The Rural Blog is an aggregator of events, trends and ideas

May 6, 2014

By Al Cross
Into the Issues 

My hope in publishing The Rural Blog is to give rural journalists ideas, sources and approaches for their own stories, but you’re certainly welcome to publish the items as stories. I start out with that reminder because of my friend Max Heath’s warning in his column last month about newspapers exceeding the 75 percent ad content rule. If you’re looking for professional, independent and newsworthy material to fill the space between the ads, you’re welcome to use Rural Blog stories, with the same type of proper credit we give to original sources.

Here are some examples of Rural Blog items in the last month or two that could easily run as news stories, as well as helping you do your own stories on the topic:

• Banks are experimenting in rural areas with a so-called “ATM on steroids” that connect users with a person at a call center, The Des Moines Register reported, and we boiled it down at

• The anti-vaccination movement has gained momentum during the past decade, because some people do not want to risk side effects or simply do not trust governments or drug companies. But it may be allowing the resurgence of diseases such as measles, meningitis and whooping cough, USA Today reported and we excerpted at

• Although some rural areas continue to lack broadband access, some businesses that depend on high-speed Internet are heading for smaller cities and towns that offer fast, fiber-optic cable connections at better prices and better availability, Personal Tech reported and we relayed it at But most rural areas still lag in broadband access, according to a report from the Rural Broadband Association, which is noted at

The Rural Blog primarily is an aggregator and curator of events, trends, ideas, issues and journalism from and about rural America, but sometimes we do our own stories.

• Graduate student Melissa Landon went to a health-care conference and learned that Alzheimer’s disease starts sooner in rural areas and can be delayed and treated with telemedicine. Read her story at

• Staff assistant Tim Mandell went to a tourism conference and wrote about Cory Ramsey, who has created a Facebook page that promotes rural places in Kentucky. His message was that promoting rural tourism is as easy as having a camera and access to social media. Read about it at

Some of our favorite Rural Blog items deal with national databases that are loaded with local information.

• When Consumer Reports published its safety rankings of hospitals, we provided access at

• On the first anniversary of the disastrous fertilizer explosion in West, TX, we reminded readers that the Environmental Protection Agency keeps track of facilities that use dangerous chemicals, and provided access to a map, at

• Loads of local health data are crunched each year by researchers at the University of Wisconsin to produce County Health Rankings, a snapshot of each U.S. county’s health factors and health outcomes. We made sure our readers knew about the latest release at

• Smoking remains a major health factor in much of the country, and even as it has declined in urban areas, it has lingered on or even risen in some rural areas, researchers at the University of Washington found. We wrote about it and published a map at

The Rural Blog keeps track of developing issues. Many areas of the U.S. are feeling the impacts, good and bad, of an oil and gas boom driven by horizontal hydraulic fracturing of deep, dense shale.

• When a Wall Street Journal reporter who has written a book about the boom wrote that fracking’s risks are manageable, but we need to do a better job managing them, we took note at And when scientists at Duke University published a review of fracking’s four basic risks, we picked it up at

• Climate change is a complicated subject, but there is overwhelming evidence of it, and 97 percent of published climate scientists say human activities are helping cause it. The only real scientific debate is how much, and how the factors relate to each other. We excerpted the latest international report at

Some Rural Blog items are clear set-ups for local inquiries.

• As many as 3,300 postmasters could lose their jobs by October, as the U.S. Postal Service changes its staffing policies:

• And in some Eastern states, state governments are trying to shed responsibility for purely local roads:

• Career colleges have become a big industry, driven mainly by federal loans and grants to students. Now the feds want them to do a better job, especially in rural areas (, and several state attorneys general are cracking down on some career colleges and student-loan companies, Stateline reported, and so did we, at

Sometimes we expand a blog item to add our own knowledge or offer help.

• When Journalist’s Resource, a service of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, noted new research on the reliability of political polls, I offered to provide specific advice on polling, drawing on my experience as a political writer and columnist. Our blog item is at

Rural Blog items always give credit to the original source, and if you use one as news, we’d appreciate a credit line, and if one inspires your own story, we’d like to know. If you do or see good rural journalism, tell us about it so we can put it on The Rural Blog 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.