Saturday, September 05, 2020

As Derby and walking-horse championship coincide, horse-welfare activist sees contrast in recent news, old habits

The crowd at Churchill Downs was limited largely to connections of horses racing. (Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty Images) 
OPINION by Marty Irby

Today marks quite a historical day in the world of equine competitions. For the first time, the Kentucky Derby and the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship will be held on the same evening – two well-known events, notorious for abuse. It struck me as a unique opportunity to discuss the issue of doping American racehorses in parallel to soring gaited horses, two of the equine world’s most terrible practices, and the two issues I’ve spent the majority of the past seven years working to end.

Since 1875 The Kentucky Derby has remained the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing until this year due to covid-19. Normally held in May, this ‘Run for the Roses’ where fancy hats and mint juleps typically adorn the grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, the event this year follows the Belmont Stakes amidst the controversy of rampant doping that has plagued the sport for decades. In January I testified before the Congress about the rampant doping in the sport, and in March, the U.S. Department of Justice handed down 27 federal indictments of trainers, veterinarians, and others involved in a massive, illegal drug ring pumping racehorses full of cocktails to cash in on millions of dollars and defraud the betting public. The rampant doping has not only defrauded the public, but it has led to the death of hundreds of race horses at U.S. tracks each year and the import of illegal drugs from China and Korea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a compromise regulation bill
Monday at the Keeneland sales pavilion. (Silas Walker, Lexington Herald-Leader)
The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred breed registry founded in 1894 with a mission ‘dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing,’ has been the industry’s leader in working to eliminate doping and other abuses in the sport. They’ve taken a hard stance against the slaughter of Thoroughbred racehorses and in 2019 announced their position to curb whipping in America. Animal Wellness Action has joined them, The Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland, the Water Hay Oats Alliance, The Stronach Group, the Thoroughbred Owners’ & Breeders’ Association and the New York Racing Association in the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity that’s pushing for passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754/S. 1820 led by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky. and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz. The measure would ban the use of race day drugs, create a uniform national standard for testing and national rules, and put the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in charge of enforcement and regulation that’s currently overseen by a patchwork of state regulatory bodies with inconsistent rules and penalties.

While the HIA has met detractors over the past few years, we’re now on a solid path to moving legislation that would end doping with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement this week that he’ll be soon introducing a compromise, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that would also accomplish the ban on race-day medication still with USADA in charge, but also with a more definitive set of standards and regulations that mirror the current international guidelines, and a provision requiring U.S. tracks to report data on injuries and deaths to the Federal Trade Commission. And McConnell’s legislation brings the support of The Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs, who had previously opposed our efforts. The Senate majority leader clearly stated in a press conference Monday at Keeneland that The Washington Post’s March editorial, "Horse racing has outlived its time", which called for the end of horse racing in the U.S., raised his eyebrows and spurred him to action. Working with The Jockey Club and the Thoroughbred industry to create reform hasn’t always been easy for us, but our coalition partners have always been gracious and have established credibility with every major animal protection group in the country. Leaders in the industry recognize that the welfare of the horses should be at the center of their enterprise.

Rodney Dick rode I'm Mayhem to last year's
championship, then began a suspension for
violating the Horse Protection Act. (Shelbyville
 Times-Gazette photo by Gary Johnson)
In contrast, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the breed’s world-championship show established in 1939 in Shelbyville, and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association, the breed registry established in 1935 with a mission to "protect and promote the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse," have dealt with their issues of abuse quite differently, and have fought against change at nearly every turn. It’s been no surprise that on numerous occasions the Celebration’s trash cans have been lined with derogatory flyers and photos of animal advocates who’ve been pushing to end the painful practice of soring – the intentional infliction of pain to horses’ legs and feet by applying caustic chemicals such as croton oil, mustard oil, and diesel fuel to the skin and inserting sharp objects into the hooves to produce and artificial high-step known as the “Big Lick” that has plagued the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and marred the Volunteer State for six decades.

Since 2013, when several of us spoke out in support of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693/S. 1007, and later testified in support of the measure before the Congress, we’ve been viciously attacked – and have even received death threats from horse abusers in the “Big Lick” segment of the breed. The PAST Act, now renamed in honor of Sen. Joe Tydings who authored the Horse Protection Act of 1970 designed to stamp out soring – would amend the HPA to close loopholes that have allowed soring to persist by banning the use of large stacked shoes and ankle chains on the horses’ feet; eliminating the industry’s corrupt self-policing scheme with inconsistent rules and regulations similar to that of horseracing and replacing the system with licensed inspectors – independent contractors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture trained in a uniform manner; and increase penalties for violators caught soring.

PAST, led by veterinarian U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., along with Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, passed the House last July with 333 votes in support of the bill including every single Democrat and the majority of Republicans. America’s verdict from the people’s House was delivered, and the “Big Lick” pain-based high-stepping gait the breed has long desired and rewarded felt a crushing blow. But PAST has lost steam in the Senate, and despite the great work of sponsors Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., garnering 51 cosponsors, the measure is stuck in Committee.

Despite the PAST Act’s support in Congress, and the support of the American Horse Council, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the United States Equestrian Federation, not one single group from within the breed has endorsed the bill, and they’ve funneled piles of cash to the campaign coffers of obstructionists like Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to block the bill. Their ability to stymie reform is a political-science lesson in the way special interests are able to leverage their influence to delay broadly supported reforms. And unlike their counterparts in horse racing, the trainers, owners, breeders, and major entities in the walking horse breed don’t seem to care that horse registrations, memberships, sales, and stallion service fees continue to decline. From my own personal experience in the walking horse industry, I’ve sadly seen the welfare of the horse has long been the least important point of consideration to most “Big Lick” enthusiasts and the status quo remains.

Just this week, many have witnessed horses at the Celebration that one industry insider told me appeared to be ‘penitentiary walking’ – a term “Big Lick” enthusiasts jokingly use to describe a horse that appears to be so sore the trainer would likely be put in the penitentiary if the inspection and justice system governing the breed actually worked.

