community issues Localizing the news political coverage

National politics generate local story ideas

As newspaper publishers worried about tariffs on newsprint, farmers and others in rural America worried about tariffs on other products that could spark a trade war. The Rural Blog is keeping its readers current on trade and many other issues; here’s a sampling of stories from the last couple of months.

One-third of U.S. soybeans go to China. The president of the American Soybean Association called President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum “a disastrous course of action,” and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers have “legitimate anxiety,” not just about retaliatory tariffs on products, but on the steel tariffs’ effect on farm-equipment costs. See our report at

In mid-March, the last U.S. maker of steel beer kegs, in Pottstown, Pa., laid off one-third of its workers. We reported that at The Brookings Institution calculated the impact of the tariffs on each state and produced a good chart, which we ran at The Washington Post produced a chart showing how Republican opinions on trade have shifted to match Trump’s; we ran it at with a Politico report saying agriculture is “particularly vulnerable” to retaliatory tariffs.

Double whammy

In February, Perdue told Congress that the rural economy is fragile, and as he was speaking, the American Farm Bureau Federation was publishing a warning from a Tennessee farmer about another big issue facing rural America: the opioid epidemic. “Our focus on national regulations and global trade are real issues that need to be addressed, but the future of farming and ranching may be just as dependent on our awareness of curbing the opioid dependency in our grassroots communities where individuals influence national changes,” he wrote. See

New research from the University of Kentucky shows that the opioid epidemic isn’t disproportionately rural, but rural areas have a tougher time dealing with it because of limited access to treatment. We reported it at Research by Penn State and Texas A&M concluded that the crisis may be exacerbated by declining farm income, extreme weather and other natural disasters. Read about it at

One challenge to dealing with the opioid epidemic is the stigma still attached to addiction in many rural areas, but that can be countered with reporting of success stories about people who overcome addiction, according to recent research we reported at Stigma is also an obstacle to mental-health treatment in rural areas, we reported at

Your local health

The annual County Health Rankings, released March 14, are a snapshot of each county’s health factors and outcomes, compared to other counties in the same state. They are something of a blunt instrument, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get people’s attention. Our research in Kentucky shows that newspapers are increasingly reporting their county’s rankings. Read our story, with a link to them, at

When it comes to health care, the Medicaid program is the main linchpin for rural areas, partly because of the support it provides for hospitals and clinics. It pays for more than half of rural births, Kaiser Health News noted in its “Medicaid Nation” series, which we gave a glimpse at The rural benefits of Medicaid are not widely known; rural residents tend to vote Republican even as GOP lawmakers vote to reverse Medicaid’s expansion.

Maps with local data

If you read The Rural Blog regularly, you know that we love maps with local data, usually at the county level. There’s enough interesting data out there for every newspaper in America to publish a significant data point in every edition, but not enough of them do it. Here are some maps we’ve run lately.

An interactive map with local data showed the level of economic distress in every county, and some may surprise you:

Politico did an interesting story about financial guru Dave Ramsey, in which he said he sees more people worrying about their finances. It included a map showing, in ranges, the percentage of people in each county who are the targets of debt collectors. We shared it at

A national study with an interactive map found that, in 99 percent of U.S. counties, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food-stamp) benefits are not enough to cover the full cost of an inexpensive meal, even for those who have no net income. See

Also on the food front, a study found that independent grocery stores in rural areas were hit harder by the Great Recession than those in urban areas. It included a county-level map showing the number of independent groceries for every 10,000 people. See

The lack of healthy grocery supplies in some rural areas may be less about supply than demand, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. We reported it, with a county-level map, at

A study of deaths due to alcohol, drugs, suicide, and interpersonal violence included a county-level map: Your county’s number of drug-overdose deaths may surprise you, because most don’t make the news, but the number shouldn’t be a surprise of you are keeping up through your local coroner or medical examiner.

Something else that often goes unreported, but your coroner can tell you about, is suicide. The more rural a place, the higher its suicide rate is likely to be. An interactive map from Governing magazine tells the story, and we shared it at

If you see stories, maps or anything else with rural resonance that belong on The Rural Blog, let me know at [email protected].

political coverage

Trump owes his victory to rural America

Sixteen months ago, Donald J. Trump surprised most of the world and probably himself by winning the presidential election. He couldn’t have done it without rural America.

The numbers in the exit polls were clear.  Trump won 62 percent of the rural vote, more than any modern president.  And here’s the statistic that shows just how rural his victory was: If you divide up the vote by the rural continuum of the Department of Agriculture – which has nine steps, from most rural to most urban – the smaller a place’s population, the stronger its vote for Trump, with one very small exception inside the error margin.

