The Henderson Daily Dispatch: lifting up the community

July 24th, 2016
Mapping it out, sports editor Ryan Leger maps out the coverage area of the Dispatch as workshop participants look on, left to right, Ryan Hedrick, David Irvine, Diana Lopez, Allison Tretina, Tiffany Hudson, Mark Dolejs, Nancy Wykle and Carlton Koonce. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Mapping it out, sports editor Ryan Leger maps out the coverage area of the Henderson Daily Dispatch as workshop participants look on, left to right, Ryan Hedrick, David Irvine, Diana Lopez, Allison Tretina, Tiffany Hudson, Mark Dolejs, Nancy Wykle and Carlton Koonce. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

As the reader can deduce from the name of this journal, I have a love-hate relationship with interstate highways.

They get me to my mountain cabin quickly, dependably and predictably without a red light between Chapel Hill and Marion in 3 hours, 22 minutes and 33 seconds.

The kind of roadside vernacular you will NOT see from an interstate. (Jock Lauterer photo)

The kind of roadside vernacular you will NOT see from an interstate. (Jock Lauterer photo)

But do I SEE anything, or EXPERIENCE anything along the way. No, I do not.

But contrast, Blue Highways, where one must travel slowly, observe the roadside vernacular and absorb the life alongside, commands that you savor the trip and “celebrate the ordinary.”

Be that as it may, to get to Henderson from here, one hour northeast of Chapel Hill, one is practically forced to get on that 1-85 treadmill — and thus my oblique introduction to the Roadshow visit to the Henderson Daily Dispatch, a Paxton Media Group community daily, that owes much, — as does its namesake city, (pop. 15,265) — to the proximity of that very interstate. Without I-85, Henderson might just as well be like Ahoskie: cut off and a challenge to get to.

 

Facing the challenges of a changing economic landscape

Yet even with a major north-south interstate linking it to Virginia to the north and the Research Triangle to the south, Henderson is challenged: with an estimated median household income of $25,907, 44 percent of the county kids qualifying for free school lunches, and a 5 percent population loss since 2000. It used to be known for its textiles, hosiery and tobacco production, but that was then; this is now. Unemployment stands at 6.7 percent as compared to the NC rate of 4.7 percent. And only 34 percent of households have home computers. (Data gathered from the Dispatch, homefacts.com and city-data.com)

Given these facts, all the more reason for a community paper like the Dispatch to roll up its sleeves and get busy with the never-ending task of community-building. In the words of Southern Pines PILOT publisher David Woronoff, “community is not a noun; it’s a verb.”

Historically, Henderson has served as the traditional market hub for the three county area, with Henderson’s home county of Vance being bracketed by Granville County to the west and Warren County to the east.

It struck me as too-wide coverage area for a small (approx. 8,000 circulation) daily (except Monday). But as Publisher Nancy Wykle explained, as the only daily in the three-county region, they feel obligated to cast their net that wide.

 

Veterans in the newsroom

As is the case with the best community papers I run across, the newsroom at the Dispatch includes some key veteran staffers with “feet-on-the-street/mud-on-their-boots” experience that anchors the newspaper, which also has its share of newbies/cub reporters.

Publisher Wykle is the former editor of the Durham Herald-Sun; Photo Chief Mark Dolejs is also a Herald-Sun veteran. I’ve known both of these fine journalists for several dozen years, so it’s good to see that they are committed to raising this paper up. Indeed, Mark won the prestigious NCPA Photographer of the Year award last year. And finally there’s Managing Editor Vanessa Shortley, who earned her spurs at the News of Orange County in Hillsborough.

Other staffers include Ryan Hedrick, crime reporter; David Irvine, part-time staff writer; Ryan Leger, sports editor; Allison Tretina, staff writer; and Tiffany Hudson, sections editor.

 

Henderson Daily Dispatch workshop participants included, front row, left to right, Sports Editor Ryan Leger, PYO Teen Mentoring Coordinator Carlton Koonce, Staff Writer Ryan Hendrick, PYO intern Diana Lopez and UNC Assistant Professor Joe Cabosky; back row, left to right, Photo Chief Mark Dolejs, Community Editor Tiffany Hudson, Managing Editor Vanessa Shortley; staff writer Allison Tretina; Knight Center Director Craig Anderson of UNC-CH; Publisher Nancy Wykle and Staff Writer David Irvine. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Henderson Daily Dispatch workshop participants included, front row, left to right, Sports Editor Ryan Leger, PYO Teen Mentoring Coordinator Carlton Koonce, Staff Writer Ryan Hendrick, PYO intern Diana Lopez and UNC Assistant Professor Joe Cabosky; back row, left to right, Photo Chief Mark Dolejs, Community Editor Tiffany Hudson, Managing Editor Vanessa Shortley; staff writer Allison Tretina; Project Director Craig Anderson of UNC-CH; Publisher Nancy Wykle and Staff Writer David Irvine. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Our workshop in Henderson was enhanced by a delegation of folks from the J-school, including my dear young colleague Assistant Professor Joe Cabosky and Craig Anderson, the project director of the school’s new Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media; and former Visiting International Scholar and Associate Professor Chen Kai of Beijing’s Communication University of China.  Then from the Durham-based youth development NGO Partners for Youth Opportunity, we were joined by Teen Mentoring Coordinator Carlton Koonce and PYO teen intern Diana Lopez, a staff writer for our Durham VOICE.

