Sunday sampler

I worry about the day when daily newspapers go away. I look forward to whatever takes their place telling stories like N.C. newspapers tell today. They’re stories that many people don’t like to see, but good communities force themselves to look at anyway.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times does a good job pulling together the politics and hypocrisy of the state’s refusal of federal Medicaid money. Thank goodness for Aldona Wos fixing the system so that N.C. can accept federal money and provide health coverage to poor and needy, he says sarcastically.

Burlington — For every high profile Janay Palmer (Ray Rice’s wife), there are thousands of lesser known but also beaten victims. The Times News tackles a common story — domestic violence — but one that must be told more often than it is.

Greensboro — More than 4,000 — 4,000! — fire code violations in Guilford County schools. It’ll cost $20 million to fix them. Actually, it would cost $20 million; it should be conditional tense as it’s unlikely the school has the money to address the needs. But don’t worry, we don’t need to pass a quarter-cent tax increase to help schools out.

High Point — The Enterprise starts a four-part series on hunger. Another common story and another that must be told more often than it should. 25 percent of local children go to bed hungry at night. Think about that for a minute. Now think about what government, formed for the safety and welfare of local citizens, is doing about it.

 Lenoir — Go beyond the political posturing and BS about magistrates and same-sex marriage, and you get this story from the News Topic. It’s not an easy decision for some, choosing between employment and personal beliefs. So difficult – or fearsome, at least – that the magistrates don’t want their names publicized with their views.

Wilmington — When I was editor, I tried to get a story written about neighborhoods where gunfire at night was routine. My thinking was that no one should have to live that way. Editors at the Star News are better than I. “From the inception of the city’s automated gunfire detection system in December 2011 until Oct. 28, the ShotSpotter system detected 1,280 individual reports of gunshots…. Gunshots ring out on average 1.25 times a night in the city, Wilmington Police Department ShotSpotter statistics indicate.”

 

Sunday sampler

Burlington — Are prostitutes businesswomen or victims? Are they responsible for their behavior or are the imprisoned? The Times-News has a gripping story about human trafficking and how police are changing their perception of prostitution. And if it’s happening in Alamance County, it’s happening most everywhere.

Fayetteville — Stealing the idea behind the headline in the Observer: Is solitary confinement punishment or torture? It uses the story of a man who died of thirst at Alexander Correctional Institution to describe the need for further reforms in the prison system for prisoners with mental health issues. It’s a sad, scary story.

Raleigh — The N&O has the same story but different. It focuses on the death and the lack of information being released by the state about the circumstances. Read them both.

Raleigh — Yikes: “During the season that the UNC men’s basketball team made its run to the 2005 NCAA championship, its players accounted for 35 enrollments in classes that didn’t meet and yielded easy, high grades awarded by the architect of the university’s academic scandal.” Sad to say, I think the only question now about that 2005 banner is when it’s coming down.

Read more here:

Sunday sampler

Nearly every North Carolina newspaper features some sort of election story on its front page. I am not highlighting any of those because there’s nothing reported that is new to anyone who has even vaguely followed the N.C. Senate race. But….

Asheville — The Citizen-Times brings us up to date on the Asheville Police Department, and, man, things aren’t great. The city manager has put the fire chief in charge of overhauling the police department after the police chief got involved in his son’s criminal case. But it’s not just that. “A Citizen-Times investigation found allegations of on-the-job retaliation, an increase in officer resignations and a massive administrative error that has compromised traffic cases.” Read it and weep.

Charlotte — The Observer continues pursue its story about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police tracking suspects — and lots of other people — through their cellphones. The Observer wants to see records on the surveillance. Not surprisingly, the city doesn’t want the paper or its readers to. Two judges seem to side with the newspapers. Good for them and the Observer.

Durham – The Herald-Sun: “Nearly 84 percent of the vehicle drivers and passengers Durham Police Department officers searched in the first half of 2014 were black, new reports from the department indicate.” But before you leap to the obvious conclusion that racial profiling is involved, the department assures you it isn’t.

Winston-Salem — You know how it seems as if everyone hates Common Core? You know how the conservative  legislature passed a law to rewrite the education standards and Gov. McCrory signed it? A commission was appointed to do it and everything. Problem is, the legislature and governor didn’t fund it. I, too, am shocked. Makes me proud of the strong stand our elected officials have taken to make public education a priority.

