EXTRA EXTRA Read All About It

January18/ 2000

.… In my Greatest After Dinner Speech Ever I list four absolutes in EVERY community … Bad Drivers, Unpredictable Weather, No-account Politicians, and That Damn Fishwrapper of a local paper… As you know, I spent the past week as a contributing member of The News & Observer’s Front Page Committee… Some would say inviting me for this privilege proves “those people are nutz”. .… I watched, I talked, I listened … here’s what I learned. … A LOT!

NOTE:  As of noon Saturday this column is getting an INCREDIBLE response.  Not everyone will like it (sigh!) but a WHOLE lot of folks do … from “both sides of the aisle”.  


    EVERY morning there is a big roll of blank paper at The News & Observer.  20 hours later that paper is covered in words and pictures and lands in our driveways.  The next day they do it all over again. … and every single day that ends in “-day” they produce another newspaper.  Some days the Canes win a Stanley Cup.  Some days are “9-11”. And some days Jim Black does his latest Snidley Whiplash impression.  Most days “stuff” just happens” but regardless a paper hits the driveways at dawn’s early light filled with “news”.  That’s the case with daily newspapers all across the country … Who Knew?

They no longer have “typesetters” and those other characters from Citizen Kane.  I think they still do have a STOP THE PRESSES button but I wasn’t allowed to see that … or yell it.  Shucks!

I got a tour.  What I saw did look like the set of Lou Grant and The Daily Planet.  Did NOT see any “cub reporters” and no fellow wearing a fedora with PRESS stuck in the hatband.  The closest I saw to Lois Lane was metro columnist Ruth Sheehan.  We shared a laugh, which we do frequently.  Fem-Lib-Mommy columnists have a sense of humor … again … Who Knew?

OK OK … you are all waiting to hear about the dart boards with George Bush and Jesse Helms faces on them and all the Carolina pennants and We Hate State signs in the sports department.  Hold your horses.  I’m getting to all that.

I passed Op/Ed’s Darth Vader in the hallway, the infamous Steve Ford.  He looks like Dickie Baddour.  Take that anyway you wish.  He did not know who I was.  I am large and some say “scary” and I was “from outside” so he scurried by without much cordiality.  I wanted to say “Yo Steve, we are all waiting with bated breath to see which candidates you are going to endorse in November” … but I was a guest and it was early in the week.

I did not see “Bojangles Barry”.  I heard he was out at Chavis Heights playing three-card monte with Fred Sanford and Kid Dy-No-Mite but no one would confirm that.

The Front Page Committee (about 15-18 people) meets every day at 4:30 for 30 minutes.  Each department head presents their top stories of the day.  Eric, the Front Page Editor, leads the discussion.  This is a no-nonsense get-it-done meeting although that infamous Swagger “silliness” had its usual effect as the week wore on.  It is serious and each person better be ready when it’s their turn.  What ends up on “the front page” matters every day.

My bio had been given to each attendee.  They “knew about me”.  I am tall and have a beard.  They learned on Wednesday that I have a website reaching countless 1,000s of people, many of whom had forwarded my Monday column to all of them. John, The Managing Editor, asked me if I had a bulletproof vest.  I laughed.  I am BobLee Swagger who once walked through F-Bomb Alley wearing Carolina blue.  I can’t spell “Feer”.

Quick story … before the Wed meeting I was bantering with Eric, the Front Page editor, and told him that great TRUE story about the UNC dingbat that whined “all the N&O sportswriters are graduates of the NC State J-school”.  Eric looked at me and said “but State doesn’t even have a J-school.”  Eric and I bonded right then and there.

Did I get a sense that these horrible people intend to destroy The American Way and install Liberal Socialism, and all that that implies, throughout Wake County and the surrounding area.  No I did not sense that.  But remember … I was meeting with the people who create the physical newspaper.

No Woodward & Bernstein wannabees in this meeting.  Maybe all these people were indeed goggle-eyed, flag-burning, military-hating, developer loathing transgender Franklin Street leftwingers … I don’t know.  I do know they have a job to do. This is a daily deadline bizness.

