Tuesday Roundup: Rolling Thunder

Shrinking television news stations • Remembering the visionaries of the Homestead Act • A bet on biotech at Iowa State • Rural students in Massachusetts are bettering their urban counterparts

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One of the reasons we started The Daily Yonder five years ago was that we saw that regional newspapers were no longer serving rural communities. News bureaus were being closed and circulation curtailed as daily newspapers pulled back from the countryside and concentrated in core cities.

There was simply less news coverage of rural areas. 

Now we read in The New York Times that television stations have been undergoing their own contraction. In at least 83 of the nation’s 210 television markets, stations are sharing news reporters and photographers. 

The Times story is based in San Angelo, Texas, a city of 93,000 that serves a large rural region of West Texas. There, the anchors at the CBS and NBC local stations are different, but they read similar scripts and work in side-by-side studios. News decisions are made jointly and reporters work for both stations.

“I don’t mean for this to be a criticism, but it really cuts down on competition,” said Ty Meighan, a former reporter for The San Angelo Standard-Times who is now a spokesman for the city. “Competition makes the media better.”

The stations say they simply can’t afford to hire full news teams, especially in smaller markets like San Angelo. However, these news-sharing arrangements are taking place in lots of markets, including Denver.

This collaboration has caught the eye of Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski. “It’s something we’re taking a close look at the F.C.C.” he said.

The FCC may be particularly interested in the joint selling of ads and negotiations of contracts with distributors, the Times reports.

• Good photo feature here on the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.  Rolling Thunder rides each year to raise the issue of POWs and MIAs. Good guys.

• Niels Nokkentved writes in the Boise newspaper that the designation of the spotted owl may have had some effect on the timber industry in the Northwest, but the business was declining long before the bird became an issue. 

The timber industry was shutting down on federal and private land alike, Nokkentved writes:

The owl listing became a handy scapegoat for large timber companies that already had begun to tiptoe quietly out of town. Their reckless forest practices, putting short-term profits ahead of healthy forests, resulted in loggers and mill workers losing their jobs. And the listing pitted loggers and environmentalists against each other, when they should have been allies.

One can’t help but see the parallels between the decline of the timber industry and the decline of the eastern coal business.

• The Des Moines Register editorial page recalls the 1862 Homestead Act as a vital anniversary and says that rural America “needs new visionaries like those in 1862.”

The Homestead Act, signed by President Lincoln, opened millions of acres to anyone willing to farm them. The country built a railroad from ocean to ocean that allowed farmers to get their goods to market. And the country built land grant universities to spread the latest in agricultural knowledge across the land.

Now towns built in homesteading days are dwindling and they are looking for a new start. The paper writes:

In contrast to the quick settlement of the West, the depopulation has occurred in slow motion. It began not long after the first wave of settlers arrived, and it is still happening. Some rural communities will survive, or even thrive. Others will never return to their glory days, which may have been before the turn of the 20th century. Some prairie communities will vanish altogether. The nation needs a strategy to preserve and nurture where it’s possible, or smooth the transition where it’s not possible.

The answer won’t be free land, or another railroad. But the sort of innovative research that happens at public universities can help nurture the sort of small-scale agriculture and businesses that would populate towns and fill seats in schools. And, while nothing can make up for the wrongs committed against American Indians displaced by settlement of the West, any strategy for rethinking the future of the region must include a better life for the descendants of those who first occupied these lands.

This can be done, it should be done and it would take only a fraction of the vision and optimism of the president and the Congress 150 years ago that put in motion what we see in the Midwest and West today.

• The AP reports that veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are “filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.”

The news service reports that 45 percent of the 1.6 million vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking compensation for service-related injuries. That’s twice the estimate of those who filed after the first Gulf War.

And these vets are claiming a larger number of ailments — an average of 11 to 14 compared to Vietnam vets who claim fewer than four. 

• A study finds that poor rural students in Massachusetts have improved their test scores and graduation rates more in the last ten years that poor urban students. 

Diette Courrege reports in Education Week on the study. It is worth noting that all student groups improved over the last decade (despite what we hear about the decline of American public education), but poor rural students outpaced their urban counterparts. 

• Bob Kerrey is a political rock star in Nebraska. Or, at least, he was. Now he’s an underdog, reports the Omaha newspaper. 

• Big Sky Political Analysis reminds us that if you want to find the origins of the country’s long effort to get corporate money out of politics, you need to look at Montana: 

Montana voters adopted the Corrupt Practices Act at a time when national copper mining companies (notably the Anaconda Company) were running roughshod over the state government. “Bribery of public officials,” the Montana Supreme Court explained in its ruling, “and unlimited campaign spending by the mining interests were commonplace and well-known to the public.” As most know, the state was awash in political corruption and was held hostage by the Copper Kings. Sound familiar yet?

The year was 1911.

• Iowa State University will hire more than 200 new faculty members over the next few years in an effort to expand its biotech departments and to become a center for research and manufacturing.

The Des Moines Register reports on this major research initiative. 

• House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Virginia) says the chamber will likely take up the Postal Service reform bill some time between July 4 and the August recess. 

The Senate has already passed a reform bill (which, The Hill reports, varies greatly from the current House version) and Senators are wondering why the House is dawdling. “It is irresponsible to further postpone action – creating more uncertainty, undermining confidence in the Postal Service’s future, and harming its ability to build new business,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement. 

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe also asked that the House move more quickly, saying he hoped that the President could sign a bill before the end of August.

 

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