So, this evening, while the running of the 146th Kentucky Derby takes place, please know it could very well be the last one we see run with horses on drugs, and we remain hopeful that the rampant doping and deaths will soon end. But the “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship – well, it remains in a downward spiral with no end in sight, and the breed itself remains the ‘pariah of the equine world,’ that most mainstream equine leaders would be perfectly content to see disappear and stop attracting so much negative publicity for the horse industry.

Marty Irby is the executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.

Book, and review, explore what can happen when ruralites' libertarian streak collides with the concept of community

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling writes that his book, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, tells the “strange-but-true story of Grafton, N.H., a small town that became the nexus of a collision between bears, libertarians, guns, doughnuts, parasites, firecrackers, taxes and one angry llama.” In The Washington Monthly, reviewer Elizabeth Austin says the story is more serious than the author reckons because it is "the American character in an ant farm. This New England hamlet twines together the most significant strands in our history: tax aversion, religious fervor, veneration of individual liberty, and a deep vein of cantankerousness, all counterbalanced by our equally powerful belief that we are on a God-given mission to establish on this continent a shining City on the Hill. In Grafton, we find a microcosm of the constant American tension between 'Don’t Tread on Me' and 'E Pluribus Unum'."

The book describes "an attempted political takeover of the small New Hampshire town by a motley crew of libertarians and survivalists from all across America," Austin writes. The crew "set its sights on Grafton in 2004 because of both its small size—about 1,200 residents—and its long history as a haven for tax protesters, eccentrics, and generalized curmudgeons. The Free Town Project leaders figured that they could engineer a libertarian tipping point by bringing in a few dozen new true believers and collaborating with the resident soreheads. Over the next decade or so, Free Towners managed to join forces with some of the town’s most tightfisted taxpayers to pass a 30 percent cut in the town’s $1 million budget over three years, slashing unnecessary spending on such municipal frills as streetlights, firefighting, road repairs, and bridge reconstruction. But eventually, the Free Town leadership splintered and the haphazard movement fizzled out."

County and town of Grafton (Wikipedia)
In the meantime, the movement "fanned the flames of a community culture that prioritized individual freedom above all else—whether the individual sought the freedom to smoke marijuana or feed daily boxes of donuts to the increasingly aggressive local bears," Austin writes. "Hongoltz-Hetling presents the Grafton experience as a rollicking tale of colorful rural characters and oddly clever ursines. The Free Towners’ wacky political views, like their eccentric clothes, their rusting pickup trucks, and their elaborate facial hair, present him with seemingly limitless opportunities to display his own cleverness."

The author was following a motif, Austin writes: "For years now, reporters and pundits have chosen to focus on the style, rather than the policy substance, of the growing libertarian right. Again and again, we read stories of rural rubes clad head to toe in MAGA swag, hunched over chipped cutlery in dingy diners, wielding biscuits to wipe the last of the sausage gravy from their oversized plates while vociferously proclaiming that taxation is theft and inveighing against the nanny state. . . . Had the author not chosen snark over substance, his book could have served as a peculiarly timely cautionary tale, because the conflicting philosophical principles that drive this story are central to understanding American politics today. The differences between the libertarian stumblebums who moved to Grafton and the staff of the Koch-funded Cato Institute are mostly sartorial. And the sad outcomes of Grafton’s wacky social experiment are now being repeated in American communities every single day."

Austin says the book is especially timely in a pandemic: "We see clearly the chaos that can be created when a significant chunk of the community rejects the strictures of government, science, and the notion of community itself."

Tyson plans clinics at some plants for workers and families

"Tyson Foods is planning to open medical clinics at several of its U.S. plants to improve the health of its workers and better protect them from the coronavirus," The Associated Press reports.

The company, "which processes about 20% of all beef, pork and chicken in the U.S., said its plan to open the clinics near its plants was in the works before the coronavirus struck this year," Josh Funk writes. Tyson said it would set up seven clinics early next year, but only mentioned two locations: Storm Lake, Iowa, and Holcomb, Kansas. The clinics will also be open to workers' families.

"Tyson is joining a long list of companies that have clinics on or near their worksites or bring in physicians to ensure employees receive annual physicals," Funk reports. "Companies say having clinics can reduce health-insurance costs by cutting out unnecessary emergency-room visits and helping better manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. It can also improve productivity because employees don’t have to take as much time off for doctor’s appointments."

Johanna Söderström, Tyson’s chief human resources officer, said the clinics will help educate workers about the virus and deal with conditions that could make it more dangerous. "Meatpacking plant workers have been particularly susceptible to the coronavirus because they often stand shoulder-to-shoulder carving up meat," Funk notes. "At least 17,700 meatpacking workers in the U.S. have been infected or exposed to the virus and 115 have died, the United Food and Commercial Workers said. Earlier this summer, the families of three Tyson workers in Iowa who died from COVID-19 sued the company, saying it knowingly put employees at risk in the early days of the pandemic."

Friday, September 04, 2020

Interior misled Congress about BLM move, watchdog finds

"Top Interior Department officials misled Congress when they claimed high office rent in Washington, D.C., was a factor in the need to move the Bureau of Land Management to a new headquarters in Colorado, the agency’s internal watchdog found," Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. "A report on Tuesday from Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that two officials overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street SE lease near Nationals Park as a motivating factor in the move, as the agency already had plans underway to return to office space owned by the government."

The report found that the claims were misleading and that the future lease cost of the property was irrelevant. "Interior announced in July of last year that it would move more than 200 of BLM’s Washington-based employees to existing offices across the West, while putting nearly 25 of its top-ranking leaders at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. The move would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in Washington."

Interior's cost-benefit analysis was a two-page document that "did not weigh the costs of finding a new lease elsewhere in D.C. or within existing government office space, nor did it evaluate other potential locations," Beitsch reports.

State programs connect farmers and food banks as USDA food-box efforts run into trouble

Farmers and ranchers in many states are working to fill a mutual need during the pandemic. Farmers across the country were left without buyers as the pandemic shut down restaurants. And as millions of Americans lost their jobs, the need for food banks skyrocketed. So, more than a dozen states have created or expanded programs that pay farmers to send surplus produce to food banks, Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

"Several other states have created or expanded online marketplaces for their farmers and ranchers as many transition to direct-to-customer sales," Brown reports. "The programs are a boon as 17 million Americans face food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization."

