Writing Samples

MEJO153 – Writing and Reporting

Kenny Mann Story

Kenny Mann, the founder and lead singer of Liquid Pleasure, has gained a multitude of life experience through his quest for fame. The band’s 40-plus years of performing live at places like weddings and fraternity parties still continues today.

Mann’s musical inclination began when he was just in middle school. He picked up the saxophone as his first instrument and never looked back at his ability to entertain.

While Mann enjoyed the musical aspect of a band, the women that came with it were his true motivation. His favorite band growing up, The Beatles, created his love for show business because of “how crazy the girls went for them.” Mann wore a Beatles wig and walked down Franklin Street in an attempt to become a lady magnet himself.

After a failed attempt at going Hollywood in 1980, Mann and his band members were still itching to get famous and make a living by their music. Liquid Pleasure had some local hits, but they really started to pick up when they began traveling.

At a KA party at the University of Alabama, Liquid Pleasure was performing for a not-so-enthusiastic crowd. Mann, in a desperate attempt to make a name for himself, had a plan to engage the audience.

Mann and his band members, who are all Black, invited white members of the crowd onto the stage for a yelling contest. The contest was to see who could yell the word ‘n—-r’ the loudest.

Soon enough, Liquid Pleasure was one of the hottest bands to book for a fraternity party. Many other fraternities were interested in their music and contests.

“It was like we came up with the Big Mac,” said Mann in a recent interview, “and everybody wanted to eat it.”

Mann saw his fair share of crazy activities while performing at fraternity parties. He recalled that he was most shocked by a kid at the University of Virginia slamming a dead dog on a leash into the middle of the dance floor.

The yelling contest didn’t remain popular forever, and the band needed another stunt to uniquely distinguish themselves. Their new idea was to bring girls up on the stage during performances, which was an uncommon practice at the time. Whenever Liquid Pleasure was booked at a fraternity, other fraternities at that school would not book bands for the day because they knew where all the women were going.

Fraternity gigs are what made the group who they are today. As welcomed as they felt by fraternities, the band eventually became too pricey for them. Liquid Pleasure began to perform at weddings as an upgrade from the fraternal scene.

Performing at high-end venues is what made the band money, but it wasn’t necessarily what gave them the most joy. There was an element of tokenization while performing for mostly white crowds. The old music Mann really enjoys is sampled in new music today.

Liquid Pleasure’s performance at the Mar-a-Lago was one of the classiest venues the band had the opportunity to put on a show at. Even after performing for Donald Trump, Mann was not a huge fan of the environment.

“I didn’t really like that creepy building,” said Mann, “I like new Miami, not old Miami.”

Mann rarely noticed Trump at the Mar-a-Lago, but saw him again at a plaza in New York where he saw the seemingly unimaginable: Donald Trump dancing with Hilary Clinton.

Mann’s love for Chapel Hill is as strong as it was before he and his band members began to travel. His long-term real estate investments on the Northside of Chapel Hill were able to rebuild the community by fixing up houses and offering help to nearby residents.

Liquid Pleasure’s core members consist of four cousins. While other members came in and out of the band, the core had to “ease them out” if they had bad habits such as smoking or drinking. 

“The only bad habit we had was chasing those girls,” said Mann, “especially those girls down at University of Georgia.”

As close as the core of the band was, the COVID-19 pandemic was hard to manage as a band that makes money mostly through live performances. The band was unsure which direction to move in to make a living.

“Finally something happened that I couldn’t control,” said Mann. “It felt like I was on a musical Titanic.”

The band was able to temporarily manage the pandemic through two approved PPP loans. The state of South Carolina saved them due to their little concern for wearing masks or social distancing.

Unfortunately, the carelessness for COVID-19 eventually caught up to Liquid Pleasure. Mann’s cousin, Melvin Farrington, was an anti-vaxxer and eventually died from COVID-19.

Liquid Pleasure’s decades of musical performances have been a rollercoaster for the group. Mann is still as optimistic as ever and continues to inspire those he performs for today.

Langston Taylor Story

Langston Taylor, data editor for the Tampa Bay Times, spoke to a group of journalism students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday about how his educational and professional experiences have helped him to rise quickly in his office in Tampa.

