Team Reporting Projects

As part of Elon University’s senior journalism course, I collaborated on the following projects with other student reporters.

Team in-depth reporting project on North Carolina’s river contamination. I reported on the Dan River, writing and producing the multimedia content for the page, created all maps for the team, and designed some of the visual elements across the site.

Pair reporting project on recent college graduates’ unemployment. I worked with another student to conduct interviews, obtain data for infographics, and produced the audio story. (published in The Pendulum.)

Final story on raising the national minimum wage. I worked with another student to conduct interviews and obtain footage and pictures for multimedia elements, and designed the interactive map and infographics.


Take a look, it’s in a book: The state of North Carolina’s library system

May Memorial Library, Burlington, N.C. Photo Credit:

May Memorial Library, Burlington, N.C.

In the technological age, with students taking notes frequently on computers, professionals relying on tablets for reading the daily newspaper, and nearly every form of entertainment, whether movie or music, available for instant download, the need for paper continually decreases.

With the development of e-readers, the question of a library’s value in modern society arises. Without profits or sales, how have libraries, a public resource giving access to free books, been affected?

Surprisingly, Americans continually rely on public libraries, which in turn, offer not just paper books or academic assistance, but also technological resources.

The State of American Libraries Report’s 2013 results revealed that just over half of the respondents surveyed still visit a library. 40 percent of those surveyed check out DVDs, while 73 percent turn to the more traditional paper book.

May Memorial Library offers patrons a wide variety of DVDs

May Memorial Library offers patrons a wide variety of DVDs

Dr. Anthony Chow, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, researches public libraries in North Carolina. Although e-readers’ popularity continues to increase, Chow says libraries will always be valuable resources.

NC Library Numbers“Library services have evolved into much more than books in general – as a place for community, workforce development and employment, early literacy and children or youth programs, a place of refuge and ‘free’ entertainment, access to technology for those who don’t have it, and of course books, lots of books,” he explains.

Chow is a faculty member in UNCG’s master’s degree program in library science. North Carolina Central University and UNC Chapel Hill also offer similar programs, where researchers focus on various subtopics of libraries in the U.S., including academic libraries, library history, and children’s library services and resources.

The demise of the library: see the “fiction” section

Chow and his colleagues in the library science field collectively agree that the library system will never be obsolete, despite the common and growing reliance on electronic devices. Jim Carmichael, a professor in UNCG’s Department of Library and Information Studies, sees the demise of the public library as “greatly exaggerated.”

Carmichael perceives two groups, neither consisting of young adults or college students, to be the primary and most consistent users of the library system. He views parents and their children as the first group, as libraries often offer free educational and recreation programs throughout the week.

Alamance County Public Libraries offer a wide variety of happenings for families, ranging from not just the typical reading club, but to movie screenings, music and movement sessions for babies, and LEGO building hours.Based on Carmichael’s observations, libraries often offer valuable resources and play a vital role in the community by providing entertainment and respite for harried parents or caregivers.

The other noticeable group utilizing the library system, according to Carmichael, centers not necessarily around age or family status, but around economics. He perceives that group to be “those who can’t afford internet access at home or can’t afford to buy a copy of a book.”

Due to the recession and fear of unemployment, computer usage in libraries may be increasing, as job searchers need computers and internet access to apply for jobs online. He argues that in the past, a library was typically a “middle-class institution for recreational reading, business reference, and school assignments.” Now, the economic divide has altered the spectrum of library users. One constant, however, is a solid base of retired citizens who are “still faithful and regular library users.”

Fighting the Internet

Cal Shepard, the State Librarian, echoes Carmichael’s statement that computers play a vital role in libraries’ popularity and value in society. However, she perceives the high cost of bandwidth to be one of the primary issues libraries face.

“I would say that one of the things holding libraries back is they can’t afford the bandwidth. And nationally, it’s my perception, and mine alone, that North Carolina is behind when it comes to offering bandwidth to its residents,” Shepard says.

