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Letter from the editor: The future of journalism

At a little over 600 square feet in three rooms, the office isn’t much to look at, but it’s home. The publisher’s “suite” occupies one of the southern corners of the big room.
His youngest daughter — our town reporter — and a desk for interns occupy the other southern corner. The north side of the room is home to the two people who make up our ad and business departments. In between, on one side are some bookshelves and on the other, wedged in between a filing cabinet and the publisher’s lone partition, is the domain of our contributing editor, who cleaned up in the state press awards this year.

Next to the big room is the entryway and kitchen and a little bathroom and storage area. In the small room — known fondly as the “editorial suite” — are a couple of filing cabinets, a work table, our art director’s space and the desk of yours truly. Nearby, a small dog rests on a small couch. If you pay us a visit, he may or may not greet you, depending on how soundly he’s sleeping. Every desk in the office came from UNC surplus. I sit at a deluxe L-shaped number that went for $35.

Whenever I find myself wondering about the future of journalism, a little voice chimes in, “Yer looking at it, pal.”

You can’t be in this business without wondering how much wilder the ride can get. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll spare you the wind up. The talking points are that not every newspaper is in trouble and that most that are hurting are chain-owned metro dailies burdened by debt brought on by a mergers-and-acquisition craze reminiscent of the Dutch tulip bubble.

Two years ago amid this maelstrom, The Carrboro Citizen published the first issue of the first volume.

Robert Dickson and I started this paper in part because we saw an opening in the market and in part because we thought Carrboro and surrounding environs should have a locally owned and focused paper. But mostly we started The Citizen because we believe in newspapers.

To be honest, when we started that was a pretty lonely place. Some of the better business minds in the area were quick to point out that we were daft since print is a dying part of the information industry. Our contention was then, and is now, that print may be shrinking, but it is hardly dying. Having the opportunity to start from scratch, post Internet, provided us with the chance to incorporate a lot of hard-learned lessons.

So yes, we’ve got blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and, according to the N.C. Press Association, operate the third-best website in the state for papers our size.

But all that and the print product too would be worthless without the one thing that gives purpose to our endeavor: journalism. It is quality work, solid reporting and good storytelling that empties the racks each week. Technological advances can enhance that, but not replace it.

This past Monday, we received in our small office the 14 UNC journalism students who produce the web-based Carrboro Commons for Jock Lauterer’s community journalism class. Their predecessors’ interest in the idea of a newspaper for Carrboro was the original inspiration for The Citizen, and each semester Jock brings the new class up to the office for a visit and some speechifying about newspapers.

Not long before they arrived, we’d gotten the news of the 78 new layoffs at the N&O. If there is anything that underlines the insanity of the current situation in newspapers, it’s seeing another round of layoffs at a paper that is still turning a profit. I’ve had a lot of very sobering discussions of late with young people interested in taking up journalism. They are genuinely worried, and rightly so. They know that for the near term their chosen profession is on shifting sands.

You hold in your hand the first issue of the third volume of The Carrboro Citizen. Each week, more than 5,000 people like you prove to those students and to us that there is a future for journalism. — Kirk Ross

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  1. BrianR

    Congratulations! I’m looking forward to reading your work for many years to come. :)

  2. Concerned Citizen

    Kudos for swimming against the tide. I enjoy the hard copy when I can get my hands on it.

    It is similar in tone if not size to the Avery journal, maybe that is why I like it so much. Great local flavor.

  3. RecycleBill

    Someday, after the News & Record finally kicks the bucket, Greensboro will have a newspaper as worthy as the Carrboro Citizen.

    I look forward to that day.

  4. GinnySkal

    Kirk,
    What you’re doing is so inspiring. We need more print evangelists out there. I’m still one of them, and promise to be at least until I pay off my student loan for my print journalism degree, which will probably take decades. So I’ll be a cheerleader for a long time. Congratulations and keep it up.