‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’: Taylor Swift fans struggle for Eras Tour tickets

By Isabella Reilly

On the morning of Nov. 15, 2022, lifelong Taylor Swift fan Emma McElroy sat at her kitchen table at 9:30 a.m. Bright-eyed and glued to her computer screen, she patiently waited to join the Verified Fan presale for Swift’s upcoming tour — the first concert the singer has headlined since 2018.  

At 9:41 a.m, she nervously texted her friend Jayne Willard. 

“Are you in the waiting room?” 

“Yes,” Willard replied. “I’m very scared.”

But by 10:33 a.m., McElroy sent another text, this time excited. 

“I got five lower bowl tickets for April 28 in Atlanta!” 

“Still 2,000 plus people in front of me,” Willard replied at 10:35 a.m.  

And at 11:21 a.m., Willard sent two sad face emojis with a message that read, “I haven’t moved in over 40 minutes.”

As a long-time fan of the singer herself, Willard said the cost didn’t matter. She had to see Swift live. 

Still, she didn’t think she’d have to bear with a 6-hour, slow-moving wait in Ticketmaster’s virtual queue to get what she wanted. 

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”

Willard was one of millions of fans to experience significant wait times, site interaction issues and exorbitant additional fees during Swift’s Ticketmaster presale. Fans and scalpers competed for a seat to one of the tour’s 52 U.S. show dates. Twenty-six concert hopefuls have since filed suit against the ticketing company, claiming it engaged in anticompetitive and fraudulent conduct. 

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” Swift said in an Instagram statement. “It’s truly amazing 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” 

McElroy said as soon as she began moving in the queue, she knew she was ahead of others in line. She said she couldn’t believe how quickly she was able to get her hands on tickets.

Willard, who was competing for tickets to Swift’s third show in Tampa, said she entered the presale intending to buy two seats, assuming someone would want to go with her.

But after finally getting through to ticket selection, Willard recalls clicking on a single seat to view the price before immediately being sent to checkout. 

“I had one seat in my cart and thought, ‘I’m not going to risk this,’” she said. “I was just grateful to get out with something.” 

Despite the friends’ vastly different experiences, Willard and McElroy were some of the lucky ones. The ticket battle left many fans, such as Alexa Mazloff, empty-handed.   

After a 4-hour wait in the queue, Mazloff said she thought she could rejoin the presale line the following day and purchase one of the remaining tickets to Swift’s first Tampa show. Though she didn’t think her selection would be as vast, she trusted that if she logged on early enough the next morning, she would be fine.

She later learned she wasn’t.

To address what Ticketmaster called a “historic demand for tickets,” the company postponed the exclusive presale for Capital One cardholders scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 15 to the following day. The general public sale, scheduled for Nov. 18, was canceled later that week. 

Jennifer Kinder, a lawyer representing Swift fans and founding attorney at the Dallas-based firm Kinder Law PLLC, said she had never seen a situation like Swift’s recent ticket sales before.

The Ticketmaster issues made national news, even attracting the attention of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a case hearing on the matter on Jan. 24.  

“Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,’” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during the three-hour hearing, quoting a lyric from Swift’s new single “Anti-Hero.”

Compounding an already trying customer experience, Kinder said verified fan tickets were sold for higher prices than initially negotiated, allowing the company to increase its existing additional fees. 

“As long as they can get scalpers and bots to buy a bunch of tickets, then they are ensured that the ticket will be sold two to three more times,” Kinder added. “And each time there is a new fee, they benefit.” 

Mazloff said that though she’s still on the hunt for a pair of tickets, most available for resale are out of her price range. She recalled an offer of one set of tickets priced at $1,000 each. 

“I’m sorry, but that is out of budget,” she said. “For me and for most people.”

“The Great War”

Kinder said she stands behind her decision to take on the suit, regardless of the criticism she’s faced.

She hopes her efforts will help prevent the further implementation of industry monopolies like the one fans claim Ticketmaster currently holds. Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation Entertainment, an events promoter and venue operator, in 2010. As a result, the company now holds an estimated 70% share of the market for ticketing and live events. 

Since Kinder Law began its “Take Down Ticketmaster” campaign in November, the firm has encouraged fans of other major artists interested in fundamental change to document their ticketing experiences, adding, “consumers need to stand up for themselves.” 

The first federal court hearing for the Swift fans’ lawsuit against the ticketing giant will be held on March 27. Kinder said the firm is prepared for what will likely be a “big fight.”

As for Willard, she isn’t letting anything get in the way of seeing Swift in Tampa. 

A first-year graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, she even moved her thesis defense, initially due by April 16, so it wouldn’t conflict with her show date. The committee hearing her defense agreed to do so on April 7, a scheduled university holiday.

With her one ticket secured, she’ll attend Swift’s concert solo, hoping the show will be akin to a religious experience. 

“Nothing is going to stop me now,” she said.


Edited by Allie Kelly and Guillermo Molero

‘Everything just began to click’: Finding a community in film, college and life

By Martha Bennett

Jacob Wishnek paused briefly in front of his computer to take a swig from his cappuccino. Readjusting his chair to get closer to the screen, he studied a scene from his latest short film, “College Kid,” in one of Swain Hall’s editing labs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“There!” he blurted out, pointing to the screen. “Do you see that? Oh man, I love that.”

In this scene, the main character, Alex, walks through a parking lot while he listens to “Birds Don’t Sing” by the hypnotic-pop band, TV Girl. Syncopated to each cut, the beat of the song dictates every edit, going from shots of Alex’s feet to close-ups of his face.

Snapping his fingers and bobbing his beanie-wearing head, Wishnek smiled.

