Sunday sampler

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Fayetteville: From the display to the reporting and writing, the Observer does an excellent job examining the state child welfare system. And its report raises disturbing questions and tragic answers. “Fayetteville Observer investigation found more than 120 children have died in the state within a year of their parents or caregivers being referred to a DSS agency. Some of those deaths, which go back nearly a decade, were from undetermined causes or accidents. But 31 of the children were killed — beaten to death, shot, drowned, smothered or poisoned by drugs…Through public records and interviews over several months, the Observer found dozens of examples across North Carolina where children connected to DSS died because social workers failed to fully investigate parents or properly assess safety risks.”

Yes, those are the names of the dead children on the front page.

Raleigh: It’s a surprise to see Barbara Stager on the front page. Jerry Bledsoe and my paper wrote in-depth about her years ago. She’s a convicted murderer, but she’s having lunch outside of prison, which upsets some, including her victim’s first wife. It’s a compelling story all the way around, well-told by the N&O.

Raleigh: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. The N&O looks at the cuts in the state Department of Environmental Quality. Frightening for those of us who appreciate clean air and clean water. “Dozens of environmental protection jobs have disappeared, in specialties ranging from the coast to rivers and air pollution. And a months-long backlog of paperwork mean more companies are able to operate under outdated permits, without recent oversight. The cuts have led to real consequences, said Grady McCallie, policy director for the environmental group N.C. Conservation Network, including a weakened ability for the state to respond to issues like the pollution in the Cape Fear River that came to light this summer.”

Raleigh: (Yes, a three-fer for the N&O; a first here at the Sampler.) A fun piece about a collector of Earl Scruggs-related memorabilia in Durham. “It’s not just somebody’s collection,” said Barry Poss, founder of Sugar Hill Records, the formerly Durham-based bluegrass label. “What he has on display is a man’s lifetime passion. His showroom is the Louvre of traditional bluegrass, and as docent, he lives and breathes everything in there. It’s spectacular.”

Morganton: The News Herald, to its credit, writes about a survey that finds its area is last in the nation when it comes to exercise. Last. It doesn’t actually examine why that is, unfortunately.


Sunday sampler

If this Sunday is an example, newspaper staffs are hard at work after summer vacations.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times explores wage stagnation in Western North Carolina and reports moderately good news. It’s gone up 8 percent year over year to $796. “‘This is the largest annual absolute and percentage increase in at least 15 years,’ said Tom Tveidt, an economist and founder of Syneva Economics in Asheville, adding that the database goes back to 2001.” I say moderately good news because the area still lags behind state and national figures.

Asheville: The Citizen-Times also analyzes the news last week that the GOP is the state’s third largest “party” behind Democrats and Unaffiliated. “Here’s the party pooper for Dems: The figures show the number of registered Democrats in the state dropped by nearly 130,000 over the past five years, while the number of Republicans increased by more than 26,000.”

Charlotte: Because I don’t live in Charlotte, the story about how the police department has responded to officer-involved fatal shootings didn’t interest me that much. But what does is how the Observer is covering it: with a three-part series on the status of the promised changes the city made a year ago.

Fayetteville: I live near a lake with a dam, which is maintained by my neighborhood association. It’s also used by people who aren’t members of the association. So, the Observer’s story about private dams damaged by Hurricane Matthew interested me. Homeowners are thinking of suing the city of Fayettevile for help repairing the dams. Fayetteville says it can’t legally use public funds for private projects, a concept which is laughable to anyone who pays attention to development.

Raleigh: The N&O has an excellent write-through on the efforts the UNC Board of Governors is undertaking to change the university system. The board sounds a lot like the GOP Congress, acting “disturbed” by things the president says and does, and then going along with him. I work as, basically, a contract employee of the university and I assure you that the cuts I’m seeing are not to the benefit of the students.

Raleigh: While state legislators often say they want government to operate like a business, that seems to stop when it comes to “the customer is always right.” So when the government screws up, it boomerangs to hurt citizens. And in the case the N&O writes about, the most vulnerable ones. Sixty people have gotten notice that the state had been putting too much money in their disability checks for more than 10 years, and now it planned to collect.

Wilmington: “Last year, 55 babies were born drug positive at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. That’s more than one a week…. Those newborns join the ranks of about 400 children in New Hanover County currently in need of foster care.” A good piece about what opioids are doing to children and the system.

Sunday sampler

Most of the state’s newspapers have Irma on their front pages, which sort of makes sense. I say sort of because weather stories are tough for newspapers. The paper goes to press before midnight and isn’t read until, what, 7 a.m. on Sunday? It’s easier to get an updated forecast by turning on the TV when you get up. But whatever; there are other good stories.

