Sunday sampler

It’s a good day for stories about scoundrels.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times profiles a high-flying money manager living the high life who stole million from more than 100 clients. Caught and convicted, he was sentenced to 32 years in prison. A story well told. And, of course, yet another reminder that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And, don’t invest everything you have with one company.

Winston-Salem — How can you beat this lead? “Political opponents of the mayor of Ronda wired his 18-year-old houseguest with a camera and secretly videotaped the mayor’s wife smoking marijuana in their home while the mayor was there.”

For stories of redemption.

Charlotte— The Observer tells the story of Belton Platt, a drug dealer turned felon turned ex-con turned pastor. can’t bring them back. But maybe, he says, he can keep someone else’s son alive. Another story well told.

Greensboro — The News & Record tells the story of the “magic of the chair,” which you’ll simply have to read to appreciate. It’s long but well worth it.

For stories of departure and arrival.

Fayetteville — The Observer profiles outgoing UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp. The story captures the pride Thorp feels about what he has done for the school, but little of the sadness he certainly must feel for the way he’s leaving it. Not on its front page, but Raleigh has a story on Thorp’s successor, Carol Folt.

Sunday sampler, Easter edition

Most of the state’s front pages feature an Easter story or Easter theme. Because the stories are pretty much the same by tradition, I’m going to let you find those on your own, with one exception:

Greensboro — The News & Record features an article about what Jesus would be doing if he were living today. But the more unique content comes inside — unfortunately not promoted well from the front page — in which the paper has asked area clergy to assume the roles of the 12 disciples at the Last Supper and write about who they are and how they got there. Fascinating stuff. The paper also has a write-through on the antics of Chase Burns, the Oklahoma sweepstakes exec who contributed mucho dinero to N.C. politicians, but I can’t find it online.

Charlotte — Last week, I suggested that journalists look at the forest in Raleigh in addition to the individual trees. My point was that the politicians are introducing all sorts of legislation that will turn back the clock. The Observer’s story on how the GOP in the General Assembly is meddling (my word) in the affairs of local governments across the state is one version of what I’m talking about. Naturally, the Jeffersonian idea of “the government closest to the people serves the people best” doesn’t seem to apply here, for some reason.

Raleigh — The N&O pretty much takes apart the idea that teacher tenure means that teachers can’t be fired. Not that that is going to stop the state legislature from doing away with it and further exacerbate the hiring of teachers in the state. (In case you missed it, North Carolina is ranked 46th lowest in the nation for teacher salaries.) Don’t forget, children are our future.

A final note: Not sure how long I’ll be able to continue this. As more papers put up paywalls, I slam into the maximum free views quickly. We’ll see.

Sunday sampler

Not much today, I fear. Oh, to be sure there are many good local stories, but they don’t rise to the enterprise, the surprise, the compelling that I look for. (Yes, it’s a personal view.) But there are a few.

Both Charlotte and Burlington write about the spreading of sewage sludge in their communities. Both cite the same UNC study published last week that suggested that using sludge to fertilize farm fields can cause illnesses in people who live up to a mile away.

Charlotte, which exports its sludge, reports about residents’ concerns in Richburg, S.C. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, saying the sludge isn’t to blame, has no plans to stop it. Burlington’s story warns about the spread near area schools, and that the school board isn’t going to stop it.

Shelby — The Star reports on the third death in Cleveland County in the past few months with links to Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease. There are only a handful each year in the entire state. The story is a feature piece about one of the victims of the disease rather than a deep look into what could be causing the “outbreak.” That, I hope, is coming.

Sunday sampler

A lot of meaty issues-oriented journalism on the front pages of state papers today.

Charlotte — Well, you have to love public servants sworn to uphold the law willingly breaking the law because they think they know better. And, in the case of at least one sheriff, putting lives of his constituents at risk. The Observer looks at the environment that, despite shock and sorrow over the mass shootings around the nation, makes gun owners feel more empowered.

Raleigh— The News & Observer takes another angle. “For the decade ending in 2011, handguns accounted for more than 81 percent of all firearm homicides in North Carolina in which the type of weapon was known, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Rifles, which include the assault weapons that have dominated the political debate, accounted for about 7.2 percent during the same period, the agency reported. Shotguns accounted for more deaths than rifles.”

Greensboro — They’re back! Or they’re trying to be. N.C. got rid of payday lenders 10 years ago. But hire a few lobbyists and you can pretty much get any bill introduced. The News & Record gives both sides a fair hearing. Count me unconvinced and willing to let Virginia have that business.

Shelby — I think it is important to keep community social problems at the forefront of coverage. So, the Star is to be commended for its spotlight on efforts to curtail teen pregnancies and to help teen mothers. Cleveland ranks among the top 30 worst counties in the state for teen pregnancies.

