I’m watching the News & Observer’s digital initiative with great interest, and anyone interested in the future of newspapers should, too. Last Monday, the N&O began its outstanding five-part series on jail deaths. I read it online throughout the week. And that gave me and other online visitors a six-day headstart on readers of the print edition.
The series started in the print edition today. And to get to the first story on the website, you have to search. But it’s worth the search. You can also find every report of every bad jail death. My guess is that the traffic the series generated is sizable. And I assume the paper is banking on readers of the print edition to either see it for the first time or not be bothered by the sense of “wait, I read this online last week.” (Me, it annoyed me that there is nothing on the front page of today’s paper to read because I’d read the jail story and I knew about the Charlottesville story already. But there are other things in the paper worth its newstand price.)
I hope the N&O is successful. It’s an important institution for all of N.C.
By the way, reporter Dan Kane, who has taken the slings and arrows of UNC fans for his excellent work writing about the athletic/academic scandal at the school, has done excellent work here, too.
Greensboro: How would you like it if a company wanted to put a rock quarry next to you? That’s what is facing some residents of rural Pleasant Garden in Guilford County. The News & Record looks at both sides — yes, there are pretty much just two sides. Interesting to see what the planning board does.
Wilmington: Something N.C. Democrats should be concerned about: Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats now in New Hanover County. “I think it’s more of an ideological trend and telling people they should register how they plan to vote and not just how they originally signed up,” (the chairman of the county Republican Party) said. “We also have a lot of volunteers out there knocking on doors and stopping people on the street.”
I skipped the past two weeks because I was out of the country. I could have been like our esteemed president, who is in N.J. for a 17-day vacation, which he insists is not a vacation. Mine was a vacation.
Charlotte: For five years, public officials have been told that the texts they send are public records.Not surprisingly, public officials either don’t care or weren’t paying attention. The Observer found that many local governments aren’t following the law. Meanwhile, making the Observer’s point, the Enquirer-Journal in Monroe reports that the Union County sheriff says that the text messages requested in a suit filed by WBTV no longer exist.
Greensboro: The News & Record has a wonderful story that is hard to start — about a woman whose dog bite her face, slashing it up and tearing off her nose. And then you get to this section: “After not saying a word for hours, and nearly choking on her blood in the emergency room, Alexis grabbed the arm of the person moving her to an operating room. “’Can I,’” she said matter-of-factly, “’order a Jennifer Aniston nose?’”
Lenoir: The News-Topic outlines the problems with drugs in Lenior, and it’s not pretty. While the full story is behind a paywall, what’s on the front page is compelling enough. It’s not just coke, meth of heroin. It’s fentanyl, too.
Morganton: The headline of the News Herald says it all: “Woman arrested twice in 24 hours among three caught trafficking meth.” I post this not to make fun — although, c’mon — but to point to the addictive powers of meth. She made bond at 9:50 p.m. and was back dealing almost immediately because she was arrested again less than four hours later, according to police.
Several front pages of N.C. newspapers featured stories about the opioid crisis. Including:
Charlotte: The Observer tells the story of a 25-year-old heroin addict who was basically stored for two days in a hospital emergency department because all the treatment centers were full. “A growing opioid and heroin epidemic has escalated a problem that health care professionals have been raising concerns about for years: North Carolina has inadequate services for people with mental and behavioral health diseases.”
Greensboro: Staying in the medical field, the News & Record tells the story of a small town hospital and what happens when it gets so financially strapped it has to file for bankruptcy protection. (And it goes beyond blaming Medicaid or Obamacare.) “The possibility of the hospital going under hangs over a blue-collar community that’s already struggling to rebound from the loss of textile jobs that allowed many families to buy a house and send children to college. Eden, like the hospital, is struggling to exist in a world that’s changing around it.”
Charlotte: Ever since I watched my parents’ health decline, I’ve thought that America treats its dying pets better than its dying people. So the Observer’s story about a man who killed his ill wife and now charged with murder fascinated me. They apparently loved each other. He has dementia; she had cancer. He has been charged with murder. And, as the Observer asks, was it murder or a mercy killing?
Raleigh: It is a shame that the people who want Mexicans to leave the country don’t show more mercy to those here working in the fields so that Americans have food to eat and cigarettes to smoke. The News & Observer takes a look at the children — children! — working the fields, often illegally. “But despite the adjustments, advocacy groups and farmworkers say few changes have trickled down and underage children are still working. Anti-child labor organizations say that working in agriculture poses health and safety risks for children, but many farmers grew up working on their parents’ farmers and argue that farming ingrains the value of hard work from an early age. “’Thousands of people grew up working on farms. My children did it,’” said Larry Wooten, president of the N.C. Farm Bureau. “’Farm work is hard, it’s hot, it’s nasty and it’s outside. They (immigrant workers) come here knowing that it is work.’”
