Is Indy up to the task of covering local news?


I had been feeling encouraged that the Indy Week newspaper has been sending reporters to the local government meetings that the News and Observer has apparently chosen to skip. Raleigh desperately needs a local paper of record and the N&O has opted to cast a wider net.

My cheering for the Indy comes to a crashing halt, though, when I read stories like this one. Indy reporter Thomas Goldsmith asks the valid question of whether Seth Crossno’s “ITB Insider” blog is right to claim a sponsored blog post is an in-kind political donation. All fine and good, but Goldsmith loses me when he writes “candidate Bonner” instead of calling Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord, “candidate Gaylord.”

Bonner Gaylord

An announcement of candidate Bonner’s candidacy was labeled as humor. Crossno says the in-kind donation for that story has been submitted and will be listed on a future disclosure form.

Gaylord has been serving as a Raleigh city councilor since 2009. There is no excuse for a reporter writing about local politics to not get his name right. What’s worse, this is not the first time I’ve seen Indy make this mistake.

Come on, Indy. Don’t destroy your credibility right from the get-go. You’re the only game in town now and we need you to get it right.

N&O losing impactful, dogged investigative reporter in Neff – Raleigh & Company

R. L. Bynum at Raleigh & Company talks to departing N&O investigative reporter, Joe Neff. As I mentioned yesterday, Joe is leaving the N&O.

Joseph Neff projects his passion as an investigative reporter as his voice breaks up relating one of the highlights of his impressive career at The News & Observer.

Neff, who announced last week that he is leaving the newspaper he joined 25 years ago, was talking about the day in March 2016 that Howard Dudley — wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting his 9-year-old daughter — was freed. Eleven years earlier, Neff wrote a series called “Caught in a Lie” that documented the problems with the case.

Source: N&O losing impactful, dogged investigative reporter in Neff – Raleigh & Company

When Silicon Valley Took Over the ‘New Republic’ – The Atlantic

A good read from Gary’s article on the N&O about how chasing clicks killed the New Republic.

Journalism has performed so admirably in the aftermath of Trump’s victory that it has grown harder to see the profession’s underlying rot. Now each assignment is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis—will the article earn enough traffic to justify the investment? Sometimes the analysis is explicit and conscious, though in most cases it’s subconscious and embedded in euphemism. Either way, it’s this train of thought that leads editors to declare an idea “not worth the effort” or to worry about whether an article will “sink.” The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller.

Source: When Silicon Valley Took Over the ‘New Republic’ – The Atlantic

Clicking The N&O – Talking About Politics

I’m not the only ink-stained traditionalist concerned about the N&O’s new direction. Former newsman Gary Pearce says his piece over on his blog, Talking About Politics.

In these Trumped-up times, we need good journalism more than ever. Which is why readers of The News & Observer paid careful attention to the recent column by Executive Editor John Drescher on changes there. What he wrote told us three things:
• How much journalism and The N&O are changing,
• How much readers are concerned about the changes, and
• How much editors are concerned about readers’ reactions to the changes.

Readers are concerned that the old wall of separation between news and ads is being replaced by a chart measuring how many clicks stories get and, thereby, how many ads get sold.

Drescher’s column, “On the new N&O menu: Less spinach, more reader-focused coverage,” reassured us that the changes will be positive:

“Starting this week, we’ll be working harder to answer your questions and present the news in a way that is more relevant, with more video and more focus on topics that we know you care about.

“When most of our readership was of the print paper, we never knew with precision how much each story was read. Now we know how much digital readership each story has, and we’ve used that as a guide for which stories we will cover.

“While measuring readership is important to us, it’s not the only factor we’ll consider when deciding what to cover.”

Drescher vowed that the pursuit of digital clicks won’t imperil quality.

“Our core values remain the same. We’ll continue to provide the kind of watchdog reporting that has distinguished The N&O. Check out ‘Jailed to Death,’ our new report on deaths in county jails….We want to give you the news and information that means the most to you in the form and at the times you want it.”

He chided “ink-stained traditionalists” who “worry that we’ll publish nothing but click-bait stories about cats. They (the traditionalists, not the cats) underestimate the intelligence of the readers in this region.”

