Saturday, September 17, 2022

Right-to-repair bills in Congress hit Republican opposition

A partisan divide may keep "right to repair" bills from passing Congress.

Republican members of Congress said at a House hearing Wednesday that the bills "won’t help consumers but could damage the retailers and manufacturer-authorized repair shops now in business," reports Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming. "A consumer advocate warned that 'repair monopolization' was pervasive in sectors including personal computing, TVs, and agriculture."

None of the six bills has received committee action, and time is running short before a new Congress is elected. "The House plans to recess from the end of September until Nov. 14, after the midterm elections, and will adjourn for the year in mid-December," Abbott notes.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, who called the hearing as chair of the small-business subcommittee, said “Decades of evidence have made it clear that repair restrictions raise costs, hurt small businesses, and encourage waste while padding large corporations’ pockets. . . . For generations, small farmers have been able to make repairs on the spot and continue working when a tractor or other piece of equipment breaks down,” but now a bad sensor can "shut down a tractor and force a farmer to wait hours for manufacturer-authorized repairs, he said, even though an independent repair shop might be nearby and would charge less," Abbott reports.

But Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., "said right-to-repair laws could jeopardize the well-being of shops now authorized to make high-tech repairs and could even facilitate intellectual property theft by making diagnostic tools and software manuals more widely available," Abbott writes. To read the written testimony from the hearing, click here. To watch a video of the hearing, click here.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Community journalism: attacked by politicians, betrayed by owners, taken for granted by readers, retired editor laments

Cover of Ken Tingley's book
By Ken Tingley
Retired editor, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

The past decade has been a time of worry about the future of community newspapers, and concern about the gaping hole left behind when they are gone.

I worry now about who stands up for the community and sounds the alarm when things are not right.

Who will explain the complexity of mental illness and suicide, warn us of the growing heroin problem and the shortcomings with health care and senior living deficiencies?

Who will celebrate community triumphs, report the births of our children, the marriages of our loved ones and lament the loss of another life lived well? Community newspapers, like ours, were the town squares of modern times; their reporters and editors the beating hearts and moral compass at its center.

"The Post-Star was my father's favorite and mine, too,” a reader wrote me in February 2016. “We put one in the casket so he would have something to read when he got to heaven.”

That’s the status community newspapers once had.

Maury Thompson, a reporter who served our newspaper and the community faithfully for two decades, sent me this quotation he found in an old weekly newspaper in the midst of the pandemic in 2020: “A newspaper is a window through which men look out upon all that is going on in the world. Without a newspaper, a man is shut up in a room and knows little of what is happening outside of himself.”

That quote was over 100 years old, but as far as I was concerned, it had stood the test of time.

By the end of 2019, it was clear the type of community journalism that so many in Glens Falls, N.Y., had taken for granted for over a century was in jeopardy as retail advertising faded and newsroom positions evaporated.

The window for viewing the world was closing.

The Last American Newspaper is not just about our small community newspaper in upstate New York. It is a metaphor for institutions all across the country that revered a free press and its role in keeping their communities informed. It was an integral part of doing good in the community, a partner, a friend who was always willing to tell you the truth.

It was perhaps something simpler than that as well. It was a vehicle to tell the human stories of all those who lived and died there. It was one of hundreds of like-minded community newspapers all across the country that are sadly disappearing. Our newspaper’s story was not unique, but representative of hundreds of others.

My career and the careers of so many others was about telling the personal stories of people who not only suffered hardships and tragedies, but persevered to be an inspiration for friends and neighbors. Sometimes, it was just chronicling simple acts of kindness.

"Newspapers need to validate people’s lives and connect with their communities,” I wrote in a column to readers in April 2000. “Honesty and integrity have to be the cornerstones of the organization, and we will never fool the readers on that point. Our credibility and standards are what people depend on.”

We did that aggressively and diligently until it was taken for granted by the communities we served, and betrayed by the corporations who reaped the financial benefits. And finally, attacked by a new type of politician waging war on the facts we reported each day. What may have been most disappointing of all was that many of our readers believed them.

In January 2020, a local leadership group visited our newsroom in Glens Falls and I talked to them about the value of the journalism we do. I explained how recent studies had found that in communities where a newspaper had closed, civic engagement dropped and fewer people voted because they could not identify the candidates in local elections.

The group in our conference room that day was a good audience. They nodded and shook their heads at all the right times, and genuinely showed concern about what a community like Glens Falls might look like without a robust daily newspaper.

At the end of the meeting, our circulation manager, Tom Salvo, asked how many of the 25 people in the room had a subscription to the newspaper.

One person raised his hand.

We were the last American newspaper.

We were making our last stand.

This column was first published by The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University. The Last American Newspaper is a memoir of community journalism at the Glens Falls Post-Star over the last two decades. It is sold by McFarland Books and Amazon.

Rural Covid-19 deaths fell 3.5% last week, but metro-area deaths fell 16%, expanding that gap for fifth straight week

Newly reported coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Sept. 6-12
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"Both rural and urban America had fewer Covid-19 deaths last week, but the disparity between the two death rates expanded for the fifth week in a row," Sarah Melotte reports for The Daily Yonder. "Rural Covid-related deaths declined by 3.5% last week while urban deaths fell by 16%. That left rural counties with a death rate of 1.32 per 100,000, nearly 60% higher than the urban rate." The cumulative rural death rate for the pandemic is 36% higher than the metro rate.