Nothing I heard was said for my benefit.  These people are too busy to play silly games so “whatshisname w/ the beard” gets a particular impression.  As the relevance of particular stories was discussed, the deciding factor was “It’s importance relative to that day’s other options”.  They have to have a front page EVERY day.  “Giant Antichoke Found In Smedes York’s Chimney” might be the best there is one day.

This being Rawlee, of course there was a “political scandal story” … involving pols being feted by the NCDOT during the Tall Ships event.  It was non-partisan pols being feted and for sure Guv Easely (a Dem) would have preferred the story not be “front page”.  But it was.

I did see “An Agenda” – To put out a paper EVERY DAY that will interest readers.  Now, remember, we had established on Monday that the people in this meeting had no specific answer to “who is your regular reader” so I have to assume the literate population of their market area without concern for race, gender, age, or political affiliation.

 You want to know about “the N&O’s bias”.  I did NOT see a printout of the voter registration of the 200+ reporters/writers so I can’t speak to that.  My own bias certainly comes thru in my writing and even if I had an editor and represented an entity larger than myself, I believe it would show.  Subconsciously, a writer’s choice of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs can tell a reader a lot.  I believe that NOT having “bias” is only achieved through extreme ignorance.  Send me to cover The World Poker Championship and I will be unbiased.  I have no background nor interest nor knowledge of Poker.  Anyone who becomes “a writer” has been exposed to socio-cultural elements and those elements interact with each person’s race, age, gender and life experience components forming some level of “bias”.

Every story can be (and is) dissected and convoluted by readers to favor some point of view.  Each of us wants “my local newspaper” to report the news from “my” preferred perspective.  That’s impossible.  We much prefer a positive story about an individual or issue we have an affinity for.  Conversely we prefer negative stories about individuals or issues we have an aversion to.  People “take it personal”.

A newspaper develops its local personality via its Op/Ed page and its local columnists.  If we don’t “trust” either/both of those elements then a subconscious paranoia causes us to see boogiemen in every headline and story placement.  Trust me, I’ve seen’em.

The N&O’s Op/Ed guy is the aforementioned Steve Ford.  He reports directly to Orage The Publisher.  Steve (a Yale grad!) has a Liberal perspective (Duh!) on most every issue.  He always endorses Democratic candidates … NOTE: except in 4 instances over 25 years! … that’s a proven historical fact. He also thinks Jim Black (Dem) is a disgraceful Scallywag.  Steve Ford does not control what comic strips are run or have anything to do with the “front page”.  Maybe he is responsible for typos in obituaries.  Nobody will admit to that heinous crime.  Blame that on “a cub reporter”.

“…. those damn columnists….”

You know what I think of “Bojangles Barry” Saunders.  I think he’s a race-baiting one-trick pony in a silly hat and totally predictable.  He turns a clever phrase occasionally but it’s 99% at the expense of “white folks” especially “white folks of the Repub persuasion.  I think he gives “black journalists” a very bad name by his predictability.  I have a solution for “Bojangles Barry”.  Find a columnist equally as predictable from the reverse perspective.  I DARE YOU ORAGE!  To paraphrase Michael Jordan … “White Republicans read newspapers too.”

Ruth Sheehan and Dennis Rogers are the other two “metro columnists”.  Ruth, bless her heart, is the N&O’s “Fem-Lib Mommy” if a label must be applied.  Dennis is the down home historian of regional folkways and customs.  Both Ruth and Dennis fill somewhat central castingl roles among “metro columnists”.  Love’em or loath’em, they are both “pros”.

Jim Jenkins is a longtime Op/Ed columnist.  He and Steve Ford don’t disagree unless it’s over who dislikes Republicans the most.  Back when the EIB Network was “only” at 400+ stations and just 10,000,000 or so daily listeners, Jim went four months in a row inserting a “Rush Limbaugh is fat” line in every column he wrote.  Fifteen years later, Rush has 20,000,000 listeners.  Jim is still having the vegetable plate for lunch at Joe’s Mom’s Place on Nash Square.  I have friends who say he’s good guy.  I’ve written him a few times but he never writes back.

