Friday, March 24, 2023

Fentanyl is found in most U.S. overdose victims; doctors seem to think ERs test for it, but they aren't required to

Tyler Samash (Family photo)
Why are hospital emergency departments not testing for fentanyl? "They already think they are," Juli Shamash of Los Angeles told NBC News. The overdose and death of her 19-year-old son provides an example. "When Tyler Shamash survived a drug overdose at 19, his mother, Juli, asked his doctor several times if he'd been tested for fentanyl. The doctor said they had run a standard drug test, and fentanyl hadn't come up in the toxicology screen," NBC reports. "Tyler overdosed again the next day and died. His family found out five months later after the coroner ran a toxicology report that fentanyl was found in his system."

"I was so in disbelief because you trust doctors; you go to doctors for advice," Shamash told NBC. "It's unbelievable to me that every institution isn't testing for it. Why wouldn't you? But then I think the answer to that is: They think they are."

Fentanyl is found in the blood of most U.S. overdose victims, "but there isn't a federal mandate that emergency rooms test specifically for fentanyl," Maura Barrett and Bianca Seward of NBC report. "A standard drug test panel in most emergency rooms checks only for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP and natural and semi-synthetic opioids (like heroin and oxycodone) — but not synthetic opioids like fentanyl."

Samash worked with Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency addiction physician, to create a toolkit for hospitals to use for fentanyl testing. It costs about 75 cents. "Her son's death in 2018 pushed Shamash to advocate for legislation requiring a sixth test be added for fentanyl," NBC reports. "Through a bipartisan effort, Tyler's Law passed unanimously and took effect at the beginning of 2023 in California — the first, and so far only, state to do so, though the law is set to expire in just five years."

"Fentanyl testing has really dramatically changed how I approach patients and how my conversation with them goes when the test is positive," Lev told NBC, which reports, "She sees patients every day who don't know that they've taken something laced with fentanyl. Now armed with knowing the severity of the drugs they've used, Lev said patients 'may want to change or do something differently. They may throw away those bags of pills … or it leads to a prescription for Naloxone, the opioid reversal agent.'"

NBC adds, "Shamash is now working with other families who have suffered a similar loss in hopes of enacting federal legislation. . . . Legislation replicating Tyler's Law is making its way through the Maryland state House . . . . More than 107,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2021 — a majority of them suspected to be from fentanyl," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lev told NBC: "We had a Covid epidemic; we did Covid testing. We have a fentanyl epidemic. Why aren't we doing fentanyl testing?"

News-media roundup: Citizens want info on government and its meetings; bad news vs. good news; style points . . .

Glenda Arnett accepts the Citizen of the Year award from
Steve Henry of the Brinkley Chamber of Commerce.
Glenda Arnett of Arkansas' Brinkley Argus was getting ready to take the front-page photo of the local chamber of commerce's Citizen of the Year on Feb. 23, just as she has for more than 50 years. “They began reading about the person, and I couldn’t really hear what they were saying when they announced the winner,” she recalled. “I asked my sister, ‘Whose name did they call?’ and she said, ‘It’s you.’” One nominator said of Arnett, “Glenda is the epitome of everything that is great about Brinkley. She is dedicated to the town and volunteers for innumerable charitable activities through civil and religious organizations. ... There are few lives in Brinkley that she hasn’t touched.” There are thousands of Glenda Arnetts at rural newspapers across the nation. Read more about her in Arkansas Publisher, the newsletter of the Arkansas Press Association

Google map highlights towns in study.
What readers want: Sarah Stonbely, research director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, surveyed residents about what they need from their local news outlets. Rural Blairstown, urban Paterson (next to Montclair), and the state capital of Trenton are very different, but many of their news needs are the same, Laura Hazard Owen reports for NiemanLab, which she edits.

"All three communities had lost most of their existing local news outlets over the years," Owen writes. "All wanted more service journalism, in the form of information about municipal government meetings or contact information for local leaders. And all relied heavily on local Facebook groups for news, even though they also understood Facebook’s flaws."

Stonbely told Owen, "One might assume that there isn’t a ton of interest in municipal meetings, because they’re kind of boring. So I was really excited to hear that people wanted to know more, to have a list. And it’s easy — it’s kind of low-hanging fruit, right? It shouldn’t be that difficult to keep an updated list of when and where and what the meetings are."

Stonbely's report suggests building a community calendar with help from trusted local organizations, with true collaboration, "beyond just asking them to contribute content, so that trust is built in from the beginning." Also, "Engage to a greater extent on Facebook, and be present on Facebook groups that are relevant. . . . This is where most of the traffic is and where you’ll have the greatest visibility.'

Bad news gets clicks, but many want good news: "A new study has found that negative words in headlines increased click rates, while positive words decreased them," Joshua Benton reports for NiemanLab. "Each additional negative word increased the clickthrough rate by 2.3%." Axios notes, "The human instinct towards negativity has been well-documented, but Joshua Benton writes that this study, which drew on data from Upworthy’s hyperbolic headlines, is unusually quantifiable . . . Upworthy did extensive A/B testing on headlines, with editors required to write 25 headlines for each article. One surprise was the headlines with words associated with sadness did better than headlines associated with fear or anger."

