Friday, October 16, 2020
Postal Service agrees in Montana federal court settlement to reverse nationwide changes that slowed mail service
|City Council candidates in Midway, Ky., participated in an online forum with Midway Messenger student reporters Oct. 5.|
Editors and reporters are facing some of their biggest challenges in gathering news during the pandemic. Access to everyday sources is increasingly limited with no relief on the horizon.
Reporters no longer can walk into offices unannounced, and appointments are restricted. Remote work remains the norm at many places.
And don’t expect immediate responses to phone calls. Individuals are often consumed by Zoom meetings as the new norm for communications.
Logistics are demanding enough to connect with your regular corps of newsmakers. Then consider everyday readers – the local names and faces who provide so many distinctive stories – who may be approached by a reporter for the first time. They are likely more hesitant – at least extra cautious – as they protect personal health.
Solid reporting still can be done during these extraordinary times, but it takes extra effort. Small and large newspapers are generating excellent stories not only on the pandemic but also on the everyday churn of news.
- Residents object to a proposal under consideration by a school board. The reporter, watching a TV broadcast of the meeting, quotes the speakers but fails to identify them.
- The primary election determines which candidates for local offices will advance to the general election. Winners are reported, but without vote totals and no apparent attempt to get comments from any of the winners or losers.
- Three longtime city employees retire, representing nearly 100 years of service. The communications director is the sole source for the story, which is basically a brief bio of each employee.
- Any number of announcements from new sports coaches to political candidacies to community initiatives are handled by press releases only – no conversation with a reporter.
- A major employer reopens after being shut down during the pandemic. The story recites what is on the company’s website.
Reporting indeed demands additional effort during the pandemic. It also takes more planning as contacting individuals often requires multiple inquiries.
So take the extra steps. Connect via Zoom or telephone. Zoom offers reporters the option to record and post video of their interviews. Also, digital recording via Zoom offers automatic transcription so reporters can use bits and pieces for tweets, Facebook and other social media, and video clips for YouTube. Meet face to face, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In-person interviews allow reporters to describe the environment and elaborate on details that distinguish feature stories.
At minimum, reporters need to be honest and transparent with readers. Let them know the nature of the “interviews” – whether information is gathered by an exchange of emails or text messages, participation in a virtual event, or watching a broadcast.
And don’t forget the long-term impact of lackadaisical reporting. Sources will become accustomed to “feeding” stories word-for-word to reporters and may well be more reluctant to engage in an interview.
I remain a firm believer that local newspapers have an edge in the fractured media landscape by being the premier clearinghouse of information in your communities. Your newspaper family represents a valuable, collective set of eyes and ears. But you must use those resources to remain the go-to source for news and advertising.
Consider this event that caught the attention of an entire town and was reported in media across the state:
A speeding vehicle crashed into a historic building causing extensive damage to the business and upstairs apartments. The building was immediately condemned until next steps were determined. Onlookers streamed to the site; roads were closed. The post went up on the newspaper’s website. The report included comments from an eyewitness to the crash, but otherwise relied solely on press releases.
Two days later, the same two stories appeared verbatim in the print edition. Still no interview with the business owner, the employees present when the accident occurred, or the upstairs tenants who felt the building shake. No identification of the displaced residents or information about assistance for temporary shelter. No mention of fundraising efforts or accompanying contact information. No initial dollar estimate of the damage. The fundamental 5 Ws and H of all stories were nonexistent in the report.
For other aggressive reporters, what is the tool you'll use for your live channel? When a story breaks, how fast can you be there live and broadcast in real time? Do you have a URL set up, and do your readers know about it?
Then consider other missed opportunities for the newspaper to shine in its coverage and distinguish itself from competing media. Connect with the building inspector and an engineer to offer perspective on how such a crash resulted in such extensive damage. Chronicle the origins and tenants of the building, one of the more historic structures in the downtown. Work with city officials to videotape the damage and post it on the website. You can add to the list.
Newspapers across the country are fighting for their survival due to economic repercussions of covid-19. Circumstances have prompted editors and publishers to regularly promote the message: “We’re here 24/7 reporting on the stories in your community.”
Such pronouncements are only as persuasive as the supporting evidence.
Jim Pumarlo, a former newspaper editor, writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage (2011), Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage (2007) and Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers (2005). He is at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com.
|Ashley Spinks (Radio IQ photo by Mallory Noe-Payne)|
Lee, one of the nation's largest newspaper chains, bought more than a dozen dailies and weeklies throughout Virginia from BH Media for $140 million in March. It cut costs across the board, firing reporters, outsourcing work and furloughing staff. Spinks was furloughed in March and saw the paper's freelance budget slashed, Noe-Payne reports.
