Saturday, September 25, 2021

Gannett selling papers in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa to Cherry Road Media, increasing its list from 7 to 27

Gannett Co. Inc. continues to sell smaller newspapers that became part of the brand when GateHouse Media bought Gannett and adopted its name. The latest are 20, including five dailies in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, in line to be sold to CherryRoad Media Inc. Terms were not disclosed.

This will be the largest acquisition yet for CherryRoad Media, a subsidiary of CherryRoad Technologies, a New Jersey-based technology company that provides technical solutions and system integration services to large enterprises, particularly state and local governments. CEO Jeremy Gulban said in a press release from media broker Dirks, Van Essen & April that the company decided late last year to look at the local newspaper industry because they felt there was a need for an infusion of technology from a supportive side as opposed to a competitive side.

Cherry Road bought the weekly Cook County News-Herald in Minnesota in late 2020. It has since acquired four papers in Arkansas, one in Alabama, and started the Rainy Lake Gazette in International Falls, Minn., in July.

Most the newspapers being acquired from Gannett are in Kansas: the Pratt Tribune, the Kiowa County Signal, the Hiawatha Penny Press, the Butler County Times-Gazette, the McPherson Sentinel, The Leavenworth Times, the Wellington Daily News, the Dodge City Daily Globe, the Newton Kansan, the Garden City Telegram, the St. John News, the Hays Daily News and the Ottawa Herald.

The Missouri acquisitions are the Independence Examiner, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, the Boonville Daily News and the Linn County Leader. Other papers being sold are the Nebraska City News Press, the Syracuse (Neb.) Journal-Democrat and the Hamburg (Iowa) Reporter.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Rural news media need to promote vaccination, not just by delivering facts to quash misinformation, but by example

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

Millions of Americans say they have decided not to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors from the coronavirus, but polling and anecdotal evidence show that some will change their minds. News media have a role to play in that, especially in rural America, where vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the nation, sometimes dangerously lower.

Few vaccine-hesitant or -resistant people are likely to be persuaded by a news story or editorial urging vaccination, but it's important to keep delivering facts about the vaccines, because social media are awash with misinformation about them. And there's another way to promote the shots: lead by example.

That's what Alan Gibson, editor and publisher of the Clinton County News in Albany, Kentucky, did this week. On the back page of the newspaper is a "house ad" telling readers that the paper's entire staff of five is vaccinated and urging readers to do likewise.

Gibson told me he got the idea from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's "Covid Stops Here" campaign, which provides signs that businesses can download and print to display their level of vaccination, and lets them post their logos to do likewise.

Gibson knew his staff was fully vaccinated. "I thought, we should promote this," he said. Why? "We're one of the hardest-hit counties in the nation but we're one of the slowest to get vaccinated." And he thought it would be better to persuade by example than to lecture: "Do as I do, you know? I'm tired of arguing with people, because the arguments aren’t valid." He said it's worth the effort "if just one or two people look at it and say, 'I need to go ahead and do this.'"

Clinton County (Wikipedia map)
Gibson could be called a beacon in a wilderness. Only two other newspapers have their logos posted on the Kentucky Chamber site, and they're in the state's most highly vaccinated counties: The State Journal of Frankfort, in Franklin County, and The Woodford Sun, in Versailles; 79% and 77% of the adjoining Bluegrass counties' vaccine-eligible residents, respectively, are fully vaccinated. In Clinton County, it's only 38%.

What are you doing to promote vaccination? In addition to editing and publishing The Rural Blog, I do likewise with Kentucky Health News, which sends a weekly update to Kentucky editors. A few weeks ago, I told them, "There is no more immediately pressing public interest in this country than persuading people to get vaccinated, and local medical professionals and news media are more trusted than those at state and national levels. Please do your part. It's a slog, but if the heroes of public health can do it, so can we."

Vote to crown the fattest of them all during Fat Bear Week, Sept. 29-Oct. 5; vote for Fat Bear Junior today

Fat Bear Week champion from 2020 (National Park Service photo)
Park rangers at Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve are gearing up for this year's Fat Bear Week, which goes Sept. 29 through Oct. 6.

They'll create a March Madness-style bracket pitting individual bears against each other, then the public votes to see who advances to the next round until one bear is crowned the fattest of them all. The annual contest is meant to celebrate Katmai's healthy ecosystem, since fat equals winter survival for bears. Last year the contest received more than 640,000 votes.