"People find bad news more interesting than good news," Amina Khan writes for the Los Angeles Times, reporting on a study of 1,156 people in Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Ghana, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Senegal, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States: "The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hint that this human bias toward negative news might be a large part of what drives negative news coverage. But the results also revealed that this negative bias was not shared by everyone, and some even had a positive bias: a sign that there may be a market for positive news."

Style points: The Associated Press has updated its Stylebook on several topics, including: using LGBTQ+ instead of just LGBTQ, to make it more inclusive, AP says; a new entry on euthanasia, medically assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide that spells out proper usage for each term; a new entry on the Civil Rights Movement, which it says should be capitalized when referring to the specific historical period in the U.S., mainly in the 1950s and '60s; and the addition of B.C.E. and C.E. as acceptable options in referencing a calendar year in the period before Christ and anno Domini: in the year of the Lord, respectively. C.E. means the Common Era; B.C.E. means before it.

The New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative has compiled a Caregiving Coverage Style Guide to help writers "avoid language that reflect negatively on aging," the Local Media Association reports. "The entries are based on – and credited to – sources including the Associated Press Stylebook, AARP’s Caregivers Glossary, the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Disability Language Style Guide, and the Changing the Narrative project."

After political clamor, DirecTV will air Newsmax again

Photo by Patrick T. Fallon via Getty Images
After political jib-jabs in Washington, DirecTV will restore Newsmax to its lineup. "DirecTV dropped Newsmax in January over what it described as strictly a business matter — disagreement over Newsmax's demand that it receive fees for being aired by DirecTV, as other channels typically are," reports Paul Farhi of The Washington Post. "But the issue quickly became political; several dozen House Republicans signed a letter suggesting that DirecTV was shutting down a conservative voice and demanded that it be restored. . . . Some Republicans who rely on Newsmax for interviews and favorable television exposure called for the House to investigate the channel’s 'deplatforming'."

DirectTV said that their "'successful negotiation with Newsmax was based on economics and protecting our customers from higher costs — not politics or ideology,'" Farhi writes. "Newsmax founder and CEO Christopher Ruddy commended DirecTV, saying it 'clearly supports diverse voices, including conservative ones.'. . . DirecTV, which reaches about 13 million subscribers, said its programming would return without additional cost to customers."

Newsmax reaches around 50 million households via cable, but "distribution by DirecTV is important because it gives the network another broad platform to sell advertising," Farhi reports. "DirecTV had said in its negotiations with Newsmax that it was willing to continue carrying the channel without paying a cash fee for it. . . . Newsmax, however, held out for compensation, arguing that other channels receive it. . . . DirecTV did not release terms of the multiyear agreement."

Farhi explains, "Newsmax has often veered to the right of Fox News in its coverage and commentary. . . . Its ratings spiked at the end of 2020, after Trump expressed his dismay with Fox News's coverage of his false claims that the presidential election was stolen. Newsmax continued to emphasize Trump's narrative, winning disaffected Fox viewers. . . . After its brief post-election surge in popularity, Newsmax's viewership began to wane as President Biden assumed office. It averaged 184,000 viewers during prime-time hours, according to Nielsen figures, ranking it far behind Fox (2.4 million), MSNBC (1.2 million) and CNN (735,000)."

Studies shows racism and sexism were central to Trump's success, but he's broadened his appeal to many moderates

"Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory continues to confound election experts. How could American voters put such a fractious figure into the White House?" asks Thomas B. Edsall, a retired Washington Post political reporter in his latest weekly column for The New York Times, which often collects research and writing about American politics to explain causes and effects. "Three books . . . shed light on Trump’s improbable political longevity," Edsall reports. "Each points to the centrality of racial animosity."

The books are Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America by John Sides of Vanderbilt University, Michael Tesler of the University of California-Irvine and Lynn Vavreck of UCLA; White Identity Politics by Ashley Jardina of George Mason University; and Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason of Johns Hopkins University. Edsall also explores other research that dives deeper.

The first book draws on responses to poll questions about “the importance of white identity, how much whites are being discriminated against, the likelihood that whites are losing jobs to nonwhites, and the importance of whites working together to change laws unfair to whites” and finds that white identity and “was strongly related to Republicans’ support for Donald Trump.” Edsall notes, "On a 17-point scale ranking the strength of Republican primary voters’ white identity from lowest to highest, support for Trump grew consistently at each step — from 2 percent at the bottom to 81 percent at the highest level." But he notes a research paper that says the key difference for Trump was an increase in racially motivated voting among people with only moderate racial resentment.

