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Setting the Raleigh Public Record straight

Carrie McGaha
CHASS Communications Intern

They say the newspaper is dying. More than a decade into the twenty-first century, people have begun to put down their newspapers and get their news off the Internet. Although people may not be sitting down with a cup of coffee and unrolling a printed newspaper these days, a CHASS alum has found a way to deliver local news to Raleigh’s residents over the web while also doing what he loves.

Raleigh is a thriving news information hub, but many stories go untold in the area. Charles Duncan Pardo (English ‘05) created the nonprofit Raleigh Public Record to report and document the news of the city that traditional media outlets don’t cover. “The paper came about because I love Raleigh, I love living here, and I love journalism,” Duncan said. “I had noticed there’s a huge hole in what gets covered in Raleigh.” In September 2008, Duncan began the online news source that covers everything from Raleigh’s city government and politics to the levels of phosphorus in local lakes.

Duncan began learning the basics of journalism in Tompkins Hall under the guidance of professors like Drs. Cat Warren and Bob Kochersberger. “I write straight news stories all day, and I learned that from Bob Kochersberger,” Duncan said. “And Cat has been my unofficial advisor ever since I came to State.”

Warren, along with Dick Reavis, serves on the board of directors for the non-profit community journalism project. Being a part of a nonprofit organization during a tough economy and the slow decline of print newspaper is both exhilarating and heartbreaking for Warren, a former newspaper reporter. “Really, online is the future,” Warren said. “In the long term we have to figure out what can sustain journalism in reference to a nonprofit model.”

Through its website, the Record covers issues affecting all of Raleigh’s diverse communities. “We’re reporting on things like meetings where elected officials and public employees are making important decisions,” Duncan said. “The public needs to know what’s going on in city government. By bringing this information to people, they can make better decisions in their communities.”

Just as money began getting tighter and tighter for the paper, Duncan found out the Record was a recipient of a $70,000 Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant. For the next two years, RPR will be able to expand its operations and increase its investigative reporting ability. Reporters, including Duncan himself, will be paid to cover stories that go untold or under-reported in the city. “I think this grant means that we’re on the right track, and I see it as a vote of confidence for this labor of love I’ve had over the past two years,” Duncan said. “You work on something every day and someone takes notice and says we like what you’re doing and here are the resources to do it even better.”

Until now, the Record has been operating on a budget of less than $2500. Although this grant will provide some much needed support to the paper’s income, Duncan is not rushing to expand the Record. “When we first started the paper, we made a conscious decision to grow slowly and sustainably,” Duncan said. “If we want to grow a new organization that can serve Raleigh into the future, we have to be slow and methodical.”

Part of Duncan’s slow-growth plan included not paying anyone during the paper’s launch year, including himself. Just this year, the Record began paying its freelancers, and beginning next year, Duncan will receive a stipend.

Thanks to the grant, the Record will also be able to pay its student interns. “A lot of journalism schools and programs are connecting their students with nonprofit news to get experience and work out that model,” Warren said. “The Record is giving students a way to get published, get experience, and get a paycheck.”

One of Warren’s former graduate students in the M.S. in Technical Communications program wrote a story about ATM scams. The story initially ran in the Record, but was soon picked up by several more media outlets across the state, including WRAL and the News & Observer.

With the grant, the Record now has the budget to run five to 10 stories per week. “My ultimate objective is to have something that’s self-supporting with sponsorships, corporate donors, and community support,” Duncan said. “I want to have really good reporting and live up to our mission of public service journalism.”

“There’s a lot of youthful talent out there,” Warren said. “This is a nice start for nonprofit journalism.”