New coronavirus infections fell by 10% last week in rural counties, while the metro rate fell by 5.9%. That translates to a rural infection rate 20% higher than the urban rate, Melotte reports. Click here for more statistics and an interactive, county-level map from the Yonder.

Royal beekeepers tell their hives about the Queen's death, following a centuries-old tradition that echoes in Appalachia

Royal beekeeper John Chapple wrapped mourning
ribbons around the hives. (Daily Mail photo)
When Queen Elizabeth II died last week, most of the world heard the news within hours.

Her bees didn't hear about it until the next day. That's when royal beekeeper John Chapple went to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, where the Queen's hives are kept, to inform the bees that their mistress had died. He also asked the bees to be good for their new master, King Charles III, John Dingwall reports for the Daily Mail.

"Telling the bees" is an ancient tradition, stemming from ancient cultures that revered bees as messengers to the spirit realm. If bees are not told about important family news (such as births, deaths, and marriage), legend holds, bees could stop producing honey, desert their hives, or even die.

Der Bienenfreunde ("The Bee Friend"),
an 1863 painting by Hans Thoma.
The practice is best known in the British Isles, but hitched a ride to Appalachia along with the Scots-Irish and English Borderers who settled the mountains. The latest book of the Outlander novels, about a Scot and his time-traveling wife who eventually settle in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is Go Tell the Bees That I Have Gone.

Many modern beekeepers still keep the age-old custom—not because they worry about bad luck, but as "a mark of respect," folklorist Mark Norman told Daniel Victor of The New York Times.

Stephen Fleming, who co-edits BeeCraft magazine, said he performed the tradition after a fellow beekeeper died. "It was just something I thought my friend would have enjoyed," he told Victor. Which is just, well—sweet.

Quick hits: Studies confirm ivermectin doesn't work on Covid; how community journalism helps keep Vt. together...

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 us at

The Federal Communications Commission is redrawing long-criticized broadband connectivity maps, but it looks like the new ones will omit agricultural structures. That could make rural areas look more connected than they are, and leave farmers without broadband where they need it. Read more here.

Here's a good explainer on how ranked choice voting works, and how it helped Democrat Mary Peltola win a House seat in Alaska. Read more here.

How community journalism helps keep Vermont together. Read more here.

The United States is becoming a 'developing country' on global rankings that measure democracy and inequality. Read more here.

The verdict is in on ivermectin. Repeated, reputable clinical trials show that the drug doesn't help Covid-19 patients, according to Read more here.

An invasive fungus virtually wiped out the American chestnut about a century ago. Now a nonprofit group is trying to repopulate reclaimed surface coal mines in Appalachia with a hybrid version of the species. Not only would that bring back a once-popular tree, it could help rural communities and the environment in many ways. Read more here.

Rural entrepreneurs report growing anxiety. Read more here.

The Christian majority in the U.S. could fade in coming decades, models predict. Read more here.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Cherokee Indians get local support for giving Tennessee's highest peak, Clingmans Dome, its original name: Kuwohi

Map from ResearchGate by Thomas Lavery, adapted by The Rural Blog
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians wants the federal government to give Tennessee's highest mountain the name their ancestors gave it thousands of years ago: Kuwohi, or “the mulberry place.” And they're getting local support.

The government named the peak Clingmans Dome in 1859 for U.S. Sen. Thomas Lanier Clingman of North Carolina, who helped explore and survey the Great Smoky Mountains. (The peak, on the state line, is near the center of the national park named for the mountains.) In 1861, the Senate expelled Clingman, who later served as a Confederate general, for absence, reports Ben Benton of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tribal employee Lavita Hill told Benton that the mountain is spiritually important to the Cherokee, but its most important role may have been as a hideout for tribal members during the Trail of Tears in 1837-38. The Eastern Band “would not even be here today if not for Kuwohi,” Hill said. The Great Indian Removal does not define the Eastern Band, Benjamin Hedin writes for The Oxford American.

Principal Chief Richard Sneed told Benton, “For our tribe and tribes in general, having the recognition that this was ancestors’ land, our land, this is our home, is what this is about. It’s about restoring the dignity for tribal nations. . . . We’re not trying to make this an attack on Clingman, but rather an acknowledgment that there were names for this place already when these places were surveyed.”

Benton reports, "Hill said Clingman family members have reached out to the Cherokee to show their support for restoring the mountain’s original name." Commissioners of Swain County, which has 42 percent of the park, unanimously supported the idea Sept. 8, the Smoky Mountain Times reports.
"Other neighboring North Carolina governments have also joined in support," Benton reports, "and so far there has been no political-party divide" as there has been in some similar cases.

The decision is up to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, or to the secretary of the Interior Department if the board doesn't act in a reasonable time. In 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell restored the historic name of Denali to North America's highest peak, which had been named Mount McKinley for the Republican president who died in 1923. Congress had renamed the surrounding national park in Alaska for Denali in 1980 but Republicans fought renaming the mountain.

A newspaper editor cries for help, in a surprisingly frank way, and gets it; his embarrassed publisher is glad he did

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

Rural newspapers have become more willing to share the threats to their existence with readers, but perhaps none so frankly as the Meade County Messenger in Brandenburg, Ky., did last month.