Fayetteville — The Observer has what looks to be a good story on a soldier’s suicide and how the VA handled it. Unfortunately, the link from the headline sends you to an unrelated story. I’ve linked to a sidebar. And thanks to writer Greg Barnes, the link to the story that initially interested me is here.

Sunday sampler

Many of the state’s papers published an AP story about the possible return of payday lending, which is one of the dumber ideas coming out of Raleigh these days. If nothing else, the story illustrates the embarrassing power of lobbyists in Raleigh. There are other good stories.

Wilmington — The Star-News takes on the travel expenses incurred by the board of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. These types of stories are always good because there is a public record…and board members always spend more extravagantly than the public would prefer. For instance: “One trustee was allowed to attend a conference at a cost of $4,700 to the hospital just weeks before leaving the board.” Note to reporters: Whenever you’re looking for something to do, look at public officials’ travel records.

Burlington — The centerpiece of the Times-News is a piece about traveling to Mars… and you can go. It’s an interesting enterprise story, and I included it here partly because it is written by Alyssandra Barnes, a senior at UNC-CH. I talked with her about social media a few weeks ago as part of her role with the Durham VOICE, a community newspaper serving Northeast Central Durham. (I had nothing to do with the Mars story.) The other reason is because it’s good.

Asheville and Lenoir — Both papers have stories about the embattled gun owner saying they’re sick and tired and not going to take it any longer. Apparently, Saturday was a national Day of Resistance. “If guns cause crime then pencils cause misspelled werds,” reads one protester’s sign from the front of the Lenoir News-Topic. “Pro guns = Pro life.” You figure that out. (I couldn’t find the story on its website.) And, of course, some people were armed. (I always find myself wondering if people would feel the same way about gun rights if the protesters were armed black men.)

Sunday sampler

I’m surprised to see the big snow in New England as the front page centerpiece in both the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer. Fortunately, those two papers have other compelling local stories. So do several other state papers.

My favorite topic these days, because I see the need for North Carolinians to be aware of what is happening with the shift in political power in Raleigh, is the state government. Charlotte has a piece on how things aren’t going the Queen City’s way, surprising given that the new governor is a former Charlotte mayor. Raleigh writes about the effort to remake state boards and commissions in the Republican image — specifically the Industrial Commission. Winston has the first of a two-part series on the wisdom — or lack of — of the GOP willing to skip an estimated $650 million in federal extended unemployment insurance benefits, making it the only state in the union to do so (and affecting 155,000 North Carolinians).

Keep the spotlight on, journalists.


Greensboro — You know all this talk about how the mental health system is broken and if we fix that, we’ll have taken a huge step in getting the gun violence problem under control? Yeah, well, the News & Record takes a look at the broken mental health system, how it got there — politicians like to cut programs like these — and what it will take to fix it. (Lots of money, which isn’t going to happen. Ask those who oppose gun control and advocate for fixing the mental health system if they’re willing to pay for it and see what answer you get.)

Raleigh— I’m always stunned at the tone deafness of boards of directors of charities when it comes to leadership salaries. In N&O writes about the $430,000 a year salary and benefits the president of the Goodwill Community Foundation gets. Oh, and his wife, the executive VP, gets  $365,000. Goodwill’s explanation: “It is our position that their compensation reflects the impact that their leadership has had on the people of the Research Triangle, eastern North Carolina, North Carolina, the U.S. and the global community.” May just need to hold back my donations until I see how this plays out.



Raleigh —

Winston —

Greensboro —

Sunday sampler

It’s a good day for good journalism from the state’s newspaper front pages.

Burlington — The Times-News tackles the loooooong backlog of cases sitting in the SBI Crime Lab. This isn’t a new story, but it’s a good one to keep the spotlight on. “DNA and fingerprint analysis can take more than a year to acquire from the lab, Alamance County District Attorney Pat Nadolski said. While those results are pending, investigations can stall, with witnesses losing vivid memories of events — key to testifying before a jury.” Why is it like this? Not enough people. But never fear; budget cuts forced the lab to eliminate five positions last year.

Wilmington — The Star-News is keeping the spotlight on gun control, in this case, talking with people about whether posting armed guards at schools really makes a difference. The article doesn’t conclude anything, but it does have a strong local peg — the New Hanover school board and county commissioners agreed to station deputies in each of the system’s elementary schools.

Winston-Salem — The Journal highlights the conflicts of interest on a state advisory commission on fracking. “George Howard, the vice chairman of a state commission charged with proposing how to regulate North Carolina’s imminent dive into natural gas exploration, stands to make money on the harmful effects of the industry’s prime drilling method: hydraulic fracturing.”  The article goes on to illustrate how Howard and other state officials pretty much don’t care about environmental concerns. Excellent journalism.

