The News & Observer’s appeal of a libel judgment against the newspaper is expected to be filed soon. That has been delayed, however, as both sides wait for the court reporter to finish a transcript of the trial.

The News & Observer has filed several motions for trial-transcript extensions in the last six months, its attorney, John Bussian, confirmed.

The latest deadline for the transcript to be prepared and delivered is Sept. 18.

“That’s what’s going on. It’s crazy,” said James Johnson, who represents Beth Desmond, who won a libel judgment against The N&O and former N&O reporter Mandy Locke.

Last October, a Wake County Superior Court jury ruling ultimately determined that The N&O owes Desmond, who was an agent in the State Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab, about $6 million, with former N&O reporter Mandy Locke owing $75,000. The appeal could very well not be heard until a year after the trial.

The delay in the completion of the transcript has been frustrating for both sides.

“Once we get the transcript, the parties will have to file a record on appeal, all the documents that we want the Court of Appeals to consider and, after the record on appeal is filed, the other side will file their appeal and we’ll file our brief, then it will go before a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals,” Johnson said.

The jury found that five statements published in August 2010 and one published in December 2010 in The N&O were materially false. Those stories were about the ballistics analysis and testimony in a 2006 Pitt County murder trial.

Johnson has a general idea of what the grounds for appeal might be.

“Generally speaking, they are going to take issue with some of the rulings of the court and not allowing some evidence in,” he said. “I think they are going to take issue with parts of his jury instructions. Specifics, I can’t really say.”

Desmond transferred from the SBI Crime Lab to its criminal information unit late in 2013, Johnson said, as a result of the fallout from the articles at issue in the lawsuit.  Johnson said that she is the assistant special agent in charge of the unit.

Locke left The N&O last month.

The trial was hardly covered by the Triangle media other than The N&O, although filmmaker Bradley Bethel wrote blog posts, including this one, taking Desmond’s side.

The newspaper’s coverage was all from staff writer John Murawski. Writing about your own media outlet’s court case, of course, presents a challenge for any reporter. Johnson offered a mixed assessment of the newspaper’s trial coverage.

“I think the reporter who did it, I think he was not bad as far as trying to be fair,” Johnson said. “He’s, of course, being slanted to their side in certain directions. In any way that he could, he was doing that. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it could have been. There were days when I knew that somebody else had told him what to write. I think there were days when it was coming from him.”

John Drescher, the executive editor of The N&O, defended Murawski’s reporting.

“John Murawski was given an unusually difficult assignment: To report on criticism of his colleagues and their work,” he said via email. “At no point was John told by his supervisors what to write or not to report certain criticism or allegations. John covered the trial extensively and did so with professionalism and integrity.”

A Wake County Justice Center spokesperson said that the judge for the case, Graham Shirley II, couldn’t comment about the fairness of the N&O’s coverage because he still is assigned as the trial judge in the matter.

N&O losing one of its top editors
Steve Riley, the senior editor for investigations, is leaving The N&O after 31 years to join the Houston Chronicle to become deputy managing editor for investigations and projects. He will most likely start at the Chronicle in late October.

Riley joined the newspaper to cover government and politics in 1986 and soon became a senior reporter. He became state government reporter in 1995, sports editor in 1996 and metro editor in 1999. In 2003, he first began to lead the investigations team that has won numerous awards.

Riley will join former N&O Sunday editor Nancy Barnes (1993–2003), who is editor and executive vice president at the Chronicle. Also at the Chronicle is former N&O graphic artist (1993–96) Charles Apple, who is the deputy design director.

Riley will replace Maria Carillo, who left to become assistant managing editor for enterprise at the Tampa Bay Times.

Some of McClatchy’s full beat titles a bit quirky

When you look at the newsroom directory on The N&O’s website, the beat titles listed for reporters are fairly conventional. But the full beat titles for some reporters are just as quirky as those that The Charlotte Observer presented to its readers in this column when the newsroom reinvention started there in March.

Here are some of the quirkier full N&O titles:

  • Getting there reporter (Richard Stradling, listed on website as transportation reporter)
  • Which Wake school should my child attend reporter (Henry Gargan, K-12 schools reporter)
  • SPAT — students, politicians, alums, teachers — reporter (Jane Stancil, higher education reporter)
  • I work for the State reporter (Will Doran, state workers reporter)
  • Safety net reporter (Lynn Bonner, social services reporter)

Two positions are vacant: a growing pains reporter and a Wake watchdog reporter. Kathryn Trogdon left the latter position last month to become the public information specialist for the Town of Cary. Gargan has taken on the Wake watchdog duties for now with Keung Hui covering K-12 education in Wake County and statewide.

