Journalism 101: Helping citizens see the forest

You know in Hollywood disaster movies there is always some lone person — usually ignored — who senses the early tremors of the earthquake or the distant sighting of the meteor or the readouts of the soon-to-be erupting volcano or the first wave of a tsunami? If I were a reporter in North Carolina — or a reporter for a national news organization — I would try to be that person. I would be pitching a story about what’s happening in Raleigh. With the GOP takeover of the legislature and the governor’s office, the world as we North Carolinians know it is up for grabs.

Maybe some people think that’s good. I don’t, but that’s irrelevant. There is still one helluva story to tell.

Consider the past two weeks of legislation introduced in the General Assembly:

* A bill that allows North Carolina to declare an official religion, which is in violation of the Bill of Rights. It also would nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide. Seriously. The Daily Show here we come. Again.

* A bill that extends the one-year waiting period for a divorce to go through to two years. In addition, it requires the couple to go through conflict resolution counseling. Naturally, it’s call the Healthy Marriage Act, as opposed to the She’s/He’s-Driving-Me-Seriously-Crazy Act. The sponsors justifies this by saying the state has made divorce too easy, and he wants to force people to stay together, whether they want to or not.

* A bill that would carry a tax penalty for parents whose children register to vote at their college address. From WRAL’s report: “But it could effectively cut student voting in counties like Watauga and Orange, where college voters have  been a key part of the Democratic party’s dominance.”

* Two bills that would make it more inconvenient to vote, cutting the early voting period in half, eliminating early voting on Sunday, dropping same-day registration and getting rid of straight-ticket voting. Of course, all of these options are popular with people and help people find the time to vote. And also of course, the sponsors say with straight faces that they aren’t meant to be partisan. “I think Sundays just should be – some things you just shouldn’t do on  Sundays, so I am just opposed to voting on Sunday,” one of the sponsors said. Will he try to bring back the blue laws next?

* A bill to “muzzle the Public Staff of the state Utilities Commission grew out of an email exchange between a staff attorney and noted climate change denier John Droz.”

* A bill to override UNC-Chapel Hill’s gender-neutral policy which would permit students of the opposite sex to share bathrooms and common living areas next fall. The policy was adopted by the schools Board of Trustees last year. Why meddle where they aren’t needed or wanted? “The purpose of this bill is to help the UNC system regain its focus on the core mission of educating young people and helping them find meaningful employment in our state,” Sen. David  Curtis, R-Lincoln said. I say that perhaps the Legislature should focus on helping to create meaningful employment in this state so that those young people have jobs to get.h

That’s all I’m listing because it’s enough…but it’s not all. It doesn’t mention the repeal of the helmet law or any of the other legislation that happened earlier in the legislative session.

As my friend Guy Lucas pointed out on Facebook, just because a bill has been introduced doesn’t mean it becomes law, which, of course, is true. Historically, the meat grinder that is the legislative process tends to throw off much of the fat and gristle. But North Carolina hasn’t seen this permutation of Republican-controlled government before. There is a sense that the GOP is trying to turn the clock back quickly and efficiently while they feel they have a legislative mandate.

And that’s where the journalists must come in. There are enough trees being planted and growing tall that a forest is forming. It’s time to help citizens see the forest. The Charlotte Observer did it last week on the state’s intrusion — my word — onto county and municipality authority. There is just so much more opportunity. As Mark Binker, an investigative reporter for WRAL, where the above links originate, said: It’s a target rich environment.


Update: Twenty minutes after posting this, I found this post from Indy Week. It does a great job of collecting the good and the bad bills. (They should have listed the ugly ones, too, but perhaps that movie reference is too old.) But my challenge below is to go beyond that and examine why the GOP is doing this, how many will get through the legislative sieve and what the longer-term consequences might be.

7 thoughts on “Journalism 101: Helping citizens see the forest

  1. Thank you, John – you are absolutely right about the need to spread the word. I am a ghostwriter, but I will certainly do my part to put these signs of misdirected legislation on any page that is willing to print it…please let me know where I should start – and I’ll work on it daily. My writing schedule stays pretty full – but this mess has got to stop. In a state with no recall and a puppet governor, backed by the likes of Art Pope, et al…something has to be done – we have no recourse except to expose them for what they are – I don’t even have to write the word that best describes them…

  2. [sigh] As much as I miss home, such backwards thinking makes me NOT want to move back to the Tar Heel State. I hope journalists can find the time and focus to shine a light on these issues. They are so important for many reasons (the journalists and the issues). :(

  3. This is exactly why the Republicans can not stay in power. They were elected to reduced the size of Government and lower taxes. Apparently, in their spare time, they pull stunts like those you have listed above (and I am sure there are more to come),

    As much as he pains me to say, keep at it John! Hopefully, somebody in Raleigh will see this as NOT why they were elected and get back to why they were elected.

  4. It’s looking probable that North Carolina will overtake Arizona for gubernatorial and legislative craziness.

  5. Folks, it’s all about the Benjamins. Art Pope and his cronies’ main agenda item — really, their sole agenda item — is to continue the upward transfer and concentration of the income and wealth of the poor and middle class and to make sure the state stays so gerrymandered that they can stay in place for at least a decade to do what they need to do. They get rubes to vote with them by pretending to support stuff they don’t actually care about, like a state religion, and that gets all the attention. Meanwhile, the crooks are in the vault. Has no one in the N.C. journalism corps ever seen “Die Hard”? This is a heist; everything else is a Shiny Object meant to keep the heist in the shadows.

  6. Pingback: Journalistic watch dogs: keep gnawing at that bone | Media, disrupted

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