Monday, November 04, 2019

N. Carolina weekly offers measured, balanced and robust coverage and commentary about Confederate statue issue

Front page of the current edition
A weekly newspaper in North Carolina has offered robust coverage and commentary of one of the most divisive issues that can arise in the South: the fate of a prominent Confederate monument.

Chatham News + Record Editor and Publisher Bill Horner III told University of Kentucky journalism professor Buck Ryan that the paper's coverage has been "measured and balanced, and not overblown." For many weeklies, that would mean eschewing commentary, but Horner said after protests "attracted activists and extremists from outside Chatham County," population about 75,000, southwest of Chapel Hill, he wrote an editorial titled, "A message to the agitators: when enough is simply enough."

The 988-word editorial began with four sentences, each its own paragraph: "We get it. You made your point. You came, you did your thing. Now please take your mess somewhere else." The longest paragraph of the editorial read:

"You’re opportunists. You’re angry. You’re soldiers of circumstance. You’re looking for a fight. You live in an agitated world of rabble-rousers, of troublemakers. You yell. You curse. Some of you even spit, push, shove, trespass, confront, harangue, insult, threaten, belittle, accuse. You’d like nothing more than to throw an elbow — proverbial or literal — into someone, anyone, who has a different worldview than you. 'That’ll teach ‘em,' you think. You thrill in nothing more than 'getting your back up,' as our moms used to say, or hoping to record some video of a tangle, a skirmish, a dust-up that will prove to those like you that the other guys are the bad ones, that you’re in the right. You’re right, everyone else is wrong, and that’s that. But you’re in the wrong place, and you’re doing it the wrong way, in a way that’s hurting us."

The statue stands in front of an old courthouse, now a museum.
"They needed to be called out on it," Horner told Ryan in a Q and A. "Our photographer would take pictures of groups of protesters and longtime residents would say, 'I don’t recognize one person in that picture.' . . . The statue issue is going to come down to a legal ruling; it’s not a popularity contest and it won’t be settled with a public vote. These Saturday protesters from outside Chatham County aren’t adding to the conversation. They’re bringing more anger and more hate into an already volatile situation, which accomplishes not one thing. That’s what drove me to write this latest editorial."

Asked how readers have reacted to the paper's coverage, Horner cited two emails: "One woman railed about how it’s so obvious we’re in favor of having the statue removed. Another said we were horrible journalists because it was so clear we’re in favor of letting the statue remain. Both messages were referring to the same exact news story. We got a very angry call from one elected official berating us for — and this is what he said — publishing stories that were 'too balanced, too fair.' He thought our stories should have been slanted toward the statue’s removal."

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