This is a story guaranteed to go on a reporter’s wall – and to set teeth gnashing again in Chapel Hill.
The New York Times reported on the long-running battle between UNC-Chapel Hill and The News & Observer – and, specifically, investigative reporter Dan Kane. Kane comes off best, as in this passage:
“…Kane is a polarizing figure, even outside the bloviating world of online outrage, as much as it is possible for someone as seemingly mild mannered as he is to rouse strong opinions. Some Chapel Hill alumni, faculty members and readers say that his paper, known locally as the N&O (and sometimes as the Nuisance and Disturber), has done a great public service in forcing the university to investigate and confront its past mistakes….
“Others more or less wish Kane would just go away. This category includes Tar Heels fans and alumni outraged at what they say are his wrongheaded efforts to link the academic scandal to the sports program; North Carolina administrators who, he says, no longer take his calls; and faculty members who believe Kane is looking for Watergate-style sports-related conspiracies that simply do not exist.”
But the last three paragraphs of the story illustrate both UNC’s problem – and the possible solution:
“’We admire the News & Observer’s long tradition of fair-minded journalism; we just wish they would practice it more often,’ the university’s newly appointed vice chancellor for communications, Joel Curran, said in a statement. ‘In our case, the paper seems more content to rehash old news rather than report new solutions.’
“Not surprisingly, Kane sees it differently.
“’They have done all kinds of things,’ he said. ‘But what’s left unanswered is how this all happened, and what actually happened. That’s where the battle forms. It’s like that old saying about history — if you don’t understand it, you’re doomed to repeat it’.”
UNC’s statement was needlessly antagonistic. Kane’s comment suggests that the university gets credit for what it has done, but it needs to simply come clean about what happened in the first place – who, what, where, when, etc. – and then say what the university did or didn’t do about it.
With all its problems today – a hostile state government, deep budget cuts and the Gene Nichol affair – can’t UNC simply let the facts come out and the chips fall where they may? Nothing can be worse than this constant warfare.