“I’m not inclined to use that label myself,” she wrote in an email after our interview. But news organizations across the country pick up her column, and she gets correspondence from a wide array of people—those who share her views and those who don’t. Flono continued:

I am most encouraged by those…who write to simply say I’ve prodded them to think deeper or differently about an issue. If I were to describe myself, though, I would say I was a convener of conversation. I have opinions, loads of them, but I really want people to think, think, think.

My perch at the paper provides a platform to get public consideration of ideas, and ways of thinking about issues they may not have considered. I also see my role as helping people bridge gaps in understanding, and finding a way to reach consensus and finding a way to be less myopic and having a broader lens about which to discuss issues and make decisions.

Flono’s columns get picked up in other McClatchy newspapers and run at the national McClatchy website, of course, but also run in other North Carolina papers like the Winston-Salem Journal, the Greensboro News & Record, and the Burlington Times-News.

Her frequently liberal stances have, not surprisingly, drawn fire from conservative bloggers in the state. Typical of those “lefties,” concluded a blogger for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, of a 2011 Flono column (no longer available online) on public school funding and how, per Flono, the “return on investment [in students] can’t be extracted easily or quickly.” To the conservative blog, The Pundit House, a March Flono column on race and crime was the “wishful thinking of the politically correct crowd.”

So as Flono sits in one of the centers of political debate in 2012, what tips does she have for other journalists?

“On campaign coverage, unfortunately, I feel the media (all of us) fail to provide the depth of coverage about what goes on, what the truth is about issues or a politician’s stand, and what the implications are of what they propose. We do too much stenographic, ‘he said, she said,’ coverage, thinking that’s a proxy for fairness, without being very discerning about…what is being fed to us.”

What’s being done well in campaign reporting?

She likes sites that check facts and wishes traditional media outlets would do more of it. “Our newspaper used to routinely ‘truth-squad’ what politicians said, but we only do it sporadically now,” she said.

What issues need more scrutiny?

“On several issues—rising poverty and income inequality, immigration reform, education, tax reform—I’d like to see the media be more aggressive in informing the public about how public policy decisions at the state level and national level are affecting those issues.”

The issue of income inequality, Flono observed hopefully in a February column, was actually—for a moment earlier this year—on the minds and lips of some of the presidential candidates. Wrote Flono:

Concern about income inequality and the huge and growing wealth gap in this country has found new energy in our political discourse of late.

President Barack Obama took note of it in his State of the Union address last month. Republican hopefuls for their party’s nomination to take on Obama in the November elections have been dragged into talking about it, too.

This is a welcome discussion. It is linked to the heart of the current malaise in this country - that the opportunity to succeed in the U.S. is now severely constricted - and it batters an ideal that Americans hold dear - that with hard work anybody can get ahead.

Far too many Americans see the opportunity door closed.

Earlier this month, Flono and her colleagues on the Observer editorial board made the unusual decision to rescind a candidate endorsement in the Republican primary for U.S. House District 9 after the candidate, Jim Pendergraph, attended a rally with infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. From that rescindment:

What a run for Republican Jim Pendergraph. After winning the Observer’s endorsement in his bid for Congress, he has done nothing but embarrass us and himself.

By buddying up to one of America’s more hateful egomaniacs and then joining with fringe “birthers” to question President Obama’s citizenship, Pendergraph has contradicted much of what he told the Observer’s editorial board in his endorsement interview last month. As a result, we have lost faith in him, and urge voters to consider Edwin Peacock or Ric Killian in the 9th Congressional District race.

Looking forward, Flono will be deeply involved in coverage of the Democratic National Convention in early September in Charlotte, with Observer editorial board members planning daily commentary online and in print. The paper is teaming up with Politico during the convention.

Andria Krewson is an independent journalist in Charlotte and a student in the University of North Carolina's master of arts in technology and digital communication. She worked at The Charlotte Observer for many years. Find her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/underoak or http://twitter.com/akrewson.