: American soldiers in WWII were given canned mutton from Australia, which was apparently terrible, according to Bob Kennard, author of Much Ado About Mutton. "Wherever he travels, the Welsh mutton expert says he hears a similar story," Fogarty reports.

"I am told that someone's uncle or father came home from the war and wouldn't allow sheep meat in the house — they never wanted to see it again. It just went completely out of fashion," Kennard told Fogarty.

A number of other factors influenced the downfall of mutton in the U.S., including tech advances in railroads and refrigeration, Fogarty reports. Can it make a comeback? Unclear, but marketers and food influencers are trying.