Sunday sampler, sponsored by Jack Daniels*

This is a single issue Sampler. This is the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times, a paper of which I’m an alum.

Take a closer look at that “Cyber Monday” story.

I’ve never seen a story sponsored by a business on the front page of a metro paper. Have I been asleep? (Don’t answer that!)

I know that newspapers are desperate for money. When I was an editor, I objected when the ad department wanted to sell ads stripped across the bottom of the front page. I lost and the world didn’t end. But “sponsoring a story” on the front page? That’s a bridge pretty damned far.

Sponsored content used to be what we called advertising.

*That’s a joke.

‘My pen untangles the web of thoughts in my head in a way I couldn’t articulate otherwise.’

Every semester, on the last day of class, I have my students respond to the statement “Why I write.” Sooner or later, every writer needs to grapple with that internally. I just push them along. I only give them 15 minutes so this is more of a beginning, rather than an in-depth intellectual exercise. But it’s a start. Here are some excerpts:

vvvvvvv

Every life is a story, filled with thousands of smaller stories, and the more of these stories we hear or read, the more connected we become to one another. In a world that grows more divisive with each passing year, telling the right stories might be the only way to preserve our common humanity.

***

Game of Thrones had it right, stories are what make us human; our stories are what connects us to each other in a disconnected world; they are what make us worth knowing. That’s why I write.

I think there’s a connection here: my fascination with strangers and my anxious insecurities. I like to tell the stories of other people because I am afraid to tell my own.

***

I was painfully shy, and talking to people so I could write felt like I was carrying a shield into the conversation. I think what I love about writing is that as much as it helps me communicate my own thoughts, it also helps people communicate with each other.

***

Our job as journalists isn’t to give a voice to the voiceless—it’s to amplify voices that have been silenced, even if those voices shake. I write because I am no better, no worthier, no more deserving than those I write about. I just care enough to take the time, listen to them, and write it all down.

***

When I write — no matter what I’m writing — I feel the most normal and the most human. Writing is just easier than real life. It always has been.

***

My pen untangles the web of thoughts in my head in a way I couldn’t articulate otherwise.

***

it’s an essential way of bringing people together, of connecting them to one another, of helping them emphasize with a stranger. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when someone tells you how much it means to have their story told — it makes it all worth it.

Sunday sampler

You might think that with headlines on the front pages of papers across the state, the COVID-19 deniers would get a clue. But maybe they’re so busy worrying about their freedom from mask-wearing and social distancing that they don’t have time to read. Or watch TV news. I write that because many of today’s papers feature stories about the 5,000-plus number of coronavirus-related deaths in North Carolina. (“That’s five times the number of combined fatalities from every hurricane in the state’s history,” as the N&O writes.)

Raleigh: The News & Observer tells the story of some of the virus victims and those left behind. “For the surviving families, the virus took on a deadly scope long before its death toll reached this new crest. Jennifer Cramer’s 64-year-old father, Eli Klausner, died in April at Duke Raleigh Hospital, just two weeks after he contracted COVID-19. ‘It shouldn’t take losing someone for this to be important to people,” she said, “and for people to understand how serious it is.’”

Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Kinston and Burlington papers all carry the N&O’s story.

Then, of course, pandemic panic buying is back, the Fayetteville Observer reports. “The National Grocers Association, the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, said in an email Tuesday that some retailers are seeing some panic buying by consumers. This is leading grocers to reinstate purchase limits as they did in the spring, designed to ensure as many people can obtain the products as need them. ‘The supply chain is well equipped and products are available, but hoarding by consumers can confound even the best-laid plans.'”

Thank goodness, there are other stories:

Raleigh: The N&O explained how the differences in population centers impacted the vote in NC. “During those 10 years, the state saw big population changes as urban and suburban areas exploded with new residents, and much of rural North Carolina saw residents leaving. As a result, a rural voter tended to have a bigger voice in the decisions on state and federal legislative seats than an urban or suburban voter. Those rural voters broke heavily for Trump, a Republican who barnstormed smaller towns across North Carolina with rallies drawing thousands in the final days of the election. Those voters also elected Republicans to Congress and state legislative seats, helping the GOP keep its hold on the General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation.”

Greensboro: It only takes one person to change the world. The News & Record highlights one, the owner of a heating and air conditioning business, who realized his white privilege and decided to do something about it. “If a wall was going to keep Cooper from starting his own business, Farlow wanted to break it down. “I said, ‘Man, I don’t know that I’d hire you, but I’ll sell you part of the business.'”

 

Sunday sampler, Biden edition

It’s easy to see how jointly owned newspapers use their common design desks when the 2020 presidential election is finally called. (All front pages courtesy of the Newseum.

But first, Biden’s home paper.

 

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Gatehouse papers Fayetteville, Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston, Burlington, Hendersonville and probably others share the same primary design and headline treatment.

Raleigh and Charlotte went simple with “Biden.”

