An anniversary got past me last week. May 1 marked my sixth year as editor of the Times-News. I know it’s not one of the 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 kind of benchmarks, but in the newspaper business in this day an age we take what we can get.
So I’m thankful for every year they let me stay here.
That doesn’t mean my time back here in Burlington has been a path strewn with rose petals and glasses of champagne. The truth is, I returned in 2007 for a variety of reasons. One was to be closer to my parents, especially with my dad in failing health. I missed the Piedmont weather and four distinct seasons, which beat the heck out of the brutal humidity and nearly nonstop summers on the coast. And I left the Times-News under an angry cloud in 1992 and I wanted another chance to square the account.
I’ve not regretted it so far.
But it’s been an eventful six years, to say the least.
We did, indeed, lose my dad in 2008 after years of battling heart and lung problems, he eventually succumbed to kidney failure. I was able to see him a little more in his last year than I had the previous five or six combined.
A year later we lost my grandmother at age 95.
We lost my father-in-law to prostate cancer in 2011.
When I arrived at the Times-News on May 1, 2007, we had 28 staffers and a fleet of part-timers. Today we have 23 staffers and a handful of independent contractors who help out in sports.
When I arrived, Steve Buckley was the publisher who hired me.
Today, Paul Mauney is the publisher who puts up with me.
Our newspaper’s owners when I arrived, Freedom, fell into bankruptcy, emerged from bankruptcy, and was sold piece by piece.
Our newspaper’s new owners, Halifax, grew from one newspaper in January of 2012 to 34 newspapers now.
We’ve redesigned our website about a half-dozen times. My least favorite incarnation is the one now.
We lost advertising director Zac Creech to a unknown heart condition, in his 40s, in 2007.
Frances Woody lost son Andy to an unknown heart condition, in his 40s, in 2011.
Frances Woody lost husband Tom to esophageal cancer in 2012.
We lost reporter Mike Wilder to a breathtakingly short bout with cancer in 2013.
Our copydesk has completely turned over in the last six years. Current staffers there, R.J. Beatty and Lyndsey Hicks have helped turn around the appearance of our newspaper, with help from Linda Bowden.
My spouse, the lovely and talented Roselee Papandrea, took a job with the Times-News, won a slew of awards, then left to work for Elon.
Thankfully, we’ve had great longtime stalwarts who are the heart of what we do and continue to be.
I’m talking about Frances Woody, Jay Ashley, Brent Lancaster, Bob Sutton, Linda Bowden, Sam Roberts, Charity Apple Pierce, Adam Smith, Joe Jurney and Brian Rose.
Bob Sutton continues to be the hardest-working sports editor I’ve ever been around. He almost never looks for reasons not to do a story, but finds ways to make stories happen instead. Rare.
We’ve bulked up our intern program, with big help from Elon’s stellar School of Communications. There is almost never a time when an Elon student isn’t on our staff. We are the richer for this.
Two of them, photographer Scott Muthersbaugh and reporter Natalie Allison, are now on our full-time staff.
Reporter Molly McGowan wasn’t an intern, but she’s an Elon grad on our staff as is Conor O’Neill in sports.
I had the good fortune to bring back my longtime friend Steve Huffman, as a reporter. He knows more about writing stories about Burlington than I’ll ever figure out.
We’ve been fortunate when it comes to winning awards from the North Carolina Press Association.
We’ve done well in appearance and design, news section design and public service. In fact, we’ve captured something in public service nearly every year I’ve been here. That makes me very proud.
Michael Abernethy writes about courts like nobody’s business. It’s still the one thing we can cover in our newspaper that people can’t get much of anyplace else.
And Michael won an NCPA award for investigative reporting this year, the first one of those here in many years.
We have more than quintupled our online audience at www.thetimesnews.com. In fact, I can’t even figure out a word that accurately describes our online growth since 2007. Say this, when I got here the site got about 30,000 page views a week. Today it gets more than 500,000.
We have moved into social media with presences on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Pinterest.
I’m still learning the hard way about all the trap doors that come on that landscape. Social media is fun, immediate, even a little exciting – but there’s a lot of black ice to navigate and online wrecks are only one of the consequences.
We are continuing to dedicate ourselves to mainly local news, but readers still want their national stories as well.
Did I mention that I miss the lovely and talented Roselee Papandrea on our staff?
Readers, for the most part, have accepted the changes we’ve had to make as a result of budget cutbacks. Most seem to appreciate my explanations when it comes to things we do, things we foul up or things we flat missed out on.
Do we cover everything we should be? Far from it. But our average is not too bad, and improving.
I wish there was some way out of doing the editorial page every day. It’s for ideologues that have big visions and opinions.
As I was just telling county commissioner Tim Sutton earlier today, perhaps the worst thing I can say about myself these days is that I’ve been in newspapers so long I no longer have much of an opinion on anything.
But I still like reporting news.
And what’s ahead? Well, I know that in a few more months we’ll be charging people to call up stories on our website. Not sure exactly what the format will be, but I certainly plan to keep readers here posted as the date draws closer. That’s been my habit up to now and I don’t plan to change.
Hope to see you all in six more years.