Sunday sampler

The holiday season is certainly upon us, with Christmas and Hanukkah stories on the front pages of the papers in Charlotte, Greenville and Elizabeth City, among others. That is a Sunday sampler another week. This week, it’s news.

Fayetteville— The Racial Justice Act interests me, mainly because I’m interested in the death penalty but also because of the number of convicted criminals trying to use it to change their sentences. The Observer examines both the death penalty and the Racial Justice Act in a well-done package of stories that, by the way, is difficult to find on the front page of its website. “Now, the Racial Justice Act, other changes to death penalty law and a decline in jurors’ willingness to sentence inmates to death are raising questions about the future of executions in the state. It’s unclear when the state will resume administering its ultimate punishment.”

Greensboro — Making donations to police fraternal organizations has always been dicey. For years, it’s been known that most of the money donated doesn’t actually go to the cause. Still, at this time of year, it’s good to remind people and that’s what the News & Record has done. For instance, the Greensboro Police Officers Association only gets 30 percent of the donations raised by the fundraising company it hired.

Wilmington — UNCW is one of the most popular and faster-growing state schools. The Star-News tries to answer the question, “what’s next?” (And thank goodness, it goes beyond the school’s new rebranding slogan, “Dare to soar.”

Winston-Salem — The Journal does something similar with Wake Forest, which is examining ways to commercialize its research. The story’s lead: “A new kind of light bulb that could eventually bring $400 million to $500 million a year to Wake Forest University is just one of the research results that hold promise for replacing the royalties from a wound repair system whose valuable revenue is stuck in legal limbo.” Yeah, I’d read the next paragraph.

Shelby appears to have an interesting story on the possibility of the legalization of marijuana in N.C. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be posted on the website. (The answer: not very likely with the current makeup of the General Assembly.) This appears to be happening more frequently on some of the state’s newspaper websites.

Sunday sampler

Asheville — Despite its bohemian reputation, Asheville has a large population of retirees. So parsing through the facts, myths and politics of Medicare is worthy journalism for the Citizen-Times. “Whether it’s there for everybody tomorrow depends on who’s talking, including the four candidates wanting to represent Western North Carolina in Congress. And finding the truth amid the rhetoric in a presidential election year can prove daunting.” (As usually happens, the facts get buried by the blather of politicians trying to further their own causes.)

 

 

Burlington — Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice said that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully targeted Latinos and demanded action. The Times-News follows up with a reminder that taxpayers will foot the bill if the Sheriff’s Office challenges the DOJ, which is likely to happen. That means, of course, that taxpayers will pay lawyers on both sides! Neat, huh.

 

 

 

 

Charlotte— The Observer and the News & Observer continue their series on hospitals and the cost of medical care, this time looking at what’s called “cost shifting.” “Large nonprofit hospitals in North Carolina are dramatically inflating prices on chemotherapy drugs at a time when they are cornering more of the market on cancer care, an investigation by the Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh has found….Some of the largest markups are made by nonprofit hospital chains that generate millions of dollars of profit each year and have billions in reserves.”

 

FayettevilleThe Observer continues its indepth examination of mental problems  among returning soldiers and what the military is doing about it. Powerful stuff for anyone who cares about people who have served their country and are now trying to cope.

 

 

 

 

Raleigh — Of course, it shares the hospital story with Charlotte, as it shares this story about where the gubernatorial candidates stand on taxes. In one graphic on the front page is a clue why Pat McCrory is ahead. He’s promising not to raise taxes; McCrory isn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Wilmington — The Star News writes of a heroin addict’s journey into addiction and her attempts to get out of it. It’s not especially an unusual story, but reporter Brian Freskos tells it in a gripping way.
Thanks to the Newseum for the images.

Sunday sampler, campaign edition

Virtually every front page in the state features a post-Republican National Convention story or a preview of the Democratic National Convention. Some, such as Wilmington, have them both. Those stories have effectively sucked everything else out of the news agenda this Sunday. Evidence of A1 enterprise outside of politics is slim. So today will be the campaign edition.

