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Novelist Jody Jaffe started at the Observer in 1979 as a "reluctant" half-time fashion writer, and half-time feature writer, transitioning to entirely feature reporting. Those were the "salad days" of the paper, Jaffe says, "full of interesting, odd and quirky people. . .The Observer gave them all the room in the world" to grow, to explore, to write. "You could feel the creativity there. It was a fun place to work."
In the 1980s, the newsroom felt the budget pinch. "Profits became more important than product," Jaffe recalls, "and the news became much more homogenous."
What resulted, she says, was a "character pogrom," during which all the colorful people who contributed their individual styles and flavors were systemically "rooted out," disheartened to the point of feeling they had to leave. The managers were "fools" to let Frye Gaillard go, Jaffe adds, and never appreciated editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette "the way they should have." Stories became shorter, and middle management became "bigger and bigger and bigger," deciding story angles by committee. "It got to be a very unbearable place," says Jaffe.
She left in 1990, when she and then-husband Charles Shepard moved to Boston, where Shepard accepted one of journalism's prestigious Nieman Fellowships. Jaffe's first book, a mystery titled Horse of a Different Killer, was nominated for a "Best First Novel" Agatha award. Her next book, partly set in Charlotte, is due in the spring of 2003. Co-written with her new beau, John Muncie, arts and entertainment editor of The Baltimore Sun, Thief of Words is a contemporary love story about a couple that courts through e-mail, and is written under the pseudonym "John Jaffe." Jaffe now lives in Silver Springs, MD.
Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Doug Marlette began drawing cartoons for the Observer in 1972, the same year he graduated from college. Back then, says Marlette, the pay wasn't great, but the atmosphere was.
"There was lots of talent and great leadership," Marlette recalls. "The people were a heady mix, a gumbo of neuroses and humanness." By the time Marlette left Charlotte in 1987 for a job offered to him by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the bureaucratization of journalism was going full throttle.
"Corporations work like hell to beat the life out of places like that," he says wryly, "and that (bureaucratic) process tends to drive out talent."
For two years, he felt he had escaped to a journalistic Camelot in Atlanta, where he won his Pulitzer, but then "the forces of darkness surrounded it, too." He joined New York Newsday in 1989, and still draws cartoons for it, as well as the daily Kudzu strip in syndication. He has thrice received the National Headliners Award for Consistently Outstanding Editorial Cartoons, twice received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for editorial cartooning and First Prize in the John Fischetti Memorial Cartoon Competition, and was awarded a Nieman Fellowship. Now living in Hillsborough, Marlette has been on an extensive author tour, promoting his first novel, The Bridge, which will be published in paperback this fall. He's teaching an editorial cartooning course at UNC as a distinguished visiting professor, and also working on his next novel, set in the civil rights period in Mississippi. All of this, while creating Kudzu seven days a week, and editorial cartoons five days a week. Quips Marlette: "I don't need any hobbies, that's for sure."
Former City Hall reporter Henry Scott also wrote features and investigative reports, and edited the business section during his Observer tenure from 1977 to 1982. His favorite memories include the time when he surreptitiously emptied a trash can at City Hall, took the garbage back to the office and pieced it together to break a story. He covered the election of Mayor Ken Harris, allegations of corruption in the police department, and what he calls "the" Beltway. ("What? There's another one?" he replied recently, when asked if he were describing I-277 or I-485. "When I was there, there was only the one, and it was a big deal.")
Now living in New York City, Scott says he had a "fantastic time" at the Observer. The camaraderie was truly wonderful, he says, adding that the group "worked together, played together, slept with one another -- it was pretty incestuous in all respects."
He butted heads with management more than once, especially when writing a story that criticized the newspaper or city leadership. In one, he debunked several myths that Charlotte leaders used to promote the city: that there were more Presbyterian churches here than anywhere else (false), and that there were more cars per capita in Charlotte than any other city east of the Mississippi (ditto, although it often seems the case nowadays, especially at rush hour).