Friday, May 28, 2021

Postal Service, lifeline for rural papers and their audiences, raising newspaper rate nearly 9%; stamps will be 58 cents

Public agencies often release bad news late on Friday afternoons, to limit questions and coverage. If it's a Friday that starts a holiday weekend, the news must be especially bad. That's what rural newspaper people thought when they saw the U.S. Postal Service announce a nearly 9 percent increase in the main lifeline to their audiences.

The rate hikes will take effect Aug. 29. The cost of mailing a First Class letter will go to 58 cents, from the current 55 cents. "For community newspapers using Periodicals mail to reach readers, the average rate increase will be nearly 9%," the National Newspaper Association said in a news release. "The rate increase is part of a new USPS business plan that also includes a weakening of service standards for mail that is moving across the country."

The rates must clear the Postal Regulatory Commission, but it has already granted the Postal Service the authority to eliminate an inflation-based limit on rates, NNA notes: "It gave USPS a new set of parameters that allows it to charge more for mail that remains in the postal system while digital technology provides new competition for delivery of messages and advertising."

NNA said the announcement was "grim news for community newspapers that have been fielding months of complaints that subscribers are not receiving their copies on time."

Chair Brett Wesner said, “Nothing about this scenario is good. These increases will require many newspapers to increase subscription prices to cover this new cost, and readers will think we have lost our minds to charge more when USPS cannot get the paper to so many on time.”

Wesner added, “The increase in the stamp cost will be felt most in a rural economy. People in small towns across America send checks through the mail to pay their bills. The stamp goes up and delivery goes down. I fear that just as economic hopes have started to rise for people returning to work, faith in the Postal Service’s ability to serve the nation will put a damper on commercial activity for many of us.”

Recent newspaper closures are mainly small-town weeklies

A farewell video from the Gallatin North Missourian begins with loading of paper rolls onto its press.

The pandemic has caused the closure of 70 newspapers in the United States, and "the newsrooms that are closing are mostly weeklies in small communities," reports Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute, with the latest glimpse from Penny Abernathy of the University of North Carolina.

"Some report they’re merging with nearby publications. But that 'merger' means the end of news dedicated to those communities, the evaporation of institutional knowledge and the loss of local jobs," Hare writes. "At least 14 of the newsrooms now gone are owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Several are owned by Forum Communications Co." of Fargo. "And a few are — were — owned by local families." Her post concludes with a list, giving details about the papers.

Abernathy's research has found that the vast majority of papers closing since 2004 have been weeklies, but most were in suburbs. The next most common category were in towns that are not county seats. But in the last two years, more county seats have been losing their papers. In some cases, Like the CNHI markets of Morehead and Monticello, Ky., papers from adjoining and nearby counties have started weeklies, but in those two cases they have not yet reached the level of quality that CNHI offered.

Abernathy, who is moving to a visiting professorship at Northwestern University, told Hare the the pace of closures has been about 100 a year, but has accelerated. “Between places switching to online only and those that are merging, this is a really sharp increase, and not surprising, either.”

The latest paper to close, today, is the Gallatin North Missourian, whose retirement-bound owners announced May 5 that they would close the paper if they didn't find a buyer. They didn't, and the paper's closure is unusual because, unlike most weeklies, it has its own press. Here is its own obituary; its last post is a farewell video that ends with the press stop for the last edition.

On the brighter side, Loyd Ford of The Lake News in Calvert City, Ky., announces on his Facebook page that his non-county-seat weekly is starting its 38th year. He concludes, "It is a high honor to be able to publish a newspaper here. Thanks for sticking with us."

Wendell Berry Farming Program graduates its first class

Berry Farming Program graduates and faculty members (Photo provided)

The Wendell Berry Farming Program, a tuition-free college degree program named for the author, poet, farmer and conservationist, graduated its first cohort of 12 students in Kentucky May 15.

Berry gave the graduates "a stirring assessment of the consequences to our country when millions of people have moved from farms to urban areas in a single lifetime," a news release reports. "Sharing his belief in the fundamental laws of nature and human nature," Berry said “If the land is to be used by people, then it must be used by people who love it. Who are culturally prepared and instructed to use it lovingly. And whose cultures, therefore, are sustained economically.”

Wendell Berry
Speaking at Henry County High School, Berry, 86, told the graduates, “I believe that you, along with all the rest of us, are called to take good care of our country. Which in the foreseeable future will mean both using it well and, so far as we can, healing the wounds we have given it.”

"The graduates plan to follow Berry’s advice: Some will return to family farms to revitalize the land, manage forests, grow crops and raise livestock using sustainable methods," the release reports. "Others will apply their education to establish new enterprises that focus on connecting people with food and farms."

The Berry program "is a partnership between The Berry Center of New Castle, Ky., and Vermont’s Sterling College, a small liberal-arts college committed to using education as a force to advance ecological thinking and action," the release says. Graduates earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Tuition is replaced by grant support from the NoVo Foundation, co-founded by Peter Buffett (youngest son of billionaire Warren Buffett) and his  wife Jennifer, and gifts from other foundations and individuals. Students pay room, board and fees.

Sterling President Matthew Derr said in the release, “The Berry Center’s generational, local understanding of this place and its people has been critical to the success of this program. It’s so clear that we share a sense of trust, friendship, and commitment to community with all of those here in Kentucky.”

Graduate Lizzie Camfield of Campbellsburg, Ky., said her graduation plans include starting her own family farm and continuing the small-batch fermented hot sauce business she established as her capstone senior project. “Without this program, I would never have felt empowered enough to pursue farming as a career,” Camfield said. “I love Kentucky, but I didn’t consider it a place where I could make a life and a living, especially farming. Now I have a whole different perspective and I treasure it more than ever.”

Rural coronavirus vaccination rate grew at half the urban rate last week, reflecting a widening gap

Rural/urban vaccination rates are compared to national average. Rates are adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The coronavirus vaccination rates in metropolitan counties grew at twice the pace of rural vaccinations last week, May 17-23.

Rural counties saw 394,000 residents become fully vaccinated, bringing the rural rate to 30.2 percent. That’s a 0.9 percentage-point increase from the previous week’s 29.3%, Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.

