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What's left of — and what's next for — The Charlotte Observer

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The stress and uncertainty was too much for Jamie Johnson, a clerk/reporter who had worked at the Observer for nine years and, though only in her 30s, believed that this would be where she would eventually retire. But after seeing her co-workers begin to get laid off, and not sure if she would be next, she didn't want to find herself not knowing where her next paycheck would come from.

"I was afraid that I would be laid off and had a knee-jerk reaction that caused me to look for work in a completely different industry," Johnson said. After a couple of months searching, she landed a job with a utilities contractor.

"I never planned on leaving, and I was one of the people who said I was going to go down with the ship," Johnson added. "Because I loved working in the newsroom, and I loved the people that I worked with. But when it came down to it, I was more worried that I had a job and could pay my bills. And when I saw an opportunity elsewhere, I took it. And I've been second-guessing myself ever since. Because I miss it so much."

Thames wishes he still had his old staff in place. "It was difficult in that we had to say goodbye to some really valuable colleagues," he said. "In fact, we could never have enough people to do the kind of job we would love to do for this community in terms of covering all that is going on in it. So to lose jobs as we had to in order to remain a profitable business, that was a hard thing."

Readers have also missed seeing the bylines of prominent reporters and editors.

Departures over the last two years from the Observer include: Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning columnist who spent 14 years at the paper; Crystal Dempsey, who spent 20 years there starting out as a copy editor then moving up to style editor then to editor of two of the Observer's magazines; Tonya Jameson, the popular entertainment and political reporter; nightlife columnist Sarah Aarthun; Jeff Elder, a columnist who at the end of his 10-year tenure was writing about new media and social networking; Pat Sutherland, an 11-year copy editor who most notably coordinated the Carolina Panthers coverage; and numerous others.

"Everybody that we lost, we felt like we needed them," Thames said. "We didn't want them to go. Ultimately, some jobs had to be eliminated. It's just the sad truth of a very difficult time that we had to see ourselves through. I would say in that same period, we've had a number of people grow and become new personalities in the community. Some of them found other opportunities and have gone on and done great things."

Having to operate a newsroom with fewer employees led to the Observer partnering more with its sister paper in Raleigh. According to Caulkins, their goal is to reduce duplication in the work needed to produce certain sections for the two papers, which ultimately is a cost-saving measure. She says Charlotte takes the lead on the food centerpiece and the Monday science tech section; Raleigh does fashion and health centerpieces for both papers; they have one sports editor in Charlotte who manages the sports desk for Raleigh and Charlotte; and Raleigh's government editor manages that section for both papers.

Where have they gone?

Former Observer journalists can be found throughout Charlotte nearly as recognizable as former bankers. Unlike their broadcast peers, who are accustomed to bouncing around from market to market, newspaper journalists tend to stay in one city for numerous years. So even though no longer employed at the large, box-shaped building at the corner of Tryon and Stonewall streets, you can find many former members of the newsroom still in Charlotte making news.

Curtis is a freelance writer whose articles on are often among the most viewed on the AOL-owned site, and she does a "Keeping It Positive" segment each Wednesday morning on Fox News Rising. (Editor's note: Curtis also frequently contributes to Creative Loafing.) Dempsey turned her years of newsroom experience into a growing career as a freelancer and editorial consultant; then in July she accepted a full-time position as communications manager for the N.C. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. You might find videos shot and edited by Jameson appearing on a number of news and entertainment websites. Aarthun's opportunity actually took her to Atlanta, where she's now a news desk editor for CNN.


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