Tuesday, December 18, 2012

See you on the other side

The Observer launches its online pay wall  --  excuse me, the Observer Plus digital package --  on Wednesday.  Some of you have said that will end your relationship with CharlotteObserver.com and this blog.

I hope that's not true for most of you,  and not just for financial reasons.  If you care enough to read Your Schools,  you're part of the dialogue about education in the Charlotte region.

I launched this blog in July 2010,  as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools began its Comprehensive Review of Something They Couldn't Quite Define. I believed  (correctly, as it turned out)  that process would generate far more data,  news and discussion points than we could handle in print.

Pretty quickly,  I realized this forum would be more of a discussion group than a lecture series.  Since its debut,  there have been more than 893,000 page views and almost 15,400 comments.

"Boo! CMS stinks and so do you!"
Sometimes the negative tone gets me down.  As I recently told a Providence High journalism class,  on bad days the online comments remind me of the old hecklers in the Muppet Show.

But the good stuff outweighs that. Comments on this blog have helped me break important news on testing, technology and personnel changes.  I'll always remember live-blogging from Peter Gorman's January 2011 announcement that he planned to cut 1,500 jobs,  with readers sending me crucial data that CMS had emailed to employees but "forgotten" to include in the media handouts.

More recently, a reader tipped me off that there would be no retesting on state exams this year. The comment implied I was an idiot for not already knowing that.  But you know what?  Good information delivered with a sour tone is still good information. The result was a well-read follow-up post.

You challenge me  --  and each other -- on sensitive and painful topics.  But we also have fun.  After all,  the regulars include a guy who uses Looney Tunes aliases and a woman who showed up at a school board meeting dressed as a cow.  If you missed it,  it's worth scrolling to the bottom of the comments on a post last week to see a tongue-in-cheek collection drive to keep Wiley Coyote online and an extended riff on what it might be like to get your education news from CMS and the (now defunct) Rhino Times.

About those options.  Here's my view on the alternatives,  with no pretense that it's unbiased.

You can get education news free from the broadcast folks,  but you'll lose a lot of depth and detail.

You can rely on CMS'  beefed-up efforts to spread the word on itself.  Terry Abbott,  the consultant who just did a communications study for the district,  has urged school districts to use  "the slow death of great American newspapers"  to take control of education coverage.  With due respect to Abbott (and Monty Python),  we're not dead yet,  and I don't think that's an option most readers will settle for.

You can create your own blogs to air your opinions.  Or you can find an existing one that suits your views,  whether that's the conservative Pundit House or Pamela Grundy's "Seen from the 'Rock."  But you won't get the audience or the diversity of opinions that the Observer pulls together.

After almost 11 years of keeping an eye on CMS,  I think I bring a pretty good value to the party.  I know you readers do too.  So here's hoping we'll stay together to ring in another interesting year.


Anonymous said...

C'mon, now. I LOVE Statler & Waldorf. They were my favorite Muppet Show characters. They were just so grouchy that I found it funny.

I'm leaning on not subscribing digitally myself, mainly because the Observer sports department goes out of its way to dedicate coverage of UNC-CH athletics that is 100 times greater than its coverage of everyone else, especially UNCC. I enjoy reading this blog and chiming in every now and then even though I don't have any children. Everyone has a stake in seeing that kids get a quality education, as highly-educated kids will make for a stronger America when they get out of school. And of course we do have those 15 free reads.

Wiley Coyote said...

I wanted to wear the cow suit but it was already taken. Wiley Coyote was the only thing left.

Anonymous said...

Most of these paywalls are easy to get around.

I've been able to get around the NYT paywall, so we'll see how tough the CO is to crack.

My guess it that any half-savvy techie can figure out an easy way to get in to a paywall that allows a certain number of visits per any time period.

Also, don't think you can trust the paper's statistics on how many more "unique" visitors they will receive in a day.

Those are not necessarily "unique" visitors in a real sense...

Pamela Grundy said...

Thanks for the plug, Ann, although I haven't written anything in months. Volunteers get distracted – consistent coverage is far more likely when someone (like you!)is paid to do it. It's worth every subscription penny. See you Wednesday.

Wiley Coyote said...

