Sunday, January 30, 2005

Courage - the real deal

The Iraqi people lined up outside, targets to assassins to exercise their franchise today. They have more courage in their ink-stained index fingers than Dubyah has in his whole body.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Paxton-$un blows it again - local "news"

On today's front page (above the fold) of the Paxton-$un, we have a picture of ... undeveloped land. Gripping.

On the other side of the Triangle, the N&O offeres actual news. There's potential for an ice storm this weekend, for example. The Paxton-$un only offers "Chilly" in its front page glimpse into the forecast.

The family of Deborah Key has asked that she be ruled legally dead. That's an Orange County story, but with all due deference to the Chapel Hill Herald's beat, I don't feel too confident that the newly-released Andrew Dalzell is going to keep his aggressive tendencies within Orange County lines. It's a regional story. Still, if you were in Durham trusting and relying on the Paxton-$un, you would scarcely even know the guy was bounced out of jail on reduced bond, much less what's happening next in the story. If you were counting on their website to have the latest ... well, just forget it.

Speaking of being ruled dead, it seems to me there's a lot of interest in the small matter of a guy mistakenly being pronounced dead in Franklin County. The state's chief medical examiner, Dr. John Butts, is based at ... uh... UNC. Might he have some insights into what might have happened, how often such a mistake might occur, how it can be prevented ... stuff like that? Even the Paxton-$un can figure out that readers what to know how this works.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Paxton-$un, committed to ... ???

When half the front page of the Herald-Sun was devoted to a wire photo of the late, great, but not-at-all-local Johnny Carson, I knew there was not a whole lot of commitment to local news at the Paxton-$un.

And it's clear that, despite assurances of commitment to our local needs, the paper doesn't give a sh*t about their website being a valuable took for local residents. To wit: When Andrew Dalzell, whose confession to the murder of Carrboro's Deborah Key was ruled inadmissable, was sprung from jail yesterday the Herald-Sun did not update its website. The N&O did so immediately, but the Herald-Sun did nothing on its website -- NOTHING.

Apparently, the need to keep the LOCAL public informed when an accused killer hits the LOCAL street is not in the Paxton-Sun's universe of "top stories."

Tick, tick, tick ... the countdown to the end of the Herald-Sun is under way. That story probably didn't make the website right away because the paper's management deludes itself still into thinking that holding it until it's in print will encourage (print) sales.

$tupid. $tupid. $tupid.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

There's no business like snow business

It's been almost too much to watch Greg Fishel apologizing all over the place (including CNN) for missing the forecast last week. Not quite all of us hang on Greg's every word. Some of us actually look out the window, apply what's left of our common sense and (gasp) make our own judgments.

In early February of 1978, two weeks after I was married, I was caught in a Connecticut blizzard that struck at 10:00 a.m. on a weekday. We all knew it was coming, just as the storm that has pummeled New England this weekend was well-predicted.

But we were all at work anyway.

I left my office at 3:00. That's when my stupid employer, The Hartford Insurance Group, released us, after several hours of white-out conditions. The state was already in an emergency condition. To drive about a mile and a quarter to my new husband's place of work (the Travelers Insurance Company) took me over three hours.

No cell phone. No way to let him know I was okay or on the way. Just three-plus harrowing hours, crawling through downtown Hartford like a tiny frozen snail. Thankfully, I had a full tank of gas and a brand new battery in our Honda Civic.

When I got to the Travelers, the streets were barron. They'd let out hours before we did. My new husband was beside himself with worry, having no idea the shortcuts through parks, across meridians and over sidewalks I'd taken to get there. Under normal circumstances, I'd have gotten a dozen tickets.

The problem was the snow, yes, but mainly the number of people who just threw their hands in the air, got out of their cars and walked away, frustrated that as a foot of snow had already fallen, they just weren't getting anywhere. Thousands of people were stuck-- for the rest of the week -- at their place of work because of how long it took to clear the streets.

So when this freak storm hit last week and children were stranded at school because their busses couldn't bring them home, I had to chuckle a little and wonder even more -- why Wake county was so uniquely screwed up that they couldn't manage themselves better.

It must all be on the overburdened shoulders of Greg Fishel, or so the News & Observer (oh, yeah ... a media partner of WRAL) would have you believe.

Oh, brother.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Powell quits FCC, titter runs through crowd

The Super Bowl should be super once again as it will be the first major live television even in the post-Michael Powell era at the FCC. When Janet Jackson's quarter-second of flashy nippage knocked Powell off the couch in his family room and reaching for his TiVo, America lurched into it's highest form of entertainment - a self-absorbed culture war.

