Friday, April 18, 2014

04/18/2014 at 5:29am

A few of the front pages that editors of weekly newspapers emailed to the Newseum on Thursday. More than 130 newspapers submitted copies, leading to the reversal of the museum's policy of featuring only dailies (or former dailies) in its display of front pages. The images are from the Twitter feed, #frontpageblitz.

No statues were toppled and no public squares were occupied, but yesterday there was a revolution of a sort, this one staged by rural weekly newspaper editors from across the U.S.

The powers-that-be confronted by a band of mom-and-pop newspapers were holed up in the Newseum, the richly funded museum of the news industry in Washington, D.C. Every day, the Newseum collects pictures of front pages from over 900 newspapers around the country and the world. All of the papers in the display are metropolitan dailies, however. There were no rural weeklies

Until yesterday.

A few weeks ago, some weekly publishers and editors began to wonder why the Newseum didn’t include rural weeklies in its “Today’s Front Pages” exhibit. They began talking to each other through an Internet listserv set up by Al Cross at the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The Newseum wasn’t exactly welcoming weeklies, so the rural journalists — members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors — decided to make a point.

The editors all agreed to send their front pages to the Newseum on a single day. Yesterday.

“We are doing this because the Newseum has a terrible record on the topic of community journalism,” Chad Stebbins, executive director of the ISWNE, told Cross’ Rural Blog. The action even had a name, the Front Page Blitz and a Twitter address #frontpageblitz.

The initial reaction from the Newseum was barely polite. “We are not taking weekly publications at this time, however, I will hold on to your information in case our mandate ever changes,” wrote the Newseum’s Frank Mitchell at 8:31 A.M. (East Coast time), just 10 minutes after Missy Layfield, editor of the Island Sand Paper in Fort Myers, Florida, emailed her front page to Washington, D.C.

That didn’t stop others, who continued to sling their front pages against the walls of the Newseum.

And the editors wrote. Here is the note Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, Minnesota, attached to his front page:

For 10 years I served on the National Newspaper Association board of directors and was its president in 2011-12. Each year when we would come to Washington, DC, for our annual Government Affairs Conference, I would browse the newspapers on display along the sidewalk in front of the Newseum – one of many who would pause to view what was going on in the world and nation that day. It was a stop I always made after spending a day with my US Senators and Representative on The Hill talking about issues important to newspapers.

 However, it was always a disappointment to see how little, if any, focus there was on community journalism outside the major metropolitan cities. It was also discouraging to see how little credit was given to the role community newspapers play in this country’s history inside among the Newseum’s many displays.

 We would hope that the Newseum would reconsider this slight to community newspapers , and the historical and invaluable role we play in this nation’s Democracy.

04/17/2014 at 5:39am

The Mountain Eagle In this photo from the late 1960s, Pat Gish, left, folds papers with her daughter Sarah. Husband Tom and son Ben are in the background. The photo ran in the Mountain Eagle this week, along with a story about Pat.  

In the mid-1970’s I was making $78 a week as one of the editors of a literary magazine, Mountain Review. A filmmaker named Allida Herrick offered me half of her second job, driving the Mountain Eagle, Whitesburg’s weekly paper, to the printer. That was another 40 bucks every other Wednesday. Groceries and/or beer.

The Mountain Eagle was famous. It had already won the John Peter Zenger Award for Freedom of the Press. The New York Times had won for the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post for Watergate, and the Eagle next for pluck. The downtown office had been burned to the ground by cops after reports on police abuse and local corruption. The paper then moved up to what was once a hardware store on Tunnel Hill, the quarters made even tighter by stacks of newspapers and months of Congressional Records that shaped a makeshift anteroom.

That’s where I sat, because it was rare that the paper was put to bed by the time it was supposed to hit the road. I loved that waiting part. Tom and Pat Gish would preside over the last-minute business of finishing the make-up, getting stories and ads to fit. And I would read through those Congressional Records and crack wise trying to get a grin out of the more taciturn Tom at his desk or acknowledgement from Pat, who was the impresario giving directions and making last minute changes. She had both a knowing smile and a winning laugh. That I strived for. Then with a nod toward fatalism, she would entrust me and the camera-ready proof sheets to their weathered station wagon. Each time she told me in detail about the shortcut past Pyramid and David that saved 15 minutes to Prestonsburg. And each time I flew passing overloaded coal trucks on nearly straight stretches, switching back and forth between the two cassettes in the front seat, the Eagles “On the Border” and Dicky Betts “Highway Call.” That was good work.

04/16/2014 at 11:36am

Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters Citizen protesters gather at the BLM’s base camp, where Cliven Bundy's cattle were being held.

The rural story of the week seems to be the armed stand-off between the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy refuses to recognize the authority of the BLM to impose grazing fees, he says, because his herd has been eating off those acres since before agency existed. So, unlike other ranchers in the area, he stopped paying. Bundy now owes the government over $1 million in fees and penalties.

If Bundy’s reasoning somehow holds up under scrutiny, I’ll have to change my tactics when dealing with meter maids. “I’m sorry, officer, I would pay the fee but I’ve been parking my car here since long before there were meters.”

- Shawn Poynter


Mourners will gather Thursday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to refute the proverb that a prophet is not without honor except in her home town.

Pat Gish, part of the team that published the nationally recognized weekly newspaper The Mountain Eagle, will be memorialized at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church 1 p.m. Thursday. Gish died Sunday at the age of 87.

Pat Gish and her husband, Tom, who died in 2008, published the Eagle for more than half a century, taking on government corruption and revealing the ravages of strip mining, while at the same time printing school menus and civic-club news.

