William Toler: Profile of a news activist

By Hugh D. Fegely

[Note: The following was written as an academic paper by Fegely, a former co-worker of Toler's at WCTI-TV, for a news reporting and writing class at Ashford University in March. Some reformatting and editing was done to the original and links were added.]

Activism can take many forms, from the traffic-stopping marches to the simple letter to the editor. More activism is done in a grass-roots style – through pinacgearletters, personal displays – than through grand displays and marches, but the message is still seen and heard by many. One of the key elements of activism is presenting an alternative viewpoint contrary to mainstream opinion. With the explosion of connectivity through the internet, activism can be produced by anyone with a blog, and viewed by anyone who takes the time to search. This virtual grass-roots effort is the thinking man’s activism, where people can take a local issue and give it international exposure.

One such independent thinker is William Toler, a young eastern North Carolina native who has continued to look for the alternative viewpoint even while working within mainstream media. A founder of the short-lived print edition of the Independent Register, Toler continues to provide that different opinion while working for a news affiliate in New Bern, NC. As chief video editor, he stays informed on mainstream events, and also keeps a close eye on activities which should be reported on, but don’t always get covered. His original project went online, and IndieRegister.com is one of the ways Toler can report what he feels should be covered more.

His idea for news is for the show to truly be a watchdog of government. While he has done a few active demonstrations, Toler says, “most of my activism is through my journalism, throwing jabs at the powers that be, and showing how dangerous and ridiculous government is.” Government is his main target, as he feels too much power has been given – or taken – by the state, and individual liberty is being whittled away through regulation and legislation. “Freedom in this country is mostly an illusion,” Toler believes. “There isn’t much you can do without government permission or intervention.”

As a professional and independent news professional, Toler’s work centers around personal liberties. Whether it is a “victimless crime” because of possession of illicit substances, or exposing questionable police activities through Cop Block or Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC), he writes to expose the activities of law enforcement against innocent bystanders and other concerned citizens who have their rights violated. In June 2012 there was a fatal fire which Toler’s television station sent a reporter to cover. The reporter was given flack by one of the sheriff’s deputies, and the incident prompted an article on Toler’s IndieRegister.com which was picked up by Carlos Miller’s Photography is Not a Crime website.

Absurdity of the law is Toler’s biggest target. Many times he will target the police raids and zero-tolerance policies which leave no room for tolerance or “honest mistakes.” He also exposes the true wrongdoings of the police when they are found out, writing for Cop Block. In a recent article he reported about a county deputy who had been found to have a relationship with a 16-year-old high school student.

A hard working news gatherer, Toler is a jack-of-all-trades for the newsroom, writing and editing for the different news programs as well as going into the field to catch video and quick soundbites for breaking news. “Will is a font of information,” explains Elizabeth Bynum, the executive producer at WCTI. “We call him ‘Willipedia’ because he always has answers at his fingertips.” She also talks of how indispensable Toler is to the newsroom, always ready to help and tackle new assignments quickly, a trustworthy source when the pressure is on to meet deadlines. Brian North, the  anchor and former sports director, also speaks highly of Toler, depending on him as an extra shooter for sports at times – especially during the busy high school football season. “Will isn’t afraid to get in there to get the shot, get back with the footage to edit and help the others with their edits to get the Blitz on the air every Friday night,” praises North.

But this work only fuels Toler’s journalistic activism more, as the stories which don’t come out in the regular evening news will tend to find themselves covered through his IndieRegister.com and other outlets. He pulls no punches when covering events which he feels should get more attention, referring to mainstream media as “bootlickers” and parrots only repeating what government or the networks pass down to their affiliates.

Two people Toler looks up to are Carlos Miller, the founder of PINAC, and Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. “Snowden is a hero in my opinion. He made the people aware of what their supposed ‘servant government’ is doing, though some already had speculations.” Toler acknowledges the explosive increase in citizen and alternative journalism, especially since the events of September 11, 2001, and more recently with the leaks which Snowden has provided more recently. As much as the current administration has claimed to improve government transparency, Toler believes we have a long way to go before their truly is full accountability from the state. In support of PINAC, Toler is a firm believer that no limitations should be in place on recording in public, including at court hearings.

But the fight is still an uphill battle. Quoting Garet Garrett (from Insatiable Government), “If people cannot limit government they will not long be free. There is in government a living impulse to extend itself indefinitely; and there is in freedom a necessity to resist that impulse. The natural tendency, as Jefferson said, is for government to prevail and freedom to give way.” The current trends, as Toler sees it, is for government to continue to get bigger and take more control from the people, and without a continuous, diligent watchdog effort by the citizens – all of the citizens – the state will continue to whittle away at personal freedoms in the name of security.

While he might not be a traditional in-your-face activist, Toler represents one of the new breed of independents, working as hard as he can to provide a different opinion than what mainstream media offers, exposing the absurdity of government for those who care. George Orwell once wrote: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”  This truly is the power of independent journalists like Toler: the ability to deliver truth which the powers that be might not otherwise admit to – or want to have exposed. Without this effort, and without a questioning public, the government can and will follow the predictions of Garrett and Jefferson. While he might only be one voice in the vast virtual sea of the Internet, Toler’s work is one of many in the nation who truly want to keep the people informed. He will continue to write the good fight, and keep looking for the news that should be printed and broadcast, whether mainstream media covers the event or not.

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Filed under civil rights, Indieregister, News, Philosophy

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