Thursday, December 31, 2020

Rural news media, especially newspapers, can help overcome some of the obstacles to coronavirus vaccinations

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

Rural hospitals and other health-care providers face special challenges in getting coronavirus vaccines to the public, but rural news media, especially newspapers, can help them overcome the challenge of vaccine misinformation.

The providers' first problem was with the first vaccine, produced by Pfizer Inc., because it requires ultra-cold storage and is being shipped in large boxes with 975 doses. The Moderna vaccine takes normal refrigeration and comes in boxes of 100.

In Texas, some rural hospitals bought special freezers for the Pfizer vaccine but state officials didn't direct any Pfizer shipments to them, Will Stone reports for NPR and Kaiser Health News. "It's frustrating that you would go to that effort and expense and not be able to participate," said John Henderson, president of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals.

The Moderna vaccine, which was approved a week after Pfizer's, is now arriving at rural hospitals, clinics and health departments, but "having the vaccine is no guarantee it will get used," even on frontline health workers, Stone reports, with a quote from Tracy Warner, CEO of Greene County Medical Center in central Iowa: "A third of the people that are in line said, no, I'm not interested."

"Each vial has multiple doses. And once opened, they have a shelf life," Stone reports. "In smaller hospitals, the dosing needs to be staggered carefully. An immune response could sideline a nurse or doctor for a day, and they don't have staff to spare."

Once vaccines become available to older members of the general public, those in rural areas will face some of the same obstacles long faced by health care in rural areas, write Bennett Doughty and Pamela Stewart Fahs, professors at State University of New York at Binghamton, for The Conversation.

"In many of these areas," they write, "rural hospitals have been closing at an alarming rate, leaving people to travel farther for care. The population is also older. Public transportation that could help poor or elderly residents reach hospitals is rare, and distance and geography, such as mountain roads, can mean driving to those sites takes time."

Another obstacle is rural Americans themselves. Their thinking about vaccines is "influenced by media and word of mouth, politics and religion, as well as previous experience with vaccinations," the professors wrote, noting a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in December that found about 35% of rural Americans said they probably or definitely would not get a vaccine, higher than the 27% nationwide.

"Getting accurate information about the vaccine and how to receive it into rural areas has also proved difficult," the professors write. "Many rural counties still have limited access to broadband internet connections, smartphone service and other technologies. That often means residents rely on television, newspapers and radio for news, which can limit the depth and scope of information."

That last line should be a wake-up call to rural news media. For rural newspapers and local health officials, this challenge also presents an opportunity. Newspapers can mail sample copies in their home county to non-subscribers at subscriber rates, and a total-market-circulation edition can reach every household with detailed information from a trusted source, the local paper. At least three papers in Kentucky did this early in the pandemic, with support from local governments.

The vaccine-rollout period seems like another good time for sample copying, since states are adopting different policies and priorities for vaccinations, and the public may be confused by information they get from national sources, social media or news media based in other states. Local newspaper circulation is declining, but the postal regulations still give newspapers a powerful tool to reach everyone in their home county, and they and local officials should take advantage of it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tim Crews, fighter for open government, wins Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism

Tim Crews of the Sacramento Valley Mirror held up a toothbrush outside a county jail after serving five days in 2000 for refusing to give up an anonymous source. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press)

Tim Crews, a rural editor-publisher who fought for open government in California and went to jail to protect his sources, is the winner of the 2020 Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog). The award recognizes rural journalists who demonstrate outstanding courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism.

Crews died at 77 on Nov. 12 after a long illness and nearly 30 years as publisher and editor of the twice-weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, a town of 6,000 and the seat of Glenn County, pop. 28,000. He was known for relentless open-records requests and for spending five days in jail in 2000 for refusing to reveal sources for a story he published about theft of weapons by a former California Highway Patrol officer. That won him the Francis Frost Wood Award for courage in journalism from Hofstra University, the Bill Farr Freedom of Information Award from the California First Amendment Association and the California Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Shield of Courage Award from the California First Amendment Coalition, which had given him its First Amendment Beacon Award in 1996.