The lack of affordable bandwidth, rather than a lack of interest in books, is a key challenge libraries face in catering to the public, as wait lists for popular books in North Carolina still reach as high as 200 names. Ironically, she also sees the growth of the Internet as one of the main reasons libraries also struggle in receiving funding.NC Library Funding

“One of the trends in libraries is the reduction in the number of reference questions that librarians are fielding. I don’t think that’s due to e-books. I see that due to Google,” Shepard says. “I do it myself, a random question strikes me…I don’t have to write it down and go to the library to look it up. I can grab my phone and look it up right then and there. And that has affected libraries.”

Since anyone with a mobile phone, or merely access to the Internet, can easily research nearly any topic and receive an answer within seconds, the reference desk has become somewhat outdated.

However, a study referenced in the State of American Libraries 2013 report revealed that 75 percent of first-year college students surveyed said they do not know how to find research articles and resources. Thus, the need for reference desks, as well as librarian assistance, despite the ease of researching online, is clear.

Chow, Carmichael, and Shepard all agree that libraries will not become obsolete, as their resources are vital to education and serving the public. However, libraries must adapt to the community’s needs, especially in regards to e-books.

Screen versus sheet: libraries in the age of the e-book

Shepard likens the growth of e-books to the invention of the television. Although skeptics predicted the radio would be obsolete after television, both remain necessary for different purposes. She views e-books and paper books similarly.

Despite the trend towards e-books, N.C. library shelves remain stocked.

Despite the trend towards e-books, N.C. library shelves remain stocked.

According to a survey of MBA students at the University of Virginia, the majority responded they would not recommend e-books for learning. Princeton University students similarly said using a digital book instead of a paper book was a detriment to their memory retention.

Libraries play an integral role in learning by providing paper books for free and continue to provide a public service for patrons of all ages. Although e-books have not harmed libraries’ paper book collections, North Carolina libraries view e-books as assets, and aim to add them to their collections.NC Library Expenditures

Rather than viewing e-books as a threat, the library system has taken steps to foster a relationship with publishers to provide e-books to patrons. However, publishers are reluctant now to work with libraries. In the past, publishers and libraries were “friends,” Shepard says. After receiving new books, librarians would write reviews and encourage readership. Now, their relationship has changed.

In early 2012, members of the American Library Association met with six of the nation’s top publishers, including Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Harper Collins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster, to negotiate for e-book lending.

Penguin Group, which publishes bestsellers by Nora Roberts and John Green, placed an embargo limiting the release of new titles to libraries for six months. The embargo was later removed.

Shepard explains, “The publishers literally are saying to us, we’re not going to sell to you. Now that’s night and day.” Thus, the business model of the library continually shifts, as libraries search for ways to respond to consumer demand and developing technologies.

How has the e-book affected libraries' print collection?

How has the e-book affected libraries’ print collection?

Although North Carolina struggles to foster a relationship with publishers, its strength as a library system lies in its collegial system, where library branches work together to compile resources as public goods, rather than compete for funding or patrons.

Fifteen years ago, the community college system, an organization of private and independent colleges, the UNC system, and the state public libraries banded together to create NC Live, a scholarly database available statewide, where resources include access to free e-books, journals, and videos.

Shepard says the president of the American Library Association noted the state’s unique collegial system during a visit to one of the North Carolina Library Association’s conferences.

Overcoming economic struggles to serve the community

Despite its strengths and national recognition as a strong system, North Carolina’s libraries still face economic adversity. State funding has decreased by 9 percent over the last five years, making it even more difficult to equalize the libraries in the system. Since North Carolina’s libraries vary from urban to rural, libraries receive different amounts of funding, which explains the disparity in collections, whether print books alone, or DVDs and CDs as well.

UNC Chapel Hill Clinical Assistant Professor R.E. Berguist says patronage in libraries varies among North Carolina’s counties, with individual libraries’ ability to appeal to the community’s needs playing an integral factor in its success.

