The Wednesday after Election Day

Will Tuesday/Wednesday ever come? I pretty much know how I’m going to feel when the final tally is announced. But I have been thinking about what I’m going to do in my classes on Wednesday.

This afternoon, Mimi Chapman, the chair of the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I teach, sent out an email:

“As faculty who are called to teach, please spend some time in reflection considering how you might best take care of yourself and take care of your students, some of whom may be elated, others devastated or confused by the election outcome. Take some time to remember yourself in your late teens and early 20’s. The passion, the outrage, the fear, and the courage that make it such a joy to work with young people also create challenges when we have no choice but to be patient in waiting for ballots to be counted, votes to be certified or, in some situations, for courts to make rulings.

“We will need patience, courage, and fortitude in equal measure in the coming weeks. Be gentle with yourselves, and gentle with your students and colleagues even as you make the choices you must make to be true to your beliefs and values.”

I remember well how I felt in 1972, the first time I could vote for the presidency. My candidate, McGovern, got squashed by Nixon. We knew Nixon was corrupt, but we didn’t know how bad he was. I was disappointed, but I had faith in democracy and, believe it or not, in representative government. (Jesse Helms was my senator, but so was Sam Ervin.) And, two years later, Nixon was impeached and resigned.

Things are different now. My faith in representative government has eroded. Trump has undercut voting and democracy. He’s moved against civil rights and women’s rights. He’s removed environmental protections. These are all issues important to my students, and I know that however the election turns out, they will be preoccupied.

Normally, on Wednesday, I would lecture on how to edit a story. Or maybe I’ll lecture on the similarities that the structure of writing has with other art forms: music, poetry and dance. I never talk politics — that’s not what they come for — and I don’t intend to talk politics on Wednesday. But I’ll let them talk, I’ll listen, and we’ll see where it goes.


Sunday sampler

Two things worth noting:

First, one reason that President Trump’s advice not to be afraid of coronavirus is failing to convince people may be because every Sunday papers in rural North Carolina put COVID-19 updates on their front pages.

Meanwhile, the Kinston Free Press and  the New Bern Sun Journal feature stories on National Coming Out Day, which is today. “Being gay is still a challenge as far as acceptance and rights. Same-sex marriage has only been legal in all 50 states for five years. Hate groups aren’t rushing to change their beliefs and neither are gender bigots or those who follow some strict religious doctrines.”

Now, to the regular report:

McDowell: The McDowell News has a story about 1,100 volunteers picking up 31 tons of trash on the Catawb-Wateree River Basin. 31 tons. Trash. Thanks, America. (Story not online. You can see it in the front page images above, courtesy of the Newseum.)

Greensboro: Now that it’s OK to return more parishoners into houses of worship, will they come? As you might expect, the answers are mixed, as the News & Record reports. “At White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, church members are “excited and anxious” to be back, executive director Andrew Amodei says. Each person is required to wear a mask and given instructions on where to enter and exit. And, of course, no singing.’


On newspaper political endorsements

The New York Times endorsed Joe Biden for president today, and I doubt anyone was surprised. Putting politics aside, I can’t think of any self-respecting newspaper editorial board endorsing Donald Trump, based on his daily lies, his demonizing the news media, and his lack of transparency. (In 2016, six newspapers endorsed him. So far this year, two have.)

Related, I shake my head at the newspapers that won’t endorse at all.

Anyway, a friend told me that she was going to vote a straight-Democratic ticket this fall. I pointed out that the News & Observer endorsed some Republicans for Council of State who seemed reasonable and that I would likely follow the paper’s recommendation because I knew little about those races.

“I don’t care,” she said. “Anyone who is running as a Republican is complicit with Donald Trump and the national party. They do not deserve my vote.

“Besides, I think newspapers just throw in a few Republicans to make it appear as if they are fair and balanced.”


I doubt she knew I had been an editorial page editor in an earlier life.

When I was on the editorial board, the News & Record had a progressive stance on most things. People would complain that we were predictable; I’d respond that we were consistent, adhering to our principles. And Democrats more closely aligned with our principles than Republicans. Most of the candidates we endorsed were Democrats, but we occasionally felt strongly that Republicans were the best person for the office and endorsed them.

In one election, a reader called to complain about our lack of Republican candidate endorsements. When I pointed out that the county sheriff and a U.S. House member, both prominent Republicans, were on our list, the caller said, “Pssh. You had to endorse them. They are clearly the best candidates.”

But it is true that sometimes, when candidates in minor races were equally qualified, we would occasionally pick the Republican. It was a coin toss for us. By choosing the Republican, we appeared more balanced.

Sunday sampler

Many of the state’s front pages focus on President Trump’s diagnosis and treatment today. But there are other stories.