“This might be one of the things I’m most excited about,” he said. “I just wanna be sure I can get it right.”

He knows, though, as much as his friends do, that he won’t feel like he got it right.

“He’s always on the move, on the go, pushing forward,” cinematographer and friend Michael Sparks said. “He discounts nearly everything he does, which means he doesn’t always take pride or gain confidence from his achievements.”

A dedicated planner and perfectionist, Wishnek’s work ethic has been shaped by crowded sets where he couldn’t hear himself speak, 48-hour deadlines that made him vomit from getting no sleep and pages of rough drafts that would never make it to a read through.

“Perfection is not possible,” actor and friend Calliope George said. “But it is exciting to work alongside someone who shoots for the moon.”

Wishnek’s had a lot of practice shooting for the moon.

At just 22, Wishnek has been involved in over 60 film projects. From sci-fi fantasies to comedies, he’s developed a desire for telling stories and finding different ways to tell them.

But his passion didn’t begin with a typical movie experience. He has Alex Kim, and what might be the worst song of all time, to thank.

The ‘film guy’

Wishnek was 13-years-old when he opened his front door in Charlotte, N.C. to see Kim, his neighbor, knocking.

“Hey, have you seen Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’?” Kim asked.

A high school student wanting some help, Kim proposed a parody project to Wishnek as an opportunity to get some laughs around school.

“We called it ‘Pi Day’ because March 14, or 3.14159 day,” Wishnek said. “And it kind of became viral.”

Using their parents’ camcorders, Wishnek helped Kim film an off-color music video that generated over 15,000 views on YouTube. The recognition was flattering, but Wishnek noticed something: The video sucked.

Wobbly frames, harsh lighting and odd angles all made Wishnek curious.

“That became my pastime,” he said. “Just researching how to make films. Whether that was with finding new equipment or just learning how to actually shoot things properly to up the production quality.”

There were other learning moments, too. A summer spent at the UNC School of the Arts gave him one of his most important ones.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” a 2012 film by Wes Anderson, was on a laundry list of movies to study for the summer. Known for his stylized form of filmmaking, “Moonrise” checks all the boxes for a typical Anderson film. A consistent color scheme, quirky humor and spanning landscapes paint a charming picture for anyone who sees it.

“I watched it and I was like, ‘Oh, film is art; that’s what this is,’” Wishnek said. “Everything just began to click.”

It wasn’t about cracking jokes — at least most of the time.

It was about finding beauty.

Whether visually on camera or emotionally through script, that’s what made a film engaging. That’s what made them worth making.

So Wishnek began to chase that beauty.

He became the “film guy” at school. Working from project to project, Wishnek always wanted to be busy, whether he was writing, directing or producing. Voted “Most Likely to Win an Oscar” his senior year and accepted into New York University’s prestigious dual business-film degree program, he felt he had paved a road to success.

But New York never happened. It could never happen.

With an annual tuition of over $75,000 and little financial aid, NYU was thrown out of the picture for the son of a network engineer and a business banker. He had to dream smaller, so he looked to the only in-state school he applied to.

“At first I was just trying to put this happy face on about UNC,” Wishnek said. “But deep down I just told myself I knew I would transfer.”

‘It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that’

Wishnek had found people with similar interests —even co-founded a student organization for filmmakers — but there was a disconnect. He lacked a community, and Ellie Teller was the person to see he needed one.

A year older and an acquaintance from high school, Teller found Wishnek in one of her classes her sophomore year. She saw a nice kid who always had a nervous smirk on his face, but he seemed lost. He reminded Teller of who she was a year ago.

“When I first came to UNC I had an older brother that was a senior, and spending time with him helped me engage with different communities at UNC,” Teller said. “I wanted to provide similar spaces for him to get out of his comfort zone and start enjoying UNC for all it had to offer.”

She took him to parties, introduced him to the media production major and even gave him his first beer. He may not have been in a big city, or enrolled in a flashy film school, but he began to realize he could belong somewhere. He could belong here.

“Our perceptions of college are that when you get there, everything will fall into place, but I don’t think that’s immediately true for many people,” Teller said. “It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that.”

This is what makes “College Kid” so personal for Wishnek to make — it’s about him.

A project four years in the making, the semi-autobiographical film traces Wishnek’s personal growth each year of college. Using musical and color motifs, the film mirrors what UNC-CH and filmmaking have taught him.

“In order to find happiness and fulfillment in your college experience, (in) life in general, you need to find and take part in your community,” Wishnek said.

“And that means putting in the work — doing something — to get there. The film industry is collaborative, not competitive. It’s the community of it all that makes a film thrive, and I think in life you have to find the same thing.”

As he scrolled through the last scene of “College Kid” on his screen, Wishnek spotted an error.

A scene between Alex and his friend Nathan, they’re sitting on a roof, looking at the night sky.

“See there?” Wishnek said, pointing to the screen. “You can see the boom pole’s shadow against the house.”

Embarrassed, he gritted his teeth as he watched the rest of the scene unfold.

“I just feel, in this moment, this sense of meaning,” Alex said to Nathan. “Nothing in particular. No one idea more significant than the other. Just…significance. And it’s a lot.”

Wishnek’s smile began to reappear.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley 

UNC DiPhi carries on history of debate, one argument at a time

By Chapel Fowler

Sam Gee sat on the top floor of New West on Monday night, typing furiously as he scoured Google for a punchline.

At the podium in front of him, Luke De Mott was halfway down a rabbit hole already. During the formal debate portion of this Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies (DiPhi) meeting, designated senators met to argue in favor of or against that night’s topic at hand: were J.K. Rowling’s recent retroactive changes to her “Harry Potter” series illegitimate?

