Friday, September 11, 2020

Weekly editor Les Zaitz is one of new fellows of the Society of Professional Journalists; convention online this weekend

Lez Zaitz of the Malheur Enterprise (Photo by Robert Quick, Quicks Foto Designs)

Followers of The Rural Blog have read here, here and here about Les Zaitz, who has made a weekly in eastern Oregon into a national example of how a small paper can do investigative reporting and accountability journalism with impact, and at the same time become a more sustainable business. Now he gets a bigger platform as a new fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists.

SPJ's national convention is online Saturday and Sunday, and the society's new fellows will each have a half-hour session. Zaitz's is at 2:15 p.m. Saturday. An interview with the former investigative reporter for The Oregonian appears in the fall edition of SPJ's magazine, Quill. Here are excerpts:

Wikipedia map, adapted
"We don't have the luxury of having a reporter sit and do nothing but work on a particular story for two weeks, let along two months. It takes very careful navigation between our regular news beats and the time it takes to do an investigative project. We've become pretty effective at saying, "Why don't you work on this project for the afternoon, and tomorrow you're going to have to go do high-school sports." Another thing, which gets me a lot of second looks from my professional colleagues, is that I don't spend time sending my reporters to city council meetings and school board meetings. Very rarely does anything happen that people didn't expect to happen. Most of it is not worth a paragraph, let alone a story, but . . . reporters go and spend the time and feel obligated to write a story, and it becomes stenography. . . . Instead of having a reporter spend three hours sitting on their butt at a school-board meeting, I'd rather have them take that time to go through budget documents to explain why poorly performing schools are doing so poorly."

Asked how the pandemic has affected his Malheur Enterprise, Zaitz said it "hit the area pretty hard when our governor ordered lots of businesses closed and stopped schools and all sorts of activities. Our display advertising essentially evaporated overnight, and a couple of major area events, for which we do specialty publications, canceled. . . . But the good news is that it was a very tough story that needed close attention, and the staff just dug in to do the reporting necessary to keep the community up to date. A big part of that job was simply sorting fact from fiction, which remains a challenge to this day."

Zaitz said his separate, higher pricing for digital access has paid off in the pandemic. "the subscriptions really piled up, because people were desperate for news. . . . I serve a very poor market, so you'd think asking people to pay for a digital subscription or a print subscription would be a very tough sell. But in the time we've done that, I can count maybe a dozen instance where print subscribers have said, "I'm a subscriber; how come I can't see your online news?" I have a good, solid statement that I send those readers, explaining the business model, that we need to diversify our income streams, and we treat them as two separate products. I can only think of one person who didn't accept that explanation. . . . You've got to bite the bullet and train your market that what you have to sell is worth paying for; and if it's not worth paying for, then you need to do something different with your product."

Health departments are pandemic's main flak catchers, especially on social media, which one has stopped using

Local health departments, often underfunded, have been critical during the pandemic in may ways, one as an information source for the public, journalists, and state and federal agencies. "But as the virus has become more politicized and fringe theories are fanned, including by President Donald Trump, many in public health are finding themselves bumping up against a new, time-consuming demand: correcting the record for people peddling misinformation and, at times, policing their threatening and offensive language," Alex Acquisto reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Grayson County, Kentucky (Wikipedia)
The 27,000 people of Grayson County, Kentucky, looked to the local health department for information and guidance about the spread of the virus, local deaths, and hot spots. The new public health director, Joshua Embry, and his subordinates rose to the occasion, Acquisto reports.

"Like many other local health departments across Kentucky, his team began releasing daily coronavirus dispatches on its official Facebook page, Acquisto reports. "In the spring, Embry, himself, started appearing in front of the camera to give those updates and answer questions. Literally putting his face out there seemed to offer some comfort to his neighbors, many of whom were stuck at home, anxious about what was happening outside."

But because local health departments are often the most accessible face of the government's pandemic response, members of the public sometimes take out their frustration on them. "After a run-of-the-mill video update in late August in which dozens of offensive and explicit comments had to be deleted by staff, one commenter cussed Embry and his team out, accused them of 'fear-mongering,' and then threatened to 'come kill people like you,'" Acquisto reports. "In this video, Embry gave the number of new cases, said it likely indicated community spread, and reminded everyone to keep social distancing and masking up in public."

