Sunday sampler

A slow local news day, perhaps because wire stories on the devastation in Nepal elbowed some stories off the front page.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times poses the question of whether charter schools are becoming segregated. Yes, is the answer. More students are going to schools that are predominately white, a trend that raises concerns about resegregation of schools….This matters because the schools are supposed to be serving the public interest, said Helen F. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and one of the study’s authors. It’s also important because of the history of segregation in the South, she said. Is it coincidental that the Republican-dominated legislature is pushing to increase the number of charter schools?

Durham — The Herald-Sun reports on a civic engagement certificate that Duke offers to students who meet the requirements. The story isn’t particularly clear, but I note it here because I worry about the lack of civic engagement throughout the community. The more efforts and rewards given to people who get involved, the better. To earn the civic engagement certificate, a student will have to take a beginning “gateway” course, two electives and an ending, “capstone” seminar. He or she will also have to perform 450 hours of hands-on work with at least one “community partner,” and put together a public “e-portfolio” documenting their experience.

Laying off journalists

In 2007, I told 17 fulltime and a dozen part-time News & Record journalists they were laid off. A student asked me to talk about it for a class project she was working on. It’s taken this long for me to have both the courage and the distance to write about it.

I should have known that layoffs were on the horizon. Our revenues were sinking, and we had been slashing costs and content. But neither my head nor my heart would hear of it. After all, our corporate parent, Landmark Communications, had made it clear that it did not approve of layoffs at its properties. “Layoffs are a reflection of poor management,” the CEO would tell us at annual managers’ meetings. “The employee did nothing wrong; management did.”

We got the message: Lay off people and risk your own job. The innocent people wouldn’t be punished; the decision makers would. That philosophy was one of the reasons I loved our company.

But layoffs came down the tracks like the freight train that doesn’t even pause when a car is in the way. We had to “align expenses with revenues,” and revenues were in the crapper. The philosophy that had served us well through the years stopped at the bottom line.

I was given a number to cut: I can’t remember whether it was a number of people or a total salary figure. Whichever it was, my first reaction was a simple “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I can’t do this.”

A variation of Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief set in. Denial was the longest stage. the leadership of the company avoided it for months. We cut costs mercilessly, while singing an optimistic tune. Trips were eliminated, positions not filled and raises were slowed.

Then, once the decision to cut people was made, I was furious. I thought the company’s leadership — including myself — had avoided the reality and worked on the wrong things when we could have been positioning ourselves for the future. We had seemed incapable of preparing or of thinking beyond the next monthly numbers. (One pressman — a pressman! — said after the announcement that laying off so many in the newsroom was short-sighted and wrong-headed: “It’s cutting our seed corn,” he said.)

I spent little time in Kubler-Ross’ arguing or depression stages. I had lost the battle, and I try to move forward every day without worrying much about what I had lost. Besides, who could I talk with? As you might imagine, everything about this was highly classified. The company’s leaders could talk with no one except each other.

I suppose I hit acceptance, the fifth stage, about the time I actually started planning  which positions to cut. I say positions because we were instructed to think about cutting jobs, not people. We were eliminating the position from the organization, therefore the person in the position was no longer needed. It was business, not personal.

It is exactly as you would think: a cold-hearted, ruthless process.

But in reality, it was personal.

I wrote every position in the newsroom — more than 100 — on Post-Its, creating a massive org chart. I moved the Post-Its around, taking some off the board and putting some back. The first seven or eight positions to take off weren’t difficult. We had a few standing vacancies, and some jobs were clearly luxuries, left over from the golden days of 25 percent margins. One position I eliminated had been filled a few weeks earlier, and the person hadn’t yet reported to work. I let her come in and laid her off. She was angry that I hadn’t told her before her first day. (By reporting to work, she became an employee and would get a decent severance.)

The next fulltimers10 were brutal. Not only were they filled with journalists who wanted the job and likely loved the work. They had families. They were people I cared about and who trusted me to look out for their interests. I was wracked with the realization that I had failed them…and by all the consequences that failure meant to their lives.

