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News and Observer Missing Golden Opportunity

July 19, 2010

Monday's Front Page Of News & Observer (Courtesy N&O)

It’s no great secret that your average N.C. State is no fan of the N&O. Those who bear the strongest of opinions about the matter remember the way State’s athletics program was scrutinized by the paper during the end of the Valvano Era.

The coverage then was fast, scathing and loose on the facts.  State fans during that era remember the witch hunt vividly, and to this day many refuse to subscribe to the print edition. Some even refuse to patronize their advertisers.

I was too young and too far removed to remember how the N&O damaged its relationship with State fans. I was 12 in 1989, living outside of the N&O’s subscription zone in rural Cumberland County. When I enrolled at State, I began to hear the pointed opinions on the paper from State fans and alums. I read up on it, trying to get a better understanding of what they were feeling, but honestly there’s a difference between re-reading accounts and articles years later versus waking up every morning in the midst of the story to see a new scandalous article (the vast majority of which would later be proven false).  I suppose I’m afforded a somewhat-less vitriolic viewpoint of the N&O as a result.  

Flash forward some 20 years from the Valvano mess to today, where the UNC football program currently finds itself vigorously being investigated by the NCAA. No one on UNC’s campus is talking, but there are a lot of folks in the national media–particularly Joe Schad of ESPN–beating the bushes and talking to soures, trying to turn up the latest news of this potentially devastating investigation. And yet in the Sports section of the Sunday issue of the N&O, here’s an inventory of what ran related to area colleges:

Two Dean Smith pieces, a story on how well UNC football recruiting is going, another fluff piece on UNC recruiting and a story on how State’s recruiting is struggling.

Noticeably missing? Anything at all related to the NCAA investigation.

And instead of going into “SEE DER’S YER N&O BIAS AGAIN RAWR!!!!11” beast mode, I think the N&O is missing out on a golden opportunity here.

For so long, they have been called “biased” by many State fans (and surely some of the 12 Duke fans in the area, as well).  Many realize that the Daniels* family no longer owns the paper, so most have given up the cries of “conspiracy,” but I’m sure there are still small pockets that believe that.

The N&O can prove these folks wrong by stepping up to the plate to cover this investigation thoroughly. That doesn’t mean Section A-1, front-page, above-the-fold smear pieces, but it does mean taking the initiative to take the point on covering it.

What does that mean? It means running a continuing series of articles to keep folks informed about the latest news. It means devoting a reporter to the story to dig for FACTS–not speculation–whenever they present themselves. It means being the place the rest of the college football world turns to for information on the story in their backyard, rather than having to rely on national folks like Joe Schad.

Now, let’s be clear what I am NOT asking: I’m not asking for the “an-eye-for-an-eye” treatment. I’m not asking for huge, A-1 pieces based on speculation and subsequent retractions buried in the classified section. That’s not “journalism:” that’s muck raking.

But the relative “radio silence” we’ve seen from the N&O to this point isn’t cutting it. This is THE biggest story in Triangle sports, bar none. Not the NC Pro Am. Not Dean Smith (bless his heart). Not in-state football recruiting. This is what folks are calling in to talk about and clicking on the N&O site to search for. Today, four days after the news broke, the initial investigation story that ran on Friday is still the 4th-most emailed story on their site.

Show us, News and Observer ownership and editors, that you are willing to pursue this story aggressively. Not passing mentions in the days after the news breaks or worse, nothing at all like we saw on Sunday with their biggest issue of the week. If you show State fans–and others–that you are at least WILLING to pursue the story, even if you don’t have new information every hour, then I think most reasonable State fans will say, “Ok, thank you. This is fair.” Some will never be pleased…they’ll want all that was done wrong to State to be done unto UNC. Forget those folks, because they’re a small, small minority.

But you–as a STRUGGLING organization–have the chance to win back a large number of subscribers who REFUSE to subscribe to the ONLY newspaper in the area because of the perception of bias. What would a couple thousand or so more subscribers mean to your bottom line? Instead of having to continue to fire writers and staff, and further trim pages to your already anemic paper, you could stem–or at least delay–the tide of what appears to be your imminent death.

The ownership of the N&O may be too far removed from the situation to care what State fans think about their paper, but I can imagine the N&O’s negative image among the largest fanbase in your local subscription area doesn’t help the bottom line they check each time they make the call to retain or fire another writer.

