State-mandated rural media coverage in China • Modern Farmer founder steps down • A coalition to stop the Time Warner/Comcast merger • A video game teaches about HIV • Heirloom apples in Vermont • Voting down prohibitive broadband laws in Colorado • Rural banks checking out • And more!
Chinese authorities will require media producers to spend time in rural areas as part of an effort to improve media content, reports the Los Angele Times.
The nation’s powerful media regulatory agency will send production staff from 10 films and TV shows to experience local life in mining towns, villages and other rural locales. Another initiative will send media producers to live for a month “in border and ethnic minority regions, as well as areas ‘important in China’s revolutionary background.’”
The move comes as China continues a rapid pace of urbanization.
The story doesn’t say exactly how more exposure to rural areas will improve the nation’s TV and films. But the agency’s announcement includes the ominous declaration that spending time in rural areas will help media makers “form a correct view on art.”
The decree is reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when urban intellectuals were sent to work in the countryside. Rural areas were thought to hold purer values.
Government agencies measure a lot about rural America. But they don’t quantify how philanthropy flows into (or more appropriately, doesn’t flow into) rural areas.
Rick Cohen summarizes his research on rural philanthropy over the past decade in a Nonprofit Quarterly article.
… [P]hilanthropic resources devoted to rural America have not kept up with the moneys flowing to metropolitan and suburban locales. No one should think that philanthropy is doing a bang-up job in urban areas either when it comes to issues of community development, poverty, and affordable housing, but the data, even if limited, make it clear that, just like in job creation, rural is falling behind in its access to philanthropic grants.
… Ultimately, the need is for philanthropic advocacy, but nonprofits tend to be next to petrified about the notion of organizing about philanthropy and about linking that organization with public policy. Even the nation’s strongest philanthropic advocates have receded in their willingness to pursue advocacy in the public arena concerning philanthropy. Somehow, for every aspect of society, nonprofits are willing to challenge, organize, and advocate, but when it comes to foundations, the presumption of foundations’ being on the side of the angels gives them a shield no other sector gets. Unless and until rural communities are going to be satisfied with demonstration grants, foundation conferences, and glossy books, rural philanthropy doesn’t have good prospects of increasing in the future.
The founding editor of Modern Farmer magazine, Ann Marie Gardner, has stepped down after disagreements with the magazine’s investor, Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra, reports Capital. The hip publication is decidedly glossy, even online, and has covered the convergence of interests in foodie culture and alternative agriculture .
A new coalition has formed to oppose the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. “The group, called StopMegaComcast, includes 15 public interest groups, competing pay-TV operators and other organizations that have previously come out against the deal,” reports Recode. “If regulators approve the merger, Comcast, already the country’s largest cable and Internet provider, will have a total of about 30 million subscribers.”
Rural areas generally have fewer choices in cable and Internet providers. Opponents of the merger of the cable giants say it will decrease competition. Proponents say the merger will be good for investors and consumers.
HIV infection is no game, but public-health advocates hope rural Alabama young people can learn about healthier behavior through online gaming.
NPR’s Dan Carsen covers efforts to develop an online game that will be entertaining enough to keep young people engaged and educational enough to help change risky behaviors. One test site for the game, which hasn’t been released generally yet, is Wilcox County, Alabama.
A good bit of the story describes how Ethel Johnson, a health advocate and parent, recruited parents and young people in a rural area to get involved in the project:
Using considerable hustle and her community bona fides, Johnson convinced the parents of 140 adolescents to let a stranger talk to their children — behind closed doors — about sexually transmitted diseases. The teens were divided into a dozen confidential focus groups to provide game feedback and help Enah and her team gauge the kids' knowledge of sex, drugs, and HIV.
"I knew it was a great need," Johnson explains. "They don't talk a lot about it at school. People don't like to talk … because you're being labeled as, 'Why are you interested in HIV? Are you a bisexual? Homosexual? What is going on with you?' They don't want to discuss it. And I know … that disease is big in the community. I felt the children needed to know."
