Q&A with Jeff Gauger, executive editor of the News & Record

Jeff Gauger is executive editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. He previously worked as an editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. In this interview, conducted by email, Gauger discusses his transition to North Carolina and the News & Record’s future under new ownership. 

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. I’ve not met the typical day yet, which is one of the blessings of my job. The one constant, I suppose, is meetings — news meetings, small-group staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with staff, department-head meetings with my peers and the publisher, meetings inside and outside the office with people who want my attention or with folks whose time I’ve sought. Today, I’ve had two meetings, a light day. Tomorrow, four. The next day, seven.

I spend time daily reading our content before and after publication. I also read other news websites and news trade publications. I look for talent, even when we’re not looking to hire immediately. I interact with readers by email and phone.

There’s always nitty-gritty administrative stuff: handling vendor contracts, dealing with occasional personnel issues, etc. And I write for my blog and a Sunday column, although I have and spend less time writing than I’d like.

I try, with more success some days than others, to make time to think. It’s easy with the daily scrum in a newsroom to stay busy. It’s harder to discern what not to do now to make time for thinking — about content next week or next month, about how to meet the business challenges we face, about how to succeed in a competitive market.

Q. Before coming to Greensboro in 2012, you worked at newspapers in Ohio and Nebraska. What has it been like to make the transition from the Midwest to the South?

A. I also worked for a newspaper in Illinois and for a handful of weekly newspapers in my home state of Washington. By far, though, I spent most of my career in the Midwest before moving to Greensboro.

The transition has not been difficult, with one exception. My newspaper career has taken me to five states and eight communities. I’ve learned that there are good people everywhere, good things about every community and problems in every community.

I’ve also learned that no one is harder on a community than the people who live there. I choose, consciously and deliberately, to like where I live. It isn’t hard. There’s always much to like.

The Midwest and South (with Greensboro and a few trips around the state as my reference points) have much in common, including a continuing appreciation for agriculture and the land. They share a hard-to-define sense of being places apart, proud of what they are and sensitive about hints of disdain from what they view as urban elites elsewhere.

In the Midwest, it’s sensitivity about what’s implied by the phrase “flyover country.” I’m less sure how to describe it for the South, so I won’t try to put words to it. Also, people in both regions embrace family and tilt red on the political spectrum.

There are differences, of course. Greensboro has more newcomers, more residents who have moved from other states, than the parts of the Midwest where I’ve lived. The Midwest has lots of churchgoers, but Greensboro has more. Labor unions, including those representing government workers, are a much bigger presence in the industrial Midwest (not in Nebraska, a right-to-work state).

Parts of the Midwest have stunning outdoor wonders (don’t knock Nebraska as a flat state if you haven’t seen its remarkable Sand Hills or Ohio as an industrial rust belt if you’ve never driven through the lush rolling hills of the Holmes County Amish country), but little with profiles as high as the Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Civil War remains a living presence in the South, which is a revelation to a newcomer, even to one who lived nearly five years in Ohio, which paid heavily in blood during that war. I suppose my surprise stems in part from my roots in Washington, which achieved statehood only in the 1880s. From Washington, the Civil War can seem an abstraction because the Pacific Northwest is so far from where the war occurred. The war is not an abstraction here.

The exception to my otherwise comfortable transition to the South was a column I wrote just a month ago. The column presented fictional characters discussing issues undertaken by the N.C. legislature.

My presentation prompted criticism from readers who suggested I was an elitist outsider mocking North Carolinians. A “Condescending Ahole,” according to one email that now hangs on my wall. While many readers praised the column, the depth of the critics’ anger surprised me.

In every community where I’ve worked, in every state including North Carolina, people have said: “Folks won’t think you belong here until you’ve lived here for 30 years.” From the new scrapes and bruises of my recent experience, I think I can say that’s more true in the South.

I’m an outsider, and for my critics, I played to type. I learned a lesson.

