Thursday, July 06, 2023

Record heat around the world is scaring scientists

"A remarkable spate of historic heat is hitting the planet, raising alarm over looming extreme weather dangers — and an increasing likelihood this year will be Earth’s warmest on record," reports Scott Dance of The Washington Post. "New precedents have been set in recent weeks and months, surprising some scientists with their swift evolution: Historically warm oceans, with North Atlantic temperatures already nearing their typical annual peak; unparalleled low sea ice levels around Antarctica, where global warming impacts had, until now, been slower to appear; and the planet experiencing its warmest June ever charted, according to new data. And then, on Monday came Earth’s hottest day in at least 125,000 years. Tuesday was hotter."

It's scaring scientists, and it can't be blamed on "the onset of El Niño, the infamous climate pattern that reemerged last month," Dance writes. "the hot conditions are developing too quickly, and across more of the planet, to be explained solely by El Niño. Records are falling around the globe many months ahead of the El Niño’s peak impact, which typically hits in December and sends global temperatures soaring for months to follow."

Here are images from the Climate Reanalyzer at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute:

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Without print journalism, communities will be fragmented and uninformed, award-winning Minnesota editor says

Reed Anfinson holds a freshly printed copy of the Swift County Monitor-News. (Associated Press photo by David Goldman)
By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News, Benson, Minn.

This column is based on the speech given on acceptance of the Eugene Cervi Award at the annual meeting of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in Reno, Nevada, June 24.

There is no doubt that if print journalism disappears, so will a citizen’s focus on and knowledge of local civic news. Left to self-motivation to seek out news on the internet, many will put it aside for later, never to return to it.

Their news consumption will become infrequent, scattered to those times when they may be directly affected by the action of a council, county board, zoning committee, or school district. But then putting it aside won’t matter because it won’t exist – no one will be left covering local news.

In America, 76% of the communities are under 5,000 population – more than 14,600. These communities most likely cannot sustain a news operation based on digital revenue alone. We don’t have the views or advertising to generate anywhere near the income needed.

Despite the loss of nearly 2,500 newspapers in America, despite the loss of tens of thousands of reporters, and despite the inability of many quality internet news sites to make a profit leading them to cut staff or close, we still hear and read the overly optimistic promises of a rich journalistic internet world.

The lies are exposed in the reality of steadily declining coverage of public bodies and life in our communities. 

We’ve been told that it can be folly to “romanticize print as somehow superior to digital-only” news. We subscribe more to a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

For two decades, we’ve been promised a revolution of civic participation built on the broad, deep knowledge citizens will gain from online reporting, that it will be a participatory process where we educate one another. The reality of the past two decades has exposed the faults in this thinking.

What we have experienced is an internet world that has fractured society into warring social and political groups no longer willing agree to disagree, but viciously attacking one another. Death threats, shunning, misinformation, and ridicule are more common than harmony, compromise, and enlightenment.

Lies gain power, and the truth is harder to find. With the coming explosion of artificial intelligence software that allows anyone to craft eye-catching and reasonably sounding internet stories and videos that are entirely false or misleading, our ability to sort truth from lie will become increasingly challenging.

Print’s loss matters; the impact of its absence visible. Rather than a representative democracy strengthened by more knowledge on the internet, we find wherever a newspaper has disappeared the opposite is happening. Where a newspaper closes fewer people vote, fewer people run for office, more incumbents are re-elected, people become more rigid in their voting, sticking to one party or the other, and malfeasance in office increases.

It is visible in the empty reporter desks in newsrooms where the print product has declined as newspapers transition to digital only. What isn’t visible, at first, is the impact of the lost reporting.

