An open letter to District 8 Congressman Richard Hudson

02 newspaperThis letter was recently sent by Publisher Bill Bowman to Representative Richard Hudson in support of journalism and local community papers.

Dear Congressman Hudson,

Nineteen Democratic senators sent a letter to the Senate leadership and the leadership of the Committee on Appropriations in support of local journalism and regarding the inclusion of funding earmarked to support local journalism and media in general. To my surprise, the letter was signed only by Democratic senators calling for support and with no support from Republicans. Were you aware of this? Your assistance in this matter, Congressman Hudson, would greatly help build momentum for including the preservation of the Fourth Estate in the next round of targeted stimulus funding. For many community newspapers, like myself, it could mean our very survival. Nearly everything in the letter pertains to our 25-year-old community newspaper, Up & Coming Weekly, here in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg and Cumberland County. However, I write to you on behalf of the nearly 60 weekly community newspapers in North Carolina and the 1,500+ across America.

Thank you for the great job you are doing for District 8. Our community could not ask for better representation. Locally, District 45 Rep. John Szoka is serving on the North Carolina House Select Committee on COVID-19 and Economic Support Group. That committee is also working on similar draft legislation that would also assist small North Carolina businesses like mine, and it is needed to help us survive this pandemic. The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of the dire situation that exists here in Fayetteville and Cumberland County as it pertains to local news media. Fayetteville and Cumberland County are critically close to becoming a media and news desert. This is a very serious situation.

As you probably already know, Fayetteville does not have a local TV station. And now, with Gannett-Gatehouse Media slowly dismantling our only daily newspaper, The Fayetteville Observer, we are treacherously close to creating a District 8 community of 310,000 residents without a local media advocate. This would be devastating to local businesses and would sharply hinder future economic growth and development prospects, not to mention the loss of First Amendment rights and insights into the dealings (or misdealings) of our local government. Cumberland County and Fort Bragg, as a media desert, would be the worst thing that could happen to our community at this time. Or anytime.

Solutions are not simple, yet they can be mitigated. Like many small weekly community newspapers, Up & Coming Weekly ( is on the ropes, struggling to survive unless we can get financial support and relief very soon. Without financial support, Cumberland County risks losing a 25-year-old trusted conduit for local news, information and the need-to-know and do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a free news publication, we are the key media and information source that reaches all the municipalities in Cumberland County and Fort Bragg, providing truthful, honest and accurate information to all citizens — including the poor and underserved. Local media, specifically newspapers, are in a state of crisis, which is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 situation. For over a decade, companies like Alden Media Group and Gannett-Gatehouse Media have been at the vanguard, destroying local newspapers by closing down offices, selling off assets and laying off reporters and journalists. Now, this public health crisis has made the problem worse. We have lost over 50% of our advertising revenue, as we depended on local restaurants, entertainment venues, nonprofit fundraising events and dozens of other nonessential businesses that have closed as the nation attempts to “flatten the curve.”

Currently, I have retained all my employees by reducing expenses and cutting everyone’s salary by 20%. I have applied for the PPP funding, but I’m afraid that won’t be enough to survive. This weekend, I received the update from PNC Bank on the status of our PPP loan. I am incredibly disappointed, but not surprised, at the news that the PPP program was out of money — especially since we were one of the very first applications processed by PNC. I did not waste a moment in doing what was necessary to keep my newspaper open and our employees on the job. I want you to know, Congressman, how initially skeptical I was of the process when I found out that even before our local Fayetteville financial institutions (PNC Bank, Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union and First Bank) were set up and in possession of the resources they needed to process loan applications, Fox News reported that Bank of America had already processed $3.5 billion in loans. Now, while thousands of struggling small businesses receive their “Sorry, out of PPP money” letter, companies like Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which recorded $48 million in profits last year, netted $20 million of PPP funds intended to assist small business. And, American Airlines received a whopping $5.8 billion. Two incredible and disgusting displays of governmental program manipulation and abuse.

The Up & Coming Weekly newspaper plays an essential and indispensable role in this county. The only reason we exist today is that we have been the county’s most reliable, honest, trustworthy and unbiased source of local news, views, cultural arts coverage and other relevant information. We have been that relentless local government watchdog and business development advocate, as well as the city and county’s biggest cheerleader and quality-of-life advocate. Our newspaper plays a critical role in covering a wide range of issues that impact Fayetteville, Fort Bragg and Cumberland County. Each week, tens of thousands of local readers depend on us for community news, city and county updates, education news, health and wellness advice and information concerning issues specific to their town or neighborhood.

