Friday, May 08, 2020

Farm bankruptcies running 23 percent ahead of a year ago

Chapter 12 bankruptcies of family farming operations in the last year are 23 percent higher than they were for the previous year, John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, reports on Feed & Grain Blog.

"Given the challenges to the farm economy in recent years, i.e., low commodity prices, retaliatory tariffs and natural disasters, it’s no surprise that farm bankruptcies continue to rise," Newton writes. "While well below the historical highs of the 1980s . . . Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings have increased for five consecutive years, and the 627 filings over the previous 12 months is the third-highest total over the last 20 years – behind 743 filings in 2011 and 632 filings in 2003." Data are from U.S. courts.

"The continued increase in Chapter 12 filings coincides with recent changes to the bankruptcy rules in 2019’s Family Farmer Relief Act, which raised the debt ceiling to $10 million," Newton writes. "Moving forward, however, the coronavirus’ impact on the national economy as a whole and the farm economy specifically -- high unemployment and low commodity prices and reduced farm revenue -- may make it more difficult for farmers to repay debt, which could increase farm bankruptcies."

Documentary explores African-American Appalachian diaspora connecting through a historic social club


A new hour-long PBS documentary, Eastern Kentucky Social Club, explores an organization founded in 1969 by African-American Appalachians who wanted to maintain a link with their homes after they migrated out of the coalfields to mostly northern cities. The film was created by PBS' Black in Appalachia project. Read more here.

Facebook names 20 people, including journalists, to a 'Supreme Court' as ultimate arbiters for allowed content

"Facebook on Wednesday appointed 20 people from around the world to serve on what will effectively be the social-media network’s 'Supreme Court' for speech, issuing rulings on what kind of posts will be allowed and what should be taken down," David Ingram reports for NBC News. "The list includes nine law professors, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Yemen, journalists, free speech advocates and a writer from the libertarian Cato Institute."

The board doesn't include a disinformation researcher. "Facebook has struggled to contain state-based manipulation efforts as well as hoaxes on subjects like false cures and gun violence," Ingram reports.

Facebook staff will handle everyday cases, but the board will take on difficult decisions on Facebook as well as the Facebook-owned Instagram. The group will essentially act as an appeals court, said one co-chair, former federal judge Michael McConnell. “We are not the internet police,” he told NBC. “Don’t think of us as sort of a fast-action group that’s going to swoop in and deal with rapidly moving problems.”

The board could take some of the heat from Facebook, often a target of political ire when lawmakers believe they or their supporters are being unfairly censored, Ingram reports. Facebook has tried to show that the board is independent, paying it from a $130 million trust and promising not to remove members from the board.

Ceasing briefings about pandemic seems to boost Trump's approval rating among rural social-media users in 6 states

The proportion of types of political comments about the pandemic
from sampled social media users. (One Country graphic)
President Trump's curtailment of daily press briefings seems to have improved his standing among rural social-media users in six swing states (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), according to a data analysis by One Country, a nonprofit focused on rural voter outreach for Democrats, Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder.

Social-media analysis outfit Impact Social conducted the study, cataloging online social-media sentiment in six periods between March 15 and May 4. In late April, many social-media users criticized Trump for statements suggesting disinfectants and ultraviolet lights could treat covid-19. "Since then, Trump reduced the number of White House briefings and changed their format. The strategy seems to have changed the public social-media comments in rural parts of the six battleground states in the study," Marema reports. "But anti-Trump sentiment has been the largest category of political comment in every report since the study began in mid-March. This week, more than a third of political comments criticize how President Trump is handling the pandemic."

The study notes that the proportion of positive social-media comments about Trump also increased because his supporters remained active online while the overall number of pandemic-related rural social-media posts declined, Marema reports.

Meatpacking industry has a history of dangerous practices, writes food systems labor exper

Meatpacking plants are increasingly covid-19 hotspots, with more than 10,000 cases and at least 45 deaths nationwide linked to processing plant outbreaks, report Sky Chadde for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and Kyle Bagenstose for USA Today. Michael Haedicke, an expert on food system labor issues, says poor working conditions and weak labor laws are the root of the problem, though others have tried to blame the spread on immigrant plant workers' home lives.

After Smithfield Foods was forced to shutter its huge Sioux Falls pork processing plant in mid-April, a spokesperson referred to the plant's "large immigrant population" and said "living circumstances in certain cultures are different than they are with your traditional American family," Buzzfeed News reports. Similarly, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on an April 28 call with lawmakers that he believed the infections "were linked more to the 'home and social' aspects of workers' lives rather than the conditions inside the facilities," Politico reports.

Haedicke, an associate sociology professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, says the workers are not to blame. There are two reasons the novel coronavirus is spreading so rapidly in meatpacking plants, he writes for The Conversation: "First, working conditions experienced in meatpacking plants, which are shaped by the pressures of efficient production, contribute to the spread of covid-19. Second, this industry has evolved since the mid-20th century in ways that make it hard for workers to advocate for safe conditions even in good times, let alone during a pandemic." Those reasons—which he explains in detail—not only show why meatpacking plants are infection hotbeds right now, but also why the problem will be difficult to fix.

Though hygiene and living conditions are not the problem, the workers' immigrant status has likely played a role in meatpacking plant outbreaks. During a recent panel discussion on the pandemic's impact in rural America, Chris Clayton, agriculture policy editor of DTN/The Progressive Farmer, said that the language barrier is a big problem. "It’s not just simply English or Spanish," Clayton said, noting that workers at the Sioux Falls plant speak 40 languages. A plant worker in Nebraska told him that many workers didn't really understand what was going on for weeks because of the language barrier, he said.

Immigrant workers at a North Carolina Butterball plant underlined Haedicke's point, saying the plant operators didn't stop production for a promised deep cleaning, told sick people they had to come to work, didn't establish social distancing rules in the plant, and provided little guidance or personal protective gear until well after the outbreak began, Victoria Bouloubasis reports for Southerly.

Leaked documents showed that as many as 52 workers were infected at the Duplin County Butterball plant in North Carolina, but neither the company or state government would confirm how many cases the plant had, Bouloubasis reports. Today, Butterball did confirm one plant employee's death but still would not say how many employees were ill, WITN reports.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is trying to keep more plants open. A new memo from the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration removes local and state authority to force meatpackers to close, and "the Labor Department will consider defending meat companies against potential employee lawsuits if they make 'good faith attempts' to comply with safety guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bouloubasis reports.

Also, on April 28 President Trump declared meatpacking plants "critical infrastructure," which could compel the facilities to remain open. But that didn't work: at least seven plants have shut down since then. "In all, at least 38 meatpacking plants have ceased operations at some point since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. All closed for at least a day. Some have stayed closed for weeks. At least two of the seven plants that closed since the executive order have reopened," Chadde and Bagenstose report.

Quick hits: How pandemic is creating a rural employment crisis; Irish support hard-hit Native American communities

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

Rural California county defies shelter in place order. Read more here.

Military correspondent says citizen unrest over shut-downs makes him more afraid than he ever was in Afghanistan or Iraq. Read more here.

Pandemic sharpens focus on rural digital divide, columnist writes. Read more here.

Three reasons the pandemic is creating a rural employment crisis. Read more here.

Irish dig deep to help pandemic-stricken Navajo, repaying a debt that stretches back to the Great Potato Famine. Read more here.

Rural Black Belt southerners take on the coronavirus. Read more here.

Pandemic could change how low-income parents are treated. Read more here.

In fracking's new reality, only the strongest will survive. Read more here.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

People are increasingly leaving home, but not for work, according to cellphone data; county-level data available

Washington Post map; click on the image to enlarge it. For the interactive version, with county data, click here.
More and more people are venturing out of the house, but not to go to work, according to anonymized cellphone data aggregated by SafeGraph and Google.

According to the Google data, "the percentage of phones (and presumably, their owners) in workplaces dropped steeply in mid-March and has barely risen. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks," Kevin Schaul, Brittany Mayes and Bonnie Berkowitz report for The Washington Post. "SafeGraph’s more granular data shows people are again hitting general merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target at near-March levels. Some are satisfying fast-food cravings at restaurants with counter service."

A similar project, by the University of Maryland, presents cell-phone mobility and other data in bar graphs by date. The site has data going back to Jan. 1, and the "Counties" option can be selected to create bar graphs for any county.

Just because people are leaving their homes more, it doesn't necessarily mean they've stopped social distancing, the Post notes. Americans may simply be enjoying the warmer weather outdoors more, especially since the data shows that parks are an increasingly popular destination.

"In general, people in rural areas are away more than people in urban and suburban areas, in large part because stores, services and essential workplaces are much farther away and delivery services are rare or nonexistent. But the trend lines are very similar across all types of places," the Post reports. "The data clearly shows that when Americans were told it was time to stay home, most people did. It also indicates that they are deciding for themselves when to go back out."

A top Trump donor is named the new postmaster general

North Carolina businessman Louis DeJoy, a top donor to President Trump, has been named the new head of the U.S. Postal Service. DeJoy is currently leading fund-raising efforts for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte.

"The action will install a stalwart Trump ally to lead the Postal Service, which he has railed against for years, and probably move him closer than ever before to forcing the service to renegotiate its terms with companies and its own union workforce," Josh Dawsey, Lisa Rein and Jacob Bogage report for The Washington Post. "Trump’s Treasury Department and the Postal Service are in the midst of a negotiation over a $10 billion line of credit approved as part of coronavirus legislation in March."

Trump has indicated that he wants the Postal Service to increase its fees for delivering packages for customers like Amazon—especially in rural areas where it costs USPS more to make deliveries—in exchange for tapping the line of credit, the Post reports.

Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, expressed support for the appointment in a statement, the Post reports: "Louis DeJoy understands the critical public service role of the United States Postal Service, and the urgent need to strengthen it for future generations."

Ky. weekly editor who sent special edition to whole county after its first covid-19 case writes why she will wear a mask

Becky Barnes
The editor of a rural Kentucky weekly, who mailed out a special edition of the paper to everyone in the county after its first covid-19 case was confirmed, explained in a recent editorial why she believes wearing a mask and following other social distancing measures is important.

Becky Barnes, editor of The Cynthiana Democrat, wrote plainly and repeatedly that she wears a mask because "I'm not ready to die."

She admits readily that she's not a scientific expert, but notes that President Trump and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear aren't, either, and that they—and we—must rely on such experts to guide policy and action.

"I will follow those guidelines, not like a lamb to slaughter, but like a woman who will protect her family. I have elderly parents and in-laws whom I love very much. It would kill me to pass something along to them," Barnes writes.

As the government starts loosening some restrictions and opening businesses back up, that will increase the chances of infection. So, Barnes writes, it's better to be safe than sorry: "I will wear a mask because someone who knows more than I says it will help. I will wear a mask not because I am required to do so, but because it may help. This is all new. We are learning as we go. But if there is a chance it will help – I will wear a mask – for you."

Colorado meatpacking plant stopped testing workers after high coronavirus infection rate found among managers

The JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colo., has the highest coronavirus infection total in the state, with at least 287 employees testing positive and seven dead of covid-19, Robert Garrison reports for KMGH-TV in Denver. But though the plant had the resources to test all of its employees, company officials only tested a fraction of them, Tony Kovaleski reports for the station.

State and county health directors shut down the plant for two weeks on April 10, the same day Vice President Mike Pence spoke about the plant at a briefing and vowed to provide testing resources. JBS said that day it would spend more than $1 million on testing kits, Kovaleski reports.

"Multiple informed sources confirmed . .. that JBS management stopped testing shortly after it started doing so on April 11 and well before its promise to test its 6,000 employees," Kovaleski reports. "Insiders [say] that between 40% and 80% of managers/supervisors tested positive on the initial day of testing and those results prompted JBS to end the testing program."

Sylvia Martinez, a spokesperson for Latinos Unidos of Greeley, told Kovaleski: "We can only assume the reason they stopped testing is they don't want the numbers to come out, it’s bad PR."

The plant reopened April 24, and most of its employees still haven't been tested, Natalia Navarro reports for Colorado Public Radio. A company spokesperson told CPR that, instead of testing all the employees, "The company took the more aggressive action to self-quarantine Greeley beef employees during the plant closure" and encouraged workers to shelter in place. The company said that all employees have received temperature checks before entering the building since April 2, but the union that represents the workers says that's not true.

