Sunday sampler

Seems as if every Sunday paper in North Carolina did a “Year in Review” story because what else are you going to do during the slowest news week of the year? But there are a few notable stories on the front pages.

Charlotte — The Observer reports a damning story on inefficiency and incompetence in the N.C Medical Examiners system. “North Carolina medical examiners almost never go to infant death scenes and sometimes flout a state requirement to look at the baby’s body – two steps that national experts say are vital to competent inquiries. A recent Observer series revealed that the state’s medical examiners often fail to follow crucial investigative steps, raising questions about the accuracy of thousands of death rulings.” The state’s response is weak.

High Point — Gov. McCrory has made a big deal about the need for trained employees and, at the same time, criticizing liberal arts colleges. The Chamber of Commerce in High Point commissioned a study on its companies’ needs. Technical skills is only part of the issue, according to the Enterprise. “The report also noted that workforce skills are in short supply in areas of critical and analytical thinking, problem solving and communication. High Point Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer Rachel Moss Gauldin said many job seekers lack these types of “soft skills,” and this was a key in factor in more than 1,500 difficult-to-fill positions noted in the survey.”


Sunday sampler


“The Sunday before Christmas

and all through the hood,

the papers were stirring

their stories were good”

Charlotte — Want to know why North Carolina can’t have nice things? The Observer looked at state emails about incentives to lure companies to the state and explains its clearly: We don’t spend enough. (Thank goodness.) “To win a new plant being built by the Keer Group, a Chinese textile company, South Carolina dangled an incentives package 10 times larger than North Carolina’s, the emails show.”

Fayetteville – Fayetteville law enforcement spent $35,000 policing two protest rallies earlier this month. Nothing especially notable about the story except that the Observer wrote it. Too often citizens don’t realize the cost of protest and protecting protesters.

Meanwhile, based on a promo on the front page, the Observer also has an 18-page section called “Coming Home: A tribute to all who served through 13 years of war in Afghanistan.” Impressive. Certainly worth the paper’s $1.50.

Greensboro — This is personal. The News & Record writes about one of the nicest people I know and his wife. James and Djuana Parker’s 18-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 2010, and they have established a foundation to honor Arielle. Ari’s Heart provides support for families like the Parker’s — those who have lost a child. James used to work for the News & Record; he is a masterful photographer and an outstanding man. And Nancy McLaughlin’s story capture him perfectly. (I’ve met Djuana, but can’t say I know her.)

Winston-Salem — The Journal profiles Jimmy Broughton, the new deputy chief of staff for Gov. Pat McCrory. And if you liked the McCrory whose staff released a 34-page salvo about an AP reporter’s year-long coverage, I have the feeling you’ll love Broughton’s McCrory. At least based on the first anecdote in the story.

Gov. McCrory and the Associated Press

Dear Gov. McCrory,

Before we start, I should make you aware of a few things.

First, I voted for you in 2012, based on your comments and your experience in Charlotte. Following the troubled Easley and Perdue administrations, you and other Republicans said you were going to be above board and honest in all your dealings. I liked that. But, as you may recall, I haven’t been particularly happy with your move to the right.

Second, I don’t know who is right in this spat between you and the Associated Press. I do know that a reporter’s job is to seek the truth, and a politician’s job is, well, something else. But, I’ll repeat, I have not fact-checked the AP story in question.

Third, we don’t know each other, but by all accounts, you’re thin-skinned — more thin-skinned than most politicians who get as far as you have. I suspect my calling you thin-skinned will annoy you. I hope not, because its intent is constructive; there are ways to set the record straight, but this isn’t one.

I’m sure you were angered by the report by Michael Biesecker that revealed the special payment you received from serving on a corporate board. I know the idea that your personal ethics were being questioned must have got on your last nerve.

But I wish there had been an adult in the room when you decided on your response because you went all in, and, as a result, you look like a 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.

Your staff released a 34-page list of grievances against Biesecker, dating to last February. Keeping a list and checking it twice? It’s complete with snarky comments from you or your staff that are more in keeping with cynical newspaper chatter than the dignity of the governor’s office.

Your campaign operatives wasted no time using it as an opportunity to send out a fund-raising letter, accusing, once again, unfair media treatment. The letter refers to an attack with “false claims and innuendo,” which could also apply to your own 34-page list.

In the News & Observer, Claude Pope, leader of the N.C. GOP, called AP’s story about you a “smear campaign.” When I first read the story, I had to make sure whom he was referring to as the victim of the smear.

Maybe this is good politics as you prepare for your next election. No one likes the news media, after all, so reporters are fair game, as you’ve demonstrated a few times. Me, I’d have stopped at your statement insisting that you did everything by the book. If the story had no legs, it would have died quickly in the December news doldrums. Instead, you’ve kept it alive for at least a few more cycles.

Maybe that was your political intent. But protesting so vociferously — and childishly — over a straight forward story makes you look small, and, well, kinda guilty. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have done that, although, I’ll admit, Jesse Helms probably would’ve.

