Sunday sampler, Veterans Day edition

Nearly all of the N.C. newspaper front pages feature Veterans Day stories. Some papers went all the way or close to it – GreensboroHickoryStatesville, Winston-Salem, High Point, Forest City. Good for them Two newspapers honored veterans with more unique, specialized and, to me, interesting stories:

Fayetteville: The Observer features a fascinating war story about the 30th Infantry Division protecting Hill 314 in WWII. Want to read about American heroes — men who were younger  then than the students I teach now — read this.

Charlotte: Speaking of heroes, don’t describe the four brothers who served in WWII and are still alive to talk about it. “The real heroes are those who gave their lives during the war,” Rufus Dalton said. “We’re just four guys who outlived everybody else. And we were just part of the unified national effort to take three dictators out and put the world back in shape again.” Also, heroes.

Sunday sampler

Mooresville and Statesville: The Tribune and Record & Landmark publish basically the same story by the Record & Landmark’s reporter on coal ash disposal sites in the region. “Mooresville has more coal ash structural fills than any other area in the state. Nearly 1 million cubic yards of ash is buried in the town. And that represents the sites that NCDEQ knows about.” Good journalism, letting the public know about the sites before something terrible happens.

Wilmington: New Hanover County is booming, and the hospitals are running to keep up with the sick people. The Star-News tells how. Already, New Hanover Regional Medical Center is focusing on children and stroke victims. More is to come.

Raleigh: The News & Observer has a fine story about prosecuting drug dealers for murder when ODs occur.  “Charging opioid suppliers with murder in fatal overdoses is increasingly common in North Carolina. No one keeps track of the total across all 100 counties, but prosecutors have brought at least 20 cases in the last two years as the state’s opioid crisis worsens.”

Sunday sampler

Morganton: Mistreating the ill and infirm is despicable. So I appreciate the News-Herald keeping abuse allegations the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center front and center. (The story on the front page is a later, write-through version of the story I link here, but I can’t find the staff written story on the website.) “Carl Lanier, the Summit area director, told police that staff used a lanyard to snap or pop at and hit the resident in the back of the head, back and shoulders, the report said. Lanier also told police that the resident was told by a staff member to go after another staff member and hit them, the report said.”

Charlotte: Tracking how public money is spent is a key role of good journalism. The Observer reports that the city has spent or committed $124 million to build affordable housing, but: “More than 70 percent of the new rental and home ownership units that the City Council helped developers build aren’t affordable to those most in need — families like Simpson’s whose incomes the federal government considers “extremely low.”

Greensboro: In April, a tornado swept through east Greensboro, leaving $48 million in damage. (Hurricane Matthew victims will appreciate this.) Clean up is sloooooow, the News & Record says. “Six months later and the path a 135-mph tornado took through east Greensboro is still easily traced from the trail of downed trees, new utility poles and tarps covering houses here — but also the few new roofs along the streets of Cottage Grove, the second-oldest African-American community in the city.”

Wilmington: Speaking of storms, Wilmington is trying to learn from the devastation left by Hurricane Florence. The Star-News has a comprehensive look at the problems the storm caused.

Sunday sampler

Several notable Hurricane Florence follow-ups today. The News & Observer devotes a 12-page section to the storm. On it’s front page is a separate story about people living near the flooded Cape Fear River will ever return to their homes. The Charlotte Observer features a general update, primarily based on people left homeless. The Fayetteville Observer reminds us that many in the Cumberland County city are still waiting for government reimbursement for repairs to their homes caused by damage from Hurricane Matthew two years ago. The Wilmington Star News has a similar story as it involves Pender County. And I can’t find the story n the website of the Daily Courier of Forest City, here it is on the front page.

High Point: The Enterprise lets school officials explain that the “education lottery” really is: A way for state legislators to take tax money from schools and replace it with lottery money. As the chief of staff of Guilford County schools said, “The net to schools is not a gain.” Your government, faking you out. (And to read this story, you’ll bang into a paywall. Some of it is here.)

Mooresville: The Tribune checked the city credit card expenditures of top city officials and found some expensive expenses or, as the paper describes it, disparities. The town is working on revisions to its spending policies.

Hickory: The Sheriff’s son, who was running to succeed his father, was indicted. The Sheriff’s Office was searched. A closed meeting in a judge’s chambers was held with a representative of the Attorney General’s office, the Catawba County attorney and the Sheriff’s personal attorney. The Daily Record has the transcript and curates it. Compelling reading.

Morganton: The News Herald’s entire front page is devoted to issues involving the Friends for Animals Humane Society of Burke County. Fines, failed inspections, criminal charges, terrible care. It’s not pretty.

 

 

Six years of looking at N.C. newspapers’ front pages

I’ve posted 280 Sunday samplers  — about five-and-a-half years worth — since January 2012. And newspaper front pages have changed significantly over that period, and not for the better.

I love newspapers, and being out of the business for more than six years hasn’t dimmed that love. Sunday sampler is my personal selection of the best stories from the front pages of Sunday’s North Carolina newspapers. I limit it to the front pages because that tends to be — in some cases, that should be past tense — the day newspapers publish their best work. Early on, I described my thinking this way:  “When I look at newspaper front pages, I’m seeking a surprise — something that tells me something I don’t know and that I want to know.”

