Actor Sean Harris as Patrick in Channel 4 drama ‘Southcliffe,’ one of the new British crime shows set in rural areas.

[imgcontainer] [img:southcliffe.jpg]Actor Sean Harris as Patrick in Channel 4 drama ‘Southcliffe,’ one of the new British crime shows set in rural areas. [/imgcontainer]

Jolly Good Crime Dramas?  British crime drama is leaving the gritty city for the English countryside, reports the Daily Beast.

A spate of new crime dramas is set in small towns in the United Kingdom. There’s “Southcliffe,” on the coast of Kent; “Broadchurch,” filmed on the Dorset coast in the south of England; “Mayday,” filmed in Surrey; “Shetland,” set in the Scottish  isles; and “Hinterland,” an upcoming series filmed on the coast of Wales (filmed twice, as a matter of fact – once in English and again in Welsh).

British fictional crime drama based in rural settings isn’t new – even Sherlock Holmes headed out on the moor or country estate from time to time. But the latest country-crime trend has a more recent source of inspiration. Critics link it to the success of “Nordic Noir.” These are popular Scandinavian crime dramas like “Wallander,” “Borgen,” “The Killing” and “The Bridge.”

To our eye, the new round of rural crime dramas plays up the “dystopic” aspects of rural living. The natural world isn’t the comforting cathedral of the human soul. It’s eerie and vaguely sinister — the deep, dark woods as a metaphor for the human condition, where evil lurks behind every branch and ivy-covered wall. We can practically hear the baying of the “Hound of the Baskervilles” in the distance.

On the more practical side, viewers will probably have to suspend their disbelief when it comes to crime statistics.  “Southcliffe,” for example, features a spree killer. With modest population density, that would put the murder rate at astronomical levels. 

Criminal Ethics? Many weekly newspapers feature stories from 10, 30 or 50 years ago. These looks-back-in-time often make us wonder if there is such a thing as progress. For instance, we began to think that there has been a decline in the morality of criminals after reading of a theft that took place in Whitesburg, Kentucky, 80 years ago, in early September 1933.

The Mountain Eagle, the fine local paper for that Eastern Kentucky town, reported (in 1933) that “a woman was robbed of less than $2 last Friday while she was eating breakfast in her home in Whitesburg.” The paper explained:

“Miss Frances Blair said she handed her purse over to the robber, a man, after he assaulted her. She said that after she told the robber [that all she had was the] $2, he gave 75 cents of the money back to her before leaving. Miss Blair added that she was so excited she didn’t know who her assailant was or in which direction he ran from her home.”

Folklore is full of examples of bandits who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor – e.g., Robin Hood and Pretty Boy Floyd. This is the first we know of in which the victim and beneficiary were one and the same.

We wonder, would a thief today return some of his proceeds to a woman in need? Or was that an ethic of Great Depression days?

Chinese Students in Rural Ohio. Four nonmetropolitan school districts in Ohio are considering a plan to place as many as 200 Chinese students in their classrooms in coming years.

The plan, in its initial stages of discussion, would see Chinese families pay about $10,000 a year (well above the state per-pupil payments that schools receive) to have their children come to America to study in high schools in Pike, Scotio, Jackson and Ross counties. Ohio families would play host to the international students, and would receive a little pay for their trouble, as well.

The Columbus Dispatch reports:

“That would be a pretty good shot in the arm” for the southern Ohio economy, said Neil Leist, Eastern’s superintendent [in Beaver, Ohio]. The proposal came about from a discussion he and a representative of the Weiming Education Group had at a recent, unrelated professional conference. …

It is not just about money. Placing the English-speaking Chinese teenagers with local students in area high schools would promote cross-cultural understanding and help expose all the students to the wider world that awaits them as adults, Leist said.

Critical Access Hospital Coverage. The proposal to reexamine how the federal government determines eligibility for the status of “critical access hospitals” continues to make headlines in small newspapers around the country. Here’s a fairly typical example of coverage, this in the Lake Andes Wave, which covers  Charles Mix, a county of about 9,100 residents in southern South Dakota.

To follow coverage of this issue via online searches, try this search. We count a score of stories from diverse, small news outlets in the last couple of weeks about proposed changes in critical access hospitals. And this is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Our experience is that the mainstays of small-town journalism (weekly newspapers and small radio stations) won’t appear in online aggregators like Google News.

Importance of Ports. The future of rural Oregon is tied to the condition of the state’s ports, according to a story in the Statesman Journal in Salem. The paper reports on testimony to a state Senate committee on Monday:

Investment in ports is especially important to the state’s rural communities, which have been hard-hit by the decline in natural resource industries, said Michael McElwee, executive director of the Port of Hood River and president of the Oregon Public Ports Association.

Rural communities are home to 21 of Oregon’s 23 ports, McElwee said. And even a small number of new jobs there can have a big impact on those communities.

“Look to ports as on-the-ground implementers of economic development in rural areas,” he said.

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