Under a headline reading, "Will you cheer the death of an institution or come to its aid?" Editor Chad Hobbs told how the paper was suffering from social media, a boycott by some advertisers upset about an editorial stance, his personal travails in covering recent stories, and, of course, Covid-19: "The pandemic and ensuing shutdowns wrecked our advertising lifeline to the point the owner of this paper hasn’t taken a cent from the business in over two years."

Chad Hobbs and Rena Singleton in their Brandenburg, Ky., office
Whoa. That revelation about how much money a paper is making, or not making, is exceedingly rare in the newspaper business. And it surprised the publisher of the paper, Rena Singleton, who has other sources of income. "I didn't know he was going to put that editorial in," much less reveal the paper's finances, Singleton told me. "It embarrassed me." But it's working out for them. Here's the rest of story:

Hobbs and Singleton, who has owned the weekly for 40 years, said the editorial sprang from a meeting of the paper's five-member staff, in which she "put responsibility on them for the future of the paper," as she put it. "He took it to heart." In his 1,328-word editorial, Hobbs followed the financial revelation with this passage:

"The final straw has been the fallout from us doing our job as your watchdog. We hear from countless readers how much you appreciate the fact that we hold leaders accountable and fearlessly defend the citizens of this county and their tax dollars. Doing the right thing and upholding that mandate by the common men and women of this county has come at one heck of a price. After supporting everything the Meade County Chamber of Commerce has done since its inception, we sided with the people and dared to say we didn’t agree with the tax dollars they were wanting to spend on a new facility," which would have been paid for by local governments. "Several large businesses that have always supported us have pulled their advertising because the forum page does not paint images of their friends in politics while wearing rose-colored glasses."

So, a newspaper that needs more business attacked the umbrella entity for the business community. But the reaction wasn't what you might expect, Singleton and Hobbs said. Some have offered help, she said, and "That's what we needed most. . . . His editorial did have an impact." She said that if she had seen the editorial in advance, and had known the reaction would be positive, she would have left in the news that she hadn't taken an ownership distribution from the paper in two years.

Singleton said she's sure other weekly publishers are in similar situations, but "Nobody's telling it." Asked if she would recommend publishers be more forthcoming about their finances, she said yes.

Hobbs, a former reporter who moved into the editor's job in March, is a native of Meade County. Singleton said that helped his editorial have more impact than it would have if written by someone who had moved in from the outside. Hobbs reminded his audience of that in his conclusion:

"If you cut me open, I bleed Meade County green, and I can’t thank those that support me enough for allowing me to do what I do for this long. I love doing what I do, no matter how bad it hurts sometimes. As much as I hate asking for help, it appears that, if something doesn’t soon give, we very well may be traveling down a road together that is quickly becoming too narrow for the Messenger to fit. We’ve fought for you Meade County for over 100 years, and we would love to do it for another 100 years. Will you let your grand ol’ oak wither and die over a couple of articles you didn’t agree with, or will you come to our aid in this time of need, like we have so many times for you, Meade County?"

Google map, adapted by The Rural Blog; click it to enlarge
Singleton said the editorial also helped the community realize the value of the newspaper at a time when it is getting a large industry, many new residents and more development issues for the paper to cover. In the last few decades, Meade County has become mainly a bedroom community for people who work in nearby cities or Fort Knox, which lies partly in the county.

The commuters "forgot their community," Singleton said. "The people here are starting to lose the community feel, and realize the only thing that's holding us together is the community newspaper."

Trump backers flood local election offices with requests for voting records in apparent bid to trip up November elections

"Supporters of former president Donald Trump have swamped local election offices across the nation in recent weeks with a coordinated campaign of requests for 2020 voting records, in some cases paralyzing preparations for the fall election season," report Amy Gardner and Patrick Marley of The Washington Post. "In nearly two dozen states and scores of counties, election officials are fielding what many describe as an unprecedented wave of public records requests in the final weeks of summer, one they say may be intended to hinder their work and weaken an already strained system. The avalanche of sometimes identically worded requests has forced some to dedicate days to the process of responding even as they scurry to finalize polling locations, mail out absentee ballots and prepare for early voting in October, officials said."

It's happening in all 120 counties in Kentucky, Sam Adams reports for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg. That includes Letcher County, where the Eagle is based, and where local officials are trying to prepare for the November election while still dealing with the biggest flood in the county's history.

Creating chaos, not finding information, may be the point, some experts believe. Disruption could make it harder for officials to run local elections smoothly, thereby "giving critics new openings to attack the integrity of election administration in the United States," Gardner and Marley write. Experts "point to the identical nature of the requests as well as the number of duplicates individual counties have received — each one of which they must respond to, by law." But many requesting the information don't even know what they're asking for, and when clerks ask for clarification, they can't provide it.

"The use of mass records requests by the former president’s supporters effectively weaponizes laws aimed at promoting principles of a democratic system — that the government should be transparent and accountable," Gardner and Marley report. "Public records requests are a key feature of that system, used by regular citizens, journalists and others. In interviews, officials emphasized that they are trying to follow the law and fulfill the requests, but they also believe the system is being abused."

