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When they asked me to speak at the convention, they told me I should tell a story about the candidate. It should be something with real emotion, the candidate’s campaign manager said as we stood at my front door, the limousine parked with its engine running in my driveway. It should be something that would humanize the candidate.

I blinked and tried to think of something. “It would be a lot easier,” I said, “if the candidate were a human.”

“Ha ha,” the manager said. “You’re only the … (pausing while flipping through a small notebook) eighth person today to tell me that.”

The limousine driver honked. The manager raised a finger toward the car and told me, “You’ll go on the middle of the second night, with other old friends.”

“Who else?” I asked.

The limousine driver honked. The manager looked over, and a back window in the car rolled down a tiny crack, enough to shoot a look at the manager.

I knew that eye. “Oh, hey!” I waved. The window rolled up.

The manager began to turn. “We’ll be in touch. Think of a story.”

I watched the limousine pull away, my mind a blank. A story with real emotion.

I went inside. My wife was waiting in the kitchen. “What was that about?” she said.

“I’ve been asked to speak at the convention.”

“Won’t that get you in trouble at work? What will your boss say?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t see how I could turn it down.”

She poured me a cup of coffee. “What are you supposed to talk about?”

“I’m supposed to tell a story with real emotion that would humanize the candidate.”

She looked at me blankly, then crossed her arms. “That would be easier if you were talking about a human.”

“Yeah.” I sat down with my coffee.

She looked concerned and brushed my arm. “Do you have a story?”

I shrugged.

I thought and thought about it. I thought all day, and when I went to bed that night I stared at the ceiling thinking. That’s when I thought of something. I got up, went to my laptop and wrote the whole thing down, with much more detail than I thought would be needed in a speech, but I wanted to be sure I got everything down.

A couple of days later the manager called to check on my progress, and I said I had a story that I thought would do a lot to humanize the candidate. I told the whole thing.

Silence on the phone.

“Hello?” I said.

“That’s a terrible story.”

“Why is that a terrible story?” I asked.

“You end up bleeding all over a police officer. It sounds like a testimonial for the police officer.”

“But it’s very emotional.”

“Only because you’re crying almost the whole time.”

“But –”

“Nevermind. We’re running out of time anyway, so we won’t need you. Thanks very much for your efforts, though. We need your vote.”

And that was that.

I really should call to check on that police officer again. She was so kind.

When I first heard that the local Republican Party was moving into the vacant space beside Lenoir City Hall that most recently was the Azteca Burrito restaurant, I had a thought.

Perhaps, I thought, the party is one-upping the Democrats, who lately have been having a number of functions at Howard Brewing. When Azteca Burrito was open, its owners built a bar, so that space not only has a bar to match Howard Brewing, it also has a kitchen!

“The Democrats have beer, but so do we, AND we have freshly grilled burgers,” the Republicans could say.

The Democrats then would have to raise the ante and find a way to provide food too, and probably more variety if they wanted to lure people their way.

Of course, I know the idea is too good to be true.

The result would be another bidding war between the parties, except the kind they have now tends to benefit lobbyists and interest groups, while the average person feels forgotten and left behind, as any supporter of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders will tell you.

But how much better would it be if, instead of pandering by promising trade wars or free college or other trinkets costing trillions, what the parties provided was an ever-expanding list of options on an actual menu?

“Don’t go to McDonald’s, now GOP stands for ‘Get your Order Personalized,’ and we won’t make you use a kiosk either!”

The Republican menu might lean toward the bold, the barbecue, the Tex-Mex and brisket and steak.

The Democratic menu might have more ethnic specialties, more unusual spices and ingredients, plus vegetarian options.

Or maybe I’m exposing my preconceptions.

What they would cook would be less important than the fact that everyone would have no doubt at all what the effect of their political preference was. It wouldn’t be an idea or policy, it would be on a plate, right there in front of them.

“Make America Great Again”? Make America’s steaks, man. We’ll decide whether they’re great, and if they’re not we’ll go across the street and see if the other guys do better “Fighting For Us” against indigestion.

I’d work in the slogans of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates too if I could find them.

I think this is the ideal recipe, so to speak, for political reform.

When I first heard that the local Republican Party was moving into the vacant space beside Lenoir City Hall that most recently was the Azteca Burrito restaurant, I had a thought.

Perhaps, I thought, the party is one-upping the Democrats, who lately have been having a number of functions at Howard Brewing. When Azteca Burrito was open, its owners built a bar, so that space not only has a bar to match Howard Brewing, it also has a kitchen!

