Sunday sampler

Asheville — If our elected officials truly believed that the government closest to the people governs best, they’d let cities decide their fate when it comes to things like minimum wage. But, of course, they don’t really believe that. The Citizen-Times examines how the Asheville City Council, which supports raising the minimum wage – as does most of the state’s population – is unable to do anything about it.

Burlington — Are drug treatment courts, which help drug offenders get their lives straight, worth the cost? It seems so, but the General Assembly cut state funding in 2011. The Times-News examines the issue.

Fayetteville and Winston-Salem — At least two of the state’s papers didn’t forget that today is Pearl Harbor Day. (Newspapers that don’t have a story today will hear about it from readers.)

Greensboro — Greensboro’s civil rights museum, which inhabits Greensboro greatest claim on history, the Greensboro sit-ins, is a wonderful monument to civil protest. Yet, it is being run into the ground by the egos of the very people whose vision created it. It’s a shame, as the News & Record’s story today illustrates.

Winston-Salem — The Journal has a package of stories on the president’s immigration policy. The one I like is the one that calls out Gov. Pat McCrory for joining the suit against the president. ‘Gov. Pat McCrory, one of 17 governors and attorneys general supporting legal action against President Barack Obama’s temporary deportation policy, said last week that “the president’s actions are likely to put even more financial strain on our state’s government services.’  Ryan Tronovitch, the governor’s spokesman, provided no statistics to back up the comment when asked by the Journal.” Because facts aren’t important when it comes to political positions.

 

 

Sunday sampler

One of the issues newspapers have always had is how to fill the paper on long holiday weeks. It shows on the front pages of today’s N.C. newspapers. Still, there are a couple of good examples of “your government at work.”

Charlotte — One of the repercussions of cutting the cost of government — we like low taxes — is that government cuts corners. Enter the state medical examiner’s office and it not doing autopsies on bodies it should do autopsies on. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner asked staff last year not to autopsy the bodies of hundreds of people who died in suspicious or unexpected circumstances, lowering the use of the state’s best tool for determining an exact cause of death.”

Raleigh — The N&O catches up with Dr. Holden Thorp, now provost at Washington University. He seems to be having fun away from the controversy in Chapel Hill.

Sunday sampler

A wealth of opportunities for newspaper readers to find interesting stories on the front pages of N.C. papers today.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times has become one of the best papers in the state because it regularly tackles tough, insightful stories. This week’s is about those people who prepare and serve us food in restaurants living below the poverty level. (So, let’s bitch at them a little more because they aren’t as quick as we want them to be.) Most make $2.13 an hour plus tips. “In the next nine months, worker relief is coming to 23 states and the District of Columbia, all of which will lift the state minimum wage higher than what’s mandated by the government. North Carolina is not scheduled to be among them.” Hooray for us!

Burlington — The Times-News writes on one of my favorite topics: child homelessness. It’s right up there with child hunger“Single mothers with children is the fastest-growing population of homelessness today,” said Kim Crawford, executive director of Allied Churches of Alamance County. “A lot of that is to do with domestic violence.” My question: are our governments working on the right things?

Charlotte — The Observer continues to ask questions — and get some answers — on the once-secret monitoring of millions of cellphone records of people in Mecklenburg County. High profile arrests have resulted, but there are questions of whether judicial procedure has been followed. Excellent reporting.

Greensboro — In one of the day’s philosophically saddest stories, the News & Record writes about a controversy over the local Civil Rights Museum, established to honor the Greensboro Four and the sit-in movement. Greensboro has been fighting old racial battles for years, and this is another. It’s unclear to me what constituency the museum board is attempting to appeal to, but it certainly isn’t doing the museum any good.

Raleigh — Want to see your state government at work? Read this story in the News & Observer about how the Department of Labor won’t stand up for laborers being cheated by their employers. Not only that, the secretary of labor, Cherie Berry, best known for her picture in elevators, won’t even talk with the N&O about it.

 

Sunday sampler

I worry about the day when daily newspapers go away. I look forward to whatever takes their place telling stories like N.C. newspapers tell today. They’re stories that many people don’t like to see, but good communities force themselves to look at anyway.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times does a good job pulling together the politics and hypocrisy of the state’s refusal of federal Medicaid money. Thank goodness for Aldona Wos fixing the system so that N.C. can accept federal money and provide health coverage to poor and needy, he says sarcastically.

Burlington — For every high profile Janay Palmer (Ray Rice’s wife), there are thousands of lesser known but also beaten victims. The Times News tackles a common story — domestic violence — but one that must be told more often than it is.

Greensboro — More than 4,000 — 4,000! — fire code violations in Guilford County schools. It’ll cost $20 million to fix them. Actually, it would cost $20 million; it should be conditional tense as it’s unlikely the school has the money to address the needs. But don’t worry, we don’t need to pass a quarter-cent tax increase to help schools out.

High Point — The Enterprise starts a four-part series on hunger. Another common story and another that must be told more often than it should. 25 percent of local children go to bed hungry at night. Think about that for a minute. Now think about what government, formed for the safety and welfare of local citizens, is doing about it.

 Lenoir — Go beyond the political posturing and BS about magistrates and same-sex marriage, and you get this story from the News Topic. It’s not an easy decision for some, choosing between employment and personal beliefs. So difficult – or fearsome, at least – that the magistrates don’t want their names publicized with their views.

Wilmington — When I was editor, I tried to get a story written about neighborhoods where gunfire at night was routine. My thinking was that no one should have to live that way. Editors at the Star News are better than I. “From the inception of the city’s automated gunfire detection system in December 2011 until Oct. 28, the ShotSpotter system detected 1,280 individual reports of gunshots…. Gunshots ring out on average 1.25 times a night in the city, Wilmington Police Department ShotSpotter statistics indicate.”

 

Sunday sampler

Burlington — Are prostitutes businesswomen or victims? Are they responsible for their behavior or are the imprisoned? The Times-News has a gripping story about human trafficking and how police are changing their perception of prostitution. And if it’s happening in Alamance County, it’s happening most everywhere.

Fayetteville — Stealing the idea behind the headline in the Observer: Is solitary confinement punishment or torture? It uses the story of a man who died of thirst at Alexander Correctional Institution to describe the need for further reforms in the prison system for prisoners with mental health issues. It’s a sad, scary story.

Raleigh — The N&O has the same story but different. It focuses on the death and the lack of information being released by the state about the circumstances. Read them both.

Raleigh — Yikes: “During the season that the UNC men’s basketball team made its run to the 2005 NCAA championship, its players accounted for 35 enrollments in classes that didn’t meet and yielded easy, high grades awarded by the architect of the university’s academic scandal.” Sad to say, I think the only question now about that 2005 banner is when it’s coming down.

Read more here:

Sunday sampler

Nearly every North Carolina newspaper features some sort of election story on its front page. I am not highlighting any of those because there’s nothing reported that is new to anyone who has even vaguely followed the N.C. Senate race. But….

Asheville — The Citizen-Times brings us up to date on the Asheville Police Department, and, man, things aren’t great. The city manager has put the fire chief in charge of overhauling the police department after the police chief got involved in his son’s criminal case. But it’s not just that. “A Citizen-Times investigation found allegations of on-the-job retaliation, an increase in officer resignations and a massive administrative error that has compromised traffic cases.” Read it and weep.

Charlotte — The Observer continues pursue its story about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police tracking suspects — and lots of other people — through their cellphones. The Observer wants to see records on the surveillance. Not surprisingly, the city doesn’t want the paper or its readers to. Two judges seem to side with the newspapers. Good for them and the Observer.

Durham – The Herald-Sun: “Nearly 84 percent of the vehicle drivers and passengers Durham Police Department officers searched in the first half of 2014 were black, new reports from the department indicate.” But before you leap to the obvious conclusion that racial profiling is involved, the department assures you it isn’t.

