School safety and gun control becoming major stories

January 2, 2013

By Al Cross | Institute For Rural Journalism and Community Issues
As this is written in mid-December, there is much concern over school safety and much talk about gun control, and that is likely to continue as students return to school and the new Congress convenes. The Rural Blog offers help for covering these and other issues that have a local impact or stir local concern.
One of our items, at bit.ly/Zhx4WL, looked at the development of school-safety standards and linked to the National Indicators of School Crime and Safety, a federal website that monitors the topic. Another item, mainly about The Newtown Bee’s hometown coverage, linked to information and advice from Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute about covering school safety and guns. It’s at bit.ly/VOIWaF.
Some of our most favorite type of items are those that link to new, national databases that can spark and inform fresh, local reporting. Louise Story of The New York Times spent several months developing a database of state and local incentives for economic development, which overall appear to be a losing proposition. Our item is at bit.ly/ZMkWvY.
Does your area have a prison that was hailed as a job creator but is now cut back or closed? There are quite a few, and they are pretty hard to use for some other purpose, The Atlantic reported, and we noted at bit.ly/VQ7uQW. And at some prisons still open, overcrowding and staff shortages are raising safety concerns: bit.ly/12okUKj.
After the November election, The Atlantic ran a piece from freelancer Josh Kron saying that the results suggested that “people don’t make cities liberal—cities make people liberal.” This generated one of several items we had on the growing rural-urban divide in national politics; it’s at bit.ly/R4eLQ9.
The Atlantic was on a roll with us in the last couple of months. We picked up its deer season story detailing how America has fewer hunters than ever, but they are still spending lots of money: bit.ly/WnF9DD.
Health is always a major issue for The Rural Blog because of the inherent disparities in rural and urban health. One of our recent items noted that rural cancer survivors have more health challenges than their counterparts in metropolitan areas: bit.ly/T6KRdy.
Did you know that 40 percent of adults living in rural areas are obese, compared with 33 percent of adults living in urban areas? And that rural children are 20 to 50 percent more likely than their urban counterparts to be obese? There’s a federal Rural Obesity Prevention tool kit to help communities develop obesity prevention programs, and we noted it at bit.ly/SPODKw. We also picked up a story about a rural South Carolina county serving as an incubator for a program to fight obesity and diabetes in children: bit.ly/VOKOjP.
Extractive industries do most of their extraction in rural areas, so we keep track of them and their impact on energy and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has a new website to track water pollution and water quality in streams all over the nation, and we noted it at bit.ly/Txfx6G.
ProPublica reported that EPA has allowed injection of waste into many drinking-water aquifers, and we excerpted the story at bit.ly/VOLlCl.
Are oil and gas companies in your state trying to block local regulation of the industry, saying it would hurt its development and cost jobs? You should know that two of the biggest oil and gas states, Texas and Oklahoma, allow local regulation. We noted it at bit.ly/WpuA71.
We carry a good bit of agriculture news; two of our more interesting items lately told how high prices for hay had made it a target for thieves (bit.ly/12z5YIC) and that deaths from entrapment in grain bins and silos persisted as other farm fatalities declined, with teen boys most at risk (bit.ly/ZMqpTq).
We report a lot of studies; one concluded that waste from animals treated with antibiotics contributes to development of antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogens. Our item is at bit.ly/WpwVPd. And though I’m an extension professor, we picked up AgWeek’s story questioning whether the Cooperative Extension Service is still useful in the digital age. Their answer, and ours, was a qualified yes: bit.ly/RD6RP8.
The Rural Blog is about issues, but that includes issues of rural journalism, so we dipped into the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors’ December newsletter and noted Ross Connelly’s editorial in his Hardwick (VT) Gazette about the lack of campaign advertising from statewide candidates in weeklies, and Steve Andrist’s gripe in the Crosby (ND) Journal about candidates who want to do interviews on production day: bit.ly/12oo68W.
One of the best ideas we’ve seen in rural newspaper journalism lately is a monthly column in the Hickman County (TN) Times, written by newcomers, answering the question posed by the title: “Why did you come here?” It’s a great way to attract newcomers and integrate them into a community. Our item on it is at bit.ly/UBL9XR.
We like to note good work, like that of The Joplin Globe, which the Local Media Association named the 2012 Newspaper of the Year: (bit.ly/XHthvr) and the small papers that won in the Inland Press Association contest (bit.ly/R4gYuS). If you do or see good rural journalism, tell us about it so we can put it on The Rural Blog, at http://irjci.blogspot.com. © Al Cross 2013

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, with partners at 28 universities in 18 states. See www.RuralJournalism.org.

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