Saturday, October 29, 2022

Jerry Lee Lewis, an energetic founder of rock 'n' roll, is dead

Jerry Lee Lewis, known as "The Killer," at the 2015 Jazz Fest in New Orleans. (Photo by Matthew Hinton,

Jerry Lee Lewis, the last of the rural-raised founders of rock 'n' roll, died Friday at his home in Mississippi just south of Memphis. He was 87.

Wikipedia base map
Born in Ferriday, La., Lewis and "two of his cousins, the future evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and the future country singer Mickey Gilley (who died this year), liked to sneak into a local dance hall, Haney’s Big House, to hear top blues acts perform," writes William Grimes of The New York Times. "He showed an aptitude for the piano, and his father borrowed money to buy him one."

“The more he practiced, the surer the left hand and wilder the right hand became,” Nick Tosches wrote in Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, one of two 1982 biographies. The other was Myra Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis, noting both his signature song and the personal scandal and tribulations that diminished his career.

But in 1986, Lewis was in the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he was inducted this month to the Country Music Hall of Fame, reflecting the genre in which he found more lasting success. Last year, he and Swaggart did a gospel album, The Boys from Ferriday. But at the start, his "pounding boogie-woogie piano and bluesy, country-influenced vocals helped define the sound of rock ’n’ roll," Grimes writes.

"Tender ballads were best left to the old folks," writes Hillel Itale of The Associated Press. "Lewis was all about lust and gratification, with his leering tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and crazy blond hair. He was a one-man stampede who made the fans scream and the keyboards swear, his live act so combustible that during a 1957 performance of 'Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On' on 'The Steve Allen Show,' chairs were thrown at him like buckets of water on an inferno."

Friday, October 28, 2022

Justice Department probing chicken-farmer payment system

Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. is the country's second-largest U.S. poultry processor by sales volume. On Thursday, the company disclosed in a securities filing that its chicken-grower contracts and payment practices are under civil investigation by the Department of Justice

"The probe into poultry farmers’ pay comes as the Biden administration has pushed to curb the power of large agriculture companies, accusing them of using their size to raise costs for consumers while underpaying farmers," reports Patrick Thomas of The Wall Street Journal.

Most chicken farmers are paid through the "tournament system," Thomas explains: "About two dozen farmers in a given region are typically compared against one another to determine their payment rates, using a sliding scale analyzing their chicken production."

The sheer number of variables involved in chicken farming have led chicken producers to complain that it is "too difficult under the tournament system to gauge how much income they’ll be bringing in from flock to flock," Thomas notes. "Chicken companies have pushed back on the criticism, calling the system a performance-based structure that keeps prices down at supermarkets, incentivizes farmers to maximize efficiency and safeguards chickens’ health."

The tournament system has come into question by the Agriculture Department, which proposed new rules in May. In July, the Justice Department required the third-largest U.S. chicken processor, Wayne-Sanderson Farms, to "stop using the system as part of an antitrust settlement that the companies said was needed to complete the merger that formed it," Thomas reports. "Wayne-Sanderson now offers bonuses to farmers who perform well and include a base pay."

63% of U.S. acres in drought, up 20 points since Labor Day; shipping on St. Lawrence River has become compromised

Drought Monitor map (lines delineate dominant impacts; S: short-term impacts, typically less than six months (on farms and grasslands); L: longer-term impacts (on hydrology, ecology); SL: short- and long-term impacts)

"More than six of every 10 acres in the continental United States is in drought, with arid conditions stretching from the Appalachians to the Pacific Coast," Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming, citing the weekly Drought Monitor of the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center, produced in partnership with USDA and NOAA.

The extent of drought has increased 20 percent since Labor Day, to 63%, Abbott notes. “The extent of dry conditions is on par with 2012, as drought expanded this week across more than half of the U.S. states, particularly in the Midwest and Southeast,” the center said on social media.

Abbott reports, "The growing season is over for most field crops, but drought affects pasture conditions for livestock as well as the winter wheat crop, which accounts for the lion’s share of U.S. wheat production. A dry winter would leave 2023 crops short of moisture as the new season begins. Low water has hindered barge traffic on the Mississippi River and grain exports from the Gulf of Mexico. Water levels in the St. Lawrence River, another major shipping conduit, have fallen to 10-year lows near Montreal, reported Bloomberg. An official with an international control board for the river said ships have had to lighten their loads to cope with the low water. At least one shipping company raised its rates to carry cargo to and from Montreal."

Standard time returns Nov. 6; sleep-medicine experts say it's best for our health, so we should abandon daylight time

Cincinnati Enquirer photo
It's almost time to "fall back" one hour into standard time, which sleep specialists say is better for our health because it more closely matches our body's internal clock. Standard time officially begins on Sunday, Nov. 6. 

