Friday, January 07, 2022

Team looking for 'workable solutions to help save community journalism' asks publishers to fill out a five-minute survey

A group of journalism researchers, newspaper-association directors and journalists are in search of new business models for weekly newspapers, and they need weekly publishers to fill out a five-minute survey on the subject. Those who do it by Jan. 23 can enter a drawing to win a $100 gift card.

“We know there will not be a one-size-fits all solution, which is why it’s critical that we hear from as many publishers as possible to know what can work and what can’t,” says Teri Finneman, a University of Kansas journalism professor who is leading the research. “We have a stellar team that knows community journalism working on this project and hope we can make a difference.”

The work is funded with a $5,000 grant from the SNPA Foundation. It includes the South Dakota Newspaper Association, the Kansas Press Association and journalism researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota and the University of Tennessee.

Finneman, who studied how the pandemic affected community journalism in the Midwest, said the upheaval forced the long-festering issue of the industry’s business-model problem. “The time for talk is up. It’s time for action,” she said. “We believe it’s critical to have academia and the industry working together to come up with some workable solutions to help save community journalism.”

Entries for ISWNE's editorial-writing contest are due Feb. 1

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is inviting newspapers to enter its annual Golden Quill contest by Feb. 1.  Any paper that publishes fewer than five days a week may enter. 

Entries must have been published during 2021, and should reflect ISWNE's purpose: "Encouraging the writing of editorial or staff-written opinion pieces that identify local issues that are or should be of concern to the community, offer an opinion, and support a course of action."

Here are instructions from the ISWNE website: "Select up to four best editorials or signed opinion pieces from your newspaper. One person can have two different entries. Each entry is one editorial. A newspaper can have up to four different entries."

The 12 best editorials will be reprinted in Grassroots Editor, ISWNE's quarterly, refereed journal. The Golden Quill winner will receive a travel stipend of up to $500 to attend ISWNE's annual conference this summer at the University of Kentucky in Lexington July 20-23.

Click here for more information or to enter.

Interior: U.S. has twice as many abandoned oil, gas wells as previously thought; problem is widespread in rural America

Map of documented abandoned wells from recent Environmental Defense Fund report; to enlarge, click on it or go here.

"The U.S. has more than double the amount of abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, according to a preliminary analysis by the Interior Department," Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. "In a memo Wednesday, the department said there are currently more than 130,000 documented abandoned, or orphaned, wells. Comparatively, a 2019 report from the Interior documented a total of 56,600 orphaned wells across 30 states. Across the entire country they found that the number of abandoned wells in that report ranged from zero to 13,226."

Nearly every state has abandoned and orphaned wells, and it's a big health and safety issue in many rural areas. Drillers are supposed to plug their wells but often don't; such abandoned wells often leak hazardous waste and methane, and damage the health of those living nearby. In November, the Environmental Defense Fund published a map of documented abandoned wells (see above). 

The infrastructure bill signed in November has $4.7 billion to clean up old wells. On Dec. 17, Interior released guidelines for states that want to apply for grants under the program; 26 have signaled their intent to apply so far. "States applying for funding included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the memo," Budryk reports. "The Interior Department is set to publish the full amount of grant funding each state is eligible to receive in the months ahead, according to the memo."

The money allocated by the infrastructure bill won't be enough money to plug every well, Adam Peltz of the Environmental Defense Fund said during a Thursday webinar held by Interior's Bureau of Land Management Thursday about its well reclamation program. Panelists said "Plugging an orphaned well is not the same as plugging a well that hasn’t been abandoned, and plugging doesn’t include reclamation and remediation of the sites," Hannah Grover reports for NM Political Report

New coronavirus infections in rural areas up 72% last week

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Dec. 26 to Jan. 1
Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The highly contagious Omicron variant began ramping up in rural areas during the week of Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. "New infections in metropolitan counties have jumped 250% since mid-December while rural counties have seen a smaller increase of about 50%. But the gap between metropolitan and rural counties is narrowing. Rural infections grew 72% last week, versus an increase of 120% in metropolitan counties," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. "The metropolitan surge has pushed the urban infection rate to more than twice that of rural counties. That reverses the trend established during the Delta surge, when rural residents were becoming infected at a faster rate than metropolitan residents."

However, the number of Covid-related deaths fell by 25% in rural areas last week, compared to a 9% decrease in metropolitan counties. "Despite the relative improvement, the rural death rate from Covid remained 74% higher than the metropolitan rate last week, the smallest gap since early August," Marema reports.

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

Pandemic roundup: Omicron threatens economic recovery; there's good news about remdesivir; babies born to Covid-infected moms are at higher risk of health issues

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

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency Tuesday due to the coronavirus. Covid-19 hospitalizations rose more than 500% in the past seven weeks, overwhelming hospitals. 

Babies born to Covid-infected moms are 60% more likely to be born very prematurely, increasing their risk of death or long-term health problems such as cerebral palsy, asthma, hearing loss, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and kidney disease. Boys could be even more vulnerable. Read more here.

The pandemic is compounding rural hospitals' struggles with staffing and bed space. The Omicron variant is more contagious than previous iterations, but patients don't tend to get quite as ill. That means that, even when patients must go to the hospital, fewer are taking up intensive-care beds

Mounting Omicron infections among workers threaten economic recovery as businesses scramble to remain open. Read more here.