Be sure to send him a farewell e-mail at

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inauguration Day

Twelve years ago, I stood in the cold and the mud and listened to a new president describing how the baby boomers would "force the spring." At the time, Americans were anxious about deepening debt (now referred to as "the good old days") and unemployment at the same time we needed to invest in the infrastructure of education.

If you've never been to an inauguration, I recommend that you do it when you're young enough to withstand the physical challenge and old enough to take in the historical meaning. When we transfer power from one president to another and (especially) one party to another, it's a compelling event. This year is more ho-hum in that regard.

For a moment, I will stop joking by calling today "Black Thursday" and wish our president the best. I wish we could be more alike than we are divided, but perhaps Bush II, part 2 will look toward the history books and lurch toward the political center. Read Bush's speech - it's a decent call to action. See also MSNBC's citizen journalism page for some accounts of the event.

Let's hope ... at least until we know better.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

There's no crying in journalism

Cross-posted (and updated) from

I have received my actual letter of termination from the Herald-Sun. It's unremarkable except for the minor point of, uh, a couple of facts. Suffice to say, I find the notice as credible as the reasons given earlier.

For the last six years I have enjoyed an enlightening ongoing chat with the readers in this community, one which I hope will now simply shift (typing joke) into a new venue. I have shared my experiences and insights on everything from schools to suicide, from politics to puppies. I have worked this writing muscle of mine every week for about 300 weeks. I am profoundly grateful to The Chapel Hill Herald for its role as my personal trainer. I especially appreciate the good faith and humor of Catherine Wright while she was editor there and I was covering Carrboro and writing my column as well. She is a terrific editor, a total professional and a good friend.

I deeply appreciate the emails of condolence, support and outrage recently and over the years. I also want to express my own heartfelt gratitude for those who have disagreed with me and taken the time to thoughtfully say so.

We don't pay enough attention to the profound value of respectful dissent and responsible discussion of public policy disagreement. It is indeed most alarming to me that the Herald-Sun cannot manage to tolerate my independently fussing at them. The newspaper business is no place for the thin-skinned.

And so, onto the blogging scene and new horizons. Looking forward to the Feb. 12th conference at the J-school. May the force be with you.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The story gets better

Facts in a news story are not like wine. They shouldn't get better and change flavor as time passes. They shouldn't be affected by heat.

When my editor called on Sunday to tell me I was terminated, I asked him for a reason. He said that the newspaper's reason for terminating me was the I had published some of my columns on my blog -- this blog. This is bogus for the reasons I've outlined below ... estoppel by silence.

Today's News and Observer says this on the "how come?" question:
"Just before she left to return her own paper, Bolduc said, she received a call from her editor saying her column was canceled. Ashley said Sunday that ending the column was part of the company's strategy to save money, but Bolduc thinks she was punished for her criticism."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Donald Trump is on line 2

The call came this Sunday morning. I'm fired.

The reason, he said, was because I had published my columns on my blog, a violation of my contract which sells electronic rights to the newspaper. They'd better be firing other columnists who have done the same thing.

So, I hung up the phone then got into the truck with hubby and met WTVD at the Herald-Sun driveway, as we'd previously arranged. I told them the next news development (my termination) prompting snickers.

I wonder if these guys know anything about the news business. Anthony Wilson (WTVD) said that when he talked to Bob Ashley last week, his only comment about my protest was "That's her right."

(And by the way, it's completely their right to terminate my contract because they feel like it ... it's telling that they're so foolish as to attempt to hide behind this premise, however)

As we stood by, a Herald-Sun employee in a panel truck came out to the driveway and picked up the half-dozen or so papers that were there, grumbling all the while. (Channel 11 got video of all this) He said there had been about 17 so far.

A car left the employee parking lot and its driver dropped a paper off (all on camera).

After my roadside interview, a car approached, slowed down, and the passenger tossed six or seven papers out, then the passenger thrust her fist into the air (on camera).

So, I'm in the market for a new print space, but in the meantime ... watch this space for new developments.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Good Confession, Unused

From The Chapel Hill Herald:
Good police work takes brains, takes risks and often takes a lot of time. All of these elements drove the case of what happened to Deborah Key.

Recently, I told Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison that I thought the use of a fake documents that resulted in a murder confession from accused killer Andrew Dalzell was a great piece of police work. The relief and grief felt by the family of Deborah Key is something most of us can only imagine.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Wade Barber ruled that the ruse used by the Carrboro cops was a violation of Dalzell’s rights. The lack of a Miranda warning means that the confession is inadmissible, Barber decided, because it was induced by “hope or fear.” Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox will determine what this means for the case against Dalzell, who (thankfully) remains in custody.