Once the floor was open, De Mott launched into a sarcastic rant. The senior Phi senator started off with a friendly jab, telling his rival Di senators they “don’t control fiction.” There’s no objective truth to imaginary worlds, he said, and no incorrect interpretations of art. It’s all up to the reader.

Gee’s typing stopped. He’d found his counterpoint. The sophomore Di senator shot his hand up from his third-row desk. Quoting the famous line from “Hamlet,” he said: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“So,” Gee said, “is it possible that Hamlet is set on Mars?”

“Well,” De Mott said, “Maybe Mars has a Denmark.”

And with that, the chambers of UNC’s oldest student organization erupted in laughter.

History of the society 

For 224 years, DiPhi has offered  students a platform for robust debate with competition and friendship on the side. In 2019, the society is a bit more modern than in decades prior, with a well-designed website, active social media pages and senators reading speeches off laptops. But the rich history, many procedures and the fundamental goals of DiPhi remain the same.

“I think a bunch of students having a bunch of opinions and wanting to share them on their own accord is a really cool thing,” said Katrina Smith, a senior and joint senate president this semester. “I don’t think there are many spaces like that, where students come here for fun to do this.”

DiPhi, established in 1795, has been involved in all kinds of UNC history. Most notably, the societies’ use of diploma ribbons — light blue for Dis, white for Phis — helped inspire UNC’s now-famous school colors. The societies, which merged into a joint senate in 1959, also operated as the student government for over a century. DiPhi helped shape the UNC Honor System and the Yackety Yack yearbook, among other campus institutions.

But if you take a trip to Room 310 in New West, the history of DiPhi and its participating students truly come to life.

The space itself is regal, with cream-colored walls, blue trim and four massive golden chandeliers. All of the furniture is wooden, save for a chair made of literal cow hide and cow horns. Portraits of famous DiPhi alumni and honorary members hang wherever they can fit.

“It’s so cool,” said Peyton Furtado, a junior and Phi’s president. “To just study in some of these chambers and realize that people like Thomas Wolfe, Joseph Caldwell, James K. Polk have all been in these rooms and have been doing basically the same thing we’re doing.”

The debate comes alive

Each meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. On this night, Jack Watson took the podium after a roll call. As the critic, he alerts speakers when their time is up by ringing a silver bell and critiques his fellow senators’ performances after debate ends.

DiPhi debates start with a resolution, or an opinionated statement. Senators then argue in favor of or against it. This particular night’s resolution revolved around Rowling, who recently tried to add extra information to the “Harry Potter” canon to mixed results. Watson smirked as he introduced the topic.

“First, she said Dumbledore was gay, and I said nothing, because sexuality is a spectrum and I can buy that,” he said. “Then, she said, ‘I never said Hermione wasn’t black,’ and I said, ‘That’s kind of a weird way to say that, but OK.’ And then, she said that wizards used to poop on the floor, and I could say nothing, because it was my fault for retweeting her for so long.”

The debate took off from there. Senators against Rowling’s decision offered strong arguments: that art can’t retroactively be changed, that Rowling should create new diverse art instead.

Those arguing for Rowling advocated just as intensely. One interesting point  brought up the question: Whether publication is the true cut-off point for a book, or is it just an artificial boundary placed on the author? All through the debate, senators snapped their fingers when they agreed with something, and they hissed loudly when they didn’t.

Among the structure and carefully curated arguments, though, there’s plenty of humor. Gee created his own obscene revision and joked that Dobby the elf had “a 10-inch rod.” Sophomore Mo Van de Sompel decided to push back on the idea that all interpretations of art are valid with an off-the-wall hypothetical.

“I choose to believe that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not a white supremacist,” Van de Sompel said. “But if the author, Eric Carle, comes out tomorrow and says the caterpillar is a neo-Nazi, do I have to accept that?”

The fun continued into DiPhi’s other main staple — PPMAs, or papers, petitions, memorials and addresses. During this “signature free speech forum,” anyone can rant on whatever they want for up to five minutes. On this night, many chose comedy.

Senior Kristen Roehrig recounted the panic attack she had in a Washington, D.C., bathroom (“This will be a good story for an interview someday”). Watson, the critic, talked about how he discovered his inverted nipple (“Lefty goes in; righty goes out”). One senator told the story of a piece of cheese thrown so perfectly it landed inside someone’s pocket; another broke down the phenomenon of orange plastic Garfield telephones washing up on France’s beaches.

“We have lightheartedness in the serious,” sophomore Christina Barta said. “We also have seriousness in the lighthearted.”

The Rowling debate wasn’t exactly political. But political debates are frequent. Last month, six senators presented their argument for the best 2020 presidential candidate. In February, DiPhi hosted the second UNC student body president debate. Other topics that were tackled this semester included the two-child policy, how familiar Americans should be with the Bible and if wars have been beneficial to mankind.

There’s usually a quota — one science debate, one policy debate, one literary debate and so on — but Smith said DiPhi’s been more flexible this semester. Thanks to a wide array of majors and interests in the society, the balance between serious debates and more lighthearted ones “just ends up happening.”

Monday night’s meeting didn’t adjourn until past midnight, but, to no surprise, another DiPhi tradition held true. Senators made the short walk from campus to Linda’s Bar & Grill on Franklin Street for baskets of cheese fries.

They’ll be back at it again next week with a fresh topic: whether or not homeschooling should be abolished. They’ll be debating, like they have been for 225 years.

