Saturday, October 01, 2022

Most Republicans still believe fraud elected Biden; the truth is out there, in an AP story that any weekly paper can run

Belief in fraud declined in the summer of 2021 but by late fall,
it rose to a new high. Then it dropped back to near its average.
What does it say about America's political system that a false, completely unsupported belief has become part of the broad partisan identity for most members of one of the two major political parties?

That's obviously a topic for debate, but what is not debatable is that there was minimal voter fraud in the six states that decided the 2020 presidential election. The Associated Press proved that almost a year ago, with a comprehensive set of stories about each state and a national summary.

But by the time that story appeared in early December, the big lie about the election apparently had become part of the partisan identity for many if not most Republicans, as shown by Monmouth University polling. "It’s sort of understood that Republicans hold this position," writes Philip Bump of The Washington Post, who analyzes politics and data. "Perhaps we’ve reached a point where articulating that you think voter fraud gave Biden his victory has been folded into a broader partisan identity. In other words, that being Republican means being receptive to this idea. That Republicans are expected to say this is what happened so they say it, even if they only sort of half-believe it." But many prominent Republicans espouse that belief, most recently Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.

Few weekly newspapers subscribe to the AP, but at the request of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, the wire service has allowed weekly newspapers to republish the story, along with links to it and the state-by-state sidebars. The stories are just as valid as they were 10 months ago. For the details, click here.

In his analysis, Bump recounts his efforts to debunk the fraud claims and writes, "People who want to believe that voter fraud occurred are almost universally people who do not read evaluations of fraud claims in The Washington Post. They are not people who are looking for information that falsifies their beliefs because, if they did, they would very quickly find it. Vague debunked allegations are made and comport with their sense of what happened, and that’s good enough."

Good enough for them, maybe, but not good enough for the country and the newspapers that are supposed to serve it, says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism: "Not many weeklies have taken advantage of AP's generosity, probably because they are locally focused, and because Donald Trump and big lie about the election have become divisive at the local level. But readers of these newspapers are citizens not only of their localities, but of their states and the nation, and they should be confronted with the facts about the most recent national election." 

UPDATE, Oct. 6: The need for truth becomes more apparent. "A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 299 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election," The Washington Post reports.

Native Americans work remotely less than white workers, perhaps because of internet disparity, job discrimination

Difference in remote work by Native Americans and whites 
(Graph by the Brookings Institution; to enlarge, click on it)
The August unemployment rate of Native Americans — 4.9% — was a full percentage point higher than the national rate. That could be because Native Americans are less likely to work remotely than white workers, Matthew Gregg and Robert Maxim argue in a report for the Brookings Institution

In early summer 2020, Census Bureau data showed that "Native Americans worked remotely due to the pandemic at a rate 8 percentage points lower than white workers," they write. "As workers returned to the office in 2021 and 2022, that gap closed but never disappeared, and by early summer 2022, Native Americans were still working remotely due to the pandemic at a rate 2 percentage points lower than white workers."

Gregg and Maxim write, "It’s impossible to say with full confidence what factors are driving this disparity" but offer a few potential causes. More than any other racial group, Native Americans live in overcrowded housing, potentially making it hard to find a good workspace at home. Native American communities, especially rural ones, are also underserved by internet providers. They also likely face greater employment discrimination in the larger job market which would effect their ability to find remote jobs.

"In sum, rather than unlocking new opportunities for Native American workers to connect with far-flung employers via remote work, the pandemic instead seems to have entrenched existing labor market inequalities. This demonstrates the urgent need for the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty obligations to Native nations, particularly in the areas of economic development and education."

Friday, September 30, 2022

Rural electric co-ops send lineworkers to help co-ops in hurricane-ravaged Fla.; help may also be needed in S.C.

States with electric co-ops sending assistance to Florida and
maybe South Carolina (Natl. Rural Electric Coop. Assn.)
Rural electric cooperatives in nine states are sending lineworkers to Florida after Hurricane Ian knocked out power for hundreds of thousands in the Sunshine State. Over 300 are being sent from states as far away as Oklahoma, Texas and Kentucky to help co-ops in Florida.

“We are in touch with co-ops throughout the region in a coordinated effort to maximize a safe and effective power restoration effort,” said Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, in a press release. “We are praying for the safety of our cooperative family. Many of the affected co-ops have sent crews to Kentucky in the past to assist us after disasters here.”

According to the Kentucky association, many of the 70 lineworkers from the state's co-ops were already polishing their skills at the Kentucky Lineman's Rodeo in Paducah. Co-ops in Florida have already made arrangements for the visiting crews and supplies of poles, connectors and other material will be shipped from several states. With the hurricane now tracking north toward the Carolinas, Joe Arnold, the vice president of strategic communications with the Kentucky co-ops said crews may also be sent to South Carolina.

Social media may be fun, but they’re no replacement for newspapers, which are our society's main finders of fact

This column was written for general circulation during National Newspaper Week, Oct, 2-8.

