From the Editor

Drescher: Gov. McCrory says journalists are dumb

jdrescher@newsobserver.comAugust 30, 2013 

MCCRORY01-NE-072613-CCS

Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff enjoy a laugh after he held a press conference at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh, NC on July 26, 2013.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

When a bank robber was on the loose and headed to Mayberry, the State Bureau of Investigation followed. The state agent looked down on the local sheriff and his deputy, thinking them incapable of understanding complex police methods.

We felt like Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife this week after Gov. Pat McCrory said we were not capable of understanding his economic plan. “This is too complex for the journalists,” McCrory said to businessmen during a speech Monday in Asheville, according to the Mountain Xpress. “They don’t have economics degrees; they’ve not been in business. I respect them greatly, but you get it.”

Well, sir.

Confidence is not a bad thing. But might McCrory, like the agent in Mayberry long ago, have overestimated hisself a bit?

He’s no Ben Bernanke

Based on his news conferences and public comments, McCrory is not exactly a Ben Bernanke-level economic thinker. McCrory’s degrees from Catawba College are in political science and education. As for business experience, he was a mid-level manager at a regulated utility (Duke Energy), never making corporate-level decisions. That’s what prompted a member of his own party, Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, to once say, “If Pat had any real business experience, he would not make such a poor policy decision.”

That was harsh. Governors deal with many kinds of issues in a variety of fields. The governor cannot be expected to have worked in all of them. The people elected McCrory in part because they believed he would assemble a good team, listen to his advisers and move forward with what he thinks would be best.

Journalism is similar in that most of us are generalists. We don’t consider ourselves to be experts. But we know enough to talk with smart people and ask them to explain things to us so we can explain them to readers.

Our beat reporters don’t have Ph.D.s, but they are knowledgeable. Take Lynn Bonner, who has reported at The News & Observer for nearly 20 years. Bonner has a degree from Swarthmore in biology and previously worked as a microbiologist. She knows scientific methods and how to analyze data. She took college-level economics. But her knowledge about public finance comes mostly from having reported hundreds of budget stories over the years.

Bonner’s stories typically are edited by Mary Cornatzer, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a journalism degree. She was The N&O’s business editor for 13 years, including four years in a row when our business section was honored as one of the nation’s best by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Hard work prevails

Bonner’s story could also be edited by Dan Barkin, senior editor for news and a business news junkie. Barkin has a degree in business from Old Dominion University. He’s been a newspaper publisher, overseeing a $15 million operation with a commercial-printing business.

Amid this business and economic knowledge, I’m the weak link. My public policy degree included coursework in economics, statistics, public finance and business. I oversee a newsroom budget of about $12 million.

We don’t pretend to be economics experts. But we know people who are. We interview them frequently and tell you what they said.

On “The Andy Griffith Show,” the slick state agent with the nice haircut is captured by the criminal and held hostage. Sheriff Taylor uses small-town methods to save the day. Hard work and North Carolina common sense prevail.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @john_drescher

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