Spinks "says she was told she was let go Tuesday afternoon because she had spoken 'disparagingly' about Lee Enterprises on social media and had given an interview without corporate permission," Noe-Payne reports. "She says she was also told she had violated 'journalistic ethics.' She says she asked for specific examples and was given none."
Though Lee wouldn't otherwise comment on Spinks' firing, the company said it would post her job immediately and is will cover her absence in the meantime. Spinks said in a tweet that she was fired while the paper was incomplete, less than 24 hours before going to print, and that it was three days before her wedding, which her superiors knew, Noe-Payne reports.Spinks got a wave of support and encouragement on Twitter. "Spinks says she’s grateful for the outpouring of support," Noe-Payne reports. "She’s received multiple tips for future journalism opportunities as well as enough financial donations to keep her afloat for some time." Nonprofit newsroom ProPublica has offered to fund an investigative project about local water quality.
Trump administration rejects emergency aid for California fires, including state's first million-acre blaze
Quick hits: China's corn buying; rural poverty that created Dolly Parton; how coal miners helped shape labor laws . . .
In Appalachia, people watch covid-19, race issues from afar. Read more here.
The rural poverty that created Dolly Parton. Read more here.
A look back at how coal miners helped shape U.S. labor laws. Read more here.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Promotional trailer released for film adaptation of controversial Hillbilly Elegy memoir, which debuts Nov. 24
USDA agency awards $28.7 million in grants to fund programs to fight stress among farmers and ranchers
Cannabis farmers are stuck without disaster aid or useful crop insurance because federal law disqualifies them
Farmers have had a rough two years, partly because of wild weather: derechos in the Midwest, wildfires in the South and West, and hurricanes in the Southeast. But while most can get disaster aid or crop insurance payouts, cannabis farmers have access to neither, and it's a threat to the fledgling industry.
Cannabis cultivation was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, but "because federal law defines marijuana as an illegal, dangerous drug, neither federal agencies nor conventional banks and major insurance companies will work with marijuana businesses even if they are legal under state law," Sophie Quinton reports for Stateline. "Nor are marijuana businesses eligible for federal disaster relief."
Though cannabis growers can buy crop insurance from local providers, one farmer told Quinton he couldn't find a policy worth the money. "Producers and industry supporters now are pushing for changes to federal relief law and seeking state disaster aid," Quinton reports.
"North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, for example, have announced the country’s highest number of cases on a per capita basis. Already, the North Dakota and South Dakota numbers exceed the per capita figures seen at the peak of summer surges in the Sun Belt," Fernandez and Smith report. "Other states with large rural areas — including Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Alaska and Oklahoma — have recently recorded more cases in a seven-day stretch than in any other week of the pandemic."
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
GAO says Education Department and CDC gave conflicting, incomplete guidance to local school officials on reopenings
Local support for president, more than coronavirus spread, may have influenced rural schools to reopen, research finds
Though the paper doesn't point to definitive answers about when schools should reopen, "It might help fuel debates about what factors schools have relied on and should be relying on the most when making big decisions that must balance the safety and well-being of their students, staff, and communities," Ujifusa reports.
One caveat about the report: though it links Trump support with schools' decision to reopen, the researchers didn't look into local broadband connectivity as a factor in reopening (though it's arguably difficult to assess broadband connectivity because of the Federal Communications Commission's faulty data maps). Without widespread broadband connectivity, it's more difficult to do distance learning, and that could have influenced schools to reopen in-person classes. So it's possible that poor broadband connectivity and Trump support, both common in rural areas, may be somewhat conflated.
New coronavirus cases jumped a record 16% in rural counties last week; see the latest county-level data
|Coronavirus red zones, Oct. 4-10. Daily Yonder map; |
click the image to enlarge it or click here to view the interactive version.
"Covid-19 continued its record-breaking spread in rural counties last week, climbing by more than 16% over the previous week and placing six out of every 10 rural counties on the red-zone list," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "Just over 71,000 rural Americans tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week, October 4-10, according to a Daily Yonder analysis based on data from USA Facts. The previous week’s revised total was 60,883 new cases."
Another 140 rural counties were placed on the red-zone list last week; the White House Coronavirus Task Force defines red zones as counties with at least 100 new infections per 100,000 people in a week. "Sixty-one percent of the nation’s rural counties are on the red-zone list (1,198 of 1,976 counties). In metropolitan America, about 47% of counties are on the red-zone list (538 of 1,115)," Murphy and Marema report.
