Sunday sampler

A strong day for newspaper front page enterprise journalism.

Asheville: If you’re truly open-minded about race, the results of this statewide study will take your breath away. “Black drivers were on average 75 percent more likely to be searched than white drivers. Looking only at male drivers, the difference jumped to 97 percent.” Don’t stop there. Black men were less likely to be found with illegal substances. Not surprisingly, law enforcement agencies dispute the findings and their implications. Read the whole story.

Raleigh: The N&O’s Mandy Locke continues her excellent work exposing and examining the apparent civil rights violations in Harnett County. This time, she looks at the impact on the pocketbook of all Harnett citizens: so far, the tab is at $100,000 and is expected to reach much higher. “If the Department of Justice determines that the sheriff’s office has patterns or practices that led to constitutional violations, it will demand reforms. The county – through its taxpayers – will be forced to shoulder those costs.”

Raleigh: The N&O also takes a look at educational alternatives that diverting students from traditional schools. “Home schools, charter schools and private schools have cut sharply into the growth of the Wake County school system, where planners have scaled back growth projections because of the increased competition. Now planners project Wake will grow by about 2,000 students a year instead of by 3,000 or more children as in past years.” It’s happening across the state, giving parents more choice, but diverting state funds from public schools to other types of school.

Fayetteville: The Observer has what looks like an interesting story on places in Fayetteville that are off-limits to military personnel. But I can’t find the story on the Observer’s website. There now.

Lenior: When companies I’ve never heard of make announcements about new plants that are going to employ hundreds, I’m doubtful. The News Topic shows what could happen. “A company that announced in 2012 it would build a plant in Caldwell County to convert gasoline sedans to electric power and eventually hire up to 600 people was nothing but a fraudulent scheme that bilked at least $2.5 million from investors, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.” Registration is required to read past the first two graphs, but you can read a little more here.

Sunday sampler

Asheville: I’ve always rolled my eyes when politicians talk about cutting the fat out of government. So I’m cynically enjoying this story in the Citizen-Times about Rep. Mark Meadows paying his chief of staff accused of sexual harassment for nine months while he did nothing. “The nonpartisan OCE said Wednesday there “is substantial reason to believe” Meadows violated House rules by paying an employee whose pay did not match the work he performed. The House Ethics Committee, which would make a final ruling on any punishment for Meadows, said it is still looking into the issue.” Oops.

Raleigh: The N&O has a good piece recapping how the efforts of the GOP leadership in Raleigh have been thwarted so many times by the courts, which happens when you pass laws that are unconstitutional. Let’s count the ways: banning same-sex marriage, taking away teacher tenure, changing parts of abortion restrictions, redrawing legislative districts, among others. And several more are in the courts now. My favorite sentence: “But recent months have resulted in a slew of unfavorable court rulings that have led some legal experts and political opponents to question why conservatives who talk so often about upholding the Constitution pushed so many laws deemed to run afoul of it.”

Greensboro: First, former UNCG student Paul Chelimo won a silver medal, then was told on national television that he was DQ’d, producing a true look of shock, and finally, his second-place finish was reinstated. Sports editor Eddie Wooten’s has written about Chelimo for several years — Chelimo has cited Wooten’s coverage in interviews — and he tells the story about Chelimo’s victory. (I thought the NBC reporter telling Chelimo on the air that he lost the medal was unfair, but it probably gave Chelimo more national visibility. Chelimo handled the news with grace.)

Sunday sampler

Raleigh: The News & Observer writes of the debate in Eastern North Carolina about wind farms, an issue that fascinates me. I’m conflicted because I am in favor of finding new, green energy sources, but I don’t think I would want a wind farm in my neighborhood. Read the N&O’s story and see what you think.

Asheville: (Warning: the website is strange.) Obviously, I like social media. When I ran a news organization, I had one cardinal rule about my staffers using it: Don’t be stupid. I had enough confidence that they understand what that meant, and they did. A State Highway Patrol trooper would have run afoul of my rule when he posted a disparaging comment about Muslims on Facebook. It’s more than political correctness. “If the judge believes that it would be relevant to the motivations of the officer, it could be admitted at trial, but it’s always going to be a case by case basis and it depends on the facts of the case,” Rollman said. “Any witness in a criminal case who has publicly posted a derogatory opinion could be questioned about that, subject to the court’s admission of that evidence.”

Fayetteville: There’s an effort to build a new baseball stadium in Fayetteville, and the process is going the traditional route. Investors and city leaders want it, some people turn out at a public hearing against it, and questions are raised about who’s going to pay for it (taxpayers). The Observer traveled to Winston-Salem to check out the Dash’s stadium and talk to businesses around the stadium to determine if there are lessons for Fayetteville.

