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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).

NHL All-Star game commercial changes Raleigh skyline, moves RBC Center

23 Jan

I saw a side of downtown Raleigh tonight that I’ve never seen before, and chances are you haven’t either. There’s a new commercial on TV advertising this weekend’s All-Star NHL game in Raleigh, NC that makes our downtown seem a lot bigger (and more snowy) than it really is. The commercial is by the VERSUS channel.

Here’s a screengrab of the clip:

rbc

Now, if you’ve never been here, and you saw this commercial you might think the RBC Center (where the All-Star game will go down) is smack dab in the center of downtown. You might also think there are a lot more skyscrapers downtown than there really are. Certainly our tallest building, the RBC Plaza, could look small depending on the perspective of the shot, but the fact that there are other unidentifiable buildings towering over it is pretty amusing.

rbc with text

In reality (as we Triangle residents know), the RBC Center  is about six miles away from downtown. And the 32-story RBC Plaza, the downtown skyscraper with the 130 foot spire on top, is the tallest building in downtown Raleigh. Some of the buildings in the commercial don’t even exist in downtown Raleigh (or if they do, the producer certainly has taken some liberties with them in the shot). Here’s what Raleigh’s skyline really looks like:

Flickr photo by twbuckner

Flickr photo by twbuckner

Watch the commercial for yourself (the Raleigh clip is at the 18-second mark):

VERSUS 2011 NHL All-Star Game ad from Greg Wyshynski on Vimeo.

I hardly think any first-time Raleigh visitors traveling here for the game even noticed this clip. And even if they did, I’m sure it probably won’t alter their perception of our city. Still, it’s interesting to see how the Versus network reshaped our skyline.

I briefly appeared on The Daily Show last night

12 Aug

When I checked facebook this morning, I found this message from my friend Chuck Parker written on my wall:

I just saw your head on The Daily Show from Tuesday night! If you weren’t famous before, you are now. :)

My heart briefly sank. What in the world was he talking about? Was Jon Stewart mocking something I posted on the Internet while I was fast asleep? Luckily, I record The Daily Show on the DVR, so I turned on the TV and started fast forwarding. And sure enough, just as Chuck wrote, there was my head on The Daily Show.

You see, my desk is immediately behind the newsroom camera at NBC17. That means whenever guests come to our station to be interviewed via satellite for MSNBC, etc. you can usually spy my profile in the background. Of course, I make an effort to sit up straight and resist temptation to wave to my mom or my tweeps.

Rep. Brad Miller was at the station this week for an MSNBC interview about a death threat he received over proposed health care reform. It’s a snippet from that interviewed that appeared on The Daily Show. Here it is:

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.

Another reason to subscribe to the newspaper …

17 Feb

You could “save zillions” by clipping newspapers in the Sunday News & Observer. That’s according to an ad I spotted on the newspaper’s website today. I actually subscribe to the Sunday paper, and I’ve only saved a few dollars here and there. I must be doing it wrong.

Does the local media provide well-rounded Durham coverage?

9 Feb

I love journalism. So I defend the craft as often as I can, particularly local journalism. As a former reporter for the Durham Herald-Sun, however, I’ve heard countless times that local media only focuses on crime stories in Durham. This, of course, isn’t entirely true.

Still, the Bull City doesn’t seem to get as much positive press as its Triangle siblings. That’s just an observation, of course. I’ve never charted out all the local media coverage. If someone wants to take the time to do that and share the results, I’d love to publish that on my blog.

Meanwhile, here’s a screenshot from today’s News & Observer’s Durham news section. This is probably why Durham residents feel cheated out of positive local coverage. There are six crime stories, and one story about a proposed bill that could help reduce crime:

By no means am I saying the media should ignore crime news. And I’m sure if you dig around on the N&O’s website you can find some happier Durham stories. But this caught my eye this morning and I had to share it with you all.

Do you think the local media provides well-rounded Durham coverage?

Meet the Raleigh teen who dropped out of school to play Guitar Hero

18 Sep

As you may remember, my eyes were recently opened to the joys of Guitar Hero. I don’t own the game, so I either have to urge my friends to invite me over to play or go to Fox and Hound on a Sunday night (which I have done … once and it was only slightly embarrassing to play on stage in front of the preppy patrons).

I would hardly consider myself an addict. I can’t even get through an entire song on hard. I have friends who I thought were pretty brilliant at the game, but none of them can even come close to the mastery of Raleigh teen Blake Peebles.

Blake counts himself among the top 10 Guitar Hero players in the world. He loves the game so much that he was able to work out a deal with his parents. He’s tutored at home now so he can spend more time playing video games. The News and Observer wrote an article about him.

Blake seems happy with his home school arrangement, as you would expect from a teenager who is allowed to stay up into the wee hours to play video games. Sometimes, when Mike heads to the gym before 5 a.m., his son is still playing video games. Blake calls it working “the late shift.”

He didn’t enjoy school, he says, and especially didn’t like the rules associated with attending the Christian academy. Shaggy hair is more his style.

He’s good at video games. “I wasn’t really good at anything else that I liked.”

I caught up with Blake during the Raleigh Wide Open celebration two weeks ago. He was playing Rock Band at the booth next to ours, so I pulled him aside for an interview.