Many dairy farmers, who were told by overwhelmed processors to dump their milk, donated it instead to food banks, Brown reports. The effort helps the farmers as well as the food banks. California dairy farmers struggled with depression when they were told to dump their milk. "It's a mind-numbing event. Our suicide hotline was tapped 86 times in 48 hours," said Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies, a trade group that represents more than 900 farms in California.

The federal government has also made efforts to connect farmers and food banks. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $3 billion program, which delivered 50 million food boxes to food banks and similar clients by the end of July, "has been plagued by controversial contracts, disparities in distribution and difficulties in the supply chain, according to news reports as the program rolled out. The department did not respond to questions," Brown reports.

Online News Association to hold virtual conference Oct. 1-16, Tuesdays through Fridays; diversity mentorships offered

Registration is open for ONA20, a virtual conference for the Online News Association to be held Oct. 1-16, on business days except Mondays. Click here for more information or to register.

ProPublica is organizing and hosting a Diversity Mentorship Event as part of the conference. Journalists from under-represented groups, including people of color, LGBTQ+ people, women, and people with disabilities, are welcome to apply to be a mentee. Click here for more information.

Agri-Pulse to host all-day virtual summit on food and agriculture policy Wednesday, Sept. 9

Agri-Pulse will host an all-day virtual summit on food and agriculture policy on Wednesday, Sept. 9 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Click here for more information or to register.

From the website: "Farmers, food companies and other parts of the farm-to-fork supply chain face a number of vexing environmental challenges, but many have developed innovative new solutions. At the Agri-Pulse Food & Ag Policy Summit West (presented virtually), you’ll have a chance to learn from some of the leading food companies about the latest ideas for dealing with food waste, implementing sustainability programs and producing alternative forms of plant-based and cell-based proteins."

Quick hits: Absentee workers threaten census; paper argues opioid crisis a product of U.S. health-care system

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

Wolverines return to Mount Rainier after a century-long absence. Read more here.

The opioid epidemic is a unique product of the U.S. health-care system, a research paper argues. Read more here.

Condensed schedule and staff not showing up to work have put the census at risk. Read more here.
A University of Georgia student has created an organization to help other rural students feel a sense of community away from home. Read more here.

Legislators and health-care organizations consider making telehealth more widely available even after the pandemic. Read more here.

Lack of coronavirus testing at Colorado's rural universities highlights higher education inequities. Read more here.

Review: An anthology of Appalachian literature walks on new ground. Read more here.

Poorly thought-out fire suppression tactics in California won't stop wildfires. Read more here.

Oregon governor calls for audit after ProPublica reporting on state institute that lobbied for the timber industry. Read more here.

Covid-19 art contest at N.C. community paper went global

Grand prize winner "Free Masks Take One" by Lani Chaves of Pittsboro
A North Carolina community newspaper recently held an art contest that invited readers to submit original art about life during the coronavirus pandemic. But the Chatham News + Record soon began receiving entries from all over the globe, bringing the world "a little bit closer" at a time when the need for cross-cultural understanding and cooperation is ever more important.

The contest was "designed to find the iconic image to define the era of covid-19," writes University of Kentucky associate journalism professor Buck Ryan, who helped launch the contest. Ryan, the director of a civic-engagement project, is doing a case study of the News + Record, which he views as a model of success for community newspapers here and abroad.

Duke University visiting scholar Siqi Zhang, president of the North Carolina Chinese Scholars Sino-US Exchange Association, helped promote the contest in China and elsewhere. Entries in the categories of Food, Heroes, and Love came from as far away as Russia, China and Bangladesh, all depicting what life looked like for people during the pandemic. Click here to see the winning entries.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Study of opinions on news media shows importance of local journalists, news outlets being connected to communities

"While large swaths of the public often express negative views toward journalists and news organizations, a major Pew Research Center analysis – culminating a yearlong study on Americans’ views of the news media – also finds areas where U.S. adults feel more affinity toward the media and express open-mindedness about the possibility that their trust in the industry could improve," Jeffrey Gottfried, Mason Walker and Amy Mitchell report for Pew, a unit of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Among the study's major findings:
  • 63 percent of U.S. adults say it's better if the public is skeptical of the news media.
  • 75% says it's possible to improve the level of confidence Americans have in the news media.
  • More than half of respondents (55%) think it's somewhat or very important to feel a personal connection with the news organization from which they get their news, but most don't feel that connection.
  • 57% think their news sources don't particularly value them; 59% think news organizations don't understand people like them, and 63% say they're not particularly loyal to the source where they get their news.
  • Americans' personal connections with the news tie strongly to their views of the media overall, echoing earlier Pew research at the local level. Americans who feel connected to their news outlets express far more positive views towards the news media.
  • 61% of respondents expect the news they get to be accurate.
  • 69% think news organizations generally try to cover up mistakes when they do happen.
  • Many said that careless reporting (55%) or a desire to mislead the public (44%) are major factors behind mistakes in news stories. 53% attributed mistakes to the rapid pace of breaking news.
  • Republicans who strongly approve of Trump are much more likely to say news errors happen because of a desire to mislead the public.
  • Republicans overall evaluated the news media more negatively than Democrats.
  • Many respondents believe news organizations don't do enough to explain to audiences where they get their money (72%), where there are conflicts of interest (60%), how they choose and find sources (57%), whether a story is opinion or factual (55%), how they produce their stories (51%), or when a correction has been made (48%).
Data for the year-long project came mainly from a Pew Research Center survey of 10,300 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 18-March 2, plus earlier Pew data. A question about the influence of corporate and financial interests came from a survey of 13,200 U.S. adults Aug. 3-16. Results are weighted to match the population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education and other categories. 

Rural journalists struggle with stress of pandemic; one asks, 'What is the value of my work if people don't want to listen?'

"As rural communities grapple with the covid-19 pandemic, their local newspapers work to keep them informed. But that work may be taking its toll on their mental and emotional health," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "A recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto found that more than two-thirds of journalists they surveyed reported being emotionally and mentally affected by covering the pandemic."

