Sunday sampler

A lot of Hurricane Matthew mop-up, which makes sense given the amount of devastation it’s done in Eastern North Carolina. Also a lot of election coverage, which also makes sense. (Thank god that we get a new story in three weeks.)

Charlotte: The Observer has an incredible series on the discrimination, bigotry and worse that LGBTQ people face in North Carolina. (The paper put it online late last week, but it’s on the front page this morning.) Titled “Permission to Hate,” it ties the instances of hate crimes directly to HB2. “Public records and interviews across the state suggest that targeting of LGBTQ residents is so commonplace that many take it for granted as a sad – and sometimes dangerous – fact of their lives.” Its power is in its reporting; it’s filled with examples from dozens of counties around the state.

Raleigh: How is N.C. doing protecting the health of its most vulnerable citizens? The News & Observer answers that question in typical strong N&O fashion: with data, anecdotes and justifications from politicians. (Answer: “Finally, North Carolina’s percentage of people without health coverage, once better than the U.S. average, is now more than two points worse. That statistic is related to the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid. States that chose to expand saw a 42 percent drop in their uninsured rates from 2013 to 2015. In North Carolina, the drop was 28 percent. About 13 percent of non-elderly adults in the state remain uninsured, compared with 10 percent nationwide.”

The ROI on investigative journalism

Donald Trump’s hot mic story is certainly the hottest story of the day and perhaps the campaign season.

But the story behind the story should be more interesting for journalists.

David Fahrenthold, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, broke the story Friday afternoon. Fahrenthold covers the 2016 presidential campaign, but mostly he’s been investigating Trump’s taxes, his charitable contributions and the Trump Foundation. He’s been public and transparent, particularly on Twitter. And that brings us to Friday’s story.

From the Post’s story about the story: Reporter David Fahrenthold got a phone call around 11 a.m. Friday from a source with a tip about Donald Trump. The source asked: Would Fahrenthold be interested in seeing some previously unaired video of Trump?

My belief is that Fahrenthold’s source knew Fahrenthold from his investigative work. The guy’s a tough-minded, courageous reporter. If you have a bottle of nitro that is going to explode, you want to give it to someone who knows what to do with it. Someone who disn’t going to wilt under pressure. The source found the right guy and the right publication. Worth noting: NBC had the same tape, but didn’t use it until after it heard Fahrenthold was on the story.

The lesson for journalists and, more important, owners of news organizations: Invest in long-term investigative reporting. Oh, investigative reporting is expensive? You need to see a ROI?

There’s this: Fahrenthold’s story proved to be the most concurrently viewed article in the history of The Post’s website; more than 100,000 people read it simultaneously at one point on Friday. The interest was so heavy that it briefly crashed the servers of the newspaper’s internal tracking system.

What are the news media doing well? Freakin’ weather and traffic?


Conservative Republicans say the most negative thing the news media do is report biased news. Conservatives have said it for years, and it is one of Donald Trump’s primary talking points. Many news organizations have taken steps to address this concern to little avail. I’m convinced there’s no way other than total transparency to address it, and even that won’t matter much.

More interesting to me is the answer liberal Democrats give: that news organizations too often make poor choices in the news they cover and how they cover it.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? If the news media were smarter in what they wrote/broadcast and chose smarter, more relevant topics, we wouldn’t be seeing such a steep decline in circulation and viewership.

Or would we? Well, it might slow it a bit. But the paper and broadcast would be a helluva lot much more fun to produce and consume.

I’ve said that if I were running a newspaper now, I’d focus the staff on investigative enterprise and “good news” stories. One is to reveal stories about institutions that are important to people and that they won’t get anywhere else. The other is to remind them that the community where they live is a pretty good place with pretty good people.

Would that get more people to buy the paper? I doubt it, but it would make a difference in their lives in a different way than newspapers do now. Look at newspapers around the state, as I often do with the help of this site, and you’ll notice that all but the largest newspapers feature stories on routine government meetings and festivals in town. Perhaps those stories are in great demand by a broad swath of the community, but I doubt it. Now, watch your local TV news — you tell me if it’s coverage is what  you want.

I know that newspapers write those stories because they’re easy to do, don’t take long and fill the pages. In all the feedback from readers and research I got when I was an editor, I can’t remember anyone saying that readers want more coverage of festivals and meetings. On the other hand, I can’t say that they asked for investigative enterprise stories, either. But, at least if you cover them, you will be adding to the public good, and that’s something.

Most newsrooms don’t have enough journalists to cover their communities properly. That means editors must be ruthless in choosing what to cover, which is what liberal Democrats are telling Pew Research. Be original, relevant and important.

I’m not alone, either. From John Avlon at CNN:

“Amid sprawling spin and superficiality, the value in news today comes from edgy, original reporting pursued without fear or favor. News organizations should be non-partisan, but not neutral — hitting targets on the right and the left, as the facts dictate. We need to be happy warriors who love confronting bullies, bigots and hypocrites on either side of the aisle.”

