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.



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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.

Sunday sampler

Three newspapers — Raleigh, Greensboro & Winston-Salem — display big stories on their front pages about the GOP convention this week. (Greensboro’s and Winston’s are the same story.) Both stories are about the state’s delegates ambivalence about their party’s nominee. Inside the N&O is a listing of the state Republican officials attending the convention — Sens. Tillis and Burr — and those skipping it, Gov. McCrory, Lt. Gov. Forrest and my representative, Mark Walker.

Charlotte: The Observer adds to the mounting evidence that Donald Trump plays the system for all it’s worth, even as he says otherwise. “As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump has bragged about the high value of the golf courses he owns across the country. But behind the scenes, his staff has argued to county assessors that several of those same courses are worth tens of millions less. His triumphs in holding down appraisals on his properties have posed fiscal repercussions for county and local governments such as Iredell County, where he bought a course overlooking Lake Norman.”

Raleigh: The N&O writes a story that probably every major newspaper in the state could write: Raleigh police aren’t paid enough and, like teachers, are finding better pay elsewhere. “But Parker, who made $43,734 a year in Raleigh, recently quit because he can no longer afford to live in the city he protected for eight years. He’s packing up his family and moving to Everett, Wash., where he will make about $56,000 as a certified building inspector in the Fire Marshal’s Office. And the office will likely boost his pay to $63,000 after a couple years on the job, he says.”


Asheville: As law enforcement applauds recent legislation preventing the release of police body cams, it must be aware that it’s losing the communication battle over crime. The Citizen-Times describes the pros and cons of police department communication policies, particularly in response to social media.

The war on the news media


People sure hate the news media these days, non sequitur and all.

Gov. Pat McCrory has blamed the news media for confusing people on HB2. “I frankly think some of the media has failed miserably in communicating the clear facts,” he said, specifically naming national publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.


But my favorite is the “ignorance-is-bliss” idea espoused by a state senator from South Carolina who said that she thinks the media may be the biggest problem facing the country. “Our biggest problem could very possibly (most likely) be the Media!!! If we could shut down all media for one month except for weather reports and let everyone else do their job I bet we would see a change. The media sensationalizes everything that happens stirring the pot, fueling an already blazing fire.”

Check her Facebook page. You can see where she’s coming from, and the polarized tug of war among commenters. (My favorite comment on her post came from Mimi Johnson:  “If only we could get reporters to stop shooting people!”)

It’s enough to make a journalist trying her damnedest to make sense of a complicated, confounding world throw up her hands.

But I get it. CNN’s decision to hire Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who treated reporters with disrespect to the point of being arrested for battery, baffled me. Then the network put former congressman Joe Walsh on the air after he hate-tweeted that “Real America” would be coming after President Obama and Black Lives Matter marchers. Like, why? What constructive did he have to add? As it turned out, nothing.

When Gretchen Carlson sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, I thought, it’s about damn time. I don’t know anything about their relationship, but I watched “Fox & Friends” off and on when she was a cohost and the creepy sexual innuendo of her male cohosts oozed out of that set like slime.

Those incidents made me hate the media CNN & Fox right then.

Look, blaming the media is a time-honored tradition.

Imagine what Jefferson would say if Twitter, TMZ and Facebook were around then.

But blaming the news media is the refuge of those who don’t want to take responsibility. Donald Trump’s views are well-known; he is rarely misinterpreted even when he takes multiple positions on the same issue. He simply doesn’t like CNN for reporting the contradictions in his words and actions. In the same way, the media didn’t misconstrue HB2; it reported sides of the issue Gov. McCrory didn’t like. Politicians are people whose words and actions — or inactions — can make a difference. Whining and blaming others are the responses of children. Yet, that’s what we’ve come to.

It’s easy to blame “the news media;” everyone does it. But the “news media” as a singular noun has more arms than Trump has supporters. (Yes,  everyone can publish.) The fact is, millions of us in the U.S. are “the news media” because we share news on social networks. And much of that which we share is personal and, often, politically biased and possibly wrong.

I’m not going to defend the traditional news media. I did that for 35 years. (In the good old days, the mantra was “They may hate us, but they read us.” Sadly, the first clause is truer than the second.) It doesn’t need me, and frankly, I think, the trust battle has been lost. We seem to be a society that doesn’t trust much of anything except our own opinions. People will get their news from wherever they wish, and they will make their own determination of whether they believe it. I don’t have any great idea to fix that, if it even needs fixing. It is partly the result of having so many choices and having so many outlets in which to publish, both of which I applaud. The best thing traditional news outlets can do is be open, transparent and fair. Newspapers and TV continue to do good, strong news reporting and investigative work, despite their occasional missteps.