Ashley Spinks (photo submitted
to The Daily Yonder)
Even before the pandemic, rural journalists were often stretched thin, working nights and weekends to keep their communities covered. The pandemic has added even more stressors. That's the case for Ashley Spinks, editor and sole reporter at the Floyd Press, a weekly in a Virginia town of about 500, Carey writes.

"News turned from the pandemic to the resulting indirect impact it was having on her community. Events were cancelled. Mask debates flared up. School re-openings were hashed out by officials. Government meetings went online," Carey reports. Meanwhile, "The pandemic and government actions to halt covid-19’s spread caused division in her community. Community members lashed out at her online. Small businesses, closed during shutdowns, couldn’t advertise, which caused financial strain at the paper. A spike in cases overnight led her to cancel plans for her October wedding."

The spike brought all of the emotional and mental strain of the past six months to a point for Spinks: "That’s when it came home to roost for me. Our job is to get information to people with good actionable data," Spinks told Carey. "Either people weren’t reading it, or they were ignoring it."

Spinks told Carey the stress caused a "crisis of faith in me – what is the value of my work if people don’t want to listen to it? I would say by nature, I’m anxious. But this has been more depression. I just have this deep sadness at the way we’re treating each other. Some of the commentary I get on my stories and the way people talk to each other at public meetings. … I feel really disheartened and disappointed in my small town. Small towns are not supposed to be like this."

Mike Buffington (photo provided)
Mike Buffington, editor of the Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga., said the pandemic was only one reason for stress among rural journalists. "I think even before the virus there was a kind of this atmosphere of doom and gloom (because of cutbacks and lay-offs in newsrooms) across the industry," he told Carey. "And then you have people coming up to you saying 'Well, I saw this on Facebook. I get my news from Facebook now.' And then, of course, the political attacks on the news media where the media gets blamed for all the political and cultural ills in the country. So, I think a lot of that was already in the atmosphere. And then the virus hit."

Buffington, 61, said some of his younger colleagues who haven't been through recessions and other downturns may be struggling more. "But I’ve been through stuff and recessions and downturns before, so I’m a little more confident that while this is pretty bad, we’ll find a way to survive," he told Carey.

Brad Martin (photo provided to Yonder)
Brad Martin, editor and reporter for the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., says he's been working alone for 34 years, and is used to the stress of not having colleagues to talk to or finding enough news to fill the paper for the county of 25,000, Carey reports.

Martin doesn't feel anxiety or depression, but says he's feeling some increased pressure in trying to adequately cover the complicated, quickly changing story. "This is definitely keeping me on my toes," he told Carey. "Everything is a little more complex. With schools talking about re-opening, the questions were 'Can we open?' 'Should we open?' and 'How do we open?' They came up with three different plans. Just keeping up with all those details was the hard part."

Marcia Martinek
The pandemic hit just as Marcia Martinek, of the Herald Democrat of Leadville, Colo., was shifting from editor to editor emerita and getting a new editor started. "But when the pandemic started, she stepped back in to help," Carey reports. "All but one team member began to work from home. Phone calls, emails and Zoom sessions took over face-to-face meetings. To cope, the staff of the newspaper began to gather in a small group at one of their homes for happy hour and margaritas.

“I think it really made a difference, just to have that human contact,” Martinek told Carey. “When we were all meeting together, we were a team. And we’ve always been a team. It was just so nice to be able to talk to someone. I think that did help me and other people in the office.”

Psychologist Tyler Arvig recommends that rural reporters try to set more work-life boundaries and try to schedule time to decompress, Carey reports.

Farm income predicted to increase nearly 23% from last year, mainly because of direct government payments

"Despite the pandemic, or because of government response to it, the U.S. farm sector is projected to have stronger income for 2020 than a year ago," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The latest projections for U.S. net farm income for 2020 show a nearly 23 percent increase from 2019 levels due to higher government payments to farmers and lower interest expenses," according to the 2020 Farm Sector Income Forecast, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service released Wednesday.

Here are some of the report's major findings:
  • Net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is projected to reach $102.7 billion in 2020, an increase of $19 billion or 22.7% over the past year. 
  • Net cash farm income, a more precise measure of profits, is predicted to increase $4 billion, or 3.6%. 
  • If both the income projections pan out, both results would be above the average from 2000-2019, when adjusted for inflation.
  • Farm cash receipts are forecast to decrease $12.3 billion (3.%) to $358.3 billion.
  • Total animal/animal product receipts are expected to drop $14.3 billion (8.1%). 
  • Total crop receipts are projected to increase $2 billion (1%) from 2019.
  • Receipts for fruits and nuts are expected to increase while receipts for corn, wheat, cotton and soybeans are expected to decline.
  • Direct government payments to farms are predicted to reach $37.2 billion, a $14.7 billion, or 65.7%, increase. Those include federal farm program payments made directly to farmers and ranchers but exclude USDA loans and insurance indemnity payments from the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.
  • Total production expenses (including expenses associated with operator dwellings) are projected to decrease $4.6 billion, or 1.3% to $344.2 billion.
  • Interest expenses are forecast to decrease $5.6 billion, or 27.1%.
  • Livestock and poultry purchases are expected to decrease $2.1 billion, or 7.5%.
  • Fertilizer expenses are predicted to increase $1.3 billion, or 5.7%.
  • Cash labor expenses are forecast to increase $1.1 billion (3.1%).
  • Farm sector debt is expected to increase 3.6% to 433.8 billion.
  • Real estate debt is forecast to increase 5.5% to 281.6 billion.

USDA to discuss household food security report in Wed., Sept. 9 webinar

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service will host a free webinar on Wed., Sept. 9, to discuss its annual report on the prevalence and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households in 2019. The webinar will begin at 11 a.m. ET and will last about an hour.

ERS social science analyst Alisha Coleman-Jensen will host the webinar, discussing changes in food security from previous years, the prevalence of food insecurity by some household characteristics, and food insecurity among children. Click here for more information or to register for the webinar.