Eventually, I had to purposely forget the person filling the position, which was as hard as it sounds. We were going to lose some outstanding journalists, and it made my heart sink every time I thought about it.

I felt so guilty. And alone.

As I stared at the flip chart covered with now-eliminated Post-Its, I realized that the mission of the newspaper would need to change. We couldn’t cover the news the way we had for years. Too many beats were going to go uncovered. And once the word got out to the community that we were cutting 15 percent or so of our news staff, our credibility would be in trouble.

While I knew deep down that would provide an opportunity to reinvent the paper for the 21st century community, I wasn’t ready to deal with that yet. I couldn’t plan that without help. That had to wait.

On a companywide scale, planning the layoff announcements was like planning a secret military strike. We were given a rough script for our conversations with the departing employees. Our comments were to be concise and brief. It wasn’t a difficult spiel, but it was sterile and unfeeling, as if we weren’t supposed to acknowledge that we had hired these folks and worked with them, in some cases, closely. We weren’t supposed to express remorse or regret, a rule that I think every department head broke.

We were all assigned representatives of our human resources department and the two of us would meet with each individual separately. They would get the news, get information about benefits and severance, and then a security guard would escort them from the building.

Of course, the night before the day of layoffs I got little sleep. That morning, I likely looked as hollow as I felt. I was focused. I knew what had to happen, and I knew the effect it would have. I just needed to get it done with as much grace and compassion as I could.

I was only moderately successful on the last part.

I told the top editors and left them in shock. I can’t remember if I told them which employees were out, but I’m sure I did. They had the same operational questions I did — why this was happening, how would this work, what would we give up. I said we would need to figure all that out, but that we definitely needed to stop doing some things. My message was clear: We would not respond by doing more or working harder — an embarrassingly stupid thing some people say. I wasn’t going to say that the products we produced weren’t going to be affected — another embarrassingly stupid thing some people say. We had to narrow our focus to the important things.

At 1 p.m. the HR rep and I were to begin the meetings in a room in the HR department.  As instructed, I had set up a schedule to meet with each affected employee — every 20 minutes, I think — and had my assistant to tell each employee to meet me in HR at the specified time. That, in essence, let everyone know something bad was happening. We had had discussion after discussion on the best way to handle it, but as it turned out, there was no best way.

It went FUBAR pretty quickly. Employees came early for their meetings and backed up. By 2 p.m. there was a line outside the door. Everyone knew what was happening and they awaited the guillotine. A few were weeping.

The responses inside the meeting room varied. Some understood and were stoic. Some were kind. One swept the files from the table onto the floor and stormed from the room 30 seconds into my remarks, shouting some choice words about my character. I’m surprised that that didn’t bother me; I understood it.

The day ground on. In the end, I had to meet with several part-timers at once, just to get them all completed. The impersonalness of that was particularly galling to me; some of them – editorial assistants who worked random nights — I didn’t even know.

Update: One of the journalists not laid off reminded me that while I was laying people off, word of what was happening leaked into the newsroom from a reporter in Winston-Salem. None of the editors who knew would confirm or deny, which put them in the most awkward position.

When those meeting were over, I went upstairs to address the remaining newsroom staff.

They were waiting. A few were angry, but most were sad about the layoffs of their friends and worried about their own future. It’s a testament to the newsroom that they seemed to respect the process even as they hated it.

I remember clearly how I started: “I just met with a few dozen outstanding journalists and told them that they didn’t have jobs here anymore, and it sucked.” I told them what happened, how I felt and what I thought it would mean. I was as honest and as direct as I could be. I declined to name names — we had been instructed not to out of respect for the laid off employees — one of many HR curiosities that seemed to defy common sense.

I answered every question I could. I’m sure I was more stoic than I should have been. It’s pretty much my way, and I was already emotionally drained.

