Friday, November 04, 2022

Newspapers are in a battle for the truth and they must innovate to win it, weekly publisher says in accepting award

Chris Evans of The Crittenden Press in Marion, Ky., spoke after receiving the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians, which he shared with his wife, Allison Mick-Evans. They own the weekly newspaper in Crittenden County, pop. 9,000. (Photo by Yung Soo Kim, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media)

The loss of community newspapers "has left our country ripe for an invasion of mistruth," and the remaining newspapers must adapt to the digital age to survive, an innovative weekly editor-publisher told an audience of journalists and their supporters Thursday night in Lexington, Ky.

Chris Evans and his wife, Allison Mick-Evans, of The Crittenden Press in Marion, Ky., received the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog) and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The award citation mentions that the Press was an early adopter of online journalism and uses it frequently to serve Crittenden County, pop. 9,000.

Evans recalled a statement attributed to World War II Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: "You cannot invade [the] mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass."

"We are losing community newspapers, one blade of grass at a time," Evans said. "Losing those town criers has left our country ripe for an invasion of mistruth. Study after study has found that the most trusted media are local.  . . . Forces that are eroding national trust in media can be blamed on two things. One if that blurred line between commentary and news, and No. 2 is that there is a decline in rural journalism. Myths are finding a foothold in our society because there isn't a journalist in every county and every parish in the country. There's not a journalist behind every blade of grass.

"Friends, we are being disarmed by a natural ally: the Information Age. In days gone by, we were a nation of small-town newspapers: trusted local sources of information that helped debunk lies and exaggerations. Part of the reason The Big Lie and fake news prevail is our society today is because we have lost the voice of truth, the voice behind every blade of grass. Well-trained journalists who made mom-and-pop ink one of the strongest collective corporations in America are fading. They're fading from our Main Streets, our courthouses and from our city halls. A newspaper in every town was the underpinning of America's First Amendment and the freedom of information. An armed journalist behind every bush is the caretaker of truth."

Evans quoted from the Gospel according to Luke: "To those whom much is given, much is expected." He wears the quote on his wrist.

"As journalists we have been given the keys to a powerful platform," he said. "Our industry, our presentation of the truth, is deeply rooted in American culture, but it is changing. The trust we have given must not be taken for granted. Much is expected of us, and we have an obligation to see that it long endures. Our power rests on our ability to innovate and persevere. To do that, we are going to have to morph into something a bit different. . . . The internet has given us a new, less expensive mode of delivery. Now, I am not proposing that we all stop our presses today, but we have to embrace the future. We cannot be too stubborn or too proud. Honestly, the same innovation that has bloodied our noses can be repackaged and deployed as community news. . . . We're reluctant to admit the truth because we have always printed newspapers. . . . We just have to convince ourselves and our advertisers to go with us. We do not need to convince our readers. They're already there. 

"As the town crier, we've got to have the loudest voice, but right now we're being muffled by social media. We have to create our own platform, pool our resources and figure out whether it's an app or a network or something else, but our model must change. I don't know that anyone in the newspaper industry has really figured out how to make that move. . . . If we don't find a way to change our model . . . we're going to die. . . . We must keep community-based reporting behind every blade of grass, or we are going to lose that war on truth. We have to do it with reporting, podcasting, webcasting, livestreams or whatever else we can package as trusted content and sell it. . . . We are simply going down with the ship rather than getting on a lifeboat that exists right before our eyes."

Noting that he has coached over 40 years, Evans said a coach has to ask before a game, "What will I do in the heat of the moment when what I am doing is not working? We have to be able to adapt. To be a winner you must have a plan and a backup plan. . . .What is your plan? I'd like to know. What's our plan? My question and my challenge to all of us in the business of community journalism is this: Are we going to keep making buggy whips or are we going to analyze, adapt and overcome? How do we keep a reporter behind each blade of grass? I welcome your input, because I want to know what people are thinking. We are all in this together, and together we can find a way forward."

In rural Arkansas, parents angry over sexual abuse and a cover-up knew where to turn: their local weekly newspaper

L-R: Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism; Ben Gish, The Mountain Eagle, Whitesburg, Ky.; Publisher Ellen Kreth and General Manager Shannon Hahn, Madison County Record, with institute's Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism. (Photo: Yung Soo Kim, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media)

When older boys on a junior-high basketball team put younger players through an initiation ritual that included sexual abuse, and school officials tried to cover it up, angry parents knew where to go: their local weekly newspaper, the Madison County Record of Huntsville, Ark. The paper's pursuit of the story won it the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog), which was presented last night in Lexington, Ky.

“This story wouldn’t let us go, and we weren’t about to let it go, either,” Publisher Ellen Kreth said as she and General Manager Shannon Hahn accepted the award.

Kreth said of school officials, “Their first order of business was to cover it up . . . The parents’ first order of business . . . was to contact the Madison County Record. They trusted the newspaper; they knew they could trust us to tell the story. Most importantly, they also knew they could trust Shannon. She lives in the community and has children in the school, and they knew they could come to her.”

The paper didn’t name any students involved, but focused on how officials handled the allegations, reducing or rejecting the recommended punishment for the violators. It reported the district’s failure to immediately report the allegations, as required by law, and multiple open-meetings violations of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Its reporting prompted an investigation; special open-meetings training for the school board, which didn’t do it in the time required; a lawsuit by a parent alleging violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which ban sex-based discrimination in any school that gets federal funding; the board’s admission of liability in that suit; the electoral defeat in May of three of the four board members who sought re-election; the charging of the superintendent and coach with first-degree failure to report; and their resignations.

“They never attacked the facts that we reported, because they knew that they were true, but . . . they attacked our role in the community,” Kreth said. “They said we shouldn’t report the allegations, that we were harming the victims, and that we should also be quiet about it. During multiple school-board meetings, the board members attacked the paper, saying our job was to promote the school, not report on it. We were to be their public-relations department. And that’s the one area I think about this whole story in the context of rural journalism that screams the loudest to me. The most common comment, but also the most surprising, was “I can’t believe a local newspaper would cover something like that.”

Noting the Institute’s maxim that “Rural people deserve good journalism as much as urban dwellers,” Kreth said, “We always believed our role in this story and in our community is telling the facts, telling the story, digging in deep and piecing the facts together. This story was built on trust” among the paper and the parents of the victims. “It was built on filing FOIA request after FOIA request and then literally pasting text messages . . . that were exchanged between school board members. They sent them all out of order, so we spent 12 hours cutting and pasting them so we could build our timeline.”

