Friday, May 05, 2023

An ominous shift for newspapers: Kroger ads go all-digital

CNN photo
Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain by revenue and a major presence in rural America, announced it is eliminating its long-running newspaper print ads, reports Nathaniel Meyersohn of CNN. "The ads for Kroger stores and subsidiaries, including Ralphs, Fred Meyer and King Soopers, will shift online. Printed copies will be available in stores, the company said." Kroger explained its decision on Twitter: "As a result of declining newspaper circulation and many of our partners reducing or eliminating physical distribution of their newspapers, we're changing the way we get our circular to our customers to ensure they're receiving it." The announcement coincides with the plan of Lee Enterprises, a major national newspaper chain, to reduce most of its papers' print editions to thrice a week.

Not all newspapers have digital platforms, and print ads from groceries have long been one of their biggest revenue sources, if not the biggest. Peter Imes, the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Mississippi (which ran a story about the change), told Meyerson, "The loss of the Kroger circulars is a loss for both the paper and our readers." Meyersohn reports, "Kroger is the latest company to discontinue its weekly circular ads. Some companies, such as Walgreens stopped printing coupon catalogs and moved their weekly advertisements online. CVS stopped printing them for newspapers, but some are still in stores." Despite many companies opting for digital only, an unhappy Kroger shopper echoed on Twitter what studies have already shown: "I hate that the ads are going digital. CVS did that, and I very seldom look at it. Nor do I go there as often as I used to. It's a pain in the butt to read digital ads."

Kroger's Twitter post generated negative responses from customers pointing out that "digital only" leaves some people out of the equation: "My 79-year-old mother relies on the printed ad to make her grocery list. You're disregarding the elderly & those who don't have the capability to use apps. Just another business decision to show older customers you don't care for their business." Meyersohn adds, "According to Pew Research Center, 39% of people 65 and over do not own a smartphone, and 25% don't use the internet. Additionally, 24% of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don't own a smartphone, while 41% don't have a computer. . . . A Stanford University study in 2006 found that at least 10% of shoppers chose their store based on the week's ads and that shoppers were most influenced when the ads promoted discounts on cereal, chips, pizza, cookies and hot dogs."

At a time when inflation and producer profit-boosting have increased grocery prices, the loss of print ads is especially painful. Meyersohn reports, "This means that millions of older and low-income shoppers — the people who often depend on promotions the most to stretch their dollars — will be shut out of online deals." Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and founder of Consumer World, told Meyerson, "This becomes inconvenient for shoppers who, up until now, could do easy comparison shopping just by flipping the pages of competing stores' circulars at their kitchen table."

Local broadcast news has issues, too: Sinclair closes five of its newsrooms; all the markets have other TV stations

TV NewsCheck image
Sinclair Broadcast Group is closing five of its local newsrooms. The company will "cease all local news broadcasts after layoffs eliminated most or all of their respective news teams in two weeks," reports Michael Stahl of TV NewsCheck. "The affected stations are WNWO, Toledo, Ohio; KTVL, Medford, Ore.; KPTM, Omaha, Neb.; WGFL, Gainesville, Fla.; and KPTH, Sioux City, Iowa. . . . . Instead of regularly scheduled local news, starting May 15, the stations will air The National Desk, programming that, according to a Sinclair statement, 'provides real-time national and regional news from Sinclair's television stations across the U.S.'. . . . Recent layoffs in Sinclair newsrooms have not been limited to these five stations ending all-local news broadcasts."

The markets with these closures have other TV stations, but as one former employee noted to Stahl, "It's a huge blow to a very vulnerable group of people. . . . Some of the most impoverished citizens in the country. . . . Free local news is paramount for many of our elderly and poor to stay aware, safe and educated. Information is power, and we just turned the lights off for many."

Sinclair, which has a large rural audience, did not announce the number of employees laid off. "Some of them may be reassigned to other positions within the company," Stahl explains. "According to a local digital publication in Oregon, Medford Alert, Sinclair is expected to reveal more details about the layoffs prior to the news broadcast changeover." One former news team member told him, "I'm still in shock and just really sad. . . .We were all in a room together when a person from Sinclair announced news was not meeting ratings expectations and, therefore, not appealing to high-dollar sponsorships."

The closings appear to be fallout from Sinclair's overall financial struggles. "Diamond Sports Group, a regional sports broadcast company owned by Sinclair, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy," Stahl reports. "According to a CBS News report from March 15, Diamond 'is negotiating a new agreement that will eliminate most of its roughly $8.67 billion debt.' . . . CBS blamed much of Diamond's financial woes on the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut down professional sports for a time in 2020. . . . . Local news is also paying the price." One axed employee told Stahl, "Very valid issues and complaints have been brought up against major corporations for doing the things that they're doing right now within the news business. . . . To know that there is a big story out there right now. . . . and not be able to [report it] is a challenge because the public deserves to know. I have my hands tied. It's painful."

Flora/fauna nips: 4 apps to know them all; bunny rescues; Schmidt Sting Pain Index has marvelous descriptions

Image from Justin Schmidt's 2016 book The Sting of the Wild

Ever considered ranking the pain of insect stings? Entomologist Justin Schmidt did. He poetically described and ranked stinging powers from 'spicy' to 'shockingly electric' on his Schmidt Sting Pain Index, reports Lauren Young of Atlas Obscura. After being stung by a "fierce black polybia wasp," he had this to say. "A ritual gone wrong, satanic. The gas lamp in the old church explodes in your face when you light it." The index is featured in Schmidt's 2016 book The Sting of the Wild.

Arbor Day may have passed, but loving trees is timeless. Here's a delightfully deciduous list of tree reads. "Trees are fascinating: The oldest living organism on Earth is a tree, and forest biomes cover one-third of the Earth's surface. Trees provide fruit, spices, nuts, timber, shade, habitats, and oxygen, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."--Trees: An Illustrated Celebration by Kelsey Oseid.

Male Eastern Box Turtle (Box Turtle Conservation photo)
Box turtles need our help. "Various factors, most of them human-related such as exports for the pet trade and loss of habitat are causing the population of box turtles to dwindle. . . . If you do take a box turtle as a pet, do plenty of research in advance to know exactly what its needs are. The Box Turtle Conservation website is a great place to start. Another great resource to follow is Reptile.Guide.

Every flower, every plant, every tree: These four apps can help you identify them all, reports Michael J. Coren of The Washington Post. "Thanks to artificial intelligence trained on millions of observations, anyone with a smartphone can snap a picture or record a sound to identify tens of thousands of species, from field bluebells to native bumblebees. . . . I'm now on a first-name basis with most of my wild neighbors. It has reconnected me to a natural world I love, yet never studied deeply enough to know all its characters and settings. . . . The easiest to use is Seek."

Some rabbits have been rescued from tree branches.
(Photo by Eric Hopson, San Luis National Wildlife Refuge )
California's record-setting snowpack melt is great for ducks and fish. "Still for other animals, the rising waters are perilous. Just ask the bunnies," reports Lauren Sommer of NPR. "In the Central Valley, evacuations are underway for endangered riparian brush rabbits. The small brown cottontails, only about a foot long, are finding themselves stranded on small areas of dry land as nearby rivers overtop their banks. . . . A team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has captured and moved more than 360 rabbits to higher ground to protect a species that's coming back from the brink of extinction."

Radioactive dogs? "What we can learn from Chernobyl's strays . . . They've lived and bred inside the Exclusion Zone for generations—and scientists believe their DNA may transform our knowledge about the effects of radiation," reports Sharon Guynup of National Geographic. Elaine Ostrander, who runs the Dog Genome Project at the National Human Genome Research Institute, told her, "These Chernobyl dogs are valuable to science because they've lived and evolved in isolation for 15 generations since the disaster. They die young, by three or four years old; 10 to 12 is normal for 75-pound dogs. . . . Ultimately, we want to know what happened to the genomic DNA that allowed [the dogs] to live and breed and survive in a radioactive environment."

How old must "a cultivar" be to be considered an heirloom? "Some experts say it is those that existed before 1951, when the first hybrid vegetable cultivars were developed. Others define it as any cultivar dating to 1940 or before. . . . Heirlooms are plant cultivars (cultivated varieties) that have been grown for decades, even centuries, and their seeds saved and passed down through families or communities," reports Therese Ciesinski of Lancaster Farming. "Heirlooms have a lot more going for them than simply adaptation. They are time-tested, with intense flavors that surpass anything at the supermarket. They are often more nutritious. You can save the seeds and grow the variety in the future . . . And growing heirlooms help preserve biodiversity and history."

Progressive Farmer columnist highlights The Economist's highly positive report on the American economy

By Urban Lehner
Editor Emeritus, Progressive Farmer

China's leader Xi Jinping sees the United States as a nation in decline. So do many Americans. It's not surprising, then, that The Economist's April 15 cover story commanded so much attention; for in four deeply reported pages, the Economist presents a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Anxiety over America's decline, the editors conclude, "obscures a stunning success story -- one of enduring but underappreciated outperformance. America remains the world's richest, most productive and most innovative big economy. Along an impressive number of dimensions, it is leaving its peers further in the dust."

This challenge to conventional wisdom has energized pundits. The New York Times ran two op-ed commentaries on consecutive days. One, by conservative columnist David Brooks, agreed with The Economist, concluding that for all American capitalism's faults, "It has proved superior to all real world alternatives." The other, by progressive economist Paul Krugman, cautioned: "The numbers aren't really as good as they look, and there are shadows over America that aren't captured by gross domestic product."

Agree or disagree with the Economist's conclusion, its evidence is impressive:
-- In 1990, the gross domestic product of the U.S. represented 25% of the world's total. Despite the rise of China, the U.S. still accounts for 25% of the world's economic output.
-- Compared to its counterparts in the G-7, a group that includes Japan and Germany, the U.S. share is growing. Adjusted for purchasing power, the U.S. accounts for 51% of G-7 GDP, up from 43% in 1990.
-- America's income per person was 24% higher than Western Europe's in 1990. It's 30% higher today.
-- Between 1990 and 2022, labor productivity (output per hour worked) rose 67% in the U.S., 55% in Europe and 51% in Japan.
-- U.S. spending on research and development has risen over the past decade to 3.5% of GDP, well ahead of most countries.
-- America spends 37% more on education per pupil than the 23 other rich countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and 34% of Americans have completed tertiary education, a proportion exceeded only by Singapore.

And this is only a partial list. The magazine cites other evidence, including statistics showing Americans are more mobile, start more businesses and have much stronger and deeper financial markets. (The magazine doesn't mention another American strength: its highly productive agriculture and food system.)

The Economist concedes there are negatives, particularly income inequality. A lot of the growth in U.S. income per capita went to the "ultra rich," who the magazine says have done "ultra well." At 77 years, Americans' life expectancy is five years shorter than in other rich countries, in part because America's poor get poor medical care.

Yet while the U.S. has the most unequal income distribution in the G-7, the Economist also notes that "a trucker in Oklahoma can earn more than a doctor in Portugal."

Presidents usually get credit for strong economies but the Economist implicitly criticizes both Biden and Trump, warning that their turn to protectionism and industrial policy risks squandering America's strengths.

Income inequality and lower life expectancies are among the negatives Krugman plays up. "Do we care," he asks, "that the rich can afford more and bigger superyachts?" Krugman also argues that while Europe lags the U.S. economically, Europeans enjoy a higher quality of life. Their long vacations give them a better work-life balance.

Unfortunately, in focusing on GDP's limitations as a measuring rod, Krugman ignores the many other dimensions on which the Economist rates the American economy highly.

Moreover, the tradeoff between European and American capitalism is broader than vacations. Brooks calls it "the tension between economic dynamism and economic security." American capitalism, he says, "has always been tilted toward dynamism." And even though this tilt has weakened as U.S. social spending increased, the U.S. economy continues to outperform.

On one thing both Times' pundits agree: American society is a mess. In Brooks' words, "We've lived through a wretched political era. The social fabric is fraying in a thousand ways." No doubt this fraying contributes to the feeling so many have that America is in decline.

There were similar feelings in the 1980s when Japan was on the rise. By the mid-1990s, it was clear those feelings were overwrought.

Will history repeat itself? Today's challenges, external and domestic, may be more serious. Still, by pointing out America's continuing strengths, the Economist has contributed a fresh and helpful perspective.

