Sunday sampler

Many newspapers feature “top stories of 2019” on their front pages. But there are other stories that interest me more.

Burlington: This story originally appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times a few days ago, but it popped onto the Times-News front page today. It’s about a 15-year-old high school student in Buncombe County who was tired of seeing her classmates wearing depictions of the Confederate battle flag on their clothing. So, she organized a protest. “(Some students) think that it is expressing their Southern pride, and that’s the reason why it’s not a bad thing for them to wear it at school. But I don’t feel like they understand that it’s a hate symbol to people of color.” And, of course, high school kids reacted the stupid way you’d think they would.

High Point: High Point has a problem on one part of S. Main Street. “We (along with several other local businesses) are unable to feel confident that we could provide a safe atmosphere for both our employees and customers to do business in,” the post read. So far, two businesses have closed because of crime. The Enterprise takes a look.

Lenoir: Guy Lucas, publisher of the News-Topic explains why he is eliminating the opinion pages on weekdays. (Behind the paywall, but here’s the front page.) He confronts head-on an issue that every newspaper is facing.

A Merry Christmas to women

“Now women, I just want you to know; you are not perfect, but what I can say pretty indisputably is that you’re better than us. I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything… living standards and outcomes.”

President Obama said that last week.

I agree with him.

On a personal level, women have sparked and inspired the major decisions in my life. My mother sent me to St. Andrews College, which reinforced the values I learned growing up and introduced me to people who are still my best and most trusted friends. She kicked me in the butt after college when I was working construction and trying to figure out my place in the world. She told me to start applying to newspapers to become a journalist.

After a dozen years as a reporter, I was offered a job in Greensboro as an assistant city editor. I wasn’t going to take it because I didn’t like editors, and I didn’t think I’d be good at it. My then-girlfriend called me an idiot and told me to take the job. (She also proposed to me, and we have two daughters, who have obviously inspired all kinds of warm feelings within me.)

When I was one of half a dozen mid-level editors, I was chosen by a woman to become a trainer at the newspaper. I was paired with Jane Sharp, who taught me how to understand how organizations work, and how leaders motivate organizations.

When I decided I was ready to leave the newspaper business, it was again my wife who lit the fuse that got me out of there.

And it was a woman, Rosemary Roberts, who suggested I teach at Elon University.

This is not intended to denigrate the men who helped make things happen; they’ve had pivotal roles, of course. Especially my father. But most of the time the men were deciders, not inspirers. At virtually every fork in life’s journey, a woman has been standing there, pointing the way and pushing me forward.

Sunday sampler

Many N.C. papers have stories about election filings and Christmas gatherings on their front pages today. And there are these:

Greensboro: The News & Record has a good story about Nona Best, the director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons, who is also the person who activates the Amber Alerts. “Parents don’t think like that,” explains Best, a single mom whose daughter is now 36. “They don’t think that everywhere you go, there’s possibly a predator there shopping that day. … not shopping for groceries or anything, shopping for a child.”

Greensboro:  The N&R also has a detailed story about a deputy who was shot while he was investigating a domestic call. “He had been too afraid before then to look at where the bullet had struck his left arm. With every beat of his pulse, he saw now, he lost precious blood. The bullet had punctured an artery, doctors would later confirm. He put his right thumb into the wound and squeezed; the blood kept coming.”

Raleigh: The N&O has two stories about how N.C.’s Occupational Safety and Health agency — led by Cherie Berry of elevator fame — has sided with employers over employee safety (my conclusion, not the N&O’s). “OSH inspections after the deaths led to 13 citations for willful violations against nine employers, each carrying a maximum penalty of $70,000, said the report made available to McClatchy. But nine of the citations against five companies were later dropped. In other words, only four employers faced the harshest penalty out of more than 240 firms with fatalities, the group said.”

Impeachment sampler

How some N.C. newspapers handled the impeachment of President Trump. (Thanks to the Newseum for the images.) Two observations:

>>>Most of the smaller, community-oriented newspapers did not mention impeachment on their front pages. This trend still surprises me because it is an important moment in history. By almost any definition, it’s a front page story. It is certainly the story people everywhere are talking about today.

