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The Charlotte publishing hub that produces The News & Observer always has been quite busy. It got busier in August, and the current workload will double in the next few months.

This is all part of McClatchy Company’s goal to have hubs produce all 28 of its newspapers by sometime in the first quarter of 2017, according to Robin Johnston, the director of the Charlotte hub, called McClatchy News Desk East. Late this summer, McClatchy added a hub at the Kansas City Star to the existing hubs at The Charlotte Observer and at The Sacramento Bee, McClatchy’s flagship newspaper.

“We’re in various states of expansion,” said Johnston, who added that the plan is for none of the hubs to bring in more than 10 newspapers. “It’s still being negotiated. As other newspapers come in, we take on more staff, often from those newspapers.”

When the Charlotte desk became McClatchy’s first hub in 2011, it produced three newspapers: The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C. In August, that number rose to five with the addition of The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and The Island Packet of Hilton Head, S.C.

By the end of the year, possibly in November, the number will be seven when it adds The Telegraph of Macon, Ga., and The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. Among the newspapers that will possibly bring the number to 10 next year are the Beaufort (S.C.) News, The State of Columbia, S.C., and the Centre Daily Times of State College, Pa.

Currently, the Kansas City hub only has brought in work from The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, and copy editors and designers with the Eagle are working remotely from Wichita.

Johnston didn’t want to discuss the number of people on the Charlotte desk, how much it has increased or how much it may increase in the future, saying that the latter is being negotiated. The desk, which endured several layoffs in spring 2015, currently is hiring for at least one position, but at an entry-level salary.

Along with the workload, the workflow also has changed quite a bit since the desk began production for The N&O. At that point, the hub produced all of The N&O’s 10
twice-a-week community newspapers, but that work went back to Raleigh in December 2013, with Triangle editors laying out and editing the pages. In addition, the design of interior news pages, including business and editorial pages, went back to Raleigh at the same time.

The hub designs the sports section, section fronts and pages filled with wire stories.

Every story was copy edited at the Charlotte hub when it began to produce The N&O in 2011. But with the increased workload, editors at the hub now do minimal copy editing.

“Stories are copy edited in the newsroom before they come to our center,” Johnston said. “Any copy editing that happens, happens in the newsroom. Line editing and any copy editing happens in the newsroom. It’s up to them how much copy editing a given story gets. It’s a newsroom decision.”

The hub only concentrates on the print publication and does no online work.

“Once it comes to our center, our center is taking the content that has already been published online, and we are fine-tuning that for print,” she said. “There is editing as part of that. We are reworking headlines for print, we are reworking captions for print. All copy comes to us at the same state, at a point where the newsroom says that it’s publication-ready when it comes to us.”

Johnston said that no stories are copy edited from beginning to end since that already has been done in Raleigh.

“Our process is that after a story gets edited by an editor, it is read by another editor in this newsroom,” Dan Barkin, the N&O’s senior editor for news, said via email.

The hub staff is distributed among multiple sites, including one member who works some shifts out of Raleigh. But there are no full-time hub editors or designers working out of Raleigh.

Johnston was features design director for The N&O before joining The Charlotte Observer in 2002. She was second in command at the hub before becoming director in June 2015. She replaced Peggy Bellows, who left to become editor at The Virginia Gazette and Tidewater Review.

Johnston said that the needed skill sets, the atmosphere and the demands at a hub are obviously different than for on-site desks that only produce one newspaper.

“There’s a lot of overlap in the old skill set,” she said. “What’s new is the need to be able to communicate clearly remotely. And that’s something we look for when we hire, so that’s definitely new. There is the ability to use our system in a very robust way. You have to have pretty broad filters, being aware of multiple deadlines instead of one.”

Johnston said that they try to balance the desire to have staff members work with the same publication frequently with wanting each person to gain a broad knowledge of all of the publications.

“We try to aim for consistency, meaning that the same person would do the same pages every week unless they are on vacation,” she said. “But part of the benefits of having a center is that you can put multiple people in different roles when the schedule demands it. Our master schedule has the same people doing the same pages every week.

“Really and truly, we have folks who work cross-product with some frequency, meaning that they might do Myrtle Beach on Monday and Raleigh on Tuesday,” she said. “But that’s because we’re trying to build knowledge of the product across a wider group of people than just one or two folks.”

Johnston said that everybody on the staff can fulfill copy editing or design roles, which allows for quite a bit of flexibility. On a given shift, most people work with multiple publications.

The hub gets budgets from section editors of each newspaper outlining which stories should go on which pages as the design process begins. With multiple newspapers to deal with, a scramble when breaking news happens becomes even more challenging.

There was scrambling at every newspaper in the country Sunday evening when news broke about the death of golf legend Arnold Palmer, forcing changes in sections.

That may have been a reason why there was no story on the New Hampshire NASCAR Cup race in Monday’s print edition of The N&O even though it was an important “Chase for the Cup” (playoff) race. Last week, a story about the 16-team Nike men’s basketball tournament involving UNC and Duke ran on one sports page, and a brief about it ran on another sports page.

Who knows if one desk producing five newspapers had anything to do with either of those situations? But it seems less likely, although still possible, for that to occur if one desk is producing one newspaper.

Having editing and design work done for all of its newspapers at hubs obviously has financial advantages for McClatchy since the chain has to pay fewer people. Like every newspaper company, it is always trying to find ways cut costs.

While two other chains, GateHouse and Paxton, have publishers oversee multiple newspapers in North Carolina to save money, McClatchy hasn’t embraced that setup. Earlier this month, McClatchy named former Gannett executive Sara Glines as The N&O’s publisher. She replaced Orage Quarles III, who retired.

Johnston says that there are non-financial advantages to the hub.

“I’m excited about the work we’re doing,” she said. “I’m excited about the fact that we are able to do this journalism that allows the newsrooms to focus on digital, which is a big part of McClatchy’s press going forward.

“They want the newsrooms to be able to feel confident that the print will be handled so that they can provide content for readers, no matter what platform they want to get their news on,” Johnston said, adding that they are “shifting the print production load away from newspapers so that they can concentrate on content creation and not on print production, that’s the ultimate goal here.”

wheeler

N&O lays off two in newsroom

Last week, The N&O laid off newsroom employees Burgetta Eplin Wheeler and Tim Lee.

Wheeler, its associate editorial page editor, has been with the newspaper since May 1987. She tweeted about cleaning out her office earlier this week.

The last illustration that Lee, a graphic/multimedia journalist, created for the newspaper appeared on the cover of Sunday’s Bluegrass Raleigh section cover. That was fitting in a way considering that he’s a bluegrass musician for the band Hey Brothers.

The last day for both is Friday.