Federal consumer watchdog warns about the risks of medical credit cards, which can raise costs, hurt the poor

By Noam A. Levey
KFF Health News

The Biden administration on Thursday cautioned Americans about the growing risks of medical credit cards and other loans for medical bills, warning in a new report that high interest rates can deepen patients’ debts and threaten their financial security.

In its report, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that people in the U.S. paid $1 billion in deferred interest on medical credit cards and other medical financing in just three years, from 2018 to 2020.

The interest payments can inflate medical bills by almost 25 percent, the agency found by analyzing financial data that lenders submitted to regulators.

“Lending outfits are designing costly loan products to peddle to patients looking to make ends meet on their medical bills,” said Rohit Chopra, director of CFPB, the federal consumer watchdog. “These new forms of medical debt can create financial ruin for individuals who get sick.”

Nationwide, about 100 million people — including 41% of adults — have some kind of health-care debt, KFF Health News found in an investigation conducted with NPR to explore the scale and impact of the nation’s medical-debt crisis.

The vast scope of the problem is feeding a multibillion-dollar patient-financing business, with private equity and big banks looking to cash in when patients and their families can’t pay for care, KFF Health News and NPR found. In the patient financing industry, profit margins top 29%, according to research firm IBISWorld, or seven times what is considered a solid hospital profit margin.

Millions of patients sign up for credit cards, such as CareCredit, offered by Synchrony Bank. These cards are often marketed in the waiting rooms of physicians’ and dentists’ offices to help people with their bills. The cards typically offer a promotional period during which patients pay no interest, but if patients miss a payment or can’t pay off the loan during the promotional period, they can face interest rates that reach as high as 27%, according to the CFPB.

Patients are also increasingly being routed by hospitals and other providers into loans administered by financing companies such as AccessOne. These loans, which often replace no-interest installment plans that hospitals once commonly offered, can add hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest to the debts patients owe.

A KFF Health News analysis of public records from UNC Health, North Carolina’s public university medical system, found that after AccessOne began administering payment plans for the system’s patients, the share paying interest on their bills jumped from 9% to 46%.

Hospital and finance-industry officials insist they take care to educate patients about the risks of taking out loans with interest rates, but federal regulators have found that many patients remain confused about the terms of the loans. In 2013, the CFPB ordered CareCredit to create a $34.1 million reimbursement fund for consumers the agency said had been victims of “deceptive credit card enrollment tactics.”

The new CFPB report does not recommend new sanctions against lenders. Regulators cautioned, however, that the system still traps many patients in damaging financing arrangements. “Patients appear not to fully understand the terms of the products and sometimes end up with credit they are unable to afford,” the agency said.

The risks are particularly high for lower-income borrowers and those with poor credit. Regulators found, for example, that about a quarter of people with a low credit score who signed up for a deferred-interest medical loan were unable to pay it off before interest rates jumped. By contrast, just 10% of borrowers with excellent credit failed to avoid the high interest rates.

The CFPB warned that the growth of patient financing products poses yet another risk to low-income patients, saying they should be offered financial assistance with large medical bills but instead are being routed into credit cards or loans that pile interest on top of medical bills they can’t afford.

“Consumer complaints to the CFPB suggest that, rather than benefiting consumers, as claimed by the companies offering these products, these products in fact may cause confusion and hardship,” the report concluded. “Many people would be better off without these products.”

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Apply by Monday for Rural Computer-Assisted Reporting fellowship to Investigative Reporters & Editors Bootcamp

Monday, May 8 is the deadline for rural jouralists to apply for free tuition at the Data Journalism Bootcamp of Investigative Reporters & Editors Aug. 7-11 in Columbia, Missouri.

Established by IRE member Daniel Gilbert in 2011, this fellowship is for reporters at small news organizations pursuing data-driven investigative stories that provide a public service for people in rural communities. The fellowship is offered in conjunction with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky (which publishes The Rural Blog). The goal of the fellowship is to foster investigative reporting in rural areas by assisting small news organizations that lack the resources to send reporters to an IRE data journalism bootcamp.

The fellowship is open to U.S.-based professional journalists working for:
  • a newspaper with circulation fewer than 40,000 with a significant rural audience
  • a television or radio station outside the top 100 Nielsen markets with a significant rural audience
  • a nonprofit news organization with demonstrated rural coverage and readership
  • freelance journalists who have: a clearly defined project with rural impact; a small, rural news organization committed to publishing the story; and who get most of their income by producing independent journalism.
The fellowship includes registration (up to $1,100 value), a travel stipend ($500) and a one-year IRE membership or renewal ($70 value).

Applicants must have a LinkedIn page or a link to their resume; links to two clips showcasing their best investigative and public-service work; a letter describing an investigation you’re working on and the data skills you need to pull it off; a letter from a supervisor or other appropriate person supporting attendance at the training. The letter should include why you are deserving of the fellowship.

To apply, go here. If you would like to contribute to this fellowship, you can donate through IRE’s online donation form and indicate the name of the fund in the form.

When rural hospitals stop delivering babies, fewer expectant mothers receive prenatal care, Iowa study finds

University of Missouri Health Care photo
When rural counties lose their last labor-and-delivery unit, fewer expectant mothers in those counties get adequate prenatal care, even though that care is still available, according to a University of Iowa study.

 “Our study reflects continuing problems in our maternal health system in general, and in rural areas in particular,” Tom Gruca, co-author and professor of marketing, said in a news release. “It suggests a breakdown of maternal health care in rural areas.”

The study, published in the Journal of Rural Health, looked at the impact of the closure of seven labor and delivery units in 2018 and 2019 in rural Iowa, where prenatal care continued after the closure of those units. 

The researchers found that 18 percent of expectant mothers were making an inadequate number of prenatal care visits to a doctor in those hospitals before the closings. Following the closing, that number increased to 22%. “And 18% is not a great number, to begin with,” Gruca said.

Research shows that prenatal care reduces preterm birth and low birth weight babies. 

"All women in rural counties where the only labor-and-delivery unit closed have a 24% higher likelihood of having inadequate prenatal care compared to those in counties that still have a unit. For women enrolled in Medicaid, the difference is even more pronounced, with a 38% higher likelihood of receiving inadequate prenatal care," says the release. 

