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While the North State Journal still is working toward shifting from Sunday-only publication to five days a week, the timetable is now uncertain.

Publisher Neal Robbins originally expected NSJ to go to a five-day publication schedule (Tuesday-Friday and Sunday) last spring, then in April that estimate shifted to June or July. Robbins said Wednesday that new opportunities are delaying that shift and he isn’t providing a firm target date.

“It’s better to say that’s our goal, we’ll hit it when we hit it,” Robbins said. “But, in the meantime, becoming the statewide newspaper of North Carolina has certainly presented opportunities that we didn’t anticipate when we started and those are all really good things. But I don’t want to get hopes up too much until we’re ready to tell you that everything is a done deal.”

Robbins insists that there was nothing negative that is delaying the shift but he didn’t want to explain the good opportunities that he says have led to the delay.

“We’re excited about sharing all the great things we’re working on,” he said. “But we know there’s not everybody out there excited for us to be there, so we’re going to be careful. I’m going to take my time, look at every opportunity and option and make a decision that optimizes cash for us and opportunity for people who read awesome stories about North Carolina. Hopefully sooner than later.”

He says that a newsroom perspective, the newsroom is ready for shift.

“I want the horses in the gate ready to run the race and I think that’s the feedback I’m getting from all our editors,” he said. “They are quite operationally, journalistically ready to run the race and they are waiting for me to wave the flag. So that’s an enviable place when you’re a publisher is you’ve done your operational check and you’re ready to launch.”

As an operational test, NSJ produced a digital-only edition of the newspaper on Wednesday, July 13.

Before making the shift, though, Robbins expects to add writers and at least one copy editor and decentralize the Raleigh staff to place people in other areas of the state.

Even though there usually are only four ads in the 24-page Sunday print edition, Robbins says that NSJ revenue is “better than I ever anticipated.

“I think are ads are exactly where we want them to be,” he said. “We are a reader-focused publication. We’ll entertain the idea of adding more ads. But right now, we’re focused on content. With so much content coming in with just the one day right now, folks like [sports editor] Will Brinson and [managing editor] Donna King are begging for more space to put out great articles by great writers. We’ve got great ad partners and we’ll focus on the quality of those advertisements instead of quantity.”

NSJ has a hard pay wall, meaning the only way to read stories on its website is to pay for a subscription. Much like the tronc chain — formerly known as Tribune Publishing — you can read any stories linked by tweets from the newspaper or one of its reporters without needing to subscribe.

“I think every paywall has got to have a unique way to market itself and that’s what we picked as our way to market,” said Robbins, adding that that feature doesn’t include links posted to Facebook for now, but that could change. “Folks are excited enough about our digital content, share it with their friends, that’s got a higher-level value for us than the cost of one article for paywall purposes.”

If you don’t get home delivery, the only places to buy a print edition in the Triangle are in Raleigh at either Quail Ridge Books or Seaboard Ace Hardware. Robbins says that the paper has penetrated all 100 counties for quite some time through either mail or home delivery. He estimates that home delivery is available in 23 counties.

GateHouse Media buys Fayetteville Observer

It can’t be a very good week for copy editors at The Fayetteville Observer, the oldest newspaper in the state. Or for any of its more than 300 employees.

The newspaper, which began as a weekly in 1816 and has published daily since 1896, was the state’s largest family-owned paper. But as it marks its 200th anniversary this year, the Observer announced Thursday that GateHouse Media LLC is buying the newspaper after 93 years of being owned by the family of the late Ashton Wilson Lilly.

The Observer reported that the change is expected to take effect Monday.

Gradually, publishing families have sold their newspapers to chains. In 1995, 101 years of ownership of the Daniels family ended when McClatchy Newspapers purchased The News and Observer Publishing Company. In 2005, the Rollins family sold The Durham Herald Co., publishers of The Herald-Sun, to Paxton Media Group.

Fayetteville becomes the 11th daily North Carolina newspaper owned by GateHouse, 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.

The Wilmington paper already was being printed at The Fayetteville Observer.

The purchase is probably bad news for copy editors in Fayetteville because copy editing and design work for all but four of those newspapers — Asheboro, Kinston, New Bern and Jacksonville (the latter three with work done in Jacksonville) — is done at the GateHouse Media Center for News & Design in Austin, Texas.

That work went to Austin for Wilmington and Burlington, among others, in 2015.

The StarNews just eliminated the position of veteran sports writer Brett Friedlander, who covered the ACC and East Carolina but wasn’t a full-time employee. Wilmington, which has a four-person sports staff, will likely get many of its ACC stories from other GateHouse papers, including Fayetteville, Burlington and Kinston.

WCMC finalist for sports station of the year

The National Association of Broadcasters named WCMC (99.9 The Fan) on Tuesday one of five finalists for sports station of the year.

The flagship local show on WCMC is the 3–7 p.m. drive time “Adam and Joe Show” featuring Adam Gold and Joe Ovies, and it also is the Triangle affiliate for the statewide syndicated “David Glenn Show” from noon–3 p.m. weekdays. The station also airs ESPN Radio shows and is the flagship station for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The other finalists are in major markets: KNBR in San Francisco, KRLD in Dallas, WSCR in Chicago and WXYT in Detroit.

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New look for WRAL News

You may have noticed the theme music sounds a little different and the graphics look different on  WRAL News this week.

The station debuted an entirely new graphics package, with new fonts and headline styles, beginning with its noon news Tuesday.

The graphics and camera shots have expanded to take advantage of the full 16×9 space to use more of the screen than it used before.

WRAL altered the theme music it has used in recent years to a more modern version of the same music.

N&O toplines replaced by summaries

When The N&O was forced into the McClatchy-wide redesign in July 2015, one of the features was known as “toplines.” They provided two or three highlights of the each story in bullet form and were placed over the byline.

In another McClatchy-wide change, those toplines became history as of Wednesday’s editions. Replacing the toplines is a summary of the story, and that takes the form of a long, complete sentence.

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