Several employees came to my office to ask questions they weren’t comfortable asking in public. A few asked about me, which was kind and meaningful to me.

I went through my exit routine, stopping briefly at the various editing circles and checking on the front page for the next day. I wanted to be seen and to give folks another chance to talk. I spent the most time with the night copy desk folks because they were a feisty group and I liked them. I wanted them to have a separate crack at me.

When I left, I went straight to a reception for one of my daughters’ soccer teams. I could have skipped it, but I wanted to be around people and I knew there was beer there. I told the host how I’d spent the day. He briefly commiserated, then put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “I’ve been on the other side. Your people had it much tougher today than you.”

He was right, of course. I still had a job.

I wept when I got home. Wept from guilt, from regret, from stress. Wept because I knew this was the beginning of the end for me and the paper.

In the ensuing days, it was clear that a bond between the company and the employee was broken. The deal had been this:

They would work hard, do good work, miss family dinners, have coworkers critique their work, hear from readers that they were stupid and biased and worse.

We would give them a place to do what they loved, a paycheck and job security. We could no longer provide the security.

After that day, that covenant wasn’t ever fully restored.

Last month, I told a student who interviewed me for a school project that that day had traumatized me.

I had fired too many good people who had done absolutely nothing to deserve it, except come to work for the wrong company at the wrong time. With it came the eventual realization that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the journalistic mission I had set for myself and for the paper.

I stayed on, but in the five years before I finally quit, we had three more layoffs, although not nearly as large as the first. After each, we caught our breath, thought we were out of the woods and even got to hire a few people. (I went back to the people we had laid off to see if they wanted to return. Some did and are still working at the paper.)

But we never were out of the woods. We really never created a survival strategy that went beyond cutting.

In retrospect, I believe I stayed three years too long. Not because I lost my love for journalism or for newspapering. I lost my will to keep battling the alligators in a company that had a different vision than I. (The newspaper has new owners and, in the past three years, virtually all of the top leaders from my time are gone.)

Do not misread this: I’m still optimistic for the future of journalism and new ways of telling stories and nourishing democracy. There are so many smart, innovative people working on solutions based on people and community and service — rather than on protecting the way we do things — that journalism will flourish. I’m fortunate to teach some of them.

Sunday sampler

Image courtesy of the Newseum

Image courtesy of the Newseum

Love the art on that front page.

Greensboro – I’m always impressed when high school students stand up to be counted. The News & Record writes about students protesting bullying and discrimination of LBGT students…and the school system’s policies addressing that. It also happens “in the hallways, in the lunchroom, on the bus — all the places students are where there may not be too many school personnel around,” Stroupe said. “Students still get nasty notes … put on their lockers. They get bumped into lockers. Things like that still happen.”

Asheville — Fascinating story in the Citizen-Times about the city’s growth, and one that can be done by every news outlet in the state. The Asheville metro area is the only one among 15 in North Carolina with a population growing only because more people are moving to the region, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in late March. It also shows sizable growth in Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington. Greensboro, less so.

Burlington — There’s not a parent around who doesn’t know that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds make some of the dumbest decisions imaginable. Only North Carolina and New York automatically try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. This spring, New York legislators are poised to change their law, leaving North Carolina the only state in the U.S. that — to paraphrase what the state’s juvenile justice director said last week — treats 16-year-olds like 45-year-olds. The Times-News outlines the research that suggests changing this practice is wise. There is even a bipartisan state bill proposed to change it. Of course, this is the legislature we’re talking about. 

Fayetteville — I wish every legislator would read the Observer’s coverage of military issues. It’s top drawer. Today’s is about reports of sexual assaults in the military on the rise. Its report is straight forward and damning, if you care about those kinds of things.

