Ashley: A time of hoops, a departure

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

It’s time to talk about the great work of some colleagues – and about one who will be hanging up his press pass this week.

This is Final Four weekend, and sadly for fans of local teams, none is still in the hunt for the NCAA championship.

But the past few weeks have been a rich time for fans – and a busy time for my colleagues in our sports department and their counterparts at other Triangle media outlets.

When the NCAA tournament began last month, four teams whose home arenas are no more than nine miles from one another were in the field – men’s and women’s teams from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I doubt any other area in the country has that concentration of tournament-bound teams.

One by one, unfortunately, our ranks shrank, until Duke’s women lost Tuesday to leave no more Triangle teams.

At The Herald-Sun, we think basketball’s intense following merited putting previews and results of many tournament games on page one, with multiple stories in sports. From time to time I hear from readers who question the prominence of the sports on our front page, but not often – reflecting, I suspect, the enthusiasm of most readers for the sport.

We have some fine writers and editors in our sports department. Sports editor Jimmy Dupree, a veteran of March Madness, is a wizard at making travel arrangements and handling the logistics of scattering reporters and photographers around the country.

Our beat writers – Steve Wiseman with Duke, Harold Gutmann with UNC, and John McCann with N. C. Central – are respected, knowledgeable – and fast.  They, and Mark Donovan, who often coordinated our coverage from the office and photographers Bernard Thomas and Christine Nguyen, had to deal with some extraordinarily difficult deadline pressure for some games.

Television’s enthusiasm for games that start at 9 p.m. or later pushes game’s end perilously close to our print deadline to deliver your newspaper on time.

Meeting that challenge requires some gymnastics.

The March 24 Duke-Creighton game, with a 9:40 p.m. tip-off, was a good example. Bernard Thomas sent photos at half-time. Wiseman, a veteran of deadline writing, drafted his story as the game progressed. He filed a story less than five minutes after the game ended.

We started the press, ran a few thousand papers, and stopped. Meanwhile, Wiseman sprinted to the locker room, quickly interviewed two players, sprinted to his computer and filed a new story. Thomas had sent several photos within moments of the game’s end. Most subscribers saw an updated story and late-game photos. (A shout-out, too, to my colleagues in production and circulation who go to great lengths to handle that late output.)

All of us would love to be looking forward to that deadline sprint Monday night. We’ll have to wait ‘til next year.

**

We will bid goodbye – adieu really – Monday to a veteran staffer. Neil Offen, who came to The Chapel Hill Herald in 2000 and has served as its editor and metro editor of The Herald-Sun and for the past few years has covered Duke and NCCU, is retiring.

Neil’s good humor, graceful writing, insight and passion for newspapering – and fondness for weather stories -- will be missed. He’s been a friend, a sounding board – and one of the few colleagues who recognized allusions to now-obscure cultural touchstones of the’60s.

Fortunately, Neil will continue to write his Monday column. And I hope he’ll still be available to answer such questions as – hey, wasn’t William Miller Barry Goldwater’s running mate in 1964?

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6679 or bashley@heraldsun.com.