Media Musings: the Neuse News


By R.L. Bynum

Kinston website fills void with its prep coverage

Many longtime journalists complain about the state of the newspaper business. They either grudgingly hang in there and hope for the best or are so disillusioned that they leave journalism completely.

And then there are folks such as Bryan Hanks, who don’t fall into either category.

Tired of dwindling resources as editor of the Kinston Free Press, he had enough. After a short time out of journalism, he’s serving the same Lenoir County area as editor of an innovative online news outlet called Neuse News, which two-term former Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy launched in June.

“The main reason I left was because, for a department that had already been severely cut, I was being asked to make more cuts,” Hanks said. “So, I decided to fall on the sword. It’s the best decision I’ve made.

“It hurt, because if you cut me, I bleed ink,” he said. “It hurt my heart to do it. But the freedom I have now working for B.J. has been the most freeing thing I have ever done in my journalism career.”

Hanks saw many changes at the Free Press after he started there as in 2002 as sports editor. He became managing editor in 2008 and ascended to editor in 2012 before leaving in 2016. In June 2012, GateHouse bought numerous North Carolina papers, including the Free Press, and that led to numerous cuts.

“I miss the smell of newsprint,” Hanks said. “I miss the thrill of picking up a paper every day and seeing my name in it. But, much like ice delivery, it’s a sign of the times. I really think newspapers will be completely gone within 10 years. Everything is going to be content-driven to the internet. We’re getting a head-start on it. I’ve not seen anybody else do it — not at the micro-level like what we’ve done — anywhere.”

A Free Press staff that was at 22 when Hanks joined the newspaper is down only a few, and its only sports writer, Kai Jones, left late last month to become sports editor of the Johnstonian News and to write for the Wilson Times.

“The editor lives in New Bern,” Hanks said. “The publisher lives in Wilmington. Their main reporter lives in New Bern. The photographer lives in Kinston.”

As of Monday, no local sports stories have appeared on the Free Press website since Jones left.

“The cool thing: There are no corporate people looking over us now because everything is based in Kinston,” Hanks said of Neuse News. “Everybody who works at Neuse News lives in Kinston and Lenoir County. You can’t say that for the local paper.”

Neuse News covers the same wide range of topics you would expect from most newspapers. Unlike some newspapers these days, though, sports coverage includes extensive reporting on high school sports and minor-league baseball.

The site’s sports focus doesn’t go much beyond high schools, Lenoir Community College and the Down East Wood Ducks (a Class A Carolina League team). The site’s coverage area is Lenoir, Greene and Jones counties as well as the Grifton area of Pitt County. But they don’t cover East Carolina athletics or anything else that you could easily read about via a wire service story.

Part of what makes the Neuse News model work is that Murphy, the publisher, is the only full-time employee. He sells all the ads and does all the publishing for the site. That eliminates a lot of overhead costs, in addition to not having to worry about printing.

“He was frustrated with what the newspaper was doing,” Hanks said of Murphy. “He talked to me, we were friends and we would talk about stuff. At the time, I was trying to develop I still own it. We took some ideas I had with that and we took a lot of the ideas that he had and just merged them together and got some names and faces that people are familiar with and a lot of them are former Free Press staffers. They’re now working for us.”

Staffers obviously have other jobs. As for Hanks, he also does public information work for Lenoir and Jones counties, is the PA announcer for the Wood Ducks, and is the media director for the John Wall Holiday Invitational, in addition to doing some internet consulting.

“If it happens in Lenoir County, we’re going to do our best to be there,” Hanks said. “What we try to do with Neuse News is fill the void of local content, local information that a local newspaper gave up trying to disseminate two years ago. We’ve had not much trouble getting advertisers. People are hungry for local content. They’re starving for local content.”

There are ads on the Neuse News site. But you won’t find any wire stories or pop-up ads.

“I have observed what Nick Stevens and have done, and I’m trying to do at a micro level what they’re doing spread out over their portion of the Triangle area,” Hanks said.

In addition to covering news stories, Hanks writes about sports, as does former Free Press sports editor Junious Smith III — who Hanks calls the best sports editor the paper ever had — and others, including Scott Cole and longtime Free Press correspondent Keith Spence. Bud Hardy is the site’s photographer.

After leaving the Free Press, Smith wrote sports for his own site, The Flourish Post. Neuse News bought his site and Smith joined the venture in June.

“The transition from a newspaper to an online publication wasn’t too difficult, mainly because of the supportive staff,” Smith, the Free Press sports editor from July 2015 through November 2017, said via email. “There are additional pieces attached, such as focus toward video interviews and radio broadcasts, but the core values of writing informative stories remain intact.”

TV reporting star in NC9 story has sports background

Although he isn’t in the Triangle market, you may have heard that Joe Bruno, a television reporter for WSOC in Charlotte, was one of the first to do a lot “shoe-leather” reporting that helped uncover the irregularities in the Congressional election in N.C. District 9. He continues to do good reporting on the story.

Bruno, whose role was documented in a story in The Washington Post, doesn’t report sports but he has a sports background from his time at Elon University.

He was a team manager for the Phoenix’s men’s basketball team during the 2011–12 season and was the public-address announcer for two seasons for Elon’s baseball, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball teams.

