Sources: Key player takes N&O buyout
Posted September 17, 2008 4:41 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2008 7:33 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Pat Stith, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for The News & Observer, is leaving the newspaper, sources tell WRAL.com.
Stith, contacted by WRAL.com, declined to discuss the matter.
“I can’t talk about that,” Stith said.
Sources, who declined to be identified, said Stith has decided to accept a voluntary buyout from The N&O. The paper offered more than 300 people buyouts in the most recent round of cutbacks at the newspaper.
John Drescher, editor of The N&O, said he would not comment about an individual case.
“The buyout process is not final,” Drescher said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. He said applications by people seeking to participate in the buyout were still subject to “review.”
The news that Stith is leaving stunned The N&O newsroom, where Stith has been a legend since 1971.
In 1996, Stith and fellow reporter Joby Warrick won a Pulitzer for a series about the hog industry in North Carolina. He came to the N&O from The Charlotte News. Stith, a U.S. Navy veteran, is a 1966 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate.
Over his career, Stith became a pioneer in computer-assisted reporting. As more information became available in digital form, Stith mastered how to use that data to assist in his investigations.
“That’s quite a loss,” said G.D. Gearino, a 14-year veteran columnist and business editor at the N&O who is now an author and free-lance writer, when told the Stith news. “He’s a character right out of central casting.”
A writer once described Stith as the “Dirty Harry” of investigative journalists. But Stith preferred a “Colombo” character, resembling a bumbling Peter Falk-like reporter who managed to always get his man – or woman. In Stith’s opinion, he was more effective as a reporter when people underestimated him.
Ten people had accepted the buyout as of Tuesday, according to sources who attended a staff meeting called by Drescher. The deadline to accept the buyouts was Wednesday.
Drescher declined to say how many people sought to participate in the buyouts.
“Eventually, Quarles will put out a statement,” Drescher said, referring to N&O Publisher Orage Quarles III.
If there were not enough volunteers to take the buyouts, Drescher told the N&O staff that there would be layoffs, according to sources at the meeting.
McClatchy Newspapers, the owner of The N&O and The Charlotte Observer, announced late Tuesday that it would lay off 10 percent of its work force. It’s the second time in recent months McClatchy has made cuts of that magnitude.
The company is heavily burdened by $2 billion in debt taken on to acquire much of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, which included the Observer.
The N&O and McClatchy also have implemented a wage freeze. A hiring freeze has been in place at the N&O for many months as the paper and the chain have struggled to find ways to cope with a slowing economy and declining ad revenues.