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

    I love social media.
    They keep me in touch with dozens of friends, whom I might otherwise have contact with just every few years, or every few decades. They let me share articles that I think bring greater understanding of a subject, usually with a comment of my own, and enjoy similar sharing by others.
    They let me share my own writing, reaching a wider audience than I did when I worked for newspapers, and be part of national, even international, conversations.
    I hate social media.
    They have become the default sources of information for most Americans, and major sources of misinformation–even disinformation–that polarizes the country and drives us into media echo chambers.
    They have added to the confusion between fact and opinion, and to our natural desire for information that confirms what we believe, rather than information that may challenge those beliefs.
    They have led Americans to spend more time online in virtual communities instead of the geographic communities where we live, pay taxes and elect local leaders.
Al Cross (Univ. of Ky. photo)
    My love-hate relationship with social media stems mainly from the fact that I am a journalist who believes that freedom of information is essential to our democratic republic, and who has done most of my journalism for newspapers – which are the main fact-finders in our society.
    Newspapers are finding it more difficult to perform that essential function, mainly because much of their audience and more of their advertisers now prefer social media. Newspapers have as many readers as they ever did, but the audience is mainly online, and reached through social-media posts that bring them no income.
    There’s a bill in Congress to address that, called the Journalism Preservation Act, but what news media also need are more citizens who appreciate and support their work.
    Newspapers are not only the main fact-finders for citizens; they are institutions that speak truth to power and hold it accountable. That’s why our founders put the First Amendment into the Constitution, to guarantee freedom of speech, press, petition, assembly and religion.
    Freedom of the press demands certain responsibilities of those who exercise it. Too many citizens don’t realize that journalists have a set of generally agreed-upon ethics, and that journalism is a collective enterprise, with editors and other colleagues who help each other deliver a fair report.
    My favorite description of how journalism is supposed to be practiced is in The Elements of Journalism, a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. They list 10 elements; here are the first five, which are the most fundamental:
  • 1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
  • 2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  • 3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  • 4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  • 5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
    The element I quote most often these days is No. 3, about the discipline of verification. It means that we tell readers how we know something, or we attribute it to someone. Social media have no discipline and no verification. And they’re mainly about opinion, not facts.
    Journalism, especially in newspapers, is mainly about facts, not opinion. Opinions are the heartbeat of a democracy, but they should be based on facts. And for the facts, we need newspapers.

Before becoming director of the Institute for Rural Journalism in 2004, Al Cross was a weekly newspaper editor and manager, political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal and president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Quick hits: World bird population falls; gentrification can be rural; Black people more likely to be wrongfully convicted ...

Nearly half of the world's bird species are in decline, reports the Guardian, citing the latest State of the World's Birds report from BirdLife International.

Gentrification isn't just an urban issue; rural communities face it too, the Lewiston Tribune reports from Idaho.

A study from the National Registry of Exonerations found that Black people are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of a serious offense. The Crime Report summarizes the study.

“When you read the novel, what I really want you to be focused on is the human story,” Kentucky and Appalachian author Silas House tells the Lexington Herald-Leader about his new Lark Ascending.

Rising food prices hit less-healthy older adults hardest, a national poll conducted by the University of Michigan finds.

Bobwhite quail reintroduced to native W. Va. will have to contend with more predators and man-made development

West Virginia is reintroducing 21,000 bobwhite quail in seven sites around the state as part of an effort to bring back a much-missed bird native to the mountains, Kris Maher reports for The Wall Street Journal. The move has delighted old hunters of the bird — like Gov. Jim Justice — who pursued the species "well into the 1970s before they largely disappeared from the state."

Bobwhite quail (Photo from Office of Gov. Jim Justice)
“I’ve missed these little rascals and lots of people have,” Justice said at a press briefing last week announcing the restoration project. “It’s a bird that has been here forever and an incredible wildlife that we need to protect and bring back.”

The pen-raised quail will have to contend with a large predator population of hawks, raccoons and opossums, plus development that has depleted the species' natural habitat. "Northern bobwhite thrive in shrubby terrain that is disappearing as the use of controlled fires has declined and farms increasingly rely on neat parcels of land to maximize acreage," Maher writes, citing John Morgan, the director of the National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative, which focuses on restoring the bird's habitat in 23 states.

“The needs of the species are a total mismatch with modern land use,” Morgan said. “We’re trying to change that culture by saying weeds are OK and blackberry bushes are good.” Partly because of conservation efforts, the northern bobwhite still has strong populations in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, but across the U.S., the species is losing half its population every seven years.

Retired Methodist minister says his dwindling denomination could save itself by online outreach where churches close

The loss of rural population and communities that began with mechanized, large-scale farming has been hard on the United Methodist Church, retired Rev. Mel West of Columbia, Mo., writes for UM News, a denominational publication.

"We did not realize the impact the tractor would have upon our community, our rural populations and our beloved church, but the cycle was started across the U.S. . . . As larger tractors came, my brother Olin, a college-educated farmer, said, 'Melvin, that is not good. It will destroy our neighborhoods and communities.' He was reflecting upon what the prophet Isaiah (5:8) said thousands of years ago: 'Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place; that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth.'

"While our method of agriculture has changed dramatically in the last 100 years, our method of churching has remained the same. In 1965, when I began working with Methodist churches statewide, congregations numbered 1,320. Today, we have fewer than 700, with about 16 closing a year. Some 250 of those 700 churches have fewer than 25 worshipping each Sunday."

The Rev. Mel West
West doesn't mention the schism in his dwindling denomination over gay marriage and clergy, which has prompted many churches to go independent. But he offers what he calls “A plan to re-church rural America,” which he says can benefit more than just the denomination.

"We assume that everyone has a right to an opportunity to worship in their own way. We provide such for prisoners, soldiers and hospital patients," he writes. "What then, should we provide for our rural citizens who live in “spiritual deserts” after their church has closed? How do we provide such opportunities for rural Christians who, for reasons such as distance, lack of transportation, health, poverty or age, cannot go to the county-seat town or other places where organized religion is offered?"