In a time when high speed chases are so often in the news as police run down someone who has committed a more minor crime – like stealing a car – it was refreshing to see that Carrboro was a place where police work was a bit more intellectual in its nature.

It’s regrettable that the confession is tossed, but awfully encouraging and important that the mystery of what happened to Deborah Key is now resolved. Dalzell’s legal dance might make it impossible to get that confession into evidence against him, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a trial and it doesn’t mean he won’t be convicted of Key’s murder – the murder he confessed to in the back of that police cruiser.

Murder, after all, is seldom a clean or well-planned business. People who kill other people to solve problems are not what you’d call “long-term thinkers.”

There is likely more evidence to be discovered that will tend to bring the truth to light. The detectives involved have an awfully good idea of what happened now. Presumably that makes the search for proof much easier.

While I don’t especially relish the idea of the police arresting me for one thing while trying to get me to confess to another, I know that if I’m under arrest, I’m in trouble. When you’re in trouble, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to talk your way out of it.

Suspects certainly are entitled to the Miranda warning, but I imagine that it seldom brings the epiphany of self-protection that the law seems to expect. If hearing that you-have-the-right-to-remain-silent caution really caused most people to suddenly clam up, then why did Dalzell sit down and write out his admission after signing an acknowledgement that he had received the warning?

Why didn’t he simply stare blankly ahead, say “oh, well, that’s different” and refuse to write or sign any confession at all? Why not insist on seeing a lawyer and refusing to answer questions?
The answer is the same as the explanation for his admission during his ride home. It’s the human mind, guilt and the need to unburden a soul. Yes, I think he probably is a troubled man who did a terrible thing several years ago, but who among us knows anything about the ordeal of living with that?

I expect that Dalzell was actually so relieved to have his chase end and genuinely concerned for his own family that he spilled the beans just to alleviate the intense pressure he must have felt.
Please don’t be confused by my speculation about Dalzell’s burden. If he did this murder, then he should bunk in with Mike Peterson and never be heard from again.

Occasionally one of my children has been in an emotional state due to a situation that seemed overwhelming at the time. Where I would normally back off and let him collect himself, I have sometimes “moved in” during these situations. Sometimes when you’re very upset and afraid, you can really get to the bottom things, just to relieve the pressure.

But of course, that’s an action of a caring Mom who is sitting on the edge of your bed, trying to help you through your adolescence. I can scarcely think of a greater position of trust than between a vulnerable child and his mother.

Between an accused killer and the police, however, there is no trust and there shouldn’t really be any expectation of it, should there? I mean, once I’m in the back of a cruiser with my handcuffs on, should I really be thinking that the officer in the front seat is looking to protect my freedom?

I offer again my admiration for the Carrboro police and their creative work in solving the mystery of what happened to Deborah Key. Perhaps in the future there will be more and better resources for them and their colleagues elsewhere to guide them on the use of such strategies without fear of legal reversal.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Herald-Sun, former community newspaper

Let's start with a quote from my editor, Neil Offen:
"You are always, of course, free to post for yourself, in your name, on any subject of interest."

I sure hope that's true. I've tossed and turned over whether or not to remain quiet about the Herald-Sun's new management. I've decided that if I don't have the anatomy to say what I think on my own blog, then I'm wasting the time of anyone reading my column in the Chapel Hill Herald. Further, if Paxton fires me for what I say here, it says more about them than it does me.

As I've been reading lately about the thermonuclear cleaning of the Pickett Road barn, I am embarrassed for the Herald-Sun newspaper and its new management. What a colossal misjudgment. It's not just bad form but indeed, bad business judgment to so publicly treat so many people so badly. It's no worse to treat a 50-year employee badly than it is one who's there a short time, yet it seems so much more egregious -- so completely ungrateful. I think of the number of weekends, holidays, snowstorms and various other things in 50 years' time and imagine what someone working for a newspaper that long has to give up to do what Bill Hawkins used to describe as "the work of the Lord." That's how he saw the newspaper business. At least, that's what he said.

It's stunning to see that people who are clever enough to have enough money to buy something so valuable can then piss on their own shoes and nearly overnight, measurably reduce the value of their new purchase. Arrogance, thy name is Paxton.

