Friday, November 27, 2020

Blazing the 12,000-mile American Perimeter Trail has been a risky proposition for a hiker from Oregon

McKendrick (Photo by Ryan Brennecke, Bend Bulletin)
Creating the longest American hiking trail can be a risky proposition, as a 40-year-old man from Bend, Oregon, has discovered in 15 months of trying to blaze the American Perimeter Trail, which would be a route of 12,000 miles or so connecting the four corners (loosely defined) of the contiguous states.

"He had guns pulled on him twice in Texas. A tree fell on him in Michigan while he was sleeping in a hammock. In North Dakota, driving snowstorms and a severe illness finally brought Rue McKendrick’s 15-month long trek around the United States to an end," at least for the time being, reports Mark Morical of The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon.

APT coordinator Leilah Grace told Morical that the goal of the APT is “a protected corridor of land and natural resources available for recreational use roughly tracing the continental United States.”

The trail uses several existing trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Arizona Trail, and McKenrick used much of them, but in Texas there is little public land, and "Twice he had to talk his way out of confrontations as folks pulled guns on him for trespassing on their property."

In March, when McKenrick crossed the Mississippi River into Natchez, "He found it odd that the town was completely empty. Busy hiking and with little access to news, he had not heard about the pandemic. . . . The Appalachian Trail was closed due to the pandemic, so McKenrick followed his own route on the west side of the mountain range. . . . After slogging his way across Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, he eventually turned west into Ohio.

“Before I crossed into Michigan I had a tree fall on me and I broke a toe,” he said. “I was asleep in a hammock when it happened. It was a bad storm and the tree knocked me clean out. It hit me in the head and I also separated my shoulder.” He "nursed himself back to health in a hotel for four or five days," but "by the time he reached Duluth, Minnesota, he was extremely sick with a stomach ailment," Morical writes. :He went to a hospital where he got an IV and some medications. He headed back out yet again but as he got closer to Montana, the snow, the cold and his illness became too much."

McKendrick plans to complete the loop in the spring, again with the help of hiking-gear outfits that are sponsoring him. And he hopes the pandemic will have eased.

“It was more about the people before covid hit,” McKenrick told Morical. “After that it changed dramatically. I don’t look at backpacking as much as a sport as I do an art. When I was traveling through the South and Southeast before covid, I was running into all these microcultures, which were just fascinating. America is a lot more diverse culturally. It’s something that you can see when you’re traveling at the speed of walking. It’s easier to see these things and to meet these people.”

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Emotional battle over wild horses on federal lands in the West continues as their numbers double every four years

Wild horses in the Nevada desert (Photographs by Melissa Farlow for The Washington Post)

The saga of wild horses and burros on federal land in the West has rarely been told as well as it was recently for The Washington Post by reporter Britta Lokting and photographer Melissa Farlow. Several real-life examples are wrapped around this description of the problem:

A mare named Shoshone, in South Dakota
"The question of what to do with America’s wild horses is an emotional battle over livelihood, freedoms and how humans view animals. Many ranchers see the mustangs as an overpopulated invasive species that competes for the public land their livestock grazes. Animal rights activists see an icon of the American West that deserves better protection.

"There are over 100,000 wild horses and burros on 26.9 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land, according to the agency. This doesn’t include mustangs on Native American reservations, national parks, several U.S. Forest Service territories and lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The BLM has failed to keep populations at what it considers a sustainable level. To deal with the so-called excess horses, the agency rounds them up, usually using helicopters, puts them in short-term holding pens, tries to adopt them out, and then sends the unwanted ones — currently over 47,000 — to private, grassy pastures in the Midwest.

A herd of wild horses on the move in the Nevada desert
"With unchecked herds doubling every four years, the program is now in crisis mode. 'We’re at a point that we’ve never been before,' says Jenny Lesieutre, a spokeswoman for wild horse and burro issues at the bureau’s Nevada office. “It’s more than three times what the land can sustainably support in the long term, and we are a multiuse agency. That land is shared by all kinds of wildlife and plants.”

