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The only thing worse than the cuts at The News & Observer was the way N&O executives handled the announcement. They sounded like the stonewalling government bureaucrats the N&O excoriates during Open Government Week.

Jonathan B. Cox, who wrote the story, had the hardest job in North Carolina. Imagine writing about your employers while they’re deciding which 16 newsroom employees will be fired.

This line was especially interesting:

“For readers, the changes will mean a thinner newspaper with more focused coverage and a scope that reaches across North Carolina.”

What does “more focused coverage” mean? Sounds like “less.”

And “a scope that reaches across North Carolina?” That apparently refers to the fact that the N&O will no longer be competing with The Charlotte Observer. They will move closer to being one newspaper.

John Drescher, the N&O’s executive editor and senior vice president for news, was honest:

“Clearly, when you look at these changes and some other changes we’ve made, print readers are going to get less….Strategically, our goal is to maintain the quality of our print product” (while offering more on The N&O’s Web sites).

The N&O’s chiefs owe the public more than what was in effect a published press release.

All last week, they stonewalled WRAL, huffing that any announcements would be made in the N&O.

But can you count on any institution – a newspaper or a government agency – to report honestly on itself?

Drescher and publisher Orage Quarles III should subject themselves to questions from outside reporters.

Yes, the N&O is owned by a private company. But it has a public role and a public responsibility.

The paper should show the same accountability it demands from other companies and institutions.

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