On the up side, however, it is reassuring to see so many people expressing their disgust with this new regime's unprofessional treatment of the staff dismissed nearly a week ago. My feeling is that the Durham and Orange county communities are yearning for a way to make the point to Paxton that it has behaved abominably and should be foreced to apologize, yet they they don't want to kill the Herald-Sun completely. Even the N&O will tell you, the competition is good for the market and good for readers.

Still, for those who would like to smack Paxton where they live, I offer this modest proposal:
Don't cancel your subscription ... that will only threaten more jobs at a needed community newspaper. Instead, take your January 16th (Sunday) edition (the one with all that expensive advertising in it) and bring it back to the Herald-Sun's main office on Sunday afternoon. Throw it in their driveway (2828 Pickett Road, Durham), still wrapped in plastic -- unopened, unread. You can put a little love note in there if you want. This will tell the Herald-Sun management that their advertisers were ripped off for whatever they paid for that day's ads. There's money involved there, so Paxton should actually care about it.

I'm going to venture a guess that other local media will be monitoring that parking lot during that period, so be sure you've combed your hair and look sharp. You could end up on somebody's front page. And no worries about missing the content of the paper. Just come home and read it online -- just this once.

Of course, Paxton should care about the fact that with this horrifying treatment of the staff, they have rendered their moral authority and voice in the community's opinion leadership decidedly un-trustworthy and completely non-essential.

Next Sunday is the day before we observe Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday. It's an appropriate opportunity to conduct a little protest and mini-boycott if you will, for the benefit of preserving civility and fairness within the walls a major employer in the City of Durham.

And we'll just see if the Herald-Sun really thinks it's just fine for me to express my opinion freely.

Friday, January 07, 2005

What'cha gonna do when the cops come for you?

When Carrboro police arrested Andrew Dalzell, they didn't tell him they were hoping to charge him with the murder of Deborah Leigh Key. They didn't tell him if (and I don't know the facts on this) they had only enough evidence to charge him with stealing from the local hobby store he worked for. They didn't tell him squat.

They brought him back to Orange County and on the way, they duped him into confessing to Key's murder by using a fake warrant for first degree murder and a fake letter from District Attorney Carl Fox. This led him to believe that he was not only going to be charged with first degree murder but the the State of North Carolina would be setting aside a sharp, poisonous needle with his name on it. The ruse worked, he confessed and was subsequently charged with the murder.

When I was a teenager and of age to drive a car, my father (an attorney) told me that if I ever got pulled over, I should do exactly as the police told me to. Resisting arrest is illegal, he said. The safest thing to do is to get yourself to the police station then get on the phone to call for help.

I've told my kids, very simply, that if they are ever, in any way, under any suspicion, they are NOT to talk to the police. Except to identify yourself and explain where your wallet is or your license and registration, you will never help yourself with paragraphs that begin with "Officer, I didn't do it ... I can explain ..."

I had a friend some years ago who arrived at home one evening to find the business card of a local police officer. He called him. The police asked my friend to come in so they could talk. They'd had a report about him and they had a few questions.

He should have said "no thanks," hung up the phone and called his lawyer, but he didn't, because he hadn't done anything wrong. Soon, he was talking not only to the police but to the SBI and remained convinced that he could explain himself to the nice police officers.

He was arrested evenually (after giving the police all the help they needed) and charged with a felony that he did not commit. The charges were thrown out of court and a year later he still lost his job on account of the accusation.

No one in this scenario did anything wrong. The police were investigating and they followed procedure, which includes interviewing a suspect and arresting him when he gives evidence that would seem to support the accusation against him. The district attorney gave his best argument in the probable cause hearing. The judge, citing insufficent credibility of the accuser, threw the case out. The district attorney later assisted in expunging the record. Legally, it disappeared.

Regardless, my friend lost his job and moved away to escape this trainwreck experience. His life was irrevocably changed and injured, yet the one person who could have prevented it was him. Had he folded his arms and remained unhelpful and silent, he would likely have simply gone on with his life, unassaulted by a false accusation.

In the Carrboro case, Dalzell was treated in a manner completely consistent with the rights outlined by the American Bar Association's web site. Police generally read a Miranda warning to people who are about to be questioned in custody, says the ABA. But the important point to realize here is that the cops can hold you without charge for up to 48 hours if they have probable cause to believe you have committed a crime.

Putting Dalzell in a car for a couple of hours with only some fake documents and his own guilty heart to keep him company is not only legal and fair. It is a brilliant, savvy piece of police work that should make Carrboro Police Chief Hutchison the North Carolina Cop of the Year.

