Friday, January 06, 2023

Santos story illustrates demise of local news ecosystem; lots of commentary, but 'No one is ... being paid to run down tips'

The fact that a Long Island weekly's revealing coverage of congressional candidate and now Rep.-elect George Santos wasn't picked up by other news outlets until after the election illustrates the demise of the local news ecosystem, writes Steven Waldman of the Rebuild Local News Coalition.

“If this had run 25 years ago, it would have been gobbled up,” Grant Lally, the publisher and owner of the North Shore Leader, told Waldman. “There’d have been 20 follow ups from Newsday and other publications and the weeklies.” But the weeklies that once served Long Island towns have "mostly merged into larger chains, and many don’t even have editorial offices in the covered towns anymore," Waldman reports. "Another part of this case, though, is the attention economy."

Steven Waldman
Waldman explains, "Succeeding in media today requires doing good journalism and then building your own audience for it, and the North Shore Leader didn’t successfully disseminate their scoop. They didn’t mention their story on their Facebook or Instagram accounts (not updated since 2021), nor did they tweet about it, though that stems more from them not having a Twitter account. Which isn’t really surprising since the paper doesn’t have anyone working social media hard—in part because they’ve shrunk." Lally told him, “We lost half our advertising during Covid and most of it really hasn’t come back.”

Because "the local media ecosystem is compromised, even when someone manages to get a good story, the rest of the system can’t amplify it or pursue it," Waldman writes. "If a small paper broke a story, it would be picked up by a bigger paper, or The Associated Press, which would prompt the TV stations and radio stations to dive in. Now the hyperlocal small newsrooms rarely do investigative work, and when they do, the bigger players don’t pay attention. And in smaller communities, the weekly papers are the entire foodchain, so their demise is even more consequential."

There are stil more than 6,000 weeklies, but many of them, and some dailies, are “ghost newspapers . . . slim papers full of wire copy, press releases and ads," Waldman notes. "One consequence of this hollowing out is that voters have little to no information on which to base their choices in local elections. This would seem to be a fairly significant problem for, you know, democracy. And ironically, the more local the election, the worse the coverage is likely to be. But the harm goes much deeper. Other studies show that areas with less local news have more corruption, fewer competitive elections, less resident involvement in PTAs, and even lower bond ratings. . . . There’s now evidence that the decline of local news exacerbates polarization, too. Studies show, for instance, that in areas with less coverage, voters are less likely to split their tickets. That’s because the vacuums created by the contraction of local news are filled largely by national cable TV, radio, and social media. The contraction of local news accelerates the nationalization of politics while at the same time, we have less of the kinds of information that binds together communities—everything from obituaries to high-school sports. And as "many communities have moved from good information, to no information, to deceptive information, a new wave of “pink slime” sites—often set up by political activists—to impersonate traditional news sites while actively promoting particular candidates or businesses."

Waldman, who runs Report for America, notes the book, News Hole, by media scholars Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless, who wrote that most discussions about the problems of democracy “don’t account for the most dramatic change in the civic life U.S. communities have experienced in the last 20 years: the decimation of the local news media.” He promotes his coalition's main cause, the proposed Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would give tax credits to newsrooms to pay local journalists, to small businesses that advertise in local news outlets and to consumers who purchase local news: "Perhaps Rep. Santos could co-sponsor the bill."

Screenshot from CNN
UPDATE, Jan. 7:
On his Saturday morning CNN program, Michael Smerconish said "mythomanic" Santos also benefited from a late redistricting that turned the formerly Democratic district into a marginally Republican one and left little time for other Republicans to organize a primary campaign. But his six-minuite segment is mainly about the "systemic failure that is only getting worse" in local news. He concluded, “George Santos is what you get when everyone with a laptop is a wannabe journalist, but no one is left being paid to run down tips, and that should make all of us nervous. The next time you hear about the closure of a newspaper, or the scaling back of a newsroom, think about George Santos and how many more like him might be getting away with something.”

264 of 304 persistent high-poverty counties are rural: Black Belt, Delta, Appalachia, Ozarks, Rio Grande, Native lands

Map by Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture

A fresh review of data from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows counties with continuous high poverty since 1960 are largely rural, reports Jody Heemstra of Dakota Radio Group News

President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 helped move many counties out of high-poverty status, but in more than 300 counties, most of them rural, high poverty has persisted: "In 1960, 78 percent of U.S. counties had poverty rates of 20 percent or more. Among them, 28 percent continued to have high poverty through 1980," Heemstra reports. "As of 2019, there were 304 counties—13 percent of the counties with high poverty in 1960—that consistently had poverty rates of 20 percent or more over the last 60 years."

Heemstra writes, "The majority—264 counties—are rural counties and are clustered in the Appalachian states; the Black Belt in the South; the Mississippi Delta; the Ozarks region of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and southeast Kansas; the Southwest; and in counties with large American Indian and Alaska Native populations."

From 'rural' Star Wars to a cocaine bear, a mystically rural book series and more, rural entertainment has it all

Prey, Andor, and Cocaine Bear (Image, 20th Century Studios, Disney Media, and Universal Pictures)

A year ago, The Daily Yonder started a project featuring "movies, television series, books, and more, all through a rural lens." Below is a little explanation and recommendations to keep rural minds busy.

"When we first began this project, there was a small bit of doubt to overcome," writes Adam B. Giorgi. "The first question was, would there be enough 'rural' entertainment on offer to keep us going strong on a regular schedule? As it turns out, our shelves were plenty stocked, and there were even more things to write about than what we had time and space to cover."

Among all items rural, is "Star Wars." Giorgi writes: "I’ve already made the case that "Star Wars" is an inherently rural story and that its many iterations are at their best when they remember that. The franchise’s newest series, 'Andor,' might be the best "Star Wars" has ever been. There are some memorable rural settings . . But across the board, 'Andor' is an expertly plotted and richly layered political drama, focused on the rigors of cultivating a revolutionary movement and the realities of living under an emerging totalitarian state."

The blockbuster “Prey” is rural and original: "'Prey' stood out as one of the best," Giorgi writes. "It took the action back to the Great Plains of 1719 and replaced the original story’s modern military commandos with a tribe of Comanche warriors. . . The sweeping plains, the compelling Indigenous cast, and the tightly choreographed action scenes all would have thrived on a movie theater screen."