Martha's Vineyard weeklies hustle to cover surprise influx of immigrants flown in from Florida by its governor

Islanders jumped in to help out. (Vineyard Gazette photo by Ray Ewing)

The two independently owned local weeklies on Martha's Vineyard rose to meet the challenge posed by the unexpected arrival of 50 immigrants at the local airport Wednesday afternoon, courtesy of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, copying a tactic Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has used to focus attention on illegal immigration.

"National immigration debate comes to Martha's Vineyard, headlined the Martha's Vineyard Times. today, after a basic story yesterday. The Vineyard Gazette announced, "Planeloads of Venezuelan Migrants Arrive at Martha's Vineyard Airport."

Reporters for the weeklies the hustled to shoot photos and interview locals, elected officials, and immigrants—the latter through interpreters, which the papers also drummed up. They deftly painted a picture of a community that rose to meet the challenge too. The immigrants were bused to St. Andrews Church, where locals made sure they had safe shelter, food, clothing, medical supplies, and other needs.

"We came here because of the situation in our country, for the economy, for work, for lots of things," one immigrant told Brooke Kushwaha of the Gazette. Gazette. "I came here walking. We went through 10 different countries until we got to Texas. There a refugee association put us in a plane and told us there would be work and housing here. I feel good, despite everything. We spent four days in Texas so it’s good to be here."

The immigrants won't likely be able to stay in Martha's Vineyard, which has a housing shortage, but the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will help with a long-term solution, Kushwaha reports.

But Lisa Belcastro, who manages the local shelter, said the immigrants want to contribute to their new homes, wherever that may be. "Every single person has come up and said they want a job; they are not looking for a handout. Some of these people have been through horrific things. They need a break. They need help," she told Brennan.

"People have been amazing. The Islanders have been amazing," Janet Constantino of MV Community Services told George Brennan of the Times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

NTSB blames deadly pipeline blast on bad pipe, failed corrosion protection, flow reversal for fracked gas, lots more

NTSB diagram overlays aerial photo of most of burned area onto satellite image. Flame from pipe went east-northeast.

Pipelines carrying natural gas and other flammable products sometimes blow up, bringing destruction and death to rural Americans. A gas pipeline blew up in Central Kentucky in 2019 mainly because of a manufacturing defect and failure of a system that is supposed to prevent corrosion of the pipe, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report Wednesday.

Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, "Ineffective electrochemical protection, called cathodic protection, on the outside of the pipe designed to prevent corrosion, the report said. The NTSB also said the operator of the pipeline, Enbridge, didn’t accurately assess the condition of the pipeline or properly assess the risks to it. That contributed to the accident, the agency said."

The report also blamed the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration's "non-conservative assumptions used to calculate the potential impact radius, incomplete evaluation of the risks caused by a change of gas flow direction [fracked northern gas going south], limitations in data analysis related to in-line inspection tool usage, incomplete assessment of threats and threat interactions, and missed opportunities in training and requalification practices."

The 30-inch Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline blew up at 1:23 a.m. Aug. 1, 2019, between Moreland and Junction City, rural communities south of Danville, releasing over 100 million cubic feet of gas that ignited, causing one death, six injuries, destruction of five homes, damage to 14 other residences, other property damage including the burning of 30 acres, and evacuation of more than 75 people. The same line "also failed in November 2003 near Morehead and in February 1986 in Garrard County. The Garrard County incident injured three people," Estep reports. A parallel line "blew up in April 1985 in Metcalfe County, killing five people and injuring three others."

Chevron exploits news deserts in the Permian Basin, where it pumps much oil, with propaganda disguised as news

Map detail with county-level data from "The State of Local News 2022" with an overlay of the Permian Basin in green

"The dire state of local journalism in the U.S. has been well documented in recent years, as the closure of hundreds of local newspapers has created American 'news deserts' where people struggle for information on local politics and happenings," Adam Gabbatt writes for The Guardian, picking up an Aug. 18 report by Molly Taft of Gizmodo. "It has also created openings for companies and political groups to swoop in, serving up a mixture of local news and propaganda, with the latest being Chevron, in Texas’ news-starved – and oil-rich – Permian Basin."

Logo, from banner on home page
The Permian Proud site, launched in August, does say it's sponsored by Chevron, "but at first glance, the sponsorship seems like a benevolent grant," Gabbatt writes. "On Wednesday, Permian Proud’s front page included stories about an upcoming air show and a storytelling workshop – typical local newspaper fare. But interspersed with news of livestock sales and processions is a series of stories lauding Chevron’s achievements in the Permian Basin." The "news" stories are written by PR-firm employee Mike Aldax, who's written for a Chevron-funded site in California since 2014.

The site says, "Our focus will be on news and information that makes us all proud to live here. Permian Proud will highlight and uplift such efforts, not just for its community partners, but for anyone wanting to get the word out to the public on local events, fundraisers, initiatives and more."

The site is a milder, corporate example of "pink slime journalism," named for the beef additive, which has flourished in recent years to exploit growing news deserts to spread disinformation, often about politics and politically relevant topics. Such sites are more often funded by conservatives than liberals. "Locality Labs and Metric Media, both operated by the same ex-journalist, have opened hundreds of 'news' sites, which purport to represent local communities, since 2019," Gabbatt reports. "The sites, which include the Great Lakes Wire and the Illinois Valley Times, masquerade as local news outlets, but in reality are funded by Republican and conservative groups."

