Friday, December 09, 2022

N.C. county in turmoil over sheriff who made racist remarks, was suspended and re-elected; state investigating election

UPDATE, Dec. 29: "Almost immediately after he was sworn in Thursday morning for what is supposed to be a four-year term, the local district attorney filed a petition in court seeking — for the second time — to have Greene permanently removed from office, the Durham Herald-Sun reports. Greene's swearing-in was "delayed by post-election protests and clouded by state and federal investigations," notes The News Reporter, which published the DA's petition.

Columbus County in North Carolina
Columbus County, North Carolina, continues its heated debate over Sheriff Jody Greene. The conflict began in September, "when a phone recording from 2019 was released to the media. During the call, Greene called deputies 'Black bastards' and threatened to fire those he believed were aligned with the previous sheriff who contested his 2018 win," reports Ivey Schofield of the Border Belt Independent, a nonprofit started by Les High, former owner of The News Reporter, a weekly in the county.

The anger at Greene, the county's first Republican sheriff, is not limited to his racist statement. Jon David, a Republican and prosecutor in Columbus County, "filed an amended petition to the court on Oct. 21 outlining several other allegations against Greene," Schofield writes. "They include having an affair with a detective in the sheriff’s office, firing a Black sergeant, trying to influence county commissioners and failing to ensure proper supervision at the jail." A judge suspended Greene, who resigned but was re-elected shortly thereafter.

The latest grind is the "election board’s ruling to deny two protests" requesting a hearing to determine if Greene was qualified to seek re-election. "Greene, who was suspended and then resigned in October as the county’s first Republican sheriff, won another term with 54% of the vote." The two residents have filed an appeal with the State Board of Elections.

The board "is investigating two complaints of potential intimidation of poll workers," Schofield reports. "Three precincts on Election Day had malfunctioning equipment and subsequently turned away voters. In response, the state board decided to keep one precinct open late."

Schofield writes, "The local NAACP held a meeting to discuss next steps. The meeting was advertised as a public event by the Columbus County Democratic Party, but a Border Belt Independent reporter who tried to attend was asked to leave by one of the greeters." She writes that Rev. Andy Anderson, who attended the meeting, told her "that the group discussed strategies to engage Columbus County residents across racial and economic divides."

News-media roundup: Kansas' Hayneses sell their papers; Gannett sells Iowa paper that's challenged by a startup; Cherry Road sells editor paper it bought from Rust in March

Cynthia and Steve Haynes tell their staff about the sale of their newspapers in a video
conference call with one of the buyers, Jesse Mullen, at left. (Photo from The Oberlin Herald)

Brothers Jesse and Lloyd Mullen of Mullen Newspapers have bought six community newspapers in northwestern Kansas from Steve and Cynthia Haynes, longtime industry leaders who are retiring at 74: The Oberlin Herald, the Colby Free Press, the Bird City Times, The Goodland Star-News, The Norton Star-Telegram and The St. Francis Herald, as well as The Country Advocate shopper. Steve Haynes was a nephew of William Allen White, the renowned publisher of The Emporia Gazette. He and Cynthia reflect on 42 years of community newspapering here.

Gannett Co.
has sold the Burlington Hawk Eye to an affiliate of Community Media Group of West Frankfort, Ill., which has about 40 papers, stretching from Iowa to western New York, including nearby Fort Madison and Keokuk, Iowa, and Carthage, Ill. As the Hawk Eye declined under Gannett, the Burlington Beacon started up, and owner Jeff Allen tells The Rural Blog that its print circulation "is 2,500 and growing each week. We continue to sell out on the newsstand, and we're looking at adding days of publication." UPDATE, March 4: The Hawk Eye hawks itself.

Meanwhile, the decline continues at Gannett's St. Cloud Times, reports Axios Twin Cities: "As of Wednesday, the Times listed just three journalists — all reporters — on its staff page. As recently as 2014, the newsroom had 36 employees, and just a few months ago it listed nine staff." The St. Cloud metropolitan area has 200,000 people but no TV stations, limited radio news and two small weeklies, said St. Cloud University Department of Mass Communication Chair Dale Zacher, who called the Times a "ghost newspaper . . . a shell of its former self." He told Axios that there is little coverage of local government meetings and features about the community.

Kyle, Elizabeth, Olivia and Jordan Troutman (Prairie Photography)
Cherry Road Media
, which has bought several Gannett papers, is selling The Cassville Democrat in Missouri to its editor, Kyle Troutman, and his wife Jordan, a reporter and a native of the area. "The Cassville Democrat has been corporately owned since 2004, and on Jan. 1, 2023, the 151-year-old publication will once again be locally owned," it announced. Cape Girardeau-based Rust Communications had owned it until March, when it was sold to CherryRoad. CEO Jeremy Gulban, said that when heard a young couple in Nebraska describe buying their hometown paper, “I realized that local ownership, when possible, is really the right answer for small community newspapers. Traditionally, this had been the model but it has not been utilized lately because of a lack of motivated, younger people who are willing to take on the challenge. I looked around our portfolio of newspapers and saw that the Cassville Democrat was a good fit for this model with Kyle and Jordan.”

UPDATE, Dec. 29: Cherry Road sold two other former Rust papers in the Ozarks to local owners: the Carroll County News and the Lovely County Citizen in northern Arkansas. The latter will be online only. The buyers are Managing Editor Scott Loftis, photogtrapher David Bell and former Berryville Chamber of Commerce director Bruce Johnson.

Western Kentucky newspapers are publishing special editions to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornadoes that devastated several towns, the Kentucky Press Association reports. And KPA has scheduled a session at its convention on Jan. 27 on planning for disasters.

