The Carrboro Citizen, a weekly newspaper in North Carolina, debuted in early 2007 as a relentlessly local publication. The paper recently announced its intentions to widen its coverage into adjacent Chapel Hill and beyond. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, editor Kirk Ross discusses the paper’s plans.
Q. Why is the Citizen expanding its coverage of Chapel Hill and elsewhere outside of Carrboro?
A. Actually, we’ve been doing it for a long time. Early on, we found shared interests among readers from all over Orange and Chatham counties. A lot of people from elsewhere were picking up the paper when they were in Carrboro. Then we opened up several distribution locations in Hillsborough and Chapel Hill and papers really stared moving. So reader interest — that’s a big part of the reason.
The other is that most of the other papers — the Daily Tar Heel being the exception — are getting smaller and cutting staff. We think there is a need for more local coverage and that the community wants and deserves a full airing of ideas and issues.
The big leap was deciding to cover Chapel Hill government, the university and more of the doings of Chapel Hill. It was a natural move, but it happened a little faster than we thought it would.
Q. How will the paper balance its growth with its original mission of being a paper focused on Carrboro?
A. The idea of having a paper focused on Carrboro (we were very religious about that in the beginning), was driven by the feeling that Carrboro has a lot going on, many serious issues to deal with and those need to be more fully reported.
I’d say the same goes for Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Pittsboro and so on. The boundary lines between the towns and even Orange and Chatham are blurred in so many areas — arts, music, literature — and there are a lot of shared philosophies and world views. Weaving that together and balancing constituencies is our weekly task. That said, we’ll never skip an aldermen meeting because it’s not sexy enough.
Q. You have a small staff where everyone does everything. How does editing and headline writing work at the Citizen?
Yep, we have a small shop and share a lot of responsibilities. Everybody proofs a bit. We try to use everyone’s strengths.
I’m a much better assignment editor and spirit guide than copy editor. So I do that, and Taylor Sisk does a lot of the nuts and bolts work on the copy. I do the majority of the headline writing, which I’ve always enjoyed. One of my goals for this year is to get more ahead of the process and slow the pace. That should allow for more of those flourishes that give a paper personality.
Q. The Citizen keeps growing even as many newspapers are struggling. What can a newspaper do to not just survive, but thrive?
A. You have to get back to the land. Many newspapers are too large, too layered and too distant from readers. More has to happen at ground level. We’re all going to have to get out more, work a lot harder, connect with more people and build trust.
To thrive, newspapers must be more collaborative with the communities they serve, more inclusive and open to new sources of content, and they have to absolutely own local government coverage.