“Daylight saving time disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythms and impacts sleep,” Jennifer Martin, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said in a news release. “Standard time provides a better opportunity to get the right duration of high-quality, restful sleep on a regular basis, which improves our cognition, mood, cardiovascular health, and overall well-being.”

Why is standard time better for our health? "The daily cycle of natural light and darkness is the most powerful timing cue to synchronize our body’s internal clock," Martin says. "When we receive more light in the morning and darkness in the evening, our bodies and nature are better aligned, making it easier to wake up for our daily activities and easier to fall asleep at night. Daylight saving time disrupts our internal clock, leading to sleep loss and poor sleep quality, which in turn lead to negative health consequences." 

An Associated Press poll last fall found that three-fourths of Americans supported having the same time year-round, but they were divided on which one, with 43% saying standard time and 32% daylight time. The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed legislation (without debate) to do just that. But it wants the national, fixed, year-round time to be daylight saving time.  The bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, is stalled in the House. 

The academy argues that in addition to matching our body's internal clock, standard time means more light and thus safety in mornings, especially for commuters and children heading to school. It says daylight time disproportionately affects those in the northern part of the country because of late sunrise times, especially in the winter. The academy also points to studies that show that seasonal time changes are risky to people's health. It also notes that Congress tried permanent daylight time in 1973 to reduce energy consumption, but reverted back to standard time eight months into the two-year plan due to massive complaints. --Melissa Patrick, Kentucky Health News

Rural hospitals don't like new payment program Congress passed because they would have to give up inpatient care

Many rural hospitals aren't interested in a new payment model Congress passed to help them, reports Daniel Payne of Politico.

"The Rural Emergency Hospital designation would offer a new way for rural hospitals to be paid, but many rural hospitals and communities are put off by the requirements, including ceasing inpatient services," Payne reports. They had hoped the program would head off another wave of closures that preceded the pandemic, but "The rules proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services surprised many hospital administrators, who said the program wouldn’t work for their facilities."

Giving up inpatient services would take from many hospitals their community's working definition of the word "hospital." Congressional authors of the plan told Payne that it "will work as intended by creating a new option for hospitals on the brink of closure," he writes. "It will effectively allow an emergency room to exist where any hospital wouldn’t have previously been able to survive. That still leaves most rural hospitals, an increasingly endangered group, without a bigger fix."

Adopt an attitude of gratitude, writers urge

In the thick of harvest season, which will "likely be sprinkled or slammed with stress," how can farmers "keep their chins up?" asks Sarah Schafer, writing for AgWeb

Dave Gordon, an author and motivational coach, told Schafer that he encourages farmers to "take a gratitude walk for five minutes each day, walk around your farm and clear your mind of everything stressing you out." Gordon shares that he started doing a daily gratitude walk 15 years ago and it made a dramatic change in his life. He recommends, "Say out loud what you are thankful for. This will set you up for a positive day. . . . Gratitude is like a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes."

Agricultural workers often experience increased rates of mental and physical health stressors. Sean Brotherson, family science specialist for North Dakota State University, explained a way to view farming life stressors: "Signs of stress are like the warning signs on your vehicle dashboard. They indicate there’s a problem with your engine. So, you need to take steps to remedy what’s going on. . . . Health is the most important asset to any operation. If it is the most important asset, it also needs to be the most important priority."

Brotherson and Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension specialist in farm health and safety, offered these suggestions for farmers, ranchers and their families to recognize the warning signs of stress:
  • During stressful times, do a stress self-inventory.
  • Slow down and prioritize sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get a physical checkup.
  • Seek local resources, including clergy and medical professionals. Talk with other farm families and neighbors.
  • Exercise daily. Take regular breaks throughout the day.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Drivers in decline: Shortage of volunteers complicates reaching health care and other necessities in rural America

"People who don’t have immediate access to transportation, especially in rural areas where public transit options are either limited or nonexistent," need help getting to health and other outside the home appointments, reports Christina Saint Louis of Kaiser Health News.

To answer this call, some non-profit organizations and charities reach out with volunteers to assist those who do not drive. "Several times a month, Jim Maybach drives 5 miles from his house in Hay Creek, Minnesota, toward the Mississippi. When he reaches Red Wing, a city of nearly 17,000 people, the 79-year-old retired engineer stops to pick up a senior whom he then delivers to an appointment, such as a dentist visit or an exercise class. When the appointment ends, Maybach is there to drive the person home. Maybach is unpaid, a volunteer among a cadre organized by Faith in Action in Red Wing, a nonprofit that relies on retirees to ferry residents to essential services," Saint Louis reports. 