Longtime Kentucky sportswriter Keith Taylor became news editor of The Berea Citizen, then the weekly's publisher, and now he's the local volunteer of the year. He reflects on his recent career

A survey in Great Britain suggests that people don't trust the news industry because they don't understand it. About half said they didn't trust the news media, and only 39% trusted journalists. But that result was correlated with ow levels of news literacy: the ability to critically process, analyze and evaluate news. Respondents were especially unsure about how decisions are made in newsrooms, how editorial standards are applied and how regulation works," Aisha Majid reports for the Press Gazette.

Also from the U.K.: Five tips for increasing reader engagement and loyalty.

If you have a sliver of land, you can build a wildlife habitat

Photo by Andrea Lightfoot, Unsplash
Anyone with a bit of land and a can-do attitude can help Mother Nature and humankind. "When farmland is healthy, there is a balanced ecosystem with plenty of native plants and habitat for wildlife," reports Jodi Henke of Successful Farming. "This is called biodiversity, and all landowners can do something to improve it."

Jo Ann Baumgarten is director of Wild Farm Alliance, an organization that promotes a healthy, viable agriculture through the protection and restoration of nature. She told Henke that when there’s a lot of biodiversity, the benefits multiply: “Farmers can attract pollinators that help pollinate their crops, and they can attract beneficial insects that help to control pest insects. There are beneficial birds that eat pest insects, weed seeds, and even rodents. Bats are eating insects, and four-footed creatures are eating rodents.”

Before making any changes, take inventory. If you need help figuring out what is good and what isn't, "Extension services, resource conservation districts, and other local groups can offer technical assistance and get you started," Henke writes.

Baumgarten told Henke, "First, you need to look at the climate, the drainage, and soil conditions. If there are problem areas like erosion and invasive species, they should be dealt with first. One of the best things to do is to go someplace wild nearby, look at what’s growing there, and then try to emulate that."

Other substantial tips from Henke include: building a game bird preserve, creating a wild duck habitat, or building brush pile for smaller animals to enjoy.

More women and minorities are hunting, but community support is 'critical' to grow their ranks, study finds

A women hunting group gathers for 'Ladies Hunting
Weekend' in Ninemile, Mont. (Photo by Aj Williams)
As state wildlife officials worry that the decline in hunting is reducing the license fees on which they depend, a new study "examines the role of confidence in introducing and retaining hunters from historically underrepresented backgrounds to the sport," Aj Williams reports for The Daily Yonder.

Conducted at the University of Montana and published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, "The study concluded that attending community-building programs fosters confidence, also known as self-efficacy, while lowering barriers through forming connections with fellow hunters."

Researcher Ada Smith told Williams that most "hunter recruitment and retention programs have been focused on skill building, but our study shows that it is just as critical for efforts aimed at female hunters to also be geared toward fostering meaningful connections and community.” Women make up only 10% to 11% of all licensed hunters in the U.S.

Smith began hunting in 2019 and is in her third year hosting other female hunters on her family’s land. Williams writes, "Smith hopes to fast-track what many hunters gain through the years: a group of ‘buddies’ that can share hunting tips, resources such as gear and help each other through the process of learning to hunt and harvest."

“I feel equally excited about it [the research] because it resonates with things I’ve been dealing with as a beginner hunter, myself," Smith told Williams. "So, to look at the data then is pretty interesting."

Introducing new groups to hunting helps the sport in two ways: "The majority of federal funding for conservation efforts comes from taxes on guns and ammo. With a long-term trend of decreased hunting across the country, that money is dwindling as well." Williams reports. "For Smith and Metcalf [study researchers], this is why advocacy and outreach efforts have the potential to be impactful even beyond the sport, but to more people who have a stake in sustaining the environments in which they hunt."

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Proponents of journalism-competition bill still voice hope; others say it's probably dead, prefer tax-credit idea

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would let news outlets collectively bargain with Big Tech platforms for compensation for news content and set up an arbitration panel to resolve an deadlock, appears dead for this session of Congress, and with the House and Senate divided between the parties next session, it is probably dead, period.

“I think it looks pretty grim for the JCPA,” Report for America President Steven Waldman told the New England Newspaper and Press Association Thursday, the day after the JCPA was pulled from a must-pass defense bill. “I think that  was the best shot. . . . My focus right now is on the payroll tax credit, which I think has a better shot.”

Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy mentioned that alternative in the Dec. 7 edition of his Media Nation newsletter, writing, “I’m going to guess that that’s the last we’re going to hear about the JCPA because House Republicans oppose it, and time is running out for the Democratic majority to push it through. Maybe this will carve out space for a better bill, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would bolster local news by creating temporary tax credits for subscribers, advertisers and publishers.”

Advocates of the JCPA "remained hopeful that Congress might muster the political will to reintroduce it," Gretchen Peck reports for Editor & Publisher, quoting America’s Newspapers CEO Dean Ridings: "America's Newspapers appreciates the efforts of Senators Amy Klobuchar, John Kennedy and so many others to pass legislation that would enable the family and independently owned newspapers to collectively negotiate for the value of their content. We hope that other members of Congress will reconsider this important legislation that would balance the playing field and compensate our members for the incredible work they do, which is important to virtually every community in the U.S."

HD Media Vice President of News and Executive Editor Lee Wolverton told E&P, “I don’t know what the future of this legislation is, but I do know that the real answer is the one we are pursuing — a remedy in court that will snap Google and Facebook’s anti-competitive stranglehold on digital advertising revenue.” Peck notes, In January 2021, the West Virginia publisher filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google and Facebook, charging them with monopolizing digital advertising.

Report for America picks several rural newsrooms to get reporters, and some other newsrooms for rural coverage

Report for America
has picked 30 additional host newsrooms and opened applications for dozens of new reporting and photojournalism positions — with a wide variety of beats, including rural issues.
“We were blown away by the breadth of applications we received, and only wish we had the ability to bring on even more newsrooms this year,” said Kim Kleman, RFA's senior vice president.
When RFA asked newsrooms to define the most compelling gaps in their coverage, rural areas and issues were a big topic, along with local government, health care, climate and the environment, communities of color, and education and vocational training.