People who test positive for Covid-19 and stay home to recover and isolate are not eligible for unemployment insurance. Under federal law, Americans must be "able and available" to work to qualify for the assistance, but it's not meant to be a substitute for paid sick leave, said a Labor Department senior adviser. Read more here.

The antiviral drug remdesivir reduces recovery time in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, but a recently published study found that it's even more effective when administered earlier in the course of illness, before a patient must be hospitalized. Another recent study suggests that remdesivir could eventually be administered by inhalation instead of by infusion. That could make the drug more accessible to patients who aren't hospitalized. Two oral antiviral pills have just received emergency authorization but supplies are limited.

Though scientists have made remarkable breakthroughs in coronavirus treatments and preventatives, experts say it's just as important to increase funding for local health departments so testing, vaccines and treatments can be effectively administered. Read more here.

Quick hits: Get used to winter tornadoes; U.S. beats Canada in first trade case under USMCA, over dairy subsidies . . .

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

An international trade dispute panel ruled for the United States in a conflict over Canada's dairy import limits, the first trade dispute brought under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The panel agreed with the U.S. that Canada isn't meeting its commitments under the treaty because it set up tariff-rate quotas for dairy products in such a way that only helped Canadian processors. Read more here.

A study says winter tornadoes are going to become more frequent and more powerful. Read more here.

Women in rural areas are less likely to be treated for certain cancers, a study shows. Read more here.

Climate change is making it harder to provide clean drinking water in farm country. Read more here.

The Rural Health Information Hub will host a free webinar Thursday, Jan. 13, to discuss a newly expanded program that allows rural medical providers to qualify for loan repayment. Read more here.

Climate change is a big factor in the increasingly large and deadly wildfires, but a century of poor forest-management policies didn't help. Government and non-profit organizations have been studying fire behavior to improve such policies, and they have some recommendations. Read more here.

A growing movement of LGBTQ+ farmers is working to build community and support in rural spaces. Read more here.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Pandemic may have skewed census recounts; towns that stand to lose funding can request recount starting this week

Some communities are complaining that they will lose state and federal funding because the pandemic skewed their decennial census counts. Nelsonville, Ohio, faced a host of issues: "Renters and older people who were hard to reach, college students who left town during the pandemic and widespread distrust of government questions," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "The initial results showed that Nelsonville’s population had dropped below 5,000, which under Ohio law would have made it a village instead of a city. The change in status might have cost it millions of matching state and federal dollars for water, sewer and road projects granted under a program exclusively for small cities. It also hurt Nelsonville’s pride."

Community leaders were approved for a recount, and in October "mounted a whirlwind 10-day volunteer effort, with hundreds of people gathering names at parks and churches and going door to door to find missing addresses. The revised tally was 5,373 residents, and Ohio certified the count, preserving Nelsonville’s city status," Henderson reports. "Many communities across the country argue that pandemic-related chaos made it impossible for census workers to get an accurate count of their populations. But unlike Nelsonville, which benefited from Ohio’s unusually flexible recount law, they are unlikely to get satisfaction from federal officials. As a result, they could miss out on state and federal aid tied to population."

Starting this week, communities that think they were undercounted can file a challenge with the U.S. Census Bureau, but the process only allows challenges on the grounds that people were mistakenly placed outside of city limits. Also, "In an acknowledgement of pandemic-related disruptions, the census bureau recently announced it would review its count of people living in institutions such as college dormitories, prisons and nursing homes," Henderson reports. "But cities and the organizations supporting them want the bureau to expand that review to include apartment buildings."

Weekly papers use AP story about vote fraud; one does it in lieu of a look back at 2021, and couples it with an editorial

Screenshot of part of first page of Canadian Record's publication of Associated Press story
Weekly newspapers are taking advantage of The Associated Press's authorization to use its story that investigated all the vote-fraud allegations about the 2020 presidential election. One of the latest is The Canadian Record of Texas; Editor-Publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown coupled it with this editorial:

For the past two decades or more, our first issue of the New Year has traditionally been devoted to a review of the year just past. We have found the process of preparing that news summary a useful one because it offers a different kind of perspective on the events we have covered and the reports we have written. Through the lens of time, our perspective broadens. We can see more clearly how one event led to another, or altered its course. We can view with perhaps more understanding the impact one decision—or moment of indecision—affected another. We can celebrate the achievements of the past, the milestones we have reached, the progress that once may have seemed too inadequate, or painfully slow, but which in that long look back gains in significance.

While that greater perspective often brings greater wisdom, it just as often yields to impatience or frustration or even anger, when we see more clearly our own or others’ mistakes or failures to act—mistakes and failures whose real consequences are more clearly revealed as time passes. It is a useful exercise, though sometimes painful. Our job as journalists is to accurately chronicle this community’s history, to add to the now-131 years of Canadian Record archives. In reviewing the past, we also gain a better grasp of the future—sometimes promising, sometimes troubling, and often both.