Anya Slepyan, also from The Daily Yonder, recommends a richly rural book series: "This recommendation is not so much for one book as it is for a series of seven books — first the four-book  Raven Cycle, followed by The Dreamer Trilogy — but the last book, Greywaren, came out this year. Both series are centered in the fictional rural town of Henrietta, Virginia . . . The series contains psychics, farmers, hit men, industrial sabotage."

The film "Cocaine Bear" will be released in February 2023, and is said to be a don't miss, "true(ish) story," Giorgi yarns. And “Asteroid City," which is set to be released in June 2023, "is said to take place in a small desert town and follow a series of unexpected events at a Junior Stargazer convention . . . dark skies and rural stargazing is a great match for filmmaker Wes Anderson’s quirky, endearing sensibilities. Plus, the film boasts a ridiculously stacked ensemble cast."

Quick hits: E-bikes, 'old-time socialism', phases of the moon, your brain on music, a pain in the neck and more . . .

Electric bikes are awesome! Until . . .
(Illustration by Anna Haifisch, The New Yorker)
The wind whooshes through your hair,
As nature goes zooming past.
Until the fatal moment,
When your E-bike runs out of gas.

Iowa editor Art Cullen shows us how Americans might be able to get on a plane and actually arrive at their destination without becoming Cuba in his piece "Gimme some of that old-time socialism" in the Storm Lake Times Pilot.

Learn about the phases of the moon, and discover what a murmuration of starlings looks like as it flies over a waxing crescent moon at dusk.

Still working on 2023 resolutions? Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mere Mortals, has some ideas. Here's his interview with Caroline Mimbs Nyce of The Atlantic.

Dumbledore's thoughts on music: “Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Learn more about your brain on music.

Khan, the rescued ocelot (Photo via Amazon video)
Returning a "most ridiculously cute" ocelot to its home in the Peruvian Amazon.

It's a pain in the neck. That describes a lot of things. This article addresses the actual pain.

Reading is the answer. Here are some New York Times picks.

February is around the bend. Don't get caught without a Groundhog Day celebration plan.

Are you monumentally busy, or just profoundly disorganized? (If that feels like a personal attack, read this.)

Ageism is one form of bigotry that doesn't seem to get old

OPINION by Gary Abernathy, for The Washington Post

Because of my online Post photo — which I try to keep current — it has become increasingly common for people annoyed by my views to respond not by addressing the merits, but by simply calling me an “old white guy,” as if that made their point. Just recently, a reader emailed and referred to me as “an elderly white boy.” Elderly? Yikes.

Gary Abernathy (PBS image)
In fact, I’m thrilled to be the age I am. I’ve never enjoyed life more. Society’s change in attitude toward me — based strictly on the passage of time — is noticeable and striking, but not too personally disturbing. I’m glad I was young when I was and not now; I worry about my children and grandchildren navigating their way through this contentious world.

I realize that while I’m more fortunate than many — still able to pursue a career and enjoy a rewarding life with loving family and friends — in too many cases, the United States, compared with other cultures, holds its aging population in contempt. Too often, “old people” here are regarded as useless, helpless or a nuisance, left to wind down the clock as they stare out the window, a lifetime of experiences, work, achievement and sacrifice forgotten.

While we rightly ostracize, deplatform or even “cancel” people for their racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, homophobia and other prejudices, ageism is openly practiced, and ageist stereotypes thrive. Examples in the news abound. A TV crime story from April involving a 74-year-old North Carolina woman reported that “a grandmother” was the victim of a carjacking and also referred to her as “elderly.” In a more tragic case, ABC News recently reported on the fatal stabbing of an Atlanta woman whom it pegged as a “77-year-old grandmother.”

Both women most likely adored their grandchildren, but in neither case were those offspring part of the story. Maybe these women could have been defined by other, more pertinent life achievements. But because they were over a certain age and apparently their children had borne children, their status as “grandmothers” became their primary identifier.

Many of the most common insults leveled against President Biden are age-related. Granted, as president his mental acuity will be scrutinized, as was that of other older presidents such as Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. But the mocking tone underscoring many of the jokes and memes is nothing short of cruel.

How should we respectfully refer to old people? I’ve seen people 60-plus still refer to themselves as “middle aged,” but let’s be a little more realistic and cut that off at least by 59. The word “old,” however, is such a pejorative that it should not be used alone. “Older person” is preferable. I hesitate to use “elderly” at all, which implies not just old age but a feeble condition. I’ve always despised “senior citizen” and references to the “golden years.” How ‘bout “best people ever?” That’s good.

But more important than terminology is how we regard older Americans in general. We should all be able to take a good-natured joke, whether about our age, our appearance, our background or our beliefs. But the rampant practice of ageist bigotry should join all the other “isms” and “phobias” as unacceptable, especially when it crosses the line from friendly ribbing to cruel attacks.

I’m going to add that to my list of causes. Right now, though, this 66-year-old grandfather is going to hit the couch for an afternoon nap — an “old person” stereotype I happily embrace.

Gary Abernathy is a retired rural newspaper editor from southern Ohio.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

GAO report on economic viability of local journalism ignores state-based issue of public-notice advertising in newspapers

Chart from Government Accountability Office report shows some revenue options for local journalism. 

By Al Cross

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

Thursday's Government Accountability Office report on local journalism is a welcome document. It is a recognition by the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress that threats to the economic viability of local journalism are a collective threat to local democracy in the United States. The 88-page report is a valuable compilation of the issues and potential solutions, such as philanthropy, tax incentives, direct public funding and federal advertising. It should raise the issue on policymakers' radar and help guide their responses.

But the report misses a key point, especially for rural newspapers. Perhaps because it is from one federal agency to another, the Federal Communications Commission, which requested the report, it does not mention an increasingly important revenue source that is under threat in most states: public-notice advertising by local and state governments.

GAO is not unaware of the issue. I mentioned it as one of the 40 participants in a two-day workshop that the agency held last February to explore the threats to the viability of local journalism. I pointed out that as goods-and-services advertising has moved from local newspapers to digital platforms, public notices (which many still call "the legal ads") have become a much more important part of newspaper revenue, especially in rural areas, where retail display advertising has largely disappeared. Some publisher say they account for more than 20 percent of revenue, the difference in profiit and loss.

