Published: Aug 04, 2012 12:00 AM
Modified: Aug 03, 2012 07:14 PM
CARRBORO - The publisher of The Carrboro Citizen, a free weekly newspaper, announced he is calling it quits in a column Thursday headlined “Buy this newspaper.”
Robert Dickson, who took on three competing newspapers covering southern Orange County and conventional wisdom five years ago, said his enthusiasm for running a small business has waned.
“I guess I’m just tired,” he wrote.
The paper, known for its colorful pages, hyper-local focus and a front-page column about plants, prints 7,500 copies and has a 90 percent pickup rate at boxes and stacks around town, Dickson said.
He would not name an asking price for the newspaper, which leases its building, and would not say when he might close shop without a buyer beyond “sometime this fall.”
Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and Alderman Dan Coleman, an occasional contributor to the newspaper, praised the Citizen’s local news coverage.
At a time when many bigger newspapers are cutting back and losing veteran reporters who know their beats, Chilton said the Citizen has gained knowledge and context.
“I’m really sorry it has not been more lucrative,” Chilton said.
Coleman said he’d be interested in trying to keep it going if he were not moving to Australia in January. He said he hopes the paper survives.
“Its been incredibly fortunate for Carrboro to have a locally owned and operated paper that focuses on local stories,” Coleman said. “That’s just incredibly valuable in this day.”
The Citizen obtained a $50,000 seven-year loan from the Town of Carrboro’s small-business revolving loan fund in 2009.
The company has $35,146.28 left to pay, said Annette Stone, the town’s director of economic and community development.
“It’s current, and they’ve communicated that it’s not going to be a problem paying it off,” Stone said.
Chilton said he never saw any conflict of interest in the loan from a local government to a newspaper that covered that government.
“We’re not journalists; we don’t necessarily look at things in the context of journalistic ethics,” Chilton said. Besides, he said, the terms of the loan prevent the town from calling it in early or pressuring the newspaper for favorable coverage.
In an interview Dickson said the recession and collapse of the real estate market have hurt the paper.
He said he’s basically selling the Citizen’s good name.
“I am most proud of the fact that we (have brought) this community a locally owned and operated newspaper when it didn’t have one, and this community has responded emphatically,” Dickson said.
Dickson is hopeful the paper will continue.
“Am I the only person who believes our community deserves quality locally owned and operated long-form journalism, and is willing to back up that belief with money and time?” Dickson wrote in his column. “I sure hope not.”