The News & Observer names new top editor

Meet Robyn Tomlin, The News & Observer's new executive editor

Robyn Tomlin, the new executive editor of The News & Observer in Raleigh, talks about her love of journalism and her ties to North Carolina.
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Robyn Tomlin, the new executive editor of The News & Observer in Raleigh, talks about her love of journalism and her ties to North Carolina.

The News & Observer and the Durham Herald-Sun will have a new top editor starting next month.

Robyn Tomlin, managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, has been chosen by McClatchy to become the first regional editor for the Carolinas. From her base at The N&O, Tomlin, 46, will also oversee newsrooms in Durham and Charlotte and at five news organizations the company owns in South Carolina, including The State in Columbia.

California-based McClatchy, which owns 29 news organizations across the country, is establishing regional editors to oversee groups of newsrooms to help them collaborate and operate more efficiently.

“Our current system, with each newsroom operating separately from the others, discourages cooperation in favor of competition and duplication,” the company said in announcing the changes. “By working together, we will marshal all the resources and talents and expertise from each region, and across the company, to produce local journalism that is ever more essential to the communities we serve.”

At The N&O, Tomlin replaces Executive Editor John Drescher, who will take on a new role at the paper as Opinion and Solutions Editor, working with editorial page editor Ned Barnett. N&O publisher Sara Glines says Drescher will lead an effort to better use the paper’s “voice, platforms and influence” to lead conversations on important issues in the Triangle.

Drescher, who was raised in Raleigh, began his career as an intern at The N&O in 1981 and returned to the paper as managing editor in 2002. He became executive editor in 2007. He said after 10 years he was ready for a new job and praised the choice of Tomlin.

“Robyn knows and loves North Carolina,” Drescher said in a statement. “She’s an excellent editor and a strong innovator with the skill and creativity to move our newsrooms forward and better serve our readers.”

Tomlin moved to Chapel Hill as a grade-school student and graduated from Chapel Hill High School before enrolling at Durham Technical Community College. It was there that an English teacher suggested she give journalism a try. She eventually transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, where she graduated from the school of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1996.

She recalls the staff of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper, erupting in applause that year when they learned The N&O had won a Pulitzer Prize for its series of articles on hog farming in North Carolina.

“I grew up reading The News & Observer,” she said. “It was very much the newspaper that sowed the seeds of my own journalistic ambition. The work that I saw in those pages inspired me and made me want to be a journalist, and particularly a journalist that does the kind of high-impact, investigative, public-service work that this newsroom is known for.”

Tomlin says her mission is to maintain that tradition of strong journalism but help adapt it to the new ways people are getting their news in the digital age. She expects that about half of her time and energy will be focused on The N&O.

The rest of her time will be spent working with the other seven news organizations in the Carolinas. She’ll be looking for ways the newsrooms can help each other, but she doesn’t foresee any consolidation at this point.

“I have no mandate to come in here and do anything but enhance the local journalism that’s done in each of our communities,” she said. “I care about this state. I care about this region. This is my home.”

Tomlin’s career began at a suburban paper in Pennsylvania, before she returned to North Carolina to become a reporter and then metro editor at The Citizen-Times in Asheville. She later became the top editor at three papers in The New York Times Regional Media Group, including The Star-News in Wilmington.

In 2012, she became a founding editor of Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, a digital news center based in New York that provided content to news outlets across the country.

It was her digital experience that prompted The Dallas Morning News to bring her on as managing editor in 2015. Jim Brady, former editor-in-chief of Digital First Media and the prime architect of Project Thunderdome, told the newspaper then that Tomlin was always interested in the next wave of digital and could motivate journalists to embrace it.

“She’s able to convince people to charge forward into the future,” Brady said. “They follow her right up that hill.”

Tomlin is married with two children. Her oldest son, Andrew Hackley, 28, lives in Atlanta. Her husband, Kevin Carter, and her youngest son, Avery Carter, 19, will move to Raleigh. She starts her new role on Feb. 7.

Also on Friday, Glines announced that editorial writer Jim Jenkins is retiring after 31 years at The N&O.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling