N&O gets new editorial page editor

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 10, 2012 

Ned Barnett, editorial page editor of The News & Observer. Shot Dec.

JULI LEONARD

— Ned Barnett, a veteran journalist and former sports columnist at The News & Observer, became the paper’s editorial page editor Monday.

Barnett, 56, will shape The N&O’s opinion pages, succeeding Steve Ford, who retired this month after 31 years at the newspaper.

Barnett will write editorials and oversee the editorial staff. Daily, the opinion pages consist of editorials, columns, letters to the editor and viewpoints from local and national writers.

An award-winning writer, Barnett has had a major influence on the news pages of The N&O since the early 1990s.

For 18 years, he held various editing roles, first overseeing health, science and higher education coverage. Then he was metro editor, directing the paper’s local and regional report, and later editor of the Sunday paper. From 1999-2007, he was a sports columnist and senior sports writer. Most recently he headed Wake County news coverage.

In an interview Monday, Barnett said it is an honor to carry on the tradition of a vigorous editorial page at The N&O.

He praised Ford, who he said established “a strong foundation of fairness and sensibility and openness to other ideas while maintaining a consistent progressive viewpoint. My first order of business is to protect that foundation and to ensure that it be built upon for times that are somewhat different, particularly in the way we communicate these days.”

Barnett said he wants to increase the reach of The N&O in the digital age, to take advantage of the immediacy of the Internet, where he said “opinion seems to have a special currency.”

He said he’d also like to see The N&O reach out to readers in community forums on big issues facing the region. But, he added, “I wouldn’t look for any change in the voice of The News & Observer.”

‘Ideal for the position’

Barnett reports to Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of The N&O. Quarles said when he arrived in 2000, he quickly became aware of Barnett’s reputation as a journalist.

“He’s clearly a very smart man, a very thoughtful man, knows the area, knows the newspaper and knows where we want to go with the newspaper, in terms of our transition to digital,” Quarles said. “So the more I talked to people around here, we all had the same conclusion that he would just really be ideal for the position.”

Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president for news and Washington editor for McClatchy Newspapers, said Barnett is an excellent choice.

“The role calls for somebody who knows the area, who loves the Triangle, who is a critical thinker, original thinker and a good writer,” said Gyllenhaal, a former executive editor at The N&O, who hired Barnett. “Ned is all those things and much more.”

‘An editor forever’

Barnett said he has prepared for the role for a lifetime. He was editor of his high school paper in the Philadelphia area, where he was born and raised. He went on to become editor of his college paper at Fairfield University in Connecticut. His journalism career took him to the St. Petersburg Times and the Dallas Times Herald before he arrived at The N&O in 1991.

“I’ve been an editor forever,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, what I’ve always done. It’s like the old adage, you know, ‘Find work you love and you never have to work again.’ ”

Barnett said guiding the editorial page in this area is a pleasure.

“There is an exceptionally vibrant community of opinion, and it is unusually well informed,” he said. “That’s the nature of the place. It’s the Research Triangle, and there’s an awful lot of well-educated, thoughtful people who have things to say and should be heard.”

The paper receives about 1,400 letters to the editor each month but has the space to publish only 250. That is just one of the challenges of the job. Barnett will work with deputy editor Jim Jenkins and associate editor Burgetta Eplin Wheeler, who succeeded the retiring Allen Torrey this week.

The editorial page is a place of reason and community-spirited debate at a time when society is polarized. Some hold the misconception that the role of the opinion pages is to hector, lecture, provoke and condemn, Barnett said.

“There are instances where that is a role, a function that you take up,” he said. “But it’s not the primary one. What’s important isn’t really what we say but how well we listen.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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