After that, Embry stopped most daily social media updates directly and began passing the information to the radio station and two weekly newspapers in the county seat of Leitchfield. Other Kentucky health departments told Acquisto they had caught similar flak on social media.

Quick hits: Local journos face QAnon quandary in election coverage; Paradise, Calif. once again threatened by wildfire

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

Local journalists face a quandary in how to cover politicians promoting QAnon conspiracy theories during election season. Read more here.

A Wisconsin farmer just outside Kenosha planted sunflowers and wildflowers over 22 acres in hopes of bringing a little sunshine to visitors' lives in a stressful time. Read more here.

September means ripe pawpaws if you live in Appalachia. Learn more about this delicacy (which looks and tastes like a banana-mango hybrid) and why you don't see it in groceries . Read more here and here.

Doctors study why obesity may be tied to worse outcomes for covid-19 patients. Read more here.

Residents in Paradise, Calif., a town destroyed by the Camp Fire in 2018, are once again threatened by wildfire. Read more here.

The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on illegal devices that bypass vehicle emissions controls for diesel pickup trucks. Read more here.

Farmers say pandemic has added to their stress; nonprofit newsroom's survey is still available for participation

Farmers face a host of stressors, including climate change (and the extreme weather it causes), the trade war with China, and more. Experts say the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated that stress, but The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting wanted to hear farmers' perspective. It sent out a survey and has received anonymous answers from five farmers so far. The respondents range in age from 35 to 67; four are white males and one is a Hispanic female; and they live in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and South Carolina, Marissa Plescia reports.

A senior farmer from Champaign County, Illinois, said he feels more isolated and that the pandemic seems like a "perfect storm" for mental-health issues. He said he is practicing social distancing, and is frustrated that many, including legislators, seem to not be taking it seriously, Plescia reports. He said he's unsure how to talk about the pandemic with people who look to him as a role model:
"I miss hugging my loved ones, especially the little ones; they don't seem to understand why. I just had a conversation with a young person who looks to me as a mentor, and I couldn't give comforting or encouraging messages. I am also close to many immigrants and volunteer at an organization that serves immigrants; the fear in their eyes, especially the young children is so heartbreaking. I rely on my faith to get me through this, however, I always found comfort in attending church each weekend, (now) that one (refuge) is gone. I still need the contact with others. I need to see smiles and hear laughter, both of which are hard to find these days."
Click here to read more responses. Click here to fill out the survey.

Commentary: how to attract millennials to small towns

"Small towns across the country continue to struggle economically as they grapple with the lingering effects of recessions, aging populations, declines in industry and the economic fallout from the covid-19 pandemic. These communities need the renewed vitality that comes from an infusion of engaged newcomers. At the same time, a generation of young people are searching for ways to build meaningful lives and careers without the expensive price tag of urban life," Chris Shaffner writes for Route Fifty. "One way for small towns to reverse population declines and accompanying economic struggles is to attract millennials who are growing both their careers and families. Millennials can bring a diverse perspective to local governments, small businesses and other cornerstones of small-town life. Likewise, small communities could provide millennials opportunities to own homes and increase their savings, while enjoying the local culture."

Shaffner, an executive at CoBank, a national cooperative bank that serves rural areas, posits four major ways, along with examples, that small towns can attract Millennials:

  • Rural areas need broadband to appeal to remote-working Millennials, so state governments should offer funding and/or tax incentives to increase rural broadband connectivity.
  • State and local governments can offer individual and business incentives to bring in new residents, such as offers to pay off student loans, grants for individuals who agree to live in a rural area and work remotely, and tax incentives for businesses that expand into rural areas.
  • Create local programs that celebrate small-town life, especially those that encourage people who have moved away to move back to their hometowns.
  • Local governments can improve the economic landscape for existing businesses and lure in new ones with economic incentives. Programs to revitalize Main Street can also help increase community morale.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

House report warns of poll-worker shortage in swing states

"States risk not having enough poll workers on Election Day if they do not step up efforts to help local election officials recruit and prepare for the November presidential election, a new congressional report warns," Andrea Noble reports for Route Fifty. The Democrat-controlled House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis "analyzed the election preparations of four states—Florida, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin—and found they all face a potential shortage of these crucial temporary workers, which could lead to significant delays for voters who cast ballots in person."

