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The Daily Tar Heel

Farewell column: News, numbers and the mayor of North Carolina

Michael Taffe is the data editor for the 2020-2021 school year.

The reaction I got from most people when they heard I started working at my college paper was cutesy, if not dismissive.

People assumed I would be covering club meetings or writing student features. And of course, there’s a place and a demand for that type of content. But the times I’ve been most proud of working at The Daily Tar Heel have been when I saw a student journalist livestreaming the fall of Silent Sam on Facebook. Or when I was able to sit in on the DTH’s oral arguments before the N.C. Supreme Court over UNC’s sexual assault disciplinary records

I can remember a particularly long night in the office covering the special election in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. The next morning I received an email from some readers complimenting me personally on our coverage of the race. 

“Congratulations on a job well done. You are our local paper of choice.” 

That was when I first realized how necessary the DTH is to so many people in Chapel Hill, Orange County and statewide. After that email, I started posting positive reader feedback on a cork board in the office so my writers could get a bit of a pick-me-up when 4 p.m. rolled around. Just as rewarding as the reader feedback was seeing the pride the younger writers had knowing their work had made a difference in someone’s life.

Even more important than learning to take compliments was learning to take critiques. After another particularly long night in the office, I was placing text on the pages to be sent to the printer. I had written a piece on the Chapel Hill Town Council and — as a regrettable placeholder — typed my byline as “Michael Taffe, Mayor of North Carolina.” I was sure I had replaced it. I must have replaced it. But a 2 a.m. call to the co-editor-in-chief confirmed that I had not. (Good luck to anyone who would like to find that print issue.) 

I rushed into the office first thing the next morning to apologize for my mistake. There was no excuse. The story I had spent two days at the Friday Center with the Chapel Hill Town Council to complete was defaced by my own hand. But the DTH’s general manager, Erica Perel, had some sage advice. 

“It’s not the end of the world. Just don’t let it happen again.” 

What I took away from this was that it’s not worth griping over a mistake if I can’t learn from it. And also that it's important to laugh at ourselves once in a while.

With the fall semester looming, we decided it would be advantageous to have someone to tackle the data behind 2020’s two major news stories: COVID-19 and the 2020 elections. This semester, we rolled out a dashboard to track COVID-19 cases on campus, interactive maps of election results in the General Assembly and analyses of college voter turnout.

Needless to say, The Daily Tar Heel has come a long way — even in the short three years I’ve been on staff. And I’ll always be proud of our newsroom’s pursuit of serving not just the campus community, but the town and state as a whole.


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