You’re better than this. At least, that was what I was hoping when I voted last time.

P.S. three days later: Had I known that you had appointed a Helms representative as your deputy chief of staff, I wouldn’t have written “probably” in the paragraph above.

Sunday sampler

Asheville — If our elected officials truly believed that the government closest to the people governs best, they’d let cities decide their fate when it comes to things like minimum wage. But, of course, they don’t really believe that. The Citizen-Times examines how the Asheville City Council, which supports raising the minimum wage – as does most of the state’s population – is unable to do anything about it.

Burlington — Are drug treatment courts, which help drug offenders get their lives straight, worth the cost? It seems so, but the General Assembly cut state funding in 2011. The Times-News examines the issue.

Fayetteville and Winston-Salem — At least two of the state’s papers didn’t forget that today is Pearl Harbor Day. (Newspapers that don’t have a story today will hear about it from readers.)

Greensboro — Greensboro’s civil rights museum, which inhabits Greensboro greatest claim on history, the Greensboro sit-ins, is a wonderful monument to civil protest. Yet, it is being run into the ground by the egos of the very people whose vision created it. It’s a shame, as the News & Record’s story today illustrates.

Winston-Salem — The Journal has a package of stories on the president’s immigration policy. The one I like is the one that calls out Gov. Pat McCrory for joining the suit against the president. ‘Gov. Pat McCrory, one of 17 governors and attorneys general supporting legal action against President Barack Obama’s temporary deportation policy, said last week that “the president’s actions are likely to put even more financial strain on our state’s government services.’  Ryan Tronovitch, the governor’s spokesman, provided no statistics to back up the comment when asked by the Journal.” Because facts aren’t important when it comes to political positions.



Sunday sampler

One of the issues newspapers have always had is how to fill the paper on long holiday weeks. It shows on the front pages of today’s N.C. newspapers. Still, there are a couple of good examples of “your government at work.”

Charlotte — One of the repercussions of cutting the cost of government — we like low taxes — is that government cuts corners. Enter the state medical examiner’s office and it not doing autopsies on bodies it should do autopsies on. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner asked staff last year not to autopsy the bodies of hundreds of people who died in suspicious or unexpected circumstances, lowering the use of the state’s best tool for determining an exact cause of death.”

Raleigh — The N&O catches up with Dr. Holden Thorp, now provost at Washington University. He seems to be having fun away from the controversy in Chapel Hill.

Sunday sampler

A wealth of opportunities for newspaper readers to find interesting stories on the front pages of N.C. papers today.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times has become one of the best papers in the state because it regularly tackles tough, insightful stories. This week’s is about those people who prepare and serve us food in restaurants living below the poverty level. (So, let’s bitch at them a little more because they aren’t as quick as we want them to be.) Most make $2.13 an hour plus tips. “In the next nine months, worker relief is coming to 23 states and the District of Columbia, all of which will lift the state minimum wage higher than what’s mandated by the government. North Carolina is not scheduled to be among them.” Hooray for us!

Burlington — The Times-News writes on one of my favorite topics: child homelessness. It’s right up there with child hunger“Single mothers with children is the fastest-growing population of homelessness today,” said Kim Crawford, executive director of Allied Churches of Alamance County. “A lot of that is to do with domestic violence.” My question: are our governments working on the right things?

Charlotte — The Observer continues to ask questions — and get some answers — on the once-secret monitoring of millions of cellphone records of people in Mecklenburg County. High profile arrests have resulted, but there are questions of whether judicial procedure has been followed. Excellent reporting.

Greensboro — In one of the day’s philosophically saddest stories, the News & Record writes about a controversy over the local Civil Rights Museum, established to honor the Greensboro Four and the sit-in movement. Greensboro has been fighting old racial battles for years, and this is another. It’s unclear to me what constituency the museum board is attempting to appeal to, but it certainly isn’t doing the museum any good.

Raleigh — Want to see your state government at work? Read this story in the News & Observer about how the Department of Labor won’t stand up for laborers being cheated by their employers. Not only that, the secretary of labor, Cherie Berry, best known for her picture in elevators, won’t even talk with the N&O about it.


Sunday sampler

I worry about the day when daily newspapers go away. I look forward to whatever takes their place telling stories like N.C. newspapers tell today. They’re stories that many people don’t like to see, but good communities force themselves to look at anyway.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times does a good job pulling together the politics and hypocrisy of the state’s refusal of federal Medicaid money. Thank goodness for Aldona Wos fixing the system so that N.C. can accept federal money and provide health coverage to poor and needy, he says sarcastically.

Burlington — For every high profile Janay Palmer (Ray Rice’s wife), there are thousands of lesser known but also beaten victims. The Times News tackles a common story — domestic violence — but one that must be told more often than it is.

Greensboro — More than 4,000 — 4,000! — fire code violations in Guilford County schools. It’ll cost $20 million to fix them. Actually, it would cost $20 million; it should be conditional tense as it’s unlikely the school has the money to address the needs. But don’t worry, we don’t need to pass a quarter-cent tax increase to help schools out.