West offers these ideas:
  • Provide a weekly, hourlong worship service available for livestreaming on YouTube or another video-sharing outlet.
  • Strive to be ecumenical, with opportunities directed to people of the mainline denominations.
  • Contain the elements of worship, Bible study and mission.
  • Include people and groups from rural churches across the United States for music, prayers, calls to worship and benedictions. For purposes of continuity, have the same pulpit person each time.
  • Be self-supporting, once launched, with 10% of received offerings going to worship service costs and 90% for selected mission projects such as Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, Rainbow Network, Mobility Worldwide, food banks and the like.
  • During each worship service, include on the screen a brief report from one of those missions.
"The worship hour would be by, for and with rural churches. The studio that presents the service would encourage cooperating rural churches to record choral and other music, prayers, calls to worship and benedictions of selected members to include," West writes. "Participants would invite neighbors and friends to worship with them and to enjoy refreshments or a meal afterward. This could lead to starting house churches. After several house churches are begun, they could start a community church, rebuilding the spiritual foundation of the region and reopening closed church buildings."

Churches are needed not just for denominational reasons, but as community-building institutions, West writes: "Rural hospitals are closing. Professionals — doctors, lawyers, teachers, veterinarians — do not want to go there. State officials are working to restore and maintain needed services to that huge area of declining population. What will the church do?"

How older Americans can navigate the continuing pandemic will be the topic of a webinar at noon Tuesday, Oct. 11

Kaiser Health News and The John A. Hartford Foundation will host a webinar centered on older people and the state of the pandemic, which can be confusing, the Kaiser Family Foundation announced Wednesday. The presentation will be begin at noon ET Tuesday, Oct. 11. Learn more and register here.

The webinar will tackle questions like: "Is it over? Are ongoing precautions warranted? Should older adults get boosters? Should they continue to wear masks, and under what circumstances? What kinds of social interactions are safe and which may not be? How can older adults and their family caregivers best protect themselves in the months ahead, including over the holidays?"

Kaiser Health News columnist Judith Graham will moderate the event, which will have a panel of experts and a question-and-answer session. The panelists are:
  • Dr. Sharon Brangman, distinguished service professor of geriatrics medicine at SUNY Upstate University Hospital
  • Kathryn Haslanger, who runs JASA, one of New York City’s largest social service agencies, serving more than 40,000 older adults
  • Jessica Kelley, a sociologist at Case Western Reserve University, with a focus on health disparities
  • Dr. Eran Metzger, head of geriatric psychiatry at Hebrew SeniorLife
  • Dr. CĂ©line Gounder, an epidemiologist and infectious-disease specialist
  • Richard Gard, a lecturer in music at Yale University before he was hospitalized in intensive care after contracting Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Nearby development puts a Virginia county's dark sky at risk

Google map, adapted by The Rural Blog; click to enlarge
As new housing and commercial developments creep closer to the Rappahannock County Park — a designated International Dark Sky Park in northern Virginia — stargazing enthusiasts wonder what will happen to the nightly natural wonder that has all but disappeared in more heavily populated areas, Christopher Connell reports for the weekly Rappahannock News

Fifteen miles southeast of the park, in adjoining Culpeper County, 760 homes and a new shopping center are being built, and local environmentalists are trying to convince developers "to go above and beyond what Culpeper zoning ordinances require to limit light pollution," Connell writes. Groups interested in keeping the sky dark sky virtually with the homebuilder's development manager, who seemed receptive, but the environmentalists' principal concern was with the shopping center.

As populations have grown in the towns surrounding Rappahannock County, longtime residents say the sky has already become less dark. Joyce Harman, a nearly three-decade-long resident, told Connell that from her house she "can see the lights of Culpeper, Warrenton and Front Royal. There’s tons more development."

Dark skies are important to the readership of the Rappahannock News, Connell writes. When the nonprofit Foothills Forum formed in 2015 to support the newspaper, it surveyed over 3,200 residents on what they saw as important issues and "people ranked keeping the skies dark as their sixth biggest concern." The Forum provides support for such polling, and for stories like Connell's; he is a retired reporter for The Associated Press.

Washington Monthly says colleges should be judged partly on community impact; will host online discussion Oct. 12

Colleges are often measured by their graduates' success, their tuition prices and the prestige of their brands. But they should also be judged "by their contribution to the economic and civic life of their communities," writes James Fallows in a feature for The Washington Monthly's College Guide and Rankings. In that story Fallows shows how universities like Muncie, Ind.'s Ball State University — which four years ago began running the K-12 school system in the town — are reshaping not just campus, but the surrounding community.

Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns (front right) marches
in a graduation procession. (Photo by Anthony Romano, Ball State) 
Many college towns large and small have been bolstered by higher education's ability to draw and retain highly skilled workers to a community, Fallows writes. As they gain financial resources and influence, their leaders have more ability to empower town-gown relationships.

"What a seaport was to growing communities in the 1600s, what waterfalls for producing power were in the 1700s, what railroad connections were in the 1800s, and on through the years, ambitious colleges can be to communities of our era," Fallows writes.

Community impact is a fundamental part of the mission of land-grant universities, which long ago expanded that reach beyond the starting point of helping agriculture. Land-grant schools such as Indiana's Purdue University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Minnesota and Colorado State University are trying to expand their engagement with communities in their states.  

The Washington Monthly will host an online discussion about higher education Wednesday, Oct. 12 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. ET. Among the speakers will be Fallows and his wife and fellow journalist, Deborah Fallows — who had a feature in the magazine on how Ball State's student newspaper, The Ball State Daily News, has filled a local news gap in Muncie by covering the university's management of the local schools. Those interested in the discussion can sign up here.

Rural America, lagging in Covid-19 booster vaccinations, faces higher death rates from the disease than urban areas


Percentage of county population with Covid-19 booster vaccination
(Map by Daily Yonder; click to enlarge. For the interactive version, with data, click here.)

Covid-19 booster rates are lower in America's rural counties than in metropolitan counties, reports Tim Marena of the Daily Yonder. Fewer than a third of rural Americans are boosted. That fact, combined with other health disparities, has meant that death rates from the disease continue to be  higher in rural areas; last week, cumulative rural death rates for the pandemic were 36 percent higher.

