The promised merger of some content between The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer is under way. The two North Carolina papers, once informal rivals but now both owned by McClatchy, are indeed joining forces and sharing stories. Here’s some evidence of how Charlotte is creeping into the Raleigh paper:
- Earlier this month, the Observer’s Scott Fowler listed the top individual performances that he’s witnessed as a sports writer. The column, while entertaining, is localized to a fault. It’s littered with Charlotte references (a high school, the Bobcats and “the Charlotte swim community”) that would have little or no interest to readers in the Triangle (or Raleigh-Durham, if you must). The column also encourages readers to chime in on his paper’s Web site — not the site of the Raleigh paper.
- Three of the four stories on page 4B of the N&O today are out of Charlotte. One is about the Charlotte area’s United Way campaign. Again, how is this relevant to a Triangle audience? Perhaps that space could instead be used to restore the recently truncated op-ed page in the Monday N&O.
- A fluffy business story from the Observer refers to a CEO as “the wealthiest Carolinian on Forbes’ 2008 list.” The story appears on the N&O business page. The Charlotte paper has long used “Carolinian” in an effort to appeal to readers in nearby South Carolina; the word is rare in N&O copy because it has virtually no circulation south of the border. In addition, the CEO in the story, Jim Goodnight, lives in Cary, N.C., which is in the heart of the N&O’s circulation area.
- Reporters from the Charlotte paper are now getting “staff writer” as part of their bylines when their stories run in the N&O. This story by Ken Tysiac, which ran on the N&O sports front today, is an example. Tysiac is fine reporter and accomplished author, but he is not an N&O reporter. His byline should read “The Charlotte Observer” when it appears in the Raleigh paper.
What does it all mean for readers? It’s hard to tell just yet. But it’s ironic that in the era of “hyper-local news” that North Carolina’s two largest newspapers seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Careful editing — from story selection to word choice — will be essential to ensure that each paper maintains its identity.
UPDATE: Three of the five stories on the N&O sports front Wednesday are by Charlotte reporters. Each is credited as a “staff writer.” Just one of the stories is by an actual N&O sportswriter; the other is a wire story from Newsday.
FURTHER UPDATE: Ted Vaden, public editor at the N&O, chimes in on his blog and explains the new byline policy.