Rural journalism

New federal policies may bring big changes to communities

Big changes in Washington will mean big changes in your county, and we’ve been covering them on The Rural Blog.

President Donald Trump’s pledge to deport undocumented workers could lead to a labor shortage in agriculture, in which an estimated 16 percent of the work is done by people who are in the U.S. illegally, The Associated Press and CNN reported.

That’s just one farm-and-food issue that could spark disputes among Trump and other Republicans, NPR reported. Those include breaking nutrition legislation out of the Farm Bill, the bill’s conservation-compliance rules, regulation of confined animal feeding operations and protection of bees and other pollinators.

Trump has talked about an Obamacare replacement that would allow insurance companies to sell across state lines, but that’s more complicated than it sounds, and it might be bad for rural buyers, Jackie Farwell reported for the Bangor Daily News.

Repeal of Obamacare could also quash a program that is penalizing 769 hospitals this year for shortcomings on patient safety, Trudy Lieberman wrote for the Rural Health News Service at Our blog item linked to the list of penalized hospitals.

More importantly, depending on the replacement, repeal could hurt or kill struggling rural hospitals, many in areas that Trump carried, Kaiser Health News reported, and we excerpted it at

Kaiser’s main example was a hospital in Pennsylvania, a state that just started a pilot project to pay six rural hospitals a set amount each month instead of reimbursing them for federally covered care, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Trump’s key landslide in rural areas, and major news outlets’ failure to anticipate it and its effect on the election, prompted The Washington Post to add a reporter who will focus on the divides between rural and urban Americans. Jose DelReal, Alaska native and Harvard grad, might appreciate some competitive help from rural papers; read about his assignment at

One last Trump note: Jim Stasiowski is known among community journalists for his column on newspaper writing, but his latest effort warned that Trump’s success could prompt local candidates who use the “Trump approach of loud, bold, insulting statements to gain early attention for an otherwise long-shot campaign.”

Drug abuse: Why is opioid addiction so rampant in rural areas? A story by Luke Runyon of Wichita Public Radio suggested that rural areas are the perfect breeding ground for opioid addiction. We paired it with a New York Times county-by-county map showing drug-overdose rates at

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 255 counties, mostly rural, that are the most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C from intravenous drug use. Many local officials have resisted establishing syringe exchanges as a way of heading off such outbreaks, but in several counties, they have changed their minds, reports Mary Meehan of Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional journalism collaborative of public broadcasters in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. In Kentucky, which has many “dry” counties, a study of meth-lab discoveries boosted the case that drug use is less prevalent in areas where alcohol sales are legal.

Drug use is discouraging economic development in some rural and micropolitan counties because too many prospective employees can’t pass a drug test. The Washington Post reported on that phenomenon in a story about how U.S. manufacturing has changed.

Newspapers: The Rural Blog is also about journalism and community newspapers, which are threatened in most states by local officials’ efforts to get legislatures to slash public-notice laws. The Public Notice Resource Center noted how the Georgetown (Ky.) News-Graphic presents public notices like news stories on a special page “designed to capture readers’ attention and promote the kind of serendipity that distinguishes newsprint from electronic formats.” We picked it up at

You may have seen the New York Times story about the Enid (Okla.) News & Eagle catching hell from readers and some advertisers for endorsing Hillary Clinton; we picked it up at

The rise of fake news has proven, that now more than ever, quality reporting is essential to keep people informed, especially in smaller communities. That was a key point of an article that longtime journalist Kathy Kiely wrote for (Bill) Moyers & Co., citing some local news startups:

The editor-publisher of the paper judged the state’s best weekly for the last nine years became president of the Kentucky Press Association and immediately challenged his colleagues to do better. We wrote it up at

Potpourri: One of the most republished or adapted Rural Blog items recently was one about a New York Times analysis of TV-show followers, with a neat map. It showed that television, which once unified American culture, now defines its divisions:

Portable Wi-Fi devices at libraries allow patrons to “borrow the Internet,” the Daily Yonder reported.

