Friday, February 04, 2022

Militia appears to have won Northern California county in recall vote; one leader threatened journalists on podcast

Screenshot from Shasta Scout story about militia podcast
A far-right militia in Shasta County, California, appears to have won its bid to oust a Republican county supervisor in a recall election, but the vote tally is close enough that final, certified results could be weeks away, David Benda and Damon Arthur report for the Redding Record Searchlight.

Militia members recently collected enough signatures to force a recall vote Tuesday for three supervisors, and apparently enough votes to out Supervisor Leonard Moty, a lifelong Republican and former Redding police chief. "With all 23 precincts reporting Tuesday night, recall supporters had 52.78% of the 'Yes' vote, while 47.22% of voters cast ballots against the effort to remove Moty from office. The tally remained unchanged on Wednesday," Benda and Arthur report.

As of Thursday evening, nearly 2,000 votes remained uncounted, and the elections office said it will continue receiving ballots from the post office through next Tuesday. "Moty is expected to continue serving as chair of the Board of Supervisors at next Tuesday's meeting, as elections workers continue to count mail-in ballots," Benda and Arthur report. Moty said in a statement that the recall was funded by "an out-of-state millionaire who is seeking revenge against the county" and that it had "done nothing more than sow hate and division in our community."

Shasta County (Wikipedia map)
Militia types have become increasingly bold since the beginning of the pandemic, threatening local news media and announcing the home address of the county health officer. They have a podcast with a nationwide audience and have said they want their actions to be a template for other counties. In a Jan. 13 episode, the host compared journalists to Nazi war criminals and showed a photo purporting to show journalists being hung after the Nuremburg trials, Annelise Pierce reports for the Shasta Scout. Militia leader Woody Clendenin said on the podcast, "What a lot of folks don’t know is some of the folks hung that day were the media because they had helped cover up the crimes and the lie. And I think in our own country there’s a day coming that the media will have to pay, in one way or another."

The photo, which Facebook labeled false, actually shows Nazi war criminals being hung in Ukraine, Reuters reports. The Holocaust Encyclopedia reports that the Nuremberg defendants included the head of the radio division of the German propaganda ministry and the editor of a racist, anti-Semitic newspaper, who was the only "media" member executed, Agence France-Presse reports.

Alden ramps up efforts to take over Lee Enterprises; in last quarter, subscription revenue slipped but digital rose 65%

"Hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s attempt at a hostile takeover of Lee Enterprises is heating up again," Rick Edmonds reports for Poynter. There are four new developments:

Alden had nominated sympathetic people for Lee's board of directors slots but Lee rejected the nominations. On Feb. 7, a trial begins in Delaware (where the company is incorporated) to decide whether the nominations were valid. "Unless the court sides with Alden, its effort to gain leverage on Lee’s board appears stymied for now," Edmonds reports.

On Jan. 27, Alden issued a statement to Lee shareholders badmouthing the holders of the two seats it's now seeking (the third candidate dropped out). The statement said that former CEO Mary Junck and Herbert Moloney III "are past 70, entrenched for more than 20 years and unwilling to consider alternatives for running the company," Edmonds reports.

Lee has slated its annual meeting for March 10, and issued its own statement seeking shareholders' approval of its slate of nominees. 

Lee announced its fourth-quarter 2021 financials Thursday, which Edmonds noted was not directly related to the takeover fight, but would show whether Lee is making rapid progress on digital transformation as management has claimed. Lee reported that total operating revenue increased for the second consecutive quarter. And, though total subscription revenue decreased 1.6% from the previous year, digital-only subscriptions at the end of the quarter totaled 402,000, a 65% increase from last year.

If Alden bought out Lee, a "clear majority" of U.S. dailies would be owned by hedge funds, Sara Fischer reports for Axios. Moreover, it would "essentially create a local news duopoly between Alden and Gannett/Gatehouse," which was created by the two huge chains' merger in 2019.

Quick hits: Church sues town over new limits on days for feeding hungry; new resources on rural hunger for journalists

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

A church in rural Oregon is suing the town over a new local ordinance restricting how many times a week the church can give free meals to the needy. Read more here.

The Rural Health Information Hub has updated its resource guide for journalists for rural hunger and access to healthy food. Read more here.

The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court says she'd like to see more programs encouraging lawyers to live and practice in rural Iowa. Student loan debt is an impediment to that, she noted. Read more here.

Mayfield, Ky., faces long-term psychological damage from the recent tornado. Read more here.

Rural adults are more likely to be pessimistic about cancer and feel overwhelmed by information about cancer prevention, a new study shows. Read more here.

