Back in the saddle again
In his first weekly column, Neuse News Editor Bryan Hanks catches you up with his life and introduces you to his vision for local journalism in Kinston and Lenoir County.
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written to you, dear reader – much too long for my liking.
As B.J. Murphy – former two-term Kinston mayor, entrepreneur and the owner/publisher of this exciting venture known as Neuse News – announced a few weeks ago, I have joined him and an awesome team of journalists and photographers to bring you a new source of journalism for Kinston and Lenoir County.
We’ll get back to that in a bit but let me catch you up on what’s been going on with my life.
As many of you know, I worked at the local newspaper as the sports editor, managing editor and editor from 2002 until I left of my own volition in August of 2016. The reason I feel the need to write “of my own volition” in the preceding sentence is because there have been many reasons for my exit from that position I’ve heard shared throughout the community.
It’s this simple: I left the position because I felt my hands were being tied by the corporate owners of the local newspaper. When I joined it in 2002, we had more than 20 full-time employees in the Kinston newsroom; when I left almost 14 years later, our staff had been chopped down to six – and I was being asked to find a way to cut another position.
After a brief stint in Lincolnton’s sports department at the Lincoln Times-News, I joined Freedom Communications as a sports writer in Gastonia in 2000, then moved to Shelby a year later. In 2002, I came to Kinston as the sports editor, a position I promised then-sports editor Drew Loftis and then-publisher/editor Patrick Holmes I’d stay for at least two years.
I was quickly moving up the ranks in Freedom’s sports departments. I loved it because my ultimate goal was to become a full-time ACC basketball sports writer, a dream I’d had since free-lancing as a college sports writer for several publications (including the Gaston Gazette and others) from 1996-2000.
But a funny thing happened when I got to Kinston – I fell head over heels in love with this area. While in Western North Carolina, I’d observed how some outstanding sports journalists – including Chris Hobbs at the Hickory Daily Record, Richard Walker at the Gaston Gazette and Langston Wertz at the Charlotte Observer – had been embraced by their communities. They had shown me that if you perform quality journalism and treat people fairly that you could become successful.
When I arrived in Kinston, I thought it’d be a struggle to spend two whole years here until I became the next great ACC basketball writer – instead, I can’t believe how quickly 14 years flashed by. I fell in love with Lenoir County, Greene County and Jones County because the people here wanted quality journalism – both sports and news (which I moved to in 2008) – and they were particularly kind to an out-of-towner even as he was learning to become a true community journalist.
I learned from the best – Patrick Holmes taught us daily about the importance of accuracy and fairness to our readers with no prejudice with his words and with his actions. He didn’t simply come to Kinston to beef up his resume; he became a true part of this community with his service to it. While others might want to “be like Mike,” I wanted to be like Patrick. I’m sure I never got to his lofty level, but I did my best.
And that gets me back to my exit from my position at the local newspaper and to my new position with the Neuse News. Faceless corporations – like the one that currently owns the local newspaper – have destroyed local journalism to the point where every employee is scared to death of when the ax is going to get them next, where their hands have been tied to the point of being unable to perform even the basic tenets of their job and constantly experiencing the frustration of no pay raises to the point where many local journalists are making less money now than they were five and even 10 years ago.
When your newsroom has been decimated by 70 percent in less than 14 years – and it’s primarily because the faceless corporations care more about numbers on a spreadsheet than reporting the news going on in the communities they’re allegedly supposed to be covering (while hilariously claiming to be somehow “improving” coverage by cutting positions) it’s time to move on.
That’s what I did – first with a brief stint with the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce (where I learned from some of the best about community service), helping out Roger Dail and Lenoir County as the public information officer and by working with the awesome folks with the Down East Wood Ducks (who could teach some faceless corporations about the importance of being community-driven).
A few months ago, B.J. shared his vision of the Neuse News with me – a news-gathering organization that would only employ local journalists who live in this coverage area and which understands the importance of serving the communities it covers. He demands fair coverage in every facet of the newsroom – news, politics, sports and entertainment.
When he told me we could bring on some incredible writers and photographers like Jon Dawson, Junious Smith III, William “Bud” Hardy, Michelle Taylor and others, I was sold.
But what I am most impressed by B.J. and our little venture is this: We are going to present news in the manner it is supposed to be covered and reported – with no favor or bias to any entity, party or affiliation. While we will report crime, for instance, it will not be glorified simply for page views or to sell papers.
If you take anything away from this column, take this: Neuse News is not about B.J. Murphy, Bryan Hanks, Jon Dawson or any of our talented staff. The Neuse News is about you: Kinston and Lenoir County. If you want to know what is going on in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles or Atlanta, pick up a USA Today or visit your favorite news site.
But if you want to know about what is going on in our backyard, Neuse News is going to be your destination.
I’d love to hear your story ideas and thoughts! Please don’t hesitate to email me at the address provided below. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Bryan C. Hanks is the editor of the Neuse News. You can reach him at 252-572-1330, ext 1 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.