Banks, business, economic data offer many opportunities for coverage

May 1, 2012

By Al Cross

Banks are perhaps the most important institutions in your community that don’t get adequate news coverage. The state and federal agencies that regulate banks have a wealth of information about them, such as the percentage of their loan portfolio that has gone bad, but they don’t get much attention, especially now that the national financial crisis has abated.

During the crisis, Congress passed tougher regulations on banks, and now some are changing their charters to become credit unions or be regulated by state agencies. The crisis was especially hard on small to medium-sized banks, which rely more on real-estate loans; a new firm called BancAlliance is helping them compete for larger loans. For our blog item on these stories, go to

On a more personal banking front, the federal government is planning to use only direct deposit to pay regular benefits, starting next year. That will require millions of “unbanked” Americans to get bank accounts. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., 7.7 percent of U.S. households, about 9 million, with about 17 million adults, are unbanked. Our blog item is at

In other business news on The Rural Blog recently, we noted a study that found Wal-Mart depresses rural wages, especially in Kansas, West Virginia and the company’s home state of Arkansas. The Daily Yonder reported it and so did we, at

Many young people in rural areas are interested in starting businesses when they grow up, but many rural communities don’t stress entrepreneurship in their economic-development strategies, so the kids move away, never to return. Most of them would move back if there were job opportunities, according to a survey by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. To learn more, go to

 African American farmers have until May 11 to file claims against the federal government, under a second settlement of a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in federal farm programs. Your local Farm Service Agency should be able to tell you if any of your local farmers are involved; our blog item is at

Areas with large black populations tend to have more income inequality. That was among the findings of a new Census Bureau study. Also, the Southern Rural Development Center’s analysis of census data showed that child poverty rose dramatically from 2000 to 2010 and remained highest in rural areas. Our blog items and county-by-county maps are at and

One of the best sources for economic, demographic, social and environmental information on rural areas is the Agriculture Department’s new online Atlas of Small Town and Rural America. To learn more, go to

Are your schools among those where evidence suggests student test scores have been falsified? After the Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed cheating on test scores in the city’s schools, the paper found about 200 school districts around the nation with score patterns like Atlanta’s, and reported, “Big-to-medium-sized cities and rural districts harbored the highest concentrations of suspect tests.” For details go to

Weeklies win big awards: Few were surprised when Sara Ganim and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, PA, won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting by revealing and covering the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal at Penn State, but little had been heard of another finalist in the category: Editor A.M. Sheehan of the weekly Advertiser Democrat of Norway, ME, and former Assistant Editor Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, for exposing health and safety violations conditions and prompting an overhaul of safety practices. Our item on the Pulitzers is at

The Yancey County News, a barely year-old weekly in western North Carolina, won the Edward Willis Scripps Award for service to the First Amendment by exposing election fraud, ethics violations, abuse of arrest powers and the theft and illegal sale of county-owned guns, despite financial and physical risks. Other Scripps Howard Awards had rural flavor; our item on them is at

The Rural Blog spotlighted other great work, such as the Adair County (KY) Community Voice’s local open-records audit, at, and an eight-part series by The Morehead (KY) News on mental health, at We also noted the struggles of the Licking Valley Courier in tornado-devastated West Liberty, KY, at

Because we are based in Kentucky, good journalism here comes most easily to our attention, but our interests are national. If you do or see good work that deserves national notice or could help other rural journalists, please tell us about it by e-mailing me at © Al Cross 2012


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