As newspapers increasingly depend on government advertising that is required by law, that revenue is in jeopardy in most state legislatures, where local officials and their lobbyists argue that public notices would be better placed on government websites. Some states, most notably Florida, have given local governments that option. It saves a very small share of a local budget, but makes for great reduction in the reach of the notices. Surveys have shown that citizens are highly unlikely to look for notices on government websites and would prefer to kepe them in local newspapers. Most states already require papers to post public notices on freely accessible websites, usually run by state newspaper associations.

Beyond newspaper revenue, public notices are increasingly important for public information, because newspapers are less able to cover government activities. Even journalists sometimes forget that public-notice ads are one leg of the three-legged stool of open government, along with open-records and open-meetings laws. "The legals" are often sources for stories; the Public Notice Resource Center gives an annual award for the best story that sprang from a public-notice ad.

In some states, public-notice laws lack objective standards, letting local officials play favorites with their advertising, as writer Susan Chandler reported a few months ago in a story for the Local News Initiative at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. But state newspaper associations are often reluctant to ask legislators for better standards, for fear that any public-notice legislation would become a vehicle for damaging measures.

This is largely a state-by-state fight, but it has become an existential one for newspapers, especially those in rural America. It needs to be remembered in the national discussion about the sustainability of local journalism.

Farmers still don't have the right to fix much of their own equipment, but N.Y. 'right to repair' law could show the way

Photo by Liz Hafalia, San Francisco
, via Getty Images
New York's Digital Fair Repair Act was signed into law last week, strengthening Americans' ongoing fight with equipment manufacturers from John Deere to Apple. "The law has been heralded as the nation’s first comprehensive 'right to repair' law," reports Austin Jenkins of Pluribus News. "It requires original equipment manufacturers to provide diagnostic and repair information to product owners and to independent repair shops even if they are not preferred or authorized vendors."

The law gives New York consumers, most notably farmers, a solid foothold to demand right-to-repair concessions from manufacturers of original equipment. Repair provisions for farmers have been an ongoing pursuit for the Biden administration, but the proposed Agriculture Right to Repair Act has not passed.

"Proponents quickly touted the new law as a significant victory in an ongoing, multi-state fight to pass right-to-repair laws," Jenkins reports. "TechNet, a tech industry trade group, had a positive response about changes made to the law before it was signed." Those include deletion of a proposal that manufacturers provide “passwords, security codes or materials to override security features” and addition of one allowing manufacturers to provide assembled parts rather than individual components “when the risk of improper installation heightens the risk of injury.”

Weekly editors seek entries in editorial contest by Feb. 1; top prize is scholarship to June 21-25 conference in Reno

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is accepting nominations for its 62nd annual Golden Quill Award for editiorial writing. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 1.

The contest honors outstanding editorials or staff-written opinion pieces from less-than-daily publications that were published in 2022 and identify local issues of concern, offer an opinion, and support a course of action. Syndicated columns are not eligible; online-only newsrooms are eligible as long as they are community news sites.

Each newspaper may enter up to four editorials or signed opinion pieces; with a limit of two entries per person. The awards are for individual editorials. The entry fee is $10 for each editorial or column for ISWNE members, $15 for non-ISWNE members, and $5 for students. For more instructions and an entry form, click here. For last year's winners, click here.

The 12 best editorials will be published in the Summer 2023 issue of ISWNE's biannual journal, Grassroots Editor. The top winner will receive the Golden Quill, a scholarship to attend ISWNE's annual conference in Reno, Nevada, June 21-25, and travel expenses of up to $500.

Many rural families squeezed hard by child-care shortage

Many of the families who need child care the most
can’t get it. (Photo by Andrii Zorii, Getty Images)
The lack of available and affordable child care continues to be painful for rural families who are trapped with a single income because the second parent needs to stay home with younger children, reports Megan Leonhardt for Fortune Well. "Nearly one in three rural Americans (31%), including 75% of parents, have personally faced at least one type of child-care challenge, and 11% have had to leave the workforce as a result according to a new survey conducted by the Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), a bipartisan political advocacy group for children, that polled 1,006 respondents living in rural areas or small towns."

The dilemma is a circle of frustration and financial struggle. Breanna Dietrich, a stay-at-home parent from Wheeling, W.Va, pop. 27, 0000, told Leonhardt that she put her now 17-month-old on a daycare waiting list before she was born, and a slot has yet to open: “I’m a mom of five, and my husband works, and he works out of town a lot of times, too. So it’s just me. And I am financially not able to work, which sounds crazy.”

Without child care, "the family has relied solely on the income her husband earns as a utility-pole inspector, but they have struggled with rent, food, and bills—especially amid high inflation and the formula shortage earlier this year," Leonhardt reports. "But many of these parents not only struggle to find available child-care options, they struggle to afford it."

Christy Gleason, the executive director of SCAN, told Leonhardt, “The more we can make affordable child care available to families, then the more they’re able to look at their budget in a different way, because childcare is such a huge cost driver for families across this country, including in rural communities." Dietrich told Leonhardt, "Most people in our area, I will tell you right now, cannot afford $700 or $800 a week [for child care]. That’s more than my husband makes."

The 2023 federal budget includes "$2.8 billion in new, additional funding for federal early learning and childcare programs, including a 30% increase in Child Care and Development Block Grant program funding, according to an analysis by nonprofit First Five Years Fund," reports Leonhardt. "The CCDBG program is set to receive $8 billion (a $1.8 billion increase over FY 2022), while Head Start and Early Head Start and the Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five programs get more modest funding increases, but will have budgets of approximately $12 billion and $315 million for FY 2023, respectively."

While child-care shortages and affordability will not be solved through 2023 funding or current government programs, some communities have outlined their own way to reach longer-term solutions.

Feds, faculty seek symbiotic 'Reese's Cup' mix of farms, solar; Pa. creates a solar guide for farming communities

A combine harvests soybeans under hanging solar panels on an agrivoltaic site in France. The federal government hopes to inspire similar projects in the United States. (Photo by Patrick Hertzog, Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

"Your solar panel shaded my corn!" "Your corn shaded my solar panel." "Wait! This could be the beginning of an incredible relationship." So might go a 21st century version of the 50-year-old Reese's Cup myth of magical beginnings.