Q. You’ve announced a reorganization of the Greensboro newsroom, including new hours and roles for some copy editors. What’s the reason for the change, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

A. We blended three separate copy desks — news, features sports — into a single “universal” desk. The goal was to reduce staff for print page-making and to reassign those positions to digital work and news-gathering. The change permitted us to create new positions for online news editors and a community engagement editor. We also added a business news reporter.

The changes were difficult, but necessary. Copy editing and page design are important crafts. They’re also more scalable, within limits, than news-gathering.

With finite resources, we must continue to find ways to devote a greater proportion of our human effort to making and presenting a digital report and to engaging with readers and consumers. Our changes got us closer to those goals.

Q. The News & Record was bought earlier this year by Berkshire Hathaway. What does that mean for the newspaper, and what do you see as the future of the News & Record in print and online?

A. It means resources. Unlike many newspaper companies, Berkshire Hathaway is well capitalized (newspapers account for little more than flea in its family of companies, hardly enough to make a blip in its earnings reports).

No one is handing out bags of cash, and there’s no less focus on expense control. But we have replaced worn-out equipment, and we are talking about investing in new print and digital products with a seriousness I haven’t seen in newspapers since about 2006.

It means standardization of some vendor relationships and consolidation of some back-shop functions that the consumer doesn’t see.

It means cooperation and collaboration among Berkshire Hathaway newspapers in North Carolina, which include the Winston-Salem Journal, the Hickory Daily Record and the Statesville Record & Landmark. Former competitors are beginning to share content. In time, we’ll see deeper, more meaningful cooperation.

Finally, and most importantly, it means focus on going all-in with digital. We’ll have a strategy and a roadmap for getting to the mountaintop, with technical support to provide the needed tools.

UPDATE: In April 2015, Gauger resigned as executive editor of the News & Record.

Jumping into the pool on Election Night

Here’s how I see the presidential election going tonight. Yes, I could be wrong.

Election Night on a newspaper’s copy desk is characterized by long waits for results from reporters and wire services, followed by a frenzy of editing and headline writing.

This year, I will spend Election Night elsewhere, getting results online and watching coverage on television. The morning after, I’ll look for my newspaper to tie it all together and tell me what it all means. It could even be a keepsake.

Free pizza for the newsroom was one of the traditions of Election Night in the newsrooms where I worked. An “election pool” was another one. Those of us who chose to participate predicted the outcome of various races. The winner claimed bragging rights of being politically astute, although luck may have been involved too.

I can’t join one of those newsroom pools tonight, but I will offer my predictions here. To be clear, this is who I think will win, not who should win. My voting preferences are between me and my ballot. And away we go:


President: Obama, with 303 electoral votes

Senate, Connecticut: Murphy

Senate, Florida: Nelson

Senate, Massachusetts: Warren

Senate, Missouri: McCaskill

Senate, Nebraska: Fischer

Senate, Virginia: Kaine


HOUSE: Republicans, 230-205

SENATE: Democrats, 53-47 (independents there usually caucus with Democrats)


Governor: McCrory

Lt. Governor: Coleman

Auditor: Wood

7th Congressional: McIntyre

8th Congressional: Hudson

13th Congressional: Holding

Keeping the editorial page local

When I read recently that the editorial page editor of The News & Observer is retiring after the 2012 election, I was nervous. What would happen next?

In recent years, the Raleigh newspaper and Charlotte Observer (both owned by McClatchy) have combined some areas of the two operations, including coverage of state government and sports. In 2011, the copy desk at the N&O was dissolved, with those tasks shifted to an editing/design hub in Charlotte.

So that’s why I was nervous: Would McClatchy outsource editorials and column writing to Charlotte as it it had done with editing and design? Would the N&O lose its local flavor in the editorial pages as it has on occasion on the news pages?

Thankfully, the answer is no. This week, my friend and former N&O colleague Burgetta Wheeler posted a note on Facebook that she will serve as associate editor of the editorial page. Ned Barnett, a city editor and former sports columnist at the N&O, will be the editorial page’s editor.

I worked with both of them in my time at the N&O. They are thoughtful, talented people who will excel as the leaders of the editorial pages. And they live here.

Congratulations to Ned and Burgetta. And thanks to McClatchy for keeping the editorial page local.