Carrie Henning-Smith, the deputy director of the Rural Health Research Center at the University of Minnesota, told Marena that those health disparities "include an older age structure, reduced access to health care, and more underlying health conditions among the population."

Vaccination rates vary greatly by region. "Half of the adult residents of rural Maine and 43% of rural Minnesotans have received at least one booster, Marena reports, citing CDC data. Garfield County, Nebraska, boasts the highest rural booster rate with 84% of the adult population having received a dose. Rates in the South are generally lower.

With much of the vaccine rollout and signups happening online, a lack of internet access could "disenfranchise people who … might not have access to reliable broadband internet,” said Henning-Smith. Those who live in poverty in rural area may also lack the transportation necessary to get to a health clinic, plus 40% of the 103 rural hospital closures between 2010 and 2021 occurred in counties with high poverty.

Natl. Newspaper Week starts Sun.; Newspaper Association Managers' website has editorials, cartoons and lots more

National Newspaper Week is nearly here. The 82nd annual week of recognition for newspapers and their employees starts this Sunday and lasts until Oct. 8. 

Check the website for National Newspaper Week, which is sponsored by Newspaper Association Managers, for a list of logos, ads which can be localized to your newspaper, ready-made social media posts, resources to help start community forums and a list of editorials on the importance of newspapers. 

In an age of partisan cable news and social media , trustworthy newspaper reporting has never been more needed, writes Brett Wesner, the chair of the National Newspaper Association, in one editorial. 

"Americans believe in and rely upon community newspapers," Wesner concludes. "Are we in a crisis of revenue? Yes, most certainly. But relevance? We have that hands down."

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Manchin's energy-permit deal falls through, for now, but bipartisan compromise with W.Va. seatmate seems possible

Manchin chairs Senate Energy Committee.
(Photo by Shuran Huang, Washington Post)
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's gambit to speed energy-projects permitting, especially for the Mountain Valley Pipeline for natural gas, was derailed by an unusual alliance of fellow Democrats who didn't like the idea and Republicans mad at him for supporting Democrats' tax-and-climate bill -- something he did in return for a later vote on his measure, which couldn't fit into the bill under Senate rules.

Manchin wanted the measure in the latest must-pass spending bill to keep the government open, but Republicans stiffed him and supported a measure offered by his Republican seatmate, Shelley Moore Capito. Manchin said after withdrawing his measure Tuesday that he had already spoken to Capito and Republican leaders about getting something into another bill when Congress reconvenes after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called Manchin's legislation a “huge giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” but The Washington Post editorial board said it is needed to speed construction of new power lines "to transition rapidly off greenhouse-gas-heavy fossil fuels and onto renewables. Aside from more solar panels and wind turbines, perhaps the greatest need is transmission . . . The sun does not shine and the wind does not blow everywhere at the same time. A grid packed with renewables will require transmission lines to zip electricity from the places where weather conditions are favorable to the places people live. Moreover, electricity will have to replace gasoline as the fuel for the nation’s cars and trucks, power heat pumps and water heaters in people’s homes, and run the stoves that will replace natural gas ranges, which means the nation will need more of it — and more wires to move it around the country." The Washington Monthly said much the same.

Manchin could still finish the job, if he and Capito can strike a deal, write Burgess Everett, Josh Siegel and Zack Colman of Politico. Capito told them, “This issue is so important that, I think, getting people to the table, we can forge a bipartisan compromise.” Politico reports, "Thus far Republicans have preferred bypassing more environmental regulations than Democrats can stomach in an energy permitting overhaul. But Democrats don’t see the gap as unbridgeable." Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said, “Senator Capito has a history of doing bipartisan deals.”

Another Democratic point person could be Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the other state through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline would pass. "Kaine has proposed legislation that would require notification to landowners of potential pipeline projects that would affect their properties and an explanation to them of how they can participate in the approvals process," report Katy Stech Ferek and Natalie Andrews of The Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE, Sept. 30: The Brookings Institution has a policy brief on clean-energy permitting.

White House effort could change how nation thinks about food in relation to health; two projects mention rural areas

Biden (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Today's White House its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health "is a big deal because it could lead to big changes in how the country thinks about and uses food in relation to physical and mental health," Denise-Marie Ordway writes for Journalist's Resource, a service of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

CBS reports that the last such conference, in 1969, "led to a major expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, and gave rise to the Women, Infants and Children program, which serves half the babies born in the U.S. by providing their mothers with parenting advice, breastfeeding support and food assistance," CBS reports.

President Biden set the table for the conference with a 40-page strategy for ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. "The Biden administration is counting on a variety of private-sector partnerships to help fund and implement its ambitious goal of ending hunger in America by 2030," CBS reports. Two in the White House fact sheet mention rural areas:

"In the next two years, the National Grocers Association will expand access to full-service grocery stores – grocery stores that stock and sell fresh produce, meat, and dairy, in addition to processed and packaged goods – across the country. It will double the number of retailers offering SNAP online, prioritizing rural areas and areas with low food access, such as agricultural communities." NGA will also build a toolkit to support its members expanding full-service grocery stores into USDA-designated food deserts."

Also, "Over the next seven years, Tyson Foods will invest $255 million into anti-hunger charities to expand access to nutritious protein products, with a focus on rural and underserved areas. It will commit an additional $20 million to provide evidence-based nutrition learning programs for children and their families in the over 100 communities where Tyson operates."

The efforts' five main goals are: expand access to SNAP and electronic benefits transfer in summer; a law allowing Medicaid programs to pay for nutrition counseling, and food as medicine, with Medicare-funded meals tailored to meet medical needs; new packaging and standards to highlight healthy foods; expand the CDC’s physical activity and nutrition program to all states and territories, and create parks and places where people can work out; and provide funding for nutrition science and research.