"It’s illegal for the bureau to euthanize healthy horses, though it euthanizes ones that have such ailments as blindness or club feet. Officials also can’t ship horses to slaughter or sell them to someone who intends to ship them to slaughter. (Though widely taboo, eating horsemeat is technically legal federally; some consider it a cheap source of protein.) The agency is at a standstill, partly because options like euthanasia or slaughter face intense backlash. . . . The BLM has been interested in spaying wild mares for at least a decade, but various approaches have failed or been blocked by wild-horse activists in court. Two attempts in recent years were met with such public outcry that the agency’s university research partners backed out of studies."

Clyburn promotes Fudge for USDA to get it focused on hunger; Heitkamp and Vilsack are more traditional options

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio
The first public fight over a big appointment by President-elect Joe Biden is about who will be secretary of agriculture. It pits "a powerful Black lawmaker who wants to refocus the Agriculture Department on hunger against traditionalists who believe the department should be a voice for rural America," reports Jonathan Martin of The New York Times.

"Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress and perhaps Mr. Biden’s most important supporter in the Democratic primary, is making an all-out case for Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, an African-American Democrat from Ohio," Martin writes.

While the nutrition-focused faction is all behind Fudge, the traditionalists have two candidates: former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who was secretary in the Obama administration. “I don’t know why we’ve got to be recycling,” Clyburn told Martin, "echoing complaints that Mr. Biden only represents Mr. Obama’s third term," and jabbing at Vilsack: “There’s a strong feeling that Black farmers didn’t get a fair shake” from USDA under him.

The choice "is pinching Mr. Biden between two of his central campaign themes, which he repeated in plain terms this month in his victory speech: that he owes a special debt to African-American voters, and that he wants to be a president for all Americans, including those who didn’t vote for him," Martyin notes. "And nowhere did Mr. Biden fare worse than in rural America, particularly the most heavily white parts of the farm belt."

Corps denies permit for huge mine in Bristol Bay watershed after GOP division, surreptitious recordings of executives

New York Times map
The Army Corps of Engineers "denied a permit for the Pebble Mine in Alaska on Wednesday, effectively killing plans to build the massive copper and gold project that opponents had warned could wipe out the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery" in Bristol Bay, report Anthony Adranga and Annie Snider of Politico. "The decision from the Trump administration, which had reversed course several times on the issue, comes just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden has said he opposed the project."

Pebble Limited Partnership, said it would appeal. the U.S. subsidiary of Canadian mining firm Northern Dynasty Minerals said it was dismayed because it had revised its plan in recent months to mitigate issues raised by environmentalists. But this time the enviros had unusual allies, and the developers talked too much, dooming their case.

The project "divided Republicans and Alaska politicians normally in favor of expanding domestic mineral production," Politico notes. "President Donald Trump faced a public pressure campaign from Republicans, including mega-donor Andy Sabin, Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to block the project."

Then, secret recordings of Pebble's CEO at the time revealed him "boasting about how he would influence Alaskan politicians," prompting Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to "affirm their outright opposition to the projection after sending mixed signals up until that point," Politico reports. 

In the recording, Pebble executives also "suggested that they were planning for a much larger mine, and one that would operate far longer, than what had been proposed to the Corps," The New York Times reports. "The recordings were obtained by an environmental advocacy group, with two members who were posing as potential investors in the project meeting by video with two project executives. The executives described how the mine could operate for 160 years or more beyond the proposed 20 years, and how its output could double after the first two decades."

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Nov. 29 is Subscribe Sunday, a media campaign encouraging Americans to subscribe to their local paper

Unbranded gif is free for anyone to use
We're all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But how about Subscribe Sunday? 

Subscribe Sunday is a media campaign encouraging citizens to subscribe to their local newspaper or its digital equivalent. The Boston Globe came up with the idea in 2018. Click here to receive free graphics and other support, or search for #SubscribeSunday on social media. 

Subscriptions are more important than ever to local newspapers' bottom lines, especially since advertising revenue has crashed amid the pandemic,  following the gradual collapse of newspapers' advertising-based business model.

