Our mission hasn't downsized

If you caught your news on TV or radio last week, you learned that water mains had burst like balloons across south Charlotte.

If you checked the “newsroom” page of the Web site for Charlotte-Mecklenburg's government, you found a related statement to the public that led with this news:

“Repairs accelerated last night on the 54-inch water main along Providence Road at Briar Creek, and the progress is encouraging.”

But if you read either The Charlotte Observer or its Web site,, you also learned this:

Our water system has about seven times as many breaks per mile as similar-sized systems in other cities.

Our utilities officials can't explain why this is so.

Our elected leaders are openly worried that the leaks point to serious long-term problems with the area's infrastructure.

Those facts matter all the more if you suffered through another week of water restrictions – not because of drought, but because of broken water mains.

Few would expect a government agency to scrutinize its own services this closely on a public Web site.

Nor is it reasonable to expect such context from local broadcast news, at least on a routine basis. Those stations field small news staffs that do well to move from one scene of breaking news to another.

But this is the work of The Charlotte Observer. And, given some tough news about your newspaper over the past week, I want to assure you that we're still committed to doing that work.

On Monday, Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins announced that we must eliminate 123 positions, roughly 11 percent of our work force, to cope with the economic downturn. Twenty-two of the positions are in the newsroom.

Sadly, we are not unique. Many companies are similarly downsizing to respond to a sluggish economy. You've read about those job reductions on these pages. They may well have touched you or your neighbors.

Across our company, we are losing highly prized and capable colleagues. It is very difficult to see them go. They devoted themselves to bringing you news and information that make a difference in your life.

It grieves us to lose them now. But we will not lose our resolve to keep you informed and engaged.

That is our most important job in a free and self-governing society. It's simple, really. In our country, you are the boss by virtue of your citizenship. If you are to be a good boss, you need to know how things are going.

Our country's founders understood this so well that they insisted on a free and independent press in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way:

“Were it left to me to decide if we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Our country has been blessed to have both, working independently for the good of its people. At the Observer, we don't intend to let a rough patch in the economy deter us from holding up our part of the bargain now.

How, you may ask, will we still do this with fewer people and resources?

In coming weeks, I'll explain how we hope to use new technology to work more easily across the growing number of platforms that are the Observer. This includes the printed paper,, Eye (an alternative weekly newspaper for uptown and central Charlotte), and six regional magazines.

I'll tell you about greater collaboration on coverage of sports, features and state government with the News & Observer of Raleigh, which shares the same corporate parent, McClatchy Newspapers.

But I must also let you in on a little secret. No newspaper ever had “enough” people or resources (and I'll bet the same is true at your workplace). It's a big world out there, filled with fascinating people, places and events. We couldn't tell you about all of them even if we tripled our staff.

We've served our region for more than 120 years, through good times and bad, by making reasonably good choices. That continues to be our challenge, and the people who make up today's Observer are more than prepared to meet it.

So, when water mains rupture all over town, Observer reporter Clay Barbour will still dig into public records, call other cities for comparisons and interview elected officials for a clearer assessment of the circumstances.

At Barbour's back will be the press operators, computer technicians, advertising sales representatives and newspaper carriers who make up the total operation that is the Observer and

Thanks to all of them, we'll still take you into the schools, the courts, the legislature and the marketplace.

And because we're committed to all that makes us a community, you'll continue to experience Panthers games, farmers markets, popular nightspots and the Charlotte Symphony.

No, we can't cover everything that moves. Never could. But if our coverage moves you, helps you, and empowers you to engage in our community, we'll be very pleased about that. We hope you will be, too.