By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor
[Also in the Feb. 24 edition: A new WUNC podcast on poet, lawyer and justice warrior Pauli Murray; free hands-on data training; the legislative fight over public notices; a long list of jobs and learning opportunities; and the latest on media habits from Pew Research. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]
I want to start this week with the good work because, although this isn’t unusual, there has been a whole lot of it lately: Reporting that holds power to account. Stories that tie the past to the present, and future. Unfinished business that needs our attention. Solutions to consider. Innovation. Challenges to our moral complacency. And many reminders of our shared humanity. It’s all there.
First up: For most of the past year, several blocks just north of Uptown Charlotte were occupied by a tent city of people who had nowhere else to live — until the camp was cleared late last week by order of the Mecklenburg County health director because of a rodent infestation. Many residents were moved temporarily to a shelter motel.
The story brought out a wealth of useful, enlightening and heart-tugging work from the Charlotte-area journalism community. There has been much more than I can possibly mention here, but among the pieces I saw that stood out:
- Michael Graff and Travis Dove for Axios Charlotte told some of the human stories, revisiting the camp in its final hours after spending 10 days there in July.
- David Boraks of WFAE reported on the fear and uncertainty among the residents as they prepared to leave, and Jonathan Limehouse of QCity Metro also talked with residents about what it meant to their lives.
- David Hodges of WBTV reported on how miscommunication and lack of planning among city and county officials complicated the camp’s fate.
- Ryan Pitkin of Queen City Nerve also reported on the official confusion while it was happening, and afterward looked ahead — including the story of how one woman was faring after leaving the camp: “I graduated from college. I had a good-paying job. I got peace. I promise you that. I ain’t struggling. I got peace of mind.” (BTW: As with other happenings in Charlotte, following Pitkin’s @queencitynerve and Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) of WSOC-TV on Twitter was a great way to follow the story in real time.)
- Lauren Lindstrom and Jeff Siner of The Charlotte Observer reported on the emotional toll of the move and on what happens next for the residents, and also offered a useful list of ways that readers could help.
- And Tommy Tomlinson, in his “On My Mind” commentary for WFAE, wrote about two reasons why the episode “needs to set up camp in our minds.”
I reached out to Chris Rudisill, director of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative — where affordable housing solutions are a focus of the work — to get his take on how members of the collaborative covered the story:
One important tie-in to our focus on solutions journalism happened during the press conference on February 18, the day before the evacuation order. Hunter Sáenz from WCNC-TV asked about longer-term solutions by the city and county to address homelessness and tent encampments. “We’ve had this problem for nearly a year. Is it going to take more money? Have we looked at other big cities that have similar homeless issues and problems?”
County Manager Dena Diorio responded, “We are looking at other housing options. We’re looking at tiny homes and sort of variations on the tiny home theme, and looking at potentially some county property that we may be able to leverage for that purpose…”
Other good work…
👏 Barbara Durr in Asheville Watchdog offered a deeply reported case study on the racism behind urban renewal and its human cost, the importance of Black home ownership, and the barriers to it — plus the faint promise of reparations…
👏 Maddie Ellis, university desk editor of The Daily Tar Heel, really did her homework for this interview of UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz about his role in the Silent Sam settlement and other topics…
👏 Hannah Critchfield for NC Health News dug in after an informal survey by prison leaders found a troubling statistic — only about a third of the state’s correctional staff wanted a COVID vaccine. Those folks have vaccine priority for an obvious reason — prison employees probably brought the virus into the prisons in the first place, and now more of them can spread it outside. The secrecy among prison workers is also troubling — one recently retired employee told Critchfield that employees who talk to journalists usually “get a hand slap,” and several current employees in the story asked for anonymity. (I like the way Critchfield tells readers how she verified her sources’ identities and job status. Transparency = trust.)…
➵ Best practices on anonymous sources and transparency, from Trusting News
👏 When GOP legislative leaders decided to dissolve the nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division, which evaluates public services for effectiveness and efficiency — much as the GAO does for Congress — Lucille Sherman of The News & Observer went beyond the official explanations and helped us understand what the decision could mean…
👏 Corey Friedman, editor of The Wilson Times and executive editor of Restoration NewsMedia, called out school leaders who censor student journalists in his weekly column: “High schoolers join student publications to learn reporting, editing and publishing fundamentals, and administrators deliver heavy-handed lessons in censorship and abuse of authority.”
➵ The Student Press Law Center has produced a white paper on restrictions on student journalists, ahead of Student Press Freedom Day on Friday.
👏 And finally, the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative has launched an interesting project — a way for anyone, worldwide, to share and “geo-tag” their personal COVID story. It’s done with Padlet, a free online notice board that allows users to pin notes that can contain links, documents, photos and video. It’ll be interesting to see the results.