In the words of the DiPhi Facebook page: “The conversations don’t ever have to stop.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler and Nick Thompson

From granite to HBO: How a southern boy transitioned to LA

By Virginia Phillips Blanton


He broke the mold

The trade offs were immense when Herman Phillips IV packed up his 2008 Honda CR-V, abandoning White Oak, South Carolina to traverse the country, running down a dream. Magnolia trees for palm trees. Crock-Pot mac ‘n cheese for authentic street pho. Acres of land for a rent-controlled shoebox. The boldest compromise was leaving the family granite business for a production assistant job at HBO.

Dora and Herman “Grady” Phillips III had five children. Hannah Brown, Ruthie, Mary Grace, Sarah and Hunter were raised in a town of 50 people. “Our parenting philosophy was to bring our children up in fear and admiration of the Lord,” Grady said.

“There was no part of my life untouched by religion,” Herman said. He couldn’t read “Harry Potter” because it was considered a satanic influence. Any film he watched was vetted through biblical movie reviews. Church on Sunday was clockwork.

“I always dreaded a Sunday morning in my house. I would dread the process of getting ready, putting on my tie and pushing everyone out the door. We had to drive an hour to church and an hour back. It was the most boring drive. We would listen to a sermon on the way, stay the entire service, then listen to a different sermon on the drive back,” Herman said.

He started going by Herman instead of his given name, Hunter, when he was 16. “It was too much of a stereotypical, southern boy name. I realized it wouldn’t be very good branding for who I wanted to be,” he said.

He chose filming over hunting

Phillips Granite Company was established in 1933. Herman always felt pressured to take over the family business and play the role of a good, Christian, southern gentleman. When he was 9 years old, he told his dad he wanted to be a filmmaker.

“I had two choices: to either embrace the expectations and lie to myself and others or leave it all behind and reinvent who I was supposed to be,” he said.

“I remember the first duck, quail and dove Hunter shot. I could read that it wasn’t a passion for him like it was for me. But he enjoyed us being together. We still hunt together when he comes home,” Grady said.

The one thing Herman gleefully shot as a boy was footage. He started writing little scripts when he was 7 years old. On a personal YouTube channel, he uploaded reviews of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” His parents allowed this online presence because he spoke with a brown paper bag over his head with eye cutouts to maintain privacy. When he was 13, his mother took him to be an extra in “The Hunger Games” franchise.


Growing up, Herman felt like he didn’t fit in with his White Oak, South Carolina community, but after working on HBO’s “Insecure”, he finally found his niche.

Adversity didn’t stop him

The first time Herman visited California was to tour colleges. Grady and Dora accompanied him. They passed out Bibles on the street in between tours of the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University. Even then, they sensed their son’s magnetism toward Los Angeles.

Granite weathers away slower than other rocks. But it can bear abrasions. Herman’s acceptance to the University of Southern California validated every unacceptance he felt in his hometown. “But when USC didn’t offer me any scholarships or financial aid whatsoever, everything seemed to collapse around me. I don’t think I’ve ever been that distraught, before or since. It’s still hard to think about,” he said. The reality of $60,000 a year sunk in. He enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s Honor College.

“He was very much a gentleman about it. He understood why he couldn’t go,” said Dora.

Herman’s career momentum kick started at a Philips’ family reunion, of all places.The  It was the summer before his first semester at the University of South Carolina. He was deflated about settling in South Carolina. He had no idea his mentor was floating in a sea of nametags. Hello, my name is: Ben Patrick. A production sound mixer who resided in LA, Patrick connected Herman with Jim Kleverweis, a producer at HBO. One coffee with Kleverweis and a conspicuous email correspondence landed him a summer job working on the television series “Insecure,” directed by Issa Rae. Herman worked every college summer in some entertainment capacity in LA

“People have their cliques, their respective groups, their fraternities and sororities. I had never felt like I had found my people, my tribe, until I stepped on a film set. Once I did, it washed over me. ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to be like,’” he said.

The City of Angels summoned him. The summer before his junior year of college, an assistant director on “Insecure” encouraged him to drop out and continue working with them. Heeding the advice, he loaded extra credit hours onto his schedule and plunged into his honors thesis, graduating a year early. His exodus from the East Coast began five days after graduation.

Neighbors warned him: “Traffic is going to be terrible,” and “They do it different out West.” The difference is what drives him. Jack Kerouac style, he sped through 10 states to his new home. The road trip was a formal education for his narrow worldview.

He grew but never changed

LA has not watered down his southern mannerisms from sweet to unsweet tea. The phrases yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir and no sir remain in his vernacular. “He’s found great success in his first few years in LA, but that hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still the same old Herman,” said Matt Francis, his best friend.

“One of the reasons he wears facial hair is to cover up the fact that he’s only 21. On Monday, he had to drive 40 miles to be on location at 5 a.m. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. and got organized. Hunter is very organized. Everything is working in his favor,” said Dora.

A wide shot of his West Coast life doesn’t fit a single still. His White Oak routine was stagnant. He facilitates physical production for the upcoming HBO series “Euphoria” with rising talent Zendaya. He was recently  asked back onto production for a fourth season of “Insecure.” He grabs coffee for the directors and actors, wires mics and escorts actors to the camera. Everything is time-sensitive.

There is a familial structure on set that comforts him when he feels uprooted from his immediate family.

“We’re all just a bunch of weirdos trying to make it for ourselves. We’re all here for the same reason, because you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. A film can change people’s lives in ways you don’t even realize. Making something beautiful is why it all works,” he said.

Juggling a 65-hour work week, he has a standing call with his parents on Sunday afternoons, followed by another with his grandmother. Last spring, Grady and Herman went skydiving together. Herman jumped first.