Researchers say rural journalists properly define 'hate speech' but struggle to apply the definition to local events

"Journalists who cover rural areas in the United States say they are afraid to report on hate groups, and this fear is exacerbated by close community ties and limited resources among rural journalists," researchers from four universities write in a paper recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Journalism Practice.

The researchers used “hate speech” as definitional term in 33 interviews with U.S. journalists reporting in rural communities. "Rural journalists articulate a clear definition for hate speech, but struggle to apply that definition to events within their communities, even as they articulate numerous forms of hate," the researchers write. "Journalists often dismissed acts of hate using the residual category of 'not hate, but …' to signal something that they felt was out of place or unsuitable but did not rise to the legal definition of hate speech and thus was not worth reporting on."

The researchers are Greg Perreault of Appalachian State University, Ruth Moon of Louisiana State University, Jessica Fargen Walsh of the University of Nebraska and Mildred Perrealult of East Tennessee State University.

'How do we ensure the sustainability of local news?' will be topic of online discussion at noon ET Friday, Sept. 16

The first of four virtual, national conversations among journalism academics and professionals about community news and its sustainability is scheduled for noon ET Friday, Sept. 16. Register here.

The series is sponsored by the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont and the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The meta-question for Friday's session is "How do we ensure the sustainability of local news?" More specifically, "What are some of the innovative for-profit and public funding models? What do we mean by sustainability?" The group will "explore some private and public funding approaches," says Richard Watts, director of the center. 

Participants will include Mike Rispoli, senior director of journalism policy at the Free Press/Free Press Action Fund, which recently helped win $3 million in public funding for news outlets in New Jersey, and Michael Shapiro, founder of TAPinto, a for-profit franchise model for local news that has a network of 86 local news sites in New Jersey, plus sites in Pennsylvania, Florida and New York.

The discussion will be moderated by Erica Beshears Perel, director of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Other sessions are scheduled for Oct. 21, Nov. 18 and Dec. 15.

'Radically Rural' returns Sept. 21-22; community journalism track includes session on covering the political divide

There's still time time to register for "Radically Rural," the annual community development summit for rural stakeholders to be held in Keene, N.H., and virtually Sept. 21-22.

This year's event will include seven tracks: Arts & Culture, Clean Energy, Community Journalism, Entrepreneurship, All in for Health, Land & Community, and Main St. Terrence Williams, president and COO of The Keene Sentinel, will lead the community journalism track, with three sessions:

  • Covering the Divide: An exploration of how news organizations can better serve communities that are split over politics, the pandemic, policing, voting and more. Elizabeth Stephens, executive editor of the Columbia Missourian, will moderate the session. Panelists are Tony Baranowski, manager of special projects at the Cedar Rapids Gazette; Sara Konrad Baranowski, deputy managing editor at the Gazette; and Peter Huoppi, multimedia director at The Day in New London, Conn., and co-producer of the documentary "Those People."
  • Better Judgment: How innovative newsrooms are changing their coverage of cops and courts to provide fairer, more equitable news reporting. Cierra Hinton, publisher of Scalawag, will moderate the session. Panelists are: Paul Cuno-Booth, freelance journalist and reporter on several alternative justice projects in New Hampshire; Molly Born, West Virginia multimedia producer and educator, now documenting West Virginia’s history and future; and DeLyah Jones, freelance journalist, community engagement consultant and journalism philanthropy program officer.
  • Crazy Good: 50 ideas to make you a better journalist. The session will feature speaker Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching and learning at the City University of New York's Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
The summit is sponsored by the Sentinel and the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. Learn more or register here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Hospital industry analysis: Problems that triggered 136 rural hospital closures in 2010-21 appear to be getting worse

"Low reimbursement, staffing shortages, low patient volumes, regulatory barriers, and Covid-19 disruptions all played a role in the shuttering of 136 rural hospitals between 2010 and 2021, including a record 19 closures in 2020," John Commins reports for HealthLeaders, citing a report from the American Hospital Association, And, the report says, "Those problems appear to be worsening as rural hospitals contend with rising costs for labor, drugs, supplies and equipment, threatening care access for rural Americans." Key takeaways from the report include:

  • 35 percent of all U.S. hospitals are rural. That includes critical-access hospitals, frontier hospitals, and sole community hospitals.
  • Rural hospitals are often their community's largest employer, and drive the local economy.
  • Rural hospitals support 1 in 12 rural jobs nationwide.
  • AHA wants Congress to extend subsidies under the Medicare-Dependent Hospital and Enhanced Low-volume Adjustment programs. Both programs are set to expire Sept. 30.

Rural communities lost 10% of their retail pharmacies in the last 20 years, and most were independents', not chains'

Change in count of independent pharmacies, 2003-21: rural in red, micropolitan
(10,000-50,000 city pop.) in green (RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis)
"Rural America is losing pharmacies, especially independently owned drug stores that are mainstays of rural communities," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "Challenged by slow payments, decreasing reimbursements from insurance companies and Medicare, and growing competition, nearly 600 independent rural pharmacies have closed since 2003, a study from the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis at the University of Iowa found. During the same period, the number of franchise pharmacies fell by about 70, while chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens grew by about 90 stores."

