After almost five years and over 280 consecutive weekly issues, publisher Robert Dickson has decided to sell The Carrboro Citizen. I find this sad news in a market already saturated with local news reporting, including the outstanding news and information presented on WCHL and chapelboro.com. Of course, other papers cover Carrboro stories, but nobody has actually based a major publication in The Paris of the Piedmont since Nyle Frank’s Invisible University with its Centipede rag in 1970, and Jim Heavner’s Village Advocate published from upstairs at 103 West Weaver over 30 years ago.
In 2007, Dickson took a chance and launched a new Carrboro-based community newspaper, geared to primarily covering Carrboro, while reporting Chapel Hill, Orange and Chatham stories as well. Dickson’s family has also owned and published The News Journal in Raeford since 1928. Digital distribution of news has hurt most, if not all, print publications, but community journalism still thrives nationwide, with most locally-based weekly papers doing well, according to legendary local photojournalist, Carrboro Citizen columinist and senior UNC Journalism lecturer, Jock Lauterer.
Lauterer teaches community journalism at Carolina and regularly helps his students get published in The Citizen, as well as in the J-school’s on-line publication, Carrboro Commons. Nowadays, websites regularly mirror and expand news coverage traditionally available only in primary publications. Readers can easily search previous issues and articles from the comfort of their Internet connection without being resigned to physical trips to search library microfilm.
One of my regular Thursday-evening rituals involves stopping on NC 54 West on the way home and picking up my copy of The Citizen at White Cross Citgo. Local advertising in The Citizen continues strong compared to other papers, despite the recession. It’s a place where Carrboro business can preach to their own, even though most of the paper’s 7300 copy weekly distrubution (at more than 200 urban and rural locations) is, ironically, in Chapel Hill. Add web readers, and The Citizen’s reach totals over 15,000 eyes consistently enjoying what the paper’s outstanding staff and citizen contributors have to say each week. The Citizen has helped make Carrboro news stories equal in stature to those in Chapel Hill, while only a couple of decades ago, these stories were routinely placed “below the fold” or relegated to inside pages.
Besides its outstanding coverage of local news, The Citizen also excels in printing special sections, such as its monthly Mill insert and extra “tabs” for community events such as Carrboro Day, the Carrboro Music Festival and the “awesome” (Dickson’s words) Carrboro Resource Guide.
Dickson says he’s just become tired from the stress and financial pressures of running a small business since 1977, adding “the time has come for me to pass the baton.” He now runs an unusual house ad pleading “Buy This Newspaper.” Let’s hope that ad doesn’t run long. I certainly feel some forward-thinking citizen will soon come forward and rescue this print/web gem.
Dickson explains his public “highly non-traditional method of seeking new ownership” by saying the paper belongs mostly to its readers. Therefore, he feels readers “should have first crack at continuing what we’ve begun.”
Dickson has no interest in selling his paper to anyone “who would change its focus from nuanced, community-focused journalism.” He wants to find a buyer with the energy and resources to take The Citizen to the next level of community involvement, circulation and sales without messing too much with the product he has molded into such a fine example of locally-owned and -operated community-based print and web journalism over the last five years.
Support messages already grace The Citizen’s Web site. One reader posted “I don’t know how I’ll get through the week without The Citizen.” Someone pondered purchase and operating options, while another simply exclaimed “NOOoooooooooooooo. Please say it isn’t so!” Obviously, the community supports the paper.
So if you’ve ever wanted to venture into long-form local journalism and ad sales, call Robert and start negotiating before this highly professional, award-winning, free-circulation publication folds this fall. After all, we wouldn’t want WCHL Commentator Chuck Morton to lose his distribution job. Dickson says he’s already had “some interest” from potential buyers. Surely, someone will step up. Whatever the price, this crucial hyper-local resource is too important to lose.
Listen to Richard Taylor’s piece as it aired on WCHL:http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/save-the-carrboro-citizen