Student guest post: Are hubs the next wave or the death knell of copy editors?

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Miranda Murray is a junior majoring in editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She will work for Media General in Richmond, Va., this summer.

When I first got the phone call to hear that I had been offered an internship position this summer copy editing, I was so excited that it didn’t occur to me that there was no Tribune or Daily or Journal at the end of the company’s title — I just said yes. But after the initial rush, I looked up the company online to realize that I had been placed at an editing hub, a relatively new concept now being turned to as a solution as newspapers downsize and technology expands.

Like many other changes in the newspaper world, the advent of hubs has been greeted by both bitterness and hope. The entire point is to consolidate editing and design to be more cost-effective, with more emphasis placed on reporters’ abilities to turn in relatively clean copy that doesn’t require much reworking. This consolidation equals taking copy and design desks out of newsrooms, a move that several large media companies including Gannett, Media General and Tribune have been steadily pushing.

Here in the Triangle, the newspaper community felt these changes in 2011 when The News & Observer, one of the area’s largest newspapers, decided to move its design and editing desks from Raleigh to Charlotte. In fact, this blog was one of the loudest voices against this decision.

Succinctly, some of the criticism I could find of what seems to be the future of copy editing at the moment includes the loss of local knowledge, more miscommunication between the newsroom and the editing desks, and creating more responsibilities for an already thinly stretched staff.

But in the interest of fairness, several bloggers also fired back at the criticism, including Brian Throckmorton, who commented on a blog post by John McIntyre about his experience working at a hub. He wrote that taking a copy desk out of the newsroom won’t necessarily translate to a loss of local knowledge thanks to the ease of electronic communication. He also brought up the point that newspapers are dwindling in size and that there is not enough work to justify so many copy positions. Other bloggers simply took the mindset that people needed to cut their losses and adapt to this newer form of copy editing.

I personally find this tremendous discussion on the good and evil of copy-editing hubs intriguing, considering that I will spend my summer experiencing firsthand how the process works. Since I have no real experience working day-in and day-out on a copy desk housed within a newspaper, I have no prior expectations of what this internship will bring – but in the end, if this is the path I need to take to one day become a copy editor, I plan to take it.

If the Republican candidates were editors

I’m a sucker for political debates. In recent months, I’ve been watching the Republican candidates for president “spar” and “trade barbs,” as the headlines say.

As I watched the latest debate on CNN this week, I saw how this field of candidates might operate in a newspaper newsroom. So here are the Republican contenders, recast in their roles as editors:

  • Herman Cain: business editor
  • Rick Perry: sports/outdoors editor
  • Jon Huntsman: wire editor
  • Rick Santorum: city editor, religion columnist
  • Newt Gingrich: editorial page editor
  • Michelle Bachmann: health editor, parenting columnist
  • Mitt Romney: executive editor
  • Ron Paul: copy desk chief

A goodbye in Greensboro

John Robinson, former colleague and current friend, announced this week that he’s stepping down as editor of the News & Record  in Greensboro, N.C. The news came as a surprise to many, and it prompted me to reflect on Robinson’s influence on journalism and my own career.

My first job after college was in Greensboro as a copy editor. Robinson wasn’t running the News & Record’s newsroom yet, but he was a city editor, assigning stories to reporters and working with them on those assignments.

Robinson was a friend of copy editing and would stop by to chat with those of us working on the nightside. Maybe it was a matter of timing and proximity — his office was adjacent to the copy desk, and he often worked into the evening.

But he had a genuine appreciation for our work, and his sense of humor fit the tone of our desk as well. For those of us learning the culture of a newsroom, he was a great role model: confident, diligent, fair and respectful.

Later, as editor, Robinson pushed the News & Record toward an increasingly local newspaper. He also established himself and the newspaper as prominent players in blogging and other social media. Again, Robinson served as a role model for me (even though I was no longer at the paper) and other journalists.

Robinson and I disagreed at times, most publicly on the need (or not) to copy-edit blog posts on news sites. In that discussion with me and in those with others, Robinson always kept his cool and expressed himself clearly and concisely — a rarity in online conversations.