The N&O hopes to soon hire a social media and analytics specialist and a senior editor for news/audience.

No Herald-Sun coverage of Bulls playoff games

After years of covering every Durham Bulls home game, and after covering nearly every regular-season game this season, The Herald-Sun didn’t even have a reporter at their first two home playoff games.

With The McClatchy Company’s reinvention initiative, stories that metrics show don’t get a lot of clicks aren’t as likely to be written. I speculated in an earlier media notes column that Bulls coverage might be on the chopping block. If this week is any indication, that may very well be the case.

It is odd, though, that International League playoff games don’t get covered after nearly every regular-season home game was covered.

The Bulls, by the way, have a 2–0 lead in their first-round Governors’ Cup series with the Indianapolis Indians. If you wanted to read a newspaper story about the playoffs, you had to go to the website for the Times-News of Burlington to read coverage from Bob Sutton, its sports editor.

Lavalette promoted to North State Journal sports editor

Cory Lavalette is the Carolina Hurricanes beat writer for the North State Journal, and now also is its sports editor after Will Brinson left to focus totally on his work as an NFL writer for CBS Sports.

“Will’s amazing. And a spectacular guy. He’ll be missed for sure,” Lavalette said via Twitter.

On Aug. 18, Lavalette officially assumed the post for the weekly statewide newspaper, which also produces stories on its website seven days a week.

“Cory was ready to step up,” Neal Robbins, NSJ publisher, said via text. “He is a fantastic journalist and a strong leader within our newsroom.”

There still is a vacancy in his department: the N.C. State beat writer position, which Cory Smith created earlier this summer when he became editor of Pack Pride.

For now, the newspaper’s print edition is only published Wednesdays after it discontinued weekend publication in the spring. Robbins hopes to resume weekend publication but says that there is no timetable for that.

Two talented state sports writers leave profession

Two of the state’s best sportswriters left the newspaper profession last month, with both concluding their careers at the Winston-Salem Journal: Dan Collins retired and Bret Strelow took a position with Appalachian State University.

Collins has been one of the most popular sportswriters in the state for years, not only for his excellent writing and reporting but for his down-home demeanor on the beat that long ago gave him the nickname “Country.” He started his 45-year career at the Chapel Hill Newspaper covering UNC athletics.

He could often be seen wearing bib overalls in the mid-‘70s at Boshamer Stadium while covering Tar Heels baseball games. Collins joined the Journal in 1978 and became its first Wake Forest beat writer during the 1989-90 school year.

He discussed his time at the Journal in this interesting interview with Ed Hardin, the sports columnist at the News & Record of Greensboro.

Strelow was one of the best writers on the ACC beat at the Fayetteville Observer before joining the Journal at the start of the 2016–17 school year to cover Appalachian State. Late last month, he became director of strategic communications at ASU.

Conor O’Neill, who was the preps reporter for the Times-News of Burlington, joined the Journal on Tuesday to become its Wake Forest beat writer.

Filling the ASU vacancy will be Ethan Joyce, a sports reporter at the Rocky Mount Telegram. His last day at the Telegram is Sept. 13 and his first day at the Journal is Sept. 18.

C.L. Brown to join The Athletic

C.L. Brown, who lives in Durham and was one of many reporters who laid off by ESPN last spring, will join The Athletic on Oct. 1 as a staff writer for its college-basketball site, The Fieldhouse.

Brown, a UNC alum who grew up in Winston-Salem, left the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he was the University of Louisville beat writer, for in 2013. Initially, he specifically covered Carolina basketball but later expanded his scope to all of college basketball. He had been with the Courier-Journal for 13 years.

The Athletic is an expanding subscription-based sports reporting website with specific sites for cities/areas (Bay Area, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis and several Canadian cities) and several sport-specific websites/pages.

Seth Davis is the managing editor of The Fieldhouse. There also are sites/pages for college football (The All-American — with Stewart Mandel as the managing editor), MLB (led by Ken Rosenthal), the NHL (led by James Mirtle) and the NFL.

One subscription gives you content from all of its sites. You can also customize your view on the web or on the app according to which teams or sports most interest you.

It’s an interesting venture that’s worth supporting if you like quality journalism (I’m a subscriber). It may not work in a world where the average sports fan, particularly younger ones, isn’t used to paying for content. Time will tell.



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