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My journalist heart breaks a little more as The Durham Herald-Sun moves copy desk to Kentucky

13 Aug

When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a food critic. We had a religion reporter. A health reporter. A court reporter. A cops reporter. A county government reporter. An associate editorial page editor. An illustrator. A librarian. An obituary clerk.

And we had a lot more. When I worked at The Herald-Sun we had a full-time copy desk.

After tonight, there will no longer be a copy desk at Durham, North Carolina’s hometown newspaper.

Just like all those other positions we had when I worked there, the local copy desk is being eliminated. Page design and copy editing of the Durham, NC, newspaper will soon take place 622 miles away, in the Owensboro (Kentucky) Messenger-Inquirer newsroom.

When I worked at The Herald-Sun in 2004, I was one about 90 newsroom employees. When the copy desk is officially dissolved, only 20 editorial employees will reportedly remain.

In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun's building. The paper's circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.
In 2007, I spotted all these newspaper boxes behind The Herald-Sun’s building. The paper’s circulation was an estimated 50,000 in 2006 and stands at about 25,000 today.

Layoffs Were Once Unexpected

Newsroom layoffs aren’t surprises anymore. But they were seven years ago, when I took my first newspaper reporting job at The Herald-Sun. I was fresh out of grad school and landed the city hall beat at a 50,000-circulation family-owned newspaper. I thought I made it.

I packed all the clothes I could stuff into my VW Golf and took my first road trip half way across the country. I didn’t know anyone in North Carolina. Not a soul. But I didn’t care. I just scored a job at a family-owned newspaper. That meant job security. That meant excellent health insurance and Christmas bonuses. That meant working for a newspaper with soul.

I still remember the day the Paxton Media Group bought the 50,000-circulation newspaper from the Rollins family, which owned the paper for nearly 110 years. For months there were rumors that the paper was being sold. But we didn’t know who would buy us. And we certainly didn’t know what it would mean for our future.

The morning the deal went down in late 2004, I passed editor-in-chief Bill Hawkins on my way to the copy machine. I asked him how he was, not because I thought anything was wrong, but because that’s what you say when you pass the editor-in-chief in the hall. “Not good,” he said, and then walked into his office.

An hour or so later Hawkins was one of about 80 employees who were laid off. Employees were escorted to their cars. They couldn’t collect their belongings. They couldn’t say goodbye. They were part of the first sweeping newsroom layoffs in our country. Not long after that, layoffs like these would become business as usual for newspapers, with thousands of journalists losing jobs.

After that day, paranoia would sweep over me every time an editor walked down my row of cubes. I always thought I was one day away from getting laid off. So much for job security.

Circulation Starts to Sink

When I started at The Herald-Sun, the circulation was roughly 50,000. I thought I would work there for three to five years before looking for my next reporting gig at a bigger newspaper. Less than a year after the paper was sold, I started looking for a new journalism job. Newsroom morale was low. We were doing more with less. We weren’t delivering the same quality, hometown journalism that previously kept Durham residents from subscribing to our more sophisticated McClatchy-owned competitor, The News & Observer. After the sale, some Bull City residents even tossed their newspapers back into our parking lot.
I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I still have business cards leftover from my days at The Herald-Sun.

I landed at The Island Packet, a McClatchy paper serving Hilton Head Island, SC, and the surrounding mainland communities. The circulation was small, about 22,000, but I was lured by the ocean and the prospect of moving up the McClatchy chain. That was before McClatchy bought Knight Ridder, the poorly-timed deal that saddled the company with so much debt it will likely never recover.

Some of my journalist friends questioned my decision to leave a 50,000-circulation newspaper for one less than half its size. But now, six years later, The Herald-Sun reportedly only maintains a circulation of about 25,000. Meanwhile, the small-town Island Packet is still holding on to its 22,000 readers.

I can’t imagine what morale must be like in that newsroom these days. But I have deep respect for the remaining journalists who help publish the paper every day. It’s just a shame that the Bluegrass State will soon have a hand in designing and proofreading our Bull City newspaper. But, sadly, The Herald-Sun is not alone.

