Published: Oct 04, 2012 06:50 PM
Modified: Oct 05, 2012 11:36 AM
CARRBORO - Carrboro’s very own newspaper published its 290th weekly issue Thursday. It was also its last.
In August, publisher Robert Dickson wrote a letter to the newspaper’s readers announcing the Citizen would cease publication in the fall if no buyer was found. Despite the newspaper’s loyal following, Dickson said, the Citizen had never turned a profit and he was worn out.
In a front-page column Thursday called “The Citizen bids adieu,” Dickson said efforts to sell the paper were unsuccessful.
“This is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he wrote.
While not a complete surprise in light of Dickson’s earlier letter, readers did not know before Thursday that this edition would be the last.
Ongoing talks with several potential buyers had given the staff hope the Citizen would be sold, said editor-in-chief Susan Dickson, a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill journalism school who started with the Citizen as a reporter when her father began the newspaper in 2007.
Robert Dickson told the staff Tuesday that this week’s edition would be the last, Susan Dickson said. While part-time staff writer Rose Laudicina, contributing editor Taylor Sisk, columnist Kirk Ross and several volunteer contributors provided content, the only full-time employees were Susan Dickson and advertising director Marty Cassady.
In the Citizen’s first years, Dickson wrote most of the articles as a part-time staff writer while she waited tables to support herself. She took over as editor-in-chief from founding editor Ross in 2011.
“It’s disappointing, for sure,” she said. “In the beginning we had high hopes that it would become sustainable, and one thing that we were really pleased to see happen was a huge growth in readership over the years.”
Over its five years of publication, the freely distributed newspaper never made a profit and struggled to sell advertisements with Carrboro’s limited commercial base. In 2009, the newspaper obtained $50,000 from the town’s small business revolving loan fund. In an August interview Robert Dickson said he had about $35,000 left on the loan , which he anticipated paying off even if the paper folded.
Dickson declined a request for an interview Thursday.Struggling industry
“The whole industry is struggling right now, and this is just another symbol of that struggle,” said Chris Roush, a Citizen reader and UNC-Chapel Hill business journalism professor.
The newspaper aggressively covered local Carrboro government in a way that no other media outlet did, Roush added.
“I know people who are Carrboro government officials who considered the Citizen to be their paper, the paper that really followed the community better than anyone else,” he said.
The newspaper was known for its colorful layout and long-form articles on subjects including environmental justice and mental health in North Carolina. One of its most popular regular features, the front-page “Flora” column on flowers, was written by former N.C. Botanical Garden assistant director Ken Moore.
No other newspaper gave such prominence to plants, Moore wrote in an email Thursday.
“I believe I may be correct in describing that no weekly news publication in the whole world has had the sophistication, dedication and absolute guts to place a column on plants and related natural history, in color, on both front and back page of every single issue,” he said.
Roush said he heard rumors that a group of residents was trying to develop a nonprofit cooperative structure similar to the Weaver Street Market grocery cooperative to own and operate the Citizen.
“This newspaper is too important to Carrboro to be allowed to fail,” Citizen photography columnist and UNC-CH professor Jock Lauterer, wrote in an email Thursday. “I’d like to hold out hope that the fat lady hasn’t sung yet.”
It is possible the finality of the closure of the Citizen might spur someone to come forward, Susan Dickson said.
“Maybe somebody will come along and take up the torch; we’ll see,” she said.