Georgia needs 20,000 poll workers, but the report said only 5,000 possible workers had been found. Since the report, about 10,000 more have signed up, Stanley Dunlap reports for Georgia Public Broadcasting. Dougherty County said it had only 29 volunteers but needs 196. Its county seat, Albany, and surrounding areas are majority-Black areas that have been hit hard by the pandemic, Noble reports.

"In-person voting may be particularly important in Georgia on Election Day, as the state is not sending absentee-ballot applications to voters for the general election the same way it did for the primaries this year," Noble reports. "The other three states did not identify the total number of poll workers needed statewide. The report faults them for not overseeing statewide recruitment efforts and instead leaving preparations up to local officials."

Poll workers will be critical in Texas too, which has not expanded mail-in voting. There could be a poll-worker shortage in half of the state's counties, Noble reports. The report recommends that states "move swiftly and proactively" to ensure safer and more successful in-person voting.

Study says covid-19 death rates are higher in rural counties with larger shares of Black and Hispanic residents

"A new study in the Journal of Rural Health calls on state and county health departments to release more race-specific information on covid-19 cases to create a fuller picture of the pandemic's impact on people of color in rural areas," April Simpson reports for Stateline. "The study, published Sept. 7, finds that rural covid-19 mortality rates are highest in counties with the largest percentages of Black and Hispanic people. Researchers . . . did not calculate race-specific mortality rates."

Rural Black and Hispanic populations are particularly high in the South and Southwest, areas that have been hard-hit by the pandemic, Simpson reports. These populations are more likely to die from the virus because they're also more likely to have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure; more likely to work blue-collar jobs that make social distancing difficult; and less likely to have access to health care. Among Hispanic residents, the fear of deportation may keep them from seeking medical care.

"The study calls for increasing free covid-19 testing in rural areas with vulnerable populations and partnerships between local governments and community-based organizations to educate, test and trace," Simpson reports.

School roundup: At least four rural teachers have died from covid-19; rural areas struggle with broadband access

AshLee DeMarinis, a middle-school teacher in eastern Missouri's Potosi School District, died Sunday after being hospitalized for three weeks with covid-19. (Photo by Jennifer Heissenbuttel, Associated Press, via Washington Post)

Students have been in class—whether in person, at home, or even in a Taco Bell parking lot—for about a month. Here's a look at how the coronavirus pandemic has affected our education system:

At least six U.S. teachers have died from covid-19 since the school year began. Two were from state-capital cities (Des Moines, Iowa and Columbia, S.C.). The other four were from communities with populations ranging from 2,660 to 28,000 in Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma, Katie Shepherd reports for The Washington Post.

Arizona families who opt for distance learning say it's difficult because the virtual classrooms are crowded with as many as 70 students, Lily Altavena reports for the Arizona Republic.

In California, 66% of Latino residents lack broadband access at home, and one in five students (disproportionately rural) lack it. A photo of two young Latinas doing homework in a Taco Bell parking lot in Salinas recently went viral. More than $130,000 has been raised for the family since then, but other students are still in the same boat nationwide, N'dea Yancey-Bragg reports for USA Today.

Speaking of parking lots: some rural college students have to attend virtual classes from their cars because they lack broadband access at home, Scott Simon reports for NPR. Some rural college students have take classes from their cars because of lack of wifi:

One rural New York school district says many students lack reliable broadband access, even though Federal Communications Commission data indicates that the county is "completely served" with internet access, Kaitlin Lyle reports for TriCorner News in Lakeville, Conn.

Many cash-strapped school systems don't have the money or tools for cybersecurity, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks—including some by students, Emma Coleman reports for Route Fifty.

Rural commentators on PBS say revelations about Trump and the pandemic won't shake his supporters from him

President Trump's newly reported admission that he downplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus will cost him very little if any support among his followers in rural areas and smaller cities, two rural commentators said on the "PBS NewsHour" Wednesday night.

Heartland author Sarah Smarsh of Kansas and Gary Abernathy, a former newspaper editor in southern Ohio, were interviewed by anchor Judy Woodward.

"I don't know that there's a big contradiction like some people are saying," Abertnathy said. "He wanted to keep the economy open, he wanted to keep things rolling. . . . I think most people here who support him will say, yeah, we all kind of knew it was deadly ... but he was trying to keep people calm, he didn't want a panic across the country, he wanted things to remain as normal as possible."

Smarsh said she agreed that "supporters likely will not bail form the Trump ship over this."