Among newsrooms selected were the twice-weekly Uvalde Leader-News, serving a Texas town still recovering from a school massacre; the Texas Tribune, for coverage of communities in the Permian Basin, a leading oil and gas field; the Acadiana Advocate, for coverage of rural communities in southern Louisiana; the Mississippi Free Press, for coverage of "educational equity across Mississippi;" The People Sentinel of Barnwell, S.C., for coverage of rural communities in the Low Country; WVIA, the public TV station in Scranton, Pa., for coverage of rural governments; WRMA and Virginia Public Media for coverage of rural health care; and the Cape Gazette of Lewes, Del., for coverage of the town of Milford.

With the newsroom selections made, RFA says it is seeking "talented, service-minded reporters and photographers" for a two-year program (with an option for three years) with a wide range of benefits, including training and mentoring. RFA pays half the salary and gives the newsroom three to six candidates to choose from. 

RFA President Steven Waldman told the New England Newspaper and Press Association Thursday that a fourth of all slots in the last round went to rural newsrooms. "That is a high priority for Report for America," he said, adding that rural America needs more philanthropic interest to back such efforts.

Charles Sennott, founder and editor-in-chief of the Ground Truth Project, chief sponsor of RFA, said in his weekly report, "If you know someone who can benefit from this opportunity, invite them to apply here. Little by little we are bringing reporters back to rural areas and restoring the news ecosystem for millions of Americans, but we can’t do it without your support. Help us make the map of news deserts in America a thing of the past."

Family cemeteries offer a window into the past, but many if not most are not well tended; who will care for them?

The Swinford Cemetery in Harrison County, Kentucky, is maintained well. (Photo by Michael Swensen)
Jane Thomas honors her grandfather by tending the
family cemetery and beekeeping. (Photo by Jesse Barber)
Many if not most old family cemeteries have been long neglected, but they offer history and family connections that could be honored, Sarah Hume of Denison University writes for the Louisville Courier Journal. She received the Mary Withers Rural Writing Fellowship from Boyd's Station, a nonprofit arts and journalism residency program in Harrison County, Kentucky.

There are hundreds of family cemeteries "in Harrison County and across Kentucky," Hume writes. "Some are hidden behind barns, some prominently placed in front of homes. Others are tucked into quiet forests that were once active farms or churchyards." But for financial and ecological reasons, more Americans are choosing cremation, so family grave plots and cemeteries may become relics of the past, especially in rural areas that are losing population.

The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that by 2040, nearly 80% of Americans will choose cremation. "One of these days, these are going to be gone,” Denny Lipscombe, a local historian who researches cemeteries in Harrison County, told Hume. “And there needs to be some kind of documentation that these are here.” Lipscombe's life work became documenting family cemeteries with the details of who lived there and what they did, Hume writes.

Hume tells the story of Jane Thomas, who restored her family cemetery when she moved back to Harrison County "to care for her sick father . . . Thomas remembered her grandfather had once kept bees to make honey. She decided to start the practice again. . . . When she cares for the bees, she sometimes leans down to read the inscriptions on the grave markers."

Family cemeteries may become obsolete, but caring for them may offer solace and grace to some. “There’s a feeling of completion. Like full circle, maybe,” Thomas told Hume. “And I never stop thinking about the fact that I stand on their shoulders. What they went through, and what they endured, and what they did, made it possible for me to be.”

Feds plan to allow addiction-treatment drug to be prescribed via telehealth, since Congress seems unlikely to do so

Congress seems unlikely to relax the rules for prescribing Suboxone (buprenorphine), a drug that helps addicts kick opioids, so the Biden administration plans to do it at least temporarily: by regulation, under the powers it has under the public-health emergency for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A White House official told Inside Telehealth that the administration will seek public comment “hopefully very soon” on its plan to allow Suboxone to be prescribed via telemedicine, "as stakeholders appear to face an uphill battle in getting Congress to extend a COVID-19 pandemic waiver of . . . in-person prescribing requirements for controlled substances," Cara Smith reports. 

"Beth Connolly, assistant director of public health at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said . . . Wednesday evening that the administration is making the move to prevent people from losing access to the drug used to treat opioid use disorder."

The administration has suggested congressional action might be needed "to allow controlled substances to be prescribed via telehealth, lobbyists and research organizations have said it is within the Drug Enforcement Administration’s regulatory power," Smith reports. "A temporary waiver of the in-person prescribing requirements for controlled substances that was put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic expires when the public health emergency ends, expected to be in mid-April," though the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "will reimburse for audio-only initiation of buprenorphine through the end of 2023."

The administration may face internal resistance from the DEA. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services began allowing most medical providers to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder without having to obtain special training, but the DEA's aggressive tactics against pharmacies suspected of improperly dispensing the drug may dissuade stores from carrying it, making prescription filling more difficult.

It's cardboard season; ever wonder where it all comes from?

A machine the size of a football field makes paper that becomes boxes. (Photo by Christopher Payne, The New York Times)
The people of Windsor, Wisconsin, pop. 8,000, rejoiced when the village's newsletter announced it would have a separate bin for cardboard recycling, all the more important when more Christmas gifts are bought online and shipped. But where does all that cardboard come from?

The corrugated-paper industry runs trees through a marathon of steps before a nifty box emerges, writes Matthew Shaer of The New York Times: "Before it was the cardboard on your doorstep, it was coarse brown paper, and before it was paper, it was a river of hot pulp, and before it was a river, it was a tree. Probably a Pinus taeda, or loblolly pine, a slender conifer native to the Southeastern United States." 

