Gallagher column: Pinch hitting on news side is a whole new game

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 13, 2008

The head honchos of this newspaper have been mighty good to me over the past 13 years. I’ve flown all over the country following the ACC during March Madness. I went to Boston with Scooter Sherrill when he was a McDonald’s All-American. I’ve eaten lunch with professional athletes.
But in the summer, sports slows to a crawl. So to get my blood flowing, I look forward to a Frank DeLoache vacation.
When the managing editor left for some well-deserved time with wife, Kathy, and the rest of the DeLoache brood recently, the ol’ sports editor got to spend his days in the world of news as his stand-in.
Well, DeLoache decided the end of June would be a good time to take a break from the Post. Which meant the following seven days would be among the most exciting of my Salisbury Post career.
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Make no mistake about it, folks. Sports ain’t news.
In our little corner of the newsroom, I deal with three names: Mike, Bret and Nick. Our wardrobe consists of a lot of Nike logos. We go to summer assignments outdoors in 90-degree heat, wearing shorts and sneakers.
We know exactly when our assignments will begin and can estimate when they will end. The first pitch for a Legion baseball game is 7 p.m. We know by 10, it’s usually over. We have no idea what will happen between 7 and 10 so that’s the fun part of sports.
But when I cross over to the news side?
A white shirt and tie replace the Nike logo. Don’t want to run into the mayor ó or even the publisher, for that matter ó in shorts.
Nothing is for sure in news. There are no starting times. Anything can happen at any time. Instead of three names in the sports department, I’m scurrying about, dealing with 16 or so on the news side. Sometimes, you feel as though 16 people are talking at the same time. Everyone has something going on.
And the furious pace begins as soon as DeLoache leaves on vacation.
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It all starts on Sunday, June 30. DeLoache is already gone when a reporter calls to say a third suspect has been arrested in the murder of Salisbury dentist David Boyd. She needs an editor to put it on the Web.
I’m at Dan Nicholas Park riding the paddleboats with my 10-year-old.
“Paddle hard, Mackie,” I order. “There’s work to be done.”
The sky shows dark clouds and a storm brewing. I pray we don’t have an Edmund Fitzgerald episode before we reach shore.
We make it back to the office. I retrieve the mug shots off of her e-mail, call Webmaster Brad to get it all at the top of our site and head home, heart pumping.
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On Monday morning, news continues to surface about this horrifying murder that has kept our city on TV screens across the state.
At 8:45 a.m., I find myself walking to the courtroom for the first appearance of Christopher Boyd and Jonathan Barnett.
Soon after, I’m back in the newsroom as Jessie Burchette talks to a magistrate. Steve Huffman is on the phone with the SBI, which confirms it had been investigating allegations the dentist was diverting prescription drugs for illegal use. Kathy Chaffin tells me what she knows of the case.
The 911 call is released. We get it on the Web quickly. Cops reporter Shavonne Potts says the search warrant isn’t obtainable yet because Salisbury police and the SBI are still on the scene at the dentist’s home. But we can go to the house, if we wish.
I sprint (sprint? Once a sports guy, always a sports guy) back to the photography department to find Wayne Hinshaw. He and Shavonne make their way to Pine Tree Road.
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Hey, I read the news just like you. And I have questions, just like you. I mention to the editor that we should do a story on hydrocodone. Why is it so popular now? How easy is it to get? What’s the cost? Stuff like that.
She agrees with the stand-in from sports. Really, she does. So reporter Sarah Nagem gets in touch with local pharmacies.
It has become a true team effort, which is the best part of any job.
That’s when I call DeLoache.
“I want to put nothing but these stories on the front page,” I tell him. “What do you think?”
It was here that DeLoache becomes my official cheerleader for the rest of the week.
“Go for it, man!” he yells into the phone. “Do it!”
I can almost feel his heart pounding as much as mine because of this story. Either that, or our resident coffee addict has just finished off his 10th cup of the day. (I think DeLoache’s blood type has been reclassified as espresso).
As the clock ticks toward 6 p.m., I exhale for the first time and tell the editor, “Tomorrow is going to be one well-read newspaper.”
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We continue to follow up on the murder story as the week rolls on. But on the news side, just when you think the murder is all-consuming, something else will have you doing an about-face.
A followup on a fire produces the quote of the week. Dee Addison, whose house burned because of a lack of water, gives us this jewel: “But we didn’t have the H20, bro.”
Intern Sara Gregory returns oohing and ahhing about the opening of Tiger World. We laugh at Mark Wineka’s story on big guys stuffing their faces at the Apple Ugly contest during the Faith Fourth of July celebration. We cover a lady painting fruits and vegetables inside the dome of the Core Lab at the N.C. Research Campus.
No stress there.
And of course, my personal favorite. A guy comes in requesting photos of the Possum Queen as she rides in the Faith Fourth of July Parade.
I’ll do you one better, I tell him. I’ll get Sara to write about her.
On Friday, she has a story to get and is determined to follow the Possum Queen down the street during the parade. Police stop her. She wades through the crowd, even asking a policeman, “Have you seen the Possum Queen?”
She never finds her, but that’s the kind of dedicated journalist that makes a stand-in managing editor proud.
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Well, my week as a news guy has been over for a while. DeLoache is back from vacation. And I’m back in sports.
It seems so boring over here. But like I said, in the summer, sports is that way, for the most part.
I guess it’s back to working at night, assuring the fact my internal clock will be completely out of whack again. The ties and white shirts have been returned to the closet.
You know, I kinda miss the constant excitement on the other side of the room. With football season still a month away, I definitely need another adrenaline rush. I need a news angle to get me going.
Hey, DeLoache, need a story on that Possum Queen?
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Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or