Al Cross: Into the Issues

Al Cross: Into the Issues

By Al Cross

Al Cross

Al Cross

At The Rural Blog we watch events and issues, but also trends and ideas in rural America – especially those that offer opportunities for localizing stories. We’ve had several examples lately.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a trend you also may have noticed, but didn’t see as a story: a rural boom in electronic commerce, which makes it easier for your readers to buy goods that may not be available locally. The downside is freight charges, which are often higher for more remote areas, and the damage that e-commerce does to local retailers. We excerpted the story at

Stateline, the wonderful news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts, had an interesting story about the difficulties farmers and independent repair shops face because manufacturers aren’t required to make parts and repair information available to customers and independent repair people. I’ll bet you can find some such people among your own readers. Read the story at

Maps and data: Some of the easiest stories to localize are national stories with local data. The Washington Post wrapped up its five-part series on rising death rates among middle-aged whites with an interactive, county-by-county map. A link to it is at; one of the stories, focusing on one rural county, is at

Rural residents have usually had fewer insurers to choose from on Obamacare exchanges, where tax-credit subsidies are available. In the open enrollment period that begins Nov. 1, they’re likely to have even fewer. An estimated 31 percent of U.S. counties, most of them rural, will have only one exchange insurer for 2017. That’s a big jump from this year. A starting place for your story is the pair of Kaiser Family Foundation maps we ran, at

Health matters: Also on the health-care front, we picked up a Kaiser Health News story about rural doctors saying that changes to the Medicare payment system are forcing many small, independent, family-practice physicians to relocate, join larger groups, or become salaried employees of hospitals or health companies. It’s probably happening in your area. Read the story at

Rural areas have long had challenges recruiting and retaining physicians, especially those who deliver babies. Nearly half of our counties, mostly rural, lack obstetrician-gynecologists, and 56 percent don’t even have a midwife. The numbers are only expected to get worse, Stateline reported. The problem is particularly bad in states that are large in size, but small in population, such as New Mexico, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Read about the problem at

The challenges of rural hospitals, which have forced dozens to close, include difficulty with electronic health records. Many can’t afford to invest in them, and some have over-invested, The Deseret News in Salt Lake City reported. We picked up the story at

If your state didn’t expand Medicaid under federal health reform, that was more likely to hurt rural hospitals, a study found. Read about it at

Running elections: This is the most important election year of the four-year cycle. How well does your run elections? The Pew Trusts ranked the states on 17 performance indicators and concluded that North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin did best. The worst were Alabama (by far) and California. See your state and the story at

There has been much controversy about voter-identification laws, ostensibly designed to prevent vote fraud, though studies have found that fraud – defined as multiple votes being cast by a single person, or an ineligible person casting a ballot – is very rare. Still, a lot of voters think it’s a real threat, a Post-ABC poll found. We reported it at

Most Americans also think the country has a lot more immigrants and Muslims than it really does, an Ipsos poll found. See

Punishment and crime: Schools still use corporal punishment in 21 states, and it’s a largely rural phenomenon. Among all the school districts that paddle, just over half the enrollment is in rural schools where at least one student was physically punished in 2013-14, Education Week reported. We excerpted the story at

If you’re convicted of a drug crime in a non-metropolitan county, you’re 50 percent more likely to go to prison, and for longer, The New York Times found. That’s a change from a decade ago, when people in rural, suburban and urban counties were about equally likely to go to prison. Now, there is a “growing disagreement about how harshly crime should be punished,” especially when it comes to drugs, the Times reported. Its story has a clearly illustrative chart and an interactive, county-by-county map. Link to it at

Safety issues: Many rural residents have persuaded state legislatures to raise rural speed limits, but that appears to be backfiring as highway deaths have increased and the National Safety Council blames higher speed limits. Distracted driving is also blamed. We picked up a Post story and linked to several previous blog items about states increasing speed limits, at

Youth soccer is becoming an increasingly popular but dangerous sport, with emergency-room cases rising 78 percent from 1990 to 2014, a study found. During the same period, annual rates for all soccer injuries rose 111 percent. Get the details at

Good groceries: That noun can mean a store, or food, and we’ve had blog items about both lately. A pair of rural Colorado towns have created models for success that could serve similar areas facing a “food desert,” High Country News reported. We picked up the story at

Community-supported agriculture is a system in which subscribers pay up front, or a monthly fee, for fresh produce from local growers. A pilot program in Kentucky found that if employers gave employees money to spend on fresh, local produce, that boosted their health and local agriculture. Sounds like a great idea! Read about it at

If you do or see stories that are relevant across rural areas, please send them to me 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