Greensboro and Winston-Salem went with “Biden Prevails.”

Asheville went lowkey, almost as if it were any other day.

And High Point was also less dramatic.

And others.

And in Hickory, it hardly registers.

 

 

 

Sunday sampler

Normally on Sunday, I look past the editorial judgments that I think are mistakes because, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but not today. There are simply too many.

Burlington: “Police pepper spray mostly Black voting rights marchers in Graham, including children” is the dominant headline at the Times-News online. As it should be. But the front page of the print edition? No mention of the march. Ironically, the front page is filled with a story saying that police are more likely to stop and search Black drivers. A fine story, but also one in which a version was published on the Times-News website 10 days ago. 10. Days. Ago. (I can’t find the actual story that is on the front page today on the website.) This is what happens when you don’t deviate from the plan to deal with a breaking national news story in your own county.

Mooresville & Statesville: The front pages of both papers are dominated by a story headlined “Trump country” with a large photo of two women standing next to a cutout of President Trump. The story is about a pro-Trump parade in Mooreville. “Being a big Trump supporter, I wanted to get the word out here as much as we can, especially with North Carolina being a swing state,” the organizer of the rally said. The papers essentially said: We’ll take care of that for you.

Greensboro: This one is a misdemeanor compared to the above two. The News & Record’s front page is dominated by a story about a $300 milliion school bond issue on the ballot Tuesday. It has helpful information. I know that I — and probably tens of thousands of early and absentee voters — would have found it helpful BEFORE we voted.

Now to the better stories:

Kinston: Alamance County is also the lead in a story in the Kinston Free Press about Asian Americans as an “emergent voting bloc” in the state. “The billboard can be seen by drivers passing through Alamance County along Interstate 40. One moment, it flashes ‘NC Chinese Americans for Biden’, and then, on the same electronic screen, the blue background turns red and the text becomes ‘Chinese Americans for Trump 2020.'”

Charlotte: The Observer tells us which four N.C. counties are bellwethers in the presidential election: Jackson, Hyde, Caswell and Robeson. That’s judging based on how voters there voted in the past three presidential elections.

Raleigh: The N&O sent one of its top reporters around the rural areas of the state to take voters’ temperature. “There is no suspense surrounding how the state’s largest cities and counties, most of which lean heavily Democratic, will vote. Outside of the Triangle and Charlotte, though, and outside of places like Greensboro and Asheville, voters in more rural communities will play an especially important role in the election.” Based on the reporting, Trump is well ahead.

Charlotte: The Observer also has a good story about the need to do more in jails to protect inmates from COVID-19. Some don’t issue masks or require them. Some don’t quarantine new inmates for 14 days. And social distance? Forget it.

 

 

The Wednesday after Election Day

Will Tuesday/Wednesday ever come? I pretty much know how I’m going to feel when the final tally is announced. But I have been thinking about what I’m going to do in my classes on Wednesday.

This afternoon, Mimi Chapman, the chair of the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I teach, sent out an email:

“As faculty who are called to teach, please spend some time in reflection considering how you might best take care of yourself and take care of your students, some of whom may be elated, others devastated or confused by the election outcome. Take some time to remember yourself in your late teens and early 20’s. The passion, the outrage, the fear, and the courage that make it such a joy to work with young people also create challenges when we have no choice but to be patient in waiting for ballots to be counted, votes to be certified or, in some situations, for courts to make rulings.

“We will need patience, courage, and fortitude in equal measure in the coming weeks. Be gentle with yourselves, and gentle with your students and colleagues even as you make the choices you must make to be true to your beliefs and values.”

I remember well how I felt in 1972, the first time I could vote for the presidency. My candidate, McGovern, got squashed by Nixon. We knew Nixon was corrupt, but we didn’t know how bad he was. I was disappointed, but I had faith in democracy and, believe it or not, in representative government. (Jesse Helms was my senator, but so was Sam Ervin.) And, two years later, Nixon was impeached and resigned.

Things are different now. My faith in representative government has eroded. Trump has undercut voting and democracy. He’s moved against civil rights and women’s rights. He’s removed environmental protections. These are all issues important to my students, and I know that however the election turns out, they will be preoccupied.

Normally, on Wednesday, I would lecture on how to edit a story. Or maybe I’ll lecture on the similarities that the structure of writing has with other art forms: music, poetry and dance. I never talk politics — that’s not what they come for — and I don’t intend to talk politics on Wednesday. But I’ll let them talk, I’ll listen, and we’ll see where it goes.

 

Sunday sampler

Two things worth noting:

First, one reason that President Trump’s advice not to be afraid of coronavirus is failing to convince people may be because every Sunday papers in rural North Carolina put COVID-19 updates on their front pages.

Meanwhile, the Kinston Free Press and  the New Bern Sun Journal feature stories on National Coming Out Day, which is today. “Being gay is still a challenge as far as acceptance and rights. Same-sex marriage has only been legal in all 50 states for five years. Hate groups aren’t rushing to change their beliefs and neither are gender bigots or those who follow some strict religious doctrines.”

