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 And most death row inmates filed claims under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which allowed them to claim discrimination in their sentencing….’Nobody can tell you how long it’s going to be, but I would expect, given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

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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

 

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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.

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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.)

 

Sunday sampler

A strong day for newspaper front page enterprise journalism.

Asheville: If you’re truly open-minded about race, the results of this statewide study will take your breath away. “Black drivers were on average 75 percent more likely to be searched than white drivers. Looking only at male drivers, the difference jumped to 97 percent.” Don’t stop there. Black men were less likely to be found with illegal substances. Not surprisingly, law enforcement agencies dispute the findings and their implications. Read the whole story.

Raleigh: The N&O’s Mandy Locke continues her excellent work exposing and examining the apparent civil rights violations in Harnett County. This time, she looks at the impact on the pocketbook of all Harnett citizens: so far, the tab is at $100,000 and is expected to reach much higher. “If the Department of Justice determines that the sheriff’s office has patterns or practices that led to constitutional violations, it will demand reforms. The county – through its taxpayers – will be forced to shoulder those costs.”

Raleigh: The N&O also takes a look at educational alternatives that diverting students from traditional schools. “Home schools, charter schools and private schools have cut sharply into the growth of the Wake County school system, where planners have scaled back growth projections because of the increased competition. Now planners project Wake will grow by about 2,000 students a year instead of by 3,000 or more children as in past years.” It’s happening across the state, giving parents more choice, but diverting state funds from public schools to other types of school.

Fayetteville: The Observer has what looks like an interesting story on places in Fayetteville that are off-limits to military personnel. But I can’t find the story on the Observer’s website. There now.

Lenior: When companies I’ve never heard of make announcements about new plants that are going to employ hundreds, I’m doubtful. The News Topic shows what could happen. “A company that announced in 2012 it would build a plant in Caldwell County to convert gasoline sedans to electric power and eventually hire up to 600 people was nothing but a fraudulent scheme that bilked at least $2.5 million from investors, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.” Registration is required to read past the first two graphs, but you can read a little more here.

Sunday sampler

Asheville: I’ve always rolled my eyes when politicians talk about cutting the fat out of government. So I’m cynically enjoying this story in the Citizen-Times about Rep. Mark Meadows paying his chief of staff accused of sexual harassment for nine months while he did nothing. “The nonpartisan OCE said Wednesday there “is substantial reason to believe” Meadows violated House rules by paying an employee whose pay did not match the work he performed. The House Ethics Committee, which would make a final ruling on any punishment for Meadows, said it is still looking into the issue.” Oops.

Raleigh: The N&O has a good piece recapping how the efforts of the GOP leadership in Raleigh have been thwarted so many times by the courts, which happens when you pass laws that are unconstitutional. Let’s count the ways: banning same-sex marriage, taking away teacher tenure, changing parts of abortion restrictions, redrawing legislative districts, among others. And several more are in the courts now. My favorite sentence: “But recent months have resulted in a slew of unfavorable court rulings that have led some legal experts and political opponents to question why conservatives who talk so often about upholding the Constitution pushed so many laws deemed to run afoul of it.”

Greensboro: First, former UNCG student Paul Chelimo won a silver medal, then was told on national television that he was DQ’d, producing a true look of shock, and finally, his second-place finish was reinstated. Sports editor Eddie Wooten’s has written about Chelimo for several years — Chelimo has cited Wooten’s coverage in interviews — and he tells the story about Chelimo’s victory. (I thought the NBC reporter telling Chelimo on the air that he lost the medal was unfair, but it probably gave Chelimo more national visibility. Chelimo handled the news with grace.)

Sunday sampler

Raleigh: The News & Observer writes of the debate in Eastern North Carolina about wind farms, an issue that fascinates me. I’m conflicted because I am in favor of finding new, green energy sources, but I don’t think I would want a wind farm in my neighborhood. Read the N&O’s story and see what you think.

