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Why and how NC Policy Watch reported the story about Rep. Duane Hall

[This post refers to the story “Top Democrats call on Rep. Duane Hall to resign amid sexual misconduct allegations” [1] that was published this afternoon on the main NC Policy Watch website.]

The world of news reporting has changed in many dramatic ways in recent years – some positive and some negative. One change that clearly fits in the former category, however, relates to the issue of sexual and personal misconduct committed by people in positions of power and prominence. Where once reporters averted their eyes from such behavior or ignored it under the premise that it was “private” and thereby beyond the scope of the public’s right to know, today things are very different.

In 2018 America, there is a broad consensus that such behavior is newsworthy, that the public is entitled to know about it, that victims should feel empowered and encouraged to speak up, and that journalists have an affirmative duty to report it when they become aware of compelling evidence that it has occurred.

This trend has, of course, taken on added momentum with the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the #MeToo movement. All across the country, victims who might have remained in cowed silence just a few years ago have been reaching out to journalists – and, often, speaking out directly on social media without the intermediary of a journalist – to tell their stories.

Here in North Carolina, such stories have been comparatively rare. The Charlotte-based Carolina Panthers NFL franchise was, of course, rocked (and ultimately forced to be put up for sale) by revelations that owner Jerry Richardson had long engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior. In the seat of government in Raleigh, however, relatively few such stories have come to light.

In 2017, however, things began to change. As multiple reporters began to put out inquiries in and around the state capital, rumors began to circulate and reach the ears of Policy Watch journalists – all of whom have extensive experience covering (and contacts in) state government

One such journalist was NC Policy Watch Education Reporter Billy Ball. Ball joined Policy Watch in January 2016. In his 15+ years as a North Carolina reporter, he’s covered public schools, state and local politics, courts, the environment, criminal justice and immigration for publications like The Independent Weekly, The Sanford Herald and The Monroe Enquirer-Journal. During that time, he’s won more than 20 state, regional and national awards for his reporting, including first place awards for education reporting and news feature reporting in 2016. And while Ball did not join the Policy Watch staff to write stories about sexual harassment or inappropriate personal behavior, neither did he (or the rest of our team) feel that he could ignore such stories.

As a result, the story in question represents many, many hours of dedicated work by Ball to report the facts as they relate to the behavior of Rep. Duane Hall. Ball interviewed numerous individuals over a period of multiple weeks and carefully reviewed and assessed the information obtained in those interviews with fellow Policy Watch journalists. Every effort was made to convince sources to allow their names to be used. In some instances, however, in which sources asked for anonymity but nonetheless related compelling and convincing stories, the decision was made on a case-by-case basis to publish their accounts of the facts. We are satisfied that these decisions were made fully within the spirit of long-established and widely recognized rules of journalistic ethics.

The result is an important story about an elected official who joins a long and distressing list of public figures who are alleged to have engaged in inappropriate personal behavior.

The Policy Watch team welcomes your comments and feedback.