Those researchers, Justin Grimmer and Cole Tanigawa-Lau of Stanford University and William Marble of the University of Pennsylvania, "make the case that explanations of Trump’s victory pointing to the role of those at the extremes on measures of racial resentment and sexism, while informative, are in their own way too comforting, fostering the belief that Trump’s triumph was the product of voters who have drifted far from the American mainstream," Edsall writes. "In fact, the new analysis suggests that Trumpism has found fertile ground across a broad swath of the electorate, including many firmly in the mainstream. That Trump could capture the hearts and minds of these voters suggests that whatever he represents beyond racial resentment — anger, chaos, nihilism, hostility — is more powerful than many recognize or acknowledge. Restoring American politics to an even keel will be far tougher than many of us realize." Perhaps forthcoming court proceedings, and the reactions of Trump and the public's reactions to him, will be the next chapter in this story.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

GOP-led N.C. legislature expands Medicaid, still may dicker with Democratic governor; other states seeing action

State Rep. James Roberson takes a picture with fellow House Democrats on the chamber floor after the House gave final approval to a Medicaid expansion agreement in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday, March 23. (AP photo by Gary Robertson)

"The North Carolina legislature sent Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday its proposal to expand Medicaid for an estimated 600,000 adults, a move cheered by Medicaid advocates who hope the movement could spread to the remaining 10 states" that haven't expanded, reports Dorothy Mills-Gregg of Inside Health Policy. Cooper, a Democrat with a Republican legislature, said he would sign the bill.

The expansion is expected to have a big impact in rural North Carolina. The state had almost 3.5 million rural residents in the 2020 census, one-third of its total but second only to Texas' 4.74 million.

The bill does not set a date for the expansion, but "It can’t happen until after a state budget is approved," notes Gary D. Robertson of The Associated Press. "This usually happens in the early summer. Cooper panned that provision, which could give GOP leaders leverage to include unrelated items he may strongly oppose. . . . North Carolina is one of several Republican-led states that have begun considering expanding Medicaid after years of steadfast opposition. Voters in South Dakota approved expansion in a referendum in November."

Republicans in North Carolina and many other states have tried to require work of "able-bodied" Medicaid beneficiaries, but the Biden administration has resisted that. North Carolina's bill requires the state "to work with a workforce development case manager that assesses Medicaid beneficiaries’ employment status and barriers to employment," Mills-Gregg reports.

The bill also directs the state to work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to add work requirements to the program, but the Biden administration has "managed to revoke all Trump-era work requirement waivers except for Georgia’s requirement, which survived after a federal judge ruled CMS failed to recognize that Georgians would actually gain coverage under the state’s partial Medicaid expansion," Mills-Gregg notes. "The Biden administration decided not to appeal the ruling." Georgia's expansion takes effect in July.

UPDATE, March 24: Politico Pulse reports on other holdout states: "Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, continues to press for Medicaid expansion this year and included funding for the policy in her budget. The state’s GOP-controlled legislature, however, remains skeptical. Expansion proponents in Wyoming were hopeful they’d be able to pass the policy this year. A bill passed out of committee in January, but the proposal died on the House floor without a vote. And expansion advocates had their hopes crushed in Mississippi on Thursday after a bill that would have restored the state’s ballot measure process — thereby giving Medicaid expansion a shot at the ballot box — died amid disagreements between the House and Senate." Most holdouts are in the South.

Rural areas need more teachers, and quits are a problem; Wyoming tries to retain teachers instead of hiring novices

Near Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Photo by Karsten Koehn, Unsplash)
There aren't enough teachers in rural America, partly because rural places lack amenities and housing. Rural schools not only have a problem attracting teachers, but in keeping them. 

"Keeping teachers in classrooms is a complicated issue that involves a balance of competitive pay, meaningful work and helping teachers become masters at their craft so they feel like they can make a difference," reports Nichole Dobo of The Hechinger Report, which covers education. Her object example is a rural place that has the upside of recreational amenities but the downside of high housing costs: the Teton County School District in Wyoming. "Located near Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the area is well known as a vacation spot,""Despite the alluring landscape, for full-time residents, the extremely high housing costs are daunting. That makes it difficult to retain staff. The average tenure of a teacher is just four years."

Teton County (Wikipedia)
School Supt. Gillian Chapman told Dobo, "Primarily, people come out here, and they are going to be a ski bum for a while." so the district joined the University of Wyoming's Master Educator Competency Program "to help give teachers meaningful support and professional development," Dobo reports. Chapman told her, "It's not always about paying people more. It's about respecting the profession."

"The university partnered with 2Revolutions, an education consulting company that has worked with other states to redesign teacher education," Dobo reports. "They went on a road trip to do interviews and hear directly from educators about what they need. . . .They determined that teachers needed courses that helped them solve real-life problems they encountered in the classroom. And the professional development should be practically minded so that people could immediately put it to use and get feedback on how it’s going in real time."


It's too soon to know if the Cowboy State's new initiative will pay off. If it does, the dividends will be rich. Dobo notes, If Wyoming could halve the number of teachers who quit, it wouldn't struggle to find enough educators, said Scott Thomas, the university's education dean, pointed out. "And increasing the number of experienced teachers, rather than simply trying to increase the ranks of novices, is good for students, too," Dobo concludes.

Several states put the brakes on autonomous vehicles; Teamsters back bill that would require a safety driver

Tractor-trailers stacked up on the shoulder of Interstate 70 near
Aurora, Colo. (Photo by David Zalubowski, The Associated Press)
Get ready for a bumpy ride. Several states are looking at entirely driverless autonomous vehicles "to consider legislation backed by the Teamsters union to require that a safety driver always is on board," reports Austin Jenkins of Pluribus News. "Amid the prevailing trend of nearly two dozen states explicitly allowing the testing and deployment of driverless vehicles. So-called driver-in legislation has been introduced in California, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas."

