Al Cross and UK Institute Training Next Generation of Political Reporters

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Congratulations to Al Cross and Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky for celebrating their 10th anniversary this year.

CrossphotosmallCross, an excellent reporter, writer, and columnist, became the first director of the institute in August 2004 after more than 26 years at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He’ll tell you that over the past decade the institute has filled the void when the term “rural journalism” didn’t have a lot of meaning across the United States. Rural people weren’t being included in national policy debates, issues that effected them weren’t being discussed outside the region, and rural opinions on important topics were being overlooked.

Cross and the Institute for Rural Journalism have changed that in a number of ways. The Rural Blog is a daily digest of news and content directed to and about rural America. The institute has developed numerous news stories, and detailed studies examining the many challenges facing rural Kentucky and America. And as an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at UK, Al has taught and trained student journalists in how to research and write important stories that keep folks all over the state well-informed.

One of those students is Cheyene Miller.

This fall, Al is teaching a course on the U.S. Senate race in the commonwealth between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Last week, two young journalists who’ve signed up to take the course, Megan Ingros and Paige Hobbs, attended the Fancy Farm picnic near Mayfield to hone their reporting skills before classes begin. Cheyene was in Corbin Thursday to cover the McConnell campaign trip to the eastern Kentucky coal fields.

Along with some professorial “polishing” of his writing by the instructor, here’s the piece he wrote for the Kentucky senate blog:

CORBIN, Ky. — Starting a two-day, 10-county bus tour through the East Kentucky Coal Field, Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers linked Alison Lundergan Grimes to President Obama, his anti-coal policies and loss of miners’ jobs in the region.

After recounting his history with former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned with Grimes in Hazard and Lexington the day before, and Hillary Clinton and Obama, McConnell said in Corbin, “These people are against everything we stand for. They’re against our way of life and we’re going to stop it.”

Noting in Middlesboro that Grimes had labeled herself “a Clinton Democrat” in Hazard, McConnell said, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between a Clinton Democrat and an Obama Democrat when it comes to coal. We will not be fooled!”

Speaking at Whayne Supply in Corbin, a major vendor to the coal industry, McConnell said Clinton endorsed measures similar to Obama’s proposed limits on carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. He said “Congress would not pass what the administration is now doing by itself,” when Democrats controlled it. He was referring to a “cap and trade” plan that would have created a market for air-pollution credits; Obama’s plan has caps, but no trading.

At Middlesboro, McConnell argued that Obama’s plan to fight global warming “is going to be about as effective as dropping a pebble in the ocean” because the rest of the world is moving toward coal. In Corbin, he called for actions to allow coal to make resurgence in Kentucky, and for the EPA to “get off our backs.”

McConnell, in his 30th year as a senator, pressed voters to give him a sixth term. He and Rogers held out the prospect, considered more likely than not by most experts, that Republicans will take control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 elections and make McConnell the new Senate majority leader.

In Corbin, McConnell called Grimes “new face for the status quo” and said “We have an opportunity to begin to change our country.”

In Middlesboro, he said, “You’re unhappy with what they’ve done to our country, the way they’re turning us into a Western European country, the way they question our values, the way they question the way we live. These are people who do not understand us and do not respect us, and this is the year that we begin to take America back. . . . It begins by making me the leader of a new majority to take us in a different direction.”

To applause in Middlesboro, Rogers said he and the Republican-controlled House had “cut the EPA’s budget three years in a row by upwards of 20 percent,” only to be thwarted by the Democratic-controlled Senate. “I can’t wait to be able to send that bill back over there with a 20 percent or whetever cut to the EPA and its personnel, send it to Mitch McConnell as majority leader and he passes it through the Senate,” Rogers said. “That’s gonna be sweet.”

Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, blamed the loss of 8,000 coal-mining jobs in his Fifth District on Democratic and EPA policies, though industry experts have said the major factor in the job losses has been a flood of cheap natural gas from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, switching power plants from coal to gas.

“If we can just survive through the Obama presidency and live, we’ll be lucky,” he said. “We need the strongest, most powerful voice we can find to rep Kentucky and our coal-mining industry and the coal miners, active and retired, to fight to Kentucky’s cause in Washington.”

At Corbin, Rogers was asked whether Obama had delivered on what he said last year in a speech outlining his climate-change policies, that areas affected by the policies should get special help. “I’ve not seen any help,” said Rogers, who accused the president of “flooding our minds with spectacles.”

You can read more on their Senate blog here.

And finally, happy 10th Anniversary to the Institute for Rural Journalism! Thanks for keeping us better informed on rural issues, and keep up the good work.

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