In that time frame, the number of rural retail pharmacies fell 9.8% while the number in metro counties grew 15.1%. "Of the retail rural pharmacies, independently owned pharmacies declined by 16.1%, while the number of independently owned metropolitan pharmacies increased by 28.2%," Carey reports. "There were 3,698 independently owned rural pharmacies in 2003. By 2021, there were only 3,102. Nearly half of the pharmacies located in rural areas are sole, independently owned retail stores, researchers said."

Negotiated pricing is a major reason for the closures, said one of the study's authors. When pharmacies' costs go up, reimbursements from insurance providers, Medicare and Medicaid sometimes don't keep pace. Delays in those reimbursements are a problem too. "Additionally, competition from not just the chain pharmacies, but mail-order pharmacy services works against the independent retail store," Carey reports. "Another challenge, researchers said, is the aging rural population, and the difficulties handling these more complex patient cases."

HUD opens up funding to fight rising rural homelessness

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened up millions of dollars in funding for groups serving unhoused people in rural areas — an unprecedented move by the agency, say housing advocates," Casey Quinlan reports for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. "Continuums of Care, the planning bodies that address homelessness within specific regions, have until Oct. 20 to apply for a portion of $54.5 million targeted at rural homelessness. HUD could not provide an estimate for how many organizations would benefit from this funding but said 127 of them are eligible to apply." HUD has $267.5 million targeted to unsheltered homeless in "non-rural areas."

The funding is targeted at people who are unsheltered, meaning those who sleep outdoors or in their cars, as opposed to those who couch-surf or stay at shelters, for example. According to a HUD spokesperson, unsheltered homelessnesses has increased nationwide, including in rural areas, Quinlan reports.

"According to the department’s January 2021 report to Congress, 2020 was the first year since it began collecting this data in 2005 that there were more unsheltered, unhoused people than people living in shelters," Quinlan reports. "The report also noted that 'largely rural [Continuums of Care] had the largest percentage of people experiencing homelessness in unsheltered locations' at 44%, compared to 39% in Continuums of Care that include major cities. From 2019 to 2020, there was an 8.3% increase in unsheltered homelessness in largely rural Continuums of Care."

Expanded safety net has sharply cut child poverty since 1993; new report has state-level data

"For a generation or more, America’s high levels of child poverty set it apart from other rich nations, leaving millions of young people lacking support as basic as food and shelter amid mounting evidence that early hardship leaves children poorer, sicker and less educated as adults. But with little public notice and accelerating speed, America’s children have become much less poor," Jason DeParle, a longtime poverty reporter, writes for The New York Times.

"A comprehensive new analysis shows that child poverty has fallen 59 percent since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front," DeParle reports. "Child poverty has fallen in every state, and it has fallen by about the same degree among children who are white, Black, Hispanic and Asian, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. . . . In 1993, nearly 28 percent of children were poor, meaning their households lacked the income the government deemed necessary to meet basic needs. By 2019, before temporary pandemic aid drove it even lower, child poverty had fallen to about 11%."

The analysis by nonprofit Child Trends, noted that pandemic aid such as the expanded child tax credit spurred the trend. But even so, "More than eight million children remained in poverty, and despite shared progress," DeParle reports. "Black and Latino children are about three times as likely as white children to be poor. With the poverty line low (about $29,000 for a family of four in a place with typical living costs), many families who escape poverty in the statistical sense still experience hardship."

'The biggest social and environmental injustice' in a town of 10,000 is to be eliminated, mainly with federal money

Veterans who live in the neighborhood were on the front row
for Gov. Andy Beshear's announcement of the federal grant.
(Photo by Marcus Dorsey, Lexington Herald-Leader)
In 1965, the year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and the year after it made Civil Rights Act the law of the land, the City of Paris, Ky. (current population 10,000), built a waste incinerator in the main Black neighborhood of the 13% Black town. The site, which had been a park for Blacks in the days of official segregation. Then it also became the city's transfer station for solid waste, now getting 30 trucks a day at the end of a residential street. Residents have long called the site "the city dump," a term mentioned by the Bourbon County Citizen in its Aug. 11 story about a $2 million federal grant to move the station.

“It’s been the biggest social and environmental injustice in our county,” Bourbon County Judge-Executive Mike Williams said after a press conference Monday to formally announce the grant. Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader paraphrases him: "It’s like so many public-works projects in the 1960s — it was placed in an area that had little political will to fight it." Or political power.

The community development block grant, from federal funds, is contingent on the city coming up with another $2 million by 2024 to finish the project. City Manager Jamie Miller told Musgrave that it might use pandemic relief money.
The sign on the building says "City of Paris Municipal Incinerator." (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Marcus Dorsey)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Ex-professor spreading election fraud claims in small towns; 'It sounds authoritative if you don't know much'

David and Erin Clements and ousted Otero County Commissioner
Couy Griffin
 in New Mexico (Wash. Post photo by Paul Ratje)
A former college professor is staging a one-man misinformation campaign in rural America, speaking in small towns in many states to convince locals that the 2020 election was stolen. Some audiences are listening.

David Clements, 42, was an assistant professor teaching business law at New Mexico State University until he was fired last October for refusing to wear a mask in class, Annie Gowen reports for The Washington Post. He had been active in politics too, and had served "as a county Republican chair and as an unsuccessful Republican primary candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014. Later, he served as the vice chair for legal affairs of the state’s Libertarian party." Clements increasingly embraced conspiracies about election fraud, alienating former friends and colleagues.