Now This Is A Trend

In June, the Raleigh News & Observer announced it was transferring its copy editing and page design desk to Charlotte. And newspapers throughout the country are making similar moves (which almost always result in layoffs), according to the Chicago Tribune.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

Me and my page designer gals, Andrea and Laura, being silly during one of our Girls Night Out adventures.

The best thing I got out of The Herald-Sun’s copy desk ended up having little to do with copy editing or design. Instead, I got friendship. A few page designers took me under their wings when I first moved to Durham and didn’t know a soul. They wined me and dined me. They were my first North Carolina friends.

Six years after leaving the paper, we still get together for dinner every other month or so despite living an hour apart, picking up right where we left off. And because of everything we went through at The Herald-Sun and as print journalists in general, we’ll always have a special bond that no layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts can ever take away.

(P.S. If you see any errors in this blog post, it’s because I didn’t have a copy editor).

Ignite Durham enlightens 650 people at the Carolina Theatre

10 Feb

The only problem with Ignite Durham is that organizers are going to have a hard time topping themselves next year. The two-hour event at the historic Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham featured 14 micro presentations ranging from the Lost Art of Political Cartooning to highlighting our year of the Camahueto. Cama what? Yes, Camahueto.

Five-minute, 20 slide presentations are happening in more than 100 cities around the world as part of global Ignite week. The takeaways will vary, but attendees at each Ignite event should leave with some new knowledge and possibly even a desire to right some wrongs in our world.

At Ignite Durham we learned:

* The importance of getting involved and volunteering to help our neighbors. Henry Kaestner told us about a survey by the organization Durham Cares that found 64 percent of Bull City residents did not volunteer last year. He urged us to find a way to get involved.

* You can make a difference with minimal commitment. Another inspiring speaker, Sara Rose, also has a passion for making a difference through volunteer work. In 2009, she founded Change the Triangle, which makes it easy as pie to find time to volunteer in the Triangle, even if you think there’s just no time in your schedule. Her organization arranges a monthly volunteer activity planned and organized ahead of time. All you have to do is show up.

* Honeybees are overworked and under loved. Bee lover Jimmy Chalmers, a powerful and passionate speaker, tells us that part of the reason the honeybee population is dwindling is because some beekeepers are overworking their precious bees. Did you know honeybees need a vacation just like the rest of us? Well, they do.

Honeybees are not created to work 12 months a year. But some beekeepers don’t care. When it’s too cold to keep their bees pollinating, they put them on trucks and ship them to warmer climates. So honeybees have a carbon footprint. WTF, America?! Lesson learned: I will be doing my research before buying anymore honey.

* Skepticism is greater than cynicism. Researcher Tom Webster urged us all to be skeptics, not cynics. My little journalist heart sang because as our world becomes increasingly messed up and information becomes increasingly easy to put our fingers on, I’ve found myself dipping my toe in the cynicism waters more and more lately. His presentation helped put both of my feet back on the land of the skeptics. If you don’t know the difference between skepticism and cynicism, take a moment to familiarize yourself. The world definitely needs more skeptics than cynics.

Organizers Ryan Boyles and Jeff Cohen, Host Zach Ward and Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Sullivan made it all possible, along with other helpers and sponsors. Feel free to give those who deserve a shout out in the comments. I wanted to make this entire post a love fest for all the fantastic presenters, but my cup of tea is dry and I have to go to work.

Thank you, Ryan Boyles and Jeff Cohen for coordinating Ignite Durham. And thank you to everyone else who made it happen. It’s events like this that keep the Triangle cool.

New Starbucks drive-thru menu omits tall size drinks and prices

31 Aug

I rolled through the Starbucks drive-thru this morning on my way to work to order a latte and noticed that the drive-thru menu got a facelift. The newly-designed three-panel menu featured pictures of all the major pastries and drinks but it was missing one thing — the listing and pricing for tall sizes. The new menu seems to indicate Starbucks now only has two sizes — grande and venti (or medium and large, in Starbucks speak).