Given the work he’s done since Election Day, he’s probably making a bigger difference than he could have made if he decided to report about sports.

From the SEC championship game to….hockey in Fayetteville?

Eli Gold has been the radio voice of Alabama since 1988, so, of course, he was on the call Dec. 1 for the Tide’s victory in Atlanta over Georgia in the SEC championship game.

One week later, on Saturday night and Sunday, he was in Fayetteville, NC (no, not Arkansas for a game against the Razorbacks) to call the Birmingham Bulls’ Southern Professional Hockey League games against the Fayetteville Marksmen.

Gold, who also broadcast NASCAR races from 1976 to 2016, has called Birmingham Bulls games as far back as 1977, when it was a World Hockey Association team. He’s in his second season doing the games for the SPHL version of the Bulls.

McClatchy design hub in Charlotte expands

In a move announced Friday, The McClatchy Company is closing one of its three design hubs, News Desk West in Sacramento, Calif., and shifting that work to the Charlotte hub.

The Charlotte hub is changing names from News Desk East to the McClatchy Publishing Center. The Central News Desk in Kansas City will remain as a satellite office for the Charlotte hub.

The changes were made to streamline the production process and reduce costs, according to a memo.

Employees of News Desk West can accept an offer to work for the Charlotte hub or can volunteer for a separation package. Those employees have until Dec. 21 to decide, and the transition is expected to be completed by the end of May. None of them will be required to relocate and they would work from home.

The Charlotte hub has gradually added work from every McClatchy paper — except for The Miami Herald and its Spanish publication, El Nuevo — in the past few months, so the consolidation is logical. It means the Charlotte hub serves 27 newspapers, including The N&O and The Herald-Sun.

Staff bylines appear on N&O/H-S game stories for games it doesn’t staff

For years, the norm for most newspapers was to never place a byline on a game story unless the writer was at the game.

That hasn’t been the policy for the consolidated News & Observer/Herald-Sun sports staff this year. It’s not unethical in any way but it could potentially be misleading.

It began with some Durham Bulls’ playoff games and has continued Carolina Hurricanes’ road games, with beat writer Chip Alexander writing game stories for games he doesn’t attend.

Sports Editor Steve Ruinsky said via email that it has nothing to do with the fact that The Athletic’s Sara Civian is at nearly every Canes road game.

“Chip has sometimes done recaps on road games to supplement wire coverage,” Ruinsky said via email last month. “This has nothing to do with The Athletic, and we are moving away from doing this for a variety of reasons. We are probably not going to continue doing those recaps. They are time-consuming and probably not that helpful to readers.”

Those Canes stories do include insights since he’s the beat writer and has in-depth knowledge of the team. Thanks to technology, they also usually also include quotes.

But these sorts of stories may mislead some readers into thinking that Alexander was at the game. The only hint that he wasn’t there is that there is no dateline. Ultimately, it probably wouldn’t be an issue with most readers.

Alexander has covered at least one road game recently: N.C. State’s men’s basketball game at Wisconsin.

Newspaper women’s basketball coverage lacking

N.C. State is ranked in the top 10 in AP women’s basketball poll and is tied for the second-best start in program history. But it gets as much coverage in The N&O and H-S as unranked Duke and North Carolina: Scores in the ACC standings and an occasional box score unless bad weather postpones games.

The sport evidently doesn’t elicit enough page views to merit coverage. Sports that meet the threshold, such as men’s basketball and football, get excellent coverage from the consolidated sports staff, with writers traveling to Hawaii to cover Duke, Las Vegas and Michigan to cover UNC and to Wisconsin and Miami to cover N.C. State.

This is the second season since The N&O and The Herald-Sun combined their sports staffs. Before that, The H-S generally covered every Duke and UNC home women’s basketball game.

Although the decision has been made to not devote resources to it, the newspaper has an AP story available for every Wolfpack game since it is ranked so high. Part of an AP story ran in the print edition with two paragraphs on the Wolfpack’s 76-65 Saturday victory over Georgetown.

North Carolina-related sports stories of note

In The Athletic, David Glenn traced the ACC’s progression from a league that didn’t have a top-10 team in the entire decade of the 1960s and was only known for basketball, to a strong one that plays for national titles. He details the transformation and how — partly thanks to a Supreme Court ruling — most of its revenue now comes from football.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press writes about how former UNC star Reggie Bullock — now with the Detroit Pistons — struggled with anger after the murder of his transgender sister and now celebrates the LGBTQ community.

On, Tom Gulitti wrote about the fun and the victories that have come with the Carolina Hurricanes’ rebuilding efforts.

In The Athletic, Sara Civian (before the Canes’ 4-1 victory Friday at Anaheim) analyzed how the Canes could possibly taking shots at a historically high rate yet struggle to score goals. It’s easy to overthink it.

Last week, highly sought recruit Vernon Carey — like Jabari Parker and virtually every other player who had the same choice — picked Duke over Michigan State (and UNC). Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press explored why Mike Krzyzewski wins these battles over Tom Izzo.

In The N&O and H-S, Ron Morris remembered former Durham Bulls manager “Dirty Al” Gallagher.