Saint Louis cites a major obstacle that charities and volunteers face to simply give rides:
insufficient travel reimbursements under federal law. "Volunteers, like Maybach, are eligible for a reimbursement of 14 cents per mile, which generally doesn’t come close to covering the cost of gas and wear and tear on a vehicle. And while the Internal Revenue Service increased the business rate from 58.5 cents per mile to 62.5 cents per mile in June, it did not raise the charitable rate because it is under Congress’ purview and must be set by statute. The charitable rate was last changed in 1997."

Then there is the lack of volunteer numbers. Frank Douma, director of state and local policy and outreach for the Institute for Urban and Regional Infrastructure Finance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, told Saint Louis, "When the baby boomers were retiring, they were driving people from the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation, who were less numerous than baby boomers, so you had more people available to do the driving for fewer people . . . but now that the baby boomers are aging, those who may be most eligible to drive them are Gen X — and that’s a much smaller generation."

Runoff from solar farms causing problems in rural Georgia

Solar farming is becoming a significant industry in Georgia, and like most significant industries, it has environmental implications, perhaps ironic for an industry promoted by environmentalists.

"Huge solar farms of up to 1,000 acres are being built on the region’s sandy soil, which is particularly vulnerable to erosion of sediment caused by runoff from solar panels," reports Dave Williams of Capitol Beat, citing testimony by James Cooley of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division to the state House's Rural Development Council meeting in Americus.

Families and local governments in Georgia have embraced solar farms as a way to increase income, but most of them are not experienced in overseeing such large construction projects, Cooley told Williams: "Local governments, which play a major role in the permitting of construction sites, typically deal with small sites such as Dollar Generals and aren’t used to such large projects."

"House lawmakers and other officials attending the meeting on the campus of Southwest Georgia State University were surprised and dismayed by what they heard from Cooley," Williams reports. Jason Shaw, a member of the state Public Service Commission, Georgia’s energy-regulating agency said, “[What] we don’t want to be known for in Georgia is a clean-energy state that has caused our rivers to become dirty." Williams writes, "Shaw said counties where utilities are looking to locate solar farms should adopt model ordinances governing permitting requirements to make sure applicants have plans for handling runoff."

Jeff Clark, president and CEO of the Advanced Power Alliance, a Texas-based renewable energy trade association, noted that "large-scale solar power developers typically include 'decommissioning' requirements in their contracts with utilities that include commitments to remediate solar farm sites after their useful lives and recycle the metal from used solar panels," Williams reports. Clark said the industry needs to guard its community relationships as long-term partnerships.

Big oilseed traders and processors share in rising U.S. farm profits, but face challenges of low water, strong dollar

"Two of the largest farm giants that dominate global grain trading and processing, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd., said this week that despite fears about a recession, demand for their grain, biofuels and livestock feed is strong," Patrick Thomas reports for The Wall Street Journal

"Higher energy prices are boosting demand for the oilseed processors’ biofuels," Thomas notes. "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted supplies from one of the world’s top grain-exporting regions, pushing up prices for wheat and corn. Bad weather hitting other big crop-producing countries is also squeezing stockpiles, and agriculture executives have said at least two good crop years in North and South America will be needed to relieve a tight food supply."

Both ADM and Bunge reported sizable increases in profit that exceeded Wall Street analysts' expectations.  The Chicago Board of Trade prices for wheat are up about 12 percent over the past 12 months, corn is up around 26% and soybeans increased about 12%. 

"Global grain traders are also contending with a strong U.S. dollar and lower water levels in the Mississippi River that are hurting grain exports from the U.S," Thomas writes. Some grain elevators on the river have stopped accepting deliveries. Despite the hearty demand for U.S. farm exports, "ADM said that lower water levels in the Mississippi River will cut its soybean export volumes in North America this year, and corn exports from North America will likely be delayed until the first quarter of 2023." Some global buyers are going for rice instead of U.S. grain due to the strong dollar.

Rural county's hand count of ballots, a result of conspiracy theories and complaints, is going slowly and has problems

UPDATE, Oct. 29: "Nevada’s secretary of state told a rural county late Thursday it must halt a first-of-its-kind hand count of mail-in votes after the state Supreme Court warned the current process violates Nevada election law," AP reports. The official said the count can resume after polls close.

Nye County (Wikipedia)
A rural Nevada County is hand-counting all its ballots because local officials were "bombarded with complaints by residents after nearly two years of conspiracy theories related to voting machines and false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump," Gabe Stern of Report for America reports for The Associated Press. "Trump won 69 percent of the vote in Nye County even as President Joe Biden won Nevada by about 33,500 votes." The county has about 50,000 people.

Stern writes, "Nevada is home to one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, as well as high-stakes contests for governor and the office that oversees elections. . . . Nye is the most prominent county in the U.S. to change its vote-counting process in reaction to the conspiracy theories — even though there has been no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of machines in the 2020 election, including in Nevada. The decision earlier this year prompted the longtime county clerk to resign."

The problematic nature of hand counting ballots became evident quickly, Stern reports: "The group observed by AP found during its first 30 minutes that it had mismatched numbers for eight candidates. A recount took nearly 40 minutes, and two of the recounts still had different outcomes."

Beyond local election results, many states will have Election Week, not just Election Day, as mail-in votes are counted

Publishing election results has become more complicated for rural newspapers, because the reduced number of printing sites has forced many to shift their largely once-a-week publication schedules. But at least they get final results in a timely fashion; many major races that could decide control of Congress may not be decided for days after voting ends, NBC News points out in its “First Read” this morning. "Brace yourselves for an Election Week, not Election Day," write Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Ben Kamisar, Bridget Bowman and Alexandra Marquez.

They note that the 2020 presidential election wasn't called for four days, mainly because "the sheer number of mail-in ballots due to the Covid pandemic, combined with state laws prohibiting the early processing and counting of those ballots. Well, guess what? Some of these states still haven't revised their laws, and that means that we might not know for days which party controls the U.S. Senate." (The House is generally expected to switch from Democratic to Republican control.) And the question of Senate control could go into Georgia overtime, just as it did in 2020, "if neither Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., nor GOP challenger Herschel Walker surpasses 50% of the vote."

In many states, counties can't begin to process mail-in and absentee ballots until Election Day; that is the case in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have key Senate races. Arizona can process early ballots as soon as they come in, but "It's typically taken days to project winners (like Kyrsten Sinema in 2018 or Joe Biden in 2020) – until all the votes have been counted if the race is close," NBC notes. It reports the percentage of 2020 presidential votes counted by 6 a.m. ET the morning after Election Day in  key states: Arizona, 81.7%; Georgia, 94.4%; Michigan, 82%; New Hampshire, 75.4%; Nevada, 84.9%; Pennsylvania, 78%; and Wisconsin, 97.5%.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Despite ample evidence that mail-in voting is secure, rhetoric against it increases as Election Day nears

Two years of warnings against mail-in voting have had an effect on politicians and policy makers. "Over the past two years, GOP-controlled states have made it harder for citizens to vote by mail, and blue states have made it easier," Will Norris reports for The Washington Monthly

Developing evidence shows mail-in voting is not harmful to either party. Consider the unique circumstances of one rural town, Norris writes: “Emerson, Nebraska, is a farming town of 900 in the state’s sparse northeast expanse. Its Republican-leaning, nearly all-white population makes Emerson not unlike dozens of other rural communities in the state. It is unique, however, for being the only town in the state divided between three counties: Dixon County, which covers the western half of Emerson; and Dakota and Thurston counties, which make up the northeastern and southeastern quadrants of the town, respectively."

Emerson and Dixon County, Nebraska (Wikipedia maps)
"Those odd lines made Emerson a litmus test for one of the most contentious issues in the 2020 election: vote by mail. Under state law, Nebraska counties with fewer than 10,000 residents have the option to conduct their elections entirely by mail by sending ballots to all registered voters. Dixon County chose to do so. Dakota and Thurston counties decided otherwise and ran their elections the old-fashioned way, with polling places," Norris writes.

In Emerson, 2020 votes were counted without a whisper of fraud. In fact, "Turnout in the all-mail Dixon County half of Emerson was 8.3 percent higher than on the other side of town, according to a study by the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit research organization," Norris reports. 

This study and others shared by Norris provided evidence that regardless of party lines, mail-in voting increases voter turnout. If a county has more Republican support and allows mail-in voting, Republican contenders will get more votes. 

Christopher Mann, a political scientist at Skidmore College, told Norris, “This idea that vote by mail is a form of voting that inherently advantages Democrats is just flat wrong. . . . It is a mode of voting that creates opportunities for political parties to mobilize their supporters.”

Central Illinois radio station adds misinformation to the mix

A radio station in Normal, Ill., has merged activism and coverage, organizing protests and pushing back against criticism of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. "Since President Biden’s election, the talk radio station has upended the traditional media ecosystem in this part of central Illinois with an unusual mix of hyperlocal news coverage — crime, weather and the like — and election misinformation," Annie Gowen of the Washington Post reports.