"In addition to voting during this week-long tournament, there will be a series of online chats on featuring Mike Fitz,'s resident naturalist, and rangers from Katmai to learn more about the individual bears and Katmai's healthy ecosystem," according to the event website. "Throughout the season, you can also tune in to the bear cams which offer unprecedented access to the lives the bears of Brooks River. There are also special live events on a variety of topics hosted weekly as well."

And, there's a new wrinkle this year: the Fat Bear Junior competition. Voting began Sept. 23, but you can still vote today until 9 p.m. ET. We're rooting for the admirably chunky 132's Spring Cub.

Click here for more information or to vote.

Rural Covid-19 death rate grew by 1/3 last week, highest since March and 117% higher than urban rate; infections up

NEW CORONAVIRUS INFECTIONS, in ranges by county, Sept. 12-18
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

During the week of Sept. 12-18, rural counties reported 2,906 more deaths from Covid-19, nearly one-third higher than the 2,210 deaths recorded two weeks ago, and the most since early March. That's according to an analysis by The Daily Yonder of USA Facts reports. But, since Florida deaths have not been recorded in the USA Facts reports for the past two weeks, the real death rate is likely even higher. "A crosscheck with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Florida had about 2,500 Covid-related deaths each of the last two weeks, meaning the actual death rates are potentially 20 percent higher than the USA Facts data," the Yonder's Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report.

New rural infections rose by 5% last week, compared to a 3% fall in the metro rate. The rural infection rate is about 60% higher than the metro rate. "A third of rural counties have rates of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 for the week – or five times the red-zone threshold," Murphy and Marema report. "Only about a fifth of metropolitan counties have new-infection rates that high."

Among the 100 counties with the highest new infection rates last week, 83 were rural, and 29 states had all their rural counties in the red zone, meaning there were at least 100 new daily cases per 100,000 residents over a week's time. Only four states had fewer than 90% of their counties in the red zone: Alaska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Utah.

Click here for an interactive county-level map, regional analysis and charts from the Yonder.

Quick hits: Missing factory parts slow supply chains; telehealth could help rural prisoners stop smoking...

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

One reason for the supply-chain issues plaguing the U.S. (and other countries): factories are having a hard time finding replacement mechanical and computer parts, which slows or halts production. Read more here.

The poultry muscle disease called white striping was nearly nonexistent 10 years ago, but today 99% of U.S. store-brand chickens have it, according to a newly published study from an animal welfare group. Meat from afflicted chickens has up to 224% more fat and 9% more protein than others, but doesn't taste any different. Since the stresses of factory farming cause the ailment, its frequency serves as a rough yardstick for the increasing popularity of such methods. Read more here.

The most common type of liver cancer is on the rise in rural America but trending down in cities, according to newly published research. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer and the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Diagnoses are increasing at an annual rate of nearly 6%, approaching rates seen in cities. Rural residents most likely to be diagnosed include men aged 60-69, Black people, Alaskan Natives who live in high-poverty areas or Native Americans who live in the South and/or high-poverty areas. Meanwhile, lung, breast and colon cancer rates are falling in rural America. Read more here.

Telehealth may help smokers in rural prisons kick the habit, a study has found. Read more here.

A retired farmer's new book is a touching and often funny account of life on a farm. Read more here.

Pandemic highlights weaknesses in meat supply chains

Percentage of meatpacking and processing sectors controlled by top four companies in the U.S.
(Politico chart using Family Farm Action Alliance data)

"Covid-19 was a shock up and down America’s supply chain for meat, from farmers and ranchers who couldn’t find buyers for their livestock and lost revenue and animals, to grocery shoppers who encountered steep meat prices, item limits and empty shelves. But it wasn’t the first or only such shock. Just a handful of giant companies process the vast majority of America’s beef, pork and poultry," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico. "Take the beef sector: Four companies process about 85 percent of all the cattle fed and slaughtered for boxed beef, namely muscle cuts like ribs and steaks. That means that when one or more large meatpacking site is forced to shut down, it has ripple effects across the entire country, interrupting supplies and often raising prices. Just in the last three years, the meat supply chain has also been disrupted by a fire at a major Tyson Foods plant in Kansas and a ransomware attack that shut down JBS plants that process a fifth of the U.S. beef supply."

Thursday, September 23, 2021

With a week left to reach agreement to fund government, federal agencies are being told to prepare for a shutdown

The White House will tell federal agencies today to begin preparing to shut down, as prospects for an agreement in Congress to keep funding the government remain cloudy, The Washington Post reports. A shutdown would have an impact on rural America, from Agriculture Department programs to national parks and most other federal functions, including response to the pandemic.