The researchers said the drop in prenatal-care rates might be attributed to expectant mothers' thinking that the hospital did away with all maternity services when the labor-and-delivery unit closed. They said poor mothers' access to prenatal care is complicated because not all health care providers accept Medicaid. 

Gruca said one solution could be creation of a central source of information that expectant mothers can use to find health-care professionals who provide the care they need and accept the insurance they have.

As 4-day school week gains steam, some states are trying to restrict the policy, which is most popular in rural areas

CDC photo, Unsplash
To recruit and keep teachers, many schools have adopted a four-day school week. "Nationwide, the number of four-day schools has increased by 600% over the past two decades, now numbering more than 1,600 in 24 states, according to research published in 2021," reports David Montgomery of Stateline. "The schedule is most popular in small, rural districts. In Colorado, which has the largest percentage, 124 of the state's 178 districts (70%) follow a four-day schedule."

The practice has had mixed educational results. "Many four-day schools report higher test scores, fewer discipline problems and strong support from parents, teachers and staff. But amid the success stories, the idea faces headwinds as emerging research points to academic declines and other problems," Montgomery writes. "School districts that go from five days to four typically make up at least some of the missing hours by adding time to the other days or extending the school year. But four-day schedules average only 148 school days per year, resulting in less time in school than the national average of 180 days per year for five-day schools."

Less time in the classroom and poorer test results have prompted states to limit or ban four-day school weeks. "In Oklahoma, for example, a 2019 law requires school districts to seek waivers for four-day schools. Lawmakers in Missouri and Texas are pushing legislation to block the practice," Montgomery reports. "A comprehensive study raised fears of academic setbacks among fragile student populations. . . . The six-state analysis, published last summer by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, found lower student achievement in four-day schools, with larger negative effects among Hispanic students, as well as in those in towns and the suburbs, as compared to rural areas. . . . In Texas, state Sen. Donna Campbell (R), vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, also is pushing a bill that would require five-day weeks. . . . Campbell said the four-day schedule 'has unintentionally caused hardships on working families and does not seem to improve student outcomes,' and research suggests 'It seems to have some negative effects on children.'"

But educators in some Texas schools are defending the schedule and say they should be able to choose what they think is best for their districts. Paula Patterson, superintendent of the Houston-area Crosby Independent School District, which has more than 6,000 students and is about to be the largest Texas district with a four-day week, told Montgomery, "Four days with an exceptional teacher is much more effective and productive than five days with a less effective teacher."

Research on student learning outcomes is mostly recent, and thus limited. Emily Morton, one author of a study published by the Annenberg Institute, told Montgomery, "The findings, Morton said, are largely 'a story of trade-offs,' showing an overall small to medium 'negative effect' on achievement, though close to zero in rural districts, along with positives such as downturns in fighting and bullying. . . . Morton acknowledged, however, that the shortened week has been a morale booster in many districts. . . . School district leaders say the reduced schedule has curtailed or eradicated vacancies and eased the workload on staff."

Congress is nixing protections for the lesser prairie-chicken, but won't be able to override a veto promised by Biden

A lesser prairie-chicken performs a mating display. (Getty Images photo via States Newsroom)

Which comes first, the land or the bird? In the case of the South Plains' lesser prairie chicken, it's become a back-and-forth in Washington, D.C. In a rare move, the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 Wednesday to overturn a Biden administration rule that listed one population of the lesser prairie-chicken as an endangered species and the rest as threatened. The House is expected to do likewise and send the legislation to the president, who has said he would veto it. A veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote of both houses, looks impossible.

"Lesser prairie-chickens thrive in native grasses, and conservation groups' efforts to preserve habitat for the birds," reports Ariana Figueroa of States Newsroom. Republican lawmakers who argue the Biden policy is a threat to farmers, ranchers and energy producers."

Map from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species assessment report
In November, the Fish and Wildlife Service put the southernmost population of the lesser prairie chicken back on the endangered-species list, citing "fairly drastic" differences in the outlook for survival of the species in different areas of the Great Plains. The rule has been particularly unpopular in Kansas, which has three populations now listed as threatened, and the Congressional Review Act resolution was filed by Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas. "Congress can use a CRA to block rules recently promulgated by federal agencies, and in specific other circumstances, by submitting a joint resolution of disapproval," Figueroa explains. "Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said the rule threatens ranchers and farmers. 'I am confident there are ways to conserve the species without hindering economic opportunity in rural communities. . . . He said what Kansas needs is 'more rainfall, not more regulations.'"

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Delaware, said the game bird "has long been considered an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies upon which hundreds of species depend. So, if the lesser prairie-chicken is in peril — in time, other species could be in peril as well." Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the designation "is holding American farms, ranches, and other small businesses hostage to an animal called the lesser prairie-chicken." McConnell "argued that local landowners and officials already set aside millions of acres of potential habitat for the bird," Figueroa reports.

The bird's numbers have drastically declined. "Its population is now estimated to be about 30,000, according to FWS. The habitat for the lesser prairie chicken has diminished by about 90%," Figueroa reports. Mike Leahy, the senior director of wildlife policy for the National Wildlife Federation, told her, "A Congressional Review Act vote is not the right approach because it would not only overturn this particular listing, it would mean this bird could never be listed again no matter how bad things get."

Horses are a lot of work, and so is recovery from addiction; the two fit together like hoof and horseshoe in Kentucky

Stable Recovery has been transformative for Tyler Harris.
(Photo by Anya Slepyan, The Daily Yonder)
One of the most complex parts of any recovery is staying in recovery. For men leaving prison, that's a tall order. To give them a leg up, some areas of Kentucky have worked out a healing combination that helps these men stay out of prison and addresses the state's horse-industry labor shortage.

"Tyler Harris has been to rehab six times in the last 10 years. At one point, he had nearly five years of sobriety. But he could never get it to stick," reports Anya Slepyan of The Daily Yonder. "This time, he's trying something new. Harris is one of 26 men currently participating in the Stable Recovery program in Lexington, Ky. The program combines housing and recovery support with job training, preparing participants to work in the equine industry."

