[imgcontainer right] [img:4c61937ca2f52.preview-300.jpeg] [source]Headlight Herald[/source] Samantha Swindler, winner of the 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award. [/imgcontainer]

Samantha Swindler, the editor and publisher of the Headlight Herald, a weekly newspaper in Tillamook, Oregon, has received the 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism.

Swindler was managing editor of the newspaper in Corbin, Kentucky, when she led an investigation of the Whitley County sheriff. As a result of the stories she produced with reporter Adam Sulfridge, the sheriff was defeated for re-election and was later indicted on 18 charges of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with physical evidence. 

“There is a great need for good investigative journalism in rural America,” Swindler later wrote. “Young reporters tend to think they need a byline from The New York Times to make a difference in the world. If they really want to have an impact, get a job with a community paper and start asking the tough questions that no one ever asked before.” 

• A new study finds that 700,000 Americans wind up in hospital emergency rooms each year after gulping down drugs, both legal and illegal. The cost of care: $1.4 billion in emergency room charges alone.

The report finds that children under 6 had a higher rate of emergency room visits for accidental poisoning, although most of the little ones had not ingested toxic levels of drugs.

The same cannot be said of rural residents. Drug-related poisonings are “increasingly a rural epidemic: the rate in rural areas was three times that of other areas,” reports the New York Times. 

• Rain and large irrigation efforts have helped save China’s wheat crop from drought. Parts of the country reported the driest winter in 200 years. 

• Nothing like a little hike in oil prices to put the lead back in the ethanol industry’s pencil. 

The L.A. Times reports that ethanol plants mothballed a few years ago are reopening and that ethanol production hit a record 13.2 billion gallons last year. 

• Nevada Republican, Sen. John Ensign, said he will not run for re-election next year. (Recall that Sen. Ensign had an extramarital affair with a former staff member.)

The National Journal says the race to replace Ensign could well end up being between a Las Vegas liberal (D) and a rural conservative (R). 

Religious broadcasters may oppose a move to transform unused television broadcast spectrum for broadband transmission in rural areas. The Cypress Times, an online religious publication, contends that existing broadcasters are best able to deliver broadband to rural communities. 

• The Telegraph reports from Happy, Texas, a town reporter Charles Laurence says is turning to dust as the region runs out of water for its farms. 

The English paper reports on the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer.

• The most expensive housing in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal, is in a rural county.

The cheapest house on the market in Pitkin County, Colorado, (Aspen) will run you $559,000. The house is located in a trailer park.

The median price for a single-family house in Pitkin is $4.6 million. 

• Hmmmmm. The USDA reports that a new system aimed at finding E. Coli in ground beef “does not yield a statistical precision that is reasonable for food safety.” So says a USDA official in testimony to Congress. 

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, asked for the study in November 2009. Now she’s learned that the system devised by the Food Safety and Inspection Service isn’t valid. “Even more troubling is that, based on the report’s findings, this sampling method is not able to verify that plant controls or interventions are working as intended,” DeLauro writes. 

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