And through it all, the paper's staff remained part of the community: “We shook hands with everyone who would throw darts at us,” Kreth said. “In the same editions where we ran those Title 9 stories, we still had school lunch menus, church news, obituaries, library news, city council coverage; we told people where to get their Covid vaccines, and we also reported on Decoration Day at local cemeteries. That’s what rural journalism is to us: the good, the bad, the ugly and every single thing in between.”

Board members who sought re-election “were soundly defeated at the polls,” Kreth said. “Sometimes democracy works to support journalism, right?” That line won applause from the crowd of 160, which also saw Chris and Allison Evans of The Crittenden Press in Marion, Ky., get the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians.

Most Americans at least hum along with the tune of the First Amendment, but there are many tensions over the lyrics

By Gene Policinski

A 2022 survey shows we like using our First Amendment freedoms — but also raises questions about whether we understand or accept how they work.

“The First Amendment: Where America Stands” 2022 survey by the Freedom Forum, conducted in March, is the latest in a series that began in 1997, measuring Americans’ knowledge and attitudes about our core freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

By and large, we are marching and protesting more often and in greater numbers than any time since the 1960s — and 79% of us say the right of assembly is necessary. But compared to the 2020 findings, this year’s survey showed a slight decline in the number of us who recently exercised that right. The survey also found that 43% want protest organizers held accountable for violence by anyone during a demonstration, even if they did not have a direct connection to that person. If such laws —already adopted in several states — survive constitutional challenge, the prospect of ruinous liability or even criminal charges may well discourage many of us from organizing such assemblies.

More than half (53%) of respondents favor licensing of journalists. But that’s antithetical to either the law or spirit of press freedom — whether such “permission to collect and report the news” is controlled by the government or a professional group. Our nation’s founders had lived through an era of approval of printers by the king — and wanted no part of such a system.

Americans support the watchdog role of the press but are concerned about how they see this being executed. People are divided and uncertain about reliable sources of news — local outlets, friends or social media — and about whether the press does a good job. On the plus side, 61% say First Amendment freedoms can help bridge the country’s divisions. But 10% outright reject that idea and 29% are uncertain, leaving the prospects for meaningful discussion and compromise resting on a thin statistical perch.

The survey did identify a slight overall tilt nationally on one of the more contentious issues of the moment: school book bans. Among all respondents, 57% said “there is no appropriate reason” to prevent books from being available in public middle and high school classes and libraries. But toss in specific and contentious issues, and sizable numbers find reason to accept such bans: 34% of Hispanic, 33% of Black and 27% of Asian American/ Pacific Islander respondents say it’s OK to restrict access if a “book discusses race in a way that may be offensive to someone.” About 30% overall would limit access to books that contain sexual content and 16% would limit those that focus on sexual orientation issues. Those views are inconsistent with a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that school officials — while having total control over classroom materials — may not ban books from junior or senior high school libraries because of content.

And then how do we decide what is sufficiently offensive to justify censorship? In 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a man’s conviction over a jacket displaying the f-word, Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote that “One man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”

The survey also found that men tended to feel more strongly about the First Amendment overall and are more likely to support challenging or uncomfortable aspects of the First Amendment. Men approved of “free exchanges” on college campuses even when offensive to some, 72% vs. 57% of women. Likewise, more men supported protecting hate speech, 38% to 26%, and were OK with criticizing public officials by name at public meetings, 84% to 69%. And while 56% say religious freedom is being threatened in America today, about 25% say it’s not.

And there’s a generational divide here: The younger the respondent, the less likely they are to agree that it’s threatened.

The First Amendment exists to protect us from the government controlling or punishing us for what we say and believe. To paraphrase Justice Harlan, the 2022 survey shows most of us at least hum along with the First Amendment’s tune, but there are sizable tensions — by race, ethnicity, age and gender — when we consider the lyrics.

Gene Policinski is a Freedom Forum senior fellow for the First Amendment. He may be reached at

Two new reports show how rural communities can get federal funding for building resiliency to climate change

Two new reports from the liberal Center for American Progress "show rural how decision-makers can design and implement resilience funding programs under the new bipartisan infrastructure law to better help rural communities adapt to, and recover from, the effects of climate change," Kristi Eaton reports for The Daily Yonder.

Center fellow Mark Haggery told Eaton, “There’s a tremendous amount of money and resources that are available through the infrastructure law," as well as the legislation dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act]. "We want to make sure that it’s reaching the places that need it most, and where it can do the most good."

Haggery noted that most of the country is rural land: “That’s where the infrastructure for renewable energy is going to be built and cited and where transmission lines are going to cross. It’s where forests are going to be thinned. And restoration work is going to happen. It’s where watersheds are going to need to be improved to slow runoff to capture more water in the headwaters. So there’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to happen in rural communities.”

The infrastructure law created the Community Wildfire Defense Grant program. The center's report, How To Improve Community Wildfire Defense Grants To Build Rural Resilience, is a case study that reinspects the wildfire season in New Mexico, "in which 900,000 acres of public and private land burned throughout the state from April to June 2022. That’s almost four times the annual average from 1995 to 2015," Eaton writes.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore says in the report that climate change is leading to conditions on the ground never seen before: "Drought, extreme weather, wind conditions and unpredictable weather changes are challenging our ability to use prescribed fire as a tool to combat destructive fires,” he said. “Fires are outpacing our models and … we need to better understand how megadrought and climate change are affecting our actions on the ground."

The other report, How FEMA Can Build Rural Resilience Through Disaster Preparedness, examines the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $1.5 billion through the program in the last two years to increase the resilience of communities to natural disasters before those disasters occur.

The report notes the disparities and ineffectiveness of the program: "BRIC's ability to reach BRIC’s focus on pre-disaster resilience is a paradigm shift. Yet the results of the program’s first two years raise concerns about its ability to deliver assistance to communities most susceptible to natural disasters and least able to prepare for and respond to them. In the past two years, fewer than 10 percent of nationally competitive BRIC grant proposals received funding, and communities in relatively populous and wealthy states won more than 80 percent of those dollars."