Now, to the regular report:

McDowell: The McDowell News has a story about 1,100 volunteers picking up 31 tons of trash on the Catawb-Wateree River Basin. 31 tons. Trash. Thanks, America. (Story not online. You can see it in the front page images above, courtesy of the Newseum.)

Greensboro: Now that it’s OK to return more parishoners into houses of worship, will they come? As you might expect, the answers are mixed, as the News & Record reports. “At White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, church members are “excited and anxious” to be back, executive director Andrew Amodei says. Each person is required to wear a mask and given instructions on where to enter and exit. And, of course, no singing.’

 

On newspaper political endorsements

The New York Times endorsed Joe Biden for president today, and I doubt anyone was surprised. Putting politics aside, I can’t think of any self-respecting newspaper editorial board endorsing Donald Trump, based on his daily lies, his demonizing the news media, and his lack of transparency. (In 2016, six newspapers endorsed him. So far this year, two have.)

Related, I shake my head at the newspapers that won’t endorse at all.

Anyway, a friend told me that she was going to vote a straight-Democratic ticket this fall. I pointed out that the News & Observer endorsed some Republicans for Council of State who seemed reasonable and that I would likely follow the paper’s recommendation because I knew little about those races.

“I don’t care,” she said. “Anyone who is running as a Republican is complicit with Donald Trump and the national party. They do not deserve my vote.

“Besides, I think newspapers just throw in a few Republicans to make it appear as if they are fair and balanced.”

Well.

I doubt she knew I had been an editorial page editor in an earlier life.

When I was on the editorial board, the News & Record had a progressive stance on most things. People would complain that we were predictable; I’d respond that we were consistent, adhering to our principles. And Democrats more closely aligned with our principles than Republicans. Most of the candidates we endorsed were Democrats, but we occasionally felt strongly that Republicans were the best person for the office and endorsed them.

In one election, a reader called to complain about our lack of Republican candidate endorsements. When I pointed out that the county sheriff and a U.S. House member, both prominent Republicans, were on our list, the caller said, “Pssh. You had to endorse them. They are clearly the best candidates.”

But it is true that sometimes, when candidates in minor races were equally qualified, we would occasionally pick the Republican. It was a coin toss for us. By choosing the Republican, we appeared more balanced.

Sunday sampler

Many of the state’s front pages focus on President Trump’s diagnosis and treatment today. But there are other stories.

Greensboro: The Trump administration’s relaxing of environmental rules is beginning to hit home as it reclassifies Belews Lake, which is near my house. Duke Energy, which essentially controls the lake because it created it, tells the News & Record, no biggie, but that’s less than assuring to those who boat, swim and fish there.

Meanwhile, the News & Record also published a story about the COVID-19 vaccine trial at UNC by Hannah Towey, one of the students in my class. “I felt like I needed to do my part,” the doctor in charge of the trial said. “So it’s a lot more work, but totally worth it given what we’re trying to do.… It’s asking yourself, what did you do when you saw something that needed to happen or a situation that wasn’t right?”

Charlotte: The Observer has a damning story about the culture at Wells Fargo, where seven Black senior executives – all women – left the company in the past year. Is that bad? That seems bad. “Two people with direct knowledge of the matter say the bank’s culture around race and gender was a factor in why some of the Black women left.”

Morganton: The News-Herald publishes a story I always find interesting: How cops respond to physical threats. “At one point in the morning, Whisnant had a student lie on the ground with their hands behind their back as if they were handcuffed. As he simulated kneeling on the student’s neck, he asked his students why it was wrong and made it clear that they should never do that. He said there are no BLET classes in the state that teach chokeholds as a use of force.”

 

Saying no to TV

Last night, a local television station asked to interview me “on the current state of the newspaper industry and what the future may hold.” The reporter said he had read  these posts.

I’ve been on television many times, and I have no great desire to be on television again. I know enough about how reporting works that on controversial topics; there’s always a risk that you’ll say the wrong thing or the reporter will cut the tape the wrong way.

On the other hand, I’m a former journalist, and I teach broadcast students. It seems like I should do it, if for no other reason that I watch the students struggle to get people to call them back, much less agree to an interview.

On the third hand, this request came from a good television station and I respect the reporters there.

But I told the reporter no.

I have opinions and thoughts on the future of journalism and newspapers. I know that daily newspapers aren’t long for this world, at least in Greensboro, and that makes me sad. Perhaps the weeklies will spring into something more widely circulated, but I have my doubts.

But I can’t think of anyway to talk about that without talking about the News & Record, which is why the reporter called me. I don’t think highly of the way the people who now own the News & Record are handling things. But I’m not going to criticize the News & Record on television. I have too many friends in the newsroom still there. And I can’t think of any way the television report will help either journalism, the paper or the community.