Asheville: (Warning: the website is strange.) Obviously, I like social media. When I ran a news organization, I had one cardinal rule about my staffers using it: Don’t be stupid. I had enough confidence that they understand what that meant, and they did. A State Highway Patrol trooper would have run afoul of my rule when he posted a disparaging comment about Muslims on Facebook. It’s more than political correctness. “If the judge believes that it would be relevant to the motivations of the officer, it could be admitted at trial, but it’s always going to be a case by case basis and it depends on the facts of the case,” Rollman said. “Any witness in a criminal case who has publicly posted a derogatory opinion could be questioned about that, subject to the court’s admission of that evidence.”

Fayetteville: There’s an effort to build a new baseball stadium in Fayetteville, and the process is going the traditional route. Investors and city leaders want it, some people turn out at a public hearing against it, and questions are raised about who’s going to pay for it (taxpayers). The Observer traveled to Winston-Salem to check out the Dash’s stadium and talk to businesses around the stadium to determine if there are lessons for Fayetteville.

Personally, I wish this Charlotte Observer story about discrimination by charter schools and how the conservatives in the legislature are OK with it had run on the front Sunday. “At least four faith-based private schools in Mecklenburg County receive taxpayer money through a state voucher program while sections of their handbooks prohibit lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students from enrolling.”

After rejection, acceptance

As I was going through my letters file to prepare this post on rejection, I stumbled across this letter.

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I applied for admission to Catholic and three or four other law schools the previous fall when I was working as a laborer doing tying rebar with Nello-Teer in Raleigh. I don’t think I was accepted in any of the other schools; I mean, I was doing rebar work for a construction company.

By the time I got the acceptance letter, I had left construction. I was a reporter at the Monroe Enquirer-Journal. I had been there only a few months. The paper had four news reporters, and we roamed everywhere and wrote about everything. I didn’t know much about anything, much less journalism, but I was having a blast. I decided to defer law school admission for a year; I didn’t have the money to pay for it anyway. I’m pretty sure I was paid more as a construction laborer than as a journalist.

The next year rolled around, and I had enough money, but I was too entrenched in newspapering. I didn’t even bother to defer admission. I blew it off entirely.

That decision in 1977 wasn’t the last time I disappointed my parents, but it was a big one. They came around quickly, though, as parents do.

And it all turned out OK, as things do.

Sunday sampler

Winston-Salem: In case you weren’t aware that the NRA is an arm of gun manufacturers, the Journal’s story should inform you. “Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. has gone all in on its support of the National Rifle Association’s legislative agenda, pledging to provide up to $5 million that includes donations from guns sold through the November general election.” (The only one who can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun is a brilliant sales slogan.)

Burlington: Getting DWI convictions would seem to be a simple process. It is, after all, a misdemeanor. The Times-News shows why they aren’t. “The Alamance County District Attorney’s office disposed of nearly 930 DWIs in the past year. In that time, local law enforcement agencies in Alamance County filed more than 900, and including cases from previous years, nearly 1,100 are pending.” In May, the court in Alamance County dealt with one DWI case from 2011.

Raleigh: Here’s the good news: N.C. is important in the presidential election. Here’s the bad news: the candidates will be visiting often. OK, that’s not really bad news, but you know…. The N&O explains why both Clinton and Trump want the state and how the demographics have changed over the years.

Charlotte: The Observer tells the perplexing and heart-breaking story of a Central Prison inmate, suffering from bipolar depression, who has 4,800 straight days in solitary confinement, Doing the math, that’s 13 years. “He’s rarely allowed to talk face-to-face with other inmates, usually gets only an hour a day out of his cell and hasn’t been allowed to visit with relatives or friends in more than a decade. State prison officials say they’ve worked hard to help Swain, who is serving time at Central Prison for aiding and abetting a murder. But they say he presents a special challenge because he frequently threatens others and hurts himself. The Buncombe County native has repeatedly swallowed razors, ripped open his surgical incisions and plunged sharp objects into his open wounds.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article93925092.html#storylink=cpy