For clean energy, some "Reese" options are being considered, report Daniel Moore and Maeve Sheehey of Bloomberg Law: "Developers are often eyeing fields of wheat, corn, and hay; ranches roamed by cattle and sheep; and plots bursting with berries and lettuce. If built there, solar panels can level farms that feed the country. Yet federal energy officials and university researchers believe there’s no conflict. The Energy Department is scaling up the emerging field of 'agrivoltaics,' which seeks innovations in both solar technology and farming techniques that can produce clean energy and food at the same time, on the same plot of land."

The department, which has been researching the topic since 2015, "announced $8 million for another six research projects that plan to assess issues like soil health, grazing methods, and outreach to minority farmers," Bloomberg reports. "Farming can also help solar panels. Arid land around solar installations can be a problem, blowing dust and hurting farmers next door. Planting crops like broccoli keeps the back of panels cool while conserving water—a win-win for plants and solar productivity, and especially important in the drought-plagued West."

The story's candy angle came from Andrea Gerlak, director of the University of Arizona’s Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, who said, “It’s like a Reese’s peanut butter cup. You want to bring the chocolate and the peanut butter together." Michele Boyd, who leads DOE's agrivoltaics portfolio, told Bloomberg that the pairing "needs to work economically for the farmer, and it needs to work economically for the solar industry—that’s the sweet spot. Otherwise, why would they do it?”

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, a state with little solar regulation, has released a community guide for solar projects, reports Philip Gruber of Lancaster Farming: "The document has no regulatory force, but it provides a set of principles designed to balance renewable energy, food production and environmental protection. . . . A key point is solar companies should do their best to ensure farming can continue within the solar array. This could involve elevating the panels or spacing them widely, using livestock to manage vegetation, and designing the project so that a farmer who rents the land can continue to do so."

North Carolina sheriff quits again, before allegations heard

Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene enters a courtroom for 
 his removal hearing. (Photo by Grant Merritt, The News Reporter)
An embattled sheriff in rural North Carolina has again resigned, this time after being re-elected but facing renewed charges.

Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene quit "just moments after the start of a second court hearing to remove him from office," report Tyler Dukes and Carli Brosseau of The Charlotte Observer. "A superior court judge Wednesday said the announcement effectively ended District Attorney Jon David’s effort to remove Greene from office over wide-ranging misconduct allegations. But the court left unanswered whether Greene should be disqualified from the post, which would prevent him from running or serving again."

"Greene previously resigned from the final weeks of his first term during an October removal hearing into the then-suspended sheriff’s alleged words and actions in office," The News Reporter of Whiteville recounts. "Those included threatening to fire Black sheriff’s-office employees and intimidating public officials. With Greene no longer in office, the court then dismissed its removal hearing against him, but Greene continued to seek and would later win re-election."

Columbus County (Wikipedia map)
Almost immediately after he was sworn in Dec. 29, David "filed a petition in court seeking — for the second time — to have Greene permanently removed from office, the Durham Herald-Sun reported that day. Greene's swearing-in was "delayed by post-election protests and clouded by state and federal investigations," noted The News Reporter, which published the DA's petition. After Greene's resignation, the weekly published a video in which Publisher Justin Smith debriefed reporter Joesph Williams, who covered the hearing.

Beginning in the fall of 2022, "Greene’s leadership of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office has been under fire when a local TV news station revealed recordings of Greene referring to deputies in his department as 'Black bastards' and 'snakes,'" Dukes and Brosseau report. "With Greene’s resignation, Chief Deputy Kevin Norris will take over as interim sheriff until the Columbus County Board of Commissioners appoints a replacement."

At this time, David plans to continue his inquiry. “Nothing about Jody Greene’s resignation today changes the fact that there is a comprehensive investigation which is ongoing and will persist into the future not just against Sheriff Greene, but into the deputies under his command,” David told the Observer, adding that his office "will also undertake a 'systematic review' of cases to ensure investigations by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office 'rest on firm foundations'."

Tips to localize climate coverage, rebuild trust with readers

Joe Davis of the Society of Environmental Journalists offers tips for localizing the climate-change story, along with reporting resources. Most are questions, including these:
  • Does your locality have laws, rules or policies that push electrification of heating and cooking in new homes? Does your state have laws that forbid localities from doing this?
  • You probably have one or more solid waste facilities (typically, regulated landfills) taking wastes from your area. Landfills emit a lot of methane, a major greenhouse gas. How do your landfills manage methane — if they do at all?
  • Is your state or locality friendly or unfriendly toward nonfossil sources of energy? The answer may be complex. For example, Texas, which loves oil and gas, is also a leader in wind energy. What is your state’s stance toward wind, solar, geothermal and other sources?
  • What do your state and local governments (or public utilities commission) do to encourage rooftop solar? So-called feed-in tariffs pay homeowners for the excess electricity they put back into the grid. Are the rules and rates encouraging or discouraging to homeowners?
  • Regional electricity grids do a lot to encourage or discourage green energy. What limits does your regional grid place (purposely or otherwise) on nonfossil electricity?
Rebuilding trust: Writing for What's New In Publishing, Peter Houston notes that news-media headlines "have grown significantly more negative over the past two decades. Research conducted by library journal PLoS One showed headlines expressing anger were up 104% since the year 2000; fear, 150% and sadness 54%. Feeding the outrage engine with emotive headlines in pursuit of short-term traffic gains is having a negative long-term impact on the media’s ability to engage with audiences. It is also adding to the polarization that has defined public debate recently." Houston passes along suggestions from Nic Newman, lead author of the 2022 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:
  • Make news content more accessible. Newman recommends avoiding jargon, offering more explanations and asking for and answering audience questions.
  • Tell stories differently. Newman suggests finding more ways to cover difficult stories, providing hope or giving audiences ‘a sense of agency’ around stories like climate change. He says this may mean the adoption of solutions journalism as part of a mix of formats and content styles.
  • Label opinion and avoid sensationalism. 

Nonprofit startups restore local journalism in some places; can it work if audience is poorer and sparsely populated?