Asheville: Many Airbnb’s in Asheville are illegal? “Currently, Asheville law only permits residents to rent two rooms in their homes at a time. The property being rented must also be in a residential zoning district. Potential renters must also be present at the home during the rental and obtain a permit from the city. The city refers to these types of rentals as homestays.”
Greensboro: If you want to know how cold-hearted our elected officials can be when it comes to the state’s most vulnerable, read the News & Record’s story about the state budget wiping out some funding for Legal Aid. (Of course, no one seems to know how it was inserted into the budget because darkness nurtures evil.) “That means several hundred people per year who need legal assistance won’t be getting it,” said Southern Piedmont director Kenneth Schorr. “People who are in danger of losing their safety and security.”
Asheville: Do you know where in your city the most violent crime occurs? My guess is that you’re wrong. The Citizen-Times did its readers a favor by pointing in a few directions. “But according to a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis of police data by the Citizen-Times, crime isn’t a problem only downtown, with surrounding neighborhoods experiencing higher rates of the two most serious types of violent crime — rapes and homicides — than the city center.” The story itself is intensely local to Asheville — I used to live there — but it would be an interesting story for other publications to mimic.
Wilmington: GenX, a toxic chemical used in Teflon and made by DuPont, has been found in the Cape Fear River and the area’s water supply. The Star-News has been all over this story for a few weeks, explaining and exploring the ins and outs of the chemical, which cannot be filtered out of the water supply. The linked story isn’t the one on today’s front page because I couldn’t find that one — about high school athletes in summer training drinking the water. This link is to a Q&A about the chemical.
Raleigh: The idea that letting just about anyone carry a concealed gun is crazy to me, yet it makes great sense to the people the state’s voters send to Raleigh. “The state House passed a bill this month that pits gun owners against each other. It would nearly eliminate concealed handgun permits and the training that goes with them, and would set the minimum age at 18 to carry a concealed gun.” Let me point out it eliminates most of the training. The justification for it makes little sense to me, either.
Greensboro: Because I’m a Democrat in a blue city that was gerrymandered to dilute our voting power and Greensboro is now represented by two Republicans, including one who lives two counties away, this story on gerrymandering interested me. No surprise that its point is that people like me have little voice in Washington. “Yet the data suggest that even if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering. ‘The outcome was already cooked in, if you will, because of the way the districts were drawn,’ said John McGlennon, a longtime professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in the 1980s.”
Charlotte: I had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham several times and interviewing him at length once. I liked him. I can’t say the same for his son, Franklin. The Observer has an outstanding piece examining the role Ruth Graham played in her husband’s and son’s lives. “Instead of changing with age, Franklin, now 64, has dug in. He has said and done a lot that’s proven controversial, including questioning President Barack Obama’s Christianity and pulling his ministry’s money out of Wells Fargo when the bank ran commercials featuring a lesbian couple. ‘Like his mother, Franklin is unusually driven,’ Wacker said. ‘Driven by ideas and also by a sense that it’s his job to promulgate his views and save the culture.’”
Unlike Mother’s Day, not that many newspapers have Father’s Day stories on their front pages. Suits me because there are several other interesting stories.
Greensboro: The News & Record identifies the most influential 20 people in Greensboro. As are all lists like this, it’s subjective, which the paper acknowledges. But it states its criteria, and it makes sense. It’s a solid list with some regulars — people who would have been on such a list 25 years ago — and some surprises. I like stories like this. The names don’t have be the same you or I would select, but they do tell readers about the city in a way most daily news stories don’t.
Charlotte: Driving drunk and causing a wreck that kills a woman is terrible. Having three drunken driving charges and two convictions before that and still keeping your driving license? The Observer examines how that happened. You probably won’t like the explanations.
Raleigh: The state legislature has let it be known for three or four years that it doesn’t care for protesters in the capital building. After namecalling — “Moron Monday” — and mass arrests, now come the bans. “Asked why the bans are needed, (General Assembly Police Chief Martin) Brock said, ‘If someone has been arrested two or three times, would it be reasonable to expect that they would be arrested again? That would be my observation.’ Unconstitutional? Seems like it.
Lenoir: The News-Topic has a neat story about a man researching his family history and who decided to check out a family rumor. He ended up believing that his grandfather killed a man and got away with it. Sadly for me, there’s a paywall so I couldn’t read the entire story.
Charlotte: The Observer wrote a five-part series on prison corruption last week that was outstanding in its reporting and documentation of drugs, sex, violence and crime within the state’s prisons. Now government officials are responding with words of action. This is journalism that makes a difference.
High Point: One of the recommendations in Charlotte’s story for fixing the problems within the state’s prisons is addressing lax hiring of guards. The Enterprise writes about the process of hiring and training police officers. Given the difficulty of the job and the microscope officers are under, hiring the people with the right disposition and giving them the right skills is vital. I don’t know if the story is any good because I can’t find it on the web, and even if I could, I couldn’t read more than a few paragraphs because it’s a pay site.