Passing it on: Daily Dispatch reporter Allison Tretina shares some of her knowledge and experience with Durham high school student and VOICE staff writer Diana Lopez. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Passing it on: Daily Dispatch reporter Allison Tretina shares some of her knowledge and experience with Durham high school student and VOICE staff writer Diana Lopez. (Jock Lauterer photo)

After the workshop, as we were enjoying a casual lunch in the newsroom, it was so fulfilling to observe the interaction and informal mentoring that young Dispatch staffer Allison Tretina was having with high schooler Diana Lopez.

The staffers told us that Vance County residents are welcoming, proud church-going folks.  And that the hope for the future rests in growth areas of tourism, health care, schools, government and downtown revitalization. The town’s proximity to Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston make it a real draw for fishing and boating as well as water sports recreation activities.

Roadshow visits the Jacksonville Daily News

July 22nd, 2016
Mapping out their turf: Managing Editor Chris Segal and crime reporter Amanda Thames visualize the coverage area of the Jacksonville Daily News.

Mapping out their turf: Managing Editor Chris Segal and crime reporter Amanda Thames visualize the coverage area of the Jacksonville Daily News.

With the plethora of military bases across the Old North State, you can appreciate the challenges faced by local media when it comes to effectively covering their turf when those bases exist and operate as separate and restricted worlds, especially when it comes to the free flow of information.

Still, given that challenge, papers that serve Fort Bragg Military Reservation and Pope Field (the Fayetteville Observer), the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station (the Havelock News), and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base (the Goldsboro News-Argus) do a remarkably good job.

And so does the Jacksonville Daily News, located far off the interstates in Deep Eastern North Carolina in a city of 66,000 in which practically everything revolves around the sprawling Camp Lejeune Marine Base and the New River Marine Air Station, (pop. 41,000) — or as locals call it, simply, “the base.”

Located far from downtown in an industrial section of town, the paper office features a public appeal. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Located far from downtown in an industrial section of town, the paper office features a public appeal. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Reporters at the JDN seemed excited about the Roadshow and in improving their journalistic skills. The workshop included Chris Segal, managing editor; Amanda Thames, crime reporter; Amanda Humphrey, online editor; Michaela Sumner, features reporter; Naomi Whidden, reporter; Jannette Pippin, reporter — and last but not least, Michael Todd, reporter, a UNC J-schooler who several years ago cranked out an undergrad honors thesis I’ll long remember.

Fluent in Spanish, Michael set out to document the Spanish-language newspapers in North Carolina, and found out some amazing facts: that at the time there were about two dozen such community newspapers, and that for a myriad of reason, of those 24 papers, only two belonged to the North Carolina Press Association. In other words, Michael alerted me to the fact that there are many ethnic papers out there under the radar, serving their niche publics out of the eye of the mainstream media — and certainly off the grid when it comes to media trade groups like the NCPA.

This seems to be a re-occurring theme: niche publications such as local guides seen here, are real money-makers for community newspapers. The magazines produced by the Jacksonville Daily News are prime examples.

Two examples of high-quality niche publications produced by the JDN.

 

This seems to be a re-occurring theme: niche publications such as local guides seen above, are real money-makers for community newspapers. The magazines produced by the Jacksonville Daily News are prime examples.

The newsroom staff gathers for a group portrait in the front lobby of the Jacksonville Daily News

The newsroom staff, left to right: reporter (and Tar Heel) Mike Todd: online editor Amanda Humphrey; reporter (and Tar Heel) Jannette Pippin; reporter Amanda Thames; reporter Naomi Whidden; managing editor Chris Segal and reporter Michaela Sumner, gather for a group portrait in the front lobby of the Jacksonville Daily News. (Jock Lauterer photo)

The Roadshow goes to Pembroke, or, the continuing education of Jock “Locklear”

July 20th, 2016
James Locklear gets an affectionate greeting from his wife, Mary Thomas-Locklear, the vice president of human resources for the Roberson Heath Care Corp., in Pembroke. (Jock Lauterer photo)

James Locklear gets an affectionate greeting from his wife, Mary Thomas-Locklear, the vice president of human resources for the Roberson Heath Care Corp., in Pembroke. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

If you head east down the two-lane Blue Highway NC 74-Alternate out of Laurinburg, cross Shoe Heel Creek, hang a left on N. Chicken Road, pass over the black waters of the Lumber River and turn left again into old Scuffletown, you will arrive in the world of the Lumbees, an indigenous Native American tribe with a clear sense of place, a prideful sense of identity and a palpable urgency to be recognized as a distinct entity — all the while functioning as vibrant thread of the fabric that makes up the diverse and richly colorful tapestry that is the Old North State.

