Bidding Don Patterson adieu

TV promotes itself and its people so much better than newspapers. You can watch WFMY anchor Frank Mickens sing the National Anthem. You can help celebrate WGHP reporter Chad Tucker’s marriage. News? Not on your life, but TV is about personality as much as it is about news, and they know how to sell personality.

So, I’ll take a moment to recognize Donald W. Patterson, who has been a reporter for the News & Record since, like, the Civil War. Don announced his iimpending retirement yesterday. I’m guessing 7,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of times his byline has appeared in the paper, usually on the front page, including this morning.

As soon as I heard the news yesterday, I posted it on Facebook. So far, it has been “liked” by 37 people, near and far. (Sorry, Jeff, if I was the one who spoiled your announcement later, but you should know that newspaper news travels fast in Greensboro.)

Don is a good man. Oh, we would fight over the length of his stories and how long it took him to write them. I once banned him from writing history pieces and stories about gas prices, which lasted about two months. He would lecture me on journalism and I’d lecture him back. For the 27 years I was at the paper, he had one cardinal request: Let reporters work on the very best stories and put them in the paper. It was something I tried to do, although I never acknowledged to Don.

In my mind, he rivals Jim Schlosser among the longtime N&R reporters who had a true impact on the paper and the community. He has a style and personality that is recognizable in the paper and in the newsroom. When he leaves on July 3, he’ll be happy and the readers will miss him.

My guess is that Jeri Rowe will write a column about him. Maybe Jeff will, too. His departure is one in which the readers should be allowed to celebrate and say goodbye.

Godspeed, Mark Binker

Mark Binker, one of the best political reporters in the state, is leaving the News & Record after 12 years to join WRAL in Raleigh. He joins Laura Leslie to give WRAL one helluva capital reporting team. Mark will be a multimedia investigative reporter there.

Fiona Morgan and I were speaking to Andy Bechtel ‘s Advanced Editing class at UNC a few weeks ago, and we started talking about state government coverage. “Mark Binker is a rock star,” Andy or Fiona said. Maybe it was both of them.

Mark is a truth-telling rabble rouser. He doesn’t care if he’s talking to the governor, the senator or his editor. He’s going to ask the questions he wants to ask and point out the inconsistencies and contradictions until he gets what he wants. I know; I’ve been on the receiving end. He’s exactly the kind of journalist every reporter should aspire to be.


Guy Munger, RIP

Guy Munger was my friend. Even though we hadn’t spoken in 25 years, I’m sure he considered me his friend, too. That’s the kind of guy he was. He died on Valentine’s Day, and his funeral was today in Raleigh.

We worked together at the News & Observer. I was a reporter; he was the book editor and, I think, the Commentary section editor. He was one of the first people I met there and certainly among the nicest. (He also worked as a reporter for the Greensboro Daily News in the 50’s, well before I landed at the News & Record.) I wrote several Tar Heels of the Week for Guy. He was a precise, careful, loving editor. His assignments to me were inspired, and he nurtured my progress every step of the way. Truth be told, that wasn’t that common in those days.

He was a good man in a tough business.

RIP Bill Snider

I didn’t know Bill Snider well, even though I spoke with him dozens of times over the years. He had left the paper — he had been editor and editorial page editor of the Daily News — before I came, but he maintained a relationship with many of us there because he loved the paper, he loved journalism and he loved Greensboro.

Our conversations centered around journalism and politics and Greensboro, and rarely entered personal territory, although my sense was that with Bill, what you saw is what you got. He was a natural, a Southerner with all the courtesy, the grace, the wisdom and the language that term imparts.

He has many legacies. His insightful books. His powerful editorials over the years. His great hires — Jonathan Yardley, Rosemary Roberts, Tony Snow, Ed Yoder, John Alexander — among them. Me, I will remember his kindness and counsel to a young editorial page editor and, later, editor. I’ll miss that.

Allen Johnson writes about him, too.

Walter Robinson, artist

This is my brother, Walter, from a longish profile in the New York Observer.

In larger cultural circles, Mr. Robinson may not be a household name but in New York’s art circles there is, in a way, no one who is more ubiquitous or whose life better reflects the exigencies of the New York art world over the past 40 years.

“He is one of the most underrated, unknown, undervalued artists of the late 20th century,” Barry Blinderman, director of Illinois  State University’s galleries.

Dude’s famous, and I knew him when.

P.S. Back in 2007, I was interviewed for an article in Art in America about the decline of visual art reviews in newspapers. Reader angered ensued. You can kind of see that attitude is in our genes.

Knowing your elected official

A reporter friend writes: Nothing like waking up to an email sent at 2 a.m. from an elected official who is so angry about my reporting of a fact that he states at least five times in an email sent from his government email address that he isn’t talking to me anymore and then includes quite a few adjectives to describe me.

Every news reporter worth a damn has gotten an email or a phone call or, sometimes, a face-to-face dressing anger-filled dressing down from a government official. Sometimes they are laced with profanity. I got them as a reporter and as an editor. When you write about issues they don’t want you to write about or fashion the issues in a way that bothers them, then you’re open.

Most journalists think it’s part of the job, listen, respond and then forget about it (assuming they didn’t make any mistakes). I know that’s what I did.

But what if you reported on the outburst? What if you let the taxpayers know a facet of the official’s personality that they probably rarely see? Or, posing the question more like an independent journalist, why wouldn’t you? Ah, the transparency of it all.

It’s hard to say the conversation is private, unless the official requested an off-the-record conversation, which isn’t usually the case. Besides, coming from a government email address, it’s a public record. Would reporting it ruin the person as a source? Maybe, but, really, who cares, especially if he’s promised not to talk to you again. Does it make the reporter appear as if he or she is at the center of the news, rather than an outside looking in? Perhaps, but again, so what? It’s about him, not you.