Trump’s percentage continued a recent trend of Republicans winning more and more of the rural vote. The biggest gain was actually made when Mitt Romney ran, but rural turnout was down significantly in 2012, especially among Democrats, so that boosted Romney’s percentage. But there was a better rural turnout in 2016 – and that was a key to Trump’s victory in the big swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

That surge in turnout, and rural America’s choice of a man who is probably our most urban president ever, suggest that some big and bad things have been going on in our rural communities – some things that made them vote for him.

There are many was to measure those things, but the most important may be the simplest: Each year from 2012 through 2016, fewer people lived in rural America than the year before. Those losses were pretty small, but there had never been a decline in the total number of rural people, just in the rural percentage of the U.S. population.

Rural America is losing population mainly because it lost, during the Great Recession, jobs and businesses that have not come back. On Election Day 2016, employment in metropolitan areas was almost 5 percent higher than in the first quarter of 2008, the official start of the recession. But outside metro areas, employment was about 2.5 percent less.

We have seen that decline all over rural America, in closed factories, vacant storefronts and streams of workers commuting to more urbanized places. In many places, there is also a social and cultural decline, indicated by above-average drug use and divorces, poor health, increasing mortality rates among middle-aged whites, and a workforce that shrinks as disability payments expand. The Wall Street Journal did a good job documenting this several months ago in a package that said the statistics of rural America resemble those of inner cities 30 years ago.

This isn’t just about statistics.  It’s about feelings, which are usually more influential in an election.  In rural America, there is a documented resentment of urban elites, including the news media — reflecting a feeling that rural areas aren’t getting a fair shake from government and its trade deals, and are looked down upon.

So onto this landscape strode a brash billionaire whose TV reality show and business career had made him a household name, offering few specifics but promising to “make America great again” and acting as a tribune for disaffected people who were hungry for a politician who would improve their daily lives. In more than 40 years of covering politics, I have never seen a candidate who generated the reaction, depth of support and enthusiasm as Donald Trump, especially in rural areas.

There were half a million more rural votes last year than in 2012. In urban areas, there were two and a half million fewer votes. That second number illustrates the low enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

Some have also argued that Trump’s victory had a lot to do with race and ethnicity, and there was evidence of that in rural areas, mainly dealing with immigration.

Rural Midwestern towns that have attracted many more immigrants—particularly Latinos—were Trump strongholds in the primaries and caucuses.  Just before the general election, Gallup polls showed Trump doing well in racially isolated white communities, and the pollsters concluded that Trump voters in those places appeared to be less motivated by economic concerns than by issues of race, ethnicity and immigration. Other researchers before and after the election came to the same conclusion about the national vote.

One thing last year’s election did was wake up a lot of national journalists to the problems of rural America. The Wall Street Journal is not the only national news outlet that’s paying more attention to rural places and their problems. My friend Chuck Todd of NBC told his audience on election night, as Trump began to win, “Rural America is basically screaming at us, ‘Stop overlooking us!’”

So rural issues should get more attention, especially with a president who owes his victory partly to rural America. But politicians sometimes have to be reminded who they owe, and I think that is the case with rural America, because it is so diverse – too diverse to have a strong lobby that speaks for it.

Agriculture interests can help, but they can also hurt, by focusing more on increasing farmers’ wealth and just paying lip service to the needs of rural communities. There is a bipartisan Congressional Rural Caucus, but it has only 43 members – almost exactly 10 percent of the House of Representatives. Rural America is 15 percent of the population, and it needs a stronger voice. Rural newspapers could help provide it.

This column is adapted from a chapter written by Al Cross in “The Trump Presidency, Journalism and Democracy, published in February by Routledge.

political coverage

Help in localizing the health care debate

The debate over changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is especially significant to rural areas, and The Rural Blog has several stories that can help inform your local coverage.

Obamacare’s private-insurance options are on life support in much if not most of rural America. A third of counties, mostly rural, had only one insurer offering Obamacare plans for this year, and that lack of competition made the plans more expensive. That was also true even in areas with two Obamacare insurers, a study found, as we reported on it at

As Congress debated what to do in late May, the Trump administration was asking for more time to decide whether to continue cost-sharing subsidies that help lower-income people pay Obamacare deductibles and copayments. State insurance departments are letting insurance companies delay filing their plans, and rural areas could be hit hard if Congress and the administration “don’t send signals that they’re committed to keeping Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces stable,” reported The Hill, which covers Congress. With our pickup item, we ran a map showing the number of Obamacare insurers in every county. Get it at

The bill drafted by House Republicans “would largely hurt people in areas where coverage is high, predominately rural areas where there are few hospitals or few insurers, The New York Times reported in March. The bill passed in May differed little from the original on those points, so the story and the Kaiser Family Foundation map we ran with it are still good references. See them at