Charlotte/Raleigh— The paired papers take a look at a continuing problem — state legislators who go into lobbying. North Carolina has one of the weaker laws pertaining to how quickly legislators can leave their state positions to peddle influence. As with the examples in the Winston-Salem Journal story, North Carolina residents should be embarrassed by the behavior of those selected to represent their interests.

Sunday sampler

Big story of the day for Raleigh’s and Charlotte’s front pages was the inauguration of Gov. McCrory. Fortunately, other papers didn’t see it that way.

Asheville — “You make me want to puke,” Bothwell wrote to his fellow Asheville City Council member following a vote on a controversial downtown hotel proposal. “I am so totally embarrassed that I endorsed you. What a total loser on matters that concern Asheville citizens,” Bothwell wrote. “Are your ears totally plugged with developmental money?” That is how City Council member Cecil Bothwell addressed a fellow council member. The Citizen-Times takes a look at the no-holds-barred communications style of one of the city’s elected officials.

Fayetteville — “On average, soldiers on Fort Bragg slaughter 300 goats a month for medical trauma training meant to help save lives in battle. Animal activists say the animals are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned and blown up to simulate the types of injuries soldiers face.” Yikes! The Observer details the practice, which apparently is about to end.

Winston-Salem— We North Carolinians don’t much care for stopping for stopped school buses. “One student has been killed and three injured at school-bus stops over the last few weeks in Forsyth, Wilkes and Guilford counties – the human cost of an alarming statistic documented by a state study: Last year, 3,200 vehicles illegally passed stopped buses statewide. That’s on just one day – March 21, 2012.” The Journal explains and points out that Forsyth could have applied for money to install cameras to catch scofflaws…but didn’t.

I would include a News & Record story following up on a Monday murder-suicide, but can’t get onto the website. Here is the front page.

Sunday sampler

If you care about state government, today’s newspapers are for you. Most of the big ones have stories about the inauguration of Gov. Pat McCrory and an outlook of what a Republican-controlled capital means.

I won’t do my usual summary because they all say pretty much the same thing. Here are stories from Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Fayetteville.

Interestingly, almost as often, other newspapers have stories on guns.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times examines its city’s ability to control gun shows. Short answer: Not good.

Charlotte — The Observer localizes the national reports of gun sales soaring. I’m pretty sure that if I had a child coming of age now, I’d front them the money to open a gun shop. No matter what the economy is, people keep buying guns.

Gaston — The Gazette does what I wish every newspaper would do; it examines the county’s mental health support system. Since so many people believe that guns don’t kill people, but crazy people with guns kill people then it’s time to focus on mental health.

And last, with no connection to guns or politics, we have the best story of all.

Shelby — Bears!



Sunday sampler

The holiday season is certainly upon us, with Christmas and Hanukkah stories on the front pages of the papers in Charlotte, Greenville and Elizabeth City, among others. That is a Sunday sampler another week. This week, it’s news.

Fayetteville— The Racial Justice Act interests me, mainly because I’m interested in the death penalty but also because of the number of convicted criminals trying to use it to change their sentences. The Observer examines both the death penalty and the Racial Justice Act in a well-done package of stories that, by the way, is difficult to find on the front page of its website. “Now, the Racial Justice Act, other changes to death penalty law and a decline in jurors’ willingness to sentence inmates to death are raising questions about the future of executions in the state. It’s unclear when the state will resume administering its ultimate punishment.”

Greensboro — Making donations to police fraternal organizations has always been dicey. For years, it’s been known that most of the money donated doesn’t actually go to the cause. Still, at this time of year, it’s good to remind people and that’s what the News & Record has done. For instance, the Greensboro Police Officers Association only gets 30 percent of the donations raised by the fundraising company it hired.

Wilmington — UNCW is one of the most popular and faster-growing state schools. The Star-News tries to answer the question, “what’s next?” (And thank goodness, it goes beyond the school’s new rebranding slogan, “Dare to soar.”

Winston-Salem — The Journal does something similar with Wake Forest, which is examining ways to commercialize its research. The story’s lead: “A new kind of light bulb that could eventually bring $400 million to $500 million a year to Wake Forest University is just one of the research results that hold promise for replacing the royalties from a wound repair system whose valuable revenue is stuck in legal limbo.” Yeah, I’d read the next paragraph.

Shelby appears to have an interesting story on the possibility of the legalization of marijuana in N.C. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be posted on the website. (The answer: not very likely with the current makeup of the General Assembly.) This appears to be happening more frequently on some of the state’s newspaper websites.