Newly inducted honorary Lumbee Tribe member, Jock "Locklear," gets his pin from tribal administrator Dock Locklear. (James Locklear photo)

Newly inducted honorary Lumbee Tribe member, Jock “Locklear,” gets his pin from tribal administrator Dock Locklear. (James Locklear photo)

Initially, I was going to Pembroke to do a Community Journalism Roadshow workshop with the local tribal community newspaper, Native Visions, but I soon realized that my host, 32-year veteran newspaperman and founding editor/publisher James Locklear, needed no such instruction — and that I was the student in need of schooling regarding all things Lumbee.

Locklear’s career trajectory is that of a journeyman community journalist.  Born in nearby Wakulla, Locklear began his journalism career in 1984 at Red Springs High School as a photographer for the yearbook. While at UNC-Pembroke he majored in journalism with a minor in history.  Also he worked for both the school yearbook and newspaper, which subsequently led to the sports editorship of the St. Pauls Review and Red Springs Citizen, his hometown newspaper. In 1995 James transferred to Fayetteville State University where he played football. Then he bounced back to UNC-P when he was promoted to editor of the Red Springs Citizen, 1995-98, when he became full-time with the Fayetteville Observer. Fulfilling a life-long dream to have his own paper, he co-founded the Robeson Journal in 2003, but stepped away from that position in 2006 to devote himself full-time to Native Visions, which he claims is now the largest privately owned Native American publication in the U.S. And most recently he has taken on another full-time position as director of public information for the Lumbee tribe — a role that appears to dovetail neatly with the rest of his career.

THE  SPECS

Name: Native Visions Magazine

Founded: Aug. 2005 by James Locklear

Publication Cycle: Monthly.

Content: Often thematic, ex: annual Lumbee homecoming, annual pow wow, Lumbees’ role in fighting the KKK, their role in the civil rights struggle, World War II heroes, the history of the tribe, etc.

Circulation: 10,000, free, distributed over the four-county region, drop spots in Roberson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland Counties; plus out of region mailing.

Size: Tabloid, full color, page count ranges from 48 to 64 pages; printed in Fayetteville by the Fayetteville Observer.

Staff: James is editor-publisher and does most all the writing; has one full-time staff plus “some part-time folks,” he says.

Origin Story: After 16 years of covering crime (“stab and jab reporting”)  he says he had enough. “You take that stuff home with you…I got to the point where I felt my calling was to be writing about my people.”

***                              ***                              ***

And so he has. Spend 30 minutes with an issue of the Native Visions Magazine and you see how James’ college minor in history has paid off. Every magazine is chocked full with the back story on the Lumbees, their origins, their development, their struggles, their accomplishments and their hopes for the future.

In short, NVM is all about community-building and James is a one-man promotion machine.

Walking me through the Tribe Headquarters building, James introduces me to every single person there, calling them by their names and titles with equal respect, from receptionist to the tribal administrator, who significantly pinned me with a Lumbee tribal lapel pin, with its distinctive red white, black and yellow logo design.

At The Cozy Corner cafe in Prospect, James accepts an affectionate hug from Dr. Cherry Beasley, a long-time friend and admirer. (Jock Lauterer photo)

At The Cozy Corner cafe in Prospect, James accepts an affectionate hug from Dr. Cherry Beasley, a long-time friend and admirer. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Then out into the community we went, with James driving slowly with one hand and waving left and right with another, like the tour guide to all things Lumbee, directing my attention to this side of the street and then that side…

A Lumbee doctor has her office here…a Lumbee owns this big hardware store…a retired Lumbee educator over there…a Lumbee judge’s office there…a Lumbee-owned bank on the corner…all the while never talking about himself, but rather his people.

That lack of ego comes through in the pages of his magazine too. “I want the magazine to reflect a sense of pride of who we are,” he explains. “We’ve got a pretty decent following here,” he said. “It’s just a great community with wonderful people.”

James Locklear is a big man, built like the former defensive lineman that he once was. A salt and pepper goatee frames a permanent grin; a tiny silver feather figure dangles from his left ear. “I wear it because it represents American Indian culture,” he tells me when I ask about the ear piece. “…to honor my ancestry.”

His pride in his people isn’t just rooted in the past. A mentor to troubled teens, both academically and in the gym, James tells them. “I been there. I know. Don’t repeat the mistakes I made. Drinking…drugs and partying too much.” So James makes his protégés do their homework first if they want two hours of working out with the big man — and afterward he fills them up with Burger King, and says with a grin, “After that, they don’t have time to be hanging out with those knuckleheads out there on the street!”

To cap off my visit to Pembroke, James insisted on taking me out to lunch at his favorite down-home country café in the nearby rural community Prospect. The moment we walked in The Cozy Corner I knew I was in for a treat.