Raleigh — Prepare to be outraged. The News & Observer’s story on state contracts leads with an anecdote about a Harvard professor named Rubin who was paid about $950 an hour to produce a study. The state hires hundreds of professionals like Rubin every year on personal services contracts, sometimes at seemingly high rates to fill what are supposed to be temporary needs for more doctors, attorneys, engineers and the like. Earlier this year a legislative unit that evaluates public services found that agencies are using the contracts to evade oversight. The contracts, which cost the state an average of $22 million a year over the past five years, have been so misused that they should be eliminated, according to its report.

The Rhino News: It reaches for facts, but it avoids truth

Want an example of the difference between accuracy and truth? The Rhino Times provides it.

The short version is this. John Hammer wrote a defense of his survey on Friday. (I’d link to it, but that version is gone.) Because he named me as part of his attack on the News & Record, I responded on Saturday pointing out three errors in need of correction. After 48 hours, he changed his post. It’s factually correct but not precisely true. Let’s take a look:

Item 1. His wording on Friday: “From a journalistic standpoint, in quoting a professor at Elon University – where former Editor of the News & Record John Robinson was in charge of doing the polling – the N&R might not have used the most unbiased source available.  To the News & Record’s credit, at least they didn’t quote Robinson on his views of the Rhino Times’ poll.”

His wording today, and I’ve bolded the change:From a journalistic standpoint, in quoting a professor at Elon University – where former News & Record Editor John Robinson is involved with the polling – the N&R might not have used the most unbiased source available.  To the News & Record’s credit, at least they didn’t quote Robinson on his views of the Rhino Times’ poll.

As I wrote Saturday: “I’m not in charge of polling. I am communications director for the poll, which means I handle the poll’s social media accounts and discuss with the poll directors which topics might be relevant to the state’s citizens and get media attention. I don’t create poll questions and have no say over what is or isn’t asked or how it is asked.”

He doesn’t explain what relevance I have as it pertains to the News & Record.

It is factually accurate, but hardly true in terms of his point.

Item 2: His wording Saturday: A review of News & Record articles citing polls done by Elon University, which the N&R seems to really like, reveals that the N&R provides about the same amount of information about the polling results as the Rhino Times did.”

His wording today, and I’ve bolded the change: A review of News & Record articles citing polls done by Elon University, which the N&R seems to really like, reveals that the N&R often provides about the same amount of information about the polling results as the Rhino Times did.  However, we did neglect to include the margin of error, which is 3.5 percent.

Nice that he added information that people have wanted since Thursday. But this is Hammer dancing on a pin. The Rhino commissioned its survey, and it declines to make the methodology public. The N&R did not commission any Elon University Poll so the News & Record would have no reason to make the methodology public. But the Elon University Poll  does. Its methodology is public.

Again, factually correct, but hardly true.

Item 3. His wording Saturday: “According to a poll done by Elon University and reported in the News & Record, the majority of voters in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage.”

His wording today, and I’ve bolded the change: “According to a poll done by Elon University and reported in the News & Record, the majority of people in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage.” 

This is true. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t bother changing his argument. There are two significant problems with it: First, polling residents of North Carolina is wildly different than polling likely voters. Second, the Elon Poll was taken six weeks before the election. The major campaigning took place during those six weeks.

He knows both those things. He just declines to tell his readers. He also declined to tell his readers that he made any change in the post between Friday publication and today.

That’s the Rhino, but it’s not public-oriented journalism.

Sunday sampler

Skipped last week because it was Easter, both in my life and on newspaper front pages.

Asheville — I start with a personal favorite from the Citizen-Times on the disruption of the music industry. It’s a favorite for two reasons: I teach the topic, and what’s happened to and is still happening to music is happening to all media. If you grew up with records, moved to tapes and are still on CDs or iPods, you’re quickly going out of style. Catch up.

Charlotte — Think racial disparity in arrests are a thing of Ferguson, North Charleston and “somewhere else?” How about Charlotte? The Observer: “Though African-Americans make up less than a third of the city’s driving-age residents, they are pulled over by police more frequently, receive more tickets and are the subjects of roadside searches twice as often as whites.” The survey is filled with interesting statistics, and to its credit, the police department is taking action.