Woodward asked how the virus issue is liked to Trump's economic messages.

"People weren't happy, where I lived, that everything was totally shut down to begin with," Abertahy said, and wanted "a more targeted approach" that would not have been as drastic in rural areas. He said Trump voters believe his policies have worked, "and if we can get things back up and running, they'll work again."

Smarsh said people's feeling about the pandemic "kind of predicts how they feel abut the economy and whether Trump is doing a good job or not."

National Farm Safety and Health Week is Sept. 20-26

It's time to start planning coverage for National Farm Safety and Health Week, which will be observed Sept. 20-26.

This year's theme is "Every Farmer Counts." The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, which organizes the observance, says the theme is meant to "acknowledge, celebrate, and uplift America’s farmers and ranchers who have encountered many challenges over the past couple of years, yet continue to work hard to provide the food, fiber, and fuel that we need," according to the website.

NECAS will host at least one free, one-hour webinar each business day during the week to discuss different topics. Click here for more information about the webinars or to register. Here's the schedule:
  • Mon., Sept. 21, noon Central Time: Planting the seeds of tractor and machinery safety
  • Tues., Sept. 22, noon CT: Lessons learned in covid-19 prevention in agriculture work
  • Tues., Sept. 22, 2 p.m. CT: Mental health innovations in agricultural communities
  • Wed., Sept. 23, noon CT: Building a toolkit for child safety and health in agriculture
  • Wed., Sept. 23, 2 p.m. CT: Open-source ag health and safety curriculum
  • Thur., Sept. 24, noon CT: Emergency planning for farm operations
  • Thur., Sept. 24, 2 p.m. CT: Respiratory protection issues: What to wear and does it fit?
  • Fri., Sept. 25, 10 a.m. CT: Addressing workplace sexual harassment for farm workers
  • Fri., Sept. 25, Noon CT: Prevention and understanding of back injuries

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

New rural coronavirus cases increase for the second week in a row as metro cases drop; see county-level data

New coronavirus infection rates from Aug. 29-Sept. 5. Daily Yonder map;
click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
The number of new coronavirus infections in nonmetropolitan counties "grew again last week, marking the second week in a row that rural cases increased while metropolitan cases declined," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "New rural infections increased by 5% from Saturday, August 29, to Saturday, September 5, from 49,100 to 51,600. During the same period, the number of new cases in metropolitan counties declined slightly, dropping by 0.2%, to approximately 237,000. Metropolitan cases have declined for six consecutive weeks."

The number of rural "red-zone" counties increased from 767 to 806, breaking last week's record. Red-zone counties are those with at least 100 new cases per 100,000 people in a week, as defined by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. "The number of new cases that originated in rural red-zone counties grew by more than 17%, an indication that the virus is deepening in these harder-hit areas," Murphy and Marema report. "This is the first time the number of cases originating in rural red-zone counties has increased in four weeks."

Ky. weekly editor Becky Barnes, who set nationwide example in covering pandemic, wins Al Smith Award

Becky Barnes
Becky Barnes, editor of The Cynthiana Democrat, is the 2020 winner of the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian. Barnes, who has worked at the weekly for 44 years, distinguished herself most recently by arranging a special edition that was mailed to every household in Harrison County, funded by local government, less than two days after it was announced that the county had Kentucky’s first case of covid-19, in early March.

“Becky’s initiative was a groundbreaking piece of work that set an example for rural weeklies,” said Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which presents the award with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (and publishes The Rural Blog).

“At a time when everyone in her county needed reliable information, not rumors, about a clear and present danger, Becky and the local officials found a way to deliver it,” Cross said. “This example has been followed by other weeklies, and at a time when the pandemic has hurt newspapers’ advertising revenue, it shows how they can tap a new revenue source while rendering essential public service.”

Barnes and her newspaper have continued to focus on the pandemic and its local effects. She and staff writer Lee Kendall streamed live news conferences with the county judge-executive, mayor and public-health director, and thousands watched. She was widely noticed for an April 30 column about masks, which weren’t required at the time but were becoming controversial. It concluded, “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.”

Barnes has repeatedly stood out over a long career, said USA Today photographer Jack Gruber, who nominated her. He noted her support of Boyd’s Station, the arts-and-journalism nonprofit he founded, and a national photography workshop that brought 150 journalists to the county of 18,000 people. He quoted local Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tomi Clifford: "Becky often finds the light in the darkness whenever a major event has happened. Like in 1997 with the flood, or the coronavirus, she puts everything out there and is super personable, honest and remains positive during the most difficult times to be a journalist."

