Local elections may be influenced by outsiders

April 11, 2014

By Al Cross
Into The Issues
Politics, government budgets, crime, drugs, food and good journalism were among the many topics examined recently on The Rural Blog, at http://irjci.blogspot.com. Here’s a look at some of them, with links to the blog items.

This is a big year for state legislative elections, which are often essentially local contests, especially for state House seats. But your local legislative race could be influenced by money from people who have never heard of your community and don’t know its issues. They’re mainly interested in enacting or blocking certain policies, or shifting or locking in partisan control. Republicans did it in 2010, and Democrats followed suit in 2012, The New York Times reported, in a story that explained in detail how it works. We took note at http://bit.ly/1l8Kezp.

BUDGETS: It’s budget-writing time for most local governments, and that means it’s time for community newspapers to take a close look at how local officials handle money.

Public-private partnerships are becoming common ways to build projects or run programs that governments can no longer do themselves. Researchers who have studied such partnerships say they can save money, improve services and build trust and citizen support,” but “can be problematic if not approached through formal transparent bidding/request for proposal processes and formalized agreements to begin the collaborative activity.” We linked to the study at http://bit.ly/1lUDZfE.

Corrections can be inordinately expensive for local governments, depending on their local situations and state laws. Some rural sheriffs that run jails are selling e-cigarettes to inmates to control the mood swings of smokers and to raise money, and they’re being targeted by the industry, The New York Times reported. We picked up on it at bit.ly/1g6yjPe.

CRIME: Neighborhood watch groups have long been common in suburbs, and are popping up in rural areas as thefts of expensive farm equipment increase, The Wall Street Journal reported. We took note at bit.ly/1ikwnlJ.

Is your newspaper having trouble keeping up with police because your local cops have switched to encrypted radios? Some newspapers have found ways to continue to get emergency updates—although it’s not always successful—and can cost a hefty sum. Some police agencies have offered to lease radios to news outlets. We wrote about the problem at bit.ly/1hKA5TO.

DRUGS: Many states have cracked down on pain clinics and “pill mills” to prevent abuse of prescription drugs, but addicts have turned to heroin, creating a new epidemic. The Tennessean looked at the problem in rural areas, and we picked up on it at bit.ly/1kNO12l.

A study of 389 counties in 24 states found that areas served by a community newspaper typically have fewer drug-related arrests, partly by creating a sense of belonging. The study was published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, and we noted it at http://bit.ly/1dveYmd.

FOOD: Does your newspaper publish restaurant inspections? It should; more than a third of U.S. meals are obtained outside the home, 86 percent of Americans say they worry about food safety (as we noted at bit.ly/1eXrRFZ) and restaurants scored poorly in a federal study of food safety, which we reported at bit.ly/1l8Jx91.

New standards for school lunches have made them more nutritious, but have displeased many students, increasing food waste and decreasing participation in the school lunch program. We’ve had several blog items on this; the latest was on a study, at bit.ly/1fL9Av1.

Children living in rural areas are 25 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than those in urban areas, but rural communities have come up with several strategies to combat the problem. We took note of a nonprofit’s report at http://bit.ly/NyMKjt.

We’ve had many items about the use of antibiotics as growth supplements in animal feed, but could the use of those drugs in humans be making us fat? Pagan Kennedy’s examination of that in The New York Times was the newspaper’s most e-mailed story the day it appeared. We summarized it at http://bit.ly/1l8MNkT.

AWARDS: Journalism awards season has begun, and The Rural Blog takes note of great work in rural areas, to hold up examples for others to follow. Although most small newspapers would find such work difficult to replicate, it offers examples of reporting techniques that can be useful.

The Association of Health Care Journalists award for consumer coverage by small newspapers went to Cindy Uken of the Billings Gazette for her series on suicide, a topic that some papers treat as taboo. We took note at bit.ly/1jegeNU.

The Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram won the community journalism award in the Scripps Howard Awards for a series on the inability of governments and businesses to meet the needs of the aging in Maine, which has the highest median age of any state. See bit.ly/1j9T3bS.

You’re welcome to reprint our Rural Blog items as news; they always contain credit for the original source, and if you use one, we’d appreciate a credit line and a notification. If you do or see good rural journalism, tell us about it at The Rural Blog at irjci.blogspot.com.


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.

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