Perhaps it is age that has left me, today, with this acute sense of foreboding. I see our country changing, our sense of common purpose in ruins, our civility abandoned, and our democracy under relentless assault. The last year is a difficult one for me to view dispassionately, or review analytically. I close my eyes and still see the images of that violent attack on the U.S. Capitol one year ago today. I still see the crude gallows erected outside the Capitol building, the noose that dangled below, the mob that shattered glass and splintered wooden doors and battered and bloodied the brave—and shamefully outnumbered—officers who tried to protect it. I will never forget how I felt, watching the events of that day, as an angry mob attempted to disrupt the lawful certification of the presidential election—fueled by the soon-to-be former President Trump, who claimed the election had been stolen from him. Trump sat in safety and watched the insurrection take place, reveling in the glory of rioters chanting his name, and refusing—despite the pleas of his allies—to act. It is a day of terror and chaos that I relive daily, both asleep and awake, and may always.

This week, rather than reviewing the stories we’ve covered, the lives we’ve lost and the new lives brought into this world, we have chosen another, more urgent path. We have accepted the generous offer of The Associated Press, allowing us and other community newspaper to republish the report of its months-long investigation “of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by the former president.” The investigation revealed fewer than 475 cases—“a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 election.” The report published in this edition covers three pages. It is neither easy, nor pleasurable, reading. I urge you to read it anyway. More than that, I ask that you consider the information presented, and the effort that was made to explain, to document, to distinguish truth from lie, to present verifiable facts, to identify sources, and ultimately, to make clear the very real consequences of our failure to defend the democratic process by which we, the people, choose our elected representatives.

Because I am a reporter and journalist—an observer of history—I cannot look away. I have seen the same anger and ugliness and poisonous distrust infiltrate the civic life of Canadian and Hemphill County. I have heard the curses and threats and violent words of those who hate and distrust, and who have used others hate and distrust for their own purpose. It is a fire, once started, that cannot be extinguished, and that blindly destroys anything in its path. I have said it before, written it in these pages, and I am trying desperately to believe it: We are better than this. We must be better than this.

Contrary to much urban belief, Capitol riot arrestees aren't disproportionately rural; groups 'rooted in the mainstream'

Proportion of population and Jan. 6 arrestees by geography (Daily Yonder chart; click the image to enlarge it.)

Many believe the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020 is largely the work of rural residents and/or fringe elements, but the facts show that neither belief is true.

The more than 700 arrestees "represent a broad swath of the nation’s geography and are no more likely than the general population to be from small towns and rural areas, a Daily Yonder analysis shows," Anya Slepyan, Tim Marema and Claire Carlson report. The Yonder's findings remain fairly consistent with an analysis they did a month after the riot.

Though 14% of the nation's population lives in nonmetropolitan counties, only 12% of the arrestees are from rural counties. "That means on a per capita basis, rural Americans are a bit less likely than the general population to have been charged for crimes in the Capitol insurrection," the Yonder reports. "County-level political geography didn’t seem to be a major factor, either. The insurrectionists are only slightly more likely than the general population to come from a county that Donald Trump won by a landslide in the 2020 presidential election." Specifically, about 29% of arrestees came from counties where Trump won by more than a 20-point margin; only 24% of Americans live in such counties.

Rioters were not part of a fringe movement comprised of unemployed extremists either, according to University of Chicago political science professor Robert Pape. On CBS's "Face the Nation," Pape said his studies of Jan. 6 and insurrectionist sentiments show that over half of the arrestees were business owners, meaning they were putting significant assets at risk by invading the Capitol. Only 7% were unemployed—about the national average—and only 13% were members of militia groups.

"This is very different than we're used to seeing from right-wing extremists where typically 25 percent, 30 percent of right-ring violent offenders are unemployed, and virtually none are CEOs or business owners," Pape said.

Race could also be a driver. "When we look at the key characteristic of why some counties and not others, what we see is the counties that sent the insurrectionists are the counties losing the most white population," Pape said. "Well, that dovetails with this right-wing conspiracy theory that used to be part of the fringe called the great replacement. The idea that whites are being replaced. This idea is also that the Democratic Party is doing this deliberately. Well, that idea now is voiced by mainstream political leaders, by mainstream media figures, embraced full throttle." That goes especially for Capitol rioters who are now running for office, as at least 57 are doing, Brittany Gibson reports for Politico. In his primary elections in 2016, Trump did best in counties with recent, large influxes of immigrants.

Pape's broader studies of political sentiment have found that about 21 million Americans believe that Joe Biden's presidency is illegitimate and that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified. Of that group, 42% said their main news sources were conservative outlets Fox News, Newsmax, and One America, while 32% say they get news mainly from CNN, NPR and major newspapers. Only 10% said their main source of news was right-wing social media like Gab or Telegraph. Pape didn't say how many were getting their news mostly from Facebook, which is not conservative in nature but whose algorithm steers users toward extreme content.

Those 21 million Americans are "a mass of combustible material," Pape warned. "Think of it as like dry wood that could be set off like — from a lightning strike or a spark, as in wildfires. Well, we're moving into a highly volatile 2022 election season, where there could be many sparks at the local levels. And a lot of our election laws, say Georgia or Texas, the counting of the vote has been more politicized than ever before."

