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N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement

It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting.

JimwiseAnyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work.

A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed.

And his voice will be missed.

Wise, who started writing for the Herald-Sun in 1981 and moved to the News & Observer in 2005 after new owners Paxton Media cut a quarter of the staff after their $125 million acquisition of the Rollins family's paper.

(Yes, newcomers, someone paid that much for a newspaper in an MSA of less than a half-million people. In 2005. That's half what it would later cost Jeff Bezos to buy the Washington Post in 2013, and almost 50% more than what it cost to buy the Boston Globe that same year. Timing's a, well, you know.)

He was a great pick-up for the N&O, as Wise has ably anchored the reporting crew and contributed great commentary to the McClatchy outfit.

A Duke (class of '66) grad himself, Wise stuck around Durham for almost his entire adult life. Over the latter stretch of his career, Wise became known as much for his writing on Durham and regional history as for his newspaper work.

His works include Durham: A Bull City Story, Durham Tales, On Sherman's Trail, and Murder in the Courthouse -- along with a stint editing Tar Heel magazine and Duke's alumni publications.

City Council members briefly feted the scribe during the opening remarks portion of last night's Council meeting -- with Mayor Bell even offering Wise the mic if he wanted to say a few words. Wise, true to form, smiled but didn't take him up on it.

But Durhamites would do well to read Wise's commentary in the Indy from back in 2005, during his last career transition. His words on the importance of a vital local press resonate more strongly now than they did a decade ago, even. 

And in talking about the value of local ownership of press outlets, Jim hit upon a phrase that has meaning well beyond his specific topic at the time, something that Durham has discovered across so many dimensions during our revitalization:

"As place-specific elements go, a community loses a character of its own, its Sense of Place. As everywhere becomes anywhere we end up nowhere."

We, too, are losing a character of our own, at least from the newspapers. Here's hoping Jim sticks around in places besides "the funnies" to share his unique wisdom about our region's history.

N&O editor Mark Schultz announced a retirement party for Wise on Friday, June 19, from 5-7 p.m., at the Durham History Hub downtown.

Photo h/t Jim's Twitter feed, @jaydubdum.


Susan sewell

Jim was our only source while BCR was gone. Interesting timing that you just returned. Makes it not quite so bad. Still, would prefer both.

Kevin Davis

Susan -- I'd take Jim over me any day! As I said in the hiatus-cum-sabbatical post four years ago, we need sustainable models for local coverage because the "citizen journalist" model is not long-term sustainable. Jim's a classic example of the importance of paid, professional, accountable, knowledgeable journalism in the community.

I've been working for a month or so on some of the back-end changes and clean-up needed to relaunch the site, and drafted the comeback article Thursday night last week -- which made it so strange to me, too, to see news of Jim's retirement in an Mark Schultz email on Friday.

Carol anderson

Huge loss for Durham!
Jim asked the pertinent questions that provided a more complete understanding of every issue he covered. His reporting will be sorely missed.
Thanks for many years of great writing.

Loren B. Mead

Hot Diggity Dog!!! Raleigh celebrated his work at THAT paper by saying "They got Wise!"
Well, now, and I speak for an ecstatic family to say "Whoopee! Now WE get more of Wise!" And I'm just an in-law! Think how pleased the whole clan is -- wife Babs, 'kids' Babs and Ben, three grandkids, and a whole gaggle of nephews, nieces, cousins and plain camp followers. Jim, when are you going to take me on a tour of Bennett Place? Loren B. Mead


Jim Wise will be sorely missed. He's done a marvelous job over the years covering I don't know what all in Durham, from soup to nuts, and we've got a lot of nuts! He's poked some fun at the deserving and tried to keep us from getting too big for our britches. His talent at cutting through to the truth of things has shone some well-needed light at times. Sure do wish he could download all the stories in his head - I'll bet there are some fascinating ones yet untold. While he deserves a fine retirement, I hope he'll spin some more stories from time to time.

Toby Barfield

Jim Wise is a true Durham treasure and his coverage of the Bull City will be sorely missed.

Donna Rudolph

Jim, Elsewhere (Va., NE., FL) I've been involved in local issues that matter to residents and found no one who captured and reported as well as you what local government was doing to or for it's communities. Yours has been the "go-to" report during my nine years in the Triangle. Perhaps you'll now have time to craft a volume or two to share some of this place's entertaining, frustrating, or surprising big and little stories that you've archived in print and in your mind. Write On! Donna R.

Cecilia Eichenberger

Oh what will we do without his wise coverage? no pun intended. I suppose someone will come forward to dig into the issues and the underbelly of things, but it's hard to replace Jim Wise, whom we know and trust. But he deserves a rest too, after all his hard work.


Jim Wise...this is a voice from the past. We worked together when you were Editor of Tar Heel Magazine. I was featured on the cover of one issue with puppetry work in the schools. Been in Raleigh since 1992. Am doing some work now that would benefit from your input. Please reply to this post and we can talk. Thanks. Barbara

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