A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Friday, October 02, 2020
Celebrate News Engagement Day on Tuesday, Oct. 6; you can make it part of National Newspaper Week, Oct. 4-10
Twice-weekly paper in Arkansas, closed by GateHouse Media, now has local owners and higher circulation
|Helena-West Helena, in Phillips|
County, Ark. (Wikipedia maps)
The twice-weekly paper had 625 paid subscribers when it closed. Now? "For a recent issue, the World sent out 416 copies to subscribers and had 422 single-copy sales, Bagley said. Circulation has topped 900 in recent weeks, boosted by the return of high-school football," Steed reports. "Single-copy sales spike when "there's a piece of juicy crime news," Bagley said. A goal is 1,000 copies a week, through subscriptions ($100 a year) and single-copy sales at ($1 each)."
Davis and Bagley now publish the paper once a week, but make sure it has at least two sections with at least a dozen pages per edition. Besides Bagley and Davis, they have a bookkeeper, two freelance writers, and a new editor coming in on Nov. 1, which Bagley says will free him up to concentrate on selling ads, Steed reports from the city of Helena-West Helena, the product of a 2006 merger.
Advertising has plummeted due to the pandemic, but the paper received a $3,000 state grant and $13,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program that helped it stay afloat, Steed reports.
States keep prisoners in county jails to prevent covid-19 outbreaks in prisons, which causes problems in localities
Some states have slowed or halted the transfer of people from county jails to state prisons in an effort to prevent spread of the coronavirus in prisons. Not only has that resulted in overcrowding in county jails, which can make the virus spread faster among detainees, but it stretches the resources of the jails, Alex Sakariassen reports for Kaiser Health News.
Montana is one state that implemented such a policy for a time. It has the second-lowest prison infection rate in the nation. Colorado, California, Texas, and New Jersey also suspended inmate intakes from county jails this spring, Sakariassen reports, "But it’s also shifted the problem. Space was already a rare commodity in these local jails, and some sheriffs see the halting of transfers as giving the prisons room to improve the health and safety of their inmates at the expense of those in jail, who often haven’t been convicted."
Sakariassen adds, "Unlike convicted offenders in state prisons, most jail inmates are only accused of a crime. They include a disproportionately high number of poor people who cannot afford to post bail to secure their release before trial or the resolution of their cases. If they do post bail or are released after spending time in a jail with a covid outbreak, they risk bringing the disease home with them."
Quick hits: automated harvesting, pandemic misinformation and a 1921 battle on U.S. soil you probably never heard of
The Appalachian Leadership Institute at the Appalachian Regional Commission has announced the 40 fellows for its class of 2020-21. Read more here.
What will automated harvesting mean for rural areas, farmworkers and farmers? Read more here.
House and Senate Democrats proposed spending $1 million to study how misinformation and disinformation have affected the coronavirus pandemic response. Read more here.
A new book, The Road to Blair Mountain, is a fascinating account of "the biggest battle on U.S. soil that most Americans have never heard of," a reviewer says.
Interior secretary to lead Bureau of Land Management for now; Trump administration may appeal Pendley's ouster
Thursday, October 01, 2020
New project to seek federal aid, tax incentives and more to revitalize local news
How Trump's false claims of voter fraud have helped disenfranchise voters; report covers election security issues
Opioid overdoses rising during pandemic despite expanded telehealth
Opioid overdoses and related deaths are on the rise in most states, despite hopes that expanded telehealth implemented during the pandemic would make obtaining addiction treatment easier, Heather Kagan reports for ABC News. Kagan is an internal medicine resident physician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.
The problem is widespread. On Aug. 14, the American Medical Association reported that more than 40 states had reported an increase in opioid-related mortalities. There are several likely reasons expanded telehealth hasn't spurred a decline in such deaths, according to Caleb Banta-Green, a principal research scientist at the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.
Telehealth isn't "the magic solution," Banta-Green told Kagan. It's "great" for people who already receive addiction treatment, he said, but most people with opioid addictions aren't receiving treatment.