Crews told the Poynter Institute in 2017 that he averaged more than 20 records requests a year, sometimes going to court fight for access. In 2013, a judge said his suit to force a school district to turn over 3,000 withheld emails from the superintendent was frivolous, and ordered him to pay $56,595 in attorneys' fees and costs when his income was $20,000 a year. An appeals court reversed the ruling, and that helped Crews earn the California News Publishers Association Freedom of Information Award. When he received the California Press Foundation’s Newspaper Executive of the Year Award in 2009, the Mirror was called "California's most courageous newspaper." In 2011, the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave him its Norwin S. Yoffe Award for lifetime achievement in freedom of information.

As Crews fought battles for open government, he was known as "an old-time community journalist who stood up for regular people and published obituaries for free," The Associated Press reported after his death. "He dashed about the town of Willows, population 6,000, in red suspenders and with a bushy white beard, covering crime and politics but also community events."

"Tim Crews exemplified the best in rural journalism: broad community service that includes holding local officials and institutions accountable," said Al Cross, director of the institute and extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky. "We wish Tim had received the Gish Award while he was still with us, but we are still pleased to recognize his service." Presentation of this year's award has been delayed by the pandemic and will be announced later.

Tom and Pat Gish at award announcement
The award is named for Tom and Pat Gish, who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and repeatedly demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity through advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office by a local policeman who state police believe was paid by coal companies.

The Gishes, who died in 2008 and 2014, respectively, were the first winners of the award, in 2005. The other winners, in chronological order, have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Texas) Record; Stanley Dearman (former publisher, now deceased) and Jim Prince (publisher), The Neshoba Democrat, Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of Portland, Oregon, for her work at the Jacksonville (Texas) Daily Progress and the daily Times-Tribune of Corbin, Ky.; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin, publishers of the now-defunct Yancey County News in Burnsville, N.C.; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Platte City, Mo.; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times; Les Zaitz of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon; and last year, Ken Ward Jr., then of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and now of Mountain State Spotlight; his mentor, the late Paul J. Nyden of the Charleston Gazette; and Howard Berkes, recently retired from NPR.

"Tim Crews fits nicely in this pantheon of courageous rural journalists," Cross said. "And he brings to the list one of the more varied backgrounds."

Crews was born and raised in western Washington, and served in the Marines and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He had started in journalism in high school, and returned to it, working at papers in Washington, Colorado, Texas, California and Rome, and free-lanced from Crete. Between newspaper jobs, he was a steel-plant worker, had his own logging company in Washington, taught journalism at Evergreen State College, and worked for The Boeing Co. in Seattle. He started the Mirror after a dispute with an employer, and over the years attracted several promising interns from The Stanford Daily at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

One was Gerry Shih, now interim Beijing Bureau chief for The Washington Post. In a tribute to Crews, he wrote, "Within weeks, I knew this was what I wanted to do. Tim gave me clarity, purpose, focus. 'You have to have fire in your belly,' he said. People poisoned his dog and left death threats – hence the six-shot" in the drawer of his desk at the back of the Mirror office.

An intern who came back for a full-time job, Aimee Miles, wrote that Crews was "fiercely principled, and was willing to see those principles through to the end, even at the expense of his personal relationships. Once, after publicly condemning an elected official whom he had previously endorsed, Tim proclaimed, memorably, 'The truth is more important than friendship. It’s more important than everything.' He really believed that, and lived by it, although it sometimes meant making difficult choices. That unwavering integrity rattled some people, who read it as a ruthless willingness to betray. Many people have a threshold at which they are willing to part ways with their professed principles, the point at which fidelity imperils their personal interests. But Tim couldn’t be compromised, and nothing would dissuade him from holding public officials accountable for their actions, whether he liked them personally or not."