Jenn Paluzzi is editor of The Concord (Mass.) Bridge. (Photo by Alice Kaufman)
Local journalism is "stampeding back, town by town," says a founder of one of several nonoproft newspapers that have restored coverage of community news in towns near Boston. But is The Concord Bridge, which fills a vacuum left by the devolution of Gannett Co.'s Concord Journal, an example that can be replicated in rural areas with less money? Concord, which has about 18,000 people, has a median household income of about $160,000, more than double the U.S. average of $71,000. At the end of her story for the Poynter Institute, Mariya Manzhos asks Jonathan Kealing, chief network officer of the Institute for Nonprofit News, the question: "How can less affluent communities achieve sustainability in their nonprofit newsrooms?"

"Launching similar nonprofit newsrooms in historically marginalized communities with low wealth is possible, but it may require a different strategy, said Kealing, like focusing on institutional funders and underscoring the value of serving a particular community as opposed to soliciting money from that community," Manzhos reports. "Nearly 50% of INN members make their primary mission of serving a historically excluded or marginalized community." But her examples are urban, not rural.

Concord is pinpointed. New Bedford is at the I-195
sign on the coast (Buzzards Bay). (Google map)
That said, “Local nonprofit startups are growing so much faster than any other segment of the nonprofit news sector,” Kealing told Manzhos. They are about a third of INN's 400-plus members, and Kealing predicts there will be 600 of them by 2025. His organization provides support for nonprofits, and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism does likewise for The Concord Bridge and several other nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts. "The New Bedford Light, launched last year, has done some groundbreaking reporting on the city’s fishing industry, health, and environmental issues," Manzhos reports; the city has 100,000 people.

In Concord, the Bridge began with 100 people at a forum held "to gather feedback from residents about their vision for local news," Manzhos reports. "The town was hungry for a local news source, both print and digital, with stories on key issues in Concord, as well as police logs and obituaries. . . . Responding to what they saw as an overwhelming need, the group embarked on a project to launch a hyperlocal newspaper and website." They raised $900,000, enough to run a weekly for two years. It launched in October and is delivered free to all 8,700 households and businesses in the town of 17,000.

Kealing cautions that the nonprofit model has special challenges of revenue and audience. “It takes time and effort and skill to build up the individual, institutional donor and supporter base that allows organizations to survive and thrive,” he told Manzhos. “There is so much competition for people’s time and attention in the world we live in, so these nonprofit news organizations have to prove their value every day.” Co-founder and board member Kate Stout said, “The worry about whether the people have given once and will never give again could be a worry. But what we’ve gotta do is give them a product that they can’t say no to.” In other words, they won't pay good money for bad journalism.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

On this Friday, Jan. 6, it might be good to remember a speech on another Jan. 6 that defined America's purpose

Friday, Jan. 6, is the second anniversary of the greatest attack on American democracy since the Civil War. Some apparently want to forget about it, but the news media have a moral obligation to remind them and to explain its importance, Michael Bugeja writes for The Poynter Institute.

Michael Bugeja
Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism and former communications dean at Iowa State University, notes that a year ago, The Associated Press reported that “about 4 in 10 Republicans recall the attack — in which five people died — as violent, while 9 in 10 Democrats do,” and that The Washington Post said in an editorial last May that Jan. 6 “should have been a turning point in our politics.”

"It hasn't," Bugeja writes, reminding us of another Jan. 6, in 1941, when "President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded Congress about its obligation to uphold democracy. The United States at the time was isolationist, even during Nazi attacks in the Battle of Britain. As the FDR Library notes, Roosevelt wanted to alert citizens that fascism not only threatened Europe but also our moral values. In helping Britain defend itself, America was advocating for universal freedoms everywhere.

"Excerpts from Roosevelt’s speech are eerily reminiscent of the dangers we face today, from emergent sectarianism in the U.S.; to the billionaire class of the privileged few; to dictatorial regimes of Russia, China and North Korea; and, finally, to the criminal desolation of the Ukrainian war. Democracy was being assailed, Roosevelt said, “either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord.” Bugeja notes that Donald Trump raised about $250 million "to 'Stop the Steal' and combat election fraud, but the bulk of that reportedly was diverted to other uses, including $40 million to Make America Great Again Inc., a super PAC allied with Trump’s election bid.

Roosevelt's State of the Union address is best known for the Four Freedoms that he said the U.S. wanted to see all over the world: the freedoms of expression the worship, and freedom from want and fear of military aggression. "This is how Jan. 6 should be commemorated, a day when journalists remind the public about the greatness of democratic ideals and the necessary commitment required from the electorate to sustain them," Bugeja writes. "On Jan. 6, 2021, America lost its moral order and nearly its democracy. Unless journalists remind the world about our 'unity of purpose' — in commentary, articles, documentaries, podcasts and more — fears about 'the forgotten episode' will come true."

U.S. renewable-energy goals may depend on land-use decisions in rural areas about wind farms, which are divisive

The 10th of 19 meetings in Piatt County, Illinois, about a proposed
wind farm. (Photo by Mustafa Hussain,The New York Times)
The scramble to prevent further global warming has been labeled "a slog," "a matted hairball," "snake-bitten" and even "a fight to the death." Rarely is it described as "a rural decision," but that's what it could boil down to: "While policymakers may set lofty goals, the future of the American power grid is in fact being determined in town halls, county courthouses and community buildings across the country. . . . The only way ambitious goals will be met is if rural communities, which have large tracts of land necessary for commercial wind and solar farms, can be persuaded to embrace renewable energy projects. Lots of them," reports David Gelles of The New York Times.

One example is Piatt County, Illinois, pop. 16,000, which scheduled 19 nights of meetings to debate the Goose Creek Wind farm proposal. In Monticello, "Depressed property values. Flickering shadows. Falling ice. One by one, a real estate appraiser rattled off what he said were the deleterious effects of wind farms as a crowd in an agricultural community in central Illinois hung on his every word," Gelles reports. "It was the tenth night of hearings by the Piatt County zoning board, as a tiny town debated the merits of a proposed industrial wind farm that would see dozens of enormous turbines rise from the nearby soybean and corn fields."

Monticello residents' reasons for opposing the wind farm include everything from "ugliness" to how it could alter soil drainage to the intrusion of corporate American into rural life, Gelles writes.

