Friday, May 03, 2024

Student journalists get on-the-ground training at campus protests; some were beaten and threatened with arrests

Student journalist face tough crowds and strict policing
while reporting on campus protests. (Adobe Stock photo)

Amid angry crowds of their peers and responding law enforcement, student journalists are tasked with reporting on campus protests, leaving them in an uncomfortable fray where safety isn't guaranteed. "They're immersed in the story in ways journalists for major media organizations often can't be," report David Bauder and Christine Fernando of The Associated Press. "They face dual challenges — as members of the media and students at the institutions they are covering."

Even as the crisis heated up, student journalists worked to report on it -- even when their efforts were thwarted. AP reports, ". . . a student-run radio station broadcast live as police cleared a building taken by protesters on the Columbia University campus, while other student journalists were confined to dorms and threatened with arrests."

Some student reporters learned first-hand how dangerous angry crowds can become. Bauder and Fernando report, "Ordered by police to leave the scene of a UCLA campus protest after violence broke out, Catherine Hamilton and three colleagues from the Daily Bruin suddenly found themselves surrounded by demonstrators who beat, kicked and sprayed them with a noxious chemical."

Despite the attack, Hamilton, 21, remains adamant that she will continue to report on the protests. She told AP: “While it was terrifying. . . the experience confirmed for me the importance of student journalists because we know our campus better than any outside reporter would. It has not deterred me from wanting to continue this coverage.”

Chris Mandell, a student journalist at Columbia University, was covering the story, but his reporting was stymied by law enforcement. "Even though he wore a badge identifying him as a member of the press, police ordered him and other reporters for the Columbia Daily Spectator into a dormitory," AP reports. "When he tried to open the door, Mandell said he was told he’d be arrested if he did it again."

For young journalists, this is a rough training ground. "Students [face] grappling with complicated editorial decisions for some of the first times in their careers," write Bauder and Fernando. "They confront the awkwardness of reporting on their peers and the challenge not to get swept up in emotion."

Josie Stewart, managing editor for content at Ohio State’s Lantern, told AP: "Every journalist has to balance ethical concerns, but it is more difficult when you’re staring someone in the face in class.”

Here are some of the student publications covering the protests as referenced by AP:

Gannett 'pauses' plan to return reporters to ghost papers

Associated Press file photo by Jacquelyn Martin
Most of the ghost newspapers of Gannett Co., with no or hardly any staff members, are likely to remain that way for a while, Rick Edmonds reports for The Poynter Institute.

The nation's largest newspaper company "has promised that it is working to add hundreds of new editorial positions, backfilling the many openings that were lost after a December 2022 hiring freeze, then growing further . . . the company hit the brakes on hiring for that key small newsroom position three months earlier," Edmonds reports. "According to internal communications, the 'pause' has now been rolled over through the second quarter."

Kristin Roberts, the company's chief content officer, declined Edmonds' interview request, and was not asked about the issue in the call that followed publication of the company's quarterly earnings report, which was favorable. Edmonds gives some background on the hiring initiative, which was limited to 30 markets and dubbed "I-30."

"Journalists, well paid at roughly $50,000, are being hired on one-year contracts rather than as full-time employees," Edmonds reports. "They must physically work in the target communities. Their job is to establish a local news presence in cities that have been getting only a thin trickle of hometown content. A particular emphasis . . . is creating newsletters, now a primary way in the industry to get samples of coverage to the target audience and capture email addresses of potential paid digital subscribers."

Edmonds concludes, "I’m hoping, even betting, that the I-30 program and other reinvestments resume. But for right now, the community papers have again taken their position in the back of the line for Gannett."

UPDATE, May 9: Edmonds' source of the "internal communications" has been fired for talking to him, he reports.

Companies aren't the only ones that spread the use of 'forever chemicals;' the U.S. military is also responsible

Firefighting foam was created in the 1960s.
(Adobe Stock photo)
Commercial product companies aren't the only ones to blame for PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," making their way into U.S. soil and drinking water. Through its extensive use of firefighting foam, the U.S. military has also contributed to the slowly degrading and noxious chemicals spreading across the country, reports Sachi Kitajima Mulkey of Grist. "The Department of Defense is among the nation's biggest users of firefighting foam and says 80% of active and decommissioned bases require cleanup."

