Writing about politics on Facebook and Twitter















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.


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.


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

The best rejection letters I ever got

I hope this post will give hope to the exhausted college grads out there who haven’t gotten hired yet. (Tip: Be patient. Good things await.)

Wednesday night Derek Willis tweeted “best internship rejection letter I ever got.” And it linked to this letter from the News & Observer’s Judy Bolch, who is listed as “editor/staff” in her signoff. Those of us who know Judy think she’s better described as columnist/wordsmith/friend.

But this isn’t about Judy, it’s about the letter she wrote Derek. It starts: “You’re just the kind of intern I’d love to have: bright, talented and eager. Some day, I’ll probably be reading a list of award winners and there you’ll be.” I forgot to describe another side of Judy: she was clearly a good judge of talent. Willis went on to work at the Washington Post, the New York Times, and now, ProPublica.

Which made me think: How did the News & Observer reject me when I applied there years earlier? I pulled out my file of rejection letters — yes, like every lifelong journalist I’m a masochist. There are 17 of them from the period of my life when I was working my way up (or down) in the business.

Here’s one from the N&O in 1978.                                                                                  FullSizeRender (12)Those who knew Bob Brooks would recognize that concise writing and succinct tone immediately. A year later, I applied again, and this time, I heard from Hunter George.


That was nice. Not as nice as Judy’s to Derek, but I suspect there is justification for that. No doubt Derek was better than I was.

Here’s one I got from the Charlotte Observer a few years earlier, notable only because the editor’s assistant misspelled my name, and the editor, whose name I’ve deleted, didn’t catch it.

FullSizeRender (10)And others are typical — all nice, all rejections.



FullSizeRender (8)














Bear in mind, I wasn’t applying for an internship. I was at the Asheville Citizen, in my second reporting job at the time.

Seventeen rejection letters, and that doesn’t count the number of resumes I sent around the country that were never answered. (Not answering job queries seems to be the common response from media companies these days, which strikes me as highly disrespectful of the people who want to work for them.)

Of course, there is a happy ending. Later in 1979, the N&O hired me as a reporter.

So keep at it.

Sunday sampler

Much front page post-mortem and analysis of the two parties‘ conventions. Honestly, I didn’t read them; I watched much of the conventions myself.

Winston-Salem: When it comes to your health, you might think the government would take all precautions to keep you safe. The Journal raises questions about the internal struggle within the McCrory administration when it came to well water near the Duke coal ash pits. “State Toxicologist Ken Rudo forcefully resisted the McCrory administration last year as it moved to alter the do-not-drink letters sent to hundreds of well owners near coal-ash pits owned by Duke Energy. In March 2015, after Rudo had drafted the letters advising well owners — many of whom had elevated levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium — against using their water for drinking or cooking, department administrators pushed Duke Energy’s position that the water would generally be considered safe to drink under the federal Safe Drink Water Act.”

Greensboro: If I were a fugitive on the lam for a murder, I might choose Rockingham County to hide in. Rural, quiet, conservative. That’s what William Claybourne Taylor, on the FBI’s most wanted list since 1980, did. The story in the News & Record is thin – not much detail of how he did it – but still interesting.

Charlotte: This story was not on the front page of the Observer, but I wish it were because it is interesting and tells a story of HB2 and its Charlotte origins that I hadn’t read before (but perhaps Charlotte readers had). The lede: “Conspiracy theories about the birth of Charlotte’s so-called “bathroom law” have ranged from tales of political payoffs to a viral internet rumor of a gay sexual predator who duped the council into passing the law. Some even accused the City Council of being in league with Satan. But the idea for the law actually first took root quietly during July 2014 as two Charlotteans sat at Nova’s Bakery on Central Avenue, considering what more Charlotte might do to protect lesbians, gays and bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.”

Sunday sampler

My source for front pages – the Newseum – has not been updated since Friday (power problems, apparently). Consequently, I visited my usual N.C. websites and tried to figure out what stories were on their morning newspaper front pages. It’s an interesting exercise because most Sundays when I see a front page story on the front pages posted on the Newseum site, it is not on the front page of the newspaper website. Here are a few. If you see stories that should be here, let me know.

Raleigh: As someone who loves N.C. beaches and owns property near the beach, I worry about overdevelopment and intrusions on fragile environments. The N&O tells the story of a proposed development Sunset Beach that threatens Bird Island. “The Southern Environmental Law Center, which says it only gets involved in the most egregious cases, agreed to represent the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association and the N.C. Coastal Federation in their fight against the development. The SELC says the conflict reaches far beyond the island and could herald the loss of environmental protections elsewhere.”

Fayetteville: The Observer dives into the racial divide, featuring comments by 10 local people on race, police and violence. Everyone of them is interesting and insightful. It helps me think through people’s viewpoint, even those that I don’t agree with. Read them.

Charlotte: The Observer begins tracking the cost of the NBA’s moving the All-Star game from Charlotte. “Everybody wanted to talk to me about what had happened in North Carolina,” said Harris. “What are they doing? They used to be the most progressive state in the South. Now, they’re going the other direction. “It clearly has a negative impact. Anyone who thinks it doesn’t is wrong. I’ve been saying to anyone that would listen to me from the very first day that it’s a train wreck.”