Sunday sampler

Many front pages featured Martin Luther King Day festivities. Good, particularly given President Trump’s racist sentiments.

Fayetteville: I like movies and I’ll see “12 Strong,” a story about the “horse soldiers,” a Special Forces team that entered Afghanistan after 9-11.The Observer tells the story from the view of a few of the real “horse soldiers,” who watched the movie in an invitation-only premiere. “While based on true events, the men said the story also had been adapted for Hollywood, with events presented out of order or otherwise changed to add drama. ‘The movie is a fictional portrayal,’ Nutsch said. ‘But there are threads of truth.’” Better yet, the paper gives the story historical context.

Raleigh: I’m always stunned when I read a story like this about cult leaders. The N&O does a write-thru on McCollum Ranch, which for 30 years has been, well, I don’t know what it’s been. But this is what you need to know: “Police announced McCollum’s arrest on Wednesday, along with the arrests of three women who investigators say were involved in his enterprises. Police charge that children ages 9 to 17 were forced to work for long hours, often more than 40 per week, for little or no pay, and that the children were denied education and care.”

Raleigh: The N&O also tells the story of a homeless woman and her daughter, as part of a larger story on homelessness in Wake County. It’s not an unusual story, but it’s important to keep in front of people, because homelessness isn’t going away under the umbrella of “Make America Great Again!” excitement. “Homelessness in Wake County increased in 2017, although it declined in North Carolina overall. The Wake numbers, counted during a single night last January, increased about 8 percent to 884 people. Other measures are even more striking: The number of people who came in contact with homelessness services in Wake County at least once in a given year has increased 31 percent since 2015, reaching 5,500 last year, according to the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.”


Evil triumphs when good people are silent

Rep. Mark Walker, who represents part of Guilford County — thank you for the gerrymander, GOP legislature — retweeted this last night.

At this point, it’s the closest thing to a public comment he’s made on President Trump’s racist, reprehensible remarks about immigration from poor countries. Please note that Huckabee isn’t condemning the remarks. Please note that Cotton and Perdue said they didn’t hear those words, not that Trump didn’t say them. Please note that he’s attacking the lone Democrat in the room for publicly condemning the president’s racism.

Update & correction: Rep. Walker was interviewed on TV yesterday. He didn’t condemn the president’s sentiments, or, really, his language. “I believe that God loves people from Haiti, or El Salvador, or any other country as much as he does Americans. We have worked on these different mission trips, we love the people from all countries. But, at the same time I take an oath, and that is to make sure we are protecting the people of the United States of America, and there is a lot of trafficking, a lot of things going on at our borders that need to be more secure,” said Walker.

What seems like an easy thing to condemn has befuddled my state’s GOP legislators. Here’s a tip: Begin with “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Neither Sen. Burr nor Sen. Tillis have spoken publicly about Trump’s comments that I can find. *

From WSOC, Rep. Pittenger of Charlotte said of Trump:  “I think he’s a realist,” Pittenger said. “I think he has an unconventional way of communicating. As I said, he’s a diamond with a number of rough edges.”

Pittenger told Channel 9 that he recognizes that people are upset, but doesn’t think the president was attacking immigrants. 

“You have to look at the context,” Pittenger said. “Was he talking about people, or was he talking about governments? I think he’s looking at these countries ruled by despots.”

Rep. Ted Budd, who also represents Guilford County, was on Capital Tonight last night. I didn’t see him, and the website isn’t updated, but a friend on Twitter said this about what he said: He said he wouldn’t use the president’s language, but he is serious about border security.

Yes, well. There is that.

I get this is political, and elected representatives don’t like to criticize the leader of their party. But to me, it’s a matter of character. When the leader of your party goes beyond the pale and shows himself to be racist, a person of character is expected to rise up and object. Strongly. Immediately.

As many philosophers and theologians have written, evil triumphs when good people remain silent. Partisanship doesn’t change that. Their silence is shameful.



Sunday sampler

Slim pickings, as newspapers restaff from a long holiday.

Fayetteville: The Observer continues the vital – and increasingly lonely – job of questioning government openness and transparency. “Multiple cost estimates for a baseball stadium parking deck that could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars were discussed behind closed doors at a Fayetteville City Council meeting last month, city documents show.”

Greensboro: The GOP legislature is sticking taxpayers with a $5.6 million and rising bill to pay for the legal defense of the indefensible: its racially gerrymandered redistricting. If nothing else, that should be an argument in favor of an independent redistricting commission. Don’t hold your breath.