I snapped a photo with my cell phone camera and tweeted it via Posterous while I waited in the drive-thru line for my grande latte. I knew they hadn’t eliminated the tall size from the menu because, admittedly, I ordered a tall latte the day before INSIDE the Starbucks. So why did Starbucks omit the tall size from their latest drive-thru menu design?

I asked the woman who handed me my drink and she said she was unaware of the change and thanked me for telling her. I asked @Starbucks via Twitter and as of this writing have yet to receive a response.

But I can’t help but believe it’s because Starbucks wants to encourage drive-thru patrons to order a larger, more expensive coffee concoction.

sbux menu 1

In fact, the new menu omits a less expensive Starbucks staples altogether — plain hot Mochas. Instead, the newly-designed menu emphasizes the Mocha’s more expensive sugary sisters: The Caramel Macchiato and the seasonal Toffee Mocha. You can still order a tall drink via the Starbucks drive-thru. The new menu offers a concession with the lines: “Looking for something else? Please ask us.”

For some reason, this menu change really started to grate on my nerves. So on my lunch break, I went back and snapped some better photos of the menu. I also went inside to inquire about the change. An employee told me the change was made Saturday night. The employee worked the drive-thru Sunday morning and said customers kept asking: “Can I still order a tall drink?” The employee drove around back at the end of the Sunday shift to look at the sign and noticed it was changed.

sbux menu 2

It has been suggested that Starbucks may have omitted the “tall” size and pricing from the new drive-thru menu to make more room for the photos of the drinks. Indeed, the previous menu did not feature photography of every drink. However, there is plenty of room on this new layout to include one more listing for the small ahem, excuse me, tall size.

I totally support local coffee shops whenever I can. The only reason I go to this Starbucks is because it is the only coffee shop on the way to work. Most weekdays I brew my own coffee at home, but I do splurge on Starbucks at least once a week.

How can I be so worked up over a design change like this when there are wars being fought and oil-soaked beaches to clean up? Well, it just seems shady to me. It seems like Starbucks is trying to encourage people to order bigger drinks, which come with a higher price tag and calorie count. And I don’t think it’s fair for this massive coffee chain to make a change like this without someone pointing it out. So thank you for letting me get this off my chest and off my camera.

What do you think about the change?

*UPDATE 9.1.10*

The Consumerist picked up my post!

*UPDATE 9.14.10*

I was just contacted by editors at The Consumerist who tell me Starbucks will be altering its menu to include tall sizes again! Since my blog post, the story has received national media attention, including articles from MSNBC, USA Today and ChicagoBreakingNews.com.

Six tips for enjoying World Beer Festival

18 Sep

World Beer Festival is like Christmas for beer lovers. It’s a four-hour chance to sample hundreds of beers that would cost you hundreds of dollars to try if you attempted to buy them on your own.

By now, you probably know I’m a huge fan of World Beer Fest because I love good beer. (Read my reviews of these fesivals: Raleigh 2008, Durham 2008, Raleigh 2009). I was shocked to receive an e-mail yesterday from the organizers saying the Oct. 3 festival in Durham wasn’t sold out yet. Could it be because it’s the same day as the U2 concert or Raleigh Typhoon scavenger hunt?

The event has sold out for the past seven years or so, according to organizers. They suspect it won’t be long before tickets are gone. You can buy tickets here.

This year the event is back at the Durham Athletic Park, the old (but newly-renovated) ballpark where Kevin Costner played ball in Bull Durham. The park (not to be confused with Durham Bulls Athletic Park where the Bulls currently play) just received a $5 million facelift from the city. Last year, organizers had to move the Durham festival to the newer ballpark because the old one was being overhauled.

I called up All About Beer Magazine editor Julie Bradford to find out some details about this year’s event. Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s neat to be coming back to the old ballpark because it’s such a beautiful location. I’ve been to a lot of festivals, and I don’t think I’ve seen a more attractive venue somewhere or a more characterful one.”