Robinson also took the time to speak to my editing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill on several occasions. He was a natural in the classroom, engaging students in thought-provoking conversations about news judgment and other topics.

So, thanks, John, for all that you have done for journalism and for me and my students. Best wishes to you on the next adventure in your life.

UPDATE: Robinson is back to blogging at Media, Disrupted.

Guest post: Finding a new life after -30-

Laura Marshall is a Park Fellow in the master’s program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this post, Marshall offers her “top 10 takeaways” from a workshop at the j-school called “Life After -30-: How to Recast Your Journalism Career and Reinvent Yourself.”

Surviving life after “-30-” requires a willingness to change and to put the pieces of your own puzzle together in different ways, according to the panelists at an event for journalists and former journalists. The group met at Carroll Hall on Sept. 23 to help former and soon-to-be-former journalists determine how to shift from a career in news to a parallel track in another field.

The panelists came from a background in print or broadcast journalism, and they have moved from newsroom careers to lives in public relations, academia and other pursuits.

What are their Top Ten tips for navigating the choppy waters of a move from news into something else? A willingness to network, sell yourself and see your own skills through different eyes.

1. Make it a point to become an expert. Leslie Wilkinson said that as she worked for the Los Angeles Times as a page designer, she learned that the newspaper was laying off some of its most experienced reporters and her own position might be next. She took the opportunity while still at the Times to learn about social media so as to “become an expert” on technology and the newer forms of communication. That, and pursuing an MBA, helped her move into online media as managing editor at NASCAR.com at Turner Communications.

2. Use your reporter’s skills to get a foot in the door. Julie Henry, a broadcaster turned public information officer for state government, found her ability to talk with total strangers about something she needed to learn translated well into being able to make cold calls to potential job contacts when she was looking for work.

3. Reinventing yourself is key. So said Emily Harris, who was a copy editor when she found out her now-former employer was planning to lay off dozens of people. She’d heard about part-time college teaching positions and used her experience teaching seminars and workshops to pitch herself for the position.

4. Fill the gaps in your knowledge between what you know and what you need to know to make a change. Chuck Small had always thought he might like to teach, but as a 20-something college graduate, he didn’t think he was old or experienced enough to teach people just a few years younger. He went into print journalism, but when the cost-cutters started looking his way, he decided it was time to follow his original dream. Small went back to school to earn the master’s degree he needed to become a guidance counselor.

5. Get someone outside your circle of friends to critique your resume. Bill Krueger was the Capitol bureau chief for The News & Observer for 28 years when layoffs hit him in 2009. He knew his resume was dated, but didn’t know what it needed until a career coach helped him rewrite it. He’s now an editor at the alumni magazine at N.C. State University.

6. Interview potential employers; don’t just let them interview you. The informational interview is valuable to get your foot in the door and to find out whether you’d be a good fit, said several of the panelists. Even if there isn’t a particular job opening to apply for, cold-call someone who can tell you about a particular employer and meet with them to learn more.

7. Create an online presence to sell yourself. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other website that suits your potential audience to keep your name and face in front of people who can help you. To a cartoonist looking for work, the panelists recommended mentioning new drawings on Twitter and linking them back to an online profile.

8. Do your own personal inventory and decide what you have to offer. Linda Conklin, a career coach, cited her own experience of moving 12 times and having to constantly “reinvent” herself as a way to gain what she called “unexpected wisdom.” List the things you know, not the jobs you have, when you determine how to sell yourself for a new job.

9. Share your news with friends and acquaintances if you get laid off. Krueger spent the days immediately following his own layoff connecting with friends of friends through LinkedIn and by talking about his situation whenever he had the opportunity. Those conversations led to potential job leads and connections that helped him in his search.

10. Volunteer work can help you meet the right people. Henry recommended spending some of your time working for free in places where you can make contacts and spread the word that you’re available.

Being flexible and giving yourself time to accept what’s happened and move on were important themes shared by the panelists. All have parlayed successful careers in journalism into parallel positions in fields that use the skills they developed in the newsroom in new ways.