Sunday sampler

Greensboro: The News & Record does a great public service by “following the money” raised by the candidates in the two congressional districts in its region. The story itself doesn’t add much perspective, but the charts at the bottom of the story are fascinating.

Raleigh: N&O revisits 10 cold case murders. I’m not sure why I read each one – a few I remember – most I don’t. But it’s striking how capricious and how ordinary they are.

Wilmington: Beachgoers will be interested in this story in the Star-News. “More than 3,750 existing homes in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties could see chronic tidal flooding by 2045, according to a study released earlier this year by the Union of Concerned Scientists.” The story says there is time to “get out ahead” of the problem. Given the state’s political climate, I’m doubting it.

High Point: The enduring symbol of the Furniture City is “the world’s largest chest of drawers.” So, imagine selling it. That’s what the owners did in a public auction. The story in the Enterprise is password protected, but basically it says both the buyer and the sale price aren’t public. Here’s the front page display.

Trolling Washington

I troll my elected officials in Washington.

I remind them on Twitter that the tax cuts they champion ballooned the deficit they say they’re reducing. I remind them it hasn’t helped wages the way they say it has. I ask them why they talk about children forcibly separated from their parents, and where they are on President Trump’s racism and sexism and bigotry. And don’t get me started on the Russia attack on our elections.

But I know they don’t read the tweets, and I know tweets are an ineffective way of getting their attention. That’s OK, the elected officials aren’t my primary audience.

My city has a strong tradition of voting Democratic so the state legislature gerrymandered it, cutting it in half and pairing it with rural, conservative voters. Consequently, Greensboro is represented by two conservative Republican House members, leaving the moderate and liberal voters no voice. The two representatives vote in lockstep with the party, except when the party is too moderate. My senators are a little better — Richard Burr seems to be doing a good, bipartisan job as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — but when it’s time to vote, they generally go along with the party.

I understand that. Elections have consequences. Meanwhile, these politicians don’t hold town hall meetings. Write them a letter and, chances are, you get a form letter in return. You can call and speak with an aide or an intern, but even if they got tens of thousands of calls in favor of Obamacare or gun control or abortion rights or the Supreme Court, their positions wouldn’t change. I get that — they have certain values that they won’t cross.

But their silence about issues concerning their constituents must be called out. Do they agree with President Trump on the issues of immigration, Russia, Iran, North Korea and “shithole” countries? Do they think the news media are the enemy of the people? Are they OK with his attacks on the rule of law and the American justice system?

How comfortable are they with the leader of their party’s lies, misstatements and obfuscation? President Trump lies about matters of intense importance to the safety and security of the nation and our democracy.

The silence of my reps in D.C. suggests assent, and that disturbs me.

Perhaps they disagree with him on some issues and hate his lies, but they fear his wrath and the wrath of his base? That’s a different kind of cowardice. Maybe they believe that the ends justify the means. Trump will appoint anti-abortion judges and cut tax rates so they’ll tolerate his immoral and offensive behavior.

Of course, you have Rep. Mark Walker who regularly talks with Trump, so there’s that.

I’ve tried to tell them that they’re going to be seen as on the wrong side of history. They have options. There are several moves they can make without leaving their conservative roots, as Charlie Sykes writes here.

I wish they read the tweets. Perhaps they’d be inspired – or shamed – to speak out. Leadership, after all, demands courage and standing up for what you believe. This article suggests that voicing caution or restraint or even opposition can be an effective deterrent to objectionable ideas.

But, no, my congressmen, especially the House members, are men who seem to look the other way. 

It’s unclear if they are members of the Trump Party or the Republican Party. As Jennifer Finney Boylan writes about creating a new Republican Party based on the old Republican Party ethos, “The Republican Party could be overthrown by the Republican Party and replaced with — well, the Republican Party. That would require that the people John Boehner described as “napping somewhere” find their principles and their courage, and wake up.”

It’s important that people know what their reps believe and value. So I troll them to remind them and my followers on Twitter that some of us are watching. And expecting better.

Sunday sampler

Asheville: The lede in the Citizen-Times says it: “Six-figure premiums paid over 15 months by Buncombe taxpayers for valuable life insurance went unreported as compensation, meaning a total of $2.3 million was left off tax forms for 10 county employees despite federal law requirements.” The paper continues its strong coverage of the tenure and financial irregularities of a former county manager.

Raleigh: I guarantee you that cancer and diabetes are not diseases “of choice.” Published online a week ago, this story details some issues – including the above — with a text used in a required health course at UNC-Chapel Hill. More recently, the N&O published this piece of the co-author of the text defending it. “I seriously doubt anyone would say they choose cancer or heart disease or type 2 diabetes, etc.,” Hager’s email said. “But without question, choices can and do have consequences and there is ample evidence of various kinds … that show certain behaviors within our control can contribute to increased risk of disease, and not at a minuscule level.” (Both stories are combined for today’s story in the paper.

