Sunday sampler

It’s a good day for good journalism from the front pages of the state’s papers. These could be Exhibits 1 through 6.

Charlotte — The Observer has two good ones. First, it writes about the controversary surrounding a new cyberbullying law making it a crime “for students to commit various online offenses against school employees, such as creating false profiles, signing them up for Internet porn or posting personal images and private information.” It seems bound for a court case involving free speech.

Second, the fired DSS Director in Charlotte said she was discouraged from attempting to reform the child welfare division. “Internal reports and emails show top Mecklenburg County administrators were warned as far back as 2005 that dysfunction in the child welfare division was endangering children.” (And the county officials who would be expected to respond to such charges? They declined…always a bad move.)

Raleigh — I was a Boy Scout in the 60’s. I was not molested, but was interested two months ago when the records came out about molestation in the Scouts. The N&O tells the sad and compelling story of one boy who was molested in Raleigh by his scoutmaster, a man who incidentally later went to prison for molesting schoolchildren in Guilford County.

Shelby— The Star digs into a state investigation of the misuse of money by the Cleveland County school system. Using 99,000 pages of documents, the paper sorts through credit card purchases — the good and the not so good — by school system employees from 2007 to 2012. Great reading and an interesting public service to Cleveland County readers.

Wilmington — The Star-News analyzed crime stats locally and nationally and discovered that Wilmington police aren’t doing too badly. “Wilmington’s clearance rate eclipses that of many of its counterparts, meaning robbers, killers, burglars and other criminals who break the law here are more likely to be caught than in most other cities around the country.

Fayetteville — The Observer has what appears to be an interesting story on robberies targeting migrant workers, but the link sends me to a 404 page. You try.

Sunday sampler

Newspaper readers should rejoice that the election is over. The state’s front pages are filled with interesting, relevant stories that have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with good journalism. A selection:

Raleigh— The N&O continues its investigation into the academic/athletic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dan Kane interviews a reading specialist at the school who worked with athletes and her comments are damning. “Members of the men’s basketball team took no-show classes until the fall semester of 2009, when the team was assigned a new academic counselor. The new counselor was appalled to learn of the classes, and wanted no part of them. University records show the enrollments stopped that semester for basketball players, while they continued for football players.”

Charlotte — The Observer actually has two great stories. One is a deep profile of Paula Broadwell. Writer Mark Washburn went to Bismarck, N.D., Broadwell’s hometown, to tell her story. I don’t know that it breaks new ground — I haven’t tried to keep up with what motivated the players in the scandal — but it is an interesting read. A tidbit: Broadwell  was voted “most likely to be remembered” by classmates at Century High School in  1991. The second story is about a controversial church in Rutherford County that some say is a “dangerous cult. They say it breaks up families, abuses followers and wrecks lives.”

Burlington— The Times-News profiles in real terms what it’s like to live with someone who has Alzheimer’s. Steve Huffman tells the story of Priscilla and Gary Brogdon. A few years ago, Gary, who is 64, was a plant manager. “Now, Gary barely speaks. He doesn’t drive and is on disability. He doesn’t remember his grown daughters or his grandchildren. He needs around-the-clock care.” Scary, informative and compelling.

Winston-Salem — The announcement last week that Wake Forest Baptist Medical Hospital is going to lay off 950 people begged for a indepth follow-up. The Journal put Richard Craver on it, and it was a good call. “Since the economic downturn began in 2008, a diminishing demand for services has caught many hospitals with too much supply on hand, whether too many staffers or too many cancer or heart centers, urgent-care clinics or other facilities within a region.” Other media might take a look at the financial health of the hospitals in their communities.

Fayetteville — I remember when Brien Taylor was signed by the Yankees in 1991 for $1.55 million. It was back when the News & Record considered itself a state paper and we gave a lot of consideration to going to Beaufort to write a great story about him. He was sentenced to federal prison last week for selling cocaine. The Observer tells his sad story, from rise to downfall.