Obamacare has covered fewer people through subsidized private insurance than through expansion of Medicaid, which the Supreme Court made optional for states, not mandatory. The expansion probably saved some rural hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid, and probably led to those closure of some in states that didn’t. We’ve had many items about rural hospitals on The Rural Blog, which is searchable; one with a good explanation of the issue is at

Other health issues

The opioid epidemic is worst in rural America, which depends more on non-physicians to provide primary health care, but most states don’t let them use a federal license to prescribe a potentially life-saving medicine for opioid addiction “unless they are working in collaboration with a doctor who also has a federal license,” Stateline reported. Half of all counties in the U.S., mainly in rural areas, “do not have a single physician with a license to prescribe buprenorphine.” Read the story at

The opioid epidemic appears to be making suicide more common, and suicide rates are increasing faster in rural areas than in metropolitan areas, according to a federal study. We excerpted it at

Suicide is a leading cause of death among teenagers, and that was a focus of a 13-part Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” based on the novel of the same name. In it, 13 people receive messages from a teenage girl who committed suicide, detailing how they played a part in her decision. The National Association of School Psychologists recommended that “vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation,” not watch it. The Washington Post reported on a group of high-school students in Michigan who responded to the series with a project, “13 Reasons Why Not,” and we picked it up at

Nutrition is a big factor in health, and many school-nutrition directors were happy to hear that new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue relaxed some of the Obama administrations rules for school meals. The changes delayed another reduction in the amount of salt allowed in meals, gave states the ability to allow some schools to serve fewer whole grains, and allowed schools to serve 1 percent milk rather than only nonfat milk. See

Trade, agriculture, rural jobs

Perdue appeared to play a key role in persuading President Trump not to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, but to renegotiate it with Mexico and Canada. That was good news for farm interests that depend on exports. As those lobbies asked for protection in the negotiations, Perdue’s USDA ran against Trump’s anti-trade theme and actively promoted the value of agricultural trade to the U.S. We wrote about it at

Cattle farmers suffering from lower prices got good news in May, when the administration cut a trade deal with China to allow U.S. exports of beef, 13 years after a case of mad-cow disease prompted the Chinese to block them. In return, the U.S. will find ways to allow Chinese cooked poultry to be exported to the U.S. It’s big news in farm and ranch country, and we picked it up at

Trump’s special assistant on agriculture, trade and food assistance told reporters that the White House’s new Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity would focus on agriculture because it’s “the No. 1 driver in these rural communities.” However, the Daily Yonder noted that agriculture is not the top economic sector in rural areas. The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, which ranks seven rural economic sectors, says agriculture is fifth in earnings and sixth in jobs. The Yonder also ran a county-level map of dominant economic sectors, and we picked it up at

Some states are enacting policies to generate or keep jobs in rural areas, such as tax credits for investment. Critics say such laws have failed to deliver, with investors profiting from the deals even if the businesses they fund never create a job, Stateline reported. We picked it up at

Rural areas sometimes lose jobs because local business owners can’t find the right buyer or successor when they want to retire. A growing number of services match rural entrepreneurs nearing retirement with younger people looking to run a business, Forbes reported. Read it at

If you see news with rural resonance that should be on The Rural Blog, email 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].


political coverage

How to bring the presidential election home to your readers

Tip O’Neill famously observed that all politics is local.

A good community newspaper believes that and acts upon it. Some races are obviously local – the ballot choices for mayor, city council, county commission and state representative are populated by people you know, people who shop alongside you, people you see at Rotary and church.

The local issues are what people talk about at the coffee shop even when an election isn’t going on.

Presidential politics are different.  Your mayor doesn’t have to make a decision on how many Syrian refugees to allow in the country or whether or not to bomb ISIS strongholds located near population centers.  So sometimes community newspapers leave presidential politics to the networks and the metro newspapers.

Too bad.

Admit it – not even the local issues have generated as much conversation as the Trump-Clinton race this year. And if all politics is local, even the national issues have their roots in your community.  And the race depends on how the parties can turn out the vote on the local level.

So we need to be covering Trump-Clinton – in our town and county.  How do you cover a race where neither candidate comes within hundreds of miles of your coverage area? It’s actually easier than you may think.