Also, Kagan notes, many people struggling with opioid use are homeless or have other mental-health disorders. Many people with mental-health disorders don't seek help, and many don't have access to a phone, wi-fi, or other devices that could help facilitate telehealth addiction treatment, according to Farzan Sasangohar, director of the Applied Cognitive Ergonomics Lab at Texas A&M University. The pandemic has exacerbated that lack of access, he told Kagan.
Former coal baron Bob Murray, who fought against black-lung regulations, has filed for black-lung benefits
"Reached by phone, Murray declined an on-the-record interview for this story," Patterson and Mistich report. "He disputed that he ever fought against regulations to quell the disease or fought miners from receiving benefits. Murray also threatened to file a lawsuit if a story was published that indicated he had fought federal regulations and benefits."
Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program total enrollment jumped by more than 4 million in first half of 2020
Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program increased by more than 4 million in the first half of 2020, according to newly released federal data."The 5.7 percent jump between February and June came as millions of people lost their jobs — and, for many, their health insurance too — amid the public health emergency. Also, a coronavirus relief package Congress passed in mid-March barred states from cutting eligibility and disenrolling beneficiaries during the pandemic," Tami Luhby reports for CNN. "More than 2.4 million adults enrolled in Medicaid, an increase of 7.2%. Also, 1.4 million kids signed up for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, a jump of 4.1%. (This data does not include Arizona and the District of Columbia, which did not report the breakouts for adult and child enrollment for one or more months covered in the report.)"
Free resources available to help parents, teachers and bosses keep young farmworkers safer
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Fact-checking rural issues and more in presidential debate
Updated federal rules loosen many rural nursing homes' requirements for employee coronavirus testing
Updated federal rules mean many rural nursing homes won't have to test their employees for the coronavirus as often. That could be problematic because the pandemic is increasingly shifting to rural areas.
On Tuesday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed some definitions of its color-coded county ranking system, which determines how often nursing homes must test employees, Alex Spanko reports for Skilled Nursing News. The "stoplight" system bases testing requirements on a county's percentage of residents testing positve for the virus, among other factors. Those with less than 5 percent positivity are green, between 5% and 9% is yellow, and 10% and above is red.
The new rules loosen testing thresholds. "Counties with 20 or fewer tests over 14 days will now move to ‘green’ in the color-coded system,” CMS said in a press release. "Counties with both fewer than 500 tests and fewer than 2,000 tests per 100,000 residents, and greater than 10 percent positivity over 14 days — which would have been ‘red’ under the previous methodology — will move to 'yellow'.""The difference between a 'red' county and a 'yellow' county is substantial: Under new rules announced at the end of August, providers in 'red' counties must test their staffers twice weekly, as compared to weekly for 'yellow' areas and once per month in the lowest-level 'green' counties," Spanko reports.
CMS made the change after governors of rural states complained that some rural counties seemed to have relatively high positivity rates because of low testing numbers. That meant nursing homes had to conduct staff testing "at a higher frequency than necessary," according to the CMS press release.
Rural counties hit record high for new coronavirus infections last week; see the latest county-level data
|Daily Yonder map shows rates of new coronavirus infections reported Sept. 20-26;|
click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
"The number of covid-19 cases reported in rural counties climbed by more than 61,000 last week, setting a record for new infections in a single week and placing half of all rural counties on the White House’s red-zone list," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "The number of new infections in rural America was 14 percent higher last week compared to the previous period, according to the Daily Yonder’s analysis. Since mid-September, the weekly number of new infections in rural counties has climbed by 48%. A record-breaking 990 of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties were on the red-zone list last week, meaning they had an infection rate of 100 or more new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in population."
Mountain Valley Pipeline regains three key permits, moving it closer to resuming construction
Private equity-owned hospitals more likely to be in low-income, rural areas
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Chris Wallace won't fact-check candidates at tonight's debate, but several news outlets plan to do so live
Many pundits have lauded the choice of Fox News' Chris Wallace as the moderator for tonight's presidential debate in Cleveland, based on the veteran reporter's solid handling of a 2016 presidential debate and his history of pushing back in interviews, especially with President Trump. But the "Fox News Sunday" anchor said he won't fact-check the candidates during the debate, and said on Sunday that his job is to be "as invisible as possible."