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't consider any exposure to PFOA and PFOS, two of the most toxic PFAS, safe. In mid-April, the agency also "designated these two compounds' hazardous substances' under the federal Superfund law, making it easier to force polluters to shoulder the costs of cleaning them up," Mulkey explains. "Meeting these regulations means that almost all of the 715 military sites and surrounding communities under Defense Department investigation for contamination will likely require remediation."

The history of PFAS chemicals dates back to a 1930s lab accident, but their extensive commercial use in products began in the 1950s and 60s. Mulkey reports, "In the 1960s, the Defense Department worked with 3M, one of the largest manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, to develop a foam called AFFF that can extinguish high-temperature fires. The PFAS act as a surfactant, helping the material spread more quickly. By the 1970s, every military base, Navy ship, civilian airport, and fire station regularly used AFFF."

From that point, PFAS chemicals were used in everything from cookware to raincoats to carpets. It would take decades for government agencies and communities to realize that these human-made, fluorine-based chemicals were harmful to animals and humans. Once their harmfulness came to light, another set of problems evolved — how to remove the chemicals from the environment, which research has proven is both expensive and difficult to accomplish.

Today, military sites have some of the most extensive cleanup work. "Congress ordered the department to publish the findings of drinking and groundwater tests on and around bases," Mulkey reports. "Results showed nearly 50 sites with extremely high levels of contamination and hundreds more with levels above what was then the EPA's health advisory. Following further congressional pressure, the military announced plans to implement interim cleanup measures at three dozen locations."

"Nationwide, the Environmental Working Group found unsafe water in wells near 63 military bases in 29 states."

Some rural attitudes toward mental health care are improving; access and stigma remain barriers

Ranching can be isolated, lonely work.
(Adobe Stock photo)

Farmers and ranchers must deal with mental and physical stresses that other professions don't demand. When it comes to mental health checks, both groups face isolation, social stigma that discourages asking for help, and a "frontier" legacy of being able to do it all. "This 'frontier' way symbolizes a rugged and independent way of life, characterized by the ability to survive and thrive in harsh and isolated conditions," reports Mike Watkins for Progressive Farming. "This also applies to dealing with mental health issues and the attitude that no outside help is needed."

Linnea Harvey, Rural Renewal Initiative coordinator in the Department of Agricultural Education at Oklahoma State University, explains "it's a complicated mix of barriers that play into the reluctance to seek mental health services," Watkins writes. "Harvey says many of the smaller farms she has worked with didn't have hired help. The more she got to know these farmers on a personal level, the more she saw the constant stress they were under. . . .No one talked about it, but there was a lot of loneliness, depression and anxiety."

Medical providers in more remote places often offer more integrated care that begins with a primary care doctor; however, referrals to more specialized care from psychiatrists can pose a challenge. "According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it's estimated that as many as 65% of rural counties do not have psychiatrists, and more than 25 million Americans living in rural areas are in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area," Watkins reports. Getting to see a psychiatrist might mean traveling to another county or city, which some farmers or ranchers may not have the time to do.

The pandemic opened some opportunities for care that can specifically help rural individuals seeking mental health treatment, including telehealth. Watkins adds, "Still, in rural communities, which tend to be disproportionately older, people are often uncomfortable or unsure how to use the technology."

What are the signs that someone may need mental health support? Cate Jones-Hazledine, co-director of the Panhandle office of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, "believes changes in someone's behavior is a big one, as is feeling or acting angry or irritable, and changes in sleep patterns and appetite, among others," Watkins explains. "Any thoughts of suicide or self-harm should be taken seriously, and help should be sought immediately."

