Happy New Year?

Good morning!

Let’s look back: I’m not sure that I accomplished much of note, other than that I made it another 365 days. (This year, with 366, will be a challenge!)

*I trolled my hypocritical Congress people, but they remain hypocrites, spouting Christian tropes but supporting the least religious, most immoral man in the White House.

*I sent 80 or so students out into the world to, I hope, change it for the better, but that was hardly my accomplishment. They were going there anyway — I just tried to keep from being an obstacle.

*I trapped and killed four or five mice over the course of the year. I also killed a mosquito by clapping it with my hands. My wife considered both an accomplishment.

*I carried a glass of red wine along our white carpet about 50 times without spilling a drop. Why she wants to bitch about that 51st time is beyond me.

OK, that was cathartic. I’ve achieved more than I thought. I don’t normally make resolutions. But for fun, I plan to:

*Sleep more and eat less.

*Read more and tweet less.

*Drink about the same.

*Be kinder and be better.

*Help 80 students prepare for the real world.

 

 

 

Y2K: 20 years later

Twenty years ago today,  we weren’t sure what was going to happen to the newspaper. It was New Year’s Eve, 1999, and for the past year, what was known as the Y2K bug was waiting to explode on us. Or be a non-event. We weren’t sure.

One of my first acts as editor of the News & Record in January 1999 was to announce to the newsroom that everyone would be working on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t need all of them to cover news; we had about 100 on staff then. Nothing ever happens on the typical New Year’s Eve other than drunken parties, wrecks and shootings. We wanted people there in case the worst happened: that our computers shut down.

As the minutes ticked down, we in the newsroom of the News & Record were excited and bored and nervous all at once. Like every other business in the United States that used computers, we had prepared for the possible catastrophe.

Cindy Loman, editor of the paper now, posted this article from 1998 last week about corporate efforts to address the problem. Our IT guys had worked all year preparing for the worst. We had patches, but we weren’t sure we needed them. We prepped for early deadlines, planning to produce one edition and get it off the press before midnight. Even if the system crashed, we’d have a paper to deliver Jan. 1.

Early in the day, we got encouraging signs. As the New Year dawned across the world, computers there didn’t suddenly crash at midnight. They continued working — plane didn’t fall out of the sky, power grids kept the lights on, and banks didn’t lose track of how much money you owed.

Midnight came and went, and our computers system didn’t notice. Cindy Loman describes the fizzle well.

The biggest debate seemed to be whether the millennium began in 2000 or 2001.

Our IT staff – and group of high-powered people representing each department — prepared our system well. Truth it, they did so well, I scarcely remember the witching hour itself.

I bought some non-alcoholic “champagne” to help the staff ring in the New Year’s. (I was too new of an editor to feel safe violating the company policy of forbidding liquor in the building.)

Sunday sampler

Many newspapers feature “top stories of 2019” on their front pages. But there are other stories that interest me more.

Burlington: This story originally appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times a few days ago, but it popped onto the Times-News front page today. It’s about a 15-year-old high school student in Buncombe County who was tired of seeing her classmates wearing depictions of the Confederate battle flag on their clothing. So, she organized a protest. “(Some students) think that it is expressing their Southern pride, and that’s the reason why it’s not a bad thing for them to wear it at school. But I don’t feel like they understand that it’s a hate symbol to people of color.” And, of course, high school kids reacted the stupid way you’d think they would.

High Point: High Point has a problem on one part of S. Main Street. “We (along with several other local businesses) are unable to feel confident that we could provide a safe atmosphere for both our employees and customers to do business in,” the post read. So far, two businesses have closed because of crime. The Enterprise takes a look.

Lenoir: Guy Lucas, publisher of the News-Topic explains why he is eliminating the opinion pages on weekdays. (Behind the paywall, but here’s the front page.) He confronts head-on an issue that every newspaper is facing.

A Merry Christmas to women

“Now women, I just want you to know; you are not perfect, but what I can say pretty indisputably is that you’re better than us. I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything… living standards and outcomes.”

President Obama said that last week.

I agree with him.

On a personal level, women have sparked and inspired the major decisions in my life. My mother sent me to St. Andrews College, which reinforced the values I learned growing up and introduced me to people who are still my best and most trusted friends. She kicked me in the butt after college when I was working construction and trying to figure out my place in the world. She told me to start applying to newspapers to become a journalist.

After a dozen years as a reporter, I was offered a job in Greensboro as an assistant city editor. I wasn’t going to take it because I didn’t like editors, and I didn’t think I’d be good at it. My then-girlfriend called me an idiot and told me to take the job. (She also proposed to me, and we have two daughters, who have obviously inspired all kinds of warm feelings within me.)

When I was one of half a dozen mid-level editors, I was chosen by a woman to become a trainer at the newspaper. I was paired with Jane Sharp, who taught me how to understand how organizations work, and how leaders motivate organizations.

When I decided I was ready to leave the newspaper business, it was again my wife who lit the fuse that got me out of there.

And it was a woman, Rosemary Roberts, who suggested I teach at Elon University.

This is not intended to denigrate the men who helped make things happen; they’ve had pivotal roles, of course. Especially my father. But most of the time the men were deciders, not inspirers. At virtually every fork in life’s journey, a woman has been standing there, pointing the way and pushing me forward.

Sunday sampler

Many N.C. papers have stories about election filings and Christmas gatherings on their front pages today. And there are these:

Greensboro: The News & Record has a good story about Nona Best, the director of the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons, who is also the person who activates the Amber Alerts. “Parents don’t think like that,” explains Best, a single mom whose daughter is now 36. “They don’t think that everywhere you go, there’s possibly a predator there shopping that day. … not shopping for groceries or anything, shopping for a child.”

Greensboro:  The N&R also has a detailed story about a deputy who was shot while he was investigating a domestic call. “He had been too afraid before then to look at where the bullet had struck his left arm. With every beat of his pulse, he saw now, he lost precious blood. The bullet had punctured an artery, doctors would later confirm. He put his right thumb into the wound and squeezed; the blood kept coming.”

Raleigh: The N&O has two stories about how N.C.’s Occupational Safety and Health agency — led by Cherie Berry of elevator fame — has sided with employers over employee safety (my conclusion, not the N&O’s). “OSH inspections after the deaths led to 13 citations for willful violations against nine employers, each carrying a maximum penalty of $70,000, said the report made available to McClatchy. But nine of the citations against five companies were later dropped. In other words, only four employers faced the harshest penalty out of more than 240 firms with fatalities, the group said.”

Impeachment sampler

How some N.C. newspapers handled the impeachment of President Trump. (Thanks to the Newseum for the images.) Two observations:

>>>Most of the smaller, community-oriented newspapers did not mention impeachment on their front pages. This trend still surprises me because it is an important moment in history. By almost any definition, it’s a front page story. It is certainly the story people everywhere are talking about today.

>>>The pain of early deadlines is obvious. In some cases, even the impeachment of the president won’t stop the presses.

Neither the News & Observer nor the Charlotte Observer front pages are on today’s Newseum site. Here is a poor image of the N&O’s front copied from my subscription email. You can get the idea.

A few others

The vanishing newspaper coffee mug

I started this post as a lark. I was going to use this image of my coffee mug with the faded lettering from the Newseum to make a point about the condition of both newspapers and the Newseum.

It was an easy joke.

Then I remembered this column by Ken Doctor about newspaper consolidation in which he quotes someone as saying 2020 could be “the final dance of the newspaper industry.”

Well, damn, that’s dark, but it’s difficult to argue with. McClatchy newspapers have already announced that it’s discontinuing Saturday coverage, meaning the papers will no longer be daily.