Personally, if I were still running a newsroom, I’d skew toward more opinion pieces that guide the community and that call BS more aggressively. (I’d also devote more attention to distinguishing the digital report, but that’s another topic.)

But here’s the other shoe that Pew Research dropped: What topics did respondents say they liked most?

“Three-in-ten describe the media’s most positive attribute as simply doing their job of reporting the news, whether in general or on a specific topic. (Weather and traffic tops the list of subject areas, named by 11% of U.S. adults.)”

Weather and traffic.

Sunday sampler

You missed me last Sunday, didn’t you? That’s cool because papers saved up some good stuff for today.

Charlotte: Best story of the day, by far. The Observer investigates state lottery winners — a story that’s been simmering for years — and how some are gaming the system. And if you don’t think “playing” the lottery is a fool’s game then you’re a fool. “Most big-prize winners won once or twice. But the number of repeat big winners – some of whom won on 15 or more scratch-off tickets in a single year – has surged since the lottery began in 2006, far outpacing the growth in total winners.”

High Point: The Enterprise has what appears to be a good story about a local man who, as a soldier in Iraq, shot and killed Iraqi prisoners, and was charged and convicted of a war crime. He says he was following orders. He’s out now and talking about it. Unfortunately, it’s behind the paywall.

Greensboro: The News & Record reminds us of the unspoken victims of crime and incarceration: the children of the jailed. “Shaquan McManus, her oldest child, was only 12 when his mother went to prison. His brother Malik McManus, her youngest, was 5. ‘Back then, most of the people I knew either had their mother or they had both their mother and father (at home),’ Shaquan McManus said. ‘It was very rare that I saw any with their father and no mother.’”

North State Journal: The front page has a huge, somewhat confusing, graphic showing the demographics of North Carolina. The web story, though, breaks it down into easily digestible bits. Worth it if you’re interested in who your N.C. neighbors are.

Charlotte and Winston-Salem: Almost lost amid the presidential chaos is the fact that N.C. voters have a Senate race to contend with. The Observer has a decent piece outlining Burr’s accomplishments — and the criticism of — his role in the Senate as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For several years leading up to this election, Burr has essentially ignored print media in N.C., any time he speaks out is worth noting. Meanwhile, the Journal looks at the recent negative TV ads in the Senate race, which don’t make Burr look particularly senatorial, but perhaps that’s what he’s learned in D.C.


Sunday sampler

I was out of town yesterday, but that’s not going to stop the Sampler. My apologies for being a day late; the newspapers are far from a dollar short.

Raleigh: The N&O has a four-part series, which started Saturday, deep diving into the UNC athletic-academic scandal and why it has dragged out so long, who pressured whom and what it all means. There haven’t been bomb shells so far, but the detail is impressive and the story is well-told. And sad and frustrating for anyone who loves the state university system. (I know my UNC friends like to demonize the N&O for its aggressive coverage; I think the paper and Dan Kane have acted exactly as good journalists should.) “Newly released records show many key officials refused to believe that such a scandal could have endured in Chapel Hill – and reveal their consistent efforts to downplay the importance of many of the revelations that emerged. ‘I don’t think the article changes anything,’ Ross wrote to Brent Barringer, a former board of governors member. ‘…The University needs to be focused on fixing the problem. I don’t think they learn anything by going back in time.'”

Fayetteville: There are 150 inmates on death row, and there is little chance they will be put to death any time soon. The Observer: “Legal challenges to North Carolina’s capital punishment laws pending in state and federal courts have forced executions to grind to a halt. And most death row inmates filed claims under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which allowed them to claim discrimination in their sentencing….’Nobody can tell you how long it’s going to be, but I would expect, given all these different levels of litigation, it’s probably going to be years before we would have any executions,’ said retired University of North Carolina law professor Richard Rosen.” Good.

Greensboro: In case you’ve believed the BS Gov. McCrory and the GOP legislators have been pushing that the revenue losses from HB2 are minimal, the News & Record is here to straighten you out. “In an email Friday to local legislators, Henri Fourrier, the chief executive officer of the Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, cited $29.5 million in economic losses based on such cancellations….The News & Observer of Raleigh reported last week that the ACC football championship, which had been scheduled to be played in Charlotte in December, had an economic impact of $32.4 million last year.” The legislature’s disregard of revenue makes you think they might be Democrats!

Sunday sampler

On the 9/11, there are stories about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, there are a lot of stories. That’s what newspapers do. And have done today. I won’t point out any of them because they are all good and virtually every newspaper in N.C. has one or three. But there are a couple of other stories worth noting.

Raleigh and Charlotte: Both the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer feature a package of stories on Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper. (The papers teamed up on the package.) Both stories are enlightening, even for a political junkie like me. McCrory takes the position that he hasn’t gotten more conservative, but that critics are more liberal. (I still am curious about the wisdom of his continued move away from the moderate, business-driven image.) If your mind is open, this is a good package for you.

Winston-Salem: The Journal moves us to the Senate race with an analysis of the issues and the mud flying back and forth between the Burr and Ross campaigns. My opinion: the campaigns are arguing about two issues — the $400 million payment to Iran and a Burr 2012 proposal to reform Medicare — that most North Carolina voters don’t care about.