Raleigh: The legislature’s attack on UNC-Chapel Hill continues. The N&O highlights the efforts the law school is making to fight a proposed 30 percent cut to state appropriation. “There’s been little explanation about the reason for the proposed cut in a year when the state’s coffers are healthy and spending increases are planned in other areas. But some think Republican lawmakers’ threatened cut is aimed squarely at Gene Nichol, former dean and well-known liberal who has been critical of GOP leaders in commentaries for The News & Observer’s editorial pages.” Not surprisingly, the bill’s sponsors didn’t respond to interview requests.
Greensboro: The News & Record profiles one of Donald Trump’s “bad hombres,” who has sought sanctuary in an Episcopal church. “Married to an American citizen, (Tobar Ortega) has lived in the Triad since 1993 and had worked at the same High Point textile company since 2009. Two of her four children were born here, making them American citizens as well. Two other adult children are here legally. Having fled Guatemala under the fear of violence, Tobar Ortega has been in the United States for more than 20 years. A judge turned down her request for asylum in 1989, as did an appeals court. But for the better part of that time, the government, knowing she was here, has done nothing.”
Yes, I mean “bad hombre” sarcastically.
The biggest news story of Thursday was James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Out of curiosity, I checked the Newseum to see which newspapers in N.C. published the story on their front pages. Of 19 newspapers listed, eight did. Adding the Winston-Salem Journal, which isn’t on the site, makes nine.
The story has a presence on the front pages of all of the state’s large newspapers — Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston, Fayetteville, Asheville and Wilmington. It’s also on the front pages of the Elizabeth City and Henderson County papers. Makes sense: it’s history.
What kinds of stories are on the 11 other newspaper front pages? City council budgets, United Way contributions, murders, graduations, American Revolution re-enactments and the state House’s passage of a gun bill. Very few are “big news,” except possibly in those communities.
The argument in favor of that philosophy is that citizens can get the Comey story everywhere, but they won’t be able to read about the local high school graduation or the town budget anywhere else. I buy that, too.
Asheville: The Citizen-Times attempts to school state legislators who believe that trickle-down economics is voodoo economics, as President George H.W. Bush famously said. But that’s well-known by anyone who follows politics. (Well, well-known by those who aren’t conservative legislators.) More interesting to me is the accompanying story that puts the lie to the idea that the state legislature has restored funding to the public schools. “State figures show that after the effects of inflation are taken into account, North Carolina’s per-pupil spending on schools fell by 9.2 percent from 2007-08 to 2015-16.” And teachers and students feel it the most.
Charlotte: A prison sergeant was killed by an inmate at Bertie Correctional last month, and her mother points out the need for more guards. “State figures show that roughly one of every five correctional officer positions at the eastern North Carolina prison was vacant last month. Statewide, about 16 percent of officer positions are vacant, an Observer story showed…. To attract more officers to the profession, state leaders need to increase pay, she said. Officers at maximum security prisons earn an average of about $35,000 annually.”
Greensboro: And while we’re at it, the News & Record details salaries for police officers, which, frankly, also seem low for those on the thin blue line. “The current starting salary for police officers in Greensboro is $35,556 a year— less than in High Point ($36,585), Durham ($37,029), Raleigh ($38,834) and Charlotte ($42,640).” (For context, Sen. Phil Berger employs four staff members who each make more than $100,000. That’s me being snarky, not the News & Record.)
Greensboro: For Memorial Day, the N&R also has a fine, non-budget story about a lawyer who saved the flag from his Swift Boat in Vietnam. “At first, I kept it as a memento,” said Barron, who was just in his mid-20s when he patrolled the waters around Vietnam in the 50-foot heavily armed craft tasked with shutting off supplies and other traffic from enemy forces. I realized after a while that it’s a lot more.” Yes, it was.
Raleigh and Charlotte: The News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer joined, as they do, for investigative stories. Today’s looks at inequities in school education. And as with so many things, it seems to correlate with poverty. “Thousands of low-income children who get “superior” marks on end-of-grade tests aren’t getting an equal shot at advanced classes designed to challenge gifted students. As they start fourth grade, bright children from low-income families are much more likely to be excluded from the more rigorous classes than their peers from families with higher incomes, the analysis shows.” It also includes a handy district-by-district search tool.
Asheville: In case you think being transgendered is a choice, read the Citizen-Times’ story on Emma, who was born a boy and is now 6. “One day Emma came to her parents with a question: ‘Why do people call me ‘he’ when I’m a ‘she’?’ Amy recalled. ‘That’s about the time we started realizing that she has always known her soul was female,’ the mother said.” This is an outstanding story of a family’s struggle with a child born different and with societal’s norms.
Winston-Salem: It takes a while for the Journal to get to what I consider interesting in this story about executive compensation: that 13 executives with Triad ties make a base pay of more than $1 million. Nineteen got at least $1 million in incentive pay. (In the comments section, a reader asks, “Missing from the list: Winston-Salem Journal. What’s the salary of its new publisher, Alton Brown?” It hasn’t been answered yet.)