At 11 a.m. there is an event at the Legislature that, if the lead-up is any indication, will be the mother of all dog-and-pony shows.
At the invitation of Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican from coastal Onslow County, John Droz is scheduled to deliver his 155-slide presentation (Droz notes it's "shorter, simpler and less complete") titled "Science Under Assault" to legislators in the auditorium in the Legislative Building.
Yet Droz, a fellow of the right-wing American Tradition Institute, is a primary assailant of science. I know, it's hard to wrap your mind around.
Droz is a member of NC-20, a group of government and real estate interests that spearheaded the so-called sea-level rise bill last year on the basis of—wait for it—a political and economic agenda.
INDY Week wrote about NC-20's true motives: documenting a rise in sea levels, and regulating development along the coast as a result, would deter further construction in these vulnerable areas, thus cutting into the profits of those interests. House Bill 819 would have restricted the ability of state agencies to accurately forecast and prepare for sea-level rise. As a result, developers could continue to profit from building in vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas, free of additional regulations that would apply if the state accounted for higher seas.
Denounced by the legitimate scientific community, the bill died in the legislature.
Droz calls himself a physicist, although, according to his online résumé, his specialties are not climate change but solid state science and real estate.
But back to the slide show: Without Droz's live narrative, it's hard to follow the bizarre graphics, but here is a selection:
• Slide No. 22 pulls from a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by economics professor Paul Rubin that tries to discredit the environmental movement by saying "environmentalism is eerily close to a religious belief system." Clever—trying to offend those atheist and agnostic scientists by drawing them closer to God.
• Slide 58 criticizes "peer review," calling it an "abused credential." Has Druz written anything that has been peer-reviewed? Nope.
• Slide 66: "There are tens of thousands of scientists who are off the reservation."
Well, if there's at least one.
What does it take to be named to the 27-member UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions?
Political clout: That explains Republicans Phil Berger and Thom Tillis, among the most powerful people in the Legislature. Business and financial connections: That explains Lew Ebert, president of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and Robert Ingram, retired executive at GlaxoSmithKline. Big donors: That explains Fred Eshelman, who gave $35 million to the UNC pharmacy school that bears his name.
But there are reasons to be worried about the composition of the committee, whose membership UNC President Tom Ross announced last week. The committee charged with recommending the course for the 17-campus system through 2018—its academic standards, financial planning and overarching mission—includes some of the most powerful Republican operatives in North Carolina politics.
We should be concerned about the committee’s direction not because of its members’ party affiliation—Democrats fill out the panel’s ranks, too—but because of the extent of some of the conservative members’ activism.
Committee members and millionaires Art Pope and Eshelman are not just businessmen, but also political activists who have contributed to arch-conservative groups with an aggressive agenda. By contrast, there is arguably not a Democratic equivalent, in terms of political power or pocketbook, on the committee.
Exhibit A is Pope, the CEO of Variety Wholesalers, a chain of discount stores. As the Indy and the Institute for Southern Studies reported last year, the Pope empire spans across ultra-conservative foundations, think tanks, institutes, media outlets and political campaigns. You can credit, in part, Pope and his significant largesse for ushering in the Republican-majority General Assembly, and for the placement of former staffers of Pope-backed groups in key legislative advisory positions.
Ironically, Pope supports charter schools—raising the cap on them is among his favorite causes. His think tanks have called for deep budget cuts to the UNC system. And yet he sits now on a committee that is setting the moral and fiscal compass of the UNC system.
The Pope Foundation has donated to UNC, giving $3 million to expand its Academic Center for Student Athletes (how’s that working out?). To UNC’s credit, it did rebuff Pope’s offer of a multimillion-dollar grant from the family foundation to expand the university’s offerings in Western studies.
Update: A reader pointed out that UNC faculty and students organized and fought for months to defeat the proposal; they, not the administration, were largely responsible for UNC's rejection of Pope's offer.
The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, funded by the Pope Foundation, offered $600,000 to another UNC system institution, N.C. Central University, startup money for a constitutional law institute. When NCCU didn’t immediately accept—there was consternation among the law faculty about the possible strings attached to such a proposal—the NCICL withdrew the offer.
Sorgie, what's going on'?"
Every few days for the past five years, Steve Schewel, the owner of the Independent Weekly, has ambled into my third-floor office and greeted me wearing the official Steve Schewel uniform: a sky blue polo shirt, tan shorts and running shoes.
This is how his visits usually went:
He would pinch a piece of cellophane tape from the dispenser on my table, clamp and roll it between his thumb and index finger, then toss it in the trash can atop the apple cores, peanut M&M wrappers and Whole Foods scrapings.