Rural liberal-arts colleges are fighting enrollment losses by improving connections with their communities, The Wall Street Journal reported:

Abusive teachers are able to skip from state to state as local schools cover up their misdeeds, USA Today reported:

State police are an important part of law enforcement in rural areas, but low pay and aging officers are creating shortage of troopers in many states, reported Therese Apel of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. We excerpted her story at

If you do or see stories that resonate across rural areas, please send them to me at [email protected].

political coverage Rural journalism

Trump policies to impact rural areas

Rural votes played a big role in Donald Trump’s victory, and he plans some big changes that will have a big impact in rural communities.

Extractive industries do most of their extracting in rural areas, and Trump promised “to topple just about every major energy and environment policy enacted in the past eight years,” Robin Bravender reported for Environment & Energy News.

The Obama administration policies most likely to be reversed are the Environmental Protection Agency’s redefinition of “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, strongly opposed by farm interests, and the regulations to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But there is little that Trump can do to bring back power-plant markets that coal has lost to cheap natural gas, experts said in an earlier blog item. In it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 3 coal state, said it is “hard to tell” whether a reversal of Obama’s policies will bring back the industry. Trump hasn’t said exactly how he would help coal, we noted at, an item that also noted his support of oil pipelines.

While Trump’s opposition to the water rule cemented his support among farmers, they worry about his opposition to trade agreements, which help U.S. agricultural exports and crop prices. Philip Brasher of the Agri-Pulse newsletter did a story the day after the election and we excerpted it at

Farmers are also worried about Trump’s stand on illegal immigration. Ironically, his election drove down the price of the Mexican peso from 6 cents to less than 5 cents, which could lead to more illegal immigration from the country, Bloomberg News reported. We excerpted it at

Trump held rural rallies to spur turnout, a strategy that supposed experts questioned but proved to be a sort of organic turnout operation, as I told Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor the day after the election. We excerpted his story at Our day-after rural roundup of the election results is at

Katherine Cramer, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin, became a leading interpreter of Trump’s rural base because of her 2015 book, The Politics of Resentment, based on a long series of interviews with people in 27 Badger State communities. The Washington Post wrote her up, and then she did her own piece for the Post. We excerpted both, respectively, at

Cramer wrote that rural people in Wisconsin resent the political and economic dominance of Milwaukee and the capital of Madison, and their attitudes toward rural people. “They perceived that city folks called people like them ignorant racists who could not figure out their own interests,” she wrote. “To them, urban types just did not get small-town life—what people in those places value, the way they live, and the challenges they face.”

The Rural Blog is mainly aggregation, but we do the occasional story, and did the Sunday after the election, when Chuck Todd of NBC News featured comments from a leading farm-policy journalist on “Meet the Press.” Chris Clayton of DTN/The Progressive Farmer said in an MSNBC interview with Todd and others that Trump’s big rural margin may have been bolstered by resentment at repeated references in the news media to Trump’s popularity among both rural and lesser-educated voters.

“Rural America is not uneducated, even though maybe there are fewer people with college degrees than there might be in the metropolitan areas,” Clayton said, and his remarks stung Todd and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Brooks said, “People with college degrees voted very differently than people with high-school degrees, but when you say it, when you actually don’t have a college degree, you hear, ‘Oh, they think I’m stupid.’ I’m guilty of that because I use that shorthand too. And you saw so much sense of moral injury when you went around the Trump world.” Read our blog item at

The highly unusual election prompted more than the usual editorial commentary in rural newspapers, and we picked up some of it on The Rural Blog. You can read examples from both sides at and

I, for one, am glad the election is over and we can get back to more normal coverage. If you do or see stories that are relevant across rural areas, please send them to me at [email protected].



Always look twice at stories reporting polling results

During our daily research for The Rural Blog, our daily digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, we came across a press release from the Texas teachers’ union, headlined “One-third of teachers moonlight to support families.”

My blogger wrote an item that began, “Thirty-one percent of Texas teachers have to work a second job during the school year—49 percent work during the summer—to make ends meet, says a survey by the Texas State Teachers Association.”

My B.S. detector went off. Did that many teachers really say they had to work a second job to make ends meet, or to give their family the support it needed, as the release implied?

I asked TSTA for the questionnaire used in the survey of 837 Texas teachers by a professor at Sam Houston State University. You can see the pertinent part of it here. It asked teachers if they had an extra job during the summer or the school year, how many hours it took, whether their quality of teaching would improve if their teaching salary allowed them to give up moonlighting during the school year, and how big a raise would allow them to quit moonlighting.

None of the questions said anything about teachers’ need to have a second job – whether to support their family to make ends meet, to maintain the lifestyle they thought their family deserved, or whatever. While the headline on the press release was accurate – a second job presumably supports the family – its implication led my blogger to make an unjustified leap, saying the moonlighters had to make a second job to make ends meet.

That’s what many press-release writers hope reporters will do: make a stronger point that helps the cause of the entity issuing the release. This is a lesson to avoid that – and to ask for the questionnaire on which a survey is based. It’s just good reporting. In this case, we saw that the teachers were asked whether they taught in an urban, suburban or rural district, so we asked TSTA to break down the results by those categories.

It’s especially important to get the questionnaires of election polls, which can be skewed by the sequence and phrasing of questions. You deserve to see every syllable spoken to the poll respondents, up to and including the last result for which a result is provided. And the pollster should personally certify to the accuracy of the poll and be available to answer questions about its methodology.

If you need help evaluating polls, email me at [email protected].



political coverage

You can cover the presidential race without ever leaving town

At many community newspapers, treatment of the presidential election may be limited to online polls of your readers’ opinions, or their letters. But this is a race for president like no other, where facts and issues have taken a far back seat to entertainment, personality and character assassination, and it’s unlikely to get better now that we have the two most unpopular nominees in the history of polling.

Why should smaller newspapers devote more space to the race? If dailies rely on The Associated Press, the coverage won’t be localized. If weeklies just stick to local news, they will ignore a major topic of discussion among their readers, many of whom don’t read a daily. Covering the race can help you build and maintain a brand as the most authoritative local source of news and information.

As the primary campaigns ended, many journalists acknowledged that they had done a poor job of holding the nominees and other candidates accountable for their statements, and vowed to do better. But at last month’s conventions, timely fact-checking was rare. All of us in American journalism need to share the load.

You can do fact-checking on your own, but it might be better to start by using one of the three main, nonpartisan services that do a good job of holding politicians accountable., the oldest of these services, is part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which is run by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, perhaps America’s leading academic authority on deceptive techniques in political campaigns.

FactCheck was started in 2003 by Brooks Jackson, who was an investigative reporter for the AP and The Wall Street Journal before going to CNN, where he was an early leader in ad watches and fact checks. He remains editor emeritus, and has been succeeded by Eugene Kiely, a former editor at USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

FactCheck is the service I like best, partly because you can use it for free, as long as you give credit. I also like it because it usually goes into greater depth than the other services. It reviews TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. It takes donations and reveals contributors of more than $1,000.

Just two letters and a space different is Fact Checker, a service of The Washington Post, overseen by Glenn Kessler, a veteran reporter who is from Cincinnati and has covered a wide range of subjects and been business editor.

The Fact Checker is known in the political community for its Pinocchios, which Kessler awards on a 1-2-3-4 scale for falsehood, except during the political party conventions. We used it to fact-check the conventions on The Rural Blog. Here’s the first example of that. The Post doesn’t mind the reprints as long as you give credit.

The other fact-checking service, PolitiFact, also uses a gimmick to categorize falsehoods: the trademarked Truth-O-Meter, which ranges from True to Pants on Fire. Not every statement fits neatly into a pigeonhole, but entertaining labels can be useful. It also has an “Obameter” that measures the president’s promise-keeping.

PolitiFact is a service of the Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by The Poynter Institute, widely respected for its journalism training. The service and the paper make much of their independence, and the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting that the service won for its work in the 2008 presidential election.