California may have the most contentious battle. "Teamsters are backing a bill that would prohibit medium- and heavy-duty vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more from operating on public roads without a human safety driver. The bipartisan bill, which boasts more than 20 coauthors, cleared its first committee this week with strong support," Jenkins reports. "If approved, the law would preempt the California Department of Motor Vehicles from issuing rules allowing heavier autonomous vehicles to ply the roads without a driver. California currently allows driverless light-duty vehicles under certain circumstances."

Jenkins reports, "In January, the DMV held a workshop with their Highway Patrol that signaled what the agency calls a 'starting point for the potential development of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle regulations.'" Teamster Jason Rabinowitz told Jenkins, "We don't want the DMV to make this decision. A decision of this magnitude should be made by the legislature." Commenting on the Teamsters efforts, Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, told Jenkins, "Trying to wedge these driver-only bills into these state capitols is something that we think is not the right way to do it."

On the one hand, "Backers say the bill is about protecting public safety and jobs," Jenkins writes. "The prime author of the bill, Assembly-member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, cited experience with light-duty driverless vehicles. . . . She pointed to incidents where the vehicles have blocked intersections and impeded emergency vehicles, among other issues. She argued that trucks, because of their size and weight, pose an 'exponentially greater threat to the public.'"

One the other hand, "The bill has drawn the opposition of more than 40 companies and business organizations who say autonomous trucks offer the promise of safer roads, more reliable supply chain efficiency and new career opportunities," Jenkins writes. "Farrah countered that the AV industry has a 'remarkable safety record' and said the industry offers a path to dramatically reducing the nearly 40,000 motor vehicle fatalities each year in the U.S., including those involving trucks."

While California lawmakers remain positive "about the future of AVs and their ability to ultimately make the roads safer, but they also expressed concern about moving too quickly to deploy the technology without adequate safeguards," Jenkins reports. Transportation Committee Chair Laura Friedman told Jenkins, "Putting 80,000-pound vehicles on the road without a driver would happen sometime after we all feel really, really good about the state of single-passenger autonomous vehicles."

Spotty broadband and urban-centric data for forecasting may have contributed to Appalachian flooding disasters

Daily Yonder map by Sarah Melotte from American Community Survey data

Four inches of rain in a single hour, and the rain kept on falling. In July 2022, southeastern Kentucky was hit with devastating floods. As the area struggles toward recovery, people are looking at why some residents weren't warned and what other factors contributed to the losses. "In the days leading up to the storm, the National Weather Service predicted heavy rain and a moderate risk of flooding across a wide swath of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia," report Claire Carlson and Anya Slepyan of The Daily Yonder. "What happened instead was a record-breaking four-day flood event in Eastern Kentucky that killed a confirmed 43 people and destroyed thousands of homes.: The NWS issued repeated alerts, but many say they received no warning.

Terry Thies said she had received no flood warnings before sleeping that night. "Her part of rural Perry County in Eastern Kentucky often gets heavy rain," the Yonder reports. "So early the next morning, when her foot hit the water lapping the bottom of her wooden bed frame, Thies' first thought was that the toilet had overflowed. But as she scanned her bedroom for the water's source, she realized this was something else entirely." Thies said, "I came into the kitchen and opened the door and water was flowing down the lane. . . . Not a soul, not one emergency outlet texted me or alerted me via phone."

Kentucky's severe-weather alert systems seemed inept. "Imprecise weather forecasting and spotty emergency alerts due to limited cellular and internet access in rural Kentucky meant that Thies and many others were wholly unprepared for the historic flood," the Yonder reports. "Efforts to improve these systems are underway, but state officials say expansions to broadband infrastructure will take at least four years to be completed in Kentucky's most rural counties. In a state where flooding is common, these improvements could be the difference between life and death for rural Kentuckians. . . . There's no guarantee they'll come before the next climate change-fueled disaster."

Urban-oriented data used in weather forecasting also contributed to July's events. Carlson and Slepyan write, "Extreme weather is hard to predict in any setting, but rural regions like Eastern Kentucky are at an additional disadvantage due to an urban bias baked into national weather forecasting systems, according to Vijay Tallapragada, the senior scientist at the National Weather Service's Environmental Modeling Center. . . . Forecasting models depend on observational data — information about past and present weather conditions — to predict what will come next. But there's more data available for urban areas than for rural areas." Jerry Brotzge, Kentucky state climatologist, told the Yonder, "For large areas of Appalachia, we just don't know the climatology there as well as, say, Louisville."

For weather predictions to reach residents in remote areas, completion of broadband projects to consumers is an obstacle. Meghan Sandfoss, executive director of the state's newly created Office of Broadband Development, told the Yonder, "A frustration we hear frequently is that all these new locations are being connected and everybody else has to wait. But that's just the federal funding priority, and that's the way we've got to do it."

