Trial by Ice  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   January/February 2003

Trial by Ice   

Neil Offen, the new editor of the Chapel Hill Herald, starts his job two days before an ice storm slams North Carolina.

By Kathryn S. Wenner
Kathryn S. Wenner, a former AJR associate editor, is a copy editor at the Washington Post.     


Neil Offen begins his tenure as editor of North Carolina's Chapel Hill Herald two days before a severe ice storm glazed the state. The Herald itself lost power for most of a day, Offen says, and sent its six reporters to work at "the mother ship," Durham's Herald-Sun, or from home, if they were lucky enough to have electricity. "Everyone worked," Offen says. "We never missed a day." And for the next week the paper published twice as many stories as usual. "It's one of the true times you have very stark evidence of the importance of what we do." Offen, 56, brings a broad background to the 13,000-circulation daily, distributed in a two-county area. Offen started out at the New York Post, then freelanced, wrote books and edited an English-language weekly in Paris before settling in Chapel Hill. He began writing a humor column for the Herald in 1999 and the next year became the public schools reporter. "Probably a higher percentage of people here read my stuff [about schools]," Offen says, "than the percentage of New Yorkers who read my stuff about the New York Mets."

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