Winston-Salem — You know how it seems as if everyone hates Common Core? You know how the conservative  legislature passed a law to rewrite the education standards and Gov. McCrory signed it? A commission was appointed to do it and everything. Problem is, the legislature and governor didn’t fund it. I, too, am shocked. Makes me proud of the strong stand our elected officials have taken to make public education a priority.

 

 

Sunday sampler

 

Asheville — The Citizen-Times continues its examination of homelessness, this time looking at children. The county expects more than 750 kids homeless this year. “Among them are children sleeping in motels, living in campgrounds or in the woods with their families, several sleeping in cars and many living “doubled up” like Tiana’s family, sleeping temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.”

Charlotte — Six magistrates have resigned or said they will resign so that they don’t have to marry same-sex couples. Good, I say. As with any job, if they don’t want to do their job, they should quit. But somehow it has become a religious/constitutional issue in the eyes of some. The Observer lays it out.

Fayetteville — Editor Mike Adams writes a front-page column on the Observer’s admirable year-long, solutions-based series on crime in the community. “What we have seen in our newspaper series is that successful efforts are born when people of passion and influence are committed to change and willing to work with all who will join them in the effort. That passion and commitment exists in Fayetteville. The willingness to collaborate has been demonstrated by a small group of leaders drawn together by their common hope for change.” Well-done, Observer.

Raleigh — The N&O has led the charge into the investigation of UNC, and I’m glad. The rot was there and it must be cleaned out to heal. It’s clear the school wasn’t going to do it without the constant prodding. (Yes, I teach there.) It follows with a piece that puts the scandal into national perspective and links it exactly where it belongs: to the need for money and national sporting prestige.

Greensboro — And because I’m a sentimental sort, I’m going inside the paper to mention the Q&A with my friend Jeri Rowe, who was the News & Record’s columnist for eight years. He’s leaving the paper to work at High Point University. He talks about his adventures in the craft of column writing. I’ll miss reading you, Jeri.

Sunday sampler

Many front pages have election previews today. I won’t list them all, buy they include Asheville, CharlotteRaleigh and Greensboro. I didn’t read any of them because the headlines didn’t suggest there was anything new (to me) in the stories, and, to be totally open, the television ads have made me sick of both candidates.

Asheville, Fayetteville and Winston-Salem have stories about same-sex marriage repercussions, but I didn’t read them either because I read stories about how it is changing marriage and how churches will respond in papers last week.

So, we’re on to the more unique stories that caught my eye.

Charlotte — Live in Charlotte? I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that the police collect data from your phone. It’s intended to track people suspected of violent crimes, but it picks up data from your phone, too. Read the Observer’s story — they’ve used it hundreds, if not thousands, of times. If this story isn’t a reason to support independent journalism, I don’t know what is.

Fayetteville — I don’t have a strong opinion on the red wolves “return-to-the-wild” program, but I am fascinated with the animal. The Observer takes a needed look at the program and its issues. It’s a balanced he-said, she-said story, and that’s good.

Lenoir — The News-Topic tells the heartbreaking story of a 5-year-old boy who has a physical disorder in which the slightest bump or scrape can be catastrophic. His organs are too sensitive. Makes me feel lucky.

Finally, it does seem as if Greensboro and Winston-Salem are competing over which city has the most for tourists. Both feature story on what their cities have to offer, and both include each other’s “performance” in graphics on their front pages. You can decide who wins.

 

Why editorial endorsements matter

It’s a couple of weeks until the mid-term elections, and the beginning of newspaper endorsement season. That means it is time for the stories about newspapers deciding NOT to endorse. From CJR:

“Dozens of newspapers have stopped making endorsements over the last two election cycles, often citing doubts about their impact and fears that, in a polarized era, endorsements put the credibility of the paper’s political coverage at risk.” 

The next sentence in that paragraph should be: “In addition, newspapers fear that supporters of the candidate not endorsed will drop their subscriptions.”

Sadly, these newspapers are running in the wrong direction. They should be more aggressive, rather than timid. More on that in a moment.

Endorsements won’t affect people’s views of the political coverage. Most people already believe newspapers are biased. They don’t understand the separation between editorial and news. And if they regularly read the editorial page, they are going to have an idea which candidate the paper will support, whether the paper endorses or not.