Five underlying qualities of journalism give community newspapers equal standing with the government, business, and social powers that make up a community:
  • Survey after survey shows that the local community newspaper is the most trusted news source. We are trusted because people know us and feel they can give us direct feedback if they think we are unfair or slanted in the news we write.
  • Our financial strength, now significantly weakened, gave us the resources to challenge power when it would frustrate the public’s right to know. Individuals lack the interest and finances to challenge government officials and attorneys.
  • We show up – day after day, month after month, year after year. The public officials know that we will write stories about their actions or inaction at every meeting. We will follow up, reminding citizens of past successes and misdeeds.
  • Our knowledge of the laws that govern public officials, such as the Minnesota Open Meeting law, ensures transparency and accountability. Citizens lack this knowledge allowing them to be deceived in their efforts to attend meetings or gather public information.
  • Perhaps our most powerful attribute today is our physical presence.  Newspapers have a deep reach among citizens in their communities. Elected leaders know that a story printed in the newspaper will circulate throughout the towns and rural areas. It is found on the store counter, around the house, in the library, and in the café every day of the week – its headlines, advertising, and photos catch your eye. Headlines in print reach out to everyone who passes by. People who don’t subscribe still see what is happening in their community at no charge. Without the print newspaper, many would never see those headlines or stories.
Nothing replaces the community newspaper’s ability to hold those in power accountable. But as our financial strength, staff with knowledge of laws protecting citizen rights, persistent coverage, and physical presence erode, American representative democracy is weakened.

As they have lost print subscribers and advertising dollars, some newspapers increasingly focus on their digital products. They put up paywalls and, in the process, exclude most of their local residents from the news of their community.

If the news that binds us together in common purpose is gone, if the stories we share about our fellow citizens disappear, our sense of community weakens. When we don’t feel shared responsibility, the vital work that improves our schools, healthcare, public safety, recreational facilities, and cultural experiences fades. These aren’t exaggerations; they are realities based on what happens in communities that lost their newspaper.

At 95% of the public meetings we cover, we are the only person in the room who isn’t an elected official or staff. Though there is an online link to the meeting, no one tunes in. Without a community journalist in the room, the stories of your local government won’t be told.

A newspaper’s physical presence is a constant reminder that there is news you should be paying attention to in your community.

When you sit down with a print newspaper, you are more focused than you are online, where you suddenly find yourself on social media, shopping, or skimming sites for entertainment.

Print is patient. It is present. It is a physical reminder of community. It is community pride and spirit. Online, it loses those unique qualities that unite us with a common identity. Print is local.

Newspapers are a public good that deserves public support. Urge your members of Congress and the Minnesota Legislature to support legislation that helps finance their future.

Calif. law giving sows more room takes effect; state delays enforcement until Jan. 1; U.S. pork industry must adjust

Piglets and a sow in a farrowing crate on a farm in Walsh, Illinois, that meets
California’s new standards. 
(Photo by Jeff Roberson, The Associated Press)
"It seemed for a while that California’s controversial pork law would take effect only when pigs fly," but went into effect Saturday, July 1, and will have an impact far beyond the state's borders, reports Noah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times.

Now, pork sold in California must have come from pigs raised in farrowing crates that have at least 24 square feet of floor space, "allowing them to fully turn around in their living area," Goldberg notes. The law, passed in a 2018 referendum and cleared May 11 by the U.S. Supreme Court, "targeted the practice among some farmers of keeping sows in cramped stalls separate from other pigs. . . . While the law went into effect Saturday, the state allowed for pork killed before that date to be sold in California through the end of the year."

As the court case proceeded, the Biden administration sided with pork producers, who "argued that California, which consumes around 15% of pork nationwide but only produces a marginal amount, should not be allowed to dictate the rules of pig farming to farmers outside of the state. Opponents of the law said it would be a massive burden on producers and that the costs of the changes would be passed on to consumers." They also warned of a slippery slope in regulation of animal agriculture.

Labor Department proposes rule to give miners same protection against silica dust as those in other industries

After decades of delay, federal regualators have proposed to limit the exposure of miners to silica dust to the same limits that apply to workers in other industres. Silica dust, produced from sandstone, has been linked to "the rising death toll from lung disease among mining industry workers," West Virginia's Mountain State Spotlight reports.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the Labor Departmentannounced the proposal Friday. Before it can take effect, it must be published in the Federal Register and MSHA must hold public hearings. It says those will be held in Arlington, Va., and Denver, but did not announce dates.

The change would reduce the exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air from 100. “This is a good day for miners, although it has been a long time coming,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts. "Just two weeks ago, the UMWA had noted that MSHA under the Biden administration had not yet proposed a new silica dust rule in a statement announcing that the union was not ready to make an endorsement in the 2024 presidential race," Mountain State Spotlight notes.

"In 2018, a landmark investigation by NPR and PBS Frontline focused on the impact of silica dust on a resurgence in deadly lung disease among miners. A 2020 inspector general’s report also criticized MSHA’s inaction on the issue," Mountain State Spotlight notes. The increases were especially large in Central Appalachia, where the depletion of thick coal seams and reliance on thinner ones has led to more generation of silica dust from sandstone that lies next to coal seams.

"The National Mining Association criticized the proposal, because MSHA would allow personal respiratory protection equipment in limited situations, but not as the central compliance tool," Mountain State Spotlight reports.

DEA chief says U.S. needs laws to keep social-media platforms from being used to promote and sell fentanyl

CDC graph shows large increases in deaths from fentanyl; click on it to enlarge.
The U.S. needs laws to force social-media companies to keep their platforms from being used to promote and sell fentanyl, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said on NBC's “Meet The Press” Sunday, in a program that was devoted entirely to the drug and the problems it is causing, such as overdoses.

“The border’s an important part of this conversation because most of the fentanyl that we see coming into the United States is coming in through the southwest border,” Milgram said, but “Social media is also a vital part of the conversation. It is what I call the last mile. Because what the cartels need – they’re selling the deadliest poison we’ve ever seen – they need that to … be able to expand and sell more, they need to be able to reach people at massive rates. And that’s what social media’s doing,” The Daily Wire reports.

Host Chuck Todd asked Milgram asked if social-media companies were cooperating with federal law enforcement in trying to fix the problem. She said, “We have not, until recently, gotten nearly as much cooperation as we need. . . . The deputy attorney general convened all of us in April of this year and made it very clear, number one, that the companies have to comply with their own terms of service, which say, ‘This is illegal. You cannot be selling fake pills. You cannot be selling drugs on social media websites’.”

Milgam also said law enforcement needs to be able to get information from social-media companies. Asked if there was something the DEA does not have that Congress could give them that would help them address the issue, she said, “So we talk a lot with Congress about social media. We talk a lot about the need for these platforms – essentially, one of the main ways we see Americans dying right now is through social media, the purchase of pills, fake pills on social media. So, again, if we’re after, how do we stop 110,000 Americans from dying?” She said Congress was “a place to start.”

Monday, July 03, 2023

Rural Blog will go into low gear as free National Summit on Journalism in Rural America nears; register by tomorrow!

It's a vacation week for many Americans, and The Rural Blog will be in low gear for the rest of the week, but not because we're on vacation. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will be busy preparing for our third National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, to be held in Lexington, Ky., and online this Friday. It's FREE, but registration is required, and tomorrow is the deadline; to register, click here.

The summit will pose the question we asked at the second summit last year: How can rural communities sustain local journalism that supports democracy? Top researchers will present their latest findings about rural jouralism, and Joey Young, the Kansas weekly publisher involved in a rare piece of interventional research about alternative revenue, will recount his ongoing experiences. Jeremy Gulban of CherryRoad Media, the buyer of many ghost newspapers from Gannett Co. will discuss his efforts to revive them, and we will hear from four women with digital startups competing against Ganett and other major chains.

Philanthropic support is becoming a key element in newspapers' revenue mix, and Knight Foundation journalism officer Duc Luu will moderate a panel on philanthropy for local news. Editors of The Daily Yonder and the Rural News Network will discuss their national news sites, and journalists in the Solutions Journalism Network will discuss how to do projects that help solve local problems. Anna Brugmann of the Rebuild Local News Coalition will discuss its efforts to change state policies to help local journalism, and three college professors will discuss how they and their students are filling local news gaps.

And that's not all! The rest of the program, and speakier biographies, are here. Join us!

SNAP benefits' work rules may leave some rural residents struggling; waivers exist but not all governors can/do apply

Rural regions can have too many people and not enough jobs, so some residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits may struggle to meet the newly reinstated federal work requirements. "Able-bodied adults without dependents must work 80 hours or more per month to continue receiving benefits through SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. The Trump administration suspended the requirement at the start of the pandemic, and the old requirements resumed in May," reports Sarah Melotte of The Daily Yonder. Rural areas "on average have fewer jobs, greater transportation needs, and less broadband access. . . . . Rural America still doesn't have as many jobs as it did before Covid-19."

There are no SNAP work requirements for "able-bodied people without dependents between the ages of 18 and 50" for the first 90 days, Melotte explains. After that, "people have to work at least 20 hours per week to continue receiving benefits. . . . But for the recipients who live in places with insufficient jobs, that's easier said than done. A 2022 survey of 25,000 American adults found that the most common reason people are unemployed is because of job availability. Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents said that there were no jobs that were good fits in terms of geography, wages, or hours of employment."

The Department of Labor maintains a list of Labor Surplus Areas, "or places where there are not enough jobs for the working age population," Melotte writes. "Researchers and federal agencies can use the list. . . to identify where federal funding should be emphasized. . . . . States can apply for waivers from the federal government to eliminate the SNAP time constraints in areas with insufficient employment. . . . [When] governors make the waiver requests, and they will often use the LSA list to justify the need. . . . The Food and Nutrition Service can then exempt those areas. That means people who live in LSAs can remain on SNAP for longer. . . regardless of whether they meet employment requirements." Some state laws prohibit waiver requests and governors are not required to ask for one. Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, told Melotte, "Many states did a good job of using area waivers. But several states, mainly in the Southeast, chose not to use the area waivers."

For example, East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, "is a rural LSA in the Mississippi Delta. In 2021, 30% of households were receiving SNAP benefits, compared to only 14% of the total rural population, according to recent estimates. . . . Mississippi prohibits work requirements waivers based on job availability. Twenty-four percent of Mississippi households in a county with an LSA received SNAP benefits in 2021. Over 160,000 people live in an LSA in Mississippi, but if they are of working age and without dependents, they still have to meet work requirements to continue getting benefits." Vollinger told Melotte: "It's a really harsh and arbitrary provision."

News-media roundup: E&P publisher says people with good ideas about preserving journalism need to work together

Mike Blinder cites Benjamin Franklin's 1754 political cartoon.
Editor & Publisher
Publisher Mike Blinder has an Independence-themed editorial suggesting that people who are trying to sustain local journalism need to learn the lesson of the American colonies and unite their efforts: "In the past 24 months, we have reported on over 10 separate national, non-profit associations that seek dollars from members and funders, all with good ideas but not working in concert. And within the same time period, we have reported on five separate initiatives to define what truth in journalism is and how we can help reassure our readers that they are getting only accurate and truthful information in an unbiased, even-handed, and impartial manner. Plus, as third-party data moves in new directions with a radical change in the programmatic world, how are we poised to sell our aggregated, critical inventory at its highest value? And meanwhile, we keep losing so many battles on state and national levels when it comes to advocating for necessary legislation to help us maintain a competitive business model. So why is our industry so hard to unite while others seem to have no trouble working together to advance their common interests?"

Lee Enterprises
has sold three newspapers south of St. Louis to Greg Hoskins’ Better Newspapers: the Park Hills Daily Journal, the Fredericktown Democrat News and the Farmington Press and Advantage. Hoskins said he would return local autonomy to each paper and build a printing plant in Park Hills. Hoskins' company, based in Mascoutah, Ill., has 39 publications in Illinois and Missouri, six radio stations and a printing plant in Altamont, Ill.
Map shows the three towns involved. To enlarge, click on it.

Natalie Perkins (right), editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork, Miss., receives the President's Award from Mississippi Press Association President Stephanie Patton at the group's recent convention. Perkins, who also serves as assistant manager of the Sharkey County Emergency Management Agency, was feted for her work following an EF-4 tornado that devastated the community. The Pilot kept publishing on schedule.