High Point — The Enterprise starts a four-part series on hunger. Another common story and another that must be told more often than it should. 25 percent of local children go to bed hungry at night. Think about that for a minute. Now think about what government, formed for the safety and welfare of local citizens, is doing about it.

 Lenoir — Go beyond the political posturing and BS about magistrates and same-sex marriage, and you get this story from the News Topic. It’s not an easy decision for some, choosing between employment and personal beliefs. So difficult – or fearsome, at least – that the magistrates don’t want their names publicized with their views.

Wilmington — When I was editor, I tried to get a story written about neighborhoods where gunfire at night was routine. My thinking was that no one should have to live that way. Editors at the Star News are better than I. “From the inception of the city’s automated gunfire detection system in December 2011 until Oct. 28, the ShotSpotter system detected 1,280 individual reports of gunshots…. Gunshots ring out on average 1.25 times a night in the city, Wilmington Police Department ShotSpotter statistics indicate.”


Sunday sampler

Burlington — Are prostitutes businesswomen or victims? Are they responsible for their behavior or are the imprisoned? The Times-News has a gripping story about human trafficking and how police are changing their perception of prostitution. And if it’s happening in Alamance County, it’s happening most everywhere.

Fayetteville — Stealing the idea behind the headline in the Observer: Is solitary confinement punishment or torture? It uses the story of a man who died of thirst at Alexander Correctional Institution to describe the need for further reforms in the prison system for prisoners with mental health issues. It’s a sad, scary story.

Raleigh — The N&O has the same story but different. It focuses on the death and the lack of information being released by the state about the circumstances. Read them both.

Raleigh — Yikes: “During the season that the UNC men’s basketball team made its run to the 2005 NCAA championship, its players accounted for 35 enrollments in classes that didn’t meet and yielded easy, high grades awarded by the architect of the university’s academic scandal.” Sad to say, I think the only question now about that 2005 banner is when it’s coming down.

Read more here:

Sunday sampler

Nearly every North Carolina newspaper features some sort of election story on its front page. I am not highlighting any of those because there’s nothing reported that is new to anyone who has even vaguely followed the N.C. Senate race. But….

Asheville — The Citizen-Times brings us up to date on the Asheville Police Department, and, man, things aren’t great. The city manager has put the fire chief in charge of overhauling the police department after the police chief got involved in his son’s criminal case. But it’s not just that. “A Citizen-Times investigation found allegations of on-the-job retaliation, an increase in officer resignations and a massive administrative error that has compromised traffic cases.” Read it and weep.

Charlotte — The Observer continues pursue its story about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police tracking suspects — and lots of other people — through their cellphones. The Observer wants to see records on the surveillance. Not surprisingly, the city doesn’t want the paper or its readers to. Two judges seem to side with the newspapers. Good for them and the Observer.

Durham – The Herald-Sun: “Nearly 84 percent of the vehicle drivers and passengers Durham Police Department officers searched in the first half of 2014 were black, new reports from the department indicate.” But before you leap to the obvious conclusion that racial profiling is involved, the department assures you it isn’t.

Winston-Salem — You know how it seems as if everyone hates Common Core? You know how the conservative  legislature passed a law to rewrite the education standards and Gov. McCrory signed it? A commission was appointed to do it and everything. Problem is, the legislature and governor didn’t fund it. I, too, am shocked. Makes me proud of the strong stand our elected officials have taken to make public education a priority.



Sunday sampler


Asheville — The Citizen-Times continues its examination of homelessness, this time looking at children. The county expects more than 750 kids homeless this year. “Among them are children sleeping in motels, living in campgrounds or in the woods with their families, several sleeping in cars and many living “doubled up” like Tiana’s family, sleeping temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.”

Charlotte — Six magistrates have resigned or said they will resign so that they don’t have to marry same-sex couples. Good, I say. As with any job, if they don’t want to do their job, they should quit. But somehow it has become a religious/constitutional issue in the eyes of some. The Observer lays it out.

Fayetteville — Editor Mike Adams writes a front-page column on the Observer’s admirable year-long, solutions-based series on crime in the community. “What we have seen in our newspaper series is that successful efforts are born when people of passion and influence are committed to change and willing to work with all who will join them in the effort. That passion and commitment exists in Fayetteville. The willingness to collaborate has been demonstrated by a small group of leaders drawn together by their common hope for change.” Well-done, Observer.

Raleigh — The N&O has led the charge into the investigation of UNC, and I’m glad. The rot was there and it must be cleaned out to heal. It’s clear the school wasn’t going to do it without the constant prodding. (Yes, I teach there.) It follows with a piece that puts the scandal into national perspective and links it exactly where it belongs: to the need for money and national sporting prestige.

Greensboro — And because I’m a sentimental sort, I’m going inside the paper to mention the Q&A with my friend Jeri Rowe, who was the News & Record’s columnist for eight years. He’s leaving the paper to work at High Point University. He talks about his adventures in the craft of column writing. I’ll miss reading you, Jeri.