jessika

Photo by William “Bud” Hardy

The News & Observer has found its Duke beat writer. But because she added another title Sunday — mom — her first day on the job will be likely delayed until mid-October.

Jessika Morgan, who has been the sports editor of The Midtown/North Raleigh News, one of the twice-weekly N&O publications, was named Tuesday to take over the beat vacated when Laura Keeley left to attend Columbia Law School. That news came two days after Morgan gave birth to her first child.

Around the same time Tuesday afternoon that Steve Ruinsky, the N&O’s sports editor, announced the promotion to his staff, Morgan was in the process of being discharged from the hospital. This was to have been her last week at work before starting maternity leave.

“Jessika is terrific,” Ruinsky said. “She’ll do great on this beat.”

The logistics of how Duke football will be covered while Morgan is on maternity leave are still being worked out, Ruinsky said. But he said that Chip Alexander, the newspaper’s Carolina Hurricanes beat writer, will be involved.

Alexander has provided much of the Duke coverage since the ACC Kickoff press conference in Charlotte last month, including the story in Wednesday’s paper on Daniel Helm. Considering the newspaper doesn’t cover the Hurricanes on the road, Alexander’s load will be helped by the fact that the Canes’ home opener isn’t until Oct. 28.

Morgan is from California and graduated from Georgia State University. Before coming to The N&O in June 2015, she was the sports editor of The Free Press of Kinston for nearly three years.

“No one outworks her and that was what impressed me the most about her,” said Bryan Hanks, the former editor-in-chief of The Free Press who hired Morgan in Kinston. “Jessika impressed me early on with her work ethic and her drive. She started as an education reporter and covered Jones County for The Free Press and The Jones Post, but when the sports editor position opened up, she was a natural fit.”

Morgan will be the N&O’s first full-time black sports writer since Edward G. Robinson III, who covered Duke football in 2008 and left the newspaper in 2012. He is now a contributing writer for The Washingtonian Magazine. The Herald-Sun currently has two: UNC beat writer John McCann and N.C. Central beat writer Jonas Pope IV.

Horsch goes from Herald-Sun to Indy Week

It’s not common for reporters to leave a daily newspaper to work for an alt-weekly. Many times, the money isn’t as good and journalists prefer the pace of the daily news cycle.

HorschThat wasn’t the case for Lauren Horsch, who left The Herald-Sun earlier this month for a better paying job with Indy Week as a staff writer covering Durham.

Horsch had several newspaper jobs while at Drake University, including editor of the school newspaper. The police and public safety reporter job she began at The Herald-Sun in May 2014 was her first
full-time job after graduation. Later she moved to the Durham city-county government beat in April 2015 and fully expected to stay at the paper for about five years.

The ad for the job she vacated lists the pay at about $30,000. Would she still have made the move if it didn’t mean a pay increase?

“I’m sure it would have been an even harder choice for me to make,” said Horsch, who grew up in New Ulm, Minn. “But I think, in the end, I probably would have made the same decision to leave because I needed a change.”

She said that frustration with how Paxton Media Group runs The Herald-Sun wasn’t that much of a factor in her decision.

“Not as much as one would think,” she said. “Did I agree with all the decisions made with our corporate office? No. But overall I was pretty happy with my situation at The H-S and, as I said, I was planning on being there for a few more years.”

There may be other examples. But a little digging only uncovered two relatively recent examples of reporters with daily newspaper backgrounds joining Indy Week, both in 2006: Lisa Sorg, who reported for the Bloomington Herald-Times, was a stringer for the Indianapolis Star and worked for two alt-weeklies before joining the Indy, and Billy Ball, who came from the Sanford Herald. Both are now reporters for N.C. Policy Watch. Indy Week dismissed Sorg as editor-in-chief a year ago this week.

“What I liked about the Indy was that it offered me a chance to do something different,” Horsch said. “I still get to do a lot of the day-to-day reporting like I did at The H-S, but I also get the flexibility to work on longer pieces — pieces that would have otherwise been too long for a daily or might have taken a back seat because I needed to get daily stories out.”

She said that the move fits in well with her immediate career goals.

“I’ve been working with traditional newspapers since I was 16, and while I was sad to leave The H-S, it was the right time to make a move like this,” she said. “I plan on using a lot of my experience working with dailies at the Indy to help with more news coverage, and the publication structure allows me the ability to do both long form and daily reporting, which was probably the biggest draw to make the transition to an alt-weekly.”

She likes the Bull City and is happy to be staying in the area.

“I don’t know where my career is going to take me in the next five to 10 years, but if the right opportunity to go back to a daily comes up, I’d absolutely go for it. I always expected to be at a daily, but for now I’m excited to have the opportunity to go a different route with my reporting.”

By the end of the week, Horsch won’t even be the last person to have left The Herald-Sun newsroom.