Coal expected to remain significant global power source until at least 2050, but demand shifting from U.S. to Asia

"Coal may be losing market share as a major energy source in some parts of the world, but the death knell for the industry hasn’t sounded yet, and might not for decades," Myra Saefong reports for MarketWatch

But coal demand will likely continue shifting from the U.S. to Asia. In the United States, demand for thermal coal, which is used by power plants, is about half of what it was a decade ago, and may fall "very dramatically" in the next decade, according to IHS Markit analyst James Stevenson. "In the Asia-Pacific region, however, coal demand had been growing until very recently, and has now 'plateaued.' IHS Markit expects 'a little less coal will be consumed' with each passing year," Saefong reports.

"Coal-fired power generation from 2021 to 2024 is forecast to increase by 4.1% in China, 11% in India, and 12% in Southeast Asia, but is likely to tumble by 21% in the U.S. and 30% in the European Union, according to the International Energy Agency’s Coal 2021 report issued in December," Saefong reports.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Sunshine Week is March 13-19; if you're doing something for it, the News Leaders Association wants to know — now

By the News Leaders Association

Sunshine Week is a non-partisan, non-profit national initiative begun in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors — now the News Leaders Association — to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants have included news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit organizations, schools and individuals concerned about the public's right to know.

To mark Sunshine Week, organizations and nonprofits pressing for greater transparency have held forums addressing specific open government issues, presented research reports focusing on secrecy problems, and surveyed state compliance with open records laws and the incompleteness of local government websites, showing increasing citizen distrust spawned by government opaqueness.

News media have produced special reports and series for print, online and broadcast that featured not only the information gleaned by open records access, but also the process that they had to undergo to get the information.

Public officials have taken notice of Sunshine Week by issuing open-government proclamations, introducing laws, ordinances and policy changes designed to increase transparency, and by announcing website improvements that expanded the public’s access to government information.

If your organization is holding an event to highlight this year’s Sunshine Week, and you would like to have it considered for submission on our events calendar, click here.

News Organizations: If you would like to submit stories, editorials, columns, cartoons or graphics for public use during Sunshine Week, email your content links to Please include a brief description and/or headlines suitable for posting on the Sunshine Week website.

We invite you to join the News Leaders Association in this annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community. It’s your right to know.

When should vaccination status of Covid-19 victims be reported? Consider relevance, context; show compassion

Before seatbelt laws were the standard, many reporters used to disclose whether a person who died in a car wreck had been wearing a seatbelt. Not out of a desire to shame the victims, as many families felt, but because it was relevant. Today the same debate rages about whether to disclose the vaccination status of someone who died from Covid-19. "In addition to family members being offended at perceived shaming and blaming, citizen vigilantes are now harassing the relatives of unvaccinated Covid-19 victims. That is forcing standards editors in newsrooms around the country to think through when and how to reveal that particular detail," Kelly McBride reports for Poynter.

McBride surveyed a few standards editors this week on the issue. None had come up with a formal guideline, but all were aware of the issue. "In general, journalists are leaning on the value of relevance as they decide whether to include vaccination status. It’s also helpful to think about like cases around public-health matters that might be relevant when reporting on a death," McBride reports.

"Clearly, the public is interested in the vaccination status of those who have died of Covid-19 because they seek to answer both noble and not-so-noble questions," McBride reports. "Given that journalists have no control over which mindset consumers carry as they approach a story about a person who had died of Covid-19, the best tool storytellers have is context."

She suggests several considerations in deciding whether or not to disclose, including the person's local prominence, the availability of data to illustrate a trend, and compassion. 

Rural Covid-19 vaccination rate nears 50%; up 1¼% in Jan.

Vaccination rates as of Jan. 27, compared to national average and adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to a county. Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

About 585,000 rural Americans—1.25 percent of the rural population—completed their coronavirus vaccinations in the second half of January, bringing the rural vaccination rate to 49% as of Jan. 27, Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. In contrast, 62.5% of the metropolitan population is fully vaccinated.

"Six states have vaccinated more than two-thirds of their rural population. These are Massachusetts (79.1%), Arizona (74.1%), Connecticut (73.8%), Maine (69.6%), Hawaii (66.7%), and New Hampshire (66.5%)," Murphy and Marema report. And in four states, rural vaccination rates are higher than the metro rate: Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

Senate subcommittee clashes over bill to waive antitrust laws to let publishers negotiate with Google and Facebook

"A proposal aimed at giving news publishers the power to bargain with dominant tech platforms over the distribution of their content is dividing media groups, with some advocates arguing the proposed solution could actually hurt small and local outlets it aims to help," Rebecca Klar reports for The Hill

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, introduced with bipartisan support last March, would exempt publishers from antitrust laws for the sole purpose of negotiating with digital platforms such as Google and Facebook

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who co-sponsored the bill with John Kennedy (R-La.), said in a Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee meeting on Wednesday that the proposal would help local news publications survive by giving them leverage in negotiations.

