Relying solely on advertising and personal resources for its funding, the newspaper was more of a financial burden than could be accounted for, said Connie Cohn of the Friends of The Citizen.
Now, five months later, a plan is in motion for The Citizen’s revival as a non-profit paper that will be “owned by the community.”
“Carrboro and Chapel Hill need a locally owned and operated community newspaper even more now that when we started The Citizen back in 2007,” founder, owner and publisher Robert Dickson said. “I believe the non-profit model offers a great opportunity to bring local journalism back to our community.”
Many Carrboro residents were saddened when The Citizen was forced out of print. In the weeks following the paper’s folding, Randee Haven-O’Donnell, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, began spearheading the efforts to revive The Citizen.
“As a community advocate, I was compelled to respond quickly, raising awareness, calling for action and advocating our voice,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “Several folks had been talking about ways to continue The Citizen and move it forward.”
From those efforts came the Friends of The Citizen, a group of individuals who want to see The Citizen brought back to Carrboro community. The group is leading the effort to relaunch The Citizen as a non-profit paper. The board of directors is comprised of President Goodmond Danielsen, founder Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Bob Saunders, Allen Spalt, Jock Lauterer, Connie Cohn, Julian Sereno, David Jessee, Peter Lee, Alicia Stemper, Taylor Sisk, Smitha Katragadda and Ed Timberlake.
According to Cohn, in Oct. 2012, the Friends incorporated as a non-profit and began to pursue 501(c)3 status. If this pursuit is successful, The Citizen will be a pioneer in the industry of non-profit community journalism.
In Dec. 2012, the Friends signed an agreement with The People’s Channel, who will act as a fiscal sponsor during the interim period of application for the 501(c)3. Having The People’s Channel serve as their umbrella organization allows the Friends of The Citizen to begin to receive and dispense funds, make donations tax-deductible, and allows the group to apply for grants.
Additionally, the Friends are currently working to reach an agreement with Dickson on obtaining the use and assets of The Citizen. “Asset acquisition is part of our first fundraising goal,” Cohn said.
“The Friends of The Citizen look forward to the paper thriving once again,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “With The People’s Channel as our fiscal sponsor, nonprofit fundraising and a healthy business plan, the paper can extend its reach and provide useful coverage of community news, issues, and life around Orange County.”
A newspaper worth saving
The Citizen first came to publication in 2007 thanks to the efforts of Dickson, a small core staff, and a number of local contributors. According to Haven-O’Donnell, the original paper was very much a community effort. The leadership was engaged, educated, and socially conscience.
“We launched The Citizen at a time when it seemed crazy to a lot of people to be starting a print newspaper, the industry being in the condition it was, and is, in,” Taylor Sisk said. While Sisk and others recognized that the financial backing for The Citizen wasn’t quite there, they also recognized that the support from the community was extensive.
According to Peter Lee, the old Citizen was distributing 7500 copies per week. “[This] demonstrates a demand for locally owned, web [and] print news publication, and I want to rekindle and fan that passion,” he said.
Goodmond Danielsen was drawn to Carrboro in part due to the quality he found in The Citizen as a paper. “It’s hard to get a really high-quality journalistic paper in front of you,” he said.
The Citizen prided itself on in-depth coverage of the community. According to Haven-O’Donnell, the news was “wonderfully, thoughtfully and meaningfully written.” Haven O’Donnell added that while the local coverage was cutting edge, the paper’s appeal also lay in its many great features — such as Ken Moore’s wildly popular front-page column, “Flora.”
After The Citizen ceased publication, Haven-O’Donnell said that many readers were upset, fearing that Carrboro had lost its authentic and distinct voice. “Chapel Hill is like this giant comma surrounding Carrboro that threatens to eat it,” said Alicia Stemper, a former Citizen photographer. “I can’t stand that we just get subsumed if we’re not careful, because we are not the same. If you have to ask why Carrboro is different, then you just don’t get it.”
Cohn, who moved to Carrboro in 2006, joined the Board of Directors of the Friends last fall for a myriad of reasons. “I already had a sense that Carrboro was a welcoming place [and] that anyone could walk down the street and feel accepted.” She says she took the position of communications coordinator for the board of the Friends because she wanted to make a difference in her community. I’m here because when I read that the newspaper was gone, I thought, maybe it’s time for publicly owned non-profit journalism.”
The future Citizen
“The Citizen‘s folding was a result of its business model, not its journalism,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “The Citizen‘s journalistic stature was its hallmark. [It] elevated the expectation of journalism and the community conversation.”
According to Cohn, one of the goals of the relaunch of The Citizen is to create a sustainable paper. “Our goal is to pay workers a living wage,” Cohn said. “We’ve gone from thinking poor to thinking progressively and optimistically.”
Another instrumental individual in the efforts to relaunch The Citizen has been Jock Lauterer, spokesperson for Friends of The Citizen and senior lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication UNC-Chapel Hill. Lauterer is an expert in the field of community journalism, and is a champion of the concept of being “relentlessly local.”
Lauterer says that the relaunch of The Citizen will look as much like the “old” Citizen as possible, with as many of the former staff as can be mustered. Many in the Carrboro community will also be excited to learn that the popular Ken Moore column, “Flora,” is expected to reappear in the newly launched paper.
According to Cohn, The Citizen wants to partner with Lauterer’s community journalism classes in the future. “The other side of what The Citizen will be doing is providing an outlet for student reporters,” Cohn said.
This year, the Friends have already come to speak to one of Lauterer’s community journalism classes about The Citizen relaunch and the topic of sustainability in non-profit journalism. With the launch of the paper set for August of this year, The Citizen is still looking for the best way to monetize the operation, while still maintaining the idea of a paper that is “owned by the community.”
“The Friends have a tough task in front of them,” Dickson said. “But it seems like the support exists in our community to make this effort successful.”
Haven-O’Donnell says that the Friends are up to the task. “We look to the community to stand with us, and support our efforts to see the paper reboot and thrive,” she said. “Protecting our voice, this is what democracy looks like.”
At this time, donations toward reviving The Carrboro Citizen should be made payable to The People’s Channel, with “Friends of The Citizen” in the “For” notation on the check. Donations are tax-deductible.
Donations should be mailed to:
Friends of the Carrboro Citizen
104R Hwy 54 West, #350
Carrboro, NC 27510
Relevant Websites and Related Articles:
The Carrboro Citizen: http://www.carrborocitizen.com/
The People’s Channel: http://thepeopleschannel.org/
The Carrboro Citizen, “What’s a newspaper worth?” by Robert Dickson: http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2012/10/04/whats-a-newspaper-worth/
The Carrboro Citizen, “The Citizen bids adieu,” by Robert Dickson:
The Carrboro Commons, “‘Friends of The Citizen’ look for a new model,” by Chelsey Gardner: http://carrborocommons.mj.unc.edu/?p=6310
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