Greensboro — A year ago, Mary Ann Holder killed five children and herself. The News & Record revisits the horrific crime with Holder’s ex-husband and daughter. Of course, there are no answers. “‘It looks like she was going around killing everybody she loved,’ Rocky Smith said in a recent interview. ‘So if she hadn’t been stopped (by a sheriff’s deputy), where would her next stop have been?'”

Sunday sampler

Even though the election is five days gone, it’s not for the state’s newspapers. Many of the big ones have profile/expectation stories of Gov.-elect Pat McCrory on their front pages. I’m done with the election, and fortunately, there are other interesting stories.

Burlington — Many papers featured stories about Veterans’ Day. The Times-News has an interesting one about veterans’ organizations aging out. “Most of our members are getting on up in age,” said Lynn Hester, commander of Haw River’s American Legion Post 427. “We’ve tried everything to get younger people involved, but we haven’t had much luck.”

Charlotte— So many newsworthy things have ties to Charlotte. Take Gen. Petraeus’ extramarital paramour, for example. She lives in Charlotte, and the Observer tells us all about her…or as much as they’re able to find out. In case you were wondering, she’s 5-foot-8, 133 pounds and have 13 percent body fat. Now, that’s telling detail.

Raleigh— Is the goal of a college education to get a job or to expand your intellectual horizons? I say, both, but apparently it’s an either-or equation to some. “María DeGuzmán, professor of English and comparative literature, warned that the liberal arts could become subservient to the obsession with jobs. She also criticized the makeup of the UNC strategy group, which is composed largely of corporate, government and university leaders, but only one faculty member and one student.”

And when I was visiting the front pages at the Newseum site — thank you, Newseum — I was struck by the similarity of two.
Different veterans, of course. Makes design simpler.

Election night 2008…and the next day

Four years ago, we in the N&R newsroom — well, me, actually — were pretty confident that Barack Obama was going to win the presidency. We had read the polls and listened to what people were saying. The momentum was in his favor. Really, only the McCain backers didn’t know it.

We had the paper all planned.

The front page would be a full-sized photo of Obama from the shoulders up. (Thank you, design director Ben Villarreal.) Would we do the same if Sen. John McCain won? No. Obama’s victory was historic in ways that McCain’s could never be.

In the end, the paper took a lot of grief for that — and still is — but we didn’t care. The idea that the election of the country’s first African American president was an historic occasion was lost on some, but not us. It was the right thing to do. (Some people confused our front page reader mosaic of Obama’s face on inauguration day with our Election Day front page. That front page annoyed some deep conservatives, too. But we got a tremendous response when we told readers what we planned and asked for their photos.)

Election night was as we expected. Smooth. We finished early enough to get the page we wanted on the press in plenty of time. It was a great paper.

It was also my last presidential election as an editor. It was a good one.

Wednesday update: On the Wednesday after Election Day in 2008, I got a call at 7 a.m. from my sister to head to Raleigh where my father lay dying. I got there in time to say a final goodbye. The whole family was there. I can’t remember who said it, but I thought it was the coolest thing to say about him: “He waited until America elected a black president. Then he could die in peace.”

Sunday sampler

In case you didn’t know it, Tuesday is Election Day and the presidential race is “coming down to the wire.” At least, that’s the story that is dominating the front pages of many state newspapers this morning. I’d like to weigh in on them, but I couldn’t bear to read one more thing about the race. My guess is that most newspaper readers feel the same way so I’m thinking that this issue won’t sell many single copy editions.

But there were still some good stories on the front pages.

Asheville — Police found some discarded bags in a dumpster at Brevard College and that led them to a big pot bust. Nothing really special about the writing, but the tale involving tracking devices, surveillance cameras and a Toyota Prius iis just interesting.