Subscribe Sunday is a news peg to drum up more subscriptions, but it can be more than that. It's an opportunity to get Americans to think about where their essential news originates. In rural areas especially, no one but local news media will cover public-agency meetings or high-school games or civic events. Citizens who understand the value of local journalism are more likely to support it.

Subscribe Sunday also an opportunity to promote media literacy, especially those who prefer to get their news from social media. They can be reminded that not all stories on social media are trustworthy, and that many are from partisan websites masquerading as local news sites. Reputable local journalists, meanwhile, put in the hard work of reporting the facts, and when they get it wrong, they say so.

The Globe is publishing free graphics and new statistics today that you can use in crafting your message (sign up here). In the meantime, here's a sample pitch from us you can use: "As you plan your purchases on the big holiday shopping weekend, please consider investing in a strong democracy. Support independent local journalism and subscribe to your local news organization or give a subscription as a gift. Share your purchase on social media using hashtag #SubscribeSunday."

Finally, here are versions of a bumper sticker we developed a few years ago that anyone can use:

A Thanksgiving roundup: Climate change threatens cranberry industry; what Poynter is thankful for

Here's a cornucopia of Thanksgiving-related stories:

Poynter Institute writers list some of what they're thankful for in journalism this year. Read more here.

Climate change is threatening the cranberry industry. Read more here.

Regenerative turkey production, which helps soil health, is increasingly popular. Read more here.

For many Native Americans, especially during the pandemic, Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday. Read more here.

Food banks have seen higher demand than usual before Thanksgiving. Read more here.

Quick hits: Purude Pharma pleads guilty to charges in opioid crisis; rural real estate searches up 235% from last October

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

Online searches for rural homes increased 235% from October 2019 to October 2020, according to a new report by real estate company RedfinRead more here.

Purdue Pharma pleads guilty in its role in the opioid crisis as part of a deal with the Justice DepartmentRead more here.

President Trump's appointee to lead the Voice of America acted unconstitutionally in investigating what he claimed was bias against Trump by his own journalists, a federal judge ruled. Read more here.

A federal appeals court upheld a 2018 jury verdict of damages to North Carolina plaintiffs who said the noise and smell of Smithfield Foods' hog operations were unbearable. Read more here.

Vulture suggests a list of things to read, watch and listen to instead of Hillbilly Elegy. Read more here.

Rural covid-19 roundup: Pandemic brain drain on nurses threatens rural health care; N.D. gives up contact tracing

Keeping up with pandemic news can be rather like drinking from a firehose these days; here are some of the top stories from this week:

A Texas rancher who lives eight miles away from the nearest town writes about how she felt safe from the pandemic—until she became infected with the coronavirus. Read more here.

Rural doctors share about the realities of working in overcrowded, financially stressed rural hospitals during the pandemic. Read more here.

Rural areas send their sickest patients to cities, straining hospital capacity. Read more here.

A thousand U.S. hospitals are "critically short" on staff, and more expect to be soon. Read more here.

The pandemic's "brain drain" on nurses threatens both budgets and rural health care. Read more here.

Mask mandates work to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a Kansas study has found. Read more here.

A contact tracer says the pandemic is so bad in North Dakota that they've given up. Read more here.

Health-care workers to Americans: 'We didn't go to nursing school to be martyrs'. Read more here.

Artificial-intelligence tool can smell a conspiracy, but it can be gamed, which shows the lasting value of good journalism

As social media become more popular and more siloed, misinformation (all false info) and disinformation (false info spread with the intent to mislead) become an increasing threat. A new artificial-intelligence tool shows promise in weeding out conspiracy theories, but its developer notes that it can be gamed. The bottom line? There's still no substitute for a reporter with a good nose.

A culture analytics group at the University of California has developed an A.I. tool that determines when social-media conversations have the hallmarks of conspiracy theories. "We have applied these methods successfully to the study of Pizzagate, the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-vaccination movements. We’re currently using these methods to study QAnon," Timothy Tangherlini, who co-leads the group, writes for The Conversation. He acknowledges that, if the tool were to be widely used, conspiracy theorists familiar with it might deliberately design their posts to stay off its radar.