But ranking member Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), along with some witnesses and advocates, said the proposal was misguided and suggested some publishers were having problems because they hadn't updated their business models to reflect modern tech issues. He also said the bill would effectively create a news "cartel," entrenching power among the largest publications and stifling competition from smaller newsrooms. That echoed a letter sent by several advocacy groups.

News-industry witnesses scoffed, but there is concern among some community newspapers. "The National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association of more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers, warned leading Black members of Congress that the bill “would ultimately weaken our ability to sustain our positions as pillars of the community, including our ability to collaborate with companies across industries to pioneer new programs that will help us tell our community’s stories in new and exciting ways, and create a more sustainable future for our industry.”

Bill would give farmers right to repair their own equipment

President Biden issued an executive order last year supporting Americans' right to repair items themselves instead of having to pay for time-consuming, expensive repairs from the manufacturer. "Now, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., wants legislative action to address the situation. His Agriculture Right to Repair Act will guarantee farmers the right to repair their own equipment and end current restrictions on the repair market," Jacqui Fatka reports for FarmProgress.

"I’ve been a farmer my whole life, and I’ve seen the unfair practices of equipment manufacturers make it harder and harder for folks to work on their tractors themselves—forcing them to go to an authorized mechanic and pay an arm and a leg for necessary repairs," Tester said in a statement. "Manufacturers have prevented producers from fixing their own machines in order to bolster corporate profits, and they’ve done it at the expense of family farmers and ranchers, who work hard every day to harvest the food that feeds families across the country."

Several farm groups have spoken up in support of the bill, including the National Farmers Union. A spokesperson for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said the bill is a "solution in search of a problem," Fatka reports. Since Biden's order, the Federal Trade Commission has increased enforcement against illegal repair restrictions, and many large firms have changed their policies to make it easier for consumers to repair their own electronics, but no law enshrines such a right.

According to Tester's press release, the bill would require equipment manufacturers to:
  • Make available any documentation, part, software, or tool required to diagnose, maintain, or repair their equipment.
  • Provide means to disable and re-enable an electronic security lock or other security-related function to effect diagnostics, repair, or maintenance.
  • Permit third party software to provide interoperability with other parts/tools, and to protect both the farmer’s data and equipment from hackers.
  • Ensure that when a manufacturer no longer produces documentation, parts, software, or tools for its equipment that the relevant copyrights and patents are placed in the public domain.
  • Ensure parts are replaceable using commonly available tools without causing damage to the equipment, or provide specialized tools to owners or independent providers on fair and reasonable terms.
  • Return data ownership to farmers. Manufacturers currently collect and sell all the data generated by farmers, and this data is the farmers’ “secret sauce” for how they conduct their business.
The bill also gives the FTC the authority to treat any violations of those provisions as an unfair or decptive act, Fatka reports.

Rural Midwestern air has fewer, but more potent, pollutants

Most people believe that air out in the country is cleaner than city air. But a study recently published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials shows that's not necessarily so.

"Traditionally, air quality has been measured by the size of pollution particles or, more scientifically, particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Considered that way, urban air tends to be more polluted than rural air because the size of pollution particles is generally larger," Dana Cronin reports for Illinois Newsroom. "But a University of Illinois team looked at the toxicity of those particles, scientifically known as the oxidative potential, and found that pollution particles in rural areas can be twice as toxic even though they may be smaller."

That means that the polluted rural air has almost the same impact on health as polluted urban air, said Vishal Verma, one of the study authors. The team also found that rural air toxicity increased in the summer, when there is intense agricultural activity. "Air pollution on a farm mostly stems from livestock production (which generates methane) and fertilizer (which, when it breaks down, produces nitrous oxide). Verma says there’s been a trend away from measuring air pollution based on particle mass, and that his team’s study supports that," Cronin reports. "He argues federal agencies that track air quality, like the Environmental Protection Agency, should use different measurements to paint a more accurate picture of air pollution across the United States."

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Over 400 Native American tribes agree to $665 million opioid deal with Johnson & Johnson, other drug companies

"Hundreds of Native American tribes, devastated disproportionally in the opioid epidemic, tentatively agreed to settle with the country’s three major drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson for $665 million," Meryl Kornfield reports for The Washington Post. "McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen would pay $515 million over seven years and Johnson & Johnson would contribute $150 million in two years to the federally recognized tribes, resolving litigation in dozens of states with tribal reservations, according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court in Cleveland . . . The settlement with distributors includes $75 million they agreed in September to pay the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma."