I was disappointed coming to work this morning and didn't see "Save Wylie" on any water towers or billboards.

I guess Ferris Bueller is more popular...

Anonymous said...

Just lost me. Bye Bye!

Jeff Wise said...


It's hard to climb up those ladders and spray paint the Save Wylie messages. I wrote some Save Wylie messages in chalk on sidewalks over the weekend though - did you not see those yesterday?

Wiley Coyote said...

LOL..thanks Jeff...I'm sorry I missed those.

I tend to be looking up all the time. Never know when an anvil might come out of thin air and head straight for you.

Bill Stevens said...

Thanks for your work Ann. However as you, I and others see, reason does not reach far when talking to or about CMS, public education, etc. There are too many behind the scenes people and organizations making decisions about CMS. My first ah-ah with this was a county commissiom meeting shortly after the federal busing order was lifted where one of the black commissioners came out and said he had gotten a phone call from one of these behind the scenes people/orgs that said the county did not have to worry about suburban school construction. Since then, the suburbs have been strangled in many ways by CMS and the county. Yet they are all too demanding of our tax money to keep buying the urban support to keep them in office. And as they have yet to learn, the dawn is new day for this urban crowd. It is always, "What have you done for me today?"

So while many of us can agree how messed up many parts of CMS are, many parts do extraordinary work, maybe in spite of the other parts. However, even if we as a crowd of thousands of voices might decend on CMS BOE meetings and county commission meetings and tell our side, the behind the scenes voices will always have the final call. As I have said before, I've never seen one town/city where the democrats and elitists are so eat up with what looks like "white guilt".

Ann, I have been told I am covered so I can contribute on the "other side". But of course I am beginning to see how futile it is becoming. At my age, there are many other things in life I can pursue, enjoy and have success at.

Wiley, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Pam, I agree on our social responsibility to help out the less fortunate but we are well past that when you rob others of their resources to take care of their own families first.

I believe in personal responsibility but that ends when we are dealing with illegals and those who keep having children who are unable to raise them and expect society to do so.

Wiley Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm considering adding the digital package to my weekend delivery, but the following confused me:

"If you are a Charlotte Observer home delivery subscriber who receives the paper seven days a week, or on weekends, the digital subscription will cost you an additional 67 cents a week. If you get the newspaper only on Sunday, you’ll pay an additional 45 cents a week."

It seems I would get a better deal if I simply just get the Sunday home delivery, plus digital. I don't see the business logic in that. In fact, as a weekend subscriber, I assumed my digital subscription would cost more than someone who receives the paper daily. As old-timer who would like to see the Observer prosper, I would suggest you give your daily print subscribers the biggest discount on digital. Otherwise, as in my case, folks will be switching to Sunday-only delivery.

BolynMcClung said...


...it has nothing to do with schools. The paywall is just a variation on Jefferson:

"the price of freedom is eternal vigilance", and now that price includes a paywall and a half cent sales tax for light rail.


Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

I actually cancelled my subscription to the CO back in 2004. The guy on the phone - located somewhere overseas - asked me if I contacted the Observer to let them know why I was canceling my paper. When I told him I hadn't, he suggested I do so. So, I did. I sent an email to the Opinion pages regarding the quality of reporting which I thought had deteriorated to the point it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. I don't expect - or want - the Charlotte Observer to be the Wall Street Journal but I do expect the CO to report local news with some level of intelligence and depth. Within 24-48 hours, Taylor Batten and that other head-honcho contacted me in an effort to persuade me to reconsider. After a number of back-and-forth emails, the CO mysteriously reappeared in my driveway before I eventually decided renew my subscription.

Ann's blog is the first and only blog I've ever blogged on. I've laughed here, almost cried here and gotten really ticked-off here. I think Ann's reporting is balanced, fair and accurate with a high degree of integrity. She's also able to take complex educational issues and report them in a way that ignites interest, passion and dialog between the Yale PhD, the YMCA dance instructor, the lawyer from Pineville, the high school student struggling through math class, the frustrated parent, the Looney -Toons character, the pandering school board member, the local politician and just about everyone else who comprises our wonderful and wacky community.


Wiley Coyote said...



Anonymous said...