However, social-media platforms would have to be willing to employ such a tool in the first place, and it's not clear that they would. Such platforms have long struggled with how much to tamp down on misinformation, but at Facebook, for example, "the company’s aspirations of improving the world are often at odds with its desire for dominance," Kevin Roose, Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel report for The New York Times.

Facebook changed the site's news-feed algorithm just after the election to boost the visibility of more trustworthy news outlets. Employees hoped that burying more extreme partisan sites such as Breitbart or Occupy Democrats for a few days would slow the spread of false and misleading claims that the election had been rigged.

Some employees lobbied for the news algorithm to always be configured that way, but others feared that playing down partisan sources "could hurt Facebook’s growth, or provoke a political backlash that leads to painful regulation," the Times reports.

In any case, Facebook's efforts were no match for the disinformation pushed by the Trump campaign and its surrogates: President Trump's "false claims of voter fraud have been picked up by many state and local Republican officials across the country, and polls now show that more than two-thirds of GOP voters believe the 2020 election was neither free nor fair," Matt Vasilogambros reports for Stateline.

Regardless of how well the A.I. tool works out, journalists still have their work cut out for them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Rural Midwest banker survey finds record-low loan volume, falling economic confidence; predicts low holiday retail sales

Creighton University chart compares current month to last month and year ago; click here to download the full report.

The November Creighton University survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwest states where agriculture and energy are critical to the economy showed declining economic confidence and dim predictions for holiday retail sales. The index is a survey of bankers in about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The overall economic confidence index fell for the first time since April of this year, from October's 53.2 to 46.8. (An index of 50 is growth-neutral.) Recent improvements in farm commodity prices and direct federal aid to farmers, plus low interest rates, helped keep the bankers' confidence from dipping further, reports Creighton economist Ernie Goss, who does the survey. Home sales remained strong, but the reported loan volume reported was the lowest since the survey began in 2006. Other findings:
  • Nearly 55% of bankers think holiday sales will be lower than last year's, by about 3.1%.
  • For the first time since 2013, the survey recorded above-growth-neutral readings in farmland prices for consecutive months.
  • New hiring fell slightly from October, but stayed just above growth-neutral.
  • Non-farm employment levels for the Rural Mainstreet economy are down by 132,000 non-seasonally adjusted jobs, or 3.2%, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

New rural coronavirus infections set record for ninth straight week; rural covid-19 deaths at high for third week in a row

Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
New coronavirus infections in rural counties set a record for the ninth straight week, with nine of every 10 rural counties now in the White House Coronavirus Task Force red zone, Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. The zone is for counties averaging at least 100 new infections per 100,000 people over a week. Rural covid-19 deaths grew by 20 percent, setting a record for the third week in a row. 

"New covid-19 related deaths in rural counties totaled 2,448 last week," Marema reports. "In the past nine months, just under 32,000 covid-related deaths have been reported in rural counties. New infections in rural counties last week totaled 216,045, a 10% increase from the previous week."

Click here for more data and insights from the Yonder, including an interactive map with the latest county-level data.

USDA loosens qualifications for farmers to get federal aid; Republican Sen. Grassley says the changes invite fraud

On Wednesday, the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture "restored the previous definitions of 'active personal management,' 'significant contribution,' and 'related phrasing' in a rule on farm-program subsidy eligibility and payment limitations," Jerry Hagstrom reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said the rules were meant to help family farms, but critics say the move invites fraud. One was Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a hog farmer, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

"As both a family farmer and senator, I've worked with the USDA over the years in good faith to ensure these programs are used for their intended purposes and aren't being taken advantage of," Grassley said.  "It's a shame that USDA is backtracking after just finalizing a fair rule for this program a couple of months ago."

