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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The successes and pitfalls of The DTH's 2023 election coverage

City & State Editor: Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

When Editor-in-Chief Emmy Martin hired me in April to succeed her and be the 2023-24 city & state editor, I immediately created a document to plan for the 2023 elections. 

I wanted to do things differently — and the biggest change I wanted to make was to focus primarily on the issues driving the campaigns, rather than the campaigns themselves.

And, if I'm honest with myself, I think we accomplished that goal in the Chapel Hill elections, but not in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education or Carrboro elections.

In our compilation of election coverage, you'll notice the section on Chapel Hill is longer and more comprehensive than the other sections. That's a pretty accurate reflection of the contentiousness of the races, but also a reflection of our attention to the different races.

In our Election Preview print edition, we ran issue-focused stories about misinformation, sustainability, turnout, nonprofits and land use. But, all of those stories focused primarily on the Chapel Hill elections. We even talked to sitting Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger about her thoughts on the election and put out a story about a campaign finance violation from Adam Searing's campaign. Earlier in the campaign, we ran a story about a potential nonprofit law violation to benefit Searing and his slate.

The only Carrboro-focused story in the Election Preview was on the Bolin Creek Greenway. Yes, the greenway is a contentious topic, but it's not the only issue Carrboro campaigns were talking about. Candidates were also running on the implementation of the Town's comprehensive plan, affordable housing and racial equity.

The only CHCCS story in the Election Preview was a feature on Vickie Feaster Fornville, the first in a series of features on CHCCS candidates. That series, plus coverage of a candidate forum, was the full extent of our coverage on the school board elections. My personal mental excuse was that our desk didn't have the bandwidth to comprehensively cover the policy differences between the candidates, but surely there was something we could have written about — like school resource officers or the opportunity gap.

For Carrboro and CHCCS, we covered (most of) the candidates, but few of the big issues.

Our election night coverage, though, was maybe the best it's ever been — not to toot my own horn or anything. We had an amazing website created by our data desk with live results and maps, we had awesome graphics for the winners of the two mayor races and we had a great team in the office working to get stories on the results out as soon as possible.

So, if I had to give advice to the next city & state editor who has a municipal election to cover: Don't neglect parts of our community. Carrboro's elections weren't quite as contentious, but the races there deserved more of our attention. Sure, 13 candidates for the school board is a little daunting to cover, but don't let a large number of candidates stop you from getting in the weeds with as many of them as you can. Cover the issues relentlessly.

We get another shot at election coverage in the spring in the 2024 primaries, and we'll be better. March 5, 2024 — here we come.


@DTHCityState |

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Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.

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