Shaer met up with Alex Singleton, a manager for International Paper, which produces a third of U.S. boxes. His mission "is to source enough loblollies to help keep IP’s production lines humming." He told Shaer, “You’re sort of always in a race. You learn to get creative.” Singleton manages a group of foresters who "spend much of their time zipping around the Southeast by pickup, using a proprietary smartphone app to monitor tracts of harvestable woodland," Shaer writes.

In the woodyard, the creation begins: "A crane was removing timber from a log truck and feeding it into the bladed mouth of a cylindrical machine known as a debarking drum. . . . It churned and chewed and spit the denuded trees from its rear end," Shaer writes. "Another masticating machine, this one a steel chipper. In went the debarked trees, out came a spray of loblolly pine. . . . chips from the woodyard were entering what’s known as the kraft process (the German word for 'strength')."

Shaer describes the 'paper machine,' which "stretched across almost the entire mill floor and trembled like a space shuttle just before liftoff. . . . Pulp sluiced in and cascaded onto the 'former,' where it was flattened into a paper-like consistency." There are more steps, and the end product is corrugated: "If you’ve stopped to look at an individual panel of corrugate and noticed its resemblance to a deli sandwich. There’s a top and a bottom, and between them is a bunch of ridged or diagonally reinforced filler called 'fluting.' That fluting is what gives a cardboard box its protective quality; without its flutes, corrugate wouldn’t be corrugate at all — it would just be containerboard."

The corrugated cardboard industry is booming, Shaer reports: "In 2021, Amazon shipped $470 billion of goods globally, in an estimated 7.7 billion packages." Happy unpacking!

Income gap between 'Old West' and 'New West' counties grows, as the rich get richer, Brigham Young study shows

Snowbasin Resort in Huntsville, Utah, pop. 700 (TripAdvisor)
Researchers at Brigham Young University released research findings on a two-part study of income changes in Western areas. The study, which included the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, "found increasing gaps between less wealthy 'Old West' counties that are typically known for mining, farming and ranching, and the wealthier 'New West' counties that are known for recreational amenities, such as ski resorts, biking and hiking trails and natural beauty," reports Cassidy Wixom of in Salt Lake City.

Twenty years ago, two geography professors, "Samuel Otterstrom and Matthew Shumway, conducted an initial study using IRS county-migration data that included income to look at how people and money were moving in and out of counties in the Mountain West. Two decades later, they completed a follow-up study as part of a project for BYU's Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and it was published in Professional Geographer. . . . The data showed that a lot of 'New West' counties had increased numbers of rich people moving in and poor people moving out."

Otterstrom told Wixom, "There were some counties in the study that were considered rural 20 years ago, but because of migration and income change, are now classified as urban counties. . . . Sometimes that rise in cost of living will price out the locals, people who have been there for a while — because they can't afford to live in that town."

Wixom reports, "Other areas, typically the 'Old West' counties, experienced little change in their population and are having to innovate in farming practices to make their economy grow."

The width of the income divide caught the researchers off-guard. Otterstrom told Wixom: "It is surprising just how much these rural communities have grown, compared to other areas. 'New West' income increase by $13 billion from 2012-2019, but 'Old West' counties saw growth up to $342 million, but others lost up to $359 million . . . If you look at the difference, it just totally dwarfs everything. Seeing how migration changed income . . . This data just shows that the rich get richer."

New podcast aims for 'a different discourse' about rural U.S.

(Photo by Judith Prins, Unsplashed)
There's a lot more to "rural" than row-crop farmers, shriveling towns and political conservatism. There are smart people raising the world's food, driving industry changes and finding ways to reinvigorate their hometowns. That spirit of growth and ingenuity is core to a new podcast from The Brookings Institution, "Reimagine Rural," reports Kristi Eaton of The Daily Yonder.

"The narrative that we often hear about rural America is one of decline or political divisions," podcast leader Tony Pipa, senior fellow at the institution's Center for Sustainable Development, told Eaton. "And to my mind, there is a lot of innovation, a lot of creativity, and a lot of people working together in rural America. We’re not hearing about that."

The first podcast episode presents Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a coal community where Pipa went to elementary school. He gave Eaton some highlights: “It’s a town that’s been on a long, slow, steady decline since the 1960s when anthracite coal left . . . However, through mine reclamation, they have pieced together 8,000 acres and turned it into a park for motorized vehicles like ATVs and motorcycles. . . . I was really looking for places where there’s forward momentum, and there’s a group of people who are working together to kind of create that vision and move forward. I wanted to show a diversity of places. And show off the diversity of rural America.”

The podcast offers examples of how rural communities can move forward. "Things need to start at the local level," Pipa told Eaton. "We have to be willing to be patient and invest patiently over time . . . include the role of the private sector as well as a theme around the sense of hope for the long haul."

The podcast hopes to catch the ears of policymakers. Pipa said, "I hope that sets us into a different discourse and dialogue, even politically, on what it means to be rural and the value that rural America provides to the United States as a whole."

Black cowboys and cowgirls are not unusual in California

A touring event for Black cowboys and cowgirls from across
California and the nation. (Photo by Jason Armond, Los Angeles Times)
Actors like the late John Wayne are considered quintessential American cowboys, but that view may be changing. "Black cowboys and cowgirls are finally getting their moment to shine in the mainstream," writes Tyrone Beason of the Los Angeles Times. "The recent films 'Nope,' 'The Harder They Fall' and 'Concrete Cowboy' have burned images of Black ranchers, settlers and riders into the public’s consciousness."

Thirty years ago, seeing a Black cowboy was thought 'odd' but "Ron Jennings grew up in Los Angeles, but he’s all country, right down to his cowboy hat and folksy twang," Beason writes. "The 42-year-old smiles when recounting the strange looks he got from fellow passengers during bus rides to his grandfather’s horse stable in Gardena or to participate in rodeos at Griffith Park when he was a teen. The cowboy hat, the bell clanging against the rodeo gear in his bull bag — he came across as an oddity in the city, even more so because he is Black." 