Sunday sampler

Greensboro: I am always happy — and all North Carolinians should be happy — when the General Assembly goes home. It means the members can screw up the state any longer. Or, rather, until they gather again. The News & Record take a deep look at what they did and didn’t do. And it doesn’t look all that good, thanks to a gerrymandered district system that gives all the power to one party. They could use it to lift everyone or to run roughshod. You can guess which they chose.

Raleigh: Hurricane Matthew is still causing problems two years after it hit Eastern North Carolina. The News & Observer writes of the effort to identify the remains of coffins from a cemetery in Goldsboro that floated to the surface during the flooding. “The first 18 were easy, Irving said. Those contained water-tight plastic or metal tubes with identifying paperwork for the deceased, or the caskets were still partially contained within their vaults, which had inscribed markers set into the lids. Those 18 were reburied in their original resting places. The other 18 presented a greater challenge. Separated from their vaults and missing the plastic tubes with the paperwork because some funeral homes didn’t use them, those remains were left to be identified by DNA”

Sunday sampler

Asheville: The VA nursing home in Asheville doesn’t offer the very best care, according to a news media investigation, but officials tell the Citizen-Times they are addressing the problems. “The USA Today/Boston Globe report on all VA nursing homes found the Charles George Community Living Center received an overall quality score of 515, making it a one-star facility, the lowest ranking.”

Charlotte: You know those people who don’t bother to recycle and throw their bottles and cans and boxes in the trash? In some cases, they are more efficient than you. The Observer writes that many recyclables go straight to the landfill. “The county estimates that recycling a ton of material now costs twice as much as dumping it in a landfill. Charlotte and other cities and towns say that recycling is worth it because they believe it’s the best thing for the environment and that residents have come to expect it.”


Sunday sampler

Many of the newspaper front pages have stories and photos of the marches in favor of sane immigration policies. There are other stories.

Asheville: I admit it angers me that my tax money goes to a place that uses religion to promote its anti-abortion, anti-contraception stance. But that’s what you get with the Republican-controlled legislature. The Citizen-Times takes us inside the Mountain Area Pregnancy Services, which got a quarter of a million dollars from the state to, well, promote child birth. “What MAPS will not do, said Hrncir, is provide information on or referrals for contraception or abortion. ‘We are pro-life and operate under that belief, so contraception and abortion are not things we would encourage or support, and it is not included as an option at the center,’ Hrncir said.”

Greensboro: I’ve always wondered why people get struck by trains. Like, there’s a track and trains are noisy. What the hell? The News & Record takes a look at one of the deadliest stretch of track. “People believe they will hear or feel the movement of a train and have time to move to safety, Smock said. That, he said, is a myth. The vast majority of that sound is behind the locomotive, meaning the train makes little to no noise as it approaches.”

Winston-Salem: The Journal’s front page is dedicated to opioid and heroin addictions, including three strong profiles of people fighting the addictions. One thing, though. The three profiles are of three white people. Diversity would have helped the package.

Sunday sampler

Greensboro: Nearly 20 years ago, she was “Baby Doe,” abandoned in the cold outside a few hours old. Now she’s graduated from high school and embracing the world. Jeri Rowe tells one helluva story of her journey in the News & Record. “Baby Doe has come a long way,” says Carrie Thomas, now 56. “From a timid, fragile little girl, she has blossomed into a smart, intelligent young lady. She is my Angel, and now the sky is the limit. There is nothing she can’t do.”

Fayetteville: Amid the craziness and bigotry of present day Washington, there’s this story from the Observer about a transgender soldier at Ft. Bragg. “We’re all trained together,” Nidez said. “We all fight together. I don’t think I’ll be leaving the Army soon.”

Forest City: I appreciate how the Daily Courier has kept track of the Word of Faith Fellowship trials. It’s a story that must be tracked comprehensively. This story is an update on one of the minister’s arraignment on Monday and isn’t notable, which is good because it’s behind a paywall. (Here is the front page, courtesy of the Newseum.) I’ve just finished Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind Than Home” and I’m interested in how people can be persuaded to give up their rationality and skepticism for religion.


Sunday sampler, Father’s Day edition

No Father’s Day stories here.

Charlotte: The Observer has a smart take on income disparity when it compared the zip code with the highest median income with the lowest, which happens to be six miles away. “The difference between the highest and lowest median incomes in 2016 was about $103,000. That’s up more than $3,000 from five years prior, using inflation-adjusted figures.The widening gap between the lowest and highest income areas shows an increase in Charlotte’s residential segregation, said Laura Simmons, director of community indicators at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute.”

Fayetteville: The Observer looks at lawsuits filed against the hog industry for its stench and nuisances. One side says the hog farms aren’t doing enough to solve the problems; the other says it is. The looming threat: “If we keep losing these suits, it is going to be very difficult to continue to do business in North Carolina,” Sullivan said Friday in a telephone interview. “In North Carolina, do we want agriculture or not? If we don’t, I don’t know what there is going to be in eastern North Carolina.”

