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Where Are They Now?

Voices from the days when the Observer had something to say

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Scott says he was unhappy with the city more than the newspaper: "Charlotte always seemed to be a city full of people eager to get somewhere else. It had an intrinsic inferiority complex. Everyone kept saying it was a wonderful place, as if they thought that if they said it enough, they'd start to believe it."

Scott left to became the features editor at the Hartford (CT) Courant, then moved to what he calls "the dark side" when asked to become the publisher's assistant. Around this time, his marriage dissolved, he came out as a gay man, then moved to New York to join the New York Times. In late 1995, he became the president of Out magazine, a lifestyle magazine for gays and lesbians. When the magazine was sold 2-1/2 years ago, Scott set up his current consulting business, and now also serves as an advisor to a media venture capital firm. He's working on a nonfiction manuscript for Pantheon Books, to be published in Fall 2003, about the country's first scandal magazine, Confidential.

Charles E. Shepard

Shepard was an Observer investigative reporter from 1977 to 1990, when he moved to Boston to accept his Nieman Fellowship. He turned his Pulitzer Prize-winning work on the PTL story into the book Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry. Like other writers of that era, Shepard enjoyed working with the quirky personalities in the newsroom.

"They were some really talented folks," he recalls. "But over time, the characters seemed to leave or got weeded out. . .Some got fed up with the company; and with others, the company got fed up with them."

He fondly remembers his years at the Observer, when the company provided "ample resources for good quality journalism, with less regard to the stock market." The company's objective to offer a "more consistent product" while requiring "more consistent behavior" from its staff, led to the "homogenization" of the newspaper, Shepard says.

Upon leaving Boston, he joined the investigative staff of the Washington Post, where he helped to break the stories of the United Way scandal and of Senator Bob Packwood's infamous sexual misconduct. He briefly taught a journalism class at Georgetown University and served as the online manager for the Post's website.

Now working as a "consultant, dad and husband" in Washington, DC, Shepard is a 2000 graduate of the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He says that time has softened his view of the changes that took place at the Observer. "In retrospect, I can understand that from a business perspective, they were trying to make it a healthy enterprise that will endure over the years. And that's what helps journalism endure."

Mark Sluder

Photographer Mark Sluder won numerous awards while at the Observer from 1976 to 1998, including the National Motorsports Press Photographer of the Year (two years in a row) and National Motorsports Photojournalist of the Year (twice). He was a runner-up for NC Press Photographer of the Year, and worked on the teams that won the Observer's two Pulitzer Prizes. An occasional writer, Sluder gained the Bakkers' trust during the PTL scandal, and was permitted to interview them for an exclusive front-page story about their "next move" after they emerged from seclusion.

At first, working at the Observer was incredible, Sluder says. "It was like living in a movie." He was sent, for instance, to places like Egypt and Paris, to cover stories that had a Charlotte connection.

Over the years, however, the newspaper started heading "in a business direction, away from journalism." Sluder was disappointed when the newspaper wouldn't allow him to accept an invitation to South Africa from Bishop Desmond Tutu. "We don't think this is something our readers are interested in," Sluder recalls being told. A week before he was scheduled to cover Billy Graham's trip to the crumbling Berlin Wall, the editors told him they were going to send only a writer, and use photos from a wire service. Sluder couldn't believe it: "You have Billy Graham standing in front of all these people, and the Berlin Wall coming down. . . what visual is that not?" He grabbed his East German credentials and his passport, and went anyway -- using his vacation time.

He decided it was time to leave the paper when he couldn't take it anymore: "I was being told by people who knew less about what I was doing. . .that I was shooting on a 'beginner' level. After 20 years (in the business), I didn't need to hear that."


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