“Once we were out of free fall, my tandem partner told me to look up. Hunter had jumped out first and we were the ones below him. How’d that happen,” Grady said.

The life Herman Grady Phillips IV lives isn’t guided by a predetermined headstone. “I’ve taken my family name and turned it into something totally different than what the name means in the South. Even though I may not be the fourth generation Phillips making granite, I represent the fourth generation of my family as entrepreneurs.” Etch that on his grave.


Edited by: Victoria Young

Reporting amid distrust at the Carteret County News-Times

By Jacob Hancock

Wayne Guthrie is the owner of Outerbanks Seafood in Beaufort, N.C. Everyone in town who enjoys eating good shrimp – that is, most everyone –  knows “Mr. Wayne.” He’s a busy man, always talking with someone who wants fresh, local seafood, and he does his best to keep up with the news.

“I try to read the paper every day, and I watch CNN,” Guthrie said.

But he doesn’t trust the media.

“They just don’t understand a lot of what they’re talking about,” Guthrie said. “They don’t always have the facts. They publish what they hear instead of what they know.”

Guthrie isn’t alone. Natalie Gibble said she isn’t confident in a lot of the media content that she gets each day.

“My momma always told me to believe nothing that you hear, and only half of what you see. I’m skeptical,” Gibble said of news media, “because they often have a bias, and they make mistakes on all kinds of things.”

Public confidence in the media has reached a new low, according to a Gallup poll taken in September. Only 32 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount of trust” in the media. Among republicans, who traditionally distrust the media more than democrats and independents, only 14 percent say they have confidence in news outlets.

Carteret County, with Beaufort at its heart, is the most Republican-dominated County in all of Eastern North Carolina, and it’s where I was raised. Everybody knows each other, and rumors travel faster than the trucks that gun it out of the parking lot after the school bell rings. People still buy the local paper, the Carteret County News-Times, though many call it the “Mullet Wrapper,” because they’d rather use it to package fish than as a news source.

This environment presents problems for local journalists, some of whom were born and raised in Carteret County. At times, it can be frustration boils up for both the reporters and within the community.


It’s November. I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed and see a headline that reads: “Clinton Campaign Paid Beyoncé and Jay Z $62 Million for Cleveland Concert to Secure Black Votes.” I click on it and it takes me to EndingTheFed.com. I decide to copy and paste the headline into a search engine, and dozens of articles come up from various websites, but none of them are traditional media outlets. They are websites with titles like NewsBreaksHere.com, TheAfricanSpear.com, or AmericansNews.online, and much of their content, including this article, is false.

But that didn’t stop 11 of my Facebook friends from Carteret County from liking and sharing the article.

“She is despicable!” one post reads. A commenter replies, “Sounds about right!!!”

Beth Blake, managing editor of the News-Times, said she’s concerned by how readily people accept content from fake news websites as true.

“It’s disconcerting that people aren’t asking questions when they see these articles,” Blake said. “Some of the things I’ve seen shared on Facebook are just ridiculous, but people believe them.”

Blake recalled a story that she saw during the election season that said Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. It would be odd for the pope to publicly endorse a candidate, and even more odd to endorse Trump considering Pope Francis has been considered liberal on social issues.

“I saw that and right away I knew that it wasn’t true,” Blake said. “But somebody I’m friends with thought that it was legitimate and wanted to share it with all of their friends. It’s kind of scary.”

Jackie Starkey is a government and politics reporter at the News-Times. She said she feels like many people believe fake news articles because it reinforces their own beliefs.

“Everyone wants to feel like they’re always right,” Starkey said. “They’re looking to read something that confirms what they already believe, and if it doesn’t then they tend to lose interest. That can make things problematic for us.”


Guthrie, like 70 percent of voters in Carteret County, voted for Donald Trump in the election this fall. One of Guthrie’s biggest complaints about the media was his perception of bias, especially against President Trump.

“They’re constantly on his case,” Guthrie said. “Every day it’s something new. They were never this hard on Obama.”

Many Carteret voters agree. Starkey thinks that attitude seems to persist throughout rural areas in the United States.

“There’s a lot of animosity towards the establishment,” Starkey said. “I think that’s pretty evident considering the recent election.”

Students from West Carteret High School traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Trump’s inauguration. Before they left, Starkey wrote about the trip, using it to describe controversies surrounding Trump’s campaign and the assembly of his administration. She mentioned that the inauguration signified the beginning of one historic era and the end of another. She alluded to President Obama’s accomplishments as America’s first black president.

“It wasn’t even a big part of the story, but it definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” Starkey said. “If you’re not pissing people off, you’re probably doing something wrong though.”

If you throw a rock in Carteret County, you’re bound to hit a Republican. It can be very difficult to provide evenhanded news when readership is so right-side dominant.

“It runs pretty red here,” Starkey said. “That can make it tough to provide balanced content, and frankly, a lot of people aren’t always looking to read balanced content.”

Community ties

J.J. Smith is the News-Times’ sports reporter. He was born and raised in Atlantic, N.C., and graduated from East Carteret High School. Smith mostly reports on high school athletics in the county. The East Carteret Mariner’s varsity boys’ basketball team is one of the area’s most successful programs, having won seven consecutive conference championships. They went undefeated in the 2013-2014 season before losing in the NCHSAA 1A Championship game to Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. East came back to beat Winston-Salem in the championship the following season. Smith said that he often catches a lot of flak from people in the community because his alma mater tends to dominate the press during the winter.