McLean County, Illinois (Wikipedia, adapted)
Cities 92.9 (WRPW) Station Manager Catrina Peterson said "that they are simply providing coverage that serves as a necessary counter to the liberal bias they see in the established local media outlets, which include a newspaper and two other news radio stations," Gowen writes, adding that Peterson is also a self-professed QAnon supporter. 

Gowen summarizes some of Cities 92.9's activism, such as organizing a Jan. 6 bus trip dubbed “Stop the Steal,” defending a Nazi salute at a school board meeting, and involvement in a festival where a Marine attendee called for revolution, saying, “Violence is always the answer.”

Steve Suess, the director of convergent radio broadcasting at Illinois State University, the faculty adviser to its student-run radio station, and a Cities weekend host, told Gowen, “They certainly have carved out somewhat of a niche in the market. They’re not winning the day, but they’re not going bankrupt, either.”

"Suess has been one of the chief defenders of the station locally, saying that it broadcasts a wide range of views," Gowen reports. "He said that the station had not covered the Jan. 6 bus trip as a news event and that he was unaware it had organized protests, then covered them."

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Rural voters are the most enthusiastic about the midterms

"Interest in the midterms is at an all-time high, but Republicans and Rural America are more enthusiastic than Democrats and Urban America are," NBC News reports on its latest poll. The more rural a part of the poll sample was, the more enthusiasm voters showed; the more urban, the less.

"Urban voters prefer a Democratically-controlled Congress by 34 points (64%-30%), suburban voters prefer a GOP-controlled Congress by 4 points (48%-44%) and rural voters prefer a Republican-controlled Congress by a whopping 53 points (75%-22%)," Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Ben Kamisar, Bridget Bowman and Alexandra Marquez of the NBC News Political Unit report.

They summarize major results of the poll: "Yes, Democrats had closed the enthusiasm gap in the recent months. Yes, rural voters make up a smaller share all of voters (about 15% in our poll). And, yes, the fight for Senate control remains a Toss Up. But that GOP/rural intensity, those GOP/rural margins and President Biden’s 45 percent job rating (it was 46 percent in the VA-GOV exit poll) sure look like what we saw a year ago." They conclude, "Democrats are fired up. It’s just that Republicans are fired up a lot more."

“This is what Virginia looked like,” said NBC's Republican pollster, Bill McInturff, referring to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s overwhelming margins with rural Republicans that drove his Virginia gubernatorial win a year ago.

Water being released from large lakes to boost flow in Mississippi River, which hit record low at Memphis last week

The Mississippi River, at left, is being replenished by releases from two big lakes 
not far upstream. (Murray State University Hancock Biological Station map, adapted)
Across the country, many river systems have dwindled to historically low levels, so some lakes are being lowered to increase streamflow, even more than is usual in October. "This past week the Tennessee Valley Authority announced it was releasing water from the Kentucky Dam" on the Tennessee River, Todd Neeley of DTN/The Progressive Farmer reports. "According to the TVA Facebook page, special water releases were scheduled from the Tennessee River and Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River. The releases were being done with the hope of stabilizing conditions on the lower Ohio and Mississippi rivers."

Neeley asks what many people are now wondering: "How much rain would it take to replenish the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers? . . . The falling river levels come at a time when farmers are harvesting grain and shipping to market, raising questions about what it all means for agriculture."

In times of drought, weather patterns and history are used to glean ideas of how to manage ongoing dryness, Jeffrey Graschel, service coordination hydrologist at the National Weather Service's Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, told Neeley: "From Memphis to New Orleans, water levels are as low as they've been since 2012. . . . It is hard to compare records from the 1800s, early 1900s because of levees, channel improvements and addition of dams which make stage levels different from the modern era."

In West Tennessee, where the river is at a record low, farmers are unable to ship their crops because of low river levels, Anita Wadhwani of Tennessee Lookout reports: "John Dodson’s corn, cotton and soybean fields lie fewer than 10 miles from the Mississippi . . . but they might as well be a thousand." Dodson told her, “I haven’t ever seen this before. We have the Mississippi right on our back doorstep and we’ve always been able to rely on it.”

Election objectors' districts are getting less white, lag in income and education, have higher 'deaths of despair'

New York Times graph; for a larger version, click on it.
"A shrinking white share of the population is a hallmark of the congressional districts held by the House Republicans who voted to challenge [Donald] Trump’s defeat, a New York Times analysis found — a pattern political scientists say shows how white fear of losing status shaped the movement to keep him in power," Michael Keller and David Kirkpatrick report for the Times.

