Column by N&O Editor Bill Church: Rethinking Local News


The News & Observer offices on Fayetteville Street, Raleigh.

News & Observers

Our northwestern Raleigh neighborhood includes a winding street resembling a drunken eight, two remote-controlled gates that work when Jupiter aligns with Mars, and a small dog park with a small free library.

It takes about 12 minutes to walk the figure eight – and explains why I can humbly boast about the growth in subscriptions to the neighborhood’s News & Observer since December (which happens to be when we moved in).

If you’re the new couple in a small neighborhood full of retirees, EVERYONE are friendly but curious AND want to visit.

You’re new! Where do you come from? Why are you here? And why don’t you have dogs?

My sweet wife is why subscriptions are high in our now-knowing enclave. She’s thrilled to tell new best friends we moved here because of the triangle and the N&O.

We enjoy life here.

Saturday morning means breakfast at cozy spots like Elmo’s Diner in Durham or Carolina Coffee Shop in Chapel Hill. We are regular customers at the North Carolina State Farmers Market. We’re fascinated by so many places to hike, charmed by the sprawling campuses, and grateful for outdoor gems like the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Reinvent local news

But we came because of The N&O and the company’s commitment to reimagining local news.

Sharif Durhams, former editor-in-chief and now at The Washington Post, explained the commitment a year ago: “We recently asked what you would like to see more of in The N&O and The Herald-Sun. … They ordered everything on the menu.”

The N&O also announced expanded print editions on Sundays and Wednesdays to include explanations on key topics and QR codes for new digital offerings. Another change: A new reporting team focused on explaining our communities and answering important questions.

A year later, everything we promised continues to be delivered.

It took some loyal subscribers time to adjust to the design changes in the Sunday and Wednesday editions. As a new editor, you have questioned my ability to distinguish gum from packaging during these changes.

UNC readers/graduates thought I must have gone to NC state. NC State graduates thought I must have attended UNC. Duke guys thought I couldn’t spell COACHK.

One of the ways we measure audience success is whether someone clicks on a story and decides to subscribe to it. The most subscribed to reports since September 2021 – when we promised deeper, reimagined stories for print and digital – include five areas to watch for growth in the triangle, missing controls at a Garner psychiatric center and those that are changing Faces of the State Republican Party.

Our “redesigned” front-page stories on Sundays and Wednesdays drew on the economy, state government and politics, and public policy of North Carolina. The investigative series “Security for Sale” included an exclusive analysis of how Wall Street firms are buying homes in North Carolina and putting financial pressure on tenants.

Friendly know-it-alls

Led by the brilliant Brooke Cain, our new service journalism team includes talented journalists Kimberly Cataudella and Korie Dean – covering everything from hurricanes to HOA, winter wonderland and woodpecker issues. (If you’re a newbie, sign up for a free Expert Guide to the Triangle, written by Brooke and a team of friendly know-it-alls. It’s a must-read.)

Thank you for being a subscriber. For staying with us. Thank you for trying us. For believing in local journalism.

My wife knows that when newspapers pile up in a driveway, we’ll break our 12-minute walk to put them in a safe, dry spot on the porch or near the garage door.

Neighbors do that.

Bill Church is Editor-in-Chief of The News & Observer. He no longer chews gum. He reached the quarterfinals of a fourth grade spelling test.

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