Social media outlets are fueling fake news with unverified sources and now multiple consumer scams, making it even more difficult for people to find trustworthy and reliable sources of news and information. People in Cumberland County need to have access to trusted local news and reliable life-saving information. Just as important, people need a positive outlook, enjoyment, fun and entertainment in their lives to ease the tensions brought on by the stress, confinement and uncertainty of this terrible crisis. This is the comfort we bring to the community. This is what community newspapers do, and we don’t want to disappear.

Again, I am not just speaking on my behalf, but for all the community newspapers throughout North Carolina. When this bill surfaces in congress, I hope you will look upon it favorably to support local media and the preservation of journalism and the Fourth Estate. Such a consideration should be tailored to benefit local community media and local newspapers that have made long-term commitments to providing high-quality local news services. It should not be extended to mega newspaper conglomerates like Alden Media Group or large regional dailies like McClatchy or Gannett-Gatehouse Media. These companies are the primary source of the problem and not part of the solution, and they certainly have little respect for journalism and unbiased reporting.

In closing, Congressman Hudson, please help community newspapers survive to serve local citizens, protect First Amendment rights and preserve journalism and the Fourth Estate. First and foremost, we must prevent Fayetteville and Cumberland County from becoming a news media desert. That would be disastrous for the future of our community.

We need your advice and leadership in this matter. Please let me know if you need more information or have any questions.

In this together

05 StayhomeDuring these unprecedented times, I want to reassure all Cumberland County residents that North Carolina is managing a statewide response to COVID-19 that protects the health of our citizens while balancing the well-being of our economy. Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen have done a tremendous job acting early and aggressively to “flatten the curve” in North Carolina. Gov. Cooper’s administration is actively working through the next steps of preparing North Carolinians and our business community to emerge from this pandemic stronger in this “new normal.”

While I proudly represent you in the North Carolina Senate, I am also a father and small business owner. I’ve seen the damage inflicted by this pandemic on multiple fronts. I’ve heard from many of you directly, and I appreciate your thoughts, opinions and concerns. Along with my constituent services staff, I have helped people register for unemployment and spent time talking to small businesses across our community and state. I remain committed to ensuring that the voices of all residents and small businesses in Cumberland County are represented, working with Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to draft specific COVID-19 legislation for our legislative session on April 28, and staying in constant contact with our local elected officials to make sure we are supporting them at the state level. Please know that I am listening and acting to create solutions. I want to assure you that we will get through this together.

During this crisis, I am reminded of the resiliency that our community displays time and time again. Community members and organizations are rallying to support our children in need, our small businesses and our at-risk demographics.

One thing is clear — social distancing works. Because of the stay-at-home and social distancing orders in place, our efforts to flatten the curve and save lives are working. But we know we cannot stay home forever. As the state considers how and when to ease restrictions, there are three important pieces to consider, including testing, tracing and trends. We need a major increase in testing capabilities to isolate and track new cases of COVID-19. This means having the supplies and lab capacity to do more diagnostic testing as well as reliable antibody testing that can tell us who may have experienced mild or asymptomatic illness and has now recovered. We have to boost our public health workforce to trace and track new cases of COVID-19. Contact tracing can be effective at containing new outbreaks, but it requires a lot of people and legwork. When a new positive case pops up, the tracing efforts will work to identify people who have been in contact so they can get tested and take the right precautions. In order to ease restrictions, we have to see COVID-19 trends moving in the right direction. This includes trends in the number of new positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as available supply of personal protective equipment, hospital capacity and more.

My wife Jenny and I continue to take precautions such as working remotely, social distancing, washing our hands and wearing masks when we go out to the store or to pick up food from a local restaurant. We are encouraging others to do the same. Please help me make sure we all do our part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Jenny and I keep our community in our prayers and ask you to keep us in yours.

My staff and I are working overtime to handle any and all constituent concerns. I encourage anyone who needs resources to visit, contact my office at 919-733-5776 or via email Stay safe.

In this together,
Senator Kirk deViere
North Carolina Senate, District 19

Caution: Scammers

05 N2001P52001CScammers come out of the woodwork when people are most vulnerable, and they are certainly crawling out now with this pandemic. What we know about COVID-19 and its repercussions is changing exponentially day by day. With that uncertainty comes fear and vulnerability. We need to be cautious, vigilant and careful of those who would take advantage, seeking to victimize us or our loved ones.