"Administration officials stress the request is in line with traditional procedures seven days ahead of a shutdown and not a commentary on the likelihood of a congressional deal," the Post reports. "Democrats and Republicans have made clear they intend to fund the government before its funding expires on Sept. 30, but time is running out and lawmakers are aiming to resolve an enormous set of tasks to in a matter of weeks."

Bill Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Republican staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, warned that parts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health would close in a shutdown, the Post reports: "Hoagland said a very brief shutdown may occur but said he doubted it would go on for 'any length of time'." But he also said, “This would be the first shutdown during a declaration of national emergency. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic and non-resolved issues related to the delta virus, to have a shutdown of some of the major federal agencies would add unbelievable complications to our ability to recover.”

Editor sees 'perfect storm for the resurrection of journalism at the community level' with tools for new revenue

Cover of Baranowski's report
"A confluence of political, economic and journalistic root causes have created a perfect storm for the resurrection of community journalism at the hyper-local level, despite the prevailing and oft-perpetuated belief that newspapers are doomed by emergent technology," Iowa Falls editor Tony Baranowski begins his report, Black and White and Undead All Over, for the NewStart program at West Virginia University.

Baranowski says the way is shown by papers that "steadfastly clung to traditional models of serving their communities and partners while simultaneously leveraging new tools to diversify revenue streams," such as video, email newsletters, full-service advertising agencies and that old standby that many papers dropped, job printing, with the addition of screen printing. 

Such papers tend not to be chain-owned, he writes: "The strongest community news outlets are locally owned and managed by families or individuals with local ties that stretch back decades." But he gives examples of locally owned papers that have become flagships of small chains that benefit from some centralization and consolidation of functions.

Baranowski is director of local media for Times Citizen Communications in Iowa Falls. His project, which concluded a year-long NewStart fellowship ending with a master's degree, focused on the Upper Midwest, but he also conducted a survey of more than 50 small-town publishers. By far, they said social media were the "primary competition/obstacle as it relates to revenue." Baranowski and his sources offer no solution to that problem, but the points they do make can be useful to rural newspapers looking for new paths to sustainability.
This isn't just about newspapers, Baranowski writes: "Good newspapers are as integral to the survival of rural America as just about any bellwether."

Meth-overdose deaths tripled in 2015-19; still most prevalent by far among Native populations, but soared among Blacks

Deaths from methamphetamine overdoses increased 180 percent from 2015 to 2019, and "Researchers found Native Americans and Alaska Natives still have the highest rate of methamphetamine use disorder and have seen sharp increases in drug deaths in recent years," Brian Mann reports for NPR.

"The difference is gigantic" between those groups and the rest of the population, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who co-authored the study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

"Methamphetamines are increasingly deadly because much of the supply of the stimulant sold on the street is contaminated with the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl," Mann reports. "Volkov says use of the drug has also spread rapidly into communities where it was once considered rare. Black Americans saw a tenfold increase in methamphetamine use over the same five-year period. Dr. Stephen Taylor, a psychiatrist and fellow with the American Society of Addiction Medicine, says the nation's focus on the opioid crisis — with its devastating impact on white, rural communities — distracted attention and resources away from the deadly spread of methamphetamines in communities of color."

The data in the study precede the pandemic, but Volkov noted that information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year "points to another more recent spike in methamphetamine-related overdose deaths," Mann reports.

Rural residents in top 25 markets were more likely to follow pandemic precautions when lockdown hit, study says

Rural residents who watched television news from stations in the top 25 TV markets last year were more likely to follow precautions against catching the coronavirus, a study found.

“For some rural residents, their local news often focuses on urban communities with issues quite different from their own,” wrote Eunji Kim, Michael Shepherd and Joshua Clinton in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To measure viewers' compliance with recommended precautions, they studied mobility data from Cuebiq in 771 rural counties in the first week of April 2020, when American were advised to stay home. They also surveyed 9,081 residents from 705 of the counties about their efforts to social distance, their media consumption, and their concerns about Covid-19.

They found that rural residents who watched local news from a top-25 market were more likely to social distance than those outside of a top-100 market. Rural residents in top-25 markets were also more likely to say they wore a mask outside during the period studied, and more likely to stay home, except for trips to buy food. However, political ideology was a stronger predictor of behavior.