Grassley said that is "particularly concerning" after the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, "just published a report confirming that farm payments need additional oversight and that 19 of the top 20 operations that use these loopholes are in the South. This revision of the final rule has not deterred me. I'll continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to fix this broken system in the next Farm Bill."

Study: nurse practitioners play key role in opioid addiction treatment in very rural areas

Giving nurse practitioners the authority to prescribe buprenorphine has brought that gold standard treatment for opioid addiction to people who might not have had access to it before in very rural areas, according to a new study by researchers at Washington State University's College of Nursing. Read more here.

Walmart and similar big-box stores win the pandemic with one-stop shopping; some small, rural retailers in trouble

Walmart and other big-box stores like Target and Home Depot have reported strong third-quarter earnings, The Economist reports.

Simeon Gutman of Morgan Stanley told the magazine (which calls itself a newspaper but is fully digital) that such companies get a huge edge from e-commerce, and can draw from "diverse, global supply chains," to keep products in stock and allow shoppers the convenience of one-stop shopping. That's especially appealing during a pandemic when people are trying to avoid unnecessary trips. 

Growth in retail sales overall is slowing, Mitchell Hartman reports for Marketplace. Retail sales grew less than a third of 1 percent in October, reflecting a gain much weaker than expected and much weaker than September's figures, according to newly released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau

Many small retailers in rural areas, who had a harder time accessing federal aid, are having an especially difficult time. Several rural retailers in Garrison, N.D., especially restaurateurs, said it's hard to stay in business when the state orders limit indoor seating, P.J. Walker reports for KX News in Bismarck.

A Garrison florist said her store was doing better than expected, Walker reports, because more people are sending flowers to funerals for covid-19 victims and isolated loved ones in nursing homes.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Supporting local, independent news could help bridge the rural-urban political gap, writes analyst

Online misinformation and distrust in the news media helps fuel the rural-urban political gap, according to a recent opinion piece. Supporting independent local news media could go a long way towards bridging that gap. More than half of Americans believe the national press doesn't share their interests and concerns, a view encouraged by Republican leaders, Marc Ambinder writes for MSNBC. Armbinder is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

Local journalism is vital to decreasing political polarization and increasing civic engagement, Ambinder writes: "There is a direct correspondence between the closing of newspapers and the polarization of people formerly served by those newspapers. If you live in a town with a thriving local news ecosystem, you are more likely to vote."

The best way to increase trust in the news media overall, he writes, is to promote and support local, independent news, which people tend to trust more than national news outlets. "Trust will not come out of a top-down reappraisal of how the media covers people outside of cosmopolises," Ambinder writes. "An energetic local news revival would create models of engagement; it would allow newspapers (in digital form) to intervene in social conversations before misinformation spreads. Local news outlets are an early warning system that benefits everyone, and over time, might increase the level of comfort that mistrustful Americans have with the reporting process."

But the number of working journalists in the U.S. has plummeted over the past decade, and so has advertising revenue (especially since the beginning of the pandemic). So alternate funding models must be considered, Ambinder writes.

"ProPublica is investing in state reporting, which is excellent. To combat misinformation, we need engaged local reporters with audiences who trust them to report in real time," Ambinder writes. "We cannot cure systemic mistrust of media elites from establishment outlets, or hope to completely tame our information disorder as long as the internet exists. But we can recapitalize local news, and we need to make it a national priority."

Biden can reduce rural-urban political polarization by modernizing federal rural policy, researchers write

One reason rural Americans have become more conservative is that they feel left behind by federal economic policy, according to a recent think-piece. Revitalizing rural federal policy could help reduce rural-urban political polarization, Anthony Pipa and Natalie Geismar write for the Brookings Institution. Pipa is a senior fellow in global economy and development at Brookings, and Geismar is a global economy and development project coordinator and research assistant at the Center for Sustainable Development.

Though most of the American economy boomed over the past decade, employment in many rural areas still hadn't recovered from the Great Recession when the pandemic hit. "According to analysis from the Center on Rural Innovation, the four industries at highest risk of being impacted by covid-19 account for 56 percent of jobs in rural areas, compared to 43 percent in metro areas," Pipa and Geismar write.