She offered six tips for first-time (or seasoned) World Beer Festival goers:

*Get some advice. She suggested making your first stop the All About Beer tent, where you can get a list of beer flights to help you organize your tastings. She also noted that every hour on the hour there will be tastings at the tent featuring a speaker who can teach you something about the beer you’re drinking.

* Wear comfortable shoes. I agree with this one and will add that it’s a good idea to avoid open-toe shoes or flip flops because your feet may occasionally be stepped on in crowded beer tents by tipsy sippers.

* Pace Yourself. I always bring a water bottle with me and fill it up whenever I can. Drinking a lot of water helps prevent a hangover.

* Take a lot of breaks. There will be quite a few tasty food vendors on site. So leave the tents, chow down and sit down.

* Feel free to ask questions. Julie suggests asking servers what to expect. They’ll usually describe what the beer should taste like and might even offer insight into the brewing process. Talking to strangers and brewers is very fun at beer fest.

* Don’t be afraid to throw out beers you don’t like. It’s good to push the envelope a little and try beers you’re not sure you’ll enjoy. But you’re not obligated to finish a sample you don’t like. So pour it in a bucket or in the trash can and start afresh.

Finally, I’m one of those weirdos you’ll see at the festival with a pretzel necklace on. I asked Julie if she knew how those got started, and she didn’t. She pointed out that pretzels are excellent palate cleansers. I made mine last year too so I could snack between beers and not get too tipsy too quick. All you need is a piece of string (sadly, I used dental floss last year because I had no string in the house) and a bag of pretzels. Show up with your own if you want one, because I’ve yet to see a vendor selling them at the festival.

Enjoy and feel free to share your World Beer Festival experiences in the comments. I’ll be at the day session. Hope to see you there!

Also, if you’re on the fence about going or have questions about the festival, let me know in the comments section. I’ll answer you and offer honest feedback ASAP.

Durham restaurants and Doughman competition will appear on “Man v. Food” tonight

2 Sep

Adam's team in DurhamIt’s always fun to see your town featured on the Travel Channel.

It wasn’t long ago that the crew from the show “Man v. Food” came to Raleigh to film the show’s star Adam Richman, scarfing down hotdogs at Roast Grill. It was a thrill to see the familiar landmark (and two of my friends in the background) getting some deserved attention on the Travel Channel.

Well, the “Man v. Food” crew was in the Bull City back in April filming an episode of the gastro-busting show. The Durham episode airs at 10 p.m. EST tonight. Here’s a round up of what you can expect, according to a news release:

* A stop at Backyard BBQ Pit

* A burger at Wimpy’s Grill

* And Adam’s appearance in the Doughman competition (which some of my coworkers at NBC17 participated in).

If you encountered Adam or the “Man v. Food” crew when they were in Raleigh or Durham, feel free to share your experiences or links to any posts or pics in the comments. (These photos are from the Doughman race and were sent to me by folks at the Travel Channel.)

How to have fun this Friday night for free

15 Jul

You know me, I’m all about free fun. So even though it’s only Wednesday, I’m already thinking about my weekend plans.

First there’s a free chance to see an American Dance Festival performance on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. And there’s a bonus: It’s at Golden Belt, a beautifully renovated former textile factory that regularly hosts performances, exhibitions and installations.

Here are the details: New York choreographer Mark Dendy was inspired by the historical location and put together a modern dance that he will perform three times on Friday and twice on Saturday. I don’t know much about the dance, but I’ve been told that it will be all over the third floor of Building 2. I’m posting some pictures below provided by ADF that show off Mark practicing in Golden Belt. Mark recorded a short video with the curator of Golden Belt, and he’s rocking a T-shirt with President Obama eating an ice cream cone, so I’m guessing he’s a fun guy.

He will perform his site-specific dance at 6:30 p.m., 7 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Golden Belt, located at 807 E. Main St. in Durham. The reception features free champagne and chocolate covered strawberries!

If you miss the Friday performance, you can head over there Saturday at watch Mark dance again at 2 and 2:30 p.m.

