By Jock Lauterer
Look, Iâ€™ll be straight up with yâ€™all: this ainâ€™t spin.
While I have no financial capital invested in this paper, I do have a vested interest in the well-being of The Carrboro Citizen. Because I was present at the moment of conception and birth, if you will, I consider myself this paperâ€™s Fairy Godfather (think: Disneyâ€™s â€œCinderellaâ€).
Some of you may recognize my name from photo credits and previous columns, or from the Carrboro Commons, the warts-and-all online lab newspaper produced by my Community Journalism class at UNC.
Iâ€™m here to tell you why I love my hometown newspaper and why we should all support it.
At last count, there were 20-plus publications out there in the racks along Franklin and Main streets, including a slew of free papers.
Add to that news menu The Carrboro Citizen.
So why is this new paper special? How is it different from the others? And why should you care about whether The Citizen fails or flourishes?
To answer those questions, letâ€™s go to little Yerington, Nev., where that townâ€™s 3,700-circulation weekly paper, the Mason Valley News, bears the following unequivocal motto beneath itâ€™s nameplate:
â€œTHE ONLY NEWSPAPER IN THE WORLD THAT GIVES A DAMN ABOUT YERINGTON.â€
There you go. The Citizen is the only newspaper in the world that really cares about Carrboro. And hereâ€™s my proof: Why has there never before been a full-fledged, standalone, all-local newspaper in Carrboro?
Because historically publishers have looked at Carrboro not as a community but as a market.
Carrboro isnâ€™t a big enough market to support a newspaper â€“ so went the conventional publisherâ€™s wisdom. Never mind the fact that Carrboro as a community clearly needed, wanted and deserved its own voice-bulletin board-refrigerator door-mirror-scrapbook-history book-chat room â€¦ all the many things a quality community newspaper can and should be.
So what kind of publisher would go against the grain? It would have to be someone with experience, vision and wellâ€¦cojones. Enter Robert â€œBubbaâ€ Dickson, owner of the Hoke County News-Journal and newly â€œretiredâ€ to Carrboro. With the practiced eye of a veteran publisher, Dickson quickly realized how â€œcoolâ€ and yet journalistically overlooked Carrboro was. After over six months of research, Dickson put together a small but talented staff led by the veteran local journalist Kirk Ross, and on March 21, after several all-nighters, launched The Citizen. Heady times indeed.
Now, two months later, the adrenalin high of a start-up has receded and itâ€™s down to the nitty-gritty hard work of putting out a quality paper every week. But a newspaper is not only an information source; itâ€™s a business too. And whether an independent, all-local broadsheet newspaper published exclusively for Carrboro can make it financially is a huge risk â€“ a risk even big chains with all their financial resources werenâ€™t willing to take.
Let me introduce a novel thought: We Carrborians need to think about The Citizen like a print/online version of a public broadcasting station. That is to say, weâ€™re not just readers; weâ€™re underwriters. Either we readers and advertisers support The Citizen or it goes away.
That means if you have a local business, you need to buy an ad. Not just to promote your business, but also to help underwrite this unique publication. If you are a reader, you can do two things: First, tell advertisers you saw their ad in The Citizen, and then subscribe by going to delivery@carrborocitizen or by phoning 942-2100.
Iâ€™m sure if the Cowboy Poet, Baxter Black, lived in Carrboro, heâ€™d be a loyal subscriber to The Citizen. A couple of years back he penned a column headlined â€œWhy I love my hometown newspaper.â€ Though Black was writing about the weekly San Pedro (Ariz.) News-Sun, I bet heâ€™d love equally our Carrboro Citizen. Hereâ€™s the gospel according to Baxter Black:
â€œSmall-town papers often thrive because CNN or The New York Times are not going to scoop them for coverage of â€œVFW Fish Fryâ€ or â€œBridge Construction Delayâ€ or boys and girls playing basketball, receiving scholarships, graduating, getting married or going off to warâ€¦
â€œI think of local papers as the last refuge of unfiltered America â€“ a running documentary of the warts and triumphs of Real People â€“ unfettered by the Spin and Bias and the Opaque Polish of todayâ€™s Homogenized Journalism.
â€œIt is the difference between Homemade Bread and Pop Tarts.â€
Jock Lauterer, the author of â€œCommunity Journalism: Relentlessly Local,â€ teaches at the UNC-CH School of Journalism and Mass Communication where he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 962-6421. The Carrboro Commons may be found at carrborocommons.org