Personally, I wish this Charlotte Observer story about discrimination by charter schools and how the conservatives in the legislature are OK with it had run on the front Sunday. “At least four faith-based private schools in Mecklenburg County receive taxpayer money through a state voucher program while sections of their handbooks prohibit lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students from enrolling.”

After rejection, acceptance

As I was going through my letters file to prepare this post on rejection, I stumbled across this letter.


I applied for admission to Catholic and three or four other law schools the previous fall when I was working as a laborer doing tying rebar with Nello-Teer in Raleigh. I don’t think I was accepted in any of the other schools; I mean, I was doing rebar work for a construction company.

By the time I got the acceptance letter, I had left construction. I was a reporter at the Monroe Enquirer-Journal. I had been there only a few months. The paper had four news reporters, and we roamed everywhere and wrote about everything. I didn’t know much about anything, much less journalism, but I was having a blast. I decided to defer law school admission for a year; I didn’t have the money to pay for it anyway. I’m pretty sure I was paid more as a construction laborer than as a journalist.

The next year rolled around, and I had enough money, but I was too entrenched in newspapering. I didn’t even bother to defer admission. I blew it off entirely.

That decision in 1977 wasn’t the last time I disappointed my parents, but it was a big one. They came around quickly, though, as parents do.

And it all turned out OK, as things do.

Sunday sampler

Winston-Salem: In case you weren’t aware that the NRA is an arm of gun manufacturers, the Journal’s story should inform you. “Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. has gone all in on its support of the National Rifle Association’s legislative agenda, pledging to provide up to $5 million that includes donations from guns sold through the November general election.” (The only one who can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun is a brilliant sales slogan.)

Burlington: Getting DWI convictions would seem to be a simple process. It is, after all, a misdemeanor. The Times-News shows why they aren’t. “The Alamance County District Attorney’s office disposed of nearly 930 DWIs in the past year. In that time, local law enforcement agencies in Alamance County filed more than 900, and including cases from previous years, nearly 1,100 are pending.” In May, the court in Alamance County dealt with one DWI case from 2011.

Raleigh: Here’s the good news: N.C. is important in the presidential election. Here’s the bad news: the candidates will be visiting often. OK, that’s not really bad news, but you know…. The N&O explains why both Clinton and Trump want the state and how the demographics have changed over the years.

Charlotte: The Observer tells the perplexing and heart-breaking story of a Central Prison inmate, suffering from bipolar depression, who has 4,800 straight days in solitary confinement, Doing the math, that’s 13 years. “He’s rarely allowed to talk face-to-face with other inmates, usually gets only an hour a day out of his cell and hasn’t been allowed to visit with relatives or friends in more than a decade. State prison officials say they’ve worked hard to help Swain, who is serving time at Central Prison for aiding and abetting a murder. But they say he presents a special challenge because he frequently threatens others and hurts himself. The Buncombe County native has repeatedly swallowed razors, ripped open his surgical incisions and plunged sharp objects into his open wounds.”

Read more here:

The best rejection letters I ever got

I hope this post will give hope to the exhausted college grads out there who haven’t gotten hired yet. (Tip: Be patient. Good things await.)

Wednesday night Derek Willis tweeted “best internship rejection letter I ever got.” And it linked to this letter from the News & Observer’s Judy Bolch, who is listed as “editor/staff” in her signoff. Those of us who know Judy think she’s better described as columnist/wordsmith/friend.

But this isn’t about Judy, it’s about the letter she wrote Derek. It starts: “You’re just the kind of intern I’d love to have: bright, talented and eager. Some day, I’ll probably be reading a list of award winners and there you’ll be.” I forgot to describe another side of Judy: she was clearly a good judge of talent. Willis went on to work at the Washington Post, the New York Times, and now, ProPublica.

Which made me think: How did the News & Observer reject me when I applied there years earlier? I pulled out my file of rejection letters — yes, like every lifelong journalist I’m a masochist. There are 17 of them from the period of my life when I was working my way up (or down) in the business.

Here’s one from the N&O in 1978.                                                                                  FullSizeRender (12)Those who knew Bob Brooks would recognize that concise writing and succinct tone immediately. A year later, I applied again, and this time, I heard from Hunter George.


That was nice. Not as nice as Judy’s to Derek, but I suspect there is justification for that. No doubt Derek was better than I was.

Here’s one I got from the Charlotte Observer a few years earlier, notable only because the editor’s assistant misspelled my name, and the editor, whose name I’ve deleted, didn’t catch it.

FullSizeRender (10)And others are typical — all nice, all rejections.



FullSizeRender (8)














Bear in mind, I wasn’t applying for an internship. I was at the Asheville Citizen, in my second reporting job at the time.

Seventeen rejection letters, and that doesn’t count the number of resumes I sent around the country that were never answered. (Not answering job queries seems to be the common response from media companies these days, which strikes me as highly disrespectful of the people who want to work for them.)