Before you judge Blake or his parents for letting him drop out of school to be homeschooled, listen to what he has to say. And read the N&O article for more insight into how he’s doing.

Thoughts?

The front page of The News & Observer will take a different approach on Mondays

23 Jun

Starting next week, the front page of The News & Observer will feature a different kind of news on Mondays. Instead of printing what news has already occurred, the Monday editions of the N&O will take a “look ahead” approach, the newspaper reported today.

Starting June 30, Monday’s front page will focus more on what’s going to happen than what has happened. It will look at what’s coming in politics, government, business, sports and culture. In place of the news summary on the left side of the page will be a staff-written news forecast. Stories will be shorter, some holding to the front page.

Financial pressures have put a new emphasis on coverage that uses less space. The Monday A section, for instance, will lose two pages, including the Monday op-ed page.

The change appears to be among several cost-cutting efforts the newspaper announced last week. Those changes include laying off 70 employees, consolidating coverage with the Charlotte Observer and more. All the changes come weeks after the paper announced that subscription rates are increasing.

The N&O concluded its announcement with this sentiment:

But necessity can spur improvement. Next Monday, we hope you’ll agree.

At least the N&O is trying to be innovative in a time when some newspapers seem unwilling to confront and adapt to the changing media landscape.

McClatchy’s budget woes lead News and Observer to cut 70 positions

17 Jun

It’s another sad day for the newspaper industry, as McClatchy Co. announced it is cutting 1,400 jobs across the company. McClatchy owns 30 daily newspapers, including Raleigh’s News & Observer. The N&O announced yesterday that it is laying off 70 people, including 16 newsroom employees.

The N&O will also trim costs by combining its Business and City & State sections, reducing the amount of editions that provide tailored news to different circulation areas and by merging its sports, political and research departments with the Charlotte Observer’s departments, the paper reported. These changes come a week after the newspaper announced that it is raising subscription rates.

The move is meant to help ease McClatchy’s budget woes, according to the company’s news release about the layoffs.

McClatchy’s cash expenses were down 10.5% in the first quarter of 2008 and FTE (full-time equivalent employees) count was down 7.5% from prior year.

The moves announced today will produce annual savings of about $70 million from staff reductions as part of a plan to reduce overall expenses by $95 million to $100 million over the next four quarters. Combined with previous expense control initiatives, the company expects to reduce non-newsprint cash expense in the low double-digit percentage range over the balance of 2008 excluding severance costs of about $30 million.

I should note that I used to work at The Island Packet, a McClatchy-owned newspaper on Hilton Head Island, SC, before accepting my job here at WNCN. The Packet, which has a small staff of hardworking reporters, also suffered two layoffs — a reporter and advertising employee. In a memo to Packet staff, the publisher wrote:

We’re operating in a time of great change and challenge for our operations, for The McClatchy Company and for the newspaper industry overall. Increased competition and a pronounced economic downturn have combined to reduce revenues dramatically, and these cuts are part of the way we must respond.

Obviously the Internet and the economy is having a dramatic effect on the ability of newspapers to make the kind of profits Wall Street likes to see. But the suits seem to forget that while newspapers need to be repurposed, they still need to produce quality content. And engaging human interest stories, investigative reporting and holding the government accountable all take staff. When you eliminate newsroom staff, duties are shifted to reporters who are already busy with their own beats, or in some cases, those duties are eliminated altogether.

A sad day indeed.

The News & Observer raises rates while also considering possible newsroom layoffs

12 Jun

The News & Observer is raising its subscription rates, so says a letter attached to the newspaper that was tossed outside my front door Tuesday.

The increases aren’t much, but they come as the newspaper prepares to possibly lay off 10 percent of its newsroom staff.

A 4-week, home delivery subscription now costs $14.08, up from $12.70. If I’ve done my math right, that comes to an additional $17.94 a year.

The letter says the increases are necessary “in order to continue to provide our customers the highest level of service and to offset significant increases in newsprint, fuel and distribution expenses.”

Rising costs in gas and newsprint and declining ad revenue were cited as reasons why the N&O offered buyouts to about 200 workers this spring. Only six newsroom staffers were reported as accepting the buyouts.

With possible layoffs looming, I take issue that the letter notifying me of the rate increases saying the increases are necessary “to continue to provide our customers the highest level of service.”

Is that really true? I don’t doubt that the reporting, writing and photography continues to be top-notch … but how long will the news staff continue to keep that up with less staff?

Further, I’ve heard that the N&O, like many newspapers, is reducing the number of pages it prints. I don’t know/have specific stats on how many fewer pages there are (or will be) and what sections of the paper they’re coming from (obviously quality is less likely to suffer if the page cuts are coming from say classifieds or comics versus news or sports).

The small increase in subscription rates will not lead me to cancel my subscription to the N&O. It makes sense with the rising gas and newsprint rates. I just wish the circulation guy who wrote the letter would have chosen his words a little more carefully in explaining to me why more money will be deducted from my bank account next month.

It’s sad that the N&O even has to resort to layoffs to cope with McClatchy’s budget problems. But who knows what will happen with the layoffs, some were predicting they would happen Monday, but I haven’t heard of the ax falling yet.

I’m sure a lot of my Internet friends can’t even fathom subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Do you think $14.08 every four weeks is worth having the news delivered to your door every morning? How do you think newsroom layoffs might affect the quality of the N&O?