“Durham County Southwest Regional Library and Wake County West Regional Library are both good examples of libraries that have astoundingly good patronage,” he says. Based on his experience living in Alamance County, for nine years, May Memorial Library similarly had a steady number of patrons, while Mebane’s library did not, in his opinion, cater to the town’s needs. The Research Triangle also stands apart from other North Carolina libraries as has its own network, allowing patrons to access resources from UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University.

Shepard says library visits are down just slightly, although a trend likely due to cuts to operating hours. Book volume per capita, the number of books in the system, has also slightly decreased due to budget cuts.

Due to budget cuts, libraries are turning towards their community to increase their collection.

Due to budget cuts, libraries are turning towards their community to increase their collection.

N.C. library advocates rally for federal funding

As a result, academics like Chow and state employees like Shepard band together to advocate for the state library. Chow also contributes to a state advocacy blog, stressing the importance of libraries for citizens of varying ages.

As National Library Week approaches in mid-April, they, along with elementary and middle school student ambassadors, plan to travel to Capitol Hill in May to lobby for more federal library support. NC Library System Income

The North Carolina Library Association is leading a national rally in front of the Capitol. To catch politicians’ attention, they plan to hold a flash mob to the song “Happy” by Pharrell, capitalizing on the dance craze and popular music.

According to both statistics, and input from researchers, North Carolina’s libraries, despite adversity, are not in the midst of a downturn, but in a period of growth and modernization.

While some citizens of Pawnee, Indiana don't quite see the value in libraries, North Carolina's systems continue to serve the public.

While the Deputy Parks Director of Pawnee, Indiana doesn’t quite see the value in libraries,

Libraries still provide entertainment and education for visitors young...

Libraries still provide entertainment and education for visitors young…

and (centuries) old

and (centuries) old


For Burlington native, lunch leads to long career in funeral industry

Christopher Rhodes planned on playing college football. Sidelined by an injury his senior year of high school, he then set out to fly helicopters for the Army. However, problems with his eyesight diverted his plans once again.

With graduation approaching, Rhodes “pretty much didn’t have a clue” what he would do next. After stopping by his older brother’s work one day, an impromptu lunch meeting with the business’s owner led to a job offer.

Rich & Thompson, Burlington, N.C. Photo from

Rich and Thompson, Burlington, N.C. Photo from

With a career spanning 25 years at Rich and Thompson, a mortuary in Burlington, N.C., Rhodes guides families through their times of loss, continuing a long, yet unexpected, career in the funeral industry.

After graduating from Cummings High School in Burlington, Rhodes only planned to work temporarily for Rich and Thompson, helping out with odd jobs in exchange for the owner covering his college tuition.

[Click play below to hear Rhodes explain Rich and Thompson’s history as the second oldest business in Burlington.]

At the start of his apprenticeship, he found being surrounded by caskets “eerie.” “I can tell you when I first started this, the only thing I did was I started washing cars, cut the grass, staying outside, not doing anything where I would interact with the deceased,” Rhodes recalls. “I thought early on, this is not going to be for me.”

However, after 25 years, he now says being around grieving families and the deceased doesn’t phase him. He says the transition came with time, as he demonstrates the features of different caskets and walks families through their different service and burial options. At the mortuary, Rhodes says “I walk in the room like I walk in any other room.”

[Video: Rhodes provides a walk-through of two of the mortuary’s meeting rooms]

Although he initially avoided customer interactions and coordinating funeral services, an experience working with a widow served as a catalyst for his long-term career and growing interest in working directly with the mortuary’s customers.

On one particularly busy day, Rhodes was sent to a house to pick up the funeral parlor’s equipment. The task typically takes 10 minutes, but Rhodes stayed at the woman’s house conversing for three hours. Two weeks later, the woman brought him a cake at work and told him of the positive effect their interaction had on her grieving process.