Rick Martinez is my very dearest amigo of Hispanic origin.  He says my Victoria’s Secret column is the funniest column ever written by anyone ever.  Want to be my friend too? That’s how you do it.  Rick is the N&O’s token Conservative columnist.  Ergo, Steve does not give Rick the primo page position that Jenkins gets but Rick gets noticed… Oh Yeah! …….   Rick “hates” migratory birds and sports mascots and “loves” big ugly oil derricks in the ocean.  Readers who enjoy Jim, get real angry whenever Rick writes a column … THAT is called B-A-L-A-N-C-E-D … That is a very good thing.  Hooray for BALANCED!

Rob Christensen masquerades as the political columnist but is, in reality, John Edwards’ personal PR flack.  He loves Johnny almost as much as Johnny loves Johnny.

   Caulton Tudor is the longtime sports columnist.  Caulton is an unabashed fan of UNC? … NCSU?  … UNC? …. NCSU? … ECU? … UNC? …. NCSU? … maybe DUKE? … take your pick.  If “your team” loses it’s pretty much Caulton’s fault somehow.

REALLY appreciate Executive Editor Melanie Sill providing me this experience.  I learned stuff.  It takes dedicated people to produce a major daily newspaper.  The Daily Miracle” at “The Old Reliable” demands efficiency and not much time for navel-gazing.

I sensed a slight “skittishness towards outsiders” due no doubt to the constant criticism leveled at the paper.  Like an abused wife or child, always braced for the next slap or kick.  I do not have a practical solution to that, other than more “outreach programs” like I experienced.  Higher walls do not lead to friendlier neighbors.

Did I drink too much N&O “Kool-Aid”?  I prefer to see it as “having a broader perspective”.  Remember I am notorious for my “open mind”.  My #1 pal is a yellow-dog Democrat/ Duke lawyer, and some of my dearest friends are Wuffies.  My opinions of The N&O should not be assumed to apply to the NYT or WashPost or The N&O’s McClatchey sister paper in Charlotte..  If they want to let me “backstage” I’m available.

Do I have a few “suggestions” for my new buddies on South McDowell St?  You know I do.  The News & Observer ought to:

  • Have a counter columnist to “Bojangles Barry”
  • Give my pals Rick and Ruth big raises and lots of praise.
  • Never put pictures of ugly people “above the fold”
  • Endorse ONE Republican in November, Steve .… Make it an even 5!
  • Have M&Ms and Dr Pepper in the Front Page Meeting

Everyone was very nice to me despite my being big and scary and “from outside”.

Thank you Melanie Sill and Eric Frederick and John Drescher … 

    What’s next for BobLee?  … Meezie inviting him to a UNC Faculty Council? … attend a Coach K practice …  have dinner w/ Chuck at Amedeo’s ??? … why not?


What was Jeannie’s “Master’s” occupation?


 BLS Sez….

 Once an urban legend is officially “debunked” by snopes.com, 

it will live on the Internet for 1,000 years 

and you will receive it once/week forever,



   David Clyde (not Clyde Wright, Clyde Beatty, Clyde Austin, or Bonnie & Clyde) was the high school phenom for the Rangers in the ‘70s.  

   Friday, as I waited for the elevator at The N&O … a “man” in his early 50s walked in with shoulder-length white hair, a pink knee-length sun dress, and black slingback pumps.  The security guard smiled at me and said welcome to downtown Raleigh“.  Indeed!

   An old Dallas buddy of mine, Kevin “Sully” Sullivan was just named White House Communications Director.  BobLee, “Riverwalk Bobby”, and Norm Sonju taught “Sully” all he knows. 

   The Tar Heel Oriole, Brian Roberts, was due to have a “Bobblehead” night at Camden Yards this weekend.  Ooops, when the first of the 20,000 doll boxes was opened … Brian had been “Al Jolsoned” …  a VERY dark “bluish”!  Watch for a few of those on Ebay.

   Another former UNCer, Marion Jones, is knee-deep in yet another “pile of crap” this time involved in a fraud scam out of Norfolk.  She claims “no knowledge”, as she always does to the dozens of stoopid incidents in her sordid past.  Yo, Marion … this act has gotten really old, just RUN AWAY … FAR AWAY … please!

   R.I.P. – Red Buttons … “Did he ever get a party?”

   Remember Jerry Agar from WPTF.  I talked to that rascal on Thursday.  With the Royals sucking swamp water, Brother Agar is the #1 attraction in Kansas City since Hank Stram.     

Want to e-mail BobLee?   

[email protected]

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