There are no News and Observer reporters who lost more when The McClatchy Company acquired The Herald-Sun in December than Jessika Morgan.
That reality led Morgan to resign Monday after two years at The N&O.
Last August, The N&O named Morgan to replace Laura Keeley as Duke beat writer. She began on the beat in October after maternity leave but only had the beat to herself for less than three months.
With Steve Wiseman, the sports editor of The Herald-Sun, also covering Duke, it was obvious that both wouldn’t remain on the beat. She covered Duke sporadically beginning in January, and she didn’t cover the ACC tournament. Although she covered Duke in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in Greenville, S.C., while Wiseman was at an AP Sports Editors event, Wiseman would have covered later games had the Blue Devils advanced.
“From January on, I expressed my frustrations with my manager pretty often,” Morgan said. “I was officially taken off the beat on May 22, but unofficially way before then because a lot of my assignments kept going to Durham’s beat writer and I was kind of just in limbo.”
She had only been covering Duke since October while Wiseman has been on the beat since August 2010.
A meeting last week sealed her decision.
“There was a meeting that happened,” said Morgan, who didn’t want to get into many details of the meeting. “But I just really wasn’t pleased with it and I think a lot of people were disappointed, my managers included, by how this kind of turned out. But I just wanted to step away from the situation just for the better.”
Without McClatchy’s purchase of The Herald-Sun, she no doubt still would be on the Duke beat.
“Apparently, nobody saw it coming, so it’s no fault of anyone,” Morgan said. “I don’t have any animosity toward anyone. It was just what was best for me. It was unfortunate. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t want it to happen and it did, and I had to make a decision from there.”
People frequently get caught in the middle when there are corporate consolidations.
There was a conflict on UNC coverage — with Andrew Carter on the beat for The N&O and John McCann for The Herald-Sun — until McCann left after 14 years at the newspaper late January to become the public relations coordinator for the Chatham County Schools.
Rachael Riley arrived at The Herald-Sun in September to cover Durham. She was laid off in March because Virginia Bridges already was a veteran of the beat. Riley started at The Daily Dispatch of Henderson on April 5.
But nobody was likely more frustrated than Morgan.
She ascended from being sports editor of the Kinston Free Press to sports editor of the Midtown Raleigh News and the North Raleigh News (jobs that no longer exist) in June 2015 to taking over one of the top sports beats in the country. Then she had the beat, prestigious because it includes Duke men’s basketball, to herself for a short time.
“I’m disappointed, of course,” Morgan said. “It was frustrating for me and Steve Wiseman. It was a frustrating last few months. … That was kind of what I got promoted to do last summer and I was no longer doing that, so that left me having to make some decisions. Obviously, the Durham purchase made things complicated a little bit and I think the paper and I were just going in different directions. It was best for me to kind of step out of the situation because I wasn’t happy with it.”
Added to the frustration for Morgan is that she didn’t know what would have been ahead for her at The N&O.
“They really didn’t have a role for me, so that was another thing,” Morgan said. “I talked to my managers about this — if I had a future there basically and it didn’t really seem like it. I know the paper is going through this reinvention thing, so maybe after July or August there would have been some clarity. But I just really didn’t want to be stuck not knowing what my future would be for that amount of time.”
Her last story for The N&O, on June 15, was about how four former Duke stars are doing in the WNBA.
“I’m at peace with the decision,” she said. “I thought long and hard about it.”
The fact that her husband has a job with benefits gave her the flexibility to quit and begin looking for another job.
“We talked about it for a couple of months that if it came down to me having to leave, what we would do? And we had a good plan,” Morgan said. “So we talked and he’s on board, so I have support there.”
She said that as a writer who loves sports, she hopes to find a job that will include both.
“I have a couple of opportunities, so we’ll see how things pan out,” she said.
In the meantime, she will be able to spend more time with her young daughter.