Of course, there is a happy ending. Later in 1979, the N&O hired me as a reporter.

So keep at it.

Sunday sampler

Much front page post-mortem and analysis of the two parties‘ conventions. Honestly, I didn’t read them; I watched much of the conventions myself.

Winston-Salem: When it comes to your health, you might think the government would take all precautions to keep you safe. The Journal raises questions about the internal struggle within the McCrory administration when it came to well water near the Duke coal ash pits. “State Toxicologist Ken Rudo forcefully resisted the McCrory administration last year as it moved to alter the do-not-drink letters sent to hundreds of well owners near coal-ash pits owned by Duke Energy. In March 2015, after Rudo had drafted the letters advising well owners — many of whom had elevated levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium — against using their water for drinking or cooking, department administrators pushed Duke Energy’s position that the water would generally be considered safe to drink under the federal Safe Drink Water Act.”

Greensboro: If I were a fugitive on the lam for a murder, I might choose Rockingham County to hide in. Rural, quiet, conservative. That’s what William Claybourne Taylor, on the FBI’s most wanted list since 1980, did. The story in the News & Record is thin – not much detail of how he did it – but still interesting.

Charlotte: This story was not on the front page of the Observer, but I wish it were because it is interesting and tells a story of HB2 and its Charlotte origins that I hadn’t read before (but perhaps Charlotte readers had). The lede: “Conspiracy theories about the birth of Charlotte’s so-called “bathroom law” have ranged from tales of political payoffs to a viral internet rumor of a gay sexual predator who duped the council into passing the law. Some even accused the City Council of being in league with Satan. But the idea for the law actually first took root quietly during July 2014 as two Charlotteans sat at Nova’s Bakery on Central Avenue, considering what more Charlotte might do to protect lesbians, gays and bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.”

Sunday sampler

My source for front pages – the Newseum – has not been updated since Friday (power problems, apparently). Consequently, I visited my usual N.C. websites and tried to figure out what stories were on their morning newspaper front pages. It’s an interesting exercise because most Sundays when I see a front page story on the front pages posted on the Newseum site, it is not on the front page of the newspaper website. Here are a few. If you see stories that should be here, let me know.

Raleigh: As someone who loves N.C. beaches and owns property near the beach, I worry about overdevelopment and intrusions on fragile environments. The N&O tells the story of a proposed development Sunset Beach that threatens Bird Island. “The Southern Environmental Law Center, which says it only gets involved in the most egregious cases, agreed to represent the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association and the N.C. Coastal Federation in their fight against the development. The SELC says the conflict reaches far beyond the island and could herald the loss of environmental protections elsewhere.”

Fayetteville: The Observer dives into the racial divide, featuring comments by 10 local people on race, police and violence. Everyone of them is interesting and insightful. It helps me think through people’s viewpoint, even those that I don’t agree with. Read them.

Charlotte: The Observer begins tracking the cost of the NBA’s moving the All-Star game from Charlotte. “Everybody wanted to talk to me about what had happened in North Carolina,” said Harris. “What are they doing? They used to be the most progressive state in the South. Now, they’re going the other direction. “It clearly has a negative impact. Anyone who thinks it doesn’t is wrong. I’ve been saying to anyone that would listen to me from the very first day that it’s a train wreck.”

Gov. McCrory & HB2: Try harder

Update: More from the N&O, Yahoo Sports and the Charlotte Observer..

To me, there are three prisms through which to interpret N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory’s angry responses to HB2: personal, political and policy. (Go to the links to read his responses. Here is a description what HB2 is.)

Personal: Perhaps he truly feels strongly that women and children are in danger of assault if transgender people are permitted to use the bathrooms of their gender ID. That might explain why he has become the public face of the law. It would also explain the aggressiveness with which he’s defended it. (There is no evidence that the danger is real or, at least, worth the controversy and polarization the law has generated.)

Political: McCrory is in a competitive battle to win re-election. He needs to fire up the base to turn out to vote, particularly at a time when angst over the GOP’s presidential nominee may have adverse effects on down-ticket races such as McCrory’s. In that case, HB2 comes at an opportune time; polling suggests it could play well with his base.

McCrory does a good job keeping the focus on the bathroom part of the law, and skirting any discussion of the other parts, limiting cities from enacting anti-discrimination policies or establishing minimum wage levels. (I wish reporters would push him harder to defend those portions of the law.)

Even if McCrory wanted to repeal the law, backpedaling would make him look weak to the base. Besides, it’s doubtful that he would be able to get any further changes in the current law through the legislature. The leaders of the House and Senate — Rep. Tim Moore and Sen. Phil Berger — have not shown any sign that they intend to budge.