It wouldn’t be fall without an NPR report on heirloom apples, so here you go. I’ve added Ezekiel Goodband’s apple orchard to the long list of reasons I want to visit Vermont. Goodband grows over 100 heirloom varieties, and they taste and look different than the apples you get in your local grocery store, according to the reporter.
One tree bears a mutant-like fruit that only a mother could love: Goodband describes this Knobbed Russet as "a tree of shrunken heads." The fruit is gnarled, warty, brown and shriveled, but — Goodband promises — it tastes great.
Not surprising that heirlooms taste better. They couldn’t taste much worse than the red delicious from the Kroger down the road from my house. They’re like balls of frozen foam mattresses, spongy and tasteless.
— Shawn Poynter
Seven Colorado counties and cities have used a provision in state legislation prohibiting the creation of municipal broadband networks to wiggle out from under the legislation. The law says municipalities can create and run an Internet service if they hold an election and a majority of voters approve. So these seven, including some small towns, did just that.
In Boulder, locals voted on whether the city should be "authorized to provide high-speed Internet services (advanced services), telecommunications services, and/or cable television services to residents, businesses, schools, libraries, nonprofit entities and other users of such services." As of late Tuesday night, the city of 100,000 people, which already owns miles of unused fiber, had approved the measure with 84 percent of the vote.
Similar overrides also passed by large margins in the towns of Yuma, Wray, Cherry Hills Village and Red Cliff and in Rio Blanco and Yuma counties, according to KUNC, a public radio station in northern Colorado.
More than 2,500 banks closed in the United States last year, most in states with a high rural population. This trend is leaving small town businesses in a hard sport.
The Baylor report notes a shift of bank branches toward urban areas and away from rural ones. "Increasingly, bank branches are headquartered in distant urban areas — and in some cases, financial ‘deserts’ exist in towns with few or no traditional financial institutions such as banks and credit unions," says the study, written by professor Charles M. Tolbert, chairman of the department of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, and Baylor sociology professor Carson Mencken.
"That means that local lending to individuals based on ‘relational’ banking — with lenders being aware of borrowers' reputation, credit history and trustworthiness in the community — has dropped," the study says.
What happens when a school system gives its students educational devices, like tablets, but the students’ lack reliable broadband access to make the most of the tools? This was the problem faced by the Piedmont City (Alabama) School District starting in 2009, when they gave smart devices to students in grades 4 through 12. KQED radio has the story of how the school overcame this obstacle.
[Matt Akin, Piedmont’s superintendent] applied for a Learning on the Go grant, part of the E-rate program that helps subsidize the cost of Internet for schools and libraries. The district used the money to contract with a vendor that partnered with the city to build a wireless network on existing fiber optic cables that weren’t being used. Then, the school district used E-rate funds to lease use of the network. But, as so often happens with pilot programs, E-rate didn’t renew the program the following year, so the district had to shoulder the costs of maintaining the network.
“The advantage is, wherever they open their computers, they’re connecting back to a network that we lease that connects not only to the Internet, but back to our network at school,” Akin said. Students can now access online homework and flipped lessons, collaborate virtually and connect with their teachers.
Finally, two quick coal stories. The first is about the EPA’s new CO2 emissions regulations. The Clean Power Plan is moving forward, on to round two of the approval process. Public commenting closed on December 1, garnering 1.6 million comments. The EPA hopes to have a final plan in place by mid-2015, but it’s expected to meet resistance from the new, more Republican, Congress that’s sworn in early next year.
Talking Points Memo has a report on coal boss Donald Blankenship, who was indicted last month for conspiring to violate safety regulations after an accident at one of his mines killed 29 miners. If convicted, Blankenship could face 31 years in prison. Most of the charges relate to accusations that he lied to federal investigators..
Blankenship, who, as the New York Times reported this week, grew up poor in West Virginia before rising to become one of the most powerful coal bosses in the United States, came to typify all the worst caricatures of ruthless industrialists. He broke unions. He dismissed federal regulations and dared inspectors to catch him in the act. He described his industry in evolutionary terms.
"It's like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest. Unions, communities, people — everybody's gonna have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society, and that capitalism, from a business standpoint, is survival of the most productive," he said in the 1980s.