Lenoir: How can you not read a story headlined “Naked woman flees police”? (Well, because I don’t have a subscription, but still.)


Sunday sampler

Asheville: I have been out of the know on Asheville’s new limits on police search powers. The City Council required “cutting back on vehicle stops for low-level regulatory violations and limiting “consent” searches. With consent searches, officers lack a reasonable suspicion of a crime, so they must get permission from the people they want to search.” The Citizen-Times elaborates on the national response to the council’s action. Impressive on the part of the council.

Charlotte: The Observer takes another look at guns and politics. True believers on both sides. Despite polls showing most North Carolinians want stricter controls on who is allowed to buy a weapon, it’s likely — my opinion — nothing will happen this year. Sadly, I’m represented in Washington by a gun store owner so you know where he stands — with no strategy other than arming more people. He’s quoted in the story.

Fayetteville: The Observer is tracking 1,4 dioxane, a likely carcinogen used as an industrial solvent and stabilizer, which is in the drinking water of Fayetteville and Wilmington. (Greensboro has it, too.) The Observer outlines why, essentially, little is being done about it.

Raleigh: Should law enforcement be able to access your doctor’s prescription records? Of course, not, right? The N&O reports on legislation in the General Assembly to do just that as it attempts to figure out ways to address the opioid crisis.

In journalism, caring about who wins

Margaret High, a reporting intern at the Whiteville News Reporter this summer, tweeted that about the Whiteville vs. Ledford high school baseball state championship. Margaret is a student of mine at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism. She’s also from Whiteville.

My response to her tweet was something along the lines that, in most cases, good reporters should care about who wins when they write stories. Then, several people chimed in to say that in community sports coverage, it’s OK to be a “homer.”

That’s true, but that’s not what I meant. I meant that it is worth caring about who wins in virtually every story. And yes that seems to violate the “objectivity” credo that clouds discussions about newspaper journalism. (And here we get to think about “Transparency is the new objectivity” again! More about that in a moment.)

Read her tweet and put the emphasis on “care” rather than “who wins.” The difference is significant. Why is it OK to be a homer in community sports? Because the community cares about its team and what its team does and doesn’t do. This is true with most stories outside of sports, too.

Most stories only have one “side” to be on — the readers’ side. Reporters should care that readers’ interests win. And their reporting should reflect that.  A toxin found in the drinking water serving 250,000 people? An abducted 7-month-old child found? N.C. on the short list for Army Futures Command? State legislators move to protect industrial hog farms from lawsuits? Schools damaged by tornado won’t open in August? If you care about your readers – if you know what motivates them and what they care about – you generally know who and what should win. (In the stories above: clean water; the child’s safe return; getting the futures command; protecting residents’ rights; getting schools opened.)

Magazines have approached reporting and writing this way for years. Next time you browse through a paper or news website and ask yourself: Which “side” of the story benefits readers or the community the most? I’m betting the choice is easy. And the stories will be better. Reporting is sharper and writing more genuine.

I’m not talking about editorializing. I should repeat that for those in the back: This is not about editorializing. Caring about who wins doesn’t mean you ignore everything else, and it doesn’t mean you create “fake news.”

In 2009, David Weinberger wrote a post titled “Transparency is the new objectivity.” “At the edges of knowledge — in the analysis and contextualization that journalists nowadays tell us is their real value — we want, need, can have, and expect transparency. Transparency puts within the report itself a way for us to see what assumptions and values may have shaped it, and lets us see the arguments that the report resolved one way and not another.”

Before that, in 2005, Dan Gillmor argued that objectivity should be replaced with thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency. And in each category, he insists on involving readers. “The first rule of having a conversation is to listen — and I know I learn more from people who think I’m wrong than from those who agree with me.” And thoroughness “means, whenever possible, asking our readers for their input.”

Thoroughness, accuracy and transparency are simple concepts that everyone should agree on. Fairness, as Dan defines them, is more complex.

“Fairness means, among other things, listening to different viewpoints, and incorporating them into the journalism. It does not mean parroting lies or distortions to achieve that lazy equivalence that leads some journalists to get opposing quotes when the facts overwhelmingly support one side….We should be aware of what drives us, and always willing to listen to those who disagree.”

(I’ve omitted important concepts for the sake of brevity. You should read the whole thing. It’s not long.) On virtually every story — certainly in sports, features and general news — following these principles makes stories — and writers’ motivations and biases — clearer. The only obvious exceptions are those stories where there are distinct sides — I’m thinking partisan politics. There, reader interests can be harder to delineate. (It’s still doable, though. That’s a different, longer post.)

Trust in journalism is at an all-time low. People think journalists are out for themselves, like to tear down things, and have no sense of decency. One way to claw back some trust is to show we care about what readers care about, and we write it from that vantage.

Doesn’t it seems natural that Margaret would write about Whiteville baseball from a Whiteville perspective? My sense is that if more reporters approached their stories that way, newspaper journalism would be much more interesting.