Raleigh: The N&O has a piece about what I call a strange expense by the state Supreme Court. But I care less about the story than the writer, Joe Neff. Joe, one of the state’s best investigative reporters, is leaving the paper to work for the Marshall Project. He joins Mandy Locke, who left last month. The leader of the investigative team, Steve Riley, is going to work at the Houston Chronicle. By my count, that leaves only Dan Kane and David Raynor on the investigative team. I assume the N&O is going to reload, but these are huge talent and institutional memory losses for the paper. In a broader sense, they are losses for the state’s citizens who have benefitted from the work they’ve done holding miscreants in state government accountable. Presumably, some of these departures are a result of the digital first initiative undertaken by McClatchy papers. Regardless, iIt is time for the state’s other large papers to redouble efforts to do tough-minded investigative work.

Raleigh: Meanwhile, the N&O reports on the stalled progress of a three-year-old murder case in the small town of Salemburg. If nothing else, the story is one of how the homicide of an 11-year-old girl can affect dozens of people on the victim’s side and the suspect’s.

Fayetteville: And I promise I’m not in a dark mood this morning, but the Observer features a story about a 4-year-old who went missing in 2000. The boy gathered his two dogs and walked out of the house, never to return. But the Sheriff Department’s search continues even now.

The Vanishing Newspaper, revisited

A journalist friend stopped by the house Sunday, and he reminded me of a conversation we had 10 or 12 years ago. He had asked then when I thought the News & Record, where I was editor at the time, would close its doors. I guessed about 30 years.

He asked me yesterday if I wanted to reconsider.

It reminded me of this post in 2011 in which I scoffed at a USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future report, which said 2017 was the drop-dead date for most newspapers.

“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

Four months left in 2017.

Without question, newspapers continue their declines in revenue and readership. Newspaper companies are consolidating, and expanding more into digital-first thinking. For the print reader, the outlook is terrible. Newspapers are thin. Today’s News & Record, covering the third largest city in North Carolina, is 20 pages. News staffs have suffered from 10 years of attrition. News coverage itself is often inconsequential. As consolidation continues, printing often moves off-site so that late news doesn’t make the paper. (High school football games, once a staple of Saturday sports, don’t make deadline.)

Yet, newspapers, both those at the extremes and those in the middle, are still churning it out. Much of that is thanks to advertisers who want to get their messages into the homes. Younger people aren’t reading papers. But for older ones, like me, who like the newspaper habit of scanning and turning pages — they’ll stop the paper when it’s pried from their cold dead hands.

In the 2011 post, I encouraged newspaper companies to finally get their shit together. I hope that those trying new things with digital are successful, but I’m no longer optimistic. Too little, too late and too much corporate emphasis on profit over quality and over community.

As always, when a newspaper dies, the community suffers. I was reminded of that when I saw this tweet.

Andrew Kaczynski of CNN deftly took it apart it with a scalpel:

This is what happens when people aren’t reading newspapers or watching mainstream news on television. They assume crap they read online is true. My friend and colleague Penny Abernathy at the UNC School of Media and Journalism has written extensively about news deserts.

It’s not pretty.

So, back to my conversation with my friend yesterday who asked, “Do you want to reconsider how many years the newspaper has left?”

I said 10 years. He said five. I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he’s right.

It’s scary.


Sunday sampler

Charlotte: The Observer has a fascinating story about out-of-state corporations buying houses in the Charlotte area — 10,000 — and making them rentals. What’s the big deal? It’s sort of like StubHub buying all the available tickets to a game and then charging you double and triple the listed seat price. “And their buying activity over the last few years comes as affordable housing has emerged as a major issue in Charlotte, with increases in both rent and home prices outstripping wage growth.” And that leads to multiple other problems.

Greensboro: The hypocrisy of politicians knows no bounds. Republicans used to rail at Democrats over gerrymandering. Now that they have the power to change things, they say, “The Democrats did it, too.” For me, it’s a real issue because I have little representation in Raleigh or Washington. So, the News & Record’s write-thru on the new state redistricting maps is helpful in understanding whose ox is being gored, particularly in my home county. It’s not pretty. (My real opinion, as voiced by Susan Ladd.)

Raleigh: The UNC Board of Governors has its sights set on banning the UNC Center for Civil Rights from filing litigating lawsuits. Somehow, board members think that giving law students practical experience isn’t central to the law school’s mission. I suspect all of the board members deny that politics have anything to do with it. The N&O does a good job telling the story of the people affected by actions undertaken by the Center. And, of course, the primary losers of a ban would be the poor and minorities.