The settlement is the first of its kind for Native American tribes, and is similar to the July 2021 settlement in which the four companies agreed to pay states, counties and cities $26 billion for their role in the opioid pandemic. "The deal comes months before the first federal opioid trial for a Native American tribe, with the Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit against CVS, Walgreens and Walmart being heard in September in Oklahoma federal court. A bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, which is under negotiation, would also set aside settlement money for tribes."

The settlement buttresses the "public nuisance" strategy that has been prominent in opioid tort litigation. That tactic has been called into question in recent months after two state courts threw out settlements predicated on claims that drug companies created a public nuisance by encouraging the opioid epidemic. Still, plaintiffs remain skittish, and the Cherokee Nation recently dropped its public-nuisance claim in the Oklahoma suit, Adam Lidgett reports for Law360.

"This resolution speeds up the process of getting funds, as the sprawling opioid litigation throughout the country has taken years to reach courtrooms," Kornfield reports. "Overseen by a panel of tribal health experts, the money from this deal would go toward programs that aid drug users and their communities — a help to tribal governments bearing severe financial burdens for the health care, social services, child welfare and law enforcement resources expended during the opioid crisis. About 15 percent of funds will go toward attorneys’ fees." Native Americans were nearly 50% more likely to die from an opioid overdose than non-natives from 2006 to 2014.

Two studies aim to expand understanding of rural colleges and the challenges they face

The first step in helping rural colleges and universities is figuring out how which schools count as rural, but rurality is complicated; definitions can conflict. Two new reports aim to provide clarity. Essentially, the first report focused on identifying and mapping rural schools, while the second report focused on schools that may not be located in a rural area but serve a significant number of rural students commuting.

"Both studies received funding from Ascendium Education Group. Though it might seem like the mapping projects would overlap, researchers say they are complementary, like salt and pepper," Josh Moody reports for Inside Higher Ed

The first report, released in December by the University of Wisconsin, "Mapping Rural Colleges and Their Communities," discovered some rural institutions were not reflected as such in the commonly-used Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Education professor Nicholas Hillman and his team cross-referenced schools on that list with those on the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, which contains more detailed information, and "turned up programs in far-flung corners of the U.S. as well as educational partnerships serving students in unexpected locations, such as hotels and conference centers," Moody reports.

"The second study, released Monday, comes from the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges and is also a mapping project," Moody reports. "However, the ARRC effort focuses on identifying and mapping institutions that are rural-serving rather than colleges that are located in rural areas, factoring in colleges that may be in well-populated towns or suburban areas but have a strong regional pull."

Civilian Climate Corps could help provide a brighter future for American youth, writes policy analyst

Many disadvantaged American youth face a rocky economic future, in terms of employment and increasingly disruptive and expensive natural disasters fueled by climate change. "The economic and climate challenges young adults face may not seem related, but one program could address both: the Civilian Climate Corps, which would put young people to work addressing a range of environmental problems while also offering structure and a paycheck," senior fellow Martha Ross writes for the Brookings Institution. "The need for a Civilian Climate Corps at this crucial moment could not be clearer. Science shows that we need to take action now to address climate change. Meanwhile, for decades, the United States has profoundly failed to provide sufficient guidance and support to millions of young people transitioning to adulthood, leaving them with two bad choices: an expensive, confusing postsecondary landscape or a labor market largely offering low-wage jobs."

The Civilian Climate Corps, part of President Bidne's "Build Back Better" bill that is stalled in the Senate, is modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed 3 million disproportionately rural young men during the the Great Depression. "As part of the CCC, young people would work on a range of projects, earn a decent wage, and get valuable opportunities to build their skills and networks," Ross reports. "Corps members could work in urban, rural, and suburban settings on projects such as trail maintenance, forest management, home weatherizing, electronic waste recycling, green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff and flooding, and more."

The program—or some sort of economic intervention—is badly needed, Ross writes. A soon-to-be-released analysis from Brookings and Child Trends shows that one-third of disadvantaged teens in recent decades went on to make only $19,000 a year at age 30. Even more teens will someday be in the same boat because of the economic disruptions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Ross writes: "At the end of 2021, the unemployment rate among 20- to 24-year-olds was double that of 25- to 54-year-olds (7.1% and 3.5%, respectively). Remote learning has led to serious learning loss among K-12 students, and college enrollment is down sharply, especially at community colleges. Teachers note they have not been able to provide the same level of college and career readiness counseling as before the pandemic, and many recent high school graduates report overwhelming levels of uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion about their future."

The CCC could help the most at-risk youth prepare for good jobs later in life, help them develop supportive relationships with adults, and provide support to help them stay on track, Ross writes.

