Friday, August 19, 2022

Dems need to compete harder in rural areas with candidates like congressman from Maine, Economist columnist says

As Democrats lost millions of rural voters in the last decade, "They took to lamenting Republican advantages in the electoral college and the Senate," writes James Bennet in his Lexington column on American politics for The Economist. "What Democrats have not done is compete harder. They instead condemn rural voters as mourning their white privilege in a diversifying country. Bennet, the first American to write the column, notes Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's lines at big-city fund-raisers about "deplorables" "clingers" to guns and religion.

Bennet has an example for Democrats to follow: Rep. Jared Golden of Maine's 2nd District, the second most rural in the nation. "The district tells the story of how Democrats lost their appeal to rural and working-class Americans, and with it at times majorities in Congress to match the party’s consistent majorities in the national vote. It also suggests how the Democrats might recover," with candidates like Golden, who is favored to win a third term in November.

Golden hates What's the Matter with Kansas, the 2004 book by Thomas Frank that argues rural Americans' vote on social issues at the expense of their self-interest. “No, people are not voting against their own self-interest. They know what’s important to them,” he said, while the Democratic Party “has developed too much of an attitude that anyone that disagrees with us is just not smart.”

This Marine vet of Afghan and Iraq "says he is a Democrat because he believes government has a critical role to play in helping people," Bennet writes. "But he thinks his party has taken a grandiose view of that role, alienating rural voters by trying to dictate national standards that ignore local realities—such as unrealistic credentials for day-care teachers—and wasting money on people who do not need it. He supports anti-poverty initiatives like the child tax credit, but was outraged that Democrats continued permitting it to couples earning as much as $400,000 a year. . . . Golden worries that Democrats think they can write off rural voters and rely on demographic change to supply majorities by turning more of America into Portland. 'I don’t know if that’s even true,' he says. 'Secondly, even if it is, don’t you just want to do right by everybody?'"

Golden and Bennet met in Skohegan, over a successful local beer made by a company that a teacher and millworker started in a barn; now they "are turning the idled mill in town into a brewpub, hotel and apartments. The brewers want to help clean up the Kennebec River," and they and and other local business people met with Golden that day. "Their excitement about the future of their pretty, faded town was infectious."

“I think my job is to try and connect them with as much help along the way or clear as many roadblocks as possible,” Golden told Bennet. “I think they want to believe in a government that will help them do those things. But they’re very skeptical of it.”

'Redefining Your Newspaper Business Model with Research' webinar, reporting on a Kansas experiment, set Thursday

The 200-year-old business model used by the newspaper industry clearly needs changing, and experiments are underway. A progress report on one major experiment will be the focus of a webinar Thursday, Aug. 25 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

Teri Finneman
"Redefining Your Newspaper Business Model with Research" will be presented by Dr. Teri Finneman, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas. She is leading an 18-month research project to test a new business model based on data collected from rural publishers and readers to help weekly newspapers adapt, survive and thrive in the 21st century.

With the study now in its final stages, Finneman will review in the live webinar what weekly newspaper publishers and readers have had to say, and present feedback from the publishers piloting the proposed memberships, e-newsletters and events model, as well as answer questions about the research project. Joey Young, owner of Kansas Publishing Ventures, will also be sharing his perspective as a publisher and research participant.

The webinar is being held by the Arkansas Press Association; the fee for non-members of APA is $30. Register at For more information email

Finneman has been a print journalist and multimedia correspondent covering state government, business and enterprise. She talked about her project at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Bourbon boom has downsides for neighbors who don't want aging whiskey feeding unsightly fungus and posing risks

Buffalo Trace Distillery built these warehouses at Frankfort, prompting complaints from neighbors. Now it wants to build a similar group of warehouses in the nearby Elkhorn Creek valley. (Photos by Ryan C. Hermens, Lexington Herald-Leader)
Fungus on a nearby sign
The boom in bourbon has been a boon to Kentucky economically, but now rural residents in a swath of the western Bluegrass region are fighting the warehouses that turn whiskey into bourbon. They object to the fungus that is fed by the aging alcohol escaping into the air from barrels in the warehouses, worry about the storage of so much flammable material, and dislike what they call an industrial invasion of bucolic landscapes.

Residents of Henry, Franklin and Anderson counties point to the black fungus that is obvious on signs, homes and other surfaces. Distillers pooh-pooh those concerns, citing studies that show the fungus is harmless, but they acknowledge it's unsightly. And the concerns are more than cosmetic.

Wendell Berry
“What I fear is this will be a continuation of an old Kentucky story, in which outsiders come in, take as nearly as they can what they can, what they want, and give as little back as they possibly can,” farmer-author-poet-activist Wendell Berry, 88, told Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Near the farm where Berry grew up, Angel’s Envy has won Henry County Planning Commission approval to turn a 1,200-acre cattle farm into a "bourbon campus" with up to 25 warehouses, lodging, an amphitheater, a visitors center, a helicopter pad and more.

“We are being asked to sacrifice this land to tourism and whiskey,” Berry told the commission last month. The commission voted 6-3 for the zone change; the final decision is up to the county's legislative body, the Fiscal Court, on Sept. 20.