He would pace the floor, occasionally stopping to pump a few bicep curls with an exercise band that hangs from a filing cabinet. We would kvetch about serious topics such as the dastardly deeds of the Republican-led Legislature. We'd brainstorm about stories and dream up headlines for an exposé on Art Pope (We settled on "Stop this man"). We would often make small talk: the prospects for Duke basketball. My disappointment that I'm too old to safely experiment with LSD. His Democratic parents and my Republican ones.
The Venable Center in downtown Durham is a former tobacco drying warehouse. My office has old windows that push outward with a long iron rod that, depending on how far the pane is open, extends 6 inches to a foot into the room. Sometimes Steve would get worked up and veer dangerously close to the window.
"Steve, watch your head," I would advise, placing my hand over the end of the rod. He would glance at it and continue talking, unfazed that he had nearly given himself a frontal lobotomy. This happened many times.
Then on June 18, Steve walked into my office and said, "Lisa, I need to talk to you."
He closed the door.
By now, it's widely known that the Indy has been sold to Willamette Week, an alt-weekly in Portland, Ore., owned by Mark Zusman and Richard Meeker, brother of former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker.
Over the past two months, Richard and Mark have met with most of the staff; those interactions convinced them to proceed with the deal. And my interactions with them told me that they are the right people to buy the paper. While Mark and Richard want to make a financial go of it, they are in it for the journalism more than the money. In 2005, Mark led Willamette Week to the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting—the only alt-weekly to win the award—for uncovering sexual misconduct by former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt with a 14-year-old girl. Goldschmidt was the mayor of Portland when the abuse occurred. Richard's ties to North Carolina include not only his brother but also other family members. His father lives on Ocracoke, where Richard worked as a schoolteacher before he embarked on his newspaper career.
For Triangle readers, the sale of the Indy—one of the few locally owned alt-weeklies in the nation—marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. But this kind of horse trading in alt-weekly circles has been happening for more than a decade. In 2002, the Indy bought the Spectator, which was owned by Creative Loafing, which came to own six papers and, after growing too big for its britches, declared bankruptcy in 2008. Companies like Village Voice Media (VVM), the whale of the industry, gobbled up smaller papers like they were plankton.
Coincidentally, the Indy-Willamette deal was finalized in the same week that David Carr, a media columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article pegged to VVM's latest round of layoffs: "Are Alt-Weeklies Toast?"
An obituary is premature, Carr wrote, acknowledging that "smaller weeklies in smaller communities, much like the pattern that has held for dailies, seem to be relatively healthier."
But Carr, an alt-weekly veteran himself, and those of us in the trenches acknowledge the Internet has posed significant challenges for print media—even if the papers are free.
The sale offers the Indy an opportunity to reinvent itself—in print and online—in this Web-centric environment. We can rethink how to address the geographic challenges of covering four culturally and politically distinct counties. While alt-weeklies have traditionally been considered the voice of their respective cities, the Indy has to be the voice of a half-dozen.
Raleigh is not Durham—and vice versa. (And if you want to argue over which city is hipper, you'd better bring some muscle. We'll give you home field advantage and meet at Brier Creek.) Cary is not Carrboro, but now that the former allows backyard chickens—a gateway drug to liberalism—inside the town limits, it could soon be.
The official press release is here:
For Immediate Release
Aug. 22, 2012
Contact: Steve Schewel
Steve Schewel, president of Carolina Independent Publications (CIP), announced today that the company is selling the Independent Weekly and its associated website, indyweek.com, to Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman.
Meeker and Zusman are the owners of City of Roses Newspaper Company which publishes Willamette Week, the alternative newsweekly in Portland, Oregon. They also own the Santa Fe Reporter, an alternative newsweekly in New Mexico.
The Independent published its first issue on April 15, 1983, and recently marked its 29th year of publication.
While Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman live in Portland, Meeker has an important and long-standing Triangle connection. He is the brother of former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. Richard Meeker’s father also lives in North Carolina, so he has traveled to the state frequently over many years.
“I am thrilled that the new owners of the Independent will be Richard and Mark,” Schewel said. “This is the best possible landing place for the Indy. They do some of the best alternative journalism in the country. In 2005, one of their reporters at Willamette Week won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, a unique achievement among weekly newspapers. They know how to run a profitable newsweekly, but at the same time they share our ideals for quality journalism and community service. I can’t think of anyone better to both maintain the Independent’s legacy and operate a small alt-media company well and profitably.”
Schewel first met and became friends with Meeker and Zusman at conventions of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies over many years. Schewel and Meeker have kept in close touch over the years during Meeker’s visits to the Triangle, and they began discussing the deal several months ago over coffee at the Raleigh Times restaurant.