Well, call me an ink-stained traditionalist. I do worry. Not so much for now, because I know the editors at The N&O today. They are serious, committed journalists.

But they’re under a lot of pressure from business people, bean-counters and click-counters who live on the West Coast. While I trust John Drescher and his colleagues, I don’t know who or what will come after him and them.

Source: Clicking The N&O – Talking About PoliticsTalking About Politics

Also last week, superstar investigative reporter Joseph Neff turned in his typewriter at the N&O. He’ll be joining the Marshall Project:

North Raleigh development reveals Isaac Hunter’s Tavern | News & Observer

While I was away last week, Craig Jarvis’s story on Isaac Hunter’s Tavern ran in the News and Observer. Craig did a nice job summarizing the current state of things and included some bonus photos and video of me traipsing through the woods that day. Had I known I would be populating pixels I would’ve dressed more like Indiana Jones than Mike the Mechanic!

It was fun rediscovering the tavern and I’m happy that I got a mention, though I’m just one of many who have helped bring attention to the Tavern.

RALEIGH Forty-eight years ago, a pair of state archaeologists went in search of a 200-year-old tavern that was the scene of an historic event in North Carolina history but had seemingly disappeared.

When they found it, the dilapidated tavern — near Wake Forest Road just north of what is now the Beltline — the scientists urged immediate action to preserve the structure. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, Isaac Hunter’s Tavern slipped from sight again, disappearing over time into acres of trees and dangling vines until few clues were left that it had ever stood there. Until now, after development plans for the woods were announced this summer, once again stirring the saga of the old tavern.

The story of Hunter’s tavern shows how easily history slips through a community’s collective memory in a fast-growing place like Raleigh.

Source: North Raleigh development reveals Isaac Hunter’s Tavern | News & Observer

The N&O called him an ink-stained traditionalist. Watch what happened next!

Courtesy North Carolina State Archives

I spent my lunch hour tromping through the woods, showing the N&O’s Craig Jarvis the ruins of Isaac Hunter’s tavern. Craig had discovered my posts on the tavern and wanted to see it for himself. When my vague, emailed descriptions of the spot didn’t get him there I offered to take him there myself. After five or more minutes of us ducking under fallen trees and getting all turned around, I practically cheered when I found the foundation stones again! Craig was just as excited as I was, snapping photos on his phone and pondering how it all once looked.

I was happy to share it with him and didn’t think twice about meeting him there. I don’t know anything about the story he’s writing nor do I know (or particularly care) if I’ll be mentioned in it. What matters to me is that he’s telling the story of a place that was very important in making Raleigh what it is today.

OK, so maybe I was a little hard on the News and Observer. I know the paper has to adapt to changing conditions but I do not want to see the coverage dumbed down just to generate more clicks. I also don’t want to see journalists forced to pimp their articles just to remain in good graces with their boss. But I absolutely do want journalism to succeed. I want the News and Observer to succeed.

I also want the spinach. Lots of spinach. I want local coverage, even if it means fewer clicks. Tell me about the city’s budget, and about the controversy surrounding the latest audacious development project. Let me know about disagreements between city and county officials. Convey the complex jargon of transportation plans (rail realignments, commuter rail plans, etc) in terms I can understand. Be firm but be fair.

So while I was very, very close to canceling my N&O subscription again, I will give the paper’s new plan a chance to prove itself.

But don’t expect me to like the clickbait headlines, ok?

What’s your preference, clickbait or spinach?

847″ /> Serious journalism, like spinach, is good for you.

Update 10 Aug: Perhaps I was a little hard on the N&O. I’m giving it a chance.

What’s everyone talking about today? Spinach, that’s what. N&O Executive Editor John Drescher compared “obligatory” stories about government process to spinach and apparently our spinach days are over. Instead, the paper is apparently now all about chasing clicks.

And local voices don’t matter anymore, apparently, so away with the metro columnists, Barry Saunders and the like. Quirky cat stories will now rule the day. I’m left with the impression that local matters – the stuff where a local newspaper shines like none other – will no longer be a priority for the N&O. If it doesn’t have national appeal it’s gone.