Oops. I cancelled my subscription to the CO in 2008 - not 2004. The "Wass Up" series pushed me over the edge. I'm considering a follow-up freelance journalism opportunity on the topic of Obama and his influence on Rap music. The one saving grace was the opportunity for my dog, Midnight, to write a letter to soon-to-be elected President Obama which some CO editor found suitable for print. Midnight died last month. He was the BEST dog ever and, obviously, quite gifted. Had he been enrolled in CMS, he would have been Top Dog in the gifted program - despite being dyslexic and unable to dream in color.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Wiley...

Not quite getting the pro Omar Gqadaffi UTube video. I should have been a cow on a state subsidized farm in Libya?

Wiley Coyote said...


What were you looking at?

Anonymous said...

Mummar (sp?). Need some review on political science.

I cut and pasted. Gqadaffi (sp?) was wielding a weapon and touting free land, seed, a 0% bank loan, and a free car to all Libyan farmers.

Moo - hoo?

Wiley Coyote said...

Well, it's supposed to be a Looney Tunes "That's All Folks" tube...
That's what I get.

If you use Google Chrome, maybe you're getting a redirect.

Anonymous said...

It has been nice CO... but Bye-Bye. WAS hoping, HA, that the CO would provide educators with free online access like the NYTimes and the Wash Post offer. But I guess a rag like the CO doesnt support educators who NEED a local paper for current affairs, and other informaion for lessons.

Bill Stevens said...

Wiley, I used Google Chrome and it did fine.

Beep! beep!

Actually saw real roadrunners in Arizona last year while on a business trip to Tucson.

Even interesting to learn that it is Wile E Coyote.

See you on the other side.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about that. What's the point of a CMS education blog without real CMS educators in the loop? What about students? I'm not canceling my subscription but a 15-year-old never had a newspaper subscription to begin with. I started reading the newspaper somewhere between Jr. high and high school. My mom loved Erma Bombeck and my school librarian would post daily editions of Dear Ann Landers and Funky Winkerbean on the library front door every day to lure students into the library. Reading the fun stuff eventually included reading serious news.


Anonymous said...

The disturber making folks pay to access their site - not his guy! C YA!

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for the courtesy of a reply from Mr. Batten on the elimination of Young Voices from the editorial page. After obfuscation by Ms. Flono about a defective e-mail system, the current youth features, and the elimination of Newspapers in Education (for those of us without technology) it's the NY Times for my students.

Anonymous said...

So far no paywall problems.

And I've read about 20 articles this morning just to see.

I'm a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to getting around it.

Apparently the software they are using, Press+, is so easy to avoid that my browser must do it automatically.

Also, there are plenty of articles on how to bypass this "wall".

It's just sad how little investigation a newspaper has done on the ieffectiveness of such software.

Oh well...

Ann Doss Helms said...

Alicia, thanks for the kind words. For the record, I'm pretty sure we've never outsourced circulation overseas -- you were probably talking to someone in Columbia (South Carolina, not South America).

I have been told we're working on some kind of discount for schools that use the Observer online, but I'm still trying to get details.

Anonymous said...

Ok, well the guy wasn't from south Boston, Philadelphia, or northern New Jersey.

Columbia SC? Could have been. He had charm.


Anonymous said...

I've lived in Charlotte 20 years, although, everyone south of the Catawba River seemed like an oversees foreigner when I first got here. I suppose the guy I talked to could have been from South Carolina. My son arrived home from college with a tattoo on his shoulder of the Queen City symbol found on the side of your rollout trash bin. Yep. He told me it was a matter of civic pride.


BolynMcClung said...


When I first got my subscription the same passwords were used over and over.

It was very strange to see my autocomplete bring-up the correct password. It got fixed last week, 2 months after the fact.

However, I enjoy seeing the paper as I'm used to reading it in print. I've physically rotated an old monitor connected to my PC and have almost a full depth page.

Now, if I could rotate some of the Observer views 180 degrees things would be much, much better.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Move Doonesbury from comics page to editorial page (many papers have done this) and I will subscribe again.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, if you block cookies, you also block the paywall.

Pretty lame excuse for a paywall if you ask me.

Since my browser does this all the time, I never noticed the paywall until I used another account.

Lame, lame, lame...