State Offices of Rural Prosperity in Kansas and Wisconsin create paths to help smaller towns plan for the future

Trisha Purdon, of Kansas, left, and Beth Haskovec, of Wisconsin
(Photos via the Rural Assembly)
"Everywhere Radio" wants to be, well, everywhere rural. But you know what is not everywhere but might need to be? State Offices of Rural Prosperity. The concept has gotten a start in Kansas and Wisconsin, the first states to launch these hive-like hubs. Both ORPs are headed by women: Trisha Purdon in Kansas and Beth Haskovee in Wisconsin, who were interviewed by the Rural Assembly's "Everywhere Radio" podcast host Whitney Kimball Coe. Below are excerpts and paraphrases from their dual podcast.

Coe gave a bit of  background and asked Purdon and Haskovee to recall their offices' foundations.

Kansas was the first state to establish its Office of Rural Prosperity, in 2018, following a "listening tour" that found citizens concrned about housing, child care, and health care (the top three), broadband, infrastructure, economic development, health care and general community development, including arts and culture and place-making.

In Iowa, "We worked with the Aspen Institute to create something called the "Rural Voices Report," based on three different listening sessions across the state," Haskovee said. "I feel like the power of rural communities are people getting sitting down at that kitchen table and just talking through solutions to problems that they're facing. And the power of the state to be able to open up that conversation and really be listening and use those comments and the input from communities across the state to shape an agenda, I think, is unique. And that doesn't always happen, that we're that proactive in seeking input in the way that we're shaping the work that gets done."

Both women are relatively new to the jobs; Coe asked them what "a day in the life" was like. The simple answer was "busy bees."

Purdon said, "First thing, what's up on the docket at the legislature room? How do I help out our team? There's a lot of communities who are trying to get legislation passed. . . . But we work in a team. We've kind of divvied up our responsibilities. Right now, we're rolling out a ton of grants, so we're just every day checking in on all the grant funds and where those things are and trying to keep our heads above water, helping everyone get through that process."

Haskovee agreed and added: "We're applying regional collaboration. It's so important to our work and working with those regional planning commissions and economic development organizations. So we're applying to a federal opportunity to get some technical assistance to better align our rural plan at the state level with all of the regional community economic development plans and including the Great Lakes and our tribal council in that as well, and understanding how the economic development needs at the regional level and the tribal level align with the state."

Coe asked the two about the "federal dollars that are coming in. . . how are they positioned to help translate those dollars and make sure that they are connecting to rural stakeholders as well?"

Haskovee said, "I inherited a bipartisan infrastructure law task force that was really focused on helping communities understand what was available. Through that legislation, we created a website with all the links to all the state agencies and what resources they had available. . . . Historically, matching dollars has been a problem for rural communities. They just don't have the budgets to go after some of those federal dollars. And so helping them understand that that was taken into consideration in some of these grant programs and the same match requirements that have been typically required have been waived or altered through this legislation to really help rural communities."

Purdon said, "Like Beth had said, we have a lot of volunteers who are doing this [grant applications]. We have a lot of city clerks and county clerks who are doing this. City and county commissioners that have no experience in writing a massive Department of Agriculture grant. . . . We did a kind of convening for all these folks who are volunteers mostly to do basic trainings on if you're interested in water, we're going to have four or five very intense training sessions on the different water programs that are coming up. . . . And we had experts come into kind of walk them through that."

With the depth and breadth of their responsibilities, Coe asked what keeps them going on hard days.

Kiowa is in Barber County (Wikipedia)
Purdon, who is from Kiowa, Kansas, pop. 900, explained: "I saw us make a difference here in Montgomery County [and Coffeyvile], so now I do it at the state level, and I'm very passionate about it. I go to all these small towns, and I see, like the community of Matfield Green, which I thought was a truck stop on the Interstate, but it's a tiny, tiny town nestled in the Flint Hills. It's the most beautiful place on Earth. It [the population] was down to just a few houses, and now they've grown their population by 30 people in the last few years."

Waukon is in Allamakee County (Wikipedia)
Haskovee, who is from Waukon, Iowa, pop. 3,800, said: "I love rural development work so much because it is so much heart. It is so much about relationships and people and how welcoming and open people are once you get to know them and are willing to pull up your sleeves and get work done. I love that. One of my mom's favorite quotes is, 'May you always have enough and plenty for the day. May you never have enough to waste or throw away.'"

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

How a rural paper hits a target reader — over 60, Black, parent — when its staff has none of those characteristics

"Editors need to have a keen sense of news judgment, which requires a clear view of their publications’ target readers. But what if the target reader is over 60 years old, or African American, or a mother juggling the lives of her children and the reporting staff is young, white and single?"

So asks Buck Ryan, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, in his latest case study of the Chatham News + Record in Chatham County, North Carolina. He reports that Editor-Publisher Bill Horner III "has found a way to hurdle that challenge in award-winning fashion," getting more prizes "than any other newspaper its size from the North Carolina Press Association over the last three years."

Black History Month coverage included a story about a local woman
who had written a book about her family's white-supremacist history.