Afterwards, Rhodes began interacting more with customers. He realized the impact his role in the business carries explaining, “Unfortunately, everybody’s gonna pass away. Everybody’s gonna come in here with a loss. I won’t really say enjoyment is what I get out of it. But I do get a sense that I make a difference.”

He acknowledges that he sees a lot of sadness in his daily work, but continues knowing “That [he] can make the event go flawlessly for them, knowing [he] can honor their loved one exactly how they want it to, there is some reward in that.”Definitions

After deciding to make his career with Rich and Thompson permanent, Rhodes entered an unusual program for a  young adult. Whilst enrolled in funeral school, he learned that planning a funeral and assisting the bereaved entails more than just finalizing details and coordinating a service.

[Video: Rhodes demonstrates the casket selection process in the Burlington branch’s display room]

“The funeral is for the living, it’s not necessarily for the deceased,” Rhodes says. “The time that we have with them is brief, we’re getting it all done. Some of the families we do form a bond with, it just depends on the extent of help they’re looking for, but we try to help them along the way.”

[Click play below to hear Rhodes explain the differences between the Burlington and Graham facilities.]

Thus, Rhodes believes Rich and Thompson’s role in guiding families through the grieving process goes beyond the funeral service. On a daily basis, his duties mainly concern walking families through the pre-planning process. He urges children and other relatives to check in often on their parents after a loss. “Really the hard part with death, from experience, is after everything is over, the funeral is over, everyone is bombarded at first.” Rhodes continues, “Relatives are calling, friends are sending letters. But in a week or two, everybody’s going on with their lives.”

Beyond the fear of being around the deceased, or working in an environment most known for sadness or associated with loss, Rhodes explains the funeral industry often has a negative stereotype due to corruption in the industry.

After a crematory in Georgia garnered national attention after it was discovered an “astronomically large sum of bodies” were being buried in shallow graves, the funeral industry was portrayed negatively in the media, Rhodes says. (See graphic left. Further reading on the Georgia scandal: Times Free Press & The Guardian)
Tri-State Scandal

The case cast honest businesses in the industry like Rich and Thompson in a negative light; Rhodes and the rest of the staff strive to help customers, providing them with honest advice about financial decisions and supervising all bodies as they are prepared for burial. Rhodes says the loss of close family members in his own life also motivates him to speak frankly and truthfully with families throughout the funeral planning process.

In addition to providing funeral services to families in the Burlington area, Rich and Thompson also takes on charitable causes. Rhodes himself coordinates the mortuary’s community outreach services, including holding an annual memorial service around the holiday season for the 600 families Rich and Thompson assists throughout the year.

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 11.03.44 PM

Click image to view interactive timeline

Although Rich and Thompson is a business, the industry allows the staff to help its customers even beyond when they step out of the mortuary’s doors. Rich and Thompson donates to an organization in Hillsborough, where customers who are struggling with their loss can receive help free of charge.

Despite the sad nature of their trade, Rhodes says Rich and Thompson has become a family. “We are 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We’ve got a large enough staff, and the people that work here, we get closer with them than we do our own families.” Although his hours can be unpredictable at times, he enjoys the flexibility of his job, as he can still attend his two sons’ little league games and spend time away from his work. The staff works together to capitalize on their strengths and weaknesses.

The staff’s differing backgrounds, ranging from children of the original owners who grew up around the business, to a 2005 Elon graduate, enable them to approach their work from various viewpoints. Despite working in a funeral parlor, each staff member is human first.  For instance, as a parent, Rhodes struggles with helping families who have a lost a child. In those cases, he explains, “Someone who’s single normally does [help them], and vice versa. If there’s something that bothers somebody else, somebody else will wait on them.”

Although Rich and Thompson is a business associated with sad circumstances, its devoted workers like Rhodes have benefitted the community over a long period of time and continue to debunk negative perceptions of the funeral service industry.