Frank J. Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the bipartisan nonprofit group that runs the debate, told CNN on Sunday that Wallace and other moderators are not expected to be fact-checkers. Fahrenkopf said that, if one candidate says something incorrect during the debate, it's the other candidate's job to bring it up.
However, the lack of live fact-checking may leave many viewers with faulty information, "particularly given Mr. Trump’s tendency to hurl false and baseless claims at his opponents," Michael Grynbaum reports for The New York Times. That's because many viewers don't read fact-checks afterward."Lying works on live television," said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, in the same CNN segment as the Fahrenkopf interview. Live fact-checking is "generally not terribly effective," Lukasiewicz said.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker team, headed by Glenn Kessler, will also do live fact checks during the debate accessible from a blog on the homepage. NBC News and CNN will also do live blogs of the debate with fact-checking and analysis.
New poll shows Trump with a large rural lead over Biden, but a closer race than four years ago
Half of rural voters plan to cast ballots for President Trump, according to a new poll by DTN/The Progressive Farmer and Zogby Analytics. That's a 17-point lead over Democratic challenger Joe Biden, whom 33% said they would vote for. Eleven percent of respondents said they are undecided, Dan Miller reports for DTN.
In 2016, Trump led Hillary Clinton 46% to 24% in a similar survey by the same pollsters. Now, Trump has a smaller lead and a lower share of committed voters than last time, and Biden has a higher share of committed voters than Clinton did.
Other findings from the poll:
- The three top issues that rural voters said will affect how they vote in local, state, and national elections are the economy (62%), health care (48%), and protection of Second Amendment rights (39%).
- The economy is especially important to Republicans (74% said it was an important issue) and Southerners (67%).
- Rural Democrats are the only demographic who said health care is significantly more important than other issues affecting their votes, with 64% saying it was the top issue.
- Similarly, rural Democrats are the only demographic that rated climate change as one of their top issues; 48% said it was important, compared to 27% of respondents overall.
- 53% of respondents said they approve of Trump's performance as president, including his handling of the pandemic.
- 42% of respondents strongly or somewhat disapprove of Trump's job performance.
- Support for Trump is highest in the politically important Central Great Lakes region, where he enjoys support from 55% of rural voters, 60% of seniors age 65 and over, and 57% of married rural adults.
- 59% of farmers in the poll said their operations would be struggling financially if not for direct federal aid through USDA's Market Facilitation Program and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
- 57% of farmers said Trump's focus on agriculture policy has improved their farming and/or ranching financial outlook, and that the 2018 Farm Bill has provided an adequate safety net for their operation.
- 56% of farmers said Trump's emphasis on trade negotiations with China and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement has led to higher income potential for their farming operation.
- 54% of farmers said that environmental rules and regulations have not hurt their ability to manage their operation.
- 54% of farmers said that farming has been profitable over the past four years.
- 39% of rural adults said agriculture is worse off than it was in 2016, 23% said it's better off today, 22% of rural adults said it's about the same, and 17% were undecided.
- 67% of Democratic respondents said agriculture is worse off than four years ago.
- 40% of Republican respondents said agriculture is better off than four years ago.
- Almost 40% of those in the East, Great Lakes, and Western states said agriculture is worse off than four years ago, compared to about 33% of respondents in the South.
Podcast explores cracks in the health-care system; first episode discusses closure of rural Kansas hospital
You can find the podcast here, or anywhere else podcasts are available.
Officials fear cyberattacks to voting systems before election
Rural schools struggle with lack of broadband
Rural school districts are more likely to hold in-person classes during the pandemic, but many that choose distance learning are having a rough time because of poor or absent broadband connectivity. The lag has led many rural districts to worry that their students will fall behind urban and suburban students."This pandemic has shone a glaring light on a lot of inequalities," Kirk Siegler reports for NPR. "The federal government estimates that more than a third of rural America has little or no internet. In numerous recent interviews, educators have told NPR they’re concerned the rural-urban divide will only worsen if kids can’t get online to learn."