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Rural areas learning how to bring young people back home; start by listening to them, University of Georgia finds

Grady County, Georgia (Photo by UGA College of Agricultural Sciences Extension, creative commons/

A rural high school graduate goes off to college, gets a degree and is never seen or heard of in those parts again. Rural areas have long lost their young adult populations, and they need them. "In rural areas of Georgia, like Grady County, losing young adults to schools and jobs in other cities and states can break the succession of community leaders, which is vital to future success," writes Margaret Blanchard of the University of Georgia Extension Service.

As part of the university's PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership) program, Grady County, on the Florida border, was able to dig into why students may not come back home. A survey of students at Cairo High School asked what young people "would like to see in their hometown, how much they knew about job opportunities in the area, and if they planned on staying close to home after graduation," Blanchard writes.

Whitney Brannen, a work-based learning coordinator for the university, was able to use knowledge from the survey in her work. "I was really surprised at the number of students who didn’t know what they wanted to do after school and if they wanted to leave or stay,” she told Blanchard. “It’s an opportunity for the community to take a look at that and say, ‘Hey, Jane Doe doesn’t know what she wants to do, but she has an interest in this, so why don’t we bring her into our job and let her see what we have here?’”

Blanchard writes, "Job shadowing is just one idea to come out of the information-gathering process for the southwestern Georgia county. The community is also planning to highlight existing career pathways and invite students to industry roundtables where local businesses gather and network."

Brannen told Blanchard, “Most people think the only job opportunities we have here are working for a restaurant — specifically a chicken restaurant — and that’s not the case.” She pointed out other nearby industries such as the 240-acre plant nursery, a ball-bearing factory and a plant that makes materials for all-terrain vehicles. Youth migration "isn’t a new problem for rural communities participating in PROPEL," Blanchard writes. "But survey results from high school students in Grady County indicate the problem may be due to a lack of awareness rather than discontent with the rural lifestyle."

Saralyn Stafford, rural development manager for the Vinson Institute of Govrrnment at UGAtold Blanchard, “If you get good community participation, it allows those who are responsible for developing and implementing the plan to know that they will have some support for the efforts underway.”

Opinion: End Daylight Saving Time, for the children's sake

Illustration by Paige Vickers for The Washington Post

As the U.S. prepares to end daylight saving time at 2 a.m. Sunday, until March 12, the nation should think about ending its biennial clock-changing routine, Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright write in The Washington Post.

Many Americans want year-round daylight time, and the Senate passed a bill to do that (hurriedly and without debate). The better change would be permanent standard time, write Turgeon and Wright, the authors of Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren’t Sleeping Enough and How We Can Help Them. "Eternal daylight saving time is not the answer. Especially if we want to protect young people."

"Humans evolved outside, in nature, and our brain clocks are exquisitely attuned to the sun. Standard time is an approximation of the solar day and is more or less in line with the rising and setting sun. Decades of research shows we’re at our best when we live harmoniously this way," they argue. "Daylight saving time, on the other hand, is essentially mandated jet lag. Permanent daylight time would leave us perpetually out of sync with our powerful internal clocks and would deny us the sun’s rays when our brains and bodies need them most: in the mornings."

They note that the sun "would rise unnaturally late, particularly in the northwestern part of every time zone: 9 a.m. in parts of Texas, 9:15 a.m. in Indiana, 9:45 a.m. in parts of Michigan. Students wouldn’t see the sun until well into their school day. This experiment happened in the United States in 1974. People found it so painful, it was abandoned after one winter."

Teens and tweens would be affected most, they say: "Because of the later biological pacing of the teenage brain, waking at 7 a.m. already feels to young people like waking at 5 a.m. With permanent daylight saving time, it would feel like 4 a.m. This would put a serious strain on teen mental health. The result would be, among other things, shortened sleep for a population that is already severely sleep deprived and a potential uptick in rates of depression, when teens are already struggling with elevated levels of depressive symptoms and suicidal thinking. And let’s not forget: A policy that’s bad for teens is bad for the rest of us. Sleep-deprived teens are driving next to us on the freeway. Sleep-deprived teens are twice as likely to experience mental health symptoms, which affect families, schools and health-care systems."

The sun is part of our biology, Wright and Turgeon write: "Morning sun tells every cell and organ in the body to start its daily work; in our repertoire of daily habits, morning sun is the slam dunk. Daylight saving time takes this from us. . . . Daylight saving time in winter would make every morning a dark, dreary struggle — and people’s health and moods would unravel."

Arkansas is expanding Medicaid further, with a rural focus

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Rep. Jack Ladyman
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who expanded Medicaid in the largely rural and relatively poor state over objections from more conservative Republicans, is expanding it even more. A new program, financed mainly with federal money, aims to help women with high-risk pregnancies, rural residents with mental illness or substance-abuse disorders, and young adults deemed at risk for long-term poverty, such former foster children or the formerly incarcerated.
In announcing federal officials' approval Tuesday, Hutchinson said the program would focus primarily on rural areas: "We know that it will make a great difference for very vulnerable populations in Arkansas. . . . Arkansas’ maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the nation. Our infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the nation."

The program "was one of the final outstanding portions of Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion waiver that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hadn’t approved," reports Hunter Field of the Arkansas Advocate. Medicaid in Arkansas is available to people in households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. "The program will cost north of $16 million, and as with the rest of Medicaid expansion, the state will shoulder 20% of the cost (about $3.2 million) and the federal government will cover 80%, or about $13.6 million."

State Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, said the program would be a "game-changer. . . . We have to fix our worst problems, and we feel like these are the worst problems."

News-media roundup: 3 top Ala. papers to go all-digital; Gannett loses money again, but digital gains drive stock up

"One of the nation’s biggest publishers has decided to stop printing Alabama’s three largest newspapers and make them digital-only," reports Alexandra Bruell of The Wall Street Journal. She calls it "the latest in a long string of local paper closures," but the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile aren't closing, only ending their print operations. They are owned by Advance Publications, a 24-paper chain that aggressively cut back printing of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Its main identity is, and the Alabama papers are branded "The company will keep publishing individual e-editions for each paper that will still charge subscribers," Bruell reports. " doesn’t have a paywall."

The company "doesn’t plan to stop producing printed newspapers in its other regions next year, said Caroline Harrison, CEO of Advance Local. She didn’t rule out the possibility in the future," Bruell reports. "The organization also owns newspapers in other areas including Oregon, New Jersey and New York." Harrison said, “Where print continues to be profitable we’re all in.”