The pandemic has exacerbated other inequalities rural Americans face: they're more likely to die from covid-19, they have less access to health care, and lousy broadband makes it harder to navigate work, schooling and more while social distancing, Pipa and Geismar write. 

Rural America needs more support, but the current federal programs and tools meant to encourage rural community and economic development are "outdated, fragmented, and constrained, and the resulting incoherence and complexity is not producing deep enough results fast enough," Pipa and Geismar write. 

They say research found that, not only is the bureaucracy governing such programs "bewildering," but that programs are far more likely to administer loans than grants, which increases rural debt load. They also found that "rural communities lack access to flexible grant funding and are often disadvantaged by eligibility requirements, per capita spending formulas, and allocation formulas that privilege densely populated urban areas."

They suggest three broad actions:

  • Launch a domestic development corporation that would award large, flexible block grants for local improvement, empower and support local leadership, provide technical support, and rigorously measure and analyze results to make sure it's working.
  • Create a national rural strategy, and reform current policy to improve its coherence, regional integration, and transparency.
  • Appoint a bipartisan congressional commission to analyze the effectiveness of rural policy and build bipartisan "momentum" for rural policy reform.

Evangelical doctor group begs churches to stop holding services

"As coronavirus cases spike, a national group that represents thousands of evangelical Christian doctors and other healthcare providers is asking churches to stop holding services in person," Sarah McCammon reports for NPR.

Leaders of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, who claim 20,000 members, said that Christians who hold large gatherings may "appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don't care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness."

According to several studies, most health-care workers infected with the coronavirus got it out in the community, not at work, the statement says. That includes church services.

Dr. Jeff Barrows, CMDA's senior vice president for bioethics and public policy, told McCammon that Christians are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, and that avoiding in-person gatherings is one of the "most tangible" ways to do that right now.

"Barrows said he's particularly concerned about the risk of asymptomatic carriers of the virus spreading it to vulnerable people with weaker immune systems," McCammon reports. He also said that CMDA members who work in hospitals and emergency rooms are warning that the pandemic has stressed the medical system to its breaking point.

"Polling indicates that political conservatives are more skeptical of the need for social distancing, a category that overlaps substantially with white evangelicals," McCannon writes. "According to a survey in May, white evangelicals – the largest religious group in the country by some measures – also expressed more reluctance than most other groups toward the idea of being vaccinated against covid-19."

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Journalists from Rapid City, Lincoln and Eau Claire papers discuss pandemic coverage on CNN's 'Reliable Sources'

Journalists at three newspapers with significant rural audiences talked about the struggles of covering the coronavirus pandemic Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Brian Stelter.

Dave Bundy, editor of the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska, said his paper has three types of readers: those who say "Just give me the data;" those who say "Tell me what I can and can’t do;" and those who say "Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. . . . There’s covid fatigue, there’s covid conspiracy; there’s a lot of things at work."

Bundy and Kent Bush, editor of the Rapid City Journal in hard-hit South Dakota, agreed that in covering the pandemic, it's important to strike a balance that appeals to all three groups of readers.

"The magnitude of the pandemic makes it difficult to maintain perspective," Bush said, noting that the news of five local covid-19 deaths was in the third paragraph of the Journal's latest story on the pandemic. That would have led the story before the pandemic got so big, he said.

Bush said the virus hadn't hit the newspaper's staff until he dispatched reporters to cover the election. A week or so later, half the staff had tested positive, he said.

In Lincoln, Bundy said, "A long time ago covid stopped being a story and started being real life. Reporters are up to their arms in the same issues readers are." He said his city editor said early in the pandemic that coverage of it "wouldn’t be a sprint," but more like a long relay race. He said someone on the staff is always sprinting.

Sarah Seifert, a reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, said people in western Wisconsin have been more willing to talk about their experiences with the virus in the last two months, as cases have surged. 

"Everyone's writing about covid in one way or another," she said. "It’s a big relief to work on a story that’s not about this virus."