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Pat Stith convinced me that The News & Observer won’t lose its soul when he leaves.

I told you he was a loyal guy. He is also persuasive.

Stith says his retirement does not stem from the buyouts. He is 66, after all. He has been pondering retirement for a while. And he wants to go out on top of his game. We both remember burned-out deadwood that stayed at the paper too long.

Stith says Executive Editor John Drescher is up to the challenge of a shrinking staff and news hole. Drescher is keeping an investigative unit, for example.

Proof came with Sunday’s front-page story by Dan Kane and Benjamin Niolet about a DOT board member steering money toward road projects adjacent to land he owned.

So I take back my overly gloomy observation in Friday’s blog post. And I hope Press Association attorney Hugh Stevens’ prediction that crooked public officials can relax turns out to be wrong, too.

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