Meanwhile, “Metropolitan counties reported an additional 5.3 million completed vaccinations last week, representing a 2.1-percentage-point increase from the week before. The metropolitan rate of completed vaccinations was 37.4% as of May 23,” Murphy and Marema report. “The gap between the national rural and metropolitan vaccinations rates has been growing since the Daily Yonder began analyzing vaccination data five weeks ago. Last week, the metropolitan rate was 7.2 percentage points higher than the rural rate, an increase from 6.1 percentage points two weeks ago.”

Click here for more data, charts and regional analysis from the Yonder.

Retired rural editor ruminates about what Memorial Day meant for the Greatest Generation

Mychal Wilmes
An essay from retired Agri News managing editor Mychal Wilmes takes a look at Memorial Day and what it meant for Americans in a rural Midwestern town during World War II. 

The newly created federal War Production Board held a well-attended meeting at the high school urging local farmers to increase food production for the war effort, and local Extension Service experts and mechanics showed farmers how to better repair their implements, Wilmes writes for Ag Week.

"The war, which would claim the lives of 6,300 Minnesota and 1,929 North Dakota service members, remained front and center in hearts and minds. Farmers and their families were indeed part of what is called the 'Greatest Generation,'" Wilmes writes. "They reached adulthood in pre-World War I, cheered the Doughboys who boarded trains that eventually took them to European battlefields, and believed the conflict would lead to the end of all war."

Black vultures bedevil farmers, but are protected by treaty, so farmers are supposed to get permits to kill them

Vultures surrounded a cow with a newborn calf in West Kentucky. They were chased off in time. (Photo via Farmer's Pride)

Though black vultures play an important role in the food chain as scavengers, they’re also predators, and bedevil livestock producers by killing or maiming healthy animals. Laws intended to protect birds are complicating the situation, Toni Riley reports for The Farmer’s Pride in Kentucky:

Bourbon County farmer Cyndi Steele found she had to apply for a permit to allow her to kill more vultures than the law normally allows. Vultures are protected by the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but in 2015 Kentucky launched a pilot program that allowed each farmers to get a permit to dispatch five vultures, in order to protect their livestock. The state caps total allowed kills at 1,500.

"Steele said a representative of the federal agency told her to stay home and protect her livestock. Producers told her to use the common practice of 'Shoot, shovel and shut up.' The problem finally resolved itself when she purchased new guard dogs, a solution she said was expensive but effective," Riley reports. "The purchase made sense, however, when she compared the cost to losing $10,000 worth of show and breeding animals over a six-week period."

Riley notes, "The black vultures . . . are not the same birds commonly known as turkey vultures. Black vultures are pack hunters and like a fresh kill, while the turkey vulture is content with carrion or a carcass. The black vulture is smaller and stockier and has a black head and white tips on its wings. In-flight it flaps more and doesn’t glide like the larger turkey vulture with its longer wingspan."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a program offering permits for killing black vultures. It began in 2015, "with Kentucky being allocated 350 'takes,' with five per producer," Riley reports. "The number of individual takes had to be quickly amended to three because the number of permit requests was great. Since then, the number of takes allowed in Kentucky has increased to 1,500."

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Documentary on rural soldier's heroism and campaign to get him the Medal of Honor is returning to TV this weekend

Lt. Garlin Murl Conner
A year ago today, on Memorial Day 2020, Kentucky Educational Television premiered a documentary about a soldier from one of the most isolated places in America who repeatedly put his life on the line for his country – but quietly returned to his very rural life and wasn’t fully honored for his heroism until 73 years later.

"From Honor to Medal: The Story of Garlin M. Conner," will air again on KET's Kentucky Channel at 8/7 p.m. ET/CT Monday, May 31, and is available online at www.ket.org.

The hour-long documentary tells the story of one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, who received the nation’s highest military decoration only after a 20-year campaign by his widow and friends.

Their campaign ended in June 2018, at the White House, when then-President Trump presented the medal to Pauline Conner, who still lives on their small farm near Albany, just down the road from their son Paul. Soon she plans to deliver his military memorabilia to the Third Infantry Division museum at Fort Stewart, Ga., where there is a Murl Conner Room, next to the Audie Murphy Room.

The two soldiers are a study in commonality and contrasts. Murphy, a son of Texas sharecroppers, won the Medal of Honor for his heroism in northeastern France on Jan. 26, 1945. He returned to the U.S. as perhaps the most decorated American soldier of the war, and became a major movie star.

Conner, who knew Murphy, earned the medal the day before and just a few miles away, but in the fog of war only got the Distinguished Service Cross. He returned to a creekside farm in Southern Kentucky's Cumberland River valley with no electricity or running water. Like most soldiers, he rarely talked about his exploits, which included suffering many wounds and earning four Silver Stars.

Only after Conner died in 1998 was his story told – first by a rank stranger who became his greatest advocate and inspired others to join his campaign to get Conner the Medal of Honor. Led by a neighbor who wouldn’t take no for an answer, they struggled for 20 years to break through Army bureaucracy, losing at every turn – but remaining inspired by Conner’s examples of determination and resolve.

Conner, fresh out of a hospital for a serious wound, volunteered to be a forward observer for artillery that was needed to stop a German attack – an attack that came so close he finally called in artillery on his own position. His commanding officer said he should receive the highest possible medal, but the officer was wounded the next day and didn't follow up.

The follow-up came decades later, from Richard Chilton, a Green Beret veteran from Genoa City, Wisconsin, who met Conner and learned his story while researching the service of his uncle, who died at Anzio under Conner’s command; and from Walton "Chip" Haddix of Albany, Ky., who took up the campaign begun by Chilton and wouldn't take no for an answer. The Army finally relented.

The documentary was produced by Lexington filmmaker Jeff Hoagland and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. It was sponsored by private donors and the Veterans Trust Fund of the Kentucky Department for Veterans Affairs, a state agency that assisted the Conner team's legal efforts at the direction of then-Commissioner Heather French Henry, whose cause was veterans when she was Miss America.