New rural Covid-19 infections fell slightly as deaths surged

New cases of the coronavirus, in ranges by county, Jan. 23-29
Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

New coronavirus cases in rural counties fell slightly Jan. 23-29 after several weeks of record highs, indicating the surge has peaked. But deaths, a trailing indicator, jumped 20 percent in rural America last week and are 17% higher than the metropolitan rate, Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder.

In raw figures, rural counties reported 640,000 new infections last week, down about 14,000, or 2%, from the previous week. Meanwhile, rural counties reported 2,567 Covid-19-related deaths, up 431 from the previous week and bringing the total number of rural Covid deaths to 150,400. New infections in metropolitan counties fell 16% over the past week, while Covid-related deaths increased 12%.

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

Hackers targeted smaller schools in 2021; towns say they need help scoring federal funds to boost cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are a growing threat to schools, "and the coronavirus pandemic has compounded their effects: More money has been demanded, and more schools have had to shut down as they scramble to recover data or even manually wipe all laptops," Cedar Attanasio reports for The Associated Press.

Schools are a tempting target for hackers: they often have limited budgets for cybersecurity, and the increasing trend of virtual learning during the pandemic has made them all the more dependent on technology and vulnerable to extortion, according to Doug Levin, director of school cybersecurity nonprofit K12 Security Information Exchange. "Levin’s group has tracked well over 1,200 cyber security incidents since 2016 at public school districts across the country," Attanasio reports. "They included 209 ransomware attacks, when hackers lock data up and charge to unlock it; 53 'denial of service' attacks, where attackers sabotage or slow a network by faking server requests; 156 'Zoombombing' incidents, where an unauthorized person intrudes on a video call; and more than 110 phishing attacks, where a deceptive message tricks a user to let a hacker into their network."

In 2021, ransomware gangs tended to target smaller school districts than in 2020. One threat analyst said that may be because larger districts are spending more on cybersecurity, while smaller districts remain vulnerable, Attanasio reports.

"In October, President Joe Biden signed the K-12 Cybersecurity Act, which calls for the federal cyber security agency to make recommendations about how to help school systems better protect themselves," Attanasio reports. And the infrastructure bill dedicated $1 billion for federal cybersecurity grant systems. But smaller city and county governments worry they'll miss out on the money because they don't have the resources or expertise to create proposals.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Extremist positions enter political mainstream; Calif. official in recall vote today says he barely recognizes his town

"Candidates for political office and sitting politicians across the country are increasingly embracing extremist talking points, endorsing hateful campaigns and promoting conspiracy theories, according to two recent studies and experts who research extremist movements," USA Today reports.

The first report, last week from the Anti-Defamation League, "showed that candidates for local, state and federal offices have parroted white-supremacist propaganda, expressed support for conspiracy theories including QAnon, and spread lies about election fraud," Will Carless reports. Another study from the voting rights advocacy organization Public Wise identified more than 220 officials or candidates who participated in or "directly supported: the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, "either by spreading disinformation about the election before the riot or by expressing support for the rioters." Some politicians take extremist viewpoints because they hope to attract supporters of former president Donald Trump, Oren Segal, vice-president of the ADL's Center on Extremism, told Carless.

Or, politicians may simply hope to appease such voters. A recall election in a rural California county shows how far to the right some conservatives have moved, and what can happen when politicians don't cater to extremist beliefs, Scott Shafer reports for KQED in Northern California.

Militia members, led by former Marine Carlos Zapata, have packed Shasta County supervisor meetings since 2020, warning supervisors not to enforce pandemic health rules. Recently, they collected enough signatures to force a recall election for Supervisor Leonard Moty today. Moty, a lifelong Republican and former police chief, told Shafer that he barely recognizes the town he's lived in his whole life: "It's very alarming and shocking to me. They try to shout you down and beat you up with their lies and information until subsequently you just give up."

Zapata said at a 2020 meeting that, though he wasn't threatening violence, Shasta County was "not going to be peaceful much longer . . . I'm not a criminal. I've never been a criminal. But I'm telling you that good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon." It may not be empty words: A recent survey from The Covid States Project found that independent and Republican men were the most likely of any party or gender to say that violent protest against the government is justifiable right now.

GOP consultant Mike Madrid told Shafer the recall shows how extreme the Republican Party has become in the state: "We're witnessing really what is probably the first attempt in the nation for a militia-backed organization to unseat Trump-supporting Republicans simply because they're trying to make government work and government function." The militia has a podcast for like-minded listeners across the country, and says the recall is a blueprint for conservatives in other states, Shafer reports.

Oregon publisher who shows good journalism is good business is selling; prospective buyers must write an essay

Most of the front page of a recent edition of the Enterprise
Since 2015 Les Zaitz has turned his family's Malheur Enterprise into a newspaper that shows good journalism is good business. Now he's leaving the business, and looking for the right buyer.