Chatham County, has a population of 75,070 people, with a Hispanic community (12%) about as large as its African American community (11%), Ryan notes. Horner has started, suspended, and revived a Spanish-language edition and talked with Ryan about appealing to Black and older residents. The county's average age is 47.

The paper has a “6 Over 60” feature in partnership with Chatham County’s Council on Aging. The paper has sponsored events for COA, which has used grant funds to buy subscriptions for senior citizens who didn’t already subscribe.

Ryan reports that the News + Record's front page "typically contains a photo or a story about someone in Chatham County’s African American community, and asked Horner to describe his approach to news coverage of that community. "We are intentional about it in part because when it comes to news—and recognition in the county—that’s an underserved population," Horner said, adding that it made  aspecial effort to make this year's Black History Month coverage better than last year's, when "in all honesty, we didn’t do a great job last year of highlighting Black history and stories."

Horner said that as the paper has reported the removal of a Confederate monument and the placing of a historical marker remembering local lynching victims, "reaction has been mixed. No question we’ve lost some readers, but we’ve gained others. But it’s news, it’s part of what’s happening in a growing and changing market, and it’s incumbent upon us to take the lead to say what’s happening and why."

Ryan's interview with Horner also touched on the paper's newsletters on parenting and other topics, its staffing, a grant-funded revival of the Spanish-language edition, and a final section titled "Literacy, Good Writing and Required Reading." Some exceprts from that:

"My best writers are those who have been the most devoted readers of books and of great reporting. I hope I can say that I push them to be better writers and reporters. There’s only so much you can teach; there has to be a willingness and a desire to get better on their part, and also the capacity to understand and instinctively know what’s really good when it comes to reporting and writing. So we talk a lot about writing and share 360-degree feedback.

"We talk about what we’re reading. I give my kids books about writing and reporting and recommend books on those subjects to them. For example, Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing is one I’ve given everyone. . . . I ask my reporters a lot of questions about word choice and sentence structure. We don’t do it as much in person; it’s mostly often done through editing on our server. As I said, I try to push. I don’t mind telling them a lede stinks; I have them read my stuff, and if my lede stinks, I want to know! . . . 

"One thing I’ll never forget from my studies at the William Allen White j-school at the University of Kansas was one of my professors, Elmer Lower, telling us that the world will always, always need people who write well. If we, as journalists, could develop into strong writers, he said, there would always be a place for us." For Ryan's full report, click here.

Opinion: How a 'perfect couple' of Head Start centers and community colleges could help ease the child-care crisis

Young children in a classroom leased by Head Start at a community
college. (Photo by Maansi Srivastava, The Washington Post)
"Lack of child care access is a countrywide crisis and costs an estimated $122 billion every year in lost earnings, productivity and revenue," reports The Washington Post editorial board.

Here's a solution: "There’s nothing like a good match, and a partnership announced this week between the National Head Start Association and the Association of Community College Trustees to put more Head Start facilities on community college campuses sets up a perfect couple," the Post opines. The numbers tell the story, "More than 1 in 5 college students are parents. About 1 in 10 are single mothers, and nearly two-thirds of those mothers whose children are younger than six live at or below the poverty line. . . . Meanwhile, about 180,000 spots in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start early education program, which is supposed to serve that population, are empty. Only 100 or so locations are on community college campuses. . . . Put these two realities together. . . . and the opportunity becomes clear."

What are the other issues? "Single mothers are much less likely to complete a degree than are students without children. All evidence suggests that on-campus child care services can change the equation — at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., for instance, use of those facilities multiplied parents’ graduation rates by more than three times," the Board reports. "The trouble, in many cases, is money. Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, described how three childcare facilities in her network of campuses shrank to one. Many student parents couldn’t afford to pay for all-day services, and CCBC, after the pandemic tightened its budget, couldn’t afford to pay to subsidize them."

Why is Head Start the answer? "It comes at no cost to those who qualify, and for any center to operate, it must also secure a 20 percent philanthropic match. Colleges can effectively provide that match by 'leasing' the space for the program, except at no charge. Thus, they can offer a child care option to their students that is essentially free to them, and free to the students, too," they write. "Head Start, in turn, ends up with a robust population from which to recruit children to educate while their parents have time to pursue their education, too. What’s more, college students studying early learning can get hands-on experience right there in the centers. And all student parents can access the help Head Start provides, for example, with applying for public assistance programs."

How will this get done? The Board reports that the first funding steps have been complete, but now a lot of questions need answers: "What makes a given college a good candidate? Which can offer the most, and who needs the most? How will schools ensure students actually take advantage of the option? Will physical spaces need retrofitting? Will the hours these facilities operate need to expand beyond what’s typical for the program?"

More on the repairs: The struggle to fix it requires a host of solutions, many of which must come from legislators. Think increased government investment, expanded tax credits and reduced barriers to entry for providers," the Board opines. "But this kind of large-scale change has proved elusive, which means smaller solutions are also essential. They can help, and they’re actually within reach. The beauty of this one, as Abigail Seldin of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation put it to us, is that it doesn’t require a miracle, and neither will it take an act of Congress."