On PBS "NewsHour" on Monday, Pape cautioned that insurrectionists are a "new type of political movement, with violence at its core" that is "rooted in the mainstream." Community and faith leaders must address this political reality, not just political leaders, he said.

"The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event," The Washington Post says in a comprehensive look divided into "Before, During and After."

News outlets must rebuild trust through social media and other channels that reach people not in their audiences

A root cause of the division in America today is its fractured media environment. We naturally gravitate to sources of information that confirm rather than challenge our beliefs, and many Americans have given up on traditional journalism as a source of information. That is happening even in rural journalism, as we watch the circulation and household penetration of most non-metropolitan newspapers decline, and news outlets struggle to restore trust.

"There are countless efforts to increase trust in news. Few have reached beyond existing readers and likely subscribers to the truly skeptical," The Poynter Institute headlines a piece by its media business analyst, Rick Edmonds. He draws on a study of news media in the U.S., the United Kingdom, India and Brazil by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford in England.

Edmonds writes that news media are focused on "retaining subscribers or broadcast audiences, often paired with adding a new paid digital base, according to the report. That means 'few individual news organizations have clear incentives for investing in building trust with indifferent, skeptical, or outright hostile parts of the public.' In addition, few of the organizations with trust-building initiatives 'can point to systematic efforts for tracking their effectiveness.'"

The few include The New York Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Paul Volpe, head of the "trust team" at the Times, told Edmonds that he agrees with the Reuters study that there are “hardcore loyalists who already believe you” and the “unconvertible who never will.” Edmonds says the Times is trying to define a "middle group who might be those who do not yet know what to think." Volpe told him, “Maybe it’s a younger audience, maybe it’s someone who’s not exposed as much to media,” but can be identified and reached through social media comments.

Suki Dardarian, senior managing editor and vice president of The Star Tribune, has a similar view: “If they’re older, disinterested people, how hard do I have to work to get those people, when I have a bunch of younger people coming in who might be more interested? Like, I’m not saying I’m writing them off, but you know, if I have to make some choices …” She said readers have expressed interest in uplifting stories, "so The Star Tribune has markedly upped its storytelling about faith, religion and spirituality," Edmonds writes. "An annual feature about lifestyle challenges, like cutting back on sugar or improving sleep, prompted the creation of a community format on those topics which has attracted thousands of comments."

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute, offered other ideas through Edmonds:

  • “Familiarity does not breed contempt, and that’s quite encouraging,” he said. Outlets should not be reticent to “show the value of their work.” They “should be as clear as possible about the mission of the organization,” particularly in an era where large segments of the public suspect hidden agendas. “You need to have ideals. Say it and then show it.”
  • Many of the best digital startups are explicit about their mission and editorial standards. Many newspapers, by contrast, “may be 100 years old, but it is easy to forget that, especially among a community of younger readers, what you stand for may not be known.”
  • Outlets need to face facts about what they think about alternate trust strategies: “No one can do everything,” but it has been easy to back into a narrow approach without much reflection. They could borrow a page from the playbook of successful politicians, Nielsen said: “You do one set of things to energize the base and another to reach the undecideds.”

New and minority farmers outbid on land with soaring prices

The pandemic has fueled a rural land rush in many parts of the country, helping farmland prices hit record highs in past months. But that has made land even harder to access for farmers who are new and/or from a racial minority, especially in the Northeast. 

According to Gabriela Pereyra, the co-director of the Land Network at the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, "the pamdemic "has deepened the longstanding crisis of land access, especially for people of color, who own just 2 percent of U.S. farmland," Greta Moran reports for Civil Eats.

"We’re seeing more and more people encroach on those areas who want second homes, more space, and connection with nature, and have zero ties to the communities,” Pereyra told Moran. 

"Since the pandemic began, rural residential land and agricultural land values have spiked," Moran reports. "In 2020, there was a 6.8% increase in residential land sales, which the Realtors Land Institute and National Association of Realtors consider to be 'underpinned by strong home-buying activity.' This coincided with an uptick in farmland real estate value by 7% across the country between June 2020 and June 2021, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Maine paper mill seeks local donations of cardboard, an example of supply-chain woes

Here's how dire supply-chain shortages are getting for some manufacturers: A paper mill in Old Town, Maine, says raw materials are so expensive that it's asking locals to donate used cardboard and other paper products, Robbie Feinberg reports for Maine Public Radio.

ND Paper makes mostly pulp and tissue paper, and has been in business for more than 150 years. But demand for old corrugated cardboard has skyrocketed because more people are shopping online. "You think about how many Amazon delivery boxes you get on a daily or weekly basis, you think about the conversion — transformation away from, you know, traditional plastic packaging at your local grocery store to paper bags," mill spokesman Brennan Burks told Feinberg.

So the mill set up a bin nearby and is asking residents from four nearby towns to donate their used cardboard. It's a win/win situation, the mill says. "Besides the financial advantage for the company, the mill is also touting the environmental benefits, too. Less than 40 percent of Maine's municipal waste was recycled in 2019. The mill hopes that by collecting pizza and cereal boxes, fewer will end up in the dump," Feinberg reports.