"Stable Recovery founder Christian Countzler said the program's built-in therapeutic community and emphasis on job training provide an alternative model of recovery," Slepyan writes. Countzler told her, "You don't necessarily need to go to a $30,000-a-year treatment facility. You don't necessarily need to go to prison or a hospital. . . .If you get a job that means something to you and you live in an environment that supports you, you will be able to recover."

As part of their job training, Stable Recovery participants spend their first three months "enrolled in the School of Horsemanship at Taylor Made Farm, which trains people in recovery to work as grooms," Slepyan reports. "Program founder Frank Taylor said he started the school to help solve what he sees as two interrelated crises—high rates of opioid and alcohol addiction, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a labor shortage in the equine industry."

Horses need people, and Kentucky has lots of horses. "Kentucky's horse industry employs nearly 60,500 people and contributes $6.5 billion in direct and indirect annual economic activity, according to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. Although the industry is most concentrated in Central Kentucky, over 1 million acres across the state are used to keep, breed, and train horses, from Lexington to rural counties like Grayson, Pulaski, and Adair," Slepyan adds. "In response to the industry's labor shortage, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has also helped develop an employment pipeline for graduates of an equine program in the state Blackburn Correctional Complex. . . . Since 2019, more than 110 graduates of these three programs—all of whom are in recovery or recently released from prison, or both—have gotten jobs in the horse industry. . . . no TRF participants have ended up back in prison since the talent pipeline was established. This is especially notable given that nearly 30% of people released from Kentucky prisons will return there."

The School of Horsemanship has had similar success. "Around 70 students have graduated from the School of Horsemanship, several dozen of whom are now employed at Taylor Made Farm or elsewhere in the horse industry. Taylor Made Farm's staffing shortage has been addressed, and the demand for graduates of the program has spread to other farms," Slepyan reports. "By the end of the 90-day training, they are equipped to work as an entry-level groom in a range of facilities, from breeding and training farms to equine hospitals." Lewis Germany, who has been part of the Stable Recovery program for eight months, told Slepyan, "The outside of a horse is real good for the inside of a man."

Secret of sushi's success, from a Southern California farm

Los Angeles Times photo
A little meme said, "It's not all about avocado toast anymore; it's all about protein bowls and sushi; sushi is always in." But why? It's the rice, reports Daniel Miller of the Los Angeles Times: "Koda Farms played a key role in the spread of sushi in Los Angeles in the 1960s, said Atsuko Kanai, daughter of Noritoshi Kanai, who helped popularize the cuisine in the Southland. Without Kokuho Rose, the farm's special strain of medium-grain rice, his sushi gambit might have failed. Atsuko, whose father visited Koda Farms in 1963 and struck a distribution deal to wholesale the Kokuho Rose rice to L.A. restaurants, told Miller, "There were a few things that made sushi possible — No. 1 and most pivotal was the rice Koda Farms … [made. It was] a more palatable rice that could be served in sushi."

"Launched in 1962, Kokuho Rose was developed by Koda Farms in conjunction with rice breeder Arthur Hughes Williams. The heirloom variety, Koda said, crossed a California medium-grain rice with a Middle Eastern long-grain to create a new, higher-quality medium-grain offering," Miller explains. "The rice was a revelation: Until the invention of this medium-grain strain, what had been available to make sushi in California was 'tasteless, couldn't retain moisture, and would get brittle as it cooled down,' said Anthony Al-Jamie, editor in chief of the Japanese culture magazine Tokyo Journal."

One might not have happened without the other. "It isn't just Atsuko Kanai who has touted the significance of Koda Farms' contribution to L.A.'s sushi supply chain. Al-Jamie said that the creation of Kokuho Rose was 'essential' to the spread of sushi across the region," Miller reports. "Without the heirloom rice, Al-Jamie said, 'I don't think [sushi] would have taken off' when it did. . . . In more recent years, Koda Farms' rice has won acclaim from chefs and food publications. In 2020, Sunset magazine dubbed it the 'Holy Grail of California Rice.'. . . But, in a twist, Kokuho Rose is no longer a sushi bar staple, with chefs now preferring short-grain rice. In the 1980s, Koda said, more Japanese short-grain rice became available in the U.S. market, which may explain the change. That rice, she said, is 'more sticky' than Kokuho Rose, and 'it seems to be a preference' among sushi chefs."

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Farm lobbies ask Congress to improve commodity programs

By Adam Goldstein
States Newsroom

Farm and commodity trade-association leaders lobbied for updating commodity programs and strengthening crop-insurance programs at a Tuesday hearing of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

They said crop insurance and the Department of Agriculture’s Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs are not a “true safety net” for farmers, and that crop reference prices must be increased due to declining farm income and increasing costs.

A reference price is the Farm Bill's estimated cost of crop production, used for insurance and other risk-management program. Prices were last updated in the 2014 Farm Bill.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall told the committee that what he hears most often from farmers about the bill is the need to strengthen and expand federal crop insurance.

Kentucky farmer Caleb Ragland testified (Photo via Morning AgClips)
Caleb Ragland, a row-crop farmer from Magnolia, Kentucky, said crop insurance is one of the main ways his farm stays viable. “Without crop insurance, the risks would be more than many farmers and lenders could handle,” he said. “It certainly would be for me and my family.”

Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, asked how to better provide crop insurance options for specialty crop farmers. Duvall said the most important things are that the program is funded correctly and is easy for farmers to use; National Farmers Union President Rob Larew suggested more actively applying a provision of the Federal Crop Insurance Act to encourage adoption and continued use of climate-smart agricultural practices by developing new specialty-crop insurance policies.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked how Congress might bolster the farm safety net without costing the country more money. Duvall said “I don’t have any suggestions.”

Grassley also asked Larew if owners of commodity farmland should be eligible for safety-net programs if they are not actively farming, since the biggest 10% of farms get 70% of the money. Larew said the NFU supports limiting payments to those truly invested in management and labor.

Dental deserts widen the gap in care for rural Americans; a look at Florida highlights reasons for the continued disparity

Implants, dentures, etc. (Photo by Jonathan Borba, Unsplash)
"Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children and adults in the United States," says the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention. While most dental diseases are preventable or treatable, even the most basic care is often not accessible for rural Americans. Reasons for care disparities range from the dental hygienist shortage to non-existent dental insurance and low Medicaid reimbursements to transportation limitations. Florida is an example of a state that has been unable to overcome these challenges,  reports Lauren Peace of the Tampa Bay Times.