“Some of the coaches at the other high schools like to call me ‘Mickey Mariner,’” Smith said with a chuckle. “But it’s kind of hard not to write about them when they’re having so much success. People want to keep up with East basketball.”

Smith said that, as a sports reporter, he feels pretty insulated from most of the criticism that political journalists receive.

“Sometimes I almost feel like more of a cheerleader than a reporter,” Smith said.

However, he did recall one time a critic got under his skin. A student from a competing high school tweeted that Smith would get sexual gratification from writing about another East Carteret state championship.

“I didn’t really appreciate that one,” Smith said. “I enjoy seeing all of the county teams thrive.”

Smith said that he is passionate about his job, he enjoys working in the community he grew up in and yet he definitely feels being a reporter in your hometown can be challenging.

“I can count the negative things I’ve written on one hand, but it definitely gets to be a problem if you’re writing about politics or education,” Smith said. “You have to be careful because the people you’re writing about are the people that you’re going to sit next to in church, or people that you’ve grown up with your entire life.”

Jackie Starkey did not grow up in Carteret County.

“I always feel like an outsider,” Starkey said. “But I think that’s a good thing. I have fresh eyes. I’m always bringing a fresh, new perspective. I think it makes things easier.”

But being an outsider has its disadvantages.

“Sometimes it can be hard when I’m doing a story and trying to set up interviews,” Starkey said, “And someone says ‘you should talk to so-and-so,’ and I have no idea who they are. And sometimes people might be more hesitant to talk simply because they don’t really know me.”


Blake has been working in the news industry since 1979 and she believes that this is a crucial time for the newspaper.

“Our role is more important now than ever,” Blake said. “It is imperative to have community journalists that are reporting on everything from government, to education, to business, to sports. The people have a fundamental right to know what’s going on.”

Asked what she would tell an aspiring journalist who may feel discouraged by the public’s lack of trust in the media, Blake said it’s important to study American History.

“The American media has been under attack forever,” Blake said. “It’s nothing new. You have to have a thick skin and just know that you’re serving the public.”

Blake said that she believes a critical public makes the media better.

“We are aware that people are doubting us,” Blake said. “That just makes us work even harder. We want to make sure that everything we publish has a solid factual background. We work harder to make sure that every fact has been checked. We want to get it right.”

Jackie Starkey said that even though she may receive criticism, she feels that she’s appreciated as a local journalist.

“They may not be a fan, but people are respectful,” Starkey said. “They see the value in having someone reporting on local government, and they respect me even though they may not always like me.”

Gibble says that while she may not always trust the media, she does have respect for journalists

“I don’t think that most journalists are bad people,” Gibble said. “I think they have a really tough job, especially now with how divisive everyone is. It’s not a job that I would want to have to do, that’s for sure.”

Asked whether or not they think the media can mend its relationship with the public, Gibble and Starkey gave the same answer.

“I sure hope so.”


Ed. by Jordan Wilkie

Amid a culture of artistic flight, Triangle offers N.C. artists a haven close to home

By Janna Childers

Kellyn Thornburg was 20 years old, hair freshly died platinum blond and chopped off at the nape of her neck, with one very large suitcase stuffed full of thrift store T-shirts and leotards. It was August of 2015, and she was waiting at the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport for a  flight to New York City.

Back in May, Thornburg graduated from the UNC School of the Arts with a degree in contemporary dance. After a summer spent bouncing between her college city of Winston-Salem and her rural hometown of Dallas, North Carolina, Thornburg was hungry for change. So, she found an apartment in Harlem and booked her flight.

“I straight up moved to Harlem, and Harlem is a whole different world in and of itself,” Thornburg said. “It was a huge shock at first. But coming from Dallas, North Carolina, there just wasn’t anything out here.”

Thornburg’s story follows a familiar story of young, burgeoning artists, tired of the lack of inspiration in their hometown, flocking to the open arms of a gritty city. And despite musician Patti Smith’s warning to young artists from a 2010 blog post on Vanishing New York — “You have to find the new place because New York City has been taken away from you” — New York has remained the most popular choice, especially for those interested in contemporary art and media. According to the U.S. Census, from 2010 to 2012, the city saw a 40,000-person spike in individuals identifying as artists.

But what happens to the towns these artists leave behind? Is there an art vacuum? Despite the notion that suggests art is dead across America’s small towns and suburbs, the Triangle area of North Carolina offers an alternative. It might not be considered the most exciting and inspiring place for young creatives, but there are certainly a number of locals who take the art world seriously.

Going elsewhere

Wayne Marcelli is a painter from Myrtle Beach. He has an armful of tattoos, thin-rimmed glasses and gauges in his ears. And despite having roots in North Carolina, he plans to move away after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate studio art.

“The department is kind of an incubator, but once you graduate, you go elsewhere unless you’re going to work at the school,” Marcelli said. “Teaching jobs around here are kind of dried up. And at least in the art department here, when they’re hiring new people they generally don’t hire from within the department.”

Aaron Mandel, founder of the Durham-based media company Clarion Content, said he thinks the Triangle, with its economic success, has become a place for yuppies. He describes the “glory days” of the Durham art scene, back in the ’80s and ’90s when it was a city known for high crime rates and low incomes. He draws parallels between gentrification and what he deems to be the success of the art scene in a city.

“Durham was the sort of place where it was possible for artists to find ground-level opportunities and cheap studios. It’s the same story of the Village in New York, or SoHo,” Mandel said. “Now it’s priced artists out. I think if you study the places where art is made, it tends to be more of those edgy places, more of those places where conflict is really present. Because if you’re in safe, comfortable, suburbia, what do you really need art for?”

