We have been following the ups and downs of The Local Reporter for quite some time now. The paper has churned through several editors during its almost-three-year existence, and has struggled with disclosing connections between its board, sources, funders, and CHALT, a local organization with a PAC that is heavily involved in local elections.
Last month, the paper denied – over Twitter – that a current member of Chapel Hill’s Town Council had previously served on their advisory board. (He had.)
And this month, there appears to be another shakeup.
A note from the paper sent to email subscribers yesterday noted “There is a significant reorganization currently going on at The Local Reporter. By next week we hope to let you know about some exciting new developments for our online newspaper.”
We’re hearing that Keith Barber’s out as editor — and that offers have been extended over LinkedIn to potential replacements.
Barber has served as the fourth editor of the paper since June 2022. As we wrote in May, “Barber’s job will be tough, unless a strict firewall is placed between both the Board of Directors of Friends of Local Journalism and other CHALT members, and the paper’s editorial side. In addition, it must be clear to readers that CHALT members are not influencing the content, framing, or sources used in stories. Prior relationships between the board, editor, writers, donors, and sources should be disclosed. The board shouldn’t have access to the editor’s email account or the social media accounts.”
In the past, the paper has been responsive to Triangle Blog Blog’s queries. In response to our tweets and blog posts, they’ve added a masthead, and added biographical information for their board members and editor to their website. These are steps in a positive direction.
However, members of the Board of Directors – all of whom have close ties to CHALT – continue to have access to the paper’s editor email and social media accounts — and we’ve heard from sources that they continue to take an active role in the paper’s editorial operations.
This remains troubling.
People share tips and possible story ideas with news organizations through social media and email. Editors may have access to information that others don’t. They talk to confidential sources and they reach out and ask questions. They often know information before it is made public.
That’s why non-profit newsrooms have a clear firewall between their board members and their editorial side. As the paper enlists its fifth editor, we encourage them to continue to take steps towards transparency and full disclosure in their operations — and to ensure that the Board of Directors has no editorial oversight over the content of the paper.