In the districts represented by Republicans who voted to uphold objections to two states' electoral votes for Joe Biden, "The portion of white residents dropped about 35 percent more over the last three decades in those districts than in territory represented by other Republicans, the analysis found, and constituents also lagged behind in income and education. Rates of so-called deaths of despair, such as suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related liver failure, were notably higher as well. . . . Certain districts primarily reflect either the racial or socioeconomic characteristics. But the typical objector district shows both — a fact demographers said was striking."

The 3,885-word Times story includes a few examples, including two adjoining districts in Central Appalachia that are among the nation's poorest: Kentucky's 5th, the nation's most rural and one of the least college-educated in the nation, represented by Harold Rogers, and Virginia's 9th, represented by Morgan Griffith. Of the latter, the reporters write, "Residents, roughly 90 percent of them white, gripe that the educated elites of the Northern Virginia suburbs think that 'the state stops at Roanoke.' They take umbrage at what they consider condescension from outsiders who view their communities as poverty-stricken, and they bemoan Ph.D. pollution' from the big local university, Virginia Tech. After a long history of broken government promises, many said in interviews they had lost faith in the political process and public institutions — in almost everyone but Mr. Trump, who they said championed their cause."

In Christiansburg, near Virginia Tech, restaurant owner Marie March told the Times that she embodied “the mind-set of the Trump MAGA voter. You feel like you’re the underdog and you don’t get a fair shake, so you look for people that are going to shake it up. We don’t feel like we’ve had a voice” in disputing the election results. Griffith wouldn't talk to the Times, but Frank Kilgore, a lawyer-lobbyist and local historian who identifies as an independent, said “Morgan heard it more and more from his base,” and local Republican leaders “said they thought it was stolen, too,” which suggested he might get a primary challenge if he voted to accept the results. "Constituents circulated a petition demanding that he fight Mr. Trump’s loss," the Times reports.

With election two weeks away, papers should think about how to dig deeper into results that other platforms will have

By Jim Pumarlo

Newsrooms have toiled the past many weeks churning out stories to help voters make informed choices on Election Day. Now you’re ready to put the exclamation point on coverage.

“Votes and quotes” are the typical charge for delivering results by producing voting charts and soliciting quotes from winners and losers. Is that your best use of resources as the community’s clearinghouse of information? Is it enough to simply regurgitate standard information readily available on a variety of platforms? . . . If readers simply want to know who won and who lost, they can easily find that information by any number of platforms. . . . Here is one checklist of items to consider when deploying resources on what is certain to be a hectic night:
  • Decide criteria for pursuing comments from winners and losers. Not all races necessitate the obligatory statements, especially if results were widely predicted.
  • Be prepared for surprises. Was an especially popular incumbent ousted? Do races require an automatic recount?
  • Localize national and state stories. Explaining the hows and whys of local results should be your prime focus. In addition, a local twist can make statewide stories more meaningful. For example, does a local race have a statewide impact, such as affecting which party controls a particular legislative body? Without a local perspective – if newspapers simply use a statewide lead on a statewide story – many reports will go unread.
  • Scrutinize variety of factors. Were local legislative results part of a statewide or national wave? Did changing demographics have an impact? Were voters looking for fresh faces? Were some candidates and campaigns simply more energized? Was there a common theme among the winning candidates, such as, “Hold the line on spending.” There are several ways to take a deeper look at outcomes.
  • Voter turnout is a made-to-order story. Compare local numbers with statewide patterns. Was turnout markedly up or down from the previous election? Did specific issues spur more voter interest?
  • Interview experts or have individuals write an analysis of election results. Network coverage of elections invariably includes “expert” commentary. Elder statesmen or high-ranking party officials frequently analyze vote totals. Community newspapers can have a panel of analysts, too. It might be a retired public official, an incumbent who chose not to seek re-election or a political science professor at an area university. Newspapers also might identify rank-and-file citizens who represent a cross-section of the community and have them weigh in on results.
  • How did the bellwether precincts perform? Every political party – and polling experts, for that matter – identify and monitor key precincts. Returns from these representative districts often enable the experts to “call” elections. Were results consistent with previous elections?
  • Explore point/counterpoint columns for editorial page: Many communities have referendums on a variety of issues. You’ll likely seek comments from campaign chairs for the “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” committees for immediate reports. Go a step further and have the respective chairs write commentaries on why they think a referendum succeeded or failed. Publish them side-by-side, and you’ll likely generate letters to the editor.
Newsrooms are shortchanging readers – and themselves – if they don’t make the effort to deliver substantive election reports. Readers deserve to know what the results really mean. And remember, a deeper examination of what the voters said doesn’t have to be all rolled into the next day’s edition. Follow-up stories are excellent content for your newspaper in succeeding days and weeks.