After his dismissal, "Clements, who has no formal training or background in election systems, spent months crisscrossing the back roads in his home state of New Mexico in a battered Buick, trying to persuade local leaders not to certify election results," Gowen reports. "His words had an impact: In June, officials in three New Mexico counties where he made his case either delayed or voted against certification of this year’s primary results, even though there was no credible evidence of problems with the vote." One, Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, was removed from office for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"Clements has taken his message nationwide, traveling to small towns in more than a dozen states, with a focus, he said, on places that are 'forgotten and abandoned and overlooked'," Gowen reports. "His crusade to prove that voting systems can’t be trusted has deepened fears among election experts, who say his meritless claims could give Trump allies more fodder to try to disrupt elections in November and beyond."

Gowen adds, "Clements is one among a tightknit circle of Trump supporters who travel the country as self-appointed election fraud evangelists. They embrace the instructions of leaders like former Trump adviser turned podcaster Stephen K. Bannon, who has urged election deniers to run for local races and sign up to be poll workers in what he calls his 'precinct-by-precinct' takeover strategy. Like others preaching the gospel of election fraud, Clements has attracted a large following online, where he mixes conspiracies with Christian nationalist and sometimes violent rhetoric. He has appeared on Fox News and on Bannon’s podcast. He’s dined with Trump and Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and high-profile election fraud conspiracist."

Independent election security experts have examined Clements' claims and call the allegations baseless and misleading. Kevin Skoglund, president and chief technologist of the nonpartisan Citizens for Better Elections, told Gowen: "Their reports on election fraud are a jumble of conspiracy theories and full of errors. They are wrong about voting technology, election processes, certification, and legal requirements. . . . They even quote me and cite my work on voting systems with modems and internet connectivity, but I disagree with every conclusion they draw from my work."

Nevertheless, said Susan Greenhalgh, senior adviser on election security for the nonprofit Free Speech For People, audiences listen to Clements because "It sounds good and people believe it, because it sounds authoritative if you don’t know much."

Lee Enterprises organizes veteran reporters into regional teams to help local newsrooms with accountability projects

Lee Enterprises says it is now has a "public service journalism" team to collaborate with its local newsrooms on accountability journalism projects. The team comprises 12 veteran reporters in three regional teams that will help local reporters access "public records, track taxpayer money and government spending, examine data related to health, crime and safety issues, and serve as watchdogs for communities across the county," the company said in a news release run as a story.

Lee has 152 newspapers, third most of any U.S. company, about 75 of them dailies. It announced in May that it would lay off 400 people at 19 papers and its corporate offices, and the news release didn't mention the hiring of any new reporters, so the public-service team appears to be a way to use the chain's size for greater impact, much as No. 1 U.S. newspaper owner Gannett Co. does with its USA Today Network.

Team members have expertise in beats such as public safety, public health, government, social justice and the environment, the release said: "In their previous reporting roles both inside Lee newsrooms and in other news markets, these team members’ work has helped free the innocent, put the guilty behind bars and change laws. Work by these teams has already begun, with in-depth reporting on leading causes of death throughout more than a dozen Lee markets publishing in recent weeks and a recently published investigation, in partnership with ProPublica, on a systemic pattern of abuse and mistreatment of mental health patients in a state-run facility in Illinois."

The release didn't mention any team members by name, but said they include "a Pulitzer Prize finalist; three members of the nationally renowned ProPublica Local Reporting Network; a grant recipient from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; a regional Edward R. Murrow Regional Award winner; top national award recipients from Investigative Reporters and Editors and the national Society of Professional Journalists; and an investigative reporter and researcher for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Better Government Association in Chicago."

International Day of Democracy is Thursday, Sept. 15; social-media effort and Twitter Spaces events start today

Updated with new information Sept. 12.

The International Day of Democracy, started by the United Nations in 2007, is Thursday, Sept. 15. It may never have been more timely, and journalists at all levels in all countries have a stake in it. So do their audiences, which probably need a reminder of that.

Several journalism organizations have organized a U.S.-specific observance, which will start with a Twitter Spaces event at 2 p.m. ET Monday, Sept. 12: "How grassroots journalism can strengthen democracy." Another will be held on Democracy Day: "How newsrooms are carving out beats dedicated to democracy." For an introductory one-hour video with opening remarks by Jay Rosen of New York University (who explains why covering democracy is like covering no other beat) and Michael Bolden of the American Press Institute, click here.

The Kettering Foundation, which asks "What does it take to make democracy work as it should?" and focuses public deliberation as part of democracy, says it will mount a social-media campaign to direct attention to the International Day of Democracy starting Monday, Sept. 12.

"We want to flood social media," Kettering says. "Participation is easy. Simply take a piece of paper and write in large print your answer to the prompt: #DemocracyIs ______________. And feel free to write your answer in your language of choice. Then, take a selfie and post it! When you post, remember to use the hashtags: #DemocracyIs and #KetteringFoundation."