For journalists, Ordway suggests background reading: "Food Insecurity and Food Deserts in the US: A Research Roundup and Explainer," by her service's senior editor for health, Naseem Miller. He summarizes several studies showing links between health and access to food. "Living in a food desert — a geographic area where there’s a dearth of supermarkets, food retailers or other sources of healthy, affordable food — is associated with higher health care costs and higher rates of chronic diseases," she notes.

Some try to steer rural solar away from prime farmland, while Purdue tests putting panels high in crop fields

As solar power becomes more economically feasible, solar projects are expanding in rural areas and causing concern over loss of prime farmland. That has prompted two very different approaches.

Farmers Powering Communities, a new initiative aiming to build solar panels in and around farmland without hampering crop production, says it will work to create 500 megawatts of solar power over the next several years. Development will begin next year and the work is projected to last five years and take place in 13 states, said a press release from American Farmland Trust, Kentucky's Edelen Renewables and Arcadia, the three organizations behind the initiative.

The top spots for the solar panels will include rooftops, carports, disturbed or contaminated lands and will generally try to avoid prime farmland, the release said.

Solar panels stand over crops in West Lafayette, Ind.
(Photo by Kelly Wilkindson, Indianapolis Star)
Another approach is "agrivoltaic," a sort of dual-use installation that allows solar panels and crops to co-exist in the same place. A story co-published by the Indianapolis Star, The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and The Lens of New Orleans, cooperating through the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an editorially independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, examined how Purdue University researchers are experimenting with solar panels that stand 20 feet high.

"Farmland is well suited for solar development of all kinds, for the same reasons it’s good for growing crops — it’s largely flat, drains well and gets lots of sun," the newspapers reported. "What makes these Purdue research panels different is that they haven’t taken farmland out of production — they’re built overtop of the corn itself."

According to the report, farmers could reap the dual economic benefits of leasing their land for solar use while also still having productive crop returns. However, some residents of the Corn Belt are pushing back against solar; a third of the counties in Indiana have ordinances restricting solar projects. Robert Little, a 74-year-old electrician in Palo, Iowa, said in the report that he thought agrivoltaic practices would jeopardize generational farming practices and "I don't think it could ever work."

Fight over wind turbines in Ohio county will be decided in state's first referendum of its kind; nearby project blocked

Wind turbines, built by Apex Clean Energy,
in Michigan. (Gere Goble/Telegraph-Forum)
On Nov. 8, north-central Ohio's Crawford County will have a referendum on whether to allow an energy company to build 50 to 60 wind turbines, each 650 feet high, in the county, Kris Maher reports for The Wall Street Journal. Discussions over the coming vote have grown contentious.

“If you’re pro-wind and an anti-winder knows that you’re pro-wind, you don’t talk to them,” Dan Bute, a county fiscal specialist who supports the wind project, told Maher. Supporters of the project see it as a way to increase revenue through land leases and payments to the county — which according to pro-wind billboards around the county could be $2.7 million annually. Opponents say the turbines "will disrupt rural life, damage property values and put birds and other wildlife at risk," Maher writes.

The referendum comes after the county's commissioners passed a resolution in May blocking the development of wind farms in the county, Gere Goble reported for the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, the newspaper based in the county's seat. However, a political action group backed by Apex Clean Energy, the company seeking to build the turbines, secured enough signatures on a petition asking for a countywide referendum — which will be the first of its kind in the state.

Apex's projects have been controversial nearby. The company is appealing an Ohio Power Siting Board's denial of a permit to build a wind farm in Seneca and Sandusky counties, just north of Crawford County, Daniel Carson of the Fremont News-Messenger reported in July.
(Wikipedia map, adapted)

Hoping to attract digital nomads, some rural communities look to boost their image with a focus on branding

Some rural regions are trying to stand out by focusing on branding and marketing their assets, Caroline Tremblay reports for The Daily Yonder. The post-pandemic working culture has given many previously office-bound workers the ability to work from anywhere, and a reinvention of an overlooked place's image could make it an ideal landing spot for some.

A study by North Star Place Branding + Marketing "looked at American migration to small cities, finding that only 12% of respondents considered finding the right job their primary goal. Instead, 42% said their priority was finding a balance between the right job and place, while 46% placed the greatest importance on finding the right place to live," Tremblay reports.

Rural regions with aging populations and stagnant economies could get a boost from an influx of travelers. That's exactly what the Monadnock Region of southwest New Hampshire was hoping for when it contracted with North Star to help attract "young families, students, workers and tourists," the report stated. The branding company has already toured the region, met over 100 people and surveyed hundreds more and the new brand should debut this summer.

Minnesota is hoping to get a travel boost after the state government pushed money into a campaign to portray the state as the "Dream State." Leann Kispert, senior brand strategy manager for Explore Minnesota, a state organization looking to boost tourism, said focus groups identified "the ‘Dream State’ concept was the one that best captured the beauty of Minnesota and the magic of travel.” Data from Explore Minnesota's study of the rebranding has found “double-digit growth in our core metrics of favorability, consideration, and intent to travel within the next 12 months,” Kispert said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ex-congressman's death prompts former reporter to reflect on their professional relationship, which served the public

Sylvia A. Smith
Retired reporter Sylvia A. Smith writes for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette: "People often said to me, 'How can you stand to cover Mark Souder?'  They meant: How can a lesbian atheist non-athlete working for the most liberal newspaper in Indiana (from an opinion-page perspective) not go bonkers when writing about a deeply religious, politically conservative baseball fanatic? My stock answer: 'He returns my calls.'"