Study finds lower overall death rates in rural hospitals that became part of larger groups, more so with heart attacks

Rural hospitals that became part of larger groups were less likely to have patients die in the hospital, says a new study published in JAMA Network Open, a journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers with IBM Watson Health and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality "analyzed data from 172 merged hospitals and 266 comparison hospitals that remained independent from 2009 to 2016," Becker's Hospital Review reports. "Mortality rates dropped from 4.3 percent to 3.2 percent at rural hospitals that completed a merger."

Also, merged rural hospitals saw an even bigger decrease, 4 percentage points, in deaths from heart attacks. "Researchers also found a significantly greater reduction in inpatient mortality for several other common conditions, such as heart failure, acute stroke and pneumonia, among patients admitted to rural hospitals involved in a merger or acquisition than among patients admitted to independent rural hospitals," Becker's reports.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Iowa co-op shows how hackers can hit food and agriculture; ag economists say farm groups need to help farmers with it

"Russian hackers leveled a ransomware attack on an Iowa farming co-op and demanded $5.9 million to unlock the computer networks used to keep food-supply chains and feeding schedules on track for millions of chickens, hogs and cattle," Jacob Bogage and Laura Reiley report for The Washington Post. "Fort Dodge-based New Cooperative, a member-owned alliance of farmers that sells corn and soy products, contained the breach and developed a workaround to continue accepting grain shipments and distributing feed."

The hackers said they would publish proprietary data, including the source code for its soil-mapping tech and research and development documents, if the cryptocurrency ransom is not paid by Sept. 25, Bogage and Reiley report. The hackers identify themselves as BlackMatter, but cybersecurity experts say the group appears to be mostly the same people as DarkSide, the Russian group that disbanded after infiltrating the Colonial Pipeline in May, disrupting fuel service to much of the East Coast for nearly a week.

The hack lends weight to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Sept. 3 warning that food and agriculture interests are increasingly attractive targets for hackers. "Huge amounts of money move with the transfer of agricultural commodities — many, many millions of dollars are transferred back and forth," Iowa State University agricultural economist Bobby J. Martens told the Post. "The bad guys are going to see those transfers. There’s a tremendous amount of money that exchanges hands."

The Department of Homeland Security has identified the food-and-agriculture sector as critical infrastructure that qualifies for additional protective resources, but hasn't given specific attention to cybersecurity, so food and processing companies have to beef up cybersecurity on their own dime, and could pass on the costs to consumers, Bogage and Reiley report.

The FBI warning recommends ways companies can protect their computer systems but has little advice for how farmers can protect themselves. University of Tennessee agricultural economists Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray urge farmers to "develop contingency plans in case they have to hold their grain or animals for a week or two while the purchasing company gets their systems back up and running." They also recommend that, "General farm organizations and commodity groups need to come together and develop a strategy to deal with the secondary impacts (farm level) of ransomware attacks on agricultural processors, suppliers, and equipment manufacturers. To do less is to leave farmers like sitting ducks on a crisp fall morning."

USDA meatpacker grants for pandemic health and safety don't address underlying problems, say worker advocates

Works process pork at a Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, in April 2017.
An investigation showed plant officials sacrificed worker safety for profits during the pandemic.
(USDA photo by Preston Keres)
The Agriculture Department's new Farm and Food Workers Relief grant program provides $600 to help farmworkers and meatpacking workers with pandemic-related health and safety costs. Though it could help families, it doesn't address underlying safety problems for such workers, according to an organizer for poultry workers in Arkansas. Kristi Eaton reports for The Daily Yonder.

Magaly Licolli, executive director of Venceremos, told the Yonder that the USDA must do more to regulate line speeds, and that many deaths that happened during the pandemic, when line speeds were sometimes increased, could have been prevented.

"In many cases during the pandemic, workers were forced to work, at first without proper personal protective equipment and then without social distancing measures and then with increased line speeds, she said," Eaton reports.

Licolli also noted that while such grants emphasize workers' personal safety efforts, much of the problem has to do with company decisions. The pandemic has made existing safety issues worse, she said, and companies that say they want to improve must listen to workers' voices when creating new regulations.

Rural vaccine weekly doses up 20%; fastest climb in 3 mos.

Vaccination rates as of Sept. 16 compared to the national average, adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

About 362,000 rural Americans completed their coronavirus vaccinations during the week of Sept. 10-16. "That’s an increase of about 20% over two weeks ago and the largest number of new vaccinations recorded in rural counties since the third week of June. In metropolitan counties, the number of newly completed vaccinations climbed by about 9% compared to two weeks ago," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. "The rural vaccination rate reached 40.4% of the total rural population – an increase of 0.8 percentage points from two weeks ago. The metropolitan rate also grew by 0.8 percentage points to 52.2%. The metropolitan completed vaccination rate remained steady at 11.8 points higher than the rural rate."