The best part? Changing this image would require you to simply DO YOUR JOB! Imagine that! Merely living up to your job requirements having such a positive impact! What an opportunity!

Thus far, however, it doesn’t seem like anyone over there is taking advantage of it.

*Edit: Thanks to @mtdukes for the catch…it was the Daniels family that owned the paper at the time of Valvano’s ouster. I was confusing “Daniels” with Mickey McCarthy, who was the sports editor at the time and I believe the point man for all the stories released on V at the time. Follow him on Twitter as a favor to me.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Crystal Correia permalink
    July 19, 2010 2:29 pm

    Twenty-one years is a long time for these “State” fans to have a grudge against the N&O. Scrutinizing UNC is not going to make what happened in 1989 go away or even make it right, in anyone’s eyes. If there is something to be said about UNC than there is no doubt that the N&O will be right there with coverage for all of us to see. How does one person writing an article speak for hundreds or thousands of “State” fans? There are more people interested in news of events currently surrounding us keeping us up-to-date on important information than those overly concerned with whether or not the N&O is covering a story that may or may not be true about college football. I think everyone needs to let the NCAA conclude its investigation before people start jumping to conclusions.

    • Anonymous permalink
      July 19, 2010 3:35 pm

      Crystal said, “I think everyone needs to let the NCAA conclude its investigation before people start jumping to conclusions.”

      Its way more than that. The N&O doesn’t hesitate to jump to conclusions when any perceived transgression is done by NCSU (see Smith, Tracy handicapped parking, etc). Its only when the alledged transgression is committed by UNC does the N&O hold a wait-for-the-facts posture. If NCSU’s behavior is in question, their “reporters” doggedly persue, try and convict in their ink long before any conclusions are found (see College Inn “investigation” circa 2009).

      Take a peek here:
      http://jimpomeranz.blogspot.com/

    • July 19, 2010 3:36 pm

      Crystal,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I hope you keep reading from here on out (sports blogs have a decidedly male-dominated readership, to put it lightly).

      “Scrutinizing UNC is not going to make what happened in 1989 go away or even make it right, in anyone’s eyes.” Of course not, and I tried very, very hard not to give the impression that I wanted what happened in 1989 to happen again to the Tar Heels. No program–no matter what I think of them–deserves to be treated that way again, not even the Heels.

      I merely want–as I think most State fans want (I don’t speak for all of them, of course)–for the N&O to not clam up on this issue. Any way you slice it, there’s no reason a story that incendiary concerning a local team should be completely ignored in the Sunday issue of the paper. None. Nearly everyone who’s responded to the story on Twitter, local media folks included, feel the same way. It’s a story. In fact, it’s THE story at the moment, even if it’s incomplete at the moment.

      To say that the newspaper should just let the NCAA conclude the investigation before reporting on it is not asking for responsible journalism. There will be plenty of time after the fact for wrapping a bow on the NCAA’s findings…now is the time for a newspaper to fulfill one of its core principles, which is fact finding and dissemination. I was careful to say I don’t want to see wild speculation or rumors. Just the facts. There are enough rapidly developing facts in this case to satisfy a story in the Sunday paper. That there was none was surprising, to say the least.

      Thanks again for reading and your comment!

  2. Core permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:27 pm

    Crystal, the NCAA is currently investigating the UNC football program and various members of the current team. This is a fact and is not up for debate, as acknowledged earlier in the week by Dick Baddour. You know and I know if a university residing in the N&O’s hometown was being investigated there would have been multiple stories published on it, most likely on the front page. The thing that draws the ire of the non UNC faction of North Carolina is the constant bias either toward UNC positively or being the first voice to point out indiscretions of fellow state schools. You would think the N&O would realize by alleniating the other member institutions of the state university system they are effectively cutting their revenue stream in half. Maybe that’s why they are going the way of the dinosaur.

  3. Alpha Wolf permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:50 pm

    “Twenty-one years is a long time for these “State” fans to have a grudge against the N&O. “

    Considering the effect it had on NC State basketball, no, it is not.

    If there is something to be said about UNC than there is no doubt that the N&O will be right there with coverage for all of us to see.

    Really? Please explain why Joe Schad of ESPN.com and others have been able to gleen the facts from this story and take them to print, while the local newspaper, with its numerous sources close to the situation have not been able to do so?