Online retail sales in the U.S. are expected to have hit about $920 billion in 2021, up from $792 billion in 2020, and are predicted to outstrip other retail sales growth in the next few years, Shelley Kohan reports for Forbes. That's a lot of boxes.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

PG&E found responsible for massive Dixie Fire

California investigators say Pacific Gas and Electric power lines caused last summer's Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history. "Officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said in a statement late Tuesday that the fire started after a tree came into contact with the company’s electrical distribution lines in the forested Feather River Canyon. Cal Fire officials said they forwarded their investigative report to the district attorney’s office in Butte County, where the fire started," Katherine Blunt and Jim Carlton report for The Wall Street Journal. "The Dixie Fire, which ignited on July 13, grew to consume nearly a million acres across five counties and blackened swaths of scenic forest including much of Lassen Volcanic National Park. It destroyed more than 1,300 structures, including the small town of Greenville, and left one person dead."

PG&E equipment has been implicated in more than 20 California wildfires, and was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire. The utility giant already acknowledged it was probably responsible for the fire, and in November said liability costs could reach at least $1.15 billion, Blunt and Carlton report.

In a statement Tuesday, PG&E promised to continue its efforts to make its equipment safer. "Shortly after the Dixie Fire started, PG&E Chief Executive Patti Poppe announced a plan to bury 10,000 miles of distribution lines, reversing an earlier stance by the company that doing so would be prohibitively expensive," Blunt and Carlton report. "PG&E has since solicited information from engineering and construction firms and formed an undergrounding council to help formulate the plan."

Rural cancer survivors less likely to have telehealth access, especially older, poorer, and/or minority patients

Telehealth has become increasingly popular in rural America during the pandemic, but rural cancer survivors were less likely to have access to telehealth than their urban counterparts last summer, according to a newly published study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Here are some of the study's top findings:
  • Telehealth access disparities were found among patients who were Black, Hispanic, older, and/or enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, across rural and urban lines.
  • Only 53 percent of rural cancer survivors covered by Medicare reported that their medical provider had telehealth service available, compared to 63% of their urban peers. 
  • Those who were enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid were even less likely to be offered telehealth services, the study found. 
  • 67% of the rural respondents owned a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet, compared to 82% of urban respondents. 
  • 58% of rural respondents had internet access, compared to 79% of urban respondents. 
  • Only 28% of rural respondents were likely to participate in voice calls or conferencing, compared to 46% of urban respondents. 
The researchers suggested that the health-care industry and lawmakers work on increasing broadband access and find ways to help patients increase their telehealth literacy.

Federal website aims to help cases for missing, murdered Indigenous people; may need more grassroots input

"A new website by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is meant to help increase visibility for missing and murdered indigenous people's (MMIP) cases and help with investigations, but at least one grassroots worker questions whether it will be useful for members of the American Indian and Alaska Native communities," Kristi Eaton reports for The Daily Yonder.

Olivia Gray, chair of the board of directors for the Northeast Oklahoma Indigenous Safety and Education Foundation, said many Indigenous communities might not know about the website or have internet access to use it. She recommends an outreach effort to get the word out in tribal communities, Eaton reports.

Gray also said state and federal governments rely too much on tribal governments to do footwork in such cases, instead of reaching out to grassroots organizations that commonly do a great deal of work, such as investigation, putting out flyers, and consoling families. Unless BIA recognizes and harnesses the efforts of grassroots organizations, efforts to solve MMIP cases are mostly "cosmetic," she told Eaton.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, vowed in April to create a BIA unit dedicated to MMIP cases. Native Americans and Alaska Natives are at a far higher risk of violence than average, but often fall through the cracks because of conflicting jurisdictional issues.

Fact check: Public-health officials are NOT representing cases of the common cold as coronavirus infections

"In February 2020, as the earliest Covid-19 cases cropped up in the U.S., the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners there was no need to worry. 'The coronavirus is the common cold, folks,' he said, pushing a false claim that would soon be repeated widely online," Bill McCarthy reports for The Poynter Institute's PolitiFact. "Nearly two years later, and after millions of people have died worldwide from the coronavirus and its variants, social media users are still taking up the refrain."

But that's not so, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and five other authorities, the coronavirus and its variants are genetically distinct from influenza and other viruses. One noted that the common cold isn't a specific virus, but an infection that several viruses can cause, McCarthy reports. Some colds are caused by rhinoviruses, and some are caused by one of four mild coronaviruses. Those variants are genetically different from strains that cause Covid-19, SARS, and MERS.

Moreover, experts noted, Covid-19 cases are only counted if the patient has a positive test, not just for reported symptoms that can mimic the common cold or influenza. Likewise, influenza cases only count as such after a positive flu test, McCarthy reports. In addition to a comprehensive dashboard on Covid-19, the CDC publishes a weekly report comparing infections, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 with influenza and pneumonia. It also publishes figures on covid-like and flu-like illnesses: in other words, patients with symptoms but who have not had a positive test to confirm their diagnosis. This data is collected from state and local public-health agencies and health-care providers.

New movement calls damage from abandoned coal mines 'ecocide,' framing it as a harm to rural people

Bankrupt coal companies often fail to reclaim abandoned mines, leaving cash-strapped rural communities to suffer devastating environmental consequences. A growing coalition of activists is calling such a move "ecocide" and wants to make it and other widespread ecological damage a crime before the International Criminal Court, James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. Such a declaration would have no legal bearing, since the United States isn't a member of the ICC, but the notion could help frame such "crimes against nature" in terms of the harm they do to people—especially the rural residents who live nearby and suffer the worst consequences.