At Tom’s 2008 memorial, the minister spoke of the difficulties Tom faced locally because of the way the paper took on some local leaders and questioned the power of the coal industry. The minister used the proverb about “a prophet in his own land” to explain Tom’s important and complex role in Letcher County.

It’s true that Pat and Tom weren’t always honored locally, especially by corrupt politicians, coal bosses and the people who depended on those folks for their daily bread. It’s also true that the Gish’s brand of journalism was prophetic, especially when you look at how their concerns about the environmental and political consequences of coal mining have played out.

04/16/2014 at 5:50am

ABC News produced this report with the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) on the role of Johns Hopkins doctors in refuting miners' black-lung claims. CPI won a Pulitzer Prize this week for their series on black lung.

I have mixed emotions over the Center for Public Integrity’s winning of their first Pulitzer Prize for the investigative report by Chris Hamby on black lung. 

The series focused on the southern West Virginia coalfields and miners who are suffering and dying from black lung, while the top lawyers, doctors, coal operators and hospitals are paying big bucks to each other to defeat these sick and voiceless miners and their families.

The people of the southern West Virginia coalfields owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Hamby, the Center for Public Integrity, ABC News and others for taking on what no one inside the region has been able to do – tell the world that the Appalachian coalfields are corrupt.

Workers like black lung attorney John Cline of Piney View, West Virginia, Dr. Donald Rasmussen of Beckley and many others have worked tirelessly to help these miners suffering from black lung in the face of this powerful and corrupt opposition. 

04/15/2014 at 6:39am

Bureau of Labor Statistics/Daily YonderThe map shows change in unemployment rates for nonmetro counties from February 2013 to February 2014. Green and blue counties improved. Red and orange counties worsened. Metro counties are gray. Click the map for an interactive version.

Unemployment in rural America ticked up between January and February of this year, with the nation’s least populated counties experiencing the worst jobless rates, according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment in noncore counties (the most rural) climbed from 7.9% in January to 8.6% in February.

Micropolitan counties (those with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 residents) saw their unemployment rates rise from 7.4% in January to 8% in February.

The unemployment rate in metropolitan counties (those around cities of 50,000 residents and up) increased from 6.9% to 7.4%.

During the early years of the recession, which began in late 2007, rural areas often had lower unemployment rates than cities. In the last few years, however, unemployment rates in rural America have surpassed those in metropolitan counties.

In February of this year, the unemployment rate in the noncore counties was more than a full percentage point higher than in metro counties — 8.6% compared to 7.4%.

In the last year, the unemployment rate in these counties has barely budged, dropping from 8.9% last February to only 8.6% this February.

04/14/2014 at 12:51pm

Photo by Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg Construction has begun on the nation's priciest coal plant near Meridian, Mississippi.

Mississippi is betting on a new way to process coal, and they’re betting big. Huge, in fact. Construction is underway for the costliest power plant ever built in the U.S. Way over its initial $1.8 billion, the new estimate for the completed project is $5.8 billion. That’s $6,800/kilowatt compared to $1,000/kilowatt for a natural gas burning plant.

The builders of the plant, the Southern Company, say it will use cutting edge technology to extract nitrogen and hydrogen, which will then be burned to produce low-cost electricity. Skeptics say the technology won’t work and point to the fact that natural gas is already a low-cost power solution.


One hundred thirty-eight oil and gas workers died on the job in 2012. Yet requiring additional federal work-safety regulations would be “like prescribing painkillers for a paper cut,” says an Oklahoma City oil executive.

Oil and gas wells are exempt from “process safety management standards,” which the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration applies to other industries. Oil field deaths reached a 10-year high in 2012 as production increased.

Oil and gas extraction workers have a fatality rate of 24.2 per 100,000 workers. That’s 1400% higher than the chemical manufacturing death rate of 1.7, according to data from Texas A&M.

OSHA tried to expand worker safety of oil and gas workers in the 1990s but backed down. The agency is looking at its rules again.

The Houston Chronicle reports that more than a dozen oil companies and trade groups oppose the proposed rule changes.

04/14/2014 at 6:07am

Leaders of Montrose, Colorado, a city of 19,000 on the Western Slope, think their economic future is tied to faster Internet connections. Colorado law required citizens to vote in support of municipal participation in broadband buildout.

My little San Juan Mountains town in western Colorado on April Fool’s Day voted by an overwhelming 74% to reclaim the right to provide our own broadband, cable, phone and other telecommunication services.

In 2005 that right was taken away by corporate Internet giant lobbyists who persuaded the state legislators it would be unfair competition to allow rural areas like mine to provide their own gigabit Internet speeds if the giants refused to do so.

Supporters are already dreaming that tech savvy-young ones who develop Apple and Google apps and like to kayak, mountain climb, bike, hike, ski and live in safe, livable small cities will start a migration to Montrose. The city’s ambition is that every business and premises in the city will have the broadband capacity of Chattanooga and the dozen cities that are getting the same capacity through Google Fiber.

Montrose, a city of 19,000 about 65 miles from the Utah border, is a typically conservative rural area, overwhelmingly Republican but with a populist bent. Like all of the Western Slope of the state, it is not participating in the robust economic recovery seen in the Front Slope cities of Denver, Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs.

Internet service here is currently a hodgepodge. Some of us depend on broadcast towers, some on DSL from CenturyLink and some on cable service from Charter. Service is generally at less than 10MB. It’s expensive, and customer service is erratic.