Guest post: Observer misses the point on Duke’s fourth title

by andybechtel

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the latest of those posts. Jacob Swiger will graduate from UNC-CH’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May and has accepted a position as a technical writer. Jacob has interned for the Independent Weekly as a sports writer and editor.

The UNC-Chapel Hill media members are taking over the state’s newspapers.

At least that’s what Duke fans want to believe after seeing the difference between the front page of The Charlotte Observer the morning after Duke University won the NCAA tournament game compared with last year when Roy Williams won his second title:

I even found this gem on a Duke basketball message board:  “Charlotte, in general, has turned into the UNC self-licking ice cream cone.”

Although I don’t think many could argue the large presence of UNC-CH journalism graduates spread throughout the state, I do think there is a better explanation for what the Observer did.

John Robinson, the editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, blogged about the difference in his paper’s front pages and the Observer’s from a year ago.

Robinson explains that advertisers view a UNC win as a much bigger than a Duke win, which is the main reason why the paper might choose to scale down the prevalence on the front page from a year ago.

My problem is this: What kind of message is the drastic difference sending to the Observer’s readers, especially those who want to celebrate Duke’s championship?

Of course, it depends on the location of the newspaper. I would expect, however, a North Carolina paper to have a decent front page story on the game. Greensboro is not exactly Durham’s second home, but the News & Record did a better job of handling this year’s paper than the Observer did.  As Robinson mentions in his blog post, the News & Record ran a five-column picture this year and a six-column photo last year.  Robinson justifies this due to a more important local story this year compared with last year.

That’s perfectly reasonable.

As for the Observer, I would argue that Duke’s championship was a much more interesting story than UNC’s championship considering the Tar Heels were expected to win the entire season. By only placing a small banner at the top of the paper, the Observer contradicts its treatment of last year’s front page.

Why not replace the Toyota story? Or the pollen story? Or the Tiger story? For that matter, why is the West Virginia mine story buried at the bottom of the page?

As anyone who builds newspaper pages will say and as Robinson told my editing class recently, designing front pages is not a science. It’s very easy for someone outside of the newsroom to be critical, and I respect the difficulty of preparing the front page, especially for those who are professionals. Furthermore, I am confident the Observer took the time to consider the ramifications of its front page based on solid news judgment, but I sincerely believe it missed an opportunity to be loyal to its true cause and lost more than it could gain.

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