In California, there are Black rodeos that attract African Americans from all over the nation: "At the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo’s latest stop in Los Angeles, not only are all of the cowboys and cowgirls Black — so are most of the 3,500 spectators," Beason reports. "The air smells of catfish frying and barbecue simmering."

Spectators come from all over to enjoy horses and history. Kairis Chiaji, who belongs to a Black trail riding club outside Sacramento, told Beason, "There’s something special about Black people coming together to revel in this heritage. In these spaces, it’s safe to be us.” Beason writes, "Most of those gathered express a determination to expose Americans to another facet of the West — and the Black experience."

Byron Levy, whose wife also rides, told Beason: “What’s televised about our culture, it’s always negative — Black-on-Black murders, but none of this is ever televised — how we get together with four or five hundred Black cowboys and cowgirls and there’s no incidents. . . . Al Sharpton don’t have to show up."

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Methodists splitting amid sexual and theological debates

A gay pride rainbow flag flies with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United
 Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. (Photo by Charlie Riedel, AP
Methodists are fracturing over sexuality and theology: "At the heart of the schism is a decision by the United Methodist Church to allow for the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy and for churches to host weddings and other celebrations of same-sex unions. It’s often described as a liberal-versus-conservative debate," reports Martha Quillin of the Raleigh News & Observer.

The decision pushed some congregations to leave. Last month, the church's North Carolina Conference "approved a split that clears the way for nearly a third of its churches to separate from the denomination over its more inclusive LGBTQ policies." Quillan writes. "The move, decades in the making, allows congregations that voted earlier this year to leave the United Methodist fold to join the new Global Methodist Church."

Much the same is happening elsewhere in the nation and abroad. "In annual regional gatherings across the U.S. earlier this year, United Methodists approved requests of about 300 congregations to quit the denomination, according to United Methodist News Service," reports Peter Smith of The Associated Press. "Large United Methodist congregations are moving to the exits, including some of the largest in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas."

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, president of the church's Council of Bishops, told AP, “The United Methodist Church is not interested in continuing sexism, racism, homophobia, irrelevancy and decline . . . What we are interested in is a discovery of what God has in mind for us on the horizon as the next expression of who we are as United Methodists.”

The Global Methodist Church was formed as "Conservatives grew impatient with the lack of clarity over the issue and launched a splinter denomination for congregations that wanted to stick with the Book of Discipline’s language on homosexuality," Quillin writes. Churches could also join another denomination "or become non-denominational."

Wild turkeys are back, but when fed, some are bird bullies

California wildlife officials began getting calls about wild
turkey attacks in October 2021. (Photo from MediaNews Group)

Turns out that the American wild turkey, which once faced extinction, doesn't mind living around people; in fact, they thrive in both rural and urban areas. But now their population is booming, and citizens are voicing concerns over turkey tactics that include attacking delivery divers and mail carriers from New England to California.

In Sacramento, wildlife officials were notified in October 2021 that angry turkeys were sighted harassing delivery drivers, reports Christian Martinez of the Los Angeles Times. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was called to capture the wild birds. An agent 'searched for the birds on at least two occasions in early January but could not locate the offenders.' . . . Last winter, a mail carrier was making deliveries in that neighborhood of Sacramento when he was attacked by a 'particularly aggressive' and 'massive' male turkey," Martinez reports. "The carrier, who was armed with some kind of stick, hit the turkey, killing it," according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"This is the biggest turkey I’ve ever seen," said Capt. Patrick Foy, a spokesman for the department’s law enforcement division. He told Martinez that a neighbor had given the turkeys "copious quantities" of food. Here's a common thread of wisdom found on several "Living with wild turkeys" sites: Do not feed wild turkeys. Additional tips for co-existing with turkeys can be found here.

Historic Native American academy's last building in danger

The Choctaw tribe paid for a protective cover for the building. (Image from WKYT-TV)
When Dr. William 'Chip' Richardson bought some land near Georgetown, Ky., he discovered it had the last standing building of Choctaw Academy, a Native American school founded by Richard M. Johnson, later vice president of the U.S. Richardson "found a mostly undiscovered piece of American history. Now, he’s working to save the building and share its story, but the clock is ticking," reports Samantha Valentino of Lexington's WKYT-TV.

Opened in 1825, The Academy was an inter-tribal learning center for Native American boys. "It was unlike other missionary schools. It was secular and was built on request of and largely funded by Native Americans," Valentino says. The school taught English and writing skills so that young men could serve their tribes.

“This is a story that I think people have largely forgotten,” Richardson told Valentino. “You know, you always hear about conflict, right? It’s about the conflict with the Indians. But this is so different, because this was not; this was a place where we were embracing unity."

Johnson was a U.S. senator from Kentucky who became vice-president of the United States in 1837 under President Martin Van Buren. Dr. Richardson told Valentino, “Something I believe that Richard Mentor Johnson really truly believed, that people’s abilities weren’t based on the color of their skin." Johnson lived with an African American woman and their children.

Richardson's goal is to fully restore the building before its bicentennial in three years. "We have a very limited amount of time to do something to save that and I can’t do it by myself," he told Valentino. "I mean, it’s a daunting task. I know that a community can come together and find a way to save it." For more information on how you can help save Choctaw Academy, click here.

Epidemiologist says the dreaded triple-demic is here, with RSV, flu and Covid-19 cases all rising together

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map

With national rates of influenza, Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) all rising, the "dreaded and much anticipated triple-demic is finally here," epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina writes in her newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist. 

RSV is a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. And while most people recover in a week or two, it can be serious for infants and older adults.

The weekly Centers for Disease Control and Prevention influenza-like illness (ILI) surveillance, which includes a tally of patients that go to the doctor with a fever and a cough and/or a sore throat is a general indication of the climate of respiratory health in the United States. The report does not include laboratory confirmed flu cases. 