Click here for more detailed regional observations about rural coronavirus trends and an interactive map with the latest county-level data.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it will extend regulatory waivers that allow schools to serve free meals until the end of the school year in June.
"The department is allowing the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Options to continue through June 30, 2021, essentially letting school cafeterias serve any student for free without checking their qualifications for free or subsidized meals," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. "They also have more flexibility to meet nutritional standards and other requirements."
After bipartisan pressure, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue agreed in August to extend the programs through the end of 2020, but said the USDA couldn't go any further without more funding, McCrimmon reports. So Congress gave the USDA the authority and funding to extend the waivers in a recent spending bill.
However, "despite the flexibility provided by USDA for months, there’s been a notable drop in the number of meals served to students, and the School Nutrition Association says Congress still must allocate more money for the feeding programs," McCrimmon reports.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
|The post office in Seco, in far southeastern Kentucky, is open two hours a day. It's one of thousands of rural USPS locations that has cut hours to reduce costs. (National Geographic photo)|
"Rural post offices and mail carriers connect our smallest towns to the world and provide a sense of community. But a burdensome financial structure, and lack of federal aid amid a pandemic, threaten their future," Sarah Smarsh reports for National Geographic.
Farmers had already been receiving large amounts of government aid. For the past two years in a row, direct federal aid has been the single largest source of income for farmers, accounting for nearly a quarter of farm income, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With cheaper and greener energy sources widely available, American utilities are moving away from using coal to generate electricity. So, many mining companies are pivoting away from thermal coal.
For instance, "activist investors are urging Contura Energy Inc. to accelerate its plan to get out of mining thermal coal for power plants, to focus instead on the more lucrative type that’s used to make steel. And Arch Resources Inc. is seeking to shed its thermal assets to also concentrate on metallurgical coal, after an effort to shift them to a joint venture was blocked last week," Will Wade reports for Bloomberg.
"Thermal coal demand in the U.S. has been sliding steadily for years," Wade notes. "Power plants are expected to burn about 433 million tons this year, less than half of what they needed a decade ago, and down 20% from 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, global steel production, the driver for met coal demand, has been climbing steadily since April."
The Trump administration has gone to great lengths to keep thermal coal viable, as shown by documents that detail the administration's failed efforts to save the Navajo Generating Station in rural Arizona, the largest coal-burning power plant in the Western U.S., Eric Lipton reports for The New York Times.
Poor rural broadband access, faulty FCC data maps, limit federal telehealth plan's potential to help
"With the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rolling out its Rural Action Plan last week, there has been much focus on the implementation of telehealth as a solution to rural health care," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. But lack of broadband access limits the $30 million plan's potential to help."While telehealth was gaining ground in some areas before the pandemic, it exploded in the months following the start of the pandemic. Since then, all eyes have turned to telehealth visits as a way to solve the problem of dwindling numbers of healthcare workers in rural areas and to bring specialty providers to rural areas," Carey reports. "But some rural officials argue telehealth isn’t much of a solution if rural residents don’t have access to the broadband internet services that their urban counterparts do. While government officials and companies throw equipment and money into telehealth, what’s really needed rural officials say, is rollout of rural broadband infrastructure."
Monday, October 12, 2020
Weekly fact check: 'Russia hoax' claims revived; how racist, sexist attacks about Kamala Harris proliferate online
Confidential data shows thousands of undisclosed coronavirus cases in Illinois at schools, prisons, meatpacking plants and more
Study shows how rural small businesses' proximity to each other in town helps them weather the pandemic
The pandemic has hurt many small businesses and local economies, especially in rural areas. But relief is slower to reach rural businesses. So the Brookings Institution's Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and the National Main Street Center studied how small businesses' proximity to each other in a commercial corridor, or shopping district, could help them survive, Michael Powe and Hanna Love report for the Brookings Institution."The benefits of urban downtowns are well documented, as density and proximity to people, jobs, and amenities can help fuel population and economic growth. And although NMSC has long touted the similar benefits of revitalizing downtowns in rural communities, the advantages of rural downtowns are not as widely documented," Powe and Love report. "Now, understanding these dynamics is more imperative than ever. The pandemic is putting rural downtowns—many of which are still struggling to recover from the last recession—in an increasingly precarious economic position due to their heavy reliance on retail and restaurants, as well as their limited access to the capital and broadband infrastructure small businesses now need to survive."