Rick Smith sits quietly, typing away at his computer, far from the glare of the TV cameras and lights on the other side of the WRAL newsroom.
His name and face might not be familiar, but his stories probably are. As WRAL.com’s business editor, he has the tough task of covering the local business landscape. Lately, that has included more stories about layoffs and companies folding.
“Writing about friends and colleagues at The News & Observer, where I worked for seven years, losing their jobs was especially difficult,” said Rick. “We never ever try to lose sight of the fact that I am writing about real people losing real jobs that affect real families, churches, schools and communities … We also try to avoid being sensational.”
Rick has written in depth about another tough topic – his battle with colon cancer.
“I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer four years ago, but I am still vertical thanks to answered prayers and wonderful physicians. I don’t like to write about myself, but we are given tests for a reason,” said Rick. “I hope that in sharing my story and experiences – from the good to the painful – that I can help in some small way raise awareness and prevent others from going through what I endured and still endure (lingering side effects such as neuropathy in my feet and hands) today.”
The feedback has been wonderful, he said.
“Some people have said they are more self aware. A couple even said they went to have their colonoscopy after reading something I had written. Other cancer patients have reached out to me and we’ve befriended each other, offering support and prayers. It’s said sharing makes you stronger. I’ll testify that is a true statement,” said Rick.
When friends and colleagues ask how his health is, Rick has a simple reply: “Still vertical!”
He credits Lynda, his wife of 31 years and the “world’s most patient and understanding woman,” for being there for him.
Busy covering business
Battling bad health and covering the economic turmoil have not slowed him down. Rick gets in the office each day at 5 a.m. and begins his work on WRAL.com’s Local Tech Wire.
LTW’s “First Edition” is his first priority. It’s an e-mail newsletter that goes out at 8 a.m. every day letting the business community know what’s new.
“Our primary emphasis is on the RTP (Research Triangle Park) area, and we cover companies from startups to the largest international conglomerates such as IBM and GSK (GlaxoSmithKline),” said Rick. “That’s a huge mission, and we often are stretched. But day in and day out we strive to deliver breaking, often exclusive news to our 100,000 or so readers per month.”
LTW went live in January 2002 and now features more than 20,000 stories in its archive.
Before his day is over, Rick will write several LTW stories and a blog he calls “The Skinny.” The economic downturn has taken a toll on Rick in its own way. He must also sell sponsorships for the site and run tech-related events, in addition to his daily responsibilities.
“I’m extremely busy, but I love what I do,” he said.
His efforts have paid off.
“Twice, we have been honored as the ‘Media Company of the Year’ by the North Carolina Technology Association; we’ve also been a finalist on other occasions,” said Rick. “We aim high – and when we fall short, it’s not due to lack of effort.”
A 'seasoned citizen'
Rick never meant to be a journalist. He wanted to be an elementary school teacher and then a principal. But he was drawn in at age 15 when he started writing for newspapers. The money he made eventually helped pay for college.
“By the time I was a junior, I was smitten with the news bug,” he said. “I’ve never lost that burning desire, either.”
The thrill of covering breaking news is what keeps him focused. Writing about layoffs keeps him grounded.
“The saddest stories, even if challenging and competitive, are those involving layoffs and shutdowns,” said Rick. “The best stories to write are about entrepreneurs starting new ventures and/or sharing their stories about lessons learned as they strive for success.”
Now a “seasoned citizen, AARP eligible, who enjoys still being on the right side of the green grass,” Rick makes sure to never take himself too seriously.
“I make mistakes. I’ll never forget this headline I wrote across the top of the sports page of a paper back in Indiana: ‘Kuhn flexes muscles, puts Kuhn on probation.’ That’s Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, whom I had the great fortune to interview a few years later, and Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, for those too young to remember those baseball icons,” said Rick. “Those memories keep you from becoming arrogant, believe me.”