One the other side of the argument is "Connie Blackwell, a Lawrenceburg real estate agent who lives in Tyrone in the valley below the Wild Turkey distillery," Patton reports, quoting her about the fungus: “It is a mess; you do have to pressure-wash your house once a year. You get used to it. Everybody down here in Tyrone tolerates it. It’s just no big deal … for the taxes they bring into our county, it’s worth it, to me. . . . I don’t believe the whiskey fungus hurts us. Honest to god, for the amount of taxes . . . it really is a fair exchange.” But Patton notes that distillers are lobbying for the local tax on aging whiskey to be reduced, which would be the latest in a series of tax breaks that have helped fuel the boom.

USA Today series shows gaps in health care for rural moms

USA Today's Nada Hassanein has just published a four-part series on disparities in health care among rural mothers. Part one has an overview of the issue; part two focuses on inequalities among rural indigenous people; part three has data on maternal mortality among rural women of color, and part four explores the historical roots of the phenomenon.

"About 2 million rural women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts at least 25 miles away from a labor and delivery unit," Hassanein reports. "Rural hospitals and obstetric wards, already scarce, have continued to shut down in record numbers. Women of color are even more vulnerable . . . and the federal government has only recently started to identify the problem. The maternal death rate for rural Black women is three times higher than for rural white women, a 2021 Government Accountability Office report found, and the rate of severe maternal illness for those Black mothers was twice that of white women.

"The Covid-19 pandemic made matters worse. The nation’s overall maternal death rate increased, and disparities widened. While the death rate for white mothers rose in 2020 from about 18 to 19 deaths per 100,000, Black mothers' death rates remained three times as high, soaring from 44 to 55 deaths. Hispanic mothers' death rates also surged, from 12 to 18 per 100,000, according to the CDC. At the same time, half of rural hospitals already had no obstetric care, and two dozen hospitals shut down entirely."

As threats of political violence increase, leaders need to take it seriously and tone down their rhetoric, expert writes

Darrell West
OPINION By Darrell West
Vice president and director, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution

Following the FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago last week, one of his supporters tried to attack an FBI office in Cincinnati. After being repulsed, there was a high-speed car chase that resulted in shots being fired at the police and the suspect being killed.

Members of Congress have been getting death threats that have forced a number of them to obtain security details to safeguard their personal safety. Representatives such as Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, and Nancy Pelosi have received detailed threats of violence that necessitated enhanced protections.

In response to these threats, Rep. Kinzinger noted that “threats of violence over politics has increased heavily in the last few years. But the darkness has reached new lows.” According to news reports, one caller “threatened to come to Kinzinger’s house and go after his wife and his newborn baby.”

A GOP gubernatorial candidate in New York was attacked onstage while giving an election speech. In front of startled attendees, a man with a knife jumped onstage and sought to stab Lee Zeldin, before on-lookers subdued the individual and prevented serious harm to the candidate. Academic experts are not immune to this onslaught either. One-quarter of my Governance Studies residential scholars have been the object of credible death threats.

Others warn that the possibility of armed conflict is real. “There is suddenly a very real risk of violent political instability in this country for the first time in more than 150 years,” noted Joel B. Pollak of the conservative Breitbart News. It does not help that some Republican leaders have fueled public outrage by pledging if they regain majority control of the U.S. House, they will hold legislative hearings on the Department of Justice, FBI, members of the January 6 Select Committee, and private organizations critical of the former chief executive as that escalates political rhetoric and encourages GOP supporters to think something amiss is happening that justifies a strong response.

The rise both of threats and actual violence shows the dangerous levels of polarization, extremism, and radicalization that we face in America today. In the current period, people see opponents as enemies and many do not trust the motives or actions of opposition leaders. The lack of civility has reached such a dangerous level that it threatens the safety of leaders, the functioning of law enforcement, and our society’s ability to address major problems.

Given the variety of contemporary threats, it is important to take political violence seriously and undertake actions that mitigate these risks. For example, the Department of Homeland Security needs to expand its domestic terrorism unit to monitor violent threats. A 2022 DHS report recommended the federal government improve its case management capabilities, train workforces on how to deal with violent activities, and work with local officials on reducing domestic terrorism.

The FBI should increase its enforcement actions against people in organizations who foment violence. Federal agents should enforce current laws and direct resources against those who encourage violence. Many violent incidents are presaged by online rhetoric so keeping track of dark web chatrooms would help law enforcement identify those with violent tendencies.

Our intelligence agencies must be alert regarding possible foreign support of extremist groups. News reports have suggested that foreign entities might have provided money to alt-right figures who were part of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. In addition, there has been evidence that “Russian state and proxy media outlets ‘have amplified themes related to the violent and chaotic nature of the Capitol Hill incident, impeachment of President Trump, and social media censorship.’”

Social-media companies need to be a better job of policing violent content on their websites. Firms are using artificial intelligence to slow the dissemination of violent threats, but some are making money from organizations that advertise on their sites. It is fool-hearty and short-sighted for businesses to profit from the rise of violence in America.

Ultimately, political leaders need to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric. Reacting to various events with divisive rhetoric or threats of retaliation encourages people to act on that language. Leaders should understand that words have consequences and how they lead has major ramifications for the health of our polity.