Overcoming the mental health stigma that many rural residents have is a work in progress. Watkins writes, "Until there is a crisis, mental health care is often not a priority for most farmers and ranchers, although changes in attitude are happening." Jones-Hazledine told him: "Kids are growing up with services available at school, and this helps reduce stigma and normalize seeking help when needed. . . .Things are improving, and more resources are becoming available."

Healthier school lunches with locally grown food is more of an option after USDA 'tweaks' standards

Schools will be able to request 'locally grown, raised or caught food' for student meals.
(Adobe Stock photo)
The Department of Agriculture recently released its long-anticipated school meal nutritional standards, including new guidelines focused on lowering sodium and limiting added sugar in students' meals. The standards also include a "small tweak [with] big implications for the increasing number of schools working to get more fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats produced by nearby farmers onto students' trays," reports Lisa Held of Civil Eats. "Starting July 1, when districts put out a call for an unprocessed or minimally processed food — whether it's tomatoes, taco meat, or tuna—they'll be able to specify that they'd like it to be 'locally grown, locally raised, or locally caught.'"

The USDA's change aims to allow schools to specifically request food from regional growers so that farmers and educational communities can work together to provide students with healthier meals produced closer to home. Held explains, "Karen Spangler, the policy director for the National Farm to School Network, said the change has long been a priority for the group because it often hears how the shift will simplify the process for school nutrition directors while also making it possible for more farmers to get involved in the first place."

Connecting school meals and area food has been a work in progress since 2010. "When Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act . . . . It was the first Child Nutrition Reauthorization to push nutrition to the forefront of school meal programs, and it included the first federal farm-to-school grants," Held writes. "Since then, the federal government has supported the efforts in additional ways, alongside numerous state incentives and grant programs as well as work done by nonprofit organizations."

Part of the local-to-school push includes making the bidding process easier for schools and local farming businesses to collaborate. Apple procurement is one example. Held reports, "If the district is confident that plenty of in-state orchards have enough Macintosh and Granny Smiths to satisfy their students' appetites, it could specify up-front that it only wants bids from in-state orchards."

While advocates for more local food are celebrating the change, some feel it is long overdue. "Previously, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) attempted to go the Congressional route to make [local food to schools] happen, introducing the Kids Eat Local Act multiple times with bipartisan support," Held writes. "But the bill never went anywhere because the overall Child Nutrition Reauthorization process is now nine years overdue. . . . Pingree plans to continue to reintroduce the bill so that it will eventually be set in law and therefore be more likely to stick."

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The bird flu, H5N1, infected dairy cows, and now fragments of the virus have been found in retail milk supplies

Most cows recover from H5N1 infections.
(Adobe Stock photo)
When remnants of the bird flu virus started showing up in U.S. retail milk supplies, dairy farmers and scientists were surprised. Now they are looking at how the virus affects cows and what its presence in drinking milk might mean for public health. "Colorado became the latest state to detect the bird flu virus spreading in dairy cattle. It follows revelations that viral fragments are turning up in retail milk," reports Will Stone for NPR. "Scientists don't view this as an immediate threat to human health. Genetic material is not the same as infectious virus, and pasteurization is expected to inactivate the virus in milk."

While the disease, also known as H5N1, is deadly to birds and some marine life, most infected dairy cows recover from bouts of bird flu. "The disease is primarily affecting older cows, which have developed symptoms that include a loss of appetite, a low-grade fever and a significant drop in milk production," report Emily Anthes and Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times. To treat infected cows, the Centers for Disease Control told farmers that "antiviral medications used against the seasonal flu would be effective against the H5N1 bird flu virus," reports Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming.

It's difficult for scientists to know how many cows were or are infected because, until recently, cows weren't considered at risk. Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, told Stone, "The fact that viral material is now being found in retail milk suggests this virus is probably spread around quite a bit." The fact that cows can have the disease but have no symptoms will make tracking its spread difficult. Stone reports, "Some unknown number of cattle could be shedding the virus without showing obvious symptoms. Federal health officials have confirmed this."

Does retail milk contains the infectious virus? "So far, it doesn't appear that way, but scientists who are studying this possibility acknowledge it's too soon to say that with absolute certainty," Stone explains. Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food microbiologist at North Carolina State University, told him, "There's evidence that the milk at one point in time may have had virus associated with it, but there is no evidence that that virus would be infectious, at least with the information we currently have."