Charlotte — The newspaper of the DNC host city is filled with stories about the convention and is doing its usual bang-up job.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times puts some local faces on part of the Republican Party platform.

Winston-Salem — The Journal puts some faces on the local delegates to the DNC. So does the Star News in Wilmington.

Raleigh — The N&O discusses issues before the middle class.

Gaston — The Gazette provides a DNC guide for dummies, although I don’t think it means to call its readers that.

Sunday sampler

Americans woke up to the news on Saturday morning that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan as his VP choice. They woke up to that news again Sunday morning when their newspapers led their front pages with it. But there are still some good enterprising surprises on the state’s front pages that make them well worth 75 cents.

Raleigh— As a teenager in Raleigh, I was well aware of the presence of Dorothea Dix Hospital, which treated the mentally ill. It’s closing now, and expert fear the closing opens a hole in the state’s safety net even wider. The N&O explains. The remaining Dix patients are being transferred to Central Regional Hospital in Butner, a new facility that critics say doesn’t have nearly enough beds to treat those with the most severe mental illnesses.

Asheville — The Citizen-Times continues to dig into the case of the former Henderson County sheriff, whose “inappropriate behavior while in office and on the job cost Henderson County’s insurance company $90,000 in a payment to a female deputy who had threatened legal action.”
Wilmington — The Star-News tells a riveting story — it starts slowly but give it a chance — of a man whose own family didn’t know he was a POW in WWII. They knew he was a hero — they had seen his medals — but not that he had been in an enemy prison. “We’re talking about over 60 years this man kept this to himself.”
CharlotteThe Observer has a nice piece on the best and the worst of the Olympics. Make sure you read to the end so you can read about his award for “Best Heart.”
Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh — Just for fun, it is worth noting that the News & Record, the Observer and the N&O all have local reaction stories on the selection of Rep. Ryan. The headlines are interesting in what they say. Greensboro: “Local GOP happy with Ryan.” Raleigh: “Ryan pick energizes Republicans, Democrats in North Carolina.” Charlotte: “Paul Ryan draws mixed reviews in N.C.”

Sunday sampler

The lull in big news during Fourth of July week — yes, I know it’s hot — must have inspired editors because this Sunday’s newspaper front pages are filled with interesting stories that surprised me and demanded that I read them.

Two from Charlotte — Things aren’t great on the attendance and revenue end of NASCAR, and the Observer digs past the anecdotes to show just what’s happening. The Observer also previews the head-shaking embarrassment that has become the Duke-Progress Energy merger. (I hope our state regulators stand tall on this one.)

Fayetteville — The Observer continues its superb coverage of the troubles of troubled soldiers, this time looking closely at what the military is doing about suicides. The paper tells the compelling story of one private who took his own life. The Star-News in Wilmington has a similar story, equally compelling.

Raleigh — The News & Observer continues its superb coverage of the UNC academic scandal in the Afro-American Studies program. Citizens of the state should be pleased that the N&O is keeping the spotlight on the scandal and UNC’s reaction to it. (Wouldn’t you love to get an interview with the man at the center of it, Julius Nyang’oro?)

Two from Asheville — The Citizen-Times writes about crime — fights, actually — in downtown Asheville. I used to work at the Citizen-Times and like to return to Asheville on occasion so this is really my bias coming through. The story isn’t special, but the topic is. I’m glad the paper told me to be careful (and I suspect the Chamber of Commerce is cringing this morning). Not only that, the Citizen updates readers on Ghost Town in the Sky, which was pretty cool back in the day.

Burlington — The Times-News localizes a state story — originally reported by the Winston-Salem Journal — on eugenics. How the actions of the government hurt citizens’ lives are always worth telling readers.

Sunday sampler

Should have included the other front pages on the previous post at Whitney Houston. The point is that I like to be surprised and delighted with the content on my Sunday front page. Tell me something I don’t know. There are several good ones this morning:

From the Wilmington Star News: A nice little story about the N.C. State Ports Authority Board of Directors dining at Fleming’s in Charlotte — $1,900. (The cost to the Ports Authority was only $1,500 because the $400 worth of alcohol was covered by the attendees. I’m sure there were designated drivers.)