Greensboro: Now, read a story about a tough, inspirational woman, whose face was bitten off by her dog a year ago and is now rebuilding herself physically and emotionally. “This year, I have seen a warrior with more courage, heart and character than I have ever found in anyone,” (Anna) Dermatas said of her sister, Alexis, 41.” And if you don’t think that the community (& newspaper) doesn’t help, think again. “The effort to help Alexis has raised more than $200,000 for her medical and travel costs. Friends and family held fundraisers and dug deep. The Greek Orthodox church in Columbia, S.C., where her aunt is a member, raised more than $6,000. More than $60,000 in donations came last August after the News & Record profiled the effort to reconstruct her face. A pancake breakfast that followed raised $10,000 in four hours.”

Sunday sampler, New Year’s edition

On this New Year’s Eve, many North Carolina papers have stories looking backward and forward on their front pages. A sampling from Asheville, Fayetteville, Forest City, Carteret County, Sanford and Rockingham County.

Still, there are other stories.

Raleigh: The N&O looks at the “problem” of college athletics and travel and missed classes. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I’ve taught college athletes in football, basketball, track, golf, soccer, fencing and rowing. They have missed classes, but not many, and they worked overtime to make them up. So when I wrote “problem” with quotation marks, I meant it isn’t a problem in my classes. But I suspect that the Carolina faithful will be happy to read that the story primarily focuses on Duke.

Charlotte: The Observer raises questions about the costs of the combination of Carolinas HealthCare System and UNC Health Care. Specifically, whether it will lower costs for consumers. Many experts expect the opposite will happen. “North and South Carolina consumers could see significant spikes in health care costs, as both states already have a limited number of hospital systems, Compass said.”

Greensboro: In September, two cars collided and five people were killed. The News & Record spends some time with the mother of one of the victims. It’s a story that is truly a parent’s nightmare. “She doesn’t want to discuss the chase. She hasn’t watched news footage of the aftermath. She won’t read stories that describe her daughter’s last moments. Everything is “before it happened” and “after it happened.”

The story behind “Our Story Continues”


Madison Walls, a senior at UNC School of Media and Journalism, ran into a VP of Google News at the Online News Association conference in October, and he gave her one piece of advice:

“Make bold moves, Madison.”

Madison, who is studying interactive design, was a student in my course at UNC last semester called Media Hub. We advertise it as a course for “the best of the best” journalism students. It mimics the environment of a news organization – without the cursing and stupid assignments – to prepare students for the real world. Students in print, broadcast, photography, design and public relations work together to propose and report stories for publication.

That Google exec’s advice was exactly what Madison needed. She had a vision for a story project on gender discrimination in tech.

“I want to make this story awesome,” she wrote me in an email upon her return. “I want it to be an interactive and immersive experience that dives into what women in this industry are experiencing at these different levels of life. It sounds big, right? Too big? I want readers and viewers to see what these women are seeing at each critical moment in their lives and how it is changing the way we experience the industry.”

That was the spark that became Our Story Continues, a site in which women share their stories of their struggles and successes in the tech industry. The site gives voice to a group that might have been considered voiceless. Without realizing it, she envisioned what Jeff Jarvis describes as a new definition of journalism: “To convene communities into civil, informed, and productive conversation.”

Madison: “At the Online News Association conference this year, I saw so many examples of innovative storytelling. This got me thinking about all the ways I could create an immersive story experience and in such a way that stayed within my scope of coding abilities. I already knew I wanted to do a story on women in the tech industry. It is a subject I am passionate about, and I think there are many stories out there that haven’t been told from all ages of women in the industry.”

Madison was a member of a four-person team — with Kelsey Mason, Samantha Paisley and Doni Hollway — which wanted to do a package of stories on women in tech. My co-teacher, Richard Griffiths, and I kept pushing for a tighter focus. “Yes, discrimination in the tech field is hot right now, but so much has been done. What are you going to do that’s new?”

The team had an answer: “The decision to do an interactive website where users can add their own story not only makes it more personal, but it makes the story a collaborative effort,” Madison said. “Normally the story stops at the last word, and this site will never have a ‘last word.'”

Samantha wrote a story, Doni recorded a broadcast piece, and Kelsey pitched the stories to professional news outlets and on social media. Madison’s “big idea” came together.

“The site would not exist without the support of my teammates,” Madison said. “This was a hard story to tell. Many people we interviewed felt uncomfortable bashing a company they worked for or jeopardizing their chances with a company by complaining about the industry. Everyone had a ‘we’re in this together’ attitude, and it made this story special for us as a team.”

