Check out the county breakdowns on interesting subjects

Jul 6, 2016

By Al Cross
Into the Issues

The Rural Blog has had a big basket of interesting and useful stories recently. Let’s see how many we can cram into one column.

How much does a renter need to earn in your county to afford a two-bedroom apartment there? The national average is $20.30 an hour. The Washington Post broke it down by county (well, for most counties), and we put it on the blog at

What are critical access hospitals? Where are they? Which ones have closed? North Carolina Health News reported on a study of them, and published a map showing their 1,284 locations. The Daily Yonder picked it up and added a map showing those that had closed. We ran the combo at

Is your county among the 220 in the U.S. that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems most at risk of an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis from IV drug use? The Wall Street Journal did a map, and we published it at

One of our health advisers says that if a problem is in a community, so is the solution. Clinton County, KY, is an example of a place that is tackling child obesity head-on. Kentucky Educational Television did a story, and we picked it up at

The biggest health problem in America is smoking, but few people on Medicaid take advantage of smoking-cessation programs, especially in the South. States have county-by-county figures on this so you can localize the story. It’s at

For urban Americans, the most common image of rural America is agriculture. But the number of counties dependent on farming dropped 13 percent in the last decade, and the number dependent on energy production rose by 60 percent. The Agriculture Department produced maps showing the changes and what counties are dependent on farming, energy, manufacturing and recreation. We ran them at

USDA also reported that rural areas received only 6 percent to 7 percent of private foundation grants awarded from 2005 to 2010, prompting renewed calls for more rural philanthropy. Read about it at

Also from USDA came a report that the population loss in rural and small-town America appears to be ending, as confidence in the economy improves and rural people have more children. We reported on it at

However, the “digital divide” between rural and urban America’s internet service persists, as the standard for broadband gets faster. Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University wrote about it for USA Today, and we picked it up at

In the Upper Midwest, an area where many counties have lost population, the University of Nebraska has a program to help communities better market themselves online. Read about it at

One of our more unusual stories lately was about the rural fire department in Oregon that’s raising money to buy body cameras to document and discourage the harassment it’s getting, apparently for its aggressive enforcement of fire laws. Read it at

Only a third of U.S. public railroad crossings have flashing lights, and they are especially scarce in rural areas, where some crossings don’t have arms and drivers are pretty much on their own. Stateline did the story, and we picked it up at

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to discourage its adherents to not display the Confederate battle flag. It makes you wonder how many SBC churches will tell their members about it, and how many local newspapers will report it. Our story is at

The Rural Blog usually relies on traditional media sources, not those that advocate, but every now and then, an advocacy publication does a good reporting job on an issue that needs explaining. Such was the case with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State about continued politicking from the pulpit, in defiance of a 1954 law that denies charitable tax exemptions to such churches. We added a link to the other side of the story and ran it at

Much of our recent coverage has been about newspapers and their role in democracy.

Editor and Publisher examined how some rural newspapers have remained successful and relevant:

The Press-Sentinel of Jesup, GA, is leading a crusade to stop a local landfill from being expanded to accept coal ash:

The Lebanon (KY) Enterprise published the names of people who signed a petition opposing a new school tax, and defended its move in an editorial:

Far out on Long Island, NY, the “tough-minded but fair” East Hampton Star perseveres in the face of online readers who “slow dance” with advertisers:

Each week, The Valley News of Lebanon, NH, runs a feature obituary of someone with local ties:

Longtime editor and reporter Steve Buttry, now at Louisiana State University, offered advice on how to get local stories from national stories:

Our best-read story about newspapers recently was on the essay contest that our friend Ross Connelly, publisher of The Hardwick (VT) Gazette, is using to sell the weekly newspaper after failing to find a buyer: We wish him well.


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