Tom Bates, president of the Alabama division told Bruell, “The print side of our business does not make economic sense in Alabama.” Bruell notes, "The print readership of all three papers has been shrinking rapidly, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Their expected combined circulation of about 30,000 early next year is a fraction of the 260,000 the papers boasted just a decade ago, Mr. Bates said." He said Advance has no plans to lay off journalists. The printing operation has 110 employees, including 74 employees in production and 36 people in sales, operations and circulation.

Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper publisher, lost money for the second straight quarter, it said in a quarterly earnings report this morning. The firm "reported a net loss of $54.1 million in the three months ending Sept. 30, compared with net income of $14.7 million in the same period a year earlier. The company expects a total net loss of $60 million to $70 million this year, an outlook it had forecast previously," reports USA Today, its flagship. "The latest results come after a 'challenging' second quarter, which was followed by Gannett laying off roughly 400 employees, or 3% of its U.S. workforce, to trim costs."

Despite losing money after forecasting a profit, Gannett's stock rose this morning because it reported record digital marketing revenue, Seeking Alpha reports. It had risen 11.5% by midday, Poynter reports. The company's digital marketing solutions core platform revenue was $118.7M, "up 5.3% year-over-year, SA reports. "Digital-only paid subscribers rose 28.5% to 1.98M at the end of Q3 2022. Average revenue per user reached $2,511 during the quarter."

Newspaper sales: Ohio's AIM Media Midwest has bought The Bryan Times and the Northwest Signal, both dailies, from Christopher Cullis and Bryan Publishing. AIM said it had re-hired all current employees and promoted president Sally Heaston to publisher, a news release said.

Cherry Road Media, which has built itself largely on buying Gannett papers, has bought the Star-News of McCall, Idaho. The company now owns 79 papers in 14 states. The Star-News was owned for almost 50 years by Central Idaho Publishing, a partnership of  Tom and Tomi Grote of McCall and A.L. "Butch" Alford Jr. of Lewiston, who is senior publisher/editor of Tribune Publishing Co., which owns The Lewiston Morning Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, among other assets, a release said.

Rural areas are finding new ways to overcome shortages of doctors and nurses; stories from Maine and Montana

Dr. Kaycee Gardner in Miles City, Mont. (Photo by Amy Lynn Nelson)
Rural America is set to have one of the largest physician shortages by 2030, and nurses are likewise in short supply in rural areas.

Montana is already feeling the pinch and has been looking for ways to recruit and retain young physicians. "The greatest predictors for who will become a rural physician boils down to specialty and background," reports Emily Schabacker of the Billings Gazette. "Family medicine physicians are better positioned to serve rural populations than those who opt for more specialized training. And physicians raised in rural places are more likely to return to rural places to practice, making rural recruitment more important than ever."

One challenge facing Montana has been the lack of student interaction with medical professionals and very limited opportunities for high-school students to shadow doctors. Dr. KayCee Gardner, who practices in Miles City, Mont., "grew up 35 miles south of Broadus, where only a physician’s assistant and a nurse cared for the community," Shacbacker writes. "Not knowing any doctors growing up, Gardner never thought she’d end up in the medical field. No recruitment programs or career summer camps came to her corner of Montana."

To encourage their rural physician development, RiverStone Health created the RiverStone Health MedStart camp, which "aims to expose high schoolers from rural communities to careers in medicine," Schabacker reports. Camp organizer Nikole Bakko told her, "Every county in the state has been represented at one of the five participating health centers since the camp began in 2010. . . . Rural students aren’t being exposed to (careers in medicine). With MedStart we’re able to show them opportunities they don’t typically see."

The medical-provider shortage is not limited to physicians. "Rural hospitals have endured physician shortages for decades, but the staffing dearth that followed the pandemic has made staffing challenges even worse. As a result, critical access hospitals are relying more on traveling nurses," reports Schabaker. Rich Rasmussen, CEO of Montana Hospital Association, said the high cost of traveling nurses are and expense that has threatened to sink the state’s larger hospital systems.

In Maine, the most rural state in the country, is addressing its nursing shortage and the additional costs with a "Grow Your Own" model. Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor "partners with rural hospitals to provide nursing education close to home for students who would rather not come into the city," reports Nichole Dobo of The Hechinger Report, which covers education. "Now in its sixth year, the program is helping the community college increase enrollment in a job that’s in great demand. And it is reaching students who might otherwise struggle with transportation costs (especially during a period of epically high gas prices), family responsibilities or just a preference for staying close to home."

Maine is also reaching out to more non-traditional students. Emily Thompson, "then 47, had recently re-entered the workforce as a cashier after raising her child. A woman came into the store, worried about getting gas into her car because she had forgotten her wallet. As she helped the woman with the electronic payment app on her smartphone, she noticed her name tag: Pilar Burmeister, director of the nursing program" at the college, Dobo writes. "Now, she’s looking forward to May when she plans to graduate as an R.N. and leave her cashier days behind."

The program "partners with rural hospitals to provide nursing education close to home for students who would rather not come into the city," Dobo reports. "Now in its sixth year, the program is helping the community college increase enrollment in a job that’s in great demand. And it is reaching students who might otherwise struggle with transportation costs (especially during a period of epically high gas prices), family responsibilities or just a preference for staying close to home."

Pilar Burmeister, director of the program, told Dobo, “It’s a win-win for everybody. We get to increase our rolls. Hospitals win because they get nurses. Students win on saving time and money.”

Also, "This rural focus helps community colleges train more people who are likely to stick around in the rural hospital after they graduate," Dobo notes. Thompson told her, “It is going to be a bit of a new lease on life for me. I wasn’t making a bunch of money at the store. I liked working there. But this is a real career for me.”

Lawyer for broadcasters warns about last-minute attack ads

Attack ads in the current political season "have been particularly aggressive," writes David Oxenford, an attorney who represents broadcasters. "Some publications have even suggested that, in the waning days of the campaign, the ads may become even worse as desperate campaigns look for some last-minute claim that could turn the tide in an election. In this rush to election day, broadcasters need to be on the alert for allegations that an attack ad from a non-candidate group is false or defamatory, because in certain instances, the ad could result in a claim against the broadcaster."

While broadcasters and cable companies can't censor ads, except the online versions, "some have taken that to mean that broadcasters have no fear of liability for any political ad," Oxenford writes. "That is not true. Broadcasters do theoretically have the potential for liability if they run an ad from a non-candidate group either knowing that ad to be false, or by continuing to run a false ad after being put on notice that the ad was false and ignoring that notice."

