R.L.’s Media Musings: “The Team I Now Cover”–N&O shuffles beat writers


Editor’s note: New contributor R.L. will write regularly about media topics of interest to the sports fans of NC. He’ll also contribute to our coverage of UNC hoops. And if I know him well, he’ll probably write some stuff about running (he’s closing in on 50 career marathons). R.L. spent 27 years as a newspaper copy editor and has been a sportswriter as well. If you have tips or suggestions, hit him on twitter @RL_Bynum.

Media Notes

by R.L. Bynum

Get used to beat shuffles on N&O/Herald-Sun sports staff

As the writers on the consolidated News & Observer/Herald-Sun sports staff settle into new ACC beats, they shouldn’t get too comfortable.

N&O Executive Editor John Drescher made the decision to shuffle the beats, and said that he plans to change them every one or two years.

This is a philosophical shift, considering that Joe Giglio (right in top photo) has covered N.C. State men’s basketball since 2009 (football since 2011), Andrew Carter started on the UNC beat in November 2011 and Steve Wiseman (left in top photo) has covered Duke since taking the beat at The Herald-Sun in August 2010.

Drescher says that the positives of putting “fresh eyes” on beats outweigh the negatives of taking reporters off longtime beats where they’ve gained a large amount of institutional knowledge and cultivated sources.

Wiseman will cover N.C. State, Giglio is shifting to the North Carolina beat and Jonathan Alexander will write about Duke. Jonas Pope IV, who had been on the N.C. Central beat, will take over the recruiting beat.

Alexander, who had been covering recruiting for more than a year, covered all of the Blue Devils’ previous men’s basketball games this season, but did not take the trip to Portland for the PK80 Invitational (a stringer is providing Duke coverage). Carter is leaving the sports department to write about sports topics for the investigations team.

“I think there’s a way to do this so that those three reporters have deep knowledge of all three beats,” Drescher said of Alexander, Giglio and Wiseman. “And so, I’m strongly inclined to do this every year or two and to move them around so that each of the reporters will have deep connections at each of the schools.

“I think we have a Triangle ACC team, and I want them to be able to kind of move fluidly in between the beats and be well-connected to these beats. I think it will work. I think they’ll have sources at all three schools and that will help them,” Drescher said.

He said that having three major schools so close together makes it easier to change the reporters’ beats. At some other newspapers, a switch might require a reporter to move. No moves were required with this shuffling, although Giglio’s drive from his Garner home will longer. Wiseman’s drive from his Cary home actually gets shorter.

“I don’t want Joe to lose those sources, I want him to gain sources at Carolina and then maybe someday at Duke and then have sources at all three places,” Drescher said.

Carter will write about off-the-field/court sports subjects, reporting to Managing Editor Dan Barkin. UNC’s win over Western Carolina was his last football game on the beat. He’ll leave the beat after covering the PK80 Invitational.

“I have a bias for change right now, and there’s a lot of people in new roles,” Drescher said. “Obviously, there are tradeoffs when you do that. But there are some real pros to some fresh eyes and a new approach to how you look at things.”

While it was Drescher’s call to shuffle beats, he said that Sports Editor Steve Ruinsky decided who would go to which beat.

“Andrew’s departure from Carolina kind of created some momentum to do that,” Drescher said. “I guess you could have switched three of them without Andrew doing that. But it was kind of a combination of changes in metro and Andrew moving to a new job.”

Carter had been expected to shift to the investigations team last summer, and The N&O was talking with external candidates for the UNC beat job before football season. A hiring freeze ended that process and Carter stayed on the beat.

Carter isn’t expected to write features but rather write sports enterprise stories with more of a newsy approach. He’ll write about wide range of topics, including the business side of athletic departments, with other possibilities being legal, academic and safety-related stories.

“The intent here is for him to do the digging kind of stories,” Drescher said. “That’s why we’re creating this job and Andrew is just a very talented guy. It will be a new challenge for him but I don’t have any doubt that he’s up for it.

“I think he’s excited about having the time to really go deeper on things and I think he’s eager to learn some new reporting techniques,” Drescher said. “He’ll also be working with our database guy, David Raynor, and so it’s a new challenge for Andrew.”

Could The N&O have hired a reporter from outside of the staff to replace Carter on the UNC beat?

