Why Butch Davis is front-page news in N.C.

by andybechtel

Front page of N&O

The big news in North Carolina this week is the sudden dismissal of Butch Davis as head coach of the UNC football team. The News & Observer and other media played it big.

That emphasis led to the inevitable letter to the editor, arguing that news of a football coach’s departure should be in the sports section, not on the front page. The letter writer would prefer to see news of the debt ceiling and election redistricting there.

Some readers will never accept sports news on the front page. Entertainment news (“American Idol,” for example) always bothers others.

In my view, this sports story is different. Here’s why:

  • The firing was breaking news, and it came unexpectedly, just a week before practice was to begin for the 2011 football season.
  • It’s a local story, unlike the debt ceiling, and it involves the state’s flagship university. And on this particular day, not much happened with the debt issue. That will be the big story if/when it is resolved.
  • The Davis story was not about wins and losses. It was not only about an NCAA investigation, but also about the academic integrity of the university. Indeed, that is why Chancellor Holden Thorp decided to fire Davis.
  • The UNC athletics program has been relatively free of scandal for decades. This story changes that.

What to make the lead on a front page is always open to debate and discussion, by journalists and readers alike. As a reader and a journalist, I think that the N&O made the right call.

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