Durham – 94 percent of the graduates of UNC system schools are satisfied with their education, according to a survey the Herald-Sun reported on. My favorite: 74 percent of Chapel Hill alumni rated the education they received as excellent. Bear in mind, of course, that the legislature is doing its best to strip funding from the system because…well, because.

Raleigh — The N&O is filled with great stuff. First, the former head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina misspent half a million dollars that wasn’t his. Second, Craig Hicks, accused of killing three Muslim students in Chapel Hill in February, is a symbol of a gun control debate. (Yes, some make the claim that we need fewer background check questions and more guns out there.)

And third, the state hasn’t counted dozens of workplace deaths each year. “Dozens of North Carolina workers die each year with little or no notice from state officials. No inspector asks questions, no one demands reform, no one pays a fine. Often, that is because of narrow state and federal laws that prohibit state investigation. Sometimes, though, labor investigators retreat after heeding an employer’s argument that workplace safety laws don’t apply.”

 

When the facts don’t fit, change the facts

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I don’t read the Rhino Times any longer because, why would I? But when I was told that I was part of Rhino Editor John Hammer’s defense of his survey on the state bill to revamp Greensboro City Council, I had to see it.

The validity of the survey itself has been found wanting by independent poll experts, and I won’t bother to rehash the skepticism. They’re the experts, not me. Read them here and here.

But I have to give Hammer credit. Bill O’Reilly has nothing on him when it comes to defending himself.

The major question hanging out there is one Hammer won’t address: What is the poll methodology, question order, margin of error, etc. It’s information that helps to explain poll results, for one thing. Most reputable news organizations release that information; it’s an issue of transparency. The Rhino refuses to release the information. Hammer won’t explain why. He won’t even defend the criticism of his survey.

But he does go on the attack; let’s take a look at what he wrote yesterday.

“From a journalistic standpoint, in quoting a professor at Elon University – where former Editor of the News & Record John Robinson was in charge of doing the polling – the N&R might not have used the most unbiased source available.  To the News & Record’s credit, at least they didn’t quote Robinson on his views of the Rhino Times’ poll.”

First error: I’m not in charge of polling. I am communications director for the poll, which means I handle the poll’s social media accounts and discuss with the poll directors which topics might be relevant to the state’s citizens and get media attention. I don’t create poll questions and have no say over what is or isn’t asked or how it is asked.

Regardless, I’m unclear of the relevancy of my relationship with Elon. I haven’t been with the News & Record for more than three years. I have spoken to the current editor there once, three years ago. The paper has new leadership and new ownership. How does my working there make the Elon Poll biased? Only Hammer knows and he doesn’t explain. He just throws the assertion out there as if it were something.

A review of News & Record articles citing polls done by Elon University, which the N&R seems to really like, reveals that the N&R provides about the same amount of information about the polling results as the Rhino Times did.”

Second error: Actually all of the Elon polling data is available for review. The Rhino’s poll data isn’t. In addition, the Elon poll directors are available and open to discussing poll results. (I’d even set it up!) Hammer isn’t.

Hammer goes on to show that he either doesn’t understand what legitimate political polls do or it doesn’t fit his chosen narrative so he leaves it out.

“According to a poll done by Elon University and reported in the News & Record, the majority of voters in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage.”

Third error: The poll did not say the majority of voters in North Carolina were in favor of same-sex marriage. It said the majority of people in North Carolina would oppose an amendment to the state Constitution mandating that marriage is only between a man and a woman. As Hammer certainly knows, there is a difference between voters and people. And in the case of the vote on the marriage amendment, well short of 50 percent of the people actually voted.

Besides, polls do not predict outcomes. Polls measure sentiment of respondents at a moment in time. That’s why poll results on the same issues worded exactly the same way get different results from month to month. The poll Hammer refers to was done in March; the election was in May. Those six weeks between March and May was a significant campaign period in which sentiments can and likely did change.