AND, Mark’s dance is the only reason to go to Golden Belt on Friday. This week is Third Friday in Durham, which means there’s a slew of art events to check out. Golden Belt is celebrating its one-year anniversary, so while you’re there, you can:

*Catch a performance of “Goodnight, EVERYTHING” a political play that starts at 8:15 p.m.

*See King Kenney’s installation “BIG LOVE,” art that attempts to show that our society’s focus on romantic love may be why divorce rates are so high.

*Or check out some of these other exhibits/events at Golden Belt between 6 and 9 p.m. Friday.

THEN …

Head over to Carrboro to see Mister Diplomat at DSI Comedy. The comedy show always features one local celebrity type as a guest. On Friday, the guest will be Raleigh Human Resources guru/punk rock blogger and cat lover Laurie Ruettimann.

She is the proud owner of Scrubby, the blogging cat who I featured on 30THREADS several months ago. I adore Laurie so much because she doesn’t sugar coat her thoughts and she’s one of the funniest people I follow on Twitter. (My beloved @mammalpants is the funniest)

During the free comedy show, Laurie will get on stage and share a few anecdotes from her life (and as a former HR professional at several Fortune 500 companies, I’m sure she’s got some great stories). After each anecdote, the Mister Diplomat team will perform improv based on her stories.

The free show starts at 9:30 p.m. at DSI Comedy, located at 200 N. Greensboro St. in Carrboro.

Crashing into journalism

15 Jun

I was driving through downtown Durham Sunday when I spotted this mangled Herald-Sun box. Looks like a car smashed into it this weekend. A couple of other newspaper racks were tipped over too, including the Indy’s.

Also, I think it’s amusing that the photo of the Herald-Sun on the front of the rack features one of the stories I wrote when I worked for the paper about five years ago. I guess it can get pretty expensive replacing these advertisements, but it is interesting that they haven’t been swapped out of some Herald-Sun boxes for at least four years.

Mitch’s Tavern is worth the trip down Bull Durham memory lane

26 May

I’m a big Bull Durham fan. I saw it for the first time in 2004, when I lived in West Village, the old Liggett & Meyers tobacco factory in downtown Durham. I squealed with delight during the opening scene when Susan Sarandon walked past one of the brick tobacco warehouses that would later become my home. She was on her way to the old Durham Athletic Park to watch the Durham Bulls.

One of the scenes takes place in Mitch’s Tavern on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. It’s the scene where Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins fight over who’s going to dance with Sarandon. It leads to a challenge with a baseball in the back alley.

I’ve always wanted to go to Mitch’s and on Saturday I finally did. I decided to celebrate my birthday by embarking on a Hillsborough Street pub crawl. Mitch’s was the second stop, and I was pleased to see the tavern looked exactly as I remembered it from the flick. Small booths, dim lighting, wood interior and the famous glass window from the alley door hanging in the center of the bar.

Of course, I wish I had snapped a photo of my own to show off how cool this tavern is, but you don’t always think about things like this when you’re the birthday girl. But it’s worth venturing up the long, narrow stairwell to experience this place. This pic is by Flickr user rpbarlow.

Don’t forget, the Green Room in Durham also made an appearance in Bull Durham. This bar gets my recommendation, in part because it has a shuffle board table. The only other Durham bar that has one (to my knowledge) is Doyle’s. If you know of others, please tell me IMMEDIATELY because I love shuffleboard.

If you live in the Triangle and you have not seen “Bull Durham” please rent it immediately. Actually, forget renting it. Buy it. It’s truly incredible.

There’s also talk of a Bull Durham sequel being in the works. Supposedly Kevin Costner said he would appear in part two if the script is well done. Here’s hoping.

Where do you take out-of-town guests for dinner in the Triangle?

20 May

Where do you take out-of-town guests for dinner in the Triangle? I recently found myself pondering this when my childhood friend Todd called and said he was in town and wanted to meet up.