 

 

Sunday sampler

 

Asheville — The Citizen-Times continues its examination of homelessness, this time looking at children. The county expects more than 750 kids homeless this year. “Among them are children sleeping in motels, living in campgrounds or in the woods with their families, several sleeping in cars and many living “doubled up” like Tiana’s family, sleeping temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.”

Charlotte — Six magistrates have resigned or said they will resign so that they don’t have to marry same-sex couples. Good, I say. As with any job, if they don’t want to do their job, they should quit. But somehow it has become a religious/constitutional issue in the eyes of some. The Observer lays it out.

Fayetteville — Editor Mike Adams writes a front-page column on the Observer’s admirable year-long, solutions-based series on crime in the community. “What we have seen in our newspaper series is that successful efforts are born when people of passion and influence are committed to change and willing to work with all who will join them in the effort. That passion and commitment exists in Fayetteville. The willingness to collaborate has been demonstrated by a small group of leaders drawn together by their common hope for change.” Well-done, Observer.

Raleigh — The N&O has led the charge into the investigation of UNC, and I’m glad. The rot was there and it must be cleaned out to heal. It’s clear the school wasn’t going to do it without the constant prodding. (Yes, I teach there.) It follows with a piece that puts the scandal into national perspective and links it exactly where it belongs: to the need for money and national sporting prestige.

Greensboro — And because I’m a sentimental sort, I’m going inside the paper to mention the Q&A with my friend Jeri Rowe, who was the News & Record’s columnist for eight years. He’s leaving the paper to work at High Point University. He talks about his adventures in the craft of column writing. I’ll miss reading you, Jeri.

Sunday sampler

Many front pages have election previews today. I won’t list them all, buy they include Asheville, CharlotteRaleigh and Greensboro. I didn’t read any of them because the headlines didn’t suggest there was anything new (to me) in the stories, and, to be totally open, the television ads have made me sick of both candidates.

Asheville, Fayetteville and Winston-Salem have stories about same-sex marriage repercussions, but I didn’t read them either because I read stories about how it is changing marriage and how churches will respond in papers last week.

So, we’re on to the more unique stories that caught my eye.

Charlotte — Live in Charlotte? I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that the police collect data from your phone. It’s intended to track people suspected of violent crimes, but it picks up data from your phone, too. Read the Observer’s story — they’ve used it hundreds, if not thousands, of times. If this story isn’t a reason to support independent journalism, I don’t know what is.

Fayetteville — I don’t have a strong opinion on the red wolves “return-to-the-wild” program, but I am fascinated with the animal. The Observer takes a needed look at the program and its issues. It’s a balanced he-said, she-said story, and that’s good.

Lenoir — The News-Topic tells the heartbreaking story of a 5-year-old boy who has a physical disorder in which the slightest bump or scrape can be catastrophic. His organs are too sensitive. Makes me feel lucky.

Finally, it does seem as if Greensboro and Winston-Salem are competing over which city has the most for tourists. Both feature story on what their cities have to offer, and both include each other’s “performance” in graphics on their front pages. You can decide who wins.

 

Why editorial endorsements matter

It’s a couple of weeks until the mid-term elections, and the beginning of newspaper endorsement season. That means it is time for the stories about newspapers deciding NOT to endorse. From CJR:

“Dozens of newspapers have stopped making endorsements over the last two election cycles, often citing doubts about their impact and fears that, in a polarized era, endorsements put the credibility of the paper’s political coverage at risk.” 

The next sentence in that paragraph should be: “In addition, newspapers fear that supporters of the candidate not endorsed will drop their subscriptions.”

Sadly, these newspapers are running in the wrong direction. They should be more aggressive, rather than timid. More on that in a moment.

Endorsements won’t affect people’s views of the political coverage. Most people already believe newspapers are biased. They don’t understand the separation between editorial and news. And if they regularly read the editorial page, they are going to have an idea which candidate the paper will support, whether the paper endorses or not.