Trailers for the documentary are online at honortomedal.us, along with information about Murl Conner and some of the major players in the effort to get him the Medal of Honor. The program has been aired by public TV stations in other states; check local listings for broadcasts outside Kentucky. DVDs of the documentary are available from the Institute for $29.95, by emailing al.cross@uky.edu.

Corn, wheat and soybean prices were at 8-year highs last week, but seem to have hit 'market top,' analysts say

Last week, corn, soybeans and wheat were all selling at or near the highest prices in eight years. This week, the market fell, "with virtually no change in fundamentals except some improvement in soil moisture levels in the western Corn Belt," Ray Grabanski reports for Successful Farming. "However, the market rallied $1 to $2 from March 30 to May 12 with no change in fundamentals, so it’s likely to drop $1 to $2 by the time we are done, too, with virtually no change in fundamentals. That is simply what market tops look like and how they behave, and this most certainly now can be called a market top in all three major grains: wheat, corn, and soybeans. If a major crop problem develops this summer yet (like a drought), we could rally back up to new highs or the old highs." (Corn and soybean prices are up today.)

There's no sign of any major crop problems right now, especially since recent rainfall has reduced drought-affected areas of the Corn Belt and the forecast continues to call for normal or above-normal precipitation and cooler temperatures across the Midwest, Grabankski reports.

"Crop conditions yesterday continue to show an early planted crop (corn 90% planted, 10% ahead of normal), with winter wheat continuing to improve with above-normal yield potential. However, the first ratings of the year show a hard red spring wheat crop that is the lowest rated ever (even lower than 1988) at only 45% rated good/excellent," Grabanski reports. "Barley is also poorly rated at only 47% rated G/E (vs. 67% last year), mostly due to a lack of soil moisture in the west resulting in poor germination. Soybeans are 75% planted (21% ahead of normal), oats 95% planted (5% ahead), barley 91% planted (4% ahead), and HRS wheat is 94% planted (9% ahead). Yet, while HRS/barley is poorly rated now, recent rains will likely improve those ratings as it has already in pasture conditions (28% rated G/E this week, an improvement of 3%)."

Report correlates high rates of uninsured population with higher coronavirus infections and Covid-19 deaths

In communities with high rates of uninsured people, residents are much more likely to get the coronavirus and die from it than those in communities with fewer uninsured residents, according to a new Families USA report, "The Catastrophic Cost of Uninsurance: Covid-19 Cases and Deaths Closely Tied to America's Health Coverage Gaps."

Some top findings of the report:

  • From the start of the pandemic through the end of August, every 10 percent increase in the proportion of a county's residents who lacked health insurance correlated with a 70% increase in coronavirus cases and a 48% increase in Covid-19 deaths.
  • Nationwide, more than 40% of Covid-19 infections and about 30% of Covid-19 deaths are linked to health-insurance gaps.
  • During the period studied, health-insurance gaps were linked to about 2.6 million Covid-19 cases and 58,000 Covid-19 deaths. 
  • If the same correlation between health insurance and Covid-19 remained unchanged until after the period covered in the study, then by Feb. 1, 2021, health-insurance gaps would be associated with an estimated 10.9 million Covid-19 infections and 143,000 Covid-19 deaths.
  • In 2019, nearly 30 million Americans under age 65 were uninsured; that number has grown an estimated 15.3 million during the pandemic because of job losses.
  • Non-white Americans were nearly twice as likely as white Americans to lose health insurance, and Latinos were three times as likely.
  • All states saw an increase in Medicaid enrollment during the pandemic.
  • In 11 states, Covid-19 cases linked to health-insurance gaps comprised at least 50% of the state's total Covid-19 infections during the period studied.
  • In 10 states, health-insurance gaps were linked to at least 40% of the state's Covid-19 deaths.
  • Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia led both lists, in order from highest percentage to lowest.

Hospital closures and the pandemic hurt rural Blacks hard

Hospital closures during the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated rural health-care inequalities, especially in Black-majority areas, where such hospitals have been more likely to close. 

"A record 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020, according to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — more than in any other year," Olivia Goldhill reports for Stat. "Communities close to these shuttered hospitals similarly experienced disproportionate fatalities, according to a Stat analysis: Covid-19 death rates in counties where hospitals closed were 37 percent higher than in their states overall. Looking at the most rural counties — those with fewer than 50,000 residents and at least 50 miles from a major city — the death rates were 66% higher than in their states. Seven of the eight hospital closures in counties where the fatality rate was at least 80% higher than their state’s were in such rural counties."

The communities where rural hospitals close often have significant Black populations. They're also "predominantly clustered across the South and Southeast where, more than a half-century since health care segregation officially ended, plenty of hospitals outside of Black communities have yet to earn the trust of African American patients, erecting another barrier to care," Goldhill reports. Another barrier to access: some people would have to cross state lines to access the closest hospital, which can cause billing headaches and eligibility problems.

Stat illustrates the trend with the story of a Black family in Dawson, a town of 4,000 or so in southwest Georgia, and how a hospital closure, trust issues and more contributed to a local woman's death. Southwest Georgia is predominantly Black and rural, and has been hit hard by the pandemic and hospital closures. Dawson is the seat of Terrell County, where 1 in 10 have been infected.

A study done just before the pandemic said Georgia had the fourth highest percentage of rural hospitals in danger of closing, at just over 41%. Southern states and those with large rural populations make up most of the top 10, and the researchers noted that hospitals are likely in worse financial shape now. A more recent analysis found that about 40% of rural hospitals are now in danger of closing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Paxton Media buys Landmark Community Newspapers

Map by The Rural Blog denotes newspaper ownership and company headquarters towns. 

One of America's larger community newspaper companies is buying the other.

Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Ky., announced Tuesday that it is buying Landmark Community Newspapers LLC, a chain of 44 weekly and two daily newspapers based in Shelbyville, Ky.

Landmark has 19 papers in Kentucky, including The News-Enterprise, the daily in the Hardin County seat of Elizabethtown. Its other daily is the Citrus County Chronicle in Crystal River, Fla. Paxton has 18 Kentucky papers, with dailies in Owensboro, Madisonville, Hopkinsville and its headquarters city of Paducah, where the family-owned company has its only television station. With the purchase, it will have 119 publications in 14 states, according to a story in its papers.