As I dug into a plate of catfish, slaw, yams and hushpuppies, local folks decided that the visiting perfesser from up yonder in Chapel Hill needed a lesson or two in “Lumb-phonics,” as the Rev. Dwayne Lowery put it with a sly grin, and he took to trying to educate me about how to catch, kill and cook a wild boar.

“It’s what you white people call a Eurasian pig…we call ‘em Russian pigs…kill ‘em with a knife, like a MAN,” my Lowery exclaimed proudly.

The Lumbee Tribe logo: the circle, the pinecone patchwork and the four colors — all with deep symbolic meaning.

The Lumbee Tribe logo: the circle, the pinecone patchwork and the four colors — all with deep symbolic meaning.

As I was leaving, I thought back to the Lumbee logo on my lapel pin, the symbol of the circle, symbolic of “the coming together of the old and the new,” James told me — and the with the four quarters in bright colors representing not only the four points of the compass: (red for south, black for west, white for north and yellow for east), but also the four qualities of a balanced life: spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical.

And it occurred to me that James Locklear himself, after all these years, has found that balance in his life.

Investigative journalism: Into the deep end

July 18th, 2016

 

The ol' perfesser and his star pupil, Jessica Coates, in Asheville earlier this summer where she is working as an intern for the Carolina Public Press.

The ol’ perfesser and his star pupil, Jessica Coates, in Asheville earlier this summer where she is working as an intern for the Carolina Public Press.

“Rough weather makes good timber.”

  • old Southern Appalachian expression

When it comes to investigative journalism, Jessica Coates herself will be the first to tell you, she feels like she’s leaped into the deep end of the pool.

Actually, the rising senior journalism major from Charlotte had her own metaphor for the assignment: after working on the story for weeks, she says, “I feel like I’m crawling through a tunnel in the dark with only my hands out in front, feeling my way…searching for a tangible angle…”

All that hard work has paid off, with the publication of the story today, July 18, on the news site.

Navigating the cyclone: 21st century NC mental-health policy

Jessica, one of our Batten Community Journalism summer scholars, is working as an investigative reporter for the Carolina Public Press, a non-profit digital start-up founded in Asheville by J-schooler Angie Newsome in 2011.

A past editor-in-chief of the Durham VOICE and former Community Journalism student, Jessica has been a real stalwart for me in our efforts to bring quality local journalism to central Durham. Now she’s off into the brave new world of investigative journalism — arguably the most daunting specialization in our profession, and one in which I have limited experience. So I am of little help in this realm.

So here’s a shout-out to Jessica for making this story happen. In a few weeks she’s off to Rio to help cover the Olympics for the J-school team. What an amazing summer this fine young journalist is having!

 

In Which the Roadshow hits the Blue Highways of the Great State of Maine

July 17th, 2016

 

One of the very best things about my job is the Community Journalism Summer Roadshow.

Now in its 16th summer and having reached over 190 N.C. newspapers, the Roadshow takes me “From Murphy to Manteo” literally (the Cherokee Scout to the Outer Banks Sentinel).

Wherever I go I never fail to be impressed by the quality, the commitment and the staying power of the local press.

Outside the charming downtown office of the Boothbay Harbor Register, Editor Kevin Burnham says he grew up "a good Frisbee- throw from here." Jock Lauterer photos

Outside the charming downtown office of the Boothbay Harbor Register, Editor Kevin Burnham says he grew up “a good Frisbee- throw from here.” (Jock Lauterer photo)

“Local News Isn’t Dead, We Just Need to Stop Killing It,” writes digital community newspaper pioneer Jim Brady, CEO of Philadelphia’s new mobile news site, Billy Penn.

And I second that emotion.

I have long said publicly, loudly and in print ad infinitum: “HOLD THAT OBIT! THEY AIN’T DEAD YET.”

My experiences on the Roadshow utterly convinces me that community journalism is surviving and will survive – this rallying assertation in spite of the doom and gloomers, the media professional mourners who seem gleefully to keen, rend their clothes and tear their hair over any perceived failure.

How I wish these folks could get out of their ivory-covered halls, their 40th floor offices and jump in the car with me as I hit those Blue Highways where I invariably find yet another of what I call The Best Little Paper You Never Heard Of.

On vacations too, I have this little game I play. It’s a litmus test really, a reality check for me. Be it Italy, Finland, Lithuania, India Ethiopia or Ireland — I make a point of finding the local paper, persusing its pages like one of Rick Steve’s “temporary locals.”

And if the paper knocks my socks off, as it often does, I’ll find its office and just pop in.

 

The Best Little Paper You Never Heard Of

So here I am on vacation in tiny Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and the weekly newspaper here, the Boothbay Harbor Register, is so wonderful that it makes me – a total outlander – want to chuck this teaching gig and join the obviously merry band that puts out this community-building institution, with a legacy dating back to 1876.