As a former newspaper editor with experience in reader comments, I was concerned about comment moderation, about trolls, and about Madison’s commitment to keeping the site going past the last day of class. Shows what an idiot I am. She’s moderating the stories, swatting away trolls and is committed.

“Within one week, 64 women posted a personal story about their experience in the tech world,” Madison said. “Some vary in length, but for the most part, each story speaks to what’s amazing about this industry, and what some of the biggest issues are. Two of my tweets promoting the site now have 15,000 views according to Twitter analytics, and the website itself has nearly 5,000. The goal within the next two months is to get a story from every state in the U.S., and currently we are at 19 states.”

Part of the credit for those results go to Twitter friends in the industry spreading the word.

One of the earliest, best, lessons I learned as an editor was “Hire the best people and get out of the way.” While I don’t hire students, they are some of the best. I got out of the way.

I asked Madison what she learned from the experience.

“I’ve learned the most from the stories these girls are posting,” she said. “It is incredible to see just how alike we are, but how we all have such a different story. It is empowering to watch this map populate.

“In terms of the project itself, I’ve learned to never give up on an idea. This project took two months to turn from idea to website. It sat in the idea stage for about six weeks because we weren’t sure what the focus of the project was or how it would work. I am so glad we stuck with it, because I think this project has been one of my greatest accomplishments as an undergrad.”


Sunday sampler, Christmas edition

“Mule shot with arrow” is why I love newspapers, particularly small ones. And I’m not being the least bit facetious. Thank you, Guy Lucas.

Greensboro: What’s it like to be homeless in the cold of winter? Two executives from the United Way decided to find out, and they wrote about it. First, they became invisible, even to people who knew them. “After answering a series of questions related to services they could receive, such as those for veterans, both emphasized they had no place to sleep that night. In each case, their names were entered into the North Carolina Statewide Homeless Management Information System. The IRC keeps track of beds locally and the waiting list to get one. Both received the same, immediate answer. There were no beds in any of the shelters. ‘There was a sense of hopelessness,’ Cottingham said.” Read it. It’s a compelling story.

Raleigh: The appointment of excellent judges is vital to an effective democracy. That’s why the questioning of some of President Trump’s selections is so important. And why it’s worth looking at Thomas Farr, who worked with Sen. Jesse Helms and has been nominated to fill a U.S. District Court vacancy. “In the aftermath of Helms’ 1990 re-election campaign, Farr was part of the defense against U.S. Justice Department complaints of voter intimidation after postcards were sent to more than 100,000 mostly black voters telling them they were ineligible to vote and might be arrested if they tried.”

Greensboro: The News & Record also has a piece on Type 1 diabetes with personal meaning to me. My younger daughter is a Type 1 diabetic, the disease making itself known late in her 20s. The N&R tells the story of my friend Don Brady’s contributions to fighting juvenile diabetes, even before finding out one of his grandson’s has the disease.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has a good piece about charities being short-changed by the tax law. I couldn’t find it on the website, though, so here is a Washington Post story on the same issue.


Sunday sampler, open government edition

Yes, I know it’s almost Christmas and N.C. newspapers have many Christmas stories on their front pages. Key word: almost. Meanwhile, newspapers are doing their jobs, trying to get government to be transparent.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has been all over the investigation into the former county manager and how she appropriated/spent taxpayer money. Now the paper has requested information on payments to her life insurance policy and thousands of dollars spent on gift cards, among other things. The county attorney denied the public records requests, saying the information was part of a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, in Fayetteville, the Observer wonders aloud if a closed meeting of the City Council to consider a baseball stadium parking deck and a deal with the county to build a joint 911 center was legal.

All I know about either of these cases is what I read in the newspapers. I do have years of experience in four different North Carolina cities observing governments trying to keep their actions under wraps. It’s not good for democracy, and newspapers are to be applauded for seeking more information.

Asheville: Can you replace your thumb with your toe? Doctors did it to a Bryson City woman, and the Citizen-Times tells the fascinating story. “The big ‘moment’ is when we’ve got clamps on the artery and so far the toe is transferred, but it’s still white — it’s not alive,” Lechner said. “When you let that clamp off, and you see that thing turn pink…”

Greensboro: I was hoping this profile of Rep. Ted Budd would not be on the front page because it’s a weak, one-sided ode to Budd and his service. He represents much of my liberal city, including me, and he’s an arch-conservative. The paper couldn’t find a single dissenting voice? On the other hand, the paper does celebrate the A&T Aggies football team for finishing the year undefeated!