But as Kristen Hare of Poynter argues: “Local newspapers, specifically those that are locally and independently owned, are not dying. They are changing. It’s rough. But it is not death.”

She could be right — there clearly are tough-minded efforts– but it all feels too rosy to me.

Then Emily Bell writes that we need local news to combat the rise of disinformation sites pretending to be local news: “In the 2020 election cycle, we are already seeing a rise in hundreds of phantom “local news sites” set up by political operatives to churn out automated stories that fit particular talking points. The resources at a local level to counter these operations are shrinking.”

Indeed.

Last week, Tom Rosenthiel wrote about the high standards of reporting: “We have infinitely more storytelling tools today, and the news is often more accurate because we have the ability to assemble more data. Journalism has become more empirical and less anecdotal. Reporting can also be done more openly, with the public part of the process.”

But he points out a truism: There are fewer reporters today covering fewer stories. And communities suffer.

Local news may not be dying, but it ain’t what it used to be. And in my community, I don’t see anything rising up to take the place of a well-staffed newspaper.

The vanishing newsprint edition that comes to my house and homes across the country will soon be history. We’ve known that for 10 or 15 years.

And I’m going to get a new coffee mug.

 

 

 

 

Sunday sampler

It’s an interesting day in the life of N.C. newspapers’ front pages. Consider:

The Star News in Wilmington, which recently has had intensely local front pages, publishes a story by the Hickory Daily Record. Hickory is 263 miles west of Wilmington. The Kinston Free Press, 260 miles away, also features the story on its front page. Not to be outdone, the Fayetteville Observer, 189 miles from Hickory, publishes the same story. What’s the story? It’s a good one about the impact of the Google and Apple data centers. Short answer: not much in the way of new jobs or population growth. Google employs 250 people; Apple employs about 400.

Meanwhile, the Times-News of Burlington publishes a good Charlotte Observer story about the urban-rural divide. “Rural residents are less likely to have college degrees or be connected to broadband services than those in or near cities. They’re older on average and less likely to live among people born somewhere else. There’s even evidence that rural life, for all its fresh air and leafy aura, produces sicker people.”

The Jacksonville Daily News publishes a Wilmington Star-News story about Rose Hill, a small town doing big things with wine. And the Winston-Salem Journal publishes a story by the News & Observer about how the declining population in rural counties will affect gerrymandering and the state’s congressional districts.

These are all part of a special series on the urban-rural divide by “the North Carolina News Collaborative, a partnership of the state’s largest newspapers that aims to provide deeper and broader news coverage to all regions of the state.” It’s an important cooperative effort among the papers to perform one of their civic duties and worth accolades. And widespread coverage.

Also on today’s front pages:

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has a piece about the number of students from rural areas who attend college. It is behind a paywall, but here is a shot of it on the front page.

Greensboro: I have a weakness for powerful people who shake things up and stand up for the little guy, which is one reason I like this story about Drew Brown, a feisty Greensboro attorney. “Because I’m not married and don’t have kids and don’t have to make money on a given month, I can take cases I otherwise couldn’t take,” Brown says. “It’s given me the ability to go and try cases in random counties and not come home for two weeks.”

Greensboro: On this, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in America, the News & Record features a story about a prominent slave owner and his huge plantation in North Carolina – a name associated with a street in Chapel Hill and a shopping center in Raleigh: Cameron. It’s a sentimental choice because one of my students wrote it.

“Yay, Media Hub!”

With the semester officially over, I have one final post about Media Hub. (OK, it may not be final; who knows what those students will inspire me to do.)

One of the course goals is to produce professional-grade stories. At this point, the students’ stories have been published 65 times by 17 different media outlets, from the large — the Charlotte Observer and WRAL — to the small — the Spring Hope Enterprise. Many of them were published on the front pages of the papers in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston and Asheville. (You can see some here. You can find all of their stories here.)

Three of the students responsible for marketing the class’ work put together this light-hearted video starring students. I’m proud. And in need of a haircut.