EPA creates new Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains to focus on Western issues such as mine cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday the creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains to focus on Western issues, including mine cleanup.

"The move comes as the Interior Department is trying to ramp up its presence in the West, having recently completed a controversial move of the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo.," Hannah Northey reports for Energy & Environment News. "It's unclear how the new office will interact with EPA's existing regional office system, and if it will require new employees or draw staffers from elsewhere. Details about costs and official duties are also unknown."

The office headquarters will be in the Denver Federal Center, part of the General Services Administration and already home to more than 6,000 federal employees, Northey reports.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote in a guest column in The Gazette in Colorado Springs that the new office will allow the agency to better address regional issues and move away from a "one-size-fits-all approach to environmental remediation."

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

New virus cases rose in rural areas and fell in metros, and are now disproportionately rural; see county-level data

New coronavirus infection categories by county, Aug. 23-29
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version.
After three weeks of a decline in new coronavirus infections, new cases in non-metropolitan counties increased by 9 percent from Aug. 23-29. New metropolitan cases fell by 8% in the same time period.

"The number of deaths also grew by 9% in rural America compared to the previous week, while deaths in metropolitan counties fell by 6%," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "The result is that rural counties now account for a disproportionate share of new cases and deaths in the United States. While rural counties have only 14.0% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 17.3% of new covid-19 cases for the week ending Aug. 29. During the same period, rural counties produced 18.9% of covid-19-related deaths."

About 75% of the new rural infections and deaths came from "red zone" counties that have about 40% of the rural population. Red-zone counties are those with at least one case per thousand residents in a White House Coronavirus Task Force reporting week, which runs from Saturday through Friday.

In the absence of much federal guidance, some states and counties mandate covid-19 testing for farmworkers

"A handful of states and counties are creating covid-19 testing mandates for agricultural workers after clusters of positive cases were linked to farms, labor camps and food-packing facilities across the country," Kate Queram reports for Route Fifty. "Agricultural workers have a higher risk of contracting covid-19 due to their lack of health insurance and living conditions, experts say, noting that many seasonal farmworkers, for example, will be housed together and travel to and from work in groups."

The Trump administration declared farm laborers "essential workers" but didn't provide much guidance on how to keep them from getting sick or spreading the infection, leaving states and farmers to figure it out. 

"As of mid-July, only eight states had established mandatory regulations to protect agricultural workers from covid-19, while an additional 16 have issued testing recommendations but stopped short of official policies," Queram reports. "Others have ramped up existing policies." Also, some county governments have created local testing policies on top of state-level regulations.

Some regulations "have been met with controversy," Queram reports. "In Michigan, an emergency testing order for farm workers was challenged in court by several farmers, employees and agricultural organizations, which said the mandatory policy violated the civil rights of the Hispanic and Latino community. A federal judge earlier denied a request to place a hold on the order while the lawsuit makes its way through the court system, meaning farm and food processing workers are still subject to the policy during litigation. Facilities had until Aug. 24 to comply with the order."

Researchers discuss which state policies can best help bridge the rural-urban broadband gap

Pandemic shutdowns have highlighted how important adequate and affordable broadband is for Americans, but at least one-fifth of rural Americans don't have access to it. Many state governments are trying to do more to connect rural areas to broadband, with varying success. "As part of our ongoing research on how broadband access affects economic development, we conducted a study that examined which of these state policies are actually working," Brian Whitacre and Roberto Gallardo write for The Conversation. Whitacre is an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University and Gallardo is the director for the Purdue Center for Regional Development at Purdue University.

"Many state governments have adopted one or more of three approaches that can affect broadband availability: establishing broadband offices, increasing funding and restricting municipal networks," Whitacre and Gallardo write. After in-depth research, they found that "having a dedicated funding program turned out to have the greatest positive impact on getting more people in rural areas connected to broadband and fiber." Read more here, including interactive maps with state-level data.

Residents in town of 300, without public water for over a year, getting it after investigative reporter sounds alarm

Wikipedia map
Pushed by investigative journalism, officials installed a new well system after a reporter revealed that residents in a small Mississippi town had gone for more than a year without a public water supply.

Residents on the outskirts of Schlater, a majority-Black town of about 300, had been without clean, running water since July 2019 because of broken well pumps, forcing them to travel nearly 13 miles to get water several times a week, Aallyah Wright reports for Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news outlet.

After Wright's initial story in December about the problem, Brandon Presley, Northern District commissioner on the state's elected Public Service Commission, "conducted follow-up discussions with federal and local water agencies and local lawmakers to see what could be done to assist the families and established a two-phase plan," Wright reports.

"In May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services announced the receipt of a $63,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a new well," Wright reports. It took more legal wrangling, but last week Schlater residents finally celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony for the new system, which should be complete in two to three months.

At the groundbreaking, Presley celebrated the success story, but voiced worry that other small towns are "falling through the cracks" because they aren't getting the same kind of attention, Wright reports.

"There’s too many areas in Mississippi like where we are today that are forgotten places and that’s just a fact," said Presley, a Democrat who was mayor of Nettleton, a town of 2,000. "Too many people in state government forget that areas like Schlater in our small, rural communities exist."

Thursday webinar to discuss book that says journalism culture must change to function in a diverse society

A free webinar at 11 a.m. ET Thursday, Sept. 3 offers an in-depth discussion of how journalism can keep its relevance and quality in an increasingly diverse society, as covered in the new book Reckoning: Journalism's Limits and Possibilities. From the book's website: "The book is about how journalists know what they know, who gets to decide what good journalism is, and how we know when it’s done right." 

Journalists could easily ignore criticism of sexist or racist coverage in the past, because most of them were white males and there were few ways for women or people of color to offer differing narratives, authors Candis Callison and Mary Lynn Young argue. But the rise of social media and a more egalitarian society has brought more pushback against structural problems in journalism, and journalists can use that criticism as a diagnostic tool, they write.