So, yes, personal.

North Carolina has always had a strong culture of newspapers, thanks in part to the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, of which I’m an adjunct. A few times a year, I can’t find anything on the front pages of the 20 or so newspapers I scan each Sunday at the Newseum. Today is one of them. So, I’ll post this, which I prepared a few weeks ago and never got around to finishing until now.

Some observations:

  • Local coverage in smaller community papers seems consistently strong. Or if it isn’t strong in terms of enterprise, it is at least abundant. I have worried about news deserts ever since my friend Penny Muse Abernathy at the university began studying the decline of newspapers’ reach, particularly in rural areas. Many of the smaller papers have front pages that cover vital community affairs with the traditional mix of government coverage of lifestyle features.

  • On the other hand, the state’s larger metro papers — Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville — have reduced the number of stories on their front pages. When I started this blog, four stories on the front page was the routine. Now they often publish two stories with more dramatic displays, hoping to grab readers’ attention and focus. (There is research that supports this practice.) The upshot is that readers get less enterprise. What papers give us is as strong as ever, but there’s less of it. Speaking as a former editor I get it: Fewer reporters on staff translates to fewer enterprise stories. And while many newspapers are working hard to keep their investigative reporting muscle strong, it’s difficult. And it shows.

  • More wire stories — stories available to many newspapers, television stations and websites everywhere — are popping up on front pages of papers where they once didn’t. Another result of the decline in the number of reporters in the newsroom. And because the stories aren’t staff-produced, they tend to be everywhere — TV, websites, Twitter — on Friday or Saturday. Many readers may not be tuned to the news except on Sunday morning — but many others likely know a political fight is brewing over the Supreme Court nomination.

  • Fortunately, some newspapers are sharing content, and they are serving their readers when they do. Owned by the same company, the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer are the prime example. Both front pages featured the Observer’s fish game story the Sunday I looked. The two McClatchy papers have teams that collaborate with each other, including reporters from both papers covering sports and government, and conducting investigations. That stretches their resources and helps them avoid duplicating coverage. And because McClatchy has a wire service, many of the state’s newspapers pick up Raleigh and Charlotte stories. Winston-Salem and Greensboro, both owned by BH Media, also routinely share content.
  • Further collaboration is an opportunity for struggling newspapers. Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post encourages newspapers to do just that: “What if journalists could consistently and powerfully get their act together in meaningful collaboration, truly realizing their own strength in numbers? So armed, they might do battle against the crushing tariffs that are jacking up newsprint prices; they might force the tech platforms to treat their editorial content with respect; they might even solve the urgent crisis in local news.”
  • More papers have added hard paywalls, which I understand — content has value. But hard paywalls limit random readers from seeing the news. My experience is that unless your content behind that paywall is so indispensable or compelling, it’s tough to get someone to pay for it. And perhaps for the readers of the High Point Enterprise, say, it is. But it isn’t for me.
  • There has been a major digital change since I started this column, and it’s a good one. A few newspapers are posting their big Sunday stories before Sunday. I first noticed it a year or two ago when the News & Observer published an entire series online before it made the print edition of the newspaper. Now, for Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Asheville, I will often see stories on their Sunday front pages and have to search their websites to find them because they’ve been published Thursday or Friday.

Journalists are not the enemy of the state, and it should offend every thinking American when they hear him say it. The journalists at North Carolina’s newspapers work hard in tough conditions and at low pay to bring news about their communities to the public. When you hear “fake news” it’s a smokescreen spoken by people who want to hide from something — usually the truth.

These papers and their journalists, despite their flaws, are doing democracy’s heavy lifting.

(All newspaper front pages are courtesy of Newseum.org.)

 

Sunday sampler, Silent Sam edition

A week ago, Silent Sam, the monument to the Confederacy on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, was toppled by protesters at about 9:15 p.m. Monday. Although it was arguably the biggest news in the state, the incident, which has been decades coming, did not make the front pages of any of the state’s newspapers. It wasn’t an issue of news judgment; thank the early deadlines caused by print schedules — a terrible fallout of the decline of the newspaper business.

Consequently, I suspect the state’s larger papers appreciate the Silent Sam protesters scheduling their rally early in the day Saturday. That rally, in which seven people were arrested, was featured prominently on the front pages of Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro.

All three used the same story written by News & Observer & Durham Herald-Sun reporters, which, given the strain on newspaper staffing, makes sense. (I wouldn’t have said the same thing 20 years ago, when newspapers were robust. Diversity of coverage is important.) The N&O also wrote an impressive history of the Silent Sam, which should be required reading for anyone who wants to express an opinion on what should be done next. This is the story the Observer used on its front page.

I couldn’t find any other mention of Saturday’s rally and arrest on the front pages of other N.C. newspapers listed at the Newseum. (The Durham paper isn’t listed on the Newseum, but I’m guessing this was a Page One story.) For the smaller papers, it likely wasn’t local enough. Fayetteville went big with Sen. John McCain’s death, which, given its military interest, makes sense. Winston-Salem’s front is all about an 8-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder. However, the New York Times and the Washington Post both had stories today on their websites and, given their large Sunday edition, likely in the print editions.