PolitiFact offers its service for a modest fee, and has franchised its brand to news outlets in 18 states, including newspapers in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. In those states, you’ll have to check with the papers for their republication policies.

I did a webinar on political fact checking for the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in 2012, which still available at

Show where your community fits into the state and national landscape. Do a story with graphics about your county’s voting history. Get the demographics to show how turnouts and age cohorts vary from election to election. Turnout is higher and younger, but still not very young, in presidential years. Do the election results reflect the national trend of greater political division among precincts? Voter registration can also show long-term trends. Is your county becoming more Democratic, more Republican or more independent? Such data are easy to get, and so are comments from local political leaders.

Other easy-to-get data reveal campaign contributors. Look them up by ZIP code at, where you can get familiar with the reports and, which has the best search functions and will do a custom search for a small fee. Then ask the contributors why they gave. These are people with a greater stake in the outcome than most.

You can also find the biggest political and social issue advertisers at

Every community has issues affected by the race: the economy, jobs, tax policy, farm policy, immigration, education, energy, the environment, social issues, national security and use of American forces (which are disproportionately rural in origin). Identify the issues that are most important to your readers, and the local people involved in them; tell the issue stories with their help and with information from reliable online sources, going beyond the press releases and platform statements.

College professors can also be good observers. They can have their biases, but are usually up-front about them and willing to give you names of other authorities who disagree with them.

Don’t be satisfied with just running opinions. Your readers deserve the facts, and they’re not hard to find. When it comes to opinion, don’t feel obliged to run letters repeating debunked claims or gross misrepresentations. Your newspaper should provide more light than heat. And those online polls? Be honest and tell your readers they are not scientific gauges of opinion.

Community Journalism

Ideas and resources for localizing important stories

The Rural Blog has had a big basket of interesting and useful stories recently. Let’s see how many we can cram into one column.

How much does a renter need to earn in your county to afford a two-bedroom apartment there? The national average is $20.30 an hour. The Washington Post broke it down by county (well, for most counties) and you can find your county here.

What are critical access hospitals? Where are they? Which ones have closed? North Carolina Health News reported on a study of them and published a map showing their 1,284 locations. The Daily Yonder picked it up and added a map showing those that had closed. You can find Texas closures here.

Is your county among the 220 in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems most at risk of an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis from IV drug use? The Wall Street Journal did a map.

One of our health advisers says that if a problem is in a community, so is the solution. Clinton County, Kentucky, is an example of a place that is tackling child obesity head-on. Kentucky Educational Television did a story.

The biggest health problem in America is smoking, but few people on Medicaid take advantage of smoking-cessation programs, especially in the South. States have county-by-county figures on this so you can localize the story. You can find those figures here.

For urban Americans, the most common image of rural America is agriculture. But the number of counties dependent on farming dropped 13 percent in the last decade, and the number dependent on energy production rose by 60 percent. The Agriculture Department produced maps showing the changes and what counties are dependent on farming, energy, manufacturing and recreation.

USDA also reported that rural areas received only 6 to 7 percent of private foundation grants awarded from 2005 to 2010, prompting renewed calls for more rural philanthropy. Read about it here.

Also from USDA came a report that the population loss in rural and small-town America appears to be ending, as confidence in the economy improves and rural people have more children. Here’s the report.

However, the “digital divide” between rural and urban America’s internet service persists, as the standard for broadband gets faster. Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University wrote about it for USA Today.

In the Upper Midwest, an area where many counties have lost population, the University of Nebraska has a program to help communities better market themselves online. Read about it here.

Only a third of U.S. public railroad crossings have flashing lights, and they are especially scarce in rural areas, where some crossings don’t have arms and drivers are pretty much on their own. Stateline did the story and we picked it up here.

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to discourage its adherents to not display the Confederate battle flag. It makes you wonder how many SBC churches will tell their members about it, and how many local newspapers will report it. Our story is here.

The Rural Blog usually relies on traditional media sources, not those that advocate, but every now and then an advocacy publication does a good reporting job on an issue that needs explaining. Such was the case with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State about continued politicking from the pulpit, in defiance of a 1954 law that denies charitable tax exemptions to such churches. We added a link to the other side of the story.