By corporate mandate, the News & Record did not endorse in the 2012 presidential race. Still, in comments on stories and in social media, readers assumed the paper had endorsed Barack Obama. I believe the paper would have endorsed him, based on its core editorial philosophy. But it didn’t. Try to convince partisan readers of that. For the record, with new ownership, the News & Record will endorse in the mid-terms.

Many of my digital-oriented friends wonder about the relevancy of newspaper endorsements. There are so many other voices out there, they question whether the newspaper’s opinion matters much. Instead, they say, papers should funnel that energy into better reporting. (I agree.) You can make that case for major races: the presidency, the Senate. But not for races farther down the ballot: City Council, school board, judgeships, state offices. It’s difficult for many civic-minded people to keep up with everything. Local TV often pays little attention to the lower offices. Other than friends, many people need an independent voice to offer an opinion. It’s not unusual for people to call newspapers and ask when the endorsements begin. (And yes, some readers see the endorsement as a signal of who not to vote for.)

And, as many have said, editorial pages take positions on community issues every day. Come election time, they pull their punch? How is that responsible or helpful?

If newspapers want to improve readership, they should EXPAND their editorial pages. Many have cut back editorials, OpEds and reader letters to one page. They should publish editorials on important community issues on the front page. They should let reporters write with more attitude and voice. It is possible to cover an issue fairly while also providing perspective and bite.

They should reinvest in reporting, in fact-checking claims, in blanketing local political coverage, in traveling with candidates as they campaign.

The past 10 years of newspaper trends points to one thing: You don’t gain readership or build credibility by cutting back.

Sunday sampler

Yesterday I asked who wore it best, referring to how the state’s newspapers covered and displayed the overturning of the same-sex marriage ban. Most people who commented said, Greensboro, Asheville or Raleigh. All good choices.

My favorite was Greensboro — yes, that’s my paper — for three reasons: The headline — We do — was imaginative and tells the story perfectly; the photo is joyous and, by the men showing their rings, symbolic; and the stories were perfect. I liked Raleigh’s a lot, but thought the headline was traditional and the photo of the men kissing would alienate readers unnecessarily.

(What surprised me the most was the number of papers that did not give the story any front page treatment.)

Several newspapers continued to cover the ramifications of the ruling today. All interesting, all worth reading:

The News & Observer looks at the political impact. It comes to no conclusion, and the expected people make the expected comments, yet, it’s still interesting to watch the spin being spun. The Charlotte Observer gives the reaction of churches, particularly whether they will marry gay and lesbian couples. Naturally, it’s mixed. The News & Record takes the long view, examining how far the state has come. While it seems as if the tide turned quickly, in reality it was a long, arduous fight.

That’s not all the good journalism in the state’s papers, though:

Charlotte — Paying college athletes is picking up steam, and the Observer outlines the pros and cons. (TV and the NCAA has crammed “student athletes” down our throats. Why don’t we refer to student musicians or student journalists?)

Greensboro — The News & Record continues its outstanding coverage of problems at UNCG that resulted in the arrest of several employees for theft — basically the theft of time. UNCG has bungled the case from the start, and the N&R looks at how it all evolved.

Burlington — I was a Rotarian for 15 years, even serving on the board, which goes to show that sometimes even a civic club isn’t a good judge of character. But I digress. The Times-News reports that civic clubs in Alamance County — and likely across the state — are struggling to attract younger members. (My sense is that millennials are interested in the same civic do-gooderism, but are less interested in the process the clubs use.)

Winston-Salem — Moral Monday and Tea Party protesters, watch out. You know that the police drone which is hovering above the rally — or your house, for that matter — is legally spying on you? I didn’t, until I read the Journal’s story. “Local and state law enforcement agencies don’t have drones yet. But they will soon. When that time comes, legislation passed in August by the N.C. General Assembly will allow city police, county sheriffs and state law enforcement agencies to use drones to take photographs of open-invitations gatherings without obtaining a warrant, even if the gathering is on private property.”

How N.C. newspapers played same-sex marriage: Who wore it best?

The biggest story of the year in North Carolina is the overturning of the ban on gay marriage. So, how did North Carolina newspapers do on the biggest story of the year? (Some are not included because the front-page image was not available or the paper didn’t put the story on the front page.) Vote on who wore it best. (Images courtesy of the Newseum.)