Mississippi had the highest rate of new rural vaccinations last week, growing by 1.4 percentage points to 39.4% of the rural population, Marema reports.

Meanwhile, the rural Covid death rate is twice as high as the metro county rate, which is significant because the rural and urban death rates remained similar until early August. "Since then, the weekly death rate in rural areas has grown six-fold. During the same period, the metropolitan weekly death rate increased three-fold," Marema and Tim Murphy report.

Click here for more charts, maps and regional analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive map.

Homebuilding rises as lumber prices fall; supply chain shaky

"Homebuilders in the single-family construction market are feeling better, as lumber prices are way down from sky-high levels and buyer demand is growing," Diana Olick reports for CNBC: "Builder sentiment rose 1 point in September to 76, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. It was the first increase in three months. Sentiment stood at 83 in September of last year and then set a record high of 90 last November. It then dropped off dramatically when lumber prices spiked and supply-chain issues hampered construction."

Olick also notes, "Lumber reached more than $1,600 per thousand board feet this spring, but the more recent price has been around $400."

NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke said the construction industry still faces difficulties. He told Olick that, though the cost of softwood lumber and some other building materials has gone down, "delivery times remain extended and the chronic construction labor shortage is expected to persist as the overall labor market recovers."

"The biggest hurdle for builders in the coming months will be affordability, as they are forced to raise prices in order to keep up with construction costs," Olick reports. "Buyers are still getting help from low mortgage rates, but should rates begin to rise, the squeeze on their wallets will intensify."

Appalachian commission, now under Manchin management, to unveil new strategic plan at Oct. 6 virtual conference

The Appalachian Regional Commission and the Commonwealth of Virginia will co-host ARC's annual conference on Oct. 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET.

During the virtual conference, ARC will unveil a new strategic plan to help Appalachian communities overcome economic challenges, fueled by nearly $46.4 million in recently announced grants for 57 projects in 184 counties. Attendees can see three documentary-style videos and sit in on interactive sessions on outdoor recreation, entrepreneurship development, and leadership and community capacity.

The conference will also feature a conversation between ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin (wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.) and States Co-Chair Ralph Northam, outgoing governor of Virginia. Click here to register or for more information.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Newspapers want USPS to track how it delivers their copies

The U.S. Postal Service is the main delivery device for most of the country's rural newspapers, but it doesn't keep track of its performance in delivering papers, and the papers want that to change.

Many small daily papers have stopped using carriers for delivery and are using the post office instead, and the News Media Alliance, led by dailies, has joined the National Newspaper Association, led by weeklies, to ask that the USPS performance measurement system keep track of newspaper delivery.

NNA and NMA filed joint comments before the Postal Regulatory Commission in a docket set up by USPS to change the way the service provides its public reports for on-time service performance, they said in a member alert. New delivery standards take effect in October, so USPS plans to provide new categories of information for first class mail.

"NNA and NMA reminded the PRC that the Postal Service relies upon scans from automated sorting machines to compile its data on where mail is and how reliably it is delivered," the NNA member alert said. "But because newspapers are not generally sorted by automated sorting machines in mail plants, newspaper mail is not scanned."

Post offices have improved delivery of periodicals since a big drop in service last fall, when the pandemic increased postal-worker absenteeism and raised package volume, the release noted. The latest report says 79% of periodicals were delivered on time, up 2.1 points from the same time year.

Those numbers do not include newspapers, which NNA and NMA called "a major flaw, both in capturing the whole picture of USPS performance for regulators and in failing to give the public meaningful information on why there are delivery problems." Not only are newspapers in mail processing facilities sorted manually, but those entered directly into a post office (as many if not most weeklies do) never enter the national mail processing system.

'American Idol' and 4-H partner for virtual auditions Sept. 24

Willie Spence sings "A Change Is Gonna Come" during
American Idol's 2021 finale. Watch the performance here.
The singing-competition show "American Idol" is again partnering with the 4-H Council to host a dedicated virtual audition day for the show's 20th season. On Friday, Sept. 24, 4-H singers nationwide can audition over Zoom for a chance to earn a spot on the show. Registration closes at 3 p.m. ET Sept. 24. Click here to register, or here for more information.