"Jaykus and other scientists agree that finding viral material doesn't necessarily suggest an immediate threat to human health," Stone writes. "There is an important caveat though: There has been no direct research on how pasteurizing cow milk affects bird flu virus. Those studies are taking place right now."

When it comes to retail beef, the U.S. government is "collecting samples of ground beef at retail stores in states with outbreaks of bird flu in dairy cows for testing," reports Tom Polansek of Reuters. "But it remains confident the meat supply is safe. . . .The Department of Agriculture will analyze retail ground beef samples with PCR tests that indicate 'whether any viral particles are present,' and conduct two other safety studies, according to a statement. Some dairy cows are processed into ground beef when they grow old."

Union leader for mine workers says new EPA rule will put 'a nail in the coffin for coal mining'; critics vow to fight it

Cecil Roberts
A new rule by the Environmental Protection Agency could leave thousands of mine workers unemployed, say critics who have vowed to fight the change. "United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts contends newly-final federal rules on power plants represent a nail in the coffin for coal mining," reports Brad McElhinny of MetroNews, which serves West Virginia. "Under the EPA rule, coal plants that plan to stay open beyond 2039 would have to cut or capture 90% of their carbon dioxide emissions by 2032."

Roberts told McElhinny, "At first glance, however, this rule looks to set the funeral date for thermal coal mining in America for 2032 – just seven and a half years away – along with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are directly and indirectly associated with it." McElhinney reports, "EPA's rules come under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. EPA described the announcement as providing regulatory certainty as the power sector makes long-term investments in the transition to a clean energy economy."

As the EPA pushes for renewable energy, people like Roberts are skeptical that the investments and technology are ready for transition. "Roberts expressed doubt that technological innovations like carbon capture and storage are truly feasible or affordable as a way of continuing to use fossil fuels," McElhinny writes. Roberts said, "Since we don't have the technology, it looks to us as if 2032, if this rule stands as us, coal power plants couldn't operate after 2032."

The region will face more joblessness and poverty without new jobs provided through energy investments into new technology. Robert told McElhinny: "I'm not trying to pick a fight with anybody, but I'm not going to mislead anybody either. Part of the understanding was there would be jobs come to Appalachia — anywhere coal is currently being mined where power plants might close, coal mines might close — there would be good-paying union jobs to take their place. That has not happened."

Several West Virginia lawmakers and leaders have vowed to work against the new rule, including U.S. Sen.  Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Adding dental care to regular checkups is helping people with little access to dentists get needed care and referrals

Dr. Braun, left, and dental hygienist Valerie Cuzella work in tandem
to add dental care to regular medical checkups. (KFF photo)
As the number of dentists who serve low-income and Medicaid patients dwindles, primary care providers such as pediatrician Patricia Braun and her team are stretching their skills to include dental care, reports Kate Ruder of KFF Health News. "Braun is part of a trend across the United States to integrate oral health into medical checkups for children, pregnant women, and others who cannot afford or do not have easy access to dentists."

Private and federal money has financed more options for medical providers to deliver dental care during routine medical checkups. Braun and her colleagues launched their integration with help from a five-year, $6 million federal grant. The collective group "has helped train 250 primary care providers in oral health in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona," Ruder writes. "Similar projects are being funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau in Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, and New York. . . . Embedded dental hygienists become part of their practice."

Ruder reports, "Having doctors, nurses, and physician assistants who assess oral health, make referrals, and apply fluoride at community health centers is critical for the many children who lack access to dental care, said Tara Callaghan, director of operations for the Montana Primary Care Association, which represents 14 federally qualified health centers and five Urban Indian organizations."

In big, more rural and sparsely populated states, having a primary doctor address dental needs is ideal. "Because of Montana’s large geographic area and small population, recruiting dental professionals is difficult, Callaghan said. Some counties don’t have a single dentist who takes Medicaid," Ruder reports. "Montana ranks near the bottom for residents having access to fluoridated water, which can prevent cavities and strengthen teeth."