Shameless Shilling Alert: I did NOT fake this photo. Maine Editor Kevin Burnam actually DID have a copy of my book in his office. Life is good. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Shameless Shilling Alert: I did NOT fake this photo. Maine Editor Kevin Burnam actually DID have a copy of my book in his office. Life is good. (Jock Lauterer photo)

This time, before my ambush, I did the busy editor the courtesy of an advance warning — and much to my delight, Editor Kevin Burnham responded on the phone with an enthusiastic, “…I’ve read your book two, or three times…!”

Forgive the humble brag, but in my view, royalties don’t mean squat compared to such an unsolicited testimonial.

The first thing the out-of-towner notices about the Register is its physical size.

Holy Broadsheet, Batman! This is shades of the ‘60s, with a full 16 ½ x22 ¾ inch spread —just like the full wingspan-sized weeklies from Back in the Day. Except this is 2016. And then there’s the staff listing in the masthead. Editor Burnham has a stable of seven full-time reporters and a covey of freelancers. When’s the last time you saw a weekly with such a newsroom?

All this to say, the Register, and its sister paper in nearby Wiscasset, are not just surviving. They are thriving.

Here are the specs: Family-owned. Circulation of 4,200 paid. Single copy just went up to $1 from 50 cents with minimal outcry from readers. Subscriptions are $35 in county.

Page count runs 28-36 in the summer when the little town of 3,500 permanent residents swells upward to 45,000 with summer folks.

Location: a charming converted house right on the main drag in the middle of town — fully accessible to walk-ins and foot traffic. Lots of parking in the back of the house too.

All content is online without a pay wall. Largest advertisers are real estate and restaurants.

And Editor Burnham himself, a 30-year-vet, seems typical of the consistency and commitment embodied in the paper. He describes himself as “a townie who grew up a good Frisbee throw from (the office).”

He’s been the editor since 1987, after having worked as a reporter there for only six month, under the tutelage of 50-year veteran editor Mary Brewer, who retired in ’12, but as editor emerita, still writes her weekly column.

Again, I witness a direct link between consistency in the newsroom staff/low turnover and newspaper quality/staff morale.

“Morale is good here,” Kevin asserts, a feeling the first-time visitor picks up on right away — from the cheery greeting I received from the front-office folks to Kevin’s laid-back “dress code” of golf shirt and shorts. “A lot of (his reporters) care about what they write, and for the most part they grew up in Maine.”

I ask, why does that matter?

“Because Maine is such a small state (population-wise), they can connect with a source usually very quickly. It’s sort of an icebreaker if you can make some sort of connection. I’m a 7th generation (Mainer) and that has helped me in my job, people knowing my family. If one of my reporters is going into something (a story) cold, I tell them to say: ‘Kevin sent me.’”

What’s the best thing about his job?

“Keeping people informed of town doings,” he says, adding, “and praising kids, promoting schools and covering sports. I really believe that positive reinforcement helps kids strive to do better.”

Kevin sees his role as far more than just that of a paper-shuffler and copyeditor. “Being involved in the community is really important,” he asserts, “I cover meetings, listen to people, pay attention to feedback.” Little wonder that Kevin, who has served as present of the Maine Press Association, has piloted his paper to many state press association awards.

The toughest thing about the job?

The volume of email, and time and type management, he responds. “…and not being able to have those weekly BS sessions” (after the paper comes out) to debrief and hit the re-set button. Yes, that’s the challenge of being a weekly newspaper editor. “On Monday and Tuesday I basically a machine,” Kevin says ruefully.

 

Summer Readers Love It

Whatever Kevin and staff are doing is clearly working. A rank stranger like me can spend 30 minutes with the Boothbay Harbor Register and get an immersion into Mainer life and culture.

And I’m not the only newsie who feels that way.

During my visit to the Register newsroom, staff writer Matt Stilphen overheard that I was from Chapel Hill, and interjected that Dr. William E. Leuchtenburg and wife Jean Anne were long-time summer people here. Although I had never formally met the William Rand Kenan Professor Emeritus of History from UNC-Chapel Hill, I certainly knew his name!

And before the day was out, I had an email from Dr. Leuchtenburg, and the following morning there the four of us were — me and Lynne having breakfast at Mama D’s with Leuchtenburg, a hale and hearty 94, and his charming wife, Jean Anne — poring over the pages of the Register and wishing aloud that we in Chapel Hill had such a robust “relentlessly local” community newspaper.

Two Chapel Hillians in Maine: Mr. Joke joins UNC legend Dr. William Leuchtenburg, 94, in admiring the Boothbay Harbor Register while on vacation in Maine. (Lynne Vernon photo)

Two Chapel Hillians in Maine: Mr. Joke joins UNC legend Dr. William Leuchtenburg, 94, in admiring the Boothbay Harbor Register while on vacation in Maine. (Lynne Vernon photo)

A visit with Record & Landmark intern Ryan Wilusz

June 16th, 2016
Statesville Record & Landmark summer intern Ryan Wilusz displays a recent graduation photo he shot. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Statesville Record & Landmark summer intern Ryan Wilusz displays a recent graduation photo he shot. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Sitting over a generous serving of meat loaf at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Statesville, Ryan Wilusz holds up his cell phone camera to display a beaming high school graduate in royal blue cap and gown holding her diploma and grinning from ear to ear.