The ILI map for the week ending Nov. 26 shows that every state except for four have either a high or a very high ILI activity level. "This level is truly unprecedented; we’ve never seen such high levels of ILI activity at this time of year," she writes. 

Hospitalizations for respiratory illness are also on the rise. On Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said: “Hospitalizations are the highest now than they have been in the past decade.” 
Jetelina points out that while ILI surveillance offers an overall view of respiratory illness in the U.S, surveillance for specific diseases also exist, but is imperfect. 

RSV: CDC data shows that RSV continues to rise, although we may be seeing the first signs of peaking on a national level, Jetelina reports. She adds that this is expected given that the positivity rate for RSV tests have already clearly peaked. 

Flu: "Flu cases are increasing and increasing fast," Jetelina writes. She notes that flu hospitalizations are lagged, but increasing. "We expect hospitalizations to continue to rise in weeks to come," she writes. 

As Inside Medicine reported, for the first time during the pandemic, flu hospitalizations overtook Covid-19 hospitalizations last week. "This may be a one-off occurrence since Covid-19 hospitalizations are increasing now, too, but it is noteworthy," she writes. 

Jetelina adds that epidemiologist are hopeful that the U.S. flu season will follow what has happened in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia specifically) where there has been a high number of flu cases but a moderate level of hospitalizations. 

Covid-19: "Covid-19 is on the rise across the globe due to the combination of seasonal changes, behaviors changes, and the variant soup. In the U.S., all signs point to the beginning of a wave. For example, SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is rapidly increasing across all regions," she writes. 

"One major concern is the rapid rise in hospitalizations among older adults, which has exponentially increased 28% in the past two weeks," Jetelina writes. "This is partly (or wholly) due to abysmal vaccination rates—only 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65+ have their fall Covid-19 booster. A public health failure. Without a recent booster, many people are technically vaccinated but not protected." 

Bottom line, she concludes: "This viral season is like no other. . . .  I’m especially concerned for hospital systems, kids under 5, and adults over the age of 65, as they are at highest risk." 

She adds, "There’s a lot we can do: mask, test before seeing loved ones, get that airflow moving, stay home when you’re sick. The least you can do for a healthy season is get a flu and fall Covid-19 booster. If you haven’t gotten one yet, it’s never too late." 

Jetelina is a California epidemiologist and biostatistician who says she writes the newsletter on Substack as a way to translate public-health science for everyday use, helping people to make evidence-based decisions. She is also a consultant to a number of organizations, including the CDC. 

Journalism Competition and Preservation Act won't be in must-pass defense bill after all

"A bill that would empower news organizations to negotiate pay from big tech companies that carry their content has been dropped from a defense package after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about how it would affect the news ecosystem," Bloomberg Government reports. Axios reported Tuesday morning, citing sources, that the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act had been added to a defense bill that Congress must pass before adjourning.

"Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pushed back against Democratic efforts to include items they view as extraneous," Bloomberg's Maria Curl reports. "GOP lawmakers have also raised concerns about the journalism bill’s effects on the types of content shown on tech platforms, and some companies and civil liberties groups have advocated against it." Meta, "which runs Facebook and Instagram, threatened to stop carrying news on its platforms if the bill passed. Despite assurances from bill sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that the bill wouldn’t affect content moderation, some GOP lawmakers said they were concerned it would censor conservative viewpoints, while some Democrats have warned it could allow for disinformation and hate speech."

The bill would have given all but very large news organizations a temporary exemption from anti-trust laws so they could negotiate compensation with tech platforms. Klobuchar warned Tuesday that without some way for news organizations to do that, “We literally are going to lose one-third of the nation’s newspapers by the year 2025. In one quarter, Google made $66 billion in ad revenue while newspapers and little radio stations folded left and right. It is about our own national future and national security.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Fast-rising sea slowly erasing coastal Virginia communities

Most of Hog Island has eroded into the Atlantic
Ocean. (Photo map by The Washington Post)
In 1892, the town of Broadwater, on Virginia's Hog Island, was a bustling community with hunting and fishing clubs, families and plenty of oysters. By the early 1900s, the effects of erosion could be seen along the coastline of the southern Delmarva Peninsula, and now "The remains of Broadwater have been lost to the Atlantic Ocean," and the town residents moved to is being threatened by rising sea level, report Chris Mooney, Zoeann Murphy and Simon Ducroquet of The Washington Post.

Buddy Bell, born on Hog Island, told the writers, "I was the next-to-last kid born on there. At one time the island was two miles wide, and now you can throw a shell across it." His family, like many on the island, barged their homes to Oyster, Va., and started over.

Now Oyster is "threatened by a fast-rising ocean, as is much of the U.S. East Coast," they write. "The menace today is different: human-caused climate change. But for some in Oyster, the question of the past echoes today: stay or go?"

Global warming is expanding the ocean, and it's impossible to know how high it will rise. Tide gauges have measured sea levels since 1927, and readings in places like nearby Hampton Roads have been grim. The Post reports, "Seas there rose by more than six millimeters annually over the past 30 years, compared with four millimeters per year during the three decades before."

Post map shows hotspot is sea-level rise.
Barrier islands change for many reasons, but Virginia's are changing at an accelerated rate. "Just 250 miles off Virginia, one of the world’s most dramatic sea-level-rise hot spots has emerged, revealed by satellite measurements that began three decades ago," the Post reports. "Signaling a shift in the Gulf Stream, a massive current that carries heat northward, it’s the most visible sign of a rapidly changing ocean." Kris Karnauskas, a sea-level-rise expert at the University of Colorado, told the writers, “That hot spot just happens to be the loudest symptom of something large-scale and grand going on."

"Oyster now sits near this emerging sea-level-rise hot spot," the reporters write, "and so does part of the legacy of life on Hog Island." The Virginia Coast Reserve Program for the Nature Conservancy, which owns much of the land around Oyster, is hoping to help the community develop a global warming relocation plan.

