Is This Journalism? (part 2)

Today's Chapel Hill Herald has a story about Cam paying his taxes. Actually, the Chapel Hill News covered it too in a cursory headline story. But halfway through the Herald article, we read this paragraph:

Some political activists, unaware that Hill had settled up his tax bill, said that talk has been brewing about a possible recall of Hill, once he takes office. And at least one resident has called the Orange County Board of Elections in recent days and asked, in general, about the local recall procedure.

What "polticial activists?" Someone we should listen to? Why no names? The entire rest of the article is dedicated to this so-called issue about a recall. I'll say again: Cam made a mistake. But unnamed "activists" complaining about people they don't like... that's not news.

Also, publicly available information about candiates wouldn't have appeared to be a scandal if the papers reported it before the election. As Eric Muller posted earlier today:

To me, the main point is that the information about Cam Hill's tax delinquency was readily available during the campaign. No need to wait for him to release it piecemeal over a period of months. It was all right there, available to anyone who took a moment to run a search.

Which leads me (back) to the question: what was the local press doing during this election?

While I'm honored that so many reporters are reading the discussions here, I am concerned that they may be getting lazy and using our conversations as a crutch to replace actual journalistic techniques like interviewing and quoting reputable sources. There are so many substantive discussions here and elsewhere about important issues. Where's the coverage? Go back to work, reporters!





Chapel Hill News gave Cam Rasberries in today's paper over the tax issue...

Suffice to say that around the newsroom, this blog is saving footwork, but that's no d*mn excuse for lazy reporting. Sources who are opining about the tax payment record of a public figure should be on the record or off the page. I mean, for cryin' out loud, these aren't whistle blowers who live in fear if their indentities are revealed.

Problem is, that means making calls and people calling back. That takes time and effort. It means, too, admitting to the cyber-lurking that's going on both on and just off of W. Franklin Street.

Printing this chatter unverified and attributing it to "political insiders" is grossly irresponsible. Surely a juicy libel case is but one good fish story away.

On the record or off the page? Seems a bit extreme to suggest those as the only options. When a reporter calls to ask my thoughts about something discussed here -- which has happened once -- are you suggesting I have an obligation to talk with him or her? I can imagine scores of reasons to decline such an interview.

Or perhaps you're saying postings should be anonymous?

I can see that this could become a tricky policy issue for media. (I'm a J-school grad, too, you know.) Let's talk about it.

You mean all of your posts here, Jim, aren't just trollings for press for your audienceless ideas? You got coverage for your lame recall idea designed to makeup for your organization's loss at the polls. Now you troll for bond opposition after the voters have spoken strongly. Are you constantly reviewing the game tapes hoping against hope for an uncalled infraction? The way to win is to play fair and hard the first time out.

Let's talk about it.

What would be the point, O'Brian? You have far deeper knowledge of my ideas, motivations, and organizational affiliations than I myself.

What I am suggesting ... no SAYING ... is that using this blog as an unattributed source is lazy and riddled with risk. These posting ARE anonymous. I could list myself here as the Queen of England and it would still be posted (and should be). That's exactly why a call to the person whose name appears is necessary before writing up a news story and reporting it as fact.

As a J-School grad (like me) Mr. Protzman knows that there are times when we protect our sources. Whistleblowers are one example, and other is the beloved "Senior Administration Official" used in covering the White House to tell viewers that this information (usually from the Vice President) is highly reliable and is being deliberately leaked. Obviously, infiltrating the KKK and getting a member to talk frankly about the organization would be another reason.

Nothing approaching any of these examples exists here. The probability is that laziness is the explanation, not the protection of sources. Moreover, it doesn't benefit a newspaper reporter to point out to his readers that the source of his fact finding is simply looking on the Internet and lifting unverified quotes. Certainly there's no expectation of privacy -- that's one point in the newspaper's favor.

Some of these stories have done little more than (re)print gossip. No matter how well-informed or "inside" the chatters are in such a circle, a newspaper should be making calls, verifying the source of the comments and then attributing them to the persons who wrote them and confirmed on the phone. The difference between The Drudge Report and the self-described "legitimate" media is usually little more than attribution.

help help. our muddled royal mind can't decide if we're a whistleblower an insider a tape replayer an outsider a trusted source a freelancer a senior administration official a troller a hand wringer a hand washer or a lurker. dispatch the royal messenger to ask o'brian. s/he's sure to know.

The problem with the Herald story is that it only mentions "talk brewing," which is another imprecise journalistic euphemism for "I got at least one person to say something to me about it." The word "brewing" -- what does it mean? Is that one person, three people, five people, a hundred people? "Brewing" implies something substantial is going on, without naming what that thing is. The reporter had the obligation of showing, as best he could, what the extent and kind of support a recall movement is gaining. Are people meeting? Is there a petition being circulated? One phone call to the Board of Elections, and a letter posted here by Mr. Protzman, does not meet my standard of something "brewing," but of course someone else might think differently. And that's the problem with using weasel words like "brewing": they can be interpreted any number of ways, and thus they don't tell you in any concrete way what's going on.