"Every day, Adrienne Grimmett and her colleagues at Evara Health, a not-for-profit which serves Medicaid and uninsured patients in the Tampa Bay region, see stories of inequity in their patient's teeth, gums, and palates," Peace writes. "Marked in painful abscesses, dangerous infections, and missing molars are tales of unequal access to care. . . . All these ailments — which keep patients out of work. . . . and children out of school because they can't concentrate with rotting roots — are preventable. Annual dental checks are essential to overall health. But of the 67 counties in Florida, experts say, only one has enough dentists to treat all patients [and] Lafayette County, in north Florida, doesn't have a single one."

Grimmett, Evara's director of dental services, told Peace, "It's a social injustice. You will never be totally well if you don't have oral health." Peace reports, "About 6 million Floridians live in dental deserts, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. That's the largest state population living without basic dental care in the U.S. . . . Vulnerable and marginalized communities — already prone to higher rates of chronic disease and limited access to health care — are left behind in these dental deserts."

The U.S. does not have a dentist shortage; however, "The majority of [dental] graduates aren't practicing in underserved communities. . . . The issue is uneven distribution, said Joe Anne Hart, who's worked for the Florida Dental Association for nearly two decades. . . . And often, she added, there's a financial reason why dentists choose to practice in more affluent regions: student loan debt. . . .With fewer patients in mostly poorer rural communities, graduates flock to private practices elsewhere, seeking financial stability. . . . . Because Medicaid reimbursements for dental care are paltry, even in urban areas, most dentists opt not to serve Medicaid patients."

Even when a rural citizen has a dentist, the cost of the treatment can make it "unattainable." Peace spoke with 40-year-old Lisa Lambros from New Port Richey, pop. 17,000, who drive "90 minutes to Tampa for appointments at the county health department. She lost her teeth due to cancer three years ago and desperately needs dentures but hasn't been able to afford them. She feels bad for her kids, embarrassed when they bring friends home to meet her." Lambros told her, "I had perfect teeth until I got sick. Now people treat me differently. They look at me like I'm a bad person." Peace adds, "Lambros lives with daily pain that could be relieved with dental care."

Frank Catalanotto is a founding member of Floridians for Dental Access. "His organization is a partnership between nonprofits, individual dentists and medical centers working to improve health access in the state. . . He's motivated to close disparities," Peace reports. "Catalanotto stressed that teeth don't fix themselves. . . . Some minor ailments, such as colds and viral infections, can simply run their course. A minor dental ailment, he said, does no such thing. Oral disease is progressive and ongoing and ultimately leads to severe infections."

Dry, loose dirt at corn-planting time can lead to dust storms; 'erratic winds' and zero visibility make driving impossible

Stranded vehicles after Illinois' dust storm on May 1
(Photo by Thomas DeVore, TMX, via Reuters)

Dust storms are not unique to desert regions; with the right conditions, they can even happen in the Corn Belt, as the dust storm that closed part of Interstate 55 in Illinois this week proved.

By definition, a dust storm is a "massive wall of sand, dust and grit — often a mile or higher and as much as several hundred miles long. . . . The storms can be accompanied by 60-mph winds, visibilities of barely a few feet and a suffocating concentration of dust particles that can pose a respiratory risk to virtually anybody," reports Matthew Cappucci of The Washington Post. "They can lead to deadly pileups on interstates and can render airports inoperable until conditions improve."

Farming and meterology are involved. Discussing the May 1 storm with USA Today, meteorologist Chuck Schaffer said, "It's been very dry across this area really for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there tilling their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose." Cappucci explains: "Dust storms form when strong winds loft dust into the air. Those strong winds are usually the result of thunderstorm outflow or exhaust — the cool, dense and dry air exiting a thunderstorm and surging ahead of it that kicks up dust along the storm's outflow boundary.' The dust acts as a tracer marking the wind-shift line. Anyone in the dust storm's path will spy a massive shelf of dust, which will race toward them with 40- to 60-plus-mph wind gusts and a drop in temperatures. Behind that initial outflow boundary, heavy rains within the thunderstorm can combine with remnant dust in the air to form muddy raindrops."

The impact can be great. "If a person is caught outdoors, the dust can be very problematic from a respiratory standpoint," Capucci reports. "The biggest threat from dust storms comes on the roadways. Erratic winds and abrupt drops in visibility can happen in seconds. The National Weather Service recommends drivers' pull to the side and stay alive' if they're passing through an affected area when a dust storm hits."

Where do most U.S. dust storms take place? "They're relatively frequent occurrences in the Desert Southwest, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico," Cappucci adds. "They also can make appearances on the Plains if there are existing drought conditions. The soil is more earthen over the central United States and less sandy, so lofting granules is more challenging. The drier the topsoil, though, the easier it is to lift. . . . Sometimes derechos, or extremely windy thunderstorm complexes that track long distances, can induce their own dust storms. That was the case on May 12, 2022, in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas."

Court axes regulatory exception for mid-sized factory farms; hundreds of them will need environmental assessments

A beef-cattle feedlot (Photo via Northern Ag Network)
A federal court has thrown out an environmental examption for some concentrated animal feeding operations. "Medium-sized CAFOs receiving Department of Agriculture loans will be required to have an environmental assessment after a federal court vacated part of a 2016 Farm Service Agency rule," reports Todd Neeley of Progressive Farmer. "The court's ruling is likely to affect hundreds of CAFOs across the country. . . . FSA adopted a rule in 2016 that exempted from environmental review livestock facilities that confine up to 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle, 700 dairy cows, 125,000 chickens or 55,000 turkeys."

FSA's 2016 exemption sped up USDA loan approvals, which one individual called an "onerous impediment to obtaining financing for operations that will often include young or beginning farmers," Needley reports. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District Court for the District of Columbia said the FSA had violated the National Environmental Policy Act. "USDA admitted the FSA failed to provide notice and comment before creating the exemption," Neeley notes. "During the five years that the case has been pending, the agency failed to offer mechanisms for community feedback or evidence that medium-sized CAFOs lack environmental impact."