Schewel noted that his company, CIP, will retain ownership of one of the company’s assets, the Hopscotch Music Festival, which will take place Sept. 6-8 in Raleigh. Hopscotch is not included in the sale to Meeker and Zusman.
“I love Hopscotch,” said Schewel. “It is a huge success and has already become a signature event in Raleigh, and it has given the Independent itself an enormous boost. We will continue the close, symbiotic partnership between Hopscotch and the Independent going forward, even though we will now be under different ownerships.”
Schewel explained why he is selling the paper now, after 29 years of publication. “The paper has survived the recession and returned to prosperity and added two new successful niche publications. Our political endorsements are more coveted than ever. The staff is strong. And I’m 61 years old, enjoying my city council work, and ready for some new challenges. It’s a great time for someone new to come in with their ideas and energy.”
He continued, “Starting the Independent from scratch with a handful of colleagues three decades ago was incredibly hard, and since then it has been a difficult but glorious journey. I am so grateful for the staff here at the Independent over the years and our commitment to building a vibrant, open culture and a just community here in our beloved North Carolina home. There is nobility in this work, and I am so lucky to have been able to do it. ”
The closing date for the sale of the Independent is Oct. 1.
From fracking to foreclosures, Wall Street to presidential pardons, health care to the stimulus package: ProPublica, the independent nonprofit news organization, is reviving—and remaking—investigative journalism in America.
News junkies can get their fix this evening when Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief, CEO and president of ProPublica, will speak on the topic "From Mainstream Media to a Non-Profit News Startup."
The former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, Steiger oversees a team of 34 journalists, many of whom have won national awards, including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Steiger will speak tonight at Gerrard Hall on the UNC campus. The 6 p.m. lecture is free and open to the public.
Check back for the Indy's interview with Steiger and coverage of his lecture.
Objectivity (noun): “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.”
Math problems are objective. The Yellow Pages are objective. Journalism is not objective.
At the Indy we sometimes hear from readers that a story is not objective. You’re right, it probably isn’t, because the Indy, in its 29 years of publishing, never has been and never has claimed to be.
Now we strive to be fair, to listen and analyze the viewpoints of all sides (not “both sides,” which implies there are only two viewpoints) of an issue. We use documents and interviews to try to ensure the stories are true and factual. (Red flag alert: Truth and facts, I once heard a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explain, are not the same thing; if anything, facts, when manipulated, can obscure the truth.)
But the Indy’s philosophy is we must give readers more than an august recitation of the “facts.” We’ll leave that to the Associated Press—and that’s not a criticism, just an acknowledgment of that news organization’s philosophy.
We believe readers want meaning and context, not just information, to help form their own opinions about an issue. We trust that the Indy isn’t the only food in readers’ media diet, and that they can gather enough facts and viewpoints from many places to draw a reasonable, well-informed conclusion about an issue.
It’s not enough to tell readers what happened, but we need to tell them why and how— and that requires analysis. Will you get analysis from a left-leaning perspective? Yes, but we’ve always been transparent and unapologetic about that. In contrast, if I read a news story in the right-wing Carolina Journal, I know what I’m getting. I may disagree—well, I always disagree—but I’ll give the CJ points for not publishing under the guise of objectivity.
There was a dustup recently at The New York Times when the public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote a column asking if reporters should fact check their sources’ claims rather than just dutifully writing them down. A chorus of journalists and readers chimed in, and said, and I’m paraphrasing, Hell yes, they should—it’s what journalists do. (Brisbane later defended the column to Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that reporters should do so, but that it is a “question of degree” because reporters risk appearing that they’re fighting with their sources in print.)
I would argue a little public scrum with a news source, if that person is fibbing, embellishing or dodging, is necessary. We wouldn’t want it to consume the whole story, but it would make the point that reporters are not glorified stenographers. We will write down (or record) what a source says. And then our job is to check it out to see where he or she may have stretched the “truth” like circus taffy. And then it is our job to tell the readers.
Readers will rarely get objectivity in news, despite what media outlets may claim. But readers do deserve transparency from sources and the news organizations themselves.
Now playing: Wilco A.M.
I received a voicemail this morning from a concerned reader regarding an ad in the back of the paper. The ad says that on average, escorts have sex with seven men in a day, while women in general have sex with seven men in a lifetime. (It being an ad and not a news story, there was no attribution for these figures.) The ad was offering hookups with "real, clean women." As opposed to unreal, clean women?
First, this ad is for a company that matches married people looking for sex with someone besides their spouse. The company slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair." (Want life to be shorter? Get caught.) But it's really none of my business how people run their marriages.
My point is—and please tell your family, friends, coworkers, pets—as editor, I have no control over our advertising clients. And it should be that way because I wouldn't want the advertising department controlling editorial content. I explained this in a previous blog post. This is known as the "editorial/ad wall" and no, Mr. Gorbachev, this wall won't be torn down.