“I haven’t had a photo class yet,” the UNC-CH rising senior prefaces, “But I’m pretty happy with this shot. What do you think?”

I’ll tell you what I think. There’s no greater reward for the ol’ perfesser than to see his young charges flourishing out there in the real world.

“Not bad,” I tell Ryan. “Not bad at all.”

Ryan is one of two outstanding MEJO (Media and Journalism) students awarded the prestigious Batten Community Journalism Scholarship, and he is having a blast working this summer at Warren Buffett’s paper in Statesville, the Record & Landmark, under the direction of its dynamic publisher, Eric Millsaps.

“It’s all been good,” Ryan tells me. “They don’t treat me like an intern. I’ve done 18 stories in 20 days.” This last comment is accompanied by a smile of satisfaction from the big guy.

And he is being noticed. At that same Pine Lake Prep High School graduation in Mooresville, Ryan discovered that the graduating class was the first group to come all the way from the fifth grade together as a cohort. They wanted their photo made out on the playground where they first met – and so there was Ryan’s photo of the grads tossing mortar boards into the sky — accompanied by a good caption explaining the back story, lending depth and additional meaning to the image.

One school staffer wrote Ryan complimenting him on his hustle and enterprise — which doesn’t surprise me; that’s much of the reason why I picked him for a Batten award. Last semester when Ryan served as co-editor of the Durham VOICE, (durhamvoice.org) Ryan’s hustle and enterprise led to some outstanding stories and compelling reading in our community newspaper for inner-city Durham

 

“ Good morning, Ryan,

I wanted to say thank you for your coverage of the Pine Lake graduation yesterday. 

Your energy in running from the gym to the reading garden to the playground and back to the parking lot to get the best photo opportunities (in the 90 degree, 70% humidity Carolina day) was impressive.

When I saw the photo gallery in the Record and the story and photos in the Tribune, your efforts were so worth it.  The photos are beautiful and each graduate will cherish the attention they received in the publications. I had tears in my eyes…”

Ryan's graduation photo from Pine Lake.

Ryan’s graduation photo from Pine Lake.

________________________________________________________________

His most challenging moment so far this summer?

A two-hour long town transportation planning workshop that ended at 7:30 p.m. –giving the cub reporter only one our to knock out the story for an 8:30 deadline.

“I’ve never had to turn something around that quickly,” Ryan admits, “But I did it. I was punching that keyboard!”

Ryan credits his Record and Landmark editor, Dave Ibach, for serving as an excellent mentor and coach. And he also cited award winning photojournalists Ryan Revock as being great to work with.

For the record, later this summer I’ll be visiting the other Batten winner, Jessica Coates at the Carolina Public Press in Asheville. She’s working J-school MA grad and CPP founding editor Angie Newsome in this adventurous all-digital news site in Western North Carolina.

And from all accounts, like Ryan, Jessica is having the time of her life too.

Two newspapers; two worlds apart, but both serving their communities, such as they are

June 16th, 2016

 

Fresh off my three-week stint working with community newspapers in China, and immediately after doing a Community Journalism Summer Roadshow workshop at a North Carolina group of papers, the globe-trotting ol’ perfesser finds himself asking: compare and contrast the two. But remember, community journalism as we Americans know it is a new media phenomenon in China, maybe no older that 15 years. The following comparison, by vital stats, is, to the best of my estimation, reasonably correct.

 

The Da Shi Hua News of Chongqing, China

A three-year-old startup with no tradition or legacy of excellence. Striving to be a community paper. Now doing many of the things American papers do (lots of faces and names) Weekly tab print and online and social media platforms all active. Gets all its support, office space, funding from local government Has no ads, and ironically no government license either, no freedom of the press (obviously) and thus must kowtow to the government. Readers live mostly in huge urban skyscraper apartments where circulation numbers in the tens of thousands. Reporters are mostly young college-trained women who do not live in the coverage area and who don’t see any local identity, or “difang gan” — “sense of place.” And readers do not have that cultural anchor either; neither does the papers, in so far as I can tell.

"Mr. Joke" and the staff of the DaShiHua News of Chongqing.

“Mr. Joke” and the staff of the DaShiHua News of Chongqing.

The Watauga Democrat

Formerly family founded and owned (Rivers/Coffee families) with a long and storied legacy of excellence and community involvement/leadership, now owned by a small media group. Profitable venture with many niche publications. Paid circulation is roughly 10k, (far fewer that Chinese community papers), delivery is by mail, carrier and rack sales, printed at the central plant in Boone with no government interference (again, obviously, but when comparing with China, needs stating). Reporters include many older experienced men who have lived there and worked in the mountains for many years, with a deep knowledge of people and region, which has a fierce sense of place and distinct identity, which the papers take advantage of and reflect in their pages (online and mobile too).