Retired Kansas farmer who sent Gov. Cuomo an N-95 mask granted bachelor's degree from KSU

Dennis Ruhnke (AP photo by Charlie Riedel)
They say one good turn deserves another, and that's exactly what's happening to a retired Kansas farmer who tried to do his small part to help an area hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic, Christina Walker reports for CNN.

Dennis Ruhnke, who lives near Troy, Kansas, sent an N-95 mask to New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late March along with a letter asking him to pass the mask along to a nurse or doctor who could use it. Cuomo mentioned the letter during one of his daily briefings: "It's that love, that courage, that generosity of spirit that makes this country so beautiful."

Now Ruhnke has been awarded with a college degree, a goal he sought when younger but wasn't able to achieve. He was two credits shy of graduating in 1971 when his father died, but he decided to leave school to look after his mother and run the family farm, Walker reports.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly wrote in a Facebook post: "Dennis' kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree."

"Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers presented Ruhnke with the degree Tuesday during a ceremony," Walker reports.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

ICE detention centers become vectors for spread of the coronavirus, posing another threat to the rural South

Crowded and unsanitary detention centers for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers encourage the spread of covid-19; that endangers the larger rural South, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials transfer hundreds of detainees to state and local prisons and jails.

"Over the past three years, the Trump administration has drastically expanded the use of rural ICE detention centers, especially in the South," Gaby Del Valle and Jack Herrera report for Politico. "For the administration, remote locations are cheaper to staff and operate than facilities in big cities. The ICE contracts have aided local communities, too, bringing hundreds of jobs and millions in administrative fees and property tax revenue."

For example, some employees at the Adams County Correctional Center, a privately run detention center in Natchez, Mississippi, called the mayor on March 26 and complained that they didn't have adequate personal protective equipment, and said they worried that ICE officials hadn't taken many precautions to ensure that new detainee transfers were uninfected, Del Valle and Herrera report. The workers told the mayor that they worried the detainees would sicken them and cause the virus to spread to the wider community. Adams County has only 15 intensive-care beds; at least 15 detainees and two employees at the center have covid-19.

"The actual numbers are likely much higher [since] ICE only tests small numbers of people with serious symptoms," Del Valle and Herrera report. "As of May 4, ICE had tested only 1,285 of the roughly 30,000 detainees in its custody . . . about half were positive." Nationwide, less than 20 percent of tests have been positive."

Kroger buys 200,000 gallons of milk to give to food banks

Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket company by revenue, is buying 200,000 gallons of fluid milk from struggling dairy farmers to distribute to Feeding America food banks across the country through the end of August, Mary Ellen Shoup reports for Food Navigator. The chain will also donate an additional 50,000 gallons of milk per month to local food banks and community organizations.

Through its Dairy Rescue Program, Kroger will process the milk through its facilities in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, Shoup reports. A company spokesperson said the program benefits the hungry, but also helps dairy farmers. Schools are one of the largest purchasers of fluid milk, and dairy farmers are having a hard time finding new buyers now that schools have essentially closed down (though many school meal nutrition programs are still running).

Grocery chain Publix announced a similar action last week, saying it will buy and donate 43,500 gallons of milk from southeastern dairy farmers in the first week of the initiative, Shoup reports.

"As the covid-19 crisis wages on, dairy losses will outpace those for cattle, oil seeds, and feed grain, with the average net cash income loss for a dairy farm projected to be $345,000, according to the National Milk Producers Federation," Shroup reports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has promised up to $2.9 billion in payments to dairy producers, plus $1 billion in dairy-product purchases for food banks and similar organizations.

However, the promised aid may not be enough, Shoup reports: "As outlined by NMPF in a May 1 blog post, the organization is concerned that the USDA's loss calculations don't reflect the full damage dairy will feel going forward, and that a product-purchase program may not be able to buy enough dairy to help bolster markets or meet unprecedented food-bank demands."

