Maps and charts make for interesting stories

Aug 1, 2015

By Al Cross
Into the Issues 

It’s been a great summer for interactive maps and county-level data on The Rural Blog at

How does your local high-school graduation rate compare with that of nearby school districts and, for that matter, anywhere else in the country? The Hechinger Report compiled the data, wrote a story and produced a map, and we picked it up at

Poverty among children in rural America has been increasing; 26 percent of rural kids were poor in 2013, up from 19 percent in 1999, according to the Economic Research Service of the Agriculture Department. The agency’s report included an interactive map giving information for every county, and we picked it up at

Rural teenage girls are having sex at higher rates than their urban and suburban counterparts and are less likely to use birth control, leading to higher rates of rural teen pregnancies, stated a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. We reported it at

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling upholding same-sex marriage, The Washington Post created a map showing the percentage of same-sex couples in every county. We have it, and a map showing state policies toward gays, at

Did you know that 15 percent of U.S. families moved last year? Stateline assembled the data into a county-by-county, interactive map, and we ran it at

We’ve reported for years that foundations are chintzy when it comes to giving in rural areas, and now there’s a map to show it, also by the ERS. The Daily Yonder wrote about it, and we followed suit at

One of the more intriguing maps we’ve run lately was one showing the amount of annual sunlight in every county. That item, with a link to an interactive version of the map, is at It also includes a national map showing, in percentage categories, the population having no car and no supermarket within a mile.

The closing of rural grocery stores has created “food deserts,” where at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of a census tract’s population live more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store. West Virginia Public Broadcasting did a story about it, and we excerpted it at

One of the more interesting studies we’ve seen lately is one by the Pew Research Center, which found that the more liberal people are, the more likely they are to prefer living in urban areas, and the more conservative they are, the more likely they are to prefer rural living. The study found many other rural-urban differences; read about it at There are strong rural-urban divides on Obamacare, trade and same-sex marriage, according to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, which we reported at

Those of you who keep up with postal matters know that the U.S. Postal Service appears to have given up its five-year campaign to eliminate all Saturday delivery but packages. That’s an important story in rural America, and we have followed it closely on the blog, most recently at Earlier, we picked up a Concord (NH) Monitor column that you may want to use, saying the Postal Service needs to provide better rural service:

We try to keep track of major rural issues in Congress, such as the long debate over horse slaughter and the more recent controversy over school nutrition rules, which have a disproportionate impact on rural districts. We reported the latest action on both in a roundup item at

The controversy over the Confederate battle flag has stirred strong feelings, especially in the South. We got strong and mostly favorable reader reaction to a Wall Street Journal column by William C. Davis, former executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, who argued for the flag’s demise, saying it had been permanently besmirched by white racists’ misuse of it. The column is at

The Charleston shootings and the ensuing flap over the flag have prompted much commentary in rural newspapers. One of the best we’ve seen was by Ryan Craig of the Todd County (KY) Standard, who wrote that the shooter “may have also killed some of the last remnants of the Old South.” Todd is the native county of Jefferson Davis. You can read it at

As the presidential campaign heats up, The Rural Blog will follow the candidates’ dealings with rural areas and rural issues. Some rural Democratic operatives think the party’s candidates aren’t paying enough attention to rural; Agri-Pulse reported on their concerns and we picked it up at

The U.S. has almost 9,000 miles of official bicycle routes, and there’s a plan for a total of 50,000 miles. They’re an easy and cheap way to bring tourism dollars to rural communities, The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA, reported, and we excerpted the story and its map at

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