Callison, Young and Navajo Times reporter Donovan Quintero will discuss how journalists and educators can change the culture of journalism and journalism education for the better in a diverse society. The moderator will be Dale Willman, who leads the new Resilience Media Project at Columbia University

Columbia's Earth Institute and the Society of Environmental Journalists are co-sponsoring the discussion. Click here for more information or to register.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Bipartisan House bill would make local print production costs forgivable under Paycheck Protection Program

On Aug. 19, "U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) filed the Preserving Readership and Information of Newspapers for Tomorrow (PRINT) Act, which would include the cost of producing local print media in the Paycheck Protection Program," reports the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. Most local newspapers are eligible for the PPP, just like other small businesses, "but printing costs are not forgivable under the program guidelines," the Journal notes.

Calling a free press "critical to our democracy," Johnson noted that economic strains during the pandemic have slowed advertising revenue and hurt many papers. Peterson said that people rely on local newspapers for information, and that the pandemic has made that role even more important.

Rural Minnesota publisher Reid Anfinson, a Peterson constituent, also proposed federal pandemic aid for local papers in a recent op-ed for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Anfinson proposed a U.S. Department of Agriculture-run program similar to the prevented planting subsidies offered to farmers. Newspapers, he wrote, would benefit from "prevented printing" subsidies based on lost ad revenue.

Virus deaths trend slacks, but cases still spiking, causing rural concern; Maine wedding may illustrate one reason why

Coronavirus-related deaths in the United States neared a cumulative total of 180,000 on Sunday "as states hit hard by a surge of infections earlier in the summer continued to record numbers of daily fatalities," Derek Hawkins reports for The Washington Post. "The total number of cases reported in the United States was also approaching a worrying new milestone, on track to exceed 6 million in the next few days, according to The Post’s data."

Though the average for new daily cases trended downward slightly over the past week, more than 40,000 new infections are being reported daily, and many places in the Midwest and South are seeing spikes, Hawkins reports. The uptick in rural cases is most concerning, said former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, since rural outbreaks could quickly overwhelm local health-care systems.

The spikes often happen where residents aren't properly observing social distancing, as happened at an Aug. 7 wedding in rural Maine. About 65 people gathered for the wedding at the Big Moose Inn outside of Millinocket, pop. 4,500. "It wasn’t until the next day that one of them reported having symptoms of the coronavirus," Brittany Shammas reports for the Post. "Soon others did, too. By the end of August, officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had linked at least 87 cases to the wedding — including outbreaks at a jail and a nursing home in York County, more than 200 miles away. And the outbreak turned deadly."

The wedding has now been linked to 123 cases in Maine—the largest outbreak in the state—and the death of an 83-year-old woman who did not attend the wedding, Zoe Greenberg reports for The Boston Globe.

On Aug. 30, the pastor who officiated at the wedding gave a "defiant sermon during an indoor church service," Greenberg reports. "Todd Bell, the pastor, portrayed Calvary Baptist Church, which he leads, as being on the front lines of a culture war, battling against a 'socialistic platform' that mandates mask-wearing and distance learning in schools."

In his sermon, which the church posted on YouTube, Bell insinuated that social-distancing restrictions were a ploy meant to weaken Christianity: "They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel."

"The wedding outbreak is especially resonant in America’s rural communities, where gatherings are a lifeline and where,some public health experts fear the lack of significant virus transmission may have lulled residents into a false sense of complacency," Shammas reports. "Fewer health-care resources mean that if an outbreak strikes, it can be especially devastating."

Pandemic shutdowns at universities leave some rural students homeless

For many college students, a dormitory room is the only place they can reliably sleep. But many universities have gone to online-only instruction during the pandemic, leaving such students with nowhere to go. For rural students, the lack of broadband access can make it even harder to complete online coursework, Jamie Fields and Katie Surma report for Arizona State University's Cronkite News. The U.S. Department of Education classifies an estimated 1.5 million American students as homeless due to unstable living situations.

"Rural homeless people, especially students, are largely invisible, and estimates of their numbers vary," Fields and Surma report. "For example, [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] estimated in 2019 there were about 100,000 homeless people living in rural America. But that same year, the nonprofit Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness reported the number of homeless students alone was more than 162,000." The rural homeless are less visible (and less countable) because they often couch-surf and are less likely to stay at shelters. 

Since universities can't keep an eye on homeless students as easily, such students may not receive meals, basic health care or other critical services, Fields and Surma report.

Freedom of Information Summit goes virtual Sept. 24-Oct. 1

The National Freedom of Information Coalition will hold a virtual FOI Summit from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1. Much like the National Newspaper Association convention Oct. 1-3, the online approach gives many journalists – including a disproportionate share of rural journalists – their first real chance to attend such a meeting. The cost is less than $25. Click here for more information or to register.

The FOI Summit will consist of seven sessions over seven days, along with a hands-on training seminar. From the event website: "Hear from open government and public information experts about the latest developments impacting state and local government transparency. Topics include police reforms, virtual public meetings, covid-19 health data, accessing public records, funding economic development, creating a transparency culture in public institutions, FOI research paper presentations and an [Investigative Reporters & Editors] hands-on data training seminar."

First year of nationwide legal industrial hemp cultivation has been a bumpy ride; USDA reopens comment period on rules

UPDATE, Sept. 5: The Department of Agriculture "is reopening the comment period to the interim final rule (IFR) that was published on Oct. 31, 2019, and it has established the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program," Successful Farming reports. Comments will be accepted until Oct. 8.

The first year of nationwide legal cultivation of industrial hemp has been a bumpy one, but entrepreneurs and industry analysts say they're optimistic. "Although there are many more licensed hemp growers than there were in 2019, hemp acreage is down by 9 percent, the first year-on-year decrease since Congress allowed hemp pilot and research programs as part of the 2014 Farm Bill," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. "Wholesale prices slumped this year due to an oversupply of hemp flowers and biomass. Some farmers were unable to find buyers for their 2019 crop."

The industry has been bedeviled by inconsistent regulations since the 2018 Farm Bill authorized widespread hemp cultivation but left most regulations up to state and local governments. The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, has not resolved questions about cannabidiol regulation, deterring many from investing in hemp, Abbott reports. The pandemic, too, has hurt the burgeoning industry just as it has hurt other agricultural sectors and the U.S. economy overall.