The damage from abandoned mines could last millennia, according to Duke University ecologist Emily Bernhardt, who has studied Appalachian strip mines and the long-term impacts of coal mining for nearly two decades. "There are coal mines from the Roman Empire that are still emitting acid pollution," she told Bruggers.

Coal companies buy bonds that are supposed to cover the cost of reclamation if they go bankrupt or suffer a disaster. But many states don't require them to buy enough to do the job, and coal companies are increasingly leaving rural communities holding the bag. The phenomenon is rampant in Central Appalachia: "Mountaintop removal and other forms of surface mining have scarred an area of more than 2,300 square miles in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee," Bruggers reports. "Nationwide, over a million acres of land used by still operating, idle or abandoned mines need to be cleaned up and reclaimed—a job President Biden’s new $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill can only begin to address."

A recent report found that it will cost as much as $9.8 billion to reclaim coal mines in Central Appalachia. The infrastructure bill passed in November reauthorized the Abandoned Mine Land Program and allocated $11.3 billion to clean up abandoned mines.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Rural residents are disproportionately jailed, especially women, poor, and people of color; webinar Friday, Jan. 7

Rural residents are far more likely to be incarcerated than their suburban and urban peers, according to a new report from prison-reform organization Vera Institute for Justice, with incarceration statistics updated through spring 2021. The report is the latest update of the Incarceration Trends Project, launched in 2015 as an interactive tool with more than four decades of jail and prison incarceration data. (You can search for state-level trends here and county-level trends here). A webinar at 11 a.m. ET Friday, Jan. 7, will discuss the findings — learn more or register here — but here are some highlights:
  • Jail admissions in major cities have declined over the past few decades, but have risen "dramatically" in rural communities and smaller cities; as of spring 2021, about half of all Americans in local jails were in rural areas or smaller cities. Local, state and federal policies have all contributed to this trend.
  • More specifically: as of spring 2021, out of every 100,000 residents ages 15 to 64 in rural counties, 297 were in jail. That number was 231 for small and midsize metro residents, 156 for urban counties, 150 for suburban counties, and 196 for the U.S. population overall.
  • More than 10 times the level of women incarcerated in the 1970s are incarcerated today, and they're disproportionately rural.
  • People of color and poor people of all ethnicities are disproportionately incarcerated in the U.S., especially in rural areas.
  • About two-thirds of people in county jails have not been convicted of a crime.

Farm Bureau will honor 18 local affiliates at convention

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest agriculture group, will honor 18 county Farm Bureaus at its annual convention, held this year Jan. 7-12 in Atlanta. "The selected winners participated in the County Activities of Excellence program and demonstrated a commitment to offering quality programming to their counties," says a Farm Bureau press release.

Here are just a few of the winners:

  • Santa Cruz County, California for partnering with a local hospital, the county health department and other local organizations to become the nation's first county to provide mass coronavirus vaccinations for its farm workers.
  • Hillsborough County, Florida for distributing "Ag-Venture" boxes to elementary schools with education materials, videos and instructions for hands-on agriculture learning activities.
  • Daviess County, Kentucky for "You're Not Alone," a campaign that sought to educate farmers on the importance of mental health.
  • Broome County, New York for partnering with local emergency services to offer free trainings on how to respond to farming accidents.

"These county Farm Bureaus are leading through innovation to support and engage with their local communities despite the challenges brought on by the continuing Covid-19 pandemic," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.

Farmers can fill out Farm Producer Study by Jan. 18 to help government better understand and support farm country

The Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service is asking farmers and producers to participate in the 2021 Farm Producer Study to help governments and other organizations better understand and support farm country.

The Farm Producer Study is a brief questionnaire meant to help the government and other agencies better understand farmer demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender, and disability status. It also helps NASS determine questions to incorporate in future censuses and surveys. Responses are due by Jan. 18.

The survey should take no more than 10 minutes. NASS mailed questionnaires to 75,000 producers nationwide, but any producer can respond securely online at Participants who need help filling out the questionnaire can call 888-424-7828.

This should not be confused with a test-drive of the 2022 Census of Agriculture's new web portal. Starting this month, NASS will invite about 15,000 farmers and producers to do a trial run of the census ahead of its general fall launch. Click here for more information on that.

Biden administration gives $800 million support for small meatpackers as part of plan to dilute power of 'Big Four'

"President Biden announced a four-point plan for increased competition in the meat industry on Monday, including 'across the board' enforcement of antitrust laws and support of legislation to inject transparency into cattle pricing," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. "During a virtual meeting with farmers and ranchers, Biden said meatpacking, dominated by a handful of big processors, was a textbook example of the perils of corporate consolidation."

The administration will provide $800 million to support smaller meatpackers, including $50 million for technical assistance and research. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the goal with this new batch of federal grants and loans is to invest in at least 15 small packing plants and to take steps to recruit and train new workers for the industry," O. Kay Henderson reports for RadioIowa.