And statesmanship — bringing groups together to come up with a consensus that satisfies all parties — is not a strength he’s exhibited so far.

So, politically, he’s in a bit of a box. He doesn’t have enough power to bend the legislature to his will, and his best opportunity to make the problem go away — vetoing the bill — disappeared months ago when he quickly signed it.

Policy: I haven’t read or heard any convincing argument that HB2 is good for the state. North Carolina’s reputation has suffered on a national stage. Musicians are boycotting the state. Corporations aren’t expanding here. Cities and states have banned employee travel to the state. Conventions and events have been canceled. Now, with the NBA’s moving of the all-star game, the stakes are even higher. Millions of dollars in tax revenues and business dividends have been lost.

Does this law protect citizens? No. There’s no enforcement provision, and assaulting people in bathrooms or elsewhere was already illegal. Does this law make the state stronger? No. If part of the job of government is to bring jobs and good will to the state, the passage of HB2  is a big failure.

HB2 has also become Gov. McCrory’s legacy. As much as he wants to tout the Carolina Comeback, it’s being lost in the national discussion over “the bathroom bill.” That must grate on him. Perhaps his thin-skinned response to a political opponent is evidence.

Can he extricate himself and still look good? Maybe.

Today, Timothy Egan of the New York Times writing about Donald Trump included this section:

“President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, is a good example. Shortly before the crisis in Little Rock, Eisenhower said that he could not imagine using federal troops to enforce a desegregation order. Two months later, he reversed his position. In an address to the nation, which his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, helped draft, the president said it was “difficult to exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence, and indeed to the safety, of our nation and the world” by the racial unrest.

“Federal troops would do more than bring law and order to Little Rock and enable African-American students to attend Central High School, Eisenhower said. Resolving the crisis would remove ‘a blot upon the fair name and high honor of our nation in the world,’ and would restore the image of American democracy.”

Can Pat McCrory take the action necessary to remove the “blot upon the fair name and high honor of our” state? Many of us wish he’d try harder.

How the networks should cover the conventions

When it comes to the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the smart news network — not an oxymoron — should take a cue from Turner Broadcasting’s sports coverage of the NCAA Final Four. TBS used three channels to broadcast each game: The straight broadcast was on TBS, and sister channels TNT and truTV carried team-specific — “homer” — announcers and commentary.

rnc_bingo_promoThink of how insightful and fun each could be. The liberal channel talking up a Clinton presidency & looking at all the horrors of Trump regime. They’d compare the policies of each from a liberal perspective. They would also mock the Trump-Pence logo, fact-checking his untruths, play Republican bingo — BENGHAZI! BUILD A WALL! — and interview Republican delegates in the endearing way that “The Daily Show” would. I mean, Melania is the keynote speaker tonight.

Meanwhile, the conservative station would deal with the same substantive policy discussions, but also take Benghazi seriously, as well as the email scandal, It would remind us of Vince Foster and Monica and Whitewater, and how Trump is a politically incorrect truth-teller and a strong, savvy businessman. It could make fun of Bernie and Joe and Obama and all that the Donald is doing now.

It would be compelling television.

Jim Rutenberg of the N.Y. Times today wrote:

Imagine NBC doing its straight broadcast of the conventions with Lester Holt manning the anchor desk, while MSNBC carried a squadron of liberal commentators and CNBC took the conservatives’ angle. Want to live in your own partisan bubble? You got it. Want to see what the other side is saying? You have that option, too.

It could be one of those events that we look back on as a defining moment in American media, especially for the television networks: Did they once again this year hand themselves over to a Trumpian infomercialtheultimate Trump infomercial — and bask in the ratings?

Or did they rediscover their vital role of providing context, perspective and truth in a contest that is not a countdown-clock-worthy sporting event or reality show, but a competition for the presidency of the United States in fraught and dangerous times?

Sure, it’d be criticized: Partisans are only watching what they agree with — Hello! McFly!That’s happening now. It’s not serious, objective journalism!

Fact is, four years ago, the three national networks spent an hour a night on the convention, so that’s how much they care when it comes to the traditional way they cover these things

I know that when North Carolina played in the Final Four, I much preferred listening to the UNC homer team. It made losing at least tolerable. (I particularly enjoyed Jay Williams, an ESPN commentator and former Duke player, chastise UNC announcer Brendan Haywood on Twitter for being biased. Haywood got to tell the national audience and WIlliams that he was watching the wrong channel.)

No, no news network will do this this year. But in truth, every news network should build much of this into its traditional coverage. Trump’s lies are important. That so many leading Republicans demonstrate only the faintest respect for the man is important. Clinton’s email scandal should be explored…

Sadly, though, we’ll only see the laudatory speeches of both, likely without the intense context and truth telling. Certainly without the entertainment.

For all that, you’ll have to go to Twitter.