The Cynthiana Democrat is one of 47 owned by Landmark Community Newspapers, which is based in Shelbyville, Ky. The company’s executive editor, John Nelson, said, "Becky has been deserving of this level of recognition for a long time. We’re happy for her, proud to count her among our community editors, and pleased that her story — the story about Becky — is being heard."

Told that she had received the Al Smith Award, Barnes said, “I am so humbled. Every day I come in to work with the same goal: to put out the best newspaper I can for the people of Cynthiana and Harrison County. Being honored by my peers is a bonus."

The award is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the driving force for creation of the Institute, headed its advisory board and is its chair emeritus.

The award is usually presented at a dinner in the fall, but presentation is being delayed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more about Barnes' win and past Al Smith Award winners here.

Candidates in some state legislature races share QAnon conspiracy theory content

"Candidates engaging with the QAnon conspiracy theory are running for seats in state legislatures this year, breathing more oxygen into a once-obscure conspiracy movement that has grown in prominence since adherents won Republican congressional primaries this year," Jonathan J. Cooper and Steve Karnowski report for The Associated Press. "They make up a tiny share of the thousands of state legislative candidates on the ballot in November and many are longshots, but several, including in Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are running in competitive districts."

Some candidates don't describe themselves as QAnon adherents, but some, like Dave Armstrong, a Republican running for the Wisconsin Assembly, "have repeatedly shared QAnon memes and interacted extensively with social media accounts promoting the conspiracy — which is centered on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the 'deep state' and a child sex trafficking ring," Cooper and Karnowski report. "Others have acted in ways that leave it unclear whether they believe in the theory or may be merely flirting with the ideas to garner attention."

The QAnon conspiracy theory has been gaining attention among mainstream politicians, especially "after Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary for a U.S. House seat in a heavily GOP Georgia district last month. Greene was invited to the White House for Trump’s acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention," Cooper and Karnowski report. "Trump has said he knows little about the movement but has spoken favorably of its followers. Vice President Mike Pence has dismissed it."

Cooper and Karnowski note that, while congressional races often get more attention, "state legislative positions serve as springboards to higher office, and their holders wield significant power to affect everyday life — determining state policies on education, policing, health care, criminal justice and other issues."

Farm Aid to host 35th anniversary virtual festival on Sept. 26

Farm Aid announced recently that the organization will mark its 35th anniversary with a virtual festival. Farm Aid 2020 On the Road will air on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 8-11 p.m. ET on Farm Aid's YouTube channel, AXS TV, and, according to the Farm Aid website.

"The goal of the virtual festival is to raise critical funds for and awareness of the organization and its mission, which it typically does through ticket sales to the annual in-person music and food festival. Farm Aid accepts donations year-round at," according to a press release.
The festival will include performances from more than 20 artists, including Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, and more. Farmers from across the country will also share their stories about why they farm, how they stay resilient, and what they believe is the future of agriculture.

"This pandemic and so many other challenges have revealed how essential family farmers and ranchers are to the future of our planet,"  said Farm Aid President and founder Willie Nelson in a statement. "Farm Aid 2020 is going to give the whole country a chance to learn about the important work of farmers and how they’re contributing to our well-being, beyond bringing us good food."

100 Days in Appalachia launches initiative to help outsider journalists better cover the region

100 Days in Appalachia has launched a new initiative meant to help outsider journalists better cover Appalachia, Shyla Parsons reports for WBOY-TV in Clarksburg, W.Va.

The Appalachian Advisors Network has three main components:

  • A frequently-updated database of Appalachian freelance creatives. That way, publications can hire writers, artists, photographers and more to cover complex stories with sensitivity.
  • Reporting resources with background information on regional issues such as coal, the opioid epidemic, and more, so that journalists can better understand the issues they cover.
  • A diverse network of advisers who live and work in Appalachia and are committed to making sure Appalachian stories are told accurately and respectfully. The advisers come from many different backgrounds and, collectively, have expertise in a wide range of fields.

Click here for more information about the AAN as well as a list of the current advisers. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

2 p.m. ET webinar TODAY discusses report on how population migration can make it hard to assess rural trends

A new report from the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy examines whether rural America is "failing or succeeding". The answer is: it's complicated, Kenneth Johnson and Daniel Lichter report.