“The Democrats have beer, but so do we, AND we have freshly grilled burgers,” the Republicans could say.

The Democrats then would have to raise the ante and find a way to provide food too, and probably more variety if they wanted to lure people their way.

Of course, I know the idea is too good to be true.

The result would be another bidding war between the parties, except the kind they have now tends to benefit lobbyists and interest groups, while the average person feels forgotten and left behind, as any supporter of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders will tell you.

But how much better would it be if, instead of pandering by promising trade wars or free college or other trinkets costing trillions, what the parties provided was an ever-expanding list of options on an actual menu?

“Don’t go to McDonald’s, now GOP stands for ‘Get your Order Personalized,’ and we won’t make you use a kiosk either!”

The Republican menu might lean toward the bold, the barbecue, the Tex-Mex and brisket and steak.

The Democratic menu might have more ethnic specialties, more unusual spices and ingredients, plus vegetarian options.

Or maybe I’m exposing my preconceptions.

What they would cook would be less important than the fact that everyone would have no doubt at all what the effect of their political preference was. It wouldn’t be an idea or policy, it would be on a plate, right there in front of them.

“Make America Great Again”? Make America’s steaks, man. We’ll decide whether they’re great, and if they’re not we’ll go across the street and see if the other guys do better “Fighting For Us” against indigestion.

I’d work in the slogans of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates too if I could find them.

I think this is the ideal recipe, so to speak, for political reform.

Part of me agrees with Teresa Schmedding’s “The news industry can’t cut its way to quality.” After all, I made largely the same point myself in 2012. Schmedding writes about the massive layoff of copy editors at the Bay Area News Group and what it portends for the quality of stories that BANG will be able to produce from here on — and what the likely effect among the reading audience will be:

“When is the last time you paid more for less? Newspapers do not have a monopoly on readers’ eyes. They have a choice, and they’re choosing to not read content they can’t trust because of typos or because it is complete gibberish.”

And she’s right, of course. To a point. I certainly agree that cutting by itself can’t improve the product we are trying to convince people to buy.

My emphasis was different because I focused on the content creators, those who generate the story ideas and/or chase down the stories. People who are not creative or not bright can’t generate interesting stories, so in my view you need to pay enough to get and keep such people. All trends so far seem to show that media employers disagree.

Schmedding’s point is that everyone needs an editor. Even the most creative and intelligent people make mistakes and are blind to their own errors. I am reminded of this constantly at work, most recently this morning as my publisher remarked that in the proof of our big, annual, tourism-focused magazine there were a lot of errors I marked that were in stories I had already edited. “There always are,” I said. The entire reason copy editors are necessary is that all of us are often blind to errors we made.

During my time in the corporate media world, I was surrounded by people with primarily business training. My desk for most of my time in Richmond was alongside desks of accountants. I listened to them talk on the phone to staff at individual newspapers, explaining the rules, and I heard more budget discussions than I could ever wish to for the rest of my life. I understand perfectly well the reaction of cutting — when revenues drop, you cut expenses and seek new ways to raise revenue (I cannot address here whether media companies are adequately trying the latter). That’s why copy editors may be first on the cutting-room floor: A publication HAS to have those who write the stories, because without them there is nothing to edit; so you reduce the editing layer to preserve the content layer, opening the door to more errors in the product.

The ledger-based mindset is reducing not only staff numbers but squeezing pay so that payroll totals are shrinking even when the staff level does not. From that kind of view, it’s positive to maintain staff levels while reducing the cost of that staff.

The idea that any expenses at all need to be protected, even raised, as you cut others is counter-intuitive to this way of thinking. But to me it seems urgent. The smaller you get, the smarter you must be, because there are fewer people making sure all your t’s are crossed and i’s dotted. There are fewer people who know what to do and how to do it, so they ought to be more valuable.

However, the assumption Schmedding and I both make is that there is an audience of sufficient size to support news and that would actually do it if the quality were maintained at a high enough level. Not many local or regional publications have tested this assumption, but the Orange County Register did, to disastrous effect.

Almost every week I receive fresh reminders from current or former subscribers that they do not recognize or appreciate the difference between good work and bad. I get far more complaints when the Sudoku puzzle is left out than when there are grammatical errors in the paper’s lead story. I have been told regularly that the crossword puzzle was the only reason to get the paper.

Those are not the majority, I tell myself, but how can I ever know how many of what is left in our circulation — less than half what it was in the late 1980s — recognize and appreciate it? If I can’t find that, how do I convince the ledger-minders to offer pay to reward work that fosters it?