It's no wonder the show is happy to partner with 4-H again: Last year, 4-H alumnus Willie Spence, from rural Douglas, Ga., blew away crowds and judges with powerhouse performances like Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," finishing second in the competition.

4-H, a program of the federal-state-local Cooperative Extension Service, is the nation's largest youth development organization, with nearly 6 million members nationwide and serving every county.

Nominations due Oct. 11 for Rural Spirit Award for advocacy, community service and youth leadership; $2,000 each

Rural marketing agency Osborn Barr Paramore is accepting nominations through Oct. 11 for its fourth annual Rural Spirit Awards, which honor people in three categories for promoting community service and economic development. Each winner receives $2,000 to donate to the non-profit organization of their choice. All winners will be announced and recognized in an awards celebration on Oct. 21. Click here for more information or to nominate someone.

For the Community Service Award, OBP seeks "an individual who exhibits the rural spirit through exceptional service in the name of community growth . . . a willingness to go above and beyond — selflessly donating the time and support in an effort to positively influence their local community," says the website. The 2020 winners, Carol Graf and Diane Schmidt, run a transportation service and produce delivery service called Rides Here LLC in Waverly, Missouri. Both transit services and fresh groceries are often hard to find in rural areas. 

The Next Gen Award is for someone age 21 or under who has "demonstrated uncommon leadership through community service efforts or innovative thinking throughout their rural community," says the website. The 2020 winner, Jack White, is the founder and executive director of the Rural Leadership Initiative, which funds rural undergraduates' public service internships and projects. The initiative is an effort to combat rural "brain drain."

The Rural Advocacy Award is for "an individual who proudly embodies the heart of rural America," the website says. "Any potential Rural Advocacy Award recipient should be an integral part of their community — working hard to spur economic development, create jobs and advocate for growth." This category essentially replaces the Economic Development award from last year. The 2020 winner, Carolyn Chrisman, has been the director of Missouri's Kirksville Regional Economic Development Inc. since 2012. KREDI is a non-profit public/private partnership that works to promote economic growth through business recruitment and expansion.

'Sign war,' all in good fun, breaks out in Kentucky town as local businesses try to bring in more customers

A sign outside First United Bank and Trust Company
in Madisonville, Kentucky, pop. 20,000 (Photo provided)
Locally owned businesses—and at least one church—in Madisonville, Kentucky, population 20,000, are engaging in a goofy "sign war" to drum up more business and, hopefully, a few more smiles. 

The war consists of over-the-top sidewalk signs that often make fun of other businesses. "The war has been ongoing for over a week with no signs of slowing down. More than 70 businesses are partaking in the action," Christopher Leach reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The Chamber of Commerce has served as the mediator for the war, sharing all the creative signs they see on their Facebook page. One of latest signs to be shared on the page came from Life Apostolic Church, which claimed its 'Sundays' were better than the sundaes offered at Dairy Queen."

Businesses report increased social-media traffic and profits since the sign war began. One local business owner told Leach the goal was to keep it going through the holidays. Click here for more examples.

Pandemic roundup: Funeral aides weary; rural telehealth overview; stressed rural EMT knows all his passengers . . .

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

Many hospital workers try to get out of vaccination by claiming a religious exemption, saying it's wrong to take a vaccine developed with a cell line that began with a fetus aborted in the 1960s. In an attempt to fight vaccine misinformation, an Arkansas hospital system now requires staff to swear off common medications such as Tylenol in order to get a religious exemption. That's because those medications were also developed using fetal cell lines. In related news, a Texas megachurch preacher and Trump devotee said this week that there is no "credible religious argument" against getting the coronavirus vaccination. The head of the nation's largest Baptist seminary, a leading conservative, says likewise.

As Arizona's biggest hospitals fill with Covid-19 patients, small-town doctors say it's increasingly difficult to find beds there for critical rural patients. Oregon hospitals are so stretched thin that they've been forced to postpone surgeries and cancer care.

In 2020, Covid-stricken Alabama recorded more deaths than births for the first time in its recorded history. Read more here.

Mississippi has seen a surge in the frequency and intensity of new pediatric diabetes cases during the pandemic (both Type I and Type II). The pandemic could be at fault for a number of reasons, they say. Read more here.