"PMG believes strongly in the value of local newspapers and the vital role they play in the communities that they serve," said Jamie Paxton, PMG president and CEO. "We appreciate Landmark choosing us to be the new stewards of these important community assets."

Landmark's papers have been for sale for more than 13 years. The Norfolk-based Batten family sold its dailies in that city, Greensboro, N.C., and Roanoke, Va., years ago. The community-newspaper company has been based in Shelbyville since its founding in 1968 by a group of eight weekly newspaper publishers and the Battens' purchase in 1973. The company also has publications in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana and Iowa.

The purchase price was not revealed, but the transaction is one of the largest involving community newspapers in some time, said Lewis Floyd of Business Valuation Consulting, a newspaper and business broker who specializes in small papers.

“Paxton has been interested in acquiring newspapers as part of our strategy given the conditions and the nature of the newspaper industry,” said Mike Weafer, publisher of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer and group publisher for the company's Kentucky-Indiana region. “Acquisitions strengthen us and help us to persevere, so it is part of an overall strategy to continue to acquire newspapers.”

Paxton's purchase "continues an ongoing effort at PMG to acquire community newspapers in the company's existing geographic footprint," said its story, which quoted no one from Landmark. A version of the story in the Chronicle quoted Publisher Gerry Mulligan: “Paxton Media is a strong newspaper company that brings years of expertise to our company.” Landmark has eight papers in Florida.

The story said PMG will officially take over the Landmark papers on June 8, "but there will be a transition period to PMG regarding systems and procedures, Weafer said."

The deal is likely to mean the end of one paper, because the companies have weeklies in Leitchfield, Ky., an unusual if not unique situation for chain-owned weeklies. Many years ago Landmark bought The Record, a locally owned competitor to the Grayson County News-Gazette, to make it part of a cluster with its Elizabethtown daily. It gained the local circulation lead and thus the public-notice advertising, and the News-Gazette changed hands more than once before Paxton bought it in in 2017, along with two other papers. Its circulation is now less than 1,000, in a county of 26,000 people, but Paxton now owns the market.

Senate's bipartisan $300 billion infrastructure proposal includes new rural surface transportation grant program

"Lawmakers on a Senate committee that deals with infrastructure on Saturday released a bipartisan, $303.5 billion draft proposal to reauthorize the main federal program that provides funding for highways, roads and bridges," Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty. "In addition to supplying bedrock federal dollars for roads, the legislation would provide new grant funding in a number of areas—including for electric vehicle infrastructure, efforts to make the nation's infrastructure more 'resilient' to extreme weather, climate change and natural disasters, and for projects in rural regions."

The current package that governs infrastructure spending will expire Sept. 30. The Biden administration is trying to get support for a much broader infrastructure package that will cost about $2 trillion and include funding for areas like water utilities and broadband, but has been unable to get Republican support thus far, Lucia reports.

The bipartisan bill would cover five fiscal years, from 2022 to 2026, and would greenlight a more than 34% increase in funding compared tot the last such authorization. Democrats highlighted parts of the bill meant to reduce emissions, build resilience and improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure," Lucia reports. "Republicans touted provisions in the draft bill plan intended to provide funding to rural areas and to give states flexibility with federal guidelines. Notably, the bill would establish a rural surface transportation grant program, with a total of around $2 billion in grants available over the five years covered by the bill."

University, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce sponsoring series of discussions to bridge state's rural-urban divide

The political divide between rural Republicans and urban Democrats is seen in many states. In Kentucky, the last three legislative elections have relegated Democratic legislators to almost entirely urban enclaves and made them a largely inconsequential minority. But Republicans represent several urban areas, and there are still substantial numbers of Democratic voters in rural areas.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the public-policy school at the University of Kentucky say they will try to "find new ways to bridge Kentucky’s urban-rural divide" with a series of webinars called the Kentucky Public Policy Roundtable Series.

The first one will be a panel discussion about the health disparities between rural and urban Kentucky, and differences in health-care access and delivery, at noon ET June 8. Future programs will address the rural-urban divides in education (July 15) and economic development (Aug. 10).

“We are very excited to partner with the Chamber on this important initiative,” said Ron Zimmer, director of the university's Martin School of Public Policy & Administration. “We have an outstanding faculty and a network of distinguished alumni across the state and nation with expertise in important public policy areas affecting urban and rural issues.”

Kate Shanks, vice president of public affairs at the Chamber, said “We look forward to not only engaging in these roundtable discussions but also serving as a resource for policy-makers and other interested parties. Our goal is that these sessions will lead to better understanding of these important issues and help develop Kentucky-specific solutions.”

Panelists for the first event will be:
  • Mark Birdwhistell, UK Health Care chief of staff and vice president for health services administration
  • Larry Gray, president of Baptist Health Louisville and former president of Baptist Health Corbin
  • State Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and a physician
  • State Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee and a former nurse
Both legislators are Republicans. Chamber Senior Policy Analyst Charles Aull will moderate the discussion. He said it will include the opportunity for questions from participants. The webinar is free; to register, click here.

New rural coronavirus cases at lowest level since last June, but rural Covid-related deaths up about 10% from last week

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, May 16-22
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version

The 25,876 rural coronavirus infections in the week of May 16-22 marked an 18 percent decline from the previous week's 31,683. It was the fifth consecutive week of decreases, and the lowest level seen since June 2020. "New infections in rural counties have decreased for nine out of the last 12 weeks and are down about 90% from their peak in mid-January," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.

Meanwhile, new Covid-related rural deaths grew from 613 two weeks ago to 681 last week, a roughly 10% increase. "Despite the increase last week, Covid-related deaths in rural counties have also fallen nine out of the last 12 weeks and have declined by 85% since their peak in early 2021," Murphy and Marema report.

Click here for more charts and analysis from the Yonder, including a county-level interactive map. 