Poor environmental outcomes and insufficient evidence supporting the exemption have made factory farms controversial. "CAFOs have been a point of contention between the livestock industry and environmental activists since they began to proliferate in the 1990s, overtaking small, pasture-feeding operations as the dominant form of animal agriculture in the U.S.," reports Madison McVan of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. "One large CAFO can easily produce more than one million tons of manure per year — more than the yearly waste of a large city." 

An exact count of how many CAFOs will be affected is not available, but the animal-welfare groups that filed the lawsuit found through the Freedom of Information Act that "The FSA made 130 direct loans of more than $100,000 or guaranteed loans of more than $300,000 each to animal facilities in Indiana alone from August 2016 to August 2018," Neeley reports. "The FSA did a review of its loan decisions for 2010 and 2011, finding there were more than 650 loans issued to broiler chicken medium-sized CAFOs alone."

"The ruling makes no mention of the economic impact, including shortages and price increases that might result from the newly added environmental hurdles," reports Dan Flynn of the Food Safety Network. However, the judge's opinion noted, "Although FSA admitted error in September 2019, to date, it appears that FSA has taken no action to correct its error . . . More importantly, however, there is nothing in the record to confirm FSA's insistence that it will be able to substantiate the challenged (exemption) on remand."

Roundup for World Press Freedom Day: Americans think news media hurt democracy; journalists concerned about press freedoms; site picked for Fallen Journalists Memorial

Associated Press chart refers to "the news media" as singular, which is not helpful. --Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism

Most Americans think the news media are hurting democracy and driving political polarization in the United States, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. "Four in 10 say the press is doing more to hurt American democracy, while only about 2 in 10 say the press is doing more to protect it," AP reports. "Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults say the news media is increasing political polarization in this country, and just under half say they have little to no trust in the media’s ability to report the news fairly and accurately. . . . That breakdown in trust may prompt many Americans to reject the mainstream news media, often in favor of social media and unreliable websites that spread misleading claims and that can become partisan echo chambers, leading to further polarization."

AP's David Klepper adds, "The survey reveals the complicated relationship many Americans have with the media: A majority rate in-depth and investigative reporting as very helpful or extremely helpful for understanding the issues they care about, but they are more likely to say they regularly scan the headlines than read an in-depth investigative article. And while overall trust in the media is low, a majority of respondents say the media is doing at least somewhat well in covering issues they care about." The poll of 1,002 adults was conducted March 30 through April 3 using a sample from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. NORC stands for the former name of the National Opinion Research Center.

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the news media are under attack all over the world and "urged all nations to stop the targeting of truth and those who report it," AP reports. "Guterres said the collapse of the media industry, which has led to closures of local news outlets and consolidation of media 'into the hands of the few' is threatening freedom of expression." World Press Freedom Day was first proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1993.

Pew Research Center graph
"Most journalists in the United States are concerned about the future of press freedoms in the country, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of nearly 12,000 working U.S.-based journalists," Pew reports. "These concerns come at a time when the U.S. ranks 42nd in the world in press freedom, according to a 2022 analysis by Reporters Without Borders, and as some journalists face harassment or threats of arrest." The poll found that concern increases with age and with experience in journalism.

A site on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has been approved for "the capital’s first memorial dedicated to journalists who have died while reporting the news and to the role of the free press in a democracy," The Washington Post reports. The Fallen Journalists Memorial will be be built between the National Museum of the American Indian and the Voice of America building, at Independence and Maryland avenues and Third Street SW. "The site, which has a direct view of the Capitol, was chosen to evoke journalists’ role as government watchdogs," the Post reports. "The memorial is projected to open in 2028 and will cost as much as $50 million, which will be entirely funded by private donations. Officials said they have commitments to cover 40 percent of the cost so far."

Media mogul Robert Allbritton says he has committed $20 million to launch a non-profit educational newsroom that will train reporters in fact-based, non-partisan journalism on government and politics. The Allbritton Journalism Institute will offer a free, two-year fellowship, starting in September, and fellows will be paid $60,000 per year as they work with reporters and editors to produce a digital news publication launching this fall, a press release said. Allbritton, the founder of Politico, said “The path to a strong republic flows through reliable news and information, and that starts with the way journalists are recruited and trained.” AJI's executive director is Tim Grieve, the founding editor of Politico Pro and Protocol; editors include Richard Just, the former editor of The Washington Post Magazine, National Journal magazine and The New Republic. Instructors and mentors include Tim Alberta, a staff writer for The Atlantic and author of American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump. Applicants may apply on the Institute’s website, The deadline is May 31. Professional journalists interested in working with AJI should contact Grieve at

Dept. of Agriculture offers 5 virtual mental-health workshops for rural residents on five Tuesdays starting May 9

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will highlight mental health in a series of weekly workshops May 9 through June 6, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. ET each Tuesday. The series will gather farmers, ranchers, faith leaders, rural health providers, USDA employees, and federal, state and university partners to discuss mental-health challenges, stressors, and the resources and services available to address them. These meetings will be conducted virtually using A link to the workshop will be provided upon registration; contact with any questions. Click here and see below for more information and to register.

May 9: Farm Stress and Suicide Prevention: Data, Challenges, and Opportunities: This session provides context for the issue of farm stress and suicide by focusing on available data, challenges, and opportunities for farm stress researchers, practitioners, and service providers. Panelists include the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Aid, and others to discuss the state of the field and offer insights into their respective partner programs, resources, and emergent needs. Register

May 16: Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Workshop: Rural veterans experience a significantly increased risk of suicide. In this workshop, you will learn how to act with care and compassion if you encounter a veteran who is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Register

May 23; Rural Mental Health Matters: Challenges, Opportunities and Resources for Communities: This session focuses on the resources and tools that are available in rural places, where over 60% of Americans live in mental-health provider shortage areas. Speakers will examine programs focused on giving rural and frontier communities the tools they need to thrive through creative problem solving. With perspectives rooted in rural services, behavioral health, and technology, the presentations and follow-on conversation will explore the importance of increasing the efficiency of providers in rural areas and other solutions, to challenges that rural communities face to ensure community wellbeing and economic prosperity. Register

May 30: Farm Stress and Suicide: Faith, Place, and Community Health: This session provides an overview of the USDA Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and highlights the challenges faced by many Americans during Mental Health Awareness Month. A training on farm stress, health and well-being will be provided by The Well Church Initiative of Texas A&M Extension to discuss and highlight tools and resources available to faith and community-based organizations as they support their congregants and communities. Register

June 6: LGBTQ+ Mental Health in Rural Communities: This session will focus on the lived experienced of LGBTQ+ identifying folks in rural communities across the country. Discussion and dialogue will focus on mental health, the relationship to stress, and more. Register

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Lee to make most papers weeklies, under a definition that's getting archaic; be frank with readers in making the move

One of the newspaper industry's oldest conventions, that a paper is considered a weekly if it's published three or fewer times a week and a daily if it's published four or more times a week, is gradually vanishing in the age of 24/7 digital publishing.