Much of our recent coverage has been about newspapers and their role in democracy.

Editor and Publisher examined how some rural newspapers have remained successful and relevant:

The Press-Sentinel of Jesup, Georgia, is leading a crusade to stop a local landfill from being expanded to accept coal ash:

The Lebanon (Ky.) Enterprise published the names of people who signed a petition opposing a new school tax, and defended its move in an editorial:

Far out on Long Island, the “tough-minded but fair” East Hampton Star perseveres in the face of online raiders who “slow dance” with advertisers:

Each week, The Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire, runs a feature obituary of someone with local ties:

Longtime editor and reporter Steve Buttry, now at Louisiana State University, offered advice on how to get local stories from national stories:

Our best-read story about newspapers recently was on the essay contest that our friend Ross Connelly, publisher of The Hardwick (Vt.) Gazette, is using to sell the weekly newspaper after failing to find a buyer: We wish him well.




Polls, data can serve readers

Polls have long been common devices at metropolitan daily newspapers, but are rare at community weeklies – and I’m not counting those unscientific, self-selected surveys on papers’ websites, which ought to carry disclaimers saying they’re not good barometers of public opinion.

The weekly Rappahannock News in rural Northern Virginia got a marvelous opportunity to see what the people of Rappahannock County think about important issues this year, when a local nonprofit funded a professional survey and hired top-notch journalists to write it up, edit the stories and illustrate them.

The survey by the nonprofit Foothills Forum was mailed to every address in the county of 7,400 people, and got responses from 42 percent, more than double expectations and enough to make it as reliable as a random-sample poll.

“The Foothills survey offers a statistically accurate snapshot about the issues our community cares about most,” the News said in an editorial. “We feel this is valuable information — unbiased, non-agenda-driven data. . . . In the weeks and months ahead, we will explore some of the top issues highlighted in the survey by featuring in-depth stories, with the help of resources provided by Foothills Forum. This partnership allows us to deliver coverage that a small community newspaper could not afford to do otherwise.”

The Foothills Forum was created in response to comments at a coffee chat hosted by the News, “urging broader deeper coverage,” Larry “Bud” Meyer, chair of the group, wrote for the paper. “All manner of interests now have real numbers to back their causes. Not speculation. Not assumption.”

The nonprofit raised $43,000 for the survey and worked with the paper “because the Rappahannock News remains the best source of reported, vetted and edited news,” Meyer wrote. “More important, the survey finds folks are roughly twice as likely to rely on the weekly for their news as all local internet sources.”

The nonprofit gave the News $5,000 for enhanced design, news graphic/data reporting, and the paper made additional investments in design and printing multiple open pages for the series, which also increased its postage costs. “Everyone’s desire has been to deliver in-depth reporting that is beyond the capacity of a very small community news organization,” Publisher Dennis Brack told me. “The survey stories proved the value of this partnership.”

As we reported this project on the Rural Blog, we said the poll showed that Rappahannock County “may be a classic case of a rural place that wants to maintain its environmental qualities while having more urban conveniences,” then quoted from the stories of former Associated Press reporter and editor Chris Connell.

Polls are just one form of data, and we’re big on localized data as a way to help illustrate and explain local issues. A key part of using data is presenting it visually, and a recent Rural Blog item highlighted Data USA, which calls itself “the most comprehensive visualization of U.S. public data.” The same item drew from our friends at Journalist’s Resource to list several sources of help for using data.

Regular readers of this column know we’re also big on national maps that show county-level data, and we’ve had several examples in the blog recently. The Washington Post created a map that shows how home values changed, by ZIP code, from 2004 to 2015, in most counties (those that had enough data to be reliable).

Buried in a New York Times story about employers having trouble finding workers who could pass a drug test was a tragic set of maps, showing county by county the growth in drug-overdose deaths from 2003 to 2014 – a trend so fatal that it is now resembles the HIV-AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said an official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The crisis in Flint, Michigan, over lead in water supplies has caused concern in other places, but the risk of lead exposure “is surprisingly difficult to estimate, due to a variety of state-by-state differences in reporting standards,” Sarah Frostenson and Sarah Kliff reported for Vox. They worked with epidemiologists in the Washington state health department to add housing and poverty data to the mix to create a county-level map of the estimated risk.

