Jock Lauterer was stunned and angry five years ago when Eve Carson, the student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill, was abducted from her house near campus early March 5 and murdered.
Two young men from Durham, DeMario Atwater and Laurence Lovette, were arrested and eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted.
Lauterer, who teaches community journalism and photography at UNC, grew up in Chapel Hill and considers himself a townie.
He mourned the death of an exceptional young woman who was making a difference and was destined to do much more. He also was angry that violent crime from Durham had trespassed into his Chapel Hill.
He didnt know what to do about his sadness and anger.
Carson was gone. Lovette and Atwater were in jail and likely headed to prison for the rest of their lives. All he could was shake his fist at the world. Nothing good could emerge from this, he thought.
Still, there lingered in Lauterer a feeling that he Jock Lauterer, then 62 years old, college teacher, journalist and Chapel Hill resident should do something, he told me this week.
That same spring, Lauterer had met Mai Nguyen, assistant professor in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning. They were part of UNCs first class of Faculty Engaged Scholars.
Nguyen saw that Lauterer, in developing his own response to Carsons death, was paralyzed.
Nguyen and her students were studying and mapping Northeast Central Durham, the area where one of Carsons killers lived. Lauterer accompanied them on a tour of the troubled area, two square miles known for violent crime.
The next day, Lauterer received an email from Nguyen. One of her Ph.D. students, Hye-Sung Han, had suggested that Northeast Central Durham needed the cohesion that comes from a community newspaper. The email exploded at Lauterer as if its letters were a foot tall.
He thought: Thats it!
Lauterer had been a small-town newspaper editor. He knew how to do community journalism. He could do community journalism in Durham or anyplace else.
And if he could put cameras, pens and notebooks in the hands of urban teenagers, maybe those kids would feel they were a part of something good, that they had a stake in their community.
But where to start? With a commercial newspaper, you start at the bank, he wrote later. With a volunteer newspaper, you need a different kind of capital.
Lauterer established a partnership with two journalism professors at N.C. Central University in Durham Bruce dePyssler and Lisa Paulin. The three of them would become the publishers of the new newspaper. The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation provided a grant of $25,000.
The university teachers arranged for some UNC journalism students, most of them white, to meet with NCCU journalism students, all of them black. In their first meetings, they didnt mix much. But then they split into two large vans (with Carolina students and Central students in each van), toured Northeast Central Durham and ended with a picnic lunch. The students bonded. That was a key moment: The college students were united in their effort to create a newspaper.
But they also wanted to involve teenagers from the neighborhood. To do so, they sought the support of local Durham leaders. That support was hard to win. They called a meeting of local pastors. Only one showed up. And he was the host.
Maybe we were just too white and too Chapel Hill, Lauterer thought.
A local high school journalism teacher suggested they involve kids from across Durham, not just from the targeted neighborhood. Good idea.
A session at the Boys and Girls Club on Alston Avenue in central Durham was a turning point. UNC student Carly Brantmeyer, in giving a photo lesson, engaged the teens in a way Lauterer didnt think possible. Composition. Light. Vantage.
One of Lauterers own students had shown him how to reach the teens. When they got their hands on the cameras, they were transformed. Some of those teens became the core of the newspaper staff. Eventually, students from four Durham schools would work at the paper.
It was time to launch. But what would this paper be called? Residents of Northeast Central Durham kept saying their voices were not being heard. The paper would be called the VOICE.
It was published first online in September 2009 at durhamvoice.org. It made barely a ripple. That changed when it began publishing in print in February 2010. Now it is published in print once a month during the school year with 2,000 copies distributed at 60 places.
Community, high schools
The VOICE writes about the people of Northeast Central Durham. It publishes stories about high schools, churches, restaurants, homeless people, volunteers, crime, grocery stores, urban farming, musicians, yard sales, celebrations and just about anything else in its neighborhoods.
The VOICE tells this community that its important enough to have its own newspaper. The VOICE is supported by grants and uses no university money. Various groups, including the city of Durham, and businesses have helped. The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC, funded the first year of printing. Scientific Properties donates office space for a newsroom.
VOICE college staffers mentor local high school journalism students and have helped revive the student newspapers at three Durham high schools.
Sharif Ruebin, 17, is a junior at J.D. Clement Early College High School in Durham. He hadnt thought much about journalism but started working for the VOICE as a sophomore. They really let me be a part of the program, he told me Friday. Now hes the editor of his school paper and wants to be a professional journalist.
Eve Carson spoke of the Carolina Way not the since-discredited Carolina Way of the sports boosters but a Carolina Way more central to the mission and spirit of the university. She once defined the Carolina Way as inclusion, involvement, diversity, acceptance, seeking to be great but always remembering that we must be good.
The VOICE is Eve Carsons Carolina Way. It is Jock Lauterers Carolina Way. It is the true Carolina Way.
As the fifth anniversary of Carsons death approaches, may the VOICE and its student journalists speak loud, long and clear.
Drescher: 919-829-4515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @john_drescher