I applaud the Carrboro cops for solving a murder using their brains and their understanding of human behavior and nature. It beats a high-speed chase anyday.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Local Media Changes

Some interesting insights in Ruth Sheehan's column in the News & Observer. Those halcyon days of friendly competition between the Herald-Sun and the N&O may quickly seem far away. More's the pity for readers.

For AM radio listeners, there's some glimmer of hope that the new General Manager at WCHL (a former 'CHL reporter) will bring back some more local voice that was silenced recently by a con$ultant. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Got a pickle? Give a pickle

From the 1-5-05 Chapel Hill Herald:

Would you like to have my pickle?
When I was a kid and enjoyed the rare experience of eating at the golden arches, I would enjoy my 17-cent fries and my 25-cent hamburger without assistance except for one thing. I didn’t like dill pickles as a kid and I would take them off my burger the minute I got it.
My mother, however, loves dill pickles, just as I do now. As a child of the depression, she would find it unthinkable to toss my pickles away (or ask for the burger without them) and so our ritual was born. Buy the burger, open the burger and give the pickles to Mom.
This dance continues today as my younger son dislikes dill pickles (for now) and so as he opens his Big Mac, the offer comes from the back seat, “Mom, do you want my pickles?” No calories in a dill pickle. I’ll take it.
It’s a silly thing and a small thing, but it reminds me of our contrary tendencies in being generous. Americans are a peculiar bunch. We can, overnight, give millions of dollars for Tsunami victims on the other side of the world and get up the next morning and fight over a parking space.
We’re competitive about everything. We pledge $35 million in disaster relief, get called stingy (along with other wealthy nations), then up it to $350 million. When someone does a study of the puny things in the U.S. budget that cost $350 million, that number will double.
I’ll see your compassion and raise it ten teardrops. If only it were a poker game. If only ten would be enough.
Growing up, we were all taught about sharing. It’s a good thing to do in general terms, like with a pickle or a blanket.
It’s a bad thing to do sometimes, like with the answers to your algebra quiz or when your computer contacts my computer and says “I love you and I want you to open this file.”
Of course, there’s always the classic example of selfish sharing – that’s right selfish – like when your co-worker arrives at the office with bleary eyes, sore throat and runny nose, sneezes on your desk, your phone and everything you touch, then announces that he just had to come in today because he had some report that just had to go out and he couldn’t ask you to do it for him.
Yeah, right. He couldn’t bear to use up any of his paid time off in order to spare you his cold, that’s all.
There’s also the family example (every family has one) of the emotional blackmailer. This is the person in your family who always seems to step forward to do something that appears helpful, then rubs your nose in it for at least a year, preferably five to ten.
Not that you didn’t say thank you. Not that you didn’t appreciate it, just that she hosted that party and did all the work while you had fun and now you owe her. Forget about ever doing anything that would be enough to repay the gesture. It isn’t possible.
It’s quite a pickle.
Over the holiday break, my son put in some hours sorting and counting mittens and socks and other things donated to Orange Congregations in Mission (OCIM). He did this to earn community service hours for his International Baccalaureate program at Cedar Ridge High School.
What a blessing this experience was for him (and for me). For three days after Christmas, he was wrapped up in something other that what was under the tree and how fast he could spend the cash his pickle-chomping grandmother gave him.
Some of the work is tedious and might not be anyone’s first choice to do for three days straight, but Rob was appreciative that he could pop in and get his hours to meet his requirement – that’s the self-interest part. The other part was that he got some real-world work experience, with supervision and expectations and getting the job done. That has value for him. He helped someone else – someone he’ll never meet, who will never be able to say thank you to him personally or directly.
And that is ultimately what generosity is – that act of giving when thanks are not expected and perhaps not even possible. That’s the best experience in charitable donation available.
When you give up a pickle you didn’t want anyway, it’s not really a generous thing, it’s more a matter of frugality. As a practice, however, it does get you thinking about whether or not someone else can use something you don’t need or want any longer.
So if you got a new sweater for Christmas and are ready to retire an old one, have an old coat you never wear or other household items that are working but not seeing any real use for you, give OCIM a call (at 732-6194) and find out if you can donate the items, which are usually tax deductible.
Give a neighbor a pickle. It’ll make you feel good.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New Year's Resolution - More Blog!

Okay, I'm embarassed. Ruby Sinreich has outed me as a slacker for not updating my space here. Guilty as charged!

Shooting the Breeze (my short-lived radio talk show on WCHL) is no more. Along with much of WCHL's very local programming, we went bye-bye. :-(

So, I will try to make more effort to populate this space with more wisdom and discussion in 2005. Stay tuned, drop me a line and Happy New Year.