Russia’s same-sex policies elicit criticism, but follow trend of controversial Olympic host countries

As the Sochi Olympic Games near the halfway point of the competition, Russia’s policies towards same-sex marriage and LGBT rights loom in the minds of some spectators; however, political controversy has been a staple of nearly every Olympics throughout the past forty years.

Fireworks begin the Sochi Games, Fisht Stadium. Photo courtesy of
Fireworks begin the Sochi Games, Fisht Stadium. Photo courtesy of

In the months leading up to the Sochi Games, Russian anti-gay policies, including a ban on same-sex marriage and a ban on adoptions signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin have sparked critical media coverage of the host country. In addition, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today signed a decree further halting adoptions by same-sex couples and single individuals residing in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

Timeline, Major LGBTQIA Events in Russian History. Click image for interactive timeline.

Timeline, Major LGBTQIA Events in Russian History. Click image for interactive timeline.

With its history of anti-gay policies (see timeline left), world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, and major corporations, including AT&T, spoke out against Russia’s same-sex policies as the country prepared for the kickoff of the Sochi Games.

The majority of U.S. states do not legally recognize same-sex marriages; however, Russia’s policies stand out in contrast with more inclusive American work and school environments.

U.S. Same-sex marriage map. Graphic via

U.S. Same-sex marriage map. Graphic via

Jan Pagoria, a staff member at Elon University’s School of Business, says Russian political leaders’ “mixed messages” regarding same-sex policies and providing a safe and tolerant environment will likely result in negative sentiment surrounding the games. Pagoria says Putin’s message of “No, we’re not doing anything wrong,” may be detrimental and discourage viewers from tuning in.

Elon LGBTQIA Office

Elon LGBTQIA Office

Although Elon University is located in North Carolina, a state that does not legally recognize same-sex marriages, the school strives towards solidifying an accepting and diverse community, with multiple LGBTQIA resources for students, standing out in contrast to the political environment in Sochi.

LGBTQIA Resources, Elon University

LGBTQIA Resources, Elon University

The politically-charged coverage of the Sochi Olympics, despite focusing on same-sex policies in the host country, merely continues a trend of political controversy rising to the surface every two years.

The terrorist attack during the 1972 Munich Games set the precedent for politics generally overshadowing the Olympics’ sporting events, according to Dr. Glenn Scott, Associate Professor at Elon University’s School of Communications, who teaches a course on sports writing. The attack “stole the delight and devastated the hope,” Scott furthers, “that the Games could advance social and perhaps political ties among people.”

Thus, the seemingly negative sentiment towards Russia as the host country may be the norm, rather than the exception.  Scott references the criticism directed towards Beijing’s 2008 Summer Games, where the media’s coverage frequently embodied “a muted hope that the world attention from the Games might prompt the Communist Party leaders to loosen its authoritarian grip.”

The Sochi Games may be the first where the majority of controversy stems from same-sex policies, but Mexico City’s 1968 Games, where political protests by students turned deadly, and 2008’s Beijing Games, where the government was criticized for its response to a devastating earthquake, similarly support that nearly every Olympic event is shrouded in some form of political controversy.

Scott suggests that the controversy regarding the Sochi Games, especially in the U.S., may appear to be stronger than criticism in years past because Russian policies are “counter to the growing consensus in Europe and North America.” As illustrated by environments of tolerance in the U.S., like Elon University, which takes action to maintain an accepting community, Russia’s policies stand out in comparison.

Despite the controversy surrounding the Games, the event will most likely not stand out as an outlier compared to previous Olympics. According to Scott, “If the contests are fairly administered, with workable facilities and generous spectators, the reputation of Sochi may be diminished by politics but not ruined by unfairness.”

Sochi Olympic Venues. Photo courtesy of

Sochi Olympic Venues. Photo courtesy of

Rather than cementing its place in history due to its politics, the Sochi Olympics may be remembered for its record breaking events, such as Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu setting a new figure skating world record , or Americans taking all three medals in the slopestyle event.