Q&A with Bryan Hanks, editor of Neuse News

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Bryan Hanks is the editor of the Neuse News, a recently launched news website covering Kinston and Lenoir County in Eastern North Carolina. A U.S. Army veteran, Hanks worked at newspapers in Lincolnton, Gastonia and Shelby before arriving in Kinston in 2002 as sports editor of The Free Press, where he later served as editor. Hanks left The Free Press in 2016 and has worked with the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce and as the public-address voice of the Down East Wood Ducks, a minor-league baseball team. He also has been the media director for Raleigh’s John Wall Holiday Invitational basketball tournament since 2007.

Q: What is Neuse News? What are your goals for the site?

A: It is a hyper-local news site created and published by former Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy with one simple goal: Present local news without favor or bias on a site that requires no subscription fees and that doesn’t force you to sit through irritating pop-up advertising.

Because of the manner in which print media literally gave away its product online when the internet exploded, consumers became accustomed to reading stories for free for almost 20 years. When those same print media outlets then tried to begin forcing consumers to read their product after going through paywalls (which include those irritating pop-ups and subscription fees), you can’t blame the readers for being upset. It was a bad business model in the beginning to give away your product and then expect your customers to start paying for it after they’d been getting it for free for decades.

I like to use this analogy: Imagine McDonald’s has given away Big Macs for 20 years by delivering them to your living room whenever you want them. Yes, they’re tasty but when — all of a sudden — McDonald’s expects you to start paying for those burgers, you’re going to be upset. On top of that, when you have to eat three celery sticks before you can even get to the Big Mac, it irritates you further and makes you begin going after other options.

With Neuse News, our goal is to deliver a better product than the local newspaper, which makes you pay for its non-local content and forces you through pop-ups even after you’ve paid for their content.

Additionally, our entire staff — all freelancers for the most part — live and work in Kinston and Lenoir County and care only about this area. That can’t be said for the local newspaper, whose publisher lives in Wilmington (and is rarely in town) and whose editor lives in Craven County (and is responsible for editing several other newspapers). Its newsroom staff has only a couple of county residents who are responsible for a lot of coverage for not just Kinston and Lenoir County but for areas outside the county.

Q: You previously worked at newspapers in Kinston, Gastonia and Lincolnton. How is Neuse News different for you?

A: The hyper-local thrust that B.J. insists upon is refreshing to me. We care about what is going on in Lenoir County — not what’s happening in New Bern, Jacksonville, Wilmington, Raleigh or Charlotte (unless, of course, it directly affects our folks in Lenoir County).

In my last few years at the local newspaper, we were forced to do more with less on a daily basis — have more local bylines with less staff and cover more news with fewer resources. It was frustrating to lay off and furlough talented journalists who wanted to do nothing more than be great reporters. It was also frustrating to try to recruit reporters to an area when you knew in the back of your mind they’d probably end up eventually being laid off or fired because of the corporate structure of news-gathering organizations.

With Neuse News, we’re already delivering a superior product by employing former local journalists who have moved on to other chapters in their lives. They still have that passion for local news and this is an avenue for them to pursue that passion.

Q: It’s a tough economic environment for news organizations. Neuse News promises no pop-up ads or subscription fees. How will the site survive and thrive financially?

A: That’s probably a question best answered by B.J., but I know this much: A bunch of local businesses and individuals — who have missed local journalism by journalists who live in their community (the way it used to be here) — have stepped up to help us start this venture.

We are thankful and grateful to those businesses and individuals for their help. Honestly, the Neuse News doesn’t exist without that help because we are committed to being that free source of news to Kinston and Lenoir County.

Q: You’re a strong advocate for Eastern North Carolina. What makes the region special to you?

A: I grew up in Wilkes County in northwestern North Carolina, then went to college and began my career in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Shelby area. For nine years, I dated and then married my late wife, who lived in Raleigh. As a freelancer, I traveled to literally every corner of the state, so I feel like I know North Carolina a little better than the average Tar Heel.

Kinston and Lenoir County is unique in a lot of ways. It’s about an hour from the beach, 30 minutes from Greenville and ECU, less than 90 minutes from the Triangle and three hours from the mountains, so you’re in the middle of everything.

But the difference is the people that are here; again, I’ve lived and worked all over the state, and I’ve never seen a community of people that truly love their home the way folks do here. This area has been through several hurricanes and floods, a tragic plant explosion (West Pharmaceuticals in 2003), the loss of major economic drivers such as tobacco, but the folks here continue to love and advocate for Kinston and Lenoir County.

I may have been raised in Wilkes County, but Kinston and Lenoir County is my home. I plan to be here for a long, long time.

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