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Wednesday, 23 March 2011 19:35

Welcome to the club, and my sincere best wishes

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There have been times in my life I could rightly have been described as competitive. When I was in music, and later, as a young reporter, I took myself very, very seriously. I wanted first chair or no chair when I was a musician; The New York Times, I was sure, would be my ultimate landing place as a news writer. It was simply a matter of time.

Well, I ended up with no chair when it comes to a black-and-white summing up of my musical career — I departed that path for writing years ago. As for The New York Times, it seems unlikely editors will come knocking on my door. And, if they did, I’d probably just laugh — I like what I’m doing fine: being a little fish in a little pond suits me well.

You see, as I’ve grown older, my competitive spirit has waned. These days I find myself sincerely wishing others in the news business well, even when they are technically “competitors.”

There’s a feeling of being in it together — or, perhaps, it’s a shared feeling of going down the tubes together as an industry. I am more bully on newspapers’ future than many, particularly my friend Giles Morris at tuckreader.com, who a few months ago boldly asserted print was dead. That came as surprising news to those of us still busy printing stories in traditional, hold-in-your-hands newspapers, you can be sure — “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” as my all-time favorite humorist Mark Twain said so famously after hearing the New York Journal had printed his obituary.

In general, I like reporters and editors and people who put together newspapers (or, these days, we must include news websites). They are usually smart, funny, passionate people. I don’t want to sound overly sentimental, so I hasten to add that those same people also are usually neurotic, annoying and often arrogant. Since I resemble many of those characteristics, not unnaturally I find even the most puffed-up news people rather endearing.

So — not to insinuate they are puffed-up because these two are not — I was delighted to see carolinapublicpress.com, in the hands of two former Asheville Citizen-Times colleagues, enter the fray.

Angie Newsome and Kathleen Davis launched the news website earlier this month. Carolinapublicpress.com promises to cover the state’s 17 westernmost counties with “in-depth, investigative and independent reporting.” I don’t doubt they are sincere about that last part, but the territory outlined seems ambitious.

And unlikely, given that even the Citizen-Times has retreated over the years to only an occasional venturing west of Asheville.

But I wish Angie and Kathleen the best of luck trying to cover 17 counties — the more reporters out here the merrier, I believe. There are a million-and-one stories to tell, and we’re lucky at The Smoky Mountain News and at the other news organizations in the west to catch even a small percentage of those meriting coverage.

(I hope Angie and Kathleen will not do what, during my tenure at the Citizen-Times, we used to hear upper management dub “regionalizing.” This is daily newspaper-bullshit for publishing an article that’s really about Buncombe County, but with passing mentions of Swain or Jackson counties or other places outside of Asheville in order to “regionalize” it. Much cheaper and far easier on the bottom line, you see, than paying real reporters to work in actual bureaus covering real stories in the western counties.

Here I go, digressing into a rant again. You’d think I’d know how to stay on point better).

What’s most interesting about carolinapublicpress.com is that it’s set up as a nonprofit. Some newspaper experts believe nonprofit news organizations such as carolinapublicpress.com will prove the industry’s future. I hope not, because I’m inordinately fond of for-profit, real newspapers. I am interested in seeing, however, whether Angie and Kathleen can make carolinapublicpress.com and this new financial model work. And, I’ll be curious to note whether they really cover 17 counties as advertised.

A few coverage tips for my old friends, who best I remember never worked the far-western area: Cherokee, the Indian reservation, is not the same as Cherokee County, though confusingly for newcomers there are tribal lands in Cherokee County; oh, and people there do not like to hear funny references to Eric Robert Rudolph. He was actually from Florida and moved to WNC and they are very sensitive about that fact; the Skeener community in Franklin is pronounced that way but spelled Skeenah, and don’t even try to say Cartoogechaye until you’ve practiced a lot first. People in Cherokee know your grandmother was Cherokee, wasn’t everybody’s? That’s not a good warm-up line, in other words. Whichever spelling of Tuckasegee/Tuckaseigee you pick, someone (probably my friend Lynn Hotaling at The Sylva Herald, who wrote an entire column one time on this very subject) will claim it is wrong; “Smoky” isn’t spelled with an “e” unless you are the famous bear or the elementary school (officials have a long excuse for why they misspelled the school’s name, don’t ask).  

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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