I lost touch with Todd in high school. He moved away the summer before 8th grade. We remained pen pals for a couple years, and even visited each other a couple times. But our snail mail dwindled when we got our driver’s licenses, probably because we were spending less time at home and more time pursuing friendships in our own towns.

In college we briefly managed to find each other through the Internet. We exchanged an e-mail or two, but lost touch again. Occasionally I would Google him, but I could never find enough information to track him down.

Then a few months ago, through the power of facebook, we reconnected. I found out he was living in Atlanta and occasionally flew to RDU for business. He recently called me to say he was in Durham and soon we were making dinner plans. We had not seen each other in 12 years.

I wanted to show Todd how cool Durham is, so I suggested we meet at American Tobacco for dinner. Then I realized there was a Bull’s game that night, so the place would be packed. I opted for The Federal by Brightleaf Square, where I ordered the always tasty pork carnitas.

After dinner, we headed over to Tyler’s Taproom for beers. I showed him the rushing water feature, explained the area’s tobacco legacy and even walked him over to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The game was underway, so the crowds had dispersed outside.

We didn’t have time to wander around downtown or take a stroll down Ninth Street. But between Brightleaf Square and American Tobacco, I felt like he got to see some of the Bull City’s flavor.

If you only had 3 hours to show an old friend around your Triangle city, where would you take them?

12+ cheap things to do in the Triangle this weekend

15 Apr

Triangle residents rejoice! It’s that time of year when the area starts coming alive with festivals, outdoor events, and more. The randomness that will ensue every weekend between now and fall will be so much fun. And I will try to keep you posted on some of the more interesting events (especially for families and those of us on a budget).

Let’s start with this weekend:

* Dog owners might want to take their pooches to Moore Square between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday for the SPCA Dog Walk.

* Go camping, dancing, crafting, Earth-saving, concert rocking at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, which starts Thursday and continues through Sunday.

* Listen to a free performance by the Durham Symphony at 5 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Park in Durham as part of the Pops in the Park concert series. And if the weather holds up to the forecast, then head over to Francesca’s Dessert Cafe on Ninth Street for some stellar gelato (the Sweet Cream is my favorite) or to LocoPop’s on Hillsborough Street for a gourmet popsicle treat.

* Check out the Durham Art Scene. This weekend is the annual Durham Art Walk. Make a day out of it by wandering over to the American Tobacco complex and hanging out by the water or head in the opposite direction to the Scrap Exchange to make crafts with the kids.

* The weather will also be perfect for a picnic at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I plopped myself down on a blanket there last weekend, played some frisbee and snacked on Peanut Butter sandwiches. Cheap way to be romantic with your honey or let the kids burn off some energy.

* Go to the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science for the Butterfly Bash. It features dung beetle races, butterfly releases, insect eating and more.

* Saturday is Earth Action Day at the Morehead Planetarium. The family-friendly event is from noon to 5 p.m.

* You can go see “Pride and Prejudice” on stage at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Paul Green Theatre in Chapel Hill.

* The Durham Bulls are out of town this weekend. But UNC baseball has a home game against Miami at 1 p.m.  Sunday.

* If you’re a Wilco fan, you might want to check out the screening of the band’s new documentary “Ashes of American Flags” which airs at 11:55 p.m. Saturday at Galaxy Cinema in Cary.

* Go to the N.C. State Fairgrounds. The flea market is best when the weather is beautiful, so I can almost guarantee this weekend’s market will be filled with a variety of vendors. The flea market is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekend. While you’re at the fairgrounds you can eat some Mediterranean food and learn about Turkish culture at the N.C. Turkish Festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

* And finally, consider supporting local comedy (you know I’m a fan). DSI Comedy in Carrboro has an out-of-town guest who tracked me down on facebook and made me laugh with her message, so I’ve got to give her a plug. Sara Benincasa will be performing a one-woman show at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the theater.

Of course, I probably inadvertantly snubbed about 50 other local events happening this weekend. As always, feel free to promote them and post links to them in my comment section. Let us know if there’s other events we should be checking out.