Elizabeth City: In case you wonder if the controversies over the removal of Confederate monuments have gone too far consider a story by the Daily Advance. A student art piece of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis has been taken down from a wall at Camden County High School. “And while the removal came amid the controversy over monuments to the Confederacy, Berry insisted the picture at the high school ‘was in no way designed to promote the confederacy’ but rather was ‘simply a historical representation of the President of the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War.’” There had been no complaints.

The power of the social network

Updated below

I don’t know Lindsay Carbonell personally, in real life. She graduated from the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill in May, which is where I teach, but I hadn’t heard of her. Don’t read anything into that; it’s a big school.

At some point, she started following me on Twitter and I followed her back because she seemed interesting. She calls herself a data journalist and web developer. When she graduated, she was looking for work and wrote a Twitter thread that impressed me.  It starts:

The thread told me three things: First, she understands journalism’s needs better than most of the journalists I know and many of the teachers. Second, journalism needs her. She and people like her are its future. Third, I needed to help her find work.

I retweeted her thread. I can’t remember exactly what I said about it — this was in June and I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night — but I suspect it was something along the lines of “This is the future of journalism. Someone hire her.” Or maybe it was a simple RT.

Today is her first day working with EducationNC. I claim no credit or role in Lindsay’s hiring. That’s all her talent and EducationNC’s smarts. I have no idea whether my RT got any attention other than from Lindsay. What I do know is that her initial Twitter thread got the attention of the editors at EducationNC, who liked what they saw and contacted her.

Last night, Lindsay started another thread. It began:

I make students in my Reporting and Writing class tweet. I stress the importance of networking on social media. I tell personal stories of connecting – and getting responses from famous novelists. I talk about engaging with interesting people all over the world, and particularly some in my fields of interest. I show them how they can discover new information, how they can find sources and how they can learn interesting stuff. I tell them about students who’ve gotten jobs because of what they’ve seen and done on Twitter. (I’m one of many of the late Steve Buttry’s disciples.)

I’m clearly not effective at it, though, because most of them abandon Twitter as soon as the semester is over. They tend to think of it in their high school terms, rather than as a place where professionals gather. But some get it, and perhaps others will see her last post in that Twitter thread.

For now, I am going to invited Lindsay to speak to my classes about both journalism skills and social networks. For one thing, I’ll finally get to meet her in real life.

Saturday update: Laura Lee, managing editor at EducationNC, told me that my RT of Lindsay’s tweet thread led them to her. More important:

Sunday sampler, back-to-school edition

I’m not featuring any back-to-school stories today because they’re all the same and I don’t care about them. But there is still good stuff on today’s front pages.

Asheville: Asheville is on pace to near a 10-year-high in murders, the Citizen-Times reports. And while the number for the first seven months of the year is six deaths, every one impacts more than the victim. “‘People are shooting in the morning, noon, evening, middle of the night. They don’t care. They are ruthless,'” said Jackson, who runs to her children’s beds and pulls them onto the floor when she hears gunshots at night.”

Charlotte: The journalist in me like stories that give voice to the voiceless. The Charlotte Observer does that with its damning story today about a dilapidated hotel that the city might finally be ready to demolish. “Inspectors found rooms with no heat or air conditioning, piles of garbage, bedbugs and broken windows among other problems at the Airport Parkway Inn and Suites. Former tenants and a neighboring business complain the building on Wilkinson Boulevard is a magnet for drugs and crime…. Advocates for the poor say the businesses can thrive financially because Charlotte doesn’t have enough affordable housing, homeless shelters are almost always full and some hotel owners are not held accountable for substandard conditions.”

Raleigh: Courts have always been political, but it’s been a long time since they’ve become as overtly politicized as they are now. And it’s not just McConnell-Trump and Merrick Garland. The News & Observer explains what happened when the N.C. Republican Party tried to get one of the state’s appellate court judges to retire early so the seat would remain in Republican hands. “That was when I realized, it wasn’t keeping a Republican in the seat that they were interested in,” McCullough said. “It was getting their Republican in the seat.”

Lenior: The News-Topic has what appears to be a fascinating story about a hazardous waste incinerator plant that was closed down 25 years ago…and problems with groundwater even now. Even worse a governmental study that was supposed to have been done years ago never got started. The story is behind a paywall so I couldn’t read it all.

Sunday sampler, eclipse edition

Most N.C. front pages feature stories about the eclipse coming Monday. Great. I’m not going focus on them because that’s boring. (Sylva, where thousands are expected to visit to view a total eclipse, to Raleigh, where the N&O tries to dampen the enthusiasm for seeing much.)

The other “big” story on front pages is about Confederate monuments. And there is plenty of “heritage not hate” justification.

