A magazine article observed

by andybechtel

N&O, Observer match-up “a little bit like porcupines mating”


This headline on Romenesko caught my eye for two reasons: the prickly imagery and the fact that I worked at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., off and on for nearly 10 years. I still read the paper every day. When it’s in the news, I notice.

Romenesko linked to this story about the N&O in Charlotte magazine. It argues that the N&O and Charlotte Observer are losing their competitive edges because they are now owned by the same company. The author says it’s better to have the papers as professional adversaries, not teammates. (Editor & Publisher did a similar story last month.)

As a former N&O wire editor, I had felt the informal competition between the paper and The Charlotte Observer. On occasion, the managing editor would ask, “Charlotte had this story on its front page today. Why didn’t you pitch it for ours?” The question sometimes came with that day’s Observer with the story circled in red ink. Other section editors at the N&O got similar questions. The message, politely but pointedly deliverered, was clear: The Charlotte Observer is our rival, and we want to put out a better paper than they do. Don’t worry too much about what Greensboro, Wilmington or Winston-Salem do. Worry about Charlotte.

Now reporters and editors for the Charlotte and Raleigh papers are working together on stories big and small. I’ve noticed this in the bylines in the N&O, where it used to be verboten to run a story with a Charlotte credit line. Now such stories are routine, and double bylines with N&O and Observer reporters are frequent. I was hoping that the magazine article would provide significant insight into the extent of this partnership and what it would mean for readers in North Carolina.

The story, however, falls short. Its main problem is sourcing: The writer never quotes anyone from the Raleigh paper. Sure, it’s Charlotte magazine, but it needs to have voices that go beyond Mecklenburg County. This is a chance for a story to get more local than the E&P article did, but it’s an opportunity lost.

And the best source is right there in the story: John Drescher, the managing editor at the N&O, who previously worked at The Charlotte Observer and at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. His point of view would be especially interesting here, but it’s nowhere to be found. The magazine did manage to spell his name two different ways in one paragraph — one of several editing gaffes that further undermine the story.

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