Citing some examples, Oxenford acknowledged that they are uncommon, but "Stations must take seriously any claim that a political ad that they are running is false," and realize that the no-censorship rule applies only to ads run by candidates. "Stations are free to reject an ad from a non-candidate group based on concerns about its content. If an ad is defamatory – spreading falsehoods about a recognizable individual – it could result in civil liability to the station. Under Supreme Court precedent, statements made about public figures (such as political candidates) can be found defamatory only if the person or entity that is distributing them either knew that they were false or distributes them with 'negligence,' e.g., where they had notice that the ads were false, yet they continued to distribute the false material anyway."

Oxenford advises, "Stations should ask the sponsor of any attack ad for documentation backing up their claims, review the supporting material to see if it in fact backs up the claims made, and consult with their attorneys to determine if it is likely actionable. There are often no clear answers, so broadcast companies need to talk to their attorneys and make their own assessment of the risk of liability for continuing to run a third-party ad claimed to be untrue."

Native American tribes competing for the first federal grants for relocation due to climate change damage to land

Shoalwater Bay, Tokeland, Wash.  (NYT Photo by Tailyr Irvine)     
Native American tribes have long felt the squeeze of having to survive on lands with fringe value.  In many coastal areas, climate change has altered Native lands, taking them from marginal to unlivable. As climate change evolves, tribes will not be the only people to need relocation, but they may be the first.

"The federal government has been quietly trying to shift its approach away from endlessly rebuilding after disasters and toward helping the most exposed communities retreat from vulnerable areas. But moving is expensive, and as disasters intensify, demand from communities to relocate will only increase, straining the government’s ability to pay for it," reports Christopher Flavelle of The New York Times.

New York Times map
Favelle shares the story of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe: Their lands along the Pacific coast in Washington state are eroding. Tribal leaders want to relocate to the remote hilltop; however, relocating the tribe by moving them up a mountain will cost millions of dollars the tribe does not have. 

"In response, the Biden administration has created what appears to be the first program in American history specifically designed to help relocate communities threatened by climate change. The Department of the Interior is now deciding which tribes will win funding this year — and which will have to keep waiting as their land falls farther into the sea," Flavelle reports. "That decision, expected soon, is likely to reverberate far beyond Indigenous Americans, by establishing a model for other agencies to follow."

This is a new program, and the biggest decisions for Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs are who gets the money and in what order. In sum, who gets to go first? "That makes the new program both test case and precedent for perhaps the most challenging dilemma facing the United States as it adapts to climate change," Flavelle writes.

The money will be awarded through competitive grants of up to $3 million a year. The bureau will spend $25.8 million on community relocation this year. Tribes like Shoalwater Bay are applying a grant in hopes of getting started with relocation. "Through a public-records request, The New York Times obtained a list of at least 11 tribes that have applied for relocation grants," Flavelle reports. "Five of those tribes are clustered within about 100 miles of each other around Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, making it the site of one of the most important experiments in U.S. climate adaptation policy."

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

States giving rural road work a boost with new federal aid

US 50 near Delta, Colo., below Grand Mesa, after rehabilitation (Colorado Department of Transportation photo)

Some states are using last year’s federal infrastructure law make up for deferred maintenance on rural roads, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. "Many rural roads carry heavy trucks and farm equipment, and some haven’t been repaved in decades, transportation officials say. With many state budgets healthy and new money arriving . . . states are spending more.

Bergal's first example is 19 miles of US 50 south of Grand Junction, Colo. It "was filled with bulges and dips, making it unpleasant to drive and sometimes downright dangerous," Bergal repports. "Colorado transportation officials decided to target the stretch, spending $15 million in state and federal money on it as part of a statewide rural road improvement initiative," completed in July.

Other examples: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills of Maine "touted a $9.2 million project to revitalize the rural highway corridors that lead to the state’s western mountains, where several ski slopes are located. In Texas, the Department of Transportation plans to invest $14 billion over the next decade on rural projects. That’s a 600% hike in planned rural funding compared with just seven years ago, according to Alvin New, a Texas Transportation Commission member. And in Oklahoma, transportation officials received a $41.5 million federal loan earlier this year; it will fund nearly half the cost of a rural safety improvement project in eight counties. . . . In Kansas, officials have doubled the amount they’re spending on rural road safety upgrades."

Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at nonprofit research organization TRIP (formerly The Road Information Program), funded by highway-construction interests, told Bergal, “Rural areas are absolutely critical to the functioning of the nation’s economy, and you need a safe, reliable transportation network. If the system deteriorates to the point that it becomes difficult to move trucks that carry food and products, that’s a big problem.” Also, “The worse the shape the roads are in, the more the cost of operating a vehicle increases.”

Bergal notes an October report by TRIP saying that the U.S. has a $109 billion backlog of rural road and highway rehabilitation and a $36 billion backlog of rural roadway enhancements, such as safety: "The report said that in 2020, 12% of major rural roads were rated in poor condition, 19% in mediocre condition and 17% in fair condition."

The infrastructure bill has $2 billion "over five years for state and local governments to improve and expand transportation infrastructure in rural areas," Bergal notes. "Part of that funding is aimed at making roads safer. Nearly half of fatal crashes in the U.S. occur on rural roads, even though only 19% of the population lives on them, according to a September report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. Transportation experts say higher speeds, narrow shoulders, lack of lighting and lots of curves contribute to the high number of rural road deaths. So does the fact that emergency responders might be some distance away and can take longer to arrive at the scene and transport injured drivers and passengers to hospitals."

CVS, Walgreens in tentative deal to pay state and local governments billions for opioid crisis; Walmart still in talks

"CVS Health and Walgreen Co. announced agreements in principle Wednesday to pay about $5 billion each to settle lawsuits nationwide over the toll of opioids, and a lawyer said Walmart is in discussions for a deal, reports Geoff Mulvihill of The Associated Press. "The developments amount to what could be the last round of huge settlements after years of litigation over the drug industry's role in an overdose epidemic that has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. over the past two decades."

