Local Journalism Still Needs Your Support

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James Borden

Journalists are OK with asking tough questions. “Please give us some money” isn’t one of them.

That’s one of the many challenges of nonprofit news. We dedicate ourselves to serving the public, reporting on issues close to home, and giving all sides a fair hearing. It’s a humbling experience, and one that doesn’t leave us with much time to ask for your support.

But ask we must. It’s been a year since the Record’s founder, Charles Duncan, wrote his last Editor’s Notebook, warning our loyal readers that this publication was in danger of going under. The threat of closure is even more imminent now, and we owe you an update on our status.

First of all, we’re still here. In my first year as editor, we have been able to continue publishing news about Raleigh despite a much-reduced budget and the departure of longtime staff members.

Reporter Chris Tepedino joined us, and is now covering City Council, its various committees, the Planning Commission and other important city hall oriented stories. I’ve continued writing the Development Beat, which has moved from a weekly to a daily column.

We have some talented freelancers, who have brought us some really good stories about everything from the lack of downtown hotels to a longer-form piece about the difficulties faced by both developers and residents amid Raleigh’s tremendous growth. We’ve even added regular coverage of some of Raleigh’s CAC meetings that we’d like to grow even further. Click here to see a project in its infancy.

But we’re working for peanuts. For the roughly 30 hours per week I spend — outside of my day job — on Record business, I am paid something less than $3 per hour. Chris earns a part-time salary, but deserves more, and could produce more, if our coffers weren’t so lean.

The potential for growth in Raleigh journalism is staggering. That’s not because the region lacks quality news outlets. The News & Observer covers the region thoroughly despite its own cutbacks, the Indy offers narrative reporting and commentary, and the local TV stations are packed with talent.

Yet there’s still a lot of important issues going unreported, a lot of important stories going untold.

As I said, our mission here is to serve the public. By providing evenhanded, unbiased coverage of everything from city council meetings to neighborhood disputes over a new elementary school, I believe we are fulfilling our mission to serve the community. Still, we must rely on the kindness of strangers in order to keep the lights on.

So we turn to you, our readers, for help. If just 300 of you donated $5 per month, we can keep our heads above water. If all of our 3,400 Twitter followers did the same, we could hire a full-time staff and begin building the news organization Raleigh readers deserve.

Still curious about why an organization like the Record deserves your hard-earned cash? Or maybe you want to help, but don’t have any money to give? By signing up for our new weekly volunteer list, you can help us tell some of those stories that go untold.

Let us know if you have a particular set of skills: anything from programming to photography to illustration to graphic design to sales to research and analysis … the list goes on. If you’re good at something, I can put you to use.
Each week I’ll send out an email; it’ll contain a list of activities tailored to the skill sets of our volunteers.

There’s no pressure or obligation to do something every week or every month; I’d just ask that you help when you can. If you want more details or want to sign up, drop me a line at editor@raleighpublicrecord.org.

One last thing — I’ve had a lot of people ask me how and why I do this. I’ll try to cut it down to two main reasons.

 First and foremost, I feel an obligation to this community, especially those of you who’ve been kind enough to donate your time or your money. By doing so, you’ve shown faith in this organization, and I intend to live up to that.

The second reason also involves faith of a sort: my own. I believe in journalism as a vital public service and as a crucial part of the public dialogue. Like any good acolyte, few things bring me greater pleasure than furthering this cause. It’s why I work an extra 30 hours a week on top of my day job, and it’s why I enjoy attending city and community meetings the way most people enjoy attending the movies.

I want to believe there’s a viable future for journalism in a world where everyone gets their news for free, mostly from content-aggregators. I think that future involves hyperlocal, nonprofit and non-biased coverage like what we provide here at the Record. I could be wrong, but I hope with the help of all of you, I can, for the first time in my life, be proven right about something.

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