Experts: Soap, water again 'sufficient for regular cleaning'

Photo by Jeshoots, Unsplash
An easy-to-imagine conversation:
Q: "Remember grocery store employees spraying and scrubbing the carts all the time?"
A: "Oh, yeah, during the pandemic, for sure. Yeah, I don't think those sprays killed Covid-19. Killed plenty of people's skin, though!"

"The cleaning industry experienced a boom during the first years of the pandemic. Covid-19 cleaning protocols in schools, stores and other public spaces ratcheted up, with a spray and a wipe-down becoming de rigueur on every surface after every use," reports Dana G. Smith of The New York Times. "We now know that the extra cleaning was unlikely to have helped limit the spread of Covid-19, but it did increase people’s exposure to the chemicals used in those products — some of which may be hazardous to health. . . . But since we now know that disinfecting isn’t likely to protect us from Covid, it’s worth taking stock of whether the risks of using certain cleaning products are greater than the rewards."

Some items to consider, as outlined by Smith:

Disinfectants are commonly found in all-purpose surface cleaners marketed for use in kitchens or bathrooms. Think 409, Lysol sprays, Clorox wipes or anything else that says 'kills 99.9 percent of germs,' on the label. . . The most prevalent disinfecting chemicals are quaternary ammonium compounds, also known as 'quats' or QACs. . . . In professional settings, QACs have been linked to skin irritation, asthma and other lung problems. . . A 2021 study found that the presence of QACs in human blood was linked to disrupted immune and metabolic functions. In mice, exposure to QACs decreased fertility.

Bleach is a more familiar disinfectant to many people, but experts have raised concerns about its safety as well. . . . Bleach’s corrosive nature means that it can be damage skin and eyes. It has also been shown in numerous studies to be linked to asthma, among professional cleaners as well as people who use it frequently in the home. . . . A risk unique to bleach is the potential for producing toxic chlorine gas. "So what should I be using to clean?" Smith asks. "Most of the experts we spoke to for this article said that they rarely, if ever, use disinfectants when they clean their homes, instead opting for soap and water.

Finally, Samara Geller, senior director of cleaning science at the Environmental Working Group, told Smith, "We definitely recommend people substitute with some D.I.Y. recipes instead of buying products off the shelf. Even a dash of dish soap with a bit of baking soda can help remove that scum off your sink or out of your bathtub, and that can really help you to avoid some of the heavier, harsher chemicals."

Emergency-only status for rural hospitals can be a lifeline, but now residents have to drive further for other care

Entrance to St. Mark's Medical Center
in LaGrange, Texas (Photo via
LaGrange, Texas, between Austin and Houston, is best known as the title of a ZZ Top song. Now the town of 4,400 and surrounding Fayette County, pop. 25,000, is an example of what may become a national trend: Rural hospitals going emergency-only in order to stay open, reports Liz Carey of The Daily Yonder.

"St. Mark's Medical Center announced last month that it would become a Rural Emergency Hospital," a newly created category.  The REH designation, which provides higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, is designed to help rural hospitals stay open. "Studies indicate that of the nearly 2,200 rural hospitals across the country, as many as one in five is in danger of closing," Carey notes. "But the new designation comes at a cost. REHs must provide emergency services 24/7 and cannot provide in-patient services."

Fayette County, Texas (Wikipedia)
Roxanne Cotter, vice president of the La Grange Area Chamber of Commerce, told Carey, "It took all of us by surprise." Carey reports, "A type 2 diabetic, Cotter said she's been to the hospital four times in the past year for overnight stays to treat her diabetes. Now, she said, she'll have to travel to hospitals in other communities, some 20 or more miles away, for the same treatment. . . . Karen Killian, a former surgical nurse for the hospital, said her concern is the residents in the nursing homes throughout Fayette County." Killian told Carey, "We had some patients who came from the nursing homes here. Some of them have no family to help them," she said. "If their neighbors have to drive them all the way to another hospital, will that affect their care? How will they get home?"

REH will only solve some of the financial stresses rural hospitals face. Mark Kimball, St. Mark's president and CEO, told Carey, "Even with this new designation, St. Mark's will need additional financial support from the community to survive. REH is the only viable option at this time. . . . If our patient volumes increase and our financial status improves, one of the benefits of REH is that St. Mark's could reopen inpatient and surgical services." 

Rural communities can band together to reopen hospital services. Carey writes, "Cotter said the chamber and others in the community are working to determine what options are available to reverse the REH designation, and to keep the hospital open." She told Carey, "We'd like to be a part of the conversation. The (Chamber) board chair and I have started doing research on rural funding opportunities. . . . We think it will be a combination of philanthropic and government funding that will be necessary to keep the hospital operating."

Pro-Russian Twitter accounts spread false information preying on 'legitimate concerns' after Ohio train disaster

Drone photograph of Feb. 6 Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in
East Palestine, Ohio (Photo by Gene Puskar, The Associated Press)
Something strange and noteworthy followed the Feb. 6 train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. "Soon after the derailment, anonymous pro-Russian accounts started spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda about it on Twitter, using Elon Musk's new verification system to expand their reach while creating the illusion of credibility," reports David Klepper of The Associated Press. "The accounts claimed without evidence that authorities in Ohio were lying about the true impact of the chemical spill. The accounts spread fearmongering posts that preyed on legitimate concerns about pollution and health effects and compared the response to the derailment with America's support for Ukraine following its invasion by Russia."