With the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, scammers have already adjusted to prey on public fear and vulnerability. Recently the North Carolina attorney general’s office reported a new scam where the caller claims to be from the federal government and asks for bank account information so the stimulus check coming your way can be directly deposited into your account. There have also been scammers selling fake test kits, cures or treatments for COVID-19 and callers declaring you tested positive and offering resources while asking for credit card information. Malicious websites and apps that claim to share vital information about COVID-19 have also been popping up on phones and computers to gain access to your devices — and then lock them up until payment is received. Be wary of emails that claim to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) with attachments that will infect your computer, gaining access to your personal information.

Note: Federal or state agencies will not call or text you with products or information about COVID-19 — hang up on anyone who asks for your bank account information or credit card. Delete strange texts. Delete suspicious emails, and do not click on links or attachments or open apps that you have not researched independently first.

In the end, keep a few simple rules in mind to prevent yourself from getting scammed:

1) Be cautious. When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2) Be vigilant. Your “sixth sense” is there for a reason, listen to it. Trust that your “gut feeling” is right most, if not all, of the time.

3) Be careful. If you find yourself getting convinced by someone to give your bank account information or credit card number or wire money or purchase gift cards to pay for some service related to COVID-19 — stop and hang up. If you are unsure, call a family member or a friend or contact the North Carolina attorney general’s consumer hotline at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or 919-716-6000.

Bright hope in the shadows

11 marc olivier jodoin TStNU7H4UEE unsplashEnough gloom and doom. The COVID-19 crisis has come to pass. And pass, it will.

The individual days of the past few weeks have all blended together for so many of us. We've each claimed a share of the thoughts, emotion and uncertainty as we watched schools close, events cancel, and businesses either shutter their doors or repurpose their operation to adapt to a situation that changed daily. All the while, though, hope has been looming before us, beckoning us forward.

Your first reaction to this crisis might have been much like mine: sheer disbelief. I mean, we're Americans, right? We tend toward a heady resilience that that automatically rejects the notion that any calamity of grand proportion will ever find us. Then the tornadoes. Or the hurricane. Or the second hurricane right behind it. Or this ... a  pandemic we are more accustomed to reading about in some distant or third world country. Not in Idaho. Or Kansas. Or Raleigh.

As a person of strong faith, I try to be keenly aware of the needs around me. Situations like this health-driven economic disaster are where we're to shine, and unfortunately there's plenty of seeming darkness to illuminate. But offering a light of hope isn't limited to the faithful, so let's get to shining!

Just as we've all had a share of the disaster to call our own, we as a community can all participate in providing our share of light to the shadowy situation around us. As the government-provided economic stimulus has begun to appear for some and promises to for the rest of us, we need to consider how we'll put that to use to the benefit of our community. There are hundreds of small, locally owned businesses operating in some capacity which need your help to survive. They're your neighbors. They're your friends. Their employees have kids in school and on the ball team with yours. Many are offering touchless delivery to your door or curbside pickup. You can shop locally, and you can shop safely.

For those businesses you frequent in better times — even those temporarily closed — you can help in other ways:

Buy gift cards today.

Use those gift cards when they reopen and restock.

Spread the word on social media about your favorite locally owned businesses.

Tip generously for delivery or curbside services.

Please don't overlook the nonprofits and churches supporting our community in so many ways. Whether it's time, money or other resources, your donations and support mean more now than ever before.

To the people of faith, commit to prayer. Pray that God will use this unexpected downtime for good. The place we're all standing is level ground. Let's pray we see reconciliation and quick resolve to painful situations more often than not as we move forward from this as a acommunity, a country and as citizens of the world population.

Missing Daddy

04 Daddy playing checkers 5302009Column Gist: It seems that in America, we have created an atmosphere where productive discourse, supported by logical thought, hardly ever happens. Sadly, very few Americans seem to recognize the threat to our very existence that is posed by this condition.

I find it extremely difficult to identify individuals who disagree with my views but can still have a civil and equally respectful discussion of issues on which we disagree. In my writing, I come back to this topic very often. That is because I see an extremely troubled future for our nation if this condition is allowed to continue.

Coming to grips with this inability of our nation to get anywhere near correcting this ruinous atmosphere affects me in many ways. My father died in 2012 and, for many reasons, I miss him terribly. One of those reasons is that he and I were able to, despite our differing views, have civil, respectful and productive discussions about divisive issues on which we disagreed.