 

Welcome back to Boone, Mr. Joke

June 6th, 2016
Journalists from five newspapers assemble in Boone, Friday, June 3, to participate in an interactive workshop to better their skills as community journalists. (Jock Lauterer photo)

Journalists from five newspapers (left to right) Erick Hoffman, James Howell, Trey Fowler, Garrett Price, Anna Oakes, Sherrie Norris, Steve Behr and Tom Mayer, assemble in Boone, Friday, June 3, to participate in an interactive workshop to better their skills as community journalists. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

In which the Johnny Appleseed Summer Community Journalism Roadshow takes to the High Country of Ashe, Avery and Watauga Counties for  a workshop at the five papers included in Mountain Times Publications. This is the 16th summer of these workshops, a public service initiative of the UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism, and its Carolina Community Media Project, led by founding director Jock Lauterer.

 

Fresh off a three-week teaching gig in China and barely over jet lag, “Mr Joke” kicked off the 16th annual North Carolina Summer Johnny Appleseed Community Journalism Roadshow with a rousing workshop, Friday, June 3, at the Mountain Times Publications group of newspapers in Boone, including the Watauga Democrat, the Blowing Rocket, the Avery Journal-Times, the Ashe Mountain Times and the Mountain Times.

Led by group Publisher Gene Fowler Jr., the five weeklies are not just profitable, they have also enjoyed another banner year, veteran newspaperman Fowler says proudly.

Part of the Formula

If there is a tried and true formula I’ve observed over the years at the best community papers, certainly one of the ingredients is continuity of personnel in the newsroom.

To my way of thinking, low newsroom turnover sends a clear message to the reading public: our people are locals with the same shared concerns, goals and values as you. And our reporters are not journalistic carpetbaggers, suitcase reporters or parachute journalists — a charge that has been leveled with some justification, particularly at local TV news.

So as the newsroom crew of the five papers  filed into the conference room, I was struck by the recognition of familiar faces..

Wait! Weren’t you here back in ’06 when I did my first Roadshow to Boone?

Yes, indeed — and many of these good folk were about to get their second dose of Mr. Joke.

The workshop attendees included: from the Watauga Democrat, (in Boone) Tom Mayer, Garrett Price, Anna Oakes, and Steve Behr; from the Avery Journal-Times, (in Newland) Jamie Shell, Rob Moore, Laney Ruckstuhl and Matt Debnam; from the Ashe Mountain Times, (in West Jefferson) Eric Hoffmann and James Howell; from the Blowing Rocket, (in Blowing Rock) Jeff Eason; and from the Mountain Times, (a three-county compendium) executive editor Tom Mayer. Last but not least comes Publisher Fowler’s son, Trey, a 2014 UNC J-School grad, who is working on the advertising end. Also attending were Sherri Norris, editor of All About Women, a glossy high-end magazine produced by the company; and James Luke Barber, an intern at the Avery Journal-Times.

Driving the High Country Economic Engine

Tourism and Appalachian State University are the economic drivers of “The High Country,” the region comprised of the three northwestern counties of Ashe, Avery and Watauga where these papers thrive. So not surprisingly, Fowler’s team cranks out multiple specialty publications – all very profitable.

Fowler proudly told me that “half of our bottom line comes from niche publications,” including special sections and magazines such as, an annual three-county prep sports graduation edition, vacation guides for Boone and Blowing Rock, guides to annual seasonal special events such as the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain and the Woolly Worm Festival at Banner Elk, as well as a slick, high-end women’s magazine.

Call it Mountain Cred

I love this part of the state. Its rich history and mountain culture is dear to me. My first college newspaper internship was in WNC, as they call this 18-county region. And my first editorship — at the ripe old age of 23 — was at the Alleghany News, a one-man, eight-page weekly in tiny Sparta. Additionally, my first marriage was to a “mountain girl.” And if a flatlander wants to get “dug in” with the locals, that’s about the most immersive and effective way I know of. Thirty-three years after our divorce, I am still known to some folks up yonder as “Maggie’s husband.”

Additionally, Publisher Fowler reminded me that back in the early ‘80s, when I was founding publisher of the McDowell Express in Marion, (and Fowler was a high school kid), I actually competed against his dad, Gene Fowler Sr., publisher of my bitter rival paper, the McDowell News.

In one of the most unique introductions I’ve ever had, Publisher Fowler told the workshop crew that around the Fowler household, back during the Marion newspaper wars of ‘80-’83, I was known as “that damn sonofabitch.”

Both papers were too proud to sell out to the other, and it took an outside third party to settle the kerfuffle. As irony would have it, it was Roy Park Sr. who bought out both papers.

Yes, that Roy Park— as in Roy Park of the Park Fellowships and the Park Library at the UNC J-school where I now teach.