By corporate mandate, the News & Record did not endorse in the 2012 presidential race. Still, in comments on stories and in social media, readers assumed the paper had endorsed Barack Obama. I believe the paper would have endorsed him, based on its core editorial philosophy. But it didn’t. Try to convince partisan readers of that. For the record, with new ownership, the News & Record will endorse in the mid-terms.

Many of my digital-oriented friends wonder about the relevancy of newspaper endorsements. There are so many other voices out there, they question whether the newspaper’s opinion matters much. Instead, they say, papers should funnel that energy into better reporting. (I agree.) You can make that case for major races: the presidency, the Senate. But not for races farther down the ballot: City Council, school board, judgeships, state offices. It’s difficult for many civic-minded people to keep up with everything. Local TV often pays little attention to the lower offices. Other than friends, many people need an independent voice to offer an opinion. It’s not unusual for people to call newspapers and ask when the endorsements begin. (And yes, some readers see the endorsement as a signal of who not to vote for.)

And, as many have said, editorial pages take positions on community issues every day. Come election time, they pull their punch? How is that responsible or helpful?

If newspapers want to improve readership, they should EXPAND their editorial pages. Many have cut back editorials, OpEds and reader letters to one page. They should publish editorials on important community issues on the front page. They should let reporters write with more attitude and voice. It is possible to cover an issue fairly while also providing perspective and bite.

They should reinvest in reporting, in fact-checking claims, in blanketing local political coverage, in traveling with candidates as they campaign.

The past 10 years of newspaper trends points to one thing: You don’t gain readership or build credibility by cutting back.

Sunday sampler

Yesterday I asked who wore it best, referring to how the state’s newspapers covered and displayed the overturning of the same-sex marriage ban. Most people who commented said, Greensboro, Asheville or Raleigh. All good choices.

My favorite was Greensboro — yes, that’s my paper — for three reasons: The headline — We do — was imaginative and tells the story perfectly; the photo is joyous and, by the men showing their rings, symbolic; and the stories were perfect. I liked Raleigh’s a lot, but thought the headline was traditional and the photo of the men kissing would alienate readers unnecessarily.

(What surprised me the most was the number of papers that did not give the story any front page treatment.)

Several newspapers continued to cover the ramifications of the ruling today. All interesting, all worth reading:

The News & Observer looks at the political impact. It comes to no conclusion, and the expected people make the expected comments, yet, it’s still interesting to watch the spin being spun. The Charlotte Observer gives the reaction of churches, particularly whether they will marry gay and lesbian couples. Naturally, it’s mixed. The News & Record takes the long view, examining how far the state has come. While it seems as if the tide turned quickly, in reality it was a long, arduous fight.

That’s not all the good journalism in the state’s papers, though:

Charlotte — Paying college athletes is picking up steam, and the Observer outlines the pros and cons. (TV and the NCAA has crammed “student athletes” down our throats. Why don’t we refer to student musicians or student journalists?)

Greensboro — The News & Record continues its outstanding coverage of problems at UNCG that resulted in the arrest of several employees for theft — basically the theft of time. UNCG has bungled the case from the start, and the N&R looks at how it all evolved.

Burlington — I was a Rotarian for 15 years, even serving on the board, which goes to show that sometimes even a civic club isn’t a good judge of character. But I digress. The Times-News reports that civic clubs in Alamance County — and likely across the state — are struggling to attract younger members. (My sense is that millennials are interested in the same civic do-gooderism, but are less interested in the process the clubs use.)

Winston-Salem — Moral Monday and Tea Party protesters, watch out. You know that the police drone which is hovering above the rally — or your house, for that matter — is legally spying on you? I didn’t, until I read the Journal’s story. “Local and state law enforcement agencies don’t have drones yet. But they will soon. When that time comes, legislation passed in August by the N.C. General Assembly will allow city police, county sheriffs and state law enforcement agencies to use drones to take photographs of open-invitations gatherings without obtaining a warrant, even if the gathering is on private property.”