As everyone discusses and dissects the issue of whether a journalist should be a truth vigilante, I say publish the email in paper, online or on the air. Maybe the crowd at a South Carolina debate will applaud the public official, but again, so what? It reveals the character of someone elected to represent the people. They deserve to know.

Update: Shannan Bowen, reporter with the Wilmington Star-News, decided to write about it. She includes the email the official sent, complete with misspellings, grammatical convolutions, straight-out denials of information clearly in the public record and angry attacks.

Well done, Shannan and Star-News.

Learning from obituaries

Ann McIver passed away on Tuesday. Her obituary takes up nearly a column in today’s News & Record.

Bettye McKee died on Monday. Her obituary is almost as long.

I’ve lived in Greensboro for 27 years, and I have never heard of either woman. That troubles me because the paper — for many years under my watch — should have written about them. Perhaps it did write in the years before I moved to Greensboro in 1985. I hope so. McIver was president of the Junior League and was active in helping the city understand the importance of the civil rights movement. McKee was a teacher, most recently at Allen Jay Middle.

Still, it is not just these two women or just today. Almost every day the News & Record — and presumably every newspaper — has obituaries of people that their families think enough of to spend the money to write inches and inches of tribute. They are people who made a mark on the world and this community in their own special way. They have stories. They should be in the paper before their obituaries.

Many newspapers are realizing the importance of more intensely local content. But with staffs being cut, there are fewer opportunities to get the stories of interesting people before the eyes of readers. It is an opportunity that I wish I had seized when I had the power to make it happen. It’s still an opportunity for papers.

Does the newspaper drive web traffic?

Go Triad, the News & Record’s weekly entertainment magazine, has a cover story today titled “Top Tweets: Four Triad tweeters you should follow.” I wondered whether the four got a bump in followers as a result of the story.

They did, but it was nothing to write home about. The report from the four:

Jermaine Exum, manager of Acme Comics and who tweets mostly about comics, had seven new followers by noon. Eight is usual in a week. He said retweets drive new followers. One of his tweets today was RT’d by the Henson Company. He then got 10 new followers in 10 minutes.

Danielle Hatfield, a PR and social media expert, got 17 new followers by dinnertime. She averages five to eight new followers per day. “I think as more people read online & share – awareness could last weeks.”

Nikki Miller-Ka, who tweets about food, had 15 new followers, when she normally has just 2 or 3 a week.

Kit Rodenbough, owner of a shop downtown, only had 3, but at about 1 p.m., she noted that “the day is young.”

Here are possible interpretations those results:

1. The readers of the newspaper who are on Twitter already subscribe to those four. Unlikely.

2. Newspaper readers aren’t big Twitterers. Probably.

3. Their issues — comics, food, social media — aren’t so broad that “everyone” wants to sign up. Oprah and Ashton Kucher they aren’t, and I mean that as a positive.

4. People don’t follow the bread crumbs that newspaper stories leave leading to online sites. Most likely.

When I was at the paper, we never saw conclusive evidence that newspaper readers followed online promos from the paper. At least, directly. We often saw conclusive evidence that they did NOT. Don’t be surprised. Think about the number of online denizens who pick up a newspaper to read an article that they can’t get online.

In no way does that suggest that the story was a waste. If papers made editorial decisions based on how many people would act on it, they would hardly cover primary elections. I advocate journalism that exposes readers to something new. Readers don’t need to follow the link to learn about what 100 million people are members of.

Danielle says the viral nature of the web will come into play over the next several days. “Most who use twitter will read the article online and share web article over the next few days or so vs. purchasing paper.”

I think she’s right, but even if she’s not, the story introduced readers to four interesting people doing interesting things. Not bad.

*** Full disclosure: I know Danielle and Nikki personally. Nikki reported to me at the paper for a time. I also follow the article’s writer, Jennifer Bringle,on Twitter.

Friday update: It appears that scientific research bears Danielle out. The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field.

Madison Taylor, blogging editor

I live in Winston-Salem. I have the Winston-Salem Journal delivered every morning.  But I don’t feel like I know anyone there.  The paper doesn’t have a “voice”,  at least not one that I can hear.  The closest thing to its voice is the editor’s column in the op-ed section.

In fairness to the Journal I think that the “voice” issue is the same for the vast majority of newspapers.  But unfortunately for the Journal they happen to be juxtaposed with the Greensboro News & Record. The N&R is making national (maybe even international) headlines, at least in the publishing sector and the nascent blogosphere, because it is embracing the newest in publishing paradigms: the blog….

Anyway, it would probably pain the editor at the Journal (I have no idea what his/her name is) to know that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with the editor of the Greensboro News & Record (Hi John!).  If I happen across a hot story or issue, who do you think I’m going to ping with it?

Jon Lowder wrote that on his blog in January 2005. We had never met, but he felt he knew me because he read my blog, and I his.

For me, now, that role is filled by Madison Taylor, editor of the Times-News in Burlington. I don’t get that paper, and have never met Taylor. But I read his blog and am a friend of his on Facebook. He writes about the paper, about visiting politicos, about Times-News alums, and about issues in Alamance County and N.C. I feel like I know him and feel affiliated with the paper. He does a tremendous job demystifying the paper and connecting with people. Plus, he’s engaging and funny — perfect for social media.

North Carolina has a number of blogging editors, but too many of them post infrequently or only promote the paper. If you have favorite editors in the state who blog or are on Facebook or Twitter, let me know. I’d like to follow them.