The epidemic had its roots in rural areas, especially Appalachia. "Most of the deaths initially involved prescription drugs," Mulvihll notes. As governments, doctors and companies took steps to make them harder to abuse and obtain, people with opioid use disorder increasingly switched to heroin, which proved more deadly. In recent years, opioid deaths have soared to record levels around 80,000 a year. Most of those deaths involve illicitly produced version of the powerful lab-made drug fentanyl, which is appearing throughout the U.S. supply of illegal drugs."

The lawsuits by state and local governments alleged that drugstores were filling prescriptions they should have recognized were inappropriate, largely because there were so many of them.

The proposed deal would have CVS pay the governments $4.9 billion and Native American tribes about $130 million over a decade, Mulvihill reports: "Walgreens would pay $4.8 billion to governments and $155 million to tribes over 15 years. The exact amount depends on how many governments join the deals. The deals call for most of the funds . . . to be used to fight the opioid crisis. CVS announced its plan along with an earnings report Wednesday, and Walgreens made an SEC filing with some details. . . . Neither CVS nor Walgreens is admitting wrongdoing."

Paul Geller, a lawyer for the governments, said talks are continuing with Walmart, which has a large pharmacy business and a disproportionate share of rural retail.

"The proposed pacts bring a nationwide tally of finalized and completed settlements between companies and governments to more than $50 billion," Mulvihill reports. "The settlement was announced as litigation over the role of pharmacies in the opioid crisis has ramped up. On Tuesday, 18 companies — most of them pharmacy-related — submitted reports to a judge overseeing opioid litigation detailing where they face lawsuits. Only a handful of opioid settlements have had bigger dollar figures than the CVS plan. Distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson this year finalized a combined settlement worth $21 billion and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson finalized a $5 billion deal. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and members of the Sackler family who own the company have a proposed settlement that would involve up to $6 billion in cash, plus the value of the company, which would be turned into a new entity with its profits used to combat the epidemic. That plan has been put on hold by a court."

Peer recovery specialists can be a valuable in addiction treatment; several Appalachian examples are cited

                                      Photo: Rudamese/Pixabay
Recovering from drug addiction can be a scary path. "There is no simple roadmap to recovery from a substance-use disorder; no fixed destination toward which to steer. Certainly, there are mile markers in recovery, and there are those who can help navigate from one day to the next, to offer assurance there is a path forward," reports Taylor Sisk of 100 Days in Appalachia.

Kanitha Cox was an addict in recovery, and she was able to lean on other women around her who had successfully recovered from their addictions. “They had good, healthy relationships,” Cox told Sisk. “They had jobs; they were working and going to school; they had their kids back. I saw these women who were genuinely happy on the inside. . . And I just latched on to them and held on for dear life until I could stand on my own two feet and figure it out.”

Jonathan Stoltman, founder and director of the Opioid Policy Institute, told Sisk, "People with addictions have, commonly, grown accustomed to being dismissed, discounted and judged as 'other.' They’ve been mis-assessed and/or mistreated by health care institutions. It can be a life-changing experience for an addict to hear: 'I’m here to help you, I care about you, I value your life'."

While research is still limited, peer recovery support for people living with a substance use disorder has been shown to improve treatment retention, reduce rates of relapse and enhance relationships. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says “Peer recovery support services have become increasingly central to people’s ability to live with or recover from mental and/or substance-use disorders.”

Peer specialists provide understanding and hope. Most specialist use the SAMHSA definition for peer care: “a strengths-based framework that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment,” reports Sisk.

Angela Hagaman, operations director for East Tennessee State University’s Addiction Science Center, explained that addiction recovery treatment is "outside the Western world’s traditional symptom-reduction model of addressing illness. . . . for a substance use disorder, the sources of the issue and the desired outcomes vary from one person to the next. Medication is available to treat the disease, but not every course of treatment works for every person," writes Sisk.

Sabrina Fillers is a peer support specialist in rural east Tennessee for the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Fillers told Sisk she "seeks to make connections with her clients like a favorite song, movie, or hangout spot. . . Finding those little moments with the people you work with where you see yourself in them. . . And when you find those little things that you connect with, you’re going to find those other things that aren’t so fun to talk about."

Niles Comer, director of Roanoke Valley Collective Response, initiative addressing the addiction crisis, has "been talking with some tech folks at Virginia Tech about developing an app that connects a person ready for treatment with an on-call peer. Comer is a strong advocate for peer recovery support services and has high ambitions for more robust, flexible applications of them throughout communities," Sisk reports.

Jessica Stanley, a peer recovery support and overdose-prevention specialist with the Metro Drug Coalition in Knoxville, believes that there is a balance and an openness required between client and peer specialist. Stanley told Sisk: "Perhaps most critical of all, a peer specialist must be sensitive to a client’s vulnerability and willing to . . . be vulnerable, open to sharing their personal journey. The work requires deep empathy; it requires resilience. . . .You can go to all these professional [medical] people, and they’re great at their jobs, but they’re not allowed to talk to you about their own personal life. So you have peer support, where someone is allowed to be vulnerable with you."

Rural Covid-19 death rate below metro rate for second time

 Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Created with Datawrapper

For the first time since June and the second time in the pandemic, the non-metropolitan Covid-19 death rate was below the metropolitan rate, Sarah Melotte reports for The Daily Yonder.

"It was only the second week in nearly two and a half years [the length of the pandemic] that the weekly rural death rate did not exceed the metropolitan death rate, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Melotte writes.

"Rural counties reported 431 Covid-19 deaths last week, a 7.5% drop from two weeks ago," Melotte reports. "There were 35 fewer deaths last week compared to two weeks ago, and the rural death rate was 0.94 deaths per 100,000 residents." Last week, it was 3% lower than the urban rate of 0.96 deaths per 100,000.

"Although death rates in rural communities dropped last week, infection rates increased by 6% and still surpass urban rates," Melotte reports. "Rural America reported 38,002 new infections last week, a rate of 82.5 new infections per 100,000 residents. In urban counties, the infection rate was 77.6 new infections per 100,000 residents, virtually no change since two weeks ago. . . . Because the CDC does not report infections detected through home testing, the actual infection rates are likely much higher."

New smartphones with satellite connections could answer need for rural connectivity, but cost will be a major factor

Photo from on Unsplash
The problem of restrictive broadband or even no cellular service in rural communities is not new. The lack of connectivity continues to make it harder for rural populations to access the information and community that metropolitan areas readily use. "According to a new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange, satellite smartphones could have a profound impact on residents of rural communities as the technology advances and more robust service offerings become available," reports Cobank, a lending cooperative owned by the agribusinesses, rural public utilities and farm credit associations it serves.