This article has been edited. For the full original, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

New business models for newspapers are emerging in non-metropolitan and small metro areas, Northwestern reports

New business models for newspapers are emerging in "improbable" places, Tim Franklin writes in the latest installment of The State of Local News 2022 report from Northwestern University.

Richland County (Wikipedia map, adapted)
Franklin's first object example is Richland County, Ohio, center of the Mansfield metropolitan area but "a mostly rural enclave." Some may question that use of "rural," but its characteristics are similar to most rural places in the U.S.: "The median household income and the percentage of adults with college degrees are well below the national average. Richland also lags the rest of the country in broadband internet penetration."

Nevertheless, the county has "one of the more successful local, for-profit digital news startups of the past decade," Franklin reports. "The Richland Source is defying the odds of its demographic deficits and has found a profitable journalistic niche in a community of 125,000 residents that is also home to two local dailies and a weekly newspaper. The Source’s financial elixir is a committed local ownership, a highly diversified revenue stream, a clearly defined editorial mission focused on solutions journalism, a cost structure unburdened by legacy print and award-winning journalism."

He adds later, "Other examples include The Pilot, a hundred-year-old twice-weekly newspaper in central North Carolina that serves a community of similar size to Richland County, and the Shawnee Mission Post, in the suburbs of Kansas City. The common characteristics of all three are local owners who are invested in both the news outlets and the markets where they are located. They have developed business models that stress diversified revenues sources, a laser-like focus on readers’ needs and behaviors, high-touch engagement with the community and trustworthy journalism."

The owner of the Richland Source says 27 percent of its revenue comes from marketing services for "brands throughout the U.S.," and philanthropy (three national funders are cited) provides 21%. Advertising accounts for 35% and 1,100 reader memberships 17%. "On its news side, the Source is differentiating itself by practicing solutions journalism, a rigorous form of reporting that explores both community problems and potential answers. The Source also has adopted tools in which readers can easily submit questions and story ideas," Franklin writes. "As a result, the Source’s website says, stories on the home page are typically about "progress, entertaining events, and the accomplishments of people, organizations and businesses in our area'."

This newspaper produces just
26% of its company's revenue.
Pilot Publisher David Woronoff "is demonstrating how legacy newspapers in mid-sized communities can also transform themselves," Franklin writes. Woronoff "created and acquired a statewide business magazine and four lifestyle magazines – of which three are in the largest cities in the state – that now make up the majority of his company’s revenue. Buying and operating the local independent bookstore provides both new revenue and a way to directly engage with residents in his community. He also established a full-service, in-house marketing agency, and even published phone directories. Now, The Pilot news organization represents just 26 percent of his company’s total revenue." Moore County's population is 100,000.

These and other examples "illustrate how the local news ecosystem in the U.S. has entered a phase of robust experimentation," writes Franklin, senior associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism and director of its Local News Initiative. "At the same time, however, the unabated loss of local newspapers in the U.S. is a shrill-sounding alarm about the urgency to reinvent the local news business model. Indeed, the continuing secular declines in print, combined with high inflation and weakening consumer demand, could further accelerate the loss of local news in the U.S. in coming months."

An Appalachian storyteller's account: What the floods take

JoAnn and Alvin Davis, the author's parents, in a photo salvaged
from the 1957 flood, which they survived and about which he writes.
The disastrous flood in Eastern Kentucky has defied adequate description in a broad sense, but as residents tell their own stories in their own words the catastrophe is becoming clearer, and reaching us not just our heads, but in our hearts, and sometimes in our guts. One of the region's top storytellers, filmmaker-turned-grantsman Dee Davis of Whitesburg, holds forth in The Daily Yonder, published by the Center for Rural Strategies, which he runs.

The piece is mainly Dee's long, sad, heartfelt goodbye to the last identified victim of the flood, Dennis Stacy, a close friend in their youth. Those memories are worth your time, as an example of meaningful memory, but they largely set up the gut punches the end:

"Small wonder that more did not perish. First responders rescued 1,400; National Guard helicopters hoisted 650 on dropped cables. So many neighbors waded through swift water to pull less able people to safety. A guy at the city hall next to my office — I only know him as Red — saved 12 people. He can’t swim, but he got a life jacket, borrowed a kayak, and went house to house. He lifted old people and a mother and child up out of the water and into the kayak. . . . 

Dee Davis
"They say it is the 500-year flood. Let’s hope. My house on the hillside was spared, but so many people lost all they owned. Sopping wet couches, bent up appliances, and battered knickknack shelves are still piled on the sidewalks. The flood mud is so toxic with septic drainage and mine runoff now that you can’t dig a potato that was under the water or eat an apple from a tree that withstood it. And what’s true here is the same for 50 other communities downstream. The choice to build back seems harder now, but even if that horse goes off at 7 to 2, it is still the best bet on the tote board.

"Things get covered up in the flood. And if you see them again, they’ve changed. Maybe they are mud caked and putrid smelling, or maybe they are washed eight miles from where they are supposed to be, but they are different. Forever. And as witnesses we are changed too. We refocus as the water recedes. We see the before and the after. And we figure out what of it we take from here."

Census says in the most rural areas it missed over 4% of housing units, mainly trailers and single-occupancy rentals

Screenshot of Census Bureau map shows the most rural tracts in yellow and light green.
For a larger version of the map, click on it; for the original map on the Census Bureau site, click here.