Monday, September 28, 2020
Time to start planning promotion of National Newspaper Week, coming Oct. 4-10: 'America Needs Journalists'
|Cartoon by Terry Wise|
This year's theme is "America Needs Journalists," a concept the Iowa City Daily Iowan helped develop. Click here for free content and suggestions for how to make the theme local. You can also access archived materials from years past to spark your imagination.
Acting Bureau of Land Management director has served unlawfully for over a year, federal judge rules
|William "Perry" Pendley|
The ruling hits at a core tactic of President Trump, who prefers to appoint directors in a temporary capacity so they don't have to be confirmed by the Senate and are more beholden to Trump for their jobs. The last Senate-confirmed BLM director, Neil Kornze, left in January 2017, Cramer reports. Since then, Trump has appointed five acting directors, with Pendley as the latest one in July 2019. He nominated Pendley to fill the position permanently in July, but soon withdrew the nomination after the move drew attention to Pendley's controversial views about public lands, the environment, and other issues.
However, even after Pendley's name was withdrawn over concerns that he might hurt Republicans in tight Senate races out West, Pendley continued to run the BLM. That violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which limits acting officers from serving for more than 210 days without Senate confirmation, the judge ruled. "The ruling also prevented Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who appointed Mr. Pendley, from picking another person to run the bureau," Cramer reports.
Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who is in a tight race with Republican incumbent Steve Daines for a Senate seat, filed the lawsuit in July against Pendley and Bernhardt, Cramer reports. His is one of the races most likely to be affected by Pendley's tenure at the BLM. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican also in a tough race, could also be put in a politically inconvenient spot if forced to vote on Pendley's confirmation.
U.S. judge orders census extension, says some populations — including rural — could lose funding and representation
The pandemic has seriously delayed the decennial count in rural areas and other places with hard-to-count populations, heightening the risk of an inaccurate count. "As early as mid-April, just weeks into the country shuttering during the pandemic, the Census Bureau pleaded with Congress to extend deadlines for the count for 120 days," Montellaro reports. "The proposed deadlines would have pushed field collection until the end of October, with apportionment data — the population count used for determining the number and population of each state's congressional districts — being submitted to the president by April 30, 2021 instead of by years' end."
Congress never granted the extensions, and in early August, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham, a Trump appointee, announced it would withdraw its request for an extension and deliver the results to Trump by the end of 2020 (a decision that came from outside the bureau, according to the Commerce Department's inspector general).
"The reversal infuriated municipalities, community groups and experts, who warned of the prospect of a rushed and deeply flawed count that would affect everything from House apportionment and redistricting to how roughly $1.5 trillion in federal spending would be directed over the next decade," Montellaro reports. The federal court echoed those concerns in its ruling.
Voter registration deadlines approach; this year's increases in new registrations lag those of 2016; blamed on pandemic
"We analyzed registration rates in 21 states and found that the pandemic has led to a drop-off in new registrations in 17 states relative to the 2016 cycle," Miller reports. "We limited our analysis to the states that make monthly counts of registered voters available on the website of the relevant chief elections official." Here's a screenshot of Miller's table:to do so as soon as possible," Miller writes. "It’s also important for regular voters to double-check with their local election administrators that they are indeed registered to vote to avoid any problems this election season."
Tues. webinar will explore election issues in rural America
At 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday, Sep. 25, Agri-Pulse will hold a free webinar exploring issues affecting rural America and how they could influence rural voters' turnout and choices. That includes the pandemic, natural disasters such as wildfires, jobs, broadband and other infrastructure, workforce development, and rural economic development challenges.
Managing Editor Spencer Chase will moderate a discussion between Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M, Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers' Kip Eidberg. Agri-Pulse, which covers agricultural news, expanded its election coverage of ag-related issues in 2016 and is continuing that this year with its Campaign 2020 series.
Click here for more information or to register for the webinar.