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Today, "it's a different world" in terms of daily newspaper management and production, he continues: "We don't see that kind of journalism nearly as often as we did." He adds that the demand for publicly held companies (as many newspapers are) to grow their profits has changed the publishing landscape. "I'm not sure it's fair to compare" the atmosphere today to that of years ago, Ethridge says.
Ethridge went on to become publisher of the Charlotte Business Journal, then a group publisher for that newspaper's parent company, and president of a motorsports marketing company. He lives in Charlotte and is president of Carolina Parenting, Inc., a publisher of parenting magazines in Charlotte and the Triad and Triangle regions of North Carolina.
Former CL columnist Frye Gaillard wore many hats at the Observer between 1972 and 1990, covering everything from music and entertainment, to religion, to education during the time of school busing. He worked on the PTL story, and was nominated for an award for his coverage of the unfair conviction of three Charlotte civil rights activists.
"It was a hungry newsroom," Gaillard recalls. "You knew there were some brilliant reporters, and you wanted to be just as good."
Over time, however, the newsroom became a different place, as were newsrooms industrywide. Gaillard stayed friendly with writers at other newspapers around the country, and saw that "changes were happening all over."
Feeling that he no longer fit in, he left in 1990 to pursue his dream of writing books. He has written 18 nonfiction books on topics ranging from stock car racing to school desegregation to country music, to Habitat for Humanity -- and has co-edited four anthologies. (Additionally, one novel was "published in obscurity," he laughs.) With CL contributor Amy Rogers, Gaillard founded Novello Festival Press, the publishing arm of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The press, "probably the most satisfying thing I've done professionally in a long time," says Gaillard, has published five books, with two more coming out this fall. In the meantime, Gaillard, an Alabama native now living in Indian Trail, has been commissioned by Auburn University and the University of Alabama Press to write a book about the civil rights movement in Alabama.
Enormously popular as a columnist during her years at the Observer, Dot Jackson describes that time (1967-1982) as "the joy of my youth."
The newsroom, she says, was "the happiest world there ever was -- we had crazy people in there!" With other writers she shared a cubbyhole called the "Bay of Pigs," where "the pigs had a lot of fun. . .Everyone was just as free-spirited as they could be -- and that's something you just don't find anymore." She remembers the paper's old building, with its balcony overlooking Tryon Street; from there, the writers and columnists often would "see who was going down the road" and write about their exploits.
The "beginning of the end" came when the paper merged into the Knight-Ridder publishing family, she says. Managers who didn't know the area's history were brought in, and certain "edicts" were issued. Coffee was prohibited in the newsroom. A guard was posted downstairs, prohibiting possible miscreants -- formerly, wonderful story fodder -- from coming upstairs. The Peanut Man was prohibited from coming up.
"I guess they didn't want us to get shells on the carpet," Jackson sighs. "It got to the point where you couldn't even keep a liquor bottle in your desk drawer anymore."
Jackson doesn't give out details about why she left the paper, only that she had a "severe disagreement with management" that led to a "knock-down, drag-out fight over something I would not do."
Now living in "a briar patch" 30 miles west of Greenville, SC, Jackson says she is "broke as a hat" but "free as a bird." She mostly edits other writers' books, and has written a handful of stories for Charlotte magazine, but nothing in the past couple of years. She has contracts on two books of her own; one is a biography, the other is a book about the music of Appalachia.
"They're going really slowly," she giggles. Within a couple of weeks, however, she's moving with a group of three other writers into a 177-year-old farmhouse at the foot of Table Rock Mountain, which they are going to renovate into an arts center for Pickens County, with rooms for studios and workshops. Jackson says she's hopeful that the facility will open in Spring 2003.