That was driven home by the plan of Lee Enterprises, a major national chain, "to reduce the number of days it prints in most of its newspapers to three days per week," as reported by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan, a digital-only States Newsroom nonprofit that serves the state where Lee owns five dialy papers. It broke the news, based on multiple sources; Ehrlick is a former Lee employee.

"Four people who spoke to the Daily Montanan on condition of anonymity confirmed the company is planning to reduce its printing schedule in all publications, except for 20 of its largest titles," Ehrlick reports. "It’s unclear how that will affect the five newspapers in Montana." Those are the Billings Gazette, the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic, the Montana Standard in Butte and the Helena Independent Record in the state capital. "Some sources were told the change would take place this summer," Ehrlick writes. "Repeated inquiries to Lee officials at both the corporate and state levels were not returned."

Papers have been reducing print frequency for years, but the trend is accelerating, and a historic tipping point seems at hand. "Print frequency has long been a term used to understand the audience and purpose of publications," Kirsten Staples writes for Editor & Publisher, in a story with advice about how to make and manage such a change. 

John Newby (Photo via E&P)
John Newby, who operates the consultancies 360 Media Alliance and Truly-Local, told Staples, “Reducing frequency is a local decision based on local parameters. What is right for one community or market may not be the correct path in another. . . . Reducing several days can add up to quite a few dollars. But buyer beware, not all this newfound revenue will be realized if you haven't factored in the loss of subscribers. Depending on the market, this hit ranges from 2-3% to greater than 15%. Many will come back in the future, but there will be some short-term subscriber erosion.”

The top concern should be the readers, and newspapers must understand them and their needs, Newby said. "Newby recalled a time when he worked with a newspaper considering reducing its print frequency, increasing its rates and moving the publication to mail. They eventually decided it would be best to make all changes at once to avoid disrupting their readership multiple times that year."

Newby recalled, “The publisher and editor did a great job telling the public what was happening. They discussed financials, [difficulty] finding carriers, newsprint costs, market trends and much more. They treated their readers as family and conveyed the reason for the changes honestly. At the end of the day, they lost very few readers and gained a ton of respect simply by being honest with their readers upfront about the reasons for the changes. That is what actually builds your brand — honesty and transparency.”

Likewise, Newby said, savings should be used for improvements, not just used to stabilize the bottom line. “If the newly found revenue is not invested back into the product, all you have done is extract from your product, providing the reader with a less delightful reading experience," Newby said. "To survive, our industry still needs to find new revenue verticals that help sustain the news product. I don't have all the answers on that front, but I know we continue to ignore many verticals as the digital world passes us by. E-commerce, Ai, creative and revenue-producing loyalty programs ... and the list goes on.”

George Coleman, general manager of the Victoria Advocate in Texas, told Staples that when he cut print days from five to three at Tennessee's Lebanon Democrat about five years ago, “We doubled up on comics, puzzles, Dear Abby and other features we knew they would miss. As a result, the papers were larger in page count than the previous Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday papers. We still produced content every day of the week, so our subscribers had access to the most current information on our website. From an expense standpoint, the biggest loser of this move was the post office. By making this move, we did not impact our employees in any way. Furthermore, the readers received all the content they were used to receiving. Also, by printing every other day, we kept our print-only readers informed of the local obituaries, which are very important to older readers.”

Willie's 90th birthday bash covers a century of American music, whose course he changed by moving back to Texas

Willie Nelson greeted Keith Richards at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday.
(Photo by Randall Michelson of EB Media, via Los Angeles Times)
"It’s not much of an exaggeration — and yet it defies logic — to say that you could trace the history of American music’s last 100 years during the two nights of “Willie Nelson 90: Long Story Short” at the Hollywood Bowl over the weekend. Jazz, country, gospel, blues, rock, Nashville pop, Americana, even hip-hop (well, he smokes with Snoop) are all seamlessly part of Nelson’s DNA, and all were represented over the dozens of tributes paid to him as he turned 90," Mikael Wood and Erin Osmon report for the Los Angeles Times.

More than 45 artists took the stage to honor Nelson; Osmon and Wood chose 10 outstanding moments, including Roseanne Cash and 86-year-old Kris Kristofferson, who sang “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).” Sturgill Simpson "said the only reason he went to Nashville to make country records was 'because I grew up listening to country records by Willie Nelson' — records, he added, that exist 'outside of the box of what most people think country records can be.'" Other standoiuts: Beck, Chris Stapleton, George Strait, Allison Russell and Norah Jones, Lukas Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois, Sheryl Crow and Keith Richards, who joined Willie for "a beautifully crusty version of Waylon Jennings’ 'We Had It All,' which sounded about a million years old, and Billy Joe Shaver’s very aptly titled 'Live Forever.'"

In advance of the concert, Michael Granberry of the Dallas Morning News did an overview of Nelson's career, which began in rural Texas, went to Nashville for songwriting, and returned to his home state: "Willie did more than change the course of American music with his risk-taking move from Nashville to Austin. Nearly half a century after the release of "Red Headed Stranger," his legacy extends to performances in the White House. To his fans and friends, Willie is a timeless icon. He shows not a shred of shame as the country’s most alluring pot smoker. And he somehow manages to rise above political and cultural divides, appealing to young and old, rich and poor, even to the most outspoken on the left and right." Joe Nick Patoski, who wrote the 2008 biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, told Granberry that Nelson is “the single most important Texan of the 20th and the 21st century, because he not only reflects — he defines Texas culture. No single person epitomizes the qualities that make Texans different from other people and separates Texas from the rest of the world, not just the United States.”