>>>The pain of early deadlines is obvious. In some cases, even the impeachment of the president won’t stop the presses.

Neither the News & Observer nor the Charlotte Observer front pages are on today’s Newseum site. Here is a poor image of the N&O’s front copied from my subscription email. You can get the idea.

A few others

The vanishing newspaper coffee mug

I started this post as a lark. I was going to use this image of my coffee mug with the faded lettering from the Newseum to make a point about the condition of both newspapers and the Newseum.

It was an easy joke.

Then I remembered this column by Ken Doctor about newspaper consolidation in which he quotes someone as saying 2020 could be “the final dance of the newspaper industry.”

Well, damn, that’s dark, but it’s difficult to argue with. McClatchy newspapers have already announced that it’s discontinuing Saturday coverage, meaning the papers will no longer be daily.

But as Kristen Hare of Poynter argues: “Local newspapers, specifically those that are locally and independently owned, are not dying. They are changing. It’s rough. But it is not death.”

She could be right — there clearly are tough-minded efforts– but it all feels too rosy to me.

Then Emily Bell writes that we need local news to combat the rise of disinformation sites pretending to be local news: “In the 2020 election cycle, we are already seeing a rise in hundreds of phantom “local news sites” set up by political operatives to churn out automated stories that fit particular talking points. The resources at a local level to counter these operations are shrinking.”

Indeed.

Last week, Tom Rosenthiel wrote about the high standards of reporting: “We have infinitely more storytelling tools today, and the news is often more accurate because we have the ability to assemble more data. Journalism has become more empirical and less anecdotal. Reporting can also be done more openly, with the public part of the process.”

But he points out a truism: There are fewer reporters today covering fewer stories. And communities suffer.

Local news may not be dying, but it ain’t what it used to be. And in my community, I don’t see anything rising up to take the place of a well-staffed newspaper.

The vanishing newsprint edition that comes to my house and homes across the country will soon be history. We’ve known that for 10 or 15 years.

And I’m going to get a new coffee mug.

 

 

 

 

Sunday sampler

It’s an interesting day in the life of N.C. newspapers’ front pages. Consider:

The Star News in Wilmington, which recently has had intensely local front pages, publishes a story by the Hickory Daily Record. Hickory is 263 miles west of Wilmington. The Kinston Free Press, 260 miles away, also features the story on its front page. Not to be outdone, the Fayetteville Observer, 189 miles from Hickory, publishes the same story. What’s the story? It’s a good one about the impact of the Google and Apple data centers. Short answer: not much in the way of new jobs or population growth. Google employs 250 people; Apple employs about 400.

Meanwhile, the Times-News of Burlington publishes a good Charlotte Observer story about the urban-rural divide. “Rural residents are less likely to have college degrees or be connected to broadband services than those in or near cities. They’re older on average and less likely to live among people born somewhere else. There’s even evidence that rural life, for all its fresh air and leafy aura, produces sicker people.”

The Jacksonville Daily News publishes a Wilmington Star-News story about Rose Hill, a small town doing big things with wine. And the Winston-Salem Journal publishes a story by the News & Observer about how the declining population in rural counties will affect gerrymandering and the state’s congressional districts.

These are all part of a special series on the urban-rural divide by “the North Carolina News Collaborative, a partnership of the state’s largest newspapers that aims to provide deeper and broader news coverage to all regions of the state.” It’s an important cooperative effort among the papers to perform one of their civic duties and worth accolades. And widespread coverage.

Also on today’s front pages:

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has a piece about the number of students from rural areas who attend college. It is behind a paywall, but here is a shot of it on the front page.

Greensboro: I have a weakness for powerful people who shake things up and stand up for the little guy, which is one reason I like this story about Drew Brown, a feisty Greensboro attorney. “Because I’m not married and don’t have kids and don’t have to make money on a given month, I can take cases I otherwise couldn’t take,” Brown says. “It’s given me the ability to go and try cases in random counties and not come home for two weeks.”

Greensboro: On this, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in America, the News & Record features a story about a prominent slave owner and his huge plantation in North Carolina – a name associated with a street in Chapel Hill and a shopping center in Raleigh: Cameron. It’s a sentimental choice because one of my students wrote it.

