Public Journalism and Public Life: Why Telling the News Is Not Enough

By Davis "Buzz" Merritt | Go to book overview

THREE
Learning to Not See

In 1958, the newsroom of the Charlotte Observer was the center of the universe for 100 or so journalists in various stages of transition. Some, the older ones, were outward bound, winding down careers at The Gray Lady of South Tryon Street, as the paper was called by its progressive detractors. Others, the younger ones, were upward bound, starting careers at a newly rejuvenating newspaper purchased in 1954 by John and Jack Knight and presided over by the mannerly although kinetic C.A. (Pete) McKnight.

The flavor of change permeated the cluttered, functional 3 story building 6 blocks south of "The Crossroads of the Carolinas," the intersection of Tryon and Trade streets. These two streets formed Independence Square--although there wasn't a proper square--and were the commercial heart of a city of 275,000 teetering on the ridge between The Old South and The New South. It was Pete McKnight's charge, from the Knights and their brilliant editorial guru, Lee Hills, to make sure that it was not the magnolias that prevailed.

Transforming The Gray Lady to meet the challenges of the second half of the 20th century would take energy, talent, and nerve. The comfortable city ruled by a White male, traditionalist leadership was accustomed to an equally comfortable relationship with its two newspapers, the morning Observer and the afternoon Charlotte News. Each had been owned by local families until the Knights arrived from Akron, Ohio with their big dollars and bigger ambitions and picked off the Observer, and, a few years later, the News. In 1959, the two newspapers and the Associated Press' Carolinas operation were all jammed into the South Tryon building.

McKnight, with a shrewd eye for talent, persuaded Tom Fesperman, managing editor of the Charlotte News, to move to the Observer in 1956. Fesperman's insight on talent was equally sharp, having been honed in the underdog atmosphere of the smaller News. Together they lured an astonishing parade of promising graduates and near begin-

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Public Journalism and Public Life: Why Telling the News Is Not Enough
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the Second Edition xi
  • Acknowledgments xiv
  • PART I 1
  • One Why Change? 3
  • Two Understanding A Peculiar Culture 17
  • PART II 33
  • Three Learning to Not See 35
  • Four Soaring Toward a Crash 44
  • Five The Limits of Toughness 60
  • Six Connect And Disconnections 68
  • Seven Making a Break 83
  • PART III 93
  • Eight The Value of Values 95
  • Nine The Value of Deliberation 103
  • Ten So Far, So Good . . . Mostly 112
  • Eleven Some Tools and Their Uses 121
  • Twelve Cyberspace: Finding Our Way 131
  • Thirteen So What's It All About? 139
  • Epilogue 146
  • References 148
  • Index 150
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