From the Charlotte Observer: When a political party holds its national convention in your city, things don’t go quite as planned. The Observer takes a look at what has happened in other convention cities in the past and gauges how safe Charlotte will be.

From the News & Record: Two stories, actually. One about the number of state legislators with licenses to carry concealed weapons. It surprised me to think that state legislators fear for their lives more than you and me, but they are many many times more likely to have guns on their person than you and me. The second is a package on the same-sex marriage ban amendment coming up. Revealing and I hope everyone who votes reads it.

From the News & Observer: I don’t drive on I-95 in North Carolina much but making it a toll road interests me. The N&O describes the whys behind it and the hows in collecting money from users.

Newspapers: Looking back to move forward

The biggest threats to newspapers aren’t just their familiar revenue problems and ever-proliferating competitors, but also the opportunity costs of failing to innovate more boldly — to be transformative, not incremental, in moving forward.

Melanie Sill’s insightful post about former editors wishing they had done things differently got me thinking about current editors.

Have they learned anything from the past five years of layoffs and cutbacks? To find out, I asked several North Carolina editors to address that with these questions: What if you could go back to 2004 with the budget, resources and FTEs you had then, but knowing what you know now? What would you do with the additional people and money? What would you do differently?

To focus on the critical few, I asked them to list three changes. Three editors responded, and I included my own “wishes.” The answers were remarkably similar, and none was earth-shattering.

Here’s a summary. (Full responses at the end.)

1. A smokin’ hot active digital presence. “They would cover breaking news maniacally, create interactive databases and do more video,” Carol Hanner, ME of the Winston-Salem Journal. “I would have challenged them to design a website that’s not modeled after the organization of the newspaper’s content.”

Robyn Tomlin, executive editor the Wilmington Star-News, would create a community engagement team. “Their goal would be to engage the community in a constant conversation, wherever they are. They would focus on social media, aggregation and curation along with doing a better job of promoting our content and staff in the community.”

2. Reorganized coverage. I said reorganize reporting around enterprise, especially focused on investigative and community. Tomlin agreed. “I would create a watchdog reporting team focused on doing investigative and public service journalism. I mean day-in-day-out political fact-checking, creating online databases of public records, doing local consumer reporting and sometimes just chasing our tails in an effort to tell important stories that seem to get missed along the way.”

In addition to a “watchdog team,” Hanner added: “I’d have a breaking news team that covers the heck out of everything that moves in the community and put it online. I would have a team that does nothing but focus on feature stories about local people, community organizations’ work and the acknowledgements of worthy and fascinating efforts.”

3. Idea incubator. Robyn and I had similar ideas; not surprisingly, hers was more expansive. I wanted to take three bright, creative people and tell them to come up with the next YouTube, eBay, or Craigslist based on giving people something they didn’t even know they needed or wanted. She said: “I would hire an innovations editor and obtain other resources necessary to create a Google-like idea incubation initiative where every news employee devotes a percentage of their time to working on a project of their choice. The projects would need to meet certain criteria, like audience growth, innovation in storytelling, improvements to existing processes or products that make them emasurably more effective, efficient or profitable.”

The responses raised two questions in my mind: First, did we go far enough, and, second, can the editors do any of those things now? The answer to the first is probably something like: If it is 2004, that’s a fine start: media watchers would call you bold and daring. But what have you done for me lately?

The answer to the second has to be yes.

As Melanie writes: Thing is, there’s still plenty of time. We’re not at the end of change, we’re in the midst of it. Even for print newspapers, there’s plenty of upside (and plenty of audience) — not for a shrunken version of the newspaper format of 1992 to be valuable in 2012, but for contemporary approaches to print to serve readers well as part of a menu of options in the digital era.

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The full responses:

Mike Arhholt, editor of the Fayetteville Observer

1.  I would put in place a newsroom restructuring plan like the ones we’ve had to institute by necessity given cutbacks and online growth. I know that 2004 resources focused through more streamlined and coordinated systems would have had impressive results for growth of local content both in print and online.