In the end, it’s classic Rhino reporting. When criticized attack, don’t defend. When the facts get in the way, ignore them, or, in this case, report whatever fits.

A serious journalist would immediately correct his errors. Well, in truth, he would have taken a few minutes to check his facts before he published.

The shame of it is that some people will believe his report. Worse, my guess is that some politicians, who certainly know better, will use the numbers to fit their political agenda. It’s the ultimate in cynical politics.

How state politics works

 

download (2)Sorry, President Nixon, but you’re mistaken, again. The cynical ugliness of today’s political environment is made clear by the efforts from Raleigh to dictate how Greensboro City Council should be elected. A brief recap:

* A Republican senator, Trudy Wade, who represents only a small piece of Greensboro files legislation to reduce the number of City Council representatives and change their terms. She doesn’t consult the city council and doesn’t cite a motivating factor other than that businesses want it. No businesses have come forward to say they want it, and she refuses to identify any. She says it’s not a political move to put more conservatives in power, but it makes no sense otherwise.

* The state Senate votes along party lines to approve the redistricting plan despite hearing tremendous opposition from Greensboro citizens. Republicans apparently forget their animosity toward big government mandating laws that local government have to follow whether or not they want to.

* The bill moves to the House, where opponents think they may find traction with local GOP representatives. (Democrats already oppose the change.)

* Two GOP representatives — Jon Hardister and John Blust — say they will oppose the bill if it doesn’t require a local referendum on the issue. Both said that comments from constituents has been overwhelmingly negative.

* The third local GOP Republican, John Faircloth, says he is waiting for a public hearing at a House committee meeting. It’s clearly a stalling tactic — he’s either heard enough from both sides or he’s been asleep for the past two months. He should be embarrassed but he is a politician so….

* Blust says he may be punished by the leadership for opposing the bill. “I hate it because that could mean basically the session is over for me in realistic terms.” Think about that for a moment. Because he is voting the interests of his constituents, he thinks he is going to be shoved onto the back bench by his own party.

* No local representative in the legislature with the exception of Wade has defended this bill. And her defense has been primarily dismissive of those who oppose her.

The fact is, the strong position — the true profile in courage — would be if the local Republicans said this bill is a waste of time and money. What’s more, it is a violation of long-held conservative principles that local government governs best. Here is Wade two weeks ago on another issue before the General Assembly: “It just really leaves it up to the local government to decide which is best for their constituents.”

Does she even hear herself?

The bill shouldn’t have gotten out of committee. It should have been killed. There is no need for a local referendum. Holding a referendum gives the impression that this redistricting has support within the city, and there is little evidence that it does. Very few people — make a half dozen — have publicly supported it.

The people in Raleigh who want it don’t represent Greensboro. They simply want to control the elected representatives in town.

It’s how politics works. It’s ugly. It’s not what is taught in middle school civics classes. This would make a great case study.

Sunday sampler

Great journalism from the front pages of N.C. newspapers, and health care seems to be a theme.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times begins a massive and impressive four-part series based on the issues surrounding the regional hospital. The issues likely affect the hospitals in every state in the union.  At Mission Hospital, a sign hanging out front tells us we should have this expectation. You’ll be cared for here, it says, even if you can’t pay. But increasingly at Mission, a behemoth of an organization with 10,000 employees and $1.4 billion in annual revenue, there is fear the model is unsustainable.

Fayetteville: The Observer introduces me to accountable health care, which is says when a practice takes “on the responsibility for providing care to a group of patients with a focus on getting and keeping them as healthy as possible while reducing the costs of care.” These groups of providers – ranging from primary care doctors to entire hospitals – are mostly treating Medicare patients, something encouraged by the Affordable Care Act. And as they reduce the cost of care and hit quality goals, they can, to various degrees, share in the money they save the Medicare program.”

Gaston also has a feature headlined “How to get healthy in the real world” but it’s really three quotes from people about taking care of yourself. Sort of like you’d read in “Redbook.”