Hemp entrepreneur Morris Beegle said the industry has a "bright future," but must overcome obstacles to expand beyond the CBD market and into more whole-plant cultivation for things such as fiber, Abbott reports. "Hemp can also be used in textiles, biocomposites, fuel, and livestock rations, though those uses, which generate lower revenue for hemp biomass, have drawn less attention."

Monday, August 31, 2020

'Success Stories in Rural Journalism' webinar highlights reader support for local news outlets, good work that earns it

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

A new maxim – or is it a mandate? – of the newspaper business is “Get more revenue from your audience.” But that doesn’t have to come entirely in the form of higher subscription or single-copy prices; if you produce good journalism, you can get direct contributions from readers, and some community newspapers have proven it.

That was the big headline from “Success Stories in Rural Journalism,” a webinar the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues held with four community editors on July 30. The frame for it was our belief that the two main solutions to challenges facing the news business are quality journalism, and helping people understand what it is – distinguishing journalism from other kinds of information, and helping people realize its value.

That’s why two of our webinar guests were from papers whose readers have shown with donations that they know their papers’ value: John Gregg, news editor of the daily Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and Laurie Ezzell Brown, editor-publisher of The Canadian Record, a Texas Panhandle weekly. We also heard success stories from Landmark Community Newspapers Executive Editor John Nelson and Jennifer P. Brown of Hoptown Chronicle, a digital startup in Kentucky.

Direct reader support is helping the Valley News thrive, and it’s helping the Canadian Record survive.

John Gregg
When the pandemic suppressed advertising and the Newspapers of New England chain decided to appeal for reader donations, the News set a goal of $50,000. “Within five days we got that from about 600 contributors,” Gregg said. “By early June we had raised $155,000 from about 1,500 people.” It made The Rural Blog, at

Residents of the 40 Upper Connecticut River Valley towns covered by the Valley News clearly wanted to keep reading a first-class small daily. The paper emphasizes local news but also is part of the Granite State News Collaborative and uses material from VTDigger, a Vermont investigative newsroom.

Valley News readers, who Gregg said “vary from fifth-generation dairy farmers to school bus drivers to heart surgeons,” surely appreciated the News’s comprehensive coverage of the pandemic, which Gregg discussed on the webinar and was exempted from the daily’s five-story paywall. “It was so clear that people were really dependent on us for news and were, you know, stuck at home, and all the more we were their connection to the community.

Coronavirus news made Brown publish more pages in her weekly than she probably should have, but people in Hemphill County are accustomed to extra effort from the Record, which has been in her family for 75 years. But the last three years have been hard, she said.

Laurie Ezzell Brown
“We've survived crippling ice storms, devastating drought, deadly wildfires and tornadoes, and dramatic downturns in our two main industries . . . oil and gas, and cattle ranching,” Brown said. “It doesn't even hold a candle to the impact of the virus has had on the small businesses that . . . had been our essential partners in in the business of delivering the news to our readers.”

But two years ago, a seed was planted that has helped the paper survive. When a county commissioner said at a meeting, “Nobody reads the newspaper anymore,” Brown wrote an editorial explaining how wrong he was an inviting him to read the paper. “The response to that was pretty immediate, and very emotional,” she recalled.

As the economy worsened, Brown was frank with her readers: “The Record is facing an uncertain financial future.” She said in the webinar, “I worry that we've written too much about the difficulty newspapers are facing today. I have never wanted to make us the story. But I realized at some point that it IS the story, that it’s one that’s crucial to our communities and that needs telling, and that what happens next will reshape the future of our communities.”

As the pandemic made Brown wonder if she could keep publishing, she got a letter from “a well-seasoned rancher” who “announced that he was writing $1,000 check to start a fund to help keep the Canadian Record going and invited others to do the same. This was completely unsolicited; it came out of the blue,” and more donations came. “The fund that Jerry established has been the thing that's kept us going for at least two months; we're not paying the bills any other way.”

Landmark papers haven’t asked for donations, but have kept up their editorial quality, as John Nelson made clear with examples on the webinar, such as in-depth coverage of opioids by The Lancaster News in South Carolina, Missouri River floods by the Opinion-Tribune of Glenwood, Iowa, and proposed “guardians” of schools by the Citrus County Chronicle in Florida.

Screenshot of Ben Carlson column; for a readable image, click on it
The example from Nelson that really rang our bell, though, was a column by Editor-Publisher Ben Carlson of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, Ky., in Landmark’s company newsletter. It told how a man whose 14-year-old son had drowned refused to talk with TV reporters because “He did not want anyone to tell the story but the Anderson News.”

Carlson wrote that he shared the story “for those of you who feel beaten down by circulation struggles, revenue concerns and the constant drumbeat about how our industry is not only dying, it has become irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes. We'd like to sell more papers and advertising, but the value of our newspapers is more than the amount of money we deposit in the bank each week. To the communities we serve, we are where they come when things go right, but more importantly when things go horribly wrong. They trust us because they know us and that isn't something that any month in recap or spreadsheet can ever reflect.”

Nelson said, “I think I think Ben speaks for all of our committed rural editors.”

Jennifer Brown is editor and publisher of the Hoptown Chronicle, a digital startup in Hopkinsville, Ky. She provided another example of how giving readers news they need and want can pay off. When the pandemic hit, she converted the startup’s weekly newsletter (“almost like they were having a weekly paper delivered to them digitally”) into a daily coronavirus report, and her readership more than doubled. “Our coronavirus coverage really transformed Hoptown Chronicle and made many more readers aware of what we could do for them,” she said.

Watch the webinar here. We hope to have more such webinars as we build a national community of rural journalists. If you have ideas for them, let us know.

Protests heating up across the country; 'heavily armed' crowds clash in Texas town over Confederate statue

Paul Benson, who was attending a July 26 rally for Democratic candidate Hank Gilbert in Tyler, Texas, was attacked by Blue Lives Matter protesters. Benson says he was trying to keep counter-protesters away from the speakers at the rally.
Photo by Sarah A. Miller, Tyler Morning Telegraph, via The Associated Press)

Protests nationwide are becoming increasingly violent, "rattling communities facing a toxic mix of partisanship and guns ahead of the 2020 election," Tim Craig reports for The Washington Post. The demonstrations are mainly about police brutality, and began after the death of George Floyd, but often encompass a wider range of left-versus-right issues such as Confederate statues.