The federal government is "pumping a record $370 billion into clean energy, President Biden wants the nation’s electricity to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2035, and many states and utilities plan to ramp up wind and solar power," Gelles writes. "According to an analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States would need to construct more than 6,000 projects like the Monticello one in order to run the economy on solar, wind, nuclear or other forms of nonpolluting energy."

The linchpin for wind power's success is land. Sarah Banas Mills, a lecturer at the school for environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan, who has studied renewable development in the Midwest, told Gilles,"Projects have been getting more contentious. The low-hanging-fruit places have been taken."

Rural hospitals are still reeling from the pandemic

The pandemic "pummeled" rural hospitals, especially those not part of ownership groups, and has made it more difficult for them to plan for the future, reports veteran health-care writer Dylan Scott of Vox.

His object example is Titus Regional Medical Center in Mount Pleasant, Texas, which "lived through four separate surges in 18 months. They had reopened their building’s third floor, closed eight years ago, and relied on traveling nurses to staff their beds. Then, at the end of 2021, the government funding that had paid for that extra help ran out. For the first two months of 2022, as patients lined the building’s hallways and his staff struggled to find anywhere else to send them, [CEO Terry] Scoggin said his hospital experienced its most traumatic trial yet."

“We didn’t have the staff,” Scoggin told Scott. “People were dying and you couldn’t get them out.” Now he "worries about how three years without a real break — five Covid surges, a monkeypox case that forced his facility to prepare for a wider outbreak, and now a nasty wave of RSV and flu — is compromising his ability to plan and prepare for the future," Scott reports. "Four hospitals within 35 miles of his facility have closed in the last eight years. . . . Nearly one-third of people in Titus County are uninsured. It is a majority-minority area, 45 percent Hispanic and almost 10 percent Black." And Texas is one of the 12 mainly Southern states that haven't expanded Medicaid, which has been a lifeline for rural hospitals in states that have.

Scott cites some familiar data: "More than 130 rural US hospitals have closed in the past 10 years, and hundreds more are projected to be in danger of closing. According to one report from the University of North Carolina’s rural health research program, about 30 percent of all U.S. hospitals were operating in the red as of 2018. A majority of them are located in rural communities."

Sexual assault victims in some rural areas are now able to get examinations through telemedicine services

Nurse Lindee Miller stands with the cart used for teleSANE exams at
Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, S.D. (Photo by Arielle Zionts, KHN)
Until recently, rural sexual assault victims who sought medical care faced multiple hurdles to simply get to a hospital. Through advances in telehealth exams, that reality is changing, reports Arielle Zionts of Kaiser Health News.

Zionts presents the example of a nurse in Eagle County, Colorado: "Amanda Shelley was sitting in her dentist’s waiting room when she received a call from the police. A local teenage girl had been sexually assaulted and needed an exam. . . . She went to her car and called a telehealth company to arrange an appointment with a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE. The nurse examiners have extensive training in how to care for assault survivors and collect evidence for possible criminal prosecution. . . . About an hour later, Shelley met the patient at the Colorado Mountain Medical urgent care clinic in the small town of Avon. She used a tablet to connect by video with a SANE about 2,000 miles away, in New Hampshire."

The exam process involves "the remote nurse using the video technology to speak with the patient and guide Shelley through each step of a two-hour exam. One of those steps was a colposcopy," Zionts reports. "The remote nurse saw, in real-time, what Shelley could see, with the help of a video camera attached to the machine."

Zionts writes, "The service, known as 'teleSANE,' is new at Shelley’s hospital. Before, sexual assault patients faced mountains of obstacles — literally — when they had to travel to a hospital in another county for care." Shelley told Zionts, "We’re asking them to drive maybe over snowy passes and then [be there] three to four hours for this exam and then drive back home — it’s disheartening for them. They want to start the healing process and go home and shower.”

TeleSANE services are "expanding across the country in rural, sparsely populated areas," Zionts reports. "Research shows SANE programs encourage psychological healing, provide comprehensive health care, allow for professional evidence collection, and improve the chance of a successful prosecution."

As in-home pot edibles increase, they sicken more children; more than half of those in a study were 2 or 3 years old

Marijuana edibles are displayed at a dispensary.
(Photo by Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun)
As more states have legalized marijuana, the presence of pot edibles in U.S. homes has led to more accidental poisonings. "The number of young kids, especially toddlers, who accidentally ate marijuana-laced treats rose sharply over five years as pot became legal in more places in the U.S., according to a journal Pediatrics study," reports Jonel Aleccia of The Associated Press. "More than 7,000 confirmed cases of kids younger than 6 eating marijuana edibles were reported to the nation’s poison-control centers between 2017 and 2021, climbing from about 200 to more than 3,000 per year. Nearly a quarter of the children wound up hospitalized, some seriously ill."

Lead researcher Dr. Marit Tweet, a medical toxicologist at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, told Aleccia, "When it’s in a candy form or cookies, people don’t think of it in the same way as household chemicals or other things a child could get into. But people should really be thinking of it as a medication.” Tweet noted that the study could only include reported cases, so many less serious cases may have gone unreported.

"Tweet called for greater vigilance by parents and for more laws like those adopted by several states to make pot products — often packaged to look like kids’ candies and snacks — less appealing and accessible to children," Aleccia reports.

The study "analyzed reports to the National Poison Data System, which includes the nation’s 55 regional poison control centers. More than half of the children were toddlers, ages 2 and 3, the study showed. More than 90% got the edibles at home," Aleccia reports. "Of more than 7,000 reports, researchers were able to track the outcomes of nearly 5,000 cases. They found that nearly 600 kids, or about 8%, were admitted to critical care units, most often with depressed breathing or even coma. Nearly 15% were admitted to non-critical care units and more than a third were seen in emergency rooms. Drowsiness, breathing problems, fast heart rate and vomiting were the most common symptoms."

Dr. Brian Schultz, a pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore who previously worked at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, told Aleccia that he and his colleagues treated kids who had eaten pot edibles 'almost on a daily basis'."