Charlotte: The Observer has a fascinating story that make me start thinking that the state is screwing a poor, falsely-imprisoned, low-IQ man only to see how complicated taking care to protect a poor, falsely-imprisoned, low-IQ man is. Sometimes doing right isn’t simple or easy.

Greensboro: The News & Record has an interesting story on how the public schools with the poorest students are facing terrible budget cuts, but I can’t find it on the website.

Sunday sampler

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Asheville — As you can tell by the front page, there is a lot happening in Asheville. The story is fine, but I really include it here because I like the front page treatment. Eye-catching and helpful.

Monroe — The Enquirer Journal showcases the impact that tuition increases at UNC system schools have and will have on students and families. It’s written by a student reporter for the Daily Tar Heel, Sarah Brown, whom I know and admire but, unfortunately, have not taught. “What’s happening right now is that increasingly, policymakers are substituting tuition and fees for state appropriations,” said Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the Program on Public Life. “That is eroding, in my view, the publicness of a public university.”

Raleigh — Today’s News & Observer has two interesting stories. One describes how the state legislature is trying to figure out how to get more money out of the gas tax without saying they’re going to increase the tax. I love to watch politicians struggle when principle bangs its head against reality. The other story is about UNC-Chapel Hill, a campus alive with bright people exploring fascinating topics. They’re going to have a series of campuswide discussions about the issues that divide us, beginning with race, gender, politics and religion.

Wilmington — Simply because a person’s dead doesn’t mean they are disposable. Or maybe it does. The Star News has an excellent package of stories about the dead. One is a piece about an abandoned cemetery, and the other is about the number of unclaimed bodies that the county has to deal with. (Thirteen so far this year.) “I think it’s also people move here and they want to be at the beach – it’s warmer – and they lose contact with their extended family,” Marino said. “Sometimes it’s not that people are just not kind or not being considerate. They really don’t have the resources to take care of their loved one.”

Beautiful journalism: Speaking truth to power

How often do you see a traditional news outlet — not “The Daily Show” — call bullshit on the things politicians do? Better yet, how often do you see a traditional news outlet call bullshit on what local politicians do?

And on the front page of the newspaper, no less!

Let me answer for you: Not often-damn-enough.

I’ll get to that in a moment. Follow the link above. Susan Ladd of the News & Record cites in clear, damning language the hypocrisy, misstatements of fact and outright lies told by politicians who are trying to ram through legislation over the objections of a sizable number of citizens. That’s not particularly new. What is new is that the paper is stating quite clearly on the front page who said what when. One of the things I’ve said to my children when they were growing up was this: If you’re going to be embarrassed that your words or deeds are on the front page of the paper, then don’t say or do them.

Hoisted on his/her own petard comes to mind, in this case

More news organizations should practice this kind of journalism — calling out public officials in a prominent place. I’m talking the front page of the newspaper, not the editorial page. I’m talking a segment on local television newscasts (yes, I know that’s not going to happen.)

But when public servants purposely misrepresent facts, ignore constituents and serve their own vested interests, they should be — must be — called out for it, loudly and publicly.

Let me quote from the Principles of Journalism by Kovach and Rosenthial Rosenthiel.

“Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” “Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it can–and must–pursue it in a practical sense. This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation.” 

It’s tough to do that these days when newspapers are losing subscribers and local stations lose viewers at the click of the remote. It’s a strange business model: report news and opinions that anger your customers and expect them to pay for it. But that’s what a good independent news media does.

Sadly, though, it’s not as common as it should be, and so, as a citizen of Greensboro, I thank you, News & Record.

This kind of journalism will not bring back print or appointment news viewing. But it will do two things:

* Alert readers and viewers that their elected officials are not behaving the way that most of us try to behave.

* Fulfill the news media role of speaking truth to power, afflicting the comfortable and giving voice to the voiceless. If you’re going to go down, at least go down fighting.