Rural America grew last year for the first time in a decade, even more so than metropolitan areas, but future uncertain

Carsey Institute graph from census data
After 10 years of population decline, rural America is growing again. That's what the newest analysis of census data from Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire is indicating.

"Recent research suggests that the turbulent economic, social, and epidemiological conditions of recent years altered traditional demographic trends in non-metropolitan America," writes Kenneth Johnson, professor of sociology and senior demographer at Carsey.

The decade prior to 2020 was noted by rural depopulation, as many people left rural areas in favor of more urban living and rural areas had more deaths than births. "Yet, the latest Census Bureau population estimates document renewed population gains in nonmetropolitan America between April 2020 and July 2021," Johnson writes. "In fact, the rural population gain exceeded that in metropolitan areas, something that is rare in American history." Johnson explains that the number of people moving into rural areas exceeded the "growing excess of deaths over births fostered by Covid-19."

Johnson reports some migration to rural areas was seen in "high amenity recreational and retirement areas because net migration gains to these counties accelerated early in the pandemic." While some rural areas continue to see declines, many counties still saw gains "but a sizable number of counties had population increases" because more people moved into areas than died from Covid 19.

To survive, rural counties need continued, sustained migration. Johnson writes, "only sustained net migration gains can provide the demographic lifeline these communities need to stave off depopulation. Whether these nonmetropolitan migration gains will continue in this turbulent era remains to be seen."

Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is added to must-pass defense bill; Facebook threatens to drop news

Congressional leaders have added to a must-pass defense-funding bill legislation that would force Big Tech firms like Google and Meta to pay hundreds of local news outlets for their content, prompting a threat from Meta to remove news content from Facebook, the top source of connection to news stories for online readers, Axios reports: "Barring last-minute Capitol Hill maneuvering, the news-funding measure is now on track to pass after failing for years to gather enough support to become law."

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would require tech firms to negotiate payout terms "in good faith" with news publishers for distributing their content, and give publishers a temporary exemption from ant-trust laws to conduct collective bargaining. "The bill doesn’t cover publishers or local broadcasters employing more than 1,500 full-time employees," Axios notes. Still, "Opponents say the bill is a handout for traditional media companies and could force Big Tech firms to pay outlets that routinely publish misinformation. They would have preferred to see almost any of several other major new tech regulations move forward in Congress instead."

Meta's threat is similar to one it made against Australian legislation last year, but the company and lawmakers "reached a compromise and the bill became law," Axios reports. "Several other countries, including Canada and New Zealand, are considering similar laws. The bottom line: This is the JCPA's last real chance at passing for the foreseeable future. It would be very difficult to get the bill over the finish line in a new Congress with divided chambers."

Misbehaving teachers move from district to district and state to state with relatively little scrutiny

Teachers who have committed sexual misconduct are able to move from district to district and state to state without close checking by school administrators and state governments, and the issue appears to have been widely ignored.

In Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader "found that over a five-year period, the top reason the majority of teachers voluntarily gave up their licenses or had them revoked or suspended was due to sexual misconduct," report the paper's Beth Musgrave and Valarie Honeycutt Spears. Despite some teachers eventually leaving the profession, many are allowed to move to multiple teaching posts without consequences for prior abuse even when the abuse resulted in suspensions.

Take the case of Kentucky teacher Jason Earlywine who was "a physical education and health teacher, was disciplined for sending a student more than 1,700 voice or text messages in 2011 and 2012 and for other inappropriate conduct while a teacher at Paris Independent School District," Musgrave and Spears write. "He eventually left the district and got a job at West Jessamine High School in 2019. Students said in the first several months on the job that Earlywine made inappropriate comments to female students. . . . according to Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board documents."

Kentucky does not have enough prevention policies or training that would help keep possible abusers out of the school system and prevent those that do gain access from traveling from school to school. "Kentucky teachers receive training on sexual harassment but has no requirement that they undergo training on sexual abuse or appropriate boundaries between teachers and students," Musgrave and Spears report. "33 states and the District of Columbia mandate that training."

Kentucky is not alone. Many states that struggle to prevent the hiring or discipline of teachers who act inappropriately with students. In Cabell County, W.Va., a gym teacher faced charges for sexually abusing multiple students. "The alleged incidents happened from August 2019 through January of 2022, according to the criminal complaint," says Eric Fossell for WSAZ-TV. "It also states that an administrator with Cabell County Schools told investigators that Miles had been reprimanded before for similar allegations. That administrator asked Miles in a letter to refrain from 'jovial touching of students' or the matter would be referred to the superintendent."

A Montana school district was sued in 2020, "over its hiring of a teacher and coach who was accused of sending sexual messages to the student," reports The Associated Press. The suit said the teacher "had a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward underaged girls and that the school district was negligent in hiring him. . . . Botsford had been fired from a different high school in 1999 after two girls reported him for inappropriate contact. . . . Centerville Supt. Jan Cahill investigated the reports and found Botsford had 'unethical and immoral relationships' with at least three students, the lawsuit said."

While laws can be passed, it's up to school boards and administrators to set policies and stop abuse. For instance, the Montana legislature passed the "Creating a student safety accountability act" in May of 2019, but it did it keep the teacher from continuing his pattern of abuse.

Vermont's 'agripreneurs' succeed in 'post-dairy' economy

Joneslan Farm sold its cows and became the biggest goat farm
in the state. (Photo by Zoeann Murphy, The Washington Post)

On Vermont's US 7 in 2017, a 600-acre dairy farm, Nordic Farms, went bankrupt. The cows and farm were sold. "But the land became part of Vermont’s agricultural future. Will Raap, founder of Gardner's Supply, an organic gardening supply company, bought the property with a vision for making it a model of a 'post-dairy agricultural economy in Vermont'," report Laura Reiley and Zoeann Murphy of The Washington Post.