The 2020 census missed about 1 in 25 housing units in the most rural areas of the country, and 1 in 20 on Native American reservations, says the Census Bureau's latest report on the decennial count.

"Experts have said census miscounts will impact the distribution of the more than $1.5 trillion federal funds annually based at least in part on census results," reports Michael Macagnione of Roll Call. "Tuesday’s report analyzed census results based on the type of housing units counted and showed the census as largely accurate for owner-occupied housing as well as small multi-unit buildings, but the census missed those living in trailers and rural areas." The mobile-home undercount was 4.3%; for the most rural census tracts (not including "Remote Alaska") it was 4.2%.

While most of the country is counted through self response, the most rural areas without regular mail access or reliable internet access were counted through a different process. There, census workers went to individual households to drop off census forms or count residents themselves, but missed about 4 percent of the housing units."

Those results come from the bureau's post-enumeration survey, questionnaires sent to a random sample of households. The bureau explains that it accounts for housing units in a "slightly different" way than it counts population: "The key difference is that the Census Bureau works throughout the decade to build a list of all the housing units in the nation. This address list, called the Master Address File, is then used to invite people living at those addresses to respond to the census and to follow up with them if they do not. The list is also used to ensure the population is tabulated to the right location. This means that housing-unit coverage relies more on an accurate address list than on obtaining responses required for counting people."

The report said the census overcounted housing units in Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah. An earlier report estimated that there were undercounts of population in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, and overcounts in New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah. This is the first report on rural undercounts.

Pandemic influx of city-dwellers triggered housing shortages in many resort towns, pricing out the locals

Early in the pandemic, many city dwellers moved to rural areas. Communities with vibrant tourist economies were especially attractive for such people, according to a recent report from the Economic Innovation Group. Housing was frequently in short supply even before the pandemic in many small towns, but the new residents have triggered soaring housing prices that price out mid- and low-income workers critical to the local economy, Molly Bolan reports for Route Fifty.

Exclusive ski-resort town Sun Valley, Idaho, and surrounding communities offer an extreme example. "It is not just service workers struggling to hold on. A program director at the YMCA is living in a camper on a slice of land in Hailey," Mike Baker reports for The New York Times. "A high-school principal in Carey was living in a camper but then upgraded to a tiny apartment in an industrial building. A city-council member in Ketchum is bouncing between the homes of friends and family, unable to afford a place of his own. A small-business owner in Sun Valley spends each night driving dirt roads into the wilderness, parking his box truck under the trees and settling down for the night."

The housing shortage now threatens the once-thriving local economy in the area: "The hospital, school district and sheriff’s office have each seen prospective employees bail on job offers after realizing the cost of living was untenable. The fire department that covers Sun Valley has started a $2.75 million fund-raising campaign to build housing for their firefighters," Baker reports. "Already, restaurants unable to hire enough service workers are closing or shortening hours. And the problems are starting to spread to other businesses." However, when Ketchum officials sought a tax increase to build hundreds of affordable housing units over the next decade, voters wouldn't approve it.

Resort towns have long grappled with how to house their workers, but in places like Sun Valley those challenges have become a crisis as the chasm widens between those who have two homes and those who have two jobs. Fueled in part by a pandemic migration that has gobbled up the region’s limited housing supply, rents have soared over the last two years, leaving priced-out workers living in trucks, trailers or tents.

More than just housing prices are affected, Bolan reports: "Local officials in smaller communities that have seen an influx of residents are dealing not just with squeezed housing markets, but also added pressure on infrastructure like water systems, crowded backcountry destinations, and increased traffic congestion."

And Summit County, Colorado, another ski area with a booming pandemic population, "has had a lot of 'churn' in its schools, as new students enroll and others move away. As property values have increased, some families who can’t afford the higher prices are being pushed out," Bolan reports.

FEMA uses text messaging to communicate with Ky. flood survivors; exact number of homeless is still unknown

"Three weeks after a catastrophic flood hit Eastern Kentucky, local state and federal officials say they are still unable to determine exactly how many people are homeless or how many homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed," Sam Adams reports for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg. "At least 700 people are in shelters provided by the state, but there is still an untold number of people who are staying in shelters provided by the Red Cross or other relief agencies, and still more who are not in shelters all."

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has echoed complaints that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is denying too many claims, but the vast majority of refusals are because they're missing documents and can't reach claimants to get them, FEMA coordinator Brett Howard told Adams. He said the agency has approved 73 percent of overall relief applications and 63% of emergency housing applications. Part of the problem is poor cell-phone reception and demolished roads and bridges.

In a press conference Monday, Beshear said many people aren't answering when FEMA agents call them, perhaps because they don't want to answer calls from an unfamiliar number, Josh James reports for WUKY. "Thus far, FEMA has tried to call 4,006 applicants. 1,508 have picked up," Beshear said. "We are talking to them about the numbers of times that they call, but please pick up your phone." Beshear said that for the first time, FEMA is using text messaging to communicate with claimants

Howard advised people whose claims have been denied to appeal. Since most denials are due to missing documents, "the state has placed employees from Cabinets that can help in the Disaster Assistance Centers with FEMA to streamline the process of appeals," Adams reports. Those state employees can probably print needed documents for claimants to submit to FEMA, Howard said.