Can I be honest here? I hate, hate, hate the N&O’s new clickbait headlines (and yes, John, no matter how hard you go lipstickin’ this pig these headlines are absolutely clickbait). This is one step away from putting emojis and text shortcuts in headlines (“Y U NO PASS BUDGET, COUNCIL? LOL”). My intelligence is insulted every time I see one. In fact, I make it a point not to click on any story with an asinine headlines. Nothing good is ever behind a clickbait headline.

The N&O website is also bogged down by the worst pop-up advertising you’ll find on the web, here or anywhere else. While some of my media pals might look down on my use of ad blocking software, I would not need it if sites like the N&O weren’t full of exploding ads and self-playing videos. There are rules of decorum on the web and assaulting your web visitors has always been frowned upon, no matter how lucrative it might seem.
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Media notes: Sanders says N&O told him ‘goodbye’ and that his ‘services were no longer needed’ – Raleigh & Company


There’s turmoil at the News and Observer, with columnist Barry Saunders getting shown the door last week. I didn’t always agree with Barry but I enjoyed reading his columns. He was one of the outsized personalities that give the hometown paper real flavor and his loss is devastating to the N&O in my opinion. I’ve long said that there were two main reasons I kept subscribing to the N&O: Joe Miller’s Take It Outside column and Barry Saunders’ column. Now both are gone.

At a time when newspapers around the country are demonstrating their value in holding the powerful accountable, McClatchy seems to be going in the opposite direction. It’s sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Some say the N&O is all about “generating clicks” nowadays, and reporters are being pushed to produce clickable content. As someone else said, reading social media is like reading the National Enquirer. Is this really the direction a media company wants to go?

I miss the days when the News and Observer was fully in the game. We need good journalism now more than ever.

As The McClatchy Company’s reinvention initiative continues to roll out at The News & Observer, changes are ongoing.Reporters met with editors in recent days to discuss how the initiative relates to their job and what changes may be coming for their roles. Others are finding out that they have lost their jobs.

The most prominent change, revealed in this story, is the departure after 24 years of columnist Barry Saunders, 59. According to multiple sources, the move wasn’t his decision. Saunders didn’t respond to a voicemail message.

But during an appearance Saturday night on WRAL-TV’s public-affairs program “On the Record,” he confirmed that he was forced out.

“I can tell you that that decision was made above my pay grade,” Saunders said on the show, which was taped Friday. “I was told that they were saying goodbye. Remember the old Manhattans song, ‘we called you here today for a bit of bad news’? I was just told my services were no longer needed there.”

Source: Media notes: Sanders says N&O told him ‘goodbye’ and that his ‘services were no longer needed’ – Raleigh & Company

Q&A: Garry Kasparov on the press and propaganda in Trump’s America – Columbia Journalism Review

Insightful commentary on Trump and the press from Russian democracy activist and chess legend Garry Kasparov.

while all traditional politicians understand the importance of messaging and perception, they realize that avoiding substantive questions only leads to more of them. During the campaign, and during his presidency, Trump has attempted—with considerable success—to transcend that norm, as with so many others. He responds instead with counterattacks and bold statements and accusations, knowing they will get more attention than subsequent fact-checks. It’s one of many ways that Americans are learning from Trump that much of their democracy was run on the honor system, on agreed standards, not laws, and now there’s someone who isn’t going to play by those rules.

Source: Q&A: Garry Kasparov on the press and propaganda in Trump’s America – Columbia Journalism Review

Why I don’t like Nextdoor, part 4,671

A friend of mine recently posted this observation about NextDoor:

Not sure why I still use Nextdoor. Someone asked about the round reflective stickers you sometimes see on mailboxes. From the paper deliver, etc. A response:

I’ve been hearing about something like that happening in other areas where homes that have dogs are targeted to be stolen, the. re-sold for sparing with fighting dogs & for medical research.

#myneighborsareidiots

If you’re only seeing the world through the lens of paranoid neighborhood Nextdoor posts you’re liable to freak out at everything. The Internet and television’s greatest blessing – bringing news from far away – is also its curse. The obscure crime that happened once and thousands of miles away is brought to your doorstep. The folks across the street could be terrorists. Dead people really can come back to life as zombies and eat your brain.

Well, something has clearly eaten these people’s brains. I keep hoping people will take a deep breath and realize, as a great president once proclaimed, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”