Spradlin: I left the Daily Journal and made it better

A simple case of addition by subtraction

The content manager, managing editor and three reporters inside the newsroom of the Richmond County Daily Journal are working together as a team. They’re working weekends and striving to cover more events than in at least the past few years. If that hadn’t been the case then, I might never have relocated to North Carolina two Septembers ago.

Even on stories I don’t get to for The Pee Dee Post, I can’t help but take some pride in prodding the other paper down the street from being there. All of it, after all, serves you, the reader — and beyond the business of journalism is the deeply entrenched sense of pride and purpose that goes into providing a service.

Pam Dillman | PeeDeePost.com I never expected to move to North Carolina, quit the job for which I moved here and then open up shop two blocks up the street. My primary goal, however, still has been achieved: The Daily Journal is a better paper than just before I arrived.

Pam Dillman | PeeDeePost.com
I never expected to move to North Carolina, quit the job for which I moved here and then open up shop two blocks up the street. My primary goal, however, still has been achieved: The Daily Journal is a better paper than just before I arrived.

In fact, the Daily Journal is finally starting to be the type of community newspaper that I envisioned when I was hired to be its editor in September 2013. I traveled 450 miles from western Maryland to what many would consider a broken hometown newspaper. It was no small commitment on my part; and the community, in turn, made a similar investment in welcoming me and my family to town.

Even before leaving the Daily Journal, I spent more than eight hours with my replacement, including five hours on that second-to-last Saturday morning, going over what I hoped the many things that would ease the transition. There’s little doubt Corey has changed much of what we went over then, but that’s alright — he had a starting point. I never had that; my first day on the job was my predecessor’s last. I didn’t know it before the day it happened, but John Charles Robbins was being told his services were no longer needed on Sept. 23, 2013. I was welcomed by a staff of one reporter who declined to work evenings and weekends and an empty office. I never even saw Mr. Robbins.

I resigned five months later, in February, and left three months after that when the call came from Lumberton that my services were no longer needed. That same day, the first five stories were published on PeeDeePost.com. But that doesn’t mean I ever stopped helping the Daily Journal and its reporters to become better.

* Only a day after I left the RCDJ, there was a minor two-car crash in front of Food Lion on Fayetteville Road. Melonie McLaurin arrived on scene a few minutes after me. I knew she hadn’t ever covered a car accident — I was the one, after all, who’d hired her only one month earlier after she left the teaching field. With her permission, I coached her along and ensured that observation was important in such situations — noting which agencies responded, make and model of involved vehicles, location, time of day and more.

* When Matt Harrelson covered Richmond Senior High School’s graduation in June 2014, he and I talked about his aspiration to be a sportswriter. At this point, I had 20 years in the field of journalism — my first 10 years were in the sports department — and I offered what I felt was a qualified view of what it would take for him to get there, what he could expect a starting salary to be and more. I hired Matt in November 2013 — despite his errors in a number of stories, I appreciated his initiative, which ranged from coming into the office seeking a job to noting policy activity at a local bank that turned out to be a bank robbery. He’s now been inside a newsroom for about 20 months; I continue to hope Matt gets a chance as a sportswriter.

* In July, I received a tip that Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigators and other law enforcement agencies had caught up with fugitive John Adams Rillo in a Montgomery County pond after being on the run for nearly two weeks. The Daily Journal received a similar tip, and both newspapers had representatives at the sally port as Rillo was expected to arrive at the Richmond County Jail. William Toler represented the RCDJ and arrived a few moments after I did. There was only one problem — Toler forgot his memory card to his camera. I offered to let him use mine and simply send him the picture; he declined, and used his smartphone instead. But the offer was there.

* Melonie was on deadline when she and I both were covering the Hamlet City Council meeting one Tuesday night. As the council often days, members convened in executive — closed — session. This one happened to be a considerable amount of time, and while The Pee Dee Post doesn’t have a strict 10:30 p.m. deadline, the Daily Journal does. But Melonie had left her computer in the meeting room, which was off limits to reporters and anyone else not invited into the meeting. Melonie and I talked about the importance of a reporter keeping notes close to his or her side. After a short time, maybe 20 minutes or so, I offered to let her use my computer to transmit her story back to the office. She declined — instead, she had someone interrupt the closed session on her behalf to retrieve her computer — but, once again, the offer was there.