Smith's column was prompted by Monday's death of Souder, 72, a congressman for 16 years. "Souder, unlike many of his Republican colleagues, did not mistrust the news media," writes Smith writes, who was the paper's Washington-based reporter and columnist for 23 years. "And he recognized a basic concept: No one can write clearly about something they don’t understand. Mark Souder was never simple to understand."

Mark Souder
Smith cites examples of Souder's unorthodox positions on issues, from national parks to Bill Clinton's impeachment (he voted for one of the four articles). "To explain these seeming inconsistencies for a Republican takes some understanding of the logic behind the position," she writes. "So we talked. And talked. And talked. . . . Week after week for 16 years, I spoke with Souder more than anyone other than my spouse. Through all that talking, Mark Souder and I developed a trust. He trusted that I would not burn him: If I didn’t understand something, I’d ask. I trusted that if he was involved in something I’d consider big news, he’d give me a heads-up. This wasn’t a quid pro quo; it was mutual respect for how each of us did our jobs. That kind of trust between a journalist and a source is far more important than friendship or liking a person – though I liked him, and he liked me. I liked Souder because his interests were varied and transcended getting reelected."

Smith concludes, "Mark Souder was never my buddy, never a confidant. Our world views were nearly polar opposites. But we both believed in the duty of an elected official to be transparent about positions and votes and the responsibility of a newspaper to inform its readers in a fair way. . . . He often did or said things that, when I wrote about them, produced front-page stories. He was not a cookie-cutter politician. And he returned my calls."

News-media roundup: Public broadcaster to buy Denton Record-Chronicle; Hearst builds digital subs, is bullish on papers; Freedom Forum funds First Amendment reporter

Wednesday, Sept. 28, is World News Day.

The National Trust for Local News says it's "announcing a new model of community journalism," a partnership between the Denton Record-Chronicle and the main public broadcaster for North Texas. The paper would be bought by KERA, which will become the paper's "community anchor," a phrase that defines the new model. The two "are fundraising to close the acquisition in 2023. This model is one of four that will be supported through the Trust’s $17.25 million Community Journalism Impact Fund I." The trust's mission is to keep community news media locally owned.

Family-owned Hearst Corp. still believes in newspapers, CEO Steve Swartz tells Axios. Its 24 dailies and 52 weeklies have 338,000 digital subscriptions, up from 65,000 in 2018.

The McCormick Foundation announced $7.5 million in journalism grants, including one to Capitol News Illinois "to meet the need for greater scrutiny in Springfield," Northwestern University reports.

With money from the Freedom Forum, the Tennessean will be hiring a First Amendment reporter with a broad geographic purview, the South. Read more here.

The American Press Institute announced 31 grants from its Election Coverage and Community Listening Fund. Grantees with large rural audiences include Alaska Public MediaThe Assembly NC and the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media; Carolina Public Press; Conecta Arizona; Lee Enterprises' Montana newspapers; the Raleigh News & Observer; and VTDigger.

Using social media for the public good: journalists' advice

Many journalists have a love-hate relationship with social media, which can facilitate coverage but also undermine the platforms on which they operate. For the Poynter Institute, Northwestern University journalism students Colin Crawford and Ella Kuffour rounded up advice that journalists across the nation have offered for using social media for good. Here's a summary of their article:

1. Make a Twitter account, but set boundaries. . . . Your bio should match the content, and your handle should be identifiable as you. Set aside parts of the day when you won't be on Twitter.

2. Use social media to find sources and ideas for stories, and post breaking news. Also, "Live-tweeting small details such as the energy of the crowd at a concert or photos of protesters’ signs can help draw attention to your posts, as they share a firsthand perspective that might be left out of a finished news story."

3. Network effectively: Follow thought leaders in the field you report on to build a network of expert sources. This includes academics, nonprofit leaders and other journalists.

4. Beware the echo chamber: Follow people across demographics, regions and subjects. Remember that your readership and your Twitter following are not always the same. 

5. Share your work, and that of your colleagues. Student journalists especially appreciate replies and retweets from working professionals.

6. Comment thoughtfully: Your tweets likely aren’t going through an editing or fact-checking process, so be cautious. Remember that you also represent your publication, and your words could hurt the credibility of colleagues covering the subject of your tweet. Humanize yourself online and do not simply be a billboard for your work.

7. Consider using a private account to safeguard against unwanted harassment.

8. Use LinkedIn for Journalists, which has a stronger search feature and offers free training sessions. Ashley Peterson, deputy managing editor of global projects at LinkedIn News, recommends using hashtags sparingly because the algorithm identifies an excess of them as spam.

9. Diversify your online presence with TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. A new Pew Research study found teens are more likely to use video-based platforms. A mere 23% of those surveyed said they ever use Twitter, compared to 95% for YouTube and 67% for TikTok.

Global grain stocks hit a decade low amid war, bad weather

Reuters graph, adapted by The Rural Blog; click on it to enlarge.
Global grain stocks are the lowest in a decade, and bad weather and the war in Ukraine are "heightening the risk of famine in some of the world's poorest nations," reports Tom Polansek of Reuters.

Grain shipments from Ukraine "are too few and harvests from other major crop producers are smaller than initially expected," due to poor weather, Polansek reports. "The United States, the world's top corn producer, is now expected to harvest its smallest corn crop in three years. Drought also punished European harvests and is threatening South America's upcoming planting season."

When the 2022-23 crop year ends, Polansek writes, "The world's buffer stocks of corn will be enough for just 80 days' worth of consumption, down 28% from five years ago and the lowest level since 2010-11, according to figures compiled for Reuters by the International Grains Council, an intergovernmental organization. That would be fewer days of corn stocks than the world had in 2012, when the last global food crisis spurred riots. Policymakers are worried."