I don’t usually post here the opinion pieces I write, but this is not just local and in many ways not even just a state issue.

It’s a fact that boycotts are blunt instruments, particularly when aimed at an entire state. Allies as well as foes get hurt.

South Carolina businesses learned that during boycotts over display of the Confederate flag. Indiana businesses learned that during boycotts over that state’s short-lived “religious freedom” law that allowed businesses to refuse service to homosexuals.

A column in the New York Times by Linda-Marie Barrett of Malaprops Bookstore/Café in Asheville illustrates the collateral damage being done now to North Carolina businesses over House Bill 2’s repeal of anti-discrimination protections in various cities and its explicit allowance, by omission from the list of protected classes, of any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Barrett complains that despite her business’s stance against HB2, “Customers from other states tell us they won’t visit until the law is no more. More threatening to us financially and to our community culturally is the cancellation of events by authors.”

In her column she asks authors to reconsider boycotting North Carolina bookstores because the stores need the revenue that author visits bring, and their local customers need to be lifted up.

She has a point, but the whole point of a statewide boycott is the economic havoc it can wreak, ultimately impacting as many legislators’ districts as possible and the entire state economy as a whole to create a sense of urgency that otherwise would be missing. Appeals to compassion have limited effects, but the power of the purse is strong, which is why boycotts are so often effective.

Senate President Phil Berger, a living blunt instrument who is the ultimate force that would have to be overcome to repeal HB2, is a lawyer from the tiny town of Eden, in Rockingham County. What exactly could anyone boycott that he would care about? Not much. Even if there were something, Berger has proven to be a “my way or the highway” kind of fellow.

That means his political allies in the legislature have to be convinced to change their minds and risk Berger’s wrath. Without a boycott, how would anyone do that? Protests? Sit-ins? The “Moral Mondays” protests have well established that the legislators are utterly immune to such appeals. But many of them are businesspeople or live in districts with businesses that are being affected by the boycott, or else their pet projects will be affected by a decline in state revenue needed to support them.

The question is how many millions of dollars the state’s economy will have to lose — how many hundreds or thousands of new jobs have to be withdrawn by companies canceling plans to grow here — before enough of HB2’s backers are willing to admit the whole thing is a sham.

And that’s what the law is, a sham. There was no enforcement mechanism written into the feature of the law that its backers most vocally defend, the requirement for people to use the public restrooms that correspond with the sex identified on their birth certificate. Politicians have raised the false specter of sexual predation in the restroom, ironically by heterosexual men posing as women, to justify all the rest of the bill’s discriminatory elements (and its completely unrelated prohibition of local minimum-wage rules). Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told the Washington Post, “Moms want to be able to send their 11-year-old daughters into the bathroom and not worry about grown men being in there.”

Woodhouse is right, mothers do want that — but HB2 does not a single thing to make sure no grown men are in the women’s room. The law puts no police in the restroom and takes no steps to actually control who uses which room. There was no way before HB2 to prevent a sexual predator from entering any restroom, and there remains no way under HB2 to prevent it. There also is no new punishment in HB2 for anyone caught in the act.

In other words, HB2 does nothing more than shout angrily into the wind. That’s why the outside world has heard only anger in its passage.

Passing the law had only one point: Creating passion in a voter base that is perceived as dispirited by the presidential campaign and that may not turn out in large numbers this fall.

But that backfired and made the state the target of national scorn, as did Gov. Pat McCrory’s ham-fisted executive order last week that left all of HB2’s major features intact even as he insisted, falsely, that he was acting to remove the reason for the boycott. All his executive order did was gift-wrap a reason for the national media to do more stories about the boycott, what prompted it and illustrate that McCrory’s order did nothing to change it.

It’s not fair that Malaprops and other businesses are being made to pay the price for a cynical election-year strategy, and it’s not fair that hundreds or thousands of North Carolinians will not be able to seek high-paying jobs with PayPal or Deutsche Bank or any of the other companies canceling their plans here.

But fairness was never the point behind HB2. Damage was. And damage it has wrought.

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During the past nearly 29 years in journalism, I’ve apologized for plenty of errors that appeared in print, most of them my own fault.

One that will forever stick at the top of my memory and still makes me wince was in 1992, when I wrote a story about a court case in Wilkes County, N.C., and not only didn’t spell the assistant district attorney’s name correctly, I called her by the name of a defense attorney I used to write about at my previous job in Florida. My only defense: Both have a first name that starts with B. How do you adequately apologize for that? As soon as I saw it in print I knew it was wrong, but the whole previous evening as I read and re-read the story, I missed it.