“I don’t know whether I could have done that,” Drescher said. “The hiring situation comes and goes. Things open quickly and close quickly. Right now, we’re not actively seeking to hire from the outside for any job in sports.”

This is the second time in 15 months and third time in five years that The N&O has tapped a young reporter with no experience on a major national beat to cover Duke.

In August 2012, Laura Keeley went from a high school sports reporter for the Tampa Bay Times to covering Duke. In 2016, after earning the United States Basketball Writers Association’s Rising Star Award, she opted to leave for law school at Columbia.

In August 2016, Jessika Morgan moved from sports editor of The Midtown News and the North Raleigh News, two of The N&O’s community papers, to cover the Blue Devils. She lost the beat to Wiseman when the sports staffs consolidated and left The N&O in June.

Jonathan Alexander, new Duke beat writer for the N&O

“I feel good about Jonathan Alexander having this opportunity,” Drescher said. “Obviously, it is difficult these days to get hiring approval. But we had a young guy who’s done really good work for us, so I felt good about him moving into that Duke beat.”

The timing of the changes, which officially take effect Dec. 1, has made for awkward transitions. Wiseman has still covered Duke football while writing about Wolfpack men’s basketball. Columnist Luke DeCock is covering State at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Giglio has been able to stick to Wolfpack football, although he attended UNC’s men’s basketball media day in October. He is expected to cover State football through its bowl game but will also take over the UNC basketball beat beginning with the Nov. 29 home game with Michigan.

“The timing was not ideal, but we were managing a lot of change at once and I wanted to get it right both on the news side and the sports side,” said Drescher, who has been implementing major reorganization of the newsroom since the Raleigh and Durham newspapers launched The McClatchy Company’s reinvention initiative last summer.

“I had really focused that effort on news, and it was just a matter of managing a lot of change at once, so basically I managed the changes in the news side and then turned to sports,” he said. “And by the time I got there, we were already into mid-August. It took six weeks to kind of work through the changes we wanted to make in sports and, by that time, we were already into college football. So, we just decided to make the changes at the end of football or right around Dec. 1.”

While Carter and Alexander are both apparently happy with their new roles, word is that neither Wiseman or Giglio were excited about their changes.

During N.C. State’s home game against Bryant, which was being played at the same time Duke faced Michigan State in the Champions Classic, Wiseman sent out a tweet referring to N.C. State as “the team I now cover.” Several Wolfpack fans interpreted this as Wiseman viewing the Wolfpack beat as a demotion and let him know as much in the replies.

“Overall, I think there was some kind of initial, maybe, shock at the amount of change, although I have to say there was a lot of change going on in the rest of the newsroom too that was equally as dramatic … maybe more dramatic, in some ways,” said Drescher of the many newsroom changes last summer. “I think, overall, everybody’s been really good. I think there’s always some reluctance to give up the beat where you developed a lot of sources.”

When Alexander was on the recruiting beat, he also supplemented ACC men’s basketball and football coverage. Pope also will cover more than just recruiting.

“He’ll still do some Central and he’ll also do recruiting,” Drescher said. “We ask a lot of our reporters here to do more than one beat and that’s true across the room now.”

That includes Carolina Hurricanes beat writer Chip Alexander, who can spend as much as half his time (or more) on ACC or golf coverage on a given week.

Women’s basketball coverage will fall off dramatically, particularly for Herald-Sun readers. Traditionally, the UNC and Duke beat writers for the Durham paper covered every home women’s game, and that clearly won’t be happening this season.

“We won’t cover it to the level that The Herald-Sun has historically covered it,” Drescher said.

The consolidated staff doesn’t really write game stories anymore, other than the story that quickly goes on the websites as soon as games end. That’s one reason why writers will staff few women’s games, but non-game coverage of the sport is likely to be limited.

“In general, we are moving away from game coverage and toward enterprise and, over the last couple of months, this has been a big point of emphasis with us with the sports staff,” Drescher said. “I think that makes sense in the media market today where there’s so much information available on many of the games. We get better readership with the stories that are distinctive that nobody else has and makes sense and that’s usually not the game story.”


Bomani Jones’ radio show ends, new TV show delayed

“The Right Time with Bomani Jones” on ESPN Radio will end next month with the final show date uncertain.