Ex-president of Yale is a leading scholar of American West

Howard Lamar, Ph.D., Sterling Professor Emeritus of History
and former president of Yale University. (Yale Art Gallery)
One of the leading scholars of the American West is an icon at a school that is a citadel of the East: Yale University. Former Yale President Howard R. Lamar is known for many traits: generosity, dedication to service, wisdom and a relentless spirit of inquiry. Yet his most lasting gift is to have developed a breadth and depth of shared knowledge of the American West, writes Andra Thompson Peed of Yale News.

Lamar grew up in Alabama, attended Emory University in Atlanta, and at Yale "intended to study the history of the American South or diplomatic history" under renowned historians," Peed writes. "But it was another great of the era, Ralph Henry Gabriel who pushed him toward his life’s work. As Lamar told it, Gabriel advised him, 'Raised in the South, educated in the East, go West, young man!'”

He did: "Lamar identified a subject for his dissertation: a nuanced examination of territorial political forces. That study, which became his first book, Dakota Territory, 1861-1889, marked an advance of historical inquiry into the American West," Peed writes. "Jay Gitlin, a professor of history at Yale, has written, Lamar 'brought a new sense of realism to a field of Western history'."

Lamar's view of the West was original, he "looked critically at the role of capitalism and labor systems in the West, and at the complex interplay of — and conflict among — the region’s people and cultures," Peed shares. "His work was a forerunner of what became known as 'new Western history,' a movement that casts a critical eye on the role of class, race, and the environment in the development of the West."

As a teacher, Lamar was "equally revolutionary, establishing Western history as a popular strand of scholarship on the Yale campus. His two-semester survey course, called 'The History of the American West,' was initially reserved for history majors who’d taken enough 'regular' courses. Over time, however, it became what one former student described as 'a tour de force … students flocked to it.'"

As a leader at Yale he was exceptional, but his focus remained on the West, Peed writes: "In 1998, he published The New Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, an updated and expanded version of the encyclopedia he’d produced two decades earlier, which offers more than 2,400 entries on significant aspects of the region and its history, along with hundreds of photographs and illustrations."

Lamar's uncommon spirit is an extension of his outlook on life. George Miles, a history curator at Yale, told Peed: “His entire outlook is that people are a gift to him. He’s fascinated by people, he is intrigued by them, and he sees in people the opportunity to learn more and expand his understanding of the world.”

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

'Urban' now requires 5,000 people or 2,000 housing units; losing 'rural' designation could help some towns, hurt others

Gravette, Ark., pop. 3,547, was urban and is now rural.
(File photo by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
About 1,100 U.S. towns with 4.2 million residents are now classified as rural, not urban, because the Bureau of the Census has changed the criteria it uses to make those distinctions, as it does after each census. This change is the biggest since 1910, reports Mike Schneider of The Associated Press

"The new criteria raised the population threshold from 2,500 to 5,000 people and housing units were added to the definition," Schneider reports. "The change matters because rural and urban areas often qualify for different types of federal funding for transportation, housing, health care, education and agriculture,"The federal government doesn’t have a standard definition of urban or rural, but the Census Bureau’s definition often provides a baseline."

Mary Craigle, chief of Montana’s Research and Information Services Bureau, told AP, “Places that qualify as urban are eligible for transportation dollars that rural areas aren’t, and then rural areas are eligible for dollars that urban areas are not.”

The change reflects the reduced economic vitality and diversity of small towns. North Carolina State Demographer Michael Cline told AP that in 1910, a town with 2,500 people had many more goods and services than a typical town that size today, “and these new definitions acknowledge that.”

The Census Bureau had proposed raising the urban threshold to 10,000 but retreated in the face of opposition. The 5,000 threshold means that slightly, to 79.6% of the U.S. population is urban and 20.4% is rural. Under the old criterion, almost 81% was urban, Schneider reports.

UPDATE, Jan. 6: The bureau told Josh Zumbrun of The Wall Street Journal that its old 2,500 threshold was “the lowest in use among all federal agencies. We see the change in our minimum threshold as signifying that the Census Bureau is listening to stakeholders and feedback from other agencies and is matching the way others have characterized and classified settlement in the United States.” Zumbrun concluded, "The official rural population count has long been held down by an arbitrary definition. The country is more rural and small-town than we think."

This is the first time the bureau has used housing units to define urban areas. "A place can be considered urban if it has at least 2,000 housing units, based on the calculation that the average household has 2.5 people," Schneider reports. "Among the beneficiaries of using housing instead of people are resort towns in ski or beach destinations, or other places with lots of vacation homes, since they can qualify as urban based on the number of homes instead of full-time residents."

Rural businesses struggle with population losses and lack of qualified staffing, nonprofit's study finds

Rural small businesses continue to report more negative consequences from population loss and a shrinking market of skilled labor. "With rural America losing population, rural entrepreneurs (45.3%) are significantly more likely than non-rural entrepreneurs (25.5%) to say that population trends impact their business," reveals a newly released research study of rural businesses by Score, a nonprofit organization that fosters small businesses and started life as the Service Corps of Retired Executives. The research also showed that "rural businesses are hurting for workers: population shifts create challenges for small rural employers, over a third of which (35.9%) say there are few qualified workers in their area."

Rural Vermont and New Hampshire grapple with
staffing shortages. (Image fromThe Directory.Org)
In South Royalton, Vt., pop. 600, rural labor challenges have reduced the town's ability to provide school children's dental care. The town had been utilizing HealthHub, a non-profit mobile dental-hygiene clinic, but HealthHub had to reduce its care schedule due to staffing shortages, reports Nora Doyle-Burr of  the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt. HealthHub's president told Doyle-Burr, "HealthHub now has funds and equipment sufficient to double the dental care it was providing to school children in the White River Valley last year, but instead it has reduced the amount of care it is providing to just 20% of what it was last year." Doyle-Burr reports, "The mobile clinic’s full-time hygienist retired this summer and the nonprofit has been unable to find someone to replace her. As part of a planned expansion, the clinic also had hoped to hire a dentist or dental therapist to staff another mobile unit, as well as another mental health provider, but has so far been unable to do so."

Across the Connecticut River, "The Ammonoosuc Community Health Services dental clinic in Littleton, N.H., has closed due to staffing shortages," Doyle-Burr reports. "And the Mascoma Community Health Center in Canaan suspended its dental service indefinitely in July after the dentist there left and it was unable to recruit a dentist or a hygienist."