Daddy lived in Albany, Georgia, and I was in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Over the last 10 or so years of his life, we talked by phone at least once a week. If I did not call him, he would call me. Anytime he had to call me, I felt sad and guilty because, having been blessed with a wonderful father, he should not have had to initiate the weekly call. Sometimes he would get our voicemail. I still have some of his messages. He would always open with, “Hello, this is Daddy.”

I feel safe in describing my father as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. For all of the years we had those weekly conversations, I was, and still am, conservative across the board. In those phone conversations, and in person on occasion, we addressed difficult topics. Even though his life was one of individual struggle from sharecropper to highly accomplished teacher, builder, preacher and pastor, Daddy was far more supportive of governmental assistance programs than I was or ever expect to be.

These differences in our thinking, and some were miles apart, did not make productive dialogue impossible. By “productive dialogue” I mean where each person is heard and prompted to serious thought regarding the issue and the parties work together toward actions that are fair, supported by reasonable consideration of facts and advance resolution of the issue at hand.

The great obstacle to this productive discussion process is that people set an agenda based on all the wrong motives, and then, in their discussions, the agenda rules. Because the discussions and interactions are driven by an agenda based on wrong motives, productive discussion is impossible.

Daddy did not have this problem. His motivation was an all-consuming desire to, as God directed, help people be the best they could be; his motivation was righteous. He focused on loving others, dealing fairly with all people and, above all, working an agenda that he felt called to by God. This approach made it possible for — even dictated that — Daddy to be civil, respectful and thoughtful even in discussions where others disagreed with him. This was my experience with Milton Wayne Merritt, Sr. I miss him.

Let me give a bit more attention to the danger posed by destructive agendas prompted by unrighteous motives. In our time, the examples abound, but, with me, give some thought to just one. We are in the midst of this devastating coronavirus. Still, reports are coming out indicating there is a move, primarily by Democrats, to start preparations to investigate the Trump administration’s response to this crisis. Consider the following segments from an article by Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Leigh Ann Caldwell titled, “Informal discussions begin on 9/11-style commission on coronavirus response”:

“Informal discussions have begun on Capitol Hill about the possibility of creating a panel to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that would be modeled on the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

“They described the discussions as ‘very preliminary’ and involving mostly congressional Democrats.

“The review would focus on lessons learned about the government’s preparedness and what the administration could have handled better, they said, adding that the goal would be to come up with a better plan to handle a pandemic in the future.

“House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says he is working on a draft of a bill to form a commission.

“’I don’t know that you would get administration buy-in for something like that,’ a senior administration official said. ‘Then, if the Democrats do one, it’s all one-sided.’”

“The bipartisan 9/11 Commission was created by legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush to review the government’s preparedness for and response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. It was formed a year after the attacks and two years before Bush was up for reelection.”

Trump is correct when he says that the coronavirus has put America in the midst of a war. After failing to destroy Trump through an extended and financially expensive Mueller investigation, a disruptive, foundationless, failed impeachment coupled with repeated obstruction of his every action on behalf of Americans, now Democrats want to start another investigation in the middle of a war that is raging within our borders.

I contend this conduct clearly illustrates the danger posed by destructive agendas prompted by unrighteous motives. The totality of Democratic actions, including this move toward an investigation, is motivated by an anything-goes quest for power that has resulted in a one-item agenda. That one item is to not only remove Trump from the presidency, but to destroy him. The result is a total lack of productive dialogue between Democrats and Republicans regarding any of the pressing issues facing our nation. This makes for a grim-looking future. The grimness of our future is compounded by the destructive tension among elected officials having spread to the general American population.

I contend, as a nation, we have far too little of what was key to Daddy’s productive dialogue with people who disagreed with him, and he with them. Whether spoken or not, he was always able to keep the shared values, interests, beliefs and experiences of discussion participants at the forefront. When he and I talked about issues on which we disagreed, he did not have to remind me of all that we shared: faith, desire to answer God’s call in our life, love of others and love of America. Because all of this, and even more, important positive shared stuff was present — the atmosphere for productive dialogue was set.

Based on my experiences with Daddy, I recommend that America’s leaders, and all of us, focus on all the important positive stuff that we share. Then, while remembering it, address the difficult issues that we face. My hope is that I can, in my challenging discussions, do a better job of practicing what Daddy demonstrated so well in our conversations. I hope and pray that others will join me.

Writing this column stirred some hope in me, but I still miss Daddy.

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