My friend Eric Frederick, the voice behind the NC Local weekly newsletter, asked me and several other journalism people two questions, which are below. I’m flattered to have been asked and humbled to be with so many bright lights of the journalism. But read them all; there are many smart takes here.
What work in North Carolina journalism inspired or enlightened you this year?
Against a background of newspapers gasping for air, accountability journalism continues its brave fight to keep people informed about how the powerful work. (I specify newspapers because newspaper journalists have traditionally done the bulk of investigative reporting.) Despite regular layoffs, the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer have continued their commitment to in-depth investigation into the wrong-headed actions of the government and the state’s institutions. The Daily Tar Heel has been unyielding in questioning the university’s actions on everything from Silent Sam to how it’s handled the pandemic. The Asheville Citizen Times has pushed hard on issues of importance to Buncombe County, too.
But accountability journalism doesn’t stop with investigations. Papers across the state have kept their coverage focused on the pandemic and the racial issues raised by the death of George Floyd. I am thinking especially of newspapers in rural, more conservative, parts of the state. Hardly a Sunday passes that stories about the virus aren’t featured on the front pages of the state’s smaller papers. The same is often true of stories about efforts of Black citizens marching or meeting with town officials in their efforts to hammer away at institutional racism.
Hard issues to tackle when half of the country throws around “fake news” whenever they encounter stories they don’t like. Takes tough journalists to pursue truth and demand accountability. All of these efforts inspire the hell out of me.
What gives you hope for 2021?
Hope is hard to find, isn’t it? For me, it’s in the innovative spirit that is see, which admittedly is small and late in coming, but there are flickers that give me hope. The recent purchase of the Charlotte Agenda indicates that there is a market for a different kind of news coverage. Triad City Beat has done the same in a different way in the Triad (and been an important investigative voice). The News Reporter in Whiteville has been at the forefront of trying to make the shift from print to digital. I hope there are other efforts, particularly in communities outside the metros. It doesn’t escape me that, until the Agenda sale, those three mentioned were not owned by large corporations. But it does give hope that small initiatives with a mission focus can help their readers and communities.