Raleigh— The N&O has a heart-breaking story that every parent should relate to about families who need in-home care — and who aren’t getting it. Roughly 10,600 people with cognitive and physical disabilities get at-home services and therapies at a cost of about $517 million a year, a third of that coming from state dollars. More than 9,000 people across the state wait for help from behavioral or occupational therapists or simply a trained caregiver to offer a few hours respite. In counties such as Wake, the wait for services tops eight years. Slots rarely open up, and in recent years, the few slots that did were frozen to save money. No new spots have been added since 2009. Eight years? Thank goodness the Republicans in the legislature and soon-to-be in the governor’s mansion will address this problem.

Greensboro — The Rev. Michael King was a leader in Greensboro in the 1990s and early 2000s. He built a church, established Project Homestead, and became a political and spiritual leader. It all crumbled when the News & Record began investigating financial irregularities in Homestead, and King apparently committed suicide. The paper follows up on the human aftermath with a profile of King’s son. (The full story requires a subscription.)

Sunday sampler

By coincidence, many of the state’s front pages featured stories on the congressional races in their areas. Good. Those aren’t going to get much coverage unless they’re featured in the local paper.

Charlotte & Raleigh: The Observer and the News & Observer — which share political reporters — did a splashy takeout on the gubernatorial race. They didn’t play the stories by the individual reporters the same way, though. Charlotte ran separate profiles on each candidate on its front page. Raleigh published the profile on Walter Dalton and is saving the Pat McCrory profile for next Sunday. Assuming that Raleigh is going to publish the McCrory profile the Observer ran — written by an Observer reporter — that’s seems odd to me. But perhaps Raleigh is going to publish a different profile.











Asheville — The Citizen-Times takes on a topic I wish every media would tackle — negative ads. No one likes them except the political campaigns that insist they HAVE to do them because they work. Fine. Expose them for what they are.






Fayetteville — The Observer gives dominant play on its front page to the funeral service for a female Army staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan. The only reason I mention it is because the paper also gave front page prominence to the fact that the deceased’s spouse is also a female. Seems easy enough, but it apparently isn’t. The Observer made the right call.





Greensboro — The News & Record examines whether a local gang leader is a good guy or a bad guy. It’s tough to come to a firm conclusion about Jorge Cornell’s motives. Respectable people stand with and against him. My friend Robert Lopez does a fine write-through on him.

(Images courtesy of the Newseum.)


Sunday sampler

It’s always fun to be surprised by the interesting journalism on the front pages of the state’s newspapers. Today wasn’t bad.

Raleigh — The News & Observer gives us two stories, which isn’t that unusual for the N&O. One is on Faith Hedgepeth, the 19-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student found dead in her apartment last month. It’s a write-through on her and the crime. Whenever a college student is killed, it’s a big story on campus. This is no different.

The second N&O story is about the decline in juvenile crime in the state.”The state is now locking up far fewer teens than it did a decade ago, finding treatment alternatives to its former system of training schools.” Of course, the laws that addressed this were passed 15 years ago, when the state legislature worked together to solve problems.


Winston-Salem — The Journal revisits the gay marriage debate by focusing on a gay couple — married in Vermont — that wants to keep its marriage intact. One partner is awaiting a green card so that he can remain in the United States. A Supreme Court ruling could resolve the issue.






Gastonia — The Gazette focuses on the bureaucratic nightmare that is apparently the Gaston County DSS when it comes to foster children. It is powerful stuff. “The Buchanans are highly regarded foster parents who began fostering a newborn child through DSS in November 2010. They were on a path to adoption when the 21-month-old was suddenly taken from them and placed in a different foster home with no valid explanation Aug. 31….During ensuing discussions, it was revealed that the child had been removed from the Buchanans’ home in part because they are white, and the child is biracial. After Aug. 31, the child was moved to the home of a biracial foster couple, according to the Gaston County official.”

Sunday sampler

Today’s front pages have some wonderful stories that have nothing to do with the presidential election. It’s a good day.

