Josh Bergeron is editor of The Salisbury Post in Salisbury, North Carolina. Before taking that position in 2018, he worked as an associate editor and reporter there. He previously worked at newspapers in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In this interview, Bergeron discusses his role at the Post, including news judgment and headline writing.
Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?
A. Most days start between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. with double checking our morning email newsletter and sending to subscribers. If I’m lucky, I’ve woken up with just enough time to make a cup of coffee before heading to the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to pick up crime reports — a duty that’s handled by reporters some days. If I’m not picking up crime reports that morning, there’s other miscellaneous tasks to handle — emails, long-term projects, etc.
At 10:30 a.m., we have our morning newsroom meeting — usually just a phone call — where we talk about stories we’re working on for the day and other items. Depending on whether we have another project to talk about, the meeting usually lasts 30 minutes. We try to get a story or two online before noon — either before or after the morning meeting.
The rest of the day involves a combination of writing an editorial, editing content for the opinion page and editing and reporter stories. Reporting still holds a place close to my heart. So, I sometimes make calls or have interviews for stories of my own during this time. Lunch and a few additional cups of coffee come somewhere in there.
By about 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m., we’ve got a news budget for the following day or, on Fridays, for Sunday. We’re unique in that we publish an edition three days in print and two days online only — where subscribers get a digital replica of the newspaper, known as an e-edition. Stories are otherwise published on our website every day.
In addition to editing any remaining stories in the afternoon, I wrap up the opinion page content and hand things over to our designer and night editor some time in the early evening. We’re still designed here in Salisbury.
I also like to take a look at our front page and a couple other pages before they’re sent to the printer. Our print deadline is 11 p.m.
I liked to get a workout in after 11 p.m., but my gym changed its hours recently. So I’m in need of some journalist-friendly gym suggestions.
Q. Salisbury is close to two large metropolitan areas: Charlotte and the Triad region of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. How does that proximity affect news judgment at the Post?
A. Our coverage area is Salisbury, Rowan County, the various municipalities in the county and the city of Kannapolis. We’re somewhat less interested in Kannapolis stories depending on how far into Cabarrus County they are. On the other side, the Yadkin River has long been a divide between Rowan and Davidson counties for communication, communities and cultures, but we do dip into news immediately on the other side of the river at times.
We don’t usually allocate staff reporters to stories outside of our coverage area unless there’s some sort of local tie. So, the stories you’ll find on our front page mostly are ones within the areas I’ve described above, but there are times when wire stories of statewide interest make it on the front page or receive prominent placement online.
To the extent stories occur in Charlotte or the Triad, they’d need to be of statewide interest to receive prominent treatment. Perhaps Ted Budd, our congressman, says something wild in Winston-Salem or there’s a businessman from Salisbury who’s doing big things in Charlotte. Those kinds of things.
Q. How does headline writing work at the Post?
A. Reporters suggest headlines with their stories, and they’re tweaked by me or our night editor before publication in consultation with the reporter. This (hopefully) avoids an editor’s nightmare — editing an error into a story.
We’re mostly digital first with our headlines. So, hopefully, there aren’t many headlines online that look like they were written for print. Headlines in print do sometimes look like they were written for the web, trying to draw the reader into the story.
Q. You are a graduate of the journalism program at Louisiana State University. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones of have acquired?
A. Two critical skills included learning the best structures for different types of stories through practice as well as the importance of being concise. More than one professor drilled into me there’s always another word to cut to make a story more concise. It’s something I still think about when writing stories today. Classes certainly helped with both.
Some of the most valuable experience I received came at the student newspaper — where I learned how to take notes and how to pair recording with traditional note-taking methods to make things easier later. I also made mistakes and learned from them.
A lot of the skills I use today were learned after graduation. I felt overwhelmed for a few weeks in my first job, a reporter at the Natchez Democrat in Mississippi, but the pressure forced me to learn quickly about how to adapt the lessons I learned at LSU for the real world. Deadlines move a little faster in the real world.
At a newspaper in Selma, Alabama, my editor encouraged instincts to be relentless when faced with roadblocks to reporting on local government. As a reporter at the Salisbury Post, I tried to watch the ways some of the more experienced reporters asked questions and wrote stories. As an editor, I’ve continued to learn from some of the talented reporters on staff — both how to be a better editor and ways to approach a story.
Q. Speaking of LSU, do you have an early predictions on how the Tigers will fare in the 2022 football season?
A. Like any other fan, I’m hoping for the best, planning for the worst and begging Brian Kelly not to try his Southern accent again. Just a competent offense and defense would be nice.