Jones will do a yet-to-be-named hour-long midday television show for ESPN with Pablo Torre that was originally scheduled to start Jan. 2 but has been pushed to April. Jones left the ESPN TV program “Highly Questionable” in June. ESPN also announced the launching of several new podcasts, including one hosted by Jones as well as podcasts from talent Katie Nolan (newly acquired from Fox) and the team of Jalen Rose and David Jacoby.

This comes amid reports that ESPN will slash salary costs by $80 million with upcoming layoffs. But Jones, who has been full time at ESPN since 2013, signed a multi-year contract in December 2016.

Jones’ radio career started in the Triangle with “Sports Saturday with Bomani Jones” on WRBZ (850 the Buzz) from January 2008–October 2009.

“The Right Time” debuted in March 2015 as a 9–11 p.m. show, then moved to the 4–7 p.m. drive-time slot in September 2015.

In ESPN Radio’s new lineup starting Jan. 2, “The Stephen A. Smith Show” will air from 1–3 p.m., with “Russillo and Cain” (Ryen Russillo and Will Cain) following from 3–6 p.m., followed by “Spain and Fitz” (Sarah Spain and Jason Fitz.)

“Russillo and Cain” will air locally on WCLY (The Ticket, 95.7 FM, 1550 AM), said Dennis Glasgow, the operations/program director for Capitol Broadcasting Company’s sports radio properties.

Ratings are always a challenge for ESPN Radio morning and afternoon drive time shows since many affiliates have popular local shows at that time. Since CBC has three sports radio stations, Jones’ show aired on WDNC (The Buzz, 96.5 FM, 99.3 FM, 620 AM) against the popular “Adam and Joe” on WCMC (99.9 the Fan). Glasgow said no decision has been reached on what will replace Jones’ show on WDNC.

Midday is the more coveted slot. When Colin Cowherd left ESPN Radio for Fox, Jones hoped to get that mid-day slot. It went instead to “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.”

Jones’ radio producer has been Shannon Penn, who formerly produced “Adam and Joe.” Penn initially produced Jones’ show from Raleigh before moving to Miami. In July, Penn moved to Bristol, Conn.

State titles reported … eventually

When the consolidated News & Observer/Herald-Sun stopped covering high school games, most readers figured game stories on state championships involving area teams would appear in the print editions the next day or that day after that.

I’m sure that there are fans/alums of many area high schools who could tell similar stories. But as a Chapel Hill High School alum, I was excited to hear that the Tigers won their first state boys soccer title in 33 years. There was a story online after the game.

Back in 1983, I’m quite sure there were stories in both The N&O and The Herald-Sun on that championship the next day that players, parents and fans could clip from the print edition and save.

There was nothing to clip in Sunday’s print editions or Monday’s print editions about the Tigers winning the state title last Saturday. If they had won just one year ago, I guarantee that The Herald-Sun would have had a story on the game the next day.

This year, a story with photos didn’t appear in the print editions until Tuesday


NC-related sports stories of note

Carter wrote in The N&O/Herald-Sun about UNC’s shift from Converse to Nike in 1993, after initial hesitation from Dean Smith, and what it has meant for the university’s athletic programs and the national landscape.

Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer wrote about former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth’s release from prison as the son he wanted dead turns 18.

C.L. Brown wrote in The Fieldhouse about UNC forward Luke Maye’s drive to improve and how a Bible on his dashboard and surviving a scary crash during a summer drive remind him to stay humble.

William C. Rhoden wrote in The Undefeated about Hampton University’s decision to leave the MEAC — an HBCU league with two North Carolina schools — for the Big South (which has four N.C. schools).

Ben Roberts of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader looked into why Duke has been getting more of the top-level recruits than Kentucky in recent recruiting cycles.

There were two very contrasting stories about Duke senior Grayson Allen, both in length and subject: One written by him in The Players’ Tribune on, among other topics, why he decided to return for his senior season and a satirical brief in The Onion about his struggles “growing up without any principles.”

Deadspin isn’t the first place you think to visit for thoughtful political pieces, but this article by former Duke Chronicle sports editor Nick Martin gives a great look at politics, labor and farming in North Carolina

Correction: an earlier version of this story said the N&O did not have a state 3-A high school soccer championship story posted online the same day after the match, but a story was posted.