A tribute to N&O copy editors and page designers

Disastrous. Unbelievable. Shameful. Messed up. Breathtakingly bad. So sad.

These are just some of the adjectives used on Facebook and Twitter regarding McClatchy’s decision to shut down the copy desk and design desk at The News & Observer. That work will be done at an editing/design hub at The Charlotte Observer, which is also owned by McClatchy.

McClatchy is offering the N&O journalists a chance to keep their jobs, but they must move to Charlotte to do so. They have until July 1 to decide. So far, not many seem willing to uproot their lives and families to do that.

I spent the bulk of my newsroom career at the N&O, so this news hit me hard. I am sad for my former colleagues, and I worry about the quality of the newspaper that I still read every day. I am also angry that hard-working journalists must bear the brunt of McClatchy’s debt and business decisions.

N&O reporters, editors and designers (both past and present) have been expressing similar feelings on Facebook. Here’s a sampling of what’s being said there:

  • The News & Observer’s copy editors and designers are the most creative, smart, funny, reliable, kind and hard-working journalists you could ever hope to meet. They deserve better.
  • My heart’s with my editing and design friends left with the unenviable choice between job and community. And the work that is being sent isn’t merely “production.” It’s editing, design, news judgment, awareness of local community standards and interests. The chain doesn’t clearly understand that, or these positions would remain in Raleigh.
  • Well done, McClatchy. I hope you choke on your precious cost savings.
  • How can you have a newsroom without the excitement that rips through a copy desk when you’re getting out a paper with late-breaking news that’s important to people?
  • Another risky thing about having all the copy editing and page design for several newspapers in one place is that when a hurricane blows through and destroys the building or at least causes a lasting power outage, there is no desk in another location to pick up the work.
  • One good thing about this N&O nightside mess: When we have an inevitable get-together (picnic, anyone??), no one will have to take a raincheck because “someone has to put the paper out.”
  • I think I know how the people of Bến Tre felt.
  • Our desk will be lost in The Cloud; we’ll be lost in a fog. Readers and advertisers will feel the loss too.
  • It makes me sick to think that copy editing and page design are considered factory work, but I know that my colleagues and I are journalists and professionals.
  • That’s our heart and soul leaving.
  • Who’ll save my ass now?
I wish my friends at the N&O the best. I hope that they find fulfilling jobs where they can put their journalistic skills to good use.

I also look forward to a “going away” front page. If it’s anything like this one from 2009, that page will be one for the ages.

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12 thoughts on “A tribute to N&O copy editors and page designers

  1. I had three stints with McClatchy — one with Nando.net and the other two with The N&O. I wouldn’t work for another McClatchy paper if they offered me a six-figure yearly salary. This latest move of theirs is idiotic.

  2. From the other side of consolidation, I salute my colleagues at the N&O. Best of luck to you all.
    Holly Kerfoot
    former copy editor, Winston-Salem Journal

  3. How terrible! I hope those affected find something better soon.

    However, do you want to know how McClatchy could save money and not ruin peoples’ lives? They could STOP littering my property and the surrounding areas in Clayton with that horrid “free” newspaper called the Garner-Clayton Record. Seriously…they leave not one but TWO copies of it at my house every Wednesday! I have a double-sided driveway, and this obviously baffles them despite that lack of a mailbox at one of the entrances. Anyway, I have sent *several* emails and letters to them asking them to stop littering my property, and yet they persist. Who knows how much it costs to print so many copies of a “newspaper” consisting mainly of ad circulars. That’s not to mention the expense to pay someone to dump two copies on my driveway every week! With the price of fuel, it can’t be cheap.

    They also dump copy after copy at obviously vacant homes with for-sale signs on the lawns. (HINT: If the knee-high grass isn’t a big enough clue that the house is vacant, the big, fat pile of plastic-wrapped Garner-Clayton Records and phone books SHOULD be. Have you not noticed the foreclosure problems here? HELLO!) How idiotic is it that they would continue such a “service” (and I use that term quite loosely) and fire talented people in such a bad economy? If The Garner-Clayton record is so highly prized by Garner-Clayton residents, let its fans pay a fee to receive it. I’m sure anyone who really wants it would buy a subscription to have it delivered weekly. Then they might have the money to keep editors and graphic designers on the payroll.

    But that would make sense. Clearly, the people who own and manage McClatchy have NO sense. I swear I have no idea how such idiotic clowns even manage to stay in business! It’s one of the great mysteries of life.

  4. Chic, I understand your frustration. Distribution of newspapers, however, is a First Amendment right. That said, distributors of free newspapers should respect requests of those who do not wish to receive them.

  5. abechtel1 :
    Chic, I understand your frustration. Distribution of newspapers, however, is a First Amendment right. That said, distributors of free newspapers should respect requests of those who do not wish to receive them.

    Especially since such requests could help them save money by 1) not printing so many copies and 2) eliminating expenditures for fuel to deliver unwanted paper. Why not just leave copies of the Garner-Clayton record in bins at strategic locations, much like The Independent does? Anyone who lives in the area could grab one if they wanted it. It seems to work quite well for the other free newspapers without all the litter! If it’s about offering a FREE newspaper, that’s the way to go. If it’s not, then charge for subscriptions to the Garner-Clayton Record and print & deliver it accordingly.

    Add in the fact that the Garner-Clayton Record doesn’t *really* cover any news I can’t already find in The N&O, and it’s a complete and total financial waste – waste that could be use to retain talented editors and page designers for an actual newspaper and not a glorified ad circular for Garner and Clayton. It’s both wasteful and shameful. It’s so frustrating to see people lose jobs in this economy from what clearly amounts to poor financial management from McClatchy.

  6. Sad. Institutional knowledge matters; community knowledge matters. The newspaper from which I was laid off in January, in Bremerton, Wash., now gets its last set of eyes each deadline in Corpus Christi, Tex. Not surprisingly, mistakes have become prolific.

    Recently, that paper advertised to fill the job — night/weekend news editor — that I’d left, but with a twist: Combining it with the job of the recently departed web editor. So each night, from 3:30 to 1 a.m., that person must:

    — Give first and second reads to local news stories
    — Select and prepare state, national and international wire copy
    — Update the website
    — Update the paper’s Facebook and Twitter pages each time the website is updated
    — Handle late news (council meetings, etc.)
    — Monitor the police scanners and handle breaking news
    — Proofread pages
    — Edit and upload photo galleries
    — Edit and upload story videos

    I think they’re being nice, though, and paying for that person’s “astronaut diapers.”

  7. The next “big thing” will be the folding of web production staffs into already overworked and understaffed copy desks and the centralization of McClatchy web site programming to the MI mothership.

  8. Always sad to hear of the continued decline of the newspaper industry and its concomitant negative effects on staff and readers alike. But note that it is, indeed, the entire industry that is collapsing. McClatchy may have made some bad moves in terms of its own stable of newspapers, but there are few publishers anywhere that are escaping the squeeze of production costs on one hand and the disappearance of print readers (and advertisers!) on the other.

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