Major grocery chains limit meat purchases as meatpacking plants continue to be pandemic hotspots

Meatpacking plants are increasingly covid-19 hotspots, prompting some plants to close temporarily for cleaning and re-engineering. The closures have disrupted the food supply chain and prompting major grocers such as Kroger, Costco, and Sam's Club to limit meat purchases

President Trump "attempted to head off disruptions to supply lines last week when he signed an executive order and invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act to declare the plants 'critical infrastructure,' compelling the facilities to remain open during the pandemic," Alex Gangitano reports for The Hill. "The order has not led all closed plants to reopen, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last week that meatpacking plants will reopen in a matter of 'days, not weeks'."

Meanwhile, hundreds of USDA meat inspectors have been exposed to the coronavirus, and three have died of covid-19. "About 145 field employees were absent from work as of April 28 due to covid-19 diagnoses, and another 130 were under self-quarantine due to exposure to the virus," according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Josh Carney reports for CBS News.

Meatpacking workers are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, and it won't be easy for the industry to change, Nusaiba Mizan and Benita Mathew report for the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Renewables for electricity topped coal big-time in April, helped by mild weather, pandemic and low gas prices

IEEFA chart; click the image to enlarge it.
"Renewables have generated more electricity than coal for the last 40 days," surpassing the previous record of nine consecutive days, Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. "Wind, solar and hydroelectricity have produced more electricity than coal since March 25, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration analyzed by the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis."

Renewable energy output first topped coal last April, usually a big month for renewables because mild temperatures mean less heating and air conditioning. The pandemic contributed to the streak, causing an overall decline in electricity demand as businesses have temporarily shuttered across the nation. Low natural-gas prices also boosted the trend, Beitsch reports.

Rural pandemic coverage to get online talk at 4 ET Thurs.

On Thursday, May 7, at 4 p.m. ET, The Daily Yonder and the Rural Assembly will present an online panel discussion with rural journalists covering aspects of covid-19.

The pandemic has hit some rural areas harder than others, including tourist areas, the Deep South, tribal lands, and areas with meat-processing plants. The panelists will talk about how the pandemic has affected different types of rural areas and the people who live there.

The Rural Assembly is a program of the nonprofit Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes The Daily Yonder. Click here for more information, including an updated list of panelists. The discussion will be livecast on the Yonder's YouTube channel; viewers can participate and ask questions during the discussion via YouTube's chat function.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

News-media teleconference at 1:30 p.m. ET TODAY on pandemic effects on rural communities and electric co-ops

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association will host a teleconference at 1:30 p.m. ET today in which electric co-op leaders from around the country will discuss the impact of the pandemic on electric co-ops and rural communities.

New economic projections show that the nation's electric cooperatives could lose up to $10 billion in revenue through 2022. Click here to register or for more information.

Help us support rural journalism today on Giving NewsDay

At a time when local journalism is more critical than ever, newspapers and broadcasters, including many in rural areas, are teetering on the brink after losing advertising revenue. They play a crucial role in keeping communities informed during the pandemic, and they need your support.

That's what today, Giving NewsDay, is about. We hope you will support your local newspaper by taking out a subscription, but there's another way you can help: donate to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Why? It's not just financial support that rural journalists need: they often don't have the professional resources that suburban and urban journalists do. And at a time where all news outlets are cutting down on personnel, frequency and even closing their doors, we provide information and inspiration for rural news operations. We work hard all year to help rural journalists all over the U.S. with training, news aggregation, resources and recognition.

Laurie Ezzell Brown, editor-publisher of The Canadian Record, a Texas weekly, writes: "The Rural Blog is that thing that I look for first each day, sifting through the mountain of too-often meaningless mail that populates my inbox, knowing there is a treasure there waiting. It is my clipping service, my fire-starter, my kick in the butt reminder to pay attention to the real stories that affect rural communities like mine. Dig deeper, it always tells me, and so I try."

Please support the Institute for Rural Journalism today. Your tax-deductible gift helps us continue creating a community of rural journalists nationwide.

Pulitzers announced; here are some with rural resonance

The 2020 Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday, and several in journalism have rural resonance.

The Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica won in the Public Service category for "Lawless," a yearlong investigation maonly by ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins into the sexual assault crisis in rural Alaska, and how lax public safety and law enforcement made it worse. It also won the small-market Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting from the News Leaders Association.

Editor Jeffery Gerritt of the Palestine Herald Press in Texas won for writing "editorials that exposed how pre-trial inmates died horrific deaths in a small Texas county jail—reflecting a rising trend across the state—and courageously took on the local sheriff and judicial establishment, which tried to cover up these needless tragedies," the judges said. Gerritt won two other national prizes for the editorials, as The Rural Blog reported yesterday.

The staff of The Washington Post won in Explanatory Reporting "for a groundbreaking series that showed with scientific clarity the dire effects of extreme temperatures on the planet," the judges said. The Post was a finalist in the Public Service journalism category for its reporting on the opioid epidemic.

Ida B. Wells, who died in 1931, received a special posthumous award recognizing her pioneering investigative journalism on lynchings, much of it in rural areas of the Deep South. The award comes with a bequest of at least $50,000 to support her mission; recipients will be announced at a later date.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Editor of Texas daily-turned-weekly wins Pulitzer and two other national prizes for editorials about deaths in local jail

UPDATE, June 12: Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. has named Jeff Gerritt editor of the Sharon Herald and New Castle News in western Pennsylvania.

Jeff Gerritt
He had already won two national awards for editorial writing, but Jeffrey Gerritt, editor of the Palestine Herald-Press in East Texas, turned one of journalism's finest hat tricks Monday by winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing "for editorials that exposed how pre-trial inmates died horrific deaths in a small Texas county jail—reflecting a rising trend across the state—and courageously took on the local sheriff and judicial establishment, which tried to cover up these needless tragedies," the judges said.

Earlier in the day, Gerritt won the News Leaders Association’s Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership in small markets, and that was on top of this year’s National Headliner Award for editorial writing.

Gerritt's entries included commentary on the paper’s “Death Without Conviction” series that examined deaths of jail prisoners from medical neglect while awaiting trial. The Press Club of Atlantic City, which sponsors the Headliner contest, called it “A bold, focused cry for decency and justice, in the best tradition of journalists challenging the powerful for the benefit of all.” Second place for editorial writing went to Tom McNamee, editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times.

National awards for editorials are nothing new for Gerritt. He won last year's Walker Stone Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the 2018 Carmage Walls Commentary Prize, the 2017 Sigma Delta Chi award, a 2009 Headliner award, the NLA's Batten Medal for Courage in Journalism, the 2007 Michigan Excellence in Journalism Award and a special citation from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.

Gerritt worked for The Toledo Blade and the Detroit Free Press before becoming editor in Palestine in 2018, according to Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., which owns the paper. It recently announced that it is reducing the number of its weekly print editions from five to three, making it a weekly under an old industry rubric that is increasingly becoming outdated.

Map by Sperling's Best Places
Garrett thanked his boss, Jake Mienk, "a gutsy, small-town publisher who’s not afraid to shake things up," and CNHI's senor vice president for news, Bill Ketter, for encouraging him to enter.

Ketter, a former Pulitzer board member, told The Rural Blog, "Jeff Gerritt has a special talent for offering serious thoughts on serious issues with sprightly, persuasive writing. No fuzziness or wishy-washiness in his editorials. He writes clearly, with a point that’s based on knowledge, common sense and facts. . . . His series of editorials on the poor state of medical and mental health treatment for county jail inmates in Anderson County -- and county jails across Texas -- can only be described as a small town paper successfully taking on a bigtime problem."

Ketter said the series "led to the local sheriff saying he would not run for re-election, a state legislative review of county jail oversight standards, and a Texas Rangers investigation into the death of a woman suffering a life-threatening condition" in the jail.

