A photo from the Lee Barnes collection taken in 1985 of some newsroom staff members at the Times-News. From Left, Russ Robinson, Frances Woody, Kelvin Hart, Jim Wicker, Laura Ferguson, Craig Shaffer, Pat Cathey Jo Craven, Mark Kemp, Lee Barnes and Barry Smith.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about former reporters, editors and photographers for the Times-News. There is no doubt that over the years a lot of talented people have passed through here. I was lucky enough to work with some from 1984 to 1992 and 2007 to now — very lucky indeed.
Quite a few have made a pretty good mark in journalism. People can find Times-News alums at metro newspapers from Florida to New York. They can or could be traced to Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta, Norfolk, the Washington Post and New York Times. One worked for Rolling Stone then MTV. Another works for CNN. One covered the O.J. Simpson trial while working for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Another used to cover the New York Yankees for the Newark Star-Ledger. Doug Norwood, the son of Essie Norwood who was lifestyles editor here for about 30 years until around 1983, is at the Washington Post.
Great writers, reporters and artists — every single one of them. Excellent people, too.
But perhaps none is more decorated than Jo Craven McGinty. Jo, after all, has been part of not one but two Pulitzer-prize-winning teams since 1999. Not bad for a Randolph County native who graduated from Elon and got her start covering the city of Burlington for the Times-News.
Jo, who now lives in Long Island and works for the New York Times, was honored last week as a Distinguished Alumnus of Elon University — which was Elon College when Jo got her degree. It had a communications program then but it was pretty far from the impressive Communications School there now. In fact, Jo barely recognized Elon when her GPS ordered her to take the unfamiliar University Drive and enter the campus by the back route when she arrived on Thursday from New York.
“I thought, what’s going on here?” she told me later when she dropped by the Times-News office for a quick visit. It wasn’t exactly the same as she left it either when she took a job with the Durham Sun around 1986-87 or so.
I was already a sports writer at the Times-News when Jo was hired by Lee Barnes in the spring of 1985. They gave her a desk in front of the sports department, where cigarette smoke and loud borderline obscene noises I’m sure were a distraction. She set in to covering City Hall and moved into an apartment complex down Main Street we called “The Dorm” because so many people from our newsroom lived there.
Over the months and years we became friendly but not stay-in-touch-regularly pals. Not long after taking the reporting slot, she moved to lifestyles and wrote features. After she left the Times-News I lost track of her when she moved from Durham. What’s happened, of course, is that she has become one of the top investigative journalists in the field today.
She wound up at the Washington Post, where she got her first piece of a Pulitzer — the highest honor given in journalism, for her work as part of a team — her area of expertise is tracking down information by computer. It’s also what she does now for the New York Times. She works with a squad of reporters to locate the strands that make up a great story. She’s like an online detective –my words, not hers. In 2005, she landed another Pulitzer mention for her part in a series looking at railroad safety. “Death on the Tracks: How Railroads Sidestep Blame” took the top prize for National Reporting.
Great stuff. I’m always proud when I hear about the accomplishments of my former colleagues. It’s like I hope some of it rubbed off on me along the way. Call it a degrees of separation thing.
Anyway, Jo called me on Friday afternoon and asked if she could drop by and look at the old place. I was delighted — even on a Friday — to give her a tour of the Times-News building — which is new to her. The newsroom where she and I worked in the 1980s is where the circulation department is today. One of our circulation managers is in Don Bolden’s old office. The circulation director is in what used to be the sports department.
“It seemed so much larger then,” Jo said when I took her to this particular old haunt. And she’s right. It’s almost like going back to your old elementary school.
We spent about 30 minutes catching up. Her husband — like my own spouse — is a reporter. She has the cutest 8-year-old son. She whipped out her cellphone to show me a photo. She asked about some people from the past. She knows I try to stay in touch with people these days because it’s so easy. Jo’s on Facebook and other social media but she’s not addicted to it. “I’m on a computer all day at work,” she said. I get that completely.
We talked a little about her job and mine. They’re not so different, oddly enough. I told her I wish we had a computer assisted reporting staff. It truly makes a difference when it comes to investigative reporting. The Times is guiding its reporters more toward social media — just as we are here. I got the idea that in some ways we’re nearly even with them on that score — maybe a little ahead.
We made a promise to try and do a better job of staying in touch. I hope we can make it happen. Nothing beats old friends. Before I gave her a big hug and put her on the road to Randolph County, I had my spouse get a photo of the two of us in the old newsroom. It really did seem so much larger then.