The UNC-Chapel Hill alum graduated with a degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media while concentrating on web design, development and data analytics. Statistics classes were Taylor’s bread and butter.

“I always had a math side to me,” said Taylor.

Taylor’s experience as a reporter began before his education was even finished. His internships at the Daily Tar Heel and the Gazette prepared him for the thick work he would soon do for a living. His coverage of a sexual assault controversy on campus during his time at the DTH showed him that bringing necessary topics to justice was a part of journalism that he loved.

At the Tampa Bay Times, Taylor’s first big story was about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. Quite the subtle introduction.

“Being a metro reporter is a unique way to learn about a city,” said Taylor.

Being a data editor comes with its fair balance of in-depth, intuitive work and slow, grindy busy-work. Patience is a vital skill to have, as sorting through mass amounts of data can be boring even for people who choose to do it. Data editing requires results, not daily deadlines.

Bias is an imminent part of finding and creating data. To prevent this, Taylor has to double check his findings consistently with his co-workers. While it may seem tedious, it is necessary to be “running what you do past everybody.”

Journalism is not just about being able to present information, but rather being able to properly explain it. Writers must find the perfect balance of word choice to appeal to both insiders within the industry and for the average joe. Sometimes, you even have to dumb it down for other journalists.

“Write as if you’re explaining what’s going on to your friend at a party or a bar,” said Taylor.

Taylor thanks the opportunity we all have in a country with free press. The information journalists can uncover can truly change people’s lives. The free press is really the only idol for Taylor’s work, aside from a couple athletes.

“I didn’t grow up with posters of journalists on my wall,” said Taylor.

Regarding advice to the future journalists in the room, Taylor encouraged a unique personality and strong initiative as great ways to get your foot in the door. Triple checking your accuracy doesn’t hurt either.

Robert Willett Story

Robert Willett’s career as a photojournalist has been as rewarding as he imagined it would be since he was a teenager. Covering natural disasters, local news and specifically UNC-CH sports, Willett has been able to grow not only as a photojournalist but as a human being.

Willett first found his passion for photography through a black and white lens. This simple Polaroid camera served Willett until his friend who worked on the yearbook staff at his school decided to bless him.

This friend had gotten a brand new camera for Christmas and didn’t really care much to use it, so Willett began to play around with it on his own. By the time Willett was 15, he was shooting pictures for the weekly paper in his hometown.

Willett now works for the News & Observer where has been covering UNC-CH basketball and football for over a decade, along with other smaller stories. While his long tenure has given him plenty of opportunity to decide, Willett still doesn’t have a favorite sport to cover.

“Everyday I get a clean slate,” said Willett in a recent interview when asked what the best part of being a photographer is, “I love getting to do something new everyday.”

Willett’s work is very demanding during game days for the Tar Heels. For basketball games, the photojournalist takes around 1000 pictures per camera per game. Each game he typically uses four cameras. You can do the math.

“You shoot 1000 and you get 1,” said Willett.

Roy Williams, former head coach of the Tar Heel basketball team, was Willett’s favorite person to shoot pictures of. Williams was never afraid to show his emotions whether he was laughing, crying or simply going crazy.

Willett noted the 2009 championship season for the Tar Heels to be his favorite season he has covered in his career. While Willett’s favorite player, Tyler Hansborough, brought plenty of emotion to the team, it was a shot Willett took after the Tar Heels won that sets this season apart from others.

A sports information director notified Willett that Coach Williams was in possession of the Naismith Trophy, and Willett was determined to get a photograph of it. After waiting for hours, Willett was able to capture a picture of Williams walking with the trophy creating his favorite photo that he’s ever taken.

“I’m always trying to be a guy that’s somewhere that nobody else is,” said Willett.

It’s not about how hard you fall, but about how quickly you get up. During a UNC-CH football game vs Florida State University, Willett was knocked down to the ground while attempting to shoot photos of the game. Before he had time to think, he was right back up on his feet trying to get an even better angle. 

Getting bumped into is far from the most taxing part of Willett’s career. Outside of sports, Willett has had to cover more serious events, such as Hurricane Florence. 

NFI Industries – Communications and Marketing Intern – Summer 2023

Below is a link to a blog post that I drafted for the marketing team at NFI Industries.