Drought and heat roundup: Arizona and Nevada face new water restrictions; corn and cotton harvests weak; how heat disproportionately targets the vulnerable

Heat and drought are gripping much of the Western U.S. Here's the latest news:

"With water levels in the Colorado River near their lowest point ever, Arizona and Nevada on Tuesday faced new restrictions on the amount of water they can pump out of the river, the most important in the Southwest," Henry Fountain reports for The New York Times. "And the threat of more cuts looms. This week, those two states along with five others failed to meet a deadline for agreement on much steeper cuts in water use, raising the prospect that the federal government will step in and mandate further reductions." 

The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department agency which oversees water resource management, "announced it would withhold 592,000 acre-feet, or about 21% of Arizona's annual water allocation, out of the river for 2023. Nevada would see an 8% cut in its allocation -- 25,000 acre-feet -- and Mexico would see a 7% reduction in river flows across the border, or about 104,000 acre-feet," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

The drought has triggered the weakest cotton harvest in more than a decade and sent prices soaring. "U.S. agricultural forecasters expect drought-struck farmers to walk away from more than 40% of the 12.5 million acres they sowed with cotton and harvest the smallest area since Reconstruction," Ryan Dezember reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Back then, in 1868, yields per acre were less than a fifth of what they are today, but the market for cotton was vastly smaller too."

Drought and heat have also been hard on U.S. corn, production of which is expected to be 5% less than last year. In Kentucky, the forecast is down 26% even though most of the state got sufficient rain when the corn was tasseling; farmers say excessive heat in June stunted growth.

People who live in mobile homes comprise a disproportionately high percentage of indoor heat deaths, according to a paper recently published in the Washington Journal of Social & Environmental Justice. Residents typically don't own the land beneath their homes and often lack resources to bring down indoor temperatures or a meaningful voice in driving policy changes that could help them. Read more here. Heat hurts the most vulnerable in other ways: people of color, seniors, those with underlying health conditions, people addicted to opioids, and people without consistent housing are all more likely to die from extreme heat, Arianna Skibell reports for Politico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Want to improve your editorial page? Here are expert ideas

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors was founded mainly to advance the cause of editorial leadership in rural newspapers. It remains journalistically focused, and the hallmark of its annual conference is still the small-group sessions in which attendees critique each other's editorial pages and editorials. After the 2022 conference in Lexington, Ky., editorial-critique coordinator Tim Waltner gathered up a list of "best practices" from the session leaders for the August ISWNE newsletter. Here are most of them, with a few adds from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which hosted the conference, in parentheses:
• If you’re serious about improving your editorial page, make it a priority.
• Build slowly. A strong editorial page requires patience and a methodical and consistent approach that will appeal to readers and gain their confidence.
• Package content appropriately. Clearly label editorial pages.
• Avoid having news and editorial copy on the same page, but if it can’t be avoided, clearly label news and opinion. (If you're short of opinion material, local-history articles can work.)
• Content should drive editorial page layout/design. Editorial pages are serious content and shouldn’t have fonts/design that make it look like a feature page.
• Use a different font or point size for editorials. (Or a wider measure, set ragged right.)
• “Sell” your page through effective headlines/pull quotes/photos/graphics.
• Local, local, local draws readers to the editorial page(s).
• Lead the community discussion; others will follow.
• Look at moving away from submitted columns by politicians unless they’re addressing a specific and relevant issue. These should be rare and possibly not in the editorial pages. Or just take the politicians off the page and get local commentary.
• Be sure that all readers, including those who just moved to town, can understand the basics of what you’re talking about, even if it means rewriting the same boilerplate you’ve used a thousand times.
• Don’t write too long. It’s better to write two short pieces that are tight, insightful and/or entertaining than one longer piece that is stretched to fill the space.
• There is no need to add a disclaimer at the end of the editor’s column, such as this one: “The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of
the newspaper staff.”
• Encourage letters to the editor. They matter. Letters show how a community interacts and feels it can interact with the newspaper and other readers.
• Give a word limit and put an address at the end of all letters. (One paper requires and runs the full address of all letter writers, but there wasn’t consensus as to requiring a street address.)
• Make sure you indicate where readers can submit letters, the requirements and the process.
• Suggest promoting letter writing at the end of the year by recognizing all letter writers and the number of letters written that year.
• All editorial page items written by staff and others should be tagged at the end of the item with contact information: name, title/position, email and phone.
• Editor and staff contact information should be in an easy-to-find location on a consistent basis on the editorial page.
• Consider including contact information for elected officials (local, state, federal).
• Easy-to-add items that readers might enjoy: Quote of the week from a news story. Poll questions on current issues (but in publishing results, note that the sample is self-selected and thus not scientific).
• If you include your membership in a state or provincial press association (or a national one) in your masthead, add ISWNE and use our quill logo.
• Look for ways to add artwork onto the editorial page, such as mugshots of column writers. Syndicated cartoons are OK, but if you can find a local cartoonist, such as a high school art teacher, that’s even better.

Stories from three states show higher risk of pregnancy and childbirth in rural areas, as abortion laws pose complications

Pregnancy-related mortality per 100,000 live births
(Daily Yonder graph, adapted by The Rural Blog)
"Rural women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy complications than women in large metropolitan areas, federal data shows," Sarah Melotte reports for The Daily Yonder. The lack of pregnancy and childbirth care in rural hospitals, especially for high-risk cases, contributes to the problem. And rural women of color and their babies face even worse odds. Stories out of Montana, Nebraska and Texas illustrate the overall trend, made more worrisome fears that that eroding abortion rights will increase the number of high-risk pregnancies. Montana State University sociologist Maggie Thorsen told Melotte that the U.S. is already "the only industrialized country in the world that has a growing maternal mortality rate."

Fewer than half of the nation's rural counties had obstetric services in 2019, a Commonwealth Fund study found. Many hospitals have shuttered them (a trend the pandemic has accelerated), citing expense, lack of personnel, and declining rural birthrates. "Women unable to reach obstetrics units in time to give birth can end up delivering in an emergency room en route to the desired hospital. This can have deadly consequences for individuals with high-risk pregnancies," Melotte reports. "Common complications associated with these births include hemorrhaging, preterm birth, and preeclampsia."

A recent study of Montana maternity deserts illustrates the trend. Thorsen and others found that pregnant Montanans drove an average of 42 minutes from home to give birth, but that trips of several hours were not unusual. About 44% of the state's population lives in rural areas, more than twice the national average, Melotte reports. About half of its counties are maternity-care deserts, and 10% of the state's population—some 93,000 people—live in those deserts.

Native American women in Montana have even higher rates of complications or death in childbirth. Indigenous women (who tend to live in rural areas) are less likely to live within an hour's drive of high-level obstetric services than white women; not many Indian Health Services hospitals in the state provide such services, Thorsen told Melotte.

A story from Nebraska highlights other facets of the issue. Emergency help can be hard to access in rural areas. One rural woman who had preeclampsia called an ambulance, but it took so long to get there that she ended up giving birth in the ambulance, assisted by an EMT who had never delivered a baby, Addie Costello reports for the Flatwater Free Press. Local primary-care physicians can provide some obstetric services, but many are retiring and not enough doctors are replacing them.

Many rural hospitals can't afford to maintain obstetric units since rural births are more likely to be covered by Medicaid than by private insurance. Nebraska Medicaid reimburses at half the private rate, Costello reports. The story also emphasizes health disparities for women of color and their babies.

In Texas, which leads the nation in maternity-ward closures, a recent story presents one of the more extreme examples of a maternity desert: Big Bend Regional Medical Center is the only hospital in 12,000 square miles. It has an obstetric unit, but for more than a year that unit "has closed routinely, sometimes with little notice. Some months it’s been open only three days a week," Claire Suddath reports for Bloomberg. "Big Bend doesn’t really have a choice. In the past two years, almost all its labor and delivery nurses quit. The hospital has tried to replace them, but the national nursing shortage caused by the pandemic has made that impossible. When Big Bend is too short-staffed to deliver a baby safely, its labor and delivery unit has to close."

The staffing shortages also extend to Big Bend's ambulances; the county has two, but only enough EMTs to run one. And when the hospital can't deliver babies, the ambulance must drive a patient to the nearest hospital that can. That means the area's only ambulance is out of pocket for at least five hours.

Aspen Times is trying to recover from self-censorship flap

A 140-year-old rural daily in Colorado is trying to stage a comeback from a recent self-censorship scandal, Jack Healy reports for The New York TimesThe Aspen Times made headlines across the state in early summer after its new outsider owners withheld two opinion pieces they worried might upset a billionaire Russian developer who was suing the paper for defamation. Locals were outraged and most of the paper's staff—including the new editor—quit. Ogden Newspapers, a family-run company out of West Virginia, bought the Times and several other resort-town newspapers in December.

"Officials in Pitkin County, upset at the turmoil, recently voted to designate Aspen’s younger, locally owned newspaper, The Aspen Daily News, as the official 'paper of record' that publishes all of the county’s legal notices," Healy reports. "A handful of other advertisers have pulled back."

But last week the paper "published a column by its latest editor, who said he hoped to rebuild the staff and 'rise from the ashes,'" Healy reports. Two days later the paper ran "a long-delayed story that delved into the finances of the developer who had sued the paper. The article, based on public records and court documents, raised questions about the developer’s statements that he had stopped doing business in Russia in 2014." Still, with the paper down to one reporter and public trust at low tide, it's unclear whether the Times will be able to recover.

Federal funds can help relocate those increasingly in danger of repeated disasters, but help can be hard to come by

"More than 13 million Americans may need to move by the end of the century because of sea-level rise. Add the effects of hurricanes, riverine flooding and wildfires, and millions more will need to seek out safer parts of the country — or remain trapped in damaged, dangerous conditions," Alex Lubben, Julia Shipley, Zak Cassel, and Olga Loginova report for the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations, and Type Investigations. But "communities across the country in the greatest need of government assistance receive less of it — if they get anything at all." Most are small, rural, and have disproportionately high populations of racial minorities.