* My offer to help wasn’t limited only being good the first few months after I left. Only three months ago, Toler showed up to the scene of a reporter mill fire. He had his camera — and memory card — and something to write with, but he’d forgotten his notepad. I happened to have two with me, and gave him one so he could do his job.

It’s been a tough row to hoe over the past 14 months; being a business owner is difficult work and I tip my hat to those who have done it for decades upon decades. I’m no longer only a reporter; I’m an advertising manager, editor, ad sales rep, janitor, web master, office manager and more. I truly believe that those who take such risk is not for the money — hey, everybody’s gotta earn a living — do so for the passion they have in their chosen field. At least that’s why it started (though I’m sure on some days that passion is difficult to recall).

My hope in September 2013 was that the staff would rally with me and make Richmond County a better place by serving Richmond County readers in the best way possible. I continue to think newspapers — print and digital alike — can still be the water cooler of conversation for a community if the mission is supported by a dedicated, caring and qualified staff. Instead, the only way I could force the powers that be at Civitas Media, the Daily Journal‘s parent company, to pay attention was to leave and open up shop two blocks up the street.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’ve paid attention, to wit:

* They allowed my replacement to hire at least one reporter at a higher hourly rate — at least 14 percent higher — than the cap I was permitted, which allowed a qualified reporter to help the newsroom effort;

* They finally followed through on at least part of an idea Shawn Stinson, sports writer, and I had while I was there. The idea was to put Shawn back on salary (with a modest raise) from a limit of 37.5 hours per week, have him oversee sports coverage in Laurinburg, Rockingham and Cheraw, S.C. Oh, and he had to work weekends, too, and cover youth sports. When I arrived, it was clear to me Shawn’s preference was to cover varsity Raider sports — and only certain ones at that. Yes, he was upset when I suggested there was more he could do. Since I left, though, he’s covering out-of-town youth sports tournaments and events in Charlotte.;

* The RCDJ has had multiple subscription sales. Many feel the subscription rates are too high, and these rates helped connect a socioeconomically depressed area with a source for local news and information.’

* The Daily Journal announced this week it was eliminating its $25 fees for wedding announcements.

The Daily Journal still has a number of obstacles to overcome; certain reporters’ personal biases shine through their beat coverage; Melonie McLaurin continues to be not an advocate for those helping the homeless but an activist, which in my opinion goes against the basic tenet of being a respectable journalist. Corey Friedman and William Toler continue to reveal their anti-police sentiments despite having stopped their writing, at least for the time being, for an anti-police blog.

The newspaper’s circulations problems continue to be, well, a problem. I don’t blame the Daily Journal‘s circulation manager; the system appears to be the same as when I left, and the circulation manager is only a part-time employee. The strings, instead, are pulled from Lumberton and beyond. I know the level customer service needs to be addressed.

Further, the obituary rates need to drop significantly — by half would be a start. And the No. 1 problem Civitas Media, and papers it owns, like the Journal, face is this: Giving away content for free 10, 12 or 16 hours before the dwindling number of paid subscribers get to read the news they pay for. As the days pass, a growing number of readers will realize they’re subsidizing others’ ability to read the news they pay for more than half a day in advance. After a while, that’ll gnaw on them and they’ll cancel their subscriptions.

But make no mistake, the Daily Journal is a far better newspaper than what it was in September 2013. I can’t help but take some satisfaction in being a driving factor in that change — even if it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Kevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. He can be reached at 910-331-4130 or peedeepost@gmail.com

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  • trotsky

    Hey, Spradlin, if you’re such a great journalist why do you support censorship?

    • Kevin Spradlin

      If you’re the person who called about this issue the other day, please clarify – for readers’ sake – that you’re not talking about the PDP but another newspaper.

      I can’t do anything about any other media outlet. That’s between you and that other outlet.

      I have suggested you can write a letter to the editor – peedeepost@gmail.com – to address the issue (using your real name) but you have declined to do so.

      Keep in mind, please, that comments such as this – more than a little off topic to the column or article at hand – are the type that get deleted by the moderator here on PeeDeePost.com.

      Thank you.


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