Virus outbreak at Smithfield plant was worse than known, killed two, Midwest Center reveals via OSHA documents

Milan, in Sullivan County (Wikipedia)
"The Covid-19 outbreak at Smithfield Foods' Milan, Missouri, plant — the focus of a worker safety lawsuit that garnered national attention last year — resulted in two worker deaths and was worse than previously thought," according to newly obtained documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Madison McVan reports for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

It's been difficult to get clear numbers about infections at the plant. Early on, the Sullivan County Health Department told a local TV station that there were 14 cases, and later a local hospital told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch there were 35 cases tied to the plant, but since then the news media hasn't been given updates, McVan reports. A health-department administrator told the Midwest Center that it doesn't track coronavirus cases by employer. 

OSHA "found the total number of cases was likely more than double what has been previously reported. By the end of May 2020, at least 77 workers were presumed to be positive for the virus, and more than 300 were either suspected to have the virus or had been in close contact with a positive case. Also, at least two workers at the plant died from the virus last year, according to the OSHA inspections obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting," McVan reports. "Smithfield, which employs about 1,100 people at its Milan facility, told OSHA inspectors the company determined that the employees who died had contracted the virus from close contacts outside of work, rather than in the plant."

Smithfield Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said in a statement that the company has spent more than $800 million to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and has seen a "sustained period of extremely low reported cases across our employee workforce." 

The real case numbers are likely much higher than even the OSHA reports found, said Axel Fuentes, executive director of the Rural Community Workers Alliance. The group advocates for better working conditions for Smithfield employees and has been in contact with Milan plant workers during the pandemic. The group sued Smithfield last spring, claiming the company's pandemic safety measures were inadequate. "The judge dismissed the case, ruling that it was OSHA’s job, not the court’s, to ensure that Smithfield was adequately protecting its employees," McVan reports. "OSHA inspectors found few issues with the virus mitigation measures at the plant during in-person inspections that took place in May and November 2020. OSHA closed the investigations without issuing any penalties."

Some workers told the Midwest Center they thought Smithfield's safety measures didn't go far enough, and said the production line moved so quickly that they couldn't step away to cough or sneeze. But "Smithfield didn’t start distributing masks to its employees in Milan until mid-April 2020, after hundreds of employees at its Sioux Falls plant had already tested positive," McVan reports.

There are no federal emergency standards to protect meatpackers during a pandemic, which Fuentes said makes it harder to hold employers accountable. The day after his inauguration, President Biden ordered OSHA and other federal agencies to come up with emergency standards by March 15, but the agency has yet to publish one. "On April 26, OSHA said in a press release that it had sent a draft of the standard to the White House for review. It’s unclear how long that process could take," McVan reports.

The Midwest Center has done an outstanding job reporting on the meatpacking industry during the pandemic. Click here for a recent package that looks back on how the pandemic has affected workers, what's happening now, and what they predict for the future.

June 10 webinar to provide overview of non-profit that studies economic issues in rural health care

At noon on Thursday, June 10, the Rural Health Information Hub will host a free webinar to provide an overview of the University of Kentucky's Center for Economic Analysis of Rural Health, a non-profit that aims to increase awareness of economic impacts of health care at the rural, state, and national level. The webinar will also introduce CEARH's upcoming webinar series meant to help familiarize attendees with economic development topics.

Click here for more information about the webinar, or to register. A recording will be available afterward.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Drones will soon deliver coronavirus vaccines in rural areas

Draganfly photo
Coronavirus vaccination rates are lower in rural areas, partly because some don't want to get the shots, but also because some live in areas so remote that it's difficult to drive to vaccination sites. "Drone companies are positioning themselves to deliver refrigerated medical products to those people. If the plans don’t pan out in time to combat the coronavirus crisis, then they hope to be set up to assist swiftly in the world’s next big health scare," Dalvin Brown reports for The Washington Post.

One such company, Draganfly, will begin test flights in Texas next month in partnership with Texas-based health-care supply chain management company Coldchain Technology Services. Another drone company, Volansi, has been ferrying other refrigerated medicines and vaccines from Merck in North Carolina since October, Brown reports.

Why use drones? They tend to be faster and cheaper that trucks or helicopters to carry smaller payloads to remote locations, Coldchain executive director Wayne Williams told Brown. 

"Unmanned aerial vehicles are shaping up to assist during the pandemic in other ways, too," Brown reports. "Draganfly developed a system that can measure people’s vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure from a drone. Drones from the Chinese manufacturer DJI have been used to monitor social distancing in Elizabeth, N.J., over the past year. Meanwhile, more than a few firms have announced disinfecting drones to spray potentially contaminated zones from above."

Economists say ending extra unemployment pay will hurt rural areas; employers claim benefits discourage work

Republican governors in at least 22 states plan to end pandemic-related federal unemployment assistance as early as next week, and that is causing some concern about the rural impact.

"The governors argue that the benefits discourage people from taking jobs. But economists say cutting off federal aid affects people’s livelihoods—especially for people of color and residents of rural areas saddled with slow job growth, lackluster transportation options and limited opportunities," Aallyah Wright reports for Stateline. "Montana was the first state to announce it would end the program, on May 4, cutting off the benefits June 27. Other states followed suit, including Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. All are led by Republican governors."

If those states follow through on pulling the aid, nearly 2 million workers could lose almost $11 billion in benefits, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by left-leaning nonpartisan think tank The Century Foundation. But if all states continue allowing the federal unemployment funds through their current expiration date of Labor Day, almost 16 million workers nationwide would receive $100 billion. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, told Wright that states have never before accepted federal funds and then turned them down.

"Some governors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—which also called for an end to the $300 weekly extended benefits—opposed the extra support because, they said, benefits would disincentivize people to go back to work in industries such as food service and hospitality," Wright reports. "However, there is no evidence that federal pandemic unemployment benefits had a substantial effect on employment after the $600 benefits expired in July 2020, according to a February 2021 study by a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research. More than half of people who received a $600 federal unemployment check returned to work before the supplement expired," according to a paper from the University of Chicago's Becker Friedman Institute for Economics.

Politicians' views on the extra aid mainly fall along party lines. Arkansas state Sen. Ronald Caldwell framed it as a question of equity. It's unfair, he said, that farmworker jobs remain unfilled while teachers and first responders must work. "We can’t stick our head in the sand and continue on with people having grocery shelves stocked and other things that have to be done," he told Wright. 