The analysis also is a springboard for addressing the next election cycle. Recording and underscoring the hows and whys behind results will help newsrooms identify the strengths and weaknesses of their coverage and be better prepared.

Jim Pumarlo is former editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle. He writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. His books include “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.” He can be reached at and welcomes comments and questions at

So many dairy farmers getting paid for 'forever chemicals', USDA is short of money, and other sectors may need it

Bloomberg Law chart
So many dairy farmers are getting federal compensation for not being able to sell their milk due to contamination from "forever chemicals" that the Department of Agriculture is running out of money to pay them, Maeve Sheehey reports for Bloomberg Law.

"Farmers are struggling to get reimbursed at all for contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS," Sheehey reports. "The federal government lacks programs to deal with the toxic chemicals, which are ubiquitous because of their longtime use in products such as nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. They’ve been linked to cancer, weaker immune systems, and other health problems."

The Agriculture Department's Dairy Indemnity Payment Program was created in 1968 "to reimburse farmers who are directed by federal agencies to stop selling their milk because of contamination from chemicals like pesticides," Sheehey notes. "The payment program wasn’t created with forever chemicals in mind. . . . Of the roughly $1.8 million the Dairy Indemnity Payment Program paid for contaminated milk in 2021, about $1.5 million — or almost 88% — went to PFAS-related claims in Maine and New Mexico."

Other sectors of agriculture are or will be affected. "It’s hard to say which farmers will be hit worst in the absence of further research, but a recent Northeastern University study shows contamination in over 50,000 locations across the country," Sheehey reports. "The report highlights a dreaded realization for scientists: PFAS is far more prevalent than they thought."

Adams Publishing is buying Yellowstone, a 13-newspaper group that is the largest with ownership in Montana

Adams Publishing Group is buying Yellowstone Newspapers, a group of 13 small-town Montana papers. "This marks the end of a 57-year reign in the local newspaper business for the Yellowstone Group," Ray Schultz writes for Publishers Daily. "Founded in 2014, Adams Publishing is a family-owned group that now owns more than 120 newspapers and more than 220 media-related and associated digital products in 19 states." It is based in Minnesota.

In Montana, Adams already owns the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Belgrade News. The papers being bought are The Livingston Enterprise, The Miles City Star, The Glendive Ranger-Review, The Lewistown News-Argus, The Dillon Tribune, The Big Timber Pioneer, The Laurel Outlook, The Carbon County News, The Bighorn County News, The Stillwater County News, The Terry Tribune, The Independent Press in Forsyth, and The Judith Basin Press.

Yellowstone is Montana's largest newspaper group with in-state ownership, Eric Dietrich of Montana Free Press reports, giving a rundown of the major owners. The sale is expected to close Nov. 1. Terms were not disclosed.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Rural voters in 11 battleground states more worried about economy than rest of nation, pessimistic about long term

Graph from The Daily Yonder Rural Poll by Lake Research Partners; click on it to enlarge.

Rural voters in 11 key battleground states in the midterm elections are more concerned about the economy than the rest of the nation, and are convinced things will be worse for the next generation.

Those are major findings of the Daily Yonder Rural Poll, commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies and conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic pollster.

Almost three-fourths of the 400 rural voters polled said the economy is not working for them, half said they don’t expect their finances to improve in the next year and 77% said they think things will be worse, not better, for the next generation of Americans.

“I was stunned by these numbers” on the economy, Lake told the Yonder. “They are really different than what we’ve seen in the past, and really different from what we’re seeing in the rest of the country, as pessimistic as the rest of the country is.”

Rural America has trended more Republican in the last 20 years, and that hasn't changed. The poll found 59% intend to vote for Republicans in congressional races and 32% said they intend to vote for Democrats. "That’s roughly the margin by which Donald Trump won the rural battleground in 2020," the Yonder notes.

“Rural America’s in a pretty Republican mood,” Lake said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

"Lake said she thinks rural voters’ economic concerns, coupled with dim views of wealthy corporations and corporate CEOs, mean that rural America is ripe for a populist message," the Yonder's Tim Marema and Sarah Melotte report.

Asked to name their top two values, Republican rural voters named freedom and faith and Democrats named equality and kindness/compassion. Members of both parties selected accountability and family as either their third or fourth most important value.

How to build trust and engagement, even with community members who don't trust the news media

By the American Press Institute

Trust-building is a slow and intense process, and it can’t be achieved over an election cycle that promises increased partisanship, divisiveness and continuing erosion of democracy. It can be even more challenging to engage communities with low trust in mainstream media.