Killer clowns? C’mon, man


It has been difficult this week to avoid the reports of clowns attempting to lure kids into the woods. Difficult, too, in my case, to stop from laughing.  From the News & Record:

There have been more than a dozen reported clown sightings in the Triad recently. High Point police said there were eight between Aug. 20 and Wednesday, with four of those on Wednesday alone. One of the sightings was a person dressed as a clown for a promotional entertainment company, police said.

Seriously? All of a sudden clowns were popping out of, well, nowhere? No photos. No arrests. No nothing. People at least faked Bigfoot photos.

And so, of course, the fakery that is this story is beginning to unravel.

So, as I laughed at the ridiculousness of the story — guy with machete chases clown! —  I also found it baffling that respectable news outlets were taking it seriously. The stories were on the front pages and featured in newscasts all week. It’s possible that some of the stories treated the reports with skepticism, but I didn’t see them.

Why? Part of it has to do with the police, who spoke publicly as if they were taking each of the reports seriously. Part of it is that it’s a sensational story, evoking Stephen King-like fear. (King addressed the clown sightings, too.) And that leads to web traffic, which is the coin of the realm these days.

The attention the news media devoted to what I’m convinced will turn out to be a series of hoaxes is amusing and embarrassing. It also doesn’t escape my attention that it is coming in the weeks before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. As you may recall, in the summer of 2001, the media was infatuated with sharks off the coast of Florida. So much that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

Key paragraph: The sensationalist coverage of shark attacks began in early July following the Fourth of July weekend shark attack on 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast, and continued almost unabated—despite no evidence for an actual increase in attacks—until the September 11 terrorist attacks shifted the media’s attention away from beaches. The Summer of the Shark has since been remembered as an example of tabloid television perpetuating a story with no real merit beyond its ability to draw ratings.

Writing about politics on Facebook and Twitter















You’ve seen this, right? Or something with the same sentiment? Perhaps because I post a lot of political commentary on the social networks, I see it a lot.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Facebook that I don’t post political information to change people’s minds. Rather, I post it so that they are aware of the candidates and issues in the election.

That’s one-third true. I also post information because it’s a part of who I am: I am interested in politics and politicians. The direction of the country is important to me. This year, when a candidate has no experience in politics, shows little interest in the affairs of state, seems ignorant of the laws and traditions of the country, and speaks like a narcissistic bully, well, I consider the future of our democracy at stake.

And, yes, I do want to change people’s minds.

Two days ago, I read a story in the New York Times about a study that suggests that most people don’t pay that much attention to politics. These are the two paragraphs that intrigued me:

But most make only modest efforts to seek out coverage that is consistent with their preferences or to avoid uncongenial information in the real world, where other factors like convenience, habit and recommendations from friends on social media often matter more.

However, media consumption is wildly unequal. In the absence of a major story like the Clinton email controversy, the news audience skews toward a relatively small group of people who engage in very heavy consumption (just like alcohol). This group not only reads political news much more often than the average person, but also participates in politics more often as well.

It’s easy to find social media etiquette guides telling you to avoid posting about politics because you might offend people, lose them as friends or damage your brand. Check, check and check. I ran a newspaper; offending people and losing friends came with the territory. My brand? Well, politics are part of it now.

Can I influence one or a few people to reconsider their views? It’s worth it, regardless of the number of people who unfriend, mute and block me.


Sunday sampler

On Labor Day, many newspaper editors know that their readers will be out of town or otherwise occupied and strong enterprise stories are saved for another weekend. But not all.

Burlington: The news media isn’t the only industry searching for its future. The Times News considers farming: The number of farms and the number of acres farmed are both on a steady decline. Meanwhile, poultry and hog farming are on the rise. “Add into the mix that farmers are getting older without having anyone to pass their farming traditions down to. The average age of a North Carolina farmer is now around 59. ‘There is concern about whether new generations will take up farming,’ Long said.”

Charlotte: The Observer writes of the mythical “suburban white women” who are usually Republican voters…until Trump. Now so many of them interviewed by the Observer are unsure what they’ll do. Me, if you don’t know the candidates and what they stand for now, you’ve not been paying attention, which is likely the case.

Greensboro: The News & Record raises questions of police mishandling and misinterpreting evidence in three separate murder cases in the 1980s. “Vega also hopes for a pardon some day, but his path is complicated by the fact that Greensboro police have lost his case file, which in Armstrong’s case provided the key to his eventual pardon. Their sagas stand as a cautionary tale about the criminal justice system’s potential to misfire, especially when it comes to minority males who have a few scrapes with the law in their pasts.”.

Asheville: The city is expected to approve funding that would outfit every police officer with body cams within two years. That’s the good news. Not discussed is how and whether the body cam recordings would be released to the public. (Thanks to the state legislature, which seems to enjoy making secret items of interest to the public, these aren’t considered public records, even though the taxpayer paid for them.)