Monday, July 18, 2022

Rural Blog largely on hiatus this week for ISWNE gathering

The Rural Blog will be largely on hiatus the rest of the week as the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues hosts the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors on the University of Kentucky campus and other locations in the Bluegrass.

If you do or see a story that you think shouldn't wait until next week to appear on the blog, we can still get it in. Just email or

Rural Iowa library closed for a month after third librarian in two years resigns over local pushback to 'liberal' books

The Vinton Public Library in Vinton, Iowa (Library of Congress photo)
The Vinton Public Libary in Vinton, Iowa, is reopening today for limited hours after being closed for a month following the resignation of the library's third director in two years. The librarians resigned after locals in the town of 5,000 objected to the library's hiring of LGBTQ employees and display of books that featured LGBTQ themes and political figures such as Jill Biden and Kamala Harris, Samantha Hernandez reports for the Des Moines Register.

It's an extreme example of what's happening in libraries all over the country, as locals push back against a perceived liberal bias in content. "As highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country, librarians — accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities — have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk," Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter report for The New York Times. "They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation."

Vinton in Benson County
(Wikipedia map)
Interim director Colton Neeley was the latest to resign at the Vinton library. Neeley, who is openly gay, said many locals objected when he was hired two years ago as the children's librarian. He considered applying for the permanent director's position but was told he didn't have enough experience, even though he was serving as the interim director, Hernandez reports. Before that, permanent director Renee Greenlee resigned in June after only six months on the job. She had been hired to replace permanent director Janette McMahon, who lasted only a year herself.

McMahon, now the librarian in another small town in Iowa, said locals informally complained to her that the book selection was biased against conservatives, and repeatedly checked out the controversial books and refused to return them. She recently spoke with Ayesha Rascoe of NPR about how she decides on which books to stock at the library, and denied any sort of political agenda. But, "like in a lot of small towns, gossip and conjecture and the side conversations just kind of take over. And at that point, you become unable to really do your job well," McMahon said. "You know, you think small-town libraries - oh, they don't get the controversy of New York or the big cities. Well, actually, I think the controversies, it's in small towns, I think, even worse simply because you know everyone in small towns. And change is very hard. And when change comes, these things happen."

The Vinton library board is reviewing applications for a new librarian. They're hoping to find someone who can communicate effectively with locals to explain why certain books are in the library's collection, board director Jimmy Kelly told KCCI 8 News in Des Moines. And, Kelly said obliquely, the interview process will include a warning about local turbulence: "We also want to get them to understand the situations and circumstances they might be dealing with."

Competing publishers claim rights to weekly paper in Iowa, keep publishing separate editions with same nameplate

Photo from The Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa
Residents of Calhoun County, Iowa, were greeted last week with two different issues of the Lake City Graphic-Advocate last week, "each with the familiar purple masthead, but each with a different publisher," Kelby Wingert reports for The Messenger in Fort Dodge. "Both Chris Nelson of Nelson Media Co. and Matt Grohe of Mid-America Publishing believe they are the rightful owners. . . . In addition to two printed newspapers, there are also now two Facebook pages and websites for The Graphic-Advocate, each under the control of a different publisher."

Mid-America, based in Hampton, has published the weekly for 15 years. "On April 26, Grohe wrote a letter on The Graphic-Advocate’s Facebook page explaining that the newspaper had been losing money for years — including $18,000 in 2021 — and that he was 'exploring options' for the business," WIngert reports. "Nelson said in April, Grohe had reached out to him to see if he was interested in buying The Graphic-Advocate at that time, but negotiations didn’t go well."

Kendra Breitsprecher, owner and publisher of The Dayton Leader, said she signed an agreement to buy the paper May 26, and took control June 1. "She published four issues and was listed as the owner/publisher on the newspaper’s masthead on all four issues, she said. Mid-America Publishing continued to do the printing, After about a month of owning the newspaper, Breitsprecher agreed to sell it to Nelson. . . . After Nelson took over on July 6, Grohe and Mid-America Publishing sent cease-and-desist letters to both Breitsprecher and Nelson, telling them both to stop doing business as The Graphic-Advocate.

Grohe told Wingert, “The agreement fell apart between Mid-America Publishing and the Dayton Leader, and Mid-America informed the Dayton Leader that they were revoking the agreement. The Dayton Leader agreement had not closed — there were closing conditions in the agreement that had not been met.”

Nelson disputes that. He said in an open letter posted Thursday that Grohe failed to hand over "key assets" such as postal permits, post-office box keys and access to online platforms, Nelson Media Company said in an open letter posted on Thursday, but he and Grohe "had a message they wanted to share with readers and subscribers," Wingert reports.

Lake City in Calhoun County (Wikipedia)
“We apologize for any confusion, and we’re working steadily toward a resolution,” Grohe said.

“We are going to keep the Graphic-Advocate open,” Nelson said. “We care and we want what’s best for small communities and small-town journalism.”

"For now, it appears both publishers will continue to print their versions of The Graphic-Advocate," Wingert wriites, "with neither backing down."