The report "provides cautionary lessons regarding the commonplace narrative of widespread rural decline and urban growth," Johnson and Lichter report. "It highlights the demographic fact that many counties simply 'grow up' to become metropolitan. Each decade, many of the most successful nonmetropolitan counties—those with the greatest population and economic gains—are redefined as metropolitan. Today, 71 million people reside in the 753 counties that were once nonmetropolitan but since 1970 have been reclassified as metropolitan. With so many growing nonmetropolitan counties shifting to metropolitan status each decade due to urbanization, it is little wonder that rural population gains lag behind those in urban areas."

A webinar at 2 p.m. ET today will discuss the report. Click here to attend the webinar. If you are unable to attend the webinar, a recorded version will be available here.

Rural employment dropped 6.4% from July 2019-2020; see county-level data

County-level change in jobs from July 2019-July 2020. Daily Yonder map;
click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
Jobs in nonmetropolitan counties fell by 6.4 percent from July 2019 to July 2020, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that "about 1.3 million rural Americans who had jobs in July 2019 were unemployed one year later," Bill Bishop reports for The Daily Yonder. "Nine out of 10 rural counties lost jobs in the last year."

Meanwhile, those living in the nation's largest cities saw a decline of 10.1% over the same period, a drop of 4.5 million jobs. The nationwide average in that time period was 8.5%, or 10.3 million jobs, Bishop reports.

President and allies are way ahead in misinformation, Post says; here are facts about a coronavirus vaccine, and more

President Trump and his allies have been ratcheting up disinformation efforts as the campaign enters its last months, retweeting and boosting misleading, discredited, manipulated, or just plain false information, Ashley Parker reports for The Washington Post. Trump has made more than 20,000 false or misleading statements during his presidency, she writes, "but many experts said the onslaught of the disinformation efforts by Trump and his team in the late weeks of the campaign make the deception particularly difficult to combat, not to mention dangerous to the country’s democratic institutions." 

Here are some recent fact-checks from; most deal with Trump, but one is a misleading statement from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump has repeatedly promised that a coronavirus vaccine will be available soon, possibly by October. But numerous federal officials who work on or have inside knowledge of vaccine efforts say it's "extremely unlikely," Elizabeth Cohen reports for CNN. FactCheck offers a comprehensive Q&A on worldwide coronavirus vaccine development efforts. Though it is very likely that a vaccine will be created, it probably won't be available by Election Day, FactCheck reports.

Other fact-checks:
  • In late August, Trump retweeted a false claim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had "quietly" updated its numbers to reflect that only 6 percent of Americans who were listed as coronavirus deaths actually died from covid-19. That's false, FactCheck reports. The CDC noted its update on its public statistic page (not quietly) to say that, for 6% of the people who died from covid-19, the disease was the only cause of death listed on the death certificate. The other 94% were listed as having at least one other factor that contributed to their deaths, such as obesity or diabetes, and such factors are likely in older people, who are more vulnerable to the virus. Those with underlying health conditions are more likely to die from it.
  • FactCheck examined Trump's recent Fox News interview with Laura Ingraham and found that he made several false, misleading, exaggerated, or unsubstantiated claims. Read more here.
  • Trump gave poor advice to mail-in voters when he encouraged them to show up at polling places on Election Day and cast an in-person ballot if poll workers can't confirm that their mail-in ballot was received. That's unnecessary, will probably cause long delays at polling places, and could be illegal, FactCheck reports.
  • Biden claimed that Trump's efforts to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in court "would take 100 million people with preexisting conditions and move them in a direction where they can’t get coverage." But that's misleading, FactCheck reports, because it's highly unlikely that they would all lose coverage. Read more here.

Publisher closes five newsrooms, locks Capital Gazette employees out of building the day of planned rally

Tribune Publishing, the publisher of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, announced last month that it would permanently close the newsroom and four other papers. The employees will continue to publish print and online editions while working from home, Tom Jackman reports for The Washington Post.

It's a growing trend among chain-owned newspapers, from rural weeklies to metro dailies, seeking to stay afloat at a time when advertising revenue is down because of the pandemic economy, Jackman reports.