The Hickman County Times of Centerville, Tenn., ran a photo of the county mayor and U.S. Sen Marsha Blackburn after she came to town, but told readers that didn't cover the meeting she held with "a dozen or so local leaders" because "Her spokesman invited the editor of this newspaper to attend on the condition that all comments in the session would be of the record. The editor declined to attend, and declined to meet with the senator after the closed meeting." Blackburn closed her last meeting in the county, too, the weekly reports.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

CBS spotlights Charleston newspaper's award-winning collaborations with smaller papers in South Carolina

Owner Pierre Manigault talks with Ted Koppel. (CBS image)
At a time when the nation is losing two newspapers a week, "Some papers are finding a new way forward," host Jane Pauley said in introducing special correspondent Ted Koppel's report on "CBS Sunday Morning" about The Post and Courier's award-winning collaborations with smaller newspapers in South Carolina.

Fourth-generation owner “Pierre Manigault is bucking the trend, hiring more staff, expanding digitally across the state and investing heavily, of all things in a state-of-the-art printing press,” Koppel reports. Manigault acknowledged that he's no longer publishing to make money, but to serve Charleston -- and the rest of South Carolina, where 10 papers stopped in the pandemic year of 2020: “It’s important to have not just a newspaper, but a very good newspaper.”

When The Post and Courier appealed to readers for donations to support its investigative journalism in 2020, it set a goal to get $100,000 in 100 days, but $500,000 came in. The total so far is $1.7 million. Special Projects Editor Glenn Smith and lead project reporter Tony Bartelme thought some of it could be used “to collaborate to everyone’s mutual benefit” around the state, Koppel reports.

Travis Jenkins speaks with Ted Koppel. (CBS image)
The first paper they approached was the Chester News and Reporter, edited by Travis Jenkins, who told Koppel, "We kind of pride ourselves on doing more deep-dig, heavy-lift investigative pieces that a lot of papers our size aren't able to do anymore: when a county supervisor's indicted for trafficking meth, the sheriff is indicted and removed on corruption charges, a councilman is removed from office by a judge for having a past criminal record he didn't disclose." Asked how he and reporter Brian Garner have time to do that, Jenkins replied, "It's difficult."

Enter The Post and Courier, which shared with Jenkins its investigation that led to the sheriff's indictment. The papers began collaborating, and “The pieces we shared were so much better for the collaboration,” Smith told Koppel. "I don't know some of these towns. I don't know anything about them. But these people do. Then why don't you take the best of both worlds, put 'em together? We all get good content, raise the alarm and hopefully make our state a better place." Bartelme said the project has been "a cululative effort that creates that culture of deterrence that prvents future misconduct."

Barbara Ball edits and delivers her newspaper. (CBS image)
The other example in Koppel's report is The Voice of Blythewood, owned by Barbara Ball. When school officials tried to charge her $300 for the superintendent's spending records, The Post and Courier offered to pay, and "They ended up just giving it to us when we got behind her," Smith said. "And got a really good story out of it." Ball said having a story on the Charleston paper's front page "substantitated that we're a good newspaper, that we turn out good work."

And her readers appreciate it. “I will get checks from people; I’ve gotten a thousand dollars,” Ball told Koppel. “I think most people realize that we don’t make a lot of money.”

The Post and Courier received a National Headliner Award for "Undercover," its collaborative series with 18 other papers that exposed government corruption and misconduct, but not everyone likes aggressive local newspapers. Jenkins recalled a note written by a reader who refused to subscribe, saying the News and Reporter was "the most up-in-everybody’s-bleeping-business bleeping newspaper I've ever seen." Jenkins said, "That's the best compliment anybody's ever paid us."

Manigault told Koppel that with advertising largely gone, “You have to go back to what the roots of journalism are, and that's content and information that people can't get anywhere else. . . . I think there’s a second life for newspapers. I think we'll survive this. It's an evolution. Newspapers just need to evolve to the new digital world and I think we're well on the way to doing that.”