Greensboro: The Trump administration’s relaxing of environmental rules is beginning to hit home as it reclassifies Belews Lake, which is near my house. Duke Energy, which essentially controls the lake because it created it, tells the News & Record, no biggie, but that’s less than assuring to those who boat, swim and fish there.

Meanwhile, the News & Record also published a story about the COVID-19 vaccine trial at UNC by Hannah Towey, one of the students in my class. “I felt like I needed to do my part,” the doctor in charge of the trial said. “So it’s a lot more work, but totally worth it given what we’re trying to do.… It’s asking yourself, what did you do when you saw something that needed to happen or a situation that wasn’t right?”

Charlotte: The Observer has a damning story about the culture at Wells Fargo, where seven Black senior executives – all women – left the company in the past year. Is that bad? That seems bad. “Two people with direct knowledge of the matter say the bank’s culture around race and gender was a factor in why some of the Black women left.”

Morganton: The News-Herald publishes a story I always find interesting: How cops respond to physical threats. “At one point in the morning, Whisnant had a student lie on the ground with their hands behind their back as if they were handcuffed. As he simulated kneeling on the student’s neck, he asked his students why it was wrong and made it clear that they should never do that. He said there are no BLET classes in the state that teach chokeholds as a use of force.”


Saying no to TV

Last night, a local television station asked to interview me “on the current state of the newspaper industry and what the future may hold.” The reporter said he had read  these posts.

I’ve been on television many times, and I have no great desire to be on television again. I know enough about how reporting works that on controversial topics; there’s always a risk that you’ll say the wrong thing or the reporter will cut the tape the wrong way.

On the other hand, I’m a former journalist, and I teach broadcast students. It seems like I should do it, if for no other reason that I watch the students struggle to get people to call them back, much less agree to an interview.

On the third hand, this request came from a good television station and I respect the reporters there.

But I told the reporter no.

I have opinions and thoughts on the future of journalism and newspapers. I know that daily newspapers aren’t long for this world, at least in Greensboro, and that makes me sad. Perhaps the weeklies will spring into something more widely circulated, but I have my doubts.

But I can’t think of anyway to talk about that without talking about the News & Record, which is why the reporter called me. I don’t think highly of the way the people who now own the News & Record are handling things. But I’m not going to criticize the News & Record on television. I have too many friends in the newsroom still there. And I can’t think of any way the television report will help either journalism, the paper or the community.

Sunday sampler

Today, newspapers in Jacksonville, Greensboro, Charlotte, New Bern, Kinston and Fayetteville all feature a story from Saturday’s News & Observer about evictions. “Across the state, landlords filed evictions against more than 18,000 tenants in between moratoriums. It’s unclear how many people were displaced, but eviction filings doubled from June to July and continued that pace into August, according to an analysis of data provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.”

There was a time when newspapers tried to distinguish themselves from other newspapers, to localize stories like that using information from their own communities. That’s what the dying of newspapers has done. Fortunately, the N&O’s story is a good one and worth the front page of papers around the state.

Wilmington: I’m always in favor of pushing a community to remember those who have made a difference in a positive way.  The Star-News reminds its readers about Bertha Todd, a “lifelong advocate for human rights and racial reconciliation.” “Over the years Todd has chosen a path of engaging the “other side,” serving as a back-and-forth conduit between the Black and white communities during the contentious period of school integration. During the same period, she met face to face to talk with Ku Klux Klan leaders as they held “white-rights” rallies here.”

Sunday sampler

Notice anything in today’s front pages?

Thank Gatehouse and the USA Today network for two stories that could have been found many, many places.

And in other news:

Asheville: The Citizen-Times reports that the city manager wants to cut the police department budget by 3 percent. That’s what “defund the police” means: taking a little money away. “The biggest part of the cut —$300,000 — would come from the reassignment of telecommunicator positions now under APD to the Information Technology and Development Services departments, according to the budget report.”

Jacksonville: Again, some racist North Carolinians embarrass the state. “On Friday, several dozen supporters in Onslow County came to a Richlands family’s side that was affected by what they describe as a hate crime when they found a swastika carved from a lawnmower in their front yard.”

Democracy dies in darkness, part II

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my last post. Let me answer the primary ones:

No, I haven’t given up on newspapers. I subscribe digitally to three: the News & Observer, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Why these three? I admire the national and political coverage, as well as the editorial views of the Post and the Times. They both hold the powerful to account, and our Republic desperately needs that. I read the N&O because it attempts to do that statewide. Plus, because of its shared ownership with the Charlotte Observer, I get the benefit of interesting stories the Observer produces.

Without the News & Record, how are you keeping up? The News & Record emails me its major headlines each morning and afternoon. I scan it and usually the headlines satisfy my curiosity about the news. Occasionally I will follow up by going to the website. That, combined with Twitter and Facebook announcements, is often enough. Is it everything I should have? No, of course not. But the N&R staff is too small and stretched too thin to be able to give me everything I should have.

What did you mean when you wrote, “Soon, there won’t be a daily paper in the third largest city in North Carolina. It’s time to imagine whether that matters.”? Precisely that. Can the N&R effectively cover a county with a population of a half a million with six news reporters? As highly as I rate the skills and work ethic of the journalists still there, I say no. I fear it will become close to a ghost newspaper, with “the quality, quantity and scope of their editorial content … significantly diminished. Routine government meetings are not covered, for example, leaving citizens with little information about proposed tax hikes, local candidates for office or important policy issues that must be decided.” My colleague Penny Muse Abernathy describes it well here.

So, as the paper’s coverage declines, what will the area’s citizens do for local news? For many, they’ll do the same as they’ve always done. Recently, most of the people in the county haven’t gotten the paper. For the ones who depend on the paper, they’ll turn to television, social media, word of mouth. They’ll be a void, but I’m suggesting that there is a void right now. And now is the time to start imagining the future.

What is your imagination telling you? My imagination tells me that good government is at risk. Occasionally, I think some rich local investors will buy it and help bring it back, but that’s a pipe dream. I suppose it’s possible for a website to spring up that has employees covering the news, but that feels like a pipe dream, too. There are the weeklies — notably Triad City Beat, which does a good job for what it does. But, honestly, my imagination is tired right now.


Democracy dies in darkness

I’ve cancelled my subscription to the News & Record, my employer for 27 years and the paper I was editor of for 13.

If this were Twitter, I’d end the above sentence with “That’s the tweet. 27 years.”

I didn’t cancel because the paper laid off several of my friends yesterday. I cancelled a few months ago, when there was so little in it that I could no longer justify the rising cost.

Yesterday, the paper sent more than 100 years of memory out the door. It now has no graphic artist. No sports columnist. The owners even laid off the editor. (I assume someone will get the title, although probably not in Greensboro. Worth noting that the owners haven’t had the decency to tell the community that it sent the editor and some of the most recognizable names out the door.)

As I understand it, there are now six news reporters to cover the third largest city in North Carolina. One sports reporter.

This is difficult for me to write about; I know the role I played in the decline of the News & Record. I’m not going to revisit that. Jeri Rowe writes about part of that eloquently here. (Although I hate that that photo of me explaining the first layoff in 2007 is becoming my legacy.)

Greensboro and Guilford County deserve better, but it won’t get it. Warren Buffett’s purchase of the paper didn’t save it. It’s not clear that Lee Enterprises has any intention of doing anything more than taking whatever remaining money it can out of Greensboro.

The editor, Cindy Loman, wrote on Facebook: “The revenue impact of COVID really is beyond comprehension. I think N&R revenue dropped by 90 percent for most of the months of the pandemic, and that’s not counting “bad debt” from customers who just can’t pay their bills.”

I used to hear that laying off newspaper journalists was no more important than laying off furniture workers, which happened a few decades ago in Guilford County. I’d often smugly reply that manufacturing a sofa isn’t protected by the Constitution. (Yes, I can be an asshole, I’m sorry to admit.)

I’m aware that by canceling my subscription I have contributed to the paper’s demise. And it’s funny, because if the ownership had presented a vision for the future of its journalism — how it was investing in the community,, what it was doing to understand the needs of its readers, how it was trying to meet me where I am — I’d pay top dollar to help sustain it.

But it hasn’t. And by this move yesterday, it is clear it won’t. I hate it for my friends still there.

Soon, there won’t be a daily paper in the third largest city in North Carolina. It’s time to imagine whether that matters.

Sunday sampler

Asheville: Two jobs — law enforcement and teaching — are among the most vital and most difficult. And officers and teachers are terribly underpaid for what they contribute to the nation’s well-being. In Asheville, 31 police officers have resigned, attributable to lack of support and “very vocal” opposition to law enforcement, the Citizen-Times reports. “It’s very simple. The profession has never been widely appreciated. My students were able to handle that. But there is a difference between lack of appreciation and lack of respect and being under fire.”

Raleigh: “Thousands of Triangle residents who owe money on their utility bills could face penalties or lose service altogether this month, as cities take a more aggressive approach to collecting on past-due accounts.” That’s the first sentence in the story by the News & Observer. We’re talking about shutting off water. In a pandemic that has caused double-digit unemployment and death. Water.

Charlotte: The Observer examines whether we should believe the polls this year, given what happened in 2016. “Pollsters are trying to do a better job this year of including the right percentage of working-class voters by giving proper “weight” to education, said Peter Francia, a professor of political science at East Carolina University who directs the ECU Poll — the newest survey in the state, having debuted this Election Year.”