To address its lack of dentists, "Colorado enacted a law to alleviate workforce shortages by allowing dental therapists — midlevel providers who do preventive and restorative care — to practice," Ruder reports. "But Colorado does not have any schools to train or accredit them."

When smartly planned, windfarms can be adaptable, efficient and incorporate crops, a new study says

Wind turbines take up only 5% of the land.
(Adobe Stock photo)
Instead of hogging up large expanses of usable land, wind farms can "grow" among crops or infrastructure needs. "The huge structures topped with massive rotating blades only take up five percent of the land where they've been built," reports Allyson Chiu of The Washington Post. "The rest of the space can be used for other purposes, such as agriculture, according to a study published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology. . . . .This means developers could fit turbines in places that are often perceived as unsuitable for a wind farm."

Intelligent planning can help wind turbines work with the land and regional needs. Sarah Jordaan, the study's principal investigator, told Chiu, "Use of existing infrastructure, multiple use of landscapes — all these things. . . can really contribute to solutions in areas where wind power is acceptable to the local people."

The study highlighted best practices for wind farm builds. Chiu reports, "Wind farms that piggybacked on existing infrastructure, such as roads, disrupted less land and were about seven times more efficient than projects constructed from the ground up, according to the study."

While many experts agree that improving wind turbine placement and integration into surrounding land needs is helpful, wind farms will still face opposition for other reasons, including visual impact on landscapes, noise, and bird and bat deaths.

Despite challenges, many U.S. citizens "appear to support renewable energy projects, including wind turbines," Chiu writes. "A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted last year reported that large and bipartisan majorities of Americans said they wouldn't mind fields of solar panels and wind turbines being built in their community."

Americans shop around to save on groceries. While the 'one-stop shop' might be gone, one store is a favorite.

Grocery sticker shock has many consumers searching
for the best deals. (Adobe Stock photo)
Which store do bargain-shopping Americans go to for all the best prices? None. The new trend in grocery shopping is more like "stop-at-lots-of-stores" to save. "With groceries taking up the highest percentage of household budgets in 30 years, more shoppers are driving all over town in pursuit of deals," reports Rachel Wolfe of The Wall Street Journal. "Consumers bought groceries from an average of 20.7 different retailers between March 2023 and February 2024, according to data firm Numerator, up 23% from the same months between 2019 and 2020."

In addition to visiting more locations, people are using coupons from various retailers to fight costs. "Roughly two-thirds of the 8,017 American consumers surveyed by retail marketing firm Advantage Solutions this past fall said they now lean heavily on in-store coupons before or during their shopping trips," Wolfe reports. "Grocery shoppers are making 8% more trips than they did last year, says consulting firm AlixPartners, and buying fewer items at each stop."

While some food retailers are working to point shoppers toward purchasing their private label or store brands, which are generally cheaper, another retailer, Aldi, is reaping the benefits of being smaller and more affordable than its competitors. "The grocery chain known for low prices and a 25-cent deposit to access a shopping cart has emerged as an inflation winner over the past year," reports Patrick Thomas of The Wall Street Journal. "Shoppers' fatigue with soaring food prices at grocery-store chains is steering more customers toward Aldi."

Aldi's operations aim to be as lean as its pricing. With this model, Aldi's is growing. Thomas writes, "The company has been adding about 100 stores a year over the past decade and plans to roughly double that pace, adding 800 stores nationwide by the end of 2028 as part of a $9 billion expansion plan."

Despite Aldi's smaller store size and fewer shelf options, the company is a tough competitor. "Foot traffic at Aldi stores in March was up about 26% compared with the prior year and higher than the 6% increase at rival Kroger stores and the 15% uptick at Trader Joe’s, according to mobile-device location data from analytics company," Thomas reports. "The discount chain has been in the U.S. for decades, but its overall share of U.S. grocery sales is still small — about 3%. . . Privately held Aldi doesn’t report its U.S. revenue."