Because some health-insurance companies are reducing their participation in health-insurance exchanges, more than 650 mostly rural counties will have only one Obamacare option in 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported.

There have been doubts about the quality of care at some rural hospitals, and that has hurt them financially. But a recent study found that surgeries are safer and cheaper at critical-access hospitals, which by definition are rural.

The financial problems are rural hospitals are getting little attention from Congress and the Obama administration, Shannon Muchmore reported for Modern Healthcare.

The Rural Blog has started excerpting the “Thinking About Health” columns of Trudy Lieberman, distributed by the Rural Health News Service, which use specific examples to illustrate issues in health care from a consumer viewpoint. Her latest piece reported that consumers get little help resolving their complaints.

A pair of studies concluded that abstinence pledges don’t keep young people from having sex, contracting sexually transmitted diseases or avoiding pregnancy.

If you do or see good work that deserves national notice or could help other rural journalists, by appearing on The Rural Blog, email me at [email protected] so we can publish it at



Rural hospitals in trouble: Resources for health care reporting

If your rural hospital is in trouble, it’s not alone. At least 66 rural hospitals have closed in the last six years, due to a combination of factors, such as changes in federal reimbursement and patients’ increasing preference for larger hospitals. About 300 are in financial straits, says the National Rural Health Association.

Is your hospital one of them? Could it be? Which of those factors are affecting it most? Do you know how to put its problems in a national context so you and your readers can better understand them?

The troubles of rural hospitals can be hard for rural news media to cover in detail, partly because they are special kinds of businesses and their managers and boards are often unwilling to be forthcoming about problems. Sometimes it’s difficult because your hospitals may be hampered by managerial shortcomings that may follow local tradition but hurt the bottom line.

It’s important to get managers and board members to open up, because few local institutions are as important or, in some communities, as much at risk. To do that, you must arm yourself with some basic knowledge so you know what questions to ask.

One place you can start learning more about rural hospitals and their problems is The Rural Blog, which has published more than 300 aggregated stories about hospitals in the last nine years. Last year, stories about rural hospitals led the list of most-read topics on the blog.

Two recent stories on The Rural Blog are good examples of how to cover rural hospitals. The stories were written by Harris Meyer of Modern Healthcare, but they were written for a general audience. Both were about small hospitals in Appalachia, but their problems are common across the nation.

At the Pineville Community Hospital in Kentucky, which had hired a management company to save it, Meyer found an administrator who was willing to be frank about how he is doing it – even to the point of telling an older surgeon that it was time for him to retire.

Meyer walked around the hospital with the chief nursing officer, and they encountered an internist who vented to her “about some of the changes being asked of him.” The nursing officer said later, “We have an older medical staff, and they are set in their ways.”

See what you can find out just by walking around? And Meyer went beyond the staff, talking to patients, board members and community leaders who “see the Pineville hospital’s future as pivotal to the future of the town,” as he put it. Too many times, stories about trouble at hospital are done too late, after it’s too late to save it.

Our excerpt of Meyer’s Pineville story is on The Rural Blog. The story is available with free registration. If you’re really interested in covering health care, Modern Healthcare is a good source for background knowledge.

Meyer’s other story was on the Jellico (Tenn.) Community Hospital, which serves many Kentuckians because it’s near the Kentucky border. Tennessee has not expanded Medicaid under federal health reform, but Kentucky has, and that has helped keep the hospital afloat.

In states that have not expanded Medicaid, hospitals are the leading pleaders for it, because it brings them more business and reduces the write-offs they make for indigent care. That’s just one example of how state policy can affect local hospitals.

