A year ago, Smantha Swindler was buying a pistol because she feared that the stories she was writing about an Eastern Kentucky sheriff put her in danger. Today, Swindler has a new job out west and a ton of press coverage after she won the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage in rural journalism, an award given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community issues.
You can read about her exploits in the American Journalism Review, here. We like the first person account Swindler wrote in the Nieman Reports. Here’s a taste of what it was like being a good reporter in Corbin, Kentucky:
I went to Bud’s Gun Shop to pick out a pistol because, quite frankly, I thought my reporting might get me killed. It was January 2010, and for the past month, the newspaper I worked for, the Times-Tribune in Corbin, Kentucky, had been running an investigative series on evidence and money missing from and a lack of prosecutions by the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.
Anyone who knew then-Sheriff Lawrence Hodge and the recent history of Whitley County would know this purchase wasn’t an overreaction. Since I had moved to Corbin to edit the paper in August 2006, I had seen cops and elected officials arrested on charges related to drugs, vote buying, the theft of public funds, and violent retaliation. It is not unexpected that a political term ends in an arrest.
When I bought the gun, I was thinking about the 2007 murder of the recently fired road supervisor in adjoining Laurel County. In the days before his death, he told me things were “not right” in the department, and several sources said he was ready to start talking. But before I got a chance to interview him, he was shot through a window at his house and killed.
No one was ever charged.
That sort of thing happens around there. And for a while after we started reporting on Hodge, I wouldn’t sleep near a window.
• The New York Times Sunday has a sad story about homeowners in Phoenix who are painting their grass green. Instead of pouring the water to lawns, folks are just going straight to the pigment.
It costs about $200 to put a vegetable-based dye on an average lawn. Lawn painting perked up during the housing bust when real estate agents were looking for cheap ways to give an abandoned house in the middle of a recession “curb appeal,” as if that’s possible.
Anyway, file this under “urban insanity.”
•Tobacco sustained thousands of small farms for generations. There was no tobacco subsidy. There was a limit on production, however, that kept prices high enough to sustain producers.
Those limits were removed in 2004 and burley tobacco production has dropped ever since. Farmers are growing leaf under contract with the companies and they are finding there is no profit in the system. So they are quitting, reports Bruce Schreiner with AP.
• There’s a worry that building an infrastructure geared toward ethanol will stifle other kinds of biofuels, reports Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register.
• Elevated levels of formaldehyde in trailers supplied to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina are bad for you, reports the National Research Council, just not quite as bad as the federal Environmental Protection Agency has said.
The NRC reviewed the EPA’s findings at the request of Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican. The NRC found that elevated levels of formaldehyde can irritate the nose and throat. It can create lesions in the respiratory tract and mutate genes. It can cause cancer and leukemia.
However, the NRC says there is not convincing evidence showing a relationship between the chemical and damage to the nervous system or reproductive problems.
Sen. Vitter said the findings showed “serious shortcomings” in the EPA’s work. Those living in the trailers may not feel much relieved.
• Five years ago, Congress required mines to install high-tech systems for communicating between the mine face and the surface. Today, 64% of more than 500 coal mines don’t have the equipment required years ago.
• Rick Cohen has a great rundown on the puny attention paid to rural communities by the nation’s philanthropic community.
Cohen has shown (in the Daily Yonder) that grants for rural development are in decline. Now he takes on the Council on Foundations, which has essentially said that rural communities need to start their own foundations. It would be easy, the COF says. All rural communities have to do is to tap the “massive” intergenerational transfer of wealth that will come.