Polasek cites South Dakota corn grower Mark Gross, who "expects to harvest as few as 20 bushels per acre on some fields this autumn, down more than 80% from the local average last year, after drought and fierce winds ravaged his land. Gross said the weather remained too dry in the spring and then two derecho windstorms brought destructive 100-mile-per-hourgusts across fields in Hutchinson County and southeastern parts of the state."

"It's lining up to be like 2012," Gross said. "No one wants to admit it, but it's true."

N.H. newspaper makes its crime coverage 'more deliberate' after a reporter saw the obituary of a former story subject

Crime reporting at The Keene Sentinel in western New Hampshire involved quick-hits, police press releases and "not a lot of reporting, not a lot of context," Paul Cuno-Booth, a former police and courts reporter for the paper, said at last week's Radically Rural conference in Keene. That approach changed after Cuno-Booth spotted the obituary of a former story subject — a woman who had been arrested after leading police on a slow-motion car chase across an icy lake.

Keene in Cheshire County (Wikipedia map)

"Now, reading her obit, he learned more about the woman who’d been arrested on the ice that day," writes Dan Kennedy on his Media Nation site. "She’d had surgery for a brain tumor in 2016. She’d worked with mentally disabled people. She was a triathlete. Hers was a deep, well-rounded life, and the Sentinel’s story had reduced her to a caricature for the entertainment of its readers."

At Radically Rural, co-sponsored by the Sentinel, Cuno-Booth detailed how the paper sought to change its crime coverage. He left the paper, but it got help from Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute, to be "more deliberate" in its coverage.

Individual crimes aren't being reported now unless the paper is "prepared to follow them all the way through the court system, which immediately ruled out minor offenses," Kennedy writes. Mug shots have become rare, people can have earlier reports of crimes scrubbed from online searches, and the paper is focusing on crime trends, not one-off small crimes.

Roundup (glyphosate) can still be used, despite the EPA withdrawing the weedkiller's interim approval

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup, can still be used likely through 2026, despite the Friday withdrawal of the Environmental Protection Agency's interim approval of the herbicide — which is the subject of hundreds of lawsuits alleging that the chemical causes cancer, reports Chuck Abbott for Successful Farming.

Applying Roundup. (Photo by Jen Russell, Farm Journal)
The withdrawal comes after a June decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the EPA didn't have enough facts when the agency ruled in 2020 that the weedkiller likely did not cause cancer. In that decision, the court gave the EPA an Oct. 1 deadline to develop a new ecological risk assessment for the chemical. However, the EPA said in a court filing that it could not meet that deadline and would focus instead "on completing the periodic review of glyphosate required by law, most likely in 2026," Abbott reported.

Although the EPA's withdrawal of its interim approval of the chemical "that does not automatically mean that EPA’s underlying scientific findings regarding glyphosate — including its finding that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans — are either incorrect or cannot be used as support for a future decision following reconsideration in accordance with the court’s decision," the agency said.

The EPA said it “intends to revisit and better explain its evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate and to consider whether to do so for other aspects of its human health analysis.” Plus, Abbott reported that the agency would also study the effects of the chemical on endangered species.

“What EPA should do instead is cancel glyphosate products until and unless it re-assesses its risks and assures its safety in a lawful way,” attorney Amy Van Saun of the Center for Food Safety, one of the environmental groups that challenged the EPA in court, told Abbott.

Laura Campbell, the senior conservation and regulatory relations specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau told Jim Wiesemeyer of Farm Journal that it's "important for farmers to know that label restrictions for glyphosate are not changing right now.”

'Exodus' of prison employees puts more stress and strain on those who stay on the job; group calls inmate strike in Ala.

A guard tower in Beeville, Tex. (Photo by Eric Gay, Associated Press)
Across the country, prison systems are strained by an "exodus of corrections officers," making life inside the walls harder for both inmates and employees, reports Stateline, a publication of The Pew Charitable Trusts. States are raising salaries and increasing recruiting efforts to attract more potential employees to prisons — which are disproportionately located in rural areas.

"In February, 8,043 of the 24,020 jobs inside the Texas correctional system were vacant, an all-time high. A recent pay raise has helped lower that number to just under 7,000," Stateline reports. Kansas and Florida both had nearly a quarter of their prison jobs vacant. Multiple states were raising wages for a dangerous job with a typical salary range from $42,909 to $53,482, depending on experience and location.

The staff shortages are worsening conditions for prisoners, as wait times for medical appointments, meals, showers and the delivery of ice and water to non-air-conditioned cells are delayed by a lack of staff, Stateline reports.

A tough job is also made even tougher by a lack of staff, but some longtime corrections officers told Stateline that the salary enables them to raise and house a family. On the other hand, Andy Potter, the founder of One Voice United — which advocates for corrections officers — told Stateline that the pay and benefits of the position don't match the high stress and danger of the job.

"The Alabama Department of Corrections said it has received reports of inmate work stoppages at all the major prisons in the state after a prison-reform organization called for a strike," AL.com reports. "The organization Both Sides of the Wall called for the strike beginning this morning as a protest of conditions in the state’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons, which the Department of Justice says hold men in conditions that violate the Constitution."

Monday, September 26, 2022

Democratic operatives adopt 'pink slime' journalism in five states; study finds many readers have positive impressions

The network includes print editions.
"Pink slime" journalism isn't just for conservatives, Lorenzo Arvanitis and McKenzie Sadeghi report for NewsGuard, which rates more than 7,500 websites and was created by a team of journalists who assess the credibility and transparency of news and information websites based on nine criteria.

Five sites that launched in April "look like benign, politically independent state news outlets, Arvanitis and Sadeghi write. "But a NewsGuard review has uncovered that the network of five websites — which publishes articles online and in print and then invests in ads on Facebook to give them a far broader audience — is part of a coordinated effort ahead of the 2022 U.S. midterms to push voters to vote Democratic in battleground states."

