By Catherine Komp
NC Local Editor
When the Chatham News + Record owners announced on May 8 that they sold the paper and its other products to North State Media, the new leadership said readers could “expect to see expanded content and new sections in addition to the award-winning local coverage they have enjoyed since 1878.”
Less than three months later, nearly all its local reporting staff have left.
“I care so much about the Chatham County community,” Heeden told NC Local. “The News + Record was my work home, I felt at home when I went to work.”
Back in June, reporter Ben Rappaport announced he was moving to the Border Belt Independent. In his farewell column, Rappaport also wrote about his love for the community:
“As a graduate fresh out of the UNC journalism school, I worried you may take my lack of experience as a reason to ignore me, or not take me seriously. Instead, you welcomed my curiosity with open arms. You invited me into your churches, community organizations and classrooms. You shared stories of family history, passion projects and even obscure farming practices. And through each of your stories, I became more entranced with your intricacies.”
Both Rappaport and Heeden also highlighted the impact of former publisher and editor Bill Horner III, who Eric Frederick spoke with in June for NC Local as Horner was transitioning to retirement.
“The reason I joined the News + Record was because Bill reached out to me and told me what his vision was, what he envisioned the community’s newspaper would look like,” said Heeden. “I believed in everything he said and did community coverage for nearly two years.
And I left the News + Record because that changed, the vision of community coverage didn’t align with what I and a lot of people thought it should be.”
North State Media publishes the North State Journal and in addition to the News + Record, has five other local publications in Forsyth, Hoke, Moore, Randolph and Stanly. Founded in 2016 by former members of governor Pat McCrory’s administration, the homepage features a lot of national and international news, and local coverage regularly highlights conservative news and opinions.
News + Record freelance photographer Matt Ramey told NC Local he ended his relationship with the paper a few days ago following what he said was a change in culture, rates and communication. He posted on Twitter that the new owners then blocked him from both the News + Record and North State accounts.
“The one thing I’m sad about, I’m sad I won’t get to photograph the people in the community in Chatham County. I do really enjoy that small town connection people have so when I’m in that place, it feels like home,” said Ramey.
Ramey also emphasized that the News + Record staff invested significant time building trust with the community, which is especially important when covering small counties and rural communities.
“When someone new comes in to report on a community, you have to build a reputation,” said Ramey. “Bill and that crew had built up a great reputation. There was prize-winning journalism coming out of that small paper. And they don’t have those people anymore.”
NC Local reached out to North State Media about the staff departures, the impact on coverage and editorial priorities moving forward. Although they did not respond by deadline, we will include any answers to our questions in a future edition.