The Durham and Chapel Hill communities have lambasted an article in The Daily Tar Heel analyzing Durham residents committing crimes in Chapel Hill.
The front-page story, “Durham crime crosses over into Chapel Hill,” was published in the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill March 5 and written by junior Chelsey Dulaney, The Daily Tar Heel’s city editor. It cites the fifth anniversary of Eve Carson’s murder as the jumping-off point for examining the relationship between Durham residents and Chapel Hill’s crime. Carson, UNC’s 2007-2008 student body president, was kidnapped from her home and later murdered by two Durham natives, Laurence Lovette and Demario Atwater. The article uses this incident to suggest that Durham residents are a significant cause of Chapel Hill’s crime, stating that a “Daily Tar Heel analysis of 10 years of Chapel Hill police records shows that about one-fifth of local robberies, murders, kidnappings, rapes and affrays come from Durham.”
“There are no fences, no check points, and thousands of people flow in and out of the cities’ border each day without a second thought,” read the second paragraph of the story, which was accompanied by a graphic displaying the proportion of crimes in Chapel Hill committed by Durham residents.
Public officials, students from both Duke and UNC and residents of both towns expressed shock and anger in response to the story. As of Wednesday night, there were 348 comments on the online version of The Daily Tar Heel’s article and more than 6,300 Facebook recommends. The vast majority of the online comments expressed negative reactions to the content, ranging from journalistic critique to personal outrage.
“As a Durham native and a UNC student, I found this article deeply offensive. It does nothing but reinforce a negative stereotype that Durham is a crime-ridden, horrible place that produces nothing but violent criminals,” user “Cameron DuBois” commented. “While Durham is by no means perfect, it is not the poor, dangerous place full of people looking to prey on the innocent residents of Chapel Hill, as this article depicts.”
Comments like those from DuBois were seemingly met with support from readers. The comment garnered 899 upvotes and six downvotes.
The Daily Tar Heel’s editor-in-chief, Andy Thomason, a UNC senior, declined to comment.
Thomason responded to criticism in a column published early Thursday morning in The Daily Tar Heel. In it, he admitted that the article reported crime statistics without their proper context, and he noted that the staff did not recognize beforehand how the story played into negative Durham stereotypes.
“As journalists, we should have ensured that no angle was left unaddressed, especially on an issue of such importance. We didn’t do that, and that was wrong,” he wrote.
Derek Rhodes, Duke Student Government vice president for Durham and regional affairs, noted his dissatisfaction with the negative light the article shone on Durham-Chapel Hill relations without portraying the positive interactions that occur between the cities every day.
Rhodes, a sophomore who has lived in Durham his entire life, also commented on the incendiary nature of the article, which he said made many harsh insinuations about the Durham area and its inhabitants.
“There are so many undertones to the article that are incredibly frustrating,” Rhodes wrote in an email Wednesday. “As a Durham native, I am also offended by its implications about Durham as a place filled with people looking for someone to rob.”
Patricia Huerta, a UNC senior from Durham, noted the angered Facebook reactions she has seen from the student body, adding that she “would not be surprised if there was some sort of protest.”
Although Huerta said the article was unfounded, she mentioned that she had encountered similar sentiments in high school from her friends from Chapel Hill.
“[My friends] refused to come into Durham because there was this myth that Durham was such a scary place and once they crossed into the border, they were no longer safe,” Huerta said.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell noted that there are factual flaws in the article, given that parts of Chapel Hill are actually in Durham County.
“I felt [the article] was very inappropriate and didn’t serve [the Durham-Chapel Hill] relationship any good,” Bell said. “I don’t know if [the author has] ever been to Durham before.”
Bell also emphasized the good working relationship between Durham and Chapel Hill officials. The previous mayor of Chapel Hill, Kevin Foy, worked in Durham as a professor at North Carolina Central University Law School, and the present mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt, also lived in Durham at one time, Bell noted.
Questioning the impact of Durham on Chapel Hill crime is valid, but the tone of the article was not as serious as it should have been given the nature of the content, said public policy lecturer Ken Rogerson, who teaches journalism and news writing.
“The problem with language and tone like that is it makes readers not take the rest of the article seriously,” said Rogerson, who also serves as the director of undergraduate studies for the Sanford School of Public Policy.
In addition to the story about crime, The Daily Tar Heel ran a memorial piece—also authored by Dulaney—placed immediately below the crime story in print. The piece praised Carson’s memory and implored the reader to “Carry on the Carolina that Eve loved.” The piece was filed under the news section of The Daily Tar Heel’s website, but it employs first person narration and anecdotes throughout.
Fifteen years ago, merging these journalistic writing styles may have been considered against the rules of journalism, Rogerson said, but this may not now be the case.
“The craft of journalism has changed so much—reporting journalists are writing blogs, using first person and appearing on talk shows,” Rogerson said. “The general old school rule has been broken but that doesn’t mean the ‘new school’ rule is wrong.”
“Bridget,” a commenter on the memorial piece, noted the juxtaposition of this reflection with the crime article by the same author.
“How do you honor Eve’s legacy having never known her?” Bridget wrote. “She would have never wanted her name attached to something like that. Not in life and not in death.”
Some individuals have criticized the way in which the crime story portrayed Durham and Chapel Hill as cities separated by a “10-or-so mile stretch of road.” Britton Lewis, a UNC School of Law student, noted that this fact is not accurate in a letter-to-the-editor published March 6 in The Daily Tar Heel.
“The reality is that although Durham may be a distant 10 miles from campus, Chapel Hill actually expands far beyond the stone walls of campus, and the two cities actually border one another,” Lewis said.