"For decades the federal government has known that climate change will force people in the U.S. to relocate. And the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, recommended in 2020 that the government form a 'climate migration pilot program' to help people who want to relocate due to climate change — a recommendation it reiterated in March. But in the absence of such a program, communities across the country must try to cobble together funding from across federal agencies through programs that weren’t designed for the climate crisis," Lubben, Shipley, Cassel, and Loginova report. The reporting project "spent a year digging into the growing need for climate relocation across the United States. Little organized government assistance exists for preventing the loss of homes and lives before a disaster, the investigation revealed — and there is no comprehensive focus on helping people escape untenable situations."

The analysis showed dozens of communities nationwide that have suffered repeated disasters. See how your county stacks up in the searchable database here.

Meth use dramatically increases odds of nonfatal overdose among rural drug users, whether used with opioids or alone

Nearly 80 percent of recreational drug users in rural areas have taken methamphetamines in the past month, according to a newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That's concerning, because meth use greatly increases the risk of non-fatal overdose—whether it's used alone or with opioids—and because rural drug users are more likely to suffer consequences from meth use but less likely to have access to treatment or prevention measures. Other studies have found that opioids were involved in about two-thirds of overdose deaths, and that fentanyl contamination increasingly drives opioid and meth-associated overdose deaths.

Overall, 22% of survey participants who co-used opioids and meth had survived an overdose in the past six months, compared to 14% of those who used opioids alone and 6% who used meth alone. Participants who co-used most often (44%) were also more likely to have tried and failed to access drug treatment measures than those who used opioids alone (36%) or meth alone (30%).

The researchers noted that meth use has been endemic in rural areas for decades, and that meth-related hospitalizations nationwide skyrocketed 270% from 2007 to 2015. Even so, not much research has focused on the characteristics of purely rural meth use, or meth use combined with opioid use.

Researchers gathered data for the study from January 2018 to March 2020, surveying drug users in rural communities in the 10 states participating in the Rural Opioid Initiative Research Consortium: Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The findings suggest that harm reduction and drug treatment programs must address meth use as well as opioids to decrease overdoses in rural communities, the researchers write.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Making the case to the community for your news operation

Rural newspapers are shrinking, in pages and staff, but they also shrink from asking their readers for help. One good way to do that is to make them think about what life in their community would be like without the paper. John McGary of The Woodford Sun in Versailles, Ky., did that last week in a column headlined "Why we need the Sun," making an implicit plea for support.

Ernest Yanarella, Ph.D.
McGary began by quoting an eloquent but concise letter from retired University of Kentucky political-science professor Ernie Yanarella: "The Sun is the city’s glue, its civic adhesive, that comes to our homes and provides the latest news on the community’s politics, its high school sports, its religious institutions, its notable personages and local celebrities, its historical and cultural oddballs and idiosyncrasies; its past history and emerging developments, and, yes, its recorded crimes and on-going disputes – and so much more. That such a small office with just a few dedicated reporters and gracious staff brings us the news of the week should embarrass the big-city newspapers in Central Kentucky for the Sun’s ability to keep their pulse on community news and latest doings and share them in clear and concise journalese, sometimes with a creative, even humorous, twist."

McGary wrote, "I couldn’t have said it better myself, and believe me, I’ve tried. The Sun is one of the last family-owned, independent newspapers in the commonwealth. Should that change – and I certainly hope it doesn’t – here’s what will happen: A chain more interested in stockholders than our community will come in, fire at least one of our two reporters and farm other work out to someone in a faraway place. Then, school board, city council, fiscal court and planning and zoning meetings will go uncovered. While I think by and large we’ve got a good group of elected and appointed representatives, some will take liberties – and odds are, you’ll never find out. Interesting people and places will not be written about, or photographed. We will know a good bit less about each other."

Editor John McGary
After listing several newsy stories in one recent edition of the weekly, McGary continued, "I agree with our elected officials and civic boosters who say there are a lot of great things going on in Woodford County. But I’ll say this, politely I hope, to folks who’d rather send their advertising dollars to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and other Internet billionaires than the Sun: A good community needs a good newspaper.

"A few years ago, mostly to amuse myself, I suppose, I looked into an editor’s job at a Central Kentucky chain-owned paper. Actually, two papers. I withdrew my name from consideration after a pleasant but pointless interview, during which I was told the chain had one reporter covering two counties. I’d have been the second, and the editor for each paper. The interviewers told me there was no need to actually attend government meetings – that I could take a look at the agenda and fast-forward to the good parts via Zoom. Thanks, but no thanks. To all those who subscribe to the Sun or pick up a copy at their local newsstand, thank you. Thanks also to the people who purchase ads. We’re planning new ways to cover news via the internet – hey, it owes us – but in the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best to inform and, on a good day, even entertain you."

Gannett lays off dozens after losing money in 2nd quarter

"Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain with more than 250 papers, executed a round of layoffs Friday, a week after the company announced its second quarter results: a loss of $54 million on revenues of $749 million," Angela Fu reports for The Poynter Institute.

It's unclear how many many were laid off, but at least some were from papers with large rural audiences such as the Monroe News-Star in Louisiana, the Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia, and the Billerica Minteman in Massachusetts. "The NewsGuild, which represents more than 1,500 Gannett journalists across roughly 50 newsrooms, had tracked 35 layoffs across 20 newsrooms by Friday afternoon, according to president Jon Schleuss. Two of them were from unionized papers," Fu reports.