But Marcelli wanted to clarify that he didn’t fully agree with the idea that art always came from a place a struggle.

“That could be a misconception, because like a good chuck of the celebrity artists, people who show all over New York City and have pages in art forum, they have generally privileged upbringings,” he said. “They’ve been immersed in that world for a long time. I personally agree that turmoil is a really good generator, but I don’t think that’s the case across the board.”

People move for all sorts of reasons, and artists are no different. They may be priced out of their neighborhood downtown or feel that box stores and model homes are no longer inspiring. Or maybe it’s a trend because the marketplace makes it necessary to have a concentration of network and resources for a particular industry. Whatever the reason, in the United States, many artists tend to be pretty mobile people.

Creative thinkers  

Patrick Hitesman puts his students first. He is a busy man — carting his daughter off to middle school, commuting to work every morning from Apex to Durham, teaching high school students how to paint and maintaining a gallery space in Pittsboro. Hitesman has spent 23 years teaching painting, and he’s spent the past four at Durham School of the Arts. But he said it’s common for students to forget that he’s also a working artist in the Triangle art community.

Art education is messy terrain, with wary parents and a persistent drought of federal funding. But art teachers and schools across the state are still finding ways to make it work.

Art educators find a surprising amount of community support, especially in the Triangle. Since 1995, Durham School of the Arts has offered students a choice in one of 10 concentrations, including visual arts, dance and theater. Graduates from the school often pursue degrees across the country. UNC School of the Arts also has programs that train high school and college students for visual and performing arts careers.

Darrell Thompson, who also works at Durham School of the Arts, has been teaching photography at the school for 20 years.

“The thing about education in sort of a broad brushstroke is you want kids to be creative thinkers. And there’s no better way to do that than giving them a simple set of skills, a project they need to accomplish and then turning them loose to go do it,” he said. When you’re talking to parents though, it gets tough, because not all parents who are my age did what I did to get thorough college. They were doctors, they were lawyers, they were mechanics, they are physician’s assistants. To them, without science and math, there is no future.”

Navigating the market

Art teachers aren’t alone in being engines of the art community. There are also a number of people in consulting that work specifically with artists to help them navigate the art market. Heather Allen is one such person. Allen studied art and design as an undergraduate student, but she quickly realized she longed to teach and see people thrive. After earning a graduate degree in business, she started consulting in 2012, focusing on creative small business out of Raleigh — mostly writers and artists who want to sell their work. She’s now mostly consults older business owners who have been in the industry for years and need help managing new media platforms.

“A lot of those [marketing] models that were popular and predictable in the ’90s and the early 2000s now come with sometimes higher costs,” Allen said. “I encourage people to see the opportunities on the internet in a way that allows them to reduce cost and increase visibility.”

Allen is among several consultants for artists in the Raleigh-Durham area, but she works with people in several states. There are also several organizations that serve as resources for artists in the area, including Triangle ArtWorks, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and the public art offices in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

‘Something really beautiful about the struggle’

Whether you yearn to up and move to the big city or hunker down and try to make it in your hometown, there are inevitable challenges an artist must face. One could simply be choosing a path — do you freelance, teach? Own your own business, go to school?

Thornburg is a little nervous about the next few years. She freelanced in New York City for more than a year — interning for Twyla Tharp, performing at Lincoln Center, picking up gigs in music videos and flash mobs. She recently accepted a position as the regional creative director for Salvation Army. While she’s glad to have a steady income, she said she’s found it difficult to find as much time for dance.

“For this job, I’m sort of hoping it’s a stepping stone for my dance career instead of this just being it, you know,” she said. “Eventually, my goal is to save up enough money to go back to grad school and get my masters in arts management and/or dance and create my own company and be able to create my own work from there.”

In the meantime, she’s enjoying her job and spending time getting to know the greater New York area, often driving hours to visit a site in her designated region. Thornburg says she’s not afraid of the harder times she has faced and might face in the future.

“There’s something really beautiful about the struggle that you face as an artist because it feeds into whatever you’re trying to portray through your movement, or the film that you’re making or the story that you’re writing,” she said.

“I think you just have to go for it and you realize that it’s not as scary as you make it out to be.”

Edited by Danny Nett

Fact-checking used as a remedy to help cure fake news epidemic

By Luke Bollinger

“Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide.”

This is the headline of a story published on Dec. 11, 2016. The story was published on abcnews.com.co. If this controversial executive order sounds unfamiliar, it’s because it is absolutely false.

The promulgation of fake news like this has gotten out of control. After the 2016 election, Buzzfeed used Facebook’s monitoring tools to collect data and determined that the top 20 fake news stories outperformed news from mainstream outlets. Data collected included views, likes, comments and shares on Facebook.

The diminished value of truth in the past election and the difficulty of identifying fake news has posed a new challenge for journalists and media outlets – combating the fictitious information that diminishes the value of truth in our society and undermines the effectiveness of media that promotes accurate journalism.

Complicating the job of journalists even further is the way politicians have wielded false information and how President Donald Trump demonized the media during his campaign and continues to do so in the first weeks of his presidency. With the truth absent from many of the narratives in our country, journalists must do some soul searching to figure out how to be more effective.

The website for the fake ABC News is strikingly similar to ABC News’ actual website, abcnews.go.com. Anyone who is familiar with the real ABC News would notice the logos of the websites, though the same format, hold some noticeable differences. The ABC emblem in the top left hand corner of the fake site is an oval, while the real logo is a circle.

The story includes quotes from now former President Barack Obama.

