The News & Observer has shaken up the staffs at its 10 twice-weekly community newspapers, leading to the third set of newsroom layoffs/buyouts this year but also an addition to the sports department.
The 10 papers are divided into five two-newspaper “bureaus” that have each had one editor, one sports editor and two reporters. All but one pairing of newspapers are down to one editor and one writer after today, with one exception: The Chapel Hill News and The Durham News, which share an office, still will each have one reporter.
All sports editor positions at the community newspapers have been eliminated.
Two sports editors and a reporter were laid off in the shuffle: Eastern Wake News reporter Matt Goad; D. Clay Best, sports editor for the Clayton News-Star, the
Garner-Cleveland Record and the Smithfield Herald; and Elliott Warnock, sports editor for The Chapel Hill News and The Durham News.
They were informed of the decisions last week and Friday was the last day for the three laid off journalists. The last sports pages for the community papers run in Sunday editions. The community newspapers also publish Wednesdays.
“We are going to shift some jobs to create reporting positions that will focus on breaking news for digital,” John Drescher, executive editor of The N&O, said via email. “We also are looking at what type of sports coverage makes sense to be in the print community papers and what should be online.
“I’m not sure it still makes sense to report high school sports results in community papers that are published twice a week,” he said. “I envision the community papers moving away from game coverage and instead focusing on sports features and profiles. As part of this review of the community papers, we are cutting or redefining several jobs in the community papers that focused on sports.”
The N&O has posted digital breaking-news jobs internally and will be interviewing candidates. Further shifting is likely since the Smithfield/Clayton bureau currently lists two reporters.
Goad, who had been in his position for about 10 months, was weekend Metro editor at The Herald-Sun from 2007–09 and had been an N&O correspondent for a number of years. He had all three bylines on the front page of Wednesday’s Eastern Wake News.
Best has worked with The N&O’s community newspapers since October 1997 and is a
22-time N.C. Press Association award winner.
Warnock has been on the sports writing scene in Chapel Hill for years, starting with The Chapel Hill Newspaper in 1978. He also reported for UPI before later returning to the publication now known as The Chapel Hill News.
J. Mike Blake, who has been sports editor of The Cary News and the Southwest Wake News, will oversee high school sports coverage for The N&O, but his exact title isn’t clear. Blake, who has won 14 NCPA awards, has performed most of the duties of the preps editor position without the title to go with them since longtime preps editor Tim Stevens retired in 2015.
Jessika Morgan left the sports editor position for the Midtown Raleigh News and the North Raleigh News in early August when she went on maternity leave, the same week The N&O named her its Duke beat writer.
Aaron Moody, the sports editor of the Eastern Wake News who also has covered
non-sports stories, will shift entirely to reporting about news. In 2015, he won the Hugh Morton Photographer of the Year award. He has worked with the Eastern Wake News for more than nine years.
Jonathan Alexander, who has written for the N&O sports department while reporting for the Eastern Wake News and the Garner-Cleveland Record, is joining the sports department full time. He is expected to be a general-assignment reporter who can supplement ACC coverage in addition covering recruiting and high school sports.
Alexander’s addition makes The N&O sports staff probably the most diverse in the state. He is black as is Morgan, who became the second woman on the staff along with assistant sports editor Jessaca Giglio, who shifted to sports in October 2015.
Late this summer, The N&O cut freelance sports writer Kip Coons — who appeared in one Bull Durham scene — out of its budget. In previous seasons, he covered college soccer for The N&O and wrote a weekly soccer column. He also contributed to its baseball coverage and supplemented its coverage of last season’s ACC men’s basketball tournament. He still has covered soccer this season, but as a stringer for The
The first set of N&O departures this year came in May when longtime newsroom fixtures Thomas Goldsmith, Bruce Siceloff and Linda Williams all took buyouts. Goldsmith was the Wake County editor and Sunday day editor, Siceloff was a transportation reporter who wrote the Road Worrier column and Williams was the senior editor for the front page.
In September, The N&O laid off associate editorial page editor Burgetta Eplin Wheeler and graphic/multimedia journalist Tim Lee.