Cellular companies have limited rural development due to low returns on investment. CoBank says, "Smartphones with satellite connectivity could eventually prove vital for rural communities, delivering voice, data and broadband to Americans living in underserved markets. . . . . The ability to make calls and send messages in remote areas where no cellular service exists would provide some rural residents with options and flexibility that were previously unimaginable. However, cost will be a key determinant of consumer adoption and the finer details on pricing remain unclear."

Historically, satellite phones have been used for military or high-seas communications. With Apple's introduction of the iPhone 14, which includes a satellite connection for use in emergencies, the options for use of satellite phones is making a dramatic shift. "Apple is providing the service free of charge for the first two years, and it remains to be seen what they will charge after that. However, it is reasonable to assume that Apple will keep the price low and use the service to increase iPhones sales, given its first mover advantage. T-Mobile said satellite services will be free on its most popular plans, but it’s unclear what those plans will cost when T-Mobile rolls out the service in 2024," Cobank reports.

Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist for CoBank, said, “Initially, the service options available through satellite phone connectivity will be limited to basic text and SOS messaging. But as new satellites are launched over the next several years, voice calling and more advanced data applications should become available. And smartphones equipped with satellite technology will work anywhere in the U.S., regardless of cellular coverage.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Save small-town papers for community identity, not just for democracy, Report for America's Steven Waldman says

The "general national crisis" in local journalism "is as severe if not more severe in small-town America," Report for America President Steven Waldman, a longtime student of local journalism, said at last weekend's convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in Washington, D.C.

Speaking at a session on preserving local journalism, Waldman said 90 percent of "news deserts" are in counties with populations of less than 50,000, with 85 to 90% of those having only one newspaper. What he didn't say, but knows, is that many of those newspapers are struggling to fulfill their role as servants of local democracy. He said local papers are important not just for accountability reporting, but for "the nature of community itself," creating community identity and helping community members know each other.

Steven Waldman
Waldman told the audience of student and professional journalists that there has "long been a sense that community journalism is where you cut your teeth" and qualify to move up, but "I've kind of flipped on that . . . Community journalism, given what's going on in our country right now, is almost as important as accountability journalism."

Waldman said about a quarter of the last class of Report for America reporters were in rural areas. He said "small-town media is facing particular challenges right now" because it can't get the extraterritorial audience that national and large regional papers can, and "There has to be a role for the nonprofit sector and philanthropy" in rural news media -- and a role for government.

Waldman heads the Rebuild Local News Coalition, which favors a refundable tax credit for newsroom payrolls, which would probably be "the largest government support for local news in our history," rivaling the postal subsidy that has helped newspapers since the founding of the republic. He said the idea came very close to passing Congress this year.

Highlighted at the same session was the Rappahannock News, a weekly in rural Northern Virginia that has benefited from the proximity of Washington and Foothills Forum, a local foundation that has funded in-depth reporting by raising up to $200,000 a year. Andy Alexander, a Cox Newspapers retiree who heads the foundation, said many people don't realize what narrow margins rural papers have: "You're being published, so you must be all right; it's very close to the line."

Alexander said the paper and the foundation have more stories than people to do them, so they are training citizens to be reporters. "There are a lot of people out there who can cover news on the margins," he said.

Waldman said the future of local news rests on a three-legged stool: changes in public policy, increases in philanthropic support, and improvement of the local news product. As we have said since the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, "People aren't going to pay good money for bad journalism." --Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Truth about election fraud: It’s rare, says The Fact Checker

The 2022 midterm elections are underway and many Americans have voiced concern over election fraud. An October Fox News poll showed that more Republicans than Democrats are worried that fraud could play a part in election outcomes. They shouldn't worry so much, writes Glenn Kessler of The Fact Checker column of The Washington Post, who shares his analysis:
  • By every single metric, election fraud is rare in the United States.
  • Almost no elections in the past 50 years have been flipped because of documented voter fraud, with occasional exceptions at the local level.
  • Whenever experts and reporters have tried to tally cases of election fraud, the numbers remain minuscule.
  • False claims about the prevalence of voter fraud are nothing new.
There are logical reasons for this," Kessler writes. "The decentralized system of American elections — where elections are run by more than 8,000 local governments and almost 90 percent of Americans vote on paper ballots, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission — make it impossible to steal a nationwide election through voter fraud." He notes The Associated Press's comprehensive report on the 2020 election, which found 475 fraud cases out of 25 million votes in the six decisive states, and rulings against Donald Trump's claims by "at least 86 judges, including Trump appointees." (AP allows any weekly newspaper to republish its report, with a link to it.)

The Heritage Foundation says it knows of 1,384 proven cases of vote fraud, dating back to 1979, and is "following dozens of other prosecutions that are ongoing," Heritage Senior Fellow Hans von Spakovsky told Kessler. That’s 32 per year, out of 2 billion votes cast, "according to a calculation for The Fact Checker by the Brennan Center for Justice," Kessler reports. "In a critical review of the Heritage numbers, the center said the database “confirms that widespread voter fraud does not exist.”

The most notable recent case of vote fraud was in North Carolina in 2018, when courts "ordered a new congressional election after an absentee-ballot scheme was discovered in one county that helped to narrowly tip the election to the Republican," Kessler notes. "Suspicions rose after 61 percent of the vote-by-mail ballots in the county were cast for the Republican candidate, despite the fact that only 16 percent of them were registered Republicans." The case illustrated a general rule of vote fraud: The smaller and poorer the electorate, the easier fraud can be accomplished.

University of Vermont will offer free tuition (not room and board) to residents with household income under $60,000

The University of Vermont, in Burlington (Vermont Public photo by Liam Elder-Connors)

"Starting next fall, the University of Vermont will be tuition-free to all Vermont residents whose families make less than $60,000 a year," reports Liam Elder-Connors of Vermont Public.

"The board of trustees approved the plan, which would cover tuition and fees for in-state students — a total of $18,890 a year. Out-of-state students pay more than twice that to attend UVM," Elder-Connors writes.

A university spokesperson said room and board, $13,354 a year, would not be covered. According to census data, Vermont's median household income is $63,477. It is one of the most rural states.

In a video announcement, President Suresh Garimella said many residents will be able to take advantage of the new scholarship: “Our new commitment means that nearly half of all households in the state can count on attending UVM without worrying about how to pay for tuition.”