“Yay, Media Hub!”

With the semester officially over, I have one final post about Media Hub. (OK, it may not be final; who knows what those students will inspire me to do.)

One of the course goals is to produce professional-grade stories. At this point, the students’ stories have been published 65 times by 17 different media outlets, from the large — the Charlotte Observer and WRAL — to the small — the Spring Hope Enterprise. Many of them were published on the front pages of the papers in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston and Asheville. (You can see some here. You can find all of their stories here.)

Three of the students responsible for marketing the class’ work put together this light-hearted video starring students. I’m proud. And in need of a haircut.

“I am, therefore I write”

My feature writing class this semester had an eclectic mix of students. In addition to the traditional print journalists, I had broadcast journalists, photographers, PR students, and students bound for law school and Congress. The diversity made for interesting discussions. On one of my sadder days — the last day of class — I assign one of my favorite writing prompts: “Why I write.” (Here are good ones from previous classes.) They inspire me. A selection:

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“I write because my hands often have a little more courage to say the things my heart wants to shout.”

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“We write because the world is filled with hurt, but we are not powerless in stopping it. We just have to know what we’re fighting against, how to combat it, and why doing so is important.

“I write because a lot is going on in my head and this is the best way to get it out. I write because we need more writers. We need more ideas spread, more taboo subjects demystified, and more encouragement from other people who can say, “Me too” in a world facing so much pain.

“Writing shows us that we are not alone.”

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“I write to preserve all the intangible things in life. Thoughts, speech, action. They are all lost as quickly as they come. I write to create a little museum for all the things that someday may be forgotten.

“I am, therefore I write.”

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“I write because, if I approach a story with good intentions and an open mind, I can give voice to the voiceless. I can interview people who feel honored I care enough to ask and show them that everyone should ask. Telling their stories should be a right, not a privilege.”

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One student quoted an entire poem and wrote: “To make sense. To feel. To live. To leave something behind, even if it never makes it past the pages of my own journal. To create a sense of permanence in my life.

“I write because I can’t not. It’s a curse I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

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“Joy, pain, victory, loss, innovation, art – a million different people have a million different stories that will jolt you out of your apathy or egoism or boredom, at least for a moment, and writing is the best medium I know to give them voice.

“Words drive me absolutely insane. Sometimes, I think I hate writing – when I’m on a deadline, or when the words just won’t come. But then I’ll write a sentence, and I know it’s beautiful, and it sucks me back in again.”

Sunday sampler

 

Had to publish this front page of the Daily News in Jacksonville. Tina Brooks’ photo is an award winner. (Image courtesy of the Newseum.)

Raleigh: One of the many values of newspaper journalism is that while the world moves on from catastrophe, newspapers revisit it. The N&O reminds us that though Hurricane Florence hit the N.C. coast 16 months ago, its impact lingers. “While about 720,000 people received temporary disaster food benefits in the three months following Florence, state and federal programs addressing food security often are geared toward the immediate aftermath of a disaster, not the long-term recovery. That has left a mixture of nonprofits, volunteers and officials trying to fill holes the storm blew through pocketbooks, even as survivors scramble to save every dime to rebuild. The Food Bank distributed 15 million pounds of food, water and supplies for disaster relief in the first year after Florence.” Charlotte and Greensboro published the same story on their front pages.

Winston-Salem: The Journal reports: “In early September, 12 university Wake Forest faculty and staff members received racist and homophobic emails that called for a purge of minorities and members of the LGBTQ community. The emails came months after Wake Forest found itself at the center of controversy after images surfaced of white students in blackface and posing in front of Confederate flags in old editions of The Howler, the university’s yearbook.”

Asheville: The Green New Deal has gone local, the Citizen-Times reports. A city council member “is proposing a local ‘Green New Deal,’ including what he said would be the state’s largest “community” solar farm and a renewal of the 1970s “dollar-a-lot” program to help lower-income residents buy homes.” “We need tangible efforts to strengthen our climate resilience, get more people riding the bus, and prepare families to move from a position of surviving to thriving with better jobs, better homes, and better lives,” he said.