Former WDN Executive Editor J. Michael Rouse Has Died

Published 8:31 pm Monday, April 11, 2022

By KAREN THIEL

For the Washington Daily News

If you ask former Daily News publisher Ashley “Brownie” Futrell, he will immediately tell you that former editor Michael “Mike” Rouse “laid the foundation for our Pulitzer Prize.” The legendary journalist died April 8 after a long illness, leaving a legacy that former WDN publisher Futrell recently described as “outstanding” – both locally and nationally.

Rouse was hired at the Daily News in the mid 1980s, one of the four North Carolina-based news outlets he worked for during his years as a reporter and editor. Beginning and ending his news career at the Goldsboro News-Argus, he became known as a creative trainer of younger reporters and an innovative contributor to the news industry, contributing to the successes of the Durham Morning Herald and the Fayetteville Observer, as well as the Associated Press.

Rouse was no stranger to accomplishment and recognition. After serving a two-year stint in the Army, he returned to North Carolina for a job as AP’s news editor for North and South Carolina, where he became well known for his coverage of the civil rights movement. He was also part of the team that tested and introduced the computerized transmission of news, replacing “the old teletype machines on which stories were retyped to be transmitted over slow-speed leased telephone lines,” according to the Associated Press. It was during those years with AP that Rouse also supervised the collection of votes in the Carolinas’ 640 precincts, the first time ever for such an undertaking.

According to the Associated Press, that project was done on behalf of the then-newly-formed News Election Service, a consortium of wire news services and broadcast networks for whom Rouse became an admired innovator. He hired teachers in every North and South Carolina precinct, who called in votes from those local offices as soon as they were counted. That practice continues to this day, with a nationwide staff of “stringers” – part time contract employees whose sole job is to report every single vote change in the locations where they are assigned for the entirety of election day.

Rouse also had a reputation as a local news loyalist, refusing an offer to relocate to the Chicago offices of the Associated Press in 1971, leaving the internationally known news agency after 10 years, returning soon after that to local newspaper management at the Durham Morning Herald – and continuing to earn accolades and honors among his industry peers.

But with all that accomplishment on his resume, Rouse’s former publisher Brownie Futrell said this week that the most long-lasting and lifesaving legacy left by the community minded newsman was the training and encouragement he gave to WDN reporters Mike Voss and Betty Gray. They are the two reporters whose series of articles about the damaging health effects of Beaufort County water – which, per the Pulitzer citation, “was contaminated with carcinogens, a problem that the local government had neither disclosed nor corrected over a period of eight years” — earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize for “meritorious public service” in 1990, shortly after Rouse had taken a job at another newspaper.

“Mike helped lay the groundwork for our Pulitzer Prize. He worked closely with Betty and Mike as their direct supervisor. I think he was a little disappointed that he left before that (recognition), but I told him many times that he had a big part in winning that Pulitzer,” Futrell said. “He created an atmosphere where, when it was time to be serious, then that was it. He was a great newspaper man, but fun to be around. The staff all enjoyed him. He was a real asset I terms of what he bought, not only from the journalistic standpoint. When it was time to be lighthearted, Mike did have a fun side.”

Futrell said Rouse’s “fun side” also caused some frayed nerves on the day he decided to go kayaking in Tranter’s Creek. “He went missing for over a day, lost in the creek. We were on pins and needles till he was found and rescued,” Futrell said. “It wasn’t funny at the time, but from then on everybody teased him about it. He took his sense of adventure and wonder about what’s around the next bend a bit too literally that time, but that’s also part of what makes a good newsperson. He had balance.”

He also had an effect on Futrell’s life. “I cannot express my feelings of how important he was to me, both personally and professionally. We became very close during the time he was here in Washington, among our newspaper peers (where) in that newspaper setting we were family. That’s the way we operate as a small newspaper.”

He was a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Goldsboro. A long-time Kiwanian, his volunteer service also included the positions on the boards of United Way of Wayne County, Crime Stoppers, and the Washington Chamber of Commerce. When not serving the community, Rouse often hunted and fished with his friends and relatives, or could be found reading history books. He is author of one book, written during his retirement and entitled “High Calling: The Story of a Mountain Preacher” about his former father-in-law, the Reverend Ronald Holland.

Rouse is survived by his wife, Gloria Thomas Rouse, with whom he spent his last years in Carolina Beach, prior to his illness. He is also survived by son David C. Rouse of Goldsboro and David’s his wife Jennifer, as well as step-son Kevin Anderson, daughter Jane Rouse Ellison and her husband Lucien, three grandchildren, and two sisters. He was preceded in death by his brother Baines and two previous wives.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 15 at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Goldsboro. There will be no burial because Rouse’s body is being donated for medical research. Before he died, Rouse requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made either to the Rouse Scholarship Fund, N.C. Foundation for Christian Ministries at P.O. Box 210, Mount Olive, NC 28365 – or to Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 300 South Laurel Street, Goldsboro, NC 27530.