There are a host of stories for going back to school

September 8, 2015

By Al Cross
Into the Issues

School is back in session, providing lots of opportunities for stories about topics that are of major interest to local newspaper readers. The Rural Blog had stories recently about some national trends that could be showing up in your schools, and elsewhere.

You can’t have school without teachers, and the Great Recession caused a teacher shortage that has some districts hiring teachers who don’t have full credentials. This is probably happening somewhere near you, because rural schools have chronic problems recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. The New York Times reported on it and we excerpted it at

When does the first bell ring at your schools? High and middle schools in many states start their school day too early for students to get the necessary amount of required sleep to be healthy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a study recently. Read about it at

As the school year approached, USA Today asked University of Southern California experts about the best education applications for smartphones, and wrote a story with several examples. This sounds like one your paper could do with a little reporting at some schools. Read it at

A town’s not really a town without a school—or a grocery where you can buy fresh meat and produce. A grocery helps the local paper, too. Many small towns are losing their groceries, and the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs helps them fight to keep or replace them. It developed a list of tips for keeping or attracting a grocer, and we picked it up at

Some small towns in the South are again becoming attractive for manufacturing plants, this time for Chinese companies that have found it cheaper to make goods in the U.S. than ship them from China—especially in the South, where wages are lower and unions are scarcer, The Washington Post reported. We picked up the story at

Energy costs are a key factor in factory-location decisions, and areas served by rural electric cooperatives may be less competitive if President Obama’s carbon-dioxide limits take effect, because the co-ops are heavily dependent on coal and the regulations may force them to close some coal-fired power plants before they are paid off, and raise rates. See For more coverage, with an interactive map with state data, see; for another story, with an interesting map showing how and where U.S. electricity is generated, see

Having a hospital is also a key to maintaining the economy of a small town, but many rural hospitals are in financial trouble. The Rural Blog has followed this story closely, most recently at We told the story of a rural hospital being revived at, and ran a health-care expert’s advice on how rural hospitals can cope, at

High-speed Internet service is another key element for a thriving community, but the promise of broadband to 7 million rural Americans through the economic stimulus package has fallen horribly short; only a few hundred thousand people will get broadband after the expenditure of $3.5 billion, Politico reported. We took note at

The federal government is giving away a lot of military hardware and vehicles to local police agencies. Mother Jones magazine found that most of the requests were for fighting drugs, even as the cops asked for mine resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, weighing 14 tons. The story is at

A more common equipment addition to local police forces is the body camera, which is becoming much more common in the wake of alleged police misconduct. Sometimes the videos taken by those cameras can be hard to get. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press created an interactive, online tool that charts state laws and the policies of more than 100 police departments on the issue. See

An even more useful tool for journalists is a new search engine, Expertise Finder, which connects them with experts for interviews on a countless number of subjects. We wrote about it at

Have an ethical question as you do a story? The Society of Professional Journalists recently revised its Code of Ethics, and more recently made it interactive, with supporting documents and other background information that help explain the reasons behind the code and help journalists make ethical decisions. We took note at

SPJ recently started creating communities of interest for journalists (freelances, digital, international, etc.), and we’re petitioning to create one for community journalists. It should go to the SPJ board in September, so we’ll probably be telling you more about it soon.

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


Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. See

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