I don't like some ads that run in the Indy. I'm sure there are stories that make our sales reps cringe. That's the newspaper business. People sometimes ask, "Why do you run these ads?" The answer: "It helps pay the bills." That's the unvarnished truth.
My suggestion to people who don't like ads of a sexual nature: Don't read them.
Last night I received an email from a reader upset because in the Indy's print edition this week, our cover story about the Iowa caucuses included a picture of Michael, a 28-year-old textile worker, in a string of photos of GOP candidates. From left to right: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum—and then there’s Michael.
The rugged-looking, bearded Michael is wearing a baseball cap turned backward—with some errant hair jutting from under it—and a shirt that reads, “I’m a stoner … and I vote.” Now Michael didn’t materialize out of nowhere, unless you consider Iowa nowhere, which I don’t, because I’m from central Indiana and that’s really nowhere.
Indy columnist Jonathan Weiler, who covered the caucuses for us, interviewed Michael for a story that appeared on our Triangulator blog. A friend of Jonathan’s shot the photo, which we used with permission. Michael attended a Ron Paul campaign event and told Jonathan that he supports Paul.
The reader wanted to know why we would place a photo of “an unkempt man” wearing such a T-shirt in juxtaposition to photos of Republican candidates in formal attire. He also asked why we ran the photo when the article didn’t mention the candidates’ positions on the War on Drugs. And the reader questioned why we picked a marijuana activist to photograph and if we were trying to say that Ron Paul supporters are “a bunch of idiot stoners high on grass and out of touch with the reality of how complex politics are in this day and age?”
Well, one man’s unkemptness is another man’s wedding attire. Michael’s a bit burly, but he looks clean to me. It’s not like I could smell him through the photo. And we don’t know that Michael is a marijuana activist. He may just have a sense of humor.
Speaking of humor, there’s no reason to be paranoid (although I’ve heard pot can make you that way, at least temporarily) about our decision to run this photo. I approved of running it in this manner because I thought it was irreverent and funny. It wasn’t an indictment or an endorsement of drug use, or commentary on our failed War on Drugs. (By using the word "failed" here, that is commentary.)
I liked the underlying message that by placing Michael’s photo next to the candidates’—all the pictures were the same size—that he, a young, blue-collar worker, is every bit as important as and equal to the politicians who pretend to have his best interest in mind. If anything, the question should be “Why are those gussied-up mannequins featured next to a real person?”
The photo was merely a small thumb in the big ol’ eye of the powerful. It was to add levity to a ridiculous political charade or, as Jonathan called it, “a depressing spectacle.” As an alternative newsweekly, we're expected to be cheeky. That's what alt-weeklies do.
Given the political climate, one can choose to laugh or cry. This week we chose to laugh.
A corner of the Indy office is emptier today. Our two interns, Maggie Smith and Jason Y. Lee, have left, their apprenticeship finished. There was something comforting about seeing them encamped nearby, laptops open, phones couched in the crook of their neck. We miss them already.
Indy interns are subjected to the same rigors and expectations as regular staffers—not fluffy routines of opening mail and making coffee. In return, they get a world of real-life experience, an impressive cache of clips and, if they're old enough, a bottle from the beer cart that occasionally makes the rounds late on a Friday afternoon.
I don't give interns unsolicited career advice, but if they ask, this is what I tell them:
1) Don't get too caught up in what your friends are doing. Set your own goals and expectations—and certainly don't sell yourself short—but don't allow peer pressure to dictate how you live.
2) Before becoming a journalist, take a series of shitty, low-wage jobs that will pay you just enough to cover your bills. Not only will this prepare you for a journalist's salary, but you will learn empathy and humility. The experience will make you a better journalist. Plus, you will never think any job is beneath you. I paid my dues as a school crossing guard, maid (got fired after one day), cake decorator, assistant manager at Subway, McDonald's cashier, musical instrument salesperson, newspaper delivery driver, donut delivery driver (not at the same time, but that would've been handy), record store clerk, video store clerk, nightclub booking agent, band manager, shelver in a college textbook warehouse and a telemarketer at a greeting card company—all between the ages of 21 and 29.
3) In addition to your low-wage job, live as The New York Times' David Carr calls it, a "fully textured life." That doesn't mean you should become a crackhead. But you should take at least one cross-country trip by car and visit a nation where indoor plumbing is not a given.
4) Read a lot of books.
5) Talk to people you don't know.
6) Fail at something, especially if you've come from a hard-charging, high-octane family that put a premium on achievement. You'll find that despite your shortcomings, you're still a decent, valuable person.
So, Jason and Maggie, good night and good luck.