But I digress…

Who’s Teaching Whom?

As with so much of education, I feel as if I’m not so much lecturing as I am unleashing talents, giving kids permission to be great, unfettering pent-up dreams. With apologies to Ol’ Roy, (who holds a master’s degree in education from UNC!), I’m convinced that the best coaches teach and that the best teachers coach.

I was reminded of how much I still had to learn about this region when the workshop attendees launched our interactive exercise: each team from each paper attacked flip-chart size Post-Its with colored markers, drawing a basic map of their coverage area, filling it in with locations of key news generating sites — schools, courthouse, watering holes…sort of a “Ashe, Avery, Watauga County Map for Dummies.”

The idea of the exercise is for them to team up to educate ME – as if I am a brand-new cub reporter on my first day at their paper. What do I need to know strategically and immediately about where stuff is and who to talk to and where to find them? And then drilling down further, I asked each team to articulate with just a handful of words, the mood, the vibe, the zeitgeist, of their respective counties.

The results were – and always are – insightful, instructive and educational.

Parting shots from China 5.0

June 1st, 2016
No language barrier here — an 87-year-old Chongqing resident doesn't care if I can't understand a word she's saying.

No language barrier here — an 87-year-old Chongqing resident doesn’t care if I can’t understand a word she’s saying.

 

A collection of images from the three-week teaching junket of a latter-day Johnny Appleseed trying to spread the word of Community Journalism in China, May 2016.

All photos by Jock Lauterer, otherwise known to the Chinese as “Mr. Joke.”

A senior lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this was my fifth trip to China, where I also have been given an honorary Chinese name: Zhao Ke.

I am asked repeatedly: what’s your favorite thing about China?

Hands-down, it has to be the people. Everywhere I went, I was treated with genuine affection and respect — reminding me of that Mark Twain quote.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

Onward and upward!

 

At a Beijing noodle joint, a wait staffer checks out a Victoria;s Secret fashion show on the wall TV.

At a Beijing noodle joint, a wait staffer checks out a Victoria;s Secret fashion show on the wall TV.

After a lecture, Professor Li Ren's class at Southwest University of Political Science and Law assembles for a group shot.

After a lecture, Professor Li Ren’s class at Southwest University of Political Science and Law assembles for a group shot.

 

People ask for # 521, but I gave her a name. "Lily" is 36, has three kids back at home in Henan province, who she sees once a year while she and her husband work to save money at a massage spa in Beijing.

Liu Shou told me people know her as Number 521, but I gave her a name. “Lily” is 36, has three kids back at home in Henan province, and she sees them only once a year, while she and her husband work to save money at a massage spa in Beijing.

 

Ping pong is huge in China. At a Beijing park, a doubles match rages.

Ping pong is huge in China. At a Beijing park, a doubles match rages.

 

At Beijing rickshaw shop, a worker prepares a package for delivery.

At Beijing rickshaw shop, a worker prepares a package for delivery.

 

 

The irrepressible Mrs. Qin and the staff of the "Don't Worry Be Happy Hotel" in Chongqing give me a merry send-off.

The irrepressible Mrs. Qin and the staff of the “Don’t Worry Be Happy Hotel” in Chongqing give me a merry send-off.

 

To Chongqing, with love

May 26th, 2016

In my final hours here in Chongqing, I want to post my closing set of images from this fine old city, where Ernest Hemingway once visited, where the WWII capital of Chungking was located so as to be far from the reach of the Japanese. A city most Americans have never heard of, yet with the population of New York City. And like every great city, it has distinct neighborhoods. Here in Huixing, 20 km north of city center, I find life visually rich, and my daily photo-hikes a feast for the eyes.

On a rainy night in old Chongqing, townspeople cross color-splashed square.

On a rainy night in old Chongqing, townspeople cross the color-splashed square.

Dawn calls her 5-month-old "Orange Moon" her little "angel baby" because she never cries. (Jock Lauterer photos)

Dawn calls her 5-month-old daughter,  “Orange Moon,” her little “angel baby” because she seldom cries. (Jock Lauterer photos)

 

A worker on the campus catches 40 winks.

A worker on the campus catches 40 winks.

Editor Li of Foshan makes coffee for me — and tea for himself.

Editor Li of Foshan makes coffee for me — and tea for himself.

A family from the countryside awaits their orders at a Chongqing noodle stand.

A family from the countryside awaits their orders at a Chongqing noodle cafe.

A winning intramural goalie at SWUPL accepts the adulation of her team after stopping what would have been the opposition's go-ahead goal.

A winning intramural goalie at SWUPL accepts the adulation of her team after stopping what would have been the opposition’s go-ahead goal.

Skirting a vegetable cart, two boys look both ways before dashing across the alley.

Skirting a vegetable cart, two boys watch for traffic before dashing across the alley.

 

A surfing restaurant customer bares his sole. (Jock Lauterer photos)

A surfing restaurant customer bares his sole. (Jock Lauterer photos)