2.  I would develop an online strategy sooner and put a pay plan in place for the website off the bat. The industry’s belief that advertising could pay the bills for all the work that goes into innovation and management of websites simply didn’t pan out.

3.  I would have spent more resources on developing new local niche products for both print and online, and I would have done a better job of working across the hall with advertising to help that department better understand our online goals.

Carol Hanner, managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal

1. I would create a Web team led by a few veteran journalists and executed by a young staff that has grown up with the Internet. they do, They would cover breaking news maniacally, create interactive databases and do more video. I would have challenged them to design a web site that’s not modeled after the organization of the newspaper’s content. I would have two or three creative Web developers as part of that staff. The team would include a staffer devoted to nothing but researching what’s cool on the web and examining the much larger pool of market research we would have, with the idea that social media and mobile would emerge more quickly as a focus than it did.

2. I would create jobs that play to people’s strengths instead of expecting journalists to become even more generalized than they already are. I’d have a breaking news team that covers the heck out of everything that moves in the community and put it online. I would have a team that does nothing but focus on feature stories about local people, community organizations’ work, and the acknowledgements of worthy and fascinating efforts. I would have a watchdog team for the people who always have a nose for something fishy and don’t mind obstacles to getting information. Every story would have multiple layers.

3. I would focus much more on business in two ways- understanding it myself more, and reporting on the local business community much more extensively.

4. Bonus question. I would use staff to create more niche publications and web sites and get as close to customizing what kinds of news people get as tecnology allows, with the goal of getting away from an expensively produced and distributed print mainstream paper trying to reach a mass audience.

Robyn Tomlin, executive editor, Wilmington Star-News

1. I would create a watchdog reporting team focused on doing investigative and public service journalism. I’m not talking about the yearlong project kind of stuff, although there might be a little of that. I mean day-in-day-out political fact-checking, creating online databases of public records, doing local consumer reporting and sometimes just chasing our tails in an effort to tell important stories that seem to get missed along the way. One piece of this initiative would be to hire a general assignment reporter (or some paid interns) who can fill in on other reporters’ beats when there’s a big project that is going to take more than a week or so to develop.

2. I would create a community engagement team (we have a community engagement editor, but he’s just one guy) focused on both digital and in-person community engagement. Their goal would be to engage the community in a constant conversation — wherever they are. They would focus on social media, aggregation and curation along with doing a better job of promoting our content and staff in the community. They would also organize more events like public forums and community conversations “in real life.”  The run regular contests and do other fun things to make our print and digital products more interactive and engaging.

3. I would hire an innovations editor and obtain other resources necessary to create a Google-like idea incubation initiative where every news employee devotes a percentage of their time to working on a project of their choic. The projects would need to meet certain criteria, like audience growth, innovation in storytelling, improvements to existing processes or products that make them measurably more effective, efficient or profitable.

Moi

1. I would reorganize the reporting staff almost entirely around enterprise. Anything I could get from the wires, I would — which includes many of the non-Guilford County sports. By enterprise I mean stories and photos that people can’t get anywhere else, especially investigative and community. I’d look for the “wow” content.

2. I would take 25% of the people that I am getting and put them on the digital report, creating a different site than a newspaper site, curating, aggregating and building a large social media presence.

3. I would find the three brightest, most creative people I could and tell them to come up with the next youtube, ebay, facebook, groupon or craigslist. I’d tell them not to worry about the technology. Give me something that will give people something they want and need.

 

 

New York Times: It’s not personal

My thoughts are with my friends at the New York Times Regional Group, particularly the Wilmington Star-News, where I have several friends.

I know that it’s not personal, it’s business, but this answer from the FAQ the Times and its buyer, Halifax Media Holdings, is surprisingly cold. Many questions were not answered. The most important one — who has a job — was succinct:

Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment.  The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.

I suspect a lot of employees are wondering how Halifax made those decisions since one of the FAQs is “When will we meet the buyer?”

Halifax bought the Daytona Beach paper a few years ago and, by some reports, did not improve it. Wilmington is a vibrant, growing city. It has a good newspaper. It needs a good newspaper.