Editorial writing is the Pulitzer category where community newspapers succeed most; here’s a list:
  • Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, 2017
  • John Hackworth and Brian Gleason of The Charlotte Sun in Florida, 2016
  • Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., 2009
  • Davis Moats of the Rutland Herald in Vermont, 2001
  • Bernard Stein of The Riverdale Press, New York City, 1998
  • Michael Gartner of The Daily Tribune, Ames, Iowa, 1997
  • Thomas Hylton of the Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania, 1990
  • Albert Scardino of the Savannah-based Georgia Gazette, 1984
  • Warren L. Lerude, Foster Church and Norman F. Cardoza of the Reno Evening Gazette and Nevada State Journal, 1977
  • John Daniell Maurice of the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia, 1975
  • Roger Linscott of the Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfiedld, Mass., 1973
  • John Strohmeyer of the Bethlehem Globe-Times of Pennsylvania, 1972
  • Horance Davis of The Gainesville Sun, 1971
  • Paul Greenberg of the Pine Bluff Commercial in Arkansas, 1969
  • John R. Harrison of The Gainesville Sun, 1965
  • Hazel Brannon Smith of The Lexington Advertiser in Mississippi, 1964
  • Ira Harkey of the Pascagoula Chronicle in Mississippi, 1963
  • Thomas Stroke of the Santa Barbara News-Press, 1962
  • Buford Boone of the Tuscaloosa News, 1957
  • Carl Saunders of the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Michigan, 1950
  • Hodding Carter Sr. of the Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Miss., 1946
  • E.P. Chase of the Atlantic News-Telegraph in Iowa, 1934
  • Charles Ryckman of the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, 1931
  • William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette in Kansas, 1923

Nominations sought for Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism by May 15

Tom and Pat Gish
Each year the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues presents the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, named for the couple who exemplified those qualities as publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for 51 years.

Nominations for the Gish Award may be made at any time, but the deadline to be considered for this year's award is May 15, having been extended from May 1. To nominate a candidate, send a detailed letter explaining how the nominee shows the kind of courage, tenacity and integrity that Tom and Pat Gish demonstrated at their weekly newspaper in the Central Appalachian coalfield. Documentation does not have to accompany the nomination, but is helpful in choosing finalists, and additional documentation may be requested or required. Send your nominating letter, initial documentation and any questions to

The Gishes withstood advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office to give their readers the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas, and were the first winners of the award named for them. Tom and Pat died in 2008 and 2014, respectively. Their son Ben is editor and publisher of the Eagle and serves on the award selection committee. 

The Institute seeks nominations that measure up, at least in major respects, to the records of the Gishes and other previous winners. After the Gishes, winners have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian Record in the Texas panhandle; Jim Prince and Stanley Dearman, current and late publishers of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of The Oregonian for her work at The Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky., and Jacksonville Daily Progress in Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin of the now-defunct Yancey County News in western North Carolina; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Kentucky; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in northern New Mexico; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in western Missouri; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa; Les Zaitz of The Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon; an
d last year, three reporters whose outstanding careers have revealed much about the coal industry in Central Appalachia: Howard Berkes, retired from NPR; Ken Ward Jr., then with the Charleston Gazette-Mail; and his mentor at the Gazette, the late Paul Nyden. For a report on last year's award presentation, click here.

County-level study shows impact of pandemic is growing faster in rural areas, which are probably more vulnerable

Rate of increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Kaiser Family Foundation chart; click the image to enlarge it.
Kaiser Family Foundation analysis compares coronavirus cases and covid-19 deaths in metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. "While metro counties still have significantly higher cases and deaths per capita, non-metro counties are experiencing faster growth rates, potentially signaling challenges ahead," KFF reports. "Some counties with the highest rates of cases and deaths are located in Georgia, where the state has moved to significantly ease social distancing measures."

Metro counties had about three times as many confirmed coronavirus cases and about four times as many covid-19 deaths as non-metro counties, as of April 27. Because the confirmed death rate is only slightly higher in metro counties, the differences in deaths are mostly due to differences in infection rates, KFF reports.

"Less densely populated rural areas initially saw slower spread of the new coronavirus, and both cases and deaths remain lower in non-metro areas than metro areas," KFF reports. "However, there are troubling signs that the rates of growth in both cases and deaths are increasing more rapidly in rural areas, where the population tends to be older, younger people are more likely to have-risk health conditions, and hospitals have fewer ICU beds per capita."