"Dairy once accounted for 70 percent of the state’s agricultural economy. But the number of dairy farms in Vermont decreased from more than 4,000 in 1969 to fewer than 600 in 2021, as the state’s small-scale operations lost out to sprawling ventures in California," they write. "Higher temperatures also contributed to that shift, causing cows to eat less and produce less milk."

With 600 acres to work, Raap created Earthkeep Farmcommon in 2021. "More than a dozen agricultural businesses, including Vermont’s first shrimp aquaculture outfit, share land, equipment and barn space, and together build consumer interest and brand identity with farmers markets and events," Reiley and Murphy report. "A new generation of 'agripreneurs' — often young, sometimes first-time farmers, many women or people of color — are swooping in to try something completely different."

Other newcomers to the agriculture scene include a malthouse, which is "the only malthouse in the state, providing the state’s brewers and distillers with malted grains sourced regionally," they write. Along with the Jones family who lost all their cows to daily decline but gained "1,500 goats parkouring over hay bales and each other. Joneslan Farm in Hyde Park is the biggest goat farm in the state, selling its milk to Vermont Creamery to be made into cheese."

Vermont's agriculture community is pivoting to meet climate and economic shifts. Riley and Murphy write, "The state’s agricultural researchers are looking for ways farmers can 'hedge their bets,' diversifying crops with high-value items that can also expand the growing season."

Monday, December 05, 2022

Opinion: Partisan 'pink slime' publications have outsize impact in rural areas due to shortage of reliable local news

By Vivian Schiller and Bonita Robertson-Hardy
The Aspen Institute

In late October 2022, two weeks before Election Day, voters in Iowa woke up to the Iowa Catholic Tribune in their mailbox.

Under the masthead read “Real data. Real value. Real news.” But the Iowa Catholic Tribune was not a real newspaper from the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, as some voters thought at first glance. In fact, it was not a newspaper at all. It was the product of Metric Media, a conservative organization that produces countless fake news publications like the Iowa Catholic Tribune around the country.

Image, with address redacted, from
The front page articles warned of teachers pushing books in schools about “child sexualization” and assailed Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, two Democrats embroiled in competitive campaigns, on their records in office. Both ended up narrowly losing reelection.

Similar newspapers popped up in other battleground states and sowed confusion among voters. In Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Iowa, Catholic organizations rushed to make clear that they were not publications from the Catholic Church.

"Pink slime," partisan propaganda masquerading as legitimate news outlets, is proliferating around the United States. Driven by ideologically motivated operatives, pink slime exploits our flailing trust in media for political gain. Private Facebook groups and other social media then amplify the false claims, filling the gap of reliable information with websites that often walk a fine line between something resembling reality and conspiracy theory.

Pink slime worsens our trust in information and poisons our democracy. While we know independent fact-based local news is its antidote, it is unfortunately in shorter supply. In the last two decades, 25 percent of all newspapers have shuttered, and one in five Americans live in a “news desert” with little access to reliable local news. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in rural America.

News deserts, pink slime and social media all contribute to a growing crisis of trust – in each other, in institutions and especially in journalism. Last month, a Gallup poll found that only a third of Americans trust the mass media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly.” Confidence in newspapers and television news has fallen to record lows. This is even more pronounced in rural areas, where 57 percent say that when they do receive local news, whether on television or online, it does not cover where they live.

Rural communities have suffered the most from these trends. While national news organizations have made earnest attempts to fill the void in stories covering rural America, they often fall flat and report on these communities as if the reporters ventured into a foreign land. The 2016 presidential election was the prime example. After Donald Trump was declared the victor, national reporters swarmed small towns hunting for the “missing” voters who eluded their coverage. But according to a study from the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group, their well-intentioned overcorrection exacerbated existing distrust between rural communities and the national news.

The researchers found that when national reporters reached out to rural journalists and community leaders to write on politics and rural life after the election, they often sought preconceived avatars to feature in their coverage, like the “out-of-work coal miner” or “the Trump voters who regretted their decision.” Even when local voices tried to push them in a more authentic and nuanced direction, the national media kept coming back to these narrow identities to advance a reductive, pre-baked narrative.

Quick-turnaround “parachute journalism” like this earned the skepticism that rural people have toward national news media. Without a robust local news source or trust in national reporters, pink slime often finds a more receptive audience in these communities online.

We need to change course. For the sake of democracy, we must all prioritize restoring a robust local media that serves the needs of every community – and all of those communities’ citizens, especially Black, brown, and indigenous people. There is no silver bullet, and this will need to be a long-term effort. As the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder found, the solutions must come from every sector of society.

Promising initiatives are budding around the country, but we need more of them. Philanthropy-fueled initiatives like Report for America and the American Journalism Project can help rebuild newsrooms. Civic and media literacy courses led by schools and libraries can prepare the next generation to decipher fact from fiction. Communities that have seen their news downsized can collaborate to establish nonprofit outlets as the Ohio Local Information Initiative has. Businesses can fund and sustain these efforts at the local level. National media organizations can partner with homegrown news efforts to tell national stories from the local perspective, as public radio often does.

Most importantly, we need local news written by people from the community, for the community.

Our ability to solve the biggest societal challenges, and the very preservation of democracy, is predicated on our ability to rebuild a news ecosystem that earns our trust. Each of us has a role to play, and we urge everyone to work with your neighbors to build your own community-driven solution to it.

Vivian Schiller is executive director of Aspen Digital, the Aspen Institute project aimed at empowering policymakers, civic organizations, companies, and the public to be responsible stewards of technology and media in the service of an informed, just, and equitable world. Schiller has been president and CEO of NPR, global chair of news at Twitter, general manager of and chief digital officer of NBC News. Bonita A. Robertson-Hardy is co-executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group.