By Shera Everette
Carrboro Commons Writer
Readers who picked up the March 27 edition of The Carrboro Citizen got a real surprise: a story about an aerial gondola coming to Carrboro.
Whether readers believed it or not, they saw what community journalism is about.
Especially the April Fools’ edition.
“I like humor,” said Kirk Ross, editor of The Carrboro Citizen. “I think newspapers ought to have a sense of humor. It was a good exercise in learning how different people read the newspaper.”
Catering to the community
Only a community newspaper could report a fictitious town development plan and avoid severe backlash from its readers. Ross said the relationship that The Citizen has built with its readers is the reason why the newspaper is still around after a year of publication.
“I think it’s really connected with a lot of people,” Ross said. “The great thing is that people are taking ownership of this paper. We tell our readers, ‘We’re a couple of folks who know how to make a newspaper, but we’re making it for you. Tell us what you want.’”
Robert “Bubba” Dickson, the newspaper’s publisher, echoed Ross’ sentiments.
“Still being here, we have shown the people of Carrboro what being a community paper meant,” Dickson, whose family owns The News-Journal in Raeford, said.
Ross and Dickson started The Citizen in 2006, launching its first online edition on Nov. 2. It began its print edition on March 21, 2007. Since beginning publication, the newspaper has increased to a 12-page layout and has added more color.
Ross said The Citizen is the diary of the town, breaking stories about Carrboro, demystifying city government and telling stories about food, plants, pets and the past.
“I remember listening to a guy from the Greensboro sit-in tell his story and just thinking (to myself) that I have the best job,” Ross said.
Lisa Dixon, a senior English major at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she first read the newspaper to get a feel for Carrboro.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve always heard that Carrboro is so much different from Chapel Hill,” Dixon said. “So I picked up the paper and enjoyed the variety of stories that they have. I especially like the plant stories.”
Growth through collaboration
Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project, has witnessed the growth of the newspaper and admires its approach to journalism.
“In an era when the big-city newspaper is sucking wind, it restoreth my faith in journalism,” Lauterer said. “For Bubba (Dickson) to take a risk on a place that (other publishers have) turned their noses up at is incredibly heroic to me.”
Both Ross and Dickson thought starting the newspaper was essential because the town is often underserved by other media. Ross said media that do cover the town tend to write about Carrboro for the rest of the Triangle.
“We write about Carrboro for the people who live here,” Ross said. “It’s a more familiar style. We’re not riddling copy with clichés trying to explain Carrboro.
“If Carrboro was anywhere except attached to Chapel Hill, it would have already had its own newspaper.”
Ideas to start the newspaper began when Dickson and Ross were introduced to each other by Lauterer. Dickson had been an inspiration for Lauterer’s Carrboro Commons, an online newspaper created by students in a community journalism class at UNC-CH. Lauterer calls himself “the fairy godfather” for bringing them together.
“It’s been such fun to watch them get birthed, crawl, get on their knees, walk and now run,” Lauterer said. “I love to see that transformation happen when it turns to something that’s magic.”
Through an agreement by The Citizen and the Carrboro Commons, Dickson and Ross provide advice and mentorship for the student writers of the Commons in exchange for use of their stories and photos. Dickson said the relationship between the two papers is a great asset.
Ross said he hopes more student interns will visit The Citizen and want a career in community journalism.
“We want to keep newspapers alive,” Ross said. “We’ll show people that this is what a small paper can do.”