In trade-war bailout, biggest farms gained advantage, and millions, by exploiting loopholes, '60 Minutes' reports

As the federal government prepares to distribute $19 billion to farmers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, "60 Minutes" looked back at the past two years of trade bailouts to see where that $28 billion went and whether it helped. "As it turns out, most of it bypassed the country's traditional small and medium-sized farms that were battered by the loss of their export market and which are now being hit with severe losses from the coronavirus pandemic," Lesley Stahl reports for CBS News.

So far, one-third of the Market Facilitation Program aid has gone to about 4 percent of farms. That's because the aid is based on production and planted acres, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Stahl. But that's not the whole story, according to the Environmental Working Group, a green advocacy nonprofit. The largest farms were only meant to be eligible for $250,000 per person or farm, but many doubled down by taking advantage of statutory language that allows anyone with a financial interest in the farm to collect trade aid, even if that person is an an urban farm investor or a farmer's relative living in a city.

EWG President Ken Cook told Stahl: "If you're a very large farm operation and you're eligible for these payments, the most important tool as a farmer is not what's in your machine shed. It's the lawyer you hire to set up a paper farm that's designed to absorb as much federal money, as much Trump payment, as possible." Stahl interviewed an Arkansas lawyer known as "Mr. Loophole" who helps farmers accomplish that.

Doug Sombke and Bob Kuylen, two South Dakota farmers who oversee farmers' unions in the Dakotas, told Stahl that MFP aid helped them survive the past two years, but "didn't come close to covering most of their members' losses or their own." Meanwhile, "with restaurants and schools closed across the country, their markets are shrinking. It's adding to already rising debt and farm bankruptcies aggravated by the trade war with China."

Sombke told Stahl that his farm lost between $125,000 and $200,000 a year for the last three years. When Stahl asked Sombke if the two rounds of bailout money helped, he said: "Well, it made the banker happy. It didn't do anything for me."

17 states sue EPA over weakened 'waters of the U.S.' rule

"A coalition of 17 Democratic-leaning states sued the Trump administration on Friday for rolling back Obama-era protections for waterways, arguing the move ignores science on the interconnectivity of water," Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. The states suing are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

The "waters of the United States" rule defines what is covered by the Clean Water Act. The Obama administration redefined it to include seasonal or intermittent waterways, many around farms, partly out of concern that fertilizer and pesticide runoff from such streams would pollute lakes and rivers that are obviously covered by the law. The Trump administration officially rolled back the Obama-era redefinition in January, replacing it with the more limited "Navigable Waters Protection Rule."

Because the new rule allows states to set their own protections for smaller waterways, polluting industries would have an incentive to open in states with weaker protections, which would hurt states downriver, New York Attorney General Letitia James told reporters last week.

"The scientific claims raised by the states have been likewise raised by EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board, which reviewed the rule when it was first proposed, writing in a draft report that 'aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science ... and the objectives of the Clean Water Act,'" Beitsch reports.

H.B. 'Brandy' Ayers, standout small-daily publisher, dies

Brandy Ayers
H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers, a newspaper publisher who was courageous, colorful and in the end controversial, died in his hometown of Anniston, Ala., Sunday. He was 85.

Ayers was publisher of The Anniston Star, which "long attracted young reporters interested in launching a career in Alabama," notes Amy Yurkanin of "It took liberal positions on integration in the 1960s and 1970s and endorsed Democratic candidates for president despite their unpopularity in the state." His company, Consolidated Publishing, also has The Talladega Daily Home and three weeklies: The News-Journal, in Jacksonville; The Cleburne News, and the St. Clair Times.

"Ayers won the Editorial Leadership Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors after he helped create an institute for community journalism at the University of Alabama. The program places second-year graduate students in internships at the Star, WVUA-23 or Alabama Public Radio," Yurkanin reports. He was “instrumental in creating the Alabama Press Association Journalism Foundation in the 1960s, and supported the efforts of the foundation through the years,” APA Executive Director Felicia Mason told Yurkanin.

Ayers was "a National Public Radio commentator and a well-known voice of Southern liberalism," the Star's Tim Lockette writes. "Much of his fame transformed into notoriety in recent years, as former employees came forward with stories of sexual harassment by Ayers in the 1970s." That led to his replacement as publisher by his wife, Josie, who survives him.