Also as part of the plan, USDA and the Justice Department are creating a new portal for reporting anti-competitive behavior in the meatpacking industry, Henderson reports.

Abbott reports, "The two other elements of the administration’s 'action plan' were previously-announced initiatives to spend $1 billion to increase the number of independent processors and to toughen USDA’s fair-play rules governing meatpackers."

Opinion: Acknowledge rural Americans' independent streak to get them more interested in renewable energy

Rural Americans often reject Democratic environmental policy, but it's not because they hate the earth, journalist and longtime rural resident Michelle Nijhuis writes for Grist. Environmentalists and climate-change activists would do well to respect rural residents' independent streak and discard lazy rural stereotypes from nationwide news media, she writes.

It's partly a messaging and perception issue. They often associate "environmentalism" and "climate change" with intrusive, big-government policies driven by non-rural people. "Rural Americans value the protection of their air, water, and soil as much — or even more — than their urban counterparts, but boy, do they use different words for it," Nijhuis writes. "While progressive urban activists might consider 'conservation' and 'environmental' to be more or less interchangeable, for instance, many rural people may cautiously accept the former but reject the latter, assuming that those who call themselves conservationists will be less confrontational and friendlier to hunting, fishing, and farming. (That said, plenty of people worldwide are wary of the term 'conservation,' too, given the movement’s history of violating the land claims of Indigenous and other rural people.)"

Rural Americans value clean water, wildlife preservation and the preservation of natural spaces as much as city-dwellers, but tend to dislike government regulations because they can be unfairly burdensome. Climate-change activists might sway more rural residents by talking about the need to protect against and adapt to floods, fires and heatwaves without discussing their root causes. "Like almost all urban-rural misunderstandings, these and other language barriers result from both real grievances and deliberately inflated resentments. But by avoiding hyper-polarized words and phrases, climate activists can start a conversation that would otherwise be shut down," Nijhuis writes. 

"Bridging the rural-urban divide is rarely easy. Rural resentment of city dwellers is pervasive and sometimes poisonous. Rural places can be hard to get to, and can take years to get to know. At the same time, rural places are often heartbreakingly gorgeous and surprisingly diverse, and they’re almost guaranteed to upend whatever expectations you might bring to them," Nijhuis writes. "By taking the time to understand rural issues, and by seeking climate solutions that restore livelihoods as well as landscapes, the climate movement can broaden its reach and increase its power. Which looks more and more like a matter of survival, no matter where you happen to live."

Monday, January 03, 2022

Jan. 6 must be remembered by all, and truth must be told; AP story on vote-fraud investigation is available to weeklies

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

If you edit or publish a newspaper in the U.S., please think about your Jan. 6 edition (the publication date for many if not most weeklies). Will it have anything about what happened last Jan. 6?

Please allow me, a former editor and manager of rural weeklies, to suggest that it should.

Yes, the national news media will be full of remembrances and recriminations what happened at the U.S. Capitol that day, so you may think you don't need to say anything. I think you do.

The riot, assault or insurrection (take your pick), an attempt to disrupt or even prevent the certification of the presidential election clearly and fairly won by Joe Biden, was driven by then-President Trump's lie that the election was stolen from him. I say "lie" because there is plenty of evidence that Trump knew the truth but chose to repudiate it, on the longshot hope that he could remain in office.

Think about that. The president of our country violated his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." We can argue about how close he came to his self-coup, but there's no doubt he stood by and let the deadly violence continue for hours, and the evidence indicates that he played an active role in fostering it. Some Republicans voted to impeach and convict him for it.

All this deserves comment from you because millions of Americans, and much of your audience, believe The Big Lie. National polls show that 70 to 75 percent of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Such a belief undermines faith in our democratic system and lends support to those who like Trump's unconstitutional, undemocratic, authoritarian approach. In one poll, 40% of Republicans said they could imagine circumstances that justify violence against the government.

Many of these people are your readers. Their minds are unlikely to be changed by any piece of writing, but false beliefs that are not confronted with the facts will continue to fester.

Each newspaper's audience is unique, so I wouldn't presume to tell you how to write such an editorial or column. If you don't want to express an opinion, you could republish the story that The Associated Press published last month, after its months-long investigation "of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by former President Donald Trump has found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election."

The AP doesn't usually allow non-subscribers to republish its material, but it is doing so in this case. All the wire service asks is that you include links to the story and to the sidebar that gives details of AP's investigations in each state. The request for publication of links does not apply to PDF versions of print editions. And if you use the story, please tell us; the AP folks would like to know.

Government overpaid corn farmers by $3 billion in trade war with China, report from nonpartisan watchdog office shows

The Trump administration's trade war with China hurt American farmers, but flawed data methodologies resulted in many being overpaid, says a report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress.

The government "overpaid corn farmers by about $3 billion in federal aid in 2019 and farmers in the South were paid more for the same crops than those elsewhere in the country," David Pitt reports for The Associated Press. The Agriculture Department's Market Facilitation Program, created by Trump appointees at the former president's direction, used a "justifiable" baseline for 2020, but "inappropriately high" export values resulted in a too-large payout, the report said.