The Enterprise is in Vale, Oregon, seat of Malheur County, which has another paper, but it can't keep up with Zaitz, who won a long string of awards as an investigative reporter for The Oregonian in Portland. His work with the Enterprise won him the Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, in 2018.

Zaitz posted his notice via the email list of the NewStart Alliance of West Virginia University, which recruits and trains prospective owners of community newspapers. He writes, "This is the right journalistic enterprise and business for someone looking to escape big-city life and corporate machinations and put skills and ideas to work for a community that appreciates quality local news."

Zaitz says he and Scotta Callister, his partner in life and in journalism, are "seeking new owners who will personally manage and develop the Vale operation. There is no intention to sell to a chain or newspaper group. . . . Financing to fit the operation’s ability to pay will be part of the deal. The entry cost will be manageable, to preserve capital for a new owner to operate successfully. And there will be consulting, especially on the business side, so those with journalism but not business experience can feel comfortable stepping in."

Les Zaitz with some of his awards (Quill magazine photo)
But there's a qualifying threshold, due March 1: "A confidential essay on your background, your ambitions, and what you learn independently about the Enterprise that makes you interested. Describe in general terms your financial strength. . . . The essays and supporting information will be reviewed and top candidates will be invited to execute a nondisclosure agreement to proceed. We want a new buyer to dream and let us help make the dream happen." The full notice is posted here.

Zaitz told Angela Fu of The Poynter Institute, “I’m not going to just hand the keys to someone and all they’re going to see is my taillights. We’ll be there as a support system to give them every opportunity to build on what we’ve done and to be a success.” He told The Rural Blog, “I really want to help someone with ambition and drive and zeal for local news take over in a way that doesn't crush them with debt, gives them a safety net of consulting as needed, and is ready to embrace the changes that continue to develop in local news.

"One last word," Les writes. "It’s axiomatic that journalism is in trouble in the U.S. The fact, however, is that local journalism, well done and keenly focused by engaged practitioners, is successful. The Malheur Enterprise may be just the place for you to put your own ambitions, ideas and energy to work."

Rural Tenn. advocate says, don't paint locals with a broad brush; support our fight against book banning, she writes

McMinn County, Tennessee, is in the nationwide spotlight after the local school board voted to ban "Maus", a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. The school board has been broadly denounced, but so too has the county as a whole. That's unjust, since many locals also object to the ban and are trying to reverse it, writes lifelong McMinn County resident Whitney Kimball Coe for The Daily Yonder. Social media and the mainstream media jumped on the issue after the Jan. 26 vote, and Coe gave an interview with CNN. expressing how many locals were angry about the decision. But many posts still painted Tennesseans with a broad brush.

"Do they think we’re not outraged, too, here in East Tennessee? Do they think we can’t speak up and respond for ourselves? Because let me tell you, I lay awake the night before the CNN interview indulging my own outrage and constructing a commentary that would eviscerate all book ban supporters and signal to the rest of the world that I, too, am pissed off. It would feel good to give into the outrage, the indignation, the snark," Coe writes. "But I let the outrage pass over and through me because I live here. We live here. These are our people, our schools, our kids. We spend our days relying on the trust and goodwill of our neighbors to make a life here. Neil Gaiman doesn’t shop at the Food City downtown. Trevor Noah doesn’t volunteer with the local United Way. CNN isn’t interested in solutions journalism and outrage is where relationships go to die."

McMinn County, Tenn.
(Wikipedia map)
Opportunistic commentary only alienates Tennesseans and makes them more likely to dig their heels in, Coe writes. "If you must write about us, at least give a damn about us. Outrage is the quick and easy response if you’re not committed to the sum of us; that is, if you’re only committed to signaling which side you’re on and don’t really care about communities outside your bubble."

She also notes that book banning, or attempts to do so, are not limited to Tennessee. "The American Library Association says the number of attempts to ban school library books was 67% higher in September 2021 than in September 2020, fueled in large part by conservative activists organizing at a national level with an eye toward influencing local politics," Coe writes. "This isn’t a McMinn County problem or a rural problem. We aren’t a novelty. We sure as hell shouldn’t be the scapegoats for deeper rifts in our national and global fabric."

Coe is vice president of is vice president of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder. She also directs the Rural Assembly, a national coalition that supports better policy and more opportunity for rural Americans.

Home generator sales are booming; if you want one, here's what to consider, including essential safety precuations

Home generator sales are booming as increasingly extreme weather and wildfires lead to more power outages. Major generator maker Generac Power Systems saw a nearly 50 percent jump in revenue in 2021. But "buying a generator can be a big investment with a lot to consider. It's important to know what kind of generator would work best for your situation and how to use it safely," Jeff Brady reports for NPR. With a major winter storm expected to hit much of the central U.S. starting tomorrow night, it's a good time to review the topic and safety precautions.

