The Community Journalism Summer Roadshow, now in its 14th summer, returns today to The Pilot of Southern Pines for my fourth U.S. Open golf championship.
I’ve spent three U.S. Opens out in the field, toting cameras and shooting the action on and off the greens. But this time around, I’m letting the younger shooters schlep those heavy professional cameras around 18 holes in the 90 degree heat.
And besides, I’d never spent a day as a participant-observer behind the front lines — in the newsroom where it all comes together.
What I am seeing is both gratifying and reinforcing. Community newspapers are not vanishing; they are changing and adapting and innovating. The Pilot is a good example of one such visionary community paper.
As a self-professed “latter-day Johnny Appleseed,” I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to visit 185 North Carolina towns and their community newspapers since hitting the road back in the summer of 2001.
If I were king, I’d make it mandatory for journalism professors to spend part of their summers out in the field.
As any UNC faculty or staff member lucky enough to take part in the old Tar Heel Bus Tour knows, there is such a cultural richness out there. “North Carolina 101” should be a pre-requisite for teaching at UNC; you shed your cap and gown, jettison the ivy-covered halls, evacuate the Chapel Hill bubble and hit those less-traveled “Blue Highways.”
And you return to Chapel Hill with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Old North State – and for what Carolina means to North Carolina.
Out there also I think you’ll find the real North Carolina — and to my way of thinking, the real United States.
It’s Tuesday at the U.S. Open Golf Championship; I’m a fly-on-the-wall visitor at the newsroom of the best golf daily in North Carolina: the Open Daily, published by the twice-weekly Pilot of Southern Pines.
But there is a crisis in this newsroom.
The server has crashed; the system is down. They are dead in the water.
Of course it would happen today. They can’t get the Internet, can’t download stuff, can’t lay out pages. Hopefully, Zonker “Z” Harris, their tech guy, is on the way from Raleigh to figure out the problem.
“That’s what makes it fun and exciting!” Senior Writer TomEmbrey calls out in mock merriment.
The tension is palpable, but this veteran crew has done this before.
In this open-air, cubicle-free newsroom, folks holler messages and instructions and jollity and good cheer at each other.
‘Martha, you’re the queen!” someone hollers when Design Editor Martha Henderson solves a problem.
“She’s not a queen!” Someone else shouts.”
“How about diva?!” another rejoins.
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Just over a week ago, I was embedded in another newsroom, on another continent, 9,000 miles away, talking to journalists about community journalism in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Today, almost recovered from jet lag, I am hanging out at one of my favorite community paper newsrooms in the state. Being here reminds me of why I love community journalism, why it’s important and why it’s the brand of journalism with the best chance of surviving far into the future.
*** *** *** ***
Hey, Zonker comes through! The system is back up. Life goes on at the Pilot newsroom.
Newsroom chatter turns decidedly more upbeat.
“Good catch, Mary!” Editor John Nagy hollers from his office – loud enough for proofreader Mary Novitsky and the entire newsroom to hear.
At about that exact moment, over WUNC-FM radio, we hear Frank Stacio on “The State of Thing,” interviewing UNC-CH Professor Penny Abernathy about her groundbreaking new book,” Saving Community Journalism.”
Is this a coincidence? Here I am today at what is arguably North Carolina’s best semi-weekly community newspaper. In addition to going daily for the U.S. Open, this innovative crowd at the Pilot also puts out phone books, launched a trio of highly successful glossy city magazines…oh, and they also own the local bookstore.
This merry band is led by their irrepressible publisher David Woronoff, who says FUN is one of his core working principals – and that if you’re not having fun (while working hard), then…go sell shoes!
Woronoff’s other dictum worth memorizing has to do with dealing with competition.
“Figure out what the competition is doing.
And then, figure out what they aren’t doing…
What they can’t do,
And what they won’t do…
And then…DO IT.”
And that, concisely put, is why the Pilot is out-covering, out-hustling, out-classing, out-selling and out-doing every other golf publication at this year’s U.S. Opens.
How’s that for a business model?
Community journalism — saved.
*** *** *** ***
When I sneeze, all eight journalists in The Pilot newsroom respond as one: “BLESS YOU!”
What a sound of homecoming that is. No, really! In China, you sneeze in silence. A largely secular society, China has no such tradition. So I have to mention this little cultural factoid to the newsroom.
So I holler out to the crew, “Y’all know that in China, when you sneeze, they don’t say $#!+”
To which, the ever-quick Tom Embrey responds, “Well then, next time you sneeze, we’ll say $#!+”
Taking the bait, I fake a good stage sneeze: “Ker-CHEW!”
Which is met with a robust and raucous chorus of “$#!+!” — followed by a hearty peal of laughter.
Later that day, with the newsroom nose-to-the-computer screen to get out that day’s edition of the Open Daily, I get a wonderful tribute from Tom when he says, “You kept us entertained.”
Glad to be of service.
*** *** *** ***
The rest of the Pilot newsroom deserves a shout-out too: first off, Publisher David Woronoff was out at on the course doing his publisher thing, so I’ll just recognize my old pals and veteran staffers, Steve Bouser, former editor and now the opinions editor; and Faye Dasen, long-time features editor.
Then, the rest of the merry band of pranksters includes John Nagy, editor; David Sinclair, managing editor; Hunter Chase, sports editor, Ted Natt, staff writer; John Lentz, staff writer; Glenn Sides, chief photographer; F.W. Manning, staff writer; and Tom Bryant, outdoor writer.
Onward and upward.