NC_HS

 

NC_ACT

 

NC_CO

NC_FO

NC_NR

NC_HPE

 

NC_NO

 

NC_WSJ

NC_SH

 

Sunday sampler

Raleigh – The News & Observer continues to follow its excellent series on contractors taking advantage of hourly workers with a story today on how they are regulated….or not as this case may be. Here is a snippet of today’s story: “Federal labor investigators concluded in 2011 and 2013 that Miller failed to pay 18 workers on housing construction projects in Wilmington and Raleigh. At least four more workers were unpaid for their labor on a Durham project….Each time, Miller has escaped with impunity.

“He has paid no fines. He has faced no criminal charges. And, although two federal labor investigators suggested his tactics should get him shut out of federally funded work, he has yet to be banned.”

Greensboro — So, should state workers be arrested for spending time on non-work related issues? The News & Record has been examining that question for nearly a week as UNCG struggles to explain what it had three employees arrested for allegedly misusing university time. It has become a PR nightmare for the UNCG administration, one that anyone who knows anything about PR can only shake their heads at. By the way, the people responsible? The university communications department.

Greensboro also explores the racial diversity of the local law enforcement agencies and finds them falling short of the diversity of the communities they are charged with covering. It is not simply a localization of the Ferguson, Mo., story. Some in the African-American community in Greensboro have complained about biased treatment for years. (It’s a tough issue. When I was at the paper, we tried for years to hire more minorities in the newsroom. We never reached the community ratio we wanted.)

Gaston — Restaurateur puts diner “in God’s hands.” I don’t usually read stories like that, much less feature them here, but something about the Gazette’s story reeled me in. Perhaps it was the simple goodness of it. Dana Parris was having trouble making ends meet at Just Cookin’ diner so she let customers decide how much their meals were worth. It’s been a week and it’s working.

Asheville — Because I realized most sane people don’t follow politics as closely as I do, I like a good primer. The Citizen-Times provides its readers that on voting in November. More specifically, what the rules are — or could be — given that the state legislature has messed with them.

Dear Gov. McCrory: being anti-liberal arts is being anti-business

I join the legions of Republicans who must be wondering why their politicians are actively branding the party as anti-education. I don’t mean anti-education bureaucracy, as in “let’s get rid of the Department of Education.”

I mean anti-schooling, anti-learning.

The GOP-controlled legislature, with Gov. Pat McCrory’s approval, has cut school funding and demonized teachers. It gave most teachers a raise, but only after months of protests outside the legislative building.

It didn’t just squeeze the K-12 system. Led by Gov. McCrory, it cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s acclaimed university system.

He started the campaign soon after he took office.  “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

He went further last week: “Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday said that North Carolina needs fewer journalists and lawyers and more truck drivers and technical workers as he unveiled his ’1,000 in 100′ work force development initiative in Greensboro as part of a three-city tour.”

According to the Triad Business Journal, McCrory said: “We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many.” 

This post is not against truck drivers and other blue-collar trades. They perform an important role in the economy. But why not just promote the need for people in those jobs? Why denigrate those may want to do something else? Why not promote all of the educational opportunities the state has to offer?

Here is another informed voice. Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, makes the case that the key to success in modern business is hiring “smart creatives.”

From the New York Times: “Smart creatives, the authors write, are impatient, outspoken risk-takers who are easily bored and change jobs frequently. They are intellectually versatile, typically ‘combining technical depth with business savvy and creative flair,’ the authors note.”

I suspect the governor, if asked, would agree with Schmidt. I suspect he would say we need both truck drivers and “smart creatives.” (Perhaps some truck drivers are smart creatives.) Maybe.

Of course, McCrory’s public words don’t encourage smart creatives. He’s basically saying, “If you want to pursue that kind of thing, great. We don’t need that and won’t support you.”

In that atmosphere, is North Carolina the sort of place you want to locate your business? That should give the state’s leaders — people who say that jobs and economic development are their top priorities — something to think about.

It makes people — even average thinkers like me — wonder why the state’s leadership is embracing the idea that higher education in the liberal arts is bad. It’s divisive and offensive to those who see the value in a college education.

And it’s bad for business.