In Georgia, Democratic state Rep. Kim Schofield said jobs are going unfilled partly because employers don't pay a living wage. "We need workplace salaries to match the 21st century workplace," Schofield said. “"There are larger companies who have made billions on the backs of workers. They can now give incentives back to workers, on-site child care, or raise some of the wages up to $15 and start there."

Stettner, of The Century Foundation, told Wright that the industries experiencing the biggest shortages, such as leisure, hospitality and trucking, don't often provide job security for workers, and argued that ending benefits for all won't address those longstanding issues.

Wednesday webinar will introduce new tool that tracks reforestation on old surface coal mines in Appalachia

Appalachian Voices, Skytruth and other regional partners will hold a free webinar at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, May 26, to discuss a new tool that tracks reforestation of reclaimed surface coal mines.

The Central Appalachian Mine Reforestation Assessment tool "makes use of satellite imagery to monitor and characterize the state of reclamation and vegetation recovery on surface coal mines in Central Appalachia from 1984 to the present," Jamie Goodman reports for Appalachian Voices. "During the webinar, we will release a report months in the making that examines the state of mine recovery in the Central Appalachian region. Links to the data used, the algorithms used to produce the data, and a webmap for the general public to use will also be made available."

The data set and tool are funded through a National Geographic Society grant. Click here for more information about the webinar or to register.

Family farms struggling with health insurance, child care

Chart by The Conversation, using Agriculture Department data
The average American farmer is 58 years old, presaging a crisis in agriculture if younger farmers don't take their place. But only 8 percent of farmers are under age 35. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made concerted efforts to help young and beginning farmers, particularly with access to farmland, credit and marketing skills. But focusing on the technical side of farming misses a fundamental fact about farms: They are inherently social entities, and their success depends upon social infrastructure as much as biophysical or financial infrastructures. Bolstering food systems’ resilience means supporting individuals so they can grow food," Ohio State University professors Shoshanah Inwood, Andrea Rissing and Florence Becot report for The Conversation, a site for journalism by academic researchers. "Our research indicates that health care and child care are two crucial ingredients for a successful food system."

Two-thirds of farmers have underlying health conditions, and one in three farmers have a family member whose health problems make farming difficult. Though more than 90% of farmers have health insurance, that number "hides details that plague the entire U.S. health care system, Inwood, Rissing and Becot write. "In addition to farming, half of all farm families have at least one adult working an additional full-time job, often primarily to get health insurance coverage. It’s an affordable option, but pulls time and energy away from farm work."

Health care expenses remain a big worry for farmers. Half of farmers said they worried they would have to sell farm assets to pay health expenses, and many told the researchers they had gone to great lengths to stay eligible for public health insurance, including tactics such as keeping marriages secret. Some said they feel trapped because too much income can disqualify them for public benefits. 

Child care is also a big concern for younger farmers. "In a national study of farm parents before the pandemic, we found that two-thirds had struggled with the cost, availability and quality of child care. Surveying farm parents during the early months of Covid-19, we found 58% reported that taking care of children became harder during the pandemic – especially for women farmers and those with children under age 6," Inwood, Rissing and Becot report. "Women are one of the fastest-growing groups of farmers, and their role as primary caregivers influences a farm’s success. In our research, women were almost twice as likely as men to report that child care was an important factor in farm decisions, 44% compared to 24% among men." The researchers also found that most female farmers with child-care problems operated small or medium farms and were much more likely to sell directly to consumers through avenues such as farmers' markets.

"Over the last 10 years, farm families have told us that public insurance options, making insurance easier for self-employed people to access, universal health insurance, and affordable rural child care would help them grow better food and stronger businesses," Inwood, Rissing and Becot write. "The Department of Agriculture announced on April 21, 2021, that it was beginning an effort to 'improve and reimagine' the supply chains for food production – including meeting the need of agriculture workers and addressing the needs of mid- to small-size farms. This an opportunity to integrate health insurance and child care as core infrastructure that supports the future of farmers and rural communities, along with the U.S. food supply."

Small-town Midwest banker survey finds record economic confidence amid worries about labor shortage

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

A May survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwest states that rely on agriculture and energy showed continued optimism about the economy, with the overall Rural Mainstreet Index jumping from April's 69 to a record 78.8. 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.

"Strong grain prices, the Federal Reserve’s record-low interest rates, and growing exports have underpinned the Rural Mainstreet Economy. Even so, current rural economic activity remains below pre-pandemic levels," reports Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who compiles the index.

April marked the sixth straight month the index has remained above growth-neutral, with over 60 percent of bank CEOs reporting their local economy expanded between April and May. However, almost nine out of 10 bankers said unfilled jobs in the area are restraining economic growth. 


Monday, May 24, 2021

If Biden wants farmers to join climate fight, he and Vilsack need a better sales pitch, Iowa farmer and journalist write

By Matt Russell and Robert Leonard

When it comes to climate change, American farmers are pulled, politically, in two directions. The right expects them to defend the status quo, which means anti-regulation and deep skepticism about man-made global warming. The left wants them to embrace a contradiction: farmers are at once partly to blame for climate change and also its helpless victims.

Faced with two disagreeable choices for how to engage with the reality of climate change, farmers have overwhelmingly chosen the skepticism that aligns with a conservative, anti-regulatory worldview. Like it or not, the right’s rhetoric is empowering: American farmers feed the world through their hard work and rugged individualism — just leave them alone and let them do their job. Republicans have farm country’s back, the thinking goes, while Democrats just want to scare them with apocalyptic scenarios and then smother them in regulations.

What farmers haven’t been offered, until now, is a robust invitation to be part of the solution to the climate problem. Biden’s Build Back Better plan, with its promise of incentives to growers to invest in ecosystem services, provides that invitation. The president is betting the political farm that American farmers and ranchers are ready to help solve this global crisis.

We think that a critical mass of growers across the nation, from row crop farmers in Iowa to apple growers in Washington State, are indeed ready to join this effort. But the invitation is just the first step. Now Biden and his team have to sell their strategy to farm country, and that will require that they abandon the feckless messaging that Democrats have used for too long, and develop a sales pitch that is more empowering than the GOP’s.