Former St. Cloud Times reporter Andy Rennecke noted in a tweet that the Minnesota paper "once had four full-time sports writers, a sports editor, a sports desk chief and usually four part-timers" in the sports department. "Now, it's down to one person. F--- Gannett for everything it has done to my old paper. I loved my co-workers and we loved what we did."

"The union has called on Gannett to reduce executive pay and 'frivolous spending' instead of cutting jobs," Fu reports. "Last year, CEO Mike Reed made $7.7 million while the median salary at Gannett was $48,419. The company also instituted a $100 million stock buyback program in February. Earlier this week, Reed bought 500,000 shares of the company’s stock, worth $1.22 million. Gannett has also invested in anti-union lawyers to counter union drives and delay contract negotiations, according to the NewsGuild. The company currently faces 14 open unfair-labor-practices charges, according to a National Labor Relations Board database."

U.S., especially the South, could see heat-index temps above 125 degrees by 2053; see how your area may fare

Predicted days with a heat index of 100° F. (Map by The Washington Post; data from First Street Foundation)
"An 'extreme heat belt' reaching as far north as Chicago is taking shape, a corridor that cuts through the middle of the country and would affect more than 107 million people over the next 30 years, according to new data on the country's heat risks," Denise Chow and Nigel Chiwaya report for NBC News. "The report, released Monday by the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation, found that within a column of America's heartland stretching from Texas and Louisiana north to the Great Lakes, residents could experience heat index temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit by 2053." The heat index includes temperature and humidity to create a more accurate measure of how hot it feels outside, rather than measuring temperature alone.
Counties expected to gain the most days with a heat index above 125° F. (NBC News map)

Heat will become an increasing threat as climate change worsens. "A Washington Post analysis of the group’s data found that today’s climate conditions have caused an estimated 46 percent of Americans to endure at least three consecutive days of 100-plus degree heat, on average, each year. Over the next 30 years, that will increase to 63 percent of the population," the Post reports. "Nowhere is the danger more widespread than in the South, where global warming is expected to deliver an average of 20 extra days of triple-digit heat per year. In some southern states, such as Texas and Florida, residents could see over 70 consecutive days with the heat index topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

See what the report predicts for your community with the Post's interactive map. It shows how many days the heat index is expected to top 100 degrees in 2023, in contrast with 2053.

W.Va. radio show is often Manchin's first stop because of host's integrity, canny questioning, and broad rural reach

Hoppy Kercheval
In an evenly divided Senate, moderate Democrat Joe Manchin plays the key role in passing top-priority Democratic legislation—including the bill Democrats named the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden plans to sign this week. That means pundits, legislators, and other stakeholders spend a fair amount of time trying to divine the West Virginia senator's mindset. One of the best ways to do that is by tuning in to "Talkline," a MetroNews radio show from Morgantown. Its host, Hoppy Kercheval, "has the keys to the political castle" this year because Manchin is his frequent guest, Scott McFarlane reports for CBS News.

Manchin often reveals many of his big decisions to Kercheval. "When I'm on Hoppy, everyone's listening to Hoppy . . . because they know he can get me to say exactly the purpose of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it," Manchin told CBS. In the nearly 40 years he's been hosting the show, "Kercheval has learned the art of trying to pin down Manchin," McFarlane reports.

But it's more than respect for Kercheval's integrity and canny questioning that keep Manchin coming back; it's the fact that "Talkline" reaches almost every nook and cranny of the Mountain State. "In an era of 24-hour cable news and social media, radio remains king in West Virginia, the most effective way to reach voters in a state which still has areas lacking broadband, in which 60 percent of the population lives outside metro areas," McFarlane reports. Manchin told him: "I talk to Hoppy first because I know I'm talking to West Virginia when I talk to Hoppy."

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Rural news outlets need help from colleges and universities and local funders, Center for Community News director says

"Leveraging resources from colleges and universities" is one way that rural communities can sustain local journalism that supports local democracy, says the director of a new center that is trying to track down all available examples of such partnerships and help them be succesful.

Richard Watts
Richard Watts of the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont has been helping local newspapers for three years by training citizens to report for them. “More importantly, they're getting more young people involved in newspapers, and that value is inestimable,” Tim Calabro, editor and publisher of The White River Valley Heralda weekly in Randolph, Vt., told Buck Ryan, a University of Kentucky journalism professor.

Ryan's report for The Rural Blog includes a Q-and-A with Watts, beginning with the question about sustainability of rural journalism, which was the focus of the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America held by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes TRB.

In addition to help from academics and their students, Watts said rural news outlets also need to "diversify their revenue streams, train citizen reporters and encourage local ownership." Citing Watts's success at getting a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ryan asked him what he could share about building "profitable partnerships."

First, "Go where the money is in local foundations. and look for companies that have an interest in seeing local news continue," Watts said. He said an electric utility and the Vermont Humanities Council gave his Community News Service $10,000 each to cover energy and the arts, respectively. "They don’t tell us what to write, just to write more" on those topics, he said.

"An organization focused on Lake Champlain gave us funding to seed more stories about the lake region," Watts added. "Our biggest success, however, has come from individual donors who care about local news, democracy and involving young people. Together we have raised more than $200,000 in the last few years to support community news from individuals." For Ryan's full report, with details about from Watts about working with student and citizen journalists, go here.