On September 16, 2008, founding editor Charles Duncan Pardo filed the first story under the Raleigh Public Record banner — covering a city council meeting where councilors debated the construction of a six-story building in Cameron Village, water restrictions and a proposed parking lot at Broughton High School.
Today, the Record has more than a dozen contributors, publishes eight to 10 stories a week online and printed voter guides are stacked nearly five feet tall in a corner of the Record’s new office — a major leap from its beginnings three years before.
In those years, the Record has broken news stories that were picked up in other news outlets from the News & Observer to the New York Times, and reporters have received accolades from the Triangle Press Club to the Society of Professional Journalists.
A Short Three Years
Sept. 16, 2008: Record publishes it’s first story at raleighpublicrecord.blogspot.com.
Dec. 28, 2008: Record releases website version 2 and moves from Blogger to WordPress.
Jan. 2009: Board of Directors has their first meeting.
April 2009: Development volunteers host the Record’s first fundraiser on first Friday.
Jan. 2010: Record begins paying freelance reporters to work on stories for the website.
May 6, 2010: IRS gives the Record non-profit status.
Nov. 2010: Record receives word of 2-year $70,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
March 2011: Record hires Assistant Editor Jennifer Wig part time.
April 2011: Editor Charles Duncan Pardo gives himself his first paycheck: a lofty $500.
May 2011: Duncan and reporter Will Huntsberry win awards for their reporting from the Triangle Press Club.
June 2011: Website version 3 goes live.
Aug. 2011: Record leases it’s very own office, one room just west of downtown.
Sept. 14, 2011: Record staff picks up 5,000 copies of their first print product: the 2011 Election Guide.
Reporters with the Record spend their time seeking out stories that no one else covers. They’ve sat through meetings, waded through public records requests and been able to report stories readers can’t find anywhere else: from covering the Raleigh Planning Commission and the Wake County Board of Elections to dissecting how the school system uses data to rank students and teachers and digging into recent Census data to see what that says about the city.
The Record is non-profit news organization, meaning that its budget is based on donations, grants and sponsorships. That non-profit status also means that it’s non-partisan, which, for example, means that they cannot endorse candidates in an election.
Duncan talked to people for a couple of years about starting something like the Record before he actually took the plunge.
“I love this city and I love being a reporter, so I wanted to do that here,” said Duncan.
The mission of the Record is to report on issues that are not being covered by other local news organizations, to train a new generation of journalists and use new storytelling and digital media techniques to report stories.
The Record started as an all-volunteer force, and in the beginning of 2009 had four people working on the website.
“Three years ago, I had no concept of what it would look like at this point,” Duncan said.
He said he planned from the beginning “to grow slowly and sustainably so we can serve Raleigh into the future.”
Financially, Duncan said, the Record is “ahead of where we thought we’d be.”
In 2008, the Record had no budget. In three short years the organization’s budget rose to almost $40,000, most of which came from a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Last year, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation awarded the Record $70,000 towards its operating budget for two years.
“We have a two-year cushion with money from Z. Smith Reynolds where we can plan for the future and figure out how to create a sustainable model for the Raleigh Public Record,” Duncan said.
The model, Duncan said, will have to be based on what he calls “the literal community buy-in.”
“Our goal is public-service journalism to serve Raleigh,” he said. “We are working on figuring out how to make this nonprofit a model that can serve this city well into the future with good reporting on the issues that directly impact people’s lives.”
Community Journalism in the City
According to Jock Lauterer, Director of the Carolina Community Media Project, there are about 190 community papers that belong to the North Carolina Press Association, and there are many more papers that are unaffiliated, like the Record.
Lauterer, who is also on the faculty of the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, said community papers embody the watchdog model. They do not just cover the community, but they also serve it.
“People want local,” Lauterer said.
“I applaud the Raleigh Public Record for being around three years because it’s a tough road to hoe,” he said.
He also said he wishes there was a way to “monetize” internet news.
“If it works,” he said, “it will be a good example.”
The Record’s Future
As far as whether or not the mission is being fulfilled, Duncan said the Record is “getting close.”
“We work on fulfilling that mission every day. It’s not just finishing a voter guide, filing a story or working with that young contributor and you’re done,” Duncan said.
Past contributor Andrew Mayo believes the Record has fulfilled its mission as far as training as new generation of journalists and said that he feels like he has learned a “different side of writing,” as well as the “value of research and fact” and how cities work from writing with the Record.
Mayo said the Record has “done a very good job as far as turning the broad mission of Raleigh Public Record into something very real.”
He would also like to see the Record expand its readership and visibility to others.
Photographer Karen Tam said the Record is “one publication that is really serious, really covering the news.
“To Charles’s credit, he’s covering serious news, not just the latest restaurant,” Tam said.
Tam, who used to be a photographer for the Raleigh Times and the News and Observer, recalled a moment from over the summer where, on West Hargett Street, Duncan, Tam and a couple other freelance reporters ran into each other in the midst of working on stories.
“I was thinking that that hasn’t happened in a long time because news has been decimated,” Tam said. “Years ago, that kind of gathering of journalism used to happen all of that time.”
Duncan said that his goal for the Record for the next five to 10 years “is to have a sustainable organization that covers all corners of Raleigh.”
Assistant Editor Jennifer Wig said she wanted to see the Record work on more investigative stories and “expand coverage to better serve our readers,” as well as incorporate more multimedia into the reporting.
Duncan and Wig said they plan to start focusing on more neighborhood-specific issues and digging in to do more investigative and enterprise work in the year ahead.