The sites are The Arizona Independent, The Michigan Independent, The Ohio Independent, The Pennsylvania Independent, and The Wisconsin Independent.  The network is "publishing a steady stream of partisan content aimed at influencing potential voters without revealing its agenda and the source of its funding. As a result, last week NewsGuard rated all five websites Red, with each having a score of 44.5 points out of 100. Readers are alerted to 'Proceed with caution: This website fails to adhere to several basic journalistic standards'," NewsGuard reports. The network "appears to be connected to The American Independent, a national progressive organization founded by Democratic operative David Brock."

The network has spent heavily on Facebook ads, and has mass-mailed print editions. "The print campaign appears to build off of a similar October 2021 operation in the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial election, when registered voters in Virginia were mailed nearly identical newspapers, this time identified as the 'Virginia edition' of The American Independent, according to conservative news site FreeBeacon.com," NewsGuard reports. "Unlike the papers sent to Virginia voters, however, the newspapers mailed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in the summer of 2022 made no mention of The American Independent, and it appears that no news outlet has covered the new, multistate newspaper campaign."

UPDATE, Oct. 15: The Washington Post looks at the publications and others like them.

The Tow Center at the Columbia School of Journalism recently reported on its study of audience perspectives on partisan news sites: "A sizable minority of participants—more than a third—formed positive initial impressions of their assigned sites, highlighting the operators’ success at mimicking the appearance of traditional news websites. . . . Despite numerous misgivings, a majority of participants reported at the end of the study period that political information had been valuably covered by their assigned sites."

What happens to a community after it loses its newspaper? New book uses McKeesport, Pa., as a case study

A new book details what happens to a Pennsylvania town of 17,500 as it became a news desert after its 130-year-old newspaper closed in 2015. Through interviews with politicians, business owners and other community members, the book, Death of the Daily News, examines the holes left in daily community life after the McKeesport Daily News closed, author Andrew Conte told WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR station.  

“Some of the public officials were like, ‘This is great. Nobody's going to be looking over our shoulder anymore. Nobody going to be asking difficult questions’,” Conte told the station. “But at the same time, there's not anybody there promoting all the things that you do.”

Conte found that the community "deeply mourns the loss of 'shared narrative' the paper created with everything from birth notices and obituaries to ads from local shops, high school baseball scores and announcements of community picnics," writes Bill O'Driscoll, in a review of the book for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

McKeesport in Allegheny County (Wikipedia)
Facebook pages and other organic, online local content have sought to fill that gap, but that information can be tainted by posters who are one-sided or looking to advance their own interests, the book reports. WESA notes that nearby news-media professionals have also stepped into the gap. A nearby paper has one reporter in the town, and a former reporter has founded an online outlet that covers municipal issues. The Point Park University's Center for Media Innovation, which is headed by Conte, also runs a grassroots, community newsroom that aims to help citizens produce their own original stories and photography. “As professional journalists, we have the ability and responsibility at this point to work with citizens to help them do a better job,” Conte said.

Conte is on the program of the Oct. 12-14 #News-Media Business Summit, hosted by the 360 Media Alliance, Editor & Publisher, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and the Inter-State Circulation Managers Association, at the Harrisburg Sheraton.

The pandemic isn't over, but it's under control, experts say

New York Times map, adapted by The Rural Blog; for the interactive version and data, click here.

Last Sunday, CBS broadcast a "60 Minutes" interview with President Biden in which he said "The pandemic is over." It clearly wasn't in Central Appalachia and some other rural areas, and Biden administration officials spent much of last week trying to walk back and clarify the president's statement. Today, The New York Times' map showing new-case rates in the last week looks much the same, but experts tell Politifact and Kaiser Health News that the pandemic is under control.

Lou Jacobson and Jeff Cercoine of Politifact write for KHN, "PolitiFact has been tracking a campaign promise Biden made in 2020 that is closely related, but distinct, from what Biden told '60 Minutes.' During the presidential campaign, Biden said, 'I’m never going to raise the white flag and surrender. We’re going to beat this virus. We’re going to get it under control, I promise you.' Biden is on safer linguistic ground with his promise to get Covid 'under control' than saying 'the pandemic is over'."

Public-health experts debate whether it's over, "or whether it realistically can ever be," Jacobson and Cercone report. "There is no official arbiter for making that decision, and the word “over” suggests a finality that is not well suited for describing a pathogen that will exist in some form indefinitely. However, we found broad agreement among infectious-disease specialists that the pandemic by now is 'under control.' . . . Life for many Americans is much closer to the pre-pandemic norm, with virtually all schools open, concerts and restaurants well attended, and travel back to its typical level. . . . The level of U.S. deaths from Covid is lower today than it has been during most of the pandemic, and it has been that way since the spring. Notably, the number of 'excess deaths' is also down. That’s a metric that gauges how many more deaths are occurring beyond the long-term average for that time of year. . . . Hospitalization has held steady recently at some of the lowest rates of the pandemic. And even this level may overstate the virus’s impact; routine testing upon admission often detects cases that are asymptomatic and largely coincidental to the reason a patient is admitted."

But “under control” doesn’t mean minimal cost, say some experts, such as Babak Javid, an associate professor in the division of experimental medicine at the University of California, San Francisco: “The degree of protection afforded by the current vaccines available, especially to the most vulnerable, is of limited duration, and nonfatal outcomes from Covid can still have knock-on consequences to the population health.” That's called “long covid,” and it affects nearly one in five Americans who have had Covid-19.

"'Under control' suggests progress on keeping further spread within modest limits," Jacobson and Cercone conclude. "It does not mean that people haven’t lost loved ones or felt continuing effects from the virus; clearly, they have." And that's especially true in some rural places.