Six of Kentucky's rural counties are in the top 10 nationwide for coronavirus infection rates. Health-care providers in a small-town Kentucky clinic share what that surge looks like on the ground. And a paramedic in rural Kentucky says work has been especially tough because he personally knows every Covid patient he's had to transport to the hospital. Meanwhile, some Kentucky hospitals, mostly the larger regional ones, have begun firing staff who refuse the coronavirus vaccine; others haven't, possibly for fear of staffing shortages.

Health-care workers aren't immune to Covid misinformation, and many have refused to get vaccinated, especially in rural areas. Health-care providers in rural Colorado worry vaccine mandates will create staffing problems. Another cause of rural hospital staffing shortages: RNs are being lured away by high-paying traveling nurse jobs.

It's well-known that the pandemic is taxing health-care workers, but funeral professionals are also having a hard time keeping up with increased demand. A Texas embalmer shares what it's like. Read more here.

Here's an overview of the state of rural telehealth during the pandemic, what the federal government is doing to help it expand, and challenges rural health-care providers face in implementing it. Patients and doctors who embraced telehealth during the pandemic worry it will become harder to access. Read more here and here.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Poll: Lack of trust in health and reporting institutions the biggest reasons people don't get a coronavirus vaccine

Unvaccinated respondents were polled between June 9 and July 6, 2021. Covid States Project chart; click the image to enlarge it.

A new report from The Covid States Project examines reasons why people do or don't get coronavirus vaccinations, with a heavy emphasis on why unvaccinated people remain so.

From April through July, researchers surveyed nearly 21,000 people in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., collecting open-ended and multiple-choice responses. Though the polling doesn't differentiate rural/urban differences, rural residents are among the most likely to resist coronavirus vaccination.

Pollsters asked respondents why they would or wouldn't get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Among those who gave reasons why they wouldn't get vaccinated, the most common answer (35%) was "perception of risk," the belief that vaccines pose a health risk. Another 24% said they were uncertain about the risks of the vaccines, particularly because they are new, and the perception that they were developed too quickly and/or not tested enough. Some 15% said it was lack of trust in institutions (such as public-health agencies or news stories) that say the vaccines are safe, and 12% said they don't believe Covid-19 poses a major risk to them. Only 3% said life constraints (transportation or job difficulties) have kept them from being vaccinated, and 1% said it was a fear of needles. About 9% listed other reasons such as religious beliefs, constitutional rights, and general opposition to all vaccines.

Here are some of the report's other findings:
  • 67% of respondents said they had already had at least one vaccine dose, 15% said they were willing to get vaccinated, and 18% said they weren't willing to get vaccinated.
  • Lack of trust in institutions that oversee and vouch for vaccines' safety underlies many concerns about coronavirus vaccines.
  • Trust in institutions is strongly associated with vaccination at the individual and state levels.
  • Overall, 45% said in June that they trust the news media to do the right thing to best handle the current coronavirus outbreak. Only social-media companies, at 33%, scored lower. Hospitals and doctors were the most-trusted segment, at 92%. The pollsters did not ask respondents to specify what they meant by "news media" or to differentiate among different news sources.
  • 13% of vaccinated respondents said they trusted the news media "a lot" and 38% said "some".
  • 6% of unvaccinated respondents said they trusted the news media "a lot" and 24% said "some".
  • From April to June, trust levels for all institutions and people declined modestly.
The Covid States Project is a joint effort of Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities. It receives support from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and Amazon.

Rural bankers in Midwest agriculture-and-energy states say local economies still doing well, but pandemic taking a toll

Creighton University chart compares current month to last month and year ago; click here to download it and chart below.

A September survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwestern states that rely on agriculture and energy found slightly declining but still optimistic outlooks about the economy. But bankers also had concerns about the pandemic and proposed asset-inheritance laws. 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.

In September the overall Rural Mainstreet Index fell slightly to 62.5 from August's 65.3, remaining above growth-neutral (50.0) for the 10th month straight. The farmland price index hit record high of 85.2, and 35.7% of surveyed bankers said their local economy has expanded in the past month. "Solid grain prices, the Federal Reserve’s record-low interest rates, and growing exports have underpinned the Rural Mainstreet Economy," writes Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who compiles the index. Agriculture Department data "show that 2021 year-to-date agriculture exports are more than 27.6% above that for the same period in 2020. This has been an important factor supporting the Rural Mainstreet economy."

