Ted Vaden, the public editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, writes this week about the glorious benefits readers should expect from the new-found cooperation between the McClatchy newsrooms in Charlotte and Raleigh. According to my old friend, this cooperation will yield better stories, more complete coverage and more 'forward-looking' news.
The longtime rivals for Tar Heel newspaper dominance became kissing cousins on June 27 upon the formal acquisition of Knight-Ridder Inc., The Observer's parent, by The McClatchy Co., owner of The N&O. That purchase created a newspaper chain of 32 daily papers, second largest in the United States. But nowhere does it have a greater impact than in North Carolina, the only state where the new chain owns the two largest newspapers.
Vaden says the change is having visible effects on the N&O in two ways: more North Carolina stories from The Charlotte Observer and more world and national reporting from McClatchy's Washington Bureau.
The number of stories in The N&O with Charlotte Observer credit lines has increased from one in June, before merger, to nine in July and 38 through Aug. 15. Topics have ranged from efforts to buy Chimney Rock for a state park to a South Carolina preacher bitten by a rattlesnake.
The biggest impact has been in sports. This month, The N&O has picked up from The Observer 14 stories about the Carolina Panthers and eight about NASCAR.
Oh boy, better sports coverage! Now there's a good reason to eliminate competition among the two biggest
watchdogs corporate mediabots in North Carolina. But at least Ted's telling the truth. Just look at the N&O blogs and you'll discover that few people cares enough about their real news to even bother commenting. It's sports, sports, sports, 24/7. Gotta love that testosterone.
An area to watch is the future relationship of the two papers' separate state government staffs in Raleigh. Editors at both papers promise their traditional competition will continue, but details haven't been worked out. "Our Raleigh reporters are still competitive with their Raleigh reporters," said John Drescher, The N&O's managing editor. "We are still in discussions with them about how some things will play out."
Cheryl Carpenter, The Observer's managing editor, said the competition could cause conflict: "There will be moments when we both want the same story and we'll be stepping on each other's toes," she said. But the competition, she said, will be good for readers.
This is where I worry most, Because when it comes to fulfilling the traditional watchdog function, the collapse of media competition has the potential to be devastating. This is especially true when the first and last response of an organizational screw-up is a defensive one. That happened when Robin Hayes' staff lied about the Congressman's 4th of July non-meeting with George Bush. The N&O missed the real story, Andy-Under-the-Dome-Curliss claimed fair-and-balanced reporting, and Ted never covered the question. Unless I missed something.
I scan both papers every day and plan to look for evidence that 1+1 = 3. So far, however, I'd say the fuzzy math is moving in the wrong direction.
PS For the record, I was a 20-year subscriber to the N&O before I cancelled my subscription because of the paper's miserable editorials. I've generally found the news side of the house to be pretty solid, but not good enough to pay to support their weak-kneed opinion pages.