Raleigh— The N&O continues its exceptional work examining how the athletic/academic scandal at one of the nation’s best public universities could have occurred. It is not a pretty picture.






Greensboro — In the back of their minds, many parents fear that their young children might get inappropriate contact by authority figures. The News & Record tells just such a story and what one father did about it. It gets messy and the costs on both sides are high.No Lifetime movie pat ending on this one.





Charlotte — One night on The Daily Show, NBC’s Brian Williams said that there were not 10 battleground states; there were 10 battleground counties. A few weeks later, I met an NBC political analyst and I asked him whether one of those was in North Carolina. He said that they considered the Triangle as one. (I know, it’s three counties.) Anyway, the Observer identifies Watauga County as  bellwether, and it explains why.





Gaston — Last week I criticized the Gazette for its front page ad promotion. This week I praise it for a story about a returning Marine, who survived a vicious bomb explosion while on duty in Afghanistan. The first paragraph of the story drove me to read the whole thing: “The words written in ink on U.S. Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Kessler’s arm read like something from a vacationing tourist’s T-shirt: ‘I had a blast in Afghanistan.’”

Front pages courtesy of the Newseum.

Sunday sampler

Asheville — Despite its bohemian reputation, Asheville has a large population of retirees. So parsing through the facts, myths and politics of Medicare is worthy journalism for the Citizen-Times. “Whether it’s there for everybody tomorrow depends on who’s talking, including the four candidates wanting to represent Western North Carolina in Congress. And finding the truth amid the rhetoric in a presidential election year can prove daunting.” (As usually happens, the facts get buried by the blather of politicians trying to further their own causes.)



Burlington — Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice said that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully targeted Latinos and demanded action. The Times-News follows up with a reminder that taxpayers will foot the bill if the Sheriff’s Office challenges the DOJ, which is likely to happen. That means, of course, that taxpayers will pay lawyers on both sides! Neat, huh.





Charlotte— The Observer and the News & Observer continue their series on hospitals and the cost of medical care, this time looking at what’s called “cost shifting.” “Large nonprofit hospitals in North Carolina are dramatically inflating prices on chemotherapy drugs at a time when they are cornering more of the market on cancer care, an investigation by the Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh has found….Some of the largest markups are made by nonprofit hospital chains that generate millions of dollars of profit each year and have billions in reserves.”


FayettevilleThe Observer continues its indepth examination of mental problems  among returning soldiers and what the military is doing about it. Powerful stuff for anyone who cares about people who have served their country and are now trying to cope.





Raleigh — Of course, it shares the hospital story with Charlotte, as it shares this story about where the gubernatorial candidates stand on taxes. In one graphic on the front page is a clue why Pat McCrory is ahead. He’s promising not to raise taxes; McCrory isn’t.






Wilmington — The Star News writes of a heroin addict’s journey into addiction and her attempts to get out of it. It’s not especially an unusual story, but reporter Brian Freskos tells it in a gripping way.
Thanks to the Newseum for the images.

Sunday sampler

Most of the state’s newspaper front pages I saw continued with stories about either the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte or the presidential race in general. (The Observer, which did a wonderful job covering the convention, can be forgiven with one more front-page centerpiece on how the city dealt with the influx of Democrats. The Statesville Record & Landmark, maybe, but the Winston-Salem Journal? Not sure about that call.)  But there was room for other good enterprising journalism.

Raleigh — Many parents depend on the school bus to get their children to school. Safety is first, of course, but reliability is a close second. And when the bus doesn’t come? The N&O explores what it calls the nightmare of missed routes, no buses or overfilled ones.

Fayetteville — The Observer examines what’s being done — not much — about concussions among high school football players. “They’re missing them,” said Dr. Josh Bloom, a former college football player and team physician for the Carolina Hurricanes and USA Baseball. “. I would expect virtually any decent-sized high school team to have likely multiple concussions in a season.”