  • ●Cover the people in your town who are supporting the major candidates. Call party leaders and elected officeholders from both parties. Find out what party leadership thinks of both Trump and Clinton and how they assess the depth of local support. These are the most unpopular candidates in many years – how has that affected support, volunteering, giving?
  • ●Check on campaign contributions from your city and county. Use sites like and to find donations by ZIP code.
  • ●Localize the issues. Pick something like taxation or immigration and ask people what they think of the candidates’ positions. Look at how those positions might affect your readers and your community.
  • ●Follow the campaign locally. Where do people go for yard signs and buttons? What campaign efforts are being made on behalf of the candidates? What are people saying on social media? You can also use to find local political groups other than the two major parties.
  • ●Do a little simple research on presidential voting trends in your county. Tell your readers which party carried the county, as far back as you want to go. Talk to local election experts on what factors have accounted for any voting swings. Also, what are the voter registration trends in your county?
  • ●Much has been made of the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the youth vote, the women’s vote. Talk to local leaders about which direction those are likely to go in your community.
  • ●Talk with local religious leaders about what is probably the dilemma they are experiencing between voting for a candidate with obvious moral lapses or one who has probably lied to Congress.
  • ●Check out the get-out-the-vote efforts in your community. What are the plans to remind people to vote and get them to the polls?
  • ●And what else can you do to cover the national campaign from your own doorstep? TCCJ blogger Al Cross gives you lots of ideas here.

Finally, if you’d like to see an example of localizing a presidential campaign story, check out this story from Kathy Cruz of the Hood County News in Granbury.  Kathy got local reaction to last week’s story about the latest Donald Trump revelations:

The dilemma created by a tape in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks in lewd terms about women hasn’t just further split the Republican Party – it has unleashed a vitriolic debate about sexual assault and the treatment of women.

That split has touched Hood County, where every county elected official is Republican, as are most voters.

Of the officials reached by the Hood County News on Monday, all – with the exception of County Attorney Lori Kaspar – said they still intend to vote for Trump.

Kaspar, who noted that she never intended to vote for Trump to begin with, referred to defense by others of Trump’s actions as “willful ignorance.”

“He said he (committed sexual assault),” Kaspar said, referring to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording leaked to The Washington Post. “I take him at his word.”

Sheriff Roger Deeds agreed that the described behavior constitutes sexual assault but said that he will vote for Trump anyway.

District Attorney Rob Christian, who, like Kaspar, prosecutes sexual assault cases, said the same.

“I will support the Republican nominee,” he said, adding: “I don’t in any way condone many of the things he has said.”

Trump said during Sunday night’s presidential debate that it was merely “locker room talk” and that he never sexually assaulted women.

However, he did not deny the behavior in a brief statement issued late Friday after news of the tape broke, or in a videotaped statement released hours later.

Deeds, County Judge Darrell Cockerham and Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Berry noted that there has apparently been no outcry by women against Trump.

Kaspar, however, said that it is not unusual for victims to feel so shamed and powerless – particularly if their abuser is someone in authority – that they never report the abuse, or report it years after it occurred.

The HCN was not able to reach every local elected official due to time constraints and county offices being closed Monday.

Messages seeking comment were left for some who didn’t respond to those messages by press time. They include state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

Officials reached by the HCN denounced Trump’s behavior, but cited loyalty to the Republican Party and its principles as their reasons for continuing to support him.

Some, such as Berry, expressed a desire for Republicans to control who gets appointed to the Supreme Court.

All said that, while Trump may be flawed, he is a better choice than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Both Clinton and Trump have high unfavorable ratings.

Mike Lang, who is unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot to take over the District 60 state representative seat, emailed a statement to the HCN Tuesday morning.

He said “anyone with principle understands what Donald Trump said was wrong.

“However, once again my local newspaper has engaged in the typical liberal media bias that is rampant throughout our Country.

“I say that because in light of Secretary Clinton’s countless scandals, I have never been asked about my opinion and why I would or would not vote for her.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Butch Barton said that his support for Trump is based on “ideological differences.”

He said that he is “still on board” with Trump, but that “I do have to swallow hard when it comes to the individual.”

District Clerk Tonna Hitt said that she did not follow the weekend’s news coverage closely due to dealing with a family matter. However, she knows she is still firmly in the Trump camp.

“Definitely, yeah, I’m sticking with him,” she said. “I can’t stand Hillary Clinton. There’s just no way I would ever consider voting for her.”

Hitt is not the only female elected official to stand behind the Republican nominee, despite fears within the party that more tapes may be coming.

Tax Assessor-Collector Teresa McCoy still intends to vote for Trump, too.

McCoy noted, however, that, like Hitt, she had not closely followed the news over the weekend.

“I’m very disturbed by it and need to do some additional research,” she said. “I’m really sad that our choices are what they are.”

Cockerham echoes those sentiments.

“We are the laughing stock of the world because of those two people,” he said, referring to Trump and Clinton.

“Are those the people you want to influence the morals of our children?”

 The story above was re-printed by permission of the Hood County News.

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.