The Capital Gazette staffers weren't happy about the move; after a gunman killed five staffers in 2018, the newsroom was remodeled to enhance security with features like bulletproof walls. Reporters and editors said the remodel made them feel safer. Employees planned to clear out their desks and stage a rally on Monday to protest the move and say goodbye to their headquarters. "But Tribune Publishing had other plans," Jackman reports. "It learned of the rally and locked the Capital Gazette staff out of the building, saying that the event 'raises important covid-related health concerns,' according to a text message from a labor relations executive."

Since they couldn't gather at the newspaper, "many staff members, former staffers and supporters from the Baltimore Sun gathered in the building’s parking lot Monday, painted protest messages on their cars and then drove down to the Annapolis harbor, where a group of about 200 people expressed their hope that the Capital and the Gazette would keep covering local news, even without a central home from which to do it," Jackman reports.

Environment reporter Rachael Pacella, who survived the shooting, told Jackman: "I guess the Tribune didn’t learn after 2018 that the community here loves these journalists and we’re not going to give up easily. We’re not going to let our newspaper be damaged anymore, and we’re not going to let it be closed down easily."

Trump reverses course on shutting down Stars and Stripes

"After an outcry from U.S. lawmakers, President Donald Trump on Friday said his administration would not be shutting down the Stars and Stripes military newspaper as announced by the Pentagon earlier this year," Idrees Ali reports for Reuters.

Trump's tweet came the day after The Atlantic "reported that he had referred to Marines buried in an American cemetery near Paris as 'losers' and declined to visit in 2018 because of concern the rain that day would mess up his hair," Ali reports. "Trump, who has touted his record helping U.S. veterans, has strongly denied the report," which is based on the testimony of four independent anonymous sources with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.

The paper is editorially independent but funded with $15.5 million by the Department of Defense. It provides daily print and online news to U.S. troops all over the world, many of whom don't have reliable access to the internet or news. The paper had a circulation of about 7 million as of 2019, Ali reports.

The Pentagon's 2021 fiscal year budget, released in February, called for the Stars and Stripes to halt publication by Sept. 30. "Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the move an effort to reallocate the money, which represents a fraction of the military’s $705 billion budget, 'into higher-priority issues,'" Jack Brewster reports for Forbes.

The House included funding for the paper in an appropriations bill it passed this year, but the Senate hasn't acted yet. A bipartisan group of senators has protested the move for months, but didn't get much traction until The Atlantic's story came out, Brewster reports.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Mountain students' evocative photos from the 1970s have become a book and a documentary, on PBS this week

Russell Alemon wrote, "I'm lying on the back of my old horse." (Photo via KET)
This item has been updated with material from the documentary.

In 1975-81, a teacher in far southeastern Kentucky loaned a camera to her students, many of whom came from homes that didn't have a way to photographically document their accomplishments, daily lives and family gatherings. Now they're a book and a documentary.

Ruby Cornett: "I asked my sister to take a picture of me
on Easter morning." (Photo via KET)
"The photographs they snapped were simple, yet laced with deep meaning: the black and white selfie, the comical moment of lying on a horse’s back, and showing off an Easter Sunday dress," Liz Moomey reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The photos were made into a book, Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories By Children of The Appalachians. It’s now being republished and an Appalshop documentary about the project, Portraits and Dreams, will air at 10 p.m. Monday on KET," the state network, as part of PBS's "POV," or point of view, series. Check schedules for air dates and times on other PBS affiliates.

“Having a camera gives anyone power, but particularly children,” Ewald says in the two-minute trailer for the documentary. “It's really like the first time you fall in love,” Ewald told Moomey. “You have this intense experience. I had really fallen in love. I could see what they could do. I could see what photography could do.”

One of her students, Gary Crase, says he grew up “poorer than a church mouse” without running water in his home until he was 22. “This was a huge thing for someone to say ‘Here is your camera and here is your film’,” he said, “because we were poor. [Classmate] Johnny Wilder’s family was the same. They didn’t have two pennies to rub together.” In the documentary, both share some painful memories.

Moomey writes, "Without the camera, few moments of he and his family living in Letcher County would have been captured. The family didn’t have a camera, and relied on extended family to take photos and share them. Crase still looks at the pictures in his family photo album."

Crase, who Ewald says was her smartest student and is now a college science teacher, tells her in the documentary that "You made a mark on us" and asks her if they made a mark on her. Ewald, an internationally known photographer, replies with her line about falling in love and says, "I learned how to do everything I did with you guys."