Health reform isn’t a cure-all. While it has decreased the number of uninsured Americans and charity cases at hospitals, it has also led to an increase in the number of high deductibles they can’t collect, a particular problem in rural areas where hospitals are already struggling financially. John Lauerman reported on that for Bloomberg Business. Rural hospitals have closed their maternity facilities, a phenomenon reported by Kaiser Health News, another excellent source of story tips and background knowledge about health care.

Early this year, iVantage Health Analytics reported the 210 “most vulnerable” rural hospitals by state, along with data on critical-access hospitals (a definition you need to know) and data on how many health-care and community jobs the hospitals provide.

In reporting on hospitals’ problems, it’s also important to report on those that do it right. We did that a few months ago, excerpting a report that listed the nation’s top hospitals, which included 24 rural hospitals. Those could be good examples of how to address problems.

If you would like help reporting on hospitals or other facets of health care, please ask us. We’re at 859-257-3744 and [email protected]. In addition to The Rural Blog, we publish Kentucky Health News, which includes original reporting and other story ideas, approaches and sources.


Into the issues: Resources for community newspapers

Underlying most of the issues we cover as journalists is the principle of open government, which is under attack on many fronts. Local governments want state legislatures to weaken public-notice laws; public officials evade open-meetings laws with private conversations; and legislators all over the country are trying to weaken open-records laws. For example, two bills in Florida would eliminate mandatory awards of attorney fees in cases where plaintiffs prove that government officials have violated the state Public Records Law, as we noted on The Rural Blog at

Bipartisan efforts continue to improve the Freedom of Information Act. In January, the House sent the Senate a bill that would scale back exemptions to the law and make it easier to use. We reported on it at

Meanwhile, keeping track of what’s going on in Washington has become more difficult as news organizations reduce staff in the capital. More than 20 states have no reporters dedicated full-time to covering their congressional delegations. We updated the Pew Research Center’s annual report on that problem at

Closer to home, members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors recently debated, on the list-serve we host for them, whether they should carry guns to public meetings. Barbara Selvin, a journalism professor at Stony Brook University, did a story about it for The Poynter Institute and we excerpted it at

More than once, editors on the list-serve have discussed how to handle reporting of suicides, and a recent discussion revealed that the dominance of social media has prompted some editors to be less timid in their coverage. The discussion prompted Brad Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., to write an article for the online Daily Yonder about his coverage of suicide as a public issue, and his involvement in community efforts to prevent it, after his county had six suicides in four months. Suicide rates are 70 percent higher in rural areas than urban ones, according to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Rural Blog noted that and covered both discussions at

A growing problem in rural areas is the financial condition of their hospitals. Stories about the problems of rural hospitals led the list of most-read topics on The Rural Blog in 2015. Of the 60 blog posts that were viewed at least 250 times by TRB readers, eight excerpted stories about rural hospitals, and some related items also had high readership. We gave some examples in a Jan. 1 blog item, at

Another growing health issue in rural areas is intravenous drug use, evident in increasing numbers of drug overdoses and local epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C. Our latest blog item on the issue is at

Even in rural areas, some health problems are causes or exacerbated by air pollution. How polluted is your county’s air? If you’re in one of the 25 most polluted states, you can find out from maps compiled by HealthGrove, a site that emphasizes data. The Rural Blog reported on it at

The biggest factor in U.S. air pollution, and the nation’s contribution to climate change, is coal-fired power plants. Most rural electric cooperatives are very dependent on coal, so they cheered the Supreme Court’s order blocking the Obama administration’s new power-plant rules while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals considers legal action. Our latest item on the issue is at

County-level maps are a favorite Rural Blog topic. The Center for Food Safety created a map of concentrated animal feeding operations in Michigan, and says it will map CAFOs in any state upon request; see

Another map, by researchers at the University of Vermont, identified areas where bees are in trouble; see The recent increase in number of inmates at rural jails is illustrated by a map compiled by the Vera Institute of Justice. We published the map at

A vast array of data about rural areas is available in Rural America at a Glance, from the Agriculture Department. We noted it at

If you do or see good work that deserves national notice or could help other rural journalists, by appearing on The Rural Blog, email me at [email protected] so we can publish it at