John Mozena, president of the Center for Economic Accountability, a think tank that promotes free-market ideas, who was not involved in the report’s methodology, told Kristi Eaton of The Daily Yonder, “The single biggest challenge for rural communities in the modern era is the fact that the very nature of a rural community is that there just aren’t a lot of people.”

Some anti-abortion states consider extending Medicaid to likely increasing number of pregnant women

Viola's House in Dallas provides housing and services to young,
expectant mothers. (Photo by Allison V. Smith, The Washington Post)
After Roe v. Wade was reversed, many states further restricted abortion. Now some of them are thinking cause and effect, and considering extending Medicaid coverage to pregnant women, reports Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The Washington Post.

Usha Ranji, associate director for women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Hennessy-Fiske, "There’s a discussion among Republicans and those who are anti-choice about, 'What should we be doing to support mothers?'"

Texas is one red state with coverage and care dilemmas: "The limits on Medicaid coverage after the emergency insurance lapses hinge on Texas’s long-standing rejection of the Affordable Care Act, which included provisions for expanded Medicaid," Hennessy-Fiske writes. "And it has set up an uncomfortable dynamic: While Texas and nearly a dozen other red states have resisted expanding Medicaid for those who are pregnant, many of them have also restricted access to abortion, leading to more new mothers needing coverage."

Steve Aden, general counsel and chief legal officer for Americans United for Life, told Hennessy-Fiske, “On our side, there is an awareness and a very strong move after Roe’s overturn toward caring for women. I think the whole movement is looking for ways to implement policy on the state level to support the increasing number of women who will have children.”

John Seago, president of Texas Right to Life, told Hennessy-Fiske, “We want Texas to be abortion-free, but we also want Texas to be pro-life. We want these mothers to be healthy and to have access to the care they need.” The group wants postpartum coverage: “Don’t call it Medicaid expansion, just ensuring insurance for moms up to a year after birth.”

Tenn. farmers challenge Tyson Foods' right to taxpayer financing, saying barns it controls are not 'family farms'

Chicken barns controlled by Tyson Foods in West Tennessee house more than 624,000 chickens
each and produce massive quantities of waste. (Tennessee Outlook photo by John Partipilo)

Tyson Foods' rapid expansion across the rural U.S. has been partially taxpayer-financed, with Department of Agriculture loans. Both the rapid expansion and the use of taxpayer dollars for corporate growth, seemingly without oversight, has some West Tennessee farmers taking stock: "A new lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center, banded together to form 'Concerned Citizens of West Tennessee,' is now challenging the federal government’s role in providing tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loans to Tyson contract growers," reports Anita Wadhwani of Tennessee Lookout. The suit claims USDA, “through the Farm Service Agency, is illegally subsidizing industrial chicken operations through a federal lending program intended to provide 'family farms' with startup and operational capital.”

The lawsuit claims "federal loan guarantees are illegal because the lending program is reserved for helping ‘family farms’ And because Tyson controls virtually all aspects of the industrial chicken growing operations, those facilities are not ‘family farms’ under applicable lending rules,” Wadhwani writes. “The lawsuit notes that other government loan programs have determined that poultry contractors do not qualify for loans because of their integration into corporate operations."

Wadhwani’s object example is a $425 million meat processing plant in Humboldt, Tenn., its third large-scale plant in the state, opened last year and subsidized by “$20 million in taxpayer incentives from the administration of Gov. Bill Lee."

In addition to taxpayer financing, local farmers are concerned about the plants’ pollution and lack of oversight. "The lawsuit also accuses the Farm Service Agency of failing to follow its own rules in conducting thorough environmental impact studies of farm operations seeking the loans — or in keeping local communities informed," Wadhwani reports. "Instead, the federal agency only conducts perfunctory environmental reviews, before issuing 'rubber-stamped approval.'"

James Lavel, a retired Navy commander who has advocated for greater poultry operation regulation, told Wadhwani that he has been frustrated by local and state elected leaders’ actions, and inactions: “I’ve gotten a hodgepodge of excuses from them. And then the FSA comes in here and uses our taxpayer money for this. If you just keep putting the people at risk you’re trying to feed, what’s the point? We need regulations. They exist to protect the people.”

Moving to the country can mean having to deal with snakes; the key seems to be eliminating their main prey: mice

A rattlesnake (Photo by Meg Jerrard, Unsplash)
If you move from the city to the country, there are fewer people and a lot more animals; your rural happiness may depend on the kind of animals that decide to live around and in your new country home. Columnist Dana Milbank of The Washington Post writes how he and his wife moved to rural Virginia and discovered the tenacity of snakes as roommates: "There were no two ways about it. We were dealing with some real snakes. We found six snakeskins in the basement. We found 23 snakeskins in the attic — including one that was 6 feet long. Worse, one of the skins in the attic had belonged to a copperhead, a venomous pit viper whose bite is certain to ruin your day. . . . As a political reporter, I’ve observed plenty of snakes over my career. But out in the country, people actually like the critters. My neighbors informed me that common black snakes were a sign of good fortune."

Getting used to more 'critters' was one thing, getting rid of the snakes was the sticky wicket. Milbank asked Daniel Frank, director of Virginia Tech’s pesticide programs, "what to do about his snakes, mice and sundry insects. The first step after identifying and monitoring the critters, Frank told Milbank is that of 'determining thresholds.' In other words, decide 'what amount of damage or pest population you can live with'."

That was easy for Milbank, who writes, "When it comes to venomous copperheads in my house, I have calculated my threshold tolerance, and it is exactly zero. When it comes to harmless but 6-foot-long black snakes in my house, my tolerance is not much higher than zero."

Frank told Milbank not to waste his time "with electronic deterrents or herbal remedies. It isn’t practical to trap them, and it isn’t humane to kill them. The way to make the snakes vacate was to evict the mice," Milbank reports.

Tony Sfreddo, a director of the Virginia Pest Management Association, toured Milbank's house and had this to share: “I’ve seen worse." Sfreddo also suggested how to take care of randomly roaming snakes by "putting a wet towel on the floor, wait for the snake to wrap itself in the towel and then remove it," Milbank writes. "If I find a snake in my bedroom, I will immediately sign the deed of trust over to the squatting reptile and flee to the city — never to leave its concrete cocoon again."