One posting cried, "'Biden offers food, water, medicine, shelter, payouts of pension and social services to Ukraine! Ohio first! Offer and deliver to Ohio!' [The account] boasts 25,000 followers and features an anonymous location and a profile photo of a dog," reports Klepper. "One video features ex-President Donald Trump's remarks about the train derailment, complete with Russian subtitles."

"The accounts were identified by Reset, a London-based nonprofit that studies social media's impact on democracy, and shared with AP, " Klepper explains. After the accounts were identified, "Zignal Labs, a media intelligence firm, conducted a study. . . . At first, the derailment received little attention online, but mentions grew steadily; Zignal found a time lag that gave pro-Russia voices time to try to shape the conversation. . . . the accounts received an extra boost from Twitter itself. . . . . Musk replaced it [Twitter's Blue check mark verification system] with Twitter Blue. Under the program, Twitter Blue users can write and send longer tweets and videos. Their replies are also given higher priority on other posts."

Felix Kartte, a senior advisor at Reset, told Klepper, "With no one at home in Twitter's product safety department, Russia will continue to meddle in U.S. elections and in democracies around the world." Kartte noted Reset's "findings indicate Twitter is allowing Russia to use its platform like a bullhorn."

If your county's in the Corn Belt, it's probably in the Soybean Belt, based on USDA's latest county crop yield data

For a century or more we have heard about "the Corn Belt," but not even Wikipedia lists a "Soybean Belt." Nevertheless, the latest crop-yield maps make clear that there's a big overlap. Yields for corn and soybeans are above the national average in a swath from southern Minnestota to western Ohio, with scattered counties in Kentucky and other states. The county figures were released recently by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, and they worked with the agricultural-communications folks at the University of Illinois to produce these maps (click on them to enlarge):

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Only newspaper in distressed West Virginia county closes; owner says politics have people down on all news media

McDowell County, West Virginia, one of the nation's most distressed counties, is now a news desert.

The Welch News (the Welch Daily News until 1995) announced March 13 that it would "shutter all operations immediately barring any unforeseen circumstances," such as a sale. Calls to the newspaper today resulted in one ring and a dead line. Welch is the seat of the county, pop. 19,000.

McDowell County (Wikipedia map)
Owner Melissa Nester told Katherine Skeldon of WVMetroNews that the county's failing economy and dwindling readership and population were the main reasons for her decision: “It’s the financial impact of being in a small, southern West Virginia coalfield community, where we really don’t have the strength in our businesses or the amount of residents who could support a newspaper and what it takes to be operational.”

Nester, who bought the paper five years ago, told Skeldon that it suffered partly from the audience's conflation of community newspapers with larger papers: “I’m terrifed with the direction we’re taking really with all of our media in that the smaller people who are serving the smaller communities are really getting themselves ripped apart due to the larger political nature of the business.” 

Amid skepticism, Congress considers restricting farmland purchases by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea

Photo via USDA
Congressional support is building to "restrict China and other foreign adversaries from purchasing U.S. farmland, a reflection of a similar push by some states as well as apprehension over Chinese spy balloons, rising land prices and growing international competition," reports Adam Goldstein of the Washington bureau of States Newsroom. A bipartisan group of House members told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a Feb. 27 letter, "Foreign ownership of agricultural land threatens small family farms and the overall health of the agricultural supply chain."

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., has introduced a bill to prohibit North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia from purchasing U.S. farmland and add the Agriculture Department to the Committee on Foreign Investment, "a multi-agency council that reviews financial transactions that affect national security," Goldstein reports. "Renée Johnson, an agricultural policy analyst, noted that these bills have much more to do with military infrastructure and conflict between the U.S. and the governments of China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea."

"Vilsack said in a Thursday Senate hearing that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea together own under 400,000 acres of agricultural land as of 2021. He added that the nation's largest foreign landholders include Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Vilsack expressed concern over how federal foreign ownership restrictions could be implemented in a way that was fair and legally sound for international investors."

Clay Lowery, former assistant treasury secretary for international affairs, told Goldstein, "I do believe strongly in the ability for countries and entities to invest in the United States because I think that is actually a positive." Jennifer Zwagerman, director of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center in Iowa, told Goldstein, "My bigger fear is that we limit groups or entities or individuals that are really interested in farming or production themselves. And in doing so, we end up with land that is purchased by those less interested in farming and more in development."

Some doubt federal-level restrictions would be effective. "John Schwarz, a row crop farmer and lawyer in Cass County, Indiana, questioned if any national bill would be enforceable due to the sheer scope of farmland in the country," Goldstein writes. "He suggested it may be better left to counties and localities to handle." Schwarz told Goldstein, "If this is going to work, it really has to be on a micro level. I don't think a macro level is going to do it because there's just way too many ways to slip through, getting cute with the ownership and companies."