The first option is a home standby generator, which usually runs off natural gas or propane and can automatically start up when the power goes out. These units can power an entire house, but they have a price tag to match—upwards of $10,000 for a medium-sized house, after installation—so they make up only 5% of the market, Brady reports.

Most people instead buy portable generators that run on gasoline. "Portable generators cost as little as a few hundred dollars, but they come with limits. Most won't power an entire house, like a permanently mounted model will, so you have to choose what gets plugged in during an outage," Brady reports. Paul Hope, home and garden editor at Consumer Reports, said an electrician can connect a portable generator to a house's circuit breaker box, then the homeowner can manually transfer power to the generator when the power goes out.

Instead of wiring a generator to the house, some people choose to run extension cords out to a generator. If you go that route, be careful. "The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 70 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators," Brady reports. "The agency says the machine must be at least 20 feet from a house, with the exhaust directed away from the home and other buildings where people go. The CPSC says you should never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawl space or shed — or even on a porch." Hope advises people to make sure they have a generator and plenty of long, heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords so the generator can be located at least 20 feet away from the house.

"Another thing to consider is how much gasoline needs to be stored to run a portable generator during an extended outage," Brady reports. "Some burn up to 20 gallons of gas a day. Hope says to make sure to store gas in approved containers and add fuel stabilizer to boost the life of the gas up to two years. If you still haven't used it by then, you can burn the gas in your car."

If you don't want to deal with a generator, Hope notes that there are a few other options. If you just need a little juice to charge, say, your phone, some lights and a hotplate, you can get a battery-powered portable power station for about $1,000, but it won't keep your refrigerator and freezer cold for long unless it's one of the much higher-end models. Solar panels are also an option, Hope told Brady, but acknowledges they're as expensive as a home standby generator and can't store much power unless you invest in a considerable home battery storage.

Expanded Medicaid may save many rural hospitals in South

Rural hospitals, especially in the South, have closed in alarming numbers in recent decades, but pandemic funding slowed the trend. Pandemic funding will end, but expanding Medicaid in states that haven't done so could bring in the funding to save many hospitals. That's part of Democrats' "Build Back Better" bill that has an uncertain future in Congress.

"The coronavirus pandemic devastated rural hospitals in the South initially, with 13 of them closing in 2020 alone. But federal pandemic relief sustained hospitals in rural communities last year. No rural hospitals in the South closed in 2021, and only two closed nationwide," Elisha Brown reports for Facing South. "However, special pandemic funding for hospitals in rural communities is running out and some is expected to expire at the end of this year. Meanwhile, the Omicron surge is worsening the medical industry's staffing shortages. Health care advocates say expanding Medicaid in the region could help rural hospitals stay afloat and provide needed care. To date, 38 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and 12 states have not, with eight of the non-expansion states in the South. The non-expansion states have seen more rural hospital closures."

Medicaid expansion has had a "tremendous positive impact" on rural hospitals, Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, told Brown.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Friday webinar to discuss USDA Farm Income Forecast; profits could fall because of less federal aid, higher costs

On Friday, Feb. 4, the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service will release the first of three financial forecasts of farm income for 2022. At 1 p.m. ET Friday, ERS economist Carrie Litkowski will present the forecast's top findings in a free webinar.

ERS releases three such forecasts a year—typically in February, August and November—with core statistical indicators on the farming economy. Click here for more information or to register, and click here for the latest forecast from December (the new report will be released on this page as well).

Predictions for this year? "After reaching an eight-year high thanks to massive pandemic payments in 2021, net farm income — USDA’s gauge of profitability — is expected to fall precipitously this year," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. "Income would fall in the face of higher costs of production and federal payments that will be a fraction of last year’s $27 billion, according to analysts. Commodity prices and ag exports would remain strong but not high enough to offset the expiration of pandemic relief programs."

Non-dailies can enter weekly editors' society's Golden Quill contest for opinion writing by Tuesday, Feb. 1

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is still accepting nominations for the 62nd annual Gold Quill Award, but hurry: entries must be postmarked by tomorrow, Feb. 1.

The Golden Quill Award contest honors outstanding editorial or staff-written opinion pieces from less-than-daily publications that identify local issues of concern, offer an opinion, and support a course of action. Syndicated columns are not eligible, and entries must have been published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. Online-only newsrooms are eligible as long as they tare considered community news sites.

You may enter up to four of the best editorials of opinion pieces from your newspaper; each individual is limited to two entries. The entry fee is $10 for each editorial or column for ISWNE members, $15 for non-ISWNE members, and $5 for students.