Asheville: “The downtown has two obvious Confederate monuments, a small Robert E. Lee stone with a plaque in Pack Square, and a small statue by the Buncombe County Courthouse dedicated to Confederate war dead in the Battle of Chickamauga. The biggest memorial is the 75-foot tall Zebulon Baird Vance Monument, dedicated to the Buncombe County native, Civil War-era governor and U.S. senator and representative.”

Durham: “The new president of Duke University has ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after it was vandalized earlier this week. ‘I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,’ President Vincent Price said in a statement released Saturday morning.”

Charlotte: “Gastonia’s 105-year-old Confederate soldier occupies one of the most serene posts in a race-roiled America. The unnamed granite Rebel literally rises above the hubbub of trials and lawsuits at the Gaston County Courthouse. From his pedestal some 30 feet high, he looks out on rain-lush August trees and a street recently renamed to honor Martin Luther King Jr.”

Greensboro: “The obelisk monument to dead Confederate soldier at Oakwood Municipal Cemetery in High Point was erected in 1899 by the Guilford Council Junior Order of United American Mechanics, a fraternity founded by white nativists in 1853 in Philadelphia, with a focus on protecting American jobs from immigrants.”

Monroe: The Enquirer-Journal has a two-story package, but it’s not online.

Meanwhile, in other news:

Hickory: Just in time for high school football, the Daily Record has a good three-part series on concussions among athletes. “Student athletes in five area high schools and one area college will undergo special testing this academic year to monitor the effects of mild traumatic brain injuries- or concussions.”

Wilmington: The Star-News continues its excellent coverage of GenX, a toxic compound in area drinking water. Today’s story goes back before GenX to the chemical it replaced. Good stuff.

Sunday sampler

I’m watching the News & Observer’s digital initiative with great interest, and anyone interested in the future of newspapers should, too. Last Monday, the N&O began its outstanding five-part series on jail deaths. I read it online throughout the week. And that gave me and other online visitors a six-day headstart on readers of the print edition.

The series started in the print edition today. And to get to the first story on the website, you have to search. But it’s worth the search. You can also find every report of every bad jail death. My guess is that the traffic the series generated is sizable. And I assume the paper is banking on readers of the print edition to either see it for the first time or not be bothered by the sense of “wait, I read this online last week.” (Me, it annoyed me that there is nothing on the front page of today’s paper to read because I’d read the jail story and I knew about the Charlottesville story already. But there are other things in the paper worth its newstand price.)

I hope the N&O is successful. It’s an important institution for all of N.C.

By the way, reporter Dan Kane, who has taken the slings and arrows of UNC fans for his excellent work writing about the athletic/academic scandal at the school, has done excellent work here, too.

Greensboro: How would you like it if a company wanted to put a rock quarry next to you? That’s what is facing some residents of rural Pleasant Garden in Guilford County. The News & Record looks at both sides — yes, there are pretty much just two sides. Interesting to see what the planning board does.

Wilmington: Something N.C. Democrats should be concerned about: Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats now in New Hanover County. “I think it’s more of an ideological trend and telling people they should register how they plan to vote and not just how they originally signed up,” (the chairman of the county Republican Party) said. “We also have a lot of volunteers out there knocking on doors and stopping people on the street.”

Sunday sampler

I skipped the past two weeks because I was out of the country. I could have been like our esteemed president, who is in N.J. for a 17-day vacation, which he insists is not a vacation. Mine was a vacation.

Charlotte: For five years, public officials have been told that the texts they send are public records.Not surprisingly, public officials either don’t care or weren’t paying attention. The Observer found that many local governments aren’t following the law. Meanwhile, making the Observer’s point, the Enquirer-Journal in Monroe reports that the Union County sheriff says that the text messages requested in a suit filed by WBTV no longer exist.

Greensboro: The News & Record has a wonderful story that is hard to start — about a woman whose dog bite her face, slashing it up and tearing off her nose. And then you get to this section: “After not saying a word for hours, and nearly choking on her blood in the emergency room, Alexis grabbed the arm of the person moving her to an operating room. “’Can I,’” she said matter-of-factly, “’order a Jennifer Aniston nose?’”

Lenoir: The News-Topic outlines the problems with drugs in Lenior, and it’s not pretty. While the full story is behind a paywall, what’s on the front page is compelling enough. It’s not just coke, meth of heroin. It’s fentanyl, too.

Morganton: The headline of the News Herald says it all: “Woman arrested twice in 24 hours among three caught trafficking meth.” I post this not to make fun — although, c’mon — but to point to the addictive powers of meth. She made bond at 9:50 p.m. and was back dealing almost immediately because she was arrested again less than four hours later, according to police.