As I think I said before, this site may be a good source for a reporter's leads and directions of inquiry, and I see that as being a positive role. But this site can't possibly be representative of the town as a whole, this being a self-selected group, and so it shouldn't be used as evidence of what's "brewing" around town. At least Anne Blythe (in an earlier story) had the honesty to say in her article that some of the opinions she was reporting came from, and she tried to characterize the site for the purposes of people who didn't know what it was. We argued then that reporters should be at least taking the postings at with a grain of salt, and perhaps not even reporting on them at all -- and we quibbled with the way she described the site. But at least she provided _context_, and told readers where she found her information.

This Herald story doesn't do either thing. And the line, "at least one resident has called the Orange County Board of Elections in recent days and asked, in general, about the local recall procedure," is so utterly lame, they should have been embarassed to report the story at all at this stage. Of course, we may be getting a little full of ourselves when we assume that when Mr. Shapard refers to "political activists," he means the people posting on this site. He may have talked to twenty different people in person and on the phone who all told him the same thing. But clearly no one said to him, "I'm starting a recall drive," or "I'm drawing up a petition," so the real problem with the story is not that he may or may not have drawn on this site without attributing it, but that there's no story to report yet. There might be a story soon, but there's not a story now.

Ruby. I agree that the campaign itself was surprisingly short of hand-wringing about the high cost of living in Chapel Hill.

(I'd also suggest that your recent defense of Cam's inability to pay taxes would qualify as such. Well, maybe not hand-wringing . . . more like hand-washing.)

Why is this related to media coverage? Because if citizens had known what a hard time Cam Hill had paying his taxes, his public support for raising those taxes (i.e., his support for the bonds) could have been the subject of interesting debate. I can only imagine the contortions it would take to defend such a position.

The Ministry of Truth dips into the Memory Hole to help show the roots of this Protzological noodling about the four soon to be two hands being wrung (further hint CANidates Evans and Wiggins). None of the Town's financial planners supported these failed scare tactics.

September 9

"There are things we need and things we want," council member Edith Wiggins said before the vote Monday night.

Wiggins said she was worried that the bonds could trigger tax increases that would place additional burdens on residents on fixed incomes. "This is about how affordable we want Chapel Hill to be."

Council member Pat Evans said Tuesday that she also has heard from residents worried about the bonds' pricetag. A council group that established funding for greenways and sidewalks put enough money in the bond request to finance half of the proposed projects in those areas.

"People want me to justify why we need to build 50 percent of the greenways over the next seven years," Evans said. With a growing community of retirees, she said, selling the bonds may be more difficult than in years past.

"It's not as easy out there as it used to be," Evans said. "A lot of people have seen their retirement funds dwindling over the past few years."

Wiggins and Evans said they see a difference between the $16.2 million bond proposed for library expansion and the so-called "green infrastructure" projects such as greenways, sidewalks and open space acquisition.

and this on September 30

Council member Edith Wiggins worried that tax increases could hurt families on fixed incomes, while Council member Pat Evans mentioned the toll more taxes could take on older residents, who have seen their retirement funds dwindle in recent years.

I agree this is poor journalism. It also fails to answer the first question that came to my mind. How much money did Cam Hill spend of "his own" during the campaign??? If he spent money, that money (up to $1,800) belonged to "we the people" who where owed that money in arrears. I question the ethics of borrowing tax dollars owed, to run for public office in that same jurisdiction.


$5.00 of my own money on my own campaign

Fair enough. If you had spent money like others did, I am sure how you could see this would have been an issue. $5 of the $1800 did not make much difference.

I've been scouring the media (and this site) to see what Chapel Hill Town Council candidates had to say prior to the election about the Chapel Hill bonds. Can anyone direct me to reliable information about this question? As you may recall, all of the bonds passed by overwhelming margins. To my present embarrassment, I did not voice the strong opposition to the bonds that I felt. I simply voted against them out of concern about rising property taxes.

Though I suspect there's no statistically reliable way to get the answer, it would no doubt be interesting to examine the correlation between (1) bond support and (2) hand-wringing about the high cost of living in Chapel Hill.

from herald report

Candidate Doug schworer said Tuesday he supports the library and sidewalks bonds but that he opposes the energy-efficiency bond and is "leaning toward" opposing the greenways and open space bonds, although he wants more information.

Candidate Rudy Juliano and Rohrbacher reconfirmed their support for all five bonds. Candidates Cam Hill, Freund, Jim Ward, Bill Strom, Diane Bachman, Green and McSwain also support all five, while Candidate Terri tyson has said that she supports the library and greenways bonds but isn't sure about the other bonds. Candidate Woody Barfield wasn't at the forum.

Other than those candidates Dan cited, I didn't talk to anyone who vocally opposed any of the bonds. I also didn't hear any "hand-wringing about the high cost of living in Chapel Hill" this year.

In fact, we received ZERO comments to the thread about the bonds I posted here.

How is this related to the slack media question?

The most telling recent lax case of newspaper reportage at work can be seen in the Herald's letter pages. We at the Ministry of Truth should be the last to complain about pseudonyms, but then we don't pretend that we are otherwise.

But Addision Steele? Really Heraldists! Read your history. Those guys were great in the 18th century -- if you were a Lockean

Darla Starr believers will appreciate this dip into the Memory Hole


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