“I am willing to rescind my decision here today and allow the Pledge of Allegiance back into the schools if we can all agree on the creation of a new Pledge, something that is includes everyone’s beliefs and not just the belief of one nationality or faith,” he is quoted as saying.

According to the story, Trump responded by calling Obama an “illegitimate Muslim traitor.”

To the trained eye, the warning signs pointing to the falsity of this story are easily discernable. Yet, this story garnered 2.2 million interactions on Facebook.

Not a new problem

This type of fake news outlet is not an anomaly, and recognizing false news on Facebook feeds is not always easy.

The prevalence and magnitude of fake news implies that many people have problems differentiating between the accurate and inaccurate. And contrary to what some believe, young people are not immune from being enticed by fake news. A recent study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education shows that students, ranging from middle school through college, have a very hard time recognizing fake news.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the study said. “Our work shows the opposite.”

The main incentive for the creation of fake news is simple: money. The writers of fake news earn money from advertisements on their sites, and Facebook has proved to be a very hospitable platform, especially in a country so deeply divided down partisan lines. In order to gain more clicks, fake news readily appeals to hyper-partisan Facebook users. This strategy proved effective during an election with a hyper-partisan electorate and a Trump campaign often criticized for its dissociation with the truth.

Facebook and Google have stated they are taking actions to monitor and regulate their platforms to minimize the damage, while many fact-checking websites and groups are developing strategies to restore trust in the news.

Dale Blasingame, a journalism professor at Texas State University, said the problem of fake news is not new.

“It’s important to take a step back and realize that fake news has always been around,” he said.

Tabloids and outlandish stories, produced for entertainment value, have always been a part of media culture. What is different about what we are seeing now is the way fake news has exploded, aided by social media platforms, Blasingame said.

The role of social media

It’s no secret that people seek out and interpret information in a way that verifies their beliefs ­– a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Social media’s ability to amplify the reach of information has made this phenomenon very apparent.

Tracy Dahlby, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said many people only get their news from sites such as Facebook and Twitter and often fail to expand their scope of information inputs. He describes this as being trapped in a bubble.

“We have to fight the bubble, right?” he asked rhetorically.

Dahlby said social media users tend to believe information shared by their friends and families, and people often share a story after only reading the headline because it reaffirms what they desire to be true, despite the story being false. Once the false information has been shared, friends and family may take the headline at face value and fail to do fact checking of their own.

Dahlby said the lack of media literacy has diminished the value and usefulness of social media. The idea of a newspaper is for a community to have a conversation with itself, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have expanded this conversation. Used correctly, these platforms allow users to have a broader conversation and access to information they might normally miss out on.

“If we allow ourselves to get trapped in that feedback loop of only listening to those people who agree with us, then it is a danger, and that’s probably what made fake news a factor in the last presidential campaign,” Dahlby said.

So, what does this mean for journalists? How do news organizations and social media companies “fight the bubble?”

The rise of fact-checking

One tool that came to the forefront during the election and has carried over since is fact-checkers. Alexios Mantzarlis works with Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network, and he said the role of fact-checkers is more important now than ever.

Mantzarlis said fact-checking entities often spring up right before an election season before seeing a significant decrease in traffic once the election is over. However, he said so far in this post-election period, traffic to fact-checking entities, such as PolitiFact and Storyful, has remained steady.

A big step for fact-checkers came when Facebook recently began working with them to monitor its newsfeed. In addition to working with fact-checkers, Mantzarlis said it was heartening that Facebook begun efforts to monitor its newsfeed. The company has also worked to alter the algorithms that promote trending stories to be more sensitive to news that may be fake.

“I don’t know that this will be necessarily be the final solution,” he said.  “I don’t think they think that either.”

For reporters such as Will Doran, the PolitiFact reporter for The News & Observer, fact-checking has become a part of their daily routine. Doran’s job represents the changing role of reporters, a role that is different from that of the fact-checkers who monitor Facebook’s newsfeed.

It is also different than traditional journalism.

Doran said one side of his job is practicing traditional journalism ­– repeating claims made by politicians while presenting both sides of the story ­– while his role as a PolitiFact reporter includes vetting the claims and researching the context and history surrounding the issue.

“It’s definitely made journalist’s jobs harder,” he said.

PolitiFact added a reporter for North Carolina because of the state’s ability to swing an election, Doran said. PolitiFact guessed correctly that more attention was needed in North Carolina politics at every level, as the races for senate and governor proved to be some of the closest in the nation.

Doran said part of his job that some traditional journalists may feel uncomfortable with is adding the analysis required when fact-checking statements made by politicians.

He said incorporating analysis into his writing helps readers understand the whole situation, but the writing does take more time because he still tries to remain objective. Writing for PolitiFact is not just calling out politicians when they lie or bend the truth, he said, but also writing about when politicians were right and used accurate information when speaking on an issue.

Dahlby said he has heard a lot of discussion about how news organizations should function in what some are calling a “post-truth era.” For him, the answer is simple.

“What we need is to get back to the old-time religion of journalism, which is to hold officials accountable as a matter of protecting the public interest,” he said.

He added that journalists should focus on the facts before thinking about the debate.

This is really an opportunity for journalists to strengthen their ability to produce quality accountability journalism, and it is more important now than ever to always be right in your reporting, Dahlby said.

Reporters such as Doran certainly have their work cut out for them, but he said he is optimistic about the future.

“I don’t think morale is too down because of people’s acceptance of fake news,” Doran said. “It’s a great time to be a fact-checker. Anytime you’re bringing light to an issue, even if you’re not reaching a whole lot of people, but you’re influencing the way they read the news, then you are doing a good job. Change happens incrementally.”

Edited by Matt Wotus