While it doesn’t have a newsprint front page today, I would be remiss in not mentioning the coverage by the Daily Tar Heel, which was excellent Saturday — I followed its outstanding Twitter feed, which included a lot of video — and has been outstanding all week.

Meanwhile, as for the rest of the Sampler today, newspaper front pages were dominated by Sen. John McCain’s death and back to school stories.

Sunday sampler

Charlotte: By now, you likely know I like political pieces that cut through the clutter. The Observer takes a look at the past sermons of Rev. Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the 9th House district. Harris believes homosexuality is a choice, the Earth was created less than 10,000 years ago, and that women should submit to their husbands. Harris says the “left” is bringing those issues up as a distraction from the strong economy. We’ll see.

Charlotte: I’d never heard of “fish games” until this story in the Observer. (I love reading stories that introduce me to new things.) Is it a game of skill or gambling? I don’t know, but I’m glad Greensboro has already banned the games. People already throw their money away on state-sponsored gambling (the lottery and yes, I’m one of them).

Fayetteville: I’ve been fascinated for a long time by the people who seemed to think that fraud is prevalent in our elections, especially when there is no evidence of it. Especially when there is plenty of evidence that the idea of fraud is planted by Republicans who want to discourage minorities from voting. The Observer takes a look at a proposed constitutional amendment to require a voter to provide a state-sponsored ID.

Fayetteville: The Observer also tells the story Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, who will receive the Medal of Honor this week for what he did in Afghanistan in 2002.

Wilmington: The Star-News looks at the cost of the Trump tariffs and conclude that businesses are starting to feel the impact. “McWhorter said the price increase he received wasn’t enough to change his business model, other than to pass the price increase on to his customers where appropriate or just eat the cost increase where prices can’t be raised.” There you go.

Sunday sampler

Let’s see what the “enemy of the people” are reporting today! (A lot of football.)

Greensboro: The News & Record looks at the helmets high school players are wearing  and how protective they are. Most of the area schools wear good helmets. But “While the overall numbers are good, eight schools are also placing their athletes in helmets that are now prohibited for use by NFL players after a study released in April by Biokinetics Inc. of Canada.”

Fayetteville: The Observer describes how North Carolina high schools are turning out more blue-chip football players. “This season, at least 444 players from North Carolina are on top-level college football rosters, according to a Fayetteville Observer analysis. About 300 of them are scholarship athletes.”

Raleigh: Want to get the idea of what a concussion can do? Read this piece in the N&O about Tommy Hatton, a star UNC football player who walked away from the game after suffering four concussions. It’s damning. “During the first days and weeks after his fourth concussion, Hatton said he felt so incapacitated that “honestly, legitimately, it was almost like I was paralyzed.” The effects were immediate, and relentless. First was the short-term memory loss – the 9 ½ hours he couldn’t account for until he came to in the hospital, still wearing his uniform pants. Then there was the sensitivity to light, so much that Hatton spent the majority of the next three months either in darkened rooms or wearing special sunglasses.”

In non-football news:

Greensboro: The News & Record continues its series on money in politics with a look at state legislative races. Here’s the key: the candidate with the most money wins. Sad, given the state of the General Assembly. “We basically have a system that is not designed to create competition,” said Bender, whose group is based in Helena, Mont., and operates the www.followthemoney.orgwebsite where visitors can track the interaction between the big bucks and state officeholders. “An incumbent once he or she is in office, you can usually see that there is a handful of people who are providing boatloads of cash for them,” Bender said.

Hendersonville: Terrible mudslides in May, and still waiting for federal help in August. Not the way government is supposed to work. “Bobby Arledge, Polk County emergency management director, said so far 153 people have been documented as suffering some type of damage from the storm. That damage ranges from minor to major, and while not all will be eligible for FEMA to reimburse, it will be a “big help for those folks struggling to get back to normal,” he said.”

High Point:  Gangs. The lead paragraph in the Enterprise story says it: “Three people were killed in the city between Monday and Thursday, and another two were hit with bullets. Six different homes were shot at and at least 200 bullets have been fired in the city in the same time span.”

 

Twitter, Trump and the dancing flamingo

I like to troll public officials when they do something hypocritical (often) or, frankly, something I think is bad for the country. That puts President Trump in my cross hairs. And most of the time, I try to have fun with it. Most of the time.

When I read that he referred to flamenco dancers as “flamingo dancers,” I could resist showing him what a flamingo dancer looks like, which I did in a tweet.

A few days later, a former student told me that the tweet had been featured on CNN. I thought it was simply something the news channel put on its running crawl, along with others. Then I clicked the link to the Jeanne Moos piece. My tweet comes at the 1:25 mark. She refers to me as “someone,” which is vague yet accurate.

I’m grateful that I made President Trump’s most despised network. He hasn’t yet called me dumb, for which I’m also grateful.

P.S. I have no idea how CNN found that tweet.