Sunday sampler

Raleigh: First ,the UNC Board of Governors tries to kill a university center that it thinks is too liberal. Next, members are discussing the need to establish a conservative center for diversity of thought. (Diversity as it is generally known – skin color – they don’t much care about.) Bear in mind that just last month conservative Sebastian Gorka spoke without incident at UNC. “We are trying to address a problem that seems to be endemic in higher education all across the United States in that the universities seem to be moving toward a mono-culture,” Knott said in briefing a board committee last month. “There’s a lack of diversity in viewpoint, intellectual viewpoint.” I wonder how much time the BOG members who are interested in this have spent on campus, given that they’re passing judgment on what happens there.

Raleigh: The N&O also writes about how religious freedom has gone too far. OK, that’s my conclusion based on how simple it is to get a religious exemption to avoid a state-required vaccination to enroll children in kindergarten. “The statement doesn’t need to be prepared by an attorney, signed by a religious leader or notarized. No form is needed. The statement doesn’t go to the state for review or approval. Alan Phillips, an Asheville-area lawyer who counsels parents all over the nation on how to exempt their children from vaccine requirements, said that, under the N.C. rules, ‘You don’t even have to believe in God.’” Make sense? No.

Carteret County: Time is running out to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The Carteret County Times-News puts that on its front page because it’s important to the paper’s readers. It helps, too, because the Trump administration doesn’t want citizens to know of the deadline. “Individuals looking to save, like Ms. Hull, or update their existing coverage, get covered for the first time or the first time in a long time, have just a few days left to do so.”

Greensboro: Life ends in a flash for five people; lives are altered for dozens others as a result. The News & Record reviews the lives of five people killed in a two-car collision in September. One car with three people fleeing the law; the other with two people on their way somewhere. Compelling, sad story.


Sunday sampler

Lots of Christmas parades and holiday-related stories on the front pages of N.C. newspapers today.

Raleigh: Readers of this feature likely know I’m no fan of the big fat thumb the GOP legislature has placed on the scales the last seven years. It continues, as the N&O notes. Now the legislature wants to intervene in a criminal case involving the Moral Monday protesters. If people ever wondered about the heavy-handed tactics of a bullying government, this is where they’d look.

Charlotte: The Observer continues its investigation into safety at North Carolina prisons, this time focusing on shoddy and inadequate communication equipment. “In interviews with the Observer, more than a dozen current and former prison employees described a potentially life-threatening problem: The two-way radios that officers are issued often don’t work properly, leaving them without a crucial safety tool.”

Asheville: The Citizen-Times features an AP story about the rapid growth of private and religious schools in which state tax money helps pay tuition. “Program opponents say the savings accounts take money from public schools that districts can’t afford to lose. Little time was offered for legislative debate about the savings accounts this year. There’s no published study yet comparing academic outcomes for students in the North Carolina programs compared to public school students. ‘There’s no accountability to the taxpayers that these programs are actually producing what they’re supposed to,’ said Leanne Winner with the North Carolina School Boards Association.”

Sunday sampler

Last Sunday’s front-page stories didn’t impress me, and I posted nothing. Today, things are different

Charlotte: If you are in jail in Mecklenburg County, you can no longer have in-person visits with family — video only. Dehumanizing? Yes. “Studies show that inmates who have visitors are less likely to return after their release. But inmate advocates, and the correction industry’s trade association, say video should be deployed in addition to personal visits – not replace them.”

Fayetteville: Both the Observer and the Wilmington Star-News feature an AP story about how Chemours is handling the chemical that flowed into the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water for thousands. Short answer: With silence. “Chemours’ zipped-lip strategy is likely a defensive crouch against the threat of costly lawsuits at a time when its financial future looks bright, said Geoffrey Basye, a public affairs consultant and former Federal Aviation Administration spokesman under President George W. Bush. Bond rating agency Moody’s has upgraded its opinion of the company and Chemours’ stock price has more than doubled since the start of the year.” Nice.

Fayetteville: The House tax bill removes the tax credit for downtown development. “The federal historic preservation tax credit program allows developers to obtain a cash infusion early in their process of renovating an older property. The money can help pay their construction costs or other expenses and provide equity for loans to complete the projects, several in the industry said.”

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has a broader story about the tax plans, what they are, and who the winners and losers would be.

Greensboro: In southeast Greensboro, people awaken to shots fired. Not every day but often enough. The News & Record examines the city’s likely record-breaking homicide rate. And for its readers — who are predominantly white — it’ll be eye-opening. “The violence has cost Greensboro the lives of 35 men and four women — 34 African Americans, four Caucasians and an Asian. The victims range in age from 18 to 54. One woman was strangled and a young man was struck by a vehicle. Gunfire killed the rest.”