North Carolina Journalist Gives A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Local Media

Mar 18, 2013

I Never Promised Not To Tell by Grady Jefferys

The Pew Research Center released its annual State of the Media report for 2012, and television news viewership is down. Political coverage has declined, and on local TV news, 40 percent of the content is made up of traffic, sports and weather. Meanwhile, newspaper newsrooms in 2012 employed 40,000 people, the smallest number of full-time journalists since 1978.

“We are in a state of chaos in the news and information business -- that world," journalist Grady Jefferys told Frank Stasio on The State of Things. "I don’t think anyone knows how it’ll settle down.  But looking back over time, chaos has a pretty good record of producing something better.”

Jefferys has had a lifelong career as a newsmaker in North Carolina. He sat on staff at WRAL during the station's early days, wrote and edited for the News & Observer and worked on many of the major political campaigns of the 1970s. His new book is called "I Never Promised Not to Tell: Revealing, Behind-The-Scenes Stories by a Veteran Writer Who Was Part of It."

Jefferys started in TV news in 1956 at WNAO, the now-defunct station formerly owned by The News & Observer. Television journalism was still an experiment, and Jefferys recalls early newsroom debates about the medium. 

"Pictures are wonderful if they help the story," he said. "But the story should be the story.  And it should not be influenced by anything except the content of the story.”

In 1957, WNAO shut its doors, and Jefferys started working at the up-and-coming station WRAL.  There, he was colleagues with a young Jesse Helms, who had just been given his own weekly program called "Facts of the Matter." The decision to give him a pulpit was controversial.

"The program director came into my office, and he was outraged," Jefferys said. 

But the program was a hit, and WRAL helped launch Jesse Helms into the spotlight.

Grady Jefferys at the WUNC studio.
Credit Christina Blyde

"Many people that you wouldn't have thought were Jesse Helms supporters were strong believers in what he was saying at the time," Jefferys said.