"People on both sides of the United States’ political and cultural divide have been filmed exchanging punches, beating one another with sticks and flagpoles, or standing face-to-face with weapons, often with police appearing to be little more than observers," Craig reports, citing two days in Texas.

On July 25 in Weatherford, pop. 25,250, heavily armed counter-protesters clashed with demonstrators who wanted a Confederate statue removed from the grounds of the iconic Parker County Courthouse, Craig reports. Many counterprotesters were out-of-towners from far-right groups, Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold said he believed. He said large crowds are often mobilized online by "fake social media accounts" posting inflammatory and often false information.

"The country’s hostile political climate has challenged local police departments, especially in small towns unaccustomed to dealing with protests and large crowds of people who hold opposing political views," Craig reports. "Police agencies face accusations that they are not doing enough to protect social-justice and anti-brutality protesters."

A video still shows Hank Gilbert campaign manager Ryan Miller getting punched
during a protest in Tyler, Texas. (Photo provided to Tyler Morning Telegraph)
The next day and two and a half hours away, in Tyler, pop. 107,000, Democratic activists held an event meant to register new Democratic voters, promote the campaign of Hank Gilbert (who is battling highly conservative U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert) and protest the deployment of federal agents to demonstrations, Craig reports. But the rally turned violent after hundreds of conservative counterprotesters, many with military-style rifles, showed up and began pushing and hitting people. Nancy Nichols, 65, said a man punched her in the chest, and said others pinned her husband against the city's war memorial. Two men punched Gilbert's campaign manager, Ryan Miller, several times and allegedly stole his cell phone. A recently released video captured the assault, John Anderson reports for the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

"It seems like we as a country have moved right past the discussion phase of things and now we just are at the stage of conflict, being at odds, distrust and disbelief,” Arnold told Craig. "This is not who we are, and it’s almost like we are living in a different time and a different place."

Biden virtual roundtable with farmers and ranchers slams Trump administration on ethanol, trade deals and more

Joe Biden's presidential campaign signaled a continued resolve to woo rural voters last week, with a virtual roundtable involving farmers, lawmakers and farm-union leaders.

"Rural America, and farmers in particular, voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in 2016 but have suffered rather than benefited from it, said speakers," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environmental Reporting Network. They "criticized Trump for using agriculture as a pawn in the Sino-U.S. trade war and labeled him weak on ethanol."

Trump remains popular among farmers even though many have fared poorly during his administration, Abbott reports. Pennsylvania farmer Rick Telesz said during the roundtable that neighbors would tell him that the past two or three years have been the toughest they can remember, but "the next sentence, they're saying, 'I'm voting for Trump.'"

Biden is unlikely to win the overall rural vote, but narrowing the Republican margin in battleground states could make all the difference, Abbott reports.

In addition to the trade war and the clash between oil and ethanol interests, speakers discussed the misfortunes of the dairy industry, African swine fever, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on agriculture, Matthew Weaver reports for the Capital Press in Salem, Ore.

"Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said his state has lost two dairy farms per day — 25 percent of all of his state's dairy farms — during Trump's presidency," Weaver reports. "The rate of loss is similar across the country, he said." Von Ruden also said dairy farmers such as himself do not believe they benefited from the trade war with China or the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Radically Rural goes online this year; Sept. 24 program will include sessions on community journalism, other topics

This year's annual Radically Rural Summit in Keene, N.H., is being condensed to an online, one-day event on Sept. 24 with a registration fee of $59. It includes six programming tracks: Main streets, community journalism, entrepreneurship, arts and culture, land and communities, and clean energy. The community journalism track includes these sessions:

What's at Stake? Newsrooms increase online revenue and readership using data: What causes a non-reader to subscribe? What can be done to better retain existing readers? Who is having success among small news operations using research? And how are reporters and editors leading the effort? With traditional advertising in sharp decline, community news organizations are using research and data to find ways to increase paid readership and membership. Amy Kovac-Ashley of the American Press Institute will lead a panel of Autumn Phillips, managing editor of the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier; Les High, publisher of The News Reporter in Whiteville, N.C.; and Liz White, chair of the Record-Journal Media Group in central Connecticut. (9 to 10:45 a.m. ET)

Transformation: Rural news breaks out in all sorts of new ways: New journalism models with promise    – digital start-ups, non-profit and co-op ventures, radical new thinking at small news organizations – are springing up across the country, suggesting ways these can be replicated at the small-town level. Kristen Hare of the Poynter Institute leads a panel of Jim Iovino, assistant professor of media innovation at West Virginia University; Larry Ryckman, editor and founder of The Colorado Sun; Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon; and Tamika Moore, managing producer of Red Clay Media in Alabama. (11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET)

Crazy Good: 50 idea that will make a difference: A romp through some of the best ways to increase audience and revenue from game-changing news organizations, with a lively show-and-tell on tactics, techniques and products (including examples of outstanding covid-19 coverage). "You will leave with a magazine profiling new approaches and ideas," the website says. "Looking for an ROI on attending Radically Rural? This is it." Led by Linda Conway, executive director of the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and Terrence Williams, CEO of the Keene Sentinel, co-sponsor of the conference. (2 to 3:45 p.m. ET)

The opening keynote speaker, at 8 a.m. ET, will be Becky McCray, a lifelong small-town entrepreneur (business owner and cattle rancher), co-founder of SaveYour.Town, operator of the Small Biz Survival site and author of the award-winning book, Small Town Rules. She’s been featured and quoted in books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts and university publications. She lives in Hopeton, Oklahoma, population 30. "Her goal is to deliver practical steps you can put into action right away to shape the future of your town," the Radically Rural site says. The closing keynoter will be John Molinaro, a consultant who founded the successful Appalachian Partnership in southeast Ohio after working on community development for 27 years in west-central Minnesota and six years with the Aspen Institute's Community Strategies Group.