"This report confirms that the Trump USDA picked winners and losers in their trade aid programs and left everyone else behind," Senate Agriculture chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who requested the report, said in a statement. "Making larger payments to farmers in the South than farmers in the Midwest or elsewhere, regardless of whether those farmers actually experienced a larger loss, undermines our future ability to support farmers when real disasters occur."

The report recommends that "the USDA Office of the Chief Economist revise its internal review process to ensure transparency of its documentation and that the agency conduct a review to ensure proper baseline methods are used in analysis," Pitt reports.

The payments may have been a deliberate attempt on Trump's part to curry favor with core voters, Pitt suggests: "Before he lost the November 2020 election, Trump made it clear he was courting farmers’ votes with federal aid. In 2019, one-third of U.S. farm income came from direct government payments and last year it was nearly 40% of their income."

Agricultural drones are increasingly popular, but federal regulations seem to prevent many farmers from using them

Farmers say drones could revolutionize agriculture, allowing them to assess their crops' health by leaf color and more. Led by North American farmers, the global market for agricultural drones was worth $1.32 billion and is expected to grow to $9.89 billion by 2028, according to a recent report. But farming advocates say U.S. regulations are often confusing and prevent farmers from using the technology. 

"The Federal Aviation Administration determines which regulations and permits apply to drones based on how high they fly, how much they can lift and whether they are for commercial or private use," Capital News Service's Nicholas Simon reports for Michigan State University's Great Lakes Echo

“You have to be in sight of the aircraft with unaided vision and you can’t use binoculars.” said Robert Goodwin, project manager of MSU's Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System. “You can use extra people in the field with radio contact to keep an eye on it. But, if your using drones you’re trying to limit labor, not bring more people into the field.”

Farmers have had little input in such regulations. The FAA's Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee regulates commercial drones, but none of its members represented farmers until recently. Congress passed a bill in January 2020 mandating that the committee expand to include representatives from farms and local government organizations, Simon reports. 

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who introduced the bill, said in a statement: "Rural America deserves a seat at the decision-making table."

Institute for Rural Journalism and Ky. Press Association win grant to boost acceptance of Covid-19 vaccines

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (which publishes The Rural Blog) and the Kentucky Press Association have won a $25,000 grant to increase acceptance of coronavirus vaccinations in Kentucky, Meg Mills reports for the University of Kentucky.

From an application by the UK-based institute, KPA received one of 27 grants chosen by the Kentucky Association of Health Plans, the trade association representing health insurers in the state. The grants provide up to $25,000 for efforts to boost coronavirus vaccine rates through "outreach, communication, education, training, transportation and/or support," Mills reports.

Al Cross, director of the institute, said the grant will help Kentucky newspapers — especially those in counties with low vaccination rates — publish special sections, which will be mailed to every household in the newspaper's home county, about the importance of immunizations in general.

"Community newspapers continue to reach a large percentage of Kentucky households, and national surveys show such papers enjoy a high level of trust among their readers," Cross said. Cynthiana Democrat editor Becky Barnes provides an excellent example: Early in the pandemic, she arranged for a special edition to be mailed to every household in the county to educate readers.

"UK Cooperative Extension Service is also supporting and partnering with IRJCI and KPA on the project. Natalie Jones, a UK extension specialist, has produced a story about vaccination that the team will offer to newspapers as the lead article for their special sections," Mills reports. "Additional material will come from the institute’s Kentucky Health News and the community newspapers’ own reporting and photography."

Arson may be rising cause of wildfires, but climate change and overgrown forests are the biggest cause

California has seen some of the worst wildfires in history in recent years. Some were caused by downed power lines or lightning, but last year's season "was unusual for the number of large fires that were linked to arson. Wildfire-arson arrests have been climbing over the last few years: In 2021, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported 140 arrests by its law enforcement division, 20 more than last year and double the number of 2019," reports Hayley Smith of the Los Angeles Times

California isn't the only place where wildfires happen, of course, but arson is an increasing factor in the South as well, The Associated Press reports. And arson may be responsible for a recent Colorado wildfire.

"To some, the apparent surge in arson incidents has been a troubling new development in California’s ever-worsening wildfire regime, and it has even given rise to a raft of conspiracy theories. Yet experts say the attention-grabbing headlines and uptick in arrests belie an enduring truth: Arson represents only a fraction of California’s fire starts each year. What has changed, they say, is that bone-dry drought conditions and overgrown forests have enabled even the smallest of sparks to explode into an inferno."

Poynter webinar at noon ET on Tuesday, Jan. 4, aims to help journalists and audiences avoid falling for fake news

Between social media and ever-more sophisticated editing software, it's harder than ever for even veteran journalists to tell real news from fake. A free Poynter Institute webinar, "Fighting Fakes and Truth Decay," will discuss how journalists can use digital tools and critical thinking skills to avoid falling for (and reporting on) fake news, and perhaps help their audiences detect it.

The webinar, hosted by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. ET Tuesday, Jan. 4. Topics will include:
  • Where does information come from and who is behind it?
  • Why do people spread disinformation?
  • How can you detect fake photos?
  • What is metadata and what will it tell you?
  • What does every journalist need to understand about algorithms?
  • See the newest tools fakers use to alter video and audio.
  • How to use polysearch tools to get to the root of an image’s origin.
Click here to register or for more information.