I admit that I’m worried about the country full of people who distrust information that clashes with their worldviews, of people who won’t listen when their attitudes are challenged. (Yes, I’m guilty of that sometimes.) But I’m also confident that with so many voices making themselves heard the truth will out. It’s the optimist in me.

Sunday sampler

Many of the front pages were dominated by wire stories and local reaction stories in the aftermath of a week of race-related shootings.

Greensboro goes a step further, with a long, detailed story about officer-involved shootings in North Carolina and how transparent law enforcement is about them. It is pegged to the death of a Rockingham County man last month in which the sheriff has been as transparent as a bullet-proof vest. But given the events of the past week, it’s timely and telling.

Raleigh: Awaiting Gov. McCrory’s signature is a law that fixes tuition at UNC schools over the life of a four-year student’s education. The idea is to make college costs more predictable and affordable. It may make them predictable, but the evidence argues against affordable. “Delaney studied the effects of similar legislation in Illinois, the Truth-in-Tuition law, that went into effect in fall 2004. She found that, on average, since the law went into effect, the state’s 12 public institutions had increased annual tuition by approximately 26 percent to 30 percent more than schools not subject to the law.”

Read more here:



Sunday sampler

Asheville: Given the General Assembly’s practice of shoving unwanted policies down the throats of local government, you know I’m interested in how Asheville got out from under the bullying legislators’ thumb. The Citizen-Times explains how the local delegation beat back an effort by GOP leaders to change the way Asheville City Council members are elected. “But the death blow for the Asheville bill came when opponents turned the debate into a question of ethics and honor.” I wish Greensboro had been so fortunate. Unfortunately, many of our legislators didn’t have the backbone to break with the leadership.

Winston-Salem: Just yesterday a friend of mine wondered aloud why police body cameras videos aren’t automatically public. “If my tax money paid for them, I should be able to see them.” He was referring to this case. The General Assembly disagrees. So do some of the public officials in Winston. The Journal reports on a bill awaiting the governor’s signature. “The bill specifies that police video and audio recordings are not public records and sets limits on who may view or listen to them. To get a recording released to the public, someone would have to file an action in Superior Court asking for the release of the recording.”

Charlotte: The Observer tells the story of the largest mass killing in Charlotte’s history. It involved motorcycle gangs and the 40-year investigation that finally ended last year. I lived in Monroe and often visited Charlotte in the 1970s. I had forgotten about the motorcycle gang wars there. Mark Washburn’s compelling story reminded me. (I don’t know if this story is on the front page because I haven’t seen the front. But if it isn’t, it should have been.

Sunday sampler

Greensboro: The News & Record takes a familiar topic to political readers — the Trump effect on down-ballot races — and makes it new. The paper explains how the possible addition of three state constitutional amendments might turn out GOP voters (I doubt it.) and why the Clinton campaign is pouring money into the state.

And the paper returns to a topic that has always enraged readers: pets at the animal shelter. Enraged is probably the wrong word. Provoked is better. Animal lovers hate seeing prospective and former pets put to death or mistreated. Last year, the state revoked the license of the group running the shelter because of cases of animal cruelty. Now the shelter is run by the county government, which is trying to figure out how to do it.

Raleigh: Like clean water? Yeah, me, too. And that’s why the GOP legislature’s march to deregulate the environment should alarm you. They are trying to repeal rules to clean Jordan Lake and Falls Lake, which provide drinking water, and stream buffer protections. “This without a doubt will have a very large negative impact on water quality,” said Matt Starr, the Upper Neuse riverkeeper. “We are in the rare situation of being able to see the future. We know what will happen if we roll back these nutrient management strategies.”

The N&O also describes how you’re being duped if you think the state seafood festivals use locally caught seafood. (Mostly it’s our fault, too, because we like our seafood quick and cheap.)

Burlington: The problems of the VA are a local issue, affecting many veterans across the state. The Times-News tells the story of one Gulf War vet who is being screwed by the system. In a version of Catch-22, he can’t even get access to his own medical records. As a presidential candidate would say, “Sad!”