Friday is the last day at the newspaper for business reporter Alex Dixon. He’ll be going to Food News Media in Chapel Hill, which publishes the magazines QSR and FSR and focuses on the restaurant industry nationwide.

“I’ve enjoyed covering the restaurant scene in Durham and Orange County for The Herald-Sun and am excited to focus on restaurants and food full-time for Food News Media,” said Dixon, who joined The Herald-Sun after graduating from UNC in 2014.

Paxton finally was able to sell The Herald-Sun’s old Pickett Road facility July 1. WJM Holdings bought it for $3.25 million, according to an N&O report. That’s far less than the $8.3 million asking price when it originally went on the market in 2014.

Strelow goes from ACC beat to covering Appalachian State 

Another move that you don’t see often is for a sports writer to leave the ACC beat to cover a school outside of the Power 5 conferences. For various reasons, Bret Strelow is doing just that.

Strelow became one of the ACC’s top writers with his work at The Fayetteville Observer, but will leave the Observer as of Monday and joins the Winston-Salem Journal on Tuesday as its Appalachian State beat writer.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to tell interesting stories in a more intimate media setting, and the chance to work and live in Boone intrigued me for several reasons, including the fact that it’s only about an hour from where I grew up and I have some other personal relationships outside of eastern North Carolina that will be more manageable,” said Strelow, a Charlotte native who grew up in Claremont.

He fills the slot Brant Wilkerson-New vacated when he moved to the News & Record of Greensboro to cover the ACC. That Greensboro job opened when Powell Latimer became digital editor at the Roanoke Times.

“I covered Appalachian State from time to time during my nine years in Salisbury, attending two of its three national-title game victories in football, so I do understand the culture of ASU football and the excitement of a game day at Kidd Brewer Stadium,” said Strelow, who previously worked at the Salisbury Post.

Strelow says he enjoys the pace of life and the recreational options in the mountains. His annual visits to see his sister in Montana reminded him of how much he loves areas like that.

This will end a stretch of 16 years covering the ACC for Strelow, whose insights during basketball season will be especially missed. He lived in Durham the last four years while working for Fayetteville, and will live in Boone while working for Winston-Salem.

“Living in the Triangle and covering ACC hoops in a meaningful way for a paper that gave Stephen [Schramm] and I the freedom to play to our strengths,” Strelow said. “I’ll always have great memories. … I reached a point last month where I was in a transition phase in terms of my living arrangements, and I started to look seriously at some different options that would give me some new life experiences.”

Pryor leaves state for the Sooners beat

Other than a summer internship in Colorado and three months studying in Florence, Italy, Brooke Pryor has spent her whole life in North Carolina. That’s about to change starting next week with a huge step in her journalism career.

After only four months as a sports writer at the North State Journal, her last day is Thursday. Monday, she becomes the Oklahoma football beat writer for The Oklahoman. Pryor previously covered N.C. Central for The Herald-Sun. Before that, she was editor of Carolina Blue Magazine and sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel.

She lived all over the state growing up because her father is a pastor, but primarily was raised in Winston-Salem.

“I decided to make the move because I was ready for a new challenge and a new market,” Pryor said. “I’ve spent most of my career covering the ACC and I wanted to experience working with a new set of schools and learning a new system. I’m a big believer in print journalism, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to cover big-time college athletics for a big-time newspaper.”

For the Triangle newspapers, there is one beat writer who covers football and men’s basketball. And, in the case of The Herald-Sun, that beat writer also covers women’s basketball. That’s not the case at The Oklahoman, where she’ll have a beat partner for football whose primary beat is men’s basketball.

Basketball probably never will be as big as football for the Sooners, but they did make the Final Four last season. So Pryor might have a shot at covering consecutive Final Fours after she covered North Carolina at last season’s Final Four for the North State Journal.

“In the offseason, I’ll do some men’s hoops coverage along with women’s hoops, softball and gymnastics and any other odds and ends,” she said. “I’ll also be very focused on spring football and be responsible for some recruiting reporting with a heavy emphasis on local kids.”

GateHouse offers buyouts to all chain newsroom employees

GateHouse Media, which owns 11 newspapers in North Carolina, announced Tuesday afternoon that it is offering severance packages to all newsroom employees at its more than 120 newspapers. It cited the need to progress toward its goal of positive revenue by 2018 by cutting costs.

Eligible employees must register for the program by Aug. 29, then the company will make decisions on which employees will get offers by Sept. 7. For those chosen, their last day of work likely will be Sept. 16.

Employees with 19 or fewer years of service are eligible for up to 13 weeks of severance and those with 20 or more years of service can get up to a 17-week package.

Last month, The Fayetteville Observer became the 11th daily North Carolina newspaper that GateHouse owns, joining The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro, The Times-News of Burlington, The Gaston Gazette, The Times-News of Hendersonville, the Jacksonville Daily News, The Free Press of Kinston, The Dispatch of Lexington, the New Bern
Sun-Journal
, The Shelby Star and the Wilmington StarNews.