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Where the sun don't shine*

Tuesday was an extraordinary day, to say the least, at Alamance County’s Historic Courthouse in Graham. Tom Boney Jr., publisher of The Alamance News, was forcibly removed from a second-floor courtroom and handcuffed in a hallway outside — for asserting his constitutional right to be there.

Deputies — citing COVID restrictions and by order of visiting District Judge Fred Wilkins — had denied The Alamance News, Carli Brosseau of The News & Observer and Jordan Green of Triad City Beat entry to the courthouse. They were there to cover the case of a woman accused of felony assault with a deadly weapon against two girls at a Black Lives Matter protest in August. (The journalists also had been barred Dec. 2 from a hearing in another protest-related case.)

Their three news organizations objected to the denial of access and asked for a hearing. The motion, written by their attorney, Amanda Martin, general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association, said the journalists had been told they could not enter unless they were parties to the proceedings. The denial also came without a written order specifying the reasons — something that U.S. Supreme Court rulings have said is required. And the journalists had been denied their right to a hearing on the decision. 

The objection (read it here) cited Article I, Section 18 of the state Constitution (“All courts shall be open”) and several precedents supporting a “common law and constitutional right of access to judicial records and proceedings.” 
'This courtroom is not closed to the public; it is closed to you.'

But when Boney, who was allowed inside to file the objection, tried to speak in its defense, Wilkins ordered him removed from the courtroom. Deputies took him out and handcuffed him briefly in a hallway. 

Boney told Green later that Wilkins had told him: “This courtroom is not closed to the public; it is closed to you.”

Brosseau, in this Twitter thread, and Green, here, offer a running account of what happened. Here’s the Alamance News report.

All three newsrooms had to rely on interviews afterward to report the outcome of the case (two misdemeanor guilty pleas). [N&O] [Triad City Beat] [Alamance News]

"We plan to appeal and seek an immediate remedy," Robyn Tomlin, president and editor of The N&O, told me this morning. Green told me that Triad City Beat also would seek appellate review.

(You'll remember that one of Boney's reporters, Tomas Murawski, was arrested in October while covering a voting march in Graham. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has urged the Graham police to drop those charges.)

➡️ The RCFP has a guide to reporters' newsgathering rights, including court access.
   ➵ * I know. It's an idiom.
Meanwhile, down I-85 in Gastonia...

Gaston County commissioners had been scheduled to vote Tuesday night to authorize spending $100,000 to pursue a libel suit against The Gaston Gazette, but their meeting was delayed until Dec. 17 by what a county news release called "a potential COVID case," Ann Doss Helms reports for WFAE.

The lawsuit challenges a Gazette report Nov. 12 that raised questions about the board’s adherence to the state’s Open Meetings Law.
It may seem obvious, but Helms and Nick de la Canal of WFAE have four constitutional experts on the record saying that public bodies can’t sue for libel, citing New York Times v. Sullivan.

Each of the seven commissioners, and the board itself, are plaintiffs in the suit, which says the Gazette story “impeaches Plaintiffs in their trades or professions.” It asks for actual and punitive damages.

Stay tuned on that one, too.

Local voice: Sharif Durhams

You may have heard that Sharif Durhams, who grew up in Raleigh, is returning home to be the managing editor of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.

Durhams, 43, is now the night homepage editor at The Washington Post and is in his second term as the first Black board president of NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He has been an instructor at Poynter and at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; a senior digital editor at CNN; a reporter, social media editor and digital strategist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; and a reporter at The Charlotte Observer, all after being the first Black editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel at UNC (1998-99).

He and Erica Beshears Perel, whom he succeeded as EIC at the Tar Heel and who is now the general manager there, created the Sharif Durhams Leadership Program two years ago to enhance equity, inclusion and opportunity at the DTH.

I got to catch up with him this week. Highlights of our conversation:
What made you want to come back?

You know, it's a couple of things. Obviously there's an appeal of being in the city where I grew up, and being able to work every day for a news organization that I admired in high school and college. There are people at The N&O I competed against 15 or 20 years ago when I was working for The Charlotte Observer, and I admired their work then. There's also the appeal of trying to help solve the challenges local news is facing. They're probably the most perplexing problems in our industry, and I want to see if there are things I've learned working in digital spaces that would be helpful.

Tell me about your “first hundred days.”

Job one is listening. I have to really get to know the people in the newsroom, including a number of young people that have been hired in recent years, and see what excites them about their work, and figure out ways to marry that with the needs of the community. I can have all sorts of ideas, but we have to figure out ideas that can be measured and executed. And so, I'll be really digging in, getting to know the staff and getting to know the community. I grew up in Raleigh, but I don't want to make assumptions about what's going on in Raleigh and in North Carolina. 

How will The N&O and The Herald-Sun be different a year from now?

If we do our work well, we will understand your needs better. And we will produce reporting that helps you in your daily life, even better than we have. The N&O and Herald-Sun have been on a transformation that has supercharged since Robyn (Tomlin) joined, and my goal is to partner with her and figure out ways to serve readers even better. And a key part of the challenge for me is to better serve audiences and cover areas that we haven't done as well in the past.

Do you have a strategy for that, for covering all communities better?