During my first few months as editor here in Lenoir in 2013, the News-Topic repeatedly called Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons either Joe Gibbs or Bob Gibbons, despite the fact that he clearly is neither a former coach of the Washington Redskins nor his own brother. I edited every one of those stories and never noticed the errors, consumed as I was with things that were not the names of locally known people, so I apologized at a city council meeting, and while he accepted the apology he did not appear amused. Who could blame him? This qualifies as falling under the definition of “getting off on the wrong foot.”

However, while I can say that the headline that appeared at the top of the News-Topic’s sports page last Sunday was fairly egregious, and I wish it had never happened, I can’t apologize for it, as at least one reader has demanded.

The headline was on an Associated Press story about the North Carolina Tar Heels defeating the Indiana Hoosiers in the NCAA Tournament, but it got the teams reversed: “Indiana beats N.C., 101-86, in Sweet 16.”

Now, as a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I maintain there are actually two errors in that headline, because you can abbreviate the school’s name as UNC, Tar Heels or, if pressed for space, just Heels, but never N.C. That particular error, however, has drawn no one’s notice.

As soon as I saw the headline, I guessed what had happened, and I was correct. The copy desk was short-staffed in both news and sports, and on deadline a page designer who didn’t usually handle sports was pressed into service and while juggling multiple pages and trying to move on to the next deadline got the score right but reversed the order of the teams, even though the story under the headline was correct.

Such things are supposed to be caught in the proofreading stage, but no matter how apparent an error is, your brain sometimes makes you see something you want to see instead of what’s in front of you, especially when you are in a hurry. That’s how the East Oregonian, the newspaper in Pendleton, Oregon, ran a sports headline last June declaring, “Amphibious pitcher makes debut,” on a story about Pat Venditte, a relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s who actually is ambidextrous, meaning he can pitch with either hand, not amphibious, meaning he can live both on land and in water.

I have no hesitation about running corrections on factual errors that could cause harm/insult or embarrassment or confusion, but no one seemed confused by the “Indiana beats N.C.” headline — we got tons of phone calls telling us it was wrong. The only people embarrassed were the ones who work at the News-Topic. That leaves harm, so I’ll make this pledge:

If UNC Coach Roy Williams has been collecting newspaper headlines to paper his office with, and our bad headline left a gap that has him lying awake at night tossing in his bed, or he actually feels harmed, I will drive to Chapel Hill myself and apologize. I’ll even run laps around the Dean Dome.

There is no Santa Claus. Many people in the news business know that as a literal fact, but they still believe there may be a kind of Santa Claus who will step into their lives. If they did not, we would not have stories such as this, from Nieman Lab this time, wondering what in the world Warren Buffett (or replace his name with your favorite media-owning billionaire) has in mind for his newspaper(s). The article by Joshua Benton wonders what might be read into the absence of tea leaves about newspapers in Buffett’s most recent letter to shareholders.

I’ll tell you what: Nothing.

In 2013, shortly after getting a new job after being laid off from Media General in the wake of Buffett’s purchase of that company’s newspaper assets, I was called by a reporter (perhaps it was Reuters, but I don’t recall for sure) who was working on a story about what Buffett was really after. I told her that from what I saw from the time of the purchase announcement in May 2012 through the transition period until the final cuts that November, you had to take Buffett at his public word — that he thought that prudent, conservative management would keep the papers viable and profitable for some time, but that he had no plans to experiment or try anything that would surprise people.

So far, Buffett’s company has been completely consistent on its management of the company’s newspapers, which is to say conventional. The managers are budget-minded. Papers have to make their “numbers,” above all. Everything has been consistent with what I saw in my brief exposure to that management structure.

So why the never-ending stream of stories wondering what lies over the rainbow, or whether there is a rainbow?

Because people thought Buffett was Santa Claus.

People in news don’t often think of news as a business. It’s a calling. It’s not a way to make money. People take pride that it doesn’t pay well, as people do when they get great satisfaction from a job that doesn’t pay well. It’s a mission. That makes it personal, to a great extent. But Warren Buffett, like most business owners, approaches his business as a business. This is business, but the news people are taking it very, very personal.

Please stop it, all of you. To the extent that Jeff Bezos or other billionaire-come-latelys to the business are trying new things or talking about new models, please, by all means, spread the word. New ideas need consideration. But please stop waiting for secret plans on how to get out of the quagmire from anyone who steps in and does not enunciate any plans that differ from what you already know or, as in the case of Orange County, require a reality other than the one you know.

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