Carolina Commentary Celebrates One Year

As we celebrate our first birthday, Carolina Commentary has developed faster than the startup platform we first envisioned.

The venture, put together by a team of veteran newspaper people, was designed to provide insight, analysis and commentary on issues of import to North Carolina.

One thing we found is that insight, analysis and commentary are in sore need these days.

Another thing we found is what we’ll call the canary in the coal mine.

Let’s start by talking about coal mines. More specifically, coal miners.

Remember the fuss Donald Trump made over bringing back mining jobs during the 2016 election campaign? A casual observer would easily think hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of jobs were in play.

In fact, there are only about 50,000 mining jobs in the country, according to official Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Granted, those figures don’t lump in affiliated jobs such as driving a coal truck. Still, the lure of the return of lost jobs certainly motivated some voters to cast their ballot for the New York businessman.

And its true jobs were lost, about half of all coal mining jobs in the U.S. over five years. Most of those jobs were claimed by technological changes in mining and the boom in natural gas.

A century ago, there were nearly a million miners. Those jobs were lost as people moved from being transported in coal-powered trains to gas-powered cars on their way to places heated by electricity, not coal.

But the campaign line was that there a “war on coal,’’ sinister forces such as overzealous regulators and scheming environmentalists.

How did that line stand and the importance of mining jobs get so overinflated?

There we turn to another jobs crisis, happening about the same time.

Employment among newspaper publishers dropped from 412,000 to 174,000 from 2001 to September 2016.

Half of the surviving reporters and correspondents are clustered in the five metro areas of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Perhaps that’s why the true dimensions of what was happening in the coal industry, and claims regarding the coal industry, didn’t break through to the general public.

There were a lot fewer people to tell the tale.

The canary in democracy’s coal mine, a vibrant free press, well … she’s about done up an’ died.

But we’ve still got a few kicks left in us.

And back to us: We suspect the news desert that’s developing in the country, particularly in spots outside major metropolitan areas, has sparked a real hunger for reliable news and commentary.

We’d hoped to fill a little spot in the void with our new venture.

We underestimated the thirst out there.

With no budget for marketing or advertising – zip, zero, nada – we posted our first column on July 7, 2017.

As of June 19, 2018, we had grown to 5,859 subscribers.

We hear you, Carolina Commentary readers. And we’re out to up our game.

We’ll increase the frequency of our commentaries and guest columnists. We’ll put a focus on every article based on three core topics: Democracy, justice, and economy. Under the umbrella of these core topics we’ll continue to examine Carolina Commentary pillars such as education, the environment and how to best prepare for a more diverse (and grayer) North Carolina.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely already well informed on issues of justice and democracy, and the current assaults on the two. And good for you.

Today, though, we’d like to focus on the economy aspect. The impact to your wallet on decisions made at the local, state and national level are often covered on a very superficial, campaign bumper-sticker level. A tax cut, for example, may mean more money out of your pocket down the road in financing the national debt or seeing your local government have to pick up the tab for an unfunded mandate. A trim in, say, pre-school spending may mean 20 years from now you’ll be paying to house someone in a prison or rehab center as opposed to benefitting from the fruits of a solid, taxpaying citizen.

Specific to this column, consider this: Notre Dame associate professor of finance Paul Gao crunched the numbers and discovered what we don’t know truly can hurt us.

A working paper examined communities following a newspaper closure and discovered the costs for revenue bonds and municipal bonds in those places rose uniformly. That’s likely because no one was guarding the henhouse with basic local government reporting. As Gao said, “You can actually see the financial consequences that have to be borne by local citizens as a result of newspaper closures.”

We’re hoping to help continue to slake the thirst for meaningful information, to fill the gaps of a collapsing industry. But we need your help. We’d like your feedback on our first year; what we did well, what we can do better, and what issues may have fallen through the cracks. Go to survey here and help shape the face of Carolina Commentary in the coming year.

So, happy birthday to Carolina Commentary. We’ve grown a lot.

We intend to grow a lot more.

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