Opinion: Daily Journal

The Public Interest, Broadly Defined

New York Times readers learned in early August of Steve Cooksey, the Charlotte-area “diabetes warrior,” who has sued the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition because it has tried to censor Cooksey’s blog touting the health benefits of the low-carb, high-protein “paleo” diet.

The Times story appeared more than three months after Carolina Journal’s Sara Burrows reported on Cooksey’s battle with the nutrition board, and more than two months after Cooksey, represented by the libertarian Institute for Justice, filed his lawsuit. (Burrows did a follow-up story for CJ the day after the filing.)

And it’s one example of a pitch we’ve made to donors and other supporters for years: Carolina Journal covers many stories long before the traditional media weighs in.

If you review CJ’s online and print archives, you’ll find a host of other stories we produced weeks if not months before they entered the consciousness of the mainstream press — revelations of legislative slush funds, investigations of boondoggles like the Global TransPark and the Randy Parton Theatre, exposés of public corruption, and even human-interest stories such as Cooksey’s legal troubles, the infamous “chicken nugget” incident, and the plight of food truck operators.

So why do we pursue stories like these before they reach the prestige press?

Traditional media outlets pride themselves in operating in “the public interest.” Indeed, broadcasters with a government-issued license are required to promote the public interest as a condition of doing business.

But the public interest is an elastic concept that most traditional media providers define rigidly. In their view, it primarily means protecting freedom of the press (the media’s own self-interest), serving as a government watchdog, and defending a handful of other constitutional freedoms.

Consider the coverage of “nuggetgate” — the Hoke County incident in which a preschooler was told her homemade lunch was inadequate because it did not satisfy federal nutritional guidelines. The confused 4-year-old was led to believe her turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, apple juice, and bag of chips were “no good,” and ate chicken nuggets from the cafeteria line instead.

Mainstream reporting on the incident focused on who told the girl her lunch was disallowed and why the order was given. Fine. We did that, too. But there was a lack of sympathy for the notion that a parent should determine what’s best to feed her child, and that as such intrusions of the nanny state become more common, we lose the capacity to be treated as adults by the government.

We delved into those issues, which helped set our reporting apart.

We believe it’s in the public interest to promote liberty and the rule of law. That includes:

• Defending all the freedoms laid out in the U.S. Constitution — including those in the Second Amendment and the portion of the Fifth Amendment (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) that so many editors and reporters have trouble understanding.

• Preserving the inalienable rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) and Article I of the North Carolina Constitution (“life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of [our] own labor, and the pursuit of happiness”).

• Encouraging entrepreneurship and free markets while opposing regulations that limit competition for the benefit of established enterprises and do not protect public health or safety.

• Protecting individual choice and preserving competition, to benefit consumers, parents of school-age children, and recipients of public services, among others.

We’ll report fairly and accurately on all sides of these controversies. It’s all part of encouraging self-government, which is what the Founders hoped to promote.

Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal.