“We also find the Trump-ish rhetoric against the media to be difficult to swallow. This is something CHALT and their candidates have been fomenting all election cycle - that the media cannot be trusted and that voters did not have complete information. That’s flat out not true - and really dangerous.”

After the 2018 election cycle ended with a solid defeat for CHALT’s clerk of court candidate, CHALT’s post-election newsletter recap noted that they were interested in launching a local newspaper. Several months later, the non-profit newspaper The Local Reporter launched with a board entirely made up of CHALT leaders.

Over the years, we have covered The Local Reporter’s problematic overlaps with CHALT and their difficulties in framing issues that CHALT does not support.

During the most-recent municipal election cycle, the paper initially covered Adam Searing’s mayoral run without covering Jess Anderson entering the race. They printed a column from former council member Nancy Oates, an ardent Searing supporter, without mentioning that she once served as the paper’s editor. And they published a strange Letter from the Editor about “reports of disinformation being handed out at the polls” – a rumor CHALT was heavily circulating – without checking whether or not it was true. (It wasn’t.)

But their post-election coverage may take the cake for the strangest election recap we’ve ever seen.

Most stories published the day after an election start with the winners, and perhaps a quote from that person. Not so in this case. This piece, published the day after the election, highlights the following:

  • A link to the one precinct where Adam Searing collected more votes (by 8) than Jess Anderson
  • A lengthy quote from Adam Searing’s newsletter about his loss
  • No quotes from Jess Anderson
  • The incorrect notion that candidate Renuka Soll might be leading Elizabeth Sharp in the votes. (This is not correct. Two of Chapel Hill’s precincts are located in Durham County, meaning that to see full unofficial results, you have to look at results for both Orange County and Durham County – the reporter only seems to be looking at Orange County.)

There is a pattern of The Local Reporter covering Searing, who was championed by CHALT and briefly served on the paper’s advisory board, differently from other candidates and council members. In articles, he is pictured and quoted more than other members of town council. The editor of the paper has reached out to him “OFF THE RECORD” to note “when and if you have anything you deem of interest to the public, I am most happy to investigate and write about.” In pieces that mention him, an editor’s note noting that he’s a monthly donor to the paper is no longer present.

It is possible for a non-profit news organization to responsibly cover our region and the issues that affect our lives. But The Local Reporter is not that news organization, and it won’t be as long as it continues to maintain close ties with CHALT.

Speaking of which, we were curious how CHALT would react to the 2023 election cycle, in which their mayoral candidate and three out of four of their council candidates lost, by wide margins, after their PAC spent tens of thousands of dollars in the cycle. (We won’t know the true amount  of CHALT PAC’s spend until January, when a spending report is filed for the latter half of the year.)

CHALT did not react well, it turns out.

In an email newsletter to their supporters sent last weekend, they railed against “establishment politicians,” “local news” and even the Orange County Democratic Party.

Let’s start with the last group, the Orange County Dems – because that’s a particularly egregious and untrue characterization.

CHALT writes, “Even the Orange Councy Democratic party prepared a sample ballot recommending only the Democrats running, excluding independents and others, in this non-partisan municipal elections race!”

Let’s start with the facts: Three of CHALT’s candidates in this election cycle were not registered Democrats. The Orange County Democratic Party prepares sample ballots in every single election cycle; this was not new to 2023 municipal elections. The Orange Dems do this so that anyone arriving at the polls can understand the political parties of all candidates running. Every candidate was featured on their ballot, with their party affiliation listed.

This is useful knowledge, even in non-partisan municipal races. (A non-partisan election simply means that the candidates’ party affiliation doesn’t appear on the ballot, and candidates don’t run as nominees of specific political parties. It doesn’t mean that voters shouldn’t do their research about candidates’ party affiliation.)

The Orange County Dems – a volunteer organization – advocates for Democrats running in election cycles. We see this as time well spent, and something that we should appreciate and champion in North Carolina in 2023.

We also find the Trump-ish rhetoric against the media to be difficult to swallow. This is something CHALT and their candidates have been fomenting all election cycle – that the media cannot be trusted and that voters did not have complete information. That’s flat out not true – and really dangerous.

The Daily Tar Heel, Chapelboro, the News and Observer, and Indyweek did excellent work this campaign cycle, some of it focused directly on CHALT.

  • Indyweek assigned a reporter to the Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal election beat, which resulted in nuanced, extremely well-researched coverage of the issues.
  • The Daily Tar Heel published investigative pieces and covered forums, school board candidates, and misinformation. Their dogged coverage was some of the best we’ve seen from the paper.
  • Tammy Grubb, the sole full-time Orange County reporter for the News and Observer, pumped out a ridiculous number of stories each week on Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which helps us all understand what’s going on.
  • And Chapelboro’s entire squad went in deep and in-depth in both print and radio. We would put their election night deep dives – with a variety of knowledgeable guests – head-to-head against any news organization in the country.

At a time when our country is fractured, and when our state’s legislative body is a mess, fomenting rage against civil servants, the media outside of one publication, and the Democratic Party is troubling.

The pollster Tom Jensen noted on Election Night that CHALT has a voter ceiling. They clearly don’t have a floor for where they’re willing to go.


Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....