How do you interview people who believe conspiracy theories, righteously share misinformation and profess to hate the media? Can you frame questions in a way that avoids loaded words? And what if no one in the community will talk to you?

“It all starts with authentic efforts to listen to members of your community,” said Letrell Crittenden, API director of inclusion and audience growth. “Put down the notepads, the phones, and start simply listening to the concerns people have. If they have criticism, listen to that too. In many cases, news teams have caused real harm in communities, either through poor reporting practices or neglect. Just like you have to put in time, effort and humility to rebuild a struggling personal relationship you need to do the same with your community members. It’s not going to be easy, but it is necessary for democracy to thrive.” Here's more advice:

✅ If you begin with questions that acknowledge the lack of trust in media (“What do journalists often get wrong about you or things in your life?”) you can gradually build to the issue you’re there to cover. Check out this list of questions from Trusting News on guiding tense, complicated conversations.

✅ Don’t come off as dismissive when you encounter someone with a firm belief in a conspiracy theory. Instead, consider why the person believes in something that seems nonsensical to you. As much as you may want to ignore conspiracies, it would be irresponsible to do so. Here’s how to responsibly cover those false beliefs.

✅ Avoid labeling issues and actions as “red” and “blue” because they’re often more nuanced than that. And don’t hesitate to point out intra-party disagreements where they exist — on abortion rights, the Jan. 6 investigation or whether a past president can store confidential records in his home.

✅ Ensure your journalism isn’t extractive when reporting on vulnerable or underserved communities by following this list of rules developed at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics.

✅ Prioritize local voices. Media researchers have made a case for local-only opinion pages that include reader-submitted letters and regular local guest columnists. Here’s how to start.

More resources:

Sunday, October 23, 2022

As Media Literacy Week begins, consider this: U.S. sees mainstream media as more threat to democracy than Trump

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

This is Media Literacy Week, an observance established in 2015 to promote education in media literacy, which can be defined as an understanding of media, their role in society and the ability to analyze messages and the media outlets that produce them. It seems needed more than ever.

The latest evidence is The New York Times-Siena College poll of 792 registered voters Oct. 9-12. One of its main questions was, "Which comes closest to your views, even if neither is exactly right: American democracy is currently under threat, or American democracy is not currently under threat?"

The results: 74 percent said democracy is under threat and 20% said it isn't. Those who said it is under threat were asked, "What one or two words do you think summarize the current threat to democracy?" The leading response, from 13%, was "the government," "government corruption" and non-specific politicians or leaders; 10% said Donald Trump; 9% said societal divisions, political divisions or polarization; 6% or less named other politicians, political parties or movements such as nationalism, white nationalism or right-wing extremism, which collectively were named by 5%.

"The media" was named by less than half of 1%, but when asked, "Do you think each of the following is a major threat, minor threat or not a threat to democracy?" and given a list of choices, "the mainstream media" were identified as the leading major threat, by 59%; another 24% called them a minor threat, and only 16% said they are not a threat.

Rural Blog table, from New York Times-Siena College poll data
Perhaps those of us in the news media can take solace in the fact that hardly any voters first volunteered "media" as a threat, but media are not on top of voters' minds. When reminded of us, they reflect the concerns like those seen in the latest Gallup poll about trust and confidence in "the mass media, such as newspapers, TV and radio." It found that for the first time, a plurality of Americans say they have no confidence in the mass media "when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly."

Rural news media might say, "This isn't about us," and to a limited extent that's true. A March poll of 1,000 adults for the National Newspaper Association, in ZIP codes where NNA members publish, asked "how much you trust" what various sources "say when it comes to learning about candidates for public office." On a scale of 1 to 10, local newspapers scored 7.38, TV stations 6.45, radio news 5.58, mail from candidates or parties 4.63 and social media 2.65. But how much do voters really discern among sources of information when they're not being asked questions about them? A lot less than we might hope, I suspect. Editors and publishers all over the nation have told me they're being tarred with the brushes that both ends of the political spectrum use to smear news media.

Notice I wrote "news media," not just "media," a distinction that too many news media fail to make (as well as failing to render the word as plural). In a saturated media environment, more and more people have difficulty distinguishing among types of media, and between fact and opinion, and news media need to remind them of some basic principles. It can be put pretty simply:

News media pay for journalism, which practices a discipline of verification; we tell you how we know something, or we attribute information to someone. We're mainly about fact, not opinion. Social media are mainly about opinion, not fact, and have little is any discipline or verification. Which do you trust?
Screenshot of New York Times-Siena College poll table, with social media line highlighted; to enlarge, click on it.