'Pink slime' network of partisan news sites gets $1.6 million boost from PACs of energy and shipping magnates

"Nonprofits and political action committees are using Metric Media’s extended network of local news sites to provide a range of campaign services to conservative candidates in the run-up to the November midterm elections, " Priyanjana Bengani reports on new research from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

"Pink slime" has become the common term for partisan material that masquerades as journalism. It is being used by both sides in the midterm elections and can be presented as online articles, ads or physical newspapers that are mailed to targeted area homes. "Newspapers with mastheads belonging to this network have been mailed to citizens in at least three states," Bengani writes. "These newspapers promote the public positions of advocacy groups, PACs, and candidates associated with this network."  

"While it’s not necessarily 'fake news,' it does fracture the information ecosystem. However, tracing the 'Astroturf' activities of the Metric Media news network over the past year demonstrates that it is being used not just to place favorable stories, but to provide additional services that might influence the voting public," Bengani explains.

Metric Media's "services provided include advertising (to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, largely funded by West Texas oil-and-gas billionaire Timothy Dunn); SMS messages, robocalls, and websites (to the Illinois-centric People Who Play by the Rules PAC, largely funded by Republican mega-donor and shipping magnate Richard Uihlein [Uline products] and run by conservative activist Dan Proft); and consulting and “production costs” (to Restoration PAC, also largely funded by Uihlein)."

To put the $1.6 million into perspective, Bengani acknowledges that it is not a large amount in overall election spending, but "Our research demonstrates the extent of the services provided by this network to numerous conservative PACs tied to big conservative funders and groups. . . . our investigation found websites targeting certain politicians or policies paid for by a PAC hosted on the network’s infrastructure, articles boosting candidates supported by the PACs published on the local news network, and an interactive web application devoted to a single hot-button issue."

Bengani adds, "News sites can easily be mistaken for independent local outlets and—as previous investigations by the Tow Center have shown—are part of a larger network that received funding from multiple dark-money groups and PACs. The funding is not disclosed; neither are the network’s collaborations with special-interest groups. . . .While trust in news is declining and partisan antipathy is on the rise, both the left and the right are attempting to use any and all tactics to get their desired electoral outcomes. . . independent local news [is] left with the challenging task of navigating the new reality of political campaigning."

Monday, October 31, 2022

IRS looks away while church leaders endorse candidates

"For nearly 70 years, federal law has barred churches from directly involving themselves in political campaigns, but the IRS has largely abdicated its enforcement responsibilities as churches have become more brazen about publicly backing candidates," report Jeremy Schwartz and Jessica Priest of the Texas Tribune, in a story co-published with ProPublica.

The two news organizations say they reviewed "dozens" of church services posted online, and "Many readers shared sermons with us." They say they found 18 examples "over the past two years that appeared to violate the Johnson Amendment, a measure named after its author, former President Lyndon B. Johnson [when he was Senate majority leader]. Some pastors have gone so far as to paint candidates they oppose as demonic."

Screenshot of video from Texas Tribune
That's what Dallas-area pastor Brandon Burden called the Frisco City Council in a sermon last year, also saying, “I got a candidate that God wants to win. I got a mayor that God wants to unseat. God wants to undo. God wants to shift the balance of power in our city. And I have jurisdiction over that this morning.” The story also cites examples from Alaska, California and New Mexico.

The law limits the charitable and religious tax exemption to organizations that do "not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." It allows churches to host political speakers and discuss political issues, "but because donations to churches are tax-deductible and because churches don’t have to file financial disclosures with the IRS, without such a rule donors seeking to influence elections could go undetected, said Andrew Seidel, vice president of strategic communications for the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State," Priest and Schwartz report. Seidel told them, "If you pair the ability to wade into partisan politics with a total absence of financial oversight and transparency, you’re essentially creating super PACs that are black holes."

The Internal Revenue Service declined comment, but there is only one publicly known example of it revoking a church's tax exemption, Schwartz and Priest report: A New York church ran newspaper ads attacking Bill Clinton days before his 1992 election, starting "a long legal battle that ended with a U.S. appeals court siding with the federal agency. . . . The Congressional Research Service said in 2012 that a second church had lost its tax-exempt status, but that its identity “is not clear.”

In a country that is already starkly divided on many issues, partisan church rhetoric may increase the divide. Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at the University of Indiana-Purdue, who studies Christian nationalism, told Schwartz and Priest, “It creates hurdles for a healthy, functioning, pluralistic democratic society . . . It’s really hard to overcome.”

As number of hunters falls, number of deer rises, increasing disease threats and damage to crops and landscapes

Deer are becoming more familiar neighbors.
(Photo from
The nation's population of deer is rising, and its population of hunters is falling. That's causing problems for people in rural areas and suburbs, reports Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press.

Matheny notes, "Michigan is the second-leading state for car-deer accidents in the U.S., trailing only Pennsylvania, and car-deer accidents have increased 6.6% in Michigan since 2012, with 115 of them causing human fatalities. Farmers and orchard growers are seeing rising problems as well. The number of special, out-of-season deer permits granted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to address significant crop damage increased 60% from 2014 to 2020."

Milder winters allow more deer to survive, but denser populations make them more vulnerable to chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis, which they can give to or get from livestock. "That's a big worry for Michigan's beef and dairy industries," Matheny reports.

Hunting has kept deer populations in check, but less so these days because there are fewer hunters. "In the 1990s, driven by baby boomers, Michigan had 900,000 deer hunters in the woods. By 2030, the DNR expects about half as many. An age cliff looms where almost all of the hunters who have sustained the activity in Michigan for decades are just too old to do it anymore," Matheny reports. "In 2011, most deer-hunting licenses in Michigan were bought by men age 50. In 2021, most were bought by men age 60 -- as if it was the exact same hunters, just 10 years later."

Chad Stewart, deer-management specialist for DNR, asks, “How do you manage a deer herd when there are no longer as many hunters that you can depend on? Where the swell of new fawns in the summer is going to continue to dwarf the fall kill? That is something that is an ongoing discussion with deer biologists right now - not only in our region, but nationally.”

Local governments in more populated areas are responding to homeowners' complaints about deer damage. "In Southfield, residents are being asked on the general election ballot whether they would support a deer cull, a thinning of the local herd with the resulting meat donated to local food banks and similar organizations," Matheny reports.