However, 49.9% of the bankers reported that the pandemic hurt their local economies more in the past month, and 39.3% said the pandemic's harms remained the same. Only 7.3% said the pandemic's effects on the local economy decreased at all. And more than 8 in 10 bankers said President Biden's proposed changes to asset inheritance (most notably here, farmland) would hurt the agricultural sector. But as one banker noted, the change would mostly affect investors who rent out land to farmers, not family farmers who intend to work the land they inherit. And House Democrats have dropped the idea of changing the "stepped-up-basis" rule, which brought the most objections from farm interests.

Bureau of Land Management headquarters will move back to Washington, D.C., but new Colorado office will remain

"The Interior Department will summon the far-flung headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management back to Washington from the mountains of western Colorado, reversing a move by the Trump administration that caused upheaval within the agency and led to nearly 90 percent of the former headquarters staff to retire, quit or leave for other jobs," Joshua Partlow reports for The Washington Post. The Interior Department will retain the Grand Junction office as a "Western headquarters," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said when she announced the decision Friday.

The Trump administration announced the move to Grand Junction and other Western cities in 2018, saying it would save money and put the agency closer to regional stakeholders in the 245 million acres of federal land and energy reserves the bureau oversees in 12 Western states. "But current and former employees have said they believe the intention was to weaken the agency that does environmental assessments and regulates fossil fuel and other energy interests," Partlow notes.

In March 2020 a Government Accountability Office report found the move was based on faulty assumptions with little supporting evidence, and in September 2020 Interior's Office of Inspector General found that top Interior officials misled Congress about the move and overemphasized irrelevant issues in its cost-benefit analysis while ignoring important factors.

By the time the move was completed last year, 87 percent of BLM headquarters staff had quit or retired, leaving more than 80 vacancies. The bureau moved 328 of its 388 headquarters jobs west, but only 41 employees made the transfer, and Haaland noted in July that only three of them relocated.

The Grand Junction office will "remain and grow" and continue to host "important policy functions and senior personnel," according to Haaland. She didn't say how many jobs would be in each place. The agency's director and "key leadership positions" will return to Washington, D.C., she said Friday, but employees who have moved out west won't be required to relocate again, Partlow reports.

Trump supporters, local officials question election results even in some rural counties Trump won

"With denial of President Joe Biden's victory at the core of the pro-Trump movement, demands for partisan election investigations styled after the one authorized by Republicans in Arizona — focused in a county Biden won — have proliferated. Now, a push to revisit November's results is underway or being called for in at least nine counties Trump won by more than 24 points," Allan Smith reports for NBC News. That includes largely rural places like Lander County, Nevada, and Barry County, Michigan (Barry is home to two of the men arrested in a plot to kidnap Gov. Christine Whitmer).

"The county efforts are happening on a parallel track to partisan reviews launched by or in conjunction with state legislatures in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, reviews that largely stray from typical vote-auditing procedure and have sometimes involved private firms with little relevant experience or expertise," Smith reports. "Partially for those reasons, these reviews in solidly red counties have not been immune to skepticism from fellow local GOP officials — including those who run elections."

Though ballots from the presidential election have been recounted and acknowledged accurate by Republican leaders, including former Trump administration officials, Trump supporters have pressured county officials to undertake such investigations, Smith reports.

"The trend is symptomatic of the increasingly entrenched idea among the Trump base that elections are rigged and not to be trusted — a lie Trump continues to vigorously promote and which has become a litmus test for GOP officials at all levels of government. A recent CNN poll found that nearly six in 10 Republicans say believing this false claim is important to their partisan identity."

The growth of such identification and belief "demonstrates that the Big Lie is getting bigger," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, told NBC. "The threat to democracy is increasing."

Pew Research Center poll shows rural attitudes about guns

Percentage of poll respondents who strongly or somewhat favor
certain measures (Pew Research Center chart; click the image to enlarge it)
Here's some of the newest polling from the Pew Research Center on Americans' attitudes towards guns. Polls were conducted April 5-11.

  • 41% of rural residents say they own a firearm, compared to about 29% in suburbs and 20% in cities.
  • 35% of rural residents say gun violence is a major problem, compared to 47% of suburbanites and 65% of city dwellers.
  • Rural residents overall tend to favor more expansive gun policies, regardless of political affiliation.
  • 71% of rural Republicans favor allowing teachers and other K-12 school officials to carry guns at work, compared to 56% of urban Republicans.
  • 51% of urban Republicans favor a ban on assault-style weapons, compared to 31% of rural Republicans.
  • Conversely, Democrats are more likely to favor gun restrictions regardless of where they live. 
  • 33% of rural Democrats support allowing K-12 school officials to carry guns in schools, compared to 21% of urban Democrats.