Here are links to Kettering on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn and Instagram and a video:

Metro counties have 1% more jobs than they did at the start of the pandemic, but rural counties have 1% fewer jobs

Job loss or gain from July 2019 to July 2022. Map by The Daily Yonder, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"Most cities have recovered the jobs they lost in the pandemic. Nationwide, there were 1.1 million more jobs this July than three years ago," Bill Bishop reports for The Daily Yonder. "But as the map above shows, the employment gains have been concentrated in particular regions of the country. Most U.S. counties – 53% – had fewer people working this July than in July of 2019 ... Nearly six out of 10 (58.4%) rural counties had fewer jobs this July than in July of 2019, before anyone had heard of Covid-19."

Overall, though metro counties had 1% more jobs in July compared to before the pandemic, rural counties had 1% less. "Rural counties would have to add more than 210,000 jobs just to get back to where employment was three years ago," Bishop reports.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Palo Pinto County, Texas, without a newspaper since early in the pandemic, now has one, from CherryRoad Media

Wikipedia maps, adapted
A Texas county of 29,000 people an hour west of Fort Worth had been without a local newspaper for more than two years until startup community-newspaper chain CherryRoad Media started publishing the Palo Pinto Press in Mineral Wells, pop. 15,000, on Aug. 26.

"Members of the community . . . reached out to CherryRoad this past spring to see if there was interest in opening a new operation," reports the Texas Press Messenger, the monthly newspaper of the Texas Press Association.

“What we saw there was a community that is actively working to grow, to build its future,” CherryRoad CEO Jeremy Gulban said in a news release. “We quickly realized this is a town, and a region, we want to be a part of. Opening a newspaper there was an easy decision.”

The nameplate features the historic Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.
The Palo Pinto Press has a weekly print edition that is being mailed to more than 10,000 households in Mineral Wells for the first few weeks, and an electronic edition is going to thousands more households in Palo Pinto County. "A focused circulation push will lead to transition to a paid distribution model by later in the fall," the release says.

The release says CherryRoad believes the Press will be successful because it has "plenty of backing from local businesses . . . like Palo Pinto General Hospital." It adds that the company, started in 2020, plans to expand into at least six more states this fall. “This isn’t our first start-up, and we don’t intend it to be our last,” Gulban said.

After Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. merged the Mineral Wells Index into the Weatherford Democrat in adjoining Parker County (which has a small part of Mineral Wells' population) in May 2020, two online news outlets popped up: the Mineral Wells Area News and Goodday Mineral Wells. But the return of a printed newspaper was welcomed by Dr. Glenn Rogers, the state representative for the two counties. In his latest column, Rogers wrote:

"With the August inaugural edition of the Palo Pinto Press, all of the counties in Texas House District 60 are fortunately covered by at least one local print outlet. Each of these community newspapers have dedicated and talented staffers who work diligently to keep you informed and to keep me and my fellow elected officials accountable. These local news editors and writers are not outsiders, they are integral parts to the communities they cover. They do not write to appease the interests of billionaires or coastal elites; they write to serve you. So next time you see a local paper on the stand, pick up a copy. Even better, subscribe to your local newspaper or place an ad in the paper. Stay connected to your hometown, keep yourself informed on important issues and support local journalism."

Washington Post sports columnist celebrates upset victories of Sun Belt football teams from relatively small places

The Post used these pictures as the lead illustration for the piece.
The Rural Blog has never had an item about college football games, but Chuck Culpepper of The Washington Post saw a story where no one else did, and it has rural resonance, so we are following his lead.

"Two lovable underdogs just toppled college football royalty. What a blast," is the headline over Culpepper's analysis of the upset victories of Appalachian State University of Boone, N,C., over sixth-ranked Texas A&M University in College Station and of Marshall University of Huntington, W.Va., over No. 8 Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind. He also notes that a third Sun Belt Conference member, Georgia Southern University of Statesboro, population 33,000, beat the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, but focuses on the two schools separated by 158 miles of mountains, in cities of 20,000 and 46,000, respectively:

"Most of us, statistically, do not reside around Boone or Huntington. Most of us live neither in the western hills of North Carolina nor on the western edge of West Virginia. Poor most of us . . . We’re about to live weeks inferior to the weeks they’re about to live in Boone and Huntington. Shall we get to sit around Boone and talk about how our utterly lovable program spent 9 minutes and 15 seconds of game-clock time straddling the third and fourth quarters — 9 minutes and 15 seconds! — using 18 delicious morsels of plays — 18 plays! — to go just 63 yards — just 63 yards! — for the winning field goal against haughty and overly moneyed Texas A&M? . . . Oh, to be in Boone this week and talk time of possession: 41:29 to 18:17! To marvel how the Mountaineers went from giving up 567 yards to North Carolina in that 63-61 loss in which the loser scored 40 fourth-quarter points, to giving up 186 to a team allegedly aimed toward the College Football Playoff. To hear again how Appalachian State, with its donors and NIL totals a fraction of A&M’s donors and NIL totals . . . " And in Huntington, Culpepper concludes, "A deathless Saturday waned, but up ahead lay a week around town with which the rest of us cannot compete."

UPDATE, Sept. 14: Texas A&M says it is taking down from its Twitter feed a pre-game rally speech by senior player Zac Cross saying Appalachian State is "deep in the backwoods, just like you would expect any hillbilly college that names themselves the Mountaineers. . . . I know for a fact that barely half their football team can even read the name on their jerseys." The Deseret News has a story.