Because for the majority of farmers, the question of whether to accept Biden’s invitation remains a practical calculus: How can I make money and survive? Farm and ranch incentives — subsidies, loans, crop insurance and prices — still encourage farmers to choose maximum production of a narrow set of livestock and commodity crops over the more complex demands of changing what they do on the land to reduce emissions and sequester carbon.

Biden has vowed to change the incentives, to make it easier for more farmers to take action. But he also must prevent his political opponents from framing his invitation to farmers as a ploy to undermine modern agriculture and abandon the mission to feed the world. The idea is to keep feeding the world, but to do it in ways that conserve the land and make it more resilient and sustainable. His message should focus on farmers and ranchers as leaders, the ones who the nation depends on to figure out the best ways to combine environmental stewardship with the production of commodities as the essential outputs for American agriculture.

Innovating and problem-solving are core parts of the American farmer’s identity. Farmers are always tweaking their operations — in terms of scale, technology, genetics, business models — and they wake up every morning with a long and growing list of problems to solve. If the Biden administration wants farmers to add the climate crisis to that list, it will have to acknowledge how farmers see themselves.

Secretary Tom Vilsack is Team Biden’s frontman, the official leading the effort to get buy-in from farmers, ranchers and other rural leaders on the administration’s ideas. So far, he seems to still be finding his footing. Part of the reason is that Republicans have been feeding farmers misinformation. This has kept Vilsack on the defensive and forced him to reassure farmers that, for instance, the 30 by 30 proposal (to conserve 30% of U.S. lands by 2030) isn’t a land grab, and that the administration supports both biofuels and electric vehicles.

As a result, Vilsack’s case for Build Back Better so far amounts to, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to change things that much.”

Consider his letter introducing the USDA’s 90-Day Progress Report on its Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy: “I am confident that in partnership with our country’s agriculture and forestry stakeholders, we can develop a strategy that is a win-win for our producers in building climate resilience, mitigating emissions, and conserving our natural resources.”

No urgent call to action, no challenge to farmers to lead and innovate. Just the vague prospect of a top-down “win” delivered by government and agricultural “stakeholders.”

Contrast that with the tone from Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall in attacking the Biden plan the day before. “This initiative is further proof of the clear disconnect between the left and those who feed, fuel and clothe the world,” said Marshall in a release. “Farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists, and no one knows what’s best for the land better than those who work on it day in and day out. The best thing the federal government can do is trust the environmental judgment of farmers and ranchers and let them do what they do best: steward the land.”

This is pure identity politics as misdirection, the kind of rhetorical weaponry Republicans have been deploying for decades.

Biden shouldn’t expect farmers and rural Americans to embrace his bigger vision for climate action if Democrats fail to develop a message that speaks to the identity of farmers, ranchers, and rural Americans. If they sound like they’re just tinkering around the edges, they won’t get either the political or the policy job done. Democrats need to go big on the idea that Build Back Better is a direct investment in those American farmers and ranchers who are ready to take the lead on climate action. Every press release, every statement, should reinforce that message and be willing to punch back against anyone who suggests farmers aren’t up to the task.

Success demands disrupting both the political status quo and the vested interests of powerful agribusinesses. Empowering farmers to lead the way on climate mitigation efforts does both. It’s too early to tell how far Team Biden is willing to go to change the Democratic playbook in rural America, but the clock is ticking.

Matt Russell is a co-owner of Coyote Run Farm, near Lacona, Iowa. Radio journalist Robert Leonard of Knoxville, Iowa, is the author of the book Deep Midwest: Midwestern Explorations. The story was produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit journalism organization.

Failure of local deep pockets to save Tribune Co. is also a bad sign for community newspapers that need buyers

The $633 million sale of Tribune Co. to hedge fund Alden Global Capital is likely bad news not just for journalism in the major cities where Tribune has newspapers, but for smaller news outlets that may need help from local business interests and philanthropists to survive or maintain quality.

Efforts to find other buyers fell short because not enough deep pockets in Tribune markets were interested in maintaining their newspapers, writes Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post. Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation and a former top editor of the Chicago Tribune, told Sullivan that the outcome “represents a failure of civic leadership” in many communities, especially Chicago. "After all, the city’s many corporations include Boeing, United Airlines and Walgreens," Sullivan notes. "There’s a healthy population of plutocrats along the shore of Lake Michigan."

Screenshot of part of right rail of Gallatin North Missourian
web page shows its three publications. To enlarge, click on it.
On a smaller scale, some local weekly newspapers have been shutting down because they couldn't find buyers. One of the latest examples is the Gallatin Publishing Co. of Gallatin, Mo., which announced May 5 that it would shut down Friday, May 28, unless it could find a buyer for the weekly Gallatin North Missourian and the monthly Lake Viking News.

Publisher Darryl Wilkinson, 67, told The Rural Blog on Monday that he has since sold the monthly, to the lake's property owners association, and a real-estate and auctions website to his daughter, who is a commercial photographer, but two prospective buyers for the weekly, both with no newspaper experience, decided against it. He also has for sale a three-county shopper and a commercial printing operation. All the other operations have been subsidizing the weekly, he said.

Asked about the possibility of a philanthropic buyer, Wilkinson said, "I did not pursue that as actively or aggressively as other avenues. . . . I firmly believe that the market should determine a lot of things." But he said a local attorney has been trying to assemble a group to buy the weekly, telling him, "I cannot image a county seat without a newspaper; it's like a community without a school."

Philanthropy, conversion to non-profit status or becoming a public-service corporation are options for community newspaper owners and their communities. Wilkinson said his newspaper deals in "meat and vegetables" news that is nutritional for the community, but "This internet-driven world is all about dessert," and fewer people appreciate the value of a news outlet that can separate facts from gossip.

Sullivan writes, "Even in their shriveled states, local newspapers still are doing the crucial work of holding powerful individuals and institutions accountable, and helping to knit together communities.
The just-sold newspapers are essential to their communities’ well being. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to make a more sweeping statement: that healthy local journalism is essential to the functioning of American democracy. But it’s dwindling, as more local papers either close their doors or become mere shadows of what they once were."