I think part of the strategy is an old-school one. You know, you were taught that if everyone is at a press conference and looking at the principal speaker, the reporter who turns around and looks and sees what's going on in the other direction gets the best story. And I think we need to look at communities that we haven't, and report on them with the kind of nuance that we would report on our own neighborhoods with.
Tell me about the leadership program at the DTH.
We partnered to launch that in early 2019, in part because Erica Beshears (Perel), who's the general manager, was at the DTH in an era in which there was a really diverse cohort of students. She was the editor the year before I became the first Black editor of the DTH. Rob Nelson was editor the year after me, and since then there has not been a Black person in that role. And part of our understanding was that people of color would come into the newsroom and not feel that they could speak up, not feel that they could have the same kind of ownership of that institution that other students came in and felt. And so we wanted to make sure that students of color ... had the same opportunities, and the same resources and the same attention. And that if they had any discomfort or complaints, we were here to listen to them.
We've seen that come to fruition. Students in the program have produced their own special coverage. They've had internships, opportunities. They've taken leadership roles at the paper. And so we just want to keep that going. We see the same problem among professionals in our industry. And we just want to make sure that when those students come out of school and go into newsrooms, they know that they have something to contribute.
Durhams succeeds Jane Elizabeth, who's moving on to consulting. He will start Dec. 30 and move to Raleigh in the spring.
From the workshop
Registration will open next week for the first NC Local News Summit, set for Jan. 13, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a morning social beforehand.
The NC Local News Workshop, with support from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, is convening this virtual gathering of people and organizations who are bolstering civic life and democracy through news or related disciplines. Journalists, journalism researchers, related nonprofits, professional organizations, philanthropic funders, library science and misinformation specialists, and journalism educators are invited, among others.
The idea is to train our collective brainpower, in a main session and group workshops, on local news needs and opportunities. We'll network, learn about one another’s work, and spark ideas for action. You can help shape the agenda with an early RSVP by filling out this Google form. Feel free to share the link.
Report for America adds newsrooms
Report for America has added four new host newsrooms in North Carolina for its 2021-22 reporter corps, among 64 additions across the country. It has also opened applications for journalists who want to participate.

The new beats are at WFDD/La Noticia for coverage of COVID-19 recovery and the Latino community in Forsyth County; Mountain Times Publications for watchdog environmental reporting in the west; The Charlotte Post to cover health care reporting in the Black community; and WFAE in Charlotte for equity reporting.

They join The Associated Press, North Carolina Health News, The News & Observer, a WFAE/La Noticia collaboration, The Charlotte Observer and Carolina Public Press as continuing participants. Read more about the current cohort in my April 29 newsletter.

Report for America pays up to half of the salaries of reporters it places in newsrooms; the hosts raise the rest. The two-year program, with an option for a third year, also provides its participants with training, mentoring, peer networking and membership in professional organizations.

Journalists’ applications for the 2021-22 corps are due Jan. 31, and those selected will join their newsrooms on June 1. [Learn more and apply.]

RFA’s expansion means that more than 200 newsrooms across the country — including a doubling in participation of Black- and Hispanic-owned media — and more than 300 journalists will be in the 2021-22 cohort. 

Well done

👏This story is both heartbreaking and eye-opening (told in words by Charlie Innis and video by Julia Wall for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun): A Durham neighborhood caught in the crossfire. What do its residents want?

👏Nate Morabito at WCNC in Charlotte raised a lot of good questions about the $10 million PPP loan that went to the facility services business owned by members of the family of Ted Budd, the GOP congressman representing North Carolina’s 13th District. 
   ➵ WCNC also offers a searchable, sortable database of everyone who got PPP loans in the Carolinas.

👏Trials in gyms, cases delayed: With NC pandemic logjam, justice ‘slow as molasses.’ The NC Watchdog Reporting Network.

👏Virus surging in rural NC, but COVID-19 skepticism remains. Andrew Carter for the McClatchy newsrooms.

Bulletin board
First, bookmark this...
📌 How to find diverse sources. (A lot of the work has been done for you.) By Melba Newsome, an independent journalist in Charlotte, for Reynolds Journalism Institute.

📌 Leaders of The Center for Investigative Reporting discuss how reporters and news organizations can handle libel and slander suits in a one-hour Poynter webinar Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. ET. There's no fee, thanks to support from the Democracy Fund; a $15 donation is suggested. [Register.]

📌 NABJ is recruiting candidates for nine yearlong fact-checking fellowships, funded by the Facebook Journalism Project to support diversity in the fact-checking profession. [Apply by Dec. 31.]
Add to calendar
📌 Politics and public health: How lessons from the 2020 election can prepare journalists for what’s coming. That's a participatory session with breakout rooms, organized by the American Press Institute, Election SOS, First Draft, Hearken, PEN America, Protect Democracy and Trusting News, on Dec. 15 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. [Register.]
📌 How will journalism and digital media change in 2021? Some predictions, with Karen Rundlet of the Knight Foundation and Joshua Benton and Laura Hazard Owen of the Nieman Journalism Lab, in a webinar Thursday at 1 p.m. [Register.]
For your consideration
📌 “(The common) approach to journalism—top-down, focused on individuals and events isolated from context—doesn’t serve readers: it skews the public perception of resource-starved communities, diminishes systemic harms by centering individual actions, and values institutional authority and expert opinion over the people for whom the stakes are highest.” Darryl Holliday, in CJR, argues that we already have a model for a better way: What Journalism Can Learn from Mutual Aid.

📌 U.S. newsrooms are very white. So are the critics and the journalists that cover them. Gabe Schneider, Poynter.
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 

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