The 12 best editorials will be published in the Summer 2022 issue of ISWNE's biannual journal, Grassroots Editor. The overall winner will be invited to attend ISWNE's annual conference in Lexington, Ky., July 20-24, and will receive a conference scholarship and travel expenses up to $500.

Last year's award went to Melissa Hale-Spencer of The Altamont Enterprise in New York for her piece that was central to a campaign that ensured fairness for an incapacitated subscriber and preservation of historic structures on her 87-acre property near the Hudson River.

Click here for more information or to enter the contest.

Research suggests local journalists quote local experts, not Fauci et al., when discussing pandemic health guidelines

Rural journalists are charged with keeping readers informed about the coronavirus pandemic, but widespread skepticism of government-endorsed public-health measures makes it difficult (as rural Minnesota publisher-editor Reed Anfinson can attest; see this story from last week).

Soon-to-be-published research suggests a solid approach to making public-health information seem more trustworthy to readers: Quote local sources such as doctors or health-department administrators instead of "elite" sources such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Austin Fitzgerald reports for the University of Missouri's Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. So advise Associate Professors Monique Luisi and Ben Warner, who analyzed the results of a survey of more than 3,000 adults about attitudes concerning coronavirus vaccines, politics, and trust in public-health recommendations.

The findings "were striking. While demographic factors — such as age and race — and partisanship explained some variance in views about vaccination and public health recommendations, anti-elitism accounted for more than a third of this variance," Fitzgerald reports. "Though partisanship has been seen as an important factor in the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, this finding indicates the story is more nuanced, especially given that the media — one of the primary purveyors of public health information — is itself considered 'elite' by many who hold anti-elitist values."

So, local newsrooms are likely best served by quoting local sources and citing local impact. "When people hear about the burden the virus is creating in their community or learn about what their local health department is doing, they are more receptive," Luisi told Fitzgerald. "And a more receptive audience could mean more lives saved."

Federal laws likely undercount foreign farmland ownership

Foreign companies own more than 10 million acres of American farmland, but the real number is likely higher. "Despite a federal law requiring foreign transactions of agricultural land be reported to and recorded by the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s database appears to be missing significant acres of land," Jamie Grey, Emily Featherston, Lee Zurik, Jon Decker and Cory Johnson report for Gray Television's Investigate TV. "Records of who owns what don’t match. Reconciling federal, state and county records on land ownership is all but impossible. It is unclear whether the discrepancies originate from the companies’ reporting, the forms or the USDA’s recording of the land."

The Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act, passed in 1978, required the USDA to track foreign ownership of farmland, but the data collected under that law appears to be incomplete. Foreign companies or individuals that buy American farmland are supposed to fill out a form reporting it to the USDA, but Investigate TV found numerous discrepancies when they tried matching federal data with county assessors' records.

"In recent decades, no federal legislation to drastically change the tracking or sale of farmland has passed," Investigate TV reports. "State and federal lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pushed for changes – from locking down the sale of agricultural land to foreign entities to forcing increased transparency and mandating more accurate record-keeping."

Another reason it's hard to reconcile the database with county records: USDA's definitions for some data fields are sometimes incorrectly identified or inconsistent with county definitions. "When InvestigateTV asked the USDA to provide data definitions to help clarify the discrepancies, an agency spokesperson provided two, un-dated data fields keys, which in some cases either contain fields not included in the data sets, or are missing fields," Investigate TV reports. "When asked which data fields correspond to Farm Services Administration Form-153, the document farms use to report foreign ownership and is the source for the AFIDA database, the spokesperson provided a 'rough' breakdown, but said: 'We don’t have anything specific to identify which sections of the form correspond to the data fields in the database.'"

FCC announces over $1.2 billion for rural broadband, and a new program to make sure it's spent properly

"The Federal Communications Commission is ready to authorize more than $1.2 billion in funding through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Announced in 2019, the 10-year program seeks to expand broadband internet access across rural America. In an announcement spotted by The Verge, the FCC says the funding wave will see 23 broadband providers bring internet service to more than 1 million locations across 32 states," I. Bonifacic reports for Engadget. "Additionally, and maybe even more importantly, the FCC also announced the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan, a program to ensure recipients of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are properly spending the funding they receive from the public."

"The commission announced in July 2021 that it wanted to "clean up" the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund after it discovered that internet service providers had accepted funds to deploy broadband in urban areas or in places where high-speed internet was already available. Those companies were told to either justify their bids or withdraw their funding requests," Nathaniel Mott reports for PC.

The program aims to increase oversight for broadband funding recipients by doing twice as many audits as last year and doing more on-site audits (especially for large or "high-risk" recipients), Mott reports. Also, for the first time, the results of verifications, audits, and speed and latency performance testing will be publicly available online.