Miles also wrote, "One quality of his stands out in my memory. In addition to integrity and tenacity, Tim had more genuine empathy than anyone I know. I think that is what gave him the prodigious energy to do what he did for nearly 30 years. He had the rare gift of really seeing people, and was inquisitive about their lives to an extent that far surpassed his interests as an investigative journalist. He leant an ear to those who were struggling with one problem or another; people whom most others would have written off without a moment’s hesitation. I think many in the community sensed that quality as well, and that is why so many confided in him. He listened to people intently, recognized their humanity, and treated them with dignity. He truly cared for his community. That kind of profound empathy, above all, is what separates a competent journalist from an eminent one, and it’s what I remember Tim for more than anything else."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Drop in students seeking aid for college is greater in rural areas, where some college rolls have dropped signifcantly

"The isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic year is translating into more than teenage angst. 
It’s driving a dramatic drop in the proportion of students going on to college, threatening the already precarious economies of rural areas and widening their socioeconomic drift from urban and suburban America," reports Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, in a story done with Maine Public Radio.

"The number of rural students filling out the federal application for financial aid, a sign of whether they’re even considering going to college, has plummeted by more than 18%, the National College Attainment Network reports. That’s worse than the also alarming nearly 16% drop among urban students," Marcus reports. "The numbers are down even more in . . . West Virginia (32%), Louisiana (30%), Mississippi (26%), Alaska (24%) and Arkansas and Oklahoma (23%)," states with large percentages of rural population.

The numbers come after enrollment drops at many universities and colleges in rural places. "In Idaho, for instance, which already has the lowest proportion in the country of high school graduates who go on to college (tied with Alaska at 44%), first-time undergraduate enrollment fell nearly 4% at the University of Idaho, nearly 8% at Idaho State University and more than 5% at Boise State University — with an even bigger slide among first-time in-state undergrads," Marcus reports.

In Maine, Bucksport High School Principal Josh Tripp told Maine Public Radio, “Their overall feeling toward education right now is that they’ve just been beaten down. Everything about this year has been harder. Certainly being an election year and seeing so much negativity around forecasts of our future, regardless of what political side you’re on — there’s just a lot of dim and dreary outlooks.”

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tony Rice, 'Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar,' dead at 69

Tony Rice (Photo by Stephen A. Ide / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images, via Rolling Stone)
Tony Rice, who was called "the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar" for his quick, fluid playing of bluegrass and other genres, died Friday at his home in Reidsville, N.C. He was 69.

“Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this life and made his swift journey to his heavenly home,” Ricky Skaggs wrote on Facebook. One of the many musicians who revered Rice and performed and recorded with him, Skaggs called him “the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years.”

Other tributes came from longtime banjo player Steve Martin, and Jason Isbell, who called him "the king of the flat-picked flattop guitar," Rachel McGrath of The Associated Press reports.

"With an understated live presence that contrasted with the dynamism of his guitar, Rice had experienced health problems over the past quarter-century. A muscle disorder around his vocal cords left him unable to sing on stage, and tennis elbow limited his playing. His last live guitar performance was in 2013, when he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame," AP reports. "He played with everyone from Jerry Garcia to Dolly Parton and received many honors, notably a Grammy in 1993 for best country instrumental performance, and citations from the International Bluegrass Music Association as guitarist of the year."

Born David Anthony Rice in Danville, Va., Rice grew up in Los Angeles and learned about bluegrass from his father and his older brother Larry, who played mandolin. "When Tony was 20, he joined his sibling as a member of the New South, the bluegrass group led by banjoist J.D. Crowe. The band played throughout Kentucky and introduced Rice to Ricky Skaggs," Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone reports. "His 1973 debut solo album was titled, simply, Guitar . . . That Rice also sang as well as he played made him even more of a pivotal figure in the genre."

Rice played with many partners and groups, including Norman Blake, Chris Hillman and Peter Rowan, "but it was with his own group, the Tony Rice Unit, that Rice made some of his most acclaimed and inventive work. The outfit’s 1979 album Manzanita is sacred text in bluegrass, with guests like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Skaggs, and Grisman making up Rice’s band."