    There are more people interested in news of events currently surrounding us keeping us up-to-date on important information than those overly concerned with whether or not the N&O is covering a story that may or may not be true about college football.

    So you are saying that a multi-million dollar enterprise (UNC football) being investigated by its governing authority (the NCAA) is not of sufficient local interest to warrant news coverage by a local newspaper that serves a large number of the alumni and fans of the school?

    Who are you kidding, that is, besides yourself here?

    I think everyone needs to let the NCAA conclude its investigation before people start jumping to conclusions.

    Here, you may well be right, however, as an adult, I am fully aware that’s not how life actually works, whether it be an NCAA or a murder investigation.

  4. ARare permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:53 pm

    Nicely done article. 21 years is a long to hold a grudge, but the N&O keeps the scab fresh when they drop the ball like they are doing now. National reporters are developing plenty of sources for this story, but the N&O can’t? Not likely.

  5. July 19, 2010 4:26 pm

    Excellent work, James.

    Crystal, Crystal, Crystal. Please back away from the keyboard. How can you say that the N&O will be there to report when there is news if they in fact were not there when there was said news to report? Being investigated is news, plain and simple. The fact that this went uncovered is laughable and only feeds fuel to the N&O Bias Theory.

    • July 19, 2010 4:35 pm

      Mike,

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s like getting the band back together!

      If I can clarify something: The N&O did, in fact, run a story in Friday’s paper. If I remember correctly, it ran above-the-fold, in a sidebar on the right-hand side. So the N&O hasn’t completely ignored it…they just haven’t done enough to cover it. Given they ran a story on Friday and nothing since (was there anything in today’s paper?), I wouldn’t say it’s been UNcovered, but rather UNDERcovered.

      • Alpha Wolf permalink
        July 19, 2010 4:49 pm

        That’s exactly right, J. Curle, it is an under-reported story.

        The bottom line to me in this whole saga is that it is becoming apparent that N&O is no longer a reliable source to get to the bottom of some items that are of high local interest. I say reliable, because once upon a time, they would be driving coverage, not quoting guys like Joe Schad and reprinting press releases from the UNC Athletic Department.

        Capitol Broadcasting’s web presence is increasingly relegating the printed version of the N&O as out of date the moment it hits the doorstep, that after CBC long ago more or less killed the online properties that the N&O was once an industry leader in.

        Moreover, from a print standpoint, the real action locally is the Triangle Business Journal, as we saw in the recent AD saga. It was TBJ and not the N&O that reported that story first and most in-depth in the traditional media.

        The idea of not blaming on malfeasance things more easily explained by incompetence comes to mind here. That may indeed be what’s really happening over at the N&O.

  6. July 19, 2010 5:01 pm

    Keep in mind I am relying on you guys to actually read the paper. I don’t visit the site or get it delivered (that would be one hell of an arm on the paperboy!), so I have no clue what is or is not reported. When I heard it was not hit on in yesterday’s paper I was shocked. This story is HUGE.

  7. Brian permalink
    July 19, 2010 6:07 pm

    I wonder if the N&O will actually report on the pending Austin suspension in tomorrow’s morning edition?

  8. Crystal Correia permalink
    July 19, 2010 7:35 pm

    Being a Carolina fan myself, I too am very intersted in not only the outcome of the investigation but daily/weekly updates as well. It would be nice if the N&O was able to give us more insight into what is going on but unlike others I am more interested in facts. This is and/or can be very serious and I want to be kept up-to-date as to how it is being handled, however it seems as though there are too many “State” fans looking for an “eye-for-an-eye”, as it was put earlier. Regardless of which team the investigation is being done to, it is still an important topic in the NCAA news. I don’t think the N&O should “go after” UNC as they did in 1989 with State but I agree they should be doing investigative work to fill us in on what is going on.

  9. Rick permalink
    July 20, 2010 12:58 am

    Spoken like a true Carolina fan, but like already pointed out by others the N&O has always been friendly towards UNC. What is even worse is that as much as ESPN loves to lift up UNC in anything they do they are not holding back any information. I think it is pretty lame for a news paper just to go on what was given to them even more so the source they are getting it from is directly related to the organization that is being investigated. Wow I just wonder what UNC teaches their journalism students and do they all get interns at the N&O?

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