Biden, Vilsack are gentle with animal agriculture on climate

President Biden wants American agriculture "to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions before any other nation, but his administration has shied away from difficult discussions about how to curb the flow of methane from livestock and dairy production, which represents a significant piece of all agricultural emissions," reports Politico's Weekly Agriculture newsletter, passing along the guts of a story in its Pro Ag subscriber-only service by Ryan McCrimmon.

"It’s an incredibly touchy subject: The culture wars have already seized on any whiff of Washington meddling with the way Americans consume meat. And the influential farm lobby remains opposed to new environmental regulations that stray beyond voluntary measures," Politico notes. Instead, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is leaning into financial incentives and innovations like digester systems that capture methane fumes from manure pits and convert them into a source of energy."

That's not enough for many climate advocates, who "want stricter oversight of large-scale animal operations and fewer taxpayer subsidies for such businesses," Politico reports. "Some progressive lawmakers favor the sort of changes that environmentalists are seeking, including more federal support for alternative protein like plant-based meat. House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro recently called for parity in research funding for such products and traditional meat — a key statement coming from the top lawmaker who's in charge of allocating more than a trillion dollars in annual spending."

On the other hand, "Meat industry groups say U.S. producers are already way ahead of their foreign counterparts when it comes to sustainable farming and ranching," Politico notes.

White farmers resent U.S. debt relief for farmers of color

Shade Lewis (Photo by Needa Satam, NYT)
The $4 billion program to erase debts that farmers of color owe the federal government, created by congressional Democrats as a response to "generations of racial discrimination" by the Department of Agriculture against Blacks and others, has generated much resentment among white farmers.

“You can feel the tension,” Missouri farmer Shade Lewis told Jack Healy of The New York Times. “We’ve caught a lot of heat from the conservative Caucasian farmers.” Lewis, 29, is "the only Black farmer in his corner of northeastern Missouri," and with other farmers of color he is "in a new culture war over race, money and power in American farming."

The program, part of the latest federal relief act, is for “socially disadvantaged farmers” — Black, Hispanic, indigenous and other nonwhites, about 5 percent of the toal. They "have endured a long history of discrimination, from violence and land theft in the Jim Crow South to banks and federal farm offices that refused them loans or government benefits that went to white farmers," Healy reports. "Black farm advocacy groups say that nearly all the land, profit and subsidies go to the biggest, most powerful farm operations, leaving Black farmers with little.

"But in large portions of rural America, the payments threaten to further anger white conservative farmers. The plans have drawn thousands of enraged comments on farm forums and are being fought by banks worried about losing interest income. And some rural residents have rallied around a new slogan, cribbed from the conservative response to the Black Lives Matter movement: All Farmers Matter." some farmers and ranchers have sued to block the program, and a group run by former Trump aide Stephen Miller is backing a lawsuit by the Texas agriculture commissioner. Healy notes that the Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that programs to remedy past discrimination must be “narrowly tailored” to accomplish a “compelling governmental interest,” including such remedies.

Lewis lives in 94% white Lewis County, where grain farmer Jeffrey Lay is president of the county Farm Bureau. “They talk about they want to get rid of discrimination,” Lay told Healy. “But they’re not even thinking about the fact that they’re discriminating against us.” Lewis cites discrimination he has encountered and says, “You can sit here and talk about race and things you’ve been through. They don’t understand. They’ll never understand.”

Covid-19 disaster in India is especially bad in rural areas; one seeks help from Rural Blog readers

The Covid-19 disaster in India is especially bad in rural areas and particularly among mothers who can't provide enough milk for their babies due to lack of food, reports Dillip Pattanaik, executive director of the Orissa State Volunteers and Social Workers Association and a friend of The Rural Blog. He writes, using the more recent English rendering of the Odia language name:

"My state Odisha has also marked an average of 12,000 positive cases and average 20 deaths per day officially (non-officially it is more). This is really scary. . . . Due to nationwide lockdown, India has witnessed collapsing jobs, businesses, migrants’ waves of migrants returning to their states without any hope for more than a year by now. Rural villages are crowded with returning migrants. Due to continuous lockdown, shutdown, curfew, farmers and tribals couldn't go to forests to collect minor forest produce as well as to farm land for farming. Whatever left with them has been finished long back. The women (particularly lactic) and children from the rural poor are lacking their minimum need for daily food intake and so on. The situation is so horrible. . . . 

"We have started some initiatives like awareness campaigns on social distancing, hand washing and busy in supporting the government for vaccination in remote villages. Along with this we have started a campaign, Nutritional Kit for Pregnant Women, Lactic Mother and Children, to ensure food security and support pregnant women and lactic mothers to fight hunger along with Covid-19. We are raising funds to provide 1,000 such kits to the poorest of the poor women, which would cost about $30,000 USD. You can donate on our online donation link : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-to-feed-the-needy?co=true#. Besides this, we are currently trying to raise funds to set up a Covid wellness center (with at least 25 beds, oxygen available, Covid-related medicines provided) in a tribal, poor, remote area where people have no access to Covid hospitals. They can be treated and stay under isolation in this wellness center."

News photographers' group will teach police, other first responders about journalists' right to record them at work

The National Press Photographers Association will instruct police, other first responders and journalists across the country about the right to record police and other officials carrying out their public duties. “At this moment in history it is crucial that the press be allowed to perform its obligation to better inform the public,” NPPA President Katie Schoolov said in a press release.

The program is funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a one-year matching grant of $50,000 from the Press Freedom Defense Fund of First Look Media. It builds on an earlier grant from the Society of Professional Journalists.
   
Knight Foundation journalism director Paul Cheung said, “The laws that protect the rights of journalists and other citizens to record public police work are clear, but they aren’t universally known. The NPPA training will help visual journalists do their jobs safely and without interference, while protecting the public’s right to know.”

The annual grant will allow NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher to provide education and training about photographers’ rights to law-enforcement agencies and journalists. He said it  “will ensure the continuation of NPPA’s critical work that raises awareness of First Amendment rights, so that journalists can continue to provide essential information to their communities, enabling informed choices in support of our democracy.”