Jonathan Baker

News Curator

Jonathan Baker recently returned to the High Plains from New York City, where he was the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W. W. Norton & Co. At Norton, Baker worked with a wide variety of authors, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Lewis and Larry McMurtry. During his time in publishing, Baker worked on books that were shortlisted for a National Book Award and a Booker Prize, and Norton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in History.

A former professional comedian, Baker has performed all over the United States and appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English with a History minor from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. At UChicago, Baker focused on American literature but studied a wide range of topics, from architectural history to 19th-century landscape painting to the history of the natural sciences. His master’s thesis was on glaciers and ice age theory in the Victorian Era.

When not curating stories for High Plains Public Radio, Baker writes advertisements for publications like Esquire and Car & Driver. He also writes crime novels. Baker just finished his fourth book, a murder story set on the barren Texas plains.

Baker is the father of a 12-year-old boy, Inigo. They live in Canyon, Texas, in a tiny wooden house, where they watch a lot of cheesy old horror movies.   

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Over the past decade, language classes have been disappearing from Oklahoma public schools, reports Oklahoma Watch.

As of last year, a quarter of high schools across the state had eliminated world language classes altogether. The result: hundreds of graduating classes filled with students who’ve missed out on a key component that could better prepare them for college and higher earnings in the job market.

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For months, political prognosticators in the Lone Star State have been predicting a possible “blue wave” of successful Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.

Now, as The San Antonio Express-News reports, that same blue wave may soon result in a surge of newly elected gay officials in Texas. The ballots for 2018 contain a record number of LGBTQ candidates. In fact, the number of gay candidates on this year’s ballot is double the previous record.

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It’s no secret that rural Americans don’t have enough options when it comes to health care. In fact, life expectancies for rural Americans have been dropping. Meanwhile, rural Americans are at more likely to die from each of the five leading causes of death in America.

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The Federal Government ruled last week that Texas Education officials illegally denied special education services to students across the state, reports The Austin American-Statesman.

The ruling rejected a long-ago decision by the Texas Education Agency that placed a cap on how many students in the state can be eligible for special education services.

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According to the latest numbers for incarceration rates across the U.S., Oklahoma held the second highest per capita incarceration rate among all states.

As KFOR reports, in 2016 Oklahoma incarcerated 673 people per 100,000 residents. That lands the state second behind only Louisiana, which imprisons a staggering 760 per 100,000. By comparison, Texas imprisons 563 per 100,000 and Colorado imprisons only 356. The national average is around 400 per hundred thousand.

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The City of Amarillo is considering getting rid of the 22,000 dumpsters that dot the city and replacing them with individual 95-gallon plastic carts that would be rolled to the curb by Amarillo residents. The carts would then be emptied by trucks with robotic grabbers.

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A white-tailed deer that was struck by a vehicle on US Highway 87 near Dalhart has tested positive for a contagious neurological disorder, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, this is the first instance of a Panhandle white-tail testing positive for chronic wasting disease, and the first instance of the disease appearing in roadkill in the state of Texas.

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Kansas schools currently spend more per pupil than any state in the High Plains Public Radio listening area, according to Federal data.

And as The Tulsa World reports, Oklahoma continues to spend the least amount per student of any state in the region. Oklahoma only spends about $8,000 per year on its students.

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The Amarillo Police Department will soon begin employing the use of body cameras, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

On Tuesday the Amarillo City Council approved the use of 11 body-worn cameras to be used by the department’s motorcycle unit.

Texas job growth will likely rebound by 3 percent this year, according to new prognostications from the Dallas Fed.

As The Austin American-Statesman reports, the Fed expects employers to add about 370,000 new jobs in 2018. That’s up from just over 300,000 last year. However, payroll numbers are not expected to rise due to a tight labor market.

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In recent years, the number of deaths in Texas linked to pregnancy and childbirth has grown a staggering amount. By some measures, Texas now has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world.

Yet, as a new editorial in the Dallas Morning News reports, Texas has another, related problem: No one knows exactly how many women are dying.

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Texas isn’t quite as special these days as it has been for most of this new century, claims a new editorial in the Dallas Morning News.

The state, notes the contributor Richard Parker, “has burned brightly since the beginning of the century.”

But now that bright Lone Star is cooling off. Parker is careful to note that the state’s changing fortunes don’s so much signal a downturn as “a leveling off.”

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Black babies in Oklahoma are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white or Hispanic infants, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

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In 2018, Amarillo has already seen unseasonably warm and blisteringly cold temperatures. That’s no different from last year, when Amarillo set a number of weather records, according to The Amarillo Globe-News.

Parts of the city are still experiencing the longest dry spell in recorded history, and that drought comes after what was the city’s seventh wettest year ever last year.

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The earliest political primary in the United States is in Texas this year, and that means candidates in the Lone Star State have only a few weeks to win over the votes of their potential constituents.

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For almost 20 years, Amarillo went without a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction.

But this weekend, as The Amarillo Globe-News reports, a Panhandle recovery group known as Amarillo Recovery from Alcohol and Drugs hosted an open house to cheer the opening of their new Comprehensive Treatment and Recovery Center.

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High Plains residents have been experiencing a warmer than average winter, with less snow than usual. Yet, when we turn on the television, we’re inundated with stories of polar vortexes and unprecedented cold snaps back East. So, what’s going on?

While politics has sharply divided red and blue states in recent years, there’s a new divisive force that is separating conservative and liberal areas—weather.

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Last year, Amarillo saw another increase in homicides, marking the second year-over-year increase in a row, and the highest homicide total in a decade.

There were 16 total homicides in the city last year, reports The Amarillo Globe-News. That’s five more than in the previous year of 2016, and nine more than in 2015. Last year’s homicide victims ranged in age from eight months to 69 years old. This second year in a row of homicide increases marks the reversal of a trend.

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An Oklahoma group is mounting a ballot effort to prevent the state’s legislature from redrawing congressional boundaries for their own benefit, a process known as gerrymandering.

Redistricting work is expected to begin after the 2020 census, but as Oklahoma Watch reports, a group called Represent Oklahoma is trying to put a stop to the effort. Represent Oklahoma has launched a website and set up a $400,000 fundraising goal, in hopes of putting a state question on this year’s state ballot.

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Yesterday, HPPR reported a story about rampant abuse and neglect in Texas’s juvenile prisons.

Today, The Texas Tribune is reporting that inmates in more than 30 of Texas’s adult prisons may not have been provided with adequate heating during the brutal cold spell that recently blanketed the state.

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Child and civil rights advocates are urging Texas lawmakers to close the state’s juvenile prisons.    

The state has five remaining juvenile lockups, and according to a new report in The Texas Observer, these facilities may be doing more harm than good. The prisons house young inmates who have committed serious or violent offenses. Budget cuts have resulted in staff shortages at these facilities, and that means the juvenile offenders aren’t receiving the attention they need.

The Oklahoma Department of Health has announced that it will lay off almost 200 employees, in an attempt to clean up the mess that it wrought during last year’s financial scandal, in which the department acknowledged that it had overspent and mismanaged millions of dollars.

To correct the budget woes, the Health Department may also end grants that support child abuse prevention programs and health centers throughout Oklahoma. A grand jury is currently investigating the financial debacle.

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Vegans are finding new ways to survive—and thrive—in the Texas Panhandle, a land traditionally celebrated for its beef production.

Amarillo is, after all, the city that sued Oprah Winfrey in the 1990s for badmouthing hamburgers. Yet a small but mighty group of vegans is learning to make the city meet its needs.

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Last year in Oklahoma, the number of school districts that had gone to four-day school weeks nearly doubled.

As KFOR reports, 20 percent of public schools in Oklahoma are now only open four days a week, due to a crippling budget crisis in the state. Some officials in the state have said they think four-day weeks are a good idea, because of all the money it frees up in the budget.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott finally has a Democratic challenger who is gaining some widespread attention, after months of conjecture about whether the Democrats would be able to mount a serious candidate. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was profiled in the Los Angeles Times this week.

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On New Year’s Eve, a couple of dozen people gathered in Amarillo’s Ellwood Park and lit candles to honor homeless people who have died. As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the vigil marked the second annual Homeless Memorial Day.

There are many events like this in the United States around this time of year, though most are usually held on Dec. 21, the longest night of the year. But Amarillo homeless advocates have found that New Year’s Eve is a better day for Amarilloans.

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Retired Texas teachers will be facing higher health care costs in 2018, reports The Houston Chronicle. Some families of retired educators in the Lone Star State are facing skyrocketing premiums of up to $1,000 a month and beyond.

The high health care costs are even forcing some retired teachers back into the workforce. The problem lies in the fact that TRS-Care, the health care system for retired teachers created in 1985, is on the brink of insolvency.

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For the last 10 years, Texas elected officials have been gradually cutting funding to public schools. As a result, local school costs have been rising--and local property taxes have been rising with them.

The state Legislature has now shifted over $2 billion a year worth of funding that would have gone to public schools to other programs.

The start of this new year marked the deadline for all Oklahomans to have new license plates on their vehicles. So that means, if you’re driving around the Oklahoma Panhandle on Jan. 2 with one of the old license plates on your vehicle, you could be breaking the law.

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A raft of new Texas laws takes effect today, reports The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

One new law will allow retailers to reject a sale if a shopper fails to produce a valid